Posts Tagged ‘the North’

Dennis Skinner: Stop Treating Northern People like Second Class Citizens for HST Rail Link

November 2, 2017

In this short piece from RT, Dennis Skinner angrily demands that Theresa May stop treating the people of the north as second class citizens, whose homes can be casually demolished to build the HST rail line.

He states that research has shown that down in the ‘leafy suburbs of the south’, 30 per cent of the first 140 miles of the rail line will be tunnelled under ground to prevent having to knock houses down. But in the north, only 2 per cent will go underground, because the company states blandly that it’s cheaper to knock them down. He requests the Prime Minister to meet with the constituents in his part of Bolsover to assure them that a further thirty houses will not be knocked down.

May simply replies that she is sure that HST will be happy to look into that, and says she would like to remind him about the benefits that HST will bring with the northern powerhouse and the growing economy in the Midlands. To which the Beast of Bolsover looks extremely unimpressed, shaking his head with his other colleagues on the bench.

In fact Skinner has every right to be sceptical, as research has been done that predicts that rather than benefit the north, the rail link will actually take industry and jobs from that already struggling part of the UK.

Quite apart from the manifest injustice of the rail chiefs apparently considering that the homes of the good people of the north aren’t worth the same consideration and preservation as those in the south. I can very well believe that they take this view, as there is very much a London first mentality amongst the metropolitan elite, and particularly amongst the Tories. You can see that in the way any major artistic or cultural project is immediately scheduled for London rather than any of our nation’s great provincial cities. And this was especially true when the capital was run by Boris Johnson.

Despite the rhetoric, May and the Tories have absolutely no interest in how the rail network will affect people in the deprived parts of Britain, which it will allegedly benefit, and are only concerned in case it harms their part of the south.

Owen Smith Unveils His Policies, but None Are His Own

July 28, 2016

Mike yesterday put up a piece reporting that Owen Smith had finally unveiled 20 policies of his own, with which he hoped to challenged Jeremy Corbyn. They’re all good, as far as they go. The trouble is, none of them are his own. Mike reported that the Corbynistas have already pointed out that they were taken from the Institute of Employment Rights’ Manifesto for Labour Law, which Jeremy Corbyn had already adopted as the basis for future Labour policy last month. Mike quotes the response of the Jeremy Corbyn for Leader Campaign to Smith’s policies, who said that they welcomed Smiff’s support for policies announced in recent months by Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell. They pointed out that Smudger’s speech showed that Corbyn did possess true leadership, and that a Labour government led by Jeremy Corbyn would reverse the damage caused by the decline in manufacturing jobs due to the failed economic policies of the last thirty years. Northern communities, hard hit by industrial decline, would be a particular priority, and would be regenerated through economic devolution that would put people and jobs first.

Mike also points out that several of Smudger’s policies are vague. They just appear to be cosmetic, and don’t address the real, underlying problems. Such as his promise to concentrate on ‘equality of outcome, not equality of opportunity’. Mike makes the point that this is so confused as to be almost meaningless. He also makes the point that Smiff’s promise to increase spending on schools and libraries is fine, but he doesn’t promise to end private-sector involvement in schools, or reopen the libraries that have closed. His promise to reinstate the 50p top rate of tax is also cosmetic, and will be attacked as such by the Tories. His promises to reverse the cuts to the capital gains tax, corporation, inheritance tax and his plans to introduce a new wealth tax similarly look cosmetic. They’ll bring more money into the treasury, but he says nothing about how they’ll be spent. As for ‘ending fuel poverty by investing in efficient energy’ – this is notable because he does not promise to renationalise the electricity firms, thus meaning that we’re still going to be paying the foreign owners of our energy companies.

Mike concludes his article with the statement:

Smith makes a big deal of being able to deliver these policies – asking us to accept that Mr Corbyn can’t. How do we know either of those things? We don’t. In fact, it seems unlikely that this list is anything more than a catalogue of empty promises and he’ll go back to right-wing neoliberalism if he gets the chance.

It’s not enough. It’s painting a new face on New Labour. It’s reacting to Jeremy Corbyn.

And perhaps this is the biggest point to be made:

Why have Fake Corbyn when we can simply keep the real Corbyn?

See Mike’s article: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/07/27/20-policy-proposals-from-owen-smith-but-how-many-are-his-own/

This is a very good point. Smudger is reacting to Corbyn, and while it’s welcome that Corbyn’s leadership of the party is forcing Smiff to embrace some left-wing policies, they aren’t as good as the full range of policies articulated by Jeremy Corbyn’s camp. And we have absolutely no guarantee that once in charge of the Labour party, Smiffy will carry out any of his policies. In fact, there’s a lot of evidence to the contrary. Smiff’s a New Labour, neoliberal privatiser. He left a job in the Labour party to work for Pfizer, and then returned to the Labour party. While at Pfizer, he pushed for the privatisation of the NHS. Back in the Labour party, he was part of the unit that maintained good relations with the company and the other private healthcare firms hoping to get a cut of NHS action. When questioned about his connection with Pfizer, Smudger lied about it, claiming that he worked for them before he joined the Labour party, thus hiding the fact that he was already working for the Labour party before he joined them. And while he has said that he doesn’t intend to privatise any more of the NHS, he hasn’t promised to renationalise what has already been sold off.

