Friday 28 November 2008

Misplaced sentimentality

My first ever pair of trainers were ‘Winfields’ – Woolworths’ own brand – and at primary school I think I was decked out in ‘Ladybird’ clothing. Some of the first LP’s I brought also came from Woolies.

But I do not share the emotional outpourings over the demise of the high street chain this week, just as it was about to approach it’s centenary.

From all the sentimental shit being spoken at the moment you would think we were mourning a cherished institution that had enriched our lives – something along the lines of the NHS. But when FW Woolworth imported his stores to this country from the US he had no more noble a mission than that of selling cheap crap for the masses. Doubtless in the process many independent family corner shops were driven out of business.

Sounds familiar ?

It’s like our grandchildren getting upset about the collapse of Tesco, McDonalds, Starbucks or whatever other corporate empire eventually bites the dust in the future. And one of them inevitably will – such is the capitalist circle of life.

Tuesday 25 November 2008

Squeezing the rich ?

Sometimes it’s not what you say – it’s what people think you say – and their reactions.

Back in the 70’s Labour Chancellor Dennis Healy talked about ‘squeezing the rich until the pips bleed”. He didn’t really mean it of course – he might have started life as a Communist but by 1974 he had put all that way behind him – but his words were enough to get the Tories and big business running scared that class war had been declared.

Alistair Darling’s no socialist either. Actually fuck knows what he is – at least Healy was an honest social democrat (sort of). But Darling's pre budget report seems to have pissed off a lot of the right people. All it took was a teeny-weeny attempt to tinker with a regressive tax (VAT) and to introduce a teeny-weeny bit of progressive taxation in the form of a higher income tax band for high earners.

Polly Toynbee sees in this a radical departure and an abandonment of the New Labour project in favour of good old-fashioned social-democracy. It's no such thing, it's a half-hearted Keynesian measure to stimulate retail spending. Measures that would actually make a difference to people’s lives – like a cap on fuel bills are conspicuous by their absence.

But what’s significant is not what comes from New Labour but from the Tories.

Cameron’s compassionate conservatism and eco-populism is not worth a toss. Faced with the most nonthreatening of measures, their reflex reaction is to defend the interests of the wealthy and begrudge any meagre concessions to the working class.

Same old Tories. Same old (New) Labour.

Friday 21 November 2008

The Devil's Whore

The English Civil War and 17th Century radicalism are something of an obsession for me. So I had to watch Channel 4’s new mini-series The Devil’s Whore.

Historical Dramas tend to be the stuff of Sunday evening viewing – a bit of Jane Austen or Thomas Hardy with performing costumes filled by familiar faces from soaps providing non-threatening comfort viewing for Middle England. Of course of late there have been a few honourable exceptions:

The Devil’s Whore is certainly not comfort viewing. It has just the amount of bodice-ripping and sword play not to be overly-worthy. But it also goes beyond the familiar image of romantic Cavaliers and kill-joy Roundheads that we are usually fed. It engages with the Big Ideas of the time – and of today - democracy, freedom of expression and the struggle between rich and poor.

And it gets the period details pretty much correct too – visually you can’t really tell the two sides apart – maybe slightly lacier collars for the Royalists and less curls for the Parliament men. No puritan primness either. Both sides are a lot lustier and earthier than the Victorians historians who gave us most of those misconceptions of the era – and probably more so than the usual costume drama audience today.

But most importantly it reclaims this – the most important period in English history – and places it centre stage.

In the US there is a strong tradition of the Western – it has developed from the ‘white hat goodies’ v ‘black hat badies’ of the Gary Cooper era to the gritty revisionism of HBO’s Deadwood. But there is never any question that the mythology of The Western, despite the violence and genocide of the real thing, is a central part of the American story.

On the other hand in this country the equivalent formative part of our history has been airbrushed out. Hearing the ideas of Rainsborough, Lillburne and Saxby in The Devil’s Whore and you can see why – they are still revolutionary today.

It also manages to make Charles 1st look like a bit of a twat. And a complete bastard too. Enjoy.

Wednesday 19 November 2008

BNP - Fascists outed

The propensity of the Far Right to self-destruct is a source of continual amusement and comfort. The news that a hardline member of the BNP, disgruntled at the party’s supposedly moderate / populist turn towards a UKIP audience, has published the entire membership on line is, frankly, fucking hilarious.

