Robert Lautner (2017) The Draughtsman.

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This is simple fiction based on a first-person account of what if, running to almost 500 pages. In a way it fits in with other books I’ve been reading, with the idea of the self and better self, living the same life, but making different -moral- choices. Thomas Piketty, Capital in the Twenty First Century was at it quoting reams of Balzac and the conundrum if you needed to torture a Chinese person on the other side of the world, to get what you wanted… Julian Glover was at it in the biography Man of Iron, Thomas Telford and the Building of Britain. Thomas Telford’s mum reckoned if you were an honest man you could look the devil in the eye. I’d laughed at that because I couldn’t and wouldn’t. I know my limitations. I’d skulk away.

But what if you were Ernest Beck, it’s April 1944, you’ve graduated from university, newly married to Etta, the honeymoon stage and your living together in a cramped room, short of money, reliant on handouts from your parents, looking for work as a draughtsman and someone offers you a dream job? ‘A contract. Real work.’

You’d take it, right? We all would. But what if your dream job is designing ovens for Buchenwald and the other death camps. Your remit is to make them more efficient. The body fats of the victims can be used as fuel rather than gas or the other less cost-efficient fossil fuels.

But what if you’d already moved into a new house, rent free, much bigger and better than you could afford. What you are doing is not illegal. In fact it is classified as so secret your boss, who runs the department under the auspices of the well know Topf’s industry, takes the file from you every night and locks it away. Topf industry benefits from contracts with the SS, but they do not run the camps. They do not herd inmates into the gas chambers. Topf industry simply fixes the machinery and suggests innovations. They have competitors and if they didn’t do it, their competitors would undercut them and step in and take the work away from them and they would lose the profit. Everything is done by the book, following the rules. German efficiency.

What if you’ve moved into your new house, outside your work, and sometimes you can work from home and your wife Etta tells she has false papers. She is a Jew. She is also a Communist sympathiser and knows other dedicated to the overthrow of existing social order.

What if your boss, Hans Klein, with the best suits, best car and a finger in every pie, tells you he put his own father in the camps because he hired Jewish workers on his farm. Your boss is as psychopathic as Donald J Trump. Would you work for him?

You know the war is coming to an end and your boss knows about you. He asks you to do a little favour for him and it ends badly. The thing your boss values most, the only thing he values, money, his money has been lost and it’s your fault, but you need his help. Do you run or do you stay?

What if you had to make a deal with the devil, what would it be?

Lautner takes us through these various scenarios. There’s echoes of  Stanley Miligram’s famous experiment. Most of us fold (65%) when dealing with authority. And the propaganda and hatred whipped up by, for example, George Osborne against the poorest in our unequal society, given the blame for making us in Britain poorer has modern day echoes. I’ve often asked why doctors worked for Atos, when, as skilled workers they could get jobs elsewhere. But, of course, it’s easy to blame others. Or in Osborne and the Nazi’s case the Other. That’s a double act as old as Old Nick. What about the compromises we make ourselves? Accepting packages and shopping with Amazon. Using Google. Eating processed meat and eggs that comes from animals bred, bled and killed in a cruel manner never seeing sunlight or grass. I wouldn’t look old Nick in the eye and I tend to look away from these things. We make sense of the world by telling ourselves lies. Don’t be fooled into thinking your any different is the message Lautner is peddling. I’m buying that one. And I won’t spoil the ending, but it’s a happy ending. It’s one of the few wars the Americans wore the white hats, good guys, who could look at themselves in the mirror.  Can you? asks Lautner

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Alan Johnson (2016) The Long and Winding Road: A Memoir.

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I’d like Alan Johnson to be Prime Minster. That seems outlandish as Jeremy Corbyn, but Johnson is not such a Daily- Hate- Mail figure. But he was Home Secretary under the Labour Government 2009-10, a position our current Prime Minster Teresa May held before becoming Tory leader. I guess at the end of polling today she’ll remain Prime Minister. I read an interview with Paul O’Grady on Sunday in which he wished the heads of David Cameron, and his sick sidekick, George Osborne should be placed on display on Tower Bridge. I’m not sure I’d add Teresa May to that list, but I could easily be persuaded. Cameron and Osborne poisoned debate and played to the Tory grandees by using stereotypes of working-class life taken from shows such as Jeremy Kyle to cut the welfare budget and keep cutting it with spurious claims that it was to bring the nation’s deficit down to zero. If black people were portrayed in this way it would be classified as a criminal offence. Inciting racism. The promise to cut the nation’s deficit has been quietly side-lined by May.

