Tag Archives: john major

The Worst Election Campaign Ever?

When Theresa May announced her cabinet last July, I remember thinking how it seemed redolent of John Major’s cabinet: incompetent, crooked and potentially sleazy. Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary? You’re having a laugh! The disgraced former Defence Secretary, Liam Fox as Brexit Secretary? What have you been smoking?  Priti Patel as International Development Secretary after she said how she wanted to see the department abolished? Did I fall asleep and wake up in Bizarro World?

Last week, a friend and I were chatting about the election when he said to me “I think the Tories are trying to throw the election”. “Really?”, I asked. “I wouldn’t credit them with that much intelligence”. To be sure, May’s Tories are an arrogant bunch but brainy? I don’t think so.

When May called the election a few weeks back, it reminded me of Ted Heath’s petulant ‘Who Governs Britain’ snap election campaign in 1974. Heath, whose own government was pretty incompetent, went to the country confident of a massive victory. He lost. Like May, Heath’s campaign was run along narrow lines. For Heath, it was about his macho image and facing down the National Union of Mineworkers. For May, it’s apparently about getting a mandate for the Brexit negotiations. Something she already got when Article 50 was passed by the Commons. The Cat thinks the negotiations should be conducted by representatives from all the parliamentary parties and the party in government, but that’s a subject for another blog.

Few people can be in any doubt as to how shambolically the Tory election campaign has been run. From the day she called the election to the launch of the manifesto and now the sudden and apparent volte face over the what’s  been dubbed the Dementia Tax, the Tory campaign has been a disaster. Not even the exceptionally dull ‘Strong and Stable’ slogan can mask the evident ineptitude with which the campaign has been conducted.

Compare Corbyn’s campaign to that of May. Corbyn is happy pressing the flesh, having selfies taken with people and holding babies. When May’s been exposed to the public, she looks uncomfortable. She’s not a people person.  I mean, when did you last see her having a selfie taken with one of her followers? May’s appearances around the country have been highly stage-managed and local reporters have been locked away from the main event, while specially selected journalists are permitted to ask Chairman May vetted questions.

What about that manifesto? Oh, the manifesto. Didn’t that seem as though it was thrown together at the last minute? When Labour launched their manifesto last Tuesday it was met with the predictable sneers and swipes. All of our favourite clichés were summoned up: “it doesn’t add up”, “Labour is the party of high taxation”, that sort of thing. But Labour’s manifesto pledges of the renationalization of key infrastructure, the abolition of university tuition fees and general decency – all of them popular –  put the weak and unstable Tories into a spin. The day following Labour’s manifesto launch, the Tories arranged a hasty press conference where they ‘warned’ (sic) of the ‘dangers’ of electing Jeremy Corbyn (not the Labour Party).  It was panicky and, frankly, the whole spectacle was rather comical. The dismal May and her equally dismal sidekick, Philip Hammond, trotted out their stock of anti-Labour tropes. “There’s a black hole in Labour’s manifesto” claimed Hammond. Actually, Phil, the black hole is in your mind.

Yesterday’s campaign posters today!

There’s a vacuum at the heart of Tory thinking and, at times, it’s felt as though the Tories have recycled the 1992, 2010 and 2015 General Election campaigns and simply pressed them together in the hope that no one would notice. Themes from each of those campaigns have made an appearance in this campaign: the tax bombshell, the bold claims of being ‘economically competent’ and the ‘coalition of chaos’ have all been dusted down, patched up and sent out to fight the enemy once more. But this is a combatant that should be seeing out its last days in a retirement home  instead of being ordered to fight again.  Lynton Crosby and Mark Textor, the Tories’ apparent election masterminds, have clearly lost their touch.  Maybe they should employ someone like, say, John McTernan instead? He couldn’t do any worse, then again…

I can’t remember when a manifesto u-turn has happened in the middle of a General Election. Surely this is a first?

