Posts Tagged ‘Politics’

My EU referendum video

Friday, June 17th, 2016 | Religion & Politics

I made a video about why I am voting Remain. It is unlikely to make the Oscars shortlist, but I hope it is at least honest.

Political Islam

Wednesday, May 25th, 2016 | Humanism

political-islam

At West Yorkshire Humanists this month, Dr Afshin Shahi delivered us a talk on Political Islam. He discussed the origins of international jihadism, the structural and identity problems facing countries in the Middle East and the potential problems we will face in the future – especially as climate change increasingly causes draught in the region.

One of the key messages in the talk is that trying to combat radicalisation is only really treating the symptoms and not the cause. If we want to solve the problem in the long term we need to look at the problems of inequality and unfairness that allow these ideologies to take hold.

Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class

Monday, January 4th, 2016 | Books, Religion & Politics

Chavs is the second book I have read by Owen Jones. The other being The Establishment.

In Chavs, Jones rails against the lens that working class people have been put under. Led by politicians, and then the media, society has been encouraged to demonise the poor as benefits-claiming jobless scroungers.

Who exactly are the working class? Neil Kinnock offers Karl Marx’s definition.

People who have no means of sustenance other than the sale of labour, are working class

This seems a very workable definition. I would include myself in the working class. I own no business of any value, nor any property, and have to sell my labour to pay the bills.

Before Thatcher took a sledgehammer to British industry in the 80’s, being working class was something to be proud of. As industry disappeared, entire communities were left without jobs and without hope. By 2010 there were two and a half million people unemployed, and less than a million job openings. There simply were not enough to go round. What sympathy do such communities receive? None. They are told to get on the bus and go chase a non-existent job. So Jones contests.

The argument in support of letting industry go was that it needed modernising and could not be propped up by the state. As we now know though, this isn’t the case. We managed to put together a multi-billion pound bailout for banking after all. So bailing out an entire industry is entirely possible.

The ultimate betrayal of the working class was the creation of New Labour. Thatcher’s greatest victory. No longer did Labour aim to help the working class improve their quality of life, but merely to encourage them to escape into the middle class. Thus, if they remained poor, it was their own fault.

This created a climate that you were either middle-class of a benefits scrounger, and there was no in between. Jones quotes Simon Heffer saying so. That feels ironic given I have just read Heffer’s book. No doubt he would wince at the ‘z’ in ‘Demonization’ too.

Society became outraged at the £1 billion we were losing on benefit fraud. Never mind that over £2 billion of eligible benefit is not claimed, and that if everyone got exactly what we deserve the state would be less well off. And especially forget the £70 billion per year big business avoids in tax. A study by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that many people doing cash-in-hand jobs on the side do to to pay for basics like food, heating, or debt. Those are the people to blame.

The media jumped on the bandwagon too. The Sun was outraged when people went to the local shop in their pyjamas at lunch time. Yet a quick visit to any area full of middle-class students, such as Bodington Hall, would offer a similar sight.

This allowed the government to cut into the working class. Between Thatcher taking power and Blair outing them, the tax burdeon on the working class increased from 31.1% to 37.7%.

Jones comes to the support of Jade Goody. She, after all, is a member of the demonised working class. He makes a good case. He attacks Little Britain, which he correctly identifies as being incredibly offensive, with it’s bad stereotypes of gays, transgender people and the poor.

He also suggests Wife Swap would be better labelled class swap. From the few episode I have seen of the show it does seem to come down to that. Far from being an attack on the working class though, it always seemed like comparing the loving family environment of the working class to the cold materialistic stand-off-ish attitude of the middle class.

I take exception to his accusation that there have been no working class bands since Oasis though. While Kaiser Chiefs lyrics may not always reflect well on the working class, such claims could not be made against the also-very-popular Arctic Monkeys.

