Category Archives: Politics

Update on absence – migration and brain fade

os cachorros loucas 2This post is prompted by the thought that I should let those of you who are kind and interested enough to follow my musings know that I have not dropped off the blogging twig.   The silence is entirely due to all my energies being subverted from writing into the business of emigrating.   Whoever said moving house was up there with death and divorce as the most stressful experiences nailed it.   Emigrating is moving house on steroids.   It is not the practical stuff – packing, sorting and organising, that is child’s play compared to the decision making.   ‘If this, then that but what if…’ is how we start almost all conversations these days. The dogs  merely concentrate on whether we’re packing a suficient number of dinner bowls and their favourite food and are all ready to depart in their own carefree way (as illustrated) leaving us to sort out everything else.

I certainly feel that I am now a character in one of those locigal brain teasers as in ‘there are six villages on the only perfectly round island in the universe….’ or ‘there are five cousins…’  where you have to work out the solutions from cleverly  misleading or incomplete information.   Example from our current life – five phone calls to the Inland Revenue about self employed status abroad and five different and conflicting sets of information provided – work out the correct route to take.   If you get it wrong you get fined and no we’re unable to give you an answer in writing because then it would be too easy for you.  AAAARGH!   If I continued with Rats at the moment (assuming I had any energy left after ten hour days of DIY and bureaucracy) it would be darkly Kafkaesque, unintelligible and depressing.  Rats will however be back in due course as will the rest of my musings.

We shall be shortly joining the hordes of Migrants allegedly flooding round Europe – Mr Farage and UKIP please note we are performing our own Brexit.   One of the reasons we’re leaving, apart from the British weather of course, is the depressing result of the general election.  At least UKIP only got one seat – what a nasty, narrow minded lot they are – migration is actually a good thing.   In terms of the stunningly unexpected this election was right up there with Kinnock losing in 1992 or Harry Truman beating Dewey in 1948.   I don’t know anyone who isn’t horribly depressed by the Conservative victory and the threat of the savage cuts to come plus the stupidity of a referendum on EU membership but then most of the people I know are intelligent, caring and compassionate.   Plus no doubt Scottish Independence will be back on the agenda before long.  At the moment there’s a Facebook petition doing the rounds for the North of England to apply to become part of Scotland.  It has a surprisingly large number of signatures.  The only problem is the area which people want included is gradually spreading southwards!

 

Lines in winter – for Raif Badawi

Lines in winter

                            I

Black flakes of birds, wind driven, tossed
from tree to tree across a bleak sky.
Winter stubble fields sullen and empty

tramlines of pale stalks in dark mud
even the weeds seem to have given up
attempting a foothold in this cultivated desert

The news is full of dismal stuff

Wars and plagues, immigration and austerity
and as if all that wasn’t enough
Politicians shuffling through piles of dead words

And I keep thinking of Brecht’s line
that it is almost a crime
to speak of trees for it is
a kind of silence about injustice

                           II

You think we have no reason
to write of anything beyond
personal experience, introspection,
intricacies of words and emotion
because no one will put us in prison
when our words offend?

But what is the purpose of poets
if not to focus the mind’s
attention where it is needed most;
to sing like canaries in dark mines
in the space between heartbeats?

                             III

And this skinny little man
with an impish grin and unruly hair
this twenty first century Voltaire

with his tongue and his pen,
who dares to use them to question
and to oppose oppression

and every beat of the cane
draws a line of fire  across his back
“he made no sound” the witness said
“but you could see he was in pain”

and each stroke of the lash opens
another throat to sing.  Becomes
one thousand strokes of one thousand pens;

lines of pale stalks that remain
defiant and upright after snow and storms,
gleaming against the dark of the earth

©2015  A de Grandis

Raif B 1Raif Badawi is one of us, a blogger and part of our community – he is a writer and activist who co-founded the website “Free Saudi Liberals”.  In 95% of the world he’d be doing what the rest of us do, leading his life, going to the day job, happily expressing his thoughts and opinions on his blog but not in Saudi Arabia.

