Posts Tagged ‘‘Unemployed in Tyne and Weare’’

The Feral Children of the Upper Classes

July 23, 2014

I was reading A Gay Mentalist’s blog a little while ago, and a term he used to describe the middle classes struck me. He called them ‘feral’. It’s not a word that usually applied to the upper ranks of society. Usually it’s given to the underclass and their children, the type of people, leading bleak lives of deprivation and pointless moral squalor. The type of people with no jobs, and no self-respect, whose chief and often only activities seem to be drunkenness, drug dealing, violence and sexual promiscuity. The type of people who provide the raw fodder for Jeremy Kyle, as they slouch onto his show to present their sordid tales of domestic abuse and accuse each other of stealing each other’s partners.

It does, however, also perfectly describe the attitude of the middle classes, and particularly the hysterical ranting of the middle market tabloids and the vicious, punitive attitude of the Tory front bench. ‘Feral’ implies savage, wild, extremely aggressive, vicious and untameable. You apply it to animals, like feral dogs infected with rabies, and vicious creatures like wolverines and pole-cats. It’s applied to creatures that most definitely stand outside the safe, decent and civilised, like the notorious ‘rat boy’, who got into the news a few years ago. This was a small boy, who already had racked up a long list of offences despite his extreme youth. He got his name because he used to disappear down the various service pipes lying about his estate to escape from the police.

The Murderous, Middle Class Persecution of the Poor, Disabled and Unemployed

Yet ‘savage’, ‘vicious’ also describes the Tory attitude to bullying the weakest members of society – the unemployed, the disabled, asylum seekers, everyone, who got on to the Tories’ wretched little list of people they want to persecute. The violence isn’t necessarily physical. They haven’t quite descended to the level of the Nazi party just yet in sending stormtroopers in to beat and murder benefit claimants, but it’s there nevertheless. Think of all the people Mike, Johnny Void, Kittysjones, Stilloaks, Glynismillward, Tom Pride, the Angry Yorkshireman, Untyneweare and so many others have blogged about, dying in hunger and squalor due to benefit sanctions. It’s the result of a vicious, murderous attitude to those they deem below them every bit as vicious and unrestrained as the type of gang hatreds you can see acted out on street corners in the sink estates. Fuelling it is a palpable sense of threat and status anxiety – that the working class and the unemployed are somehow a threat to middle class society and its precarious norms – every bit as vehement as that of the local thug or bully, who declares that he just wants a bit of ‘respect’.

Eton and Public School Bullying

It also accurately describes the culture of bullying and violence that pervades private, and particularly elite, education. The bullying in public schools is notorious. A friend of mine, who came from such a background, told me that in the public schools you were bullied horrifically in your first year, only for this to stop and you to become a bully in your term in the second. And some of the bullying truly is horrific. Way back in the 1980s Private Eye reviewed yet another book on Eton, and said that the accounts of the bullying there were so extreme and revolting, that if they occurred in state education it would result in a public outrage and demands for the school closed down or placed in special measures. One example of the type of bullying that went on came from one old Etonian, who said there was one boy, who forced others to eat ice cream mixed with human excrement. The bully is not named. It was, however, stated that he was now a prominent lawyer. And some of the bullying was sexual. Given the sexual nature of some of the cruelty, it’s probably not surprising that the elite covered up the paedophile activities of their members for so long. Exposure to that kind of bullying at public school may well have inculcated a kind of indifference to it, in the same way it is argued that too much exposure to porn or extreme violence in the movies will habituate viewers to even more extreme and depraved acts in normal society.

