Ding Dong, The Witch is Dead… the memorable track from The Wizard of Oz, delivered with gusto by the Munchkins when a house falls on the Wicked Witch. Who would have thought that a 51 second track from a cherished family film would cause such a stir?
When Margaret Thatcher died on April 8th, it didn’t take long for the collective might of Social Media to latch onto the death. There was a clear divide - reviled and revered - from many social commentators. The general public were equally divided, yet that wasn’t enough. How could we, the public, encapsulate our feelings towards the deceased former leader?
Ding Dong, The Witch is Dead. - Oh, how droll! How satirical! It’s not! Genuinely, it’s not.
There are far better tracks that could have been used as a sign of political satire. For some reason, I can only imagine idiocy, the collective minds of Social Media cottoned on to this track as an example of their, quite frankly, fatuous attempt at satire and political expression.
Why not Thatcherites by Billy Bragg? Thatcher made Bragg a socialite! What better way to demonstrate one’s social belief than by supporting one of the best political songwriters of our generation? How about Margaret on the Guillotine by Morrissey? He’s a man that wasn’t afraid to state his case on society. The answer is pretty obvious, they’re not ‘fun’, they’ve got a political message and from an era when sentiment was running at a high. With Morrissey and Bragg, it involves listening to, and understanding, the lyrics and their political views.
Ding Dong, The Witch is Dead has the same political imperative as the old childhood refrain “Here’s Maggie Thatcher, throw her up and catch her!” It’s childish, it has nothing to do with the feeling that Thatcher evoked and it’s the type of thing bought by people who weren’t around when Thatcher was in power. It belittles her legacy and reduces the memory of strikes, protests, economic strife and political turmoil to a twee act of impotence.
Her legacy is clear, the strength of her conviction gutted the economy and her presence on the world stage was the last time that the United Kingdom was a true superpower. From school milk to Poll Tax, from the Falklands to the Second Cold War, from the destruction of our coal industry to the privatisation of businesses; she was a figure that caused as much respect as she did hatred. To reduce her political significance and life to a 51 second piece of contextless tripe is vapid and highlights the lack of political understanding. Trivialise it by purchasing the track, but millions of us were affected by what Thatcher did and we should view this act of ‘free speech’ with the contempt it deserves.
If you genuinely want to challenge the tenets of Thatcherism, vote in the upcoming local elections. Deliver a blow to the Conservative party and show them the sense of resentment that this country still feels towards a party that, despite wanting to distance itself from the past, continues to embrace Thatcher’s ideals, just with different words.
If you want to express your right to ‘freedom of speech’, use your voice in a more effective way. Get involved in politics, be it single-cause groups such as 38 Degrees, or the Socialist Workers Party, but don’t think that buying this song is some form of political involvement.
Buying the track would make Thatcher smile. If ever there was a way to support Thatcher’s capitalist ideals, it’s this!
Thanks for reading.
Dave Adamson for HullRePublic.
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There is much talk of ‘making work pay’ at the moment with politicians of all three major political parties trying to out do the other in demonstrating their commitment to the ‘hard working people’ of the United Kingdom. This is to be applauded (if it were backed by policies that matched these laudable aims); the truth is that employment in the UK is in a critical state with many of the protections we have (until this point) taken for granted being abolished or diluted; with precarious employment and under-employment becoming the norm for many. This blog will take the issues in turn - from unionisation to the National Minimum Wage (NMW), through changes to terms and conditions, below inflation pay settlements and the monetisation of health care.
Firstly, the NMW offers income protection to those in low paid work and according to the Low Pay Commission has ‘little or no significant adverse impact’ on job creation at this level. The Coalition, however have announced they will look at freezing or reducing it should it ‘cost jobs’ and have recently raised it at a rate lower rate than inflation meaning a real terms cut. The motivation here is political rather than economic and comes as a further assault on the living standards of those in low paid, often low skilled work (we discuss work further here); we are reminded of this quote from American comedian Chris Rock about employers views of the NMW. The case for the introduction of a ‘living wage’ is well made and the economic driver behind it to increase demand from the socio-economic group most likely to spend additional money in their lives is a clear one. The introduction of such a measure would also reduce the number of those needing to rely on tax credits and other ‘in-work’ benefits (that subsidise employers paying ‘poverty wages’ and substantially reduce State expenditure in this area.
Instead, the Coalition has reduced these ‘in-work’ benefits with no alternative in place (and little evidence to suggest the changes will decrease dependency) whilst Ministers are demanding that low paid workers undertake additional hours to make up the shortfall – this is predicated on the notion that each employer has more hours to offer and that the low paid have capacity in their lives to undertake it, for many low paid workers they are also students, parents, volunteers and carers. Low-paid workers will also suffer marginal tax rates 50% higher than millionaires due to changes brought forward by Cameron and Clegg’s budget.
The ‘shares for rights’ initiative goes further (an idea promoted by George Osborne at the Conservative party conference) the main thrust of which being that employees would sacrifice many of their employment rights under UK law on unfair dismissal, redundancy and the right to request flexible working and time off for training in return for tax-free shares. This move has been roundly criticised and further reduces the importance given to in work protection and mirrors the culture of ‘quick-wins’ in the City at the expense of long-term stability and progress.
Another area of the framework within which we work is Health and Safety legislation; the Coalition are committed to reducing protection in this area as part of their ‘war on red-tape’. Unions and others have worked long and hard in securing these protections for staff from a range of industries and reducing them will come at no significant cost in increased claims for compensation, to lower the working conditions of many and will make work less safe, more dangerous and fundamentally less attractive. Coupled with this has been the long-term diminution of unionisation and in-work protection with many employers now seeking to ban unions from the work place leaving workers open to exploitation and predation in the form of ‘zero hour contracts’ (the most precarious form of employment with workers not knowing from one day to the next whether they have work) and the new rules in relation to unfair dismissal (the recent changes in this area significantly reduce the avenues a worker has as a means of redress if treated unfairly by their employer in the first two years of employment).
The long-term effects of NHS privatisation are yet to be felt but there are many examples of services that used to be free at the point of use now come with a tariff; as this develops into the future the monetisation of the most basic health services will further impact on families’ ability to make ends meet. There are also many stories of newly privatised health services forcing changes to terms and conditions for nurses and other workers, reducing holiday entitlement, changing pay structures and redundancy payments. In the public sector a long-term pay freeze and below inflation pay settlements means that most face at least a 10% pay cut in real terms over the course of this parliament (the Coalition’s failed economic plan has prolonged austerity into 2018 meaning a further reduction in living standards).
In mitigation the Coalition would cite their raising of the personal tax threshold though according to the research the positive impact of this will be more than cancelled out by the rise in VAT , the reduction of in-work benefits and changes to council tax and/or housing benefit payments alongside the ill thought out and potentially disastrous ‘bedroom tax’.
Living costs are spiralling out of control and rather than tackling the profits made by energy or train companies with positive action the Government does nothing and, more worryingly there is still no discussion as to how the Coalition will tackle historically low pay. When faced with ever increasing bills for utilities and essentials the average working family is becoming worse off by the week whilst pay for those at the top continues to rise exponentially. When taken as a whole Coalition employment policy is an assault on work; rather than ‘making work pay’ these measures actively erode our standard of living and the value of work for millions of hard working people.
Thanks for reading – HullRePublic.
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Hull as the city of culture 2017? It’s a possibility and one that the whole city should get behind. Regular contributor to HullRePublic Dave Adamson explores the issues here:
David Amess, Tory MP for Southend West, isn’t a stranger to controversy. Whether he’s discussing the fictional drug Cake before tabling a question in Parliament whilst unaware that the TV series Brass Eye was a spoof, convincing security at airports that his bags were packed by Osama Bin Laden before vomiting and complaining, or claiming £8,500 for hotel bills despite owning property in London, he’s certainly a man who seems trapped in his own world of delusion.
So, should it really have come as a surprise when he declared Southend-on-Sea as the only possible winner of the City of Culture bid in 2017? Of course not. He’s an MP for the area, he’s passionate about the city and he wants to get his support out in the open and, more importantly, in the press.
So, what went wrong?
That’s what went wrong!
To paraphrase a quote from the BBC Three series Being Human ‘you shouldn’t win because everyone else is more rubbish’. Yet, that’s exactly what Amess seems to be suggesting. Whilst other politicians might say that “the other cities are strong competition” or “we want to show our potential to the rest of the UK,” Amess seemed to think that this was some form of race to the bottom. For Amess to suggest this, and to hold other cities in such contempt, is smug, unqualified arrogance. He lacks the nuanced understanding of the cities that wish to present themselves as Cities of Culture; the opportunities such a title can offer and the prestige that it would give the winning city. His narrow-minded attitude is typical of a party that has, over the term of this coalition, sought to distance itself from the voting public; a public that is not just middle class!
The truth is that there’s a lot to do in Hull to improve its “cultural” standing. Changes like this cannot open overnight - Platform Expos are driving forward with the Digital Estuary idea for the city (though I prefer to call it Digit-Hull); Mark Page and others are working tirelessly to increase the presence of local music; The Warren has been nurturing young talent for years and continues to do so, and there are bound to be dozens of projects that help the culture of the city that we haven’t heard about!
“Culture” lacks definition in the same way that “art” does - Banksy.
At the end of the day Banksy is a graffiti artist, yet his work is applauded by the art world. Rap music is seen, by many, as misogynistic and criminal, yet many people see it as modern poetry. To think that “culture” is defined in a narrow, traditionalist understanding is crass.
Hull’s “cultural heritage” spans the decades and, like many cities, is open to all comers. We have a vibrant local music scene, we draw some impressive acts and shows to our theatres and our museums and art galleries continue to draw visitors thanks to exhibitions of the works of Leonardo, Andy Warhol and David Hockney. The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra has played in our city, as has Ed Sheeran, Bon Jovi, Elton John and The Rolling Stones, whilst Florence and the Machine headlined the Freedom Festival. We have been shaped by our history - we have celebrated the abolition of slavery, been instrumental in the Civil War and the victim of air raids during the Second World War.
Our heritage, our culture, isn’t defined in one easy statement. It can’t be dismissed, it shouldn’t be belittled and it must never be undermined by the witless buffoonery of politicians like David Amess.
Dave Adamson for HullRePublic.
Thanks to Dave for his interesting contribution. What do you think about Hull becoming the ‘City of Culture’? Get in touch. Share. Make the Change.
