Archive for December, 2011

The ghost of Dame Shirley

December 30, 2011 2 comments

In 2013 the rules concerning council tax benefit will be changing so that the level allowed to each claimant can be decided by their local authority rather than awarded in accordance with a tariff set by central government. Never ones to miss a chance to kick people when they’re down, Westminster council has decided that rather than award benefits on the basis of need they will award benefit based on the ‘behaviour’ of claimants – erstwhile gerrymanderer and hater of the poor, Dame Shirley Porter, would be proud of them.

Now, stop me if I’m being a stupid ninnyhead, but surely the essence of benefits is that they are awarded according to need? Yes, we know that there are bludgers who abuse the system out there, they’re the ones the papers like to tell us about. But the vast, nay, VAST majority of those who claim benefits do so honestly and manage to behave themselves while they’re at it. To allow an arbitrary panel to rule on what may be the difference between eating and starving for individuals or even families would be the worst extreme of a nanny state, which Tories are supposed to hate.

And when will the quotas be brought in? In this age of targets and Key Performance Indicators local authorities have already been setting targets regarding such processes as homeless applications; the authority where I worked had a 50% quota and if a caseworker went higher than that then they would get a bollocking and disciplinary measures would be mentioned, never mind if the reality was that 77% of homeless applicants were in genuine need. I can foresee the top brass at Westminster deciding that the performance of this new procedure needs measuring somehow, why not set a target that 25% of claimants will forfeit some or all of their benefit? And if the assessors don’t hit their targets, woe betide them.

There are some nasty bastards in the world, some of them claim benefits, others claim governmental expenses and/or run local authorities. This latest attempt at lynch mob popularism by those in charge will have a far more detrimental effect on society than the actions of a minority of ‘wrongdoers’. Such a financial carrot and stick method will only serve to entrench the small minority in their antisocial way of life – we are bombarded with tales of the ‘feral underclass’ but it seems those who rule are determined to make it a reality.

At their base measures such as this and evicting ‘badly behaved’ council tenants flag up an increasing lack of faith in our fellow humans to the extent that groups in society are being dehumanised as a result of politicians’ words and actions and the resultant media spin. It is yet another sign of the divide and rule tactics so beloved of our leaders; we must not allow them to succeed.


So here it is…

December 23, 2011 3 comments

Things were very different this time a year ago. Fucked over by corrupt management and chased into my pit by the Black Dog, I jumped at Christmas as a chance to be elsewhere. I saw it as an alternate reality, a bubble where normality was excluded and I, conversely, could be ‘normal’ for a while as everyone else entered the otherness of the festivities. The snow helped as it changes the world we live in. Some simple precipitation making everything look and sound different, somehow better. At least until it hardens, goes slushy, and makes getting anywhere or doing anything a pain. Then it finished and I spent the limbo we are plunged into betwixt Christmas and New Year deciding to take redundancy – I had no option, the actions of my employers were endangering my health. I loved my job and worked with fantastic people, but I needed to take back control of my life.

I wish that I could go back a year and tell me that I was definitely making the right choice at the time. It certainly didn’t feel right for most of this year. Yes, I rid myself of the daily attack on my sanity that my work had become, but it was replaced by the numbing mix of unemployment and depression sprinkled with an ever present feeling of anger at what had been done to me.

But I did make the right choice. Things haven’t improved at the old place from what my friends still there tell me and I was right to get out. Two weeks ago I started my new job and I’m loving it. I’m earning considerably less and it’s not in housing which has become almost vocational for me since the mid 90s, but I’m still in the public sector and providing a service I very much believe in – the help I provide is perhaps less tangible, but it’s still essential as our footfall of 1000 people a day shows. And my new colleagues have welcomed me and made me feel at home in a very short space of time. The work is more physical than I’d anticipated but there’s a satisfaction from coming home tired after a days work, and the routine it provides does my mental health a world of good. Yesterday evening I did a printout for a girl of about six or seven, a few minutes later her father sent her scampering back over to me and with a huge smile she thanked me and wished me a happy Christmas. A simple thing that can make a moment in your day sparkle.

And so it is that I’m entering the festive bubble from a much different angle this year. For the first time in nearly three years I feel something close to personal happiness, and I’m extremely grateful for that. I’ve been going to work, went to see Daniel Kitson on Wednesday, saw friends last night and visiting another tomorrow, and none of it is a strain. I have no illusions that life or my illness won’t throw more obstacles in my way, but for now, y’know, fuck that shit.

I’m still angry, though, on a personal level at my ex employers who I may still take legal action against, but very much more so on a general level at the shit that’s been thrown at us over the past year (over the past few decades) in the name of neoliberal capitalism. Perhaps I should be grateful for the fact that the various campaigns and networks I have taken part in (mainly through the Twitters) have provided me with an alternate focus when not working, but such an angry focus. It has also inspired me to write – 30-odd blog posts this year, mainly on matters political with the occasional divergence into self analysis such as this one.

