The only thing that’s been able to brighten my gloomy pre-exam mood and the even gloomier pre-exam weather – it’s June for fuck’s sake – has been the fact that the Tories hit their lowest poll ratings since they formed the government back in 2010. Despite the Tories having been in government for two years, with no sign of leaving any time soon, it’s worth remembering that the last time the Tories actually took a Parliamentary majority in a General Election was in 1992 – 20 years ago. And even then, Major’s majority was a slim one that was boosted by the fact that the Poll Tax had succeeding in ridding the electoral roll of some of the poorest members of society.
The big story of the day, despite Leveson having Gordon Brown and Gideon Osborne as witnesses today, seems to be that a ‘pub insider’ told the Sun that Cameron once left his daughter in the pub for about fifteen minutes. The Guardian reports that: “The couple’s daughter Nancy wandered off to the toilets while they were arranging lifts and they only realised she was not with them when they got home, the Sun said. The prime minister rushed back to the Plough Inn in Cadsden, Buckinghamshire, where he found his daughter with staff.” I think that must qualify as the quickest of Cameron’s many U-turns. To be honest, I feel like this story is being blown out of all proportion, though it does seem slightly more amusing in the light of Cameron’s many patronising comments about bad parents.
The story of Cameron’s daughter being left in the care of pub staff has obscured a much bigger story. I can exclusively reveal (in London’s Calling’s first ever exclusive story) that the British economy has accidentally been left in the care of the bankers. Due to a mix up, the British economy has been left in the control of the bankers for over two years. The Prime Minister and the Chancellor have been working in separate offices, and, each believing that the British economy was in the care of the other, forgot about it. The Prime Minister was said to be ‘distraught’ when he realised that nobody had been in charge of anything for the past two years and that bankers and international financiers had sold everything off at rock bottom prices to their mates and declined to pay any tax.
In other news, the rabid, out of control Thatcherites went a step further than usual in their quest to judge everything by its financial value by putting a price on love. Theresa May announced that the government will not allow anyone who earns less than £26,000 to marry an non-EU national. I was wondering where on earth this policy was dredged up from, but I suppose when you’re as unpopular as the Tory government currently is, there’s really nothing to lose in trialling increasingly mean, manic and vicious policies. And hey, this one manages to hit two Tory favourites with one stone – the poor and immigrants. This charming ruse might seem a bit mean spirited, but hey, if you wanted to marry an non-EU national, you should’ve worked a bit harder in school you feckless commoners.
In media related news — you’d really think they’d keep the motherfuckery (thanks to John Oliver, that is a word) on the down low during the Leveson inquiry — the Daily Mail reported that “Suri Cruise may be only four years old but it seems the toddler has already developed a dislike for photographers.” Which probably isn’t surprising when a quick search through the Daily Mail’s website reveals that they’ve averaged one story about Tom Cruise’s daughter for every three days she’s been alive. Do we, or even the seemingly deficient individuals who read the Mail, need to know that much about a four year old?
I’ve got History tomorrow morning, and given that I need a C in the final exam to get to Oxford, I’m having to balance my ego with my laziness. I’d really like an A*, and my mock essays have come out alright, but I still can’t escape the exam nerves.
It seems that the old aphporism is true, and the Tories really are always more liberal in opposition than in government. The Government recently announced that legislation would be brought forward in the Queen’s Speech that would allow GCHQ access to the public’s internet browsing and communication as well as SMS messages and phone calls in real time. The most obvious and striking resemblance is, of course, to snooping legislation that Tony Blair attempted to introduce that came under fierce attack from Liberal and Tory MPs, as well as from a large minority of Labour MPs, all of whom thought the culture of ‘nothing to hide, nothing to fear’ had gone too far.
