Polling season

Polling season

If it had snowed
             at least once this year
I might have been content
             or if it had rained
for forty days and forty nights
             that would have been something

to write home about :
             instead another election
is upon us and how awful
             for them to call it
during the pollen season
             how utterly thoughtless

useless these politicians
             some of them
I have to say
             get right up my nose
worse than pollen

John Lyons


The poor are always with us

Henley Wetherspoon
Henley Wetherspoon

Jonah, our indestructible blogsworth, is sitting in The Catherine Wheel, the charming Wetherspoon in Henley-on-Thames, on a bright autumn afternoon. He’s just had a brisk stroll down by the river. Trees turning to gold and brown and copper; seen a few herons, some geese, and more swans than he could shake a stick at; then a quick gander at the grave of poor old Dusty Springfield and he’s popped into the pub to kill the massive appetite he’s been carrying around all morning.

So he’s ordered his meal deal: a pint of what he likes and the fish and chips with mushy peas. Now he’s sitting there, sipping his drink, waiting for his grub to arrive, looking around the gaff and generally minding everyone’s business till he catches the drift of two old codgers lunching at an adjacent table:

Tom More: You been reading about tax credit cuts?
Erasmus: Alice in Wonderland?
Tom More:
Just about. Only worse. No laughs in this one; plenty of mad hatters, though.
You British, I dunno. You have an uncanny talent for political disasters. There’s gonna be trouble over this, mark my words.
Tom More:
Whatcha mean?
Poll tax and now tax credit cuts. Political bloody disaster. You people vote in these governments that then proceed to clobber part of the population to death. It don’t add up, sunshine. On the one hand it’s sadism and on the other its masochism. Fifty bloody shades of I dunno what.
Tom More:
But the deficit, the national debt. Something’s gotta be done.
But at whose expense, laddee? Not the working poor, surely?
Tom More puts down his knife and fork, wipes his lips with his serviette, coughs to clear his throat and looks Erasmus in the eye.
Tom More: No, you’re right. Makes my blood boil.
What sort of a country is this? I mean the very notion of working poor is an abomination. It’s a bad joke. Who does these jobs? Teaching assistants, social workers, so I’ve been told, but loads of other keyworkers too.
Tom More:
So what does that mean, keyworkers? Key to what? Key to whom, if you don’t mind my pompous grammar? Are these jobs not important enough to deserve a living wage?
Tom More:
Yeah, you’re right. It’s all wrong. Millions of families on or just below the breadline. . .
About to be clobbered. So many of this once proud nation’s kids growing up in poverty.
It goes quiet as the two old men take a breather and dip into their drinks. And Jonah’s meal arrives. Lovely golden batter on the fish, and the taste, so fresh.
Erasmus: You know, a country that doesn’t care for its young doesn’t deserve to be called a country. It’s a bloody disgrace. Children in need! It’s a bad joke! No wonder the Scots want out.
Tom More:
You’re right, you’re dead right, mate.
Poverty is a social construct, you know that. Nobody’s born poor, it’s not genetic. People are born into poverty or they fall into poverty, but it’s not in their DNA. It’s structured. You take the total wealth of a country, or the total wealth earned by a country in one year and you parcel it up, you decide who gets lucky and who has to struggle. I’m all for the ‘work should pay’ philosophy, but work should pay. These tax credits they want to cut, they’re not charity, they’re really nothing more than subsidies to the employers of the working poor. So to cut them is more than a bit like Alice in bloody Wonderland, “Off with their heads”.
Tom More has a faraway look in his eyes; maybe the beer has gone to his head which he now begins to shake slowly.
Tom More: One nation. . . The party of the family. . . Jesus wept.
Exactly! Suffer little children. . . !

The Fox and Hounds – a healthy dialogue

So two old friends, Erasmus and Tom More, are sitting one sunny afternoon in the Fox and Hounds, lovely little Chelsea pub just off Sloane Square. The two mates are ensconced in the cosy blue sofas right at the back, near the dartboard, and they’ve already a had a few, so a nice little argy-bargy is developing. Erasmus is sipping on one of those non-descript completely characterless continental lagers, could have come from anywhere, which is why Tom calls them ‘bastard beers’. He always sticks to the same old same old pint of Irish stout (no names please).

