Saturday, 19 March 2016

Ten years on and time for a rest.

It's now been about ten years since I started this blog

At the time the catalyst  was a twenty year university reunion. It is in the nature of such things that they prompt some stock-taking, and the blog was born out of that. Essentially I decided that a part of my brain was starting to atrophy and it was a way of turning that around. And it certainly helped do that. At some points when I was simultaneously stressed and bored out of my mind at work, I spent quite some time blogging.

Along with random rants and flights of intellectual curiosity,  the blog turned into something of a chronicle of my 40s. In the course of that decade, my mum died, I was made redundant, retrained,  started a new career, and even got married. But most of all I went through the cliche of a mid life crisis, and came out the other side

Today I came back from my thirty year university reunion.The stock-taking this  prompted led me to realise that I just don't find the need for either mental distraction or venting my spleen into cyberspace anymore. At the risk of sounding smug, life in the real world is now quite sufficient. 

As a result, blogging has become more of a duty than a pleasure. So I have decided to knock it  on the hand. For now at least.

Saturday, 27 February 2016

Teacher moans.Or not.

One thing that I don't blog much about is teaching. Ever other day there is a story about teachers quitting or a crisis in recruitment. The inter-web world is full of blogs of teachers moaning and I don't think I have much to add to that. And not because there isn't plenty to moan about: 

I've just had another Saturday where I've spent at least half the day planning and marking - and I'll do a few more hours tomorrow. As a latecomer to this game I can remember when weekends were a time when you didn't work - although I think I've forgotten what I used to do with the time. And don't start me on the money. After a few years in, I am working my way up the pay-scale (fortunately I am not at an academy), and for the moment at least I have some extra  responsibility - and still my pay is about half of what it was when I was working in the print. To add insult to injury I am also now repaying a student loan having had to pay for the training to get me into this over-worked and under-valued profession.

But notwithstanding this I am still not really moaning. Life is good and I am probably happier now in my middle age than I ever was. However I do acknowledge that amongst my colleagues this is probably unusual.  Although I am not sure if the fact that I feel this way is because I am more naive about teaching than they,  or maybe because I am more bitter and twisted about the shitty nature of the world outside the classroom ...

Saturday, 9 January 2016

The other gunpowder plot

An historical  anniversary today gives me an opportunity to follow up from my last post: If Cromwell was not the miserable tyrant that he is so often painted - he was no democrat either. He and the other grandees of the New Model Army may well have  represented the forces of progress in overturning the old social and political order of the Divine Right of Kings - but they replaced it only with a meritocracy based on the emerging  middle classes. 

Levellers like Miles Sindercombe felt that they had not fought through three civil wars in order to hand political power back to these men of property. And so today is the anniversary of a plot in 1657 to assassinate Cromwell and replace the office of Lord Protector with the rule of parliament.  It is the 'other' gunpowder plot and much more worthy of celebration than that of 1605 and the attempted military coup by the 17th Century Catholic jihad-ists of Fawkes and Catesby

Sindercombe had served throughout the civil wars and taken part in the Leveller mutinies of 1649 which Cromwell had brutally suppressed. He then went on to organise another mutiny in the army of General Monck in Scotland - the same man who would later go on to organize the military coup that led to the restoration of the monarchy. Escaping the authorities he went to the Netherlands where he met up with other Levellers, including the more famous Edmund Sexby,  and planned a bomb plot to kill the Lord Protector. His bomb in Whitehall was discovered and he was arrested - avoiding the horror of being hung - drawn and quartered by taking poison.

It was Sexby who called him a martyr to 'The Good Old Cause' -  the vision of a truly democratic and  egalitarian England that we are still waiting for ...

Sunday, 27 December 2015

Re-interpretting Cromwell and Christmas

It frequently  bugs me that the one thing that school textbooks and schemes of work always seem to include is an obligatory 'Cromwell - the man who banned Christmas' lesson. I refuse to be a part of this nonsense.

Whether you take the view that Cromwell was the man who made modern Britain, or the villain who participated in ethnic cleansing in Ireland, or, like me, believe he was a flawed man of his own class and time of huge morale courage who played a vital role in England's democratic revolution -  there are better and more important stories to be told about Cromwell.

It is of course quite true that from 1650 until the restoration of 1660 there were a number of restrictions placed on pubic festivities at Christmas time. Undoubtedly these were often unpopular with many people for whom Christmas was not just a religious festival, but part of a folk-tradition that saw a suspension of the the social order for a few days. But the restrictions on Christmas festivities did not just spring out of a despotic whim of Cromwell's kill-joy personality. 