As is Nick Griffin’s response that the member will come to regret this as ‘the worst decision of his life’. On the other hand he has bleated on about the infringement of his members’ civil liberties. His response goes to the heart of two old chestnuts about the BNP.

Firstly their respectable fa├žade – Griffin may now be on Radio 4 laughably citing the Human Rights Act, which he so strongly opposed, but his initial reaction was nothing more than a thinly veiled threat of violence to sort out the trouble maker in his midst.

And secondly the question - should the BNP have the same rights as any other political party ?

- This shouldn’t need explaining again, but for the hard of thinking the Fascists (for that is what the BNP really are) are NOT just any other party. They are not simply a misguided bunch of loons. They actively promote racial hatred wherever they go. Their ranks include streetfighters who engage in physical attacks – both racially motivated and against political opponents. Much of this activity is illegal – but even if it wasn’t, it would be grounds not to tolerate their intolerance.

Far from amusing though is how the membership list reveals their penetration of mainstream society; in particular the police, the prison service, the army, teaching and other ‘public’ services.

For those agonising over the justification of the ‘outing’ of the Fascists, here it is: Membership of a racist organisation is simply incompatible with the role of someone who is in a position of care or public trust because they cannot serve the community even-handedly.

I'm not going to post the link here - but you maybe able to follow a trail from here - if steps haven't been taken yet to cover over the traces. If you see anyone you know feel free to get in touch with them to discuss their odious little secret. And if any of the named are working in the public sector – let’s get the fuckers sacked.

Monday 17 November 2008

Royalist tearoom

On the basis of 'shit you just couldn't make up', I had to share this. It was sent to me by a friend who shot it through the window of a tea shop in Brighton. Fantastic - whether it is a bit of post modern ironic royalist kitsch or the work of a genuine monarchist lunatic.

Although naming the top of the range pig-out option after someone who was notoriously bulimic may prove to be a marketing error ...

Friday 14 November 2008

Haringey Child Abuse Scandal

I don’t want to join in the current witch-hunt against social workers.

Let’s face it nobody takes the job for the money or an easy life.

And the same witch-hunters who are making so much noise now were probably last week bemoaning a socialist conspiracy to undermine families by putting children into care. Few seem to have made the obvious connection that the reason social workers in Haringey have twice the average national caseload is because they have twice the social problems here in one of the country’s poorest communities.

But that said - as a ‘citizen’ of Haringey, I wouldn’t trust the council to run a jumble sale. Admittedly I try to keep my contact with them to a minimum – but in the past months, three experiences spring to mind:

• The electoral register - I responded immediately when I received the form through the door, by registering online. Six months later I am still being pursued, by more letters through the door, and people twice coming to the house to check up. I now appear to be locked into some sort of Kafka-esque nightmare; when I try to register again I’m told that I can’t – because I’ve already registered.

• Warning stickers on piles of rubbish – fly tipping is a real problem in the borough. But rather than just clearing it away somebody actually inspects it, puts a sticker on it and then leaves it. About a fortnight later, by which time the pile of crap has become a focus for even more fly tipping, it is finally cleared away.

• Re-development – the high street in Tottenham is dying – typical of many inner city high streets it consists of derelict units, ‘pound’ shops and fried chicken franchises. Except one area where there is a covered market with a thriving community of local independent traders. After consulting with the residents, who all wanted the market left alone, the council is going to pull it down and replace it with a mall of chain retail outlets.
To 'regenerate' the area.

In other words our council appears to be a haven of fuck-witery, jobs-worth-iness with a culture of box ticking underpinned by a condescending implication that we should be grateful that in a place like this that we get any local services at all.

All of which would be funny if it didn’t seem all to familiar when I read about the horrific child abuse of ‘Baby P’ and the incompetence of Haringey social services department.

So round here, shocking though the case is, it is also no great surprise. We deserve better from our local council.

Monday 10 November 2008

Socialism at the weekend

This weekend I was at Socialism 2008 – the annual weekend school of the Socialist Party.

After 25 years (!) of being involved I don’t really need to ‘hear the case for socialism’ but now that I’m not as active as I once was, I make a point of going each year to recharge my batteries a bit. And to get the day-to-day grind of life under this fuck-awful depressing system of capitalism into a bit of perspective.