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Edwina Currie: Just Another Poor Pensioner

The title of this blog isn’t a joke. This was the impression Edwina Currie was trying to give me when I complained that the rise in employment figures, trumpeted by this government today as a deflection from its other problems, was masking the numbers of people on zero hours contracts or fake self-employment.

I took a screengrab of her Tweet in case she was thinking of deleting it.

Eggs McCurrie

She’s on low pay and she receives benefits? I doubt that. As the poster below remarks, she receives a generous final salary pension to which all former MPs are entitled. Although she may not be, in her words “filthy rich”, she has the kind of income that many pensioners can only dream of. Her appearance on I’m A Celebrity netted her a cool £100,000.  As for her appearances on the BBC, let’s put it this way: she won’t be earning peanuts. Currie and her second husband also own two (possibly more) properties.

I’d be very interested in what benefits she’s receiving. One thing is for certain, it isn’t Universal Credit.

Maybe she thought I wasn’t old enough to remember the ‘salmonella in eggs‘ story or her four year affair with John Major. Whatever the case, Ms Currie is playing fast and loose with the facts. Plus ça change, plus la même chose.

If Currie thinks her pension isn’t enough for her to live on, maybe she could get a job at her local supermarket? Just a thought.

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UKIP and their idea of culture

I’ve just returned home to find this UKIP election leaflet on my door mat.

Policies for Brain-dead People

Policies for Brain-dead People. But a UKIP government? Isn’t that wishful thinking?

My eyes were drawn to the section marked “culture” and nowhere does it mention the word ‘art’. Instead, we are treated to a list of things, which have little or no relevance to culture.

At the top of the list is this predictable pronouncement:

UKIP recognises and values an overarching, unifying British culture, which is open and inclusive to anyone who wishes to identify with Britain and British values, regardless of their ethnic or religious background.

Two questions – and these are questions that I’ve posed to white nationalists when they bleat about “British culture”: what is British culture and what are British values? Readers, I have to tell you that I have yet to receive an answer. All I get for my trouble is personal abuse and paranoid assertions about how this country is being “contaminated” with “foreign cultures”. There is no such thing as “British culture”and  as for “British values” one could argue that this includes bullying, an obsession with property ownership and institutionalized child sexual abuse. But we don’t like talking about those things, do we?

One proposal states:

UKIP opposes ‘plain paper packaging’ for tobacco products and minimum pricing of alcohol.

Well, they would oppose these things because their glorious leader is a chain-smoker, who’s rarely seen without a pint of beer in his hand. But I can’t see the connection with culture here. Can you?

Like the Tories and other right-wingers, UKIP hasn’t got a clue when it comes to culture. In fact, I would go as far as saying they don’t understand culture. When the Department of National Heritage was created under John Major in the 1990s, the word ‘culture’ was distinctly absent. “Heritage” is about paintings of dead people, statues, stately homes; in other words, it’s alien to most people’s everyday lives. Culture is a living thing and UKIP and the Tories, who are forever looking backwards, will never grasp this.

The rest of the Kippers’ election leaflet ploughs a tediously predictable furrow: shrink the state, reintroduce grammar schools, big up the military, spend more money on arms; abolish green taxes; frack everywhere; retain the benefit cap; keep bashing ‘migrants’ and so on and so forth. Their section on housing is especially woeful. There is no mention of the housing shortage nor is there any mention of possible solutions to the crisis. UKIP if you want to, the gentleman isn’t for kipping.

Just think: there are just under four more months left of this tedious bullshit.

 

UPDATE @ 2115 9/1/15

You know the image being used for the UKIP leaflet? Well, I’ve just spotted a similar image on Facebook being used for a YouGov advertisement.

Here it is.

The Kippers can’t even use an original image. How sad and pathetic is that?

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Filed under General Election 2015, Government & politics, UKIP

The Words Of The ‘Better Together’ Campaign

unionist alliance better together

Unionists: what great bedfellows they make

The Unionists have called their campaign “Better Together”, but it’s a dismal campaign based on fear, negativity and old fashioned bullying. Better Together’s message is little better than someone telling their friend, who is being abused by their partner, to stay together “for the sake of the children”. Alternatively we can compare their words to those of an abusive partner standing over their spouse shouting the words, “You’re nothing without me and you’ll never amount to much” before hitting them. These are the words of the ‘No’ Camp.

