Tag Archives: thick tories

Totalitarianism and celebrating the death of Thatcher

The Lollipop Guild from The Wizard of Oz

Predictably, the scenes of celebration that greeted the news of Margaret Thatcher’s death on Monday were met with shouts of hurt and anguish by the Conservatives and their allies in the right-wing press. “It’s hateful”, “it’s disrespectful”, “Have some bloody decorum”,  cried the genuflecting faithful of the cult of St Margaret of Grantham.

But it wasn’t just the Tories who complained about the celebrations: members of the Labour party, too, urged restraint. Restraint? On an occasion like this? I think not.  To make a philosophical point: we’ll never get another chance to celebrate the death of the authoritarian-libertarian Thatcher again. This was a woman whose international friends included the ‘friendly’ dictator (according to The Daily Mail), Augusto Pinochet and the butcher of Indonesia, Suharto. A life like this should not be celebrated. On the contrary, this is the occasion to burn effigies.

Those who were the victims of Thatcher’s government – ordinary workers, the poor, the disabled, gays, lesbians, travellers, the list goes on – have every right to celebrate her demise. A safety valve has been inadvertently provided for us to let off some steam. For all those who wrongly believe that Thatcher’s death has been the only instance in history of mass celebration of the death of a public figure, let me just say that there is nothing new in this: we can see these celebrations as a form of carnivalesque that goes back to mediaeval times.  The carnival had its own rules and during these mass celebrations, the participants were subject only to the laws of the carnival. Church-led celebrations of the middle ages demanded formality, deference and obeisance to the objects of veneration. In other words, they were boring.

We don’t know if mediaeval folk celebrated the deaths of tyrannical rulers, because no record of their culture exists. We only have the official version of this period of history and it’s usually mediated to us by the likes of David Starkey.

We do not celebrate the life of Thatcher, that is the job of hagiographers, the dewy-eyed panegyrists and the chinless lickpittles in the media. We rejoice in the death of one who visited pain and suffering on many communities. This is our right as citizens. It is also the nature of carnival.

For all their meaningless rhetoric about liberty, the Conservatives are really authoritarians who are in denial.  In those totalitarian countries that they purported to have historically positioned themselves against; those in which the people aren’t even permitted to utter curses and oaths (not of fealty) to the corpse and memory of a much-hated dictator, the Tories seem to  think that anyone who does so in this country should be silenced. Such is their weakness of spirit and intellect. Such is their desire for the total control of discourse that they are actually trying to rewrite history before our very eyes! “She saved Britain”, “She ended the Cold War” are just two of the more popular myths being substituted for the materialism of history.

It’s been pointed out elsewhere that the Right didn’t hold back in celebrating the death of former Labour leader, Michael Foot. Their jubilation was no less effusive when Hugo Chavez provided a similar opportunity for them a month or so ago. Unable to fathom how much Thatcher was hated, some Tories will only concede that she was “divisive” and then, in the next breath, they will ascribe superhuman qualities to what was supposedly a human being. Breathtaking stuff. Anyone would have thought that cults of personalities are the sort of things that authoritarian leaders of totalitarian countries do, not self-described ‘free’ countries. Surely not in democratic Britain?

It’s worth noting that the death in 2006 of Thatcher’s close pal, Pinochet, was also celebrated by his opponents.  There are other examples in history where the death of a hated public figure has been greeted with celebration. For example, Thatcher’s friends should count themselves lucky they didn’t live in 12th century Constantinople.  The Late Roman (Byzantine) Emperor Andronicus I Comnenus’s two-year reign was marked by harsh and brutal laws (he had also married the 12 year old Agnes of France). Andronicus became increasingly paranoid and created a terror state in which his opponents (and anyone else) were summarily imprisoned, tortured, mutilated and executed. He also attempted to move against aristocracy, thus incurring their wrath.

In 1185,  Andronicus  was away from Constantinople on a military expedition. His loyal lieutenant, Stephen Hagiochristophorites (who actually had questionable loyalties), moved to arrest Isaac Angelos, who had previously been involved in an uprising in Nicaea. Isaac killed Hagiochristophorites and took refuge in the Hagia Sophia, from there he appealed to the masses to rise up against Andronicus. When the latter returned, he discovered that he’d been overthrown and Isaac had been proclaimed emperor. Andronicus was arrested while trying to escape and Isaac, now Isaac II Angelos, handed him over to the mob. He was tied to a post and beaten, mutilated and burned for three days before being strung up between two pillars by his ankles. Legend has it that two Latin soldiers took turns stabbing him to see who could plunge their sword the deepest into his body. He died a few days later.  Grisly stuff. By the way, Isaac was later blinded and imprisoned by his elder brother, Alexios, who was proclaimed Alexios III Angelos, who would in turn be overthrown by his nephew and so on…