For starters, there was also popular support for these measures from those layers of society who had been radicalised by the years of civil war. Inconvenient though it may be to our 21st Century liberal minds, we cannot really  separate the proto democratic socialism of the Levelers from the Puritan context that it sprang from. In fact long  before the civil war, in many parishes there had been a shift away from the medieval style celebration of Christmas with all its echoes of pre-Reformation England. This reflected a broad Puritan consensus in the country that Charles and his high-Church archbishop were increasing at odds with.

After the parliamentary victory in the first civil war,  there were also very practical political grounds for suppressing certain  public celebrations. Horse races, fairs and festivals were  becoming a frequent focus for protests and riots. Fear of an 'enemy within' attempting to usurp the new 'godly nation' was not simply paranoia,  there were frequent royalist plots and uprisings throughout the years of the Republic and Protectorate.

Finally Cromwell himself was far from a grim faced kill-joy. He enjoyed drinking, parties, music, dancing and had a particular taste for practical jokes and slapstick humour. The various proclamations against Christmas actually came not from the Lord Protector, but from the Council of State and parliament, and reflected much wider values and concerns than simply Cromwell's own particular hang-ups.

There are many genuine controversies about Cromwell. I would much rather teach a lesson about the Burford Mutiny to get across his  ambiguities and complexities - but painting him as a seventeenth century version of the Grinch doesn't do justice either to him or this important piece of history.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

De-select the Labour war-mongers

A kinder politics was never going to be enough to reverse a generation of Blairism. Unless Corbyn was willing to do battle with those that have hi-jacked Labour I always thought that Corby-mania could be a bubble. I just didn't expect it to burst quite so quickly. But today's 'free vote' on Syria is probably going to do just that.

I am struggling to think of any scenario when parties can legitimately say 'we have no position on this issue vote how you like' . Because that is what a free vote means. Traditional matter of conscience like capital punishment or abortion perhaps ? But surely these are political issues for society not just quirks of personal preference. And taking the country to war by beginning with air strikes against a civilian population is about as political as it gets.

A majority of Labour members and supporters opposes these air strikes. The Labour leadership opposes these air strikes. And yet the Blairites are being allowed to vote against this without incurring the wrath of their whips and damaging their careers. It is argued that a movement of Labour rebels voting with the government would open up a chasm and damage the party. But that chasm is there and it has been evident ever since Corbyn took over. 

De-selection of these MPs who vote for war needs to start now.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Paris attacks

In these dark times it is unavoidable to be nervous that the terrible attacks that happened in Paris on Friday could happen in any major city. But I am more nervous about the consequences of the reactionary backlash that has already started. So it's worth examining a couple of myths that have already become a mantra:

The myth that terrorists have piggy-backed the refugee crisis and by implication the asylum doors should now be slammed shut: Many refugees are fleeing because they are trying to escape from these kind of terrorist attacks. And these attacks are happening on a regular basis in parts of the Middle East with no media coverage at all. The day before the Paris attack suicide bombers killed 40 people in Beirut - and this hardly caused a ripple in the world's media.

The myth that multi-cultural society is a breeding ground for radical Islamism. It is sadly no accident France has been targeted - it is a very different kind of society to Britain - or most of Northern Europe for that matter: The official policy of aggressive secularism that bans the headscarf and obliges schools to serve pork; the ghettoization of major cities that have created a marginalised immigrant underclass in the suburbs; and the systematic racism of French police who still exercise stop and search in the manner of British police in the 1970s. It is the very lack of multiculturalism that has created layer of angry Muslim young men has been created that is a fertile recruiting found for Islamo-fascism and this is reflected in there being more French nationals fighting with IS than from any other European country.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Momentum - and the lack of momentum for anti-austerity

I went to my first local meeting of the Corbyn-ite  Momentum initiative last night. I would say roughly a third of the meeting were familiar activists from outside of the Labour Party and the remainder Labour members. It was a packed meeting but conspicuous by their absence were the much discussed 'new layers' drawn in by the campaign.The meeting was rambling but two clear positions did seem to come out:

There was the 'Labour Left' call of come and join us: Reinvigorate the party with campaigns, but most of all start now to make sure that Labour win the next election. And then there was the 'other view': Corbyn's victory was a victory for anti-austerity,  so let's make Labour an anti-austerity party right now by refusing to implement Tory policies at local level.

But the Labour Left say that their councillors won't argue for deficit budgets`- and within the party they won't call for mandatory re-selection to purge the party of those Blairite entrists who won't give up their neo-liberalism. 

And  so a chasm remains between  Corbyn-ite Labour  and  those of us who welcome his victory but are outside of the party.  Creating a 'kinder politics' and talking about a 'social movement' is all well and good, but if we are actually going to fight Tory austerity , growing some balls would be good too.

