Who’s really the “elite” here?

Indigo Jo Blogs - 9 December, 2018 - 18:45

 fake news, fake views".There was an anecdote I forgot to insert into my previous entry about the stereotype of the “liberal elite”. Back in the early 2000s I was working as a van driver for a major UK hire shop company (the sort that hires out electrical building equipment, generators, heavy lighting, that sort of stuff) and was delivering to a branch in leafy Surrey where there were two young people, a man and a woman, behind the counter. Also behind the counter was a copy of a tabloid, either the Sun or the Daily Star (but definitely not the Daily Mirror which, if I remember rightly, was in its black-top ‘serious’ phase then). The two people behind the counter expressed some anti-immigrant views which would have surprised nobody familiar with the attitudes commonly expressed in the paper. A few weeks later, I emailed Jon Gaunt, then the presenter of the morning show on BBC London (whose website for the show was headed “What’s got Gaunty’s goat today?”) and mentioned this incident and described the paper as “the Scum or some other low-rent rag”. He read this out, and a few minutes later some guy came on the phone and said that I must be someone who really looks down on van drivers. The stereotype that anyone with opinions that differ from those of commercial tabloids, or who despises such papers, cannot possibly be in a working-class occupation is not new.

The story sprang to mind as I read a tweet that warned the so-called élite of the riots in Paris, the populists being in charge of Italy and a few other signs we are supposedly missing, as if to warn us of the dire consequences of back-pedalling on Brexit. Meanwhile, “Tommy Robinson”, the far-right rabble-rousing football hooligan (former leader of the English Defence League, mortgage fraudster etc) held a demonstration in London (at which the noose in the attached picture was displayed) which was as ‘massive’ as a number of other EDL or related demonstrations. It seems only about 600 people turned up to this according to social media reports and was outnumbered by the counter-demonstration, as has been the case at many previous such demonstrations such as in Liverpool. They conveniently ignore that the cause of the demonstrations and now riots in Paris are local — principally fuel tax rises — and although one list of demands by a group claiming to represent the ‘movement’ mentions leaving the EU and NATO, it was not the cause of the demonstration.

Threatening ‘warnings’ about the ‘dangers’ of not respecting the “people’s will” on Brexit are legion; there was one in the Sun newspaper only last week. That one reminded us that a Labour MP was murdered in the run-up to the 2016 referendum, as if the same could happen again. However, she was killed by a lone Nazi who shouted “Britain first”, the slogan of a small group of bigots who made a big splash on social media but never were a mass movement. There simply is no movement in this country with the resources to mobilise to generate major unrest in this country over something like Brexit, for the simple reason that the country will still be a democracy whether it happens or not, that the economy will improve if there is no Brexit because companies will know that our links with our major trading partners remain intact, and because the only groups with a tendency to violence are those rooted in football hooliganism and the average middle-class Brexiteer wants nothing to do with them, and the Northern Irish paramilitaries, and there, the ones with a history of attacking the UK mainland oppose Brexit. Maintaining the current border arrangements to avoid a return to violence is the reason for the backstop arrangements, and a major argument not to leave the EU at all.

That leaves the British political élite and the media barons and their editors who have had the prospect of untrammelled power, of a return to the days when power meant power and nobody could tell Britain’s parliament that its laws had to be revised or struck down because they were incompatible with fundamental rights, dangled in front of them. They are the people with the most to lose from a withdrawal from Brexit. That situation was unlike what happens in any other representative democracy, of course, but was the case here until very recently — a Parliament dominated by a House of Commons itself dominated by one party could change the ‘constitution’ or abolish ancient rights. The European Court of Justice is not the court that oversees the human rights charter, which is part of the Council of Europe, not the EU, but the right-wing media and both main parties have blamed the HRA and the European Convention on Human Rights (or just ‘Europe’) for everything they cannot do and usually the claims are exaggerated. The right-wing media want a government unchecked by any charter of rights so that they can do their bidding and freely serve the interests of their corporate backers and anyone they identify as deserving to be thumped, the government can do it.