Physical Attacks on the Poor by Public School Children

And the children of the rich are violent too. A friend of mine once told me that ‘Eton Rifles’ was about a gang fight in which a group of public school boys beat up a group of lower class lads. It also affects the security measures some local businesses adopt to protect their property and customers from assault from the rich and privately educated. A little while ago I went on a tour of East Anglia and the Fen Country with a group of friends. One of the hotels we stayed in, a magnificent inn dating back to the Middle Ages, had various measures up to stop people causing trouble. They weren’t particularly intrusive, and I can’t remember now what they were, only that they were there. They weren’t imposed to stop the usual drunks and thugs starting fights in the bar. They were actually aimed at protecting the premises, customers and staff from the pupils at the private school nearby. At the end of the school year, or the term, these children would leave school to start fights and smash up the shops in the time. Presumably they felt entitled to this as their parents were rich enough to pay the £40,000 a year school fees.

The Public School Gun-Nuts of Snapchat and Pistolero Violence in the Developing World

You can see some of that same attitude on the story I reblogged this week about Snapchat, the Facebook site for public schoolchildren. This featured them showing off their wealth and contempt for the rest of the society in the most offensive ways possible. Among them were using £20 and £50 notes as toilet paper, and waving around guns. These, they claimed, were to protect their estates from ‘the peasants’.

Let’s examine the double standards going on here. If a Black lad or someone from the White underclass put up a photograph of themselves waving a gun around, trying to be ‘gangsta’ or mouthing off about protecting his ‘manor’, there would be angry and excited columns in the Mail and other papers screaming about ‘gun crime’ Britain. And not without reason, either. Gun crime and gang shootings are a problem in many British cities. You could also compare it, and the attitude underpinning it, to the right-wing gun-nuts in America. They’re affluent, but not necessarily rich, and the image tends to be of rural red-necks announcing that the government will only be able to take their guns away from ‘their cold, dead hands’. They’re as much objects of ridicule and contempt as seen as a threat.

No such opprobrium seems to be applied to these children, probably because the upper classes have always had a fascination with guns and shooting. Orwell remarked that the aristocracy and middle classes were brought up for war and battle. Which makes them sound like Dr Who’s Sontarans: bred for war. The stereotype is of aristocratic families, who have supplied a long line of soldiers and generals since the founder first came over with William the Conqueror, and who list various antecedents who fought at Agincourt, conquered India under Clive, and then did their patriotic duty at various battles in the Napoleonic, First and Second World Wars. The Combined Cadet Force frequently formed part of their education, training them for further service and leadership in the armed forces.

Now there are certainly parts of the world where, if you’re rich, you most certainly do need armed protection. There’s some extremely grisly photos around the web of the White farmers, who were killed by armed robbers in South Africa. In other parts of the Developing World, it’s historically been the other way, and the poor have most definitely needed protection from people like the gun-crazed youngster on Snapchat. In many parts of the Developing World the rural poor were kept in serfdom by the masters of the estate, who hired guns to intimidate and kill anyone who stepped out of line. Way back when I was at school about thirty years ago, the BBC screened a series, Brazil, Brazil covering that country and its history. This covered that aspect of Brazilian society, the owners of massive estates in their haciendas, and the pistoleros, the gunmen they employed. They talked to the peasants, who’d been threatened and attacked by these men for asking for wage rises or otherwise daring to challenge the absolute domination of their lives by their masters. Now you can conclude from this that the rich kids now showing off their guns on Snapchat and ranting about protecting their property from peasants are just reacting to the real violence against the wealthy in many parts of the world. Or they’re simply rich brats, with a feudal sense of entitlement, who really do believe that the lower orders are peasants, who should be kept down with armed force, exactly like their public school friends in Latin America do with the peons on their plantations. Considering the way Priti Patel and the other authors of Britannia Unchained believed that Britain should follow the exploitative employment practices of developing nations like India, this is a real possibility.

In short, A Gay Mentalist is exactly right: there is a culture of vicious, feral violence amongst the middle classes. It’s shown in the horrendous bullying for which the public schools have been notorious since the publication of Tom Brown’s Schooldays. It’s shown in the violent contempt so many have for the lower orders. And its there in the need to humiliate, persecute and kill the working and lower middle classes, the unemployed and the disabled, as expressed in the system of benefit sanctions, and physical testing now being used to decimate the welfare state. It’s there to satisfy the sadistic cruelty of RTU, Fester McLie and latest upper middle class thugs now taking up residence and valuable office space in the DWP. And its present in the terrible sense of threat clearly felt by the Daily Mail, the Express and every right-wing newspaper, not excluding the Torygraph and the Times in their editorials and their need to drum up further hatred against the poor, marginalised and underprivileged.

