It’s all Labour’s fault! The coalition cock-up


This piece is anti-coalition not pro-Labour and it is important to make that distinction because the intended point of this is to argue that the mistakes of the coalition have let Labour back in similarly to how Labour’s mistakes let the coalition in.

It’s all Labour’s fault! Well that is what we have been told for the last four years. They caused the banking crisis, they left the economy in a mess, they allowed immigration to spiral out of control and they allowed people to live the high life on benefits. Yet after all the posturing and bellowing that we should be laying the blame firmly at the door of the Labour Party things really haven’t improved that much. The Labour Party did make mistakes and those mistakes cost them the last election and it would be wrong to counter the “it’s all Labour’s fault” with “none of it is Labour’s fault”. But four years after this government got into power the blaming of the previous one for everything is a way of covering up their own inadequacies; the coalition’s policies that were meant to drag us back from the brink of oblivion haven’t worked. In fact they have borrowed more than Labour ever did! They have continued to blame Labour despite the fact they have had more than enough time to implement their policies. Instead of accepting that their policies have failed (or are taking far longer to work than we were promised) they keep pumping out the tired line that Labour are to blame. This is becoming tiresome. Ordinary people are not feeling any better off for having this coalition government who are “making tough decisions for the good of this country”; the number of people using food banks have rapidly increased due to the depth and severity of cuts to the poor. That is something that should shame this country. In 21st century Britain people should not have to rely on charity to put food on the table for their children nor should they be choosing between eating and heating. Although it should be noted that food banks started under Labour. The “tough decisions” the coalition have made are not tough in any way, shape or form. The Liberal Democrats have sold out by jumping into bed with a party which they had direct conflict with on issues such as immigration, welfare and Trident. As a result they have had to betray nearly every popular pre-election policy they had and have potentially consigned themselves to the political wilderness for the foreseeable future. The knock on effect (which in fairness couldn’t be predicted) is that UKIP could be occupying their place which is not what this country needs at all. The Liberal Democrats could argue that without their presence in government the Tories would have cut deeper than they already have but this is not enough. The Lib Dems sold themselves out and betrayed thousands of students who voted for them on the basis that they wanted to scrap tuition fees and people will not forget that in a hurry. The Tories have shown that they are blatantly not the party for change as they continue to avoid clamping down on tax havens, tax dodgers and the spiraling cost of living as corporations put astronomical profit before consumers – they are still a party of the rich for the rich.

However, the coalition have been successful in demonising the poorer end of society and causing class conflict within the working class. They have turned the working class on each other and whilst they all fight each other they are not fighting against the draconian policies that are bringing misery to their lives. There has been this carefully constructed wave of media criticism and articles highlighting extreme cases of “benefit Britain” which have fed into this perception that there is a benefit cheat on every street that is living the high life at working people’s expense. A good example of this is the Jeremy Kyle show, where nearly every guest is either unemployed, on drugs, been in prison or all three and when there is a guest who is in employment the audience are encouraged to clap and cheer that person as if they are as rare as a unicorn. I even heard of an episode where Jeremy encouraged the audience to give a woman a round of applause because she knew who the father of her child was which is astonishing! You cannot blame the government for this type of show but it is the stereotypes that are paraded on the programme like cattle that are demonised by the media and held up as the norm, which is simply not true and they help form the “justification” for these savage cuts. There are those who try to cheat the system and that is a fact however, these are in the minority and should not be portrayed as being common amongst those who are on benefits. Many people who claim any of the various benefits available actually work and need to supplement their income due to being on a zero hour contract or working part time. There are not enough full time jobs to go around at this moment in time. Despite Tory claims that zero hour contracts “keep people in work” the reality is that those contracts deny people basic workers rights and mean that the people tied up in them become dependent on benefits through no fault of their own to top up their income so that they can put food on the table.

This idea perpetuated by the coalition that “we are all in this together” is being shown up as an outright lie when policies such as the spare room subsidy or bedroom tax as it is dubbed, has been drafted up when there are millions of pounds being milked from this country through tax havens. Whilst these maybe legal that does not make it right. No ordinary working person has the option to go through a tax haven as their tax is taken before it reaches their bank account so why is it ok for one group but not another? They are a rich person’s luxury. If you earn money in this country you should pay the tax rates that are set  irrespective of whether you live in London or Monte Carlo. It seems that if you’re rich and wear a smart suit you can take away millions from the government and it be acceptable but if you’re struggling to make ends meet and need a helping hand you’re a scrounger. This simply is not fairness. The other problem with the bedroom subsidy is that there are simply not enough council houses to go around so people cannot just move into a smaller property. It is well documented that a lot of council houses were sold off in the 1980s and not rebuilt by the Thatcher, Major and Blair governments. Although the money that was made from selling the council houses was not allowed to be used to replace the properties that were sold off. The Labour government under Tony Blair should have built more social housing but they did not and the problem that stemmed from the 80s now has greater consequences for us today. The next government, whoever it maybe, must address this by not only building more social housing but also looking at the cost of private rent and working out a way of how that can possibly be capped. The Labour Party made mistakes that drove their core voters into the grateful arms of the Tories and Lib Dems; they must accept this fact and learn from it.

