Posts Tagged ‘W.M. Thackeray’

No, Lord Sugar: It Is Capitalism Stifling Industry and Creativity

December 16, 2018

Ho ho! Some pre-festive fun yesterday, when Mike put up a piece describing how Alan Sugar, the former head of Amstrad and the host of the British version of The Apprentice, threw a strop when left-wingers on the net were rude to him about his promise to emigrate if Jeremy Corbyn became PM. Instead of being horrified at the potential loss to our great nation, Red Labour instead posted a tweet in reply applauding it and saying it was a good reason to vote Labour. They said

Another good reason to #VoteLabour: @Lord_Sugar confirming he’ll leave the country if @jeremycorbyn becomes PM. All without any argument, of course: just personalised nonsense. What a relief that people like Sugar aren’t given gongs or made ‘Enterprise Tsars’ by @UKLabour anymore.

Unable to countenance the idea that the he wasn’t the idol of millions, whose every word was listened to by the masses in rapt attention, Sugar got angry and started insulting them. He tweeted back

Sour grapes you bunch of jealous anti enterprise anarchist losers. You have not achieved anything in life but like to criticize those who have. I paid a personal tax bill last year of over £50m enough to build a hospital. You find the taxes in future I’m off #corbynout

This ill-tempered comment provoked a wave of criticism from others in its turn. It also revealed Sugar to be a snob as defined by Thackeray: ‘a person who meanly admires mean things.’ He also fits another character type identified by Oscar Wilde – someone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. As for his boasting about how much he makes from the size of his tax bill, once upon a time this would have been considered a very poor comment by the long-established rich. Bragging about your wealth marked you out as being nouveau, a parvenu. Which Sugar is. He’s a self-made millionaire, who clearly believes his millions and his celebrity status excuse his poor manners.

The peeps on Twitter therefore lined up and told the brusque TV host that it was the ordinary people of this country – cleaners, bus drivers, firemen and women, carers, factory workers, teachers, nurses and so on, that actually kept this country running, rather than obscenely rich oligarchs like Sugar himself. They also pointed out that they too paid tax, and were determined to stay in this country, and they had also achieved things that could not be assessed in simple monetary turns. Like family and friends. As for the size of his tax bill, one person told Sugar to look at the size of his employees’ tax bills as opposed to the income of his lowest paid employees. They also wished him off on his planned departure from Britain, with comments like ‘Off you pop, send us a postcard, and so forth.

Several of the people tweeting denied being anarchists, with Darkest Angel also adding that he didn’t know what anarchism is. He clearly doesn’t. He obviously thinks that anarchists are just rabble-rousing hooligans, who go around attacking the rich without appreciating that there are genuine reasons for their anger and their criticisms of capitalism.

One of the tweeters, Jon Goulding, made it very clear that it was due to ordinary people that Sugar had made his money. He said

Don’t you dare claim that teachers and nurses and road builders and factory workers and farm labourers haven’t achieved anything in life just because they haven’t made skip loads of money. You wouldn’t have made jack shit if it weren’t for them, you selfish, shallow charlatan.

See https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2018/12/15/lord-sugar-got-precious-about-his-pledge-to-immigrate-if-corbyn-becomes-pm-and-got-what-he-deserved/

The great anarchist intellectual, Peter Kropotkin, made the same point in his article, Anarchist Communism, first published in The Nineteenth Century, and republished in Anarchist and Anarchist Communism: Its Basis and Principles, ed. by Nicolas Walter (London: Freedom Press 1987). Kropotkin argued that all property should be held in common, as every innovation built upon the work of millions of others, and depended on society for its effectiveness and value.

Our cities, connected by roads and brought into easy communication with all peopled parts of the globe, are the growth of centuries; and each house in these cities, each factory, each shop, derives its value, its very raison d’etre, from the fact that it is situated on a spot of the globe where thousands or millions have gather together. Every smallest part of the immense whole which we call the wealth of civilized nations derives its value precisely from being a part of this whole. What would be the value of an immense London shop or warehouse were it not situated precisely in London, which has become the gathering spot for five millions of human beings? And what the value of our coal-pits, our manufactures, our shipbuilding yards, were it not for the immense traffic which goes on across the seas, for the railways which transport mountains of merchandise, for the cities which number their inhabitants by millions? Who is, then,m the individual who has the right to step forward and, laying his hand on the smallest part of this immense whole, to say, ‘I have produced this; it belongs to me’? And how can we discriminate, in this immense interwoven whole, the part which the isolated individual may appropriate to himself with the slightest approach to justice? Houses and streets, canals and railways, machines and works of art, all these have been created by the combined efforts of generations past and present, of men living on these islands and men living thousands of miles away. (p. 37).