Advertisements

Coventry Tories Attack Food Banks and the People Who Need Them

June 29, 2014

Lady Godiva posted this video as a comment to the post I reblogged from Unemployed in Tyne and Weare about one of the Tory councillors for Coventry, Lepoidevin, blaming the people using food banks for their own predicament. She claimed that some of the people forced to turn to them did so because they chose to indulge their own selfish desires for drugs and alcohol over paying the rent and feeding their children. This video shows her actually saying that. It begins, however, with her colleague, Councillor Blundell, claiming that the rise in food banks is due to the ambition of the Trussell Trust to have a food bank in every town. Blundell then says they’re going to ‘thwart’ the Trust’s ambition, partly by ‘growing the economy’. Here’s the video:

Now, as Untyneweare’s article made clear, some of the people referred to the food banks do come from an agency dealing with those issues. However, the person, who has to spend his or her rent or money for food on alcohol and/or drugs, has gone way beyond using them for pleasure. They’re addicted. There’s a lot you can say about alcoholism and drug addiction. One of the most important is that it’s not a pleasure, it’s a clinical illness. The countries that have the best recovery rates for these diseases, like Switzerland, treat it as such. And part of the reason they succeed, is that while some people might find defying the law for forbidden and dangerous pleasures attractive, no-one really wants to be sick.

And we are dealing with severe sickness here. A friend of mine once told me he knew people, who were hooked on heroin. They once literally sold the clothes off their backs for a fix. No-one ever goes through that stage of addiction voluntarily. Somebody that does clearly needs help.

As for doing it for pleasure, the impression I had from the people, who spoke at the Uni about a project the archaeology department did in Bristol with the homeless, is that many of those on the streets, who have alcohol and drug problems, have severe psychological problems. In the case of the children and young people, they’re quite often fleeing violent and abusive home. In psychological parlance, they’re ‘self-medicating’. They’ve started using drugs and alcohol as a way of escaping from some of the inner, mental torment. They’re sick on all number of levels. Councillor Lepoidevin is basically kicking people who are severely ill, based on nothing more than the folk wisdom and morality peddled by the Daily Mail and the Express.

Just before Blair won the 1997 election, Channel 4 showed a programme ‘The Dinner Party’. This consisted of very middle class types simply talking round the dinner table about, well, Life, the Universe, and Everything. But with precious little of the late Douglas Adams’ wit, humour or intelligence. Instead, it showed them as a bunch of profoundly ignorant, sneering misanthropic snobs with a complete contempt for their social inferiors and an absolute complacency about their own status in society. The picture was so revolting, that several TV reviewers joked that Channel 4 had deliberately screened it to boost Blair’s campaign by showing how utterly disgusting the Tories were.

It’s precisely the reaction I have to the crew in this video. One of the contributors to Lobster once asked one of his friends, what the global financial elite were after the friend attended a high level banking conference. The friend said simply, ‘Worse than you can ever possibly imagine’. This shows them without the mask. And it’s ugly. Very ugly.

Working Class Experience and the Tories’ Hatred of International Human Rights Legislation

May 19, 2014

Democrat Dissection pic

William(?) Dent, ‘A Right Honble Democrat Dissected’, 1793. In Roy Porter, Bodies Politic: Death, Disease and Doctors in Britain, 1650-1900 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press 2001) 243. The caption for this reads: The various portions of his anatomy display every form of hypocrisy and immorality, personal and political.