For the last couple of weeks, Unionists have sought to personalize the independence campaign by insisting that a vote for independence is a vote for Alex Salmond. Two days ago, we had the Bank of England governor, Mark Carnage Carney claiming that currency union is “incompatible” with independence. Carney’s words are those of a Mafia soldato who’s running a local protection racket.

The three stooges leaders of the main political parties at Westminster flew up to Scotland to conduct some ‘love bombing’ sorties. Cameron’s words were, to be honest, pathetic and patronizing. He claimed that the independence vote was being seen in the same way as a general election and urged the Scots to turn their backs on the idea. He pleaded “I care far more about my country than I do about my party. I care hugely about this extraordinary country, this United Kingdom that we have built together. I would be heartbroken if this family of nations we have put together – and we have done such amazing things – was torn apart”. Shame, then, that successive Tory governments have worked so hard to tear the country limb from limb. In The Guardian Cameron is reported to have said:

The rest of the world “looks on with awe and envy” at the modern British achievements such as the National Health Service and state pension system, Cameron said.

This is the same National Health Service that he and his ministers are working hard to abolish through privatization. Such words fall on deaf ears.

St. John Major was also in Scotland telling voters that the country would be “diminished” on the world stage. Such empty macho words fail to impress.

Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister spent his time in a Liberal Democrat friendly area in the Scottish Borders where he invoked the name of Gladstone.

“People say this is all last minute, [William] Gladstone was campaigning for home rule in the 1880s. This is something my party has been campaigning on for generations.”

Such insincere words make him look like yesterday’s man.

Ed Miliband, the Labour Party leader performed his schtick for a Labour crowd where he told his activists:

Let me say: this thirst for change is shared across the United Kingdom.

We cannot carry on with an economy that only works for a few people at the top and doesn’t work for most people.

A Labour government will act.

Changing the way our country works and tackling the injustice we see is at the core of the Labour Party’s programme, and the contract we have set out with the people of Scotland.

The last Labour government aggrandized itself and continued the work of Thatcher. Given that his party will continue with the present government’s cuts, there is no reason to suggest that Labour will rediscover its socialist backbone any time soon. We want change but do the Westminster parties want the same thing? I doubt it. Such words make him look shallow.

The Orange Lodge will be marching through Edinburgh to rake over old coals and summon up the dead from their graves. Their words come from the dead language of a long-deceased Empires and its silly rituals.

UKIP’s Nigel Farage, who was last run out of Edinburgh with his tail between his legs claimed that Scottish independence is driven by “anti-Englishness”. His party wanted to abolish the Scottish Parliament, so anything he says can’t be taken seriously because his words are those of a Little Englander.

The banks have threatened to quit Scotland but then they are based in London, so their words have a hollow ring to them.

The supermarkets chains like Asda and retailers like John Lewis have threatened to increase prices if the Scots vote for independence. Their words are those of blackmailers looking to extract the last ounce of flesh from their victim.

North Korean dictator and Scotch whisky drinker, Kim Jong-un, apparently feels “positive” about Scottish independence, but his words were seized on by the corrupt Tory press (and no doubt MI5 and MI6 too) as evidence that Alex Salmond is a commie spy.

These are words and words have power. Politicians choose words for specific reasons. Sometimes they are deployed to shape people’s thoughts. Sometimes they are used to express violent intent. For the last 4 years we have heard the same kinds of words ‘cuts’, ‘slashing’, ‘hardworking’ and we’ve grown weary of them.

Whatever the outcome of the Scottish referendum, there will be demands for greater autonomy in the English regions and there will be demands for a new political settlement. It is inevitable and there is nothing Westminster can do to stop the juggernaut. We will have new words to replace the old words.

The genie has been released from his bottle and he doesn’t want to go back in. He wants to make some mischief. These are my words.