The Long and Winding Road at one point tells us how the Conservative Party stage manages its annual get together. That’s when they pick their victims. The usual line-up. Johnson managed to infiltrate the conference. There’s a cartoon Johnson, from The Times, May 1994, portrayed as dog, savaging the President of the Board of Trade, Michael Helseltine who had lined up the Post Office – Telecom, Royal Mail, Parcelforce and Post Office Counters – as the next public service to be privatised. All were in profit, but, of course, it wasn’t about that. It was about ideology. Privatisation is good because it makes rich people richer wasn’t one of their arguments, but you get the general drift. The buzz word is usually efficiency.

That’s two paragraphs and I’ve barely mentioned Johnson’s book. I found it a bit boring and got to page 111 and pulled the bookies slip I was using as a bookmark from the book. The chances of me reading on are slim. It’s Johnson’s third autobiography and there is repetition. He needs to bring those that have not read his first book up to speed. This Boy, which is by far his best, outlines what happens when his feckless father left his sainted mother Lily, and the family was left to fend for themselves in East London slums in the 1950s.  I started with his second book, Please, Mr Postman, and worked my way backwards to This Boy.  Alan Johnson has met his future wife, who works with his sister Linda, but already has a kid, but they settle down in Slough. He starts working for the Post Office, a postman, all childhood dreams of becoming a pop star, put out of his head, with as much overtime as he wanted, leaving little time for anything else.  By the time the reader gets to The Long and Winding Road we know where the story is going, but the narrative drifts into meeting people such as Tony Blair who are going to become famous and blokes we’ve never heard of, but are salt of the earth type. It gets cliched and boring. But that’s my opinion. You May think otherwise. I’m sure when I wake up tomorrow Teresa May will still be Prime Minster, but not my Prime Minster and she’ll write a book in later years about her Long and Winding Road. Yawn.

Broken, BBC 1 (iPlayer) written and produced by Jimmy McGovern and directed by Ashley Pierce.

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http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b08s323v/broken-series-1-episode-1

I watched Episode 1 of Jimmy McGovern’s series Broken. It was meant to be on last Tuesday, but because of the Manchester bombing was held over for a week. I’m a fan of Jimmy McGovern. His dramas are usually about working-class people that are broken, in some way, and have to find a way forward.  A sympathetic portrayal, and counterpoint to the propaganda from sources such as the Daily-Hate-Mail and Channel 4 and 5’s programmes with tag lines ‘Welfare’. McGovern runs his own production company and is pretty much guaranteed a prime-time slot, like last night, when he sells his work to the BBC.

Using the motif Broken there are a couple of narrative strands up and running. The lead is easiest to identify. Christina Fitzsimons’s (Anna Friel) life is shit. She has three young kids, no partner and no money. McGovern follows a simple dramatic rule (which I often use myself) when thing are bad, make them much worse. So in the first scene Christina’s phone is ringing, even though she’s in chapel, a meeting before her daughter makes her first holy communion (or for the Catholics among us, First Holy Communion).

Ironically, I’m going to a First Holy Communion this Sunday. The usual jokes about the chapel falling down apply. But here, down-to-earth and salt-of-the-earth Father Michael Kerrigan (Sean Bean) who is trying to work miracles in a working-class, Northern town, where everybody is skint rubs one of his parishioners up the wrong way by suggesting, to save money, First Communicants didn’t try to outdo each other with bridal-type dresses and fancy suits and should simply wear their school uniforms. But the world doesn’t work that way, not even in skint Northern towns. Little girls like to dress up and their mum’s like to show off they’ve got the dosh for a big spread.

Here’s the second narrative thread. Father Michael has doubts and somehow they’re related to his dying mum. He has flashbacks and there are reference points to Kes that coming-of-age, Northern, drama based on Barry Hine’s book A Kestrel for a Knave. I’ve read the book and seen the film but can’t remember nowt about it, apart from it’s a about a bird, probably a Kestrel. And there’s lots of kids getting smacked about the head at school and getting the belt. Father Michael relives the same experiences in flashback and there’s something about his mum, he doesn’t want us to know. He’s a priest, probably that old chestnut, a promise to his mother that he’s felt duty bound to keep.

