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Posts Tagged ‘economy’

What bit o’ brass there is these days,
Has been raked up by the few,
While bits of grubby copper’s
All that’s left for me ‘n you.

An’t gaffer’s got us number see?
So we’re at ‘is beck and call.
We’d gladly tell him t’ shove it
But we’ve got no rights at all.

So he’ll call us up in’t morning
With a measly bit of time,
Then tell us when we gets the’er,
He’s gone and changed ‘is mind.

So we sez, what about us travel, like?
And he sez don’t come that with me,
There’s plenty more where tha’s come from,
So tha’ mun take it, or tha’ mon leave.

So we fairly tugs us forelock, like,
And we quietly slings us hook,
While us thoughts is turning darkly,
To the pages of us book.

We keeps this little book dost see?
Stops us burstin’ into flames.
Don’t let the bastards grind you down,
But tha’ mun write down all their names.

It’s not like tha can do ow’t else,
Or like tha’s ever gonna win.
But when tha’s passin through them pearly gates,
Tha’ mun quietly hand it in.

No, there’s not much brass around these days
And its been taken by the few,
While bits o’ grubby copper’s
All that’s left for me ‘n you.

Peter Loo

1819

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pardiseIt’s a difficult period to bear witness to, at least for one who’s always had a naive faith in the idea western society would, by dint of superior economic, moral and social models, continue to thrive. I never once thought the opposite was more likely true, until that is until the coming of this lost decade when it seems we have been thoroughly undermined by our own avarice.

Everything real is broken now. You might not notice it as you walk the consumerist delusion of London’s Oxford Street, the Capital seeming as prosperous as ever, but walk any other street, especially in the North, and you’ll understand where the pain is being felt, and why. Here, there has been no recovery from the crash of 2008 and now, a decade, on we are entirely disabused of the notion there will ever be one. That the poorest would one day be reliant upon charitable handouts of food, even those in work, would once have been beyond imagining. Now it’s normal.

I’m approaching retirement from a profession on its uppers, but it’ll see me out, and I have the cushion of one of the last final salaried pension schemes to take me into old age, so I write from a somewhat detached perspective, neither rich nor poor, but anyone with compassion cannot but be moved by what they see about them. And anyone with children cannot but be alarmed for their prospects.

My life began in a working class family, sustained by my father’s energy and intellect. In the mines he worked his way up from collier, to shot-firer, to deputy. Night school in his teens and twenties, and the earnest application of his craft in the very depths of the earth yielded sufficient reward to support a wife and two kids, a modest three bed semi, and a second hand car. He wanted nothing more.

When my father died early, his Coal Board pension sustained my mother for the rest of her life. It stood me on relatively secure ground too, saw me through the early years until I could work my way into a profession of my own. What I am now would not have been possible without my parents, and what they achieved, modest though it was, would not have been possible without a supportive society, a Britain that was by and large benevolent, providing those who had begun lowly in life with a basic financial catch-all, and a ladder to improve themselves.

This grand experiment ended in the 1980’s with another experiment, one founded on the redistribution of money into private hands. The theory was that, while this would naturally render certain individuals obscenely rich, their riches, through investment, would somehow spawn enterprise that would in turn allow money to trickle down and sustain the whole of society. What happened was rather different.

They entered into a kind of warfare against the masses, also against the governments who represented them. They developed ways of becoming richer, of evading laws, and where necessary lobbying sympathetic lawmakers into dismantling the financial checks and balances created to ensure decent and fair practice. Thus the financial systems pulsating throughout the nineties and the early noughties were already akin to legalised swindles.

As the rich prospered, they moved their money into secret places beyond the reach of the taxman, while industries providing employment for millions collapsed for want of investment. The industries were not replaced. The poor became poorer, and the ladder allowing them to become richer by means of diligence was kicked away. Reliant on by now severely rationed state handouts, and on ever more demeaning and dead end work that paid virtually nothing, they clutched at the devil of credit-trickery to makes ends meet, and fell headlong into a cunning debt slavery from which there was no escape. As if this were not enough, they were also vilified in rich men’s newspapers as n’er-do-wells and scroungers.

