‘Caught up in circles
Confusion is nothing new..’
I wrote in last week’s obituary of the Teenies how the dual whammy’s of the pandemic and Black Lives Matter (‘BLM’) protests seemed to ushering in a new decade. Austerity and inequality are the real issues highlighted by pandemic, and it feels as if we have reached point where change might be possible.
Both the US and UK face potential economic issues including rising unemployment which could give rise to more extreme right-wingers in towns and cities battered by austerity.
Both counties share increasing internal divisions: one side looks forward, the other backwards; one side is inclusive, the other destructive, both talking past each other and amplified by social media.
Austerity and inequality are the real issues highlighted by pandemic
Underlying these divisions are populist leaders, one errs towards violence and bullying, the other is a ‘modern’ politician trading on soundbites and ambition with little else to back-it up. Both make virtues of creating scapegoats, and rallying support from the masses on the back of them.
The US is more of a one issue country than the UK; since the abolition of slavery in 1864 they have sought new ways in which to inflict similar suffering on African Americans. Their status as second-class citizens highlighted by the way the justice system and police treat them. Firstly, the justice system (1):
- In 2017, blacks represented 12% of the U.S. adult population but 33% of the sentenced prison population.
- Whites accounted for 64% of adults but 30% of prisoners.
As to the police, I found the following example quoted in the Guardian newspaper
In Vallejo, California, police officers have killed 19 people since 2010, one of the highest rates in the state. Earlier this month a Vallejo policeman fired five shots through the windshield of his unmarked car, fatally striking an unarmed young man kneeling in a parking lot.
The officer responsible, Detective Jarrett Tonn, has been involved in four shootings in five years. He’s one of 14 Vallejo policemen whom residents and activists call the ‘Fatal 14’ – officers who have repeatedly shot and killed citizens and never faced the consequences.
Trump, looking back to Nixon’s successful re-election campaign is playing the law and order card.
the ‘Fatal 14’ – officers who have repeatedly shot and killed citizens and never faced the consequences
1968 was a year that saw considerable racial unrest in the US and the assassinations of both Martin Luther-King and democrat contender Robert Kennedy. Trump’s move, ironically, come as the protests are becoming more peaceful.
Nevertheless, Trump has reiterated his demand for police to ‘dominate’ the streets. ‘If someone’s really bad, you’re going to have to do it with real strength, real power,’ he said.
This is reminiscent of his first election campaign when he ranted that Mexico was sending drugs, crime and rapists into the US that only a border wall can stop.
Tara Setmayer, a political commentator and former Republican communications director on Capitol Hill, said: ‘Anyone who knows the history of this country has to acknowledge that systemic racism is the original American sin.
‘There is a considerable amount of Donald Trump’s base that harbours these types of antiquated, bigoted attitudes toward minorities in this country. He began his entire campaign with the baseless racist birtherism charge against Obama and going after Mexicans as rapists and criminals and he is ginning up that sentiment. There’s a reason why the racists and white supremacists of this country support Donald Trump. Why is that?’
In the UK, the issues are somewhat more complicated, but the root cause is still inequality, Brexit is a side-show that has been exploited by right-wing politicians. Within inequality there are sub-sets such as poverty, racial issues, regional economic in-balance, and one that is often missed, a yearning for the past, perhaps better described as wallowing in nostalgia.
sub-sets such as poverty, racial issues, regional economic in-balance, and one that is often missed, a yearning for the past
Wallowing in nostalgia is the most nebulous. An example of this are the issues highlighted by the toppling of Edward Colston’s statue in Bristol.
Colston made his fortune as a slave trader, although the statue was only erected in 1895, 200-years after Colston’s life and almost 90-years after the abolition of the slave trade, a time when our empire stretched around the globe.
The statue was to ‘celebrate’ his legacy of philanthropy, albeit one funded by ill-gotten gains. This selective myopia shows that much of our history is based on selective myth; Bristolians saw Colston through rose-tinted lenses ignoring the source of his wealth.
As a country we tend to view history as a source of national self-justification rather than a source of learning, unlike Germany who understands that history can offer a warning rather than cause for self-congratulation.
we tend to view history as a source of national self-justification rather than a source of learning
British history has become a political battleground between those who insist that our historic greatness is self-evident and empowering, and those who cannot see much in our history beyond lies about crimes.
This manifests itself in Brexit decision and our PM, who’s supporters are infatuated with the need to be ‘great’, seeking isolation not learning from our neighbours. Behind this isolation and need for ‘greatness’ lies our unreconciled relationship with the experience of empire.
