Last Wednesday, while George Osborne was delivering his Autumn Statement, taking aim at the most vulnerable members of society once more, with another savage attack on the welfare state, I was in central London, and I returned home after he had made his smug and visibly heartless performance in the House of Commons, when the Evening Standard was already announcing his new attack on the poor and disabled.
The Standard‘s headline — “George Osborne hits welfare for poor and raids pensions of rich” — was not exactly a ringing endorsement of the Chancellor’s statement, but it failed to dent the prejudices of the two women next to me, who were returning home, presumably from their office jobs. As they idly perused the paper, they complained about the amount of money the unemployed receive, followed swiftly by a complaint that they then sit around at home doing nothing. There was no mention of the fact that most of what the unemployed receive from the government goes to their landlords, or that there is still only one job for every five people who are unemployed, let alone the fact that a large proportion of benefits are actually paid to working people who aren’t otherwise paid enough money to survive on. Why let anything that might lead you to regard the unemployed as fellow human beings interfere with some knee-jerk bigotry?
Complaining that they too were suffering, they then spent the rest of their journey home — disturbingly, to Brockley, where I also live — rather undermining their case, by talking about party dresses and which gyms they attended. Read the rest of this entry »
Anyone with a heart would be hard-pressed to say that living in Tory Britain — with the particularly savage dolts currently in Downing Street and in the Cabinet — is anything less than an ordeal. Through their treatment of the disabled alone, ministers have taken a route that is thoroughly depressing on a permanent basis, as the government — and its overpaid puppets in the French multinational Atos Healthcare — systematically pursue a policy of making disabled people undergo tests designed to prove that they are fit for work — when they are not — to cut their state support.
The stress and the impoverishment of those who should be helped rather than put through this callous ordeal — and which is repeated if claimants manage to prove that they are unfit for work, or if they successfully appeal (as a majority do) — enrages me on a daily basis, but they are not the only casualties of the Tories’ shrinking state — one which, shockingly, public sector expenditure will plummet to a smaller percentage of GDP than the US by 2017. Read the rest of this entry »
For everyone sickened and enraged by the lies, distortions, malevolence and idiocy emanating from the Tory-led government, Saturday’s march and rally in central London, “A Future That Works,” is an important opportunity for us to show our anger and our indignation at how our country is being wrecked, and our people punished, for other people’s crimes — the near-fatal crashing of the global economy in 2008, through bankers’ greed on a mind-boggling scale, aided and abetted by the politicians with their mania for deregulation, and the alleged economist experts who almost all failed to notice what was going on.
The resultant bailouts for the banks, and the job losses and the subsequent drop in tax revenues played a key role in triggering the subsequent and ongoing recession — unless you’re one of David Cameron’s Tories, in which case it created an opportunity to use the crisis as an excuse for remaking the country as a savage dystopia for all but the rich and super-rich, who continue to enjoy their ill-gotten gains as much as they did before the bankers crashed the world four years ago.
We are suffering from a collision of bankrupt ideologies, the first being the false notion that savage austerity cuts will somehow stimulate the economy, when all the evidence from history — and I mean all of it — shows that all austerity creates is an economic death spiral, as the so-called experts of the IMF are finally beginning to realise. Just last week, as Paul Mason explained for the BBC, IMF boss Christine Lagarde “called for a slowdown in the austerity measures being implemented across the world, including in Greece” after Chief Economist Olivier Blanchard “admitted the Fund’s calculations of the impact of austerity had been seriously wrong.” Read the rest of this entry »
Please sign the campaigning group 38 Degrees’ open letter to Jeremy Hunt, warning him not to mess with the NHS.
Sometimes it’s almost unspeakably depressing to be living in England, in a dystopian fantasy that no one voted for, with a useless coalition government of the Tories and the Lib Dems that required Frankenstein-like engineering just to come into being.
Yesterday was one of those particularly depressing days, as David Cameron shuffled his cabinet and lurched even further to the right. Of course, there is desperation in the Prime Minister’s manoeuvring, and we should be thankful for that. Cameron has not got rid of George Osborne, of course, as he is the prime architect of the Tories’ economic policy, which involves allowing the rich to hoover up whatever they can, including that which has been secreted offshore, while obliging the rest of us to have to try and prise five pound notes out of Osborne’s hands, who it turns out, has the tenacity of a corpse with advanced rigor mortis. However, when 48 percent of voters recently gave Osborne a vote of no confidence, it was obviously significant. Cameron may be the whey-faced buffoon who can come up with an opinion at any time of the day or night, but Osborne is the whey-faced buffoon in charge of economic policy — Gordon Brown to Cameron’s Tony Blair, if you will.