It’s also a chance to see the Left at its best - and worst.

The best – a bit of inspiration like the guy from a small Trotskyist group inside China, risking so much to fight for democratic socialism in just about the hardest of circumstances.

Or less dramatically, just seeing old friends: Ordinary people with jobs and families who refuse to succumb to the pressures of daily life and continue year after year to do their own unspectacular bit to make the world better.

The worst – dickheads from one of the 57 varieties of loony group-lets who are attracted to these events. Like the bloke who criticised us for not supporting China in Tibet and defending North Korea’s right to nuclear arms. Stuck forever in 1941, he cited as justification for his current idiocy Trotsky’s position of sixty years ago: The Soviet Union as a deformed workers’ state should be defended at all costs from imperialist aggression - although he did forget to mention that this was at the time of the Nazi invasion . He was even trying to look like Trotsky – goatee beard, unruly curls and Russian workers’ cap. Funny - but a fucking liability to have around and confirming the worst Pythonesque stereotypes of the Left.

Thursday 6 November 2008

Remember Remember

Remembrance Day and Fireworks night are always linked in my mind. Not just because they occur at the same time of year.

We didn't have fireworks at home because they brought back memories of my mum's East End childhood in the Blitz.
Even now she still has the same flashbacks.

With good reason; her house was twice damaged by incendiary bombs. Her dad was in the River Police out on duty in the docks during the air raids and her uncle was a firefighter. At the same time the family waited for news of other uncles - one at sea on the Atlantic convoys and the other in the army in the Far East.

Now days we would call it post-traumatic stress and demand counseling - back then it was just a fact of life. So she remembers just the little things; like taking shelter under her school desk during one raid, being sent home for forgetting her gas mask and taking her exams in a shelter.

Evidence of quite how close the war came to home is still all around us: At work there is a gap in the terrace opposite still propped up by wooden supports sixty years after a bomb took out the building. At home, in the park at the end of our street, there is a memorial to 20 people killed in a single direct hit on an air raid shelter.

In the winter of 1940-41 there were eleven continuous weeks of nightly attacks on London by the Luftwaffe - 20,000 civilians in London were killed in those attacks alone and 60,000 in the whole of the war. A quarter of a million Londoners were made homeless and a third of all the city's housing stock was damaged. That's worth a moments reflection at this time of year.

It also makes you wonder who ever thought it would be a good idea to call our local American football team "London Blitz".

Wednesday 5 November 2008

Overdue landslide for Obama

Not a day for cynicism or smart-arse comments.

The extraordinary scenes of euphoria from the US are personified in the tear-stained face of Jesse Jackson; from segregation to a Black president within a generation . Personally I just feel a sense of immense relief.

Whether or not this is the end to the era of Reganite neo-con ascendancy, the end of the USA as the bad guy on the world stage, and even more importantly whether this is real change for ordinary working class Americans - black and white - the jury will be out for a while.

I imagine we will be recalling how McCain labeled Obama - he meant it as a slur - 'a socialist'. And thinking 'we wish'.

Monday 3 November 2008

Regime change imminent

At the weekend I heard on the radio a community activist from Chicago describe Obama as an ‘empty vessel’ - filled with the aspirations of all those who felt themselves denied a political voice. (Or those that Sarah Palin would call not 'real Americans').

That sounds just about spot-on; and it also implies the inevitable disappointment of these aspirations. And I’m sure that disappointment will come later, but at the moment it seems a certainty that the world will have, for the first time for many years, a US president that we can’t ridicule because he is stupid, senile or a serial-shagger. And one that we don’t have to fear either because he is a neo-con and/or ‘mentalist Christian.

Unless that is in the next 24 hours the Republicans somehow manage to produce a secret crack addict Obama relative living on benefits, or evidence of a gay lover who is also an islamo-terrorist, or, if all else fails, dodgy ballot punch card machines to produce some hanging chads. Or even just scare people back into their racist bunkers.

So here’s a thought: Given that these elections will not only elect a US president but also the single most powerful leader on the planet, and given the global nature of the world economy and the increasing unimportance of the nation-state - maybe the rest of us should be allowed a vote too. Possibly not the same as US citizens proper – just a tenth of a vote would do.

Otherwise we’ll just have to cross our fingers …