Archive

Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Six degrees of caring: Can we have a caring capitalism?

September 14, 2012 Leave a comment
Can caring fix capitalism?

Maybe it’s far-fetched to believe we can be connected to everyone in the world by six people, but there may be method in the madness.

It could well have been the hand of destiny that had me sitting on a houseboat with a friend watching Law Abiding Citizen.

Without ruining the plot I will simply say they Gerard Butler decides to take the law into his own hands over the murder of his wife and daughter. This stems from the decision of the district attorney to give the killer a plea bargain, on the face of it to help with another case, but in actuality it is to keep his prosecution rate high.

The film highlights that the justice system in the US has little regard for the people involved. It is an assembly line, with judges sitting over hundreds of cases a week, lawyers representing multiple individuals as both defendants and plaintiffs, and barristers using their theatrical oration skills to help both help the innocent and guilty alike.

The reason the film struck a chord with is that the justice system is an arena where there is a growing disconnection with the people that they are meant to protect and serve.

On one level there has to be. In order that everyone should get a fair trial, lawyers and barristers have to put aside their own prejudices, and represent their client to the best of their abilities.

However, the initial disconnection that allows these individuals to do their jobs effectively can sometimes turn into a deeper a disconnection. This may not stop them performing the the service required of them, but it takes away the essence of the service. In this case, although the judge and DA convict the murderer, the plea bargain means that it is questionable whether justice has actually been satisfied.

This disconnection manifests itself in the shift from clients to statistics. The DA in LAC doesn’t see the people involved in the case as humans, but as statistics he can manipulate to make himself look better. But it is not just in the legal system that this disconnection is apparent.

Managers that fire hundreds of people in efficacy savings are trained to not see them as men and women, but faulty parts of a machine. The head of Ofqual, at the centre of the current GCSE debacle, must have tried very hard to believe that in moving the grade scale she was not ruining the futures of thousands of children, but simply balancing the books.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe many professionals are good people and don’t see their staff or clients as numbers on a spreadsheet. But, the system is geared so that the movers and the shakers above the glass ceiling can disconnect from the people they are meant to support and not treat them as people. Or at least when it suits them.

We are all guilty of it. That annoying customer who walks in and kicks up a fuss. That person on the phone trying to sell you insurance. That homeless person asking you for money. Our society has developed to the point where we can comfortably dehumanise the people who we don’t like or don’t want to interact with. It is only more apparent in the upper echelons of power because their actions effect more people.

But every time you send someone to Coventry, or whisper behind someone’s back, or tell a homeless beggar to “f*** off,” you are dealing with a person, who has people they care about and hopefully people who care about them.

The theory of sis degrees of separate implies that we are all connected to everyone on the planet through six people. Unlikely as it is, we should not dismiss the theory out of hand.

We all have our circle of friends and our circle of family. They all have their own circles and as you pan out from individual to individual is it so hard to recognise that we are all connected by interlocking circles? You may not like some of the people in your circle, but to not like someone implies that you care about them in some way – you care that their opinions differ from yours, or you care how their actions impinge on yours.

It would be a tall order to care about everyone in the world. But we can choose who to make statistics out of and who to respect. We have the choice, and the more people we turn into stats the further away from compassionate capitalism we get.

As Andreas Whittam Smith observes today, part of the problem with the banks at the moment is that they regard their customers as people to sell to, not people to serve. It is this attitude that has led to people becoming stats, and our capitalist model being on the verge of meltdown. It is an US and THEM attitude that favours the individual at the expense of others.

In order to do business with each other on a level playing field we first have to live on one. Not in terms of all having the same wealth or social status, but in terms of giving each other same respect. We have to stop hero worshipping celebrities with no talents, start respecting people with disabilities who go through more strife on a daily basis than some people live through in a lifetime.

Respect should not depend on your age, how intelligent you are, or how talented you are, or how much of something you have. It stems from what you do with those things, and as soon as we realise this we will be able to call ourselves a developed, nay, an enlightened society.

The lost generation: why Britain’s young people have no hope of a bright future

20120502-224714.jpg

It is a frustrating time to be a young Brit today. But the mounting frustration I feel, being lucky enough to have a job and working towards a career, must be exponentially worse for those without work, without money and losing hope.

