Posts Tagged ‘Upper Class’

80s Space Comedy From Two of the Goodies

May 26, 2020

Astronauts, written by Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie, 13 episodes of 25 minutes in length. First Broadcast ITV 1981 and 1983.

I hope everyone had a great Bank Holiday Monday yesterday, and Dominic Cummings’ hypocritical refusal to resign after repeatedly and flagrantly breaking the lockdown rules aren’t getting everyone too down. And now, for the SF fans, is something completely different as Monty Python used to say.

Astronauts was a low budget ITV sitcom from the very early ’80s. It was written by the two Goodies responsible for writing the scripts for their show, Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie, and based on the personal conflicts and squabbling of the American astronauts on the Skylab programme six years earlier. It was about three British astronauts, RAF officer, mission commander and pilot Malcolm Mattocks, chippy, left-wing working-class engineer David Ackroyd, coolly intellectual biologist Gentian Fraser,and their dog, Bimbo,  who are launched into space as the crew of the first all-British space station. Overseeing the mission is their American ground controller Lloyd Beadle. Although now largely forgotten, the show lasted two seasons, and there must have been some continuing demand for it, because it’s been released nearly forty years later as a DVD. Though not in such demand that I didn’t find it in DVD/CD bargain catalogue.

Low Budget

The show’s very low budget. Lower than the Beeb’s Blake’s 7, which often cited as an example of low budget British science fiction. There’s only one model used, that of their space station, which is very much like the factual Skylab. The shots of their spacecraft taking off are stock footage of a Saturn V launch, the giant rockets used in the Moon landings and for Skylab. There also seems to be only one special effects sequence in the show’s entire run, apart from outside shots. That’s when an accident causes the station to move disastrously out of its orbit, losing gravity as it does so. Cheap matte/ Chromakey effects are used to show Mattocks rising horizontally from his bunk, where he’s been lying, while Bimbo floats through the bedroom door.

Class in Astronauts and Red Dwarf

It’s hard not to compare it with the later, rather more spectacular Red Dwarf, which appeared in 1986, three years after Astronaut’s last season. Both shows centre around a restricted regular cast. In Red Dwarf this was initially just Lister, Holly and the Cat before the appearance of Kryten. Much of the comedy in Red Dwarf is also driven by their similar situation to their counterparts in Astronauts – personality clashes in the cramped, isolated environment of a spacecraft. The two shows are also similar in that part of this conflict from class and a Conservative military type versus working class cynic/ liberal. In Red Dwarf it’s Rimmer as the Conservative militarist, while Lister is the working class rebel. In Astronauts the military man is Mattocks, a patriotic RAF pilot, while Ackroyd, the engineer, is left-wing, Green, and affects to be working class. The three Astronauts also debate the class issue, accusing each other of being posh before establishing each other’s place in the class hierarchy. Mattocks is posh, but not as posh as Foster. Foster’s working class credentials are, however, destroyed during an on-air phone call with his mother, who is very definitely middle or upper class, and talks about going to the Conservative club. In this conflict, it’s hard not to see a similarity with the Goodies and the conflict there between the Conservative screen persona of Tim Brooke-Taylor and Bill Oddie’s left-wing, working class character.

Class, however, plays a much smaller role in Red Dwarf. Lister is more underclass than working class, and the show, set further in the future, has less overt references to contemporary class divisions and politics. The humour in Red Dwarf is also somewhat bleaker. The crew are alone three million years in the future, with the human race vanished or extinct with the exception of Lister. Rimmer is an ambitious failure. For all he dreams of being an officer, he has failed the exam multiple times and the B.Sc he claims is Batchelor of Science is really BSC – Bronze Swimming Certificate. Both he and Lister are at the lowest peg of the ship’s hierarchy in Red Dwarf. They’re maintenance engineers, whose chief duties is unblocking the nozzles of vending machines. Lister’s background is rough. Very rough. While others went scrumping for apples, he and his friends went scrumping for cars. The only famous person in his class was a man who ate his wife. The three heroes of Astronauts, however, are all competent, intelligent professionals despite their bickering. Another difference is that while both series have characters riddled with self-loathing, in Red Dwarf it’s the would-be officer Rimmer, while in Astronauts is working class engineer Ackroyd.

Britain Lagging Behind in Space

Other issues in Astronauts include Britain’s low status as a space power. In a speech in the first episode, the crew express their pride at being the first British mission, while paying tribute to their American predecessors in the Apollo missions. The Ealing comedy The Mouse on the Moon did something similar. And yet Britain at the time had been the third space power. Only a few years before, the British rocket Black Arrow had been successfully launched from Woomera in Australia, successfully taking a British satellite into orbit.

Personal Conflicts

There are also conflicts over the cleaning and ship maintenance duties, personal taste in music – Mattocks irritates Ackroyd by playing Tubular Bells, publicity or lack of it – in one episode, the crew are annoyed because it seems the media back on Earth have forgotten them – and disgust at the limited menu. Mattocks is also shocked to find that Foster has been killing and dissecting the mice he’s been playing with, and is afraid that she’ll do it to the dog. Sexism and sexual tension also rear their heads. Mattocks fancies Foster, but Ackroyd doesn’t, leading to further conflict between them and her. Foster, who naturally wants to be seen as an equal and ‘one of the boys’ tries to stop this by embarrassing them. She cuts her crew uniform into a bikini and then dances erotically in front of the two men, before jumping on them both crying ‘I’ll have both of you!’ This does the job, and shames them, but Beadle, watching them gets a bit too taken with the display, shouting ‘Work it! Work it! Boy! I wish I was up there with you boys!’ Foster also objects to Mattocks because he doesn’t help his wife, Valerie, out with the domestic chores at home. Mattocks also suspects that his wife is having an affair, which she is, in a sort-of relationship with Beadle. There’s also a dig at the attitudes of some magazines. In the press conference before the three go on their mission, Foster is asked by Woman’s Own if she’s going to do any cooking and cleaning in space. Beadle and his team reply that she’s a highly trained specialist no different from the men. The joke’s interesting because in this case the butt of the humour is the sexism in a certain type of women’s magazine, rather than chauvinist male attitudes.

