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A tale (and a hope) for “our tempestuous day” in 2019

England in 1819 – Percy Bysshe Shelley
An old, mad, blind, despised, and dying King;
Princes, the dregs of their dull race, who flow
Through public scorn,—mud from a muddy spring;
Rulers who neither see nor feel nor know,
But leechlike to their fainting country cling
Till they drop, blind in blood, without a blow.
A people starved and stabbed in th’ untilled field;
An army, whom liberticide and prey
Makes as a two-edged sword to all who wield;
Golden and sanguine laws which tempt and slay;
Religion Christless, Godless—a book sealed;
A senate, Time’s worst statute, unrepealed—
Are graves from which a glorious Phantom may
Burst, to illumine our tempestuous day.
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How Beastly the Bourgeois is – D. H. Lawrence

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

thing

 

Oh, but wait!

Let him meet a new emotion, let him be faced with another

man’s need,

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

rather nasty–

How beastly the bourgeois is!

 

Standing in their thousands, these appearances, in damp

England

what a pity they can’t all be kicked over

like sickening toadstools, and left to melt back, swiftly

into the soil of England.

 

Is no news good news?

I have hardly watched any news since just before Christmas. And you know how it is when you’ve been on holiday and when you come back it takes time to understand that you are back and that you will have to adjust to what is called normality, as opposed to the beach, or the mountains, or the Metropolitan Museum? Well, I’ve been away from the news for two weeks (apart from an accidental, careless sight of the Home Secretary telling the nation that asylum seekers are only genuine if they make their applications in the first safe country they cross on their journey and not bother us here; at that point I fumbled for the off-switch, rushed out of the room, and went back into news-blocking mode. Oh, but before I found the off-switch I caught a glance of a newly inaugurated Brazilian president, and then I was really desperate for the off-switch.

Anyway, yesterday morning I watched the Andrew Marr Show and found I didn’t understand much of what was being said. There was Theresa May repeating the words of her old recordings. When she felt that perhaps they had lost some of the impact they once had she reverted to that real old-time-religion favourite: “On the 29th of March we will leave the European Union, take back control of our borders, control of our laws, and control of our waters with a deal that is in the interests of all the British people”, she sang. Her voice took on a slight Thatcher intonation, and the whole performance, with the accompanying jangly necklace, was obviously designed to bring the likes of Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg to a premature orgasm. As a matter of fact, I never really did understand what “control of our waters” actually meant, but now, since my news-blocking effort, I don’t understand what any of it means. Still, life goes on and I must try to revise my Brexit vocab.

Then there was Labour Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth, who also repeated a lot of old songs, though without the jangly necklace, about the damage Tory policies were doing. The songs all spoke the truth (and I cheered up a bit) but then he seemed unable to answer any of the really interesting questions, like what Labour’s own policy on social care and the NHS would actually be. From his first words, I think he was saying something like “We’ll look to see what the Tories are offering and then we’ll …” and I felt the urge to block the news again. Then he was asked whether his plan for the NHS would be full public ownership like in the old days. He muttered something about “there will always be a role for the private sector”. This sounded like a kind of partnership – a public-private partnership even. This has usually been code for “private”, both under Tory and Labour governments. These schemes are ones where private calls the shots, makes everything more expensive and rakes in the profit. That’s its purpose. So Jonathan’s words were worrying. Because many of us thought those days would be over under the new politics. Not that we want to go back to the old days, far from it. We thought we would go forward to a democratically accountable public ownership, in which workers and users of services would call the shots. That was never the case in the old days. The old nationalised industries and public services were run by more or less the same people who ran them when they were private. And they ran them on the same lines. At the end of the day they were supposed to make a profit, like their capitalist predecessors. And they mostly did.

It’s time to tell a story. Long years ago, when Sir Keith Joseph was Education Secretary, I interviewed him for an audio magazine for the blind. We touched on the private versus public question. He agreed that publicly owned outfits make a profit: “Oh, yes, they make a profit, of course, but – well, look at that splendid jumper you’re wearing. I don’t know where you got it, where did you buy it?”

“I don’t remember,” I replied nervously. “Marks & Spencer’s probably.”

“Very well, then. What do you want us to do? Nationalise Marks and Spencer’s? And what would happen then? They’d say, ‘You can’t have the colour you want – we’ll choose it for you; you can’t have the pattern you want – we’ll choose it for you; you can’t have the style you want – we’ll choose it for you.’ Is that want you want?”

I can’t remember my answer, but anyway he slowly calmed down. Of course, he wasn’t really worried about my rights, or customer satisfaction, or the service provided. His real concern was that in a publicly owned operation the profits would go to the wrong people: instead of going into the pockets and coffers of his friends they would go to the state, where they might be spent on improving the service. Of course, in “the old days” governments often spent the money on things that, if we’d been asked, we would have vetoed. But we weren’t asked. That’s why now, after Corbyn’s election, the eyes of some of us lit up when we heard the words “democratically accountable” attached to the words “public ownership”. And that’s why my eyes glazed over and I was tempted to head for the news-blocker when Ashworth mentioned “a role for the private sector”. But I thought, No, I’ve closed that door behind me. I must now find my way back to being a responsible citizen. It’s difficult though. There aren’t that many role models.

The other thing I noticed yesterday was that America is in lockdown. That sounds uncomfortable. Like when, during the dockers’ strike in the 1970s the Heath government said they would “sequestrate” the union’s funds. “By heck,” said union leader Hugh Scanlon, “We’re going to be sequestrated – that sounds painful!” But Trump clearly doesn’t understand how workers, even those in government departments, feel when they’re sent home or have to work without pay. “They’re 100% behind me,” declared Trump. Yes, and hopefully they’re all armed to the teeth!

 

A speech to remember for the future

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.[1] 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),[2] 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.[3] Moreover, many young people between the ages of 18 and 21 would no longer be able to claim Housing Benefit.[4] 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.[5]

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.[6]

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

 

[1] “Benefit changes: Who will be affected?”, BBC News, 8 July 2015: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-33429390 (accessed 29/3/2017).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] “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).

[6] 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).

Send James out, they’ll believe him – he’s got a lovely smile

The rise in homelessness, according to housing secretary James Brokenshire, is not the result of government policies.

(https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/dec/18/rising-homelessness-is-not-due-to-tory-policies-says-james-brokenshire

Yes it is.

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/dec/20/homeless-deaths-rise-by-a-quarter-in-five-years-official-figures-show

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”.

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/dec/19/homeless-man-dies-after-collapsing-outside-parliament

How can we end this nightmare? A general election would be a start.

A solution not just for Christmas

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.

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/dec/13/disgrace-rising-english-homelessness-includes-120000-children

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/dec/17/hull-hotel-cancels-christmas-booking-for-homeless-people

 

 

“Deadlock [on Brexit] is blocking vital policy reforms”? No it isn’t.

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.

 

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/dec/15/mps-warn-brexit-deadlock-sucking-life-out-of-government

 

 

Jarrad Saul

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