Category Archives: Cuts

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

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A Word to the Lingering Left Labourites

By Chris Witter

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Should we of the Left support the Labour Party, even in their Post-Labour (i.e. neoliberal, pro-austerity, anti-worker) form? A common attitude on this question goes something like this: “We have to be realistic and compromise: if we don’t vote for Labour we will end up with the Tories back in power.” This is usually followed by a stream of citations of Labour polices which, four or more years ago, had some generally positive effect. Undeniably such accounts are erudite, but they are also conspicuous in avoiding both the many manifest failures of the Labour Party and the general trajectory of the Party, which is increasingly rightwards. Not only are Labour Councillors currently facilitating cuts, but even in opposition the Party has taken to attacking immigrants, welfare claimants and unions, whilst determinedly approving anti-worker policies (e.g. the public sector pay-freeze). Rather than presenting an alternative, Labour takes all its cues from the Right. But, even those who do see the general picture often fall back on arguments based on pragmatism and realpolitik in order to justify the necessity of voting for the Labour Party in the name of compromise (e.g. the whole SWP).

This question of ‘compromise’ must be addressed, for it presents itself in a somewhat mystified form. What is said to be important is the relation between the political parties (i.e. “Better Labour than the Tories”). The paradigm here appears to be consumption rather than political struggle (i.e. “I prefer this brand to that”). Indeed, perhaps the commodity form and commodity fetishism have subsumed politics? One way or another, the typical Leftist objections to this are:  1) “You might vote for Labour and still end up with the Tories” or 2) “Labour basically are Tories.” Both contain some truth, but both are inadequate. The real point is that the relation between parties is not the crucial thing. What is crucial is the relation between political parties and individual and collective subjects.

In this light, the question of compromise unravels itself. The Labour Party is currently in a position where it must prioritise the interests of capital. This is so because the balance of the class struggle is currently weighted against the working-class and its allies, who are currently quite weak. Meanwhile, despite the economic crisis (or perhaps even because of the crisis) the capitalist class is really doing very well (see: http://www.leninology.com/2013/03/the-actuality-of-successful-capitalist.html). It faces all sorts of difficulties, but it is more than coping. Whilst this situation persists, whatever the hopes of the few Lingering Left Labourites, the party is not going to be reformed and reclaimed. For the problem is not simply the internal/institutional problems of bureaucracy, factions, ‘middle-class’ members, ‘Blairite cadres’, &c., but the whole state of the class struggle in the current conjuncture. In sum, what ‘compromises’ can be wrung from the Labour Party entirely depend upon the state of the class struggle; whilst the capitalist class has the upper-hand these offerings will be very scant.

That is the problem of the relation of the Post-Labour Party to collective subjects (the fundamental capitalist classes). Let us now come to the question of individual subjects’ relation to the Labour Party with regards the question of compromise. The fact is, Labour cannot be reformed in the current conjuncture. You approach the LP thinking you are compromising with it (“I like that, but I don’t like this”) but you are not. The Party hears nothing of what you say as an individual. The experiential basis of this is the frustrating to-and-fro and endless back-stepping any individual who sets out to reform Labour will encounter. Eventually, tired of this fruitless fight, you think you are compromising with yourself (“Well, I don’t like it, but this isn’t an ideal world”). However – even here you are wrong. For your compromise is not a tragi-heroic stand but a complete capitulation.

On these last points, I am reminded of those young children who have newly discovered duplicity – i.e. the ability to lie. They think they are possessed of a secret ability, a secret cunning: the power of manipulation. They try it out on adults. In truth, whether the adult sees the duplicity or not (likely the first), they decide to humour or scold, to accept the wheedling demand or ignore it, independently of the child’s will. Meanwhile the child triumphantly flatters themselves that they are able to wield power and control over their elders, though in truth the reins are kept well clear of their hands. So it is with the ‘socialist Labourite’, who ‘plays the part’ of Labour supporter whilst ‘really’ nurturing socialist view. The truth is somewhat the other way around. They think that they push, but it is they who are pushed. Their failure to realise this is merely a self-flattery born out of the defensive need to protect themselves from the plain truth: that they are lending their energies and support to something they rightly detest.