And his faction, New Labour in the form of Progress and Saving Labour, has a record of appalling mendacity. His rival, Angela Eagle, lied about having a brick thrown through her office window, just as she lied about being abused at a meeting for her sexuality. The anti-Corbyn camp have smeared and libelled decent people, many with a sincere and proud record of anti-racism and opposing anti-Semitism, as anti-Semites. This has included Jews and people of part-Jewish heritage. They have adopted the deceitful strategy of PR companies to try to present themselves as the victims in a concerted campaign to smear and discredit Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters. There was the ‘Eradicate Blairite Scum’ T-shirt, which was devised by a Blairite and her pet PR person. Mike has put up a piece today reporting that the elderly gentleman wearing that claims he was tricked by the two, and feels that he has also been smeared because of it. Then there was the letter by over 40 female Blairite MPs complaining that they had been abused in his name, when there is no evidence that anything of the sort had occurred. Quite apart from the staged heckling of Corbyn himself at a gay rights rally, done by another PR person from Portland, a company owned by Will Straw, the son of Jack Straw.

I also notice that he makes absolutely no proposal to tackle the New Labour and Tory welfare cuts, despite the fact that these have thrust millions into precarity and grinding poverty. The Work Capability Assessment has resulted in at least over a thousand seriously ill people dying after being found ‘fit for work’ by Atos and their successor, Maximus. In some areas, 80 per cent of those told they were fit for work had their judgements overturned on appeal. But the damage inflicted on very many vulnerable people through the stress of these tests is severe. It has made the mental health of nearly 300,000 people worse, sometimes seriously so. He hasn’t promised to end the system of benefit sanctions, despite the hardships and injustice these have caused. The blog ‘Diary of a Food Bank Helper’ has put up numerous cases of those working at the sharp end of poverty in the UK. Kitty S. Jones, Johnny Void and so many others have also put up their accounts of people, who’ve been thrown off benefit for often the flimsiest reasons. Like they’re turned up a few minutes late, because they had to arrange alternative means of getting their children to or from school. Or they were in hospital, and so couldn’t attend the interview. Or some other bullsh*t excuse.

I’m still haunted by some of these stories. Stilloaks on his blog put up the cases of some of the 590 people, who have died of hunger or through their own hands, after having their benefit stopped. This included a young mother, who leaped through an upper storey window, killing herself and her baby. There was an elderly couple, who committed suicide together, because they were starving and had come to the end. One of the accounts, not of a fatality, was of how members of the public came to comfort a young man, who broke down in tears outside the Jobcentre, weeping because they wouldn’t give him any money.

This is the kind of establishment bullying that had people marching in the streets back in the 1930s. It’s the casual abuse by the entitled privileged classes, that inspired the comrades of the National Union of the Unemployed to occupy the Ritz, leaving their patrons aghast because the proles had dared to show up! How dare they!

Some of these account of poverty were read out in parliament. It says everything you need to know about Cameron and IDS that they had a good chuckle about them, live on air. Yep, to the Tories, poverty and desperation are a damned good, jolly joke, provided those affected are just grammar school oik or the hoi polloi from the comprehensives and secondary moderns.

And from Owen Smith and New Labour – silence. Smudger abstained on the Tory welfare cuts. As did Eagle. Mind you, they couldn’t do anything else, as New Labour was responsible for introducing a fair part of the legislation on which they were based. Like the Work Capability Tests.

Giving people a decent wage is an excellent start. But it also needs to be coupled with policies that won’t lead to the starvation of those of on benefits. Smudger isn’t going to tackle this. And so whatever he says or does, he’s still content to see a fair chunk of the 3.7 million trapped in food poverty remain in it.

And then there is the authoritarian mindset behind these antics. Jeremy Corbyn is massively popular with grassroots Labour. And I’m confident that, if his parliamentary party actually bothered to take the trouble to represent their members and constituents, he’d be massively popular too with the electorate. After all, before the Tories shot into a 16 point lead ahead of Labour this week, there were only a single point ahead last week. And this despite all the abuse and smears.

But that’s too much for the Blairites. They can’t stand the idea that the neoliberal policies Tony Blair placed so much faith in as the electoral salvation of the Labour party, actually aren’t. And they definitely don’t see themselves as the ‘servants of the people’, as Andrew Rawnsley ironically titled his book on Blair and his coterie. They see themselves as the leaders, whom the grassroots members should automatically obey. And if they still persist, then they’re a Trotskyite hippy rabble wearing donkey jackets and smelling of patchouli, who should leave the party.

Smudger and his cohorts have an absolute contempt for ordinary people, who are to be sneered at, tricked and deceived. He and they have lied about Jeremy Corbyn. He will lie, and lie flagrantly, once he is in government. He and they cannot and should not be trusted with power. He will not restore the NHS. He will not renationalise the utilities, and he will not renationalise our failing railways. He’s a fake, and the genuinely progressive policies he’s adopted are their to disguise the privatising neoliberal underneath. And once he gets in power, it’s a fair bet that they’ll be forgotten, and he’ll carry on copying Tory policies as before. After all, it’s what Bliar did.

A Up Let’s Talk on Why We Support Jeremy Corbyn

July 9, 2016

This is a great, impassioned video from A Up Let’s Talk, whose name and accent mark him out as a proper Northerner. In this video, he tells the Labour party why so many people support Jeremy Corbyn. He starts with clips from the great man’s career, such as his speeches in parliament against the invasion of Iraq and how he was arrested for being offensive to the South African ambassador during apartheid. There’s footage also of him praising trade unions for defending workers, millions of whom are now earning below the minimum wages, and praising the NHS and the people who work in it. A Up Let’s Talk contrasts this with the Tories, and New Labour, who are just out for corporate profits and what they can get for themselves. Jeremy Corbyn has support because he fights for what Labour was founded for, and for the issues that actually mean things to ordinary men and women. He also talks about the issues that aren’t reported so much in the news, like the Panama papers, and the massive corruption that revealed. The press gave this, he said, a bit of coverage, just to make it look like they were interested in the same things ordinary people were interested in, and on their side. But they aren’t and they’re not.