The coalition’s actions are actually pushing voters towards the Labour Party. In some ways Labour are lucky that the coalition have made some poor decisions in office. The largest group within the electorate are beginning to grow tired of “it’s all Labour’s fault” and fed up at being demonised and having to bear the brunt of the economic crisis whilst the coalition allow their “friends” to get away with taking their share of the burden. The problem with all political parties is that they often do not keep their election promises and therefore people become disillusioned with them and decide to vote for another. Moreover, they are seen by many to be all scrabbling for the centre ground, none of them want to push too far left or too far right. This means that people can find it hard to distinguish between them other than the colour of their logos and ties. This alienates people and goes part of the way in explaining why voting numbers have decreased over recent elections. Each party must start keeping it’s election promises and they must become distinctive from the others. The Liberal Democrats could struggle in the next election because they have come across as treacherous and Nick Clegg as a Tory whipping boy. By going into coalition with the Conservatives some of the electorate may find it hard to differentiate between the two whereas before their principles were clearly separate. As for the Tories they have shown that the slogan “the party for change” was a line a stand up comedian could be proud of. Some people took a chance on them, I heard people say “I’ll give them a go because Labour aren’t doing much at the moment. They might have changed.” The Tories are finding hard to bridge the gap between the right wingers and the moderates within the party which was shown up explicitly during the gay marriage debate. This is a problem which parties on the right often do not encounter. Labour possibly has the best chance of being able to offer a difference at the next election because under Ed Miliband they have a change of direction to that of Blair/Brown and through the mistakes of the coalition they are able to separate themselves from those policies. But it will come down to two key questions: Can voters relate to/be pulled in by Ed Miliband? And have they won back the voters trust yet? Adam Ant once sung “music’s lost its taste, time to try another flavour” well politics has lost its taste (for some) so maybe it’s time to try another flavour? Which party will offer it? We just have to wait and see.

Are you being served?: The disillusionment of the average Joe


I have been thinking recently how I’ve been neglecting my blog, in part possibly because I seem to have a sort of writer’s block. Despite many topics that I would usually be chomping at the bit to discuss I just can’t seem to get the ideas formulated in my brain into something coherent and readable. However, here I am giving it a go and I offer my apologies in advance if this post is somewhat disjointed and lacking in fluency or just doesn’t make sense. This time around I’m going to attempt to discuss if the electorate are disillusioned with politics and politicians. 

The reason this post came about was because I stumbled upon a good old fashioned Twitter debate between someone I follow and someone I don’t. The debate centred around the idea that politics is only open to the privileged, particularly those who went to schools such as Eton. It was interesting and both of the people involved made valid points but it made me wonder about the consensus of the ‘poorer’ end of the electorate. Do the working class feel disillusioned and detached from those in power? The short answer here is yes but it is a little more complicated than that.

A while ago I did a video blog post about why people should vote, I perhaps came across a little bit self-righteous but I still believe in what I said: that everyone who can vote should vote. When I speak to people to who say they don’t vote I always ask them why and the answer that is returned most often is: I do not trust the politicians/they’re all toffs who don’t care about us/they are all the same. Which in many ways is expected considering the expenses scandal and the seeming lack of empathy shown by many of our leading politicians which goes for all parties. But it presents us with another question; could politicians help themselves by changing these attitudes? Of course they could. They could do more for example, not demand (and vote for) a wage increase in these times of austerity where many of the poorer end of society are being hit the hardest or take four holidays a year when many can’t even afford a day out (yes Mr. Cameron that is you I’m talking about). I sometimes think politicians would make the worst PR consultants! But above all they could actually listen to what people want. In the run up to elections all of the parties are happy to put paper through your door but how many candidates (or one of their team) actually knock the door and talk to the people whose house they’re shoving a leaflet into? From my experience there’s not many who do. Many people who don’t vote don’t because they are fed up with broken promises and words on a flyer, they don’t wish to vote for a party who doesn’t help them. These are the disillusioned and it is these people that all of the political parties of this country should be targeting. Being able to vote is a privilege afforded to nearly all of us in this country and it is a crying shame that numbers of voters have decreased in recent years. It is a crying shame for those who fought to get the vote, for those who fought to get voting equality and for those in places around the world where they don’t have the right to vote. 

Going back to the Twitter debate, one of the arguments raised was that parliament seems to be dominated by people from privilege. This is probably a fair argument but it begs the question why is that? One of the replies to the said argument was that it could be people from less privileged backgrounds don’t have the same level of interest in politics which is possible but further that I would say that maybe that is because even if the interest levels are there people don’t know how or can’t get a start in politics. However, I also think that the privileged do get criticised and they are all viewed as completely uninterested in helping the less privileged end of society which is unfair in some respects because a few (albeit the minority) do care but when someone of privilege does they get labelled a ‘champagne socialist’ amongst other things. A politician who comes from a privileged background can understand and help those at the poorer end, it is harder for them to do so of course but not impossible. The politicians have to want to do so and whilst they demonise the poor, refuse to chase up tax avoiders and bankers for example, they cannot be seen to be working for the ordinary man, woman and child. 

Politics has changed. Modern politics is all about PR/selling yourself and your party which is in a large part owed to the role of the media in our society. The media hold all the cards when it comes to today’s politics, it is sometimes said that the Labour Party’s victory in 1997 should be largely attributed to Rupert Murdoch and his News International group. Politicians are coming under increasing levels of scrutiny so surely they should be trying harder than ever to show commitment to helping the less fortunate who make up the largest group in society. The reality is that whilst politicians are going on their fourth holiday a year, voting for pay increases whilst supporting benefit cuts, not fighting harder against proposed policies which negatively affect your core support and protecting those who bankroll their parties the electorate will continue to be disillusioned with them and we will see more coalition governments in the future. 

UKIP And The Warning From History


Recently council elections were held across England and Wales and the main talking point in the British media has been the rise of UKIP who won 147 seats, a gain of 139 (statistics taken from BBC News). From everything I have read so far in various media outlets about the increase in votes for UKIP the general consensus seems to be that it is a protest vote against the three main political parties and there’s an attraction to UKIP due to their stance on the EU and immigration. However, in this post I wanted to make the point that voting for UKIP comes with a massive warning label, a warning that comes from history.