Cold War Espionage

Other subjects include the tense geopolitical situation of the time. Mattocks is revealed to have been running a secret espionage programme, photographing Russian bases as the station flies over them in its orbit. The others object, and Ackroyd is finally able to persuade Beadle to allow them to use the technology to photograph illegal Russian whaling in the Pacific. This is used to embarrass the Russians at an international summit, but the questions about the origin of the photos leads to the espionage programme being abandoned. The crew also catch sight of a mysterious spacecraft in the same orbit, and start receiving communications in a strange language. After initially considering that it just might be UFOs, it’s revealed that they do, in fact, come from a lonely Russian cosmonaut. Foster speaks Russian, and starts up a friendship. When Mattocks finds out, he is first very suspicious, but then after speaking to the Russian in English, he too becomes friends. He’s the most affected when the Russian is killed after his craft’s orbit decays and burns up re-entering the atmosphere.

Soft Drink Sponsorship

There are also digs at commercial sponsorship. The mission is sponsored by Ribozade, whose name is a portmanteau of the British drinks Ribeena and Lucozade. Ribozade tastes foul, but the crew nevertheless have it on board and must keep drinking it. This is not Science Fiction. One of the American missions was sponsored by Coca Cola, I believe, and so one of the space stations had a Coke machine on board. And when Helen Sharman went into space later in the decade aboard a Russian rocket to the space station Mir, she was originally to be sponsored by Mars and other British companies.

God, Philosophy and Nicholas Parsons

The show also includes arguments over the existence or not of the Almighty. Mattocks believes He exists, and has shown His special favour to them by guiding his hand in an earlier crisis. Mattocks was able to save them, despite having no idea what he was doing. Ackroyd, the sceptic, replies that he can’t say the Lord doesn’t exist, but can’t see how God could possibly create Nicholas Parsons and Sale of the Century, one of the popular game shows on ITV at the time, if He did. As Mattocks is supposed to be guiding them down from orbit, his admission that he really didn’t know what he was doing to rescue the station naturally alarms Foster and Ackroyd so that they don’t trust his ability to get them down intact.

Red Dwarf also has its jokes about contemporary issues and politics. Two of the most memorable are about the hole in the Earth’s ozone layer being covered with a gigantic toupee, and the despair squid, whose ink causes its prey to become suicidal and which has thus destroyed all other life on its world in the episode ‘Back to Reality’. Other jokes include everyone knowing where they were when Cliff Richard got shot. Red Dwarf, however, is much more fantastic and goes further in dealing with philosophical issues, such as when Rimmer is incarcerated in a space prison where justice is definitely retributive. If you do something illegal, it comes back to happen to you. This is demonstrated when Lister follows Rimmer’s instruction and tries to set his sheets alight. He shortly finds that his own black leather jacket has caught fire.

Conclusion

Red Dwarf is able to go much further in exploring these and other bizarre scenarios as it’s definitely Science Fiction. Astronauts is, I would argue, space fiction without the SF. It’s fictional, but based solidly on fact, including generating gravity through centrifugal force. But critically for any comedy is the question whether its funny. Everyone’s taste is different, but in my opinion, yes, Astronauts is. It’s dated and very much of its time, but the humour still stands up four decades later. It had me laughing at any rate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Private Schools Turn Down Bursaries for White Working Class Boys

January 7, 2020

This is a very interesting story from last weekend’s I. A retired Maths professor, Sir Bryan Thwaites, offered two private schools bursaries for White working class boys. They both turned it down. Their refusal, and the fact that these bursaries are needed, says much about class and race in the early 21st century. The report contained the observation that ‘inverted snobbery and liberal guilt neglect the white poor’. Which is true, but it’s also true that such bursaries wouldn’t quite be so necessary if it weren’t for Thatcherism. Thatcher promised that her reforms would turn Britain into a meritocracy, where everyone could succeed, regardless of class background, provided they had the talent. This has spectacularly not happened. Class mobility was at a standstill during Blair’s administration. Now it seems to have gone into reverse. And at the bottom are the working class that Thatcher and the Tories despise, and Blair neglected.

Thwaites was a working class lad, who had gone to Dulwich and Winchester Colleges on scholarships. He therefore wanted to award them bursaries amounting to £1.2m to set up scholarships for lads from his background. He said he wanted to address the ‘severe national problem of the underperforming white cohort in schools’. The donations amounted to £400,000 for Dulwich and £800,000 for Winchester. They turned them down because they were afraid that the donations broke equality rules. Winchester said that they ‘did not see how discrimination on the grounds of a boy’s colour could ever be compatible with its values’. Dulwich simply said bursaries were available to everyone who passed their entrance exam, ‘regardless of their background.’

Thwaites, who is himself a former college head, told the Times, ‘If [the colleges] were to say ‘We are helping these deprived cohorts of children,’ that would do a hell of a lot for their reputation and show that the independent sector is taking some notice of what’s going on in the world at large. The implication of their refusal… is that they couldn’t give a damn.’

Poor White Educational Underperformance

The newspaper then printed some stats to show why Thwaites believed such bursaries were necessary. Only 15 per cent of White boys receiving free school meals achieve a grade 5 or higher in English and Maths at GCSE in 2018 compared with 33.6 per cent of Asian boys and 23.4 per cent of Black boys.

It also noted that four years ago universities were told to recruit more working class students – particularly boys – after statistics showed that just 10 per cent of young men from the poorest areas went into higher education.

Thwaites therefore said he was turning his attention to state schools and academies would be only too glad to accept his money. Referring to Stormzy’s decision to set up two scholarships for Black undergrads at Cambridge, he asked ‘If Cambridge University can accept a much larger donation in support of Black students, why cannot I do the same for under-privileged White British?’

