Posts Tagged ‘Upper Middle Class’

Pat Mills Going Underground on Class and Politics on Comics

September 19, 2017

This is another video to add to the two others I’ve posted in which Pat Mills, one of the great creators of modern British comics, talks about industry and the political dimension to his work. In this video, he talks to Afshin Rattansi of RTUK’s Going Underground.

Mills starts by talking about how, when he first got into comics, he was frustrated and it was only when he started to look back on it and analyze it that he realized he was annoyed by the lack of working class role models in comics. They were all members of the upper middle classes. It’s why in 2000 AD he wanted to include working class characters and heroes, and why he liked Jeeves in the Jeeves and Wooster books, because here was a working class character, who makes a complete mockery of his master. But what brought home to him how the system is so completely opposed to working class heroes was his attempt working on a story for Dr. Who. He wanted to include a working class spaceship captain. The spaceship itself was to be a kind of abattoir in space, and he based the captain’s character on a real person, the captain of dredger. This would have made it realistic, and the captain of such a vessel would not have been like Richard Todd. But he was told by the script editor that this was unacceptable, and he could not have a working class spaceship captain.

When Rattansi asks him whether this censorship is internal or imposed from outside, he remarks that it’s a good question, and he believes it to be a bit of both. In the case of anti-war stories, it’s imposed from outside. That was brought home to him when he was involved in an exhibition on anarchy and comics. He wanted to include Charley’s War, the anti-war strip from Battle, as there was nothing more anarchist than that. But this was refused, just as the centenary of the outbreak of the First World. It was why TV never showed any of the great anti-war programmes and films about it, like Blackadder Goes Forth or the Monocled Mutineer.

He also comments on the massive influence the American military exerts over the film and TV industry. The Pentagon and the armed forces, including the CIA, have acted as advisors on 500 films and 800 TV programmes, from Meet the Parents to the Incredible Hulk and Iron Man. Mills has said that he has always disliked superheroes as he feels that they are corporate characters, standing for the values of the system. They are there to show people that you can’t be heroic unless you’re a tycoon or an arms manufacturer, who goes out at night to beat up members of the working class. He doesn’t think the military were involved in the last Judge Dredd film, as that was made by an independent, which is probably why it was so good. Rattansi replies that Dredd is still upper middle class, as he’s a member of the judiciary. Mills states in turn that he’s a footsoldier, and that part of the attraction of the character is that he’s also partly a villain. Villains are often more interesting to watch than heroes, who can be quite boring.

He also talks about an incident in which the Board of the Deputies of British Jews objected to one of the strips in Crisis. This was based on a real situation, which Mills had heard about from talking to a Palestinian. In the story, the IDF caught and beat up a Palestinian boy in protest, leaving lying on the ground with all his limbs broken. The Board complained because they thought the lad’s body had been deliberately arranged so that it resembled a swastika. Well, replied Mills, it wasn’t, as comics writers and artists aren’t that clever to sneak those kind of subliminal messages in. And what left him dismayed was the Board was not concerned about what was going on Israel, and which is still going on in Gaza. The incident was also somewhat ironic, in that the Board complained to the comic’s publishers, which at that time was Robert Maxwell, the corrupt thief of the Mirror pension fund. The Board’s complaint fell on deaf ears, and Cap’n Bob ‘told them to get knotted’.

Mills also observes in the interview that they were able to get away with much more in 2000AD as it wasn’t real, it was science fiction. Things are all right if they occur In A Galaxy Far, Far Away. But as soon as it’s real people, the censorship is imposed.

It’s always interesting hearing Mills’ views on comics and the subversion he put into his stories. He also told the story about the Beeb’s rejection of a working class spaceship captain for Dr. Who before, at the conference on Marxism organized by the Socialist Workers’ Party. The producers of Going Underground in the clip state that they contacted the Beeb to check the story, but the BBC had not replied by the time the programme was broadcast.

Mills is wrong in claiming at Jeeves is working class. He isn’t. He’s upper middle. Butlers are ‘a gentleman’s gentleman’, and Jeeves himself makes it very clear in one of the episodes of Jeeves and Wooster that he ‘and the working class are barely on speaking terms’. This is when the Fascist leader, Spode, tries to recruit him, saying that his wretched band need working class people like him. Nevertheless, the broad point remains true: Jeeves is an attractive character for the same reason another fictional butler is, Crichton, in the Admirable Crichton. He’s a servant, who is more knowledgible, intelligent and capable than his master.

I’ve commented in previous blog posts that I think the reason that the authorities don’t want to see any anti-War material broadcast during the centenary of the First World War, is because we still have ambitions of being an imperial power, backing the Americans in their wars around the world and particularly in the Middle East. The Beeb would also probably argue that to broadcast such material as Blackadder would be ‘disrespectful’, or some other spurious excuse.

I was aware that the American military was influencing Hollywood as advisors, but I had not idea how extensive it was. Back in the 1990s the American army advised the director Paul Verhoeven on his adaptation of Starship Troopers. This was an adaptation of the book by Robert Heinlein, who really did believe that only those, who had served in the armed forces should have the right to vote. It’s a notoriously militaristic book, and provoked a very anti-military response from a range of other SF writers, including Harry Harrison, who wrote Bill the Galactic Hero to send up Heinlein. Verhoeven wasn’t impressed with Heinlein’s militarism either. He’s Dutch, and grew up during the Nazi occupation. Thus, while the film can be enjoyed as a straightforward adventure, it also contains a very strong element of satire, such as modelling the uniforms on those of the Nazis.

