Tag Archives: Conservatives

The Tory Approach to ‘Stock Management’ in Animal Farm UK

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The three Great Offices of State as represented by the current incumbents

George Orwell’s “Animal Farm“, written as an anti-communist allegory in 1943-44 at a time when, due in part to wartime alliances, Joseph Stalin was well-regarded in the UK, remains a classic of its kind. The allegory is a versatile literary device, and in the skillful hands of Orwell it painted a bleak picture of the events in Russia leading up to the Revolution of 1917 and those developments afterwards which brought about the Stalin era. Clearly, Orwell’s target had to be one easily identifiable through the clear vision of hindsight; he had in mind what had already come to pass and was making no predictions as to any future dystopia. But history has a way of reviving familiar themes and it is hard to look at the events that have been unfolding in the UK since the ConDem alliance of 2010 seized power sans mandate – and not to credit Mr Orwell with an uncanny prescience as his work assumes a new and chilling significance.

This coalition government assumed a power it was not elected to on the back of a welter of slogans and promises; those slogans have become sick jokes, perverted out of their original bright and shiny aspect, retailed now in the bitter coin of irony and disillusion. The promises, meanwhile, lay shattered into myriad fragments, reduced to dust to be blown away by the chill wind of austerity – while the original text of vows that became lies are being erased from political web servers, lest they be waved in righteous indignation at the lumpen Untermensch and thus perhaps foment rebellion.

The 21st Century reality of Tory-fabricated propaganda in ConDem Britain is, if anything, even sneakier than the crude tactics of Squealer, the mouthpiece pig of the allegorical Animal Farm. Where Squealer teetered on a ladder with a bucket of whitewash, the better to change the sense of the First Commandment “All animals are equal” by the addition of “…but some animals are more equal than others”, the Tory revisionism is unspoken, the whitewash job more subliminal. So, the internet records are abruptly wiped and old slogans or promises such as “We’re all in it together” are simply dropped quietly, used now only as satirical barbs by those who would counter the Big Lie. And meanwhile, the MP’s get an 11% rise while belts are being tightened among the hoi polloi, the bankers get their munificent bonuses while theplebs face the “heat or eat” dilemma and present themselves at food banks – because what were previously recognised as bare subsistence-level benefits have now been heavily cut from every direction – so harsh choices must be made courtesy of the Orwellian Pigs who banquet in the farmhouse, aloof and uncaring.

Some of the repugnant individual characters in the book hardly do justice to their modern-day counterparts. At least in Orwell’s work, the pigs – on a literal level – really are pigs. The farm stock, literally, are stock – cattle, sheep, horses; the unthinking, uncomprehending functionaries exploited all these years by humans and now hoping in their trusting way for a brighter future under an administration of their alleged peers. “All animals are equal”. But, lo and behold, in modern-day Britain, real life imitates the literal level of art. The Secretary of State for Work & Pensions no longer needs to bother referring to those under his benevolent care as human beings. To Iain Duncan-Smith, they are “stock“, we hear. So our deepest fears are realised: the ruling pigs really do regard us as dumb animals to be exploited for economic success and neglected to mitigate cost – the money saved to be devoted to improving the already lavish lot of the said pigs.

“These people”, trumpets IDS in response to murmurs of mild protest, “are referred to as “stock”. So, he’s emphatic about that, he can’t see that there’s any problem with it. It’s so hard to listen to for anyone who still retains any vestigial dream of a more equal society. People in caring professions are trained not to use terms like “these people”, because it sounds so pejorative, so demeaning – as if the human beings thus discussed are in a box labelled “Problem” or “Undesirable Element”. It’s almost too horrible for words, a litmus indicator of the contempt in which this privileged man, this latter day ruling pig, holds the millions of needy and vulnerable fellow human beings currently at the mercy of his incompetent tenure in office.

