How beastly the bourgeois is
especially the male of the species–
Presentable, eminently presentable–
shall I make you a present of him?
Isn’t he handsome? Isn’t he healthy? Isn’t he a fine specimen?
Doesn’t he look the fresh clean Englishman, outside?
Isn’t it God’s own image? tramping his thirty miles a day
after partridges, or a little rubber ball?
wouldn’t you like to be like that, well off, and quite the
Oh, but wait!
Let him meet a new emotion, let him be faced with another
let him come home to a bit of moral difficulty, let life
face him with a new demand on his understanding
and then watch him go soggy, like a wet meringue.
Watch him turn into a mess, either a fool or a bully.
Just watch the display of him, confronted with a new
demand on his intelligence,
a new life-demand.
How beastly the bourgeois is
especially the male of the species–
Nicely groomed, like a mushroom
standing there so sleek and erect and eyeable–
and like a fungus, living on the remains of a bygone life
sucking his life out of the dead leaves of greater life
than his own.
And even so, he’s stale, he’s been there too long.
Touch him, and you’ll find he’s all gone inside
just like an old mushroom, all wormy inside, and hollow
under a smooth skin and an upright appearance.
Full of seething, wormy, hollow feelings
How beastly the bourgeois is!
Standing in their thousands, these appearances, in damp
what a pity they can’t all be kicked over
like sickening toadstools, and left to melt back, swiftly
into the soil of England.
Back in 2015, during the first Labour leadership contest in which Jeremy Corbyn was a candidate, the House of Commons passed the Tories’ Welfare, Reform and Work Bill, a typical Tory attack on the poor from which the increasing numbers of people in poverty are suffering today. Here is a brief account of what happened, ending with the speech that day by John McDonnell (now Labour’s Shadow Chancellor) which I offer as a message of hope as we start what promises to be a challenging year.
What it was all about
On 20 July 2015, the government was determined to enforce its austerity programme and the Bill contained measures under which the most vulnerable in society would have to bear the heaviest burden: measures proposed in the Bill meant that, for the first time, tax credits and family benefits under Universal Credit would be limited to the first two children and that most working age benefits would be frozen for four years from 2016. People claiming the working element of the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) would have their payments reduced to match the Job Seeker’s Allowance (JSA), and the benefit cap was to be reduced from £26,000 a year to £23,000 in London, and £20,000 in the rest of the country. Moreover, many young people between the ages of 18 and 21 would no longer be able to claim Housing Benefit. It might be thought that Labour would vote against such measures, which impacted so negatively on the poor. But the party’s Acting Leader, Harriet Harman, decided otherwise. She told Andrew Neil on The Sunday Politics:
We won’t oppose the Welfare Bill, we won’t oppose the household benefit cap. [We won’t oppose] what they brought forward in relation to restricting benefits and tax credits for people with three or more children … We’ve got to recognise why the Tories are in government and not us, not because [voters] love the Tories but because they didn’t trust us on the economy and on benefits.
Harman went on to impose a three-line whip on Labour MPs, instructing them to abstain in the Commons vote on the Bill. This caused much dissent in the Parliamentary Labour Party (the PLP), and Harman tried to defuse the crisis by tabling a “reasoned amendment” to the Bill, setting out Labour’s objections to it, but supporting controls on the overall costs of social security and backing proposals such as the lower benefits cap, the removal of tax credits from families with more than two children and the replacing of mortgage interest support with loans. The amendment also said that the Bill should not be given a second reading but Harman insisted that, if the amendment was defeated, MPs should abstain when it came to the vote on the whole Bill. Helen Goodman, the Labour MP for Bishop Auckland, expressed her confusion:
I cannot see why if you table a reasoned amendment rejecting a bill you would then go on to abstain in a further vote on the bill. It would be best to oppose [it] all the way through because of the damage the bill does to people in poverty.
When the amendment was defeated, Goodman went on to vote against the Bill, as did 47 other Labour MPs, including Corbyn.