The problem with revisiting empire is the extension into a perverted type of patriotism. For example, the English football fans called to London by the English Defence League leader Tommy Robinson to defend war memorials.
The so-called Democratic Football Lads Alliance urged members to join the protest, though requested that they not ‘engage with any agitators’. Robinson naturally chose to withdraw. The upshot was predictable; crowd chanting ‘In-ger-land’ ran around the north side of the Trafalgar Square letting off smoke bomb and fighting with the police.
We don’t have problems with you. It’s about our history
Interestingly a black man, called Clem, who had been photographing the demonstration, intervened on at least four occasions to prevent anyone fighting.
As he was being interviewed another group of middle-aged white men in shorts and football shirts came out of a side street and Clem engaged them in conversation. ‘It’s not about race,’ the ageing football democrat said. ‘We don’t have problems with you. It’s about our history.’
Perhaps the whole episode was best summed-up by Sasha Johnson, a BLM protester who, complained: ‘We’re painted as thugs when the real thugs are disguised as protecting those memorials. And when they’re drunk, they piss on those memorials.’
‘The future teaches you to be alone
The present to be afraid and cold
‘So if I can shoot rabbits then I can shoot fascists..’
Of course, it is nothing unusual for England supporters to disgrace themselves with mis-placed patriotism, each time its a variation on a decades-old theme of ultra-violence, and rabid nationalism be it club or country they are following.
Whilst football hooliganism is declining in England, with 1,381 football-related arrests last season, 55% less than 2010-11, it has taken on more racist overtones.
In the 2018-19 season the number of games where a hate crime was reported increased by 47%, from 131 to 193 matches,79% of which were related to race.
a country struggling with its past and unable to embrace a multi-cultural future
The hostile Brexit campaign, along with the Windrush scandal, and the arrival in power of a prime minister who has passed off his past racist comments as a matter of ‘plaster coming off the ceiling’, signifies a country struggling with its past and unable to embrace a multi-cultural future.
Split not just between leave and remain, but between the England of the big multicultural cities on one side, and the villages and towns on the other.
Two years ago, the BBC conducted a survey about English identity. In the words of its home affairs editor, Mark Easton, ‘People generally see England as conservative and traditional rather than liberal and outward-looking …
- Almost three times as many of its residents think England was ‘better in the past’ than believe its best years lie in the future.’
- 61% of people who describe themselves as white said they were ‘proud’ to declare their English identity,
- Among ethnic minorities the figure was just 32%
- Whereas a British identity was strongly felt by 75% of black and minority ethnic people.
Modern England is a diverse, complex country with a wealth of anti-racist history, of which BLM is only the latest instalment.
Moreover, non-urban, Brexit-supporting England is not quite the one-dimensional place that Nigel Farage and his ilk think: in many places, putting aside genuine bigots, the massed resentments that they have traded on have been not only rooted in prejudice but also deep economic insecurity. Added to this is the fact that the younger people living in these areas have views not dissimilar to their city-dwelling peers.
This is not about flag-waving patriotism, it is about understanding the place we all call home, and how we interpret what is happening right now.
‘The British boots go kick them
Got ’em in the head
Police ain’t watchin’
The newspapers been read..’
Aside from highlighting a maudlin fascination with the past, and the diversities thrown up be Brexit, there is the continuing haunting spectre of austerity, the root cause of any of today’s issues.
This column has talked on several occasions about the number of families requiring food parcels to meet their basic needs, a fact highlighted this week by Marcus Rashford, a 22-yr old black footballer, whose campaign forced the government into yet another U-turn on feeding hungry children during the school holidays
The whole text of his letter to the PM can be found on the link below, however I have selected passages highlight the intelligence of his arguments
- ‘The system was not built for families like mine to succeed, regardless of how hard my mum worked.’
- ‘As a family, we relied on breakfast clubs, free school meals, and the kind actions of neighbours and coaches. Food banks and soup kitchens were not alien to us; I recall very clearly our visits to Northern Moor to collect our Christmas dinners every year’
- ‘This is not about politics; this is about humanity.’
- ‘This is a system failure and without education we’re encouraging this cycle of hardship to continue. To put this pandemic into perspective, from 2018-2019, nine out of 30 children in any given classroom were living in poverty in the UK. This figure is expected to rise by an additional one million by 2022. In England today, 45% of children in black and minority ethnic groups are now in poverty. This is England in 2020…’
- ‘I don’t claim to have the education of an MP in parliament, but I do have a social education.’
For the record, during lockdown, Rashford has started a charity that has raised millions to feed 400,000 children, partnered in a drive to counter homelessness, and has now stopped 1.3m British children going hungry this summer.