None of this, of course, excuses the Post-Labour Party ministers and their cronies. They are deeply implicated not only in facilitating austerity but also in the weakness of the Left whom they have historically attacked and betrayed. What these insights do provide, however, is a little light to help guide our strategy. Two key points emerge: first, we must cease ploughing our energies into reforming the Labour Party; second, not only is Labour a valid target, but it must be attacked constantly from without if it is to be shifted. Change will come, but in the current conjuncture this will not come through an internal struggle within the Labour Party. Accept it and move on.

———————-
This article was provoked by the convergence of several things, including:
[1] This shamefully shitty statement by Ed Miliband on the death of Thatcher, in which he demonstrates once again that he can do nothing but follow the cues of the Right.
[2] The as yet ambiguous, but nonetheless hopeful emergence of Left Unity, whose appeal for a new Left party has so far been signed by around 7000 people.
[3] This very insightful article by Richard Seymour, cited in the body text.

There may be trouble ahead… & behind

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but while we still can let’s face the music & dance https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TnfKmNRfLYU

By Elizabeth Lee Reynolds

Waking up this morning (early afternoon) to read about the devastating cuts coming into effect today and in the very near future [i] made my stomach turn a little (& desperately hope it was all a very bad April Fools’ joke). Mostly though I questioned for about the thousandth time how and why the tories think these disgustingly unequal policies will really help our economy, or society in general.

Of course the simple answer is they are posh deluded little bastards, drunk on power and entirely out of touch with the real world. But there is a much longer answer that traces an attack on the Underclass/Problem Families/Other somewhat derogatory term you wish to use that has been present in both this nation and others for a very long time.

The following piece is a not particularly edited essay written for John Welshman’s HIST277 course In Search of the Underclass: Politics and Poverty in Britain Since 1970. I do recommend this module to anyone who happens to do history at Lancaster. Although it is a little frustrating and I sometimes found the whole thing to be a little derogatory and also the majority of people who take it seem to be posh quasi-conservative prats who enjoying examining the “Underclass” as if they were another species, it is pretty interesting and reveals how there seems to be a Cycle of Misunderstanding in governments towards those struggling in society.

Even if you don’t read this I strongly encourage everyone to read some of the resources I used for it, particularly: Ruth Levitas’ enlightening explanation of where the government got their figures and facts for 120,000 Troubled Families (Ruth Levitas, ‘There may be ‘trouble’ ahead: what we know about those 120,000 ‘troubled’ families’, Poverty and Social Excusion in the UK, Policy Response Series No. 3 (2012) pp. 4-5 http://www.poverty.ac.uk/system/files/WP%20Policy%20Response%20No.3-%20%20%27Trouble%27%20ahead%20%28Levitas%20Final%2021April2012%29.pdf I slightly stole the name for this post from her, but she stole it from above song) & Richard Wilkinson’s ‘What difference does inequality make?’ which is a very straightforward explanation of how inequality is undeniably incredibly detrimental to society. Seriously everyone read it! It’s not very long at all & is possibly one of the most interesting things I’ve read in a while (http://www.thpc.scot.nhs.uk/Presentations/Wellbeing/Wilkinson.pdf). John Welshman’s articles are also pretty interesting in regards to a history of inequality and “Underclass”. & If you can be bothered to find it in the library I also found Frank Field’s Unequal Britain A report on the Cycle of Inequality an interesting read (historically wise).

This essay is written on David Cameron’s approach to addressing the issue he sees of ‘Troubled Families’ in Britain (of which there are supposedly 120,000) and how this exacerbates an unfair view of those who suffer most in society and who his current furore of cuts effect the most. Although this was written pretty recently the Coalition’s attacks have been so rapid in the last few months the examples given can sometimes seem a little outdated, apologies for that. & sorry for this unnecessarily lengthy introduction, so finally here goes… (oh & add your own witty caption as to what Cameron could be saying in the photo, I had a few but I can’t edit a photo to save my life)

In December 2011 David Cameron made a speech addressing the need for the Government to focus more on an alleged 120,000 ‘troubled families’ in England. This idea is certainly nothing new in Government policy or academic rhetoric on those considered to be at the bottom of society. The similar concept of ‘‘problem family’ became a preoccupation during the Second World War’ which itself ‘metamorphosed’ from ‘the search for a ‘social problem group’’ in the 1920’s and early 1930’s.[1] Since then, the ideas of ‘Underclass’ and similar concepts have become a focus of social science and national politics. There are multiple differing explanations to these societal issues; those who say it is an issue of individual behaviour and others who understand the problems as being rooted in larger structural issues. Here my focus will be on the latter of these perspectives and this analysis shall propose that the state is creating a sense of an enemy within society, through the concept of ‘troubled families’, to divert attention from larger issues of inequality across the population.