The “stock” is not to be trusted. They must be kept penned up and fed on rations, lest they gorge themselves and exhaust the farm’s resources. Any gorging to be done shall be done by the ruling pigs, because some animals are more equal than others. The stock cannot be trusted to have a work ethic, and so quotas are set (we call it Workfare) and sanctions are applied to those who are unable, for whatever reason, to make their contribution. These sanctions do not apply to the pigs, because the pigs are the sort of chaps who can be trusted to work given sufficient fiscal encouragement – so it’s all about incentives there. A bushel of apples in Orwell’s book – a seven figure bonus in 21st Century Britain – if, of course, you’re “one of us”. Incentives for the few – sanctions for the masses. Carrots and sticks – the Tory pigs find it easier to rule with the latter than the former. Easier – and cheaper too.

In Orwell’s book, when through sickness or age productive work is no longer possible, the consequences depend on whether you’re stock or stockman. Faithful servant Boxer, the once-mighty workhorse, is therefore taken away when finally exhausted, to be slaughtered and boiled down for glue, amid fanciful lies about a hospital bed and a peaceful end. The ruling pigs retire to the farmhouse, don the trappings of humanity and live the high life. As a parallel, in 21st Century Britain, thousands who have been found fit for work – when they clearly are not – have either died of their condition or have committed suicide. They have become “economically neutral” in official jargon; this government don’t like to talk about people dying as a result of their policies, so have rather conveniently stopped providing statistics relating to such matters as well as making it much more difficult to uncover such statistics. But Mark Byford, on the other hand, the former Deputy Director of the BBC, was paid an eye-watering £1 million over and above his contractual entitlement because – in Orwellian terms – he’s a pig. Certainly not “stock”, anyway. The ruling animals look after their own. Some animals are, after all, more equal than others.

It’s difficult to say what the future may hold – and it may well be that we’re faced with a sort of Devil’s Alternative, looking for the least bad option the next time we go to the polls – if, that is, such quaint and old-fashioned ideas as elections aren’t done away with in the next batch of nasty little surprises the ruling pigs have for us. I am speaking allegorically, of course. But to say we’re at a crossroads is to show a huge talent for wild understatement. At the moment, official figures are being manipulated to show what the government wants us to see – if they want us to believe that the threat of sanctions, or the effects of Workfare are helping people into jobs, then that’s what those figures will say – with an utter disregard for the truth and the casual brushing-aside of any peeps of protest from those who are aware of the truth. The mainstream media, also, can be relied upon to perpetuate the Big Lie, in all of its loathsome forms – and sadly, people appear happy to swallow this bilge as long as they themselves are not directly affected by the more swingeing examples of government policy. To the despair of those who wish to see transparency in government, and the interests of all strata of society advising policy – the opposite is happening, and that trend remains on the up and up.

What seems certain is that now is no time to be thinking of a new way, or some ballot-box chicanery based on the provision of a “none of the above” option. Nothing would be better calculated to succour our current rulers than such idealistic measures; instead, what is now needed is emergency pragmatism in the quest for that “least bad option” towards the desirable end of ushering out this unscrupulous and incompetent regime. So much damage has been done already, unwittingly forecast in uncanny detail by George Orwell in the mid-forties – and in such a relatively short time – that it’s too horrible to contemplate what might happen post 2015 if Napoleon, Squealer and Co actually manage to get elected next time around. More Workfare, more poverty for those at the bottom, more ostentatiously obscene wealth for those at the top – that could be the least of it.

And ultimately, there will be many thousands more poor, sick, disabled or simply old who will die for want of fair government for all. Perhaps they will reflect as their lights go out, on the essential truth of an old Latin tag: “Qui mori didicit, servire dedidicit” (Who has learned how to die has learned how not to be a slave). For many, that might quite literally be the only way out.

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After Thatcher – What Does Her Death and Her Legacy Mean To Us Now?