Moreover, Kropotkin also describes how capitalism actively prevents people from producing, in order to keep the prices of their products high. And this system creates monstrous inequalities in which the masses live in poverty, while the labour that could have been used alleviating poverty is spent on creating luxuries for the rich. He writes

But the figures just mentioned, while showing the real increase of production, give only a faint idea of what our production might be under a more reasonable economical organization. We know well that the owners of capital, while trying to produce more wares with fewer ‘hands’, are continually endeavouring at the same time to limit the production, in order to sell at higher prices. When the profits of a concern are going down, the owner of the capital limits the production, or totally suspends it, and prefers to engage his capital in foreign loans or Patagonian gold-mines. Just now there are plenty of pitmen in England who ask for nothing better than to be permitted to extract coal and supply with cheap fuel the households where children are shivering before empty chimneys. There are thousands of weavers who ask for nothing better than to weave stuffs in order to replace the ragged dress of the poor with decent clothing. And so in all branches of industry. How can we talk about a want of means of subsistence when thousands of factories lie idle in Great Britain alone; and when there are, just now, thousands and thousands of unemployed in London alone; thousands of men who would consider themselves happy7 if they were permitted to transform (under the guidance of experienced agriculturists) the clay of Middlesex into a rich soil, and to cover with cornfields and orchards the acres of meadow-land which now yields only a few pounds’ worth of hay? But they are prevented from doing so by the owners of the land, of the weaving factory, and of the coal-mine, because capital finds it more advantageous to supply the Khedive with harems and the Russian Government with ‘strategic railways’ and Krupp guns. Of course the maintenance of harems pays: it gives 10 or 15 per cent on the capital, while the extraction of coal does not pay-that is, it brings 3 or 5 per cent – and that is a sufficient reason for limiting the production and permitting would-be economists to indulge in reproaches to the working classes as to their too rapid multiplication!

Here we have instances of a direct and conscious limitation of production, due to the circumstance that the requisites for production belong to the few, and that these few have the right of disposing of them at their will, without caring about the interests of the community. But there is also the indirect and unconscious limiting of production – that which results from squandering the produce of human labour in luxury, instead of applying it to a further increase of production.

This last cannot even be estimated in figures, but a walk through the rich shops of any city and a glance at the manner in which money is squandered now, can give an approximate idea of this indirect limitation. When a rich man spends a thousand pounds for his stables, he squanders five to six thousand days of human labour, which might be used, under a better social organization, for supplying with comfortable homes those who are compelled to live now in dens. And when a lady spends a hundred pounds for her dress, we cannot but say that she squanders, at least, two years of human labour, which, again under a better organization, might have supplied a hundred women with decent dresses, and much more if applied to a further improvement of the instruments of production. Preachers thunder against luxury, because it is shameful to squander money for feeding and sheltering hounds and horses, when thousands live in the East End on sixpence a day, and other thousands have not even their miserable sixpence every day. But the economist sees more than that in our modern luxury: when millions of days of labour are spent every year for the satisfaction of the stupid vanity of the rich, he says that so many millions of workers have been diverted from the manufacture of those useful instruments which would permit us to decuple and centuple our present production of means of subsistence and of requisites for comfort. (pp. 34-5).

As for The Apprentice, Cassetteboy put up a couple of videos spoofing the show on YouTube a few years ago. They’re a couple of blokes, who edit footage of celebrities and politicians to make them appear ridiculous. And the results can be very, very funny indeed. Here’s what they did to Sugar and his team. Enjoy!

The Privileged Class Background of BBC Staff, and the Problem of Oxbridge Public School Elitism

August 26, 2017

Earlier this week I put up a piece reviewing Tom Mills’ The BBC – Myth of a Public Service. This contributes immensely to the debate about the Corporation’s bias by showing how it consistently allies with the elite against the left and the working class.

And Mills makes a very strong case that, apart with the institutional methods of control the government exercises over the Beeb through the license fee and the appointment of its governors, the BBC also sides with the elite because of the elite, upper and very middle class origins of its managers and staff. Mills describes this background on pages 29 and 30. He writes

A 2014 report of the quasi-official Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission had no qualms about identifying these top BBC executives, and over a hundred other senior BBC managers, as members of ‘Britain’s elite’ – along with politicians, civil servants, the super-rich, FTSE 350 CEOs, newspaper columnists and other groups. The Commission’s survey of 125 BBC executives found that 26 per cent had attended private school (compared with 7 per cent of the population), 33 per cent had attended Oxbridge (compared with just 0.8 per cent of the population) and 62 per cent had attended one of the Russell Group of leading universities (compared with 11.4 per cent of the population) – figures which were comparable with those for other factions of Britain’s power elite, as the report shows. Senior BBC managers are also extremely well paid: in 2014/15, the seven executive members of the BBC’s Executive Board earned an average of over £424,000. Meanwhile, around eighty BBC executives are thought to earn over £150,000, even after policy measures were put in place to reduce executive pay following fierce criticism from the press. Among this executive cadre are around a hundred or so senior managers in editorial policy who on average earn just over £100,000, and the most senior of whom can earn two or three times that.

