Tag Archives: Labour

26 July 1945: when Britain became a socialist country

Britain was pretty skint in 1945, but our grandparents managed – even after six years of war and the ‘Hungry Thirties’ – to build the NHS, replace bomb-damaged and decaying Victorian slums with new homes, open up education to all, establish a welfare safety net and nationalise industries into models of occasional efficiency. (Quibble on that last one if you like, but taxpayers pay more for the ‘private’ rail companies now than they did under the not particularly well-loved British Rail.)

It wasn’t perfect, but social mobility and equality was at a more even level than it is 70 years later. Of course, today’s Tories hate their achievements and are seeking ways to dismantle that society at every turn. Their intention was always to punch so many holes in the welfare state that campaigners wouldn’t know which part to mend first. And so we see the NHS – which they call a ‘mistake‘ – attacked. The seriously disabled and terminally ill being told they are fit for work. More children living in a poverty that won’t even be acknowledged any more. Meanwhile, corporation taxes are only for the little companies. This is no accident, this is by design.

My grandad once told me, as he gave me a copy of Robert Tressell’s The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists to read, that this was the book that won it in 1945 for Labour. Although everyone knew that Churchill had been an immense leader during the War, they feared a vote for the Tories would mean again losing the peace as their fathers had done after the Great War. Promised ‘A Land Fit For Heroes’, instead they returned to unemployment and poor housing.

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As The Guardian recorded:

The country has preferred to do without Mr Churchill rather than have him at the price of having the Tories too.

It’s a terrible shame that we are having to learn again that, for the weakest in society, that price is always too high. So, as my grandparents’ generation passed a copy from hand to hand, so I pass on to you a (free!) copy of Tressell’s masterpiece. More than a mere political tract, it is a very human story of the tragedies that ensue when work doesn’t pay and unemployment is fatal. Far more radical than any Labour Government – even Atlee’s – ever managed to be, it is a call to action as well as a cracking read. One that the Labour leadership contenders could do with reading in celebration of today’s anniversary.

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Staunch supporters?

As you may have noticed from a recent post, ten minutes hate is aware there is an election on the horizon. And while this half of the writing team is quite relieved to be on the opposite side of the world from all the fuss, behind the scenes emails have been flying about the thorny topic of who, if anyone, to support.

My colleague, Mr Maguire, was threatening to make his decision after reading all the major parties’ manifestos. For which endeavour we must surely thank him. I can think of quite a few better ways to spend time in a favourite reading chair. Fortunately, for those of us without that level of dedication, the internet is here to save the day.

I Side With will ask you an array of questions – the answers to which can be very nuanced if you so choose – you aren’t hampered by binary responses. Then it will tell you the party that matches your views on the issues you hold dearest.

Now I would have considered myself a very disillusioned former Labour supporter. I could list everything they have done since those heady days of 1997, but like any break up, what would be the point? These days I think of them, if at all, like an ex whose number flashes onto your phone’s screen as you quietly put it down onto the table, walk into the kitchen and put the kettle on. Whatever the Labour Party had to say, I wasn’t in the mood for listening.

So imagine my surprise to finish the quiz and be told I am 84% Labour! I doubt even Ed Balls gets that much… About as Labour as it is possible to be and still I thought they weren’t worth the candle. It is almost as if there is an agenda to keep the focus on the awkwardness of Ed Miliband and away from his party’s policies. Imagine!

In a way though, the sheer abundance of ‘Ed Miliband looking daft’ photos that exist is heartwarming proof that the ruthless media operation of the Blair-Brown era has finally been laid to rest. Alistair Campbell would have ripped the still-beating heart out of any picture editor who even contemplated publishing this:

Miliband cuppa

… and there are many more examples.

Still, this focus on the leaders is itself very-unBritish. We don’t have a Presidential system, so unless you live in Doncaster North you are not actually able to vote for the poor man in the picture above. (Who among us can say that they have never suffered via an unstable cup and saucer?)

Suaver media presences have had their hands on the wheel since 2010 and look where that has got us. Simply put, we cannot let PR guy Cameron and his millionaires club cronies win again. In the words of a family member:

Public services will not survive another Tory Government.

There is now little left to cut.

As in 1945, when a vote for Labour was a vote for the NHS, so it is this time. Have Labour been awful in the past? Yep. Are they led by a guy who struggles with basic chinaware? You betcha. Am I going to vote for them anyway, in a fit of hope over experience? Yes, I am and I think you should seriously contemplate it too. The NHS needs us.

More from Mr Maguire, to follow when he has read all those manifestos…

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The art of surprise

The only surprise is that people seem to be surprised.