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Thatcher: 1925 – 2013

I’ve left it nearly a week after the death of the former Leaderene to chip in with my two penn’orth on her demise, and on the legacy she’s left behind. In that time, I’ve read many and varied accounts of what Margaret Hilda Thatcher’s death means to us, here and now – given that her term of office ended nearly 23 years ago. Those accounts have encompassed widely varying points of view, and have ranged from vitriolic hatred with a joyous celebration of the fact that she’s gone, to real grief arising out of sheer adulation and an evident belief that she was some sort of Messiah for our country.

My own position lies at neither extreme, but somewhere in between – though I will freely admit that I lean significantly towards that end of the scale where people do not have much positive to say about the late former Prime Minister. For what it’s worth, I feel that she was a divisive and damaging influence on the country; indeed such a massive effect did she have on the political and economic landscape, that we simply no longer have the options – in terms of achieving increased fairness in society – that we potentially had before she entered Number 10. She greatly reduced – in fact almost destroyed – the manufacturing industry in this country, advancing the cause of financial services and speculative banking to take its place as the main means of wealth creation. She sold off a large proportion of the social housing stock and failed to invest in construction to replenish it, thus creating a shortage of homes for the less well-off at reasonable rent levels, and forcing a greater reliance on private landlords, with rent levels being set by the market. The long term consequence of THAT was an exponential growth in the Housing Benefits bill, which has led in turn (in these times of austerity) to the perceived need for the Government’s unpopular “Bedroom Tax”. Even though it’s nearly 23 years since Thatcher left Number 10 for the last time as PM, tear-stained but defiant, her legacy affects us to this day, regardless of what they might say who would defend her with the specious “Well, it was all a long time ago.”

Those who still idolise her seem to do so for reasons which would appear not unadjacent to self-interest. Former footballer Paul Parker has blogged:

“Personally, I don’t see why football shouldn’t pay respect to Thatcher. She should be given a minute’s silence at football grounds because without Margaret Thatcher my mum and dad would have never been able to buy a house.”

Presumably, Parker is including in his rationale thousands of others besides his mum and dad, who were also given the opportunity to buy their council houses, many at hefty discounts. But the theme of “well, she was wonderful because, hey – look what she did for me” is a recurrent one among those who remember her most fondly. Parker goes on to say:

“At the end of the day, she was the Primer (sic) Minister of Great Britain so there should be a minute’s silence as far as I’m concerned.”

He doesn’t elaborate on his views as to whether or not Heath, Wilson or Callaghan should have been so honoured (they weren’t) – but I suspect his devotion is to The Lady alone – and good defender though he might have been, Parker is clearly not a cerebral heavyweight.

The other end of the scale is represented (at its extreme) by people who felt moved to dance in the streets in celebration, and contribute to a surge up the music charts for “Ding Dong, The Witch is Dead” by Judy Garland. Yes, I bought it too. Sue me. Rather than simply bemoaning human nature for these displays of jubilation at the death of a bewildered old woman, it would perhaps serve us better to re-examine some other factors lying behind such hatred.

Quite apart from the policies I’ve referred to above, it’s also possible to find fault in what might be termed Thatcher’s unfortunate personal style. Early in her long stint as leader of the Tories, she was taking elocution lessons to modulate her slightly shrill voice, but the effect was of suburban faux gentility, with a teeth-grindingly patronising edge, rather than anything persuasive or statesmanlike. She was ironically at her most effective when she became strident, as she often did when faced with anything other than unquestioning agreement and obedience; then, she simply blew everything but the most determined opposition clear out of the water, terrifying male colleagues with smaller, less hairy balls than hers, and encouraging cowed Soviets to dub her the “Iron Lady”. She was also referred to as “The Iron Chicken” and “Attila the Hen”.