In the 1920s and 1930s there was a rise in the amount of extremist political parties; both on the left and right. In the UK the Communist Party of Great Britain was founded (1920) and later in 1932 the British Union of Fascists was started up by Oswald Moseley. In mainland Europe Italy fell under Fascist rule in 1922, the Russian monarchy was overthrown in 1917 by a Communist revolution, the Nazis went from being a marginal party in the 1920s to being the sole party in Germany in the 1930s, the Socialist government in Spain was embroiled in a civil war (1936-39) and was eventually defeated by Franco who turned Spain into a right wing dictatorship. This rise can be attributed to many factors but largely, in my opinion, to economic depression. In times of economic struggle the general population want answers to their problems and potentially someone to blame. Germany for example, was in the process of economic recovery in the late 1920s (largely thanks to the work of Foreign Minister, Gustav Stresseman) until the Wall Street Crash in 1929. After this your life savings wouldn’t have bought you jar of coffee in Germany, this almost certainly helped the Nazis who offered up a scapegoat: the Jews (and other various groups such as Communists) because they had “stabbed Germany in the back” by signing the detested Treaty of Versailles. They offered not only a scapegoat but they promised the people things that they desperately wanted such as jobs, food and undoing the Treaty and they did so without saying how they’d provide these things. The rise of the Nazis can be shown by the following election statistics:

1928 – 800,000 votes

         – won 12/491 seats in the Reichstag

1930 – 6.5 million votes

         – 107 seats

1932 – 14 million votes

         – 230 seats

1933 – 17 million votes

(statistics taken from The History of World War II, volume 1 by Orbis Publications)

The 1933 elections were held after the Reichstag was burnt down by a Dutch Communist and as a result a wave of anti-Communist sentiment swept Germany (with help of Nazi rhetoric). As they say: the rest is history. 

So how is this relevant to the rise of UKIP today? UKIP’s two main policies are to break away from the European Union and to stop the immigration of foreigners to the UK. It is the latter of those two policies that is relevant. We are currently in an economic depression much like Europe was in the early 1930s, and like the Nazis UKIP have blamed a minority group for the problems facing the country. Their argument centres around the belief that immigrants have flooded the country taking jobs from British people as well as homes. This is taken from UKIP’s website: “The tide of mass EU immigration has pushed down wages and restricted job opportunities. Only by leaving the EU can we regain control of our borders.” In essence they are arguing that the only reason for low wages are because of the influx of immigrants from Europe. However, in areas such as Cornwall where there are low levels of immigrants living wages are some of the lowest in the country. Cornwall County Council reports that “…the 2009 average (median) full time gross annual earnings were £20,982, below the South West and GB average.” It further reports that “According to the 2009 estimates the ethnic profile of Cornwall shows 4.2% of the population were from mixed, Asian, black or Chinese groups.” So in Cornwall the low wages cannot be attributed to the influx of foreigners. Whilst it is fair to say that UKIP isn’t outright racist (although some of its members certainly hold racist views) it does inhibit the characteristics of intolerance similar to the early days of the Nazi Party where it blames a minority group for the problems. By giving the general population an answer to why there has been an economic depression they have gained support because the reality is that the people want answers even if they aren’t quite correct. Joseph Goebbels, head of the Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda in Nazi Germany once remarked “the bigger the lie, the more people believe it.” Moreover, the Nazis vowed to “make Germany great again” by improving the armed forces which the Treaty of Versailles severely weakened thus increasing defence spending in a time of economic trouble compare this to UKIP who say this on their website: “The State must defend its peoples. Keep our nuclear deterrent and make increased defence spending a clear priority, even in these difficult times, to underpin Britain’s global role.”  So they want to increase wages and reduce the deficit yet they also want to increase defence spending even in tough economic times? This simply does not make sense. Unless you are going to use the improved defence not to merely defend the country from attack but to wage war and therefore move into a wartime economy, which is what effectively happened in Germany under the Nazis.

The issue with UKIP is that they are serving up a scapegoat in the EU and immigration levels like the Nazis served up the Jews and Communists. Intolerance only leads to hate and hate leads to extreme measures. It is not a case of being patriotic because being a patriot does not mean you have to be intolerant of people from other nations. UKIP say that “Our traditional values have been undermined.  Children are taught to be ashamed of our past.  Multiculturalism has split our society.” They say this without laying out exactly what these supposed traditional values are – Britain has been for centuries a haven of multiculturalism, even Mr. Farage himself has French heritage! As for children being taught to be ashamed of our past it is outright ridiculous. Nowhere in the history curriculum for schools does it teach children that we should be ashamed. Children are taught a wide range of history from around the world and in Years 7, 8 and 9 they are taught a significant amount about Britain (1066, Tudors, Stuarts etc). Yes they are taught about slavery but to gloss over it or ignore it completely would be wrong and no different to what the Nazis did when they edited the curriculum to suit their ideological aims.  

I did not want this piece to turn into a history essay or lesson and am the first one to admit that in the second paragraph some of what I have said is very simplified. I am also aware I have only focussed on one of UKIP’s policies but it is one of their main (and for many, one of their most attractive policies). My intention was not to blow apart each and every one of their policies but to highlight the glaring similarities between them and that of the rise of the Nazis. The argument I am making here is that in an economic depression naturally there is a swing to the extremes of politics and UKIP, like the Nazis did successfully, are trying to exploit this by offering up a scapegoat. I’m not saying that if we end up with a UKIP government that they will end up committing a modern day holocaust but if they achieve their aims of taking us out of the EU there will be nothing in place to stop them eroding away workers rights and waging an all out war on non British people. There’s a stark warning from history to people who have switched to UKIP of what right-wing extremism achieves and the result is never pretty.

 

References:

BBC News Website

Cornwall County Council Website

UKIP.org

The History of World War II, volume 1 (an Orbis publications book)

Fight For Your Right To Party Because The Witch Is Dead


Back in July of last year I wrote a piece on this blog about the Thatcher legacy. In that post I used a relatively unknown song by a musician called Frank Turner to illustrate my point. Since I wrote that piece my views have not changed in the slightest, even though as you probably know Margaret Thatcher passed away last week. In fact it is her passing, well the ensuing debates that have raged since her passing that I wanted to discuss this time.