I was disappointed to hear that the army had collaborated with the producers of The Hulk, as this comic was genuinely countercultural. In the comic, Banner becomes the Hulk after being exposed to the nuclear blast of an atomic bomb test saving Rick, a teenager, who has wandered into test zone. Rick is a classic disaffected teenager with more than a little similarity to the alienated kids played by James Dean. In the 1970s the comic was very firmly anti-military. The Hulk fought the army across America. Banner’s personal enemy was the general in charge of the forces sent to tackle the force, who was also the father of his girlfriend. And while the Hulk was a raging behemoth, what he really wanted was to be left alone. Some of the subversive character of the Hulk came across in Ang Lee’s film, which I actually like, even though no-one else does. But it’s still disappointing to read that the American armed forces were involved.

There’s a touch of irony to Mills speaking on the programme, as ‘Going Underground’ was the first of the two ‘Comic Rock’ strips to appear in 2000AD, the other being ‘Killerwatt’, which introduced Nemesis the Warlock and his struggle against Torquemada, the Fascist grand master of Termight, Earth in the far future. The story, set in the underground maze of rapid transit tunnels within Earth’s vast subterranean network of cities, took it’s title from the track by The Jam.

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‘1990’ – The BBC’s anti-Socialist 1970s SF Drama

July 27, 2017

Looking through the chapter on British television in John Clute’s Science Fiction: The Illustrated Encyclopedia (London: Dorling Kindersley 1995), I found this entry for the forgotten SF drama 1990. Produced by Prudence Fitzgerald, with scripts mainly written by Wilfred Greatorex, this ran for 16 episodes from 1977 to 1978. Clute writes

In 1990s totalitarian Britain the welfare state is all-powerful. A maverick journalist helps infiltrators from the freedom-loving United States, and assists British rebels in fleeing there. Intended as a dire warning of trade-union socialism, the series’ caricatures in fact make the venture risible. (P. 101).

The Wikipedia entry for the series also adds the following details along with other information on its plot, characters, cast and crew:

The series is set in a dystopian future in which Britain is under the grip of the Home Office’s Public Control Department (PCD), a tyrannically oppressive bureaucracy riding roughshod over the population’s civil liberties.

Dubbed “Nineteen Eighty-Four plus six” by its creator, Wilfred Greatorex, 1990 stars Edward Woodward as journalist Jim Kyle, Robert Lang as the powerful PCD Controller Herbert Skardon, Barbara Kellerman as Deputy PCD Controller Delly Lomas, John Savident, Yvonne Mitchell (in her last role), Lisa Harrow, Tony Doyle, Michael Napier Brown and Clive Swift.Two series, of eight episodes each, were produced and broadcast on BBC2 in 1977 and 1978. The series was never repeated but was released on DVD in 2017. Two novelisations based on the scripts were released in paperback by the publisher Sphere; Wilfred Greatorex’s 1990, and Wilfred Greatorex’s 1990 Book Two.

and includes this description of the show’s fictional background to its vision of a totalitarian Britain:

Exposition in this series was mainly performed by facts occasionally dropped into dialogue requiring the viewer to piece together the basic scenario.

This state of affairs was precipitated by an irrecoverable national bankruptcy in 1981, triggering martial law. In the general election, only 2% voted. The economy (and imports) drastically contracted forcing stringent rationing of housing, goods and services. These are distributed according to a person’s LifeScore as determined (and constantly reviewed) by the PCD on behalf of the union-dominated socialist government. As a consequence, the higher-status individuals appear to be civil servants and union leaders. An exception to this are import/export agents, which appear to be immune to state control due to their importance to the remnants of the economy. The House of Lords has been abolished and turned into an exclusive dining club. State ownership of businesses appears to be near-total and prohibition of wealth and income appears to be very high. The reigning monarch is male due to the unfortunate death of the previous monarch (queen Elizabeth the 2nd) but his identity is never made clear. The currency is the Anglodollar (replaced the pound sterling in 1982 due to economic collapse) which appears to have little value overseas due to the international boycott of British exports. The armed forces have been run down to the extent that they are little more than an internal security force. This is made clear in one episode where the RAF is depicted as consisting of little more than a handful of Harrier Jump Jets and a few dozen counter-insurgency helicopters. Despite this National Service has been re-introduced (via the Youth Behaviour Control Act 1984 which enforces conscription and Genetic Crimes Act 1985, which makes sexual offences punishable by hanging). It is said that in 1986 two Army Generals and a retired Air Chief Marshal attempted a coup against the government, but it failed.

See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1990_(TV_series)

There’s also a Wikipedia entry for Greatorex, the show’s creator, which states

Wilfred Greatorex (27 May 1921–14 October 2002)[1] was an English television and film writer, script editor and producer. He was creator of such series as Secret Army, 1990, Plane Makers and its sequel The Power Game, Hine, Brett, Man At The Top, Man From Haven and The Inheritors.[2] He also wrote the screenplay for the 1969 film Battle of Britain.[1] He was described by The Guardian newspaper as “one of the most prolific and assured of television script-writers and editors from the 1960s into the 1980s”.[3] Starting off as a journalist, he got his big break as a TV writer on Lew Grade’s ATV service writing dramas about journalism, such as Deadline Midnight and Front Page Story.[3]

As a TV script editor he also worked on series such as Danger Man[1] and was also creator/producer of The Inheritors, Hine and The Power Game.[1] Papers discovered at a Norfolk auction house in 2011 reveal that ‘Hine’ had a budget of £84,000, the equivalent of close to £1m some forty years later.