The most obvious problem with this anti-terror legislation is its practical implications; the Guardian recently reported that over a trillion (1,000,000,000,000 – I assume) emails are sent every year in the UK, and added to the countless SMS and instant messages; the amount of data would simply swamp GCHQ, who would be unable to effectively monitor the data at all. I concede that this may well be the biggest job creation scheme in British history, but somehow this is a Keynesian stimulus that I’m not so happy with. The fact remains that I imagine GCHQ has a reasonable ability to identify terrorist cells, and GCHQ already has the ability to get a named and time-limited warrant to intercept such communications, so, rather than this new measure making things easier, it is sure to make them harder; there’ll be the same number of communications between terrorists (the needles), but a hugely increased volume of innocuous conversations (haystacks, obviously) in which to search for aforementioned needles.
The Liberal Democrats, who virulently opposed attempts by the Blair government to introduce similar legislation, have said that ‘[the measures] would ride a coach and horses through Liberal principles’. True enough, but liberal principles don’t really seem to have been much of a barrier where matters of free education, the NHS, or fair taxation were concerned. I also couldn’t help but feel that so often have we been told Tory legislation would destroy liberal principles that what aforementioned senior Lib-Dem should’ve said was ‘[the measures] would ride a coach and horses down the road where our Liberal principles used to be’. Clegg tells us that he will attempt to curb the use of these measures, and that they will only be used in the gravest circumstances. I call utter bullshit. Tony Blair told us of the 2001 Terrorism Act that it would only be used in the gravest circumstances, in order to prevent the most heinous crimes from being committed. In the event, the 2001 terrorism act was used to eject an 80 year old lifelong Labour member from the Labour conference when he called Jack Straw a liar. Clearly, the gravest of situations.
Just to add, if David Cameron thinks there’s nothing to hide; then firstly, let’s see who he’s been having dinner with, and secondly, if there’s nothing to fear, then let’s not bloody have secret courts, eh? Everyone, save the Government the trouble, and CC Theresa May in on your emails.
A bit of union bashing is always a good way for a Tory Government to gain a few points in the polls, especially when they’re 10 points behind Labour and seemingly about to be abandoned by every newspaper apart from the Telegraph. Even the Sun seemingly dumped Cameron in it a few days ago. You can take our NHS, but you will never take our VAT free sausage rolls!
The government has, for the past day or two, stirred up as much anti-union hysteria as possible, and we’ve been told that soldiers will drive fuel lorries under police guard, that ambulances and fire engines will be unable to run, to stock up on as much fuel as possible, and that people will die! Well, it turns out that, contrary to what brainless twat Francis Maude said, hoarding fuel in your house isn’t exactly a great idea – and is illegal if you have more than 20 litres. They really went into overdrive about this, when all that actually happened was a vote was passed – the drivers have to give seven days notice, which they haven’t done.
The fact is that having stirred up enough panic, people have gone out to buy fuel like the world might be about to end any day, and so now there’s not any fuel in the fuel pumps. That’s just great for the Tories really, because I’m sure it won’t be long before the unions are being blamed for that as well, rather than the mismanagement of the government. You’d not only think there’d been a strike by lorry drivers, but a pre-emptive strike against Iran by Israel, everything really does seem to have gone slightly mad.
Cameron and his mates have tried to spin this in order to bash the unions, but I think it might’ve played a relatively strong hand to a union that’s not really demanding all that much from the government. Cameron + co. have obviously played into the hands of the drivers, by demonstrating how incompetent the government are, and how they simply could not handle an actual strike. It probably helps Cameron that they’ve managed to raise a year’s worth of fuel duty in several days thanks to the panic buying. I can’t help but think that if this is how we react to the vaguest possibility of not being able to fill up over the bank holiday weekend, we ought to wait for about 10 years, when petrol will be a rarity.
Party Political Broadcast - Not the Nine O’Clock News
Like everything on Not the Nine O’Clock News, both painfully relevant and hilarious. Same shit, different Tories.
Yes, I’m watching Not the Nine O’Clock News rather than studying to get into Oxford. Or perhaps I’ll get my Congratulatory First with a dissertation historicising the representation of political figures in satire.
