politics

Wristbands and stars

blogpost

Julia Heartless-Sewer ridicules the parallels between making refugees wear bright red wristbands and the yellow star of the Holocaust in her awful “I have controversial opinions for money” column.

What she (intentionally) misses is that the Shoah didn’t start bang on 30 January 1933. It arrived slowly, with even Jewish people thinking badges were the end, not the start.

The biggest thing I notice about this is that the people who say the wristbands are fine and dismiss the parallels with the Holocaust are more dismissing the Holocaust itself than anything else.

The foul stench of antisemitism can always be found hiding behind the polite but equally disgusting dislike of refugees.

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The only good fascist is a dead fascist

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The “Britannia Ball” compared to a Mosley rally, from Stuartsorensen’s Blog

The fascist “Britain First”, which while tiny are still fucking dangerous, have decided to go quiet during the general election campaign so as not to distract from UKIP’s campaign.

That tells you more about UKIP than it does about Joshua Bonehead’s Paul Golding & Jayda Fransen’s pathetic BF rabble.

I know you think UKIP are anti-politics and will give the Establishment a kick up the arse and so forth, but what you get for voting for UKIP’s I Can’t Believe It’s Not Fascism is… fascism.

Remember, fascism doesn’t arrive in jackboots and smash windows. Fascism arrives via the ballot box, pretending to be your friend. Then it puts on the jackboots and starts smashing windows when it’s too late to do anything.

If you lie down with dogs, you get fleas. If you lie down with UKIP, you get screwed.

The wrong answer

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Image by Coventry City CouncilCC-BY-NC-ND

Amidst a low turnout, the people of the English cities have largely rejected adopting a London-style Mayorality system.

The basic reason for introducing such a system is that local government is broken in England. Councils have either got permanent, unmovable majorities on one hand or shifting, unstable coalitions on the other. Neither is working well: permanent majorities lead to a lack of dynanism in councillors and stodgy, slow-to-react councils.

Shifting coalitions and their cousins – councils swinging between one party and another each election – mean that councillors spend their time fighting (sometimes literally), backstabbing, playing to the gallery and otherwise being very insular and political. This results in council policy forever changing and the council services being disrupted.

The Mayoral system is meant to stop that. Instead of such poor extremes, you get one man (almost always a man, alas) with the power concentrated in his hands for four years and the councillors act as the check and balance on him. This sounds great in theory but in practice it’s the same again – either it’s permanently the same man or it swings back and for between two wildly opposing men, albeit only once every 4 years rather than every May.

The solution is obvious to all politicians at all levels, but they don’t like it. They don’t want to let the solution in through the door because when people discover how well it works, they start wanting it for everything. The solution is the supervote, also known as the single transferrable vote (STV).

The supervote put all of the power in the hands of the electorate. The parties no longer have the power of patronage; there is no longer a need to vote for someone you dislike in order to avoid electing someone you dislike more; there are no permanent majorities; there are no dramatic swings. And above all there’s no tactical voting. Because of that, the need to punish or reward the distant national government in London via a local election disappears.

What the individual votes for, the council gets. Your party’s candidates are all elected together but you get to chose between them. Suddenly you have all the power over the parties and the councillors. If you’re on the left of Labour, you can vote to push Labour locally to the left. Ditto if you’re on the right of the Tories.

Supervote does result in more coaltions, but they are more stable – councillors don’t have to guess what people want, they already know. Political infighting doesn’t work because the public will use the supervote to punish it. We get more responsive councillors and a more responsive council. Turnout goes up because the vote means something. If your councillor is rubbish, you have another one to turn to. If they’re all rubbish, you have the power to remove them – even without changing what party you vote for.

The power of the supervote is truly awesome. And that’s why the politicians don’t want you to have it.

We wake up, we go out, smoke a fag, put it out

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I’m a smoker.

I have been since my early teens. Smoking and me were made for each other. I love the taste. I love the smell. I love the sophistication that I feel with a fag between my fingers. Each cigarette is something I look forward to, enjoy lighting, enjoy drawing the fumes into my asthmatic lungs and enjoy stubbing out at the end. Smoking and me were made for each other. When I’m not smoking a cigarette, something is missing from my hand.

I’m an anti-smoker.

I don’t like other people’s smoke. As much as I would really enjoy a ciggy with a pint, I’d rather not share my pint with other people’s smoke. I love a cigarette between courses of food but don’t want someone smoking during my meal. A very long train journey is a nightmare for me without the gaspers. I’d rather not share a carriage with a single person puffing on a fag – let alone sit in a (now long forgotten) smoking carriage.

