Monthly Archives: July 2013

THE REVOLUTION CANNOT BE TELEVISED

By Pete Hunt

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The neoliberal project has suffered a serious blow in the form of the Great Recession. Birthed from the Chicago School of Economics with its trust in rational individual choice and the tendency of markets to self-regulate, led by Alan Greenspan and championed by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, free-market dogma has had a pretty good go at the wheel. Quite a lot of the passengers however, would now like to get off. The other side of the Atlantic, the Occupy movement, inspired by the Spanish Indignatos (1), mobilised huge amounts of public support against the excesses of free-market ideology. Across the Eurozone huge protest movements continue to articulate opposition to the privatisation forced upon their populations. Greece especially suffers, with reports of medical shortages, poverty (2), government corruption (3), and once again, a spectre is haunting Europe. But it is the spectre of fascism, from Athens (4) to London (5) to Budapest (6) that cries “Seig Heil” and calls for the expulsion of the Muslim immigrant folk devil.

In the UK, the Government has responded to the financial crash with one of the most expansive and brutal attacks on public services that the country has ever witnessed. The NHS, the judicial system, the police, the welfare state and education are all under attack as never before. Understandably, some people are a little miffed at this. The UK Uncut movement has dragged the issue of tax avoidance kicking and screaming into the public discourse and Occupy have set up camps and occupations in cities across the country. The student movement burst back into life to oppose the selling off of our knowledge and trade unions have mobilised hundreds of thousands of members in opposition to public sector cuts. All of these movements include elements that are more or less radical. They articulate messages from the very conservative, such as calls to simply enforce tax law properly, to the very radical, that call for a complete overhaul of how we structure society and distribute wealth, goods and services. In all of this, the news media has a key role. In any properly functioning democracy, the media is responsible for the free-flow of ideas, so that citizens may make informed political choices and decide what sort of society they want to live in. The British news media in its current form has not only failed to do this, it is incapable of doing so.

Precisely why this is the case requires some background information concerning the formation of the current shape of the media. A long term trend, not only in news media but across global business is that of convergence. Simply speaking, companies become larger and larger, corporate buyouts, takeovers and mergers have served to reduce the total number of individual news media outlets, which in turn reduces the range of editorial opinion and political viewpoints within the media. This leads to a convergence of not only economic might and interest but editorial opinion (7). Now this might not be such a problem if these few editorial opinions were wide-ranging and challenged dominant ways of thinking. This however, is not the case. The internet has also gutted the revenue streams of many news media outlets. This not only encourages further convergence but also affects the working conditions of journalists. Proper investigative journalism is expensive, and less journalists are being asked to produce greater amounts of content, which leads to much cross-pollination of stories and little interrogation of the stories presented (8).

Given that there is now, and has been for some decades, consensus on the triumph of capitalism, a certain flavor of journalism has emerged which necessarily dominates the media landscape. As in all other areas of life that capitalism takes as its own, the media is, with very few exceptions, profit orientated. Those that aren’t profit orientated (The BBC for example) are still beholden to a commercial worldview as they must “compete” with commercial entities for viewing figures and other markers of market success.

What this leads to in the majority of media outlets, is editorial decision making limited by the interests of its corporate owners. Those corporate owners are likely very happy with the current paradigm of Neoliberalism and thus unlikely to sanction content that gives oxygen to a message contrary to its interests. So if one accepts that the vast majority of news media necessarily, due to the shape of the commercial interests they serve, and the commercial environment must reflect commercial interests. These interests that are one and the same as those being pursued by the architects of austerity that currently inhabit the executive and legislative arms of our government, which are the same aims of large capital interests. Controlling interests in major media corporations also tend to be from the upper classes and thus tied into the dominant hierarchies it is their job to take to task.

So what happens when commercial-orientated news media has to cover large scale protest events that articulate messages in opposition to the status quo? Well several quite interesting things. One is a tendency to conceptualise protest as being a public nuisance (9). Protests are framed not by the issue they are trying to raise, but by the disruption that is caused to business and everyday life (10) (11).  This serves to delegitmise the protest, as print space/pixels are given over to business profits lost and disruption caused, not WHY these people felt such disruption was necessary for their voice to be heard. It also illustrates rather well the commercial stance and acceptance of neoliberalism discussed earlier. Profit is more important than democratic rights.