Trevor Phillips Attacks ‘Inverted Snobbery’ over White Children

The I commented that ‘it is these barriers – of structural inequality and the intersection of race and class – that society tends to tiptoe around in order to avoid honey-yet-difficult conversations.

However, in last month’s Standpoint, Trevor Phillips, the broadcaster and former chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, attacked the ‘inverted snobbery’ which held by poor White boys. He claimed that modern society had made institutions ridiculously squeamish about accepting that their treatment of Whites as a ‘non-race’ was itself racist, and added ‘They have become so confused in these ‘woke’ times that a lethal cocktail of inverted snobbery, racial victimhood, and liberal guilt ends up rewarding schools for favouring the Black and Brown rich while neglecting the White poor.”

Comments from Other Academics

The report then said that campaigners have long tried to level the playing field so that every child, regardless of its race, gender or background, was given the best possible start in life. They then quoted Dr Lee Elliot Major, the professor of social mobility at Exeter Uni. He said

Philanthropists want to help people similar to them and, of course, that is their prerogative,. But often the bigger issue is help people who are not like them.

Success comes in many forms. Social mobility is not just about getting those magical tickets to the top schools, because that’s not for everyone. State schools cater to all sorts of potential – some students will be high-flyers, so will need support in applying for prestigious universities. Others will seek out an apprenticeship or attend a local college.

I think it’s great that [Sir Bryan’s donations} could be used to support many pupils going through different routes – not just academic study.

However, Major also pointed out the differences between Stormzy’s and Thwaites’ donations. Major said that he had many conversations with Black undergraduates at Cambridge, who were the first in their families to go to university, and who felt isolated there. He remarked

There are very specific issues around highly selective, very academic universities, because they are quintessentially middle-class and very White and I think [Stormzy’s scholarship] was a legitimate move to address this.

He said that there were discussions leading universities could have to make their campuses more inclusive, continuing

If you’re looking at achievement in schools, I would argue taht this comes down to culture in the home, to class and [household] income.

It’s often the case that White working-class boys are [products of] those backgrounds-but equally there are children from all sorts of backgrounds who live in poverty and aren’t getting as much support as they deserve. And the reason I’m anxious about it is that social mobility is an issue that should bring us together.

Of course there are lots of white working-class boys living in areas of deprivation – but the very fact they’re deprived is glossed over. We’re wasting talent in this country – talent from all backgrounds. (pp. 33-4).

Finally, there was a report in one of the papers that the donation had been accepted by a charity run by a Black man, which had been successful in combating low educational achievement amongst Black lads. He was looking forward to turning around the lives of White boys as he had done with Black.

Looking through the newspaper reports, it’s clear that some people are very uncomfortable with a grant being set up for poor White boys. It’s understandable. British politics and society is dominated by White men, and so a bursary aimed at raising the achievements of White boys seems reactionary, an attack on the feminist and anti-racism campaigns.

Which is why it needed the support of Trevor Phillips and a Black educationalist. 

Winchester College’s excuse for turning down the bursary because it was ‘incompatible with their values’ seems very fake to me, however. A friend of mine was privately educated. He once told me that these schools don’t exist to teach children so much as to give them the network of personal contacts to open careers and other opportunities. They exist to preserve middle and upper class privilege. Rich Blacks and Asians are welcome, but not the poor generally, although they may well accept working class BAME pupils as a gesture towards meritocracy.

Lee Elliot Major’s comment about Black students finding themselves very isolated at Cambridge university is true, but I also know White academics from a working/ lower-middle class background, who intensely resented what they felt was the entitled, patronising attitude of wealthier students from the Oxbridge set. He is right about funding being made available for academic and training paths that are more suitable to students’ aptitudes. There was also a recent report in the I about the massive drop out rate at university. Some of this is no doubt due to the real financial struggles some students face now that tuition fees have been introduced and raised, and they are expected to become massively indebted to fund their education. But some of it is also due to university education now being promoted as the only academic route. A friend of mine, who worked in university administration told me that this wasn’t working and was leading to people dropping out over ten years or more ago.

And I completely accept his observation about the role class, income and background play in academic aspiration. In my experience, this also naturally includes those from Black and Asian backgrounds.

But Blacks, Asians and girls have had much attention focused on improving their academic performance and improving their opportunities, that have not been directed towards White boys from poor backgrounds. And this needs to be addressed.

Doing so does not undermine, or shouldn’t, the efforts to improve performance and opportunities for women and minorities, however.

But if we are serious about improving poor and working class academic performance, whether White, Black or Asian, it will mean rejecting Blairism and its rejection of the working class in order to concentrate on copying the Tories.

English History through the Broadside Ballad

December 24, 2019

A Ballad History of England: From 1588 to the Present Day, by Roy Palmer (London: BT Batsford 1979).

From the 16th century to the 20th, the broadside ballad was part of the popular music of British working people. They were written on important topics of the day, and printed and published for ordinary people. They would be sung by the ballad sellers themselves while hawking their wares. This book is a collection of popular ballads, assembled and with introductory notes by the folklorist Roy Palmer. It begins with the song ‘A Ioyful New Ballad’ from 1588 about the Armada, and ends with ‘The Men Who Make The Steel’ from 1973 about the steelworkers’ strike. Unlike the earlier songs, it was issued as a record with three other songs in 1975. The ballads’ texts are accompanied by sheet music of the tunes to which they were sung. Quite often the tunes used were well-known existing melodies, so the audience were already familiar with the music, though not the new words which had been fitted to them.