Corbyn was the only leadership candidate to vote against the Bill. During the debate, John McDonnell made the speech which best reflected the Corbyn leadership team’s view of the Bill: “I make this clear,” he said:
I would swim through vomit to vote against the Bill, and listening to some of the nauseating speeches tonight, I think we might have to.
Poverty in my constituency is not a lifestyle choice; it is imposed on people. We hear lots about how high the welfare bill is, but let us understand why that is the case. The housing benefit bill is so high because for generations we have failed to build council houses, we have failed to control rents and we have done nothing about the 300,000 properties that stand empty in this country. Tax credits are so high because pay is so low. The reason pay is so low is that employers have exploited workers and we have removed the trade union rights that enabled people to be protected at work. Fewer than a third of our workers are now covered by collective bargaining agreements. Unemployment is so high because we have failed to invest in our economy, and we have allowed the deindustrialisation of the north, Scotland and elsewhere. That is why the welfare bill is so high, and the Bill does as all other welfare reform Bills in recent years have done and blames the poor for their own poverty, not the system … We need a proper debate about how we go forward investing in housing, lifting wages, restoring trade union rights and ensuring that we get people back to work and do not have high pockets of deprivation in areas such as mine and around the country … I say to Labour Members that people out there do not understand reasoned amendments; they want to know whether we voted for or against the Bill. Tonight I will vote against it.
The speech: https://youtu.be/4rxKXw7O_pQ
 “Labour won’t oppose Welfare Bill”, BBC News, 12 July 2015: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-33498110/labour-won-t-oppose-welfare-bill (accessed 2/1/2018).
 Cited, “Harman seeks to end labour row with reasoned amendment to welfare bill”, The Guardian, 16 July 2015: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/jul/16/harman-seeks-to-end-labour-row-with-reasoned-amendment-to-welfare-bill (accessed 28/3/2017).
The rise in homelessness, according to housing secretary James Brokenshire, is not the result of government policies.
Yes it is.
I’m getting very tired of Brokenshire’s complacent face as he defends the indefensible. He knows the facts. He and his miserable government are responsible for them. Now another homeless person has died outside the “mother of parliaments”.
How can we end this nightmare? A general election would be a start.
The charity Crisis says that 12,300 people are sleeping rough on the streets this Christmas – (official government figure 4,751) – and in addition 12,000 people will spend the night in tents, cars, sheds, bins or night buses.
Hundreds of people have raised more than £9,000 to come to the rescue and house 28 homeless people in Hull over Christmas after their charity booking was revoked by a leading hotel chain. But the truth is that nobody should be homeless, and nobody should have to rely for Christmas, or any other time, on the whim of a hotel chain weighing up whether it would be better for its reputation and profit margins to go with the homeless or play safe and reject them. The choice Britannia group made was likely to be, according to a homelessness worker, because of “fear that [the homeless] are drunk ex-servicemen on drugs, rather than being on short-term contracts or suffering problems with welfare”.
So a general election then. We need a government that will focus on people’s needs. Forget the parliamentary panto. We need home-grown Yellow Vests, a Labour government, and then continued action to hold that government to account so that, amongst other things, it brings the unnecessary scar of homelessness to an end.
Judging by this Guardian article (see link below) we are supposed to think that if it wasn’t for Brexit the government wouldn’t be “letting people down” on (and it provides a list) the NHS and social care, rising knife crime, failing public transport, chronic homelessness and the environment.
Oh come on. What we surely know is that the government will be “letting us down” (if we were ever “up”) on all these issues Brexit or no Brexit, “people’s vote” or no “people’s vote”, leave or remain. They don’t want to reform their policies. They believe in them. When their cynicism and inhumanity in any of these areas is ever exposed they may talk reform – but then reinforce and extend the policy (witness Windrush).
The Guardian has its “shocked” hat on here. But why is it shocked? Except in the sense of “appalled” – at the typical and expected policy choices of a Tory government. We need, at the very least, a general election.