Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Our own kind of terrorism

Following yesterday’s bombing in Brussels I find myself torn apart, facing quite determinedly in two directions. I condemn the murder of innocent human beings. Murderous terrorism should not be used to resolve issues even if it is carried out by those who claim to represent people who are being victimised and treated in one way or another unjustly.  I also condemn the military intervention of  western and Russian governments to secure by military action their own commercial interests in a region where they  have no right to suzerainty. Over many years innocent people in that region have been and are being killed on a daily basis as a direct and indirect consequence of inept military and political interference by external powers   I believe this interference is a root cause of the outrageous acts of bloody and murderous terrorism we are witnessing. 

We are right to condemn the murder of innocent people in Brussels and each of the other places where in recent decades terrorists have carried out their heinous acts,  but shouldn’t we be contrite about our own kind of terrorism towards innocent people in the middle east ? 

Should we even at this dreadful time be talking about how to resolve differences peacefully ?  Should we examine the whole issue and not just our own interests in it ? 

Each of us can have murderous feelings when events like those which happened in Brussels yesterday occur. We often have ambiguous feelings too. After all it is not too long ago that the United Kingdom had a very powerful and influential prime minister who considered Nelson Mandela a terrorist. 

Well, was he or wasn’t he?

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Six magnificent years and six tragic years : the privatisation of the United Kingdom

For six magnificent years from  1945 to 1951, a Labour Government, advised by a Liberal thinker, William Beveridge, and a progressive Conservative, Rab Butler, created a caring state system which ensured that as a community we took responsibility to look after all of our members who struggled with poverty, and poor health. Previously people had to pay for health services and so the poor died young. A free to all National Health Service was created, unquestionably the greatest achievement in the history of the community of people we call the United Kingdom. Furthermore all children now had access to a state education system managed by elected local authorities.

From 1979 to 1997 the Conservative governments of Margaret Thatcher and John Major attempted to  undermine these universal services and though Margaret Thatcher's government severely damaged the power of trade unions and attacked the long fought for rights of working people we had to wait for the New Labour governments of the now multi-millionaire Tony Blair and that son of the manse Gordon Brown to see profiteering private enterprise being introduced to our welfare, health and education services. Privatisation offers rich rewards for senior directors and shareholders of companies, diminishes the rewards and rights of workers and leads to declining services, both in number and in quality, for all those who most need them.

The New Labour government of 1997 to 2010 marked the lowest ebb in the moral ethics of the Labour movement. Little wonder that in the 2010 general election many traditionally Labour Party voters switched to support the Liberal Democrat Party when the latter's leaders,  people like Nick Clegg and Vince Cable claimed the Liberal Democrats were now the centre left's  genuinely radical caring party. It was a believable claim since the New Labour had proved to be one of the most successful capitalist/conservative sympathising governments in living memory.

We were in for more political treachery. Following voting day in the 2010 General Election, the "radical" Liberal Democrats,  held the balance of power, and decided to cuddle up with the Conservatives. This was not only treachery towards former Labour Party supporters the Liberal Democrat Party had enticed to vote for them it was also  treachery towards many of its own traditional supporters.

The following six years, from 2010 to 2016 have been tragic as we have watched the ever accelerating travel towards the death of the caring community that was once the United Kingdom.

Predictably the Liberal Democrats while they were in government could not stand up to the forces of Conservatism and in last year's General Election most of the Liberal Democrat MPs were drummed out of the Westminster parliament while New Labour paying the price of taking the support of the people of Scotland for granted lost all but one of its parliamentary seats to the Scottish Nationalist Party. The result is that we have an extreme right wing Conservative government (voted in by less than 40% of the electorate) deliberately and it seems with vicious delight legislating to impoverish further those who have very little in the first place. The last six dismal years have witnessed the invasion of our public services by the profiteering force of privatisation with its concomitant loss of jobs, and the increasingly poor pay and conditions of the diminishing numbers of workers who remain in our public services. Tonight the United Kingdom government signalled its intention to close local authority schools in favour of privately backed academies.  Public services should not be run on a profit making basis but its advance has surely reached the stage of the straw which broke the camel's back.

So frustrated am I that I ask people who voted for this Conservative government, if this is what you wanted?  Are you content that those who experience poverty, disability, physical and mental health difficulties, poor employment conditions and no prospects should be further disadvantaged and punished. Do you think you are superior to these people? Weren't you proud that as a people, as a community we had a national covenant to help those of us who struggle?  Are you happy being a driving force in a sadistic United Kingdom ?

Thursday, 10 March 2016

More from the poetaster : lost in plastic and the present

They're saying my potato crisp is a chip
Just as my chips were changed to French fries.
I put it on the card, never leave a tip.
This is all fact, not temporary lies.

No longer a crisp
Still a crisp

Stuck in decades not extant
Wistful for the crackle of vinyl on radiogram;
Like others I swipe plastic, peer at the iPhone in my hand
but lose the idea of who I was, ipso facto who I am.

Of this man of letters, learning and erudition,
dusty books are no longer a measure;
sneering and cursing with Luddite derision,
I hold iPad and Kindle, for new fangled treasure.