The second is demonization of protesters who take part in more radical political action and violence and the use of this to delegitimise the protest as a whole. One example is the coverage of the first student protest. Whilst the protest itself was described as having legitimate aims, and most media outlets gave quotes from their supporters, as well as space to explain the issues raised to readers, those present at the violence outside Millbank Towers are again and again described as being in the “minority”, or not part of the movement at all. The Daily Mail in particular describes those who took part in the occupation as “Anarchists” (12) and makes mention of various far left groups, such as Class War and animal liberation groups as being the driving force behind the violence. As someone who was present at this event, this does not tally with my own personal experience as the vast majority of those gathered outside Millbank Tower were without doubt students who had been involved in the march previously in the day and not members of anarchist collectives or violent animal rights groups. Pictures from the day also illustrate this point, as one is more likely to spot a protester clad head to toe in Jack Will’s attire than the monochrome uniform favoured by anarchists using black bloc tactics.

But does the use of such tactics delegitimise the message of the protestors? If their message was perfectly legitimate during the earlier stages of the day, then surely the facts of that argument and opposition do not change because a few windows get smashed? Looking at the coverage of 2011’s March for the Alternative this occurs again as the Independent (13) declared “Violence flared when a group of hundreds of activists, not connected with the union protest, clashed with police” and later quoting civil rights group Liberty “…however the demonstration appeared to have been infiltrated by violent element…”, whilst the Daily Mail quotes Jim Murphy, deputy major who describes the group as a “tiny minority of violent, parasitic, unrepresentative hooligans” followed by a quote from Scotland Yard’s Bob Broadhurst who says “I wouldn’t call them protesters. They are engaging in criminal activities for their own ends.” (14) The ends however of all those attending on the day of the protest were the same, that of opposing austerity, specifically its manifestation in the education sector. The Daily Mail’s coverage of that day is especially significant as these quotes are used to characterise the actions of UK Uncut, who peacefully occupied the Fortnum & Mason store, doing no damage and with a fairly conservative political aim. They were deceived into leaving the store and arrested before having the vast majority of charges dropped some time later (15).

A separate key question emerges from this. What counts as legitimate political expression, and what as criminality? Surely the deciding factor is motive. If during a particularly heated protest, some property damage occurs, and in the excitement, someone throws a rock through a bank window. Now the key distinction is why a bank? If the protester was simply angry and wanted to break something, which itself should not delegitimise the issue they are protesting about, then this could be framed as an act of criminality. However if the protestor knows what the bank represents, and also what the act of destroying it represents, this “vandalism” is transformed into a highly political act. Should this still be viewed as legitimate political activity in what we still claim is a liberal democracy? The cost of the window is minimal, especially when compared to the global profit streams of international banks. If the brick had come through the window of a small local business owner, or residential property then obviously this is much harder to construe as an act of political rebellion or expression. One could argue that only that allowed within the law is acceptable protest action, but then what say they of historical social movements who very definitely broke the law, but are hailed as champions of progressiveness today? The civil rights movement, suffragettes etc would not have succeeded if all their members did was march peacefully about whilst hemmed in by thousands of police in militarised riot gear. The question of what constitutes legitimate protest however, is a whole separate kettle of fish perhaps better pondered elsewhere.

What is clear though, is that unless a protest conforms to very tight authoritarian definitions and practices, then its message is lost in sensational headlines and accusations of criminality. Even if a protest behaves, then it is likely to be sidelined and the disruption caused to the status quo emphasised over any message given. Whilst this does not just occur when looking at coverage of anti-austerity protest, it is necessary to point out that this process serves the interests of those who stand to gain from the continued imposition of market values and processes into public institutions.

So then, the news media in the United Kingdom, is unlikely to cover angles contrary to its commercial interest, which necessarily dovetail with the interests of the austerity fixated Government and big business. Anti-austerity protest does not dovetail with these interests. When it is covered, little to no coverage is given of radical alternatives to austerity, and only grudging acceptance of arguments for reforming the current system. The protesters themselves are framed at best as a nuisance, at worst as criminals. That no solutions are articulated beyond those available within the dominant paradigm of environmentally blind neoliberalism when the most highly visible opposition to this paradigm are covered by the mainstream news media outlets of the United Kingdom raises serious questions regarding the proper functioning of democratic society. A liberal democracy requires an informed and aware citizen able to make rational decisions in an open public domain and this relies upon a free flow of ideas and information. The news media of the United Kingdom demonstrably do not seem to be capable of fulfilling this function. If this is the case then we must ask ourselves if our liberal democracy still deserves that name.