I was out and about when I found out via the medium of Twitter that Thatcher had finally ended her stay in this life and I must admit I had a smile on my face. I’m not one to revel in someone’s death however, I also believe that just because someone has died you shouldn’t miraculously have a change of heart and start seeing them with rose tinted glasses either. To me, Thatcher represents everything in this country that I despise; privatisation, snobbery, Tories, destruction of the NHS, smashing of trade unions, slapping down workers, widening of the gap between rich and poor, I could continue but I haven’t got all night. Her death does not suddenly fill me with happy feeling towards her or regret about all the whining I have done about her in the past.

She was, and still is, a highly controversial figure dividing the country whilst in power and still so in death. Her supporters on the one hand are outraged that this poor old lady who “did so much for this country” (they are clearly deluded) is being treated in such a terrible way with all the celebrations of her passing. But on the other you’ve got those that are delighted that they can finally dance on the grave of the woman who ripped apart their communities, divided families and helped push blame on to innocent victims of the Hillsborough disaster. I don’t see why there’s been a big uproar over the celebrations when you take into account her labelling of Nelson Mandela as a terrorist, her support of apartheid, her poor track record on feminism (remember ladies this “great female icon” said feminism was ‘poison’ and she was the only woman who could do the PM’s job), her support of Section 28 banning the education of homosexuality in schools, her ruthless attitude towards the miners and unions, the sky rocketing of unemployment, the introduction of the dreaded poll tax and as previously mentioned the privatisation which in the long term has had a detrimental effect on British businesses.

Particularly with regard to the miners she showed a ruthless, nasty streak which contrary to what i’ve heard recently is not the sign of a ‘conviction politician’ it is the sign of a politician hell bent on imposing her will on those beneath the ruling elite. She has created a negative legacy in this country and for that she should certainly not be thanked. She invokes such strong feelings of hatred from those who suffered under her draconian policies and from those who have suffered since. Should the people in mining communities such as Yorkshire, Wales, Scotland, Cornwall et al be sad that the woman who caused them such untold misery has passed? Should the families of the Hillsborough victims who have had to wait over twenty years for answers be mourning? No of course not. Would a victim of a crime be expected to mourn the death of the person who committed that crime against them? No. So why should the people whose lives she ruined be sympathetic? If those people want to celebrate then let them that is their choice and good on them I say. At the end of the day she is not Mother Theresa or Princess Diana and in no way deserves the lavish State funded funeral she is getting. Yes the same State she tried to destroy is paying for her funeral. I find it astonishing that the Tories have told us for months that there’s no money and we have to make cuts but Maggie pops it and suddenly there’s £8 million plus available to put her in the ground. It’s an insult to the working people of this country.

Yes people may say i’m being too harsh and use the argument that there is a grieving family to consider however, may I point out that this ‘conviction politician’ showed not one ounce of sympathy for the families of miners who had nothing, to the miners who she sent the police after, or to the victims of Hillsborough, or to the plight of Nelson Mandela and the victims of Apartheid. Moreover, the Tories are free to parade her so-called “great” legacy in the faces of all those people she negatively effected and speak about her like she was some kind of modern day saint who did nothing wrong in her whole life but the people she wronged can’t make their feelings known. Smacks of hypocrisy. I suspect when Tony Blair dies there will be a similar debate and I would think some of the ones doing the condemning now will be doing the partying then. Maybe they will just do it in the privacy of their mansions and not have the spine to stand up and say what they really think.

Before I end this I would like to point out that whilst I defend the right to celebrate the death of this vile politician I do not defend those who use it as an excuse to commit crimes, smashing the windows of shops and so on is not right and those people, thankfully, are in the minority. Majority of those celebrating will be doing so peacefully and in all likelihood in an amusing manner. Good luck to you death revellers, stay safe, have fun but whilst doing it remember those that suffered most of all and remember those who never got to live to see the day she croaked. The day Maggie Thatcher died, without regret over the lives she destroyed, was actually a day to remember the ones that suffered in her eleven years as PM because in all of this they are the ones who are worth remembering.

Should We Apologise For The Past?


A shortish video on why I think we are right to apologise for the not so pleasant things in our history

Women since World War II: The Illusion of radical change


Whilst at university I was fortunate enough to have studied a module entitled ‘Women in History’. Although, it is fair to say I didn’t think I was fortunate at the time, upon reflection I can say it was one of the more interesting (and certainly entertaining) modules I had the privilege of studying. The module covered the role of women in history from the days of witchcraft right through up until the present day and as part of the module we had to write two essays on the topic. One of the titles I picked was about the perception that since the end of World War II there has been a radical change for women in society. Which seemed pretty straight forward on initial inspection in the sense of women went from being housewives to workers and moving forward to the present day there is more equality than ever before. However, as I delved deeper I found myself  really questioning the validity of my initial assumptions. So I wrote the assignment, handed it in and forgot about it completely until recently when I had a discussion with a friend about gender inequality in sport. And it got me thinking about that essay I wrote way back in 2009. So I hunted around and eventually found it. After reading it I realised that I really should have learnt to proof read my work as opposed to choosing not to and therefore leaving an extra ten minutes for me to spend in the pub! But some of the points I raised are relevant and I thought would make an interesting piece for this blog.