48 percent of voters recognised the toxicity of Osborne, thereby providing a stunning vote of no confidence in the government, but he remained in place in the reshuffle while other buffoons got shifted around or axed. Andrew Lansley, who trailed the Chancellor with a 37 percent disapproval rating in the Guardian/ICM poll on August 28, was shifted out of health, to be replaced by Jeremy Hunt, who had a 24 percent disapproval rating as culture secretary. Michael Gove (on 36%) keeps his job as the butcher of education, Kenneth Clarke (on 28%) was replaced at justice by the incompetent employment minister Chris Grayling, and William Hague (on 21%) kept his job as foreign secretary. Read the rest of this entry »
The Paralympics Demonstration Against Atos Healthcare in London, a set on Flickr.
Yesterday, Friday August 31, was the last day of the Atos Games, a week of events organised by Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) and UK Uncut against the jaw-dropping hypocrisy involved in Atos Healthcare, the French IT giant, being allowed to sponsor the Paralympic Games, while the company is also in charge of running the government’s Work Capability Assessments, a review process that is designed to find disabled people fit for work.
As a result, huge numbers of disabled people, who are not fit for work by any genuinely objective measure, are being driven into poverty — a wretched and cruel policy for a government that claims to have Christian values — and the results are leading directly to suicides, or other deaths through the stress involved. Undeterred, however, the government recently renewed Atos’ contract, to the tune of £400 million, and ministers are permanently involved in ignoring the inconvenient truth that, on appeal, tens of thousands of decisions made by Atos’ representatives are being overturned. The average is 40 percent, but in Scotland campaigners discovered that, when claimants were helped by representatives of Citizens Advice Bureaux, 70 percent of decisions were overturned on appeal. Read the rest of this entry »
Union Jack Summer: The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics, a set on Flickr.
I have no great love for either the Royal Family or the Olympics, and, on this latter point, my articles should make clear where I stand — Our Olympic Hell: A Militarised, Corporate, Jingoistic Disgrace, Olympics Disaster: The G4S Security Scandal and Corporate Sponsors’ £600 Million Tax Avoidance and The Dark Side of the Olympics: Kettling Cyclists and Telling Fairytales About Our Heritage. You can also find some more photos here.
As for the Queen, I have long adored “God Save the Queen” by the Sex Pistols — one of the greatest rock songs of all time, along with “Anarchy in the UK” — and I did dream of mounting a black sound system to a black bike with a black flag, pumping out the Pistols’ “God Save the Queen,” and cycling around every street party I could find in London on the Diamond Jubilee weekend.
That never came to pass, and in truth, although I find the existence of the Royal Family objectionable, some of the individuals involved work hard (the Queen and Princess Anne come to mind) and I also don’t trust any politicians to preside over the dissolution of the Royal Family and the disposal of their assets in a way that would benefit the majority of the people. More sensible, then, would be for their role to be scaled down enormously, as in other European countries, but there appears to be no hint of that on the horizon, and so we are stuck with something that looks like the divine right of kings (or queens), but is in fact a very expensive charade. Read the rest of this entry »
The Wealth of Empire: The City of London in the Rain, a set on Flickr.
To describe these photos of the City of London, I used the word “empire” in the title because I believe that, in many fundamental ways, it is apt, although I realise that the British Empire is not, of course, the only source of money and power in the City of London and in its modern offshoot, Canary Wharf. In many ways, the mafia would be a better reference point for what these well-connected crooks have been getting up to as a result of the financial deregulation initiated by Margaret Thatcher (which benefitted David Cameron’s father, who made a fortune through the creation of tax havens) and Ronald Reagan, the subsequent repeal, under Bill Clinton, of the crucial Glass-Steagall Act — which was introduced after the Depression in 1933, separating “domestic” banking from its potentially fatal speculative aspects — and New Labour’s enthusiasm for filthy lucre, and whatever scum happened to have loads of it. The current shower of clowns in Downing Street and the Cabinet are only different from New Labour in the sense that most of them are already rich, millionaires out of touch with the people and thoroughly unconcerned about it.