He also attacks the way the Blairites have not given any reasons for their attacks on Corbyn, and concludes, as have very many others, that there are none. They’re attacking him for what he is, and what he represents. And rather than complaining that he was a bit too quiet about Europe, he challenges them to come up north, and explain to the marginalised, working class communities why they should vote for him and Labour, and not for UKIP. Many people left the Labour party following what New Labour turned it into, but they’ve returned under Corbyn. They should be listened to, as they were in the party before New Labour, and before so many of the Blairites were even born. He doesn’t expect great changes from Corbyn, or to be massively better off, but he does want a better, more equal society, and that is why he took part in a march this Saturday for Corbyn with his children. He asks New Labour what they have done for people like him and the rest of us workers. He would like to see some ‘quantitative easing’ for himself and other working class people, and not for the bankers,for whom David Cameron went to Brussels to get money. As for the other leading Tories, Theresa May wants to spy on everyone. And he notes how the Tories seem to be coming apart and disintegrating. Boris Johnson is supposed to be the most popular politician in Britain, but where is he? A Up Let’s Talk states that they’re all rats leaving a sinking ship. And Corbyn can win. So let’s rally around Corbyn.

A Up Let’s Talk is exactly right about all of this, and he’s identified all the issues. The Blairites haven’t presented any arguments, just personal attacks. They do stand for the same things as David Cameron – increased power and profits for the rich and corporations, more poverty and deprivation for the rest of us. Issues like the Iraq invasion, apartheid, workers’ rights, the minimum wage, and the health service have immense importance for ordinary people. And the press has shown itself to be hostile to the organised working class, disguising their hatred with a few, token articles. The Tories were and are bitterly divided on Europe, and they are disintegrating. Robin Ramsay in his ‘News from the Bridge’ column in Lobster described just how far in decline the Tories are as a popular party. Most of their members of are of pensionable age, and there are only 150,000 as opposed to half a million plus in Labour. They haven’t had any interest in genuinely improving conditions for the working class since the mid-19th century and the middle of the 20th in the Coalition government. Theresa May, the probably next leader of the Tories, does want to spy on everyone. She is a threat to civil liberties. New Labour did betray everything that the Labour party originally stood for, and turned away from the working and lower middle classes to concentrate on winning votes in swing marginals. People did leave Labour because of them. Between 1997 and the 2000s Labour lost five million voters. They’re coming back under Jeremy Corbyn. And the rise of UKIP in northern constituencies – and elsewhere in England – is partly explained by many members of the working class feeling that Labour has abandoned them. The embrace of UKIP as an alternative, however, is counterproductive. There are very good, left-wing reasons to be sceptical of Europe. Lobster and Counterpunch have over the years run very many excellent articles on the highly dubious nature of the EU and the corporativism and Cold War politics behind it. But Farage and the Kippers as they are as just as zealously against the working class as the Tories, if not more so. And the country’s ills are due not so much to immigration or to the EU as to forty years of neoliberalism, wage cuts, and attacks on workers’ rights, welfare benefits and the NHS from the governments of Thatcher, Major, Blair and Cameron. It’s a vote for the same kind of people that have carried out these policies, while scapegoating migrants and asylum-seekers.

Corbyn isn’t going to introduce massive changes, or make people vastly more wealthy. But he will do his level best to make us a more equal society, and give working people back at least some of what they have lost, and a renewed voice in parliament.

Vox Political on the Part-Privatisation of Channel 4

May 10, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political has also put up a piece today about the government’s proposed partial privatisation of Channel 4 under John Whittingdale. The Torygraph has reported that the government has climbed down from privatising it fully, and instead are just looking for a ‘strategic partner’, like BT. They would also like the network to sell its offices in Westminster and move to somewhere like Birmingham. Its account should also be checked by the NAO, responsible for examining government expenditure, and they would like to change its non-profit status and see it pay a dividend to the Treasury. Mike points out that the network chiefs have taken this as stepping stone towards Channel 4’s full privatisation, and are deciding to reject it. Meanwhile, the Tories don’t want to privatise it fully, because they’ll get the same backlash from their proposals to sell off the Beeb. See Mike’s article at: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/05/10/only-part-privatisation-for-channel-4-as-tories-fear-another-bbc-style-backlash/

This is another barbarous government attack on public broadcasting in the UK. Channel 4 was set up in the 1980s to be a kind of alternative to the alternative BBC 2, and to cater for tastes and audiences that weren’t being met by the established channels. According to Quentin Letts in one of his books, Denis Thatcher thought this mean putting yachting on the sports’ coverage instead of footie, which shows the limited idea of ‘alternative’ held by Thatcher and her consort. Jeremy Isaacs, its controller, was proud of his outsider status as a Jew in the network, a status he shared with Melvin Bragg, a Northerner. He said that he wanted to put on the new, fledgling channel programmes on miner’s oral history, and performances of the great classics of Britain’s minority cultures, like the Hindu epic, the Mahabharata. He also believed that people had ‘latent needs’ – there were things they wanted to see, which they didn’t yet know they did. He was widely ridiculed for his views. Private Eye gave a sneering review of the book, in which he laid out his plans and opinions, stating that all this guff about people’s ‘latent needs’ showed that he thought he knew more than they did about what people actually wanted. As for being an outsider, the Eye observed rather tartly that they were all outsiders like that now in broadcasting, swimming around endlessly repeating the same views to each other.