The speech was made in the wake of the London Riots that rippled across cities in England over a few days in the beginning of August 2011. Like the aforementioned debates on poverty itself, the London Riots provoked a variety of commentators; the events began with a protest for Mark Duggan, a young man shot by a policeman, in Tottenham but quickly escalated to acts of arson, looting and other violence throughout London and spread through the country. Cameron himself recognises that for this escalation to occur the riots would have to be seen as ‘a boiling over of problems that had been simmering for years’. [2] Tottenham not only has a ‘history of riots’[3], such as the Broadwater Farm riot of 1985, but is also one of ‘London’s poorest boroughs’[4]. These facts point to the idea that for decades there has been something structurally wrong within this part of the country, yet whether this was what motivated the looters is another matter. While some commentators suggested that ‘the riots were more apolitical’[5] others stress there were some looters who ‘expressed a political rage – about the way the cuts affected communities, about having no route to social or economic mobility’[6]. It would be naïve to call either of these analyses wrong; the riots were a consequence of both behavioural and structural issues, but it must be remembered while some opportunistic looters grabbed television sets and trainers others grabbed less materialistic items like food, pointing to a sense of need rather than simply desire.

While acknowledging this issue of a fundamentally unequal society Cameron glosses over the issues at the top of society, claiming that action has already been taken, and focuses his attention on the 120,000 families he perceives to be the real issue. In his speech Cameron stated that ‘a relatively small number of families are the source of a large proportion of the problems in society’ (Cameron, 2011) making it evident he is taking an immensely behavioural approach to the issue and ‘the consequences of that behaviour for society’ (Cameron, 2011). It can be said that what Cameron achieves here is to demonise those who may be considered victims of an unequal society. The main point of evidence for this claim is where Cameron got the figure of 120,000 families from. Ruth Levitas reveals the source to be analysis from a 2004 Families and Children’s Study, which designates the families to be those with five of seven characteristics, being: no parent in work, overcrowded housing, no parent with qualifications, mother with mental health problems, at least one parent with long standing disability and showing a level of material deprivation.[7] These criteria clearly reveal families suffering from problems, rather than the image the Coalition creates of families causing problems. This is confirmed by the Communities and Local Government report which lists the criteria of ‘troubled families’ as having ‘no parent… working, children not being in school and family members being involved in crime and anti-social behaviour’, although this report also uses the original 120,000.[8] The report also fails to acknowledge where they have calculated the alleged £9billion that these families cost. It is evident that they are combining those that have troubles and those that are troubling to society into one, confirmed by Eric Pickles’ statement that they are ‘both troubled and causing trouble’ (Levitas, 5).

This failure in understanding the specific problems that people have is nothing new in government policy making, the New Labour government launched the Family Intervention Project which was criticised of failing ‘by targeting the wrong people for the wrong reasons… while failing to tackle the real underlying causes’, particularly in areas like mental health.[9] Much earlier governments proposed radical solutions to ‘problem families’ such as the suggestion of ‘segregation and sterilisation’ in the 1940’s.[10] Despite politicians often focusing on behavioural problems, academics and commentators can often take a more structural view. This can be seen by examining, for example, the difference between Keith Joseph’s concept of ‘Cycle of Deprivation’, which focuses on people’s inadequacy as parents and other personal failures, and the concept Frank Field raises of ‘The Cycle of Inequality’. Field marks the issues caused by the increasing gap between rich and poor making aspirations constantly out of grasp for those at the bottom of society, these problems range from income to health.[11] It is evident through multiple studies that there is a psychological effect of inequality and deprivation can lead to the behavioural aspects politicians often choose to focus on.