Immediately after the war there were still definitive spheres for men and women. Men were the breadwinners and women were left in domestic roles. But this was set to change, women had become a prominent part of the workforce during the war and to expect them to return to male sub-ordinance was unrealistic. Divorce rates after the war were on the increase, women had held the family together while the men were fighting and when the men returned they could not simply return to being the head of the household. The working class, particularly women, benefited from the introduction of the National Health Service and Family Allowance. The middle and upper classes, however, saw improvements in the sense that there was more accessibility to holidays, fashionable clothes and consumer good. In brief, the 1950s was the low point of women’s rights, the 1960s saw limited improvements for women such as the pill and legalised abortion but it was the 1970s that saw a boom in feminism. Women’s history began to be studied by historians for the first time and the Sex Discrimination Act was introduced in 1975. But the 1980s raised more questions. Women’s participation in sport was increasing and this was a cross class participation. But women involved in sport stereotypically had a butch, manly appearance and this caused controversy because of the links with lesbianism, which was still taboo in society. This continued into the 1990s, but although female sports have become increasingly popular the male/female sport division in some ways still exist even in 2013. The fifty years after WWII saw many changes for women in status, opportunity and lifestyle of all classes but the perception of it being radical is rather illusory because the change is still not complete in all areas of society and the changes were slow in terms of their development.

In the immediate aftermath of the war there were still definitive class divisions and divisions between men and women. During the war women had become an integral part of the workforce and a return to male sub-ordination was unlikely to happen-women had held the family together in the absence of their husbands. Divorce rates increased post war, owed in part to the increased status of women. The mobilisation of the female workforce during the war empowered women of all classes and in 1947 the government targeted women in the 35-50 age bracket for work. This shows that the war signalled to the government that women could be useful in the workplace and it also shows that their status and opportunities were improving. But it is important to note that in majority of cases women in the 35-50 age bracket had grown up children therefore the government still regarded women’s primary role as one of motherhood. The demand for women workers was not born out of apathy for women’s rights but more out of economic necessity; “First, the demand for female workers increased after World War II, in part as a consequence of population growth.”[1] The increase in population left a requirement for more nurses and teachers. This suggests the change for women was not a radical change, it was a necessity for the government to utilise the female workforce in a time when it was needed. Moreover, this applied to all classes with exception to maybe the upper class. The middle class had to do without servants and during the 1950s there was the appearance of manuals designed to educate middle class women on how to clean their homes, presentation of ones home was still as important in relation to social standing as it had been before and the emphasis was still on the woman to keep the home tidy. The introduction of the NHS and Family Allowances most certainly benefited the working class most of all. Before working class women often went without treatment for illnesses because they couldn’t afford to treat themselves because they had to save the money for when the man needed the doctor because he had to be kept healthy so he could work and earn for the family. The Family Allowance was designed to help families with expenses for their children but most important part of this was that it was paid to the mother, which for the first time gave her responsibility for some of the family’s money. These two significant changes were a big step for women at this time although it would be over stretched to say it was radical. However, for young girls of all classes the avenue for change was opening up. In 1944 the government introduced the Education Act which gave children of all classes a chance to go to grammar school. But it is fair to point out that many poor families could not afford to send their children to grammar school and that it was aimed more at boys than girls. The curriculum for girls was different to that of boys, girls were taught craft lessons such as sewing to prepare them for becoming a wife and mother, Jane Lewis says; “As late as 1948, John Newsom, in what R.A Butler (sponsor of the 1944 Education Act), described as ‘wise and humorous recommendations for girls’ schools’, favoured a separate curriculum for girls-grounded in domestic subjects-as any advocated by early twentieth century eugenicists.”[2] The reality was at this time that women could not survive on their own, with reference in particular to the lower classes, they needed a husband to support them, a female wage was not enough to supplement a living. There was no real radical change at this time.

During the 1950s and 1960s women’s liberation and feminism took an almost back seat position. Although there were limited successes for women in these decades, particularly in the 1960s. The pill became readily available to women and abortion was legalised. This gave women control over their sexuality like never before. A woman now had the power to decide whether she wanted to keep her child or not and she could use contraception which meant that she had control over sex in the sense that sex could be enjoyed more without the chance that she may become pregnant. Women were now in control of their bodies not their husbands and this applied across the classes. In education, new universities were springing up that allowed women the chance to go and study unlike before, this allowed women to have a greater role in society because they could read about history and politics, things that were largely considered male dominated interest areas. Fashion was increasingly becoming a part of life, particularly for the middle and upper classes. After the war rationing was still continuing but by the 1960s it had ended and people began to enjoy more consumer goods. Clothes were more styled and could be accessorised with hats and jewellery like never before, there was far more choice for middle and upper class women who had the money to be able to buy the latest fashions. This improved the lifestyle of women, they had freedom of choice and could be more indulgent than previously. But this is more applicable to the middle and upper classes more so than the lower classes who were unlikely to be able to afford such luxuries. Women however, were still in charge of cleaning the home and looking after the children and this determined how much leisure time they got; “In adulthood, women of both classes held primary responsibility for household labour and childcare, and this, as we have seen, was the most significant factor in structuring experiences of-and notions of entitlement to-leisure.”[3] This suggests that although leisure and lifestyle improvements were available to women at this time it was their home life that determined how much they got and what they got out of it. Moreover, it shows that during the 1950s and 1960s women were still in domestic roles and that in these two decades the change was most certainly not radical it was quite dormant even though there were improvements in lifestyle for women.