In 1977, he came up with the dystopian drama series 1990 for BBC2, starring Edward Woodward. Greatorex dubbed the series “Nineteen Eighty-Four plus six”.[4] Over its two series it portrayed “a Britain in which the rights of the individual had been replaced by the concept of the common good – or, as I put it more brutally, a consensus tyranny.”[3] The same year he also devised (with Gerard Glaister) the BBC1 wartime drama Secret Army. The show later inspired the sitcom parody ‘Allo ‘Allo!.[5]

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wilfred_Greatorex

The show’s clearly a product of the extreme paranoia that gripped the Tories in Britain during the mid-1970s. The total collapse of the economy seems to have been inspired by the country’s bankruptcy in the mid to late 1970s, when the country was forced to go to the IMF. It also shows the fears that the Labour party was planning some kind of extreme left-wing coup. This was the decade when the Times was urging the formation of a national government, and various figures in intelligence and politics were considering organizing a military coup against the minority Labour government. Ken Livingstone also states in his 1987 book, Livingstone’s Labour, that MI5 had also compiled a list of subversives, including journalists, politicians and trade unionists, who were to be rounded up and interned in a camp somewhere in the Hebrides. Behind much of this paranoia was the belief, held by James Jesus Angleton, the head of the CIA, and many others in the Tory party, including Maggie Thatcher, that Harold Wilson was a KGB spy.

The series has long been forgotten. I can’t remember ever hearing or reading about it, apart from the entry in Clute’s Encyclopedia and the Wikipedia pages. The show was clearly quite successful at the time, as it lasted two seasons, but I can’t remember anyone I knew having watched it, or even mentioning it in the school playground.

Nevertheless, this is interesting, as the series was clearly written from an extreme right-wing stance, albeit one of that was shared by much of the Tory media during the 1970s. It definitely shows the alarm the Tories and a large section of the middle class clearly felt at trade union militancy and the Labour left’s desire to extend nationalization, as well as the experiments with worker’s control under Tony Benn. In fact, despite the accusation often heard during the ’70s and ’80s that Labour wanted to nationalize everything, the party only wished to take into public ownership 25 more companies. This is far from complete nationalization. As for worker’s control, this was confined to three firms, which were failing anyway. These eventually collapsed, but many of the workers involved in these projects felt that the experiments had been worthwhile and had shown that workers could run businesses.

And it also shows how blatantly biased the BBC could be against the Left.

There’s been considerable discussion on blog’s like mine and Mike’s about the Beeb’s bias against the Labour party and especially Jeremy Corbyn. Mike’s put a number of articles commenting on this bias. The BBC claims it is impartial, and whenever anybody complains about the bias in its programmes, as Guy Debord’s Cat did recently, they receive a bland, and slightly pompous reply telling them that they’re wrong. Researchers at Cardiff, Edinburgh and Glasgow universities have found, however, that the Corporation is far more likely to interview, and treat respectfully the opinions offered by Conservative MPs and experts from the financial sector, than trade unionists and members of the Labour party. Barry and Saville Kushner have commented on how the Beeb uncritically accepts and promotes the idea of austerity in their book, Who Needs the Cuts, to the point of shouting down anyone, who dares to disagree. There’s even been a book published exposing the Corporation’s bias, The BBC and the Myth of Public Service Broadcasting.

The existence of this explicitly anti-Socialist SF drama shows how far back this bias goes. In many ways, I’m not surprised. The corporation is largely staffed by members of the upper middle class. It’s one of the country’s central institutions, and so reflects the views of the established political, business and media elites. Hence it shared the British right’s groundless fears of some kind of radical socialist takeover in the 1970s, and their bitter hatred the Labour party and Jeremy Corbyn today.

Soft-Spoken Aristo Thug Jacob Rees-Mogg Joins Boris as Latest Tory Celebrity

July 9, 2017

On Friday, Mike also put up a piece commenting on how Jacob Rees-Mogg, the son of William Rees-Mogg, the former Times and Independent journalist, has developed a cult following. Apparently he has his own fan group, dubbed Moggmentum in imitation of Corbyn’s greater and far better supporter’s group. Mike also supports his comments with a couple of Tweets from fans, who rave about how he has ‘class’, is better than ‘left-liberal misfits who would ruin the country’, and how ‘England needs him’.

As Mike then goes on to show, Jacob Rees-Mogg is the kind of right-wing politico Britain really doesn’t need. He is, of course, Eton-educated, and as his voting record shows, he believes in punishing the poor simply for being poor, while also demanding that Tory Toffs like himself get generous state handouts to retain their position of power.

In a long list of the policies favoured by the man dubbed ‘the minister for the 18th century’, Mike shows that

He generally votes against laws to extend equality and human rights.
Consistently votes for cuts to welfare spending.
Consistently votes against gay rights.
General votes against laws to tackle climate change.
Consistently supports the extension of the surveillance state.
Consistently voted against raising support payments for the long term ill or disabled.
Consistently votes against government spending to create jobs for young people, who have been unemployed for some time.
Nearly always votes for restricting the right of EU nationals to remain in Britain.
He was also nearly always in favour of reducing access to legal aid.
He was also a solid supporter of tuition fees, the bedroom tax and against raising unemployment benefit in line with rising prices.