I may be ‘alright’, Jack, but as a society, as a world, WE are not. This is why I will continue to fight with and support those trying to make things better and life liveable for us ALL. I will continue to campaign with and write about Occupy, Broken of Britain, Save the NHS, housing, UK Uncut and trying to change the system, not work with the corrupt and morally bankrupt one we have in place. Futile? Maybe. Idealistic? Maybe. But we’ve gotta try, haven’t we, we’ve at least got to do that.

So here it is, Merry Christmas, Solstice, Saturnalia, Channukah, however you’re being festive at this time of year. Stay funky, good people, I’ll see you on the other side!

Dedicated to all my friends, real and cyber, and all others who have helped me, made me smile, informed me and just generally been somewhere there over the past year.

I’m Leftacus!

December 21, 2011 1 comment

It seems that…

despising racism makes you left wing

hating homophobia and transphobia makes you left wing

questioning how having a home has become monetized to such a ridiculous extent makes you left wing

opposing welfare cuts that will harm and in some cases kill makes you left wing

showing that inequality still exists within a patriarchal society makes you left wing

campaigning against religious intolerance makes you left wing

being angry that celebrity somehow confers immunity from criticism when lazy insults are aimed at groups in society makes you left wing

reading and learning about subjects in order to put forth (semi) coherent ideas makes you left wing

pointing out that it’s morally wrong (if not ‘legally’) for so much tax to be ‘avoided’ makes you left wing

constructing an argument that if that tax had been paid we wouldn’t be so fucked makes you left wing

stating that regardless of party colours the last 30 years have seen neoliberalism, corporations, the IMF, the WTO and the World Bank running our lives in accordance with the desires of the few and not the needs of the many makes you left wing

not just accepting such a state of affairs and getting on with things makes you left wing

to be Ryan Giggs or Gareth Bale makes you left wing… oh, wait, hang on…

Anyway, an editorial in The Guardian today accused ‘left wingers’ in the unions of damaging the negotiations over public sector pensions. Cameron and his cohorts regularly use the term as an insult, as does the majority of the media. It’s becoming the equivalent of being called a liberal in the US: a vague and reductive catch all term used to insinuate either a cloud cuckoo idealist at one end of the scale, a domestic terrorist at the other, and an extremist in general.

Am I left wing? Economically? Yes. Socially? It would seem so. But at the heart of my anger, campaigning and ‘radicalism’ is the simple desire to see people treated correctly. I just want to be a decent human being and get annoyed when I see actions that are not decent. I can’t help it. Stupid idealism!

My name is Andy and it seems I am a left winger, sometimes extremely so. It’s a cross I’m willing to bear.

La luca continua…

All Your Internetz Are Mine

December 4, 2011 Leave a comment

I had my first non blog piece published today by the good folk at Mint Magazine, for all your online music, media and general artyness needs.

It’s a review of Michael de Larrabeiti’s wonderful Borribles trilogy that also turned into a socio-political analysis of the books, the times, and me.

Click here for the words

With thanks to Marcus Harris.

Clarkson: Enough is Enough

December 4, 2011 Leave a comment

By now most people will have read of and fumed over/dismissed/chuckled at the latest self important ramblings of Jeremy Clarkson who has once again changed up the gears of his id without engaging the clutch of his super ego.

Firstly, on Thursday he used the platform of the popular BBC magazine programme, ‘The One Show’, to call for the execution of public sector works who were striking – as typically crass and provocative as this was he could rightfully claim that he was only saying “what we’re all thinking”, the ‘all’ in this case being him, his buddy David Cameron, and other wealthy knee-jerk reactionaries. It wasn’t big, it definitely wasn’t clever, but it’s sadly what we’ve come to expect from this witless, self aggrandising publicity whore. Clarkson, of course, owes his fortune to ‘working’ in the public sector setting of the BBC, without which his lucrative sidelines in ‘journalism’ and writing idiotic books for idiots wouldn’t have come about.

Then came the second wave in his onslaught on the latte sipping, yoghurt knitting classes. In his regular Saturday column for The Sun, Clarkson decided that enough was enough and the inconvenience caused by people thoughtlessly choosing to end their lives at the cost of others being stuck on a train for a while should be brought to the nation’s attention. He described in graphic detail the physical outcome of people taking their lives using this method, gave statistics on the ‘success’ rate, and bemoaned the lot of those caught up in the aftermath. He did, briefly, mention the awful effects such events have on rail workers, especially drivers, but the undeniable gist of the piece was that these ‘Johnny Suicides’ are far more trouble than they’re worth.