In May 2012 shortly before his arrest he addressed the nature of Liberalism on his blog
“For me, liberalism simply means, live and let live. This is a splendid slogan. However, the nature of liberalism – particularly the Saudi version – needs to be clarified. It is even more important to sketch the features and parameters of liberalism, to which the other faction, controlling and claiming exclusive monopoly of the truth, is so hostile that they are driven to discredit it without discussion or fully understanding what the word actually means. They have succeeded in planting hostility to liberalism in the minds of the public and turning people against it, lest the carpet be pulled out from under their feet. But their hold over people’s minds and society shall vanish like dust carried off in the wind.”

His final thought quoted Albert Camus: “The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.”
More of his writing can be found at
http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jan/14/-sp-saudi-blogger-extracts-raif-badawi

Raif B 2On January 9, Raif Badawi was taken from his prison cell to a public square outside the al-Jafali mosque in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where he was subjected to the first fifty of the sentence of one thousand lashes.
Days later, his lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair’s prison sentence was extended to fifteen years
Then, on January 16, Badawi’s next 50 lashes were postponed because his injuries from the first round were too harsh to withstand additional flogging. They are scheduled to resume this week.  The Saudi Authorities will resume their torture once he has healed enough to withstand the next fifty lashes.

The crime that prompted this appalling punishment is that he ran a website called, with dreadful irony, Free Saudi Liberals. On this he discussed and advocated secularism, and mocked the cruel absurdities of the Saudi religious authorities, who denounce astrologers for peddling nonsense but themselves have people executed for ‘sorcery’.  He does not advocate violence and what he says would be taken as self-evident truth outside the closed, medieval and fearful world that is Saudi Arabia.

I’d urge all bloggers to take up Raif Badawi’s cause if to do no more than sign the petition that Amnesty International have organised to stop his further flogging
https://www.amnesty.org.uk/actions/saudi-arabia-free-raif-badawi-flogged-blogger

We must not forget that we enjoy our freedom to blog and to express our opinions because in our countries in the past there were individuals like Raif Badawi, writers and thinkers who dared to speak out against oppression and injustice.  I believe we owe him our support and our voices, which is what prompted me to write the poem.  I’m happy for it to be shared and used to help his cause.

Austerity, Capitalism and Collateral Damage

A follow up to my last week’s blog on the autumn statement and a further exploration of what is wrong with the policies of austerity being so relentlessly pursued by the British Government.

The report from the Office for Budget Responsibility, Britain’s the tax and spending watchdog stated that low wages force Britain to spend £900m more on tax credits than planned.   A simple and compelling illustration of why austerity does not build prosperity.  The greatest growth in poverty has been among those in work, so how can the Chancellor delude himself that people who need tax credits to bridge the gap between wages and what it actually costs to live on or about the breadline are going to generate consumer spending of the sort needed to fuel a recovery.   The simple answer of course is that the Chancellor is not deluded and is perfectly aware of the consequences of the policies this government is pursuing. The low paid and unemployed are collateral damage in the vision of the new world order of unrestrained capitalism where wealth is concentrated into the hands of the few at the expense of the many.

The ugly truth is that free market capitalism requires boom and bust – shaking the tree dislodges those with a precarious hold on wealth and prosperity and frees assets to be acquired at knockdown prices by those with liquidity.

The haves buy up repossessed properties and rent them back to those who because they lost their jobs failed to pay their mortgages but who still need somewhere to live.  Those with spare capital can buy repossessed properties cheaply.   Buy to let mortgages are easy to obtain for landlords who already have a portfolio of properties so they can grow their assets with relative ease.   The State will pay housing benefit for rent although it is parsimonious in the extreme in helping those in trouble with their mortgage payments.
My Aunt taught in Glasgow in the poorest of areas in the 1930’s and the hunger and destitution she saw stayed with her for life.  She taught children who shivered barefoot to school through the snow with no food in their bellies.  It made her an ardent socialist who wanted a just world where no children were denied a hot meal, a warm coat and boots, not much to ask you’d think but it was then.  People died of hunger and from treatable illnesses because they couldn’t pay for a doctor.  My partner’s mother had rickets from malnutrition as a child because her father had no work in the great depression and no money for food.