Back onto the real subject matter, the argument about environment is less clear. Jones claims that the middle class are better able to provide for their children because they can get them an advantage in education and jobs. This is simpler to the case Gladwell makes in Outliers. Things are not that simple though. As Pinker points out, parenting has little effect on a child’s personality or intelligence, so the value on focusing on education is unclear.

It also appears not to the case that the middle class are better at managing their money. As Chris Tapp, director of debt advice charity Credit Action, says, poor people are actually excellent at managing money – one has to be to get by.

On reducing council tenancy from lifetime to 5 or 10 years, I’m torn. As my friend Chris points out, those of us in the private renting market enjoy 6 months at best. And when I advocated building more council housing my friend Helene elaborated on the issues of lifetime tenancy in The Netherlands. However, a few hundred pounds in moving bills wouldn’t actually trouble me. I would be very annoyed, but I could easily get such a sum out of my savings. Whereas I imagine many council tenants do not have a savings account.

One thing that put me off was that at least one of the facts in the book appears to the incorrect. For example, when discussing the 2011 riots, he describes them as spreading to northern cities including Leeds. But they didn’t. There was no rioting in Leeds during that period.

The take-home message for me is that there will always be a working class and it is important to have one, so we should focus on making their (our) lives better rather than offering an escape. This seems a difficult proposition to take fault with.

chavs-book

Revolution

Saturday, April 25th, 2015 | Books

I had some hopes for this book. Russell Brand and I are superficially alike. That is to say we both have long tangled hair and a tendency to stand up for justice rather than kowtowing to authority.

However the revolution that Brand proposes is perhaps-unalterably bound up in a movement towards a religiously-inspired spiritualism. Brand would argue that that is the point. They need to be connected together.

He opens the book with a prayer and talks about his belief in god. Which god you ask? Doesn’t matter. Brand seems to accept all the contradictory claims of various religions as true. But what does that matter when you believe that science cannot explain everything. Especially Consciousness. I’ll be writing to Dan Dennett for my money back then.

Some of the claims drift into the beyond ridiculous. Whether or not you think that the entire working class is being oppressed and knowledge of other alternatives is being carefully controlled and discredited, a group of people doing mediation does not drop a city’s crime rate by 20%. I couldn’t even find the study that Brand was referencing, but you do not need to know that it does not make sense.

That’s the bad stuff though. There is also lots of good stuff in the book.

He writes in an engaging style. It’s entertaining, it slips in and out of poetry and moves seamlessly between the fun and the serious. It is self-aware enough to realise that many will regard Brand as a champagne socialist.

Some of which is contentious. For example, he claims that the US election has been won by the side with the most money. He points out that isn’t claiming this always has happens. It is just that it has happened every time ever so far. Thought provoking, though you could argue that the side with the most support should be able to raise the most money.

Other points are less contentious. Wealth inequality is increasing. We are severely damaging the planet. The currently democratic process fails to engage people. We all know this he states again and again. And we do. That is to say most people would accept these ideas (though not all). Few would argue that 85 individuals should have the same net worth as 3,500,000,000 others.

Every election we discuss low voter turn-out. People don’t seem to care. Except clearly people do care about democracy in general. The nation phones in to premium rate lines to vote for X-Factor every week. Even I voted in Eurovision. It’s the current political system, a feeling that they have no voice and no power that people are disenfranchised with.

Whether his socialist utopia will work is another question. His experiences with the Buy Love Here project does not bode well, nor does the evidence that human nature is rather unpleasant.

However, at worst you can argue that Brand becomes the reductio ad absurdum to his own ideas. That does not mean he doesn’t have a point.

Revolution

The Defence Diaries of W. Morgan Petty

Friday, April 24th, 2015 | Books

When W. Morgan Petty, resident of 3 Cherry Tree Drive, Canterbury, heard there might be a nuclear war soon, he took the most sensible course he could. He declared his house and gardens a Nuclear Free Zone. With Roger, who helps out in the garden, by his side they set about preparing for the post-nuclear period which his house would of course now survive intact.