It wasn’t always like this, or so I’m told. But the halcyon days of old are no longer. The youth of today are screwed.

The first problem is education. Degrees have become a penny a dozen, not in financial terms, but in aspirational terms. If every job needs a degree then the majority of young people have to go into debt simply to have any hope of getting a job.

A huge number of young people now have degrees, but if everyone has a degree then it isn’t an advantage, it is simply a debt. If no one had a degree then the job market would be exactly the same. We have massively devalued our education system. This is because of market forces in the education system.

The next problem is the housing market. My mum bought her first house for £15,000 back in the 80s. She tells me that although her salary has trebled, her flat is now worth almost £300,000.

How on earth are young people meant to get a mortgage? When my mum was earning 10k a year her mortgage was a year-and-halfs wages. If you wanted a mortgage on her house while earning £20,000 it would pan out at 20 years wages. Young people are being denied mortgages, their right to property trodden on by market forces.

The people being given mortgages are the property owners. This means that as they expend their property empires, they force myriad young people into permanently renting, costing them hundreds of thousands of pounds, yet leaving them nothing to show for it.

Another problem employment. Where are the jobs that school children were so earnestly promised by schoolteachers when they graduated? Neither here nor there. This is of course, due to market forces.

There are now over a million young people unemployed, with no hope of owning property because they can’t get a career in order to get the money to invest in a house.

The economic situation has instilled such fears in employers that even if there was a 99% chance that taking on more staff would be profitable, they won’t. The big business owners have gone for damage limitation, which in real English, means reducing their costs to keep their profits.

But, young people of Britain, don’t dispair, because it is not your fault. In fact it isn’t your government’s fault, nor your parent’s fault. It’s the economy stupid.

It is in fact the wool being pulled over our eyes. Austerity has failed this country, it has put us into another recession, left millions unemployed, ruined the moral of millions more, destroyed the hopes and aspirations of the next generation of this country.

We are told that market forces i.e. the recession, is responsible for this. But the market was created by us, and why would the chancellor pronounce an annual budget if we couldn’t have effect it?

We do have an impact on it, but that is directed away from the young people, the needy and the disabled.

Yet we do nothing. We barely even vote anymore. This has led to some of the disparity that exists in our country because politics is all about voters. The majority of home owners vote, whereas a majority of renters don’t. Work it out, political parties hoping to be in government preach to the home owners and the business owners, the people who vote. It may have started as a trickle, but as politicians started to care less about young people, they stopped voting, so the government cared less, and fewer young people voted. And on it went ad infinitum until we get what we have today, a government that protects the vested interests of the rich because the young poor don’t vote.

It is not just the economy, it is our fault too. Pensioners still receive their free bus passes and tv licences because they are the highest voting demographic. Big businesses receive better deals and billionaire CEOs get lower tax rates, because they not only vote, but fund political campaigns.

Our politicians see young people as hoodies, rioters and lazy. Until now we have been too scared to be or do anything different. If we have jobs we want to keep them, and if we don’t we still have this hope, drilled into us at a young age, that our lives will be like our parent’s.

This is a myth. We won’t have state pensions, many of us won’t have jobs. As pensionable ages get higher this will stop new, younger workers entering the system and it will get worse and worse. There is no growth strategy (except if you count helping businesses and millionaires grow their own profits), no safety net and as I see it the only hope is to make our voices heard.

We have been institutionalised to believe that the system will look after us. It worked for our parents, our parent’s parents and their parents before them. It won’t work for us. If we go on hoping that getting our grades will get us a job which will get us a mortgage we are letting ourselves be cheated by a system representing the few.

I am not saying that young are the only demographic to suffer, god knows what’s being inflicted on the old, disabled and public sector is inhumane to say the least. But it is the young people who have to stand up for themselves, ourselves, if anything is going to change.

We must make our jobs, we must make our money and we must make our hope.

It’s not pretty, but it works – Why charities use street fundraisers

Charity fundraising is seen as a nuisance but is vital to charities in the UK

Charity muggers - chuggers - at work on the high streets

Charity begins at home,” runs the mantra, and at times almost everyone must have wished for some benevolent benefactor to help them in some way. It is hard to get worked up about famine in Africa, or deforestation in Indonesia when you’re worried about how you’ll afford your winter heating bills.

