Saturday, 31 March 2012

One Bradford Spring doesn't make a Socialist Summer.

He said that the mainstream parties all told lies, they supported the same wars and the same neo-liberal economics. And he was right.  I just wish it hadn't been Gorgeous George who said it.

I really wish that this was the breakthrough everyone on the Left has been waiting for to seriously challenge Labour in their heartlands. But it isn't. 

What it is - and there's no point in fudging it - is a victory of opportunist communal politics. Not a step forward but a throw-back to the  kind of boss-politics of the US Democratic Party - with whole communities delivered as an ethnic electoral bloc.

I look at Galloway and I see the ghosts of Derek Hatton and Tommy Sheridan at his shoulder. But actually Galloway for all his undeniable charm and guts  represents something far worse - the personality cults of Deza and Tommy may have succumbed to vanity and hubris, but they never so shamelessly politically degenerated into opportunism.
Galloway - a Catholic (?) who is happy to play up to the religious sensibilities of his Islamic supporters - says that the extraordinary election result was 'by the grace of god'.  I'm looking at the sad looking pile of TUSC and local anti-cuts alliance leaflets in the corner of my living room - and thinking that building genuine grass-roots resistance isn't quite as spectacular  or miraculous as that .

Thursday, 29 March 2012

In/out - shake it all about

Setting aside the hilarity of the  government squirming over the 'do/don't panic buy petrol' fiasco -  and that 'toffs like pasties too'  fiasco - here's some more overlooked, but equally contradictory news from planet Tory.

Here in Haringey - so very obviously a part of the inner city - Education Secretary Michael Grove has finally woken up to the anomaly that schools here have been receiving per capita funding as if it were an outer London borough. Of course this never made any sense geograhically, sociologoically, economically or culturally  - but there you go.

It might just have something to do with the 'poor performance' of schools here that led Grove to target the borough's schools for academisation - even against the will of staff, parents and governors if necessary. 

Because as with hospitals - or any other public service you can think of  - whilst  funding may not be everything, it doesn't half help. And in that light the decison does represent something of a climb down by Grove - but not I imagine to the extent of withdrawing from his academisation crusade. 

But then again in a classic bit of contradictory  thinking - as they give with one hand comes another suggestion that they take with the other  - and  a ludicrous proposal from the 'riot quango' that schools should actually be fined for not meeting literacy targets

Looks like this fuck-wittery knows no end ...

Monday, 26 March 2012

Told you so.

Usually if you start spouting off about 'the state'  and 'class interests', people's eyes glass over and you're dismissed as a doctrinaire loony. Then every once in a while a story comes along to  remind us exactly of what's what in society - this morning there's two:

Ray's got in there first on The Cruddas Affair - Tory chairman caught red-handed flogging lobbying access to 'Lord Snooty' Cameron himself. The only surprise is that business interests had to pay at all - although presumably big businesses,  like the ones engaged in the Workfare scandal, have their own direct hot-line anyway.

And then there's the news that the army are being trained up to take over from UNITE tanker drivers who have balloted to strike over the bank holiday. Of course the British Army - often smugly seen as superior to the military  in those dodgy countries who dabble in politics -  has a  long and ignoble history of intervening in 'trade disputes' on the side of employers.

Maybe the loonies aren't quite so marginalised after all ...

Saturday, 24 March 2012

A depressing challenge

I observed a history lesson yesterday - Year 11 pupils looking at Nazi Anti-Semitic propaganda from the 1930's. 

This was in a typically diverse London secondary school - with seemingly every ethnicity represented -   except Jewish. 

In my liberal-naivety I thought lessons like that would be tricky because they were shocking and upsetting for the pupils. In fact this one was tricky because may of the kids took the position that given the weight of Nazi propaganda there couldn't (and I quote) 'be all that smoke without some fire'. 

Fucking hell that's depressing. 

The teacher did a valiant job of challenging it: Parallels were drawn with Anti-Semitism then and Islamophobia now. But I'm not sure they were won over. I'd like to think that one day I might do it better. It certainly makes me thing that it's vitally important to try. 

Most of all it makes me think of Christopher Hill's quote which should be carved on the walls of every school:  

‘History, properly taught, can help men to become critical and humane, just as wrongly taught it can turn them into bigots and fanatics.’

Monday, 19 March 2012

Thomas Holmes & the London poor

The Victorians had an obsession for collecting and classification. The rural curate with too much time on his hands scouring the countryside with a butterfly net  is something of a stereotype. And the social do-gooders of the age tended to be all too-similar. 

Henry Mayhew's  definite survey of the London working class is a masterful piece of work - but it is also strangely lacking in affection and human warmth. I don't know about Mayhew specifically, but I suspect that like the naturalists - or the enlightened imperialists of the age of the 'white man's burden' - many of these philanthropists regarded the poor as a different species to be studied, pitied and possibly helped -  but still essentially different.

I've just been re-reading a very different kind of late Victorian social commentary - Thomas Holmes' 'London's Underworld'. By a strange quirk, in the last years of Victoria's reign,  Holmes lived in Tottenham only a couple of streets away from where I am now. Then it was not the  inner city area it is now but a new suburb for the emerging lower middle class - often clerks working in the City. Holmes himself was a crime reporter and perhaps it was this not-quite-respectable job that drew him to the poorer sections of London's working class (and he used 'underworld in the sense of the under-class rather than of a criminal network). He certainly writes about them without the condescension of other do-gooders.