This appalling system fell apart in 2008, the result of one last financial swindle that spun the roulette wheel so hard its axle broke. The world would have ended then had it not been for the largely unacknowledged efforts of a former and much maligned British PM. But it was not enough to restore the world, even to pre 2008 levels of declining prosperity, and the decade since has been one deliberately contrived to render the masses poorer, increasingly insecure, and more despairing than they were before. Meanwhile the rich have continued to prosper so much they have begun gold-plating their Rolls-Royces,..

My ‘phone was bleeping every five minutes this last week as the Paradise Papers broke, my left-of-centre news-feeds breathless with yet one more revelation of how the rich keep their money safe from the rest of us, and what obscene frivolities they spend it on. None of it surprises us. We’ve heard it all before. If you take money from the masses, deprive us of meaningful work, you cannot expect us to support ourselves, let alone prosper and pay taxes for the benefit of society as a whole. We whither, and society withers with us, becomes cheap, threadbare, fragile. The rich have inherited all the convertible wealth of earth, dumped the rest of us among all the waste that’s left over.

We have no control over the circumstances into which we are born, and nowadays less opportunity to alter those circumstances as the rich secure their fortress positions and kick the ladders away. If one is born poor, it’s likely we shall remain so all our lives. The rich do not have a greater right to life than the rest of us, yet one might be forgiven for thinking they do since money is life, at least in the type of society we have created. To hoard riches beyond the reach and benefit of the masses is to deny security, and the sense that life means anything at all. But this is not a safe sport for the rich to play in the long term.

These scams and schemes are deftly gamed by the pulse takers and the money-lenders, and all the barrow-boys of the financial temples, but it is a crime, if not in the eyes of the state any more, then in the eyes of God. And if you do not fear God then perhaps it is the poor themselves you should be wary of, for there is little protection to be had from an ordinary man who’s already had everything taken from him.

But that the Paradise papers have come to light is itself a glimmer of hope, that someone working in the turgid murk of those sequestered riches possessed sufficient moral outrage to expose them. Look, someone’s saying, this really isn’t right! It could be something small, this thing, a brief cry in the dark and it’ll go the way of all such yesterday’s news, or it could be the start of something big, a viral howl of outrage to usher in a new, more socially responsible zeitgeist.

It is not my generation, the baby-boomers, who will solve this problem; we’re still too close to the myth of the golden olden times to put up much of a fight. But the young have and will suffer more, lose more than they have lost already, indeed they have grown up in a period that has eroded trust and faith in authority, a period that has equated wealth and power and privilege with corruption and the abuse of the powerless on an Herculean scale. This has been their bread and butter, and they are sick of it, and they are coming of age.

I forgive the young in advance their ire at so monumental a betrayal. The rich, who avoid their dues and bend the rule of law to suit themselves, I forgive nothing. I’ve no idea what the next decade will bring, but as the West stands today in the light of these revelations from paradise, the best I can see is a long haul, wading knee deep in the mud, while the bastions of the rich are dismantled one golden brick at a time. The worst I can imagine is that nothing changes at all.

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booksI’m reading a lot at the moment, enjoying working through a pile of novels I’ve been acquiring, and promising myself I’d get around to one day. Well now I have. I should add I rarely buy novels from the bookstore now, or Amazon. Sorry about that Mr Publisher, but the economy’s still broken. I know, it’s my fault things are refusing to pick up because I’m not spending enough of my relatively piddling salary on consumer goods, but I really don’t feel like it. Since we’re all in it together, as our politicians are fond of reminding us, austerity remains my watchword! Alas, while indeed we are all in it together, to shamefully misquote from a particularly famous novel, some of us are clearly more in it than others. Thus the high streets of our little market towns continue their decline, and the busiest shops of all are the charity shops.

And since austerity, in my book, means doing for a couple of quid what any fool can do for a tenner, I’m a great fan of charity shops now. On Saturdays I’m often to be found in either the British Heart Foundation, or Age Concern mooching about in their entertainment section. My spending on pleasure has plummeted as a result, but paradoxically, the pleasure I’m getting has increased ten-fold. They provide an eclectic and at times a delightfully serendipitous experience. I’m told by the more stuck up of my acquaintances that charity shops smell, and I seem to remember they do – kind of mushroomy – but since I’ve no sense of smell, I really don’t care about that.