Below these senior editorial managers, we see similar patterns of privilege. In 2006, the Sutton Trust examined the educational backgrounds of 100 leading news journalists in the UK, of whom 31 worked at the BBC. It found that 54 per cent were privately educated and a remarkable 45 per cent had attended Oxbridge. Educational background is of course an indicator of shared class background. But it is also in itself a profoundly important basis for elite cohesion, forging along with other formative experiences, if not a shared set of ideas, then at least a shared demeanour and set of dispositions. Elitist recruiting practices – which are naturally justified in meritocratic terms, even if they are recognized to create serious problems in terms of legitimacy – thus create subtle forms of institutional and cross-institutional cohesion.

This bears out a comment made by one of the television directors Mike and I heard speak over two decades ago at a Doctor Who convention here in Bristol. He stated that it was very difficult to become a director at the Beeb unless you had been to Oxford or Cambridge. If you hadn’t, it was very difficult. If you had, on the other hand, it was very easy.

As for Oxbridge, I’m currently reading Gregory Benford’s SF novel Timescape (London: Gollancz 1980). The novel’s plot is split between the devastated Britain of 1998 and the optimistic California of 1963, as a group of scientists in Cambridge attempt to use tachyons to carry a message back to their counterparts in La Jolla to warn them of the coming ecological crisis which is gradually causing global civilization to collapse. Benford is an American, and one of the team of Cambridge scientists, Gregory Markham, also hails from across the Pond. The book therefore includes descriptions and meditations on Britain’s relationship to its past, compared with America, and the class structure of British society. On page 182, Benford comments on the educational segregation at Cambridge High Table.

He walked back towards the colleges, letting this feel of the press of time seep into him. He and Jan had been to High Table at several of the colleges, the ultimate Anglophile experience. Memorial plate that gleamed like quicksilver, and crested goblets. In the after-dinner room of polished wood, gilt frames held glowering portraits of the college founders. In the great dining hall Jan had been surprised to find de facto segregation: Etonians at one table, Harrovians at another, the lesser public schools’ alumni at a third, and, finally, state school graduates and everyone else at a motley last table. To an American in such a citadel of education, after the decades of ferocious equality-at-all-costs politics, it seemed strange. There persisted a reliance on inherited advantages, and even the idea that such a system was an inherited virtue as well.

This is not too far removed from the description of outright class snobbery Thackeray describes in his Book of Snobs. Casting his eye about England’s great, and at the time, only universities, he noted the way the class system affected even the type of gowns undergraduates wore:

If you consider, dear reader, what profound snobbishness the University system produced, you will allow that it is time to attack some of those feudal middle-age superstitions. If you go down for five shillings to look at the ‘College Youths’, you may see one sneaking down the court without a tassel to his cap; another with a gold or silver fringe to his velvet trencher; a third lad with a master’s gown and hat,, walking at ease over the sacred College grass-plats, which common men must not tread on.

Me may do it because he is a nobleman. Because a lad is a lord, the University grants him a degree at the end of two years which another is seven in acquiring. Because he is a lord, he has no call to go through an examination. Any man who has not been to College and back for five shillings [the price of the train fare to Oxford and Eton], would not believe in such distinctions in a place of education, so absurd and monstrous do they seem to be.

The lads with gold and silver lace are sons of rich gentlemen, and called Fellow Commoners; they are privileged to feed better than the pensioners, and to have wine with their victuals, which the latter can only get in their rooms.

The unlucky boys who have no tassels to their caps, are called sizars – servitors at Oxford – (a very pretty and gentlemanlike title). A distinction is made in their clothes because they are poor; for which reason they wear a badge of poverty, and are not allowed to take their meals with their fellow-students.(pp. 60-61).

One of the other, British characters in Benford’s novel, Renfrew, who has the idea of using tachyon radiation to transmit to the past, is also an outsider. He’s the son of a working class Yorkshireman, and because of this is also an outsider amongst the public schoolboys. At one point Renfrew remembers how, as an undergraduate walking down Oxford’s corridors, he passes another pair in gowns. One of these says very loudly in an Oxbridge drawl, ‘Oh God, not another oik come up on a scholarship!’

Oxford has been under considerable pressure to make its more democratic, and Robert Peston has said in his book, Who Runs Britain, that there’s an element of hypocrisy amongst some of the Scots universities, who tried to capitalize on the class scandals that have erupted over Oxbridge in recent years. Some of the Scots universities, particularly St. Andrews’, are even more elite and class-ridden.

It’s tempting to think of those days of class snobbishness as having vanished along with scholarships. However, as the Tories are intent are privatizing the British school system, and really, desperately, want to bring back grammar schools if they can get away with it, as well as cut away the last vestiges of the student grant to the poor, it’s likely that they’ll come back.