In fact, Isaacs was largely right. Quite often people discover that they actually enjoy different subjects and pursuits that they’re not used to, simply because they’ve never encountered them. The Daily Heil columnist, Quentin Letts, comments about the way the network has been dumbed down in one of his books, pointing out how good the networks cultural broadcasting was when it was first set up. The network was particularly good at covering the opera. I can remember they broadcast one such classical music event, which was broadcast throughout Europe, rather like the Eurovision song contest but with dinner suits, ball gowns, lutes and violins rather than pop spangle, Gothic chic, drums and electric guitars. The audiences for its opera broadcasts were below a million, but actually very good, and compared well with the other broadcasters.

As for its programmes aimed at the different ethnic minorities, I knew White lads, who used to watch the films on ‘All-India Goldies’ and the above TV adaptation of the Mahabharata. This last was also given approval by Clive James, one of the great TV critics. James noted it was slow-moving, but still considered it quality television.

The network has, like much of the rest of British broadcasting, been dumbed-down considerably since then. American imports have increased, and much of the content now looks very similar to what’s on the other terrestrial channels. The networks’ ratings have risen, but at the expense of its distinctive character and the obligation to broadcast material of cultural value, which may not be popular. Like opera, foreign language films and epics, art cinema and theatre.

Even with these changes, there’s still very much good television being produced by the network. From the beginning, Channel 4 aimed to have very good news coverage, and this has largely been fulfilled. There have been a number of times when I’ve felt that it’s actually been better than the Beeb’s. In the 1990s the Channel was the first, I believe, to screen a gay soap, Queer as Folk, created by Russell T. Davis, who went on to revive Dr Who. This has carried on with the series Banana, Cucumber, and Tofu. It also helped to bring archaeology to something like a mass audience with Time Team, now defunct. And if you look at what remains of the British film industry, you’ll find that quite often what little of it there is, is the product of either the Beeb or Channel 4 films.

And from the beginning the Right hated it with a passion. Well, it was bound to, if Denis Thatcher’s idea of alternative TV was golf and yachting, and Thatcher really wouldn’t have wanted to watch anything that validated the miners. And it was notorious for putting on explicitly sexual material late at night, as well as shows for sexual minorities, such as discussing lesbianism, when these weren’t anywhere near as acceptable as they are today. As a result, the Heil regularly used to fulminate against all this filth, and branded its controller, Michael Grade, Britain’s ‘pornographer in chief’.

And over the years, the various governments have been trying to privatise it. I think Maggie first tried it sometime in the 1980s. Then they did it again, a few years later, possibly under John Major. This surprised me, as after they privatised it the first time, I thought that was the end of it. Channel 4 had been sold off completely. It seems I was wrong. It seems these were just part privatisations. Now they want to do it again.

It struck me with the second privatisation of Channel 4 that this was an election tactic by the Tory party. Maggie had tried to create a popular, share-owning, capitalist democracy through encouraging the working class to buy shares in the privatised utilities. And for all her faults and the immense hatred she rightly engendered, Maggie was popular with certain sections of the working class. By the time the Tories wanted to privatise the Channel the second time, it struck me that they were floundering around, trying to find a popular policy. The magic had worn of the Thatcherite Revolution, Major was in trouble, and so they were trying to bring back some of the old triumphs of Thatcher’s reign, as they saw it. They needed something big and glamorous they could sell back to the voters. And so they decided to privatise Channel 4. Again.

They want to do the same now. But the fact that they’re looking for ‘a strategic partner’ tells you a lot about how things have changed in the intervening years. This is most definitely not about popular capitalism. Most of the shares held by working people were bought up long ago by the fat cats. In this area, the Thatcherite Revolution has failed, utterly, just as it has in so many others. This is all about selling more of Britain’s broadcasting industry to the Tory’s corporate backers. Much of ITV is owned by the Americans, if not all of it, and Channel 5 certainly is. What’s the odds that Channel 4 will stay British, if it too is privatised?

And so we can look forward to a further decline in public broadcasting in this country, as it more of it is bought by private, and probably foreign, media giants. Quality broadcasting, and the duty of public broadcasters to try and expand their audiences’ horizons by producing the new, the ground-breaking, alternative and unpopular, will suffer. All for the profit of the Tory party and their big business paymasters.

TYT on Trump Supporters Vicious Tweets against Megyn Kelly

February 2, 2016

This shows not just how vile the man’s supporters are, but it also reflects badly on their leader’s own appalling attitude to women. In this piece from The Young Turks, anchor Cenk Uygur talks about the genuinely hateful tweets Megyn Kelly’s received from Trump’s supporters. They’ve called her everything from ‘Bimbo’ to ‘bitch’, ‘slut’ and end with a word so foul I can’t repeat it here.

And all this is because she dared to ask Trump about his own disparaging comments about women. The Turks’ show this here, and although Trump tries to laugh it off, it is a reasonable question. Moreover, as the Turks themselves have repeatedly said, Kelly was actually on his side. When she asked the question, she follows it up with another question about how he would react to the Democrats using it against him. Which is a fair point.

But it’s too much for Trump, who can’t stand criticism, fair or otherwise, no matter how sugar-coated and sympathetic. And so there was the petulance and foot-stamping of his refusal to appear on the Fox News debate, because it was to be moderated by Kelly, and then the sheer venom of his supporters.