So let the dominoes fall. Christina’s extended meeting about white, wedding-type dresses for eight-year-old girls means she’s late for work. Her boss isn’t happy. She’s a Catholic too, but she’s a boss, which means she’s nasty, pays the minimum wage and sacks Christina for being late and leaving an IOU in the till for £60, which she wasn’t supposed to see. They get into a fight. Christina goes home with a burst lip and is sacked. She promises her wee girl that white dress. But then she goes to the buroo. I can see what McGovern is trying to do here. Christina is telling the supercilious DSS worker that she’s worked all her life, never took a penny even though her partner was a shit and didn’t pay  a penny for their kids and you know the rest…Barred for 18 weeks from all benefits because she intentionally made herself unemployed.

Good drama, but that’s not the way it works. Benefit claimants such as Christina don’t get to meet a real live ex-Chancellor George Osborne type figure that rejoices in telling them they’re scum and deserve everything they get which is nothing and did they ever consider foodbanks for starving children?  No. These things are all done by phone. The equivalent of drone strikes and unsuspecting targets whose lives are changed forever. It’s not good on the screen, and that’s why we don’t have it here.

The other big dramatic moment was Christina’s mum dying suddenly. She’s clutching the phone, trying to phone the priest and book a place in the heavenly choir. Christina tries to hide her mum’s death so she can cash her pension. She does the latter and phones the priest three days later. He immediately says she’s been dead for a couple of days and you’ve probably hidden the fact to cash her pension. Wow, he’s good. A direct line from Peter Falk’s Columbo, up above. I know somebody that did that, but they didn’t need to keep their mum hidden under the sheets. They just needed to keep cashing the book – until they get caught – as Christina is and will be. The domino effect. Make it worse. I’ll probably not watch the other episodes. I know what is going to happen. Things are going to get bad, so bad the Tories are going to call an election and win by a landslide. They’ll probably lock up people that don’t vote Tory. People like McGovern and Christina. I’m all broke up about that. I don’t mind telling you. Fuck the Tory scum.  Anyone that votes Tory will surely go to hell. That’s the way I see things, but god might be more understanding, but I doubt it, eye of the needle and camel and all that… I’m going to pray on Sunday not to hate Tories so much.

 

David Cameron – the legacy!

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I was a bit miffed reading The Observer, ‘IN FOCUS’, that no one had asked me to write about David Cameron’s legacy. I can only guess that’s because a blank page wouldn’t appeal to the reader. They would think it was some kind of trick – like global warming on a miserable and wet Scottish Sunday. I listened to Jeremy Corbyn stand up (OK you can’t hear someone standing up on the radio)in the House of Commons (with very few commoners in the House- if any- and most of them from SNP) and thank David Cameron for his achievements. Corbyn mentioned two things: gay marriage and the release of a prisoner from the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay. The bar has not been set very high for the incoming Conservative leader and unelected Prime Minister, Theresa May.

There were echoes of Margaret Thatcher’s call for national unity 4th May 1979 and holding out the olive branch of St Francis of Assisi’s prayer in Theresa May’s speech to the media in the aftermath of her procession to Number 10 Downing Street. ‘Where there is discord, let me bring peace.’ Thatcher’s legacy lives on.

Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love; [Brexit, hatred and fear of the foreigner wins a Referendum. Nigel Farage resigns, claiming job done.]
Where there is injury, pardon; [Highest prison population in any of the modern economies, excluding that paragon of Black Lives don’t matter, USA.]
Where there is doubt, faith; [the great lie there is no such thing as society finds expression in George Osborne’s insistence on the government bringing down the Government’s deficit to levels below that of his hero Thatcher, or even that cartoon villain John Major. A Trojan horse for cuts, cuts, cuts that Thatcherite’s love so much because it is monopoly money ringing in the ears of the rich.]
Where there is despair, hope; [social mobility has went into reverse gear since Thatcher. The class system has become a caste system, with little or no intergenerational mobility. The sins of the father affect the son. The wins of the father stay with the family.]
Where there is darkness, light; [White lives don’t matter, if they are poor and working class. Chavs. Scum. Council House welfare cheats, how many Channel 4 and Channel 5 programmes must we endure Lord, how many, before You strike down Jeremy Kyle and the other middle-class  lovies and Little Britoners?’]
Where there is sadness, joy. [always end on a joke. There was a kind of parity. George Osborne booed at the London Olympics and David Cameron booed at Wimbledon. Sadly, I wasn’t at either of these events to boo.