The political and media élite assume that “the people”, meaning the average white person, does not mind losing these protections because they assume that the government is on its side rather than that of illegal immigrants or whoever. People must understand that they really are not; they care only about keeping themselves rich and powerful and their long-term plan is to chip away at protections for workers’ rights, environmental standards, welfare protection for the unemployed and disabled and so on until all the progress made since the 19th century is washed away and they own the land we walk on and the air we breathe. So the exposure of the Tory Brexiteers’ vested interests, and their double dealing and hypocrisy, must be exposed so that people know who will lose from Brexit the most and who will lose the least, or gain. We must not be cowed by the empty threats made by gas-bags in the commercial press, and if anyone knows of real threats to the rule of law following Brexit or its cancellation, it is their responsibility to say so and it is the duty of any journalist confronted with such threats to challenge them, to demand evidence, to ask for names to be named. The political and media élite are not “the people”, they do not represent “the people” and do not have the people’s interests at heart but only their own. Their claims to all of this must be challenged so that nobody is afraid to stand up and say that the madness of Brexit must be stopped for the good of the country, and of everyone.

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Nothing ‘Priti’ about Patel’s ignorance

Indigo Jo Blogs - 7 December, 2018 - 22:16

 "A modest proposal for preventing the children of poor people from becoming a burthen (sic) to their parents or country, and for making them beneficial to the Publick (sic)".In an interview for today’s Times, the Brexiteer Tory MP for Witham in Essex said that a government report, leaked to the Times, which said that the economic impact of a no-deal Brexit could be worse for the Irish republic than for the UK and could lead to food shortages there should have been used in negotiations to get the Irish government to drop the demands for a ‘backstop’ (a customs arrangement that avoids a physical border between the Irish republic, which is and will remain in the EU, and Northern Ireland, which for now is part of the UK and thus would not remain in the EU). The suggestion has been widely criticised because under British rule, Ireland suffered a famine in the mid 19th century, during which the potato crop that the Irish relied on failed because of a fungal blight but other crops, which were unaffected, were shipped out. Like most famines, it was man-made.

What is less well-known in Britain, however, but surely should be known among British people of Indian origin, is that under British rule, India suffered numerous devastating famines, the most recent of which was the Bengal famine of 1943-4. Most of these were exacerbated if not caused by British policies; the Bengal famine, for example, was largely caused by British “denial policies” intended to impede any Japanese invasion after the occupation of neighbouring Burma, but in fact resulted in the seizure of grain and means of transport from local people who as a result had no means of feeding themselves. Another famine, at the end of the 19th century, took place against a backdrop of farmers being forced off their land in huge numbers after falling into debt to usurers who lent small amounts in relief to peasants in distress but charged exorbitant interest rates; the same class exported grain out of areas where there was scarcity. As in Ireland, the British did not intervene because they were under the sway of free-market thinkers such as Adam Smith — to do so would have been to go against the “invisible hand”. As a result, the usurer class had a free hand to hoard grain and charge whatever interest they liked.

There are, of course, debates about how much of the blame for the Indian famines lies with the British or indeed to what extent they were man-made, but there has been no famine in India, despite all its problems, in the post-independence era. Perhaps the class Patel came from was not badly affected by any of the famines, but like the Irish famine they were important in inspiring the independence movement; Gandhi’s “Quit India” movement was founded during the Bengal famine. That she is willing to use food as a weapon against Ireland shows how ignorant Priti Patel about her own history.

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What is and what isn’t ‘gaslighting’?