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Filed under Government & politics, Scottish Independence Referendum

Culture For The Future?

People are fond of gazing back at the past through rose-tinted spectacles.  I remember reading somewhere that no one ‘does’ nostalgia like the British.  I love the 70sI Love The 80s and Dominic Sandbrook’s lightweight, but subtly ideological history series The 70s always present the past as the ideal time in which to live. In Sandbrook’s case, the blemishes, lumps and bumps that define eras and epochs are simply burnished or given a right-wing twist.  “Thatcher arrived to save the country from the unions” was the unspoken message at the end of Sandbrook’s series, which ignored the fact that management ineptitude and a chronic lack of investment was mostly culpable for Britain’s economic and industrial decline. In the case of the I Love… series, talking heads from showbusiness were interviewed on camera to talk about how wonderful Kickers and Kappa tracksuits were. “I really loved Kickers and you had to wear the key ring that came with them” opined one talking head. Just great. As I sat watching I Love 1980 on BBC2, it struck me how much about that year wasn’t mentioned. It was as if the people forced onto the dole queues by the Thatcher government never existed and the St Paul’s riots in Bristol never happened. This was an age of social and political turmoil. Thatcher was determined to destroy what remained of Britain’s countercultures- the permissive society she called it – and she had no time for those who disagreed with her.

Sure there were some good things about the 1970s but the decade wasn’t entirely good. This is, after all, the decade that saw the end of the post-war consensus. This is the decade that witnessed the rise in extreme right-wing activity on our streets, when people of colour were randomly attacked by neo-Nazis for merely going about their business. The National Front were emboldened by electoral gains they’d made in the local elections. Its splinter, the National Party, won two seats on Blackburn council in 1976. One of the reasons why punk arrived at the moment it did was because there  was a need for an antidote to the near endless stream of cultural nostalgia. Everywhere you looked, there was some romanticized reminder of the past, whether it was on The Black and White Minstrel Show or in the pop charts with bands like The Rubettes and Mud rehashing the 1950s with songs like Sugar Baby Love and Tiger Feet respectively. Nostalgia was in Britain’s pop cultural driving seat in a car that had one wheel stuck in the ditch. Britain could not move forward because cultural magnates were too busy gazing longingly into their collective navel.

The toxic sludge of nostalgia that was current in British mainstream culture and political discourse in the 1970s seeped into the thoughts of some of Britain’s prominent rock stars. In June 1976, David Bowie returned to London and gave a press conference to waiting journalists at Victoria Station. Standing in an open top Mercedes, he appeared to give a Nazi salute and was whisked away, flanked by outriders. In a later interview, Bowie told a journalist that

“Adolf Hitler was one of the first rock stars. Look at some of the films and see how he moved. I think he was quite as good as Jagger.”

A couple of months later a drunken Eric Clapton addressed a stunned Birmingham audience with this message:

“[I think] Enoch’s right … we should send them all back. Throw the wogs out! Keep Britain white!”

Roger Daltrey and Rod Stewart were just as vocal as Clapton. For the millions of kids who bought their records and wanted nothing to do with the views they espoused, this was a slap in the face and a kick in the teeth.  Clapton, in particular, had made a living by playing the blues, an African-American musical form. Ironically, Clapton had recorded a cover of Bob Marley’s I Shot the Sheriff two years earlier. This was a point that was picked up by Red Saunders and Roger Huddle, who responded to Clapton and Bowie’s musings by writing an open letter to Britain’s music press. The letter read:

When we read about Eric Clapton’s Birmingham concert when he urged support for Enoch Powell, we nearly puked. Come on Eric… Own up. Half your music is black. You’re rock music’s biggest colonist… We want to organise a rank and file movement against the racist poison music… P. S. Who shot the Sheriff Eric? It sure as hell wasn’t you!