This is probably the third time in living memory, after all, that the Conservative Party has effectively told the poorer parts of the UK to fuck off and die, preferably quietly and out of sight, yet still some of you seem to be holding on to a belief that it wasn’t meant to be this way and that so-called ‘compassionate Conservatism’ can be brought to bear instead.

Unfortunately not.  Because you may think that you are nicely middle class, with your Ocado deliveries and eco-friendly holidays in Cornwall sans 4×4, but to our Tory overlords, you are as much of a dirt-eating peasant as the be-tracksuited hordes.  The battle-lines are being drawn and if your sole source of income is selling your labour, to them that makes you working class, regardless of whether you swing a hammer or pound a keyboard all day.

And anyone, yes Guardian lead writers I am looking at you, who thinks that the “Labour” Party has an opposing world view to offer clearly can’t have been paying very close attention for the last thirteen years.

Yet the problem doesn’t lie with the political parties, since they are just doing what they have to do in order to suck up to the people who really matter in a democracy: the people with the cash.  The problem is ours, for once again falling for the sweet nothings that they pour into our ears in order to get the necessary (or thereabouts) number of ‘X’s in the box.  When the Tories spoke of tax cuts for hard-working families, you might have thought they meant you, but actually they were referring to their poorer old school pals struggling by on just a few million.

If you re-read or read ‘The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists’, you will see that there is a reason why ordinary people like us got together to fight for our rights against the party of the bosses: not to create some idle dinner party chit-chat, but as an essential means of survival. So here we go again, as if reading from the script of the Thirties and the Eighties, they attack the weakest and we fight back, having also read that script and knowing that together we cannot be defeated.

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Toerags unite!

If you haven’t read The Road to Wigan Pier yet, now might be a good time to add it to your reading list.  It isn’t just a searing indictment of everything that had gone wrong in the economic policies of the 1930s and their effects on the day-to-day lives of millions in that blighted Northern town.

The book is more than misery tourism for the titillation of the Left Book Club subscribers who first read it.  Instead, George Orwell was moved to take the train to Wigan by what he saw as the rich’s callous disregard for the plight of the unemployed.

In the 1930s, unemployment was heavily concentrated in the North of England and South Wales, while cities such as Oxford remained close to full employment.  This according to another essential read for all those concerned at how the coming years could pan out, ‘The Slump’ by Stevenson and Cook.  More prosperous parts of the country had little first-hand knowledge of the conditions of the worst-hit regions until hunger marchers, such as those from Jarrow, began to show up.

In such conditions, myths abounded and needed to be busted.  Canards like: ‘there is work available but they simply don’t want it’ and the indignation and misanthropy wrapped up in ‘but the dole is so high they can even get married on it!’, along with:

doubtless even at this late date the old ladies in Brighton boarding-houses are saying that ‘if you give those miners baths they only use them to keep coal in’

were all examples of an effective blame-the-victim strategy which has barely needed to be altered nearly 80 years on.

True, no-one is accusing the ‘toerags’ of keeping coal in the bath.  Perhaps that one could be changed to ‘cans of Stella’. For they are now permanently tagged as ‘the undeserving poor': cheap beer-swilling, Jeremy Kyle-watching, mindlessly shagging layabouts that our brand spanking new Big Society can ill afford to have laying on the sofa.

Such misinformation stank in 1936 and is no more fragrant now.  It wasn’t the unemployed that encouraged banks to act like casinos, or hospitals and schools to mortgage their futures with unaffordable PFI deals.  The poor didn’t see many benefits from the cheap credit that flowed during most of the last decade, as they were left to negotiate with the baseball bat-wielding loan sharks, rather than the ones in Gieves & Hawkes suits.

In The Road to Wigan Pier, George Orwell wondered what it would finally take to tip the British into revolution, lamenting that they had been so cheaply bought off with the illusion of wealth provided by a radio in every home and cheaper clothes and furnishings. Now it is a flippin’ huge HD plasma TV for all, Primark and Ikea that give us the warm feeling that everything is still ok, Jack, and there is no need to take to the streets in Greek-style protest as every service so hard-fought for by our grandparents gets stripped away in the name of debt reduction.

Well maybe there is a need.  Another feature of the 1930s was the dearth of ideas from anyone in Westminster, on the left or the right, on how to tackle the crisis.  It took the start of the Second World War to finally see off the Depression and no-one sensible should be suggesting that we go down that route now, however desperately they want to ape their Granny’s gravy-browning-and-eyeliner-pencil-for-stockings.  Instead what we need is the type of good old-fashioned, D.I.Y., ‘make do and mend’ mentality that sees us switching off the plasma screen and fighting our own corners for a change.