As Simon Renshaw says in his Tweet, which Mike has also posted in his article, Rees-Mogg is not amusing. He is cruel, deplorable and dangerous. And another Tweeter, Paul, also commented

Sperminator Rees-Mogg would not govern for the people, he would rule for his class with a selective dose of his religion thrown in.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/07/07/mogg-mentum-the-tories-are-losing-their-grip-on-reality/

This last comment is extremely accurate. Rees-Mogg began his career as a politician by campaigning for the Tories in a depressed fishing area in Fife in Scotland. When asked what he would be campaigning on, Rees-Mogg declared that he would be trying to convince the locals that the country would be best served by retaining an unelected, hereditary House of Lords. Somehow, I’m not surprised he didn’t succeed on this occasion. The Scots aristocracy, led by the Duke of Buccleuch, had a greater degree of political power north of the border than their counterparts further south, until the guid Duke and his ilk were stripped of them by the Labour government in 1975. And obviously, the unkempt masses weren’t keen to bring them back. Given the spectacle of this strange, gangling figure stalking about the streets and vennels and addressing the locals in a cut-class, pukka Etonian accent, I suppose it was almost inevitable that the SNP would suddenly receive a massive boost in support. Heaven knows how he’d have got in Govan or the rougher parts of Glesgae toon.

A few years ago, Private Eye did a little feature on him as part of their series on the new boys and girls, who had entered parliament after that year’s election. Not only does Rees-Mogg expect people to defer to him because of his class, he also expects close family members to protect him personally in uncomfortable situations. By which I mean that once, at Glyndebourne, he got his nanny and his wife to hold a book over his head to protect him from the sun.

The aristocracy are also known for inflicting stupid names on their children. Rees-Mogg is no exception. Along with the normal names he has given his new-born son, Dominic and Christopher, he also inflicted ‘Sextus’ and ‘Dominic’ on the poor little mite. ‘Sextus’ is Latin for ‘Sixth’, and the little chap is his sixth sprog.

So why would anyone become a fan of this weird creature? I think part of it’s because he is so strange, as well as being personally very polite. He has a diffident, gentlemanly manner while at the same time he stands out as something of a character. He’s similar to Boris Johnson in this respect, who’s built his career on a very carefully crafted persona of being a good-natured chump, while he’s anything but in real life. Quietly spoken with a slightly diffident manner, it makes Rees-Mogg look for more harmless and reasonable than he actually is. But as his voting record shows, his political views are those of a typical vengeful Tory thug with all their class hatred and contempt for working people.

Rees-Mogg is a particular presence in my part of the world, because he’s the MP for North-East Somerset, which is just south of my bit of Bristol. I’m not surprised he got in down there. This is the same part of rural Somerset, where the Waldegrave family have their seat. There’s even a pub called ‘The Waldegrave Arms’ in Green Ore, one of the villages there on the Waldegrave estate. This is a part of Britain, where they still feel people should be tugging their forelocks in deference to the lord of the manor.

As for his supporters, from what I’ve heard personally, they’re deeply reactionary, true-blue members of the upper middle class, who really do want to drag us all back to the 19th century, when the upper classes were in power and the proles knew there place – in hovels, suffering from malnutrition and cholera.

There’s some speculation that the Tories are looking to put him into No. 10 at one point. Mike states that he’s not likely to go away, and we shall all do our best to make sure he doesn’t get in. If he does, you can bet that all the poverty, despair, joblessness and starvation the Tories have inflicted on the working class, disabled and poor in this country really will reach truly 19th century levels.

Losing Patience with the Anti-Corbyn Bias in Private Eye

August 7, 2016

I’ve finally lost patience with the persistent bias against Jeremy Corbyn in Private Eye. I read the magazine regularly, and much of it I agree with and admire. It has over the years published some superb pieces attacking privatisation, the dismantling of the welfare state, the privatisation of the NHS, and the persecution of the severely disabled by Atos and its successor Maximus. It has also shown itself quite willing to challenge British foreign policy. For example, it has published numerous pieces rebutting official claims that the Libyans were responsible for the Lockerbie bombing, and instead pointed the finger at Syria, who were not accused as George Bush senior needed their help during the first Gulf War. It has also done admirable work defending the bereaved relatives in the Deepcut inquiry, challenging the official story that all of the victims committed suicide and attacking the Army’s and police’s apparent cover-up of what looks very much like murder on an army base that was out of control, with rampant bullying and the sexual abuse of female squaddies.