But Theresa’s May’s speech and her insistence on continuing with the successful electoral policy of punishing the poor while ostensibly helping them, via focusing on sleight of hand and the GDP ratio deficit, had me thinking of the London bankers threatening to move lock, stock and barrels of oil to New York unless they got the bonuses their work deserved and those New York bond boys swearing they’ll move to London unless they get the bonuses their work deserved. We sure did give them hell of a beating Mr Cameron. We sure did. What was it your dad, did again. Oh, yeh, create tax loopholes for the rich? All in the past, of course. History. Cameron who?}

Our future in her hands!

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Theresa May, or may not be, the next Conservative leader and Prime Minister. But I’m with Clement Attlee on this one. :  for the Tory party that inflicted those bitter experiences on me. So far as I am concerned they are lower than vermin. They condemned millions of first-class people to semi-starvation.

Attlee was, of course, fighting his and Labour’s corner. Trying to kick-start the NHS and Welfare State and wrestle the money to pay for it away from the gentry, who didn’t require either. The fifth-richest nation in the world (so we keep getting told) didn’t even have Foodbanks then. As a plucky little island nation now decidedly drifting away from our neighbours, we are in the oxymoronic position of a political leader leading us out of the European Union she campaigned and voted to stay in.

This brings to mind a conversation I had yesterday with an old woman that said she had stolen two things in her life. One of them was a single grape and the other…well, I wasn’t even listening. I told the old woman straight, ‘I’ve never stolen a grape, in my life’.

Theresa May, as Home Secretary, despite her posturing, and the fading map of the British Empire tattooed under her hair in red, has allowed more refugees into Britain, net migration, than before she took her current cabinet position. That’s the facts. Look them up if you don’t believe me. She’s on par here with that other fabulist, George Osborne, holding up a black briefcase for the press and telling them  what  our public-debt ratio needs to be and how it  will be wiped out before the Conservative Government will spend a penny. That’s a bit like when I used to boast I’d hit 180 with three darts and pull the arrows out of the dartboard before anybody noticed I’d hit treble 1, 20 and 5. If you’re more interested in what John Maynard Keynes termed the ‘dismal science’, William Keegan’s (2014) Mr Osborne’s Economic Experiment: Austerity 1945-51 and 2010— makes a comparison with the real constraints faced by Attlee and the Labour Party and propaganda war waged by the contemporary rich carpetbaggers against the poor of which ‘there’s no money’ was a key prop. Osborne, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, has since Brexit conceded that he can no longer meet his self-imposed ratio. Instead, he targeted a three dart finish, with two darts, and a bit of quantitative easing, and he hoped with the markets crashing around his Noddy-like ears, nobody was watching.  There was plenty of money, then as now – for the rich. Ironically, the best definition of that mindset comes from David Wilson’s memoir, Left Field, written by the co-founder of War Child and educated at Canford, public school. ‘Language and behaviour were codified to distance the Upper Class and middle class…they were non-U to our U.’  Osborne and Cameron are the chalk dust of history.

A terrible stench still lingers. The poor, ‘non-U,’ more easily defined by a hybrid word. Benefit – add cheat. Fling in an Eton spoon, mix in healthy dose of hatred. Those that start the day in debt and end the day in debt. Those that continue, despite the largess of the state, to live and breed in public housing. This is Jeremy Kyle land. Shorthand, in the rich man’s propaganda, for scum.

We were never all in it together, as David Cameron famously lip-synced for the cameras. In the propaganda war refugees also have a shorthand ‘swarm’. David Cameron didn’t need a script writer to think that one up. It was on the tip of his tongue. We’ve had Poems for Refugees. Remember that one, issued by War Child to alleviate the suffering of Afghanistan refugees. The pages fall open, the war to end all wars,  Dulce et Decorum Est.  The trumpets call of a different kind, Berthold Brecht, Concerning The Label Emigrant.