It seems like wherever you look, comprehensive schools are maligned. They’re cesspits of drugs, petty violence, teen pregnancy, disrespect for authority, and low educational standards. This is, of course, a vile and hideously untrue stereotype perpetuated primarily by those on the Right – and indeed primarily by those who have no experience of the system, but bought into by those on the Left – even that old Trotskyite Will Self sends his children to a private school. You might then be forgiven for thinking that it was time to press forward with academies, and to expand the private sector involvement in schools. But first let’s face some basic facts. Before comprehensive education in the form we know it was introduced in the 1940s, 90% of children left school at fourteen, around 10% passed the public examinations (GCSE-equivalents), and only 5% went on to higher education. Seen through that prism, the achievements of comprehensive education are vast and undeniable. Yes, comprehensive schools can face social problems, but that’s kind of what happens if you take a cross-section of society; even a relatively young one.
Now, perhaps I should explain that I personally think that comprehensive education has done me a great service (grammatical and typographical errors in this post excepted). I got good grades at GCSEs, AS Levels and I expect to get good grades at A2; I’ve got an offer from Oxford University; I’ve had teachers who have inspired me, changed how I think, and to whom I owe a great debt of gratitude; and most of all – I got that for free, and it seems to me that what the Tories are planning is designed to deprive children of that. Of course, they’re not doing anything as overt as attempting to ban the poor from education, or introducing top-up fees for secondary schools; but the program of academies and religious schools is designed, or at the very least is having the effect of, recreating a socially and academically divided education system.
Firstly, Blair and then Cameron have overseen the creation of far more faith schools, which links back to what I was raging about yesterday, (it’s a miracle I haven’t been hospitalised, my blood pressure is kept so high by the idiocy of our leaders), the continued and seemingly expanding influence of religion in our increasingly secular society. Around 70% of under-25s are not religious, so why should they go to schools that seek to teach religious doctrine as scientific fact? But faith schools do something more insidious than teach creationism and other bollocks like that; they create a segregated society where you have a school of Catholics, a school of Protestants, a school of Muslims and a school for Jews. If you think that’s not damaging, look at the failure of religious segregation in Irish schools, and the intolerance and fear that continues to breed. As well as religious segregation, religious schools are often able to socially – if not academically – select. Let me illustrate: if you have a Church of England school, then the parents need to prove their attendance at Church (curiously only 4% of people attend a CofE church regularly), and this necessarily filters out children whose parents have problems with drugs or alcohol, as well as a certain number of those who live in single parent households – really the Church of England is a laughably middle-class organisation – the Tory Party at prayer, as it used to be called.
Academies and ‘Free Schools’ – as in free of oversight by local authorities – present a further danger to the notion of comprehensive education. A huge number of these so called ‘Free Schools’ are being set up by well-heeled parents in well-to-do areas; the West London Free School, run by that awful toad Toby Young, being the most notorious of these schools. All these schools had their catchment areas primarily in the more middle class areas; therefore immediately carrying out an insidious and nasty bit of social segregation. Add to this the desire of many who found free schools, such as Toby Young to introduce good old academic selection. Nostalgic for the old days of Grammar Schools, which they claim were bastions of social mobility, but in fact represented simultaneous academic and social streaming. The reality of Grammar Schools was that many of those who passed the 11+ exam were middle class, and the same would be true now. Gove has explicitly said ‘his foot hovers over the pedal’ of expanding selection in the state sector. Furthermore, hidden in the spending cuts, was the abolition of the Schools Adjudicator; an office with oversight over school’s admissions policies, and more importantly, the power to alter them in order to make them fair.