A while back, I took a chance on a novel by John Banville – The Untouchable. It’s one of his older works, and I’ve enjoyed it immensely. It cost me £2.00. That same trip I came away with a DVD copy of V for Vendetta (£2.00) and a Stevie Nicks’ 1981 album, Bella Donna, (£2.00). That’s a lot of bang for my bucks. Of course when you go into a charity shop it’s not a question of expecting them to have what you want – more a question of wanting what they have. And often I find that I do.

By contrast this weekend, I paid full whack for a novel which I won’t name because there’s nothing nice I can say about it. I got it from the supermarket, on impulse, because I liked the cover and it had glowing reviews from big newspapers, and the blurb sold it to me really well. But when I began to read the book, I realised what the blurb hadn’t told me was it was quite an old story, written about the same time as that John Banville novel, actually, except it had been flogged to me in a shiny new cover as brand new and the next big thing.

I didn’t enjoy the story. It was an interesting premise, but the telling of it didn’t sit well with me at all, and I abandoned it half way through. I have read more engaging tales I got for free from Feedbooks, and I am not being cynical when I say I could not imagine presenting such a manuscript to an agent nowadays in the expectation it would ever be published. Yet clearly it was. Twice. At intervals ten years apart.

The John Banville story was returned to the charity shop this weekend with a lot of other books I’ve enjoyed in recent months so others might enjoy them, and so the pounds in their pockets will go to worthy causes, causes other than attempting feeble CPR on a financial system that is in any case irredeemably broken, and would perhaps be better replaced by something else. The other one, the one I felt was a cleverly packaged deceit and which therefore so aptly represents the system that has led to these dire financial straits, went in the bin.

It was a weak and futile gesture I know, but I felt cheated by it, and it was the only way I could give it the Agincourt salute it so sorely deserved, except also to say I am even less likely now to be tempted back to the glossy rows of newly published titles in the bookshops and supermarkets. I would also like to urge you all to visit your charity shop, as they are often the only bookshops still open in our little market towns these days, fortunately also among the more eclectic and interesting, provided you have no idea what you’re looking for in the first place.

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saltire and the jackSo, we’re now just a week away from that referendum in which the Scots will be asked: should Scotland be an Independent country? If the answer comes back “Yes”, the United Kingdom will be consigned to the history books, as will Britain, to say nothing of “Great Britain”. Surely, never has a nation been known by more names than ours? But after next week, I may no longer be British. I will be merely English. The question is, should I feel diminished by that?

The referendum on Independence for Scotland is a consequence of the establishment of its devolved Parliament in 1998, and has been a long stated aim of the Scottish National Party. There was always going to be this debate but, though it’s been a heated one these past twelve months, I suspect there’s also been a complacency among the Westminster elite, a belief that the majority of Scots would prefer to remain a part of the United Kingdom, because anything else is economically, politically and constitutionally unthinkable. I may have thought so too, but as the date for the referendum draws near, opinion polls are suggesting it’s a close run thing, that the nay-sayer’s appeals to “fiscal common sense” are failing to quench a heart-felt nationalist fervour.

Today the leaders of all three UK political parties, all opposed to independence, left their London enclaves to rally the Scots to the pro-union cause, but their efforts have revealed only the yawing gap between the elected, and the electorate. None of have found much sympathy for their sudden outpourings of heartfelt longing that the Union should not be broken. It is as if the political elite have only just decided to look at the map to see where Scotland is. This is not true of course, but it’s a story the Scots are keen to tell as being indicative of how out of touch Westminster is from the rest of the country, and Scotland in particular.

The break -up of the Union is a distinct possibility.

Speaking as an Englishman, I have always felt Scotland was, at heart, a different country. I’ve found its remoter parts to be utterly breathtaking in their beauty, their scale and their romantic desolation, and about as far away from London, and “London-ism” as is imaginable. The further North and West you travel the less likely you are to see the Union Jack, and the more you will find flying in moody isolation, the lone Saltair, the old flag of Saint Andrew. Mind, body and soul, Scotland is Scotland, as England is England but, as an Englishman, should I be concerned by the notion of Scotland becoming, literally, a “foreign” country?