For any of you that don’t know, he is footballer paid C.£250k pw. Matt Hancock’s comments of, ‘I think the first thing that Premier League footballers can do is make a contribution. Take a pay cut and play their part,’ highlights just how out-of-touch our government is.
This is not about politics; this is about humanity
A better question might be what has Matt Hancock contributed?
Well, as someone posted on Twitter, ‘if Boris Johnson is concerned about finding the £120m to pay for the free school meals over the summer, he needn’t worry because Matt Hancock has saved him from having to pay the pension of those old care home residents he’s killed’.
The last word on this, however, goes to Katie Hopkins, who once again never fails to disappoint me, she is truly a vile creature (human being would flatter her), she tweeted the following to Rashford:
‘Do you think woman should think about how they are going to feed a child before they decide to have it? I do not want to pay to feed other peoples kids. You are welcome to.’
From school meal to schooling itself, which seems to come a poor second to easing the lockdown rules for estate agents, car showrooms, house cleaners, shops, etc.
The children’s commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, is calling for schools to fully open now, and for a children’s catch-up plan lasting a year, with a generous pupil premium. Closure, she says, denies the fundamental right to education.
Largely gone are the old ‘extended schools’ with wraparound care from breakfast to tea with homework clubs. Gone, too, are 70% of youth services. The past decade has seen playgrounds and sports grounds sold off, leisure centres lost, Longfield’s research revealing this as the ‘least physically active generation of children ever’
Even children haven’t been able to escape the ravages of austerity: schools took an 8% budget cut and children lost a quarter of their financial support in benefit cuts; child poverty increased; and now Covid-19 unemployment threatens to drop many more children below the poverty line.
Covid-19 unemployment threatens to drop many more children below the poverty line
The obvious question to ask is, what has Gavin Williamson’s education department been doing the last 12-weeks?
The answers seems to be very little; it took a footballer to deal with the issue of free school meals vouchers to feed the children his department neglected, and despite big announcements it is yet to get laptops to 200,000 children lacking them, exposing years of exclusion when so much homework requires the internet.
‘We’ve had no laptops, not one,’ says Nicola Noble, co-head of Surrey Square primary in south London’s Aylesbury estate: she’s relying on donations.
Disgracefully schoolchildren in this country are in crisis
She has desperate parents and children standing outside school using its wifi, as they can’t afford data. A quarter of the school’s families have no internet. Food and wellbeing have preoccupied her staff, as many families have ‘no recourse to public funds’, left penniless once they lost their jobs. The school delivers food parcels to 128 families.
Disgracefully schoolchildren in this country are in crisis. 20% have done little or no schoolwork at home, 40% have had no regular contact with teachers. Tory MPs are being besieged by constituents asking them where the Nightingale-style plans for schools are.
‘No more pencils no more books
No more teacher’s dirty looks yeah..’
From one-ham fisted effort we move to another, namely the PMs newly announced UK Race Inequality Commission (‘the Commission’) set-up to ‘look at wider inequalities, including issues faced by working-class white boys in schools, for example’.
The commission will be headed by Munira Mirza, currently head of the No 10 policy unit, but better known for views that cast doubt on the existence of institutional racism, and someone who has condemned previous inquiries for fostering a ‘culture of grievance’
As if having a person in denial leading the commission wasn’t enough, Mirza hopes to recruit Trevor Phillips as part of the commission. Phillips, a former chair of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, would be a controversial choice, having previously referred to UK Muslims as being ‘a nation within a nation’.
Not surprisingly the appointment of Mirza has raised questions:
- The shadow justice secretary, David Lammy, tweeted on Monday evening: ‘My review was welcomed by all parties: Corbyn, Cameron and May. But Munira Mirza went out of her way to attack it. Johnson isn’t listening to #BlackLivesMatter. He’s trying to wage a culture war.’
- The Institute of Race Relations thinktank said it would be hard to have confidence in the commission’s outcomes. ‘Any enquiry into inequality has to acknowledge structural and systemic factors. Munira Mirza’s previous comments describe a ‘grievance culture’ within the anti-racist field and she has previously argued that institutional racism is ‘a perception more than a reality’,’ a spokesperson said. ‘It is difficult to have any confidence in policy recommendations from someone who denies the existence of the very structures that produce the social inequalities experienced by black communities.’
In a blogpost from 2018, Mirza argued that injustices were only treated seriously if there was ‘a social justice angle that can be divined (or manufactured)’.