Frank Field reports data from 1973 showing that at this point the richest 10% in Britain accounted for 99% of income (Field, 59). This uneven distribution continues today, for instance last year it was noted the richest 1,000 people had increased their wealth by £155bn, enough to pay off the current deficit with a meagre £30bn to spare.[12] In his speech Cameron acknowledged that ‘when one group in society seems to have a life apart from the rest, that can have a corrosive effect on others’ (Cameron, 2011); he lists some ways he is tackling the problems at the top of society but it is plain to see that in reality his policies have increasingly been focused on welfare cuts. One must question the government’s commitments to tackling inequality when their recent decisions include a ‘challenge on EU agreement to slash bankers’ bonuses’ and the bedroom tax, reducing benefits to people in social housing with “spare” bedrooms.[13] Academics have argued that this problem of inequality is what makes ‘some of the most affluent societies seem to be social failures’; these unequal relationships in society increase the feelings of anxiety and lack of trust as well as violent tendencies.[14] Despite these issues inequality has been proved to cause, it is unsurprising that David Cameron chooses to focus as little attention on them as possible, especially since his own fortune has been rumoured to be inherited from off-shore tax avoidance[15]. There is also evidence that these early head starts have given Cameron the boost needed to reach the heights of Prime Minister while others struggle to dream of such aspirations. In a study in India it was shown that children who previously received similar results in tests began to achieve differently when they were made aware of their social position, those from lower castes performance was substantially reduced (Wilkinson, 4), thereby the structural creates the behavioural.

Through rhetoric like the ‘troubled families’ the government not only reaffirms the social stratification of citizens, but also sustains a demonisation of lower classes that is propagated in some media, creating an enemy and threatening ‘other’ in society. This discourse is perpetuated by politicians and certain media outlets over successive generations, aggrandising the section of society who ‘choose to live on the dole’ and a creation of a ‘‘Shameless” culture’ (Cameron, 2011), has successfully shaped the public opinion on welfare. A TUC survey carried out at the end of 2012 showed a shocking disproportionately negative response towards benefits from the public. When asked how much of the welfare budget they believed went to those unemployed, the average answer was 41% while the true figure is only 3%. Similarly on average people believed almost half of those on Jobseeker’s Allowance claimed for over a year when the true figure is just over a quarter; overall the poll revealed an immense hostility towards welfare with 59% agreeing it had created a culture of dependency.[16] These kinds of opinions and their amplification by those in power continues a negative image of underclass and undeserving poor, which are concepts that have been present in the debate for decades. These types of ideas help to keep the marginalised of society away from the concerns of the mainstream, such that cuts to benefits and other areas of the public sector may be seen to only affect those who deserve it, because they refuse to find other means to sustain themselves.

However, as is increasingly being made clear, it is not just those who, for whatever reasons, only receive money from benefits that suffer from the severe cuts that the Coalition Government are making. For example, in February 2013 it was revealed that in certain areas of Lancaster and Morecombe, such as Heysham North, one in three children are living in poverty, with Councillor Margaret Pattison commenting that ‘[m]ost people that are suffering at the moment are working people’, proving that those effected are the deserving poor as well as those some may consider undeserving.[17] Again this approach to those in poverty is nothing new, politically it was agreed in the early 1950’s ‘that the problem was not poverty’, although, as it is today, many academics opposed this behavioural analysis and pointed to overarching structural issues.[18]  This negative image of those on welfare, no matter what their situation, can be seen to be continued in Cameron’s speech with lines such as ‘I hate the idea that we should just expect to pay ever larger amounts in welfare to an ever larger chunk of society… and never expect the recipients to change their lives’ (Cameron, 2011). It may be argued that influencing these ideas allows him to make the damaging cuts to welfare that he intends with little public outcry as so many people think it is pushing those who are idle to work, when in reality the damage is far more widespread.

By focusing his interest in families who are struggling at the bottom of society and failing to tackle the issues that are made at the top, extending the already immense inequality, the Coalition succeeds in averting attention from the source of the financial crisis that currently plagues the majority of the global markets.  Events like the London Riots can only be expected when those already suffering the most in society are put under further pressure because of a financial crash they did not cause. Even when some behaviour can be marked as apolitical and opportunistic it is undeniable that the spark for this violence is lit by ‘class-motivated, Cameron-led coalition initiatives’ (Scambler, Politics of Class). It is overwhelmingly apparent that Cameron, and his party as a whole, is one that is motivated by class interests. From its traditional ideological foundations there is an acceptance of inequality in Conservative thinking. Edmund Burke, regarded as the founder of modern conservative philosophy, asserted that social inequality ‘was part of the natural order’.[19] The supporters of welfare, the Liberal Democrats, have been absorbed and the Tory policies win out in an ideologically contradicting Coalition.