The 1970s is often heralded as the most radical and important time for women’s rights. Historians began to really look at women’s history for the first time. This meant that women had a voice in history,  whereas before it had been all about men. Sheila Rowbotham asked a group at Manchester University if they were interested in women’s history and she was effectively laughed at. She went onto write a pamphlet entitled “Women’s Liberation and the New Politics” in which relates socialism and feminism together. But the feminist movement did suffer fragmentation into three groups, the radical, socialists and the black. This was largely because of the introduction of the Sex Discrimination Act in 1975. Whilst the Act was the first radical change since the war because it outlawed discrimination against anyone based on their gender and meant employers could not advertise jobs solely for men or women[4], it did not immediately break down the attitudes of society towards women. Moreover,  although women had improved social status, they could earn a wage in their own right and this lead to opportunities in terms of pay rises and promotion some employers still tried to find ways around the new laws. It is fair to say the Act was certainly the first real radical moment for women in the years since WWII because it did put women on an equal footing with men, by law, when competing for a job. Though it could be argued that this did not apply to sport. During 1970s and 1980s women became more actively involved in sport, especially the Olympics. But there was, and in many respects still isn’t equality. It took until 2006 for women to be paid the same as men in Tennis but for more ‘masculine’ sports such as football women in the UK are not paid anywhere near the same as their male counterparts nor are women given the same media coverage afforded to men. Although with the introduction of the Women’s Super League ESPN now provide coverage for most of the matches.[5]

During the 1980s women in sport brought more controversy and posed more questions for the feminist movement. Women in sport are traditionally seen as possessing butch, male-like qualities and therefore people associate women in sport as being lesbians. Even sports governing bodies in the 1980s moved to stop their respective sports becoming a target for lesbian rumour, the Ladies Professional Golf Association or LPGA is an example; “In 1989 the LPGA launched a new “sexy” marketing strategy with a photo spread in Fairways, the official LPGA publication.”[6] The photo was of ‘sexier’ players in bikinis and swimwear. It was designed to show the game in a more positive light and to quell any lesbian rumours. This shows that although many changes had taken place sport still remained during the 1980s, and still remains today in many ways unequal for women. In Tennis, Martina Navratilova broke the mould by being the first woman in sport to break the mould and publicly talk about her lesbianism in 1990. This opened the door for many other female sports stars to do the same. Although with regards to men in sport, it is still largely taboo for a man to admit his homosexuality but it is more acceptable for a woman sports star to admit to being gay. Moving into the 1990s and up to present day  sport is still unequal on many levels for women and is still rooted in stereotypes. Women who play more masculine sports are still accused and referred to as lesbians simply for the sport they play, particularly football, but in more feminine sports women can be merely seen for their eye candy more so than their playing abilities. There was no radical change in the fifty years since WWII, sport is more accessible to all classes of women but it certainly is not equal.

In conclusion, since WWII there have been many changes for women across the classes. The introduction of the NHS and Family Allowances benefited the working class immensely, it meant that women could have treatment for illnesses that they wouldn’t have afforded before and they had some control over the income into the household. The 1950’s and 1960’s the improvements for women were rather dormant although the introduction of the Pill and abortion meant that women had control over their sexuality like never before, they had control over their body not their husband. Education for women improved also and they had access to higher education. The changes were not radical because they took so long to implement and there is still much inequality, particularly in sport as the examples of the LPGA and Martina Navratilova show. Women are not paid on the same par as men in sport even though it is a job the same as any other so this is where the change for women stops. There are more opportunities and definitely an improved status and the lifestyle for a woman is far better than it ever has been but there is still inequality in some areas of life even today in 2013.

References:


[1] Scott, J., Tilly, L., Women, Work and Family, (London, 1987) p. 217

[2] Lewis, J., Women in England, (Sussex, 1984) p. 101

[3] Langhammer, C., Women’s Leisure in England 1920-1960, (Manchester, 2000) p. 188

[5] espnmediazone3.com/wpmu/uk/?p=1166

[6] Cahn, S., Coming on strong: Gender and Sexuality in twentieth century women’s sport, (New York, 1984) p. 266

Video Blog Post #1


My first video blog post. Here I discuss why I believe it is important to be politically motivated. I apologise for the poor sound quality, hopefully it will be fixed for the next video blog!

Feel free to comment and ask questions. Enjoy!

When I’m 64: Why I believe in the NHS


When Danny Boyle unleashed his Olympic opening ceremony many were expecting something very different from what he produced. It was a bold move to celebrate the National Health Service, particularly at a time when we are persistently told that it is “woefully inadequate”. But what an ingenious move it was, not only did I enjoy watching many Tory MP’s squirm but also because I have always believed that the NHS is the greatest single development this country has ever seen and it deserves it’s place in the limelight. Why shouldn’t we celebrate the fact that the people of this country can have medical care that is based on a “clinical need and not the ability to pay”, which is one of the core principles of the NHS laid down in 1948. In a previous post I talked about the things that put the “Great” into Great Britain and the NHS is most definitely one of those things. President Obama has been desperately trying to push through his health bill in the USA and is being consistently rebuffed which astounds me because I can’t see how a small minority can play God with people’s health. The comedian Chris Rock has this joke where he talks about how his family were so poor that his dad would tell him to rub Robitussin on any ailment, even a broken leg. He tells it in a very amusing way but it has a serious point. Those who doubt the presence of the NHS should go to the USA, walk in the shoes of families like Chris Rock’s and eat a slice of the reality cake that is the life of a family born without privilege in a country where a minority play God with people’s lives every single day.

No one can argue that the NHS isn’t without it’s problems. However, we are facing the problem of an ageing population and our care for the elders in our society is nothing short of awful. These are the people who have worked for this country, paid into the system and their reward is, at best to receive second rate care, at worst to be neglected. Not all hospitals are bad, some have excellent levels of patient care and i’m sure there are many stories of doctors and nurses who will go the extra mile for their patients. The problems need addressing not listing. My Auntie is a nurse at an NHS hospital and by all accounts she is an excellent nurse who is loved by her patients and colleagues. She herself admits that it is a challenging job with often little reward (the pay isn’t exactly fantastic and she has to pay to park at the hospital in which she works) but it’s what she loves and it’s what she signed up to do. Politicians talk of all the problems the NHS has and gives shocking examples to emphasise their point but then in the same breath they talk about reducing funding and cutting costs which effectively says “we’re putting a price on human life”. There is no price on human life. None. There is no talk of a solution to all the problems they present. A list of problems without any solutions is like trying to make tea without a tea bag. Pointless.