Friday, 16 October 2015

Return of the grammar schools

By some legal sleight of hand the Tories have managed to give the go-ahead to opening a new grammar school in Kent. Despite their protests to the contrary,without a doubt it now opens the door to the completion of a rose-tinted vision originally  started by Michael  Gove that will take us all back to the selective education of his youth.

At the last election the saloon-bar experts of UKIP were cheerleading this vision with a slogan of 'a grammar school in every town'. Strangely the slogan that must inevitably accompany this - 'three secondary moderns in every town' - is never heard. 

Because quite simply selection meant that the majority of kids got a second-rate education: The Tories' latest decision  will mean the same - if not more so. Within a few years we will have with a second tier of schools filled up with unqualified teachers and kids taking highly dubious vocational courses in hospitality studies and retail service.

The selection process was unfair back in Gove's golden age - and it will be even more unfair now. In the age of the internet and an ever-growing private tuition industry class buys cultural privilege more than ever before. More young people may be going to university than ever before but this does not represent genuine social mobility. For many working class kids, the entry to the job market has simply been delayed by a few years and they then take up low-status, low-paid service jobs burdened with debt and qualifications of questionable value. The austerity crisis-economy of the 2010s simply doesn't need the new wave of technocrats that booming Britain did in the 1960s - and so the carrot of  social mobility has become little more than an illusion to placate the aspirational.

I get that whilst people might acknowledge this at a societal level, they still want the best for their own kids. That's the old mantra: parental choice. But where does this end? If you're white are you obliged to be racist because it maintains your  kids privilege? If you have sons should you be sexist so as to keep the gender imbalance in their favour? Because make no mistake, selection can only ever perpetuate social injustice.

And I have to acknowledge that I myself benefitted, albeit indirectly, from selection: My own school was a suburban comprehensive that had been a grammar within the memory of many of the teaching staff. So we had decent playing fields, played rugby and had a few teachers who had high academic expectations. We also had, I see in retrospect a social and educational apartheid that divided the O-Level and CSE streams. I am very grateful that nowadays I work  in a genuine comprehensive with a socially, ethnically and academically diverse intake. Long may that last - I fear we are an endangered species.

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Class war target hipsters?

The protest at Cereal Killers has got people talking about gentrification so in a sense I suppose it has already done it's job.

My first reaction when I saw the shop that charges about four quid for a bowl of cereal being trashed was good riddance. Then my second reaction when I saw a piece beyond parody  in the Guardian from the hipster brothers who own the shop explaining that they didn't just sell cereal for but also provided an  experience that restored people's childhood memories was again, good riddance.

Initially the story  touched a nerve I guess because my own area is starting a process of gentrification - and hipsters are providing the advance party of the bourgeois. 

But really, men with silly beards are not the problem: Property developers who are speculating in properties in working class communities are the problem. Local councils (many of them Labour) who are selling off social housing and collaborating with austerity and socially-cleansing inner city city areas are the problem.

Poor areas have always attracted the bohemian elements of the middle class. I imagine the Victorian workers  were bemused and irritated by artists with silly beards slumming it in the East End drinking absinthe and smoking opium. But they weren't the class enemy - slum landlords charging rack rents for some of the worst living conditions in Europe were. 

The modern day equivalents of all these groups are still with us. Let's not get distracted. 

Friday, 18 September 2015

Jeeza-buzz

School's back and there's that new term buzz. In more ways than one. Jeremy Corbyn's victory seems to mark a new start.

Not in the sense that a credible socialist  Labour has suddenly arisen phoenix-like from the ashes of Blairism: It's too early to say that, and I have to say that sadly that scenario looks like the least likely outcome. Corbyn's apparent rejection of mandatory re-selection would indicate that he lacks the steel for the bitter war that is now  necessary to drive out the Blairite entrists that have polluted the party. Many local party organisations are simply moribund and it has suited the Blairites at local level to keep it that way so they can maintain a strangle hold on selection. If the re-selection of candidates is not mandatory then it seems highly unlikely that the required clearing out of the parliamentary Labour party will be possible. And without that, Corbyn is ultimately doomed.

The most important thing is that 'Corbyn-mania'  has put politics, socialist politics back into everyday life. My daughters, both under 21 are enthused by a politician who is principled and non-plastic and have been glued to the unfolding drama this week around Prime Minister's Question Time and anthem-gate. My dad who is pushing 90 has also watched it all avidly - and is even considering rejoining the Labour Party. And amongst my colleagues not a lunch or break time goes by without some discussion of Jeeza.

Of course this buzz maybe just a moment that will  pass sooner or later. But for those of us who aren't in the Labour Party there must be some opportunity to engage with this and start discussing some of the basic ideas of socialism and struggle - and maybe even build something new out of it.



Sunday, 30 August 2015

Purged!