Rock Against Racism, formed in response to this letter, was the most successful cultural intervention in living memory. It successfully brought together left-wing politics and youth culture, and marginalized the right-wing elements in rock music and beyond.  While it is tempting to think of Live Aid and even Red Wedge in similar terms, we must remember that RAR was a rank and file movement that began with a simple letter to the music press. Red Wedge, for example, was founded to attract votes to the Neil Kinnock-led Labour Party. Live Aid, however, can be read in two ways: first, it was a naive project that responded to a news item on the Ethiopian famine, which had been created by the Eritrean separatist war against Ethiopia. This part of the story was ignored. Much of the aid sent to Ethiopia was diverted to warlords. Second, it was a vehicle to revive the fading career of Bob Geldof. Yes, I’m a cynic but take a look at Make Poverty History and tell me how that has succeeded in eradicating poverty. Poverty can only be eradicated by destroying the current capitalist system, not by liberal hand-wringing and buying cucumber sandwiches at premium prices (a fraction of the profit made on these sandwiches goes towards buying a bucket). Make Poverty History temporarily assuaged liberal guilt and nothing more.

Since the global economic crisis of 2007/8 and the installation of a deeply unpopular Tory-led coalition government in this country, a number of political initiatives have been launched to counter the government’s austerity policies. There’s the Occupy movement and UK Uncut to name but two. What has been missing from these political movements is culture. If you have a Left idea, then you need something cultural to go along with it (qv. Roland Muldoon). For most of the political parties, be they mainstream or fringe, the idea of culture often takes second place (if it happens at all) to their respective ideologies and if culture appears within these parties, it is used as a means to have a laugh and unwind after a hard day of selling the party’s papers on the street, but not as means to contribute to real structural change. This kind of culture that speaks only to a small group of people.  The Conservative Party has never made any real use of culture because they’re too concerned with the past: their idea of culture is stately homes, old bones, statues of war heroes, and possibly the West End theatre of Cameron-Macintosh. Culture is a living thing that’s been created by ordinary people. It was revealing that, instead of creating a Ministry of Culture, John Major created something called The Department for National Heritage in 1994. He may as well have called it The Department for Mausoleums and Tombstones.

The situation that we currently face is dire and, in some ways, it is similar to what we faced in the 1970s. The need for a cultural intervention in Britain is now greater than ever. The rise of UKIP, the appearance of street groups like the English Defence League and Britain First are a cause for concern. Over the decades, the far-right has modified its language and now wishes to be seen as respectable.  Yet the sentiments in Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech are never far from the surface.  Powell himself was never subjected to rehabilitation, though his legions of admirers (some of whom weren’t even born when he made the speech) continue to claim that he was “right”. The normalization of racist, sexist and disablist discourses in the media are partly due to the rise of UKIP and are uttered under the rubric of free speech (or I speak and you shut up). The coalition government’s policies blame the economic crisis on – in no particular order –  benefits claimants, the disabled, single parents, immigration etc. You name it, they blame it. People like Katie Hopkins, who have no formal qualifications in the subjects on which they pontificate, are granted hours of airtime and are rarely, if ever, challenged on their repugnant views. Bullying and deliberate cruelty have become the new lingua franca of mass entertainment and the government alike. The phrase “political correctness” is used pejoratively to marginalize anyone who defends tolerance and fights for equality. This must be challenged at the cultural level as well as the political level.

We should not let Labour off the hook. When  Gordon Brown succeeded Tony Blair as Prime Minister, he claimed that he wanted to see the kind of patriotism he saw in the United States. Three years later, he gave a speech that contained the phrase “British jobs for British workers”. These words could easily have come from the mouths of Nigel Farage or Tory MP, Peter Bone. Instead, they came from a Labour Prime Minister, who was desperate to appeal to floating voters whose political sympathies were defaulted to the Right. In doing this, Brown unleashed powerful forces that he could not control. Let’s not forget that during the Wilson-Callaghan years the Labour government failed to deal with the rise of the far-right and hid itself inside its Downing Street bunker, oblivious to what was happening on the outside. Callaghan had already called time on the post-war consensus when he applied for an International Monetary Fund loan in 1976 to deal with the Sterling crisis, which was precipitated by the Heath administration’s massive balance of trade deficit. The conditions of this loan led to massive public sector cuts and helped to pave the way for Thatcher’s victory in 1979. Once she had won, Thatcher then draped herself in the Union Jack and repeated the phrase much beloved of nationalists and bigots everywhere: the country is “swamped with immigrants”. These days the words used are “mass migration”. The old right-wing cliché that the country is “full” has also been resurrected. The NF may have been marginalized as a political force, but their anti-immigrant and racist rhetoric lingers in the speech of UKIP and others.