The ballads cover such important events in English and wider British history as a Lincolnshire witch trial; the draining of the fens; the Diggers, a Communist sect in the British Civil War; Oak Apple Day, celebrating the narrow escape of Charles II from the Parliamentarians in 1660; the defeat of the Monmouth Rebellion; the execution of Jacobite rebels in 1715; the South Sea Bubble; Dick Turpin, the highwayman; the Scots defeat at Culloden; emigration to Nova Scotia in Canada; Wolfe’s capture of Quebec; the enclosures; the Birmingham and Worcester Canal; the 18th century radical and advocate for democracy, Tom Paine; the mechanisation of the silk industry; the establishment of income tax; the death of Nelson; the introduction of the treadmill in prison; the Peterloo Massacre and bitter polemical attacks against Lord Castlereagh; Peel’s establishment of the police; body snatching; the 1834 New Poor Law, which introduced the workhouse system; poaching; the 1839 Chartist meeting at Newport; Queen Victoria’s marriage to Albert; Richard Oastler and the factory acts; the repeal of the Corn Laws; Bloomers; the construction of the Oxford railway; Charles Dickens visit to Coketown; the Liverpool Master Builders’ strike of 1866; agitating for the National Agricultural Union of farmworkers; the introduction of the Plimsoll line on ships; an explosion at Trimdon Grange colliery in County Durham; a 19th century socialist song by John Bruce Glasier, a member of the William Morris’ Socialist League and then the ILP; the Suffragettes; soldiers’ songs from the Boer War and the First World War; unemployed ex-servicemen after the War; the defeat of the General Strike; the Blitz; Ban the Bomb from 1958; and the Great Train Robbery. 

It also includes many other songs from servicemen down the centuries commemorating the deaths of great heroes and victories; and by soldiers, sailors and working people on land protesting against working conditions, tax, and economic recessions and exorbitant speculation on the stock markets. Some are just on the changes to roads, as well as local disasters.

This is a kind of social history, a history of England from below, apart from the conventional point of view of the upper or upper middle class historians, and shows how these events were viewed by tradesmen and working people. Not all the songs by any means are from a radical or socialist viewpoint. The ballad about Tom Paine is written against him, though he was a popular hero and there were also tunes, like the ‘Rights of Man’ named after his most famous book, celebrating him. But nevertheless, these songs show history as it was seen by England’s ordinary people, the people who fought in the navy and army, and toiled in the fields and workshops. These songs are a balance to the kind of history Michael Gove wished to bring in a few years ago when he railed against children being taught the ‘Blackadder’ view of the First World War. He’d like people to be taught a suitably Tory version of history, a kind of ‘merrie England’ in which Britain is always great and the British people content with their lot under the benign rule of people like David Cameron, Tweezer and Boris. The ballads collected here offer a different, complementary view.

Two-Part Series Beginning Tomorrow on BBC 4 on History of Eugenics

October 2, 2019

According to this week’s Radio Times, BBC 4 begins a two-part series tomorrow, Thursday 3rd October 2019, at 9.00 pm, on the history of eugenics, Eugenics: Science’s Greatest Scandal. The blurb for the programme on page 103 of the magazine reads

The controversial theory of eugenics was a driving force behind the Nazi death camps. Adherents believed it was possible to improve the genetic quality of the human race by discouraging reproduction by people with “undesirable” traits. Journalist Angela Saini and disability rights activist Adam Pearson reveal how these shocking beliefs permeated the British establishment in the first half of the 20th century, gaining influential supporters such as Winston Churchill and Marie Stopes.

The additional snippet about the programme by Patrick Mulkern on page 100 says

A thorny subject, eugenics (or “genetic determinism”), the notion that of breeding what some might consider a “better human”, is covered in two parts by science journalist Angela Saini and disability campaigner Adam Pearson.

Tonight, they look at its roots in this country in the liberal sphere of London’s Bloomsbury in the late 19th century – some decades before it was seized upon and put into horrible practice by the Nazis. There’s a concern, even fear, that eugenics is alive and well and making a comeback in academia, science and social policy. Gene editing may mean medical benefits, but who knows where it will lead? 

The blurb for the second and final part of the programme in next week’s Radio Times on page 105, which is on next Thursday, 10th October, at the same time, 9.00 pm, runs

Science journalist Angela Saini and disability rights activist Adam Pearson continue to uncover the disturbing story of eugenics. The controversial idea that the human race could be improved by selective breeding took hold in certain scientific communities before the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust exposed the terrifying possibilities the theory offered. They also look at how eugenic practices such as the sterilisation of the poor continued long after the Second World War and ask whether current medical breakthroughs such as gene editing could be misused.

There’s another little piece about it by Patrick Mulkern on page 102. This states

“It would have been better by far if they had never been born” – chilling words from the past but part of an ideology that has threaded its way through to today.

Eugenics didn’t die with the Nazis. Programmes of selective breeding to weed out disability and mass sterilisation of the poor have continued in parts of the world. 

Science journalist Angela Saini and Adam Pearson (a disability campaaigner who’s been abused in the street because of his looks) front the concluding part of this incisive doc. it suggests that medical breakthroughs, market forces and prejudice are leading us into a new era of eugenics.

As Jeffrey Davies, one of the long-term commenters on this site reminds people, the Nazis began their campaign of mass extermination which culminated in the Holocaust of the Jews and the genocide – porajmos – of the Gypsies – with the mass murder of the disabled, Aktion T4. Dubbed ‘lebensunwertigen Leben‘ – ‘life unworthy of life’ – the congenitally disabled were taken by special SS ambulance units to clinics and insane asylums, where they were murdered with poison gas.

The Nazis had already enacted a considerable edifice of legislation providing for the sterilisation of the disabled, based on that passed by 24 states in the US. They boasted that they had not done anything novel themselves. After the War, some states still carried on sterilising those they considered genetically undesirable. The mentally handicapped continued to be castrated in American mental hospitals. In Sweden, the authorities were afraid that if the disabled and mentally incompetent were allowed to breed, they would put the country’s nationalised health service in crisis, and so they passed eugenics legislation in that country. Those targeted for sterilisation included the Tartare – a traveller people. The Romany and other ethnic groups were exempt from the legislation, but the Tartare were not as they were regarded as ethnically Swedish. This judgement was overturned a few years ago when the Tartare victims sued for compensation. The legislation also targeted those seen as not conforming to proper social or sexual morality. Promiscuous women were also sterilised, for example. The programme only came to an end in 1975.