The Tories Attack on Human Rights Legislation

Last week I reblogged Mike’s piece, ‘The Tory Euro Threat Exposed’, which demolished some of the claims the Tories were making about the EU, including their promise to hold a referendum on Europe. One of the criticisms Mike made was against the Tories’ plans to withdraw Britain from the European Court of Human Rights. Mike pointed out that the Court is actually nothing to do with the EU, and if Britain withdrew, it would mean the Tories could pass highly illiberal legislation ignoring and undermining the human rights of British citizens. He specifically mentioned workfare, the right to a fair trial and the current laws protecting the disabled as areas that would be under threat. It is not just European human rights legislation and international justice that the Tories are opposed to. They also plan to repeal Labour’s human rights legislation at home.

The Memoir of Robert Blincoe and 19th Century Working Class Political Oppression

Jess, one of the commenters on mine and Mike’s blog, suggested that the part of the problem was that most people now don’t recall a time when there was no absolutely no respect for human rights in Britain, and people were genuinely oppressed and jailed for their political beliefs. As a corrective, she posted a link to The Memoir of Robert Blincoe, a 19th century working-class activist, who was jailed for setting up a trade union. She wrote

Part of the ‘problem’ convincing people of the validity of human rights legislation is they have no concept, or memory, of what things were like before such things began to be regulated. Or the fight it took to force such legislation through Parliament.

This small book, ‘Memoir of Robert Blincoe’, now online, courtesy of Malcolm Powell’s Northern Grove Publishing Project
http://www.malcsbooks.com/resources/A%20MEMOIR%20OF%20ROBERT%20BLINCOE.pdf

“The Memoir….” was first published by Richard Carlile in his journal ‘The Lion’ in 1828. It was republished as a pamphlet the same year, and then re-serialised in ‘The Poor Man’s Advocate’ later the same year.

The pioneer Trades Unionist, John Doherty republished it in 1832, with the co-operation of Blincoe and additional text. Caliban reprinted Doherty’s text in 1977. For some reason it was not mentioned in Burnett, Mayall and Vincent (Eds) Bibliograpy (of) The Autobiography of The Working Class.

19th Century Oppression, thatcher’s Assault on the Unions, British Forced Labour Camps and the New Surveillance State

She has a point. For most people, this was so long ago that it’s no longer relevant – just another fact of history, along with the Tolpuddle Martyrs, the Great Reform Act and the Workhouse. It’s an example how things were grim back in the 19th century, but it doesn’t really have any direct significance today. In fact, it’s extremely relevant as the Tories are doing their best to strangle the Trade Unions with legislation following their decimation with the Miners’ Strike under Thatcher. The Coalition has also passed legislation providing for the establishment of secret courts, and Britain is being transformed into a surveillance society through the massive tapping of phones and other electronic communication by GCHQ. And I reblogged a piece from one of the other bloggers – I think it was Unemployed in Tyne and Weare – about the existence of forced labour camps for the unemployed here in Britain during the recession of the 1920s. I doubt anyone outside a few small circles of labour historians have heard of that, particularly as the authorities destroyed much of the documentation. Nevertheless, it’s a sobering reminder that Britain is not unique, and that the methods associated with Nazism and Stalinism certainly existed over here.

Britain as Uniquely Democratic, Above Foreign Interference

Another part of the problem lies in British exceptionalism. There is the view that somehow Britain is uniquely democratic, with a mission to spread freedom and democracy throughout the world. This conception of one’s country and its history is strongest in America, and forms a very powerful element of the ideology of the Republican party and the Neo-Cons. America has repeatedly refused to allow international courts jurisdiction in America and condemned criticism of American society and institutions by the UN, on the grounds that these organisations and the countries they represent are much less democratic than the US. To allow them jurisdiction in America, or over Americans, is seen as an attack on the fundamental institutions of American freedom. Thus, while America has demanded that foreign heads of states responsible for atrocities, such as the Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic, should be tried at the International War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague, it has strenuously resisted calls for the prosecution of American commanders accused of similar crimes.