Our parents’ generation grew up in hard and bitter times and survived the pain and the loss and destruction of the Second World War and were determined to build a better future for the generations that came after them.  Free health care so that people like the sister of Harry Leslie Smith, a 91-year-old RAF veteran born into an impoverished mining family, do not die untreated in a workhouse at the age of ten because their family cannot pay for medicines.  He spoke vividly and movingly at the Labour party conference this autumn about his experience as a child he said

“Wages were low, rents were high and there was little or no job protection as a result of a post war recession that had gutted Britain’s industrial heartland. When the Great Depression struck Britain in the 1930s, it turned our cities and towns into a charnel house for the working class, because they had no economic reserves left to withstand prolonged joblessness and the ruling class believed that benefits led to fecklessness.”

This sounds a chilling echo in what we hear today about the culture of workshy families and benefit fraud, about immigrants and poverty  being your own fault and other such myths and in the cuts the Chancellor proposes that the Institute for Fiscal Studies say would mean cutting the size of the state to pre-war 30s levels.   All the gains our parents thought they had made towards a fair, just and equitable society that looked after the poor, the old and the vulnerable are being taken away from us and we seem powerless or paralysed in our attempts to stop it.

Voices like Harry Smith are vital because the generation that remember the 1920’s and 30’s are dying out. Soon there will be no first hand witness testimony to these times. Like the First World War where the last few surviving servicemen have recently died it is passing from living memory into history and history we all know is a fairground hall of mirrors in which the present distorts the past to serve its current needs and purpose.

We have  a simple choice,  each of us as an individual needs to ask the question- ‘what sort of world do I want to live in, want my children and their children to live in?’ – If the answer is that you want a fair and just world where they can be healthy and prosperous not hungry and desperate then I have to I open my eyes to the reality of what is being taken away and  stand up and say ‘enough no more!’

Society and government are the ties that bind us and we need to protect the poor and vulnerable not vilify them and pretend it is their own fault they need help.

Electronic money does not make the World go round

Last week I wrote about the Chancellor’s autumn statement and I tried to express the anger I felt about the continual pursuit of austerity by this government.

There are voices speaking out against it in ever increasing numbers, Russell Brand being simply one of the better known in the UK at least.   I am a small voice in the multitude but I’m in good company not only famous comedians but also heavyweight fiscal institutions are lending their voices to the argument against further cuts.  May be, just maybe, the whole thing will blow up in the government’s face and an opportunity will be seized by bankrupt local authorities, struggling families and radical activists who want an end to the corruption and greed that is free market capitalism.

My friend John Rogers has for many years been engaged in the development of and the economic theories behind alternative local currencies.  The truth is that much of the problems we are suffering are the direct result of the Banking industry’s creation of and speculation in imaginary money to generate inflated profits and massive bonuses.   Local currencies return money to its original function as a medium of exchange rather than a commodity in which you can speculate and thereby cause economic instability.

Local currencies also keep wealth circulating in the local area since they are not backed by the national government then they cannot be used outside the area.  Multi-national business cannot, therefore, send their money off to whatever tax haven the have located their head office in to avoid paying their taxes. Needless to say this type of business sees no benefit in participating in local currency areas!

Local currencies are an interesting idea and I’ll be exploring it further in future blogs.  In the meantime for anyone who wants an introduction to the subject John blogs on the subject and I recommend a read of his recent posts  http://valueforpeople.co.uk/spark-blog/

 

Christmas, Secret Squirrels, Economics and Humbug

Christmas is cranking up – TV smothered in festive cheer and adverts for really expensive toys.    Black Friday and Cyber Monday are behind us – I spent nothing on either day proving that as a capitalist consumer I am a total failure YEAY!   My other half and I buy each other a nice big book and then we sit and read it for the rest of the festive season thereby avoiding even eye contact and the risk of resultant jollity.  Secret squirrel is the invention of a malevolent entity and should be ejected from this galaxy through the nearest wormhole; the damn squirrel as well as its inventor.    As practiced by the sadists in our office it requires you to guess publicly who has bought you the cheap bit of crap that you hate.

So we have a frenzy of spending conspicuous consumption by those who have and misery and guilt for those who do not.  Children stoked up to want incredibly expensive toys, adults to want designer clothes, perfume and booze and adverts showing happy families and friends round tables groaning with sumptuous feasts.  Dickens Pickwick Papers, Christmas at Dingley Dell what a wonderful world to be sure.