Indigo Jo Blogs - 6 December, 2018 - 18:25

 Gaslight".‘Gaslighting’ is a term coined fairly recently to refer to a kind of behaviour displayed by abusive individuals (particularly domestic and intimate-partner abusers) in which they use tricks to cast doubt on their victim’s mental health or grip on reality; they will commonly accuse them of imagining things when confronted about the behaviour or when they point out the signs of it. Its origin is the 1938 play Gaslight by Patrick Hamilton, adapted into a film in 1944 which starred Ingrid Bergman as opera singer Alice Alquist, in which her husband ‘Gregory’ (who was really Sergius Bauer, her aunt’s murderer) isolates her, plays tricks on her, moves things from the house and pretended it was her, and uses the house’s gas lights to search the attic for the aunt’s jewels. His aim was to have her certified insane in order to continue his search for the jewels unimpeded. He is eventually foiled when his wife is brought into contact with a police inspector who noticed her resemblance to her murdered aunt which rekindled his interest in the unsolved murder, and eventually visited the house when the husband was using the gaslights to rummage around in the loft, confirming what Alice had been seeing all along. However, the term has come to be used more loosely to mean any kind of manipulative behaviour or simply disagreeing with someone with strong emotions or who feels wronged.

The other day I saw a tweet thread which protested against the use of the term ‘gaslighting’ to mean any kind of manipulation or misrepresentation of the facts, when in fact “a single comment from a total stranger cannot gaslight you”. I have personal friends who have been in violent or abusive relationships in which gaslighting was used and some of them find it offensive to see it used trivially, or to mean other frustrating behaviours such as minimising, disbelief, or simple misunderstandings. As one of them said in a 2013 blog entry, “I don’t think it’s too big a step to suggest that it’s also hurtful to suggest the experience of being acutely mentally tortured is equivalent to someone having gotten the wrong end of the stick and run with it”. Yet we see articles on ‘gaslighting’ being circulated on social media all the time, often on feminist websites, often claiming that gaslighting can be unintentional — that it is characterised by how the person on the receiving end feels, not what the supposed perpetrator intended or even actually did.

I’ve been on the receiving end of ridiculous accusations of gaslighting twice. Once was when a former friend was tweeting that her friend’s content, which had been published by agreement with an Australian publisher, had been rewritten by the Daily Mail and published on its own website. I suggested that her friend’s publisher might actually have sold it themselves, and my ex-friend told me “please do not gaslight her”. I had not actually met her friend or in any way communicated with her. (I later found that I was mistaken and that Mail Online do this on a grand scale.) Said ex-friend once told me that she had never experienced sexism, but since coming into contact with Australia’s community of media feminists, delights in throwing around the neologisms feminists have coined to shut down disagreements from men. In the other case, an American feminist writer who writes a lot on domestic violence and abuse and who I don’t doubt knows what gaslighting actually means accused me of it when she lost a number of followers, attributing it to white women not being able to stomach her views on race. I suggested that it was down to Twitter purging inactive accounts, which had lost me a number of followers that same week. In both cases this was someone who presumed herself to be my intellectual superior — an actual published writer rather than a self-published blogging oik who dared to question her — used it inappropriately as a put-down. As a commenter on the above entry noted, it was the equivalent of telling someone “You’re wrong in a way you’re not even clever enough to understand!” when actually, I do know what it means and it did not mean what they were suggesting.

In other cases, the claim has been made of people in the media disputing widely-held perceptions; we heard it during the Labour anti-Semitism dispute in which someone called Victoria Freeman posted a widely-retweeted thread calling an article by Jeremy Corbyn “the most obvious example of gaslighting I’ve ever seen” when in fact gaslighting is often done in private and is rarely obvious to the untrained eye and besides, telling a community that they or their friends do not have a right to oppress others is nobody’s definition of abuse. We also see feminists opposed to the recognition of trans women as women accuse their opponents of ‘gaslighting’ them. Sometimes the similarity to the original definition is so obscure as to be unfathomable, but generally it is used as if it means telling people they are wrong, or that what they think they are seeing is actually something else, which can actually be true of something large numbers of people believe they are seeing or experiencing, such as immigrants taking their jobs or “their women”. The essence of gaslighting is that you are telling someone they are imagining something you are doing, or you know your friend is doing. Deliberate lying is inherent to it.