It will also be interesting to see what the programme has to say about eugenic’s survival among certain parts of the Tory party. Maggie’s mentor, Sir Keith Joseph, caused outrage in the mid-70s when he declared that unmarried mothers were a threat to our stock. The Tories’ current campaign of throwing the severely disabled off benefits using rigged fitness to work tests looks to Mike and very many other disability rights campaigners like another eugenic campaign of mass killing. And Iain Duncan Smith, one of its chief architects, even had the gall to begin an article praising his government’s welfare to work policy with the statement that the infamous slogan on the entrance to the concentration camps, Arbeit Macht Frei – ‘Work Makes You Free’ – was actually a good policy, wrongly tarnished through association with the Nazis. That odious little paragraph disappeared from the article shortly after, but not before it had been noticed and commented on by the left-wing and disabled people’s press and blogs.

And one of the most notorious of today’s eugenics supporters is the malign Toby Young, who was exposed a little while ago attending a eugenics conference at University College London. Which was, unsurprisingly, full of people who could rightly be described as Nazis. This is a good reason not to read anything by the vile scumbag, or take his views remotely seriously.

Eugenics doesn’t solely affect the disabled. It’s used against working people as a whole and Blacks and other ethnic minorities. The argument is that the poor are poor, and will always be poor, because their genetically inferior. Passing legislation to improve their conditions and opportunities is wasteful and harmful, because it will encourage them to outbreed their genetic superiors in the middle and upper classes. There are a slew of organisations in the American Libertarian right which pursue or have pursued that line, which are connected to the Republican Party. It will be very interesting to see what this programme has to say about them.

Satirical Song: Jeremy Hunt Does a Version of Eminem’s ‘My Name Is’

July 12, 2019

This is another satirical piece by JOE, whose videos are like those of Cassetteboi. Like them, he edits snippets of his subjects’ appearances on TV, and arranges them so that they appear to be saying something monumentally stupid, deeply satirical and very, very funny.

In this piece, he has Jeremy Hunt, the former Health Secretary and now Foreign Secretary singing a version of the above track by Eminem, which reveals precisely what’s he like. It begins with him singing ‘My name is’, interrupted by Boris singing, ‘Who,’ and ‘what’, before going on to ask kids if they like Brexit and are worrying about their grandchildren. And export marmalade to Japan like him, f**k things up, but come up smelling of roses. He then goes on to explain that he’s the secretary of state, who’s campaign’s dead weight, ’cause he can’t work out, which said to advocate. Theresa May has also told him he’s a remainer, asked him what he’s afraid of, and told him he’s worse than Labour. Since 2016, he’s changed his mind, like on homeopathy and whether the NHS should be privatised. When he was health secretary he ripped the junior doctors off by working them so hard that they went go on strike. He’s a bloke from the ruling class, who can afford to fall on his rear end, receive dividends in property, to avoid paying tax. At this point Johnson interrupts, telling him that’s his job. Hunt continues by saying that God sent him to p*** the world off. The video ends with him singing ‘Hi, my name is’, followed by Johnson singing ‘what?’, ‘Who?’ and others say ‘Jeremy Hunt’. Or a four letter obscenity that rhymes with his surname, just like the do throughout the video.

All of which precisely sums up Hunt’s career in government.

 

 

Bakunin: Democracy without Economic Equality Is Worthless

December 27, 2018

More anarchism now, this time from the Russian anarchist, Mikhail Bakunin. Bakunin violently criticized and rejected democracy because he passionately believed and argued that without economic equality for the workers, it would simply preserve the power of the exploiting classes, including the bourgeoisie, the owners of capital and industry. These would continue legislating for themselves against the workers.

Bakunin wrote

The child endowed with the greatest talents, but born into a poor family, a family of workers living from day to day on their hard labour, is doomed to an ignorance which, instead of developing his own natural talents, kills them all: he will become the worker, the unskilled labourer, forced to be the bourgeoisie’s man-servant and field-worker. The child of bourgeois parents, on the other hand, the child of the rich, however, stupid by nature, will receive both the upbringing and the education necessary to develop his scanty talents as much as possible. He will become the exploiter of labour, the master, the property-owner, the legislator, the governor-a gentleman. However stupid he may be, he will make laws on behalf of the people and against them, and he will rule over the popular masses.

In a democratic state, it will be said, the people will choose only the good men. But how will they recognize them? They have neither the education necessary for judging the good and the bad, nor the spare time necessary for learning the differences among those who run for election. These men, moreover, live in a society different from their own; they doff their hat to Their Majesty the sovereign people only at election-time, and once elected they turn their backs. Moreover, however excellent they may be as members of their family and their society, they will always be bad for the people, because, belonging to the privileged and exploiting class, they will quite naturally wish to preserve those privileges which constitute the very basis of their social existence and condemn the people to eternal slavery.

But why haven’t the people been sending men of their own, men of the people, to the legislative assemblies and the government? First, because men of the people, who have to live by their physical labour, do not have the time to devote themselves exclusively to politics. [Second, b]eing unable to do so, being more often ignorant of the political and economic questions which are discussed in these lofty regions, they will nearly always be the dupes of lawyers and bourgeois politicians. Also, [third] it is usually enough for these men of the people to enter the government for them to become members of the bourgeoisie in their turn, sometimes hating and scorning the people from whom they came more than do the natural-born members of the bourgeoisie.

So you see that political equality, even in the most democratic states, is an illusion. It is the same with juridical equality, equality before the law. The bourgeoisie make the law for themselves, and they practice it against the people. The State, and the law which expresses it, exist only to perpetuate the slavery of the people for the benefit of the bourgeoisie.

Moreover, you know, if you wish to file suit when you find your interests, your honour, or your rights wronged, you must first prove that you are able to pay the costs, that is, that you can lay aside an impossible sum; and if you cannot do so, they you cannot file the suit. But do the people, the majority of the workers, have the resources to put on deposit in a court of law? Most of the time, no. Hence the rich man will be able to attack you and insult you with impunity. There is no justice at all for the people.