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In light of much of the recent anti-claimant rhetoric we are delighted to republish Deborah Stevenson’s blog on the realities of claiming Job Seekers Allowance and the stigma she has faced.
The Stigma of Being a JSA Claimant.
Now, I understand that it is infuriating if you’re a hard working person and you feel most of your money goes on tax, I am pretty sure that when I start earning a wage, I will have a jolly old grumble at it. I think it’s my dads favorite hobbie sometimes! Ha. Although when did it become acceptable to just assume that EVERYONE is a lazy claimer. This is the unfortunate stigma of looking for work, people assume you are exactly the same as someone who writes their shopping list on their paperwork and isn’t taking the job search seriously enough. I’ve been so stressed about finding work, I’ve been in a state some days because it seems like I can’t catch a break.
We’re in a shitty economy, in Hull there is an average of 88 people chasing every job - it’s tough, really tough.
I understand the annoyance at some people who are given the money and don’t make any concerted effort to look for work - we can all tut at them can’t we? My point is, I am actively seeking work, I am doing what I can to look for work, and yet I am still placed within the stigma of people who claim Job Seekers Allowance but don’t really do anything. I understand the system is flawed but I am actually doing something to find work, and I can’t wait to be doing something full time because I am going stair shit crazy from not.
I apply for at least 5 jobs per week, I look everyday, I’ve always got new windows open with opportunities on it. I applied to be a Christmas elf for Christ sake! Most posts I can’t apply for because I don’t have the experience, that’s something I can’t help. But, I am not going to apply for it, knowing I will be rejected (again) just so that people will get off my back. If I don’t have what they want, I don’t have it. Simple.
I don’t think people who’ve never visited the Job Centre understand that actually, it’s pretty dire and embarrassing. I waited as long as I could before I put in my claim - I was told “no Debs, put your claim in as soon as you leave university…” and yet I waited, I still had some money left from my student loans, so I thought, in the early stages of my job search, I can just live from that. But as it usually does, it doesn’t last forever. So, when I made my claim, it was only because I just couldn’t without it. But like most people, I want to be off job seekers allowance as soon as possible.
This post was sparked by hearing moaning about it on the radio, it’s damn ignorant to stereotype every unemployed person as being lazy and not wanting to find work.
So, to everyone who is out of work, good luck, it is hard but you just have to keep looking and taking opportunities where they are given.
Deborah Stevenson -@DebStevo90 for @HullRePublic.
We’d like to thank Deborah for her kind permission to republish her work. If you’d like to comment please take the time to do so by clicking on the post’s header and scrolling to the bottom.
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HullRePublic@gmail.com - @HullRePublic.
When the ‘horse meat’ scandal broke there was outrage… then there were jokes: “For years, we’ve been saying “I could eat a horse,” then we do and we complain!” Then, there were the snobbish, boorish remarks: “If you buy processed food, what do you expect?”
It was this that rattled me. The idea that it was acceptable for food to be something else if it was processed and, by extension, relatively inexpensive. We accept that “mechanically recovered” means “the bits of that can’t be cut off by humans,” and that “reformed” means “mushed up and reshaped,” yet we should also somehow accept that “beef” could mean “horse” simply because it’s cheap?
It isn’t dangerous to consume horse meat, but that really isn’t the crux of the matter.
The issue here was, obviously, horse sold as beef and not the fact that horse is a perfectly edible piece of meat in other countries. We live in a society where it should be, and must be, standard practice that when we buy something it is what we expect!. To suggest that you should only expect to know what’s in it if you cook it is churlish, to say the least.
Sure, buying meat from butchers and cooking from scratch isn’t too difficult, but for many people the variety of dishes available from a supermarket processed food aisle is greater than their cooking knowledge. This wide range means that if taken to work or eaten as a family there’s a varied menu of options available - it’s not just pasta bake or beef lasagna.
The convenience of processed foods means that busy parents can prepare food for their families with little effort. Take it out of the fridge or freezer, pierce the lid, stick it in the microwave or oven and serve, allowing the harassed parent to focus on other things that need doing in their household. More importantly, it’s economically priced - being able to feed a family of four for under a fiver is an attractive prospect and this type of food typically doesn’t leave them hungry an hour later. Less money spent on food means more money spent on other family essentials - fuel and clothes for example.
Considering that, the most recent recent data estimates 30% of children (approx. 17,124) in Hull live in poverty in 2012, is it any surprise that many families choose cheaper foods from economy or basic ranges, often processed and high in all the things that many of us are encouraged to avoid? Eat enough to sate hunger, or eat healthily and be hungry? I know which path I would follow. This same research shows that the UK has one of the worst child poverty rates in the industrialised world. It’s not that the usual scapegoats are to blame either: 59% of the UK’s poor children live in a house where one parent works, yet many families are living hand-to-mouth and borrowing money in order to buy food.
There are, of course, those out there that buck the trend and those who exploit the system but the world isn’t divided into neatly defined groups - those that work and those that won’t, those with money and those without, it’s far more complicated that that. Processed convenience meals don’t just appeal the busy families, but to many workers who want something a bit more nutritious than a cheese sandwich.
The problem with the horse meat scandal should have been obvious: regardless of how much you pay, regardless of the product itself, consumers should be confident that the meat in the product is the meat listed on the ingredients.
No matter where you are in society’s structure, you should be confident that the food you are buying is what you think it is. The information should be there, it should be accurate and manufactures, processors, regulators and governments must be held accountable.
As we look back on the horse meat scandal, with MPs declaring this is just ‘the tip of the iceberg’ there are more questions to ask: how long has this been going on? Why wasn’t it discovered sooner? Who is responsible for the content of the food in our shops? None of these questions are ‘what did you expect?’ and nor should they be.
Thanks for reading.
Dave Adamson for HullRePublic.
We’d like to thank Dave for his interesting and insightful contribution.
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Regular readers will know that we invite guest bloggers to contribute to HullRePublic; we are really happy to present the following blog from, Deborah B Matthews LLM (Hons), ACILEX - Lawyer and Postgraduate, Hull Fabians Secretary, local Twitterati and general writer of interesting stuff.. We follow Debbie (not stalk) and are always interested in what she has to say..
Trolling and internet stalking have received much attention lately and Debbie offers a personal perspective on the issue, as ever we welcome comments so please take the time to read this post and join the debate.
Over to Debbie..
Trolling and stalking continue to be a predominant problem in our contemporary society. I had the misfortune of having to pursue a legal course of action recently to deal with a person who not only stalked me but also used technology to troll my friend and a close family member. However, trolling differs from stalking in that it predominantly remains within the confines of technology by way of emails and social networking sites etc.
The troll wishes to cause severe offence and embarrassment unlike the stalker who feels they have been scorned by an object of their affections. Stalking can invoke criminal law by virtue of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997; the Offences Against the Person Act 1861; the Sexual Offences Act 2003; and the Malicious Communications Act 1988 (the latter can be invoked if technology is used).
Trolling appears to be an all too frequent occurrence as we become a more connected and globalised community. By virtue of the internet, we are able to communicate within much wider circles and dip into societies that we would never have had access before and some use this to harrass. Trolling invokes the criminal law by the fact there are usually instances of threatening and aggressive behaviour such as threats of physical violence and racist slurs.
It is more than merely baiting or trying to get a reaction; the troll is wanting to emotionally shock the victim when they send them something truly vile to read or look at. Usually reported, these cases are of a high profile nature but the average internet user can be subjected to such behaviour as indeed I have. There are no physical boundaries with the internet, eg Twitter and this is one of the main problems with trolling.
When Nicola Brookes won her landmark case against Facebook who were forced to give up the details of her trolls it signalled a very new way of dealing with trolls. This was a way forward in this area; the rapid expansion of the internet and the Human Rights Act have had an impact on the law of Defamation which has developed in a piecemeal fashion for the past century.
Lord Lester’s Private Member’s Defamation Bill which is in the Lords at the moment is an attempt to reform this area of law. The impetus is to balance the right of freedom of expression with the right to protect ones reputation but there seems little clarity about whether the internet and its behaviours are truly understood at this stage; it is hoped that this Bill will make into law the concept that where such an offence has occurred, an Internet Service Provider may be spared a lawsuit for inadvertently displaying such malicious communication if they can help identify the troll.
When the inventor of the World Wide Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee said “The important thing about the internet is that it should be for anything and for anyone” he obviously thought it would bring like-minded people together to share ideas and to educate the world. It would transpire that it has indeed brought like-minded people together and that has been part of the problem.
Thanks for reading.
Debbie Matthews (@debbiematthews1)
To comment on this post please click on the header and scroll to the bottom of the post where you can add your voice to the debate.
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In the third of her reports in partnership with Locality, Mary O’Hara visits the Thornton estate in Hull, where improved local services are at risk from budget cuts.
Worry over impact of budget cuts and business closures.
The older ladies (and one older gentleman) gathered at the Tuesday Club on the Thornton estate in Hull have just finished their exercises with a volunteer fitness instructor and in a short while they’ll begin their weekly bingo session. Before that, though, they are eager to talk about how life in the area is changing as cuts begin to take hold.
A jovial bunch (on average 12-14 people in their 70s and 80s meet weekly at premises in a parade of shops provided by The Goodwin Development Trust), many come from families that have lived in this inner-city area for generations.
Their chief concern is the possible loss of local ‘community wardens’. The wardens are a community outreach service funded by the local council and managed by Goodwin, a social enterprise founded by residents from the Thornton estate, which offers services ranging from back-to-work programmes to childcare facilities in 36 sites across Hull.
According to the Tuesday Club members, the wardens have been pivotal to making sure older people on Thornton are not isolated or lonely and that they feel part of the wider community.
“At the moment we’ve got the wardens but how long for? That’s the main worry,” a woman volunteers.
Another interjects: “Previously for anyone who was elderly or disabled there were one or two wardens that were assigned to ring us and see if we were OK. That was a friendly word but it’s all being cut back.”
The group talk at length about a range of issues from street cleaning to community policing. They comment that in recent years they have seen many improvements in the facilities and services on offer on the estate but they worry that this is being undone.
“It’s just deteriorating now [compared] to what we are used to,” one member says. “But we keep hoping.”
Stuart Spandler, the 63-year-old chair of the board of trustees at Goodwin and a resident of the Thornton estate his whole life, says the Tuesday Club’s anxieties are symptomatic of broader problems on the estate and in other disadvantaged parts of Hull, many of which are being exacerbated by cuts to local council budgets.