So it amuses me when I see the likes of Louise Mensch whining on Twitter about people celebrating the death of Thatcher. It amuses me even more that the Right is making themselves look foolish and weak because they cannot deal with any criticism of their idol. It amuses me when I see arsekisser-in-chief, Charles Moore, claim on television that Thatcher was “Dorothy” to the Warsaw Pact’s “Wicked Witch of the East” in response to Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead rising up the download charts. It amuses me that they have no sense of humour and are only capable of laughing at those weaker than themselves – which isn’t funny. It amuses me when Thatcher’s boot-licking worshippers buy downloads of the Not Sensibles’ song, I’m In Love With Margaret Thatcher, and misread the lyrics so badly. They just don’t get satire.

Tories: they may be rich but they aren’t very bright.

Glenn Greenwald’s Guardian article is well worth a read.

Reference

Bakhtin, M., Iswolsky, H. (trans) (1984). Rabelais and His World. Bloomington: Indiana University Press


			

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Criminalizing homelessness will not solve the housing crisis

Grant ‘Ratboy’ Shapps, friend of the landlord and enemy of the homeless

There has been a housing shortage in Britain since the end of WWII. In the immediate aftermath of the war, the shortage was so acute, that ex-servicemen and their families took to occupying empty buildings. In 1969, the London Street Commune occupied a mansion at 144 Piccadilly to draw attention to the housing shortage.  But the idea of squatting has a much older history, that goes back to the Peasants Revolt in 1381. The Diggers, who were a proto-socialists/anarchists active between 1649 and 1650, also occupied and cultivated waste and common land and encouraged others to pull down the enclosures. But they found themselves persecuted by landowners and many were imprisoned. In the aftermath, the enclosure of common land was accelerated by the passage of further Inclosure Acts, which, by the late 18th Century, had effectively wiped out most of the common land in the country, thus forcing people off the land and into the cities.

British property laws are some of the most arcane in the world and tend to favour the landowner and other moneyed interests. In short, they are a relic of feudalism and, to my knowledge, these property laws have never once been modified. Where else in the world would you find the archaic notion of a leasehold property? We now have shared-ownership schemes which seem to be an extension of the leasehold property but with one difference: you continue to pay rent to a landlord, thus meaning that you will never own the property even if you manage to pay off the mortgage.

This government, like those before it, rather than deal with the housing crisis, prefers to take a sledgehammer to crack a nut and in the process they make people suffer. The new law against squatting criminalizes those who do not have a roof over their head. The Tories, particularly, see squatters purely as criminals. Never mind that rents in the private sector have soared, with landlords raking in massive amounts of money while ignoring the condition of the buildings that  they’re letting out. Council waiting lists are huge and Housing Associations won’t take you unless you’ve been through a local authority first. In short, housing provision in Britain is limited to those who have large salaries and if you don’t have one of those, you’re stuck.

Housing Minister, Grant Shapps,  a man not blessed with a great deal of intellectual talent (like the rest of his party) said on the BBC Website,

For too long, hardworking people have faced long legal battles to get their homes back from squatters, and repair bills reaching into the thousands when they finally leave.

No longer will there be so-called ‘squatters’ rights’. Instead, from next week, we’re tipping the scales of justice back in favour of the homeowner and making the law crystal clear: entering a property with the intention of squatting will be a criminal offence.

Shapps falls back on the well-worn phrase “hardworking people”. It’s as if to suggest that those who squat are not “hardworking”. He uses the word like a magical incantation. In many cases, squatters have actually improved the buildings that they have occupied. But never let the facts get in the way of the narrative, eh Ratboy? Better to fill up our prisons with those whose only crime is to be homeless and then slap them with a £5000 fine, thereby forcing them deeper into penury.

The government continues to lie about the scale of the housing problem. Justice Minister, Crispin Blunt (another rhyming slang) said,

Justice Minister Crispin Blunt said homelessness was at the lowest level for 28 years and the government was spending £400m a year on homelessness and £164m on bringing about 10,000 empty homes back into use.

I’d be interested to know who Blunt arrived at this figure. Furthermore, I have seen no evidence that this government is bringing empty properties “back into use”. I used to know of such a property in Hubert Grove in Clapham North in London. Out of curiosity I decided to track down the landlord, who I discovered was living in Tooting and owned several properties, all of which were in a derelict state. Landlords such as these are the real criminals.

Property in this country has always been subject to civil law. Section 144 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act comes into force at midnight, making it an offence to break into a property with the intention of squatting. Nowhere Towers wonders what other civil laws the government wants to convert to criminal laws.

There’s a sympathetic article here by Robert Elms, who was once a squatter. Indeed, I too, have been a squatter and let me tell you, it’s no fun being homeless.

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