17 Apr 2013

Thatcher: The Cult Of Personality

Today (right now in fact) is Margaret Thatcher's funeral. This event has locked down the centre of London. Four thousand police officers have been drafted in to keep the peace. Demonstrations are expected. Crowds lining the streets have been reported as booing. Big Ben has been silenced as a mark of respect. 2300 guests are attending the funeral itself, including the Queen, 32 MPs and many significant political and international figures. The funeral is costing £10 million. Ten. Million. Pounds. This is the key figure that is upsetting so many people (not just on the left wing, though i suspect many right wingers feel obliged to keep schtum). The last prime minister to be buried with anything like this level of pomp was Winston Churchill, who led the country twice: through World War 2, and again through the aftermath. He retired his position due to ill health, whereas Thatcher was ousted by her own party, in a wave of unpopularity. Churchill was given a full state funeral. Thatcher's own wishes was to not have a full state funeral, as it was a 'waste of money'. Her actual funeral is to be a state funeral in all but name - all it lacks is lying in state, and an RAF flypast.
Today is divisive, as was Thatcher.
Margaret Thatcher was struck with dementia in her last years, rarely emerging except for the occasional official function. Her tenure as PM ended over twenty years ago, and younger constituents have little idea who she was, or why she stirs such strong feelings in their parents and grandparents.
I was born in 1985, and my childhood and adolescence were shadowed by the financial difficulty her policies put my parents into.Whole towns were put out of work during the 80s, the idea of community was destroyed, and a culture of individual responsibility, and blame, was implemented.On the other side, she did wonders for the economy. But what use is a strong economy when it is full of unemployed people, who remain impoverished and unhealthy because of government reluctance to invest in social structure? The lack of social investment during the Conservative government of the 80s and 90s is one of the reasons that the current government struggles with balancing the economy - unemployment begets unemployment begets benefit dependence.

When news of Thatcher's death hit social networks, there was widespread sorrow, cheering and anger. Parliament was recalled, at enormous cost, for what was essentially a memorial service. A longstanding campaign to get Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead to number one swung into action.  Many people expressed disgust at the open joy others took in a sad, lonely death, regardless of political leaning.
Then things started to get a bit strange. Ken Livingstone was kicked off Sky News for saying Thatcher was fundamentally wrong. Glenda Jackson gave a candid speech in parliament about the social problems caused by Thatcher's government, and was booed and told to sit down by her fellow MPs. Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead was banned from playing on the Radio 1 chart show, despite getting to number 2 (the fact it didn't get to number 1 being held as a victory by the right). She has been vaunted as a feminist, when she loathed feminism. Death parties have been reviled, the Daily Mail have made calls for the arrest of peaceful protesters. A Falklands theme was announced for her funeral, which is somewhat disrespectful to the thousand people that died. David Cameron announced today that we are 'all Thatcherites', which is either a gross misjudgement of the national mood, or blind optimism.
Repeatedly, people have been told that their open hostility towards Thatcher's government, death and funeral is disrespectful, evil and uncouth; that Thatcher was simply an old lady who deserves a good send off.

It strikes me that Margaret Thatcher was two people. On the one hand, Margaret - elderly, estranged from her children, widowed and lonely in dementia. On the other, Thatcher - icon of the 80s, hate figure to some, glorious figurehead to others. It is Thatcher the Icon that people object to, and it is Thatcher the Icon that the current government are trying to deify through this cult of personality.

6 Apr 2013

The rage

Hello, my name's Soph, and I'm on income support.
I can hear your gasp of dismay from here.
I am poor. I am workless. Somehow, this has evolved to mean that I am also degraded and depraved. I am without feeling, and stupid. I am not contributing the economy, I am not useful. I own some luxury items, proof (according to Katie Price, fount of all knowledge on degenerate lifestyles) that I am secretly rich. I spend all my benefit recklessly, on cigarettes, alcohol and drugs. My children are not as good as your children. My community is not as good as yours.
If only I would just get a job, society's problems would be eradicated.

Let's start with the most common bugbear of the media and facebook, when judging the poor. I have a plasma TV. I have a leather sofa. I even have an Xbox. How can this be? Who have I murdered to get such luxury items? How do I afford such things? Easy - I bought them years ago, before I had children when I was still working full time. These things don't need replacing annually and may last for years. They're not a mark of being a benefits cheat. The outrage at my possessing them seems to be a product of deep snobbery. These are aspirational products, beyond my income. Perhaps I should have sold them when I signed on, just to reassure the government that I was taking my newly poor status seriously.

Next up, I don't smoke. Never have; it's a filthy habit and I'm asthmatic. Even if I could afford to smoke 70 cigars a day, I wouldn't. I drink a bit, a couple of units a week, on average. I don't do drugs, they are beyond both desire and income.

Now, why don't I have a job? Well, I'm a single mother to two preschool children. Childcare is excruciatingly expensive. If I worked part time, about 70% of my wages would be sucked up by childcare. It is subsidised by the government, but that's a benefit. The government would give me working tax credits, but again, that's a benefit.
My children, already splitting their time between their parents, would see me less than they do now. I would achieve nothing much beyond not seeing my children. I'd still be claiming just as much money from the government as I do now, but with almost no gain financially, and at a definite loss personally.
Work makes absolutely no sense; getting a degree does. I think that one of the best investments I can make is in the upbringing of my children. So I give them my time and energy, and hope it pays off when they grow up.

Some of you know my circumstances. I did not choose to become a single mother. I really resent George Osborne saying benefits claimants have 'done the wrong thing'. I'm not sure what I could have done to make things different, personally or economically, unless I'd married a sheikh on the rebound.
Due to being in the lowest income bracket, I am automatically at a major social disadvantage. I don't drive, which saves me a fortune, but makes transport a headache, and restricts access to health services. I have to live where housing is cheap, so I don't live near good schools, for which my children will suffer. Luckily, I have the internet and can do my shopping online, or I'd be extremely restricted over where I could shop. In turn, this would limit my choice of food. When I return to work, I will be limited as to where I can go due to lack of transport. Poverty is about far more than a simple lack of money; it affects every area of your life.

Hundreds of thousands of  families in this country are claiming some type of benefit. Many of them are working. George Osborne made a speech this week that demonised every single one of them. Iain Duncan Smith claimed he could live on £53 a week if he had to (he'd be dead in a year if he tried, it's starvation level income). The Daily Mail did not ascribe Mick Philpott's awful crimes to his abusive, sociopathic personality, but to the fact he was on benefits. Benefits make you a child killer, and don't forget it.

The government are eroding social equality - did you know legal aid for civil cases has now been cut? This means that the very poorest members of society can no longer get help in court in matters of divorce, child custody, clinical negligence, welfare, employment, immigration, housing, debt, benefit and education. So, no more funded appeals against benefit decisions - funny that. Civil justice is now the preserve of the rich, and they have criminal legal aid in their sights too.

The government are making scapegoats of the poor, and they are doing this because they can. The poor depend on benefits, as they have for hundreds of years, and thus belong to the government. Our voice cannot be heard against the baying mob, screaming at us to get back to work. Unemployment is not at an all time high because of benefits being more desirable; it is at an all time high because there are No Jobs.

The government are making us hate each other, trying to distract us from the reality of the situation - the financial crash was caused by greed and gambling, not benefits spending. People are on benefits because there is no work, and being on benefits is depressing and demotivational. It gives me the rage.

I think the ConDems must be absolutely terrified of a united Britain, because the only "them and us" that really exists is between this government and the people.