And yet, despite all this, the magazine has joined the rest of the press pack in attacking Corbyn as ‘unelectable’, mocking, smearing and denigrating his leadership at every turn. For the past few weeks, it has been running a strip, ‘Focus on Fact’, which appears to have been written by the Blairites, and mostly revisits spats with Jeremy Corbyn and the extreme Left back in the 1980s. They’ve also published other pieces firmly showing their pro-Blairite bias. For instance, in this fortnight’s issue, there’s a piece defending Angela Eagle’s claim that Corbynistas threw a brick through her window, and attacking the good folks on the internet that have attempted to refute it as ‘conspiracy theorists’. They’ve also decided to criticise Corbyn because – gasp – he’s dared to appear on RT and Press TV. I intend to blog more deeply about both these issues. However, for now I’ll just say that the story about the brick thrown at Eagle’s office is false. It didn’t come through her window, and the area is marked by vandalism. There’s no evidence linking it to the Corbynites, and the entire accusation just comes from Eagle. As for RT and PressTV, this is more or less a return to the ‘red baiting’ of the Thatcherites in the 1980s, when they attacked Ken Livingstone and his group as Communists. This included members of the left-wing Tribune group, who had written articles for Soviet and Marxist magazines, but were themselves not Communists. RT stands for Russia Today, and is the Russian state broadcaster, while PressTV is run by the Iranian state. Both of these are extremely authoritarian countries which are notorious for their persecution of independent journalists. But I’ve used material from RT, because it gives a genuinely left-wing perspective on politics and events in America and the West, such as American imperialism and the exclusion of radical voices from official American politics. Very few others broadcasters are going to discuss these issues, with the noble exceptions of internet programmes like The Young Turks and Democracy Now. They put on the stuff that you won’t read about in our papers, or see on BBC TV, and increasingly not on Channel 4.

So what has prompted the Eye to attack Corbyn? I can’t be sure, but it strikes me that it’s probably due to the very upper middle class background of the magazine itself, and the fact that, despite its excellent record in many areas, none of its founders were in any sense radicals. Peter Cook, Willie Rushton, Richard Ingrams and John Wells were all stout fellows, but they were very ‘establishment’. They were public schoolboys, a point I can remember being made by the panel at an event on the late Peter Cook one year at the Cheltenham Literary Festival. John Wells, who in my opinion was one of the funniest of British comedians and comic actors, was the former French teacher and headmaster of Eton. You don’t get much more establishment than that. I once heard Humphrey Carpenter describe Auberon Waugh as a ‘Tory anarchist’, presumably meaning he that he was instinctively a man of the Right, but was also acutely aware of their stupidities and failings as well. I think this characterisation probably applies much more to Peter Cook. Cook seemed to me to be resolutely cynical in his politics. When he was at university, he joined all three mainstream political parties so he could laugh at them equally. By contrast, Waugh, who also wrote columns for Private Eye, always struck me as just a sarcastic right-winger sneering at the Left. Ingrams was notorious for having a bitter hatred of gays. After leaving the editorship of Private Eye, he founded the Oldie, a magazine for the elderly. I asked my mother once if she’d read it. She had, but didn’t like it, declaring it to be ‘snobby’. The only genuine left-winger on the team was Paul Foot, and he fitted in because he came from the same privileged background, and had the same very upper-middle class tastes in food and drink as the rest of them.

Ian Hislop, the current editor, is no different. He’s very public school, and his father was some kind of army officer or colonial administrator in Nigeria. And he also shares other parts of the accepted political wisdom. A few years ago on Have I Got News For You he declared that, regardless of the attacks the Tories were getting for their austerity policies, Labour would also be required to cut spending on the welfare state. This is very much the standard view, which is also followed slavishly by Beeb broadcasters. The Kushners attacked it, and the media consensus surrounding it, in their book Who Needs the Cuts?, which contains numerous examples of BBC broadcasters and journos uncritically repeating what is basically Neoliberal propaganda. Hislop wasn’t mentioned, but he was clearly another who had uncritically accepted this view.

And Corbyn isn’t the only Left-wing politician to be have been unfairly attacked by the Eye. Tony Benn was regularly pilloried as a ‘swivel-eyed loon’, despite the fact that the people, who knew him said that he wasn’t a fanatic, but a thoughtful man who carefully considered what the people around him were saying and consulted their opinions before reaching a decision. But the received, Fleet Street wisdom in the 1970s and ’80s was that Benn was a fanatic and a madman.

As was ‘Red’ Ken Livingstone. Livingstone was also attacked as a ‘Communist’, despite the fact that he wasn’t. He used them, and occasionally used the same type of language, but wasn’t, in fact, a Marxist. But hasn’t stopped the Eye from calling him Ken Leninspart. And most of what Livingstone talked about in his interviews with the press when he was head of the GLC was boringly mundane. However, this was routinely ignored, and the only parts of the conversation – which in actual fact were only very small parts of what he said – which were printed and repeated were those which presented him as an extremist – profoundly anti-racist, pro-feminist and pro-gay. Which was too much for a Britain that was much more traditional and conservative in its attitudes towards race and gender than today. This was a time when the Black and White Minstrels were mainstream TV with a mass audience, despite being based on 19ith century parodies of Black, slave entertainment.

Benn and Livingstone were both attacked by the media because they were left-wing Socialists. Benn advocated extending nationalisation to a further 25 companies, as recommended in a report by his own party. One journo for the Sunday Times said that this was probably the reason why the press hated him, because editors and proprietors feared that eventually he would nationalise them. And ‘Red’ Ken was similarly reviled because he was in favour of industrial democracy and worker’s control, which shocked and outraged the media. The press did not, however, try to refute their ideas, and so took the tactics of sheer ad hominem abuse. My guess they were afraid to, because either they couldn’t, or they were afraid that simply discussing them would make them popular with the proles.

And I think this is true of the press today and its attacks on Corbyn. They’re motivated by the same fear of genuine Socialism after the neoliberalism and privatisation of the Blairites. And this terror is shared by Hislop and Private Eye, which despite its subversive tradition of satire and exposing abuse of power, isn’t really a radical magazine. Hislop and no doubt many of his contributors come from the upper middle classes, which own industry and continue to expect to take a leading role in British government and society. Jeremy Corbyn threatens them, just as Tony Benn and Ken Livingstone did before him. And so Private Eye joins in the abuse sneering and smearing him.