This is the background to Woeful Wednesday otherwise known as the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement.  I almost didn’t blog about it because really you can’t have every other word being an expletive, it may relieve your feelings but it doesn’t present a coherent argument nor is it good prose.   The government has continued its relentless pursuit of austerity as a cure for our economic and other woes in the face of all the evidence that cutting does not produce growth or prosperity but in fact perpetuates a downward spiral in which the poorest and most vulnerable citizens suffer disproportionate hardship.    So one has to ask what philosophy underlines the idea that further drastic spending cuts will stimulate economic growth and prosperity.

Are we really to be driven by a set of values where poverty not just relative but absolute poverty for a significant number of citizens is the norm?   Where there is an ever widening gap between the lowest and highest in terms of wealth?   Again all the indicators show that these are counter-productive in terms of national prosperity.   We hear nothing now of the ‘Big Society’ or any other pious platitudes about all being in this together.  For many this will be a truly Dickensian Christmas of the worst sort.  Food banks, zero hours contracts where you are employed but with no guarantee of any pay in any one week are increasingly the shocking reality of 21st Century Britain.  The institute for Fiscal Studies which is neither left wing nor alarmist has warned the Chancellor’s deficit reduction plans mean cuts on a “colossal scale”  The public sector spending cuts over the next five years set out in the autumn statement might force a “fundamental re-imagining of the state”, the IFS said.  We are looking at up to 40% reductions in some areas including defence, the police, social security and most spending that protects the vulnerable. It is the environment, foreign relations, housing and day to day flood defences. It is business regulation and health and safety (including things like food). It is the basic infrastructure on which our society is built. And it is going to disappear, very fast.  We are going to see local authorities who cannot meet their statutory obligations to the vulnerable, who cannot grit roads or keep open libraries.  The planned cuts are likely to lead to a million public sector workers losing their jobs.  A report into food banks was published by a consortium of charities, including Child Poverty Action Group, Trussell Trust and Oxfam, which found that the number of people accessing three days’ worth of emergency provisions had risen from 128,000 in 2011-12 to 913,000 in 2013-14.   This will continue and will get worse.  The most worrying aspect of poverty in Britain today is in-work poverty, people on zero hours contracts, people who have part time work and need tax credits and other benefits to put food on the table and pay for heating.  Last month the education and equalities minister, Nicky Morgan, wrote for the Guardian that the coalition government had reduced the gender pay gap to its narrowest ever level. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation report illustrated how this had happened: among the lowest-paid quarter of the population, women’s wages have reduced by 40p an hour since 2008; over the same period in the same sector, men’s wages have reduced by 70p an hour.  We should be proud of this?  Curiouser and curiouser as Alice famously said.

The Chancellor’s main gambit was slashing stamp duty on house purchases in the hopes of fuelling a house price boom which in turn will fuel a consumer credit boom ahead of next May’s general election giving us all a feel good factor and a nice boost to the economy.  Dream on Mr Osborne, if you fear for your job if you see services being slashed you become less not more likely to go out and spend.  You save what little you’ve got for the rainy day you can see coming all too clearly.  You don’t take risks; you don’t trade up your house or buy a new car.

Our problem is falling tax revenue, partly because many of the jobs in the economy are low wage or part time and because as illustrated by a report of the National Institute of Economic & Social Research real weekly wages overall have fallen by about 8% since 2008, equivalent to a fall in annual earnings of about £2,000 for a typical worker in Britain.  In addition the government allows multinationals such as Amazon and Starbucks among others to pay no tax on their profits.   Tax receipts are already £23 billion below expectation and the OBR now seems to think that this trend is permanent.  We drift into ever deeper and more permanent recession.

The most worrying aspect is that in all of this politics is marching to the drum beat of anger over immigration and so called benefit cheats,  poverty, inequality, homelessness or hunger are being air brushed out of the political debate.   So yes I am angry and disappointed that the country I grew up in is not just disappearing it has already gone.  There is no excuse for the dull acceptance that we cannot do anything about poverty or that somehow being poor is your own fault.  There is even less excuse for blaming it on immigrants.  Mr Farage and UKip are covert fascists and the only party that is standing up and saying this along with calling for a living wage is the Green Party and their reward is to be airbrushed out by the mainstream media.