Since my last post, having followed the unfolding fiasco of the Labour leadership contest, I am not particularly surprised to reveal that it appears that I have been 'purged' from participating in the election as a supporter. I say 'it appears' because I have simply not been sent a ballot. In true Orwellian fashion no reason needs to be given and the decision cannot be appealed unless I go through the process of applying for full membership. It goes without saying that my £3 donation is non-refundable.

As I wrote  previously, voting in the ballot was never  a serious strategy to reclaim Labour - rather more  a cheeky  'a last throw of the dice' - but it has had a serious side effect: Whether or not Jeremy Corbyn is allowed to become leader by the Blair-ites, socialist 'values' have being embraced by swathes of  previously uninvolved young people and an older generation of ativists has been reinvigorated. In this respect the Left has already won. What happens next will be messy and complicated and I suspect will involve some false starts to start a new organisation to capture this mood - but things are not going to be the same.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Entrism?

I am getting flashbacks to the days of 'reader's meetings' back in  80s with red-scare stories popping up about 'entrism' in the Labour Party. 

But let's be clear what is currently happening with the Corbyn campaign is nothing to do with the kind of tactics that some of us pursued in the days of Militant. It's very simple - the effect that we are seeing with people signing up as supporters is the result of a massive mis-calculation by the New Labour leadership that confirms how out of touch they have been for some time with public opinion.

Those who have signed up as supporters in order to vote for Corbyn are in the main people who have decided to get involved for the very time - or been re-vitalised - because they finally see an alternative to the austerity agenda. A very small number of these people might already be members of other organisations who have no intention of joining the Labour party, , but nonetheless support Corbyn's campaign. I am one of these people and I see no problem with this either constitutionally or ethically.

Constitutionally, New Labour adopted a US-style primary system because it mistakenly believed that this would build in a permanent in-built majority for the 'mythical centre'. Supposedly because most people are naturally repelled by radical ideas. Hmmm. This has now clearly come back and bit Labour in the arse,  but it is entirely legitimate within a primary system where alliances and special interest groups will ebb and flow.

And ethically - well Labour has always been an ideological and tactical battleground from the days when it was first founded. As a federal party with affiliated union membership policy has always been shaped by people who aren't actually members. And when it comes to accepting the broad values of Labour (whatever those are these days) I am pretty sure that I am a damn sight closer than Tory entrists like Liz Kendall.

Ironically there is a very sensible piece on this by Michael Crick - the man who wrote the hatchet job about 'real' entrism back in the 80's.


Friday, 24 July 2015

One last throw of the dice?

The Labour Party and I parted company back in 1991. In the meantime we've seen New Labour, Blair, the ditching of Clause 4, a couple of illegal wars, breaking the Trade Union link and countless other acts of betrayal that would get Nye Bevan spinning in his grave.

So it was with some deliberation that I paid my £3 and registered as a 'Labour supporter' in order to be able to vote for Jeremy Corbyn. 

He's a rare thing in politics generally these days, a decent guy who still  has some fundamental socialist values. But even so I have no illusions about him or his potential to reverse the party's downward spiral. Should he actually win the leadership I fear that he is so out of sync with the rest of the repugnant parliamentary Labour Party, that within a few weeks  there will probably be a palace  coup amongst the  MPs to oust him.

But despite all this, when I saw that acting party boss Harriet Harman had instructed Labour MPs to abstain on the most vicious piece of Tory legislation since the days of Thatcher, whilst the Lib Dems and even some rebel Tories were voting against the Welfare Reform Bill, I thought it was worth one desperate last throw of dice ...

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Life is good

Blogging has been sparse for the past few weeks - largely due to the teacher's curse of end-of-term-exhaustion syndrome.

So just to reassure any readers that I am still here - and whilst I have been resting the world seems to have continued to move in a depressing direction: Much like Jack Jones  in the 1970s, Tspiras has led Syriza and the Greek masses to the precipice of revolution, had a peek over the edge and not fancied the look of what he saw. And back home, the Tories have started to introduce the most vicious anti-trade union legislation since Thatcher. And imposed a 1% cap on public sector pay rises whilst giving themselves a fat 10%. I take both of these things personally.

But this morning the sun is shining and life is good:

I woke up to the news that the Sun has got hold of some  old footage of the royal family in the 1930s having some jolly japes giving each other Nazi salutes led by unrepentant fascist fellow-traveller Edward VIII.

And most of all - to the surprise of many old friends who are gathering in North London, myself and Ms Journeyman are marking 30 years as a couple by actually getting married....

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Waterloo today

Watching the nonsense on morning TV about some sort of 'Napoleonic Help For Heroes' to mark the anniversary of Waterloo today in 1815. It is worth reminding ourselves that the battle  was nothing other than the victory of counter-revoution and marks the beginning of the age of Capital. So  I have re-posted a piece I wrote a while back on 'On This Deity' .