A view in-tune with the PM himself who has attempted to redefine the debate about the mass protests after the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis in terms of opposition to removing statues, and his view that more should be done to talk up positive experiences about race.
‘What I feel most strongly is that there are so many positive stories that are not being heard,’ he told reporters in Downing Street on Monday. ‘Things really are changing. You’re seeing young black kids now doing better in some of the most difficult subjects in school than they were ever before, more going to top universities.’
Whilst there is an element of truth in his statement, any improvements are despite government policies not because of them.
All of this illustrates how out-of-step the Johnson government is, but it is far from out-of-time; it has an 80-seat majority and over 4-yrs left for us to suffer.
few have been fooled by Johnson’s bragging that his government is delivering a ‘world-beating’ response to the coronavirus crisis
Despite this fact there is now a nervousness within the administration that wasn’t there prior to the pandemic, few have been fooled by Johnson’s bragging that his government is delivering a ‘world-beating’ response to the coronavirus crisis.
He has dismissed the fact that our death-rate is are amongst the highest in the world, dismissing comparisons saying, ‘we must wait until the epidemic has been through its whole cycle in order to draw the relevant international comparisons’.
But the numbers don’t lie; the ‘excess death’ rate over the average of the previous five years has topped 60,000. With 955 ‘excess deaths’ for every million people, the UK has the worst record of all countries providing comparable data.
Our economic performance is equally poor; a 20.4% contraction in GDP, whilst the OECD projects that the UK will suffer the deepest downturn among advanced economies.
The Opinium poll published at the weekend shows that public approval of the government’s handling of the crisis has fallen to a new low of 30%.
Several commentators have suggested that this might be the governments ‘ERM moment’. Back in 1992, a recently re-elected Conservative government under John Major shattered its reputation when Britain crashed out of the ERM on what became known as Black Wednesday.
That Tory government never restored public faith in its competence although it limped on until May 1997.
The pandemic has highlighted the weaknesses in a government that evolved from the campaign to sweep Brexit unbelievers aside. The cabinet was selected for its adherence to a hard-Brexit and obedience to Johnson himself, e.g. Pritti Patel a fire-breathing Brexiteer.
Conservative MPs who were prepared to say how detrimental a hard-Brexit would be were excluded from government, those who rebelled in parliament to prevent it happening were purged from the party.
Unfortunately, there was a correlation between opposing no deal and having an eye for sound government which Johnson ignored meaning that the responsible ministers such as Philip Hammond and David Gauke are viewed as ‘remainer treason.’
Given the talent Johnson ignored and the shallow pool he was let to pick from it is no coincidence that his team have failed to meet the challenges raised by the pandemic. Putting aside their ideological deformities, this is a government that demonstrably lacks the ability to deliver anything, or to learn from its mistakes.
‘I want it now
I want it now
Not the promises of what tomorrow brings
I need to live in dreams today..’
A powerful and thought provoking piece from Philip; it addresses some familiar themes and any which way you look at them they are not pretty – such as his opening gambit that austerity and inequality are the real issues highlighted by the pandemic.
Examining two populist leaders show neither in a good light, but suggests that we may have got the better option. Just.
When considering the ‘sub-sets’ of inequality Philip describes a yearning for the past and the need for greatness; he shows the division between cosmopolitan, urban Britain and a less tolerant rural Britain – yet with more division according to age.
The shocking situation our children find themselves in and the government’s appalling handling of the Covid crisis, are just contributing factors to its rock-bottom ‘approvals’ rating – Philip delivers some passionate and unpleasant reading for No10.
Lyrically according to the man himself ‘it’s all over the place and for the nimble minded’ – some great tracks that entirely fit the bill – 26 pts up for grabs, so the prizes could be big.
3 pts apiece for ‘a classic that captures the title – Cyndi Lauper and ‘Time After Time’; next ‘another anthemic song which I don’t like, didn’t like the band either, but it captures the mood of the piece’ – 3 pts for Manic Street Preachers and ‘If You Tolerate This’.
Next, this week’s gimmie – 1 pt apiece for The Clash and ‘This is Engerland’ – and a shocking video; next ‘early-70s ‘cod-piece’ rock – totally on message – 3 pts for Alice Cooper and 3 pts for ‘School’s Out’.
Last but not least ‘a favourite band of this column and a late-90s comeback single which shows class is permanent – 3 pts each for Echo and The Bunnymen and ‘Nothing Lasts Forever’. Enjoy!
Philip is a great believer in meritocracy, and in the belief that if you want something enough you can make it happen. These beliefs were formed in his formative years, of the late 1970s and 80s
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