References/Further Reading

(1)    http://world.time.com/2011/10/05/from-europe-with-love-the-u-s-indignados-have-arrived/

(2)    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/jun/08/greek-drug-shortage-worsens

(3)    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323984704578207920210424446.html

(4)    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jun/01/greece-golden-dawn-violence-eu-crisis

(5)    http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2013/05/27/edl-march-london-lee-rigby-death_n_3341467.html

(6)    http://www.vice.com/en_uk/read/getting-punched-by-neo-nazis-in-hungary

(7)    Herman, S, McChesney, R, 1997. The Global Media: the new missionaries of corporate capitalism. London. Cassel and Continuum

(8)    Curran, J, 2012. Misunderstanding the Internet. Luntlidge. Chp. 1.

(9)    Di Cicco, D, T. (2010) The Public Nuisance Paradigm: Changes in Mass Media Coverage of Political Protest since the 1960s. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly 2010 87: 135

(10)http://www.telegraph.co.uk/topics/christmas/8210036/Christmas-shoppers-face-tax-protest-disruption.html

(11)http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/nick-clegg/9293119/Street-party-protest-scared-small-children-Nick-Clegg-says.html

(12)http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1328385/TUITION-FEES-PROTEST-Anarchists-cause-chaos-50k-students-streets.html

(13)http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/up-to-500000-protestors-attend-anticuts-demo-2253791.html

(14)http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1370468/TUC-anti-cuts-march-200-arrested-protesters-cover-Trafalgar-Square-graffiti.html

(15)http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-14189892

J11 – The Carnival against Capitalism

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 June 11th, 2013

Soho, London – 05:30 AM

My Alarm goes off. Cursing the gods that I don’t believe in, I drag myself off my mattress of roll matt and cardboard and survey my surroundings in the dawn grey light. Around me are the slumbering forms of about 50 young anti-capitalists from across Europe. Echoing German snores reverberated off the ceiling. Mutterings in French from the couple bedded down in the corner. We had a truly international mix, all packed into the gutted, 2nd floor room of the squatted police academy that the Stop G8 network had made its headquarters. Most of the other empty rooms were being similarly employed to house the hundreds of new arrivals from outside London.

Most of them had arrived the day before, fresh from Heathrow, stomping around in hiking rucksacks so laden they would make an Squaddie wince, inquiring in excellent but heavily accented English for the location of the running water, the sleeping spaces, the media team and everything else under the sun. I had already given a crash legal briefing to a young couple from Barcelona, explaining the basics of British Policing and criminal law, whilst burnt scraps of paper fluttered down from the upper gantries as affinity groups burnt their maps and action plans.

The previous day had been hectic as hell, but also interspersed with joyful reunions of old friends from all over the world randomly encountering each other in briefings, sleeping areas and in one case, a chemical toilet. However as the evening drew in, the police began to make arrests of activists in the streets around the squat. The first time round, three officers pulled up in a squad car and with no warning, tried to arrest one activist right outside the building, jumping on him and grabbing his arms. With quick shouts of “de-arrest!” everyone else outside piled in and the arrest failed. From behind the relative security of the rails blocking access to the basement entrance the police were ruthlessly mocked as they sheepishly spluttered into their radios.   

However no sooner had this occurred, the police nabbed a French lad around the corner, applying pressure points to his wrist in the process. Throughout the previous day the police had been inactive. However this shift on the run up to the demonstration prompted me to get up at such a horrifically early hour alongside a similarly concerned and/or massively paranoid mate. After a scrounged cup of coffee and a meagre breakfast, we slipped out of our Soho squat at about 5:45, moving away through the narrow streets to minimise being spotted. We whiled away the hours with a bit of recce, and then slept in Hyde Park until 11.

The demonstration was due to start at 12, so I had an hour to find and meet up with my affinity group before the action started. The plan that had been laid out the day before was to meet up in Oxford and Piccadilly Circus, and to follow the banner bearers to the front of the demonstration, trying to pass and target as many big capitalists / corporations / wretched hives of scum and villainy as possible.  My affinity group had chosen a small park off Oxford Street for our initial rendezvous point, but as the hour drew closer the police presence began to increase. First it was a few regular looking officers patrolling up and down; all too quickly it was a helicopter circling overhead and multiple Territorial Support Group carriers slowly crawling up and down Oxford Street scrutinizing everybody. By the time I had mobbed up with my affinity group, the park was being circled by police vans. Other activists who were using the space to meet up were being harassed and searched by officers in riot overalls. I began to get calls and texts from people still inside the squat, saying that a Police raid was developing, and asking for help. However the rough consensus was to continue with the demonstration for the time being. 