Saturday, 30 May 2015

From Baltimore to Waco: folk-devils and paranoid cops

A couple of weeks ago there was the 'biker shoot out' at Waco Texas. Predictably stories of the shootings that left nine dead and 170 arrested were accompanied in the media by regurgitated 'layman's guides' to the workings of outlaw MC's. The implication was that the events has just scratched the surface, and that hordes of lawless and nihilistic folk-devils were lurking not far beneath. 

Now that the dust has settled a different story is starting to emerge: The biker meeting at the Twin Peaks diner was not some pre-arranged stand-off lifted from the script of a B-movie, but a regional meeting of the Coalition of Clubs - a riders' rights organisation the like of which we have in this country. Eyewitnesses say that most of the shots fired came not from bikers but from the police. Video footage mostly shows unarmed bikers diving for cover once shooting from a distance starts. One of those killed has since revealed to have been not an outlaw but a member of of a veterans' club who was  decorated with a Purple Heart in Vietnam. In fact many of the 170 arrested are not 1%-ers,  but members of what in the states are called mom-and-pop clubs -  or MCCs over here in the UK - with no criminal records. 

It's an all too-familiar picture of an overly-empowered police force with a culture of gung-ho machismo fuelled by a paranoid fear of 'the other. And it's worth remembering at this point that the  Waco bikers were largely blue-collar whites - or in other words the same demographic as most of the redneck law-enforcement. Throw in a large dose of not-so latent racism too, and as we have seen in Fergusson, Baltimore and in fact all over the US in the past year, there is something very rotten in the state of America. 

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Eight elections - don't moan organise

I can't believe that I have now lived through EIGHT general elections. 

1983 - the Falklands election and the first time I voted. I still have my copy of the much derided 'suicide note' manifesto. Thirty years on it seems like a pretty decent programme

1987 - and Kinnock had already started the rot in Labour with his notorious conference speech attacking Liverpool Council. I was fully immersed in Johnny Bryan's election campaign in Bermondsey. Ironically the constituency covered Labour HQ at Walworth Road,  and so whilst we were campaigning against Thatcher, the party appratchiks were  pre-occuied snooping on us.

1992, having seen off the poll tax and got kicked out of Labour in the process,  I was  riding up to Coventry most weekends to help out there with Dave Nellist's 'Real Labour' campaign. Somehow Kinnock managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory

1997 - and  everyone was getting excited with a landslide for 'New' Labour, but I was left out in the cold. Even so,  whilst Blair repelled me,  seeing the humiliation of the Tories gave me a brief frisson of pleasure .  I got briefly excited about the possibility of a new formation called 'Socialist Labour' but was this was then swiftly dispelled when  Scargill's ego strangled the new party at birth. '

2001- and a new formation had emerged  - The Socialist Alliance. But by the time of the  election, sectarian squabbling had ensured that this had imploded. Even so, with no alternative in my own area, I ended up voting for them - actually the first time that I had voted anything other than Labour.

2005  - by then even my dad who had joined the Labour Party in 1946 after hearing Nye  Bevan, had  resigned in protest over the Iraq war. Locally, I had no choice but to hold my nose and vote for Respect despite the stench of their opportunist cozy-ing up to religious 'mentalists. 

2010 - and the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition TUSC was off to a fragile stuttering start. It was a great campaign in my area and we genuinely managed to transcend the sectarian nonsense that had always cursed the Left. In Tottenham Labour voters stayed at home, and elsewhere many simply didn't see the difference between Tories and Labour, and so chose the former because they had the good fortune not to have presided over the banking crisis and an unpopular war 

2015 - again a very healthy local TUSC campaign was a breath of fresh air in a depressing atmosphere of austerity-acceptance. In this part of London,  despite a totally invisible local campaign, Labour bucked the trend and significantly increased its vote. Elsewhere ... well again the Turkeys have voted for Christmas and even more have chosen to stay indoors and hope it all goes away.

Monday, 4 May 2015

The many ages of Russell Brand

When a  lot of people thought that Russell Brand was a twat I was inclined to stick up for him. He may have been  overly-pleased with his own smart-arsery and indulged this egotistically with a painfully self-conscious verbosity,  but I still had a soft spot for him. 

Perhaps because as a teacher, I am used to clever and precocious sixth formers who want to show off that they have swallowed a dictionary, and are using it to pass off ideas that have been bleeding obvious to everyone else for many years. As if they were rare insights that they alone have just discovered. And when you're 17 or 18, that's ok. In fact it can be quite sweet. 