But these issues are being thrown in the face of shoppers on high streets across the country. Typically touted by long-haired, ever-smiling youths, charities have taken over the streets to win over the hearts and minds of the British public. Commonly dubbed ‘chugging’ (charity mugging), the voluntary sector calls it face-to-face-fundraising.

Almost everyone has gotten annoyed with being harangued in the street. Why anyone would think that because you’re carry a dozen heavy bags, soaked to the skin in the rain, and powering home that you want to stop and discuss world poverty is a mystery. But teams of fundraisers are spread across the country on a daily basis trying to bring supporters into their fold.

It has now come to a head in Islington. Councillor Paul Convery, Islington Council’s executive member for planning, regeneration and parking, has spoken out against the sheer number of fundraisers operating in the Borough.

People regard it as excessive and a nuisance,” he says. “We’re not talking about hundreds of thousands, but scores of complaints.”

The majority of people of Islington seem tired of charity fundraising in their area. A recent Daily Telegraph poll suggests that 58 per cent of people want it banned in London.

Out on Upper Street, my quick stroll poll found that 64 people thought there were too many fundraisers in Islington, compared to 26 who didn’t. Leaving 10 per cent who said they didn’t think there were more in Islington than anywhere else.

Cllr Convery is clear that they do not want to ban street chugging. They are campaigning for it to be regulated by local authorities rather than independent organisations like the Public Fundraising Regulatory Association (PFRA).

This is the only type of street canvassing that is regulated privately,” he says. “Every other type of on-the-street activity requires a license except fundraising.”

The PFRA liaises with councils and charities to decide where, when and how often fundraising can take place.

But all this chugger-bashing has obscured why people in out in the street in all weathers, day-in and day-out, in the first place: they are raising the necessary funds for charities to continue their work.

It can be annoying to be approached by a charity, but as PFRA spokesman Ian MacQuillian explains: “It’s a myth that people give to the charities they give to without being asked.”

He highlights that chuggers are not taking donations there and then, but signing members up to regular direct debit payments, pledges of a set amount on a regular basis. These are widely regarded by charities as the most effective way to monitor and budget their contributions. Fundraising in this way breaks-even after two or three years and can return £2.50 for every £1 invested.

PFRA figures show that during 2010-11 street fundraising brought in over 170,000 supporters to their charities. It shows that despite the huffing and puffing of councils and the public, a great many people do stop and contribute to chuggers.

Mike Blakemore, media director at Amnesty international UK says: “It is an important for all organisations and it provides an opportunity to speak to members of the public that we wouldn’t meet otherwise.”

Despite the chagrin that many people experience when approached on the street, Mr Blakemore says only 0.04 per cent of the people their fundraisers spoke to complained.

Amnesty stands firmly behind keeping the PFRA regulating street fundraising.

Council’s shouldn’t be able to decide which charities can fundraise,”says Mr Blakemore.

He believes that to shift regulation from the PFRA would lead to more expensive administration for councils, and could result in arbitary decisions about which charities could fundraise.

Many would argue that the decision to give or not is purely down to the individual. This sentiment is echoed by Mr Blakemore: “It is a very personal thing and people are capable of making that decision on their own.”

Islington Council and the PFRA are in talks over the issue in the Borough. But both, and many other interested parties are awaiting Lord Hodgson’s ongoing review of the 2006 Charities Act. At present he is listening to the parties involved and the general public, and after the consultation period ends in April his final report will be awaited with bated breath before the summer recess.

At a time when the economy is sagging and public sector funding is tight, it seems a no-brainer for councils to take on the regulation of charity fundraising. And with household income being squeezed from all directions, the decision to give or not give to charities might safely be left to the general public.

 

Charity fundraising is seen as a nuisance, but it is vital for charites

Chuggers at work on the UK's high streets

Is sacrificing democracy for the markets worth the cost?

November 17, 2011 1 comment

We were told the other day at work that it is against health and safety to bring a cup of tea upstairs from the kitchen to the call centre. This is because we could spill it on the stairs (or ourselves), and cause someone to slip. Fair enough, I’m not here to argue against that, but would it be an arrestable offence to take a cup of tea upstairs?