We’ve been fighting like mad to keep the community wardens…We’ve got an extension of the wardens [for now] but the future is uncertain.”
Looking forward, he says it is a real concern that older people will have no choice but to retreat back into their homes should services such as wardens disappear.
“One of the biggest problems on the estate is going to be isolation,” he says.
Myton ward, where the Thornton estate is based, is one of the most deprived areas in England and has high levels of child and adult poverty according to JJ Tatten of Goodwin.
Figures from the Office for National Statistics published in October 2012 show that the unemployment rate for Hull as a whole is far higher than the UK national average: 15.8 per cent compared with 7.9 per cent.
Against this backdrop, government cuts planned for next year are going to “hit people very hard indeed,” JJ says.
Assembled in a Goodwin-run community centre, local residents, community workers and others say an assortment of hardships lie ahead.
Tracy Dearing has a visual impairment and believes many disabled people are fearful of changes to benefits, while others are worried about finding work in an area of higher-than-average unemployment.
No matter what work programmes you put in place, what training you do, how harsh you are on benefits, people just aren’t going to get the jobs… People are just placed in impossible situations.”
For Amber Peachy-Moore, a supervisor at the Hull Citizens Advice Bureau, there are clear signs that more people across the community are seeking help.
We are seeing more and more clients – even clients who are in work – come to us for charitable applications or debt appointments because they can’t manage their basic household bills on their income.
The stress and pressure people are being put under by the combined forces of market forces and utility bills and the cuts in benefits – and people’s incomes aren’t tracking the rise of prices of household goods – I think that pressure is going to get to people. It is going to affect their health.”
Colin Lynch, a local community organiser, agrees with Amber that multiple strains are beginning to show across disadvantaged areas of the city but adds that one unfolding and increasingly visible side effect is that, because people have less money to spend, local small businesses are closing.
Thinking of the Hessle Road area there’s a lot of concern over the commercial sector….Retail on Hessle Road is suffering quite badly at the moment from a lot of businesses that are failing, a lot of shop units that are empty, shutters down. It makes for what looks like a very bad area and it’s not.”
Echoing the Tuesday Club and others, Colin concludes that a large part of the effects of cuts – combined with wider economic decline – is the uncertainty it is generating.
They’re seeing their area, their community, slowly going down and down….It’s that anxiety over the change that’s causing a lot of problems.”
HullRePublic would like to thank the Joseph Rowntree Foundation for their kind permission to reproduce this work here. You can find more of their excellent work here:http://www.jrf.org.uk/topic/austerity
Women and Girls Basketball new for 2013
Basketball is one of the most popular and athletic sports around and the new-year offers you a chance to join the new Women and Girls Basketball session’s at Sirius Academy, Anlaby Park Road South. The 10 week trial session is designed to provide everyone with a great deal of fun whilst helping to shed a few pounds and get fit at the same time. Going to the gym is not for everyone and can be extremely unsociable so basketball is a great alternative.
Having a laugh, learning a few new skills and meeting new friends can be good for you. The session is strictly for the girls and is designed to be fun. Rachel Dixon and Becky Smith will run the program which is supported by Sport England’s Sportivate program, so each evening costs a mere £1 per person. If you have played Basketball before, the sessions will be a great way to get back into the game and of course get back into shape. The women and girls program is designed for 16 -25 year olds and will take place on Thursday evening’s from 7pm -8pm but if you are a little older and you want to take part you will be welcomed.
Hull Hornets are a family focused Basketball club who have teams in both the Humber Premier and Development Leagues and where the 2012 GB Airborne Trophy Masters winners. If the sessions are successful the club intend to continue them following the initial 10 week period. For further information go to Facebook and view Hull Hornets Basketball Club.
Thanks to Hull Hornets for this post.
If you would like to contribute to HullRePublic please get in touch.
The role of children in society and our communities needs a drastic re-evaluation, in the mainstream media and political classes the value of children is often seen in purely monetaristic or political terms. Children’s position in society, their needs and their protection rarely sees the light of day; one of the difficulties in the discussion is a sense held by many adults that they know what it is like to be a child (having been one), this false knowledge creates an attitude in many that does little to explore the landscape children inhabit in contemporary society, however, the landscape children inhabit now is very different to that of the 60s, 70s or 80s. The pressures on children in an ever more competitive, sexualised and isolating culture mark a paradigm shift, a number of reports highlight that British children are less happy than their counterparts in other countries; as adults we can no longer speak of knowing this landscape with any certainty.
To invert the dominant view of childhood may help facilitate the reappraisal of childhood we think is necessary; remember your latest ‘upgrade’, be it phone, car or PC - the newer version is significantly improved on the old, better hardware of course, but more significantly, better, faster and more agile software. If we apply this to the lives of children and their role in society, if we start to conceive children as the newer, better version of ourselves perhaps this gives us the opportunity to develop new approaches and involve children in a more inclusive, participative and (perhaps most importantly) protective way.
The case in Rotherham regarding fostering highlights potential problems in society’s approach; the needs and lives of these children have been largely forgotten as members of all mainstream political parties rush to make capital from the debacle. The question we would ask all politicians and commentators is ‘does the politicisation of the issue do anything to further support these, or any other, fostered children?’. Recruiting foster carers is inherently complex, the taking on of children from other families that may have experienced abuse and neglect is a difficult decision for any parent, the impacts are complex but many children find security, love and opportunity in these newly formulated families. The media and political focus in the case should have been the looked after children, but (as ever) adult themes dominate the discussion.
To extend this point there have been a number of reports in the mainstream media recently about the sexual abuse and exploitation of children; the Savile and Rochdale cases come to mind readily; they are by no means isolated cases and highlight a significant and usually hidden undercurrent in contemporary culture; that being sexual interest in children. It is rarely spoken about and rarely confronted outside of professional Child Protection and Safeguarding arenas yet it is endemic in society; not confined to the UK by any means, sexual predation on children must be tackled in a way that does not sensationalise, does not excuse but attempts to develop a level of understanding that improves our ability to protect children as a whole.
Many of the responses of the tabloid media and wider society are at odds with what is actually going on, The tabloid treatment of children highlights a deeply distasteful attitude to girls and women; this attitude is inherently misogynistic and derogatory, it objectifies girls and women, it facilitates negatives views of women’s role in society by men and ultimately creates a culture within which women and girls (and by extension, boys) are not safe. This culture is further exemplified by some of the language surrounding what the Police would refer to as ‘evidential images of child sexual abuse’, child pornography is an unhelpful term, ‘kiddie porn’ an abhorrent one; they seek to minimise the seriousness of the abusive situations children are subjected to and do nothing to confront the underlying attitude that sexual abuse of children is, in some way, tolerated. Outside the occasional media stoked outrage this subject is barely covered, seemingly not worthy of scrutiny outside of professional circles, this was further evidenced by a very small turn out in the House of Commons for a debate on the issue. The excellent End Violence Against Women’s submission to the Leveson Inquiry explores these interconnected issues from a position that explicitly aims to protect women and girls, it makes clear links between the objectification of women and abuse and evidences a culture that must be addressed if we are to make lasting changes. This change is as urgent as it is overdue.
The polarised representation of children as either defenceless and vulnerable or out of control and feral does little to support them. Drawing parallels between the disparate elements of children’s lives in this way is intended to develop a narrative that more fully addresses the issues that children actually face now, in 2012. To organise our entire society with the expressed intention of improving children’s lives would afford us the opportunity to develop a shared purpose. The fruits of this approach would not be felt for a generation, politicians won’t wait that long, our responsibility then is to ensure that we lead this agenda, that when we see 25% cuts to children’s services we speak out, that when we worried about a child or their safety we speak out. Without this many children will remain vulnerable and some adults will abuse them. Until children have a real place at the table, until we focus on their needs rather than ours we cannot call ourselves truly adult.
It’s time to wake up.
Thanks for reading.
If you would like to comment on this blog please take the time to do so, we appreciate feedback and are happy to discuss the issues in more depth.
If you would like to blog for HullRePublic please do not hesitate to get in touch via Twitter @HullRePublic or email HullRePublic@gmail.com. Get in touch. Share. Make the change.
In his second blog for HullRePublic, Fr Phil Lamb reflects on his own perspectives of Hull, on opportunities missed for our great city and the untapped potential yet to be realised in many areas.
Whilst we wouldn’t want to ‘mimic’ another city, we agree fully with Fr Phil that there have been significant missed opportunities with Dock regeneration within the city, which Liverpool has used to full potential. All is not lost, Hull has much untapped potential too. We have the Fruit Market area and Bankside being potential sleeping giants, to name but two. So much transformational potential, yet to be realised.
Anyway, without further delay, here are his thoughts..
What is happening to Hull?
Ten years ago we had a spring in our step, a new stadium, building work across the city, plans afoot for The St.Stephens project, a TV screen in the centre offering outside broadcasts to inside audiences from The Proms etc.
Sadly that all seems to be a distant memory, I said at the time of packing the screen away from Victoria Square, that that was a symbol of intent, that from that point the city would return to just being Hull.
The forward thinking cities all have them, having one doesn’t itself make you a big city or forward thinking but it does show a symbol of intent.
In these years of gloom, that screen could have united the city watching the likes of Luke Campbell win Olympic Gold, or fetch opera lovers from the outskirts to share together the beauty of their chosen musical genre, and maybe just maybe a member of that said audience with money to invest, would have had an idea to invest into Hull, but take the screen away, and that is one more niche lost….
Many years ago the notion that Liverpool would become a City of Culture was laughed upon, but its councillors wanted to turn the joke back on the scorners. It started new road links, started to build hotels, they developed the Albert Dock and built The Echo Arena which meant they could then attract the big artists which meant people from outside came to Liverpool and spent their money there.
I go to Liverpool regularly and see so many similarities to my home city of Hull; I see how Hull could mimic it, but sadly we don’t have those in Hull that want to make this happen. Not so long back we had The Who and Elton John playing The KC Stadium, yet for the sake of the playing area, the big concerts was stopped by ONE man—this is what we are up against, protecting our own, and for this reason I don’t think Hull will ever be a top ten city, and this saddens me.
We have dock heritage, sporting and musical history that could be tapped into, we missed out on hopefully being an Olympic and World Cup venue, because there wasn’t enough hotel beds in the city, the road link ups, in and out the city are at best adequate, but not attractive to drawing the big players with the big money into our city.
I thought when The Marina was opened this would itself be a stepping stone, but it too was an opportunity lost-with forward thinking, it would bring job prospects, but this will need investment, again going back to Liverpool, take the venues of hotels and visitor attractions away, and they too would be another Hull, both cities are the book ends of the M62, to go to these cities you must go there, not pass through like Leeds, and so we must put a carrot there to attract the masses, Liverpool is doing that.
Once upon a time they relied on their two sporting clubs to highlight their city, they knew The Beatles couldn’t do it forever, they needed something else. Any visitor to Liverpool now will see the changing skyline, the investment that now is attracting Christmas shoppers et al, top artists like George Michael etc all monies to the local economy, investment coming in, instead of people from their city going elsewhere to spend their money.
We have seen what Premiership football can bring to the city, but that too was short lived. To attract the best we have to be the best, at present we are suffering many job losses with companies folding or choosing to leave the city, surly this is telling us something. In times of austerity we must up our game for when the boom time is here again, not up our game when it arrives, boom time means taking the city to the next level, not taking it to where everyone else was ten years ago.
It needs councillors willing to take the gamble, new road infrastructure, hotel builds, a rejuvenating and regenerating of the docks - make use of our proud and not so proud history for the generations of the future.
If we don’t we shall continue seeing shop fronts boarded up, companies and factories closing, and with this the knock on affect of returning Hull to being that failed fishing city on the end of the M62 where there is no investment.
Yes we have The KC Stadium, but that is now TEN YEARS old, stadiums now are getting bigger and better, pretty soon IT won’t be the state of the art stadium it is now. It will soon be overlooked for attractive sporting events; we are missing out on them now due to not enough facilities in THE CITY, so what then, when the stadium becomes an aging lady
We can’t stand on our laurels, we must continue moving forward, for if we don’t, we might as well follow that big screen, and be packed up and then be shut up, once having prospects, but sadly we missed them and got left behind.
I want to see Hull as a top ten city, but sadly I may be seeing RIP to the city I was born in, bred in and proud to be in….
Come On You ‘ull!
Fr. Phil Lamb
Vicar of The St Nicholas Benefice, Hornsea
Padre to 298 ATC Squadron, Hornsea
We welcome this first guest blog from @FrPhilLamb, who is originally from Hull and who among other things, is a poet, mod and practicing vicar, whose nearby parish is Hornsea.
Whilst HullRePublic is not a religious collective, we have much in common with Phil as he retains a strong commitment to the city, celebrates its potential and also recognises some of the issues that the city still faces and seeks to support and intervene wherever possible or appropriate.
This first blog looks at Phil’s experience of supporting homeless people in the city. Highlighting the fact the issue still exists an in many cases, as services are reduced and austerity bites, this impacts upon those who are the most vulnerable first. Against this backdrop, as Phil points out, the situation may be getting worse:
Just over a year ago I started going out to feed the homeless of Hull, on my own and in a team…how did it start, below is my first night thoughts from 2011, in a city that refuses to admit at times it has an overflowing homeless need, and it will get worse as factories and companies go to the wall in 2012-13
Having worked a lot with the homeless in Bridlington, I have been eager to work with those on the streets in my home city of Hull. This opportunity arose with Andy Scott at Holy Trinity, who invited me to join them on the soup runs, here is my account of my first night, name and locations will not be given……..
I wait for Andy to arrive, and what hits me first is the loneliness of the Market Place in Hull, over seen by the closed, yet darkened presence of Holy Trinity Church. I wander around the perimeter of the church, with my fish tail parka and Russian hat, I am looked at by a passersby, who seem to ask themselves “What’s he up to, is he after relieving himself in a corner?”
Then I think toilet, if I’m homeless, where do I go?
I stand in a doorway, the wind is picking up, and I remember I have forgotten my scarf, as I pull my tracksuit collar up, a man stares at me from his car, he has arrived to pick someone up from work, no doubt, off to a warm home, wish I was…
I glance around at the offices, many lights are on, keeping empty offices warm, whilst the homeless, battle to keep the cold out.
Our first port of call is to a car park, a planned venue for those seeking nourishment, sadly only one ventures out, we are told, due to the weather being so bad many are taking shelter early and bedding down, which means, we need to seek them out.
We trawl the streets in the wind and the rain, looking for obvious signs, which are known to us that someone has been there, looking around the back of shops and inside bins-for humans!!
We eventually find a lad who sadly was celebrating his 31st birthday, he at first didn’t recognise us, and went to pick up an iron bar in defence-well wouldn’t you, cornered down an alley?
He is given back his sleeping bag that he left behind several nights before, freshly washed, and also his balaclava, he chats to us about his life and his health, and he follows us to the drinks point.
Andy and I then go in search of others, leaving X with those who can give him nourishment.
We venture into darkened places, not safe, but hey “Feed my people”. We find further evidence of rough sleeping [this in a city where an organisation says there are very few]. Yet sadly no one, the night is getting worse, a doorway will give no shelter!!
Having walked for over an hour around Hull, we return to the planned drop point, the others have gone to their next point, across the river Hull, yet still central.
On our way we see two lads bedding down for the night-we share a joke, a chat, and a brew. They tell us stories of being banned from refuge hostels, for several nights, and how they had fallen out with another homeless guy, “Cos he broke an unwritten law” this has brought them hassle from the 5-0’s [the police].
It was here that I recognised an old school pal!!…Speechless, dumbfounded, pissed off, and sick-our paths had gone so differently……
Each person I met spoke of why they were on the streets-not one said………… BY CHOICE!!!
We go in search of a known person to the soup run, along the river Humber, yet, it’s getting on for well past 10pm, and he is known to like to get his head down for 10pm. It is also thought, that he may have upset someone in the city centre, on the streets, and is keeping his head down-literally.
We call it a night, on what is an awful night, I know I am going home to a loving wife, a dog that will greet me with a lick or two, and a warm home, with a bed with clean sheets on, and a cup of tea etc on tap-these guys do not have such a comfort.
Yes, I have heard many opinions of people sleeping rough-I’m not interested in the politics; I’m interested in giving a helping hand to those literally in the gutter.
The scheme is in its infancy, started in December 2010 by Andy- I am humbled to be invited aboard; to share my knowledge of the homeless, how to help them and where to seek them out in the City of Hull. It’s not, may I add, a job for the faint hearted, it’s not always safe, yet when I returned home, and kicked off my docs, opened a bottle of Peroni, that lager tasted so much sweeter.
I had in such a minute way, done what Christ asks of others and me “FEED MY PEOPLE”.
It does not matter if they are black, white, Jew, or Muslim, Christian with pink spots-these are people.
I will be out again next Thursday with the crew, they will be out other nights too-it may not be perfect, but it’s a start, and as this country steam rolls further in to free fall. Redundancies will mean there will be more doorways being filled and skips or bins with people finding shelter in them.
Fr. Phil Lamb
Vicar of The St Nicholas Benefice, Hornsea
Padre to 298 ATC Squadron, Hornsea
Many thanks again to @FrPhilLamb for his contributions.
Get in touch. Share. Make the Change.
The commercialisation and monetisation of our inner, psychological landscape is well under way and places social media at the fulcrum of a new front of an age old battle, that being the search for the authentic. Twitter has some 65 million users and the behemoth Facebook over 600 million, both openly trade on our desire to connect with others at a time when it is widely accepted that the fabric of communities in modern cities is decaying. In using social media we willingly regurgitate our innermost thoughts and feelings as ‘status updates’ directly into what some have referred to as the ‘digital void’. By sharing this once private domain we turn ourselves into revenue streams for private companies.
The roots of this assimilation of our private space can be traced back over generations if we use youth culture as a vehicle; many emergent youth movements have been quickly co-opted by established power structures as the battle to control the behaviours of the young is waged. If we take the acid house explosion of the late 1980s as an example there was outrage in the mainstream media about young people organising ‘illegal’ parties and ‘raves’ outside of the regulated and taxed nightclub scene and a deeper moral panic that the young were engaged in purely hedonistic behaviours and the wonton consumption of illegal drugs. This is not to say that many did, indeed, use recreational drugs and there were, of course, tragic stories of overdose and death; what it is to do is to look at the establishment’s response to ‘counter’ culture.
Initially the outrage (stoked by the tabloids in particular) resulted in ‘house’ music being banned from the air waves and subsequently legislation (in particular clause 58 of the 1994 Criminal Justice Bill) being passed that outlawed people congregating to dance to ‘repetitive beats’ (the first time such legislation had been passed and the response of a reactionary government to many kinds of protest including squatting, mass trespass and direct action). Many wilfully broke the law and continued to party, music was released in small numbers on ‘white labels’, the music being more important than the artist and an active rejection of mainstream music culture. The music industry and establishment’s response to this emergent scene was to commercialise it, to make it ‘mainstream’ as quickly as possible therefore neutralising the perceived threat to the dominant ‘order’ or hegemony. This in turn gave rise to ‘superclubs’ (populated by celebrity DJs) where young people could gather and experience an approximation of the earlier raves but under tightly controlled and regulated conditions. The music became more sanitised and mass produced, eventually coming to dominate the pop music scene; it is now impossible to listen to any pop music station without hearing the latest ‘house’ music sound from The Saturdays, Rihanna, Usher, Pitbull, JLO et al, cleaned up, monetised and sold back to a market made largely of those happy to have their tastes determined for them.
This process can be seen in many other circumstances, very obviously in the political elites response to the global ‘Occupy’ movement; initially disregarded as a few left-wing agitators, governments and mainstream media failed to report or down played the significance of the movement in drawing attention to the excesses of unchecked capitalism and the direct, human impacts of the banking crisis and austerity. Secondly, and predictably, came an attempt to neutralise the movement and undermine the process with many politicians making speeches about ‘responsible capitalism’ in an attempt to silence the disenfranchised. The politics here cannot be ignored, by co-opting protest in this way the protest itself becomes nullified and is (re)presented as the meaningless argument of the ill-informed.
Aaron Sorkin’s ‘Newsroom’ is another case in point - presented as anti-establishment in form, the narrative focuses on a disillusioned white, middle class American searching for the soul of his nation (the comparison with Schumacher’s 1993 film ‘Falling Down’ are easy to draw); the Occupy message here is scrambled and regurgitated for an audience partly raised from its collective slumber but eager to close its eyes once more and wander the malls like the (consumer) zombies of Romero’s ‘Night of the Living Dead’. We imagine Manhattan socialites debating the programme’s syntax rather than engaging in the real discourse on the streets of their city and parading their Leftist credentials, supporting Obama, quoting Martin Luther King, defining themselves by their ‘ethical’ purchases (another example of capitalism exploiting genuine human concern) whilst maxing their credit cards on Italian shoes and hand stitched wallets Patrick Bateman would kill for. The flaw is not only in the message but the medium used by Sorkin (McLuhan’s deconstruction of medium and message resonate here), it is impossible to separate Newsroom’s message from its medium and TV represents for many a sanitised, corporate version of reality that is excluding and controlling. The fact that Newsroom is punctuated by adverts is telling - the revolution will not be televised but it will be co-opted by TV and chopped into bite size chunks at the behest of corporate America.
This notion of the assimilation of protest by the establishment is taken further by the neoliberal project and the ongoing fragmentation of national policy into local, issue based politics that limits our ability to effectively protest against (inter)national issues as our focus is encouraged to become ever more insular. This move to localism is not intended to relocate decision making and power but to facilitate the withdrawal of the nation state from people’s lives and effectively diminish collective action and protest as ‘macro’ concerns become ever more marginalised. This diminution of accountability is a ‘familiar storyline of science fiction, ‘the evil dystopia’ – the totalitarian society of the future in which faceless government agencies and corporations use sophisticated technologies to pry into every corner of our lives. The goal is to neutralise dissent and shield the exercise of power from accountability. However necessary at times, surveillance is a crude display of power, a unilateral override of the consent of the governed’.
The question for the protest movement is how to maintain the pressure on those in power to engage in the debate on this issues affecting our lives? We assert that only by self organisation can we do this, that struggle (in the Marxist sense) is inherent in the positions we hold. As a counterpoint to the controlling element discussed earlier social media facilitates networks that are fluid, dynamic and powerful, highlighting the need for us to create a truly democratic space online, one that is not neutralised and becomes an effective tool in the ongoing struggle for a representative politics. Our demands for free modes of communication are essential if we are to build nodes of resistance, channels of discourse and dissent, methods of sharing space in an increasingly atomised future. Zizek is emphatic in stating that engaging with the establishment on it own turf is doomed to failure and much contemporary protest has had little impact; we argue that mainstream discourse is failing to represent the disparate nature of resistance to the neoliberal project, that established news outlets are failing to provide a reliable flow of information and this has left us unable to ensure that our governments are held to account.
Thanks for reading.
If you would like to contribute to HullRePublic please get in touch: HullRePublic@gmail.com
The following blog was submitted by Tom Joad - @llanelli_riots - and explores the ravages of contemporary capitalism on the psychology of the populace, we found it very stimulating and would welcome your thoughts and comments.
A Suitable Case for Treatment.
“Depression,” says Mark Fisher,”is the shadow side of entrepreneurial culture, what happens when magic voluntarism confronts limited opportunities.” In the rest of his Guardian article, in response to the news that suicides among older men are rising, http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jul/16/mental-health-political-issue, he argues for a deeper understanding of the political dimensions of mental health. He cites the Calum’s List website, which lists suicides in which welfare cuts have played a part http://calumslist.org/ and which has been savagely attacked by right-wingers as ‘politicising’ mental health on the grounds that “welfare suicides don’t exist. Suicide is a mental health issue.” However, what has been clearly illustrated in places where the economic crisis is particularly acute is that economic insecurity impacts powerfully on mental health. Greece used to have the lowest suicide rate in Europe at 2.8 out of 100,000 when the crisis began 3 years ago. Now it has double that figure: figures show a 40% rise over a 12-month period, an appallingly steep increase.
However, I would argue that capitalism itself, even when it is not in crisis, has profoundly negative effects upon mental health, in particular, although not exclusively, upon that of the working class. This is related to lack of control and the distortion of creativity in the process of what Marx called ‘alienated labour.’ Even before the economic crisis began, the treatment of mental illness was often based on incorrect assumptions and incomplete analysis. But with the rise of neoliberal capitalism, its marginalisation of alternative models of society and of cultural and political dissent, the increased manipulation of popular consciousness and the rise politically of what Tariq Ali refers to as the ‘extreme centre,’ radical social critiques, including those of psychiatry, have diminished. The ‘anti-psychiatry’ of such practitioners as David Cooper and R.D.Laing , which related many kinds of mental distress to the way society operated, in particular through the institution of the family, have disappeared. In particular, the Marxist theory of alienation has ceased to inform models of psychological thinking.
A general sense of how human beings experience their life activity as something external, alien and hostile to them has evolved over several centuries, developing out of the writings of Rousseau, and later Hegel and Feuerbach. The special understanding of it developed by Marx, however, saw it not as an inevitable part of the human condition but as connected to particular ways of organising human activity. Dan Swain, in his excellent book on the subject, http://resolutereader.blogspot.co.uk/2012/03/dan-swain-alienation-introduction-to.html, quotes Bertell Ollman: ”Alienation is the intellectual construct in which Marx displays the devastating effect of capitalist production on human beings, on their physical and mental states and on the social processes of which they are a part.” The absence of workers’ control over their own creativity in a system where they simply create commodities, and are themselves commodified, has a huge impact. Any theory of psychology which does not contain some sense of this, and of the ways in which the politics of production adversely affect mental health, is not addressing reality.
Rather than locating psychological suffering in a society which placed impossible and contradictory demands upon people, healthcare in the 1990s increasingly located it deep within the neurochemical transactions and DNA of the individual. This model, of course, hugely benefitted the big pharmaceutical companies, whose PR people heavily promoted the drugs to GPs. The philosophical model used was related less and less to the dialectic of social and economic relations and focussed more and more, in a modern version of ‘balancing the four humours’ of ancient Hippocratic medicine, on chemical deficiencies, excesses, imbalances: things that could be cured, or at least treated, with chemicals. Psychiatric treatment for psychological and emotional disturbances of all kinds became essentially extended drug therapy, with short bursts of cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT). Patch ‘em up and send ‘em back to work, which was in many cases the very thing which was driving them crazy in the first place, although, paradoxically, unemployment and lack of money does the same thing, often more quickly.
But the profit motive, especially in conditions of free market capitalism, distorts our attempts to understand, and cure, ourselves. For example, Darian Leader in the Guardian points out how the huge increase in the diagnosis of bipolar disorder over the last 15 years coincided with the patents running out on the big-selling tricyclic antidepressants in the mid-1990s. This meant that bipolar products became the recipient of the big pharmaceutical companies’ marketing budgets, and the drugs involved began to be aggressively promoted. The World Health Organisation now regards bipolar disorder as the 6th main cause of disability for people aged 15-44. In children, the diagnosis has increased by over 400%. A similar process occurred in the early 1990s with the increase in diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) especially among troublesome or disruptive schoolchildren. This apparent shift in diagnosis, which was actually a shift in patterns of capital accumulation in the pharmaceutical industry, exposes how capitalism commodifies everything, even human suffering. The most subjective dimensions of life become part of the cash nexus. This ‘medicalisation’ of human experience can similarly be seen in the treatment of depression and anxiety, and in the widepread use of antidepressant drugs like fluoxetine (Prozac, Sarafem, Fontex) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fluoxetine. Millions of people are now routinely treated with a range of these selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). In 2010, over 24.4 million prescriptions for fluoxetine were filled in the USA alone. Under conditions of deregulation and rudimentary public scrutiny it is hardly surprising that, like the banks, the pharmaceutical companies often indulge in behaviour which is unprofessional or downright illegal. At the time of writing the British pharmaceutical giant GlakoSmithKline has pleaded guilty to criminal charges and agreed to pay £3 billion to settle the largest case of healthcare fraud in US history, relating to the mis-selling and mis-marketing of antidepressants. This involved distributing a misleading medical journal article, and inducements to GPs included free meals, spa treatments, European hunting trips and even tickets to a Madonna concert!
This is not to say that all these drugs have no use value. For millions they alleviate psychological suffering and enable people to cope when otherwise they could not. But while it would be facile to argue that the roots of all mental illness and distress are economic and political, it is equally the case that the economic restructuring of society, over the decades of free-market ‘reforms,’ treats people more and more either as consumers, or as workers with few rights, and less and less as human beings. The economic changes in society that governments are attempting to enforce in the wake of the banking crisis are producing widespread and profound human suffering, which is duly creating social unrest but also an increase in mental distress which will not be solved by the development of some new SSRI.
Mark Fisher believes that most psychiatrists today assume that mental illnesses like depression are caused by chemical imbalances that can be treated with drugs. But it’s also the case that, even when it’s available, psychotherapy today does not address the social causation of mental illness. The radical therapist David Smail argues that Thatcher’s infamous utterance that ‘there’s no such thing as society’ finds an ‘unacknowledged echo’ in almost all approaches to therapy. Today, as societies go through the economic shock therapy which the banks and the International Monetary Fund prescribe, we need to reclaim our own lives and, in the process, the very notion of therapy. The struggles which are coming will be political, but they will also be about exactly what it means to be human. True empowerment, not the managerial travesty of that word, occurs when, in the process of effecting social change, we change ourselves.
There is a lovely story, set, I think, in Poland during the period of the Solidarnosc independent trade union, a time of immense social upheaval and popular resistance. It describes a psychiatric hospital where, during this period of ‘people power’, patients suddenly began to discharge themselves, saying they no longer felt ill. There was a time when the wards were deserted. Then they slowly began to fill again. But this time it was with a different social layer: this time it was not workers, but managers.
We would like to thank Tom for his excellent contribution to HullRePublic. If you would like to write for us please do not hesitate to get in touch - HullRePublic@gmail.com
The View From Hull…
‘Theatre offers a commentary on being alive. How to make sense of the world and even how to change it. Theatre is where we invent the future.’ Mike Bradwell (20th October 2011, lecture given to The Society for Theatre Research)
I have just returned from working at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival which is always an exciting time for two reasons. Firstly because as a recently graduated arts student, it’s one of the few period in the year I can guarantee definite employment (thank you arts cuts!) and because as a theatre practitioner and as an audience member, it is exhilarating to be in a city with so much new theatre and art literally being shoved at you - and anyone who has encountered flyerers on the Royal Mile trying to whip up an audience for their show, will know exactly what I mean! People and companies from all over the world come to the Edinburgh Fringe to perform, to get their work on a stage in front of an audience, to let their art speak. And this year - Hull was there and making its mark.
Most people, if asked, would not even put ‘Hull’ and ‘Theatre’ in the same sentence. People who work in theatre will just about be able to link Hull with Mike Bradwell and John Godber but beyond that, Hull may as well be a cultural wasteland for many. Even taxi drivers seem a bit shocked when you tell them you work at Hull Truck.. For those of us who live here and are familiar with the arts scene, you can’t seem to go for a couple of days without a new show being advertised, or a new open mic night, or art show. But we know where to look, and who to watch, for your ordinary Hullian, why, and quite rightly so should they care? Instead of creating our work in the little Avenues bubble to an already established audience, we need to start creating work that people will come to see because it says something that is relevant to them, makes them feel and think and genuinely enjoy, and THEN we need to let the rest of the country recognise that we are here.
That is exactly what Middle Child Theatre did in Edinburgh. Having spent months researching Hull and its people and developing a script with scratch nights so audiences could view the work in progress, they presented 25: 13 Red, 12 Blue, a look at the life of a group of 25 year old who find themselves surviving rather than living after inheriting a country riddled with debt and ridden roughshod over by politicians. A 55 minute show that took identifiable characters and very recognisable situations and boldly said: ‘there is a problem and it needs to be sorted’. As a 22 year old, there was much that resonated for me, and I wasn’t the only one who felt that way as many critics rushed to praise the production:
‘an affecting piece of drama that entirely captures the zeitgeist of a generation. Every major politician in the UK should be forced to sit and watch this without their spin doctors or focus groups present, this is such an honest and genuine reflection of life for so many in our country right now’ Edinburgh Spotlight (5 stars)
It was a bold and brave choice and the company should be applauded for it, and then begged very nicely to stage it again in Hull, where many will find that it hits uncomfortably home and that yes, perhaps it is worth taking a stand and chose to start living rather than surviving.
Work like this is being produced in Hull; important, playful and touching work. But it takes courage and a willingness to build sets in the back garden, beg and borrow costume and work all hours to get the money to be able to make work that tries to make sense of the world we are all living in. Hopefully, my contributions to Hull Republic will highlight these companies living and working in Hull and make the case that art and culture have never been more important to our society than right now.
‘We have made a decision to come out from the shadows and make our own voices heard.’
Jane Williamson for HullRePublic.
We would like to thank Jane for her wonderful contribution and look forward to her forthcoming posts. If you would like to blog for HullRePublic please do not hesitate to get in touch via Twitter: @HullRePublic or our email address: HullRePublic@gmail.com
A better future- Tory union leaders and hippy bankers!
Montesquieu knew a thing or two about power. In ‘The Spirit of the Laws’, published in 1748, he developed a constitutional theory that called for power to be split amongst the Executive, Judiciary and Legislature. Put simply, his view of human nature was that if no such checks and balances were put in place, the temptation to take too much power and to act in self-interest would be too great.
Throughout history Montesquieu appears to have been proved right. From the vile dictatorships of Stalin and Mao Tse Tung, to the atrocities of Hitler, we have seen the damaging effects of unfettered ideology and concentrated, absolute power. In non-democratic societies unhealthy balances have been murderous. In those checked by democracy they have produced unfairness, lack of freedom, inequality and abuse.
Some of my earliest memories of unfettered power find their provenance in the early memories of childhood. Brought up in a working-class family in Withernsea, early memories are of the massive inconveniences caused by power cuts as one section of the working class flexed their labour muscles to, in effect, massively inconvenience other members of the working class. Of course, the aims of the unions were laudable. Using history as a point of reference, they correctly wanted a greater share of the wealth of the nation that they produced and which had been denied to them in the past. However, without an effective opposition to their unfettered powers, the august aims became lost and ideology took over. As the rubbish piled up on the streets too many of the unions took self-interest to a new level and used the absence of effective opposition to further their own selfish aims. In the Midlands, Derek Robinson (aka Red Robbo) sought to promote his brand of communism in the workplace. Workers refused to go into one factory as there were cats in it and, once the factory had been cleared, they refused to go back as the floors were wet. In an environment of unchecked ideology, power and pursuit of self-interest, the economy went into free-fall. Indeed, we saw absolute power corrupting absolutely when, in a disgraceful episode, grave diggers in Liverpool refused to bury the dead.
What followed, in the 1980s, was a shift in power that led, in some ways, to consequences every bit as difficult of those that arose in the 1970s as the twin catalysts of ideology and unchecked power took different forms. The unburdened power of the unions was broken by the increasingly unconstrained functions of the Thatcher administration. With even Philip Gould (later to be an architect of New Labour) suggesting that in excess of 90% of the skilled working classes wanted union reform, Thatcher had a powerful mandate to destroy ‘the enemy within’. In some ways, using a sword sharpened by relentless ideological zeal, what followed was remarkable in a democratic society with the emasculation of the too powerful unions performed through an abuse of state power, in particular in relation to the unlawful tactics of the police in the miners’ strike. Without effective opposition, one form of excess was simply replaced by another.
In more recent years, we have seen what happens when entities are allowed to pursue their own interests with inadequate scrutiny. For example, in an untrammelled pursuit of short-term profit, there were no checks to the powers that allowed the selling of sub-prime mortgages, the development of an irresponsible derivatives market and practices completely counter to the interests of largely powerless consumers. As short term profit developed into an almost ideological orthodoxy, the system acted against the interests of society as a whole culminating in what may surely be the ‘grave digger’ moment for the banks- the deliberate manipulation of the LIBOR rate and credit arrangements that sent many businesses and families bust.
So what does history teach us? It surely suggests that ideological zeal and deficient power balance lead to significant excesses from all quarters. In the 1970s families sat in the dark, with insufficient finances and food, due to the actions of the unions. In 2012, families sit in the dark, with insufficient money and food, because of the actions of the banks and poor wider regulation. Maybe we need to learn from Montesquieu? Maybe we all need to stand up for justice, fairness and what we believe in with reference to our own judgment, common sense and morality as opposed to what an organisation deems ideologically pure? More hippies working in the banks, more Tories in the unions, pursuing justice and undermining ideological chastity as they seek more noble aims than ideological shackles allow. Of course, it may never happen. However, history and utopia can be important points of reference to be when we seek to make the world a better place.
Chris I’Anson- July 2012
Our thanks go to Chris for his post. If you would like to contribute to HullRePublic contact us via Twitter @HullRePublic or email HullRePublic@gmail.com
The pace of change in the perception of ‘society’ and the role of the State since 2010 is unprecedented; we seem to have shifted from a country and a people that were, by and large, pretty tolerant of others, valued the role of public services and bought into the idea of a pluralist definition of Britishness. Those days now seem like a relic of some distant, more naive, past. The rampant ideology of Neo-liberalism is alive and kicking (perhaps in its death throes but still capable of incredible damage). We are now happy to see break downs of our tax payments as it gives us the opportunity to be outraged that we pay for things we do not use. We seemingly identify more closely with the idea of the workless, feckless scrounger than we do the unemployed person as victim of circumstance as categorised by notions of the deserving and undeserving.
The current Randian neo-liberal hegemony view privatisation as the only solution to delivering public services with Frances Maude saying recently was that the private sector would deliver all public services at the earliest opportunity (many happily buy into this notion), resulting in moves to ‘sell off’ Police, Health and Education services within quick succession. This means for working people they will pay for such services at least three times; once for the original infrastructure, once for maintenance and once for use of these ‘new’ private services. The ‘free market’ is seen as the only viable source of efficiency and innovation, the only mechanism to drive social change and we surrender unconditionally to it. The notion that economic growth itself will act as a panacea to all society’s ills is the sugar for the medicine of austerity, but this is based on a falsehood.
Our seemingly unblinking, unquestioning stance accelerates us into a future that is unknown, uncharted territory that may well be extremely toxic to any notion of the common good. We are increasingly atomised; it seems what happens to others is of little concern as our own insecurities take centre stage - if lucky enough to be in work we should just be glad we have a job, keep our heads down and hope the storm will pass leaving our houses relatively unaffected. The assault on our way of life has been carefully stage managed, starting with public sector jobs and pensions many started to feel insecure, worrying for prospects, for homes, for children’s outcomes. Then came the Welfare Reform Bill; playing on people’s prejudices and creating artificial divisions between working people and (as the DWP’s document ‘Social Justice - Transforming Lives’ calls people) ‘the workless’. The question is posed ‘why should you pay for someone else to sit on the dole?’ And we dutifully answer ‘yes, why should we? I’m feeling insecure, so they should too’ These divisions are forced wider by endless reports of changes to a range of State functions; the future seems uncertain, it seems frightening, it’s easy to externalise, easy to blame others.
Then we have the NHS, the single greatest British post-war achievement, a rejection of health inequality, a commitment to the common good, the jewel in our crown. Imperfect, of course, but one of the things that defined ‘us’, our purpose and our self-image. In our state of shock the response to the marketisation of the NHS has been muted, the national media coverage minimal, the protest almost non-existent. This regression to an almost Victorian mindset has taken many by surprise, many on the Left adopting postures that do little to offer viable alternatives to the current dominance of this ‘Chicago School’ ideology.
The problem for the Left is in articulating a viable alternative, the Right have been so successful in determining the narrative of contemporary life that many on the Left have simply conceded, buying into the notion of austerity (even if this is ‘austerity lite’) and helping to facilitate what Naomi Klein would call ‘economic shock therapy’. Additionally, we are experiencing a period of critically confused Government who, on one hand, advocate free-market economics and the small State whilst, on the other, dogmatically interfere in health, education, parenting, policing, internet use (whilst actively rejecting the critical views of professionals in these environments), the very antithesis of small government. This dichotomy evidences a lack of political awareness, knowledge and indeed discipline – a ‘make it up as you go along’ attitude mired in conservative histories whilst navigating a course through the swiftest social and technological changes since the first industrial revolution. The size, number and complexity of contemporary issues has, paradoxically, necessitated an increased role for the State in bailing out the financial sector, this ultimately short-sighted reactionary response will do little to change the markets or encourage more responsible or ethical behaviour; as Edward De Bono would have it:
‘Imagine that you were playing a game of chance such as roulette, with someone else’s money. You were permitted to keep your winnings but your losses were paid for you. The result would be a sort of one-way roulette at which you could not lose. At any particular moment you could not be sure of winning on the next play, but you would know that if you played long enough you would win. You would hardly refuse to play because the process is not predictable and not entirely within your control. On the contrary, you would play as often as you could in order to increase your chances of winning’.