The Comprehensive Revolution, begun in 1945, is far from complete, the 11+ still exists; private schools still exist and the counter revolutionaries are hard at work. Yes, it’s still true that there are more students at Oxford from St Pauls School (George Osborne’s £20,000 a year alma mater) than from schools where they received Free School Meals (a benchmark measure of child poverty), but contrast that with 70 years ago where only 10% of students continued education beyond fourteen. The Comprehensive system today may still seem flawed, but it’s obvious to me that the solution to that is not a less comprehensive system; we don’t need more social streaming or academic selection; we need a less divided education – a truly comprehensive one. The Right will ask where the choice is, but surely what parents want is not a choice of schools; but a good, free, local school? That can never be achieved whilst funding is robbed from our existing comprehensives to fund the pet projects of David Cameron’s mates – schools like the West London Free School in middle class areas that already have excellent schools. We need a system where everyone, of all classes, colours, creeds and religions learns together. And if that means bulldozing Eton, then pass me a hard hat and a high-visibility jacket.
So this morning, in a fit of procrastination, I watched last night’s Question Time on BBC iPlayer, which almost always ends with me screaming at my computer and plotting how to murder the entire electorate. Last time the police had to be called because I was screaming ‘Shut up you uninformed reactionary bastard; put down your copy of the Daily Mail, take a look around and stop making that awful ‘Liebour’ pun!’. They must’ve thought I had one of my boyfriends over (err, see this) – but sadly most people on Question Time are ugly as well as laughably reactionary.
But what caught my attention was the attitude of the Tories on the panel (yes, I’m going to call Melanie Phillips a Tory, and Jeremy Browne MP votes Tory, even if he isn’t in the Tory party) who all argued that benefits should be reduced so that what jobs there were in the workhouses seemed like a more attractive prospect. Now I agree that being on benefits for the long term is hardly doing a great deal of good to the individuals, or to the society around them, but I hardly think that the solution is to cut benefits. Surely, when we comment on the fact that one can claim more in benefits than one can earn in a job; we ought not to be saying that benefits are too generous, but that wages are too low. Is that not a reasonable suggestion?
The fact is that since the 1970s and 1980s, when Thatcher and Reagan set about disciplining, and indeed crushing the Labour movements, real terms wages have been stagnant or falling. We are in a time of what economists would call ‘wage repression’, and for a while in the early 1980s, wage repression was also leading to sluggish growth – because it turns out that the money you pay your workers is the money that they spend. But the capitalists came up with a truly ingenious solution to bad wages – they rebranded debt as credit, and gave us cards which we could use to rack up debt on. Which we duly did. So instead of realising that the average wage wasn’t rising in line with inflation, what should have been a crisis in living standards was averted by allowing the middle and lower classes to rack up lots of (expensive) debts. So surely, once again, the solution is not for benefits to be reduced, but for wages to rise.
In any case, the arguments about the benefits cap are all moot to me; it’s not saving the government money – at least not when compared to the amount of tax owed by the superrich and by corporations which Inland Revenue gladly write off every year. And the solution to people being on benefits is not to cut benefits, but to increase the number of jobs available. In 1950 or so, when the Welfare State was at its zenith, there were very few long term unemployed, and in the 1970s, when unemployment reached 1,000,000 for the first time, it was nothing short of a national scandal, but now we don’t even blink as it soars towards 3,000,000.
Also, there was a woman on QT talking about ‘smoking a bit of pot’, I wonder how long before her door gets kicked in as part of the war on drugs.
This is something of a dead horse, but seeing as the Tory press office is still briefing its MPs that they can make jokes about the Occupy protesters drinking Starbucks, then I feel like I might still engage in a bit of Tory baiting. After all, that’s why y’all follow me, right?
Louise Mensch first delivered this joke on Have I Got News For You. Now, I never feel sorry for Tory MPs, but looking at her grinning face, as she expectantly looked to the audience for a laugh, only to receive stony faced silence and what I can only assume was a sympathy chuckle from Alexander Armstrong. It was then repeated by Theresa May on Question Time almost a week later – to much the same response. Surely by then, HIGNFY had been repeated at least twice, and everyone in the Tory party had seen how flat their best joke had fallen.