I somehow doubt it.

So I was a little shocked with how innocuous the news was that the Occupy Wall Street camp in New York had been evicted. When peaceful protests are being clamped down on by governments I’d think it would get more coverage.

In less than three hours the camp had been dismantled and cleaned and over 200 people arrested. It was explained that the plans had been drawn up a few weeks ago, but it was only yesterday that Mayor, Michael Bloomberg decided that the presence of the protesters was offensive enough for him to give the go-ahead for their removal.

It seems like Bloomberg has cited public health and safety concerns as the reason that people were evicted, but is it now an arrestable offence to breach health and safety?

Democratic protests are demolished by an integrated ruling elite

As OLSX is threatened eviction, the bankers they campaign against are put in charge in Europe

Like my cup of tea at work, which I continue to take upstairs because I feel that not having a cup of tea at my desk breaches my natural rights, it seems like the rights of protesters are being trampled as equally in the West as they were before the Arab Spring in the East.

Is it behind a wall of health and safety procedures that democracy dies? Is the right to peaceful protest is only available when it’s convenient or if it doesn’t go on too long?

And yesterday the City of London Corporation has re-launched its bid to remove the protesters from outside St Paul’s. Now the protesters are determined to have another go, but with the camps being raided and dismantled across the globe by somewhat surly councillors and politicians, I have my doubts about their likelihood to succeed in achieving anything.

The message from the top, or The US Supreme Court at least, is that our inalienable right to peaceful protest only goes so far as our leaders are willing to let it. This defeats the purpose if our leaders are the ones being complained about. We can protest the war in Iraq, the cuts to tuition fees, anything we like, as long as we are prepared to be clamped down on by the police, or watch our next generation be kettled, or move when the police tell us to.

Last week, the students held another demo against fees, and from the pictures it basically looked like a giant police training exercise in kettling people. The crowd was surrounded by officers, and not allowed to deviate from the path. Any attempt to meet up with other blocks of resistance was nipped in the bud.

Am I the only one who is scared?

And not just because the ruling elite are showing that their silk gloves are actually steel gauntlets, but because the gradual integration of our ruling elite, the media, and the financial sector.

We now have bankers in charge of Italy and Greece, in the shape of Messrs Monti and Papademos. Surely the fall of Lehman Brothers in 2008 showed the inability of the financial sector to look out for any interests other than their own? If not, then maybe the outrage at stricter ring-fencing, or just generally their refusal to make any changes to the system that has made a few billions.

The only thing which used to allow me to sleep easy at night is the distinction between the groups that control our world – the financial sector, the politicians, the media, and religion.

Many could claim that the influence of religion is negligible, but what religion and the media both do is perpetuate the myths our society lives by. Our politicians control the legislation our lives are limited by, and the financial sector moves the money our lives rely on. Separate and monitored, we have nothing to fear, but nowadays politicians are unafraid to be religious, or in bed with the media, the protests are being condemned by priests, and financial leaders are now being begged by the markets they control to take charge of governments.

It should worry everyone that market driven leaders are ending up on our political shelves. We have the right to vote our leaders in – even if as pointed out by Archie Bland in the I Paper: “There is nothing to stop total idiots trying to be leader of the free world.” We did not vote for technocrats, and neither did the Italians and Greeks. Although they say it is in everyone’s best interests, it is in the interests of the markets first and foremost that they have taken charge, and these are what they will protect.

I can only see it as a conflict of interests if in any democratic country the needs of the few are subservient to the needs of the many. But this is what is happening. Our Government is determined to keep the markets happy and Europe is begging technocrats to take charge, effectively breaking the democratic process. It may not be the end of the world now, but it sets a scary precedent. And, even if they sort it out, how do we know that power will filter back down?

We should all be afraid, not just youths, students, trade unionists, protesters, communists and anarchists. As I wrote a few weeks ago, it is the quiet acquiescence of the many that allows a minority of partisans, with sycophantic or selfish interests, to take control. We all have our heads so buried in the sand that we can’t see that the foundations of democracy, our most sacred ideology, are being undermined for the needs of capitalism. Surely it should be the other way round.