In particular, the modern money markets are international, and much of the expertise in dodgy financial engineering — of the kind that ought to be illegal, and of the kind that nearly bankrupted the world in the global crash of 2008 — came from Wall Street as much as from the robber barons of the British establishment, although, crucially, it was the long-cherished secrecy of the City that allowed Wall Street bankers to initiate policies in London that were illegal at home. Read the rest of this entry »
Street Art, Sunshine and the River: Deptford and Greenwich, a set on Flickr.
Three weeks ago, I posted my first set of photos of my journeys around London on my new Flickr account — a set I took on May 11, cycling around Greenwich and Deptford, down the hill from my home in Brockley, south east London — when I first began to realise that I had a need for exercise, a need to be outdoors whenever the sun shone in this rainiest of years, and a great desire to explore this vast city that has been my home for the last 27 years, even though I have never visited much of it, and have only partial knowledge of its contours, its hidden corners, and even some of its more obvious glories.
Combined, these various motives have progressively unmoored me from being enslaved to my computer, after six years of pretty relentless blogging, and have opened my mind and my body to the sights and the sounds of London, to the sun and showers, the torrential rain, the fast-changing skies like epic dramas, and also to the pleasures of the back roads, away from the tyranny of cars and lorries, where the unexpected can more easily be found, and where much of the city is silent in the daytime, its former industries replaced by apartments, its workers away — in the City or elsewhere — earning the money to pay for the “luxury” apartments in which, in many cases, they do not spend much time.
Repeatedly, I have found myself drawn to the River Thames and its tributaries and canals, most now flanked by towering new apartment blocks or converted wharves — and to classical compositions and perspectives of buildings and sky, clouds and water. Always, though, I find myself in search of unusual sights, glimpses of less obvious worlds in this city of millions of stories, places where the money has run out, or the standardising waves of gentrification cannot reach. Idiosyncratic places, touched by mavericks, or largely abandoned. Read the rest of this entry »
On Monday, a rather unprecedented event occurred. The BBC, in its long-running but generally dumbed-down Panorama slot, broadcast a half-hour programme — Britain on the Brink: Back to the 70s? — which took off the blinkers, or the rose-coloured spectacles, that much of the mainstream media have clamped on Britain’s face since the cruel and incompetent Tories began laying waste to the British economy two years ago.
Those of us with any intelligence — and I don’t count George Osborne and David Cameron or any of the other clowns masquerading as functional ministers in this category — knew that the government’s claims that, despite all evidence to the contrary, savage austerity cuts to the state provision of almost services, accompanied by up to a million job losses, would allow the private sector to ride in on a white charger dispensing new jobs like confetti were the worst sort of fantasy. The truth, of course, is that savage austerity cuts always — always — mean an economic death spiral, and the only way out of a recession is to spend wisely to stimulate demand.
In addition, of course, those not blinded by having studied the propaganda that mostly passes for economics would also have realised that the private sector’s ability to provide answers has come to an end. In truth, the motto that private was better than public was largely a ruse of Margaret Thatcher’s to destroy Britain’s manufacturing, and then plunder the family silver for profit — the nationalised industries and some other necessary state-provided services. Read the rest of this entry »
When David Cameron responded to a Times investigation into offshore tax avoidance schemes, which found that around 1,000 individuals — including the comedian Jimmy Carr, and other celebrities, including musicians and sports stars — were paying as little as 1% of their earnings in tax through a legal, but morally unacceptable scheme in Jersey, a notorious tax haven, he decided to take the moral high ground.
Saying that media reports of Carr’s financial arrangements suggested “straightforward tax avoidance,” the Prime Minister added:
I think some of these schemes — and I think particularly of the Jimmy Carr scheme — I have had time to read about and I just think this is completely wrong [sic]. People work hard, they pay their taxes, they save up to go to one of his shows. They buy the tickets. He is taking the money from those tickets and he, as far as I can see, is putting all of that into some very dodgy tax avoiding schemes. That is wrong. There is nothing wrong with people planning their tax affairs to invest in their pension and plan for their retirement — that sort of tax management is fine. But some of these schemes we have seen are quite frankly morally wrong. The government is acting by looking at a general anti-avoidance law but we do need to make progress on this. It is not fair on hardworking people who do the right thing and pay their taxes to see these sorts of scams taking place. Read the rest of this entry »
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