Tag Archives: Tories

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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I’m wicked and I’m lazy

Recently returned from a deliciously lazy holiday, during which I swapped the noise of Tokyo for a room with a tinkling river running past, where everything as far as the eye could see was green and the most pressing decision was which restaurant to head to for dinner. The weather co-operated – or didn’t, depending on your point of view – so the torrential downpour which lasted about 20 hours from my arrival meant that there was little else to do other than get wrapped up in the cotton yukata provided and read, nap, write, nap, drink tea and… nap.

I have a gift for idleness, which often gets overlooked in this fastest of all the fast-paced cities. Forget New York, Tokyo is the city that really doesn’t sleep, unless it is catching a few winks of shuteye on the train, in the coffee shop or slumped on a bench. The first six months of this year have whipped by in a blur of writing, volunteering, working and socialising – all essential and mostly enjoyable – but it was equally as rewarding to drop out from the world for three days and indulge my gift completely.

So I was heartened to read this NY Times opinion piece, in which the writer laments our furiously busy lives and the diminished returns we suffer from living life at such a pace. This quote is of particular interest:

Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body…

Especially in light of this nonsense from British Foreign Secretary William Hague, exhorting business leaders to ‘stop moaning and work harder’ to restart the country’s flat-lining economy. Running ourselves into the ground in the name of increased productivity, more of the same as went before this latest economic crisis, seems only doomed to bring about the same effect a little later on down the line.

Instead, I call for more laziness, more time spent musing, reflecting, pondering. Less time rushing means more time to spend with those we care about, or nose deep in a book, or sitting idly watching the rest of the world race by. It will continue without us, for a time, and those insurmountable problems should seem easier to contend with when using a refreshed and recharged mind.

Start this weekend by indulging your lazy and wicked side.

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Kicking the crutch

Bankers, the targets for so much vilification, are not usually noted as great philosophers.  But perhaps they have been judged unfairly if this observation, by former Deutsche Bank CEO Hilmar Kopper, is true:

As a banker, you have no lack of opportunities to look into the human soul.

Although what the bankers see there is unlikely to inspire much compassion for one’s fellow humans, if his next comments – taken from a candid interview with Spiegel International – are anything to go by:

This entire nation, the entire world, is ultimately running after money. The amount of influence money has on people has always fascinated me. You forget almost everything while in its shadow.

Yet chasing money has never seemed so futile as it does once it is revealed how much of it is controlled by so few.  The publication of a study showing that a core of 1,318 companies control 20% of global operating revenues directly, with perhaps another 60% via shares, should make it obvious how stacked the dice have been in this particular casino.  Compared to such power, political influence is puny and easily bought off.  Money and the control of it have become more important than the lives sacrificed on the way to a balancing of the metaphorical books.  This is nothing new, but while times were good we could convince ourselves that all was fine, so long as it wasn’t your head in the vice.

The economic crisis has thrown that complacency out of the window.  Once-great nation states have been reduced to the status of housewives, clucking over their shopping lists while wondering if the grocer will extend enough credit to keep meals on the table until payday arrives.  And while economists bicker over whether we are in or out of recession, whether inflation or deflation or stagnation is the biggest risk and whether too much or not enough austerity is the best cure, the real effects are felt very far away from the boardrooms and treasury offices.  As Thompson writes:

Government borrowing… replaces a lack of private sector spending. It is a crutch. If we kick out the crutch out from under the economy, it’s possible that this patient will learn to walk very, very quickly.

Or it is equally likely that it will fall on its arse.  From Spain to Ireland to Portugal and the UK, the argument that austerity is killing Europe seems unassailable.  Yet adding additional borrowing to the terrifying debt mountains in an attempt to spark more growth brings its own misgivings, not least because it seems like robbing future generations to pay for such essentials as the Olympic Games and bank bailouts.  The UK’s Coalition Government has been quick to seize on these misgivings as justification for their zeal in cutting budgets to ‘make savings’.  These claims have been challenged by a report commissioned by disability activists – nicknamed the ‘Spartacus Report’ – which notes that:

Cuts to DLA [Disability Living Allowance] cannot cut disability, they simply shift the costs elsewhere. One in three disabled people already live in poverty and many feel [the] proposals… can only see this increase.