Political equality will be an illusion so long as economic and social equality do not exist, so long as any minority can become rich, property-owning, and capitalist through inheritance. Do you know the true definitions of hereditary property? It is the hereditary ability to exploit the collective labour of the people and to enslave the masses.

In Robert M. Cutler, Mikhail Bakunin: From Out of the Dustbin: Bakunin’s Basic Writings 1869-71 (Ann Arbor: Ardis 1985) pp. 50-1.

Bakunin’s stance is extreme, obviously, and the educational opportunities open to working people has changed immensely since the late 19th century when he wrote this. The school leaving age in Britain has gradually been extended until it’s 18, and nearly half of all school leavers now go on to university to obtain degrees. But nevertheless, his criticism still remains valid.

The majority of politicians and members of parliament come from the middle and upper classes. There was a book published a few years ago that estimated that 75 per cent of MPs have senior management positions or sit on the boards of companies, so that the majority of them are millionaires. As a result, legislation passed by them has benefited industry at the expense of working people, so that the rich are getting much richer, and the poor poorer. They have attacked employees’ rights at work, introduced the gig economy, which has trapped people in insecure, irregularly paid work without benefits like annual leave, sick pay or maternity leave. At the same time the benefits system has been attacked to create a demoralized, cowed workforce ready to accept any job than starve without state support, due to benefit sanctions and delays in payment. And then there’s the infamous workfare, which is nothing less than the abuse of the benefits system to supply industry and particularly the big supermarkets with subsidized cheap labour for exploitation.

This situation has partly come about because New Labour abandoned economic justice for working people and took over the Neoliberal policies of Margaret Thatcher. The result was that even when the Tories were ousted with the 1997 election, elements of Thatcherism continued under Blair and Brown. And the Neocons have admitted that while they were in favour of exporting democracy to Iraq, they wanted that new freedom to be strictly limited so that only parties promoting free trade and economic individualism would be elected.

In the US the situation has got worse. Due to political sponsorship and donations from big business, politicians in congress notoriously do not represent their constituents but their corporate donors. Only 19-25 per cent of American voters feel the government works for them, and a study by Harvard University concluded that the country was not so much a democracy as a corporate oligarchy.

Democracy would thus benefit the ruling classes, and provide the illusion of freedom for everyone else.

This has to be reversed. Corporate money and power has to be taken out of politics and ordinary working men and women put in, with an agenda to empower this country’s ordinary people instead of reassuring lies, like the Tories.

It’s why we need Corbyn in government, and the Tories, Lib-Dems and New Labour out.

Trailer for Mike Leigh’s ‘Peterloo’

October 28, 2018

The left-wing British film director, Mike Leigh, has a film coming out about the ‘Peterloo Massacre’ in 1819 when a defenceless crowd that had gathered in Manchester to hear the radical politician, Henry ‘Orator’ Hunt, was charged by cavalry.

It was a period of severe economic recession, unemployment, political discontent and stifling censorship of freedom of speech, protest and the press. This passage from The History of the World: The Last 500 Hundred Years, General Editor Esmond Wright (Feltham: Hamlyn 1984) describes the conditions at the time.

At the end of the war England entered upon a long depression which brought to many even greater hardship than the war had done. Industries lay depressed with the sudden cessation of wartime demand, agriculture no longer enjoyed the protection that Napoleon’s blockade had brought and began to contract, while European countries, impoverished after years of conquest and exploitation, could not afford to resume their former level of trade. It was, in fact, twenty years after 1815 before British exports recovered to their previous level. Added to the existing problems of unemployment and low wages were some half a million demobilized soldiers and sailors, suddenly thrown onto a labour market that could not absorb them. The years from 1815 to 1820 were mong the darkest in English history when many feared, with some cause, a repetition of the events which had torn France apart in 1789.

Radicalism – an extreme form of politics which advocated fundamental reform of the constitutional and financial system – grew to brief importance under such popular leaders as Cobbett and Hunt. In their hatred of industrialization they preached a naïve ‘back-to-the-land’ philosophy which seemed attractive to populations of former peasants exposed to the insecurities of town life. Significantly, the cause of the Peterloo Massacre in Manchester in 1819, when a defenceless crowd was charged by squadrons of cavalry, was a speech by Hunt, not on the problem of wages or unemployment, but on the subject of land reform.

Most labour movements in the first half of the century had this strong agrarian background. A majority of the new town dwellers were peasants by origin, unaccustomed to the regularity of factory work and the overcrowded life in slums and tenements. They turned instinctively to solutions that offered simpler, better understood relationship in which men seemed to be something more than mere instruments of production. Working people gave their support to Radicalism, not because they understood or even cared very much about abstract democratic principles but because it represented a protest against the unacceptable conditions of life. To its few middle- and upper-class supporters it was much more – a progressive, democratic demand for a government responsible to the popular will and an administrative system based on efficiency rather than privilege.

To such suggestions the governments of the fay responded with severe repression. The Tory party remained in office from the end of the war until 1830, first under Lord Liverpool, later under the wartime hero, the Duke of Wellington. Their belief was that the British constitution was perfect and that any attempt to disturb it must be put down firmly. Trade unions were illegal until 1824 and even after that striking was still a criminal offence, public meetings and meeting-places required to be licensed and newspapers were subject to a crippling stamp duty of five pence a copy. Together with such measures went a crude system which paid a meagre dole to labourers whose earning were inadequate to support their families (the Speenhamland system of poor relief) and which had the effect of impoverishing whole areas of the country. (p. 396).

This sounds very much like the kind of Britain Tweezer, Bojo, Rees-Mogg and their followers would like to return to us to. A country where unions and strikes are banned, restrictions on public meetings and censorship of the press. Except when it supports the Tories, of course. Blair and Cameron both tried to bring in legislation limiting demonstrations. They’ve been banned within a certain area of parliament, and Cameron wanted to pass legislation outlawing public protests if they caused a nuisance to local residents. Which is a convenient way of suppressing public expressions of dissent while claiming that you aren’t intending to do any such thing. ‘The government is fully behind freedom of speech and assembly, but this will be an intolerable nuisance to the people actually in the area’, is how the argument would run. And they’d also like to see more people slaving away in cruel and exploitative conditions in poverty, with a benefits system totally unable to cope.