Still others who remember her less than fondly will recall that she was in very real danger of becoming just another one-term PM, and the least popular ever at that, when an opportune military conflict with Argentina cropped up in 1982. The summer of ’81 had seen a wave of riots as her policies saw unemployment rise sharply, seemingly a price her government was willing to pay for the economic direction it was so rigidly set on. Thatcher was in trouble at this point, trailing massively in the polls, but as a result of the “Falklands Factor” she won a landslide in 1983. Then the miners were unwise enough to take her on in the middle of the decade, pronouncing themselves determined to bring her government down. But Thatcher was wise to them; she had learned from Edward Heath’s mistakes in the early 70’s and had stockpiled enough coal to, in effect, starve the pit-men back to work – albeit with much human suffering and collateral damage, not least on the picket-lines at Orgreave and elsewhere. It was a humiliating defeat for miners’ leader Arthur Scargill, but – whatever you may think about him – his prediction that the Tories were out to kill the mining industry, along with its close-knit and long-standing communities, proved to be spot-on. Relatively fresh from subduing Scargill and his followers, Thatcher won again in 1987, and would eventually occupy the office of PM for over eleven years. In the end, it took her own colleagues to remove her in a coup that she ever after thought of as the basest treachery. But the fact remains that she clung on to power despite profound levels of unpopularity, aided in her latter two election victories by what many still see as naked opportunism and the survival instincts of a mongoose.

Some would seek to defend her place in history as the first – and to date only – female Prime Minister. Even I might be tempted to support a historical achievement such as that – if she had done more for women whilst in power. But she didn’t. Her Cabinet composition remained predominantly male, and you can search throughout her record for anything of note to ameliorate the lot of women in society, but you will search in vain. Glenda Jackson, speaking in the so-called “Tribute Debate” two days after Thatcher’s death, conceded the fact that Thatcher was Britain’s first female Premier but added: ‘A woman? Not on my terms.’

When push comes to shove, I would argue that Thatcher’s legacy is an almost wholly negative one; her Premiership saw a massive rise in unemployment, the decimation of manufacturing industry, a bizarre promotion of greed and acquisitiveness as hideously acceptable virtues, a decrease in growth relative to the previous thirty-four years since Clement Attlee became Prime Minister in 1945, a widening of the gap between richest and poorest where that gap had been narrowing somewhat and of course the selling-off of “the family jewels” in the shape of any nationalised industry she could lay her hands on, without sufficient regard to what would happen come the next rainy day. And there have been many rainy days since, but none rainier than the one we’re living through right now, and nothing to fall back on.

Against that, we have the perceived rise in the stock of the UK in the eyes of the rest of the world; she “made Britain great again” – some say. This presumably refers to her determination in recovering a few large pebbles in the South Atlantic at the cost of many young lives, including those of conscript Argentinians who drowned when the General Belgrano was torpedoed as it sailed away from the combat zone. “Gotcha!” crowed the Sun, while mothers of sons on both sides wept. I have to say, I don’t value an enhanced international reputation or the approval of jingoistic nations like the USA – not at that price.

And now we have to pay the cost of her funeral, having already shelled out many thousands in expenses for a one-off recall of Parliament only five days before a new session was due to start anyway. Funeral cost estimates vary between £8m and £14m depending on who you listen to, and how much her successful arms-dealer son Mark is prepared to stump up. He should really be generous – she helped him a hell of a lot. All this furore over money, at a time also when we hear her £6m London town house will not incur any inheritance duty as its actual ownership appears to be vested in an offshore company. Companies, of course, don’t die – and so don’t pay inheritance tax. These are murky waters, and it becomes ever easier to see exactly why so many regard her, and the goings-on around her in life and afterwards, with feelings of antipathy amounting to loathing.

For myself, I’ll be glad when her funeral is over and paid for, and we can all move on – and refocus on the urgent need to get rid of the current shoddy lot. Thatcher is dead; but we’re still living with a society that, in a lot of its negative characteristics can be traced back to the sea-changes she ushered in post-1979. It’s no defence against vilification to say that she left office in 1990, and can’t be blamed for what’s happened since. She created the conditions whereby what has happened since could happen, and she took away a lot of the more benign possibilities that a more sympathetic and caring attitude to investment, social care and collective responsibility in society might have realised. For that, I blame her and her alone.

Ding dong.