This demonstrates a move from a metaphorical kicking away of the crutch to an actual one – with even massive public opposition, including that of their own supporters, failing to prick at what remains of the Coalition’s consciences.  Instead, politicians are demonstrating compassion towards the captains at the controls of our current financial tailspin, while stamping down hard on the unfortunate ones with chronic conditions or terminal illnesses.  This will save £94 per week per cancer patient so that the millions can still be handed out in bank bonuses.  It is  little wonder that bankers see chasing money as a futile endeavour, when they can screw everything up so royally and still have it land in their bank accounts!

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Gizza job?

New figures just released show that if you were born in the UK in the last 25 years, you had better hope that you have incredible talents.

The jobless total for 16 to 24-year-olds hit a record of 1.02 million in the quarter and female unemployment was at its highest for 23 years.

To make anything of yourself in these challenging times the ability to sing or kick a football well should stand you in good stead.  Failing that, try to ensure you were born rich.  Britain has never really, despite some chatter about a meritocracy and a classless society, been very comfortable with allowing all and sundry to have access to the upper echelons.  Far too American a concept, although even there that now seems to be falling by the wayside.

The real tragedy behind the numbers is, of course, the wasted potential of so many lives and the detrimental effect on Britain’s economy for years to come.  This poverty of ambition, coupled with the more tangible effects of financial poverty, is going to be the Conservatives’ real legacy for the country unless their austerity programme is derailed – and soon.

Again, we can’t say we weren’t warned.

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Home strange home

I have been back in the UK for eight days and so far I have been unable to listen to any soundbite or speech by any politician all the way through.  It is a sad state of affairs for a political junkie.  Maybe I could blame the dulling effects of the jet lag, or maybe it is the vacuum where the moral authority should be that renders their words so jarring.  It is difficult to stomach a bunch of people who got the taxpayer to fund their plasma TVs and duck-houses when they start blethering about zero tolerance for criminality.  It is even harder to take from former members of a club with a reputation for smashing stuff up:

Presumably the main error the rioters made was in not being able to pay for the damage at the end of the evening.

Eight days ago, Southern England looked so English from 20,000 feet up.  The fields, houses and shopping centres were so resolutely un-Asian.  Everything looked so big – people included – it all felt familiar and alien at the same time.  We sat in the garden amongst wildflowers with wine and talked it all through, concluding that a complex mix of genuine grievance, political incompetence and the desire to get new stuff had driven the riots.  That there would be no easy, knee-jerk solution seemed obvious.

So it is also difficult to believe, as Caitlin Moran wrote on Saturday in The Times about the decision to close public libraries, that my country has taken a decision to be more stupid.  But that is what it feels like when any attempt to try to understand what has gone on is painted as a justification.  The shrill hysteria of the nightly news leaves me bewildered.  And I’m left to wonder, through a head foggy with tiredness and tea, if this will ever feel entirely like home again, this fractured, fractious country of mine.

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As Nasty As They Wanna Be

Well, they managed it.  Cameron’s Conservatives – no doubt already wearying of the compassionate bit – have their ‘stealing the milk‘ moment.

Since Maggie snatched the white stuff from millions of schoolchildren way back when, condemning them to easily snapped arms and legs when they fell onto the rock-hard concrete in their playgrounds (youth of today, don’t know yer born!) her disciples have been on the lookout for their own really nasty moment.

Closing libraries, flogging forests and cutting benefits will only give you so much of a kick, after all, these are the kinds of things that most of us expect the Conservatives to do.  Where’s the buzz when you do something everyone has been anticipating since the election last May?  Nowhere, that’s where.  So you have to raise your game a little.

This should do it.  Removing benefits from cancer survivors after one year.  Simply put, if you are not on the mend after 12 months, the government thinks we can probably do without you and your weak-assed immune system malingering around.  Although perhaps, following this story, they are betting that the number of people reaching that milestone is going to be dramatically reduced anyway.  I wonder what the cancer survival rates were in the 1930s?  And isn’t it just as well TB isn’t on the rise, eh?  Oh.

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