But of course if you're a grown man with a minor celebrity status which allows you to  market the bleeding obvious as some sort of original revolutionary manifesto,  it's rather less sweet. However, despite the fact that he is actually only 10years younger than me, I regarded  Russell as some sort of hyper-active man-child, so  I was still willing to indulge him. 

But  in his latest about-face call for a Labour vote it seems that Russell has now moved on from being the precocious sixth former to the rather nauseating trusti-farian brat who having spent a summer working at daddy's firm and been taken to lunch with the grown ups, has now decided that he must change the system from the inside. 

Saturday, 25 April 2015

An illogical attachment to lumps of metal

The contents of my tool box are like a biography of my biking life over the past 30+ years:

There are some almost antique tools that my dad gave me. They are are a reminder of the Saturday mornings when as a young boy  I would get to spend some precious time with him 'mending the car' - a weekly ritual of checking the tyre pressures, checking the oil and giving it a polish.

There are some cheap and nasty tools that I brought as a teenager for my first moped. I think a lot of them came from petrol stations and they were ham-fistedly used to bodge repairs that more often than not required taking into a shop to have put right again.

There are some slightly better tools that I brought when I was a student. Me and my mate with whom  I shared a house for a couple of years  had a garden full of crappy old little bikes that we had fun trying to fix up. We probably spent as much time messing about with them as we ever did studying.

Then there are a succession of more obscure tools that I brought over several years to fix specific problems on specific bikes that I have owned.The bikes have long gone but the tools remain. Often they were panic buys made when I discovered that I needed them half way through some job with the bike in pieces. As a result their cost was often disproportionate and it would have made more sense to have taken the bike to a professional mechanic. But that was never the point.

Then there is the most recent batch of tools brought in the past ten years when I first got into Harleys and I had to supplement all those metric tools with imperial sizes. Most high street stores simply don't stock imperial tools these days, and you are met with a blank glaze of you ask for a 5/16 hex bit socket in Halfords. So these tools were often hunted down on the internet - and sometimes ordered from the 'states.

These tools are not precious. They are of mixed quality. All of them at the end of the day are just lumps of metal - often rusty. But they are mine. Or they were. The other night some bastard got into my garage and stole them. I've already started, but I know it's going to be a pain to replace them. And I am never going to be able to replace the memories they evoked ...

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Non-doms

Non-doms are back in the news. What is extraordinary is not that Labour are finally talking about abolishing the tax loop-hole for the super-rich, but that it has survived so long - and nobody has been screaming about this real benefit-scrounging.

Income tax dates from the need to pay for the Napoleonic wars - and from the very start there were some built-in dodges to enable those who could really afford to pay tax to avoid paying any at all.

The fig-leaf rationale for this at the time was empire building. If people pledged not to bring their income from overseas in to the country they were exempt from being taxed. In the pre-1857 British Empire when imperialism was essentially mercantile rather than governmental this had some of logic. Empire-building before the Great Rebellion in India was an early form of PFI with private individuals given only limited support from the state.  The system incentivized the younger sons of the nobility, aspirational social risers, and other assorted chancers escaping the rigid hierarchy of British society, to become minor potentates  in far flung parts of the world. Where they could live lives of opulence and decadence undreamed of in the home country. And so in some sense the tax dodge helped build the empire.

Nowadays the idea of ring-fencing overseas wealth  makes no sense from any point of view. Over the years the grounds for claiming non-dom status have become even more spurious - it is now more about having a foreign born parent or a bank account registered abroad than it is about owning a tea plantation. In fact there is no real pretence that it is anything other than a dodge for the super-rich.  

Apologists for this system argue that its abolition would drive the super-rich from this country. However this supposes that the hidden hand of the market somehow ensures that a trickle down effect ensures that we all receive some benefit from the mere presence of the super-rich regardless of whether they are actually building factories in this country or just counting the interest on their off-shore bank accounts. In fact on a practical basis it actually discourages the bringing back of real investment into this country - which of course would be taxable. 

Getting rid of this should hardly be controversial - no other country in the world has such a blatantly unfair and illogical loophole - but it will not be easily given up. It is emblematic of the perversity of the system we live under.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

An everyday story

Last weekend I spent Saturday afternoon leafleting a nearby estate for TUSC. I did it in the company of a bloke I'd not met before. He was a council worker who had got involved in the election campaign largely because his job was threatened by the latest (and deepest) cuts package from Haringey Council. In the course of a few hours trudging around the estate we swapped life stories. I thought it was worth sharing his:

Pete had served an engineering apprenticeship and worked in various manufacturing jobs until he was made redundant by new technology. Then he went to work for the Post Office. He knew that he would never earn the same amount as he had as a skilled tradesman, but he was willing to trade this for security. But after ten years he was again made redundant. After sometime of unemployment, he went to work for the council as a street cleaner. Until that service was contracted out to a private firm - which is now laying people off in response to the council's budget cuts. He is now over 60 and is looking at the options of voluntary redundancy as he is not sure in any case how many years he has left when he continue to be doing manual work outdoors every day of the year. He is  pretty sure that when he does go, probably in the next few months, he will not work again.