Christmas?  Bah Humbug.  I’m not buying into consumer fantasy land I’m donating food to those who are hungry and homeless.

The Beast of Bolsover strikes again

An Update to my blog on the Rochester by election.   Dennis Skinner affectionately known as the ‘Beast of Bolsover’  is one of an almost extinct species of politician.  These wonderful, anarchic, uncontrollable back benchers who take no prisoners and incidentally don’t fiddle their expenses or have plushy corporate jobs lined up for retirement are a headache for their own party as much as the opposition but boy do they say it like it is!

Anyone who wants to see how it should be done just go to http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-30141159 and enjoy Mr Skinner for a brief moment.

White Van Man, TTIP, Tea Parties and Democracy

So UKip won the Rochester by-election, Emily Thornberry resigned from the shadow cabinet and we can now all get back to being jingled to death and revelling in unnecessary festive stress.

white van rochesterFor anyone who is not British or more accurately does not live in Britain and is therefore wondering why tweeting a picture of a house with English flags and a white van is such a heinous offence as to cause resignation from the shadow cabinet let me try and explain.  Basically we are a nation of class conscious snobs.  We try to pretend we aren’t but we are.  To be caught displaying snobbery is to touch an extremely raw nerve.  Remember the Tory MP who called the policeman a ‘Pleb’?  He tried desperately to pretend he didn’t know what Pleb meant.   Unfortunately we all know that Plebeian is to be contrasted with Patrician in this country just as much as in ancient Rome.  White Van Man is of course the ultimate modern plebeian.     UKip said she had “sneered, and looked down her nose at a white van in Strood in front of a house with the cross of St George on it”.  The resident of the house, Dan Ware, said Ms Thornberry – the MP for Islington South and Finsbury – was a “snob”.   There you have it.  Sayonara Emily!

UKip promote themselves as the party of the people; as reflectors of the groundswell of anti-Westminster sentiment, a sort of ‘plague on all your houses’ feeling that pervades Britain right now.   It is therefore somewhat ironic that their first two MPS are Conservative party defectors, dyed in the wool Westminster apparatchiks both of them, both of them defected to UKip and these by elections are incumbents retaining their seats albeit under a different label.   Something rather lost in all the hype.

What do people not like about our three main party leaders?  Well for a start, being out of touch millionaires, public school educated toffs who know nothing and care less for the lives of ordinary people.  Enter the people’s champion, our Nigel, public school educated from the stockbroker belt, affluent City executive (possibly very affluent, possibly even millionaire) the only difference is he didn’t go to Oxbridge.  His biography says he chose not to but we all know what that means!  So now, as someone who did go to Oxford, I’m indulging in intellectual snobbery – Oh slap my wrist!  I shall be joining poor Emily in the doghouse.

Mark Reckless the new UKip MP is quoted as saying
‘If you believe in freedom, if you believe in low taxes, if you believe in clean government, if you believe in localism, if you believe in people power.  If you believe that the world is bigger than Europe, if you believe in an independent Britain, then come with us and we will give you back your country.’

I don’t think so.  This party of the people who promises to give power back to the people is a fervent supporter of the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership treaty.  Privatisation of the NHS is also on the agenda.  Blow the froth off Mr Farage’s pint and what you have is a party that loves big business, wants to slash taxes for the rich, wants out of Europe because it doesn’t like regulations that restrict business and allow the free movement of people,  wants less interference and state regulation, more privatisation and to roll back the ‘nanny state’.  It begins to sound very like we’ve got our own Tea Party.  What jolly fun!

Mr Reckless also said ‘If we can win here, we can win across the country. If you vote Ukip, you get Ukip.’   Well you can’t say you haven’t been warned.   At the moment the electorate in England resemble nothing so much as turkeys voting for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Still Scottish independence is rumbling like a volcano that doesn’t know it is supposed to be extinct; never mind settled for a generation one debate at Westminster and the usual weaselling of politicians has stirred it to life again.   I suspect Mr Farage would be quite happy to get rid of a bunch of troublesome immigrants from North of the Border, after all we’ve been taking English jobs for years and years.  I wonder what house prices are like in Caithness these days.

Ho, Ho, Ho, and a Merry Christmas to you too Mr Farage.