May Refuses to Release Rape Figures at Detention Centre for Commercial Reasons

July 31, 2016

This shows the hollowness of the Tory Claims that somehow they are pro-feminist, and that the installation of Theresa May in No 10 is somehow an advance for this country’s women.

Mike yesterday put up a piece reporting that the Independent had made a request for the official figures of the number of rapes that had occurred at Yarl’s Wood detention centre, where immigrants are held while their cases are decided. The Indie noted that many of the women held their had been fleeing rape and war in their countries of origin. The detention centre is operated by Serco, one of the government’s favourite outsourcing contractors, along with G4S. Current legislation means that public bodies have to disclose information when it is in the public interest. But the Home Office turned down this request for information as it would harm the commercial interests of the companies running the centre.

Mike asked the obvious question: When did it become acceptable to use ‘commercial interest’ as an excuse to hide rape?

The question is rhetorical. Of course it isn’t. Mike makes the point that the framing of the request for information makes it clear that it has gone on more than once. he also states that as May was the minister in charge of the Home Office, she has the overall responsibility for what occurred there. And if she is indifferent to the crimes and abuse that happened there, what does this show about her concern for the rest of this country’s population?

See http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/07/30/when-did-it-become-acceptable-to-use-commercial-interest-as-an-excuse-to-hide-rape/

The Conservative party has repeatedly used the excuse of ‘commercial interests’ to justify their refusal to release details of the failures of private government outsourcing companies, including private hospitals and clinics. I distinctly remember Mike reporting a few years ago on the way requests for information on the standard of care at the private hospitals and hospital management companies contracted in to perform operations and manage PFI hospitals as part of the government’s privatisation campaign, were similarly turned down for the same reason. Yet similarly confidential information about the costs of running public hospitals were to be given to private companies. This was a naked display of the government’s intention to privatise the Health Service, by giving every advantage to the private sector, while covering up their failures. It is exactly the same here.

The excuse that the information must be protected for reasons of commercial confidentiality while the state’s must be public is easily dismissed. If a private company is performing work for the state, then it effectively becomes part of the res publica, and it is in the public interest to examine how efficient and trustworthy that company is, for exactly the same reasons governing the release of information about public bodies. Part of the rationale for employing private companies is that competition leads to higher standards than possible in a bureaucracy. But competition depends on there being competitors, who are aware of the faults of their rivals, and can correct these to offer better services.

The fact that the Tories don’t want to release such information suggests that they’re not interested in genuinely promoting competition. They’re just interested in promoting private companies. It also suggests that the supposed superior performance of the private sector is a myth. If the number of rapes in Yarl’s Wood detention centre was actually lower than those in state management, then I don’t see how there could be any objection to releasing them. It also suggests to me that, outside of the usual recidivists, there are no other outsourcing companies bidding to take over such services. The government has got to stick with Serco, or G4S, or whoever, because nobody else is going to do the job, and if they go, the whole project fails.

This is exactly similar to the government’s promotion of private healthcare and privatisation of the NHS. Jacky Davis and Raymond Tallis in their book, NHS-SOS make the point that there is no market for private healthcare in this country, and that private hospitals themselves aren’t efficient compared to state healthcare. The result is that the government, in the form of New Labour and the Tories, has had to resort to continuous intervention in order to do so. And it’s very obvious that’s also the case here.

Private healthcare doesn’t work, and the NHS should be renationalised.
Private prisons and detention centres don’t work, and should be renationalised.

As for what the government’s refusal to release figures specifically about the incidence of rape shows about May’s feminism, it shows that she has little interest in women’s welfare, or at least, in the welfare of women who don’t belong to the upper and upper middle classes. Rape, and violence against women in general, is the quintessential feminist cause. Yet here, May shows that she has no interest in combating it, if it means that her precious companies don’t make a tidy profit. Capitalism first, women’s safety second. After Angela Eagle’s leadership campaign collapsed, one of the female hacks in the I newspaper lamented the absence of strong, charismatic women in the Labour party, and pointed to the Tories’ election of May as their second female prime minister. But this ignores the fact that Maggie Thatcher did not see herself as a feminist. Her public persona was so aggressively masculine that one of the feminists in the Observer dubbed her ‘the best man in the Tory party’. Much the same has been said recently about Hillary Clinton, who is as aggressively militaristic as any of the male hawks with which she surrounds herself. And the same is true of Theresa May. She represents the ability of middle and upper class women to break through the glass ceiling and take senior positions in politics and management. But she has no interest in protecting the interests, rights, dignity and welfare of the people below her, including women.

Mike says of this incident that it’s about time the honeymoon with her was over. I agree. She will do nothing for the poor, and vulnerable, and will just carry on with Cameron’s policies. The fact that she is a woman is merely a piece of liberal camouflage hiding the harshly, exploitative Tory policies underneath.

Owen Smith’s Rhetoric of Domestic Abuse

July 25, 2016

Mike also put up another piece on Owen Smith rhetoric and demeanour as he launched a campaign against misogyny, following the comments of one of his readers, who had been a victim for ten years of domestic abuse. Owen Smith pledged Labour to a ‘zero tolerance’ policy on misogyny. To show the current double standards in the Labour party, Jeremy Corbyn was vilified when he promised that Labour would end workplace discrimination.