By the time we made it to the demonstration start point at Oxford Circus, every tube exit was covered by Transport police and whole herds of TSG carriers parked further down the road. Numbers of demonstrators were way down on what we expected and by then I was beginning to realise how much damage the raid on the squat had done to the group. A significant amount of people were still inside, and remained trapped there throughout the day. We got started at about 12:15, not with any clear signal, but instead with a lot of shuffling as people constantly tried to edge away from the police, who would then follow them. It was the most awfully British demo start ever, since to protest you have to step outside that bubble of “normal acceptable” behaviour and do something different, and nobody wanted to be the first person to stop badly pretending to be innocent shoppers, and thus the dance couldn’t begin. Genoa  2001 this was not.

Finally a samba band decked out in pink arrived, along with a group of people bearing two man horizontal plywood shields and a clutch of black and red flags. The initial size of our demonstration couldn’t have been more than 200 people, followed by vastly more police. Their aims so far had been to keep us off the road, and only by moving off Oxford Street onto Regent Street could we get enough breathing space to get off the pavement onto the road. Finally the waiting and faking was fucking over and the cards were on the table. My heart began to beat faster as the familiar old rhythm of the samba picked up, mixing in with the low level whockwhockwhock of the helo rotors and the crackle of police radios all melding together to form the unified roar of the protest. A cabbie, his taxi blocked by the demonstration, wound down his window and raised his fist. “I am Greek!” he cried, over and over whilst he pumped his clenched fist in the air. People stared slack-jawed at this mob of people in weird and wonderful clothing marching down Regent Street, followed by twice their number by Police and journalists, swooping and mobbing us like vultures to get the perfect picture of something dramatic looking that they could sell on and edit to look like a horde of looters. The cops had already tried to search some people in black bloc gear, resulting in mad scrums of feds, their targets and their buddies clinging on to them for dear life and the snapping journalists, holding up their cameras over their heads. As the march pushed further down Regent Street the cops successfully forced us back onto the pavement and executed more searches, splitting the demo and smothering us with Evidence Gathering teams and Police “liaison” Officers. This was not well received. I buckled on my crash helmet and shook out my legs, getting ready to run for my sorry behind whilst trying to keep alongside my buddy, keep in the middle of the demonstration and watch hundreds of police all at once.

I don’t know how it started exactly. Either the cops grabbed someone, or tried to, and their target resisted. We were at a junction and people started to run, and they chased us. People were being grabbed and tackled to the ground left right and centre. The cries of “de-arrest!” went up – I heard that word a lot that day. People tried to perform de-arrests, but as they tried to snatch people from the arms of the police more ran around behind them and began to claw at them as well. The batons never came out; they just came at people with their massive black gloved hands. I legged it, narrowly avoiding collisions with the photo snappers as we tried to get ahead of the 5-0. A teenager came up to us filming on his phone, bewildered and scared, and asked what was going on. I just had time to splutter something about police brutality and we had to run again. We arrived at Piccadilly – somebody at the front had decided to link up with the people there, what with our numbers being so low – and I arrived just before the main bloc from Oxford Street. As the two groups tried to join together, the police drove their vehicles between the two groups to form a wall blocking our path. I sidled around their line with my buddy – we had been separated from our affinity group pretty quickly – and tried to find the space with the least police. A family of tourists approached us and the dad asked what was going on, and if the area was safe. I tried to quickly outline what the G8 was up to and advised him to avoid the boys in blue. They were everywhere – Liaison officers, Met, TSG, City of London Officers and everything in between. We even spotted two officers in civilian clothes with florescent police jackets over the top, who were later identified as PSNI, over from Northern Ireland to identify people who might go the G8 site in Ireland to continue protesting there.

After a considerable delay in Piccadilly Circus, dwarfed by the gargantum advert screens, we began to push down Piccadilly Road, preceded and followed by carriers full of TSG. We hadn’t gone more than 100 meters until that road was kettled and multiple people were searched and arrested, stopping the demonstration in its tracks. I felt really reluctant to stay in one place and had to constantly watch the small streets to keep my escape routes open as we were increasingly swarmed by walls of florescent jackets, slab jawed white faces and shiny metal. When the Samba band was reduced to trying to sneak past the sides of the line blocking Piccadilly, I decided that the demonstration had been compromised beyond hope of recovery.