Perhaps that lets me make the following comment about current government policy on cigarettes.

Cigarettes are expensive. This is A Good Thing. The cost deters people from starting and makes the insane cost of nicotine replacement therapy seem reasonable. (Yes, a full weekly course of NRT costs less than a week of cigs, but smokers discount the cost of the daily packet as if it was background voices and inflate the cost of NRT because it seems so upfront).

The latest wheeze (ho ho) is to put cigarettes out of sight. You go to buy them and they’re not there. The shop assistant unlocks a door, fishes them out and sells them to you blind.

I have my preferred brand – Silk Cut Silver, if you must know. It’s low tar and low nicotine. Of course this is worse than not smoking at all, and I agree it it’s probably no better than smoking Capstan Full Strength. But as I queue at the kiosk, if they don’t have my brand, what do I do? Write off the queue time or buy something else? I’m human. I’ll buy something else. And it’ll be stronger. So for the next 24-48 hours, I’ll be smoking something that tastes stronger, has higher tar and has higher nicotine. That’ll help when the day comes to give up.

But the worst part of this stupid idea is that it makes the price of fags completely discountable. Yes, us smokers will choose by price to a degree, despite what I said above. But if prices continue to rise above inflation, the motivation for stopping increases. Poorer smokers – and I’ve been a poor smoker, even whilst in the arms of the welfare state – will buy a packet of 10 and eke them out when the price gets too much. Eventually, they’ll turn to their GP and ask to be enrolled on the humiliation-and-hectoring course the NHS does free to help you quit (that would *so* not work for me – the words “who the fuck do you think you’re talking to?” would bubble up uncontrollably).

What has happened here is that the price of cigarettes has now been hidden. Not the packets, not the subtle advertising, not the craving – just the price. As the cupboard doors appear over the fags, so the connection between price and the cost of smoking disappear. Already WHSmith do this – their railway station outlets put a £1 premium on the cost of 20 fags. The shop assistants usually warn you. “They’re £8.10 here and there’s a real shop down the street”. When they don’t warn you, you’re faced with paying £8.10 there and then. And you do, because you’ve queued and because you’re gasping and because you don’t want to shop elsewhere and you don’t want to annoy the shoppie… So you pay.

And so it will be when all the cigarettes are covered up. The supermarket hegemony will jack the prices because you can’t see them. The local shops will undercut them, but only by a few pence. The NHS’s major weapon against smoking, the control of the price, will be broken and the rewards will be taken by the large retailers and the tobacco companies who are about to get a cigarette-based bonanza of cash.

And the losers? Well, the slow but steady rise in the cost of fags has benefited the NHS via the Treasury for 30 or more years. It has also pealed off the more casual smoker who choses to give up on Budget Day. The forthcoming free-for-all in prices will benefit neither. Smokers will be quickly immunised to the prices. But the retailers and the tobacco companies will be minting it.

The only loser will be the NHS. But then we’re under a Liberal-Conservative government of the rich, by the rich, for the rich, that believes that the NHS is for losers only anyway. So it hardly matters.

 

Tear down this Bill, Mr Lansley

The government’s epetitions website is meant to be a place that we subjects can blow off a little steam without actually bothering our lords and masters.

That, however, isn’t to say it isn’t useful for those of us who want to take back parliament from the vested interests that are now running the show. When 100,000 people sign a petition, MPs have to look into having a debate about it – getting our voice into parliament, something many MPs (my own, Fester McVague, in particular) feel they were elected to prevent.

So here’s a petition that can make a difference, even if the result is only to bolster the ineffective opposition parties and shake the smug, self-satisfied consciences of the Liberal Democrat MPs who have let power go to their heads and their hearts.

If you’re a British resident, visit the Drop the NHS Reforms Bill epetition now – at the time of writing, it’s agonisingly close to the 100,000 signatures needed to force a debate, most of which were gained today.

Whatever you vote, and I don’t presume to know what goes on between you and a (secret) ballot box, if you’re British you have reason to be grateful for our NHS. Yeah, it’s not perfect, but it’s ours and it’s run by people who are doing it for love not money, for people regardless of what they can or should be asked to pay. And it is ours, not the government’s, not big business’s, not Lansley’s, not anyone’s. The NHS is ours and we need to stop it being privatised by stealth.

I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this any more

It must be really easy to be right wing and reactionary. Toss a subject at a committed Tory and they’ve got an instant, knee-jerk answer that they didn’t even need to think about. Immigrants? Coming over here to do jobs white people aren’t prepared to do – send them back! Gays? They’re just trying to make their unnatural sodomy as acceptable as my heterosexual sodomy. The poor? Why do they expect handouts – can’t they pull themselves up like I did with my free education, free university and free healthcare? Taxes? Why should I pay a portion of the salary I earn in my job in insurance into a system that I probably will never claim from?