There are a number of different aspects to this. The first is the misogynist hatred that comes out of certain corners of the Web, designed to silence women. Mary Beard, the classical historian, was subjected to all kinds of misogynist abuse after her comments denying that immigrants were flooding and destroying various towns in the north of England. In response she made a programme on BBC 2, Shut Up, Dear, about the attempts to silence women’s voices down the centuries.

And it’s not just women, who suffer horrendous abuse at the hands of anonymous posters on the Net. Quentin Letts, the parliamentary sketch writer for the Daily Mail, includes ‘Webonymous’, in his book, 50 People Who Buggered Up Britain. The anonymous tweeters and emailers of the Net are included, because there’s a level of vitriol and abuse in their messages which goes far beyond even those written by the cranks in green ink. No matter how insulting and poisonous they get, wrote Letts, they will at least end their missive with ‘Yours faithfully, X’. No such grace comes from the keyboards of the angry hordes on the Web.

And the Republican Party in particular has a problem with strong women, despite the fact that it’s produced some of the strongest and most powerful. It is the party of traditional masculine values, where men are rugged and tough, and women dutifully subordinate to their husbands. And some of the men in the Republican party are really intimidated by strong, independent women. Remember back in the 1990s when one Republican Party delegate, who I believe was a deranged pastor of some kind, said of Hillary Clinton that she was ‘the kind of woman who leaves her husband, turns to lesbianism, practices witchcraft and sacrifices her children’.

What?

From what I’ve seen of her, she seems just a dull, corporate politico. She’s undoubtedly efficient and highly intelligent, but she always struck me as being very measured in what she says. She’s very definitely not a crazed mouth on legs seething with hate and bile like Ann Coulter, and definitely not as outspokenly airheaded as Sarah Palin, all superpatriotism and booster clichés. I sincerely doubt that she’s got a Satanic temple in her basement, or is part of Wiccan coven in Salem or anywhere else. And the last time I looked, Chelsea was very much alive and well.

Joe Queenan back in the 1990s in his Radio 4 show, Postcard from Gotham, opined that most of the abuse Hillary Clinton got for being a tough, successful woman, came from men, who married to women like her. And since then, the attitude to women and women’s rights appears to have hardened, just as it has against Blacks and the disadvantaged generally. The Republican party have deliberately targeted ‘angry White men’, guys, who feel threatened by the social changes around them, which have seen them and their position in society come under competition from women, Blacks and other, traditionally marginalised groups. Hence the hostility to affirmative action programmes, the rising xenophobia, and the raving antifeminism coming from the Republicans and their supporters. And Trump reflects this poisonous mix of prejudices. He’s supposed to be a grade-A, super Alpha Male, ready to put women, Mexicans and Muslims in their place, for a better, traditional America of pure Republican Party values. And the result is a wave of pure hate from his supporters. Whatever they’re real socio-economic group and their place in the social hierarchy, they increasingly sound like angry trailer trash, ranting about the threat to society from Cultural Marxism, Hispanics, Blacks and Arabs. Sitting in soiled vests in dingy bars, sullenly nursing their pints and reminiscing about the good old days before all this political correctness and the girlie men now in charge, before staggering home to an evening of domestic violence.

Trump shares the same atavistic instincts of this crowd, but with all the smarm and polish of a slick politico and reality TV personality. He may wear a suit, but his followers see in him the same hatreds they have. And when he lets loose against a woman, they follow suit, with the same lack of restraint and all the poison, bile and spite the web can muster. We need statesmen, not ranting demagogues whipping up hate. And that’s why Trump should not be let anywhere near the White House.

The Beatles Anti-Segregation Stance

December 16, 2015

This is another interesting snippet I found on 1000 Natural Shocks (over 18s only), that’s far too cool not to share. The Beatles were staunch opponents of segregation, and had it written into their contracts that they would not play segregated audiences.

Beatles Anti-Segregation

Whatever you else you think about them, that’s got to be applauded.

Mind you, they’re not the first or only British musician, who refused to abide by racist legislation separating the races. George Formby annoyed the Afrikaaner National Party in South Africa by deliberately playing to mixed race audiences. He got thrown out of South Africa after his wife gave a very succinct reply to a complaint made personally by Verwoerdt. Formby had been playing in front of a Black audience, when a little girl rushed up to the stage and hugged him. He hugged her back, as you would, said something nice about her to the audience along the lines of ‘Isn’t she sweet’, and handed her back to her parents.

This was too much for the founders of apartheid. Formby got a phone call in the middle of the night that evening by Verwoerdt. His wife took the call, and responded to the official complaint with the immortal lines, ‘P*ss orf, you horrible little man’. Or words to that effect. That cut short their tour of South Africa. The next morning they were bundled on a plane back to Blighty.

And I don’t think the bard of window cleaners and Chinese laundries was bothered one little bit.

There’s a great pictorial version of this tale in the comic book, Alice in Sunderland, written and illustrated by creator of the dimension-travelling SF hero, Luther Arkwright, if you want to have a good laugh and enjoy the greatest and weirdest bits of northern English life and history.

Shock! Horror! Northern Mosque Gives Money to Somerset Church

January 20, 2015

And now a bit of good news. Last Sunday’s Songs of Praise contained a little bit on Muchelney, one of the villages in Somerset. It’s on the Somerset levels, and so suffered from the flooding last year. Much of that part of the county is reclaimed land, and until it was drained from the Middle Ages onwards, the area around Glastonbury was marshland. Several of the villages in the area, like Muchelney, have place names ending in ‘ey’. This is derived from the Anglo-Saxon word ieg, meaning an island. Muchelney and other villages like it got their names from the fact that they were originally islands of firm land amongst the bogs and marshes.