In fact, as Mike shows, Smiff himself has previous on what some would regard at sexism. He told one of the female regulars on Question Time that she was only there because of her gender. But Mike’s female commenter picked up on the language he uses to denigrate and demean Corbyn. She states that after undergoing a 12 week course to deal with the effects of the decade-long abuse she suffered from her partner, she found that Smiff fits the profile of one type of domestic abuser: the headworker. This is the person, who constantly wears down his victim’s sense of self-worth, by telling them that they’re worthless, and using that insult to justify his assaults on them.

To test this analysis, Mike supplies a sample of Smiff’s comments about Corbyn, to see if they fit this profile. They do. They are all just remarks about how useless he is, and how unfit he is to lead the party, without any substance behind them. Mike also checks to see what personal smears Corbyn has cast over his opponents: precisely none.

This bears out Mike’s commenter’s observations.

See the article: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/07/23/headworker-owen-smith-resembles-domestic-violence-perpetrator/

I wonder how far this culture of New Labour bullying is the creation of Blair, Brown, Campbell and Mandelson. Blair’s coterie was notorious for their determination to micromanage everything they could to make the Dear Leader appear popular and acclaimed, and ensure that MPs and officials were properly compliant and ‘on message’. When they went ‘off message’, as Claire Short did on numerous occasions, then they went on the personal attack, briefing against them.

I also wonder how far this is due to a general culture of bullying within a middle class marked with a very strong sense of entitlement. David Cameron, for example, claimed that he wasn’t a toff, but a member of the ‘sharp-elbowed middle class’, who were determined to get all they could. It was a risible claim, as Cameron is demonstrably a toff. He can’t remotely be described as ‘middle class’, except in so far as that term also describes the haute bourgeoisie. Nevertheless, this is a class that feels that it has an absolute right to rule, and to bully those it considers a threat. You consider the sheer venom Peter Lilley, the former Tory Secretary of State for Welfare, and the right-wing press has for ‘benefit scroungers’. The signing-on at the Jobcentre Plus for Jobseekers’ Allowance, the Work Capability Assessment and Workfare are all forms of bullying, set up to degrade and intimidate the unemployed claimant so that they only sign on if desperate. It’s explicitly based on the Victorian doctrine of least eligibility espoused by Thatcher as one of her ‘Victorian values’. Thatcher’s regime also saw the rise of ‘macho management’, in which company officials bullied their staff in order to get their absolute obedience and raise standards. Allegedly. Thus, a couple of managers appeared in Private Eye for threatening to hang a member of staff at a branch of Asda. And I was told by a former journalist on one of the Bristol papers that the editor there would call people into his office every morning to criticise them. This was all done for no reason, except that it was supposed to make them ‘better journalists’.

That type of management went out with John Major. But I do wonder if it hasn’t left its mark in the bullying psychology of New Labour, and their absolute determination to hang on to power. New Labour won its electoral victories by appealing to middle class swing voters. Blairite MPs still talk about ‘aspirational voters’, even though for the bulk of Labour supporters this is not an issue. They just want to survive unemployment, zero hours contracts and workfare. The Tories have survived and gained their votes partly by playing on status insecurity in parts of the working and lower middle classes. They exploit the fears and snobbery of the wealthier sections of these social classes against those below them. And so you have the Tory rhetoric about ‘hardworking people’ who want to make life more miserable for the unemployed, as they don’t want to see their closed curtains when they go to work. This was reflected in the pledge of one London Blairite MP that Labour would be even harder on the unemployed than the Tories if they got into power.

That kind of rhetoric alienated Labour’s core voters, who have now returned with Jeremy Corbyn. And the entitled Blairites can’t stand it. So to hang on to power they have gone back to a Thatcherite culture of middle class bullying and abuse to keep these awkward proles in line, and stop them losing the favour of the ‘sharp-elbowed middle classes’ with whom they wish to ingratiate themselves.

John Steinbeck on the Kindness of the Poor

February 1, 2016

I found this quote from John Steinbeck over on the Tumblr site 1000 Natural Shocks. (Over 18s only, I’m afraid). It’s a great quote, from one of the true titan of modern American literature.

Steinbeck Poor Help

It isn’t invariably true, but traditionally the poor have been more sympathetic to those in need, and had greater self-help networks in the form of friends and neighbours, who were prepared to help out, than the rich. One of my aunts grew up during the Great Depression. Her father was a staunch socialist of very left-wing views, who did take tramps back home to share a meal with himself and his family. I’ve heard of others doing the same as well.

Even now, findings indicate that the poor are more likely to give a greater part of their income to charity than the rich. It’s possibly one of the reasons, although it’s rarely mentioned or discussed, there are many victims of good, bourgeois, upper middle class homes who rebel and try to be working class. And its one of the reasons that the long, Neoliberal campaign to smash working class pride and communities is so despicable.

The Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen from the French Revolution

April 16, 2014

Artisan Washerwom pic

An artisan and a washerwoman toast the health of the French Revolution as members of the ignored and oppressed ‘Third Estate’.