The Coalition, or more truthfully the Conservatives, have focused on the 120,000 ‘trouble families’ because it allows them to perpetuate and extenuate the inequality within society. While events like the London Riots break out and there is an increase in movements against the cuts across the country the government realises some may be waking up to their hypocrisy. Against this, policies like the ‘troubled families’ programme help to keep the anger of the general public focused on ‘scroungers’ living off ‘the dole’.

[i] http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2013/mar/31/liberal-conservative-coalition-conservatives


[1] John Welshman, ‘‘Troubled Families’: the lessons of history, 1880-2012’, History and Policy, October 2012, http://www.historyandpolicy.org/papers/policy-paper-136.html 8th March 2013

[2] David Cameron, Troubled families speech, 2011 http://www.number10.gov.uk/news/troubled-families-speech/

[3] Karim Murji and Sarah Neal, Riot: Race and Politics in the 2011 Disorders, http://www.socresonline.org.uk/16/4/24.html 8th March 2013

[4] Mary Riddell, ‘London riots: the underclass lashes out’, The Telegraph, 8 August 2011 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/law-and-order/8630533/Riots-the-underclass-lashes-out.html

[5] Graham Scambler and Annette Scambler, Underlying the Riots: The Invisible Politics of Class, http://www.socresonline.org.uk/16/4/25.html 8th March 2013

[6] Jenny Bourne, ‘The line between the political and the criminal can be a blurred one’, The Guardian, 26 September 2011 http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/sep/26/spaghetti-house-siege-1976-political-criminal

[7] Ruth Levitas, ‘There may be ‘trouble’ ahead: what we know about those 120,000 ‘troubled’ families’, Poverty and Social Excusion in the UK, Policy Response Series No. 3 (2012) pp. 4-5 http://www.poverty.ac.uk/system/files/WP%20Policy%20Response%20No.3-%20%20%27Trouble%27%20ahead%20%28Levitas%20Final%2021April2012%29.pdf

[8] Financial Report on The Troubled Families Programme by Department of Communities and Local Government, 2012, pp. 3 https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/11469/2117840.pdf

[9] The troubled families agenda- what does it all mean?, Adfam briefing, 2012, pp. 6 http://www.drugscope.org.uk/Resources/Drugscope/Documents/PDF/Policy/TroubledFamilies.pdf

[10] John Welshman, ‘Troubled Families’: parallels with the past, http://www.poverty.ac.uk/articles-families-editors-pick/%E2%80%98troubled-families%E2%80%99-parallels-past 8th March 2013

[11] Frank Field, Unequal Britain A report on the Cycle of Inequality, (London: Arrow Books, 1974) pp. 62 (can be found in Lancaster University Library)

[12] Michael Meacher MP, The scourge of our wealth divide, The Guardian, 2 May 2012 http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2012/may/02/scourge-wealth-divide

[13] Nicholas Watt, ‘UK to fight EU plan to cap bankers’ bonuses’, The Guardian, 28 February 2013 http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2013/feb/28/uk-fight-eu-cap-bankers-bonuses

[14] Richard Wilkinson, ‘What difference does inequality make?’, Monthly Review, (2009) pp. 1 http://www.thpc.scot.nhs.uk/Presentations/Wellbeing/Wilkinson.pdf

[15] James Kirkup, ‘David Cameron’s inherited family wealth ‘based in foreign tax havens’’, The Telegraph, 21 August 2012 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/david-cameron/9218119/David-Camerons-inherited-family-wealth-based-in-foreign-tax-havens.html

[16] Pete Murray, ‘Govt relying on ignorance to support benefit cuts- survey’, http://union-news.co.uk/2013/01/govt-relying-on-ignorance-to-support-benefit-cuts-survey/ 8th March 2013

[17] Nick Lakin, ‘Charities reveal pockets of high child poverty’, Lancaster Guardian, 28 February 2013

[18] John Welshman, ‘Troubled Families’: parallels with the past, http://www.poverty.ac.uk/articles-families-editors-pick/%E2%80%98troubled-families%E2%80%99-parallels-past 8th March 2013

[19] Frank O’ Gorman, Edmund Burke: His Political Philosophy, Volume 2 (London: Routledge, 2004) p.46 (Don’t look for this, Burke is a berk, as the name would suggest.. I really think he might be where the insult came from, maybe in a few years we’ll be calling people a cameron…)

Cutting Creativity

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It is a sad but accepted fact that in tough times, culture is the first aspect of society to be hacked away at in some desperate attempt to get the economy chugging along again. There have been stories across the country of closing libraries, galleries, theatres; every aspect of cultural experience imaginable has been brutally forced under the knife.