Muchelney is one of the most historic villages in Somerset. It has the remains of an abbey, and the church itself contains a beautiful painted ceiling from the 17th century. It shows angels in the ruffs worn during the reigns of Queen Elizabeth and James I, with speech bubbles urging the onlooker to ‘fly hither’ and ‘com to Jesus’. It ain’t the Sistine Chapel, but it is a fine example of the kind of art that adorned British churches before the Reformation. I recommend anyone with an interest in medieval, ecclesiastical or folk art to have a look at it if they’re in that part of Somerset, whether they’re religious or not.

Muchelney was one of the villages affected by the floods. According to Songs of Praise, however, they received £16,000 from one of the mosques ‘oop north’ to help them repair the damage. It was the largest single donation they’ve ever had, and was obviously very gratefully received by the church.

I mention this because it shows two things. Firstly, it clearly demonstrates that not every Muslim organisation in this country is a hotbed of terrorism, no matter what Farage and Murdoch may say. Actually, not by a very long chalk. One of the newsletters of one of the organisations devoted Christian-Muslim interfaith dialogue pointed to a community of nuns that continued to live and worship together after their premises had been taken over by a mosque. It also makes a more general point that people of faith generally in this country aren’t out to slit each other’s throats, despite the attacks on mosques carried by the stormtroopers of Britain First in the name of Christianity. As regards them, Hope Not Hate has made the point that despite their boast that they are protecting Christians and Christianity from Islam, none of their members seems to have put their foot in a church.

The Tories’ View of the Rest of Britain: Bantustans to Serve the London Rich?

November 11, 2014

Norman Tebbit was in the news again last week. Thatcher’s no. 1 cabinet enforcer was angry that people in the provinces were having the audacity to criticise the government’s almost exclusive concentration on the metropolis, leaving the rest of the country, and particularly the north, to languish and die. A few years ago Private Eye likened Tebbit to a pre-human fossil, Boxgrove Man, that had recently been discovered, and hailed as Britain’s oldest man. The Eye showed a picture of a skull of Heidelberg Man, the type of human that gave rise to the Neanderthals in Europe, the Caucasus and Israel, and modern humans, Homo Sapiens Sapiens, us, in Africa. The Eye’s satirical headline asked ‘Is this the World’s Oldest Tory?’ It then went on to state that although Chingford Man had a very small brain, it was still capable of getting on a bike and looking for work. It’s an appropriate comment, as Tebbit doesn’t seem to have changed his views on the unemployed since the 1980s, when he advised them to follow his father’s example and ‘get on (their) bike(s) and look for work’. Criticism of the Tories’ favouring of London was simply envy, declared the cadaverous one. Rather than be jealous of the metropolis and its success, people in the rest of the country should support themselves by coming down and working in the capital for two days.

There’s a section of the Tory party that has always favoured leaving Britain’s declining towns to wither and die. A little while ago cabinet documents from Thatcher’s time were released, in which senior Conservatives advised the Leaderene to let Liverpool die, and deprive it of any government help to recover. The other year the art critic and broadcaster, Brian Sewell, interviewed on the subject of class by John Prescott, expressed similar sentiments about the ‘dreadful mill towns in the north’ which should all be demolished.

Tebbit’s comments are, of course, petty, spiteful and unrealistic. People have a perfect right to criticise the Tories’ promotion of the capital and the way it harms their own communities. His idea that you could somehow make enough money to support yourself by working in the capital for a couple of days each week is simply unrealistic. Transport and accommodation costs would simply eat up any money most people had made working there. If they were able to find suitable work in the first place. It’s all rather reminiscent of the time the Tories told people in mid-Wales that they shouldn’t worry about unemployment in their town, as they could get on a bus and be in Cardiff in an hour. This blithely ignored the fact that, thanks to Tory cuts, there were no buses running to Brecon. Furthermore, there were already people from that area forced to work in Cardiff, who already found the journey difficult and barely economic. Added to which was the fact that it was also difficult to find work there. Tebbit had learned nothing from this. I doubt he was even aware of it, and so was able to make his ignorant comments without any awareness of how daft they were.

It does, however, also show how a kind of economic apartheid is emerging in Britain under the Tories. The protestors against the ‘poor doors’ in London, segregated entrances to keep working and lower middle class people apart from the super-rich in their luxury apartments, have noted that this is a kind of apartheid, and drawn parallels with South Africa and its segregation of White and Black. Under apartheid, much of the poor Black population was forced to work away from their homelands as well. There was little or no work available in the Bantustans, the tribal homelands established to confine and isolate the Black peoples from the White population. This was deliberate, and the best land with the greatest resources had been reserved for the Whites. Young men from different tribes were therefore forced to live away from their homes and families in order to find work.

And this, it seems, is the Tory vision for Britain. The poor are to be kept isolated, away from the rich, in poorly served areas, with high unemployment and few resources and opportunities. They will, however, make some kind of meagre living coming to work for their social superiors in the metropolis, on which the Tories will concentrate their resources and policies in order to provide a luxuriously high standard of living for the super-rich, who settled there. No doubt these new, migrant workers will be forced to live in shanty towns just outside the gentrified districts.

Links to the Invitations to Tender for Workfare

April 30, 2014

Jess has kindly provided the links to Jobcentre Plus for the invitations to tender for the new Workfare contracts around Britain and in East London:

‘The tender invitations for workfare in E London!