Which is what makes Leigh’s movie of such contemporary significance. Here’s the trailer.

I caught a few moments of Leigh being interviewed on the Beeb the week before last. He was talking about how the incident was an important event in Manchester’s history. Walking around the historic part of Manchester, he pointed out buildings that had been there at the time and which had been included in the film.

Leigh’s known for his improvisational approach to film making, but the interviewer said that this movie felt more scripted, and Leigh agreed. I can’t say I’m a fan of Leigh’s work – it’s a bit too grim for my tastes – but this is something I’d like to see. The Peterloo Massacre is nearly 200 years ago, but it still has resonance and immense importance to the early 21st century Britain of Tweezer and the Tories.

Vox Political: London Tories Considering Breaking Away and Forming New Party

April 6, 2018

If this is true, then it shows that the Tory party is in a very dire situation, no matter what their cheerleaders in the media are trying to get us all to swallow. Mike has put up on his blog a piece reporting an article stating that the Conservative party in London is so afraid of being absolutely wiped out at the council elections in May, that they’re considering breaking away to form a separate party with its own name and programme.

I’m not entirely convinced, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it were true. A decade or so ago, at the height of Blair’s administration, one of the Tory journos wrote a piece in the Daily Mail about a similar eventuality. He also believed that the Tory party was in danger of dying out completely, and so recommended that they should become ‘the English Nationalists’. This was obviously when the SNP were riding high north of the border as support grew in Scotland for devolution, and the Welsh were also gaining their own, rather more limited measure of autonomy. It was about the same time that there were demands for an all-English assembly to debate matters affecting only England. It was an anti-Labour measure, as the Tories had rather more MPs than Labour in England, and hoped to gain a great measure of power by stopping Labour MPs from elsewhere in Britain voting on English matters. The Tories were clearly trying to whip up English nationalism in order to gain votes. Just like they’ve always whipped up xenophobia and hate against those they consider outsiders, like Blacks, Asians, Jews, immigrants, the poor and disabled. I never really took the suggestion that the Tories would reform themselves as a differently party seriously, but I’ve been told by others that it was seriously considered. It’s supposed to be described in the book, True Blue, which talks about how under Cameron they fought back from near collapse.

London’s a world city, with a large Black and Asian, and immigrant population. Brexit, and the return of racism under the Tories, threatens these people. And the Grenfell fire tragedy and the Tories’ refusal to honour the promises they made about fire-proofing buildings and putting those left homeless into proper accommodation, shows the absolute contempt they have for some of the poorest members of our society. Who happen to be Black, Asian or immigrants.

And this is apart from the growing inequalities of wealth in Britain generally, which is becoming particularly acute in the nation’s capital. Ordinary people are being priced out of London as more and more property is bought up by the rich upper and middle classes. It’s either gentrified, or else ‘landbanked’. Which means that it’s kept purely as a property investment by rich, often foreign investors, who make sure that it remains unoccupied. And I’ve no doubt people do still remember the ‘poor doors’ in one apartment block. These were a separate entrance put in so that the rich people living there wouldn’t have to rub shoulders entering the building with the hoi polloi. This, readers of H.G. Wells’ science fiction, will be aware is like the origin of the split between the eloi and the subterranean, cannibal morlocks in The Time Machine. Wells based it on how the upper classes in his time wanted to force the working class underground, to tend the machines safely away from their sight. Trained as a biologist, Wells projected the split far into humanity’s evolutionary future. And the result was not only an SF classic, but a criticism of the class attitudes and contempt for the working class in Victorian society.

Whether the Tories in London are planning to form a new party or not, I hope they are wiped out in the May elections. For forty years they have done nothing but try to privatise the health service piecemeal, deliberately running it down for the benefit of private healthcare companies. They’ve privatised the utilities to foreign investors, who have not given customers the service that they were promised. All again for corporate profit. And they’ve carried on New Labour’s project of benefit sanctions and the work capability test, all to make it increasingly difficult for the poor and disabled to get the state aid they need. This was in line with Tory policy under Thatcher, and followed the advice of the private health care insurers, like Unum, who were advising Peter Lilley and the Tories. As a result, hundreds of thousands of people now have a choice between eating and paying the bills, and tens of thousands of disabled folk have died after being found ‘fit for work’.

The sooner the Tories suffer a devastating electoral defeat, the better. And I hope it’s truly catastrophic.

Tony Crossland on the Oppressive British Class System

March 29, 2018

I found this devastatingly perceptive criticism of the British class system by Tony Crossland in 100 years of Fabian Socialism 1884-1984, edited by Deirdre Terrins and Philip Whitehead (London: Fabian Society 1984).

Class feeling, and general social malaise, still persist in England to a deplorable degree. The feeling among workers of an external and irreconcilable conflict between wages and profits, capital and labour: their feeling too of non-participation in the control of the firm for which they work, and so of non-responsibility for its well-being: the acute sense of class that goes with different accents: the knowledge that differentials in education mean differentials in opportunity – these are all signs that Britain still is, and feels itself to be, a class society.

The purpose of socialism is quite simply to eradicate this sense of class, and to create in its place a sense of common interest and equal status.

From ‘The Transition from Capitalism’, in New Fabian Essays, 1952.

The situation is arguably worse now than it was when he wrote in 1952. Despite successive governments’ push to get more young people into university, the result has not been greater social mobility for graduates, but the reverse. Young people with degrees are instead forced downward to take unskilled work, which in turn puts more pressure on less educated, unskilled workers, who really need these jobs.

Social mobility died under New Labour, and it has most definitely not revived under David Cameron and Tweezer. Rather the reverse. The gap between rich and poor is now greater than it has been in over a hundred years. And working people are most definitely denied any say in how their firms are run, through the decimation of the unions and the imposition of exploitative contracts, and the repeal of legislation protecting workers’ rights.

