THE DESTRUCTION OF THE WELFARE STATE.

I have just been reading the scariest book ever: Austerity: the Demolition of the Welfare State and the Zombie Economy, by Kerry-anne Mendoza.  It is not about the dead come back to haunt us, only in the sense that ideas which we thought were dead and buried are being brought back to life by a small extremely powerful group, we might call them oligarchs who control the best politicians that money can buy.  As a voter in I believed a democratic society it terrifies me.

In her introduction Mendoza explains her thinking:

“Austerity is not a short term disruption to balance the books. It is the demolition of the welfare state transferring the UK from social democracy to corporate power. We are witnessing the end and not the beginning of a process—–”

“By the end of this book, it will be clear to the reader that Austerity is unnecessary, destructive and intended as a permanent break with traditions of social democracy.”

Mendoza explains with great lucidity the difference between the public sector and private businesses.  Private businesses have one overriding aim to make a profit, this is the alpha and the omega of business.  The public sector, whether its the NHS,  state education, universities and colleges, affordable housing, legal aid and the prison service.  Has an entirely different aim to provide a service, free at the point of need, to every citizen in an open, democratic society.  Every child in Britain can attend school at no cost to the parents.  In many countries of the world this is not the case, poor children in India and Pakistan go to work.

The idea that everyone grows up to be a healthy, educated citizen is the foundation stone of a plural, participating, fair and honest society.  The Scandinavian countries can show us the way.  Not surprisingly they are prosperous, peaceful law abiding societies which could show us a better way if just for five minutes we could stop trying to model ourselves on the USA.   In Britain for some years now, including the years of New Labour, more and more sections previously mentioned have been sold off at bargain prices; for example Academy Schools, sections of the NHS, council houses even prisons.  Of course the tax-payer  is still funding all these enterprises and now has no oversight of the accounts, no control of conditions at work, or rates of pay, no annual check on how the money is being spent and the cost no longer appears in the governments accounts.  A very nice earner to those friendly oligarchs who can stump up the bargain price and a life-long friend for the politicians responsible.

We can do something, its time to get serious.

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PORTRAITS AND PHOTOGRAPHS.

We live in a very visual age, many people carry their pictures constantly in their hand and even take photographs with their mobile phone, often photographs of themselves, a selfie.  I grew up in an age when pictures were in very limited supply.  Words sparked my imagination; spoken words, words heard on the radio, words written down in a book or magazine.  Words were the brush strokes which created a new world. Now we can see the Arctic in its dazzling whiteness, the whales and sea-lions, the gorillas in the jungle, the mountains and the coasts.  I love these beautiful pictures.  Moving pictures in my own living room, no more standing in a queue waiting for the first house to come out.  Television can be and often is magical, it can be repetitive and boring, but I don’t want to talk about that.

Last night was the World Cup of Art programmes, full of surprises and passion and matchless story telling skill.  I am a fan of art programmes so I don’t say this lightly.  Simon Schama unfolded a story of our fascination with the pictorial representation of ourselves and those we love and of course as in the best stories I felt he was telling it just for me.  The explanation of how we try to hold a moment was very movingly done with the lovely portrait of the painter’s two young daughters chasing a butterfly.  I have a drawer full of photographs, I expect you do too.  Very special are the photographs of my wedding, the beginning of our lives together.  I remember feeling nervous such big promises to make, until death us do part,  in sickness and in health, forsaking all others.  Here we are today 49 years later sharing the ups and downs of daily life.

The most moving portrait was of a much loved young wife who died very suddenly, her distraught husband wanted a picture of her dead body.  The painter painted her as if she were sleeping.  Schama said it is not a picture of a dead body, when you have lost someone you love, as I have, you know the body is just a shell, the person you loved is no longer there.  The eyes will never look at you again, the lips will never smile in that familiar way.  The words and the picture came together perfectly.

We all treasure pictures of our children when they were young, on graduation day and hopefully with the next generation of children.

RUGBY WORLD CUP.

This afternoon the Kiwi’s are playing at St James Park in Newcastle.  St James Park usually hosts football matches but everything has been done to accommodate the Rugby World Cup.  Newcastle is the largest city in the North-East.  NZ have been staying for a few days in Darlington in County Durham,  they aroused a lot of enthusiasm among the school children holding a coaching session on the football ground.  The match today is against Tonga.  An area outside the ground has been turned into a viewing area for those who can’t get in.  A lot to look forward to this Friday afternoon.

HORRIFYING HISTORY.

I was tempted to write ‘Horrible Histories’ but I think that’s been franchised by someone else.  I’m a fan of television the pictures are so beautiful it seems as if the whole world is brought into my living room.  Some of the words are incredibly tedious and boring.  Other words shine like the stars in the sky.  Yesterday I watched, The Face Of Britain, by Simon Schama.  The painful pictures came right at the beginning, young men’s faces torn apart by the weapons of war, the First World War.  The photographs were taken by a, man who trained as a doctor and they were used by the surgeon who rebuilt those shattered faces so that those young men could get on with the rest of their lives.  I had expected the programme to be about pictures of the great and the good or Very Important People, instead it was about extra-ordinary people like the injured soldiers and then moved onto ordinary people, people like you and me.  The painters mentioned were William Hogarth, Ford Maddox Brown and two Indian twins who paint in the Indian style.  Schama was passionate about all these pictures and called them beautiful.

HISTORY FACT OR FICTION ?

Is the history we read in school and university true?  As a child I thought that anything written down in a book was true, fiction or fact if it was there in black and white then it must be true.  Years later with some study of the Social Sciences the penny dropped, it may be true or more accurately a version of the truth or alternatively it may come into the category; lies, damned lies and statistics.  In Britain we like to see ourselves as a humane, rational, generous people.  In war-time and times of unrest and rebellion those virtues are quickly trampled into the dust.  The women who worked in the armaments factories of the First World War worked in extremely dangerous conditions but we read little of how many became seriously ill and how many died.  We tell ourselves we were the winners in this dreadful conflict and as we all know history is written by the winners.

Recently I have been reading about the struggle that women had over a period of forty years to legally be considered as full citizens in this democratic and supposedly rational society.  The suffragettes have in the main been regarded as wild, crazy women who for no reason smashed windows and destroyed empty buildings to the ultimate wildness of Emily Davidson who threw herself in front of the King’s horse on Grand National Day and died in a particularly horrifying way.  If you want to read a full account of women’s struggle to get the vote read:

Suffragette: My Own Story  by Emmeline Pankhurst.  The founder of the Women’s Social and Political Union tells of her peaceful and legal activities over a forty year period to get Parliament to pass a Bill granting the right to women to vote for a parliament that effects their lives in every possible way and by whom their views are totally ignored.  These women some of whom were ordinary working women as well as middle class women like Mrs Pankhurst and her daughters Christabel and Sylvia, had amazing courage and determination.  The horrors of prison and the legally sanctioned torture of forced feeding are almost unbelievable in a modern at the time Christian society.  These women are heroines and should be celebrated as such.  The Establishment did not give anything away it was fought for every step of the way.