By now an increasing amount of people were discussing the squat raid, and we heard that the police were beginning to break in to the building. I headed back to the squat with my buddy, only to find the surrounding streets thoroughly shut down by TSG. It was difficult to get a visual sighting on the squat, never mind get near it. Office workers and tourists looked on confused and orange women in towering heels blathered about how the police were taking too long and how they should “just get them out” A Police Dog Unit vehicle parked around the corner filled the streets with the sound of angry barks and the constant sound of the low flying police helos felt ever more heavy and oppressive. We eventually managed to circle back around the police to Gold Square, the closest we could get to the squat. Red London buses, driven by TfL drivers, were backing into the street to take out those arrested inside the squat. This produced a furious reaction from the demonstrators around Gold Square, who roundly berated them for working with the police. The buses reversed into the street, followed by an Ambulance, which parked with its medical bay facing towards the police line. Two paramedics dismounted and wheeled a gurney past us. A sick feeling began to bubble in my stomach. People began to shout “have you killed again?” to the police. The paramedics returned bearing a casualty on the gurney. His face was unrecognisable as it was covered in blood. He was strapped to the gurney and his hands were zip tied together, yet his whole body was shaking like he was having a seizure. Later on I watched the video of Met Police climbing teams on the roof of the squat, dive tackling him to the ground and splitting his head open as he made a break for the scaffolding of the adjacent building. Kay Burley of Sky News was the first to run this story as an attempted suicide, with the police bravely saving his life – a line which was quickly picked up by the majority of the big media outlets. This then meant that our media team – a small scratch group of volunteers – had to spend the next few days countering the bizarre narrative of protestors as suicidal lemmings. But that was the least of our concerns at that moment.

Until then people had been pissed off. Now they were furious. Cries of “shame on you!” went up, growing to a roar. One of the climbing team officers had walked beyond the police line, and he received a kick in the back for his troubles. The police line began their routine of shoves with their short shields and shouted mono-syllable commands to move back. I began to hear the barking of dogs again. One affinity group decided to back out – I watched one member turn and move away from the police whilst yelling “cake”, with the other members smartly responding to the shout-response drill by also shouting and moving back in unison. The cop line pushed us straight down the street, leading to most people jumping over the fence into the relative safety of Gold Square. The next thing to walk into view was a unit of police dog teams, snarling and drooling Alsatians barely being restrained by burley officers. Gold Square was violently cleared, injuring at least one woman in the process. Backing away from the snapping jaws, we managed to avoid the batons and bites, and sat down in a doorway a safe distance from the filth.

 I imagined by then that it was all over and was resigned to an evening of dismal post-match analysis. So imagine my surprise when I saw hundreds of demonstrators, banners flying and sound systems booming, marching around the corner. To this day I don’t know where they came from – I suppose people who had been dispersed from the demo at Piccadilly had all regrouped around the squat, and having seen the treatment of the people inside they were now spitting mad. The chants echoed from the high buildings. Once we got onto Regent Street there were less police and we broke out into a run once we got onto Oxford Road. Two absolute heroes had sound systems built into massive rucksacks, and were providing some centre for the dispersed group of protesters. God knows how they could keep up. This was a real wild demo; fast, spontaneous and constantly changing direction. The police drove right through us with their carriers and tried to use them to make a wall to block us in, but the demo flowed around them before they could close the street, and they were left looking very stupid, sealing off an empty street. For the first time that day, the streets were ours. I skipped and dived between baffled tourists, linking up with a big mob at the Hyde Park end of Oxford Street, but I had barely began to get my breath back before we had to run, pursued by sirens and TSG carriers. This went on for some time before the numbers got too low and we finally had to disperse. Trudging back to the squat I picked up an Evening Standard to see we had made the front page, although the Standard seemed more concerned that the poor officer workers had been locked in around Gold Square.   

By that evening, the police were moving out of the area and a private security team had come in. Plywood was being installed across the broken front door. The police had entered the building with nothing more than a search warrant. Yet now the building was evicted and being secured. The squatters had followed the legal processes, putting up a Section 6 on the door.  However this counted for nothing. Total Policing does not seem to take legal formalities into account. It took hours of waiting, legal wrangling, two legal observers and at least one solicitor over the phone to gain access to the building to get our stuff back. The main stairwell looked like a warzone. After attempts to negotiate predictably failed, the people inside had resisted. My boots crunched over the remnants of paint bombs, broken glass and ceramic shards, the latter from the urinals the fighters hurled at the advancing police from the higher levels. With no cameras on them, the police had been brutal, brandishing the axle grinder they had used to break in, firing Taser or painting people with its laser sight. Everything had been ransacked. When I got to my own kit, my rucksack’s draw-string had been slashed, making it impossible to close, the back support had been beaten out of shape, an act impossible without serious effort with a truncheon, and my picture of me and my girlfriend had been ripped in half. This really shocked me. I know it shouldn’t have done, this wasn’t my first protest, I know what the police are like, but I still fail to understand the mind set of somebody who will slash a rucksack, hit it several times with a stick and then rip up a photo.