So what, you might say, it’s just Clarkson, isn’t it? Well, yes, but unlike his comments on the strikers where, much to the chagrin of Cameron, Maude and Duncan Smith, it is unlikely that any will be executed, I feel his ill conceived and irresponsible words regarding railway suicides could have a real and negative impact on several levels.

Clarkson’s tone, style and words culminate in a blithe dismissal of the lives lost in this manner, 200 a year according to him. These people have been dehumanised by his words, reduced to a collection of body parts on a railway track. How will this effect those who have lost someone close to them to a rail suicide? How will it effect those who suffer with depression and mental health issues, already alienated to varying degrees by their illness, seeing the affirmation of their lack of worth and being a ‘burden’ writ large and read by millions? These are worthless lives to be disregarded in the face of commerce and ‘getting there on time’.

The piece could also be read by some as a ‘how to’ guide – figures are given on the rate of ‘successful’ attempts and the graphic description of the aftermath will leave no-one in any doubt as to the ‘efficiency’ of railway suicides. There are guidelines for the reporting of suicides in the media – an important element is that graphic description should not be used, and to reveal ‘success’ rates is surely the height of irresponsibility.

And then there’s the impact on the overall perception of mental illness. Despite the advances that have been made there remain huge levels of ignorance and stigma surrounding mental health issues and articles such as Clarkson’s will only add to theses problems. While many rightfully dismiss Clarkson’s torpid ramblings, many of his fans see Clarkson as an advocate of ‘common sense’ in the battle against such straw men as political correctness and ‘woolly liberals’ – his words, read by millions in the best selling national newspaper, will undoubtedly reinforce already held prejudices and add to the stigma felt by many sufferers. Imagine someone who is struggling with depression going into work on Monday and hearing a colleague announce their agreement with Clarkson about these ‘Johnny suicides’ causing all sorts of inconvenience and being so bloody selfish.

Ah, yes, people who take their lives are ‘selfish’. Well, this is correct to the extent that depression and mental illness are about the ‘self’ and a common reaction for sufferers is indeed to retreat into themselves. But why is this? While it is undoubtedly a coping mechanism, how many people do it to hide their illness, fearful of the reaction from others and unable to discuss it and get the help they may need? There are times when I cut myself off from ‘real life’, but those close to me know that it is a coping mechanism because I have been able to be honest and open about my illness. You could say I’m lucky to have understanding people around me, but those sufferers who go on in silence may also have similarly excellent friends and family, they just aren’t willing to take the risk of exposing themselves due to the stigma engendered by the likes of Clarkson.

“What were they thinking”? is a common question. Unfortunately, once a person reaches the stage of deciding that to die would be better than living, they are extremely unlikely to be capable of ‘rational’ thought – someone is about to take their life and we should expect them to consider the logistical implications? Clarkson obviously thinks so. I have experience of this and I could not tell you what I was thinking the countless times I have stood on a platform as a train approaches other than “Now, do it now and the pain will go”. I have never taken that final step, and hopefully I never will. I have enough experience and insight into my illness that I can recognise triggers, and also (most of the time) recognise that what I want is an end to the pain, not an end to me. But what of others who haven’t had 10 years of being diagnosed; who haven’t had the luxury of therapy that helps you to understand what is wrong and what you can do to help yourself; who haven’t had the support of those around them? What must they think when they read an article that calls them selfish and an inconvenience?

Included in most, if not all, employment contracts will be a clause concerning bringing the organisation you work for into disrepute, particularly in public organisations. I have no doubt that if I or someone else made such irresponsible statements as Clarkson has repeatedly done under the guise of ‘opinion’ in a national newspaper that we would be disciplined. Paul Farmer of MIND has asked that complaints be made to the PCC regarding Clarkson’s column, but what effect will that have other than for The Sun to receive some mild form of censure and Clarkson to issue a mealy mouthed ‘apology’. Clarkson’s main employers have a responsibility here, a duty of care to the population is an implicit part of their role as a publicly funded organisation and national broadcaster, and yet they refuse to comment saying that Clarkson’s work for The Sun is outside his responsibilities within the BBC. This is arrant nonsense – the only reason that Clarkson is able to spout his ‘wisdom’ to millions is because of his success with the BBC, his fanbase composed of those who watch his hugely successful programme. His positions within the BBC and outwith the organisation are inextricably linked.

Should the BBC take any action they will undoubtedly face charges of censorship and political correctness from champions of ‘free speech’, but free speech should not, must not abrogate the speaker from any notion of responsibility, and it does not excuse any organisation that has given that speaker their platform from their own responsibilities, or will they wait until the first ‘Clarkson suicide’ happens?

Click to see the response from Paul Farmer of MIND to Clarkson’s column.