When I was a teenager my Grandfather had a heart attack and was told he needed a triple heart bypass. He was a security guard and could pick me up by my ears, a strong, stubborn, independent man. Whilst a triple heart bypass is a serious operation he was assured that he would have a relatively good quality of life afterwards. However, when he finally left hospital after six months he had no chest bone, a skin graft covered his chest and you could see his heart beat through his shirt. He couldn’t even lift a kettle in case he ripped open the skin graft let alone pick me up by my ears. The hospital had failed to wash the equipment for his operation correctly and he contracted a bug which rotted away his chest bone. They cut the bone in his chest just past the collar bone. The wound the bug caused was so big my dad could fit his fist inside of it. I personally witnessed a nurse treat my grandfather (he was in isolation as the bug was highly contagious) with her gloves and apron only to go running over to another patient who had fallen and treat him without removing her gloves or apron. The NHS hospital ruined my Grandfather’s quality of life so much that we were told we’d be lucky to have him for five years. We got him for nine. And I believe it was only out of sheer stubbornness that he held on for so long. He was compensated for his trouble, not very generously, but rinsing them for money was not his intention. He just wanted them to recognise what they had done to his family, especially to his grandchildren who he could no longer play with like he used to. I believe that was the part that hurt him the most. But despite all of this he, and I, still believe in the NHS.

As a family we had an horrendous experience but it was one hospital and one example. It exists so that everyone can have the chance of life regardless of wealth. It is worth every penny of tax payers money and if you choose to go private then that is your choice but it does not mean the NHS does not have it’s place. It is important to keep the private and public health services separate because whilst they can co-exist they cannot work together in harmony when their core principles are so different. Much like the coalition government it cannot and will not sustain.

The solution to parasitic Britain


It is often said that Britain is plagued by social problems. Benefit fraud, gang culture, a lack of willingness to work, drugs and so on are persistent problems within our society. Yet whilst many complain about these problems no one seems to be able to come up with a reasonable solution to these problems that is workable and beneficial. When a ‘solution’ is presented it is often one which involves harsher prison sentences, stopping benefits, forcing people into work and threatening those who refuse with jail. All of which will solve nothing but make a resentful population even more resentful and potentially cause another riot like those seen last year in various urban areas, if not worse. Do not get me wrong I find it appalling that there are those out there who refuse to work, cheat the system, make money through drugs and gangs, in fact it gets right on my nerves particularly when out of roughly sixteen houses in my parents cul-de-sac only six households earn a living through working, the rest do not work and haven’t done so their entire lives. It is an insult to my parents and those other five households that they’re out working every hour they can to provide for their families that the rest can have better cars, the latest technology, wear the best clothes without working for it. However, despite this I do not believe that repressive measures championed, often by those on the right, are the way to put an end to it. If you beat a population into submission and try to force them to bend to your will all you will succeed in doing is making them more hateful, more resentful and more inclined to rise up against you. This is why eventually totalitarianism and dictatorships fail; because the people are downtrodden for so long they realise they have nothing to lose by rebelling, all it takes is an instigator, a spark, something to ignite the flickering flame and then boom. The reality is that a country is nothing without it’s people.

Now, you might ask, after that rambling speech do you actually have a point? Well, yes I do as a matter of fact. I once wrote an essay on the assault on private life under Nikita Khrushchev in Russia and in that essay I explored a law brought in by Khrushchev in 1961 aptly named the Anti-Parasite Law. This law said that those who “…occupy themselves with private enterprise, live on resources obtained by non-toiling means or commit other anti-social offences permitting them to a parasitic way of life…” could find themselves in hot water with the law. In translation this law basically meant that if you made a living by not working (or as it was Communist Russia made a living through capitalism) you could be in trouble with the state. But this law did not only effect the working environment it stretched to everyday life. such as drunks, those faking disability and profiteers of the black market. Sound familiar? This law encouraged people to denounce their neighbours and work colleagues for being “social parasites”. So how is this different from what we have currently in place in Britain right now? Not much except it was a bit more draconian in the sense that you could be banished (or deported) to a designated place for anything from two to five years, and in more serious cases execution. This law was a step back to more repressive measures in Russia and as I have previously said repression is not necessarily the answer to social problems. This reversion back to the old repressive measures after Khrushchev’s initial attempt to move away from them led to him being considered as having two faces, one which embodied his anti-Stalinist, progressive beliefs and one which represented his continuation of the past.

Previous to this law was the idea of “comrades courts” which were essentially trial by your peers in the workplace and volunteer brigades called Druzhiny, whose job it was to deal with workplace issues without interference from the state. Comrade Courts were, in a simplified way, set up within a work place so that workers would behave in a proper manner that was beneficial to the successful production of work. So for example, if a husband was a drinker or was having an affair his wife could go to the comrade court at his workplace and present her case to them and they would call the worker in for a meeting and the appropriate action was taken. If he was an alcoholic the comrade court would send him through a program of rehabilitation enforced through the workplace or if he was having an affair they would send the couple through marriage counselling (it worked both ways; a husband could go to his wife’s comrade court if the same were true of her). The idea was to protect the working system from alcoholism and other offences that were deemed “parasitic” or a threat to the working environment. The Druzhiny was much the same except they worked outside of the workplace and they were to ensure the Communist code of morality was upheld, so they could find those who were faking disability, shirking from work, not upholding family values, those profiting in illicit deeds and the like. Ordinary citizens could report those they suspected of these offences to the Druzhiny for investigation. The idea of these measures were to stop the population ‘swinging the lead’ and living a parasitic lifestyle which was to the detriment of the Communist ideal. The bonus of this system was that instead of placing these people through criminal courts it meant that the state saved money but also it potentially encouraged people to work harder because your peers would not hold you in such high regard if you were guilty of living as a parasite. Moreover, it “popularised the administration of justice” which meant the state could concentrate of trying those guilty of “proper” crimes as opposed to wasting resources chasing those who were guilty of lesser offences. Persistent re-offenders were threatened with jail but only after the comrade courts and Druzhiny had worked with the offender and explored all the options such as counselling and rehab. This idea could work in Britain today, it would help the problem of prison overcrowding, would save the state money and it would help stop many of the social problems we face in this country. A few changes would need to be put in place to make it more relevant to Britain (I find it unlikely that British people would want to be told they can’t make money from private enterprise!) and the name “Comrade Courts” would certainly need a less imposing name, maybe Community Support Team or Network? The bonus of this would potentially be the bringing together of the community, people looking out for each other and guiding each other in a positive way. Instead of complaining about the “free loaders” the community could help those apparently guilty of abusing the system to become a better person.