It has always occurred to me that this way of thinking is a very strange kind of logic. I’m not advocating an increase in government funding but to cut it is clearly not making the dents in the economy needed to pull the country out of a crippling recession. After all, government spending on the arts is currently only 0.5% of its overall budget. Of course not everyone goes for it, but the arts can be an excellent way to keep your chin up in hard times, and it’s cheaper. A day in an art gallery is pennies compared to the extortionate price for only a couple of hours in the cinema.

Art in all its forms is an excellent means of escape, not only for those who enjoy it but also to those who create it. But unfortunately these portals to forgetting the overwhelmingly depressing world we are living in are being gradually ripped away by cuts in every aspect of culture.

It is not only the art that currently exists that is been neglected but also the opportunity for a new wave of young creative talents to produce it. I am a student at Lancaster University and over the course of this year we have been witness to disastrous dismantling of both the art and music courses.

The music courses have been dragging themselves through difficulties for a while now due to cuts to the department, with a staff of only 7 and a lack of resources to teach all years, causing the quality of the course to be questionable at best. Now the whole degree scheme is being ‘taught out’ so the first years that started university this year will be the last to go through at Lancaster, with a very uncertain standard of teaching to expect in their final years.

Third year art students have been forced to organise fundraising events (while still busy with course work) because the department does not have the money to hold their final year degree show. This is adding unneeded stress to the struggling students and overwhelming outrage as these are the kinds of costs that should be covered by that £3,000 they have been paying every year.

So where is the £3,000-9,000 that these poor arts students pay for their course going? Well, not too surprisingly, it is being pumped into the dominating Lancaster University Management School, whose buildings are unnecessarily sleek and whose gluttony absorbs all resources in sight. Who needs arts when you can have business?

These examples from my university are only part of a worrying trend that embodies how the country regards and treats the arts. Of course you can still go to a top arts college or university or enjoy a show or gallery, but the pleasure will be at a high price. It is not just the arts themselves that are being put into a stranglehold, but the public access to them. Like academia itself the arts are gradually becoming an enjoyment solely for the wealthy when they should be accessible to everyone.

(This article can also be found on Intuition Online http://intuition-online.co.uk/ )

The Sharks Can Smell Your Degree and it’s Bleeding

By Pete Hunt (Lancaster University Student)

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Apparently the economy is in a bad way. The current coalition government, in an effort to make it all better, has launched a programme of austerity and privatisation, slashing public services and introducing market forces to formerly public institutions. In an effort to curb public spending, the government has allowed, in many cases for the first time, foreign and domestic private capital to invest in public services or contracted private companies to run formerly public services. Whilst large scale privatisation may have begun with the neo-liberal dogma espoused by Thatcher and Reagan in the 80’s and continued in various forms by every Government that followed, we are now entering a new phase of privatisation. Previously untouchable public services such as education, the NHS and even the Police and Fire Service are under threat from the encroaching power of the market.

Under the New Labour government of Tony Blair, with the trade unions smashed and a militant left wing scattered and divided these market forces were tentatively introduced into both healthcare and education. Within the NHS this took the form of PFI schemes, which whilst raising profits in the short term later resulted in a later financial crisis within the health service. Market forces were introduced into higher education in the Teaching and Higher Education Act of 1998, allowing universities to charge a flat rate of £1000 a year for families on incomes over £23, 000; this was then raised to £3000 in the 2004 Higher Education Act. This signalled the end of the right of free education, with many in the Labour party expressing disgust at these actions. In 2010, the coalition government announced it would be taking on recommendations from the Browne Report, and raise caps on tuition fees to £9,000. At the same time it removed huge amounts of funding for both teaching and research along with a raft of other reforms. As you may remember, this caused a bit of a fuss; a massive, loud, occasionally violent fuss.