Britain Not Democratic for Most of its History

This sense of a unique, democratic destiny and a moral superiority to other nations also permeates the British Right. Daniel Hannan, the Conservative MEP for Dorset, who wishes to privatise the NHS, has written a book, on how the English-speaking peoples invented democracy. It’s a highly debatable view. Most historians, I suspect, take the view instead that it was the Americans and French, rather than exclusively the English-speaking peoples, who invented democracy. Britain invented representative, elected government, but until quite late in the 19th century the franchise was restricted to a narrow class of propertied men. Women in Britain finally got the right to vote in 1918, but didn’t actually get to vote until 1928. Part of the Fascist revolt in Britain in the 1930s was by Right-wing, die-hard Tories alarmed at all of the proles finally getting the vote, and the growing power of Socialism and the trade unions. Technically, Britain is still not a democracy. The architects of the British constitution in the 17th and 18th centuries viewed it as mixed constitution, containing monarchy, aristocracy and democracy, with each component and social class acting as a check on the others. The House of Commons was the democratic element. And the 17th and 18th century views of its democratic nature often seem at odds with the modern idea that everyone should have the inalienable right to vote. It seems to me that these centuries’ very restricted view of democracy ultimately derived from Aristotle. In his Politics, Aristotle considers a number of constitutions and forms of government and state, including democracy. His idea of democracy, however, is very definitely not ours. He considers it to be a state governed by leisured, landed gentlemen, who are supposed to remain aloof and separate from the lower orders – the artisans, labourers, tradesmen and merchants, who actually run the economy. In his ideal democracy, there were to be two different fora – one for the gentlemen of the political class, the other for the rude mechanicals and tradesmen of the hoi polloi.

How seriously the British ruling class took democracy and constitutional freedom can be seen in the very rapid way they removed and abolished most of it to stop the proles rising up during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. Burke is hailed as the founder of modern Conservatism for his Reflections on the Revolution in France, in which he argued for cautious, gradual change firmly grounded and respecting national tradition, as opposed to the violence and bloodshed which occurred over the other side of the Channel, when the French tried rebuilding their nation from scratch. At the time, however, Burke was seen as half-mad and extremely eccentric for his views.

Imperial Government and Lack of Democracy in Colonies

The lack of democracy became acute in the case of the countries the British conquered as they established the British Empire. The peoples of Africa, the Middle East and Asia were largely governed indirectly through their indigenous authorities. However, ultimate authority lay with the British governors and the colonial administration. It was not until the 1920s, for example, that an indigenous chief was given a place on the colonial council in the Gold Coast, now Ghana. Some governors did actively try to involve the peoples, over whom they ruled, in the business of government, like Hennessy in Hong Kong. For the vast majority of colonial peoples, however, the reality was the absence of self-government and democracy.

British Imperial Aggression and Oppression of Subject Peoples

And for many of the peoples of the British Empire, imperial rule meant a long history of horrific oppression. The sugar plantations of the West Indies have been described as ‘concentration camps for Blacks’, which have left a continuing legacy of bitterness and resentment amongst some West Indians. The sense of moral outrage, as well as the horrific nature of imperial rule for Black West Indians and the indigenous Arawak and Carib peoples in books on West Indian history written by West Indians can come as a real shock to Brits, who have grown up with the Whig interpretation of history. Other chapters in British imperial history also come across as actually quite sordid, like the annexation of the Transvaal, despite the fact that the Afrikaaner voortrekkers who colonised it did so to get away from British rule. The Opium War is another notorious example, the colonisation of Australia was accompanied by the truly horrific genocide of the Aboriginal peoples, and the late 19th century ‘Scramble for Africa’, which saw much of the continent conquered by the French and British, was largely motivated by the desire to grab Africa and its resources before the Germans did.

Whig Interpretation of History: Britain Advancing Freedom against Foreign Tyranny

All this gives the lie to the Whig interpretation of history. This was the name the historian Butterfield gave to the reassuring, patriotic view of British history being one natural progression upwards to democracy and the Empire. There’s still an element of it around today. The view of the Empire as promoted by patriotic text books like Our Empire Story, was of Britain establishing freedom and justice against foreign tyrants and despots, civilising the backward nations of Africa and Asia. Similar views can be found in Niall Ferguson, who in his books states that Europe and America managed to overtake other global cultures because of their innately democratic character and respect for property. Ferguson presented this idea in a television series, which was critiqued by Private Eye’s ‘Square Eyes’.