Being left wing and progressive is far harder. With every issue, you have to sit down and actually expend mental calories on deciding what the best course of action is, weighing the greater social good against your own upbringing and class. Burkas? Well, I deplore the circumstances that would force them on to women, but I’m loathe to dictate what someone can and can’t wear. Overthrowing dictators in far off countries? In principle there’s something to be said for not allowing murderous scum to run a country, but in practice overthrowing them always makes life worse for everybody and smacks of colonialism. Religion? I don’t have one and I don’t appreciate having religion – any religion – thrust down my throat, but if I’m entitled to be an atheist, then others are entitled not to be.

See what I mean?

Today I came face-to-face with one of these dilemmas. As I went into the supermarket, a bunch of holy-looking do-gooders stopped me and pressed a shopping list into my hands. It seems that Wirral has now got a ‘foodbank’ and they’d quite like me to donate to it. I took the list and spent around half an hour standing in an aisle having a mental debate as to whether this is a good idea or not.

There are several problems with foodbanks. First and foremost, since the Second World War, society and government have agreed that it’s the state’s responsibility that no one in the UK should ever starve. Successive governments have tried to shake free of this basic, humane commitment but we’ve never let them. Until now. Now, with the country suffering from the wastrel ways of obscenely rich bankers, we’ve decided to cut the poorest loose to go hungry and die. This is wrong. But if I donate to a foodbank, am I not doing ‘Dave’ Cameron’s job for him? Shouldn’t he be finding the money to prevent people dying of hunger in a first-world nation rather than wasting it on selling nationalised banks at a loss?

Then there’s the problem of foodbank schemes being run by churches. There’s an element of “sing for your supper” implicit in the leaflet they handed me. If you claim from a foodbank, the church is likely to be highly involved – you go there to collect the food, you have a talk with a god-botherer spouting Jesus, you get pressured to start coming on Sundays and pretending you believe. You may be financially bankrupt, but churchgoers are often the first to believe that others are morally bankrupt as well. Your food is going to come with a side order of Jesus and a desert of condemnation and pity. This type of crap was one of the reasons Attlee’s 1945-1951 government took poor relief out of the hands of local vicars and brought it into the machinery of the state – nobody should be forced to pray for their supper, let alone be judged for it as well.

Then there’s the taking away of people’s choice. Yes, that’s a very right wing thing to say, but bear with me. When you get your Family Allowance and Income Support and the other meagre crumbs from the LibCon table, it comes as cash. This lets you choose what you do with it: shoes for little Johnny this week, an extra pint of milk for me tomorrow, a bus ride to his mum’s so she can look after the kids for a few hours… all tiny, but all very important. When you’re poor – and I’ve been poor – your world shrinks. The giro is the only thing that expands your horizons, even if only slightly. Instead, we’re now routinely leaving the least able to cope with no money at all; they go to a foodbank and they get… a bag full of food. Chosen by a middle-class shopper, handed to them pre-packed by a middle-class do-gooder, that tiny horizon is slapped shut – you’ll get what you’re given.

Also, I doubted what the middle-class shoppers of the Wirral would choose for their poorer brethren. And I was right: as I left the store, the modest pile of groceries was all “Value” items – inedible “Value” cornflakes, “Value” packet soups so thin can see the bottom of your cup when you’ve made them, “Value” toilet paper that will tear you a new one. The middle classes of Wirral had spoken: you foodbank users, look at our largess – nasty crap we wouldn’t give house room to, awful shite we would never eat ourselves. Gee, how generous of my fellow man.

So, what did I decide? After half an hour standing there, completely unable to decide whether these points outweighed my general humanity, I decided that the socialist thing to do would be to donate to the foodbank and get angry about it later. So I did. And I bought brand names, stuff that I would choose for myself, not stuff I would choose for others, because that idea stinks. Heinz soups; Colgate toothpaste; Lynx shower gel and so forth – stuff that people, that I, would want.

But now I’m angry. I’m very very angry. THIS IS WRONG. Foodbanks shouldn’t exist because they shouldn’t be necessary. We MUST get these awful, nasty, cruel Liberals and Conservatives out of government next time. And we must send a message to Labour: look to Beveridge. Look to Attlee. It’s time to roll back Thatcherism. We’re as mad as hell, and we’re not going to take this any more.

The Prime Minister displays his common touch

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