The following week saw a host of actions and demonstrations, but in my opinion the police clampdown on the first day ripped the mobilisation’s heart out. The cold fact is that to demonstrate in Britain, be you a flower toting pacifist or a brick throwing anarchist, you need to make action and contingency plans in forensic detail. I’ve carried a crash helmet to demonstrations since Alfie Meadows nearly died, but it’s only been more recently that I’ve realised that going on a demonstration is running a whole heap of different risks that you can only try to alleviate. A few years back I’d be the guy dancing in front of the sound system, having a laugh and enjoying myself. Now I’m more likely to be the one climbing up the traffic light to look for a third potential escape route. Paranoid, moi? But the important thing in the light of these crack downs is simply that we keep demonstrating. Keep protesting. Keep buggering on. As bad as the situation may be, if the sound of marching feet dies out, then we are truly in trouble.

Job Insecurity: In Defense of a Generation

By Laura Wade

young unemployed

Young people have received a pretty bad press recently. A bright eyed, youthful workforce, if you believe the papers, has turned out to be a mass of work shy, impudent layabouts with no prospects and no future. These accusations are brazen, and have been partly responsible for the hostility in both the work environment and the hiring processes that young(er) people have been lumbered with. With the current government pushing through legislation which will make it easier for the employer to “dismiss” an employee, a minimum wage which falls below inflation and the growth in zero hour contracts, it’s easy to understand how the volatile economic environment could cause a whole wave of problems for those who are entering the workplace for the first time.

With the majority of government schemes and workplace opportunities being targeted at inexperienced people who are forced to work for peanuts (or, in many instances, nothing at all) the youth and young adults of our nation are faced with a perilous situation which gives no sign of significantly improving in the short term. Internships, apprenticeship schemes and Voluntary Placement Schemes make it damn near impossible for even the most qualified among us to find a job which pays enough to ensure that we are all set on the road to a financially secure future.

These are just a few of the options available to the youth of today if they are to find “meaningful” work. Decades of emphasis on university education and academic qualifications have left us with an entire generation of people who are stuck in limbo. With little to no chance of getting on the property ladder, we find ourselves indebted to rip-off landlords who siphon away half our wages on rent – leaving us little opportunity to save for anything, whether that be travel, to buy a home, to start a business or to continue our education. Unless you have people to back you or are completely ruthless with concrete ideas, then it is almost impossible to land a job where you could comfortably live and enjoy your life. What the current government seem to forget in their unrelenting attacks on the poor is that not everybody wants to be rich. There are some (in fact, I would like to say the majority) who would just like to live a comfortable, contented life in which they don’t have to worry about paying their rent or putting food on the table. This new class, the supposed “emergent service workers” represent a growing divide in the country’s wealth as well as a somewhat flippant attitude towards poverty and of the future.

The arrogance of our leaders is quite often fairly astounding. There is an underlying assumption within each and every one of them that they can be the ones to solve our problems – instead of setting in motion the processes which will regenerate economic growth and come to strengthen the economy as well as the country’s position in the global market. The series of short, sharp shocks the government is inflicting upon society with its “austerity” measures have meant that a large proportion of the nation is feeling a series of significantly damaging afflictions from which it will find it difficult to recover. The poverty cycle, once in motion, is a difficult thing to prevent from spinning out of control: debt, breeds debt, breeds debt ad infinitum.

Rather than being competent workmen and fixing the foundations of the problem, we are continually left with a bunch of cowboys who are happy to plaster over the cracks so long as they rule before handing over the dilapidated shit pile to their successors. What’s left is a country in turmoil and millions of ordinary people scrambling at the imaginary ladder of success. The emphasis on cut throat ambition and cheating and fighting your way to the top is frightening. With imagined overnight success and with TV reality shows like The Apprentice feeding on this illusion, we can never escape the idea that to be truly successful we must have billions of pounds in an offshore bank account and we have to do it quickly if we are ever to amount to anything. Faced with this, and coupled with the insecurity of the job market, we are a nation who are overwrought with anxiety, uncertainty and a legion of potential employers who are reluctant to make positions available or who cynically use government and voluntary schemes to make use of free labour.