Another, very strong element in this patriotic view of British history is the struggle Between Britain and foreign tyrants, starting with the French in the Hundred Years War, through the Spanish Armada, and then the Napoleonic War and Hitler, and finally as part of the Western free world standing against Communism. In fact, many of the regimes supported by Britain and the Americans weren’t very free at all. Salvador Allende of Chile, although a Marxist, was democratically elected. He was over thrown in the coup that elevated General Pinochet to power, sponsored by the CIA. Similar coups were launched against the democratic, non-Marxist Socialist regime of Benz in Guatemala. And it hasn’t stopped with the election of Barak Obama. Seumas Milne in one of his pieces for the Guardian, collected in The Revenge of History, reports a Right-wing coup against the democratically elected government in Honduras, again sponsored by America. at the same time Britain and America supported various Middle Eastern despots and tyrants, including the theocratic, absolute monarchies of the Gulf States, against Communism. If you are a member of these nations, in South and Central America and the Middle East, you could be forgiven for believing that the last thing the West stands for is democracy, or that it’s a hypocritical pose. Democracy and freedom is all right for Britain, America and their allies, but definitely not something to be given to the rest of the world. And certainly not if they don’t vote the way we want them.

Origin of Link between Britain and Democracy in Churchill’s Propaganda against Axis

In fact, it’s only been since the Second World War that the English-speaking world has attempted to make itself synonymous with ‘democracy’. While Britain previously considered itself to be a pillar of freedom, this was certainly not synonymous, and in some cases directly opposed to democracy. Some 18th and 19th century cartoons on the radical ferment about the time of the French Revolution and its supporters in Britain are explicitly anti-democratic. Martini Pugh in his book on British Fascism between the Wars notes that large sections of the colonial bureaucracy, including the India Office, were firmly against the introduction of democracy in England. According to an article on the origins of the English-Speaking Union in the Financial Times I read years ago, this situation only changed with the Second World War, when Churchill was faced with the problem of winning the propaganda battle against Nazi Germany. So he attempted win allies, and hearts and minds, by explicitly linking British culture to the idea of democracy. This may not have been a hugely radical step, as Hitler already equated Britain with democracy. Nevertheless, it completed the process by which the country’s view of its constitution, from being narrowly oligarchical, was transformed into a democracy, though one which retained the monarchy and the House of Lords.

House of Lords as Seat of British Prime Ministers, Not Commons

And it wasn’t that long ago that effective power lay with the upper house, rather than the Commons. During the 19th and early 20th centuries a succession of prime ministers were drawn from the House of Lords. It was only after Lloyd George’s constitutional reforms that the head of government came from the Lower House, rather than the chamber of the aristocracy.

Most of this is either unknown, or is just accepted by most people in Britain today. The British’ idea of themselves as uniquely democratic is largely accepted unquestioningly, to the point where just raising the issue of how recent and artificial it is, especially with regard to Britain’s colonies and the Empire’s subaltern peoples, is still extremely radical. And the Conservatives and their fellows on the Right, like UKIP, play on this assumption of democratic superiority. Europe, or anywhere else in the world, for that matter, isn’t as democratic us, and has absolutely no right telling us what to do.

Need to Challenge Image of Britain as Uniquely Democratic, to Stop Tories Undermining It

And so the British image of themselves as innately, quintessentially democratic and freedom-loving, is turned around by the Right to attack foreign human rights legislation, courts and institutions, that help to protect British freedoms at home. This needs to be tackled, and the anti-democratic nature of much of British history and political culture needs to be raised and properly appreciated in order to stop further erosion of our human rights as British citizens, by a thoroughly reactionary Conservative administration determined to throw us back to the aristocratic rule of the 19th century, when democracy was itself was highly suspect and even subversive because of its origins in the French Revolution.