We can only achieve that if we stick together.  Refusing to sanction the branding of the worst off amongst us as cheats, scroungers and toerags is an essential first step.
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Building a dream

Diane Abbott called it right.  According to Paul Waugh on Twitter:

As well they might.  But do not be mistaken, although Liberal Democrats with narrow majorities over Labour MPs will be rueing the day they lined up for such a shafting, it is all of us who will be getting fucked.

Royally, in fact.  While the Queen struggles to get by on £7.9m, while the banks cough up an estimated £2bn per year in return for the £850bn they were gifted, pensioners, the disabled, the unemployed, those claiming housing benefit, lone parents and pregnant women – fat cats one and all – will be ensuring that Britain’s books are balanced by the time of the Olympics after the one we are still spending billions on.

Whatever else you think of it, it is no-one’s idea of progressive. Nor is the raise in VAT, of which the richest 10% pay one in every 25 pounds of their income and the poorest 10% pay one in every seven pounds.  Meanwhile our corporation tax will now fall to a level that, according to the Channel 4 News FactCheck, will make it the fifth lowest in the G20.  Hooray for corporations!

Still, at least the cider tax has been reduced.  I suggest you lay in a few bottles before the VAT goes up.  You will soon be needing the warm glow and sweet balm of oblivion that they can provide, along with this beautiful evocation of Depression-era survival techniques from Tom Waits:

A warning: the last time Conservatives tried cutting public spending in response to a global financial catastrophe, it did not end well.  See you on the bread lines.

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A warning to children

Children, do not bully the weird kids at school, for they may grow up to be a Treasury secretary and exact a most terrible vengeance on us all.

Picture borrowed from here

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Why Labour lost

Following a defeat or set back it is natural to contemplate what went wrong, human nature having developed this tactic to avoid repeating mistakes forever.  One of my favourite and oft-quoted pieces of wisdom is that one, sometimes attributed to Einstein, about the definition of insanity being expecting a different result from the same action.

A political party displaying this most human of traits should therefore be an encouraging sight.  The Tory ‘brand’ wasn’t deemed to be detoxified until they had fought and lost two elections on the issues that had helped to turn everybody off them in the first place – immigration and Europe – so it is refreshing that the Labour party is wasting no time in beginning the process of staring at its navel.  Like a chorus of Wodehousian aunts, there have been no end of  ‘where it went wrong’ articles  seeking to assist Labour in this endeavour, so ten minutes hate has cut through the chatter to bring you two of the best.

The first is from Max Dunbar and targets two key points: the reaction to ‘dog-whistle’ scapegoating of welfare claimants and immigrants and the expansion of the intrusive security state, neither of which pleased the right-wing nor garnered much support on the left.  We have indeed reached a pretty pass where the coalition government can claim to be on the left of the previous government on its prison sentencing policy.  (H/T to Chicken Yoghurt for the link.)

The second article is a longer piece by Ross McKibbin, which begins with an intriguing break down of the electoral results.  It is interesting to learn that:

Despite very favourable circumstances the Conservative vote is proportionately much lower than it was in 1992

as well as hear of:

the continued failure of the Conservatives to make any gains among voters in the AB classes – the upper and solid middle classes, 57 per cent of whom voted Labour or Lib Dem, in almost equal proportions. In 1987, for the first time, the majority of those with university degrees didn’t vote Conservative, and they have not been won back

In spite of all the propaganda, it seems we are not heading straight back to the 80s and Thatcherism red in tooth and claw.  Which is almost a shame for the Labour Party, as it would make life, electorally at least, much easier for them.  They know how to fight those battles.  Instead, they are going to have to engage in some careful thought to bring about a reversal in their electoral fortunes.  One reason for so many differing opinions on the matter being aired is that there are a litany of different areas to choose from – was it the NHS, immigration, education – and each commentator has their own pet reason for the loss.  Mr McKibben cuts through all of these when he urges the Labour Party back to basic principles:

There are moral lines no social democratic party should cross and Labour has repeatedly crossed them. The result has been policies that are socially and morally objectionable as well as politically futile

A recognition of such would be a good place to begin.  Then they could approach the problems so concerning the leadership candidates from the correct angle.  This will require a deeper understanding of the issues than can be gathered from the tabloid front pages:

Those who worry about immigration usually claim that immigrants take British jobs and/or British houses. Neither is actually true; what is true is that there is an acute shortage of social housing, and that Labour connived at the shortage…  the housing shortage was, therefore, a source of real social deprivation

Let’s see if Labour can meet that challenge and avoid the temptation of a return to the old habits of setting policy by whatever plays best with the Sun, Mail and Express editors.  To use an overwrought footballing metaphor, there is everything to play for…

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