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/local-partnership-opportunities-with-jobcentre-plus

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/244966/jcp-opp-hackney-borough.pdf’

The first actually gives you the contact and tender invitation documents for a number of regions up and down the country, including the North and Wales. I’m putting them up in case anyone wants to examine these documents to tackle how the government is presenting this new assault on the liberty and dignity of the poor and unemployed. They also give the contact details of the individuals operating the tender process, if anyone wants to contact them to protest about the policy. If you, please be polite and don’t make any threats. It’s the system we want to bring down, rather than simply intimidating people. Besides, it’s counterproductive. Any threats made will be used by the government to prevent further information about workfare and the companies using it from reaching the public, as well as justify further infringements of civil liberties.

Thinking the Unthinkable: Move Parliament out of London

October 19, 2013

From Hell, Hull and Halifax, good Lord deliver us

-16th Century beggars’ prayer.

Last week The Economist recommended that the government cease trying to revive declining northern towns and leave them to die. The main example of such a town, where further intervention was deemed to be useless, was Hull, but the magazine also mentioned a number of others, including Burnley. The Economist is the magazine of capitalist economic orthodoxy in this country. Its stance is consistently Neo-Liberal, and the policies it has always demanded are those of welfare cuts and the privatisation of everything that isn’t nailed down. It has loudly supported the IMF’s recommendations of these policies to the developing world. Some left-wing magazines and organisation like Lobster have pointed out that the IMF’s policies effectively constitute American economic imperialism, citing the IMF’s proposals to several South and Meso-American nations. These were not only told to privatise their countries’ state assets, but to sell them to American multinationals so that they could be more efficiently managed.

The Economist’s advice that economically hit northern towns should be ‘closed down’ also reflects the almost exclusive concentration of the metropolitan establishment class on London and south-east, and their complete disinterest and indeed active hostility to everything beyond Birmingham. This possibly excludes the Scots Highlands, where they can go grouse shooting. It was revealed a little while ago that back in the 1980s one of Thatcher’s cabinet – I forgotten which one – recommended a similar policy towards Liverpool. Recent economic analyses have shown that London and the south-east have become increasingly prosperous, and have a higher quality of life, while that of the North has significantly declined. The London Olympics saw several extensive and prestigious construction projects set up in the Docklands area of London, intended both to build the infrastructure needed for the Olympics and promote the capital to the rest of the world. It’s also been predicted that the high-speed rail link proposed by the Coalition would not benefit Britain’s other cities, but would lead to their further decline as jobs and capital went to London. A report today estimated that 50 cities and regions, including Bristol, Cardiff, Aberdeen and Cambridge would £200 million + through the rail link. The Economist’s article also demonstrates the political class’ comprehensive lack of interest in manufacturing. From Mrs Thatcher onwards, successive administrations have favoured the financial sector, centred on the City of London. Lobster has run several articles over the years showing how the financial sector’s prosperity was bought at the expense of manufacturing industry. Despite claims that banking and financial industry would take over from manufacturing as the largest employer, and boost the British economy, this has not occurred. The manufacturing has indeed contracted, but still employs far more than banking, insurance and the rest of the financial sector. The financial sector, however, as we’ve seen, has enjoyed massively exorbitant profits. The Economist claims to represent the interests and attitudes of the financial class, and so its attitude tellingly reveals the neglectful and contemptuous attitude of the metropolitan financial elite towards the troubled economic conditions of industrial towns outside the capital.

Coupled with this is a condescending attitude that sees London exclusively as the centre of English arts and culture, while the provinces, particularly the North, represent its complete lack. They’re either full of clod-hopping yokels, or unwashed plebs from the factories. Several prominent Right-wingers have also made sneering or dismissive comments about the North and its fate. The art critic and contrarian, Brian Sewell, commented a few years ago that ‘all those dreadful Northern mill towns ought to be demolished’. Transatlantic Conservatism has also felt the need to adopt a defensive attitude towards such comments. The American Conservative, Mark Steyn, on his website declared that criticism of London was simply anti-London bias, but didn’t tell you why people were so critical of the metropolis or its fortunes. This situation isn’t new. At several times British history, London’s rising prosperity was marked by decline and poverty in the rest of the country. In the 17th century there was a recession, with many English ports suffering a sharp economic decline as London expanded to take 75 per cent of the country’s trade. The regional ports managed to survive by concentrating on local, coastal trade rather than international commerce, until trade revived later in the century.

It’s also unfair on the North and its cultural achievements. The North rightfully has a reputation for the excellence of its museum collections. The region’s museums tended to be founded by philanthropic and civic-minded industrialists, keen to show their public spirit and their interest in promoting culture. I can remember hearing from the director of one of the museum’s here in Bristol two decades ago in the 1990s how he was shocked by the state of the City’s museum when he came down here from one of the northern towns. It wasn’t of the same standard he was used to back home. What made this all the more surprising was that Bristol had a reputation for having a very good museum. Now I like Bristol Museum, and have always been fascinated by its collections and displays, including, naturally, those on archaeology. My point here isn’t to denigrate Bristol, but simply show just how high a standard there was in those of the industrial north. Liverpool City Museum and art gallery in particular has a very high reputation. In fact, Liverpool is a case in point in showing the very high standard of provincial culture in the 19th century, and its importance to Britain’s economic, technological and imperial dominance. Liverpool was a major centre in scientific advance and experiment through its philosophical and literary society, and its magazine. This tends to be forgotten, overshadowed as it has been by the city’s terrible decline in the 20th century and its setting for shows dealing with working-class hardship like Boys from the Black Stuff and the comedy, Bread. Nevertheless, its cultural achievements are real, quite apart from modern pop sensations like the Beatles, Cilla Black, Macca and comedians like Jimmy Tarbuck. The town also launched thousands of young engineers and inventors with the Meccano construction sets, while Hornby railways delighted model railway enthusiasts up and down the length of Britain. These two toys have been celebrated in a series of programmes exploring local history, like Coast. Hornby, the inventor of both Meccano and the model railway that bore his name, was duly celebrated by the science broadcaster, Adam Hart-Davis, as one of his Local Heroes.