It’s very funny and a reasonably-short read so does not get old. However, been set in the 80’s it is now dated and the young people will struggle to get the references more and more.

defence-diaries

The Establishment

Tuesday, April 7th, 2015 | Books

Ah Owen Jones, hero of the left. In his book “The Establishment: And how they get away with it” he rails against the man. The man it turns out is politicians, big business and the media. Of course Jones is an Oxford graduate who writes for a national newspaper. It received mixed reviews from the critics (who are also part of The Establishment) but wider support from the proletariat including being Waterstones’ book of the month.

Jones jumps around to various topics, gradually weaving them together. He begins by talking about the links between politicians and big business. Most big businesses have MPs on their boards for example, and cabinet ministers regularly earn £70,000 a year for non-executive directorships. Money that most people can only dream of earning for working full time, let alone for a handful of days year. Being an MP can be incredibly profitable in this manner and yet how can they possibly claim to be objective in such regards?

Thus big business took control of our society after being invited in by Thatcher. This was the end of the drive towards income equality in the UK. They settled down and began to fuse economic liberalism with an authoritarian state.

Jones discusses Hillsborough, though his discussion of the Battle of Orgreave is much more relevant. The police attacked, beat and falsely arrested protestors and then tried to cover it up. After a 7 year battle, they were eventually forced to pay out half a million pounds in compensation. Sadly, things haven’t got much better, as the killing of Ian Tomlinson, a newspaper seller who got caught in the G8 protests shows.

No wonder so many people are too scared to attend protests with the fear of violence, kettling for hours and hours, and false arrest ever present when the police are around.

According to Jones, the police have have become an instrument of the state, going round murdering and raping people without consequence. Their actions rob of us our right to free assembly and protest, and their stop and search powers rob us of our presumption of innocence, even though only 9% of such searches end in arrest, let alone charges being pressed.

So much for the working class being the benefit scroungers too. Jones claims it is the rich that are the beneficiaries of the system. They enjoy the educated workforce, infrastructure and regulated society that the state provides while benefiting from huge government handouts.

The bailout of the banks is an amount of money the rest of us can only dream of. The low pay companies offer the working class is subsides by working tax credits and housing benefit. Companies like ATOS enjoy £100 million a year contracts to turf people off sorely needed benefits while the owners send their children to heavily subsidised public schools that are given £88 million a year in tax-breaks.

Yet the government continues to sell off and privatise our public services. Why? Not because the electorate demand it. Polls show that even most Conservative voters support public ownership of the utilities and railways. More likely, it is the £70,000 a year politicians are receiving for their non-executive board positions.

Jones concludes that we should take back our public services, which could be done at no cost as franchises expire, and increase income tax on the rich to bring in extra money. And it would bring in extra money. Rich people do not leave when you increase the tax rate, because they want to live in a safe and secure society with good utilities, infrastructure and a well-educated workforce. Societies that enjoy heavy state spending.

The Establishment

Just a footnote regarding the book cover above: my copy had a quote from Irvine Welsh on the front, not Russell Brand.

Just in case anyone has forgotten that UKIP are wankers

Tuesday, January 21st, 2014 | Life

In a recent article in The Guardian, it could be easily to interpret that councillor David Silvester was suspended for his anti-gay comments that suggested gay marriage caused the recent flooding.

He wasn’t.

As BBC News reports, Nigel Farage said he was suspended for refusing to shut up…

UKIP leader Nigel Farage said he was entitled to his “strong Baptist view of the world”, but had defied a request not to do further media interviews.

Mr Farage said: “So we suspended him, quite rightly.”

I think there is a critical difference. He was suspended because he refused to stop talking about it. UKIP have not spoken out against the statement. They have just said he should not be talking about. This fits with the original statement that UKIP gave to The Telegraph.

If the media are expecting Ukip to either condemn or condone someone’s personal religious views they will get absolutely no response.

So UKIP are fine with people being a bigot, as long as it is religious bigotry.