In despair to the attic, I find an old Beano or Dandy,
re-discover my comforter, my very own modus operandi.

Manual for leading a contented life 

Friday, 4 March 2016

Better watch out for the poetry : feelings after a Local Labour Party meeting

Nobody spoke the poetry,
Permission was not given.
None wished to hear it.
Beauty might commit us
and while the enemy is within
Truth becomes too ultimate a risk.

Better watch out for the poetry.

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Vote, vote, vote for Mr Strachey he's the one who'll gi'e ye ham and eggs

When driving up to Scotland to spend a few days there as my wife and I do three or four times a year, we pass the big blue and white saltire sign which announces we have returned to the land of milk and honey. I usually make an uncalled for and puerile remark vaguely directed towards my wife, who is English, about the air suddenly feeling fresher. Being a woman of insight she disregards these remarks with the sigh of the resigned, bored and weary. She has heard it all before. "Water off a duck's back," is the phrase that comes to mind.

The air is fresher here

Undaunted by this dismissal I usually begin to sing a Scottish song with a line like, "And it's oh but I'm longing for my ain folk" but driving up on this January 2nd just past I found myself singing, I don't know why they came into my head, the lines of a skipping song that the girls at Liff Road School sang and skipped to in the playground during the early 1950s. The lyrics went like this,

'My lad wears a kilt and he wears it in the fashion
And every time he twirls aroond, ye cannae help fae laughing.'

The boys' and the girls' playgrounds were separated by iron palings so we couldn't join the girls but we watched. Occasionally in the summer after school we'd find a patch of rough  ground and  some of us boys would join the girls in skipping. I should point out here and now before a volley of spleenful emails and texts are directed towards me :  the boys who were the best fighters in the school never ever joined in these unisex endeavours.

One skipping game I remember had an accompanying song about the 1951 parliamentary election. For the game to proceed two people plied a long rope in continued rotation while one skipper after another would take turns at skipping to a verse of the song. The song went,

'Vote, vote for Mr Junor, he's the one who gives ye ham 'n  eggs
And if ye dinnae vote for him then we'll shove ye in the bin
And we'll vote for Mr. Strachey instead'.

One skipper leaves and the next enters.

'Vote vote for Mr Strachey, he's one who gives ye ham 'n eggs
If ye dinnae vote for him then we'll shove ye in the bin
And we'll vote for Mr Bowman instead'.

And so on.

I'm not sure at that age we kids knew much about the elections, and I don't know how we came to know the names of the candidates but recently I decided to find out who Mr Bowman, Mr Junor and Mr Strachey were. Certainly we were singing the song around the time of the 1951 general election when these three  men stood as the only candidates for the Dundee West Parliamentary constituency.

David Bowman, engine driver
David Bowman who stood for the Communist Party was an engine driver and the only candidate from Dundee. 

Sitting at the heart of the Dundee West constituency Lochee, where our school was situated, was a stronghold of the Communist Party in Dundee at that time. In fact just near Frankie Davies Cafe was a large room, almost a wee hall, where the Communist Party would hold its meetings and sometimes on Saturday afternoons Party members would show old early talkie feature films and communist propaganda films. At first we were keen to go along to these matinees because we liked the idea of watching films for free, but the trouble was that the vision and sound were so out of sync that as entertainment it was not a very satisfactory experience and it wasn't long before we stopped going.

A communist all his adult life, David Bowman had refused to stand against Strachey in the 1945 and the 1950 general elections (which Strachey had won for Labour) because he respected the latter's Marxist sympathies and so he stood instead as a candidate for the Dundee East constituency in 1950 mustering just over 1,000 votes.

By 1951 Strachey's Marxism had become sufficiently diluted by his ministerial experience at the War Office from 1950 to 1951, that David Bowman decided to stand against Strachey for the Dundee West seat in 1951. Nonetheless on election day Bowman trailed in as the last of three candidates with 1508 votes. John Strachey again won the seat for Labour, polling 29,020 votes.

There being no Unionist candidate, John Junor, standing as the Liberal candidate, amassed 25,714 votes.  Junor, who had been a losing candidate in the 1945 election when he stood for Kincardine and West Aberdeenshire, and in a by-election for Edinburgh East in 1947, never stood for parliament again following his defeat in Dundee.  He continued his career as - in my opinion -  a bombastic newspaper columnist for, and later as the editor of, the Sunday Express.

John Junor :  Liberal?

Mr Strachey, as he had been in 1945 and 1951, was the one our parents voted for to supply us with ham and eggs.  John Strachey was an an Englishman, an Etonian and a graduate of Magdalene College Oxford who had joined the Labour Party in the 1930s because he was seriously and sincerely  concerned about a fairer  distribution of wealth.  He first stood for parliament in 1945 as did a number of young men and women from privileged backgrounds who had seen the sufferings of the poor in the 1920s and 1930s, and were determined that the United Kingdom should become a fairer place. How things have changed since those halcyon days of the 1945-1951 Labour Government.

Etonian Marxist

Well,  you cannae help fae laughing. The air isn't as fresh as it was. A left wing Etonian doesn't rule Dundee West any more, but a fashion that hasn't altered is the hegemony of the old kind of patrician Etonian over the United Kingdom.