It is a desperate situation, one which is being continually overlooked by the majority of the media and the powers that be. To experience a smooth and relatively problem-free economy which continues to perform cohesively for decades – and generations – to come, an adaptive outlook has to be reached. A willingness to accept the global market as a transient and ever evolving mechanism, a machine which consistently and regularly updates itself and which we must all adapt to by learning its new systems and adjusting to it with constant training. The system should focus on the development of the workforce – and for the workforce to develop, it must be properly understood and nurtured. This means more appropriately focused entry jobs with a realistic and progressive structure, and far better wages, combined with a more accommodating attitude towards our younger generations.

A solution to the housing crisis is also needed. The development of social housing is entirely necessary if we are to ensure that we continue to fight our way out of a recession, and to never return to such lows again. To build houses at a competitive rate, to allow our young people to live debt free for their formative working years, we would allow them to save and to move onto the property ladder, to start their own business, etc. This in turn would ensure that the economy is in a continuous state of stimulation as well as being in a better position to support the most vulnerable members of our society.

The present situation is out of control. By forcing our young people into debt we create a kind of monetary vacuum which has never really been seen before. Theoretically, if the nation was in a more comfortable state financially and the job market was not so hard to navigate, there would be no reason why people should not pay for their own education and training. However, with graduate jobs at an all time low, and with an increasing number of graduates never making it to a position where they can afford to pay back their debts, we leave ourselves in a situation of perpetual decline. Through the creation of such a situation we have developed a currency which is almost entirely worthless and seeks only to bring the country down further.

I do not wish to blame anyone. I believe that the only way we will crawl out of this mess is through solutions, not excuses. I am tired of the blame culture and what I really want  – what we all really want – is to be in a position where we can live a comfortable existence without the worry of social and job insecurity. What is needed is a move away from party politics and into a new, negotiated and fully democratic process which ensures that the country is dealt with in the most effective manner, regardless of traditional party lines and vote mongering.

A difficult move, I admit, but in times of real chaos what we really need are representatives who will pull up their sleeves and work together in order to solve problems. This involves taking views from all sides and incorporating them into a comprehensive strategy without causing any pain and suffering to those who are most in need. Too often it is the suffering who must pay in periods of national economic turmoil, but this ‘kill off the weak’ strategy is damaging all round. A move away from benevolence and towards condemnation turns communities away from each other, breeds envy and creates a widening gap between the rich and poor – and not only on a financial level. This demonisation perpetuates problems in the workplace, throughout the benefits system and in society at large, and all this in turn is damaging to the economy, whether through the creation of “ghetto” areas in which property prices are significantly reduced, or through a lost generation who can’t find a place for themselves within the workplace.

No human being deserves to be treated like an animal, no matter what your circumstances may be. in the UK – still one of the world’s richest countries – everybody should have the right to a comfortable existence without fear of poverty or alienation. Make no mistake, this poverty is relative, and for all intents and purposes we have a much better quality of life than our global counterparts do, but the current climate is unsustainable. With a lost generation on one side and an ageing population on the other, it becomes increasingly likely that the debt situation will only get worse with the use of the same old party lines, as well as the excuses and weakness of a bipartisan system which will not cooperate.

Our society has seen such rapid advances in the last few decades that it is not only unreasonable to assume that our outdated and outmoded processes will suffice in times of crisis, it is downright obtuse. We need to learn to adapt as quickly as progress is made, and by pandering to economic principles which are hundreds of years old we are denying ourselves the real possibilities and opportunities which such advances could yield.

This is not a quick fix solution, nor is it about making the present comfortable – it is about making the future viable. It will be a lengthy, difficult process. But instead of lying and cheating our way to the forefront, instead of blaming each other and throwing around empty promises and accusations, we need to be honest with ourselves and understand that this is not a problem which can be brushed under the carpet or fixed overnight. Once we eradicate a misplaced sense of pride and a deep-seated denial, we can get on with the task of making this nation a place in which every citizen is safe and secure; a nation worthy of our pride and affection.

The disenfranchised working class, Institutionalised crime breeding and British policing

By Anam Rahman

Growing up as a member of a working class ethnic minority, I was always interested in understanding why there is such hatred for policemen and women in my community. Why the police are seen as the enemy, why it feels like it’s ‘us’ against ‘them’, why it seems like war. I was perplexed as to how one could form such an opinion in spite of all the good work I saw the police do. Recently, however, I’ve had the pleasure of being stopped and searched twice and pulled over once in the last 4 days. Now I understand that the resentment stems from a feeling of gross injustice. Injustice which arose from a set of uncontrollable circumstances, which working class minorities are born into, and have no influence over. Now I see it’s the people versus the establishment.  It’s the individual versus the system, and the system setting out to breed crime within poor communities and to punish the poor.