fox pub

TOM MORE: So what I’m saying is. Is. . .
ERASMUS: I heard you the first time.
TOM MORE: No listen, listen up. What I’m saying is that during the War, you know, 1945 and all that, the housing stock was bombed to blazes, right? So come peace, not enough houses, right? Temporary accommodation on all sides, right?
ERASMUS: Yeah, s’ppose so.
TOM MORE: So emergency house building programme, right? Local authority housing going up left, right and centre.
ERASMUS: Yeah, I know but what’s your point, what is your point?
Tom takes a long swig of his beer, emptying it with a final gulp and a belch. He then places his glass down and stares into it for a moment, as though the answer lies at the bottom of the glass, in the dregs.
TOM MORE: My point is. . . my point is this. Who caused the recession? Go on, who caused it? Who caused the banking crisis, go on, go on, who was it?
ERASMUS: You’re going to blame the bankers aren’t you?
TOM MORE: Dead right I am. Look at state of the country, look at what they did. But did they go to the wall? They did not. We baled them out and they still got banks today, ain’t they, us taxpayers baled them out. And then what do we get? In the wake, so to speak? We get bloody austerity, more and more of it. Left, right and centre. And food banks, and more and more kids living in poverty and people unable to afford a decent home to rent, never mind buy.
ERASMUS: But you can’t blame everything on the bankers, it’s a much more complicated situation and you just simplify everything like you did in that dreadful book of yours. Utopia. No-hopia, I call it, more like, cloud-cuckoo land, biggest load of.
TOM MORE: Well there you’re wrong see. I don’t just blame the bankers, no I don’t. I don’t. I blame the politicians too, see. Who allowed the bankers to do what they did, run rings round us, get away with blue murder, although in fact the bankers’ books were all in the red (little joke, sorry)?
ERASMUS: Come off it, what about the world economy, the world downturn, what about Greece, and Spain and God knows where, and China and what about Ireland, yeah what about Ireland?
TOM MORE: Now don’t get personal, leave Ireland out of it for the mo, right, no need to get personal, did I say Netherlands, did I? What I’m saying is this. Is austerity an emergency or not? Is rising child poverty an emergency or not? Is the lack of available affordable housing an emergency or not? Answer me that. What is and is not socially acceptable in this bloody day and age?
ERASMUS: O for God’s sake.
TOM MORE: Answer the bloody question, will you, yes or no?
ERASMUS: No, now let’s change the subject.
TOM MORE: What you mean no? How can you say that? What I’m saying. . . I’ll just say this. . . no. . . no let me finish. . . no please let me finish. What I’m saying, and it’s the last thing I’ll say, promise, what I’m saying is quite simple. War time, they bomb the country to bits, right? Smithereens, economy in ruins, rations, the works. So what do we get? Emergency rebuilding, homes up in record time, free school milk, welfare state and all that. Sixty odd years later the bankers bomb the economy to smithereens and what do we get? Go on. . . tell me. . . what do we get? Zilch, nothing, niets, nichts, nada. Last election, economy on the mend, so-called, and what do we get? More austerity, you couldn’t make it up. And they win, they get elected. . . Jesus wept!

Great little pub, by the way. Won’t hear a word said against. Staff very friendly!

What’s in a name, Shakespeare? A ramble, a rant!

corbynThe name Labour Party, for instance, the party that grew out of the Labour Movement to represent the interests of labour, of trade unions, and those working people who actually built this country’s infrastructure and prosperity, often with their bare hands. The surge of grassroots support for Jeremy Corbyn has nothing to do with nostalgia, although there are those among us who do pine for the days when there were no food banks, when housing was affordable for all, when access to higher education was free, when the unemployed were not being constantly harassed, when disabilities were not always being poked to see if they were genuine, when NHS waiting lists were not so horrendously long, when there was, in short, a momentum in the country to move towards an ever fairer society, in real terms.

Year in year out we witness the pomp of parades in honour of those who died in the two World Wars. How easy it is to pay lip service at such events. Did these men and women make their sacrifices in the name of child poverty, zero hours contracts, austerity measures that employ the devices of hunger and lack of heating in order to whip the so-called workshy into excruciatingly low paid jobs? In times of war there was austerity for all: nowadays it is targeted using the latest computer technologies like the latest cruise missiles and our very language is corroded by the use of truly nauseating terms, “the working poor” for example.

The Labour Party did not perform badly at the last election, it seems to me: for the most part, the Labour Party did not participate in the last election. Where was the voice of working people? Under the Miliband band of brothers it seemed more like a Conservative Party by any other name. Career or conviction politics, you pay your money (taxes) and you make your choice. And don’t even think of mentioning Chilcot, or the banking debacle.

As I have said in a previous post, my own politics developed purely out of literature, and the aesthetics of John Keats and the beauty and truth arguments. These views were later bolstered by the Justice and Peace movement and liberation theology. I still have a book on my shelves written by José Porfirio Miranda, a Mexican Jesuit, entitled Marx and the Bible. It presents an extremely erudite and persuasive linguistic analysis of the Bible, highlighting its true prophetic role, which had nothing to do with predicting the future and everything to do with the promotion of social justice, defence of the orphan, the widowed, the dispossessed.

The British National Assistance Act of 1948 heralded the greatest social revolution the world has ever known, with not a single bullet fired. The values enshrined in that legislation are the values for which I believe our servicemen and women fought in those World Wars and for which so many died. We dishonour them by turning the clock back. Under austerity, child poverty is expected to grow in this most powerful of world class economies. What Labour Party in its right mind (and conscience) could possibly even consider not opposing such measures with all its might? So bring it on, Jeremy, we have nothing to lose but our deep sense of shame.