All sounds very idealistic doesn’t it? Yes, I would agree with that but if you don’t try you are never going to know whether it could work or not. What would be the harm? This current system cannot continue, financially and socially it is not viable. The ideas currently in place are not working, repressive measures are not the answer either. History isn’t just one thing after another, it exists so that we can learn from it and use it’s lessons to help us have a better future. Nikita Khrushchev’s memorial commissioned by his family and designed by the sculptor Ernst Neizvestny is a brilliant artistic representation of the conflicting nature of Khrushchev’s time in power, and one side of his faces might just help Britain now.

And now for something completely different…At home with the Baileys


Tomorrow my Auntie (dad’s sister) is getting married. She’s 43 and this will be her first marriage. Great for her. I don’t mean to sound so unenthusiastic about it but I have to wear a dress and dresses really are not my thing! Anyway because she is getting married tomorrow my Gran thought it would be a fantastic idea to have my parents, my brother, my Auntie and myself round to hers for fish and chips (a kind of last supper for the Bailey family…which it is…we’re finally getting rid of my Auntie after unsuccessfully trying for years!). Now this all sounds very lovely and civilised doesn’t it? How wrong could you be?

You see my family is anything but civilised. My Grandmother is 80 and what a character she is, one day I will write a book on her. So the fish and chips were eaten and enjoyed along with a couple of cups of tea so next up was the family stories. Oh dear lord…

My Grandad on that side of the family died when I was 8, he had a very profound effect on my life and one day when I feel I can do it justice I will write a piece on one of the greatest men I have ever, or ever will know. Anyway he was a traditional guy, didn’t like women drinking pints, seeing women drunk or swearing. Goodness knows what he thinks of me now because I do just about everything he thought a woman should not do although my Gran tells me “he’d be so proud”, I very much hope she is right as I would hate to disappoint him. But times were different then as my Gran often reminds me.

So I shall begin the stories that were rolled out over the course of a rather amusing evening…

My Grandad, traditional family man and my Gran were arguing, my dad was about 16 and my Aunt about 8 and they said they have never forgotten this. Grandad and Gran were going hell for leather in the kitchen and during the heat of the row my Gran says to my Grandad: “you’re a t**t” and Grandad said: “what did you say? I don’t want to hear you use language like that!” cue my Gran…”well I can go one better than that. You’re nothing but a silly old c**t!” Well, I have heard that story many times in my life and it never fails to make me laugh. My Gran is barely five foot and my Grandad was well over six foot and he was one fiery character.

There was also the time my Dad and Auntie cleaned the dog’s teeth with my Grandad’s toothbrush and then put it back on the shelf…and time(s) my dad would go and aggravate Grandad’s ferrets so that when he went to feed them they would bite…And the time my dad asked to go out and Gran said no then he asked Grandad who said yes so my Gran chased him up the road with a poker in her hand.

But the best stories are as a result of my Gran. She really is a character so much so she told me on my 24th birthday: “I have a bit of birthday advice for you, if you got an itchy tit it means you fancy a bit and have lots of sex or else your cervix with shrivel up and die”. Erm, cheers Gran.

Continuing on the cervix theme she had an appointment at the doctors for a smear a few years ago. After the examination the doctor says: “Mrs. Bailey your cervix has gone but that is only to be expected at your age” “Gone?” My Gran asks, “Gone where? Did it fall out? Thought I felt something drop whilst I was in Tescos” The poor doctor didn’t know where to put her face.

So she got a bit poorly and had to go into hospital and as a volunteering scheme the Samaritans come around to talk to patients at the hospital so they’re asking her how she is and what not…”well” she says, “i’d be alright if you just gave me a gun and shot me!” Fortunately, they saw the funny side…my parents were stunned. Smartest thing you could possibly say to the Samaritans! But that could not possibly beat the previous hospital visit she had…

She had a fall in the garden and it shook her up a bit as she is a very independent woman. Anyway, she had to complete a series of tests to check she was competent enough to go home, one of which she had to pick up a piece of paper off of the floor, she did this quite proudly with no trouble. So she gets to the final test..”Mrs. Bailey could you write me a sentence?” Gran takes the piece of paper and pen and writes away and then hands it to the doctor. The doctor reads it and raises her eyebrows and looks at my Auntie in a little bit of disbelief, she reads it aloud…”My pussy is fluffy” My Gran smirks knowing full well what she has written. No surprise they let her out that day.

These are just a small selection of family stories that were rolled out over the course of the evening. I know this post isn’t my usual type of post but I just felt I had to share. So now you’re probably thinking “Oh but at least she’s got the other side of the family to keep her sane” Well I’m happy (I think?!) to report…mum’s side are just as bad…

My Grandad came home drunk one night and he said something, obviously the wrong thing to my Gran who promptly whacked him over the head with a cast iron frying pan knocking him clean out, now my Grandad was ex-army and not a small bloke. My mum says all she remembers is a cry up the stairs from my Gran calling to my mum’s eldest brother of: “Francis i’ve killed your dad!” She hadn’t. He survived until November 2008 when he passed. And no it was not the result of a cast iron frying pan!

%d bloggers like this: