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Damn lies and statistics

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Today I discovered that I am a migrant! Who knew?

Did North London secede overnight whilst I wasn’t watching? (Again?) No, but since all the new jobs in Britain have gone to migrants since 2001, I must logically be one – three times over, in fact. Alan Green, Field and Soames’ ‘Balanced Migration’ campaign is scantily concealed racism doing a desperate recession striptease to garner the ‘send em home’ vote with little regard for minor fripperies such as actual facts. As anyone giving the plans a cursory glance can tell. However, the distortion of its already distorted statistics by the right-wing press takes the cake.

The logical step at this point, being a patriotic soul, would be to follow general advice and ‘go back where I came from’. Perhaps Ms Neeson and Mr Desmond, the Daily Star proprietors, could even pay for me? Islington is only ten minutes away on the bus, and I could visit a selection of its many fine coffee-houses with change for a tenner.

Are you a migrant, too? Take the frothing racist lies test to find out!

ETA: Because I didn’t make it clear enough, this is a variant on a meme started by jacinthsong and theoxfordgirl over at livejournal. Meme, not original post. Propagate, spread, disseminate, internet children!

The writing’s on the wall.

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You have talked so often of going to the dogs – and well, here are the dogs, and you have reached them – George Orwell, Down and Out in Paris and London

I am seriously considering whether the best use of my time would be to torch myself on the steps of Parliament in protest – Withiel Black Esq., this morning.

I am angry, today.

But Ms Red, I hear you cry, you are quite often angry. Well, yes, that’s so, but today I’m bloody angry, angry for a reason. I am sitting in a house from which my current family and I may soon be evicted, because we have failed to make our rent. We have failed to make our rent because we have failed to gain employment, we are paying off debts, and the pissingly tiny amount of benefits to which we are entitled have failed to arrive. We are spending our time watching ripped downloads off the interwebs and living on fried potatoes and tea and cigarettes re-rolled from the butt-ends of what we’d imagined our futures would be.

We’re in our early twenties; the whole world is ahead of us, but a recession-bitten employment market and an increasingly punitive welfare system are making the immediate world look grim. It’s going to be worse, still, for those friends of ours who are due to leave school or university this year and take their first faltering steps into a world that won’t let them work and can’t afford to keep them. This is not romantic. Poverty and hopelessness are not romantic. They’re a fucking pain, is what they are.

When I met James Purnell in September he was half-cut, coming out of a party and manifestly didn’t want to be talking to the small insistent girl reporter in black, but he took the time to explain to me why he thought his welfare reforms were going to help the poor and incapacitated. He genuinely impressed me. He knew his stuff. Three months on, with the recession steaming in and all my friends and loved ones poor and depressed and rejected by a nominally caring Labour welfare state, I’m beginning to think we’ve been had. I have a visceral fondness for energetic, hobbit-looking men, but not when they instruct the poor and needy to bend over and spread for a rogering, telling them in breathless pants that it’s for their own good. Let’s take a look at that party line:

Myth: ‘work is the best way out of poverty.’

Fact: work is the best way out of poverty provided that there is work available, and provided that that work does not pay a poverty wage. Most of the journalists and politicians smugly licking Purnell’s shiny arse on this one are lucky enough to have well-paid, fulfilling careers. But have you ever worked as a fast-food waitress? Have you ever worked in a call centre? You spend nine solid hours in a cramped, light-sputtering cage being bullied by your bosses and harassed by people who didn’t ask you to call and harangue them. The work is soul-eatingly dull and draining and when you come home, blinking, dried-out, feeling ancient and depressed, you have to do it all again tomorrow, and you are still poor. You are still poor because you are being paid way below what might constitute a living wage, and you have no career prospects to keep you motivated. You get to choose between this and staying on benefits, being ever so slightly more crushingly poor but more physically and mentally well. What will you choose? (NB: call centre work is the only work many school leavers and graduates in the cities are currently able to find).

Myth: There is work there for people, and we believe they should do it. We can’t afford to waste taxpayers’ money on people who are playing the system. [Purnell]

This recession is not the fault of the poor. It is the fault of well-off wankers who live in large houses and go on holidays to Majorca, and now that the proverbial has hit the proverbial, nobody wants to take responsibility. Treating people like criminals for failing to find jobs that aren’t there is kicking us while we’re down. And that is what ‘”a system where virtually everyone has to do something in return for their benefits” means. Yes, it’s right that people take responsibility for their own lives – but what creates poverty, worklessness and drug and alcohol abuse is not moral decline, it’s social and economic decline, and that’s the fault of governments and the fault of a financial and business sector which sees no reason to look after its workforce in any way whatsoever.

The alleged lack of virtue of the working classes is now being exploited in order to offload the blame for what this Labour government has done – over 2 million unemployed, a toppling economy, another million so mentally and emotionally incapacitated that they cannot work. The idea that people without jobs are lazy, exploitative, ungrateful and engage in piffling class-defined vices places the blame for ‘Broken Britain’ on a group of people who have less to do with it than anyone else. The political and financial classes refuse to take responsibility for where they have landed us, and are now telling us that it’s our fault, because we are just not trying hard enough.

Don’t for a moment imagine that the Tories are planning anything better. In fact, as David Cameron’s latest editorial in the Hate shows, Tory contempt for the poor is if anything more shameless and ingrained than frantic Labour scapegoating could ever be: Cameron and his gang believe that the poor are lazy, and should be punished lest they all turn out like ‘evil’ Karen Matthews. As Matthew Norman puts it in the Indy, it takes a rich man to pour such scorn on the poor.

But I’ve had enough. I’ve had enough with trying so very, very hard to be a Labour apologist out of fear of the Tories. The Labour DWP’s strategy is not just not good enough: it’s actively immoral, scapegoating the neediest and making it more difficult for us to work and live just at the time when we should be carrying our wounded.

Fuck you in the fucking eyes, Purnell. It just saddens me that by the time that you see the wrong end of a dole queue in 2010, it’ll be way too late for you to help even yourself.

No more the meek and mild subservients we!

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Thank you to Jennie for reminding me: sisters, brethren, today is the ninetieth anniversary of the first time British women went to the polling booths. Yup -less than a century ago, at least half of the population were forbidden from having any say in the political process whatsoever simply on account of lacking dangly nether bits and half a chromosome.

It has been said before, and it has been said better than I ever could. But I am grateful to my grandmothers’ grandmothers: I am grateful to Mary Wollstonecraft, John Stuart Mill, Emmeline, Christabel and Sylvia Pankhurst, Millicent Fawcett, Charlotte Despard and Emily Wilding Davies. I am grateful to those crusading women and men who gave their social security, their freedom and sometimes their lives so that my little sisters and I could own our political inheritance. Our lives are immeasurably the richer for it.

We still have battles to fight, ninety years on; all over the world, women are second-class citizens compared with men, and in this country and many others we are still fighting for full cultural and political emancipation. But today, I think, we can take ten seconds to look back at where we’ve come. Catch your breath: you’ll get dizzy.

Much as I abhor most Disney, this song is always rousing, and I can see no more fitting tribute to our illustious forbears. Rest in peace, ladies: you did good.

Left New Media: next meeting details

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Comrades, as requested:

LeftNewMediaForum

Reclaiming the internet

Chaired by John McDonnell MP

Next meeting: Monday 15th December 7.30pm, Grimond Room, Portcullis House, London, Near Westminster Tube (SW1)

If you’re planning to be there, please email Owen at jonesop@parliament.uk to confirm attendance and to be added to the forums. Thanks!

Yrs waiting for the van,

PRxx

Youth power and the progressive future

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I have had it up to here – higher than I can reach at my towering 4’11 – with standing by whilst my generation, one of the most enlightened, good-hearted, engaged, interesting bunches of young people ever to grace these undeserving continents, is slagged off as the root of all society’s ills.