I don’t imagine I will need a passport in order to go there, post independence; I assume there will be some arrangement, as with the Republic of Ireland, whereby the border between nations comprising the British Isles will remain informally transparent. But there will be currency differences, and an inevitable fragmentation of the armed forces. These are serious questions the “yes” campaign has poured scorn upon, while notably avoiding any detailed answers. They are not insignificant matters, impacting as they do upon the security, both militarily and economically, of both England and Scotland. Indeed the implications are immense, but they are not without precedent and are therefore, I’m sure, not insurmountable.

The break away of the Irish Republic from the Union, following the uprising of 1916, was a far more tumultuous affair, born of a violent insurgency whose repercussions are still felt in the continuing rumblings of Irish Nationalism in the North. But even through the height of the troubles, relations with the Irish Republic remained good. Indeed such has been the influx of Irish immigration to England over the years, about one in five English are in a position to claim Irish citizenship – including me. I have never felt the need to do so however; the foreignness of the Irish Republic may be a fact on paper, but I think many of us, both English and Irish disregard it, because there are other bonds, bonds of ancestry and tradition, that are stronger.

Post Independence, I imagine Scotland will be the same, though sadly I have no Scottish ancestors enabling me to claim triple nationality. There is some Welsh in me, but that’s too far back to present a convincing case to the authorities in Cardiff, should Wales also decide to leave us. But at the moment, through my Britishness, I need no such official rubber stamping. My Britishness raises me above the pettiness of national boundaries. It recognises the regional and cultural differences between the home countries, but transcends the limits of mere citizenship, and I think that’s a good thing.

If the world is moving in the right direction, the boundaries between nations should be dissolving, becoming more transparent. A while ago, I travelled to Paris, departed London’s Saint Pancras station and popped up a few hours later at Gare Du Nord. I did not however feel foreign, because as a European man, I carried a European Union Passport, as did the French, the Belgians and the Germans who also rode that train. We were European people going about our business in the cities of Europe.

And in the opposite direction, as well as being English, I am also, regionally, a Lancastrian – and if you want to push the roots of identity to their limit, my accent betrays my birth in the little mining village of Coppull. It is an accent that once had a perfect stranger coming up to me in deepest Wales and claiming kinship. And truly for the ten minutes we conversed, we were brothers, bound by the names of places that were intimately and fondly shared. But we were also British and we were also European. Identity is a flexible thing, expanding and collapsing to suit the moment. To firm up a boundary seems a retrograde step, for in defining the limits of nationality, it narrows also the scope of one’s identity.

When asked their opinion on the matter of Scottish Independence, I think most English will politely demur and say it is a matter for the Scots. Those of us of a romantic bent, aware of the occasionally bad history between us, might even sympathise with the roots of Nationalist fervour. The closer we live to the border – i.e. the further we live from London, the more likely are we to express such sentiments. We don’t teach Anglo-Scottish history in English schools. Consequently my own kids would be hard pressed to know what the battle of Culloden heralded in terms of Scottish identity. Conversely few Scots would struggle for an opinion on it.

As for the official debate aired on the National news, experience tells me the Scots should view it in the same way as all such noisy political debates, believing neither the milk and honey promises of the one side, nor the swivel eyed scare stories of the other. These are merely the ballistic missiles aimed in the short term at influencing opinion, prior to the vote, and mostly they will turn out to be duds after it. My own feeling is, if there is independence it will be a terrible muddle, and it may take a generation to get it ticking along smoothly, but the Irish Republic did not fall into the sea when it broke from the Union, and neither will Scotland.

I think I will feel diminished, post independence, and if I had a vote I’d be minded to vote “no”. But if the Scots say “yes”, I trust the Welsh will stick with us a while longer, and we are, after all, still a nation of some fifty odd million souls, which is no insignificant number. So I will not feel too diminished, nor for too long. The carve up of power and money will be for the politicians and the transnational institutions to squabble over into the small hours of many a coming post independence morn, while for the rest of us, I imagine, life will go on pretty much the same as usual.

 

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