Marxist theorist David Harvey would state that the latest round of privatisations amount to ‘accumulation through dispossession’, that neo-liberalism has failed to create sustainable growth and that as a people our national insurances (health, education, police) are being taken from us; the capitalist elite identifying the public sector as one of the few remaining areas of significant profit in advanced western economies outside of the markets as we are incapable of competing with China in the making of ‘stuff’. The talk of ‘rebalancing the economy’ is at best hopeful and at worst naïve; the assault on the public sector and working conditions for all highlights an acknowledgement that workers’ rights, unionisation and the minimum wage makes the ‘march of the makers’ extremely unlikely but simply dismantling the advances of the past is hardly a solution (despite Cameron’s protestations that he is doing just that, ‘brick by brick’). No-one can realistically envisage a future where UK workers’ rights have been diluted to the point that real competition with China is possible, hence the Governments insistence on ‘new’ industries.
What of the ‘digital economy’ then? The recent $1bn purchase of Instagram by Facebook should give us cause for concern. Instagram has (in less than 2 years) become a major player in the global network but employs only 13 people; if this is the new model of wealth creation the future for old, post-industrialised economies looks bleak with a growing surplus of working-age adults inevitably making subsistence demands on the State. The unfettered markets have failed; what we need is a political solution, however, the demands for free-market economics have forced the Left to sound more conservative and even anti-progress (much of the Left’s rhetoric is enmeshed in preserving the considerable advances of the 20th Century including the aforementioned universal social provisions). The demand now is that this historical perspective be viewed through a contemporary lens and the Left facilitates a debate that counters the heedless rush to dismantle the State. The difficulty is that contemporary culture is immersed in the zeitgeist with no thought for past or future, pursuing instant gratification (echoing the financial markets pursuit of short-term gain) at the expense of all else.
This political solution would be derided by Cameron as ‘putting the politics before the economics’; in our view that is exactly what the Left should argue: that a political solution to the crisis is now the only viable option, people before profits and market (banking) regulation for the common good. Perhaps at this stage the Left can but mount an effective defence of universal social provisions whilst looking to a future that as yet is undefined but De Bono would advise us to ‘dig a different hole’ as looking for solutions to these issues from a palette of old ideas is doomed to failure.
Thanks for reading, HullRePublic.
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For too long, Hull has been an under-achieving city with low aspirations. But that’s hardly surprising considering the poor jobs market and decline of the city’s economy: what have young people in Hull got to aspire towards? Try hard at school and you’ll get a good job? If you’re lucky. It can easily seem as though there’s nothing to aim for, and nothing to be proud of.
But go back about a century, and Hull was a thriving port city, benefiting from the trade of the world’s leading superpower. Have a wander round the Guildhall and look at the busts of the mayors and aldermen commemorated there – it’s no coincidence that many of them were active in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Alongside them, we have a statue of King Edward I, who granted Kings Town upon Hull city status in 1299, and Wilberforce, the MP largely responsible for the legal abolition of slavery. The city’s creator and its own most famous creation – that’s the kind of level the bunch of Victorian mayors are being pitched at.
The civic pride the city had back then can be seen in the architecture; it takes a wealthy city with some real self-worth to commission and build the Guildhall and Hull City Hall, both completed at the end of the Victorian/Edwardian era. Since then, what has the city produced architecturally? The tower blocks in Orchard Park are classic examples of the 1960s’ one-size-fits-all uniform housing; cheap, uninteresting and uninspiring. Newer buildings like The Deep and the Hull History Centre indicate a rebirth of confidence, but the current global economy is hardly encouraging that. The History Centre, I believe, holds a part of the solution to these problems; a repository of knowledge with which we can understand the past that has shaped the city and made it what it is today – and with that understanding of our past and present, we can work toward improving the future.
But how do we make those archives available and accessible to people? The History Centre already does some sterling work on this; check out their website for details about the courses they run, and for all the help they can give people who want to research local or family history. As an artist I wanted to be able to reflect the archives’ content creatively and to open them up to people that way. For me, it makes the documents and the history more alive and perhaps more immediately accessible, especially for people who don’t feel that poring over dusty papers is going to be interesting. The archives in the History Centre are a perfect window into the city’s past and so the event I’m organising in June is a creative reflection of them. It’s called the Merge Arts Festival, and the strapline is ‘Our City, Our Story’ – because it’s not just my creative response to those archives; there are a few different voices to be heard, and it’s the audience’s city and story too.
We’re working with local publishers Valley Press on workshops to help aspiring writers to research and write poems or stories based around the archives (and publish them as part of our book about local history and the festival itself). Fresh Ink, the regular open mic night at Hartley’s on Newland Ave, will have a local history theme on June 6th, and on June 8th our jazz and folk night is a nod toward Philip Larkin’s time as a jazz critic. On June 9th we’ve got a photography feature on the Larkin25 toads, and performances of dance reflecting WWII’s impact on the city along with a play about the life of Winifred Holtby – author of the novel South Riding, recently adapted by the BBC. These will be accompanied by an exhibition by the Brooklands Photographic Society, whose photos will demonstrate changes in Hull over the last hundred years or so.
The biggest and final event is in Hull City Hall. We’ve created an orchestra and choir of performers from across the region, to play our Humberside Folk Song Suite and Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. The folk songs have been handed down over decades (they come from Grimsby as well as Hull, so we’ve gone with the controversial ‘Humberside’). Beethoven’s Ninth is all about universal harmony and overcoming adversity – that’s exactly what the Merge Arts Festival has always been about too; the name is Merge for a reason.
It’s ambitious, perhaps, and can never be more than a small part of changing attitudes toward and within Hull. But it’s our contribution to celebrating Hull’s heritage, and goes hand-in-hand with other efforts across the region. It may be ambitious, but how else are we going to stretch the expectations of this city, inspire future generations, and make young people believe they can do more and have more?
If Hull is to be an aspiring city, a city worthy of pride, its youth has to be stimulated, involved and engaged in the arts, in culture, in sport and in education. With the way things are going, they’re going to need all the inspiration they can get.
Thanks for reading. Richard Watson - Merge Arts Festival
We’d like to thank Richard for his contribution and wish the whole Merge Arts Festival crew good luck.
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The forth coming local elections (if you read the polls) are going to be extremely challenging for both Coalition parties as the electorate express their anger at much of the governments policy.
With a initially highly sophisticated communications strategy, the coalition have successfully managed to blame the global recession on the previous Government, the poor, students, the public sector, the north, disabled, benefit claimants, caravan workers and anyone who likes a pasty. It is quite an achievement. Meanwhile, Rome burns and the welfare state is, to quote David Cameron, ‘dismantled brick by brick’. Clearly, this had nothing to do with capitalism and the right-wing financiers who orchestrated the banking crisis. Still, let us not lose sight that austerity measures are working and we are all in this together. Right?
The website Conservative Home have recently identified the ‘Tory Problem’ in Northern cities and are actively looking for policies to address this – based on the idea that they must target the ‘new centre ground’ by tackling tough sentencing, immigration and poverty. There is nothing new here but it was illuminating to see ConHome discuss these issues from a statistical point of view rather than any real knowledge or understanding of the North as they assert that the problem in the North is not with Coalition policies but with the presentation of them. This line is well used in Westminster and however comforting it may be it is founded on a misunderstanding of the anger felt in many communities – the ‘Coalition Problem’ is not the presentation it is the policy direction itself – with many of the imposed austerity measures having a disproportionate impact in the North.
The idea that the ‘problem’ is in communication highlights a deeply worrying trend – that the political elite feel the electorate incapable of understanding the arguments, that if only we could comprehend their vision in its entirety we would be converts – this is manifestly not the case, many people clearly understand the policies and oppose them because of their content, not through a lack of comprehension.
The LibDems situation is critical as they are viewed by many as supporting an ideologically driven Tory government with many traditional voters stating they will never vote for the party again due to tuition fees, welfare reform (including the benefits cap, tax credits and removing support from disabled children), the privatisation of the NHS and cutting legal aid for victims of domestic violence. Many people who previously voted Liberal may see these things as diametrically opposed to anything the party should be standing to support. In many ways they were the party that many people turned to as the one with the ‘right values’ or moral purpose that offered an alternative the main two parties. This of course, is not and was never true and the stark reality of a Liberal government has come home to roost in spectacular fashion. It must be unpalatable for many to be associated with the destruction of tuition fees, welfare, disability support, EMA et al.
The Liberals risk annihilation locally, this will surely put pressure on the party nationally – will there come a time when the party demand that Clegg re-evaluates his position in the Coalition? At this stage it appears not, yet politically, this is an unsustainable strategy; with grass roots support dwindling the party elite must heed the warnings if it is to survive. This toxic combination will (almost inevitably) result in huge losses in the forthcoming elections; the writing has been on the wall and however the Coalition attempt to attribute the poll slump to ‘mid-term blues’ or a communication error the electorate is not so easily fooled.
However, with Labour currently riding high in the national polls and with increasingly strong support locally, this may mask more pressing issues if the current polling is a sign of protest rather than a real indication of the polling for a general elections. Nationally, Labour had initially struggled somewhat to define the alternative they offer and are working to develop a narrative that will resonate with voters. The natural redefining and reshape of the party under a new leadership, coupled with taking time to adjust to the new reality of a Conservative led coalition was a natural and inevitable process. However, for many, the corner may well have been turned with the regrettable news that the country has returned to recession as Ed Balls had correctly predicted back in 2010. The real challenge for the party now is to sit this within a set of social policies that mirror the aspirations of people in the country. Longer term, Labour also need to answer some of the structural questions about the neo-liberal hegemony and lead towards the much-needed alternative. The much needed trust with the electorate on the economy may be returning due to this as they are the only party to have articulated that Plan A (Plan A+ or Plan A++) were based on flawed economics and who have argued that this has been a thinly veiled attempt to impose Tory ideology on the welfare state and local government.
There is also some evidence that the tide is turning across Europe against the neo-liberal consensus of growth killing austerity, as voters and economists call into question the adherence to policies that have failed economically and are clearly damaging communities – these policies rather than rectifying the financial crisis have deepened it with spiralling unemployment and subsequently government debt. Cameron talks of the Euro zone crisis having many years to run and this is undoubtedly the case if governments do not reassess their direction; for the Coalition the resulting catastrophe in local elections will be earned.