 

 

People Power only begins with peaceful protests

Occupy the London Stock Exchange is the most recent of many peaceful protests
Lord Kitchener asked the British public to unite, so now do OLSX

 I raise money for a homeless charity at the minute. It’s not glamorous, but I’d say that I am proud of the fact that for now, the fruits of my labour don’t line some fat cats wallet. So, instead of camping outside St Paul’s, I can go to work, knowing in my heart of hearts that I am helping some of the 99 per cent.

Unfortunately, the other reason I’m not down on the picket lines is that it is unlikely to ever influence the government to change anything. It seems like even the most famous peaceful protesters, Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jnr, were assassinated before any kind of long-lasting change was implemented.

An assassination can be a rallying cry to the half-hearted, the meek, and the ignorant. When a death is witnessed and felt by enough people, the shared grief and the anger boil over. It can be a call to arms or simply the straw that broke the poor camel’s back.

It can also be a call for unity like the day Diana died, or 9/11. The world in their shared grief and fear forget their woes and sat glued to the TV watching the news as it came in. The old and young, the rich and poor, the one per cent and the 99 per cent, people of all races, were brought together into a united whole, together in their grief. When a whole people, a whole country, or even the whole world comes together under emotions so strong it boggles the mind the sheer power that collective could have.

It was Marianne Williamson in Return to Love: Reflections on a Course in Miracles, who said it best:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond imagination. It is our light more than our darkness which scares us. We ask ourselves – who are we to be brilliant, beautiful, talented, and fabulous. But honestly, who are you to not be so?”

And who are we not to be so? We have groups of the Occupy the London Stock Exchange in cities throughout our country. The National Association of Head Teachers has for the first time in over 100 years voted to strike, the other unions are rallying as well. The students have twice been out in force and even the uneducated have tried to make their voices heard in this Summer’s riots.

But, it is not enough. Because there are still so many out there who feel inadequate, who are too scared to be powerful beyond imagination.

It is easy to get scared, the world can be terrifying. But in the end it is unsatisfying and hollow, and results in a gradual degradation of the soul. The democratic capitalism we live under, is run by politicians, the markets, civil servants, and diffused through to us by the media, advertising and marketing. It is the people at the top of these trades that want us to feel awful, ugly, untalented and squalid, because they want us to feel brilliant, beautiful, talented and fabulous on their terms, using their products and in a way that perpetuates all the power in their hands. It is about control, and it is so easy to buy into it that we can all be forgiven for doing so.

Their path to beauty, talent, splendour and brilliance is easy to follow. You jump on a career ladder and get a salary. You start to forget how you could be brilliant et al without these things. Suddenly you have a mortgage and a family, a financial and social debt that will never be lifted. By this time you are quite old, and set in your ways, and to imagine the world any differently is scary indeed.

This is why it is only the young, the students, and the unions, as well as a limited number of idealists are the only ones who still believe that a world without the one versus the 99 per cent is less scary than this one. A small group that feel that they have so little to lose that anything will be better than what we have already.

But this leaves a majority who cling on to what they have, proud that they have touched brilliance and talent et al through following the crowd. They have buried their heads in the sand because a change in the fundamental order of things is too scary to behold. ‘Imagine all the things we could lose,’ they think, and to protect what they hold dear, they condemn those who fight for change.

This has turned illiterate children into vandals and thugs, students into anarchists, and unionists into communists. It helps protect the illusory world, because even though it isn’t perfect, it is safe and secure. We have worked so hard to reach the levels of achievement that our leaders and idols have told us to emulate that to try and find those things within ourselves is too hard 

But, with the financial crisis this could change. Maybe it will be the spark that wakes up a nation. When people see their children being kettled by police, or their savings disappear, or their pensions taken, maybe they will realise, like the young and the idealistic, that things aren’t, and never have been, as good as our politicians and co. have painted them.

If we are going to find our light, and our brilliance, we must shrug off the conceptions of these ideas that are forced on us, and accept the ideas of these things we have of our own. Only then will we be able to stand together, humble and proud, yet united. Our media fed ideas of beauty and talent have done nothing to nurture either of these things, but only to make us arrogant, divided and suspicious of each other. So we must shrug off the yoke of the one per cent, and the cronies and sycophants who are their priests, and create something better or at least fairer.