An unremarkable story perhaps, but it encapsulates everything that has got wrong with our society over the past 20 years - and has been experienced by millions.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Richard III - whimsical historical nonsense

I suppose I am as much a history-geek as the next man. Possibly more so - in my line of work these days it's an occupational hazard. But maybe not as much as I thought I was: 

Earlier today I chanced upon some of the BBC's coverage of the re-burial of Richard III in Leicester. This seems to have been done in the manner of a 'rolling news' version of a Sunday afternoon nostalgia-fest. And I just don't get it. There seems to be a fascination with a whimsical obsession for 'days of yore' - of kings and queens, knights and heralds - and an awful lot of bollocks. 

Despite the best efforts of the weirdos of the Richard III society who have taken up his cause with all the energy of a real campaign again a real miscarriage of justice, the best that can really be said of Richard of York was that he wasn't really any worse than any of the other self-serving gangsters-in-armour that made up the competing dynasties of medieval monarchy. And that, unsurprisingly given that history has generally been written by the winners, the rival Tudor gang used their premier hack (Will Shakespeare)  to create the pantomime villain we are all familiar with.

But does any of this really merit an afternoon of ceremonial with hushed commentaries and talk about rehabilitation and reconciliation ? It is hardly as if the British people have been irrevocably divided between rival camps of Yorkists and Lancastrians. The Wars Of The Roses saw some spectacularly bloody battles between factions of the ruling class for 40 odd years.  But despite this the lives of the common people were left almost completely untouched. The average peasant or yeoman in the fifteenth century regularly witnessed the toffs slaughtering each with an attitude of detached indifference, and probably just breathed a sigh of relief when they marched their retinues off to billets in some other hapless village. 

Now I know how they felt ...

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Glimpses from my new life ...

Every now and then something gives me a jolt to remind me of the massive differences between my old life working in the print and my new life as a teacher.

I might not exactly have been a captain of industry, but as a manager I did have some degree of autonomy. Nothing spectacular, but when a piece of machinery broke I'd arrange to get it fixed - or even occasionally buy a new one. Or  sometimes if we'd have a particularly long and shitty week I'd get in a crate of beer and a few pizzas 

But  now I am a 'professional' entrusted with the development of youth, I find my wings have been severely clipped: Like today,  when I tried  to sign for approximately  £5 worth of pink gel pens (yes you did read that correctly - their use is stipulated by a new marking policy). I was told that I didn't have the authority and I'd have to get my head of department's permission first. So much then  for the boxes of student's books awaiting marking - god forbid I should just do them in intimidating old-fashioned red ink.

Fortunately  I am not proud and I can see the funny side - but Jeeesus ...

Saturday, 7 February 2015

The perfect sustainable vehicle ?

I know that perhaps  bikers aren't naturally cast in the role of eco-warrriors: But then I read about the new law in Paris to ban motorcycles built before 2000 from the city centre. It is a blanket ban based purely on the age of the vehicle that ignores the actual emission figures - it is being done in the name of fighting air pollution. And apparently there are plans to adopt some sort of similar scheme in the future for London.

I know I can't claim that my old Harleys are exactly environmentally friendly. Certainly not in comparison to the MoCo's latest experimental model the "LiveWire'. But the again there are some wider considerations when it comes to green issues. 

Large capacity motorcycles tend to be owned by enthusiasts. People who cherish their vehicles and lavish a lot of their money - and  their own labour into keeping them on the road. As a result we tend to hang on to our machines rather than change them every other year. And so bikes that by rights should have been consigned to the scrap yard years ago are kept under tarpaulins in corners of garages waiting only  to be tenderly coaxed back into life and reborn in some new reincarnation. Especially the 'enthusiasts bikes' - the BMWs, Guzzi, Triumphs ...  and Harleys. We spend hours in our  garages tinkering and fettling these machines - often flying in the face of common (and economic) sense that  dictates it would be easier to simply buy more modern bikes. 

Perhaps we do it because we get a perverse kick out of working on keeping them on the road precisely because doing so is deemed to be impractical. From a sociological point of view (and at the risk of being pretentious) it gives us a sense of striking back against the sense of alienation - 'or disconnected-ness' - that is endemic in capitalism. I feel connected to my bikes because I (more or less) know how they work, I can see and feel how they work and (theoretically at least) I can fix them. In contrast, when I open the bonnet of my modern car I am confounded by a set of black plastic boxes - I can't even identify most of the engine components let alone start working on them.