In fact his writing shows genuine affection for the chancers, wide-boys and scammers who would have horrified many who considered such types the 'undeserving poor'. He even has admiration for the ingenuity and invention  of  the con-artists who he was frequently taken in by himself. And far from standing aloof and disapproving from his subjects, he often invited them into his home  maintained friendships with them for years and even lent them money with little hope of repayment.

Most significantly he had no time for the 'self-help' schemes of the moral-improvers and temperance factions - who all wanted to make the under-class respectable. Nor did he have much truck either with philanthropists and charities - including the Salvation Army. In fact in an early glimpse of the welfare state, he argued that all charities should be combined into a single entity run by the government. 

I can't find anything that connects Holmes to the pioneering socialist or labour movements of the time - and he did have some fairly odd ideas about 'incorrigible tramps' and compulsory boarding schools for the bright children of the poor - but he is definitely worth a read.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Unity still over-due

A year on from my guest piece at 'On This Deity' to mark the anniversary of the Kronstadt Uprising. Also about a year ago I wrote a piece about an over-due rapprochement of the various tribes of the Left.

A year later and another year wiser  - and I think it's truer than ever. 

Last year, in the course of the local anti-cuts campaign, the campaign against workfare and the pensions strikes,  I've campaigned alongside various characters -  Anarchists, SWP,   Labour 'lefts' and former Stalinists  - and been inspired and frustrated in equal measure. And this seemed to have been dependent not upon their historical label or tribal allegiance but on their  individual integrity, decency  and good sense. 

So no apologies for the repetition and re-linking to previous posts. Here's to the future and its possibilities ...

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

The not-so 'real world'

Being around schools these days, an expression I often hear in reference to everything outside education is 'the real world'. And being in a strange sort of betwixt and between position of also freelancing in my old field I am well placed to comapre the two.

Yesterday I had to drop off a job at a typical central London design agency:

Standard layout of offices - a bar and a pool table in reception - smoked glass and minimalism in abundance. I had to meet the production director and the account manager. The production director was a chap about the same age as me who looked as if he had been subject to some sort of queer-eye-for-the-straight-guy make-over by the combined talents of Gok Wan and Jean-Paul Gautier. He looked as if he'd be more at home watching Clarkson with a mug of cocco but felt obliged to dress for work in skinny jeans and one of those scooped fronted tee-shirts to display his slighly portly male cleavage. The account manger was an attractive woman in her thirties dressed fairly normally from the waist up but sporting a pair of skin-tight 1970's hot pants and stilletto shoes. 

For about half an hour they pondered the 'job' I had taken in - a printed mock-up of a magarine tub - with the intensity of two archaeologists examining a precious Ancient Greek artifact - musing wherher or not their concept 'worked'.

Sometimes in schools I  have difficulty keeping a straight face whilst over-hearing teachers ponder if pupils' shoes displaying logos qualify as  trainers and consequently merit a 'leadership detention'. And I wonder if I'm doing the right thing in getting into this world. But then after a glimpse over my shoulder at my former world I am in doubt as to which one is 'real'.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Catholic home goals again.

Sometimes it's just too easy:

Earlier in the week we had the head of the Catholic church in Scotland talking in a truly staggering example of Orwellian news-speak about gay marriage as 'a violation of human rights'. And then a slightly more tempered bishops' letter read out in all churches in England and Wales condemns the  proposed reforms to  make gay  marriage legal as some sort of an affront to the moral fabric of society.

In between these two self-righteous pronouncements there came the news on Friday that Fr Alexander Bede Walsh was sentenced for 22years for sexual offences against young boys over a twenty year period.

Why any organisation with as dodgy a record as the Roman Catholic wouldn't observe a self-imposed dignified silence on anything remotely connected to human sexuality is a bit of a mystery. But religion and sex have always had a bizarre and fatal connection,  and the Catholics - more than most - just don't seem able to leave it alone.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Guns (and truncheons) for hire

These days it seems to be a fairly safe bet that if you want to access some dirt on a celebrity, find out the details of trade union activists so they can be black-listed, or even just fancy borrowing a horse for the weekend - all you have to do is 'phone a bent copper.

Even by the usual standards of Tory insensitivity it's pretty staggering that in a week where all these stories are in the news, plans are revealed to put out certain police functions to tendering from private security firms.

Of course dealing with private firms as well as streamlining the whole  business of bribery and corruption will take policing one significant step further away from public scrutiny and accountability. Which I suspect is no accident - it's a process already well-established in the intelligence and security communities where the use of shadowy arms-length private contractors has proved  very convenient in the world of covert and 'dirty' operations.

I can't help recalling that even Machiavlli regarded the dependence of any state for its security on mercenary companies or condottieri was symptomatic of it's moral and political decadence. He had a point.

Friday, 2 March 2012

Changes. Or not.

The more observant of you may have noticed that I have change the 'About Me' on the side panel of this blog. 

It reflects some changes in my life - and I suspect that this might be mirrored with some changes in the subject matter of my posts. There will probably be more about history and education. 

But then again I won't be able to help myself with political posts. And martial arts and bikes remain a big part of my life - so they will continue to creep in too. And 'life and other stuff' has a habit of getting in the way of everything else. 

So maybe no changes at all ...