This would, unfortunately, require a lot more than a student protest or a union strike. It would require the biggest mass walkout ever seen, across not just the public, but the private sector too.

It isn’t just for us, for we are too far gone to touch it, only to create it. It is for the future, and the children who will remember us not as the people who accepted greed, hoping we could one day be greedy, but renounced it, so that they could enjoy equality.

Comment on Student Riots

I was left in shock today by David Cameron’s words following the demonstration yesterday that culminated in the ransacking of Tory HQ in Millbank. Over 50,000 turned out to protest peacefully about the plans to triple university tuition fees, scrap teaching grants to the arts, humanities and social sciences and the u-turn taken by the Liberal Democrats.who allowed these proposals to gain ground despite assurances made to students in their pre-election campaign that they would openly oppsoe this scheme – many of them signing a National Student Union pledge to vote down any rise in fees.

Cameron, speaking from Seoul, where he is attending the G20 summit, declared: “I believe the will of the public was expressed at the time of the election when they rejected debt and deficit.” Now I find flaw with this statement in two areas.

Firstly, I think the man has a nerve to declare the will of the public granted him a full mandate to make these cuts. When it is plainly obvious that here are at least 50,000 people who oppose these measures, people who had literally just marched from Embankment to Tate Britain in protest. Quite apart from the fact that the Conservatives took power with the narrowest margin in my lifetime, Aaron Porter, NUS president stated recently on hisblog that he estimates 50 per cent of students may have voted Lib Dem in light of their pledge to vote against any rise in university fees. In light of this frankly his statement verges on offensive.

Yes, by will of the people, Mr Cameron has been granted a mandate, but to totally reject the will of those people who didn’t vote for him is both arrogant and rude.

The second and almost more outrageous part of this claim is that Cameron says that the UK has rejected debt and deficit by voting Tory, when he and his government are actually going to increase student debt! I hope I’m not the only one who felt like they’d been slapped in the face after this comment.

With tuition fees in England set to treble this could potentially raise the debt that students go into on a three year degree from £9,000 to £27,000. Although the plan is to increase the threshold of payback to £21,000, it will still leave students beginning university after 2012 in a whole load more of debt than at any previous point in history. As many commentators have pointed out, Mr Cameron and his government didn’t have to pay for their degrees, and I highly doubt many would have even of had to go in to debt to do so. It verges on sheer hypocrisy.

I will admit that we are in a situation where some drastic measures are necessary to get our economy back on track. I am aware that raising fees is one of the few options left to universities with the imminent scrapping of teaching grants. I am actually less frustrated by the extent of the cuts than by our honourable minister’s reactions to them.

What really takes the biscuit is the way the rioters have been condemned as anarchists, youngsters, rebels, socialists, probably even communists, etc. Every political body is trying to play down the fact that at least some of the 200 or so people who broke through the “thin blue line” as Cameron called it, were students, university staff and ordinary people. Is this not evidence enough that our government wants people in our country to think that only extremists are angry? This is simply not the case.

It was the same with the protests over the Iraq war. I remember going down to Princes Street in Edinburgh and seeing it filled with more people than you usually get at Hogmany. By all accounts over 2 million people protested our previous government’s decision to pursue that course of action and it made not the barest hint of difference. It is the same again today.

I am not one to advocate violence. I am not a violent person. But I can feel the frustration boiling in me that led to the 200 hundred storming Tory HQ. For all Aaron Porter’s words, it is likely that his peaceful protest will not make the slightest impact on what cuts the government make.

What we have seen over the last decade in the UK is that peaceful protests haven’t moved our governments one inch. It has been mentioned in the Guardian, and by John Pilger in New Statesman, that a crisis like the one we are coming out off is a great time for governments to implement radical changes for their own benefit. Last week’s mid-term elections in the US sparked heated debates over the policies of President Obama, with some stating that he is held in check from any form of liberal reform by the multi-million dollar investments from corporations that funded his campaign. Is it the same in the UK? It seems that if people in our country are reduced to numbers on a spreadsheet that 50,000 or 2 million people is too few to challenge political policy with simply a peaceful protest.