So why should you give a damn? With the new caps in place and the student movement’s last protest being a poorly organised, publicised and attended mess, it’s easy to think the battle is over. And why is privatisation such a bad thing anyway? It’s argued this will not only cut government spending, but improve efficiency through the application of market principles. This is the line put forward by the Government and other interested parties. Interested parties in this context meaning large multinationals and investment funds who want to use you and your education as a means to profit and have been lobbying for decades to be allowed to do so. The cost of this neo-liberalisation of our education system has already been seen, with a drop in applications of 6.3% in 2012 and 7.6% in 2011. The introduction of private equity run for-profit universities in the USA has also been a disaster leading to Wall Street money manager Steven Esiman to remark

“Evidence suggests that for-profit schools charge higher tuition than comparable public schools, spend a large share of revenues on expenses unrelated to teaching, experience high dropout rates, and, in some cases, employ abusive recruiting and debt-management practices.”

Obviously this is not a fate we desire for our own higher education establishments. Our close neighbour, the University of Central Lancashire, is about to move dangerously close to this situation. The Vice-Chancellor, Malcolm McVicker, has written to our Secretary of State to apply for a change in the corporate form of the university. This will allow, for the first time in the UK, a higher education establishment to seek foreign and domestic investment from private equity firms and allow sections of the university to be run exclusively for profit. At the moment, UCLan has the same status as most of the “New” 1992 group of universities, which whilst run as corporations, are limited by statues to ensure all university assets and property, are used for educational purposes.

However, if the University changes to become a private company limited by guarantee (under the name UCLan Group), it would be able to set up subsidiary for-profit companies and use university assets to attract private equity firms. This puts university assets and property in danger of asset stripping. These firms have been champing at the bit to get into the UK Higher Education market as they have done in the USA. The changes UCLan is proposing have been championed across the investment sector by Eversheds consultancy firm, as a possible fertile new market for investment and profit. Eversheds have claimed that moving to this new form allows for “greater freedom” in how it attracts investment. This is similar to the discourse surrounding the break-up of the NHS as well as the provision of academies in the secondary education sector, with private providers allowing similar “freedom” to privatise our institutions by the backdoor.

There are other dangers beyond that of asset stripping, abusive employment and drops in quality. There are potential effects to the financial, academic and management accountability of the university. If UCLan goes ahead with its changes, the VC will have the power to dissolve the academic council and the current governing body, allow university assets and property to be used for non-educational purposes and finally, via the introduction of subsidiary companies, make the university less financially accountable for its actions.

In the UK our other experiments with privatisation have met with criticism, such as the much maligned disability benefit tests carried out by Atos. The attempted backdoor privatisation of the National Health Service via the 2012 Health and Social Care Bill has also met huge opposition from the pretty much every established Royal College of medical professionals as well as large numbers of activist groups to name a few. More than this, it is about what we value in our education system and what it is for. If we introduce powerful market forces into the university sector, we the students become simply a means to profit by unaccountable private firms, our degrees become commodities and the value of having a well-educated populace, enamoured with critical thinking skills and a wide knowledge base becomes simply another exercise in profit making and greed. Most recently it has emerged that British Universities have slipped significantly on global league tables, with three Universities dropping out of the global top 100 since 2011. At our own University we can already see similar types of profit driven behaviour by upper management, with last year’s Business Processes Review as well as the closure of the music course.

Whilst the tuition fees may be in place, it is clear from the actions of our government, private companies and the upper management of our universities, that they can still think they can squeeze ever more profit out of our attempts to better ourselves and improve the skills and knowledge collective of the nation. The fight against privatisation is very much still on, and possibly the most decisive battleground is be found only one stop away on the Lancaster to Euston line.

A petition organised by the UCU can be found here: https://www.ucu.org.uk/uclanpetition

Sources and Further Reading

http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?storycode=421911
http://www.ucu.org.uk/media/pdf/d/2/UCLan_Changing_Corporate_Form.pdf
https://www.ucu.org.uk/media/pdf/i/6/UCLAN_A5_flyer.pdf
http://www.ucu.org.uk/media/pdf/k/l/ucu_subprimeed_briefing_sep10.pdf
http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2013/01/03/university-applications-drop-second-time-ucas_n_2401352.html
http://www.independent.co.uk/student/news/uk-universities-slip-dangerously-down-global-league-table-8519858.html
http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2011/may/14/david-cameron-adviser-health-reform
http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2011/dec/14/labour-nhs-plan-b-reforms