The last in the Guardian’s 2008 series of debates, fluffily titled Who Owns The Progressive Future?, was put down by its own keynote speaker last week as Caroline Lucas of the Green Party wryly declared that she’d rather share it. Lucas, Bea Campbell, Ken Livingstone and Aditya Chakrabortty made for an engaging panel, but the mood of the debate was distinctly glum. Who owns the progressive future? Not us, was the conclusion, where us was a gathered mass of Guardian readers, most of whom had voted for Blair in 1997. I was going to be good. I was going to sit there and eat my sandwich and be quiet and be grateful for my free ticket. But when the debate turned to blaming the moral failures of today’s youth for progressive political apathy, my fingers started to itch.

A man from the audience deplored the fact that he’d caught his teenage son stealing, and declared that the ‘post-Thatcherite’ generation were ‘politically vapid’ and lacked a ‘moral compass’, at which point I found myself yelling‘absolute rubbish’ across the hall.

Slander. Lazy, unthinking neo-liberal slander that tars a generation already unfairly dismissed as drunken, amoral, apathetic, selfish and useless, the 21st Century’s Gin Lane. I have no time for it.

First of all, if your kid’s a thief, you should bloody well teach him not to steal and stop blaming society for your failures as a parent. And secondly, at no point in my political memory has this generation been apolitical. What we haven’t been is party political, and that’s a very different matter.

I’m sorry to go on about this. But when two million of us marched through London in 2003, demanding that our government refrain from following the United States into what we knew would be our generation’s Vietnam, and when we were utterly ignored, many of us ceased to believe in the power of government to change the world. For a lot of us, that was our first experience of direct political involvement – and it wasn’t a happy one.

No wonder, then, that we have reacted by abandoning the parties in unprecedented numbers. As the Stop The War generation has grown up, become voteable, fuckable, marrigeable, big enough and ugly enough to make our own decisions, we have inherited a distinct political cynicism combined with an energy to effect positive change in any way we can. As the youth vote has dwindled and membership of mainstream British political parties trickled into the low hundred thousands in every age group, membership of voluntary organisations continues to soar. It is estimated that a third – a third – of 16-25 year olds is directly involved in voluntary work. There are 20 million volunteers in this country, a figure that dwarfs party membership by several degrees.

Just take a look at Redwatch, the spotters’ site where fascists can go and wank half-heartedly over mugshots of wooly-hatted crusty lefties on demos (I like to think that this is BNP members’ version of the Man In Uniform sexual paradigm). Well, firstly, the leaked membership list now makes Redwatch worse than useless (come on, what are you going to do? Photoshop us? Go through our rubbish? Really? We know where you live now, you terrible useless scum, so come and have a bloody go if you’re going to. Are you going to write a letter to the Mail? Are you, really? Bring that storm down!). And secondly, there’s a surprising amount of fit young commies on there: Redwatch is becoming young, taut and hot as under-30s flood the anti-capitalist, green, anti-globalisation, feminist and pro-equality movements.

More of us than ever are on the streets, and fewer and fewer are choosing to engage directly with the political process. In my many soul-destroying hours interning with think-tanks and in dealings with the leached-out little New Labour finishing school that is the NUS, most of the young people I’ve met who would call themselves ‘stakeholders’ in the Tory, Labour or LibDem parties are some of the most spineless, career-oriented, name-dropping, politically vapid slimy Whitehall dishrags I’ve ever come across. They’re probably going to be in power in ten years, worse luck, and these will be the young people that MPs and political decision-makers spend most of their time with. But they do not represent the sum total of political energy amongst my generation.

Who owns the progressive future? Not Labour, not any more. They lost the young British Left unequivocally in 2003, and they might even have lost us anyway, finally sick of being screwed over HE fees, excruciating debt and an employment market that has failed to adapt to new workforce demands, leaving millions unemployed or afraid for their jobs at the start of a breathtaking recession and angry that the best Labour can offer us is ‘Not The Tories’. But despite watching our politicians fail us time after heartwrenching time, Generation Y has still not given up on the idea of saving the world: more of us than ever are socially and politically active; we are connected; we care. We just don’t care about the political process very much, and that’s their fault – not ours.