As for the class basis of the British parliament, which legislates in favour of the upper and upper middle classes, you only have to look at the stats which show that something like 77 per cent of MPs have at least one or more directorships. Dave Cameron’s administration was a cabinet of toffs. So is Theresa May’s, even though she opened one session with the statement that none of those present were members of ‘the elite’.

And so is the Tories’ current darling, young master Jacob Rees-Mogg, a very patrician aristo, who has voted consistently to take money away from the welfare state and the poor and disabled, while voting in tax cuts and subsidies for the rich like himself.

It’s time to stop this, vote out the Tories and the Blairites, and vote in Corbyn and a government which will actually do something for working people.

Tony Linford on Toby Young, Eugenics, and Disabled People’s Right to Life

January 25, 2018

This is a piece I found on YouTube by the disabled vlogger, Tony Linford, commenting on Toby Young’s attendance at a eugenics conference at University College London. The video was posted on the 11th January 2018, so it’s somewhat old news now. But I wanted to put it up, as it gives the perspective of a disabled person on Young and his grotty views.

Linford makes the point that the Nazis considered the congenitally disabled ‘lebensunwertigen’ – ‘unworthy of life’, and that they were murdered by the SS as part of the Nazis’ eugenics programme. He goes on to stoutly defend the right of all disabled people to life, and movingly talks about his experience meeting one severely disabled youngster being cared. The lad was in a wheelchair, and was mentally challenged, in the polite way of talking about it. Nevertheless, the lad was full of life and energy, and bubbling with ideas. Linford states that he learned a lot from him. He sadly reflects that the lad’s probably dead by now, but as disabled as he was, he was certainly not ‘lebensunwertigen’.

And discussing Young and his vile opinions on selective breeding, he also wonders how many others in the Tory party also hold the same disgusting views.

My guess is that there’s quite a few, but they keep very, very quiet about it because their leaders know full well the storm of outrage they’ll cause if they ever make their beliefs public. Maggie’s mentor, Keith Joseph, provoked such indignation with his comment in the 1970s that unmarried mothers were ‘a threat to our stock’. Young clearly thought he could get away with such views. Looking at some of the videos on YouTube, it appears that the Spectator had published a piece ‘The Return of Eugenics’, which was plastered all over its front cover. It looks like that after this piece was published, and didn’t seem to have people rioting in the streets, Young thought he would be safe. I am glad that he was profoundly mistaken.

Young and the other Tory eugenics snobs, Ben Bradley, who wanted the unemployed sterilised and the police to play ‘splat the chav’ with watercannon during the London riots six years ago, and his defender James Cleverly, hold thoroughly disgusting views. It’s the same attitude Darwin’s cousin, Francis Galton, the founder of eugenics, had, who was terrified that the biologically unfit poor would outbreed respectable, biologically superior middle and upper class people. It’s the views of privileged public schoolboys, who see themselves as innately biologically superior to everyone else, and have nothing but contempt for their social inferiors.

Cleverly tried defending Bradley’s comments about sterilising the unemployed by bleating something about it being at heart, a ‘reasonable’ statement about personal responsibility. Er, no. If the argument was about personal responsibility, then it would have been about encouraging those, who can’t afford children to use contraception. That would be about personal responsibility, as the choice would still be that of the unemployed whether or not they wanted to bring another life into the world.

Bradley’s comment was about denying the unemployed any personal responsibility, by taking away their personal freedom and forcibly sterilising them. It was a moralistic, punitive attitude by someone, who clearly has nothing but a Daily Mail-type rage against the poorest members of society.

And it isn’t just proles and the lumpenproletariat, who become unemployed. It also strikes respectable middle class people. I can remember hearing Tim Waterstone, the founder of the chain of booksellers that bears his name, speaking on the radio one day about how he spent a period unemployed. He described his feelings of absolute humiliation at the experience. Waterstone was lucky, in that I think he went on from this to start up his chain of stores. But others aren’t. They are laid off, or their businesses fail. And the lifestyle they found easy to support on their previously high salaries suddenly become a heavy burden. What happens to these people, if they have large families that they may find difficulty providing for if and when they are made unemployed? In Ben Bradley’s ideal eugenics Britain, would they be sterilised? Or do they get a pass, because they’re nice and middle class? Given the way the Tory party does everything it can to give extra money to the rich, while denying the poor the financial and medical support they need, my guess is that if this happened to a large number of middle class people, Bradley would be loudly screaming about how disgraceful it all was and demanding government support for them. His attitudes show the class snobbery that runs through Tory politics, and particularly through May’s government of privileged toffs.

The Nazis used eugenics not just to murder the disabled, but as part of their attempted extermination of the Jews during the Holocaust. The German historian Martin Broszat, in his The Hitler State, points out that the Nazi murder of the disabled served as a trial run for the mass slaughter of the Jews, including the use of poison gas. And there were Nazis and Nazi-sympathisers over here, who shared the same horrendous views.

One of these was Lord Lymington, an aristocrat, who wished to recreate the rural, agrarian and feudal society he idealised over modern capitalist, industrial society. Lymington was also a fan of eugenics, and in his 1943 book, Alternative to Death: The Relationship between Soil, Family and Community, discussed ‘the dangers of losing our own character from alien influence and blood’ in which he ranted about the threat to British racial purity from ‘the marketer, the unscrupulous trader, the slick haggler, the seditious natural underdog’, who was a type of immigrant ‘too often conditioned to the mental slum and the bazaar’. (See Richard Griffiths, What Did You Do During the War? The Last Throes of the British Pro-Nazi Right (Routledge, 2017) 240-1.) All of which is coded way of playing on anti-Semitic prejudice, without actually spelling it out in so many words. The quote graphically demonstrates why so many people found Young and his belief in eugenics so repulsive, that he ended up resigning from his position on the universities’ regulatory board. And why so many people this week have been extremely unimpressed with Bradley and Cleverly, and their stupid, bigoted, dangerous and contemptible comments.