The leadership of today’s Labour Party is just as bad as their predecessors, because they have failed to learn the lessons of their past. In the aftermath of the local and European elections, Ed Miliband and his shadow cabinet kept repeating the line “We got it wrong on immigration”. This plays into the hands of ethno-nationalists and, of course, UKIP, and shows us that the Labour Party’s leadership is too scared to say anything positive about immigrants and immigration for fear of a press backlash. If we go back to the beginning of the current economic crisis, Labour’s political enemies, the Tories and UKIP, couldn’t claim that Labour was “soft on crime”, so they attacked the party on a different front: immigration. Since 2007/8, there has been a steady stream of anti-immigrant stories in the media in which all immigrants are misleadingly referred to as “migrants”. However, many of us living in the  United Kingdom are migrants. If you move home within a city or town, you are a migrant. If you move from Stoke-on-Trent to take up a job in Manchester, you are an economic migrant. The recent British Social Attitudes Survey claims that most people are against immigrants and immigration, with a many more people claiming that immigrants come to this country to take advantage of our benefits system. Yet there is no concrete proof that people come here to live on a measly £72.40 a week. Benefits are more generous in other European countries, so why would anyone want to come here just to claim benefits? If you point this out to the average immigrant-hater, they have no argument. What the British Social Attitudes Survey actually tells us is that people are quite prepared to believe the lies and scare stories that come from the press and the self-appointed experts of Migration Watch UK . Perhaps worst of all, the data from this survey could be used to bolster the Right’s claims that immigration is bad for the country and immigrants are taking British people’s jobs. The Tory-led coalition’s ‘reforms’ are killing people and making many more homeless. They are pitting worker against worker and neighbour against neighbour.

Not a week passes by without some minister or other, repeating the phrase “hardworking families” and smearing those who are out of work. Television also plays its part in these attacks with the near-endless stream of poverty porn that oozes from our screens. Benefits Street, On Benefits and Proud and Filthy Rich and Hungry are a few examples of the media’s bandwagon-hopping tendency to demonize and stigmatize benefits claimants. The latter programme was actually shown as part of the BBC’s Sport Relief season. People’s poverty should not be a cheap source of entertainment; a sort of two minutes hate for bullies and self-styled ‘hard workers’.

Like the 70s, there is a great deal of nostalgia present in mainstream political discourse. When the Tories came to power in 2010, Michael Gove wrote of his affection for the Victorian age. The party itself repeated 19th century mantra of ‘self-help’ and resurrected the phrase “deserving and undeserving poor”.  Ethno-nationalists gorge themselves stupid on nostalgia. They’re constantly dreaming of a Britain that existed in fairy stories. UKIP, for example, wants a return to the 1950s and grammar schools, which it claims are essential for social mobility.  Yet during the 1950s, social mobility was fairly limited. Moreover, people knew their place.  Confusingly, UKIP also wants a return to the 19th century, but their idea of the 19th century is one without the poverty, disease and high infant mortality rates, which proceeded hand-in-glove with the ‘classical’ liberalism that is much loved by today’s Right. ‘Classical’ liberalism is also loved by American neo-confederates, who never tire of telling people that slavery “wasn’t that bad”. It was under a classical liberal economic system that the Irish Potato Famine took place. The mantra then was “it’s God’s will”. For the Right believes that inequality is “natural” – a God-given.