I always found the name false which they gave us, Emigrants

That means those who leave their country. But we

Did not leave of our own free will

Choosing another land. Nor did we enter

Into another land, to stay there, if possible, for ever.

Merely, we fled. We are driven out, banned

Europe on the move. Seven million Syrians displaced. Pastor Martin Neimoller’s warning of a different genocide.

First they came for the Jew

and I did not speak out –

because I was not a Jew

Then they came for the communists

and I did not speak out-

because I was not a communist

Then they came for the Trade Unionist

and I did not speak out –

because I was not a trade Unionist

Then they came for me-

and there was no one left

to speak out for me.

Joan Smith, ‘To Avoid Worse,’ in an anthology of writing on asylum seekers, A Country of Refuge, makes the point that Anne Frank’s secret apartment in Amsterdam became a shrine and her diaries were a critical and international literary success which inspired a Hollywood movie, but if that teenage girl presented herself at our borders today, she’d be turned away. ‘By the beginning of 1939, there were 300 000 on the waiting list for American visas.’ And a headnote from history that mirrors headlines and promises from the likes of Theresa May today, ‘Tragically, the American government had recently followed the example of some European countries, instructing US consuls to delay visa approvals on the grounds of national security.’

Theresa May has already promised the party faithful that those children already here will be deported back to their homeland when they turn eighteen. Bravo, our brave Prime Minister in waiting. Joan Smith suggests that ‘Aylan Kurdi did not need to die any more than Anne Frank’. You’ve probably heard of Anne Frank and are wondering who the hell is Aylan Kurdi. But if I tell you his little body was washed up at the beach at Bodrum, red T-shirt, blue shorts, his face turned into the sand. His image flashed around the world. The Turkish policeman, Mehmet Cuplak, who gently lifted his body from the beach gaining, temporary, celebrity status.  Just think if Aylan had lived long enough we could have educated him in typical English language and values then deported him back to Kobani where a shell had blown up their house, or let him live his life in a refugee camp in Istanbul, without his drowned mother or brother, where his type belonged. Caring, compassionate, Conservatism.

As A.L.Kennedy, ‘The Migrants’ suggests, at that point the Paris bombings and shootings hadn’t happened. After Paris the face of the refugee was that of the Muslim bomber, a threat to our way of life. In fact, to our life.  Most decidedly, non-U, lower even than the working-class, non-U.  Kennedy calls the Home Secretary to account. In plain terms she calls the future Prime Minister a liar, but in mitigation, perhaps no more than say Boris Johnson or George Osborne or David Cameron. The best form of propaganda as Brexit demonstrates is fear and loathing. The Home Secretary received a standing ovation when she repeated those old favourites about immigrants stealing hard-won jobs, coming here to get treated for free by our splendid NHS and claim benefits. Theresa May has shown a clean pair of hands when dealing with the problem of immigration. I’m sure she’ll make a wonderful Prime Minister for the rich and privileged. No change there then.

 

 

 

Matthew Desmond (2016) Evicted. Poverty and Profit in the American City.

The blurb on the cover by Rebecca Skloot, author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks reads: ‘A masterpiece. Beautiful, harrowing and deeply human’. You may remember that Rebecca Skloot immersed herself in the story of how a poor black woman, daughter of tobacco farmer, contracted a virulent cancer that killed her, but her cells were taken without her or her family’s knowledge and literally spawned a billion-dollar industry while those left behind, her ancestors, remained in poverty. Rebecca Skloot is therefore qualified to speak about injustice, poverty and how poor black women’s lives, and that of their children, are routinely ripped apart in the US housing debacle, another billion dollar industry. Rebecca Skloot could not, however, step inside the life of Henrietta Lacks and narrate in the first person.  Although certain situation are contrived as the author has reconstructed what happened, the prose are Sontag-like and the drama equal to Dominique Lapierre’s (1985) novel City of Joy. But fiction can never shock in the way that factual does. This is Milwaukee, a typical American city,  and Matthew Desmond follows the lives of the poor black community trying to make rent and live another day between May 2008 and December 2009. But let’s not kid ourselves things have got better since then.

Two registers in which public discussion of housing poverty take place i) indifference ii) fear  it will become contagious. This feeds into anger and the blame game orchestrated by conservative politicians. We see it this side of the Atlantic with every programme that shows how real people supposedly live and have in their title ‘Benefit’.  Who benefits is never asked.