I can fully understand the frustration that caused people to storm Millbank. I can understand how students feel when the party that said it would reduce their debt triples it instead, and I can understand, no matter what sort of drastic proposals are required, how politicians being flippent about the strife of their constituents can really grind people’s gears.

I’d like to finsh with a quote if I may, and it would be amazing to hear it resounding round the streets of the UK. We have not gone mad in decades and maybe our politicians have forgotten we can. Anyway, it’s a famous line, you’ll know it’s from Network, so I’ll let Harry Beale speak for himself:

“I’m mad as hell! And I’m not going to take it anymore!”

 

Let’s Swap the ‘Big Society’ for a Big Laugh

I read a fantastic article in last Saturdays Times by Tanya Gold. It concerned the BIG Society that Mr Cameron is imagining, but seems that no one else can. The article was written with wit and gusto, and had me chuckling in to my cup of tea while choking on cigarette smoke. But it got me thinking.

It was the writers last few comments that began it. She talked about how the ‘Big Society’ could only be a concept that could be dreamt up by someone that had never wanted for anything before, and has no real idea about certain demographics in our society. I have been thinking about this problem for a while, and it is one of the reasons I try and avoid dabbling in politics – it’s just so frustrating!

Why? Because it has been my humble opinion for years that the gap between politicians and people is too insurmountable for us to bridge without desperate measures. The ‘Big Society’ of Cameron’s dreams is so opaque a concept that it is less a policy and more of a vague idea. It is hard to imagine a world where everyone’s nice to each other, bravely soldier the burdens simply in virtue of the fact that they’re there, when you come from a reality where some, or a few, or many, or everyone, aren’t pleasant to one another.

This was actually pointed out over 2000 years ago by Plato in Republic. At the conclusion of one discussion he informs his interlocutors that those who rule must receive no benefit for ruling. For those who rule must not rule because they want to rule, but because it is best for society. Hence we had the scandal over MP’s expenses claims, we should have seen it coming. Because it is so easy to let them get on with running the country, which I assume must be very boring, than to get more actively involved, so we let them get a few benefits here and there. But a couple of houses? I don’t think so… This is the problem with the notion that society should shoulder that extra burden, we vote for MP’s in virtue of the fact that we don’t want to do to shoulder ourselves!

Of course, I know there must be a few intelligent, witty, charismatic and idealistic individuals entering British politics every year, but the problem is by the time it takes them to get anywhere where they can remotely make any changes to the system – real changes like reducing stupidly high MP salaries, or a proper voting system referendum – they’ve spent so long striving and battling their way up the ranks that when they are eventually promoted they’re not particularly likely to say: “Now I’m here I think we should abandon all the benefits being here rewards us with.” Clearly after working so hard they too want to enjoy these benefits too. And unfortunately, no matter how hard they try to hide it, they lose their sense of humour very early on. A shame, because with a touch of humour we could have the best political system in the world. Ruled by people with wit, charisma, intelligence and idealism – no, not Plato’s Guardians, but comedians!

Good joke I hear you cry, but wait for it. I know most us love good comedy, especially political satire, impressionism, and panel shows – ‘Bremner, Bird and Fortune’, ‘Mock The Week’, ‘Have I Got News For You’, and ‘Brass Eye’ spring to mind. And the reason comedy is so funny is that 90% of the time it is so clever. All the panellists on these shows are sharp enough to disect our society, our politics and what is wrong with them with not only intelligence, bur humour. They are some of the keenest political analysts in the our country, and they are intelligent enough not to go into politics, but to make their living making people laugh about politics. This is a wonder in itself, because to make a lot of us in this country laugh about politics they first have to make us understand politics. This is something politicians in countries all over the world think is generally beyond most of their voters, so they either don’t try, or over-simplify issues, an insult either way you take it.

So lets get the comedians in to power. Of course, there’s no guarantee that comedians could run the country any better than our current politicians, but it might make people take more notice. Through engaging with an audience, a good comedian can get you to understand an issue, laugh about said issue, and actually come away liking them too – wow, who in British politics can do that?