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Where to start…  Let’s begin with the boring fact, which everyone knows, that you are a little bit more likely to be stopped and searched if you’re an ethnic minority than if you’re white. I use ‘little bit’ loosely. The European Human Rights Commission found at the peak of stop and search that the British police were 28 times more likely to use section 60 to search a black person than a white person. Yes you read correctly, Two-Eight, 28. I can say this is disgraceful racial profiling, but that doesn’t go far enough. My grasp of English can’t articulate my anger at this strong enough, so I’ll leave it to you to form an opinion. This is the first basic layer of injustice that everyone can understand, that one’s skin colour determines the amount of times he/she is harassed by police. For anyone who thinks this is even a tiny bit acceptable, to assume ethnic minorities commit a higher percentage of crime and that therefore they should be searched more often – you are a mug. Anyone who has had the pleasure of being harassed by police regularly will tell you that there is a huge level of disproportionality involved.

The second layer of injustice is a little bit more complicated and not to do with ones skin colour but ones monetary wealth. British policing more importantly penalises individuals for being born poor. It’s a bold statement but I will show you where my logic comes from. Stop and searches do not take place in wealthy neighbourhoods; they take place in social housing estates. To maximise the effectiveness of S&S powers (even though they are not effective: less than 3% lead to an arrest) they should take place where crime rates are high. This is where the injustice and anger stems from.

There are two key issues which fuel hatred for the police and accentuate this sense of injustice. Firstly, individuals have no control over the monetary wealth they are born into; if they are born into working class families they will usually live in council estates (especially considering house and rent prices have rocketed in recent decades), and through the nature of policing, will be harassed significantly more often. If they have nothing to hide then there is no issue, I hear you say. But these individuals are surrounded by drugs, crime and poverty while simultaneously expected to stand on a moral high ground, expected to live as minorities in their communities and be good citizens. Not as easy as I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing.

The original purpose of social housing was to create a diverse society, where both the doctor and the street cleaner would live as neighbours; a society where the sense of community trumped individualism. Where, should you have the misfortune of being born poor, this would perhaps not determine your life since you’d be surrounded by better role models. As the founder of social housing Aneurin Bevan said, ‘it is entirely undesirable that in modern housing estates only one type of citizen should live’. This now hopeful vision of society would however be destroyed by the Satan in disguise named Thatcher. Social housing was brought to its knees through her right to buy scheme and consequent housing shortages. With limited resources, only the poorest and most vulnerable were allocated housing, turning social housing into social dumping grounds.

They are our equivalent to ghettos in the US. Pockets of society, all over the country, characterised by lower life expectancy, high crime rates, social mobility falling through the floor, mass drug dealing and addiction, unstable family structures, poverty, high unemployment and welfare dependency.

What angers me more than anything is that this level of social segregation was an orchestrated act of government policy, that both Thatcher and Blair played their part in implementing. Great conquerors master the art of divide and rule, and this was Thatcher’s great vision; this is her legacy. Deprived pockets of society, where the poorest are swept aside from the rest, left to fend for themselves.

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The second issue to note is to do with social mobility and our society. Ask yourself realistically, what are the chances of an individual growing up in a council estate, surrounded by drugs, crime, living in poverty, usually from a dysfunctional family escaping poverty through the opportunities society offers. Yes, I bet you can name someone from a bad background who became hugely successful. The simple reality is that they are a tiny, tiny minority of people. And for society to expect all individuals to possess that ability (which boils down to luck in my opinion), to be able to make their way in life through the opportunities society offers, is wrong. Firstly, because it’s a very agency-based approach to the issue, and secondly, because the UK has some of the lowest levels of social mobility in the western world.

What if I told you there was a better chance of Thatcher becoming PM at the time she was born than after her time in office? That’s because inequality and social mobility negatively correlate.

To rephrase, in comparison to countries like Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Japan, it is almost impossible to escape poverty in Britain. (And I’m not just making this stuff up, see Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett’s ‘Spirit Level’). Add together an insufficient welfare state, a consumerist driven world, a declining economy and an elitist society with the lowest levels of social mobility and what do you get? You get poor people committing crimes because there are not a lot of other options for them to turn to.

The gross sense of injustice that ethnic and white working class individuals feel stems from this: an institutionalised system which breeds crime within the poorest communities, and policing which simultaneously punishes them for it. Stop and searches do nothing but perpetuate this hatred and feeling of injustice toward the police. We live in a right wing country with individualism at the centre of most public policy, from policing, to housing, to the judicial system. This has to change.