Whilst we appreciate the point of view of others and have sympathies with a variety of political ideologies, for HullRePublic both locally and nationally there can only be one credible and correct choice at the polling station and that is a vote for Labour.
Thanks for reading. HullRePublic.
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There has been much talk recently of introducing regional pay in the public sector with Andrew Lansley and others stating their support of the ‘policy’. There are, of course, a number of issues with this policy and we aim here to examine them.
The case is made that by establishing a regional pay framework, it makes the public sector more flexible and responsive to local markets. In contrast, Unison argue the assumption that all private sector pay varies by location is false, in reality most large, multi-site private sector companies have national pay and grading structures (plus additions in London and the South East). Zonal pay has become widespread in certain sectors, most notably retail and retail banking, although these tend to follow the understandable hierarchy of higher rates for London, the South East and the rest of the country. Complex renumeration systems are then, by contrast, comparatively rare.
As regional pay has been dispensed with as unworkable and divisive by much of the private sector and with the Government endlessly citing the private sector as the blueprint for effective and efficient service provision, why would they choose to disregard this inconvenient truth? The answer is in a fetishisation of cutting working conditions in the public services and an adherence to narrow economic policy and neo-liberal dogma that is as pernicious as it is mis-guided (as evidenced by the double-dip recession).
Such a policy would embed inequality across the regions with a clear differential between pay in the North and the South. The idea that living costs (outside of housing) are significantly cheaper in the North being a myth as utility, fuel, food, VAT prices are universal (public sector workers living in ‘poorer areas’ are struggling to make ends meet in a time of imposed austerity, spiralling living costs are not confined to the south). There have been a number of excellent studies into the cost implications of inequality including ‘The Spirit Level’ and the Government sanctioned ‘Marmot Review’; both cite (from a very strong evidence base) that inequality is counter-productive and significantly more costly than more equitable societies.
There are also many examples of particular jobs in the public sector struggling to recruit staff, this policy will exacerbate this situation and dis-incentivise what (until recently) had been seen by Government as admirable professions – nursing, teaching et al; coupled to this many in the public sector are already suffering pay freezes, reducing pension benefits and longer working lives with predictable impacts on morale. Regional pay will do nothing to ensure professions are capable of presenting a type of employment many will view as attractive, therefore compounding shortages. It is also politically naïve to imagine that the combination of these factors will not negatively impact the lives of those relying on publicly provided services.
Having different pay structures across the regions will inevitably create a situation where workers are encouraged to move to areas where the pay available for their skills is higher, creating a ‘brain-drain’ to the South - as Andy Burnham (Shadow Health Secretary) said via Twitter today ‘Areas where health is worst need to attract the best NHS staff. Regional pay will achieve exact opposite: poorest services in poorest areas’. This migration will leave areas in the North a smaller pool of qualified and experienced staff to choose from and create increased pressures on services in the South due to having significantly increased local populations.
As we know there is currently a housing crisis, the transference of populations in this manner is not currently matched by housing availability or policy. Perhaps most disturbing (on this point) is the realisation that if skilled workers are migrating South and local authorities in the South are forcibly rehousing benefit claimants in the North there will be an ossification of the North/South divide - the South becoming ever richer, the North becoming ever poorer.
It is also quite clear that such pay differentials actually harm productivity and efficiency, is this the Governments intention? Perhaps if we entertain the idea that the long game is to promote the idea that the only way to rescue unproductive and inefficient public services is to justify further privatisation. A recently published TUC paper questions the economics of this pursuit:
‘Reducing public sector wages in struggling areas would be certain to lead to fewer jobs, as a further fall in consumer spending would drive more private sector enterprises out of business. The failure of these enterprises would then cause further ripple effects. Economists estimate that this doubles the impact of any public sector wage cut’.
The counter argument is never far behind; a case in point being Melanie Philips, right wing journalist, (who is always keen to offer her views on the public sector states), ‘although some public sector jobs are indeed essential — such as front-line teachers, nurses or police officers — the public sector cannot provide the motor for prosperity because it does not produce wealth. On the contrary, it uses up the country’s wealth’. Philips misses the point here by reducing ‘value’ to merely ‘wealth creation’; the public sector (whilst not creating wealth) has immeasurable value - creating healthier communities, protecting our children, managing our waste.
This is not about an argument of left and right; it is an argument about right and wrong. Let’s be clear, if this policy is implemented, it will be a hammer blow to the public sector, a policy designed not for equality or fairness but as a divisive tool to deconstruct the welfare state and further demonise (often highly qualified, capable but much maligned) public sector workers who offer their careers to serving communities.
This is another example of ill thought out policy direction that fails to take into account the repercussions for the whole system, for people’s lives and for the effective and equitable provision of services. This policy will do nothing to secure improvements in public services, it will undermine committed, hard working professionals and entrench inequality – it must be opposed.
Thanks for reading - HullRePublic.
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Our latest Guest Blog tackles local democracy and makes a strong case for locally elected Mayors. The are certainly counter-arguments and the fact that Doncaster are holding a referendum on whether to keep their elected mayor suggests the system hasn’t been a total success; some worry about paying for more politics and anticipate conflict between elected Mayors and Police and Crime Commissioners. The future then is somewhat uncertain, please read Karl’s post and join the debate in the comments section below.
Hull Elected Mayors.
Where once mighty ocean going vessels jostled for position alongside St Andrews dock, there’s now only rubble, rusting trolleys and the buried remnants of another world, where fishing was king, and where Hull truly did leave others in its wake.
Over time, more of our industries have choked and expired, with the city now struggling under the weight of generations who have been without work for far too long, children born into benefit dependency, with all the healthcare issues and legacy of poor education that goes hand in hand with an end to aspiration. We live in the regenerative shadows of Leeds, Sheffield, Manchester and Liverpool. We are continually disregarded, with the exception of St Stephens, as our infrastructure crumbles.
Our city has two overriding problems; firstly, we have for years lacked any form of visionary political leadership. People are disenchanted with politics. They do not see how it can bring the change they want, because they see how their views are ignored by the political class.
Secondly, the legacy of Thatcher and New Labour has resulted in our industries fading away and dying, leaving generations of working people with no job, and legions of youngsters with no hope.
Both problems are interconnected, and both need to be tackled simultaneously, if we are to provide our young with the chance to experience achievement, political engagement, and self-worth.
What we need to do is to reinvigorate our local government by increasing democratic accountability. Whilst the majority of Councillors are good people working for the community, there are inevitably some who rely on antipathy to remain in office. The city electorate as a whole has no control over who is leader of the council. This demotivating factor goes a long way to making people feel powerless to bring about change via the ballot box.
One way to counter this is through a Directly Elected Mayor. I believe that this would increase participation in elections and provide a unified and cohesive, accountable vision and strategy for the city. It would give voters the power to bring real change. If the mayor isn’t up to the job, he or she can be voted out.
It gives people a reason to take ownership of local governance, as well as challenging the parties and candidates to formulate radical and robust strategies for the city’s future, bringing to and end the stagnation from which we have all suffered. Hull desperately needs to attract fresh opportunity through new technologies. The ‘green’ sector is flourishing, and our city is the perfect new home for such industry. We need strong, vocal political leadership in order to raise our voice above the clamour of hopeful locations vying for the revenues and jobs these industries create.
The best way to do this is to market Hull as a ‘blank canvass’. We have legions of people, desperate to learn, desperate to earn, desperate to escape benefit dependency and to respect themselves once more. We have large swathes of disused land, ripe for modernisation, the foundations of great infrastructure, with maritime links, and what could be an excellent rail link to the nation and road network leading to the Humber Bridge and beyond if we could harness the political will to implement a strong, united claim for investment.
The battle to bring vital new business in the form of environmentally friendly technology will be all the harder when led by an outdated and increasingly irrelevant council system which survives on the antipathy of disillusioned and bereft voters. We need a strong, passionate and visionary voice for Hull. We need someone to lead us in our struggle for a new legacy for our young, and our disenfranchised working classes. We need someone upon whom we can all exercise the ultimate sanction if they fail to live up to our expectations. The city’s electorate needs to be taken on an exciting journey of opportunity, of new industry, of tangible investment in roads and facilities, to a place where there is a chance of a job, and a reason to lift their gaze from the floor.
Whitehall has shown time and again that it neither cares for Hull, nor is it willing to part with the cash for investment we need. The city must therefore, be its own cheerleader, architect, and navigator on a journey to the future we all want and deserve. That can only be achieved through direct accountability, and the scrutiny of a motivated electorate.
The first step on that exciting journey must start with embracing a new age. To cherish our past is essential, but we must throw open our doors to these exciting new technologies, as well as our minds to the possibility that an elected mayor just might give us a say on where our great city is heading after all.
Thanks for reading.
Karl Davis for HullRePublic.
HullRePublic would like to thank Karl for his thought-provoking post and look forward to working with him again in the future. So what do you think? Should Hull have elected Mayors? Leave us a comment. Get in touch. Share. Make the Change.
Karl Davis is a train driver and trade union activist, having held a number of elected positions within the train driver’s union, ASLEF and the TUC. Karl lives in Hull, East Yorkshire, and is married with a young son.
A Labour party member and community campaigner, Karl is a member of Labour’s Future Candidate’s Programme, and has played pivotal roles in numerous local campaigns on the issues of housing, corporate manslaughter, Health & Safety for agency workers, Trawlermen’s issues, and also acted as Secretary to the families of the crew of MV Gaul, a Hull based fishing vessel lost in mysterious circumstances in the Barents Sea in 1974. Karl assisted in organising and co-ordinating the campaign to successfully pressure the government into re-opening the Formal Inquiry into the vessel’s loss.
Karl is a keen writer, regularly contributing articles to publications, including Guardian (Comment is Free), The Progressive Journal of London and The ASLEF Journal, amongst others. He has appeared on numerous local BBC News outlets connected with a multitude of issues, and engages in public speaking in support various causes. He is currently collaborating with the Universities of Brighton & Bournemouth respectively, on a new book aimed at mental health professionals treating those affected by suicide.
Karl is also busily writing his first novel, and posts on twitter as @karldavis1979. His blog can be found at; www.karl-davis.blogspot.com