But what's good for my soul is not good for big automotive business: So the manufacturers now give us sealed units and black-box engineering that uses computer diagnostics rather than spanners to fix our machines. Ultimately all this leads to the environmental obscenity of built-in obsolescence and disposable products. 

So just maybe a ratty old Harley should be the symbol of environmental sustainability rather than that favourite of the self-righteous - the Toyota Prius.

Monday, 26 January 2015

A new Greek dawn?

Waking up to the news that SYRIZA have won the Greek elections and are about to form a government is a pretty good way to start the week.

And before anybody says it, I do know that Tsipras isn't the messiah and that Greece is not on the brink of constructing a workers' paradise. 

But SYRIZA's success does  represent the most  significant development in Europe since the world economic crisis began. It is not just some  re-alignment of the forces of the Far Left - it has given voice to a mass movement that rejects the politics of austerity.

Of course  lots of questions remain, and a lot of hard messy work to replicate the same kind of force elsewhere - whether it's Podemos in Spain, the Anti-Austerity Alliance in Ireland ... or TUSC at home.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Je suis ... un ouvrier du monde

Excuse my French. 

I'll admit I rushed to publish a 'Je suis Charlie' status on Facebook in outrage at the shootings last week.  Then I very nearly posted another  'Je suis Ahmed' status. Then I saw that there was even a 'Je suis policier' status doing the rounds. And that made me think - hang on, is that the same policiers who I have witnessed routinely harassing young people of North African descent on the street of Paris? Or the paramilitary thugs of the CRS? 

Maybe we should all think a bit more carefully about some of this stuff:
There are inspiring demonstrations in London and Paris today. Displaying feelings of outrage at bigotry; and feelings of unity across communities; and  fear of  an anti-Muslim  backlash. But also displaying  political opportunism on the part of leaders like Netanyahu who want to promote anything but unity.
 
I am hearing a lot of genuine confusion amongst the liberal-minded:
When does ridiculing religion turn into racism?
Just because you have a right to do something does it mean that you should?
Can we really talk about freedom of speech in an unequal society with a gulf between minorities and the dominant culture?

Fair enough. These things can and must be discussed - but it's also worth remembering that the only real answer to these horrors is a radical one, and it has  been around for a while: 'Workers of all lands unite  - you have a world to win.'

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Charlie Hebdo - in defence of blasphemy

I have never understood the concept of blasphemy.

If you are in a position of authority - a teacher, a manager, a team captain or a parent there is no surer sign of your confidence and authority than to take the piss out of yourself or to allow others to do so. In fact it is almost an acid-test of your authority if it can survive ridicule. As a human being, the same ability is actually a test of your humanity - to fail it renders you at best pompous and at worst psychotic.

So why should the  (supposedly)  biggest boss of all any different? 

Woody Allen quipped that God may be omnipotent but he clearly has self-esteem issues. Which I guess is why all religions seem to have a supreme being who requires constant reassurance in the form of worship and who is strictly off-limits from any kind of ridicule.

Following the latest obscene attack in Paris by Islamo-fascists on those who dared to mock them and their ridiculous medieval world view, we are inevitably going to see a wave of vicious Islamo-phobia. However, the best, and only, response, is to emphasize the unity of our common humanity - and to continue fearlessly taking the piss. 

Just as the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo did.

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Soho revisited.

Christmas is a time for nostalgia. And in that spirit I was back in my old haunts yesterday for a Soho pub crawl. The Dog & Duck, The Blue Posts, The Star & Garter, The Red Lion and finally The Clachan. 

In truth there are not many things or people  that I miss from my former life, but I do miss Soho. Or more precisely my memory of Soho rather than the hipster-theme park it increasingly resembles.

I've not been back there for almost a year but plus ca change. The place that used to sell artisan Cornish pasties now sells artisan hot dogs - and that restaurant that specialised in authentic Korean street food now specialises in authentic Cambodian street food. The same shops that still sell vinyl, the fixed wheel bike shops and of course some  more artisan coffee shops. A lot more fucking artisan coffee shops.

But there are still a few of the traditional Soho pubs. The pubs that played a central part in my working life when I was the production manager of an artwork studio.  Our clients were largely the ad agencies of Soho - and the pubs were where the deals were made, the briefs given out and the proofs taken for approval. Part Roman forum, part 18th Century coffee house. 

This is now a  lost world that disappeared rapidly with the introduction of mobile phones and the relaxation of the licensing laws. And life got more corporate, more superficially 'professional' - and ultimately much more joyless. 

In fact, come to think of it, the decline of the traditional pub pretty much parallels my prolonged disenchantment with life in the print.