It is worth noting however that UKIP does not share Silvester’s views on gay marriage. Their, very different hatred of gay marriage, is outlined explicitly on their website.

General election

Sunday, May 16th, 2010 | Religion & Politics, Thoughts

I have to say, the general election was rubbish.

I had to queue for 40 minutes to vote. I actually really regret that now, as much as you should participate in democracy, no metric when you think about it would actually have been worth a whole 40 minutes of my precious time given that Hilary Benn was always going to win the seat for Labour once again.

But yes, that footage of everyone queuing outside Trinity Church in Leeds, that was me. Well, that footage wasn’t me, I did it earlier in the day, but much like everyone else I went at first (around 6pm) and saw how long the queue was so I thought I would come back two hours later when the queue had died down only to find it had gotten even longer.

The error in my logic was thinking that most people didn’t live in the city centre and so would be voting at around 6pm as they got the bus home from work, passing through town of course. It was only later I realised how silly this was – obviously if they were bussing it home to somewhere else, they would be in a different constituency.

In my defense though, having looked at the queue I believe most people would have thought the same thing – it was full of shabby looking poor lower-working class people so my instant reaction was that they obviously couldn’t afford to live in the city centre and must just be voting here and then going back to whichever slum they live in. I still think this is probably the case and just the Leeds Central constituency stretches father than I realise.

And then after all that, I stay up all night to watch the election and we don’t even get a real result.

I think the biggest argument for our current electoral system is that if we switched to proportional representation, most election nights would be such a massive anti-climax. I stayed up until about 5:30 because all the interesting results – the Leeds ones for me obviously, Brighton Pier, Barking, Buckingham and Oxford West took absolutely ages to declare.

Indeed the only one I managed to catch while in some state of consciousness was when Oxford West was announced, only to find out that very disappointing Dr Evan Harris had lost his seat. And thus was the death of science and evidence based policy in the House of Commons.

What a massive disappointment all round really.

Pro Life Through Pro Choice

Sunday, October 12th, 2008 | News, Religion & Politics

Following the initial meeting last Tuesday, the Pro Life Through Pro Choice campaign finally launched today. The campaign is to promote the idea that pro choice does not mean anti life (whereas those who traditionally describe themselves as pro life generally are anti choice) and that the abortion issue is a serious one which needs to be approached with an open mind.

2008 Olympics part II

Friday, August 29th, 2008 | Events, Religion & Politics, Sport

Having said all that, I didn’t watch a lot of the Olympics mainly because it just annoyed me. We seem to have been a bit too happy, smiley, everything is fine with China. Let’s review a few of the news stories that came out during the games.

The fireworks were pre-recorded.

Nobody turned up so they rounded up groups of students to make the stadiums look full.

To construct the new venues they bulldozed people’s houses with compensation.

People’s families suffered due to the people being involved in the games being taken away to camps so they couldn’t look after their familes.

The fancy trains that said “made in China” on them were actually made by a company in Canada – who were ordered to de-badge them and put “made in China” on them in an attempt to stop people associating said term with crap quality. When in fact of course it is, hence why they went to Canada for their trains.

They spent a third of their GDP on the games, rather than feed their people.

They decided the young girl who was singing was too ugly so they hid her behind a curtain and put a better looking girl out there miming.

They managed to perform the closing ceremony without using any amplification on the drums.

They had people carrying “nothing to see here” boards on standby as seen when the Hungarian weight lifter bent his arm back.

Their no doubt equal and fair selection process for the hundreds of people dancing in the stadium somehow presented any overweight or even slightly inperfect people from appearing.

Finally the co-ordinator for the ending ceremony of the olympic games said the western world couldn’t do amazing ceremonies like China did because…

  • We respect human rights
  • We have no dicipline and stop every 15 minutes for coffee breaks
  • We only work 4 and a half days a week
  • We aren’t willing to suffer enough
  • However he does complement North Korea on their ability to stage such performances.

Did I miss anything?