I think there are a few reasons that the joke fell quite so flat, firstly that it was really poorly thought out, underpinned by the very worst logic – that one cannot seriously consume an overpriced Latte and claim that finance capitalism has become a terribly unjust system of privatised profit and socialised risk. Watching Mensch trotting out the line that ‘you can’t take everything capitalism offers and then demand its end’ was so utterly painful – but it got me thinking on two different fronts. For one thing, if the best that capitalism can offer us in this twenty-first century is an overpriced, tasteless cup of Starbucks coffee, then capitalism surely is a doomed system, and everyone should be out demanding its immediate downfall.
But secondly, and slightly more seriously, the argument follows that if anti-capitalist protestors can’t drink commercialised coffee, then surely in the period from 1945 to about 1980, free-market Tories shouldn’t have used electricity, or gas, or purchased coal – all nationalised industries. Neither should they have been on a train, a plane or made a telephone call – all nationalised until the Thatcher years as well. And to this day, a true Tory should not go to an NHS hospital, even if it’s an emergency and they’ve been terribly injured in some bizarre sado-masochistic orgy, or demand that the police, or the army, or the fire brigade do anything. And clearly the Tories can’t stick to their own logic on that one, so until the centre of London is crawling with nationalised coffee distributors, I think we can forgive some anti-capitalists a Latte.
But that doesn’t exclude free-market Tories from the debate, and neither should it be used as a way of excluding anti-capitalists from the debate. Capitalism is a terrible disease upon our society, and we’re all infected by it – it’s impossible to avoid. Everyone has somewhere in their room something made by child slaves in China, and if it’s got a bitten apple on the back, then you paid £400 too much for it as well. But that hardly excludes you from the debate. So yes, as lefties we ought to make better, more ethical choices where possible, but don’t think that one’s’ beliefs and circumstances must be consistent – and if you’re a socialist, communist or anarchist, then they necessarily can’t be.
What? A major opportunity to poke fun at the Conservative Party and Euan wasn’t there, blogging about it? Nay, I’ve spent the week looking at trade tables for Britain and its Empire between 1860 and 1960, and I still haven’t properly decided whether the hypothesis that Britain’s Empire expanded and changed due to trade is a tenable one. And now it’s the end of half-term, and I still haven’t finished that essay, or written any of the other ones I was supposed to. But it now seems like I may as well stop moving deck chairs on the Titanic and therapeutically mock the Conservative Party, instead.
So here we go. Apparently the Conservative Party is ‘united like never before’ on Europe, despite the fact that around 80 of their MPs rebelled against the Government, defied a three line whip, and therefore scuppered their political careers for the time being. And of the 15 MPs who abstained from the vote, I hear that 13 of them were down in Dover, bricking up the Channel Tunnel. So let’s be frank, the Conservative Party is not united like never before, though I suppose this is hardly the first time it’s been divided over Europe. John Major really had a fun time, trying to control the Tory party’s Europhobic fringes. I say fringes, but, you know…
Anyhow, I was glad to see the referendum sink. Seeing the photos of the inbred UKIP protesters outside Parliament, singing Rule, Britannia made me certain that it was a good thing that the referendum sank. As long as those racist imperialists, nostalgic for splendid isolation and Pax Britannica are furious, then I’ll live with not voting on the EU, and the fury of those UKIP idiots is my reassurance that we’re taking steps in the right direction. Though actually, there are some parts of the EU I’d like to be shot of - EU competition law basically means that once Cameron and Co. are done slicing and dicing the NHS, it would be impossible for any Labour administration to pull it back into a nationalised entity.
On that latent Imperialist note, Cameron also resurrected the British Empire Medal, that old classist dog. The medal was introduced for those of lesser social standing who would otherwise have got an MBE or an OBE, but it was abolished by John Major (The Prime Minister with 6 O-Levels and not much else) for being overtly classist, and oddly, it’s been reinstated - allegedly without it’s classist overtones - by David William Donald Cameron (The Eton/Oxford educated one - the first since Douglas-Home). The question as to why, more than 50 years after most of the Empire came crashing down, Britain still feels the need to hand out honours referring to them Empire still remains unanswered to me. Let’s grow up and move on, eh?