The Tories have always hated the comprehensive education system and want a return to the old system that effectively excluded anyone without the material means to pay for a decent education. In our current education system, by rote learning is threatening to supplant the teaching of critical thinking skills. This is particularly the case in Higher Education, where the former polytechnics (or post-1992 universities) are cutting courses and expunging those courses that include the teaching of critical thinking skills from their curriculum. The government likes people who can’t ask questions, because people who don’t ask questions are easier to manipulate. This the neoliberal idea of education: to train people to be mindless consumers, who question nothing and are unaware or refuse to believe that they’re being oppressed. This is what Gramsci calls “contradictory consciousness” and what Bourdieu refers to as “illusio“. The message from the top seems to be “You will love us while we kick the shit out of you. It’s for your own good”.

Neoliberalism, apart from creating false economies on a grand scale, forces people see themselves as consumers; customers of a particular service.  Healthcare and education, for example, are reified; magically transformed into commodities. Neoliberalism produces illusions: illusions of freedom, illusions of wealth, illusions of choice. Neoliberalism exists to defend the power of the already wealthy and powerful. It pretends to be meritocratic, but in reality it diverts ever more power to the same people who have controlled things for centuries. Neoliberalism is nothing but feudalism in a Savile Row suit carrying a smartphone. If we aren’t careful we will find ourselves in a technologically advanced version of the Middle Ages, where ignorance and superstition rule unchallenged and trump reason and evidence-based solutions every time. We want a modern country that isn’t afraid to look forward. Nostalgia is a comfort blanket for those who fear what the future might hold.

Recently the government has insisted that schools teach “British values”. Aside from being a woolly, ill-defined concept on two levels, this is nothing less that a rush to inculcate forms of nationalist thinking in our children, and risks unleashing dangerous forces that cannot be controlled. For the Right, British history is marked by the dates of battles between royal houses and the births, lives and deaths of monarchs and their acolytes. Britishness only came about with the 1800 Act of Union that brought Ireland into the realm against its will. Moreover, Britishness (like any form of national identity) is entirely constructed from a selection of myths and half-truths. You create your own history.

We know what we’re against: we’re against neoliberalism, inequality, intolerance, racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, disablism, anti-Ziganism, anti-Semitism, corporate greed, slum landlords, inflated travel costs, lazy grasping MPs, war, etc. Therefore, we need to define what we’re for. We are for the 99%, because the current form of capitalism helps to enrich greedy people and sustain a hatred of Others. We must create culture for the 99% that addresses social and political concerns rather than tug on people’s emotions like the bourgeois theatre that dominates London’s West End, or the Hollywood movies that place style over substance. Much of today’s art doesn’t seek to engage with people’s lived experiences, instead it speaks only to itself. It is self-indulgent drivel. The artist must reject the dead space of the bourgeois art gallery, which demands disinterest and contemplation instead of engagement, and use the street as their palette and exhibition space instead.

We should adopt RAR as our model but include all forms of art and culture.  Much to the anti-immigrant parties’ disgust, Britain is a multi-cultural country and that is not going to change. All the multi-coloured cultural strands of this country need to be brought together under one umbrella in celebration of our diversity and in opposition to a cultural industry that is run for the benefit of accountants and media moguls, and says nothing about life as it is lived. We want artists of all kinds to take part in a new grassroots cultural movement for the 99%. Painters, sculptors, musicians, DJs, comedians, dancers, poets, rappers, writers, actors, jugglers, stilt-walkers, puppeteers, clowns and others that I haven’t mentioned. We must create cultural artefacts that look forward, not backwards.

History is a teacher, but nostalgia will teach you nothing that you don’t already know. In the words of Johnny Thunders, “you can’t put your arms around a memory”. That’s true, but you can embrace the challenge of the future.

We are the many, they are few. Culture for the 99%!

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Filed under Arts, Comedy, Education

Remember this?

Here’s a great Spitting Image sketch about rail privatization. It’s eerily prophetic.

Come back, Spitting Image!