Rent payments typically take up 60%-70% of Belinda client’s income. Belinda also take a cut, $37 a month for her services, and she has 230 clients, as she helps manage the poorest of the poor’s money. The majority of the poor spend over 50% of their income on rent. Millions are evicted every year. In Milwaukee, with just over 100 000 rental units, landlords annually evict 16 000 adults and children. Many of Belinda’s clients have little left over for utilities and food. ‘Rent eats first,’ is the way Desmond phrases it and the way those on streets live it. In 2010 The New York Times reported 1 in 50 Americans lived in a household whose income consisted only of Food Stamps.    Arleen is not on Belinda’s list. She can manage her own money, but she can’t manage rent. She has three children and her daughter has two children. Arleen is one of the lucky ones, because of her chronic depression she gets government help. $20.65 a day. $7536 a year. The welfare cheque is not enough to live own. The US government’s own statistics show that time and time again. Welfare payments, frozen since 1997. Rent and utilities soar.  The problem doesn’t lie with the system, the problem lies with the person. That’s what they’re told.  Arleen, her daughter and her grandchildren all choose to be poor, choose to live in poverty. They do stupid things, like buy face cream, instead of putting the money aside and saving for a new and better future.  Arleen has given up hope of applying for housing assistance. Landlords, like Shareen, love housing assistance, because it can be paid directly to them, and her clients would only have to pay around 30% of their income to her. And not the 60% -70% that most pay. Or in Arleen’s case she has promised the whole of her next cheque. $675 in the hope that Shareen will not evict her. Shareen is astute. She takes the cheque for back rent and still evicts Arleen. There’s millions of reasons of evicting a family. Toss a coin.  Heads, landlords like Shareen or Tobin, who runs a trailer park, win. Tails, tenants lose. That’s the way the system works. Seventy-five percent of families do not live in public housing and do not qualify for housing vouchers. In places like Washington DC the waiting list for public housing is closed and those on the list can expect to wait several decades to get a house.

There’s more money in misery that in affluence. Renters pay for the property. They act as caretakers and when a sink gets blocked or a bath blocked or report bugs running along the walls they can report it to their landlord, to be told it’s their fault and receive an eviction notice, or they can live with it. They might even, for example, get a plumber out and fix it, but that costs money and adds to the landlord’s assets. Even if they do nothing, property prices keep rising and they pay for the landlord’s future. For a price, Shareen, for example, offers to tutor her tenants in money matters and help them buy their rented units off her. The money she makes from the sale means she can afford two more units. It’s win-win for her. Even when she has to leave the casino where she’s gambling with $50 chips because one of her units is burning down, and one of her client’s children dies, the insurance payment allows her to buy more units. Make more money from another’s misery. Shareen and her partner Quentin are black, like their client pool. They know how the world works. When there is money in the house, their units, they are there with hand out, first in line to be paid. No second chances. That’s for mugs. Don’t let anyone screw you. Screw everyone for as much as you can get. That’s only fair. The comparison with drug dealers getting their money makes them smile. That’s the way the booming housing market works. Landlords lord it over everyone. There’s an eviction epidemic.  A lucrative business more likely to be passed from father to son than most.

Children don’t protect mothers from eviction. They are far more likely to lead to eviction. And having children makes it far more difficult to rent.  And if one of the unwritten rules of rent kingdom is you don’t call your landlord to complain about anything in your unit breaking down –such as a toilet- then the other is don’t call the police. Arleen was asked to leave a unit because her son had an asthma attack and she phoned for an ambulance, which came with the fire brigade. No police presence. That’s a big no-no. Police bring trouble to landlords. They can call in social services. They can and will call for units to be inspected for violations of the housing code.

In Joseph Heller’s novel, Catch 22, Yossarian tried to get himself grounded because only a crazy man would fly any more missions that would kill him, but only those sane enough to know that could not claim they were insane and had to continue flying sorties. Desmond cites a case of Catch 22, when poor black women living in rental units have the option of being murdered by their boyfriend or ex-boyfriend, or phoning the police and being evicted. Policing in Milwaukee also means policing landlords. Those that fail to comply with dealing with nuisance tenants that contact the police are likely to be fined or face criminal prosecution. Again and again Desmond shows the police bureaucracy default position is the tenant should be evicted. That is the only ‘approved’ option. So when the Milwaukee Chief of Police when trying to explain a spike in the number of young black females killed and says he can’t explain it as they’re only a phone call away, he’s playing the part of Doc Daneeka in Catch 22. Only this isn’t fiction. Real life kills you.  No one cares. It’s only poor black people that are dying.