*****

PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: A new activist and social community has been set up to encourage and facilitate self-organisation amongst transpeople and their allies in the wake of last month’s Stonewall demonstration. T-CAN, the Trans Community Activist Network, is live at http://www.t-can.org.uk/.

And in case you were wondering….

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Here is my hat, here is my face, and here is today’s slogan:

Screw you, Redwatch.

Milking it

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Human breasts are the most fetishised part of the human body, bar none. They have been drawn, painted, photographed, filmed, fantasised, mythologised and obsessed over by the men who are told to desire them and by the women who are taught to ‘make the most’ of them for centuries. Most girls’ and women’s rooms are stuffed with apparatus to push them out, plump them up, pull them apart, squeeze them together, flatten them down and otherwise force them to resemble the platonic ideal of the fantasy pneumatic breast, currently achievable only by surgery and a certain type of mesomorphic19-year-old. Walk down any street, open any newspaper and you’ll be confronted with bosom after computer-enhanced, barely-concealed bosom. And yet, whenever there’s the slightest risk of boobs being exposed in the course of their most natural function, we whip ourselves up into a moral frenzy.

Many cafes, restaurants and other social spaces, along with a significant part of the population in general, have a problem with breastfeeding in public. And occasionally, this will enter the public domain, feminists will clamour their protest, a legion of (mostly male) prudes will harp on about hygiene and social decency and the fact that it just isn’t done, and when everyone has calmed down nothing will have changed. Breastfeeding – the biological function of the human mammary gland – has remained socially unacceptable in public, a distasteful function of feminine biology seen as akin to leaving a streaming open wound unbandaged. In 2006, BabyTalk, a US magazine specifically targeted at pregnant women and new mothers was censored for showing a baby feeding from a human breast on its front cover (presumably BabyTalk shared display space with Playboy and Hustler, but these were deemed acceptable). Recent months have seen public prejudice flare up again against nursing mothers across the western world, and there has been a public outcry against the publication of pictures of a breastfeeding Angelina Jolie.

This week, a virtual storm broke around the humiliating expulsion of a nursing mother from a trendy café in Soho, London, because it was ‘a place for eating’ (for everyone apart from the kid, apparently). The incident has caused viral indignation across feminist and anti-feminist cyberspace. Male commentators have compared breastfeeding in public to shooting up drugs in public, claimed that the practice spreads aids, and squealed that it makes them want to throw up. What nobody has so far mentioned is that breastfeeding is not just a bodily function: it’s a form of work.

Childrearing is still seen as ‘women’s work’ in contemporary Western society, and is devalued as a result – but there are few parts of the task that cannot physically be acheived by either sex. Breastfeeding is one of them. No surprise, then, that this most technically female bit of ‘women’s work’ is seen not only as a personal indulgence but a disgusting one at that – no different to squeezing a zit or bleeding in public. But, in fact, the woman breastfeeding in that Soho cafe was doing her job every bit as much as the young executives hunched over their laptops. Prejudice against breastfeeding in company is not only practical and extremely physical misogyny: from a marxist perspective it is also professional discrimination. In fact, it’s already been recognised as such in New Zealand.

Next time you take a walk around Soho, just count the number of partly- or mostly-exposed breasts you see in any given street. I guarantee you that there’ll be any number of trendy young girls (and boys, it being Soho) with far more boob on display than any nursing mother, the reason being, you see, that when you’re breastfeeding, most of what you can see is the back of the baby’s head. Wearing a low-cut top won’t get you thrown out of a bar, though: it’s alright, as long as you’re getting your tits out for the lads.

Anti-breastfeeding stigma is not for a minute about modesty. It is about restricting women’s choices and underlining the message that women’s bodies are only acceptable if they are explicitly sexual.