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Filed under Comedy, Government & politics, rail privatization, satire, Society & culture

Chile, neoliberalism and discontent

Chile is the birthplace of neoliberalism. It is the country where this damaging economic system was first imposed. In the years since the departure of Augusto Pinochet from La Moneda Palace, the ‘reforms’ that he forced onto the Chilean people remain almost completely intact. None of the successive left-ish governments had the courage or the decency to truly change things beyond the piecemeal. Granted, while Pinochet was still alive, he remained a threat and a rallying point for his followers and could call on his old friends in the military to intervene should these governments swing too far to the left. He also made himself Senator-for-life, a role that he was forced to relinquish after he’d  returned to Santiago after his house arrest in Surrey pending charges of human rights abuses in Spain.

But the chickens have come home to roost in this Freidmanite free market paradise. Three months ago, classroom boycotts by students and pupils led to mass student protests that have morphed into general protests against the right wing (some would say pale Pinochetista) government of Sebastian Piñera. A general strike was called for this week.

Today, during the second day of strikes and demonstrations, a 16 year old boy was shot dead by the police and nearly 1400 people have been arrested. Scores of people have been injured.

The Guardian says,

President Sebastian Pinera’s ministers played down the significance of the protests. Police estimated Santiago’s crowds at just 50,000 and said only 14% of government employees stayed off work.

Union leaders claimed 600,000 people joined demonstrations nationwide. Raul de la Puente, president of the government employees union, said 80% of his members joined the strike, at the cost of two days’ pay.

Pinera said the strike was unjustified, claiming Chile‘s economy was growing strong and providing more opportunities. He said he remained open to those seeking dialogue, although his administration has refused to discuss some student and union demands, arguing the real work of reform must be done in Congress.

Does any of this look familiar? It should. Lord Snooty said, when public sector workers went on strike over pensions in June, that the strikes were “unjustified”. Here’s what The Economist says,

The students want education, which in Chile relies heavily on private funding, to be turned into a non-profit, state-dominated, system. The unions want the mostly private pension system to be supplemented with more state provision. They also want changes in labour laws and an increase in business taxes to pay for more social spending. And they are demanding a new constitution. Like many of the things the protesters want changed, the constitution dates from the 1980s and the dictatorship of General Pinochet (although many of its clauses have since been amended).

Remember, this is Chile. Yet the Tory-led government want to pursue exactly the same course. People can read the riots in this country as purely criminal acts of looting and violence. In a society where conspicuous consumption is idealized and wages have stagnated and the cost of living has spiralled, those riots can be seen as economic rebellions. This is what is currently taking place in Chile.

Oddly enough, there is no mention of the protests in Chile on the Daily Telegraph website. I have checked its Chile section and there is nothing.

Piñera’s government is in denial. The Financial Times tells us that,

Rodrigo Ubilla, interior ministry undersecretary, said it had turned out to be “a big failure” with low turnout and most of the country working normally.

But Chile is not working normally. Three months of protests by university students demanding free education have exposed festering social sores.

Further down the article, Sebastian Aguilera of the Economist Intelligence Unit said,

the Pinochet-era foundations for healthcare, pensions and education “were experiments, back in the day. Some go right and some go wrong. I wouldn’t say the education system is a failure, far from it. But it certainly is not fair”.
The FT article also notes
Mr Piñera has two other problems. One is the renewed spectre of Pinochet. That was always going to be a problem – his is the first government of the right in more than half a century and although Mr Piñera himself is more to the centre-right, some in his entourage have been saying very dictatorship-era sounding things lately.

I reported in this blog how Piñera had appointed some former Chicago Boys to his cabinet.

The left-ish Concertación electoral bloc isn’t faring too well either. Like the Labour Party in opposition here, it has failed to take the lead. Indeed, it followed the post-Pinochet governance formula. Labour, under Blair, stuck to the neoliberal formula of the Thatcher and Major governments. It is in a similar moral and political bind under the leadership of Ed Miliband.

Here’s a Euronews report

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Filed under Chile, Economics, neoliberalism, World