Evicted would be familiar to many living in London and the suburbs. To those living in Scotland, with one in four children living in poverty, poverty and profit, is something someone else worries about. Matthew Desmond complicates things too much when he’s looking for solutions. Simplify. Build more houses. Stop taking money from the poor and giving it to the rich. Take money from the rich and give it to the poor. But we all know how difficult that is. No mainstream political party dares. The American tragedy has a face and it’s that of Donald Trump. And on this side of the Atlantic we have a Trumptian clone, Boris Johnson, and the Prime Minister in waiting, George Osborne. Their solutions are our problems. We have hawked all our public assets and our future to shysters and there seem nothing we can do about it.

 

 

Iain Duncan Smith’s big gamble.

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As a story teller, with Leicester City at the top of the Premier League it’s been the year of the underdog, and I’ve been following the Iain Duncan Smith, or the IDS narrative, with interest. He resigned from the Cabinet because ‘I am unable to watch passively whilst certain policies are enacted in order to meet the fiscal self-imposed restraints that are more and more perceived as distinctly political rather than in the national interest…[I] wonder at the balance of the cuts you have insisted upon and wonder if enough has been done to ensure “we are all in it together”’.

I wonder too if we are really in it together. I wonder too at the surprise and talk of salami slicing of the welfare budget. I thought as the former head of a think tank, IDS might have noticed that money was moving from the poor to the rich at increasing rate, and Osborne’s budget was following a familiar pattern. We can go back to Robin Hood stealing from the poor and keeping his loot because he worked damned hard for it. Or the debates in the House of Commons in the 1830s. The surprise and outrage some MPs gave themselves over to that children were being used in the workforce and forced, for example, to sweep chimneys and go down coal mines as a health cure for sloth. Up until then they thought it was simply small deformed adults of which there were too many for even Charles Dickens to enumerate, or black men kept in chains, which didn’t really count as human exploitation, because other people were doing it and fairs fair. In no time at all, with hymn singing and weeping and wailing and gnashing of pearly-white teeth children were provided for. By Parliamentary decree they should have at least two hours of education a day until they were thirteen. We were all in it together, now as then.

I do wonder what is going to happen to IDS’s flagship policy of universal credit. Cynical commentators would suggest that re-packing all benefits together such as housing, working tax credit, or jobseeker’s allowance et al, at a reduced rate, could be construed as a cost-saving device. Pulling a government lever and the poor are diminished and as we know they have no backbench peers. But IDS is not alone. Martin Ford (2015) in Rise of the Robots also suggested that as robots will be doing most of the jobs we do now, citizen should be given, as of right, a fixed income. As any Think-tank leader knows this idea does not come from Marx, but from the darling of Thatcherism, Friedrich Hayek. A basic fixed income was something we used to naively believe in. A social safety net. Remember that? When Pete Townsend’s Poverty in the UK  in the 1970s had politicians rushing to the barrier demanding that something should be done to help poor people. Poor people with an income of £40 000 per year. Of if you are a refugee around £35 000. Yes, us poor are all in it together.

Cynics might imaging that when IDS recovers from the shock that Conservative policies are ideologically and not economically driven then he might take stock and someone –quite soon- might propose him as leader of the Conservative Party. Certainly good old Boris Johnson is IDS’s rival. When David Cameron steps down, who has the Trump-card? Then, of course, there has to be the right market conditions. Britain must be out of Europe. The alternative, when there are no alternatives, is Osborne, or so he keeps telling us, which was a successful enough narrative to get the party re-elected with an increased majority. If he keeps salami slicing the poor, he would seem like a safe pair of hands – and favourite as the next Conservative Prime minister. With boundary changes and the continuing dissolution of the Labour Party he could be in power as long as Chairman Mao. I’m sure in ten or fifteen years we’ll still have a Conservative government, but it’s interesting watching the starters mocking for position.  IDS might turn out to be a Leicester City and take the big prize. The only losers will be poor people and we don’t count. It’s relegation for us and literally fighting for scraps.