I found this text of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen made by the French Revolutionaries in 1789 in D.G. Wright’s Revolution and Teror in France 1789-1795 (Harlow: Longman 1974). Although it’s very much the view of patriotic French middle class, it is still one of the founding statements of modern democracy and political liberty. Here it is:

The representatives of the French people, sitting in the National Assembly considering that ignorance of, neglect of, and contempt for the rights of man are the sole causes of public misfortune and the corruption of governments, have resolved to set out in a solemn declaration the natural, inalienable and sacred rights of man, in order that this declaration, constantly before all members of the civic body, will constantly remind them of their rights and duties, in order that acts of legislative and executive power can be frequently compared with the purpose of every political institution, thus making them more respected, in order that the demands of the citizens, henceforth founded on simple and irrefutable principles, will always tend towards the maintenance of the constitution and the happiness of everyone.

I Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions can only be founded on communal utility.

II The purpose of all political associations is the preservation of the natural and imprescriptible rights of man. These rights are liberty, property, security and resistance to oppression.

III The principle of all sovereignty emanates essentially from the nation. No group of men, no individual, can exercise any authority which does not specifically emanate from it.

IV Liberty consists in being able to do whatever does not harm others. Hence the exercise of the natural rights of every man is limited only by the need for other members of society to exercise the same rights. These limits can only be determined by the law.

V The law only has the right to prohibit actions harmful to society. What is not prohibited by law cannot be forbidden, and nobody can be forced to do what the law does not require.

VI The law is the expression of the general will. All citizens have the right to take part personally, or through their representatives, in the making of the law. It should be the same for everyone, whether it protects or punishes. All citizens, being equal in the eyes of the law, are equally admissible to all honours, offices and public employment, according to their capacity and without any distinction other than those of their integrity and talents.

VII A man can only be accused, arrested or detained in cases determined by law, and according to the procedure it requires. Those who solicit, encourage, execute or cause to be executed arbitrary orders must be punished, but every citizen called up or arrested in the name of the law must obey instantly; resistance renders him culpable.

VIII The law must only require punishments that are strictly and evidently necessary and a person can only be punished according to an established law passed before the offence and legally applied.

IX Every man being presumed innocent until he has been declared guilty, if it is necessary to arrest him, all severity beyond what is necessary to secure his arrest shall be severely punished by law.

X No man ought to be uneasy about his opinions, even his religious beliefs, provided that their manifestation does not interfere with the public order established by the law.

XI The free communication of thought and opinion is one of the most precious rights of man: every citizen can therefore talk, write and publish freely, except that he is responsible for abuses of this liberty in cases determined by the law.

The guaranteeing of the rights of man and the citizen requires a public force: this force is therefore established for everybody’s advantage and not for the particular benefit of the persons who are entrusted with it.

XIII A common contribution is necessary for the maintenance of the public force and for administrative expenses; it must be equally apportioned between all citizens, according to their means.

XIV All citizens have the right, personally or by means of their representatives, to have demonstrated to them the necessity of public taxes, so that they can consent freely to them, can check how they are used, and can determine the shares to be paid, their assessment, collection and duration.

XV The community has the right to hold accountable every public official in its administration.

XVI Every society has no assured guarantee of rights, or a separation of powers, does not possess a constitution.

XVII Property being a sacred and inviolable right, nobody can be deprived of it, except when the public interest, legally defined, evidently requires it, and then on condition there is just compensation in advance.

cameron-toff

David Cameron, whose government represents aristocratic privilege over the working classes, the poor, the disabled, and whose policies violate many of the rights the Revolution declared to be universal and inviolable.

Just reading this list shows how deeply reactionary the Tories and Tory Democrats are. They don’t believe that everyone should have equal rights before the law, nor can this government claim they represent ‘the general will’. They weren’t elected: they took power through a backdoor deal with the Tory Democrats, and were elected anyway on a severely diminished percentage of the population who legally have the right to vote.

They also do not believe in the freedom from arbitrary arrest and open public justice. There is the continuing scandal of the stop and search of Black men. The Tories and their Tory Democrat accomplices also passed a law providing for secret courts meting out a highly Kafkaesque brand of ‘justice’.

We have also seen a gradual diminution and erosion of our right to free speech and freedom of conscience and opinion, under the guise of national security.

The Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen also provides for something like the Freedom of Information Act. As a citizen, it states that we have the right to have it explained to us how our taxes are spent, so that we can freely consent to them. Yet the Tories have consistently refused to issue the information on the number of disabled people, who have died since Atos declared them fit for work. Mike and the other bloggers, who have attempted to obtain this information, have been denounced as ‘vexatious’ for so doing. Johnny Void on his site today has also reported that the government is refusing to release a report documenting the shambolic failure of their ‘welfare-to-work’ programme. They have openly confessed before that they don’t want details of it to be released as this would make it unpopular and prevent it from operating.

And then there is the abomination of the Bedroom Tax. This is a tax, as Mike and the others have shown, and it has been levied on the very poorest to force them out of their homes.

As for the taxation being levied at the same rate so that people can pay according to their means, they have deliberately and flagrantly rejected it. They have awarded massive tax cuts to the rich, while the poor have seen the tax burden increase through indirect taxation.

There is precious little about this government which agrees with this founding document of political and civil liberty. And the Tories know it. They have always stood for privilege and the rights of the feudal and upper middle class elite. In 1789 the French Revolutionaries abolished feudalism, including the forced labour the aristocracy required their serfs to perform. The unpaid internships and workfare are its modern equivalents, and have been reintroduced under the Tories.

And so is democracy destroyed by this most undemocratic of governments.