And Liverpool is certainly not the only city north of London with a proud history. Think of Manchester. This was one of Britain’s major industrial centres, and the original hometown of the Guardian, before it moved to London. It was a major centre of the political debates and controversies that raged during the 19th century, with the Guardian under Feargus O’Connor the major voice of working class radicalism. It was in industrial towns like Manchester that working class culture emerged. Books like The Civilisation of the Crowd show how mass popular culture arose and developed in the 19th century, as people from working-class communities attempted to educate themselves and enjoy music. They formed choirs and brass bands. Working men, who worked long hours used their few spare hours to copy sheet music to sing or play with their fellows. The various mechanics institutes up and down the country were institutions, in which the working class attempted to educate itself and where contemporary issues were discussed. It’s an aspect of industrial, working class culture that needs to be remembered and celebrated, and which does show how strong and vibrant local culture could be in industrial towns outside London.

Back in the 1990s the magazine, Anxiety Culture, suggested a way of breaking this exclusive concentration on London and the interests of the metropolitan elite to the neglect of those in the provinces. This magazine was a small press publication, with a minuscule circulation, which mixed social and political criticism with Forteana and the esoteric, by which I mean alternative spirituality, like Gnosticism, rather than anything Tory prudes think should be banned from the internet, but don’t know quite what. In one of their articles they noted that when a politician said that ‘we should think the unthinkable’, they meant doing more of what they were already doing: cutting down on welfare benefits and hitting the poor. They recommended instead the adoption of a truly radical policy:

Move parliament out of London.

They listed a number of reasons for such a genuinely radical move. Firstly, it’s only been since the 18th century that parliament has been permanently fixed in London. Before then it often sat where the king was at the time. At various points in history it was at Winchester near the Anglo-Saxon and Norman kings’ treasury. It was in York during Edward I’s campaign against the Scots. In short, while parliament has mostly been resident in London, it hasn’t always been there, and so there is no absolutely compelling reason why it should remain so.

Secondly, London’s expensive. The sheer expensive of living in the capital was always so great that civil servants’ pay including ‘London weighting’ to bring it up to the amount they’d really need to live on in the capital, which was always higher than in the rest of the country. The same was true for other workers and employees. As we’ve seen, these inequalities are growing even more massive under the Tories, and there is talk of a demographic cleansing as poorer families are forced to move out of some of the most expensive boroughs in the capital. MPs and the very rich may now afford to live in luxury accommodation in the metropolis, but I wonder how long it will be before the capital’s infrastructure breaks down because so many of its workers simply cannot afford to live there. The government has declared that it is keen on cutting expenses, and public sector employees’ salaries have been particularly hard hit. The government could therefore solve a lot of its problems – such as those of expense, and the cost in time and money of negotiating the heavy London traffic – by relocating elsewhere.

Birmingham would be an excellent place to start. This has most of what London has to offer, including excellent universities and entertainment centres, such as the NEC, but would be much cheaper. Or York. During the Middle Ages, this was England’s Second City. It’s an historic town, with a history going back to the Romans. The excavations at Coppergate made York one of the major British sites for the archaeology of the Vikings. It also has an excellent university. One could also recommend Durham. When I was growing up in the 1980s, Durham University was considered the third best in the country, following Oxbridge. Manchester too would be an outstanding site for parliament. Apart from its historic associations with working class politics, it has also been a major centre of British scientific research and innovation. Fred Hoyle, the astronomer and maverick cosmologist, came from that fair city. While he was persistently wrong in supporting the steady-state theory against the Big Bang, he was one of Britain’s major astronomers and physicists, and Manchester University does have a very strong tradition of scientific research and innovation. British politicians are also keen to show that they are now tolerant with an inclusive attitude towards gays. Manchester’s Canal Street is one of the main centres of gay nightlife. If parliament really wanted to show how tolerant it was of those in same-sex relationship, it would make sense for it to move to Manchester.

Furthermore, relocating parliament to the north should have the effect of reinvigorating some of these cities and the north generally. The influx of civil servants and highly paid officials and ministers would stimulate the local economy. It would also break the myopic assumption that there is nothing of any value outside London. If the government and its servants continued to feel the same way, then they would have the option of actually passing reforms to improve their new homes by providing better road and rail links, improving local education, building or better funding theatres, orchestras and opera companies, investing in local businesses to support both the governmental infrastructure, but also to provide suitable work for themselves and their children, when they retire from the Civil Service. In short, moving parliament out of London to the midlands or the North would massively regenerate those part of England.

It won’t happen, because the current financial, political and business elite are very much tied to the metropolis as the absolute centre of English life and culture. They won’t want to leave its theatres, art galleries and museums, or move away from nearby sporting venues, like Ascot. They would find the idea of moving out of London absolutely unthinkable. But perhaps, as Anxiety Culture suggested twenty years ago, it is time that these ideas were thought, rather than the banal and all-too often ruminated policies of cutting benefits and penalising the poor.