Gaslighting is a coinage that is used widely by the same community as ‘mansplaining’, originally intended to mean a man patronisingly explaining something to a woman with the assumption that she does not know, or that he knows better, because she is a woman; the most egregious examples involve women who are experts in a field while the man has only a passing knowledge and things women know about by definition better than men (e.g. periods, childbirth, and especially the experience of them rather than the technicalities). However, it is often misused to mean “a man telling a woman something she does not want to hear”, essentially as an ad-hominem argument. However, while mansplaining is annoying (as is having one’s views, or attempt to engage in conversation, contemptuously dismissed), gaslighting is abusive behaviour and if you accuse someone of it inappropriately who knows what it means, you will cause offence and you cannot expect a polite or deferential response and it is not only that person you offend but anyone who has experienced the real thing.

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Why the Daily Mail’s “volunteer army” should be resisted

Indigo Jo Blogs - 1 December, 2018 - 22:20

 Mail calls for volunteer army to transform NHS".Today, the Daily Mail launched a campaign to recruit a “volunteer army” to “help” the NHS starting next Spring, in conjunction with a “new social movement called Helpforce”. The roles that volunteers are expected to do include running hospital libraries, fetching medicines from pharmacies for patients, talking to and comforting patients (including children) when their families cannot or do not visit, delivering blood on motorbike, assisting cardiovascular patients in the gym and providing speech therapy for people who have had strokes. Hospitals have always had volunteers doing some of the above roles, running libraries and cafes and acting as porters (although the latter is also a paid role), but while it’s assured that this scheme will not amount to running the NHS on unpaid staff, some of these roles do cut into what should be paid jobs.

Let us understand that there are clear disadvantages to relying on voluntary workers. Voluntary work is not actually free; the NHS will need to provide training and get criminal record checks for all volunteers, to prevent another Jimmy Savile using voluntary work to find vulnerable people to abuse. Only someone who has a lot of time on their hands on a regular and reliable basis can volunteer regularly; most jobs people do to make ends meet leave barely enough time to take care of household necessities such as cooking, cleaning, laundry etc. This includes a small number of young people or people who have been made redundant who seek to build up their work skills but mainly means retirees. Furthermore, by nature, a volunteer can choose to continue or discontinue his or her work because, for example, they may have family duties or have just found a more fulfilling use of their time; they do not need to do the work and the people they are serving do not have any right to demand that they continue, unlike with a paid worker who is contracted to work for a set number of hours. When I left some voluntary work early a few years ago for family reasons, the administrator thanked me for my time when he could probably done with a few more hours of it.

Some of the roles mentioned in the Mail’s article and in their interviews with some volunteers, should be (and usually are) paid. This includes the man delivering blood supplies on his (or a NHS-supplied) motorcycle, for example. Any job involving a motorcycle is hazardous; however well-trained, and however much they enjoy the job, the rider is at risk from other road users, oil or ice in the road and so on, to a greater extent than almost anyone else on the road. (Ideally, a blood bike should have blue lights and be allowed to break speed limits and so on as the delivery may well be urgent.) Support for people undergoing treatment for cancer or for cardiovascular patients are specialised roles and while someone who has been through this treatment (chemotherapy, mastectomy or whatever) may be able to talk to someone just about to about what it involves, better support can be provided by full-time, paid staff than a volunteer who is only there one day a month.

We must remember that paid work is a social good, and this includes low-skilled paid work; even if it is not a career or even a living, it means that people gain at least a bit of self-reliance and have money to spend that is theirs and not a loan or a hand-out. It is unfair on these people if their paid work is abolished so that people can “gain experience” or do something for the buzz or the feelgood factor. Some of these voluntary roles pose the danger of usurping skilled paid roles; much as advice from a Citizen’s Advice volunteer is not always a substitute for qualified legal advice, no unqualified volunteer can possibly be as effective as, say, a trained speech therapist for a stroke victim and if enough of these volunteers are available, there will be the temptation to simply do away with the paid specialist or combine their role with other work. The suggestion that the wave of volunteers might “transform the NHS” rather does suggest that they will be doing a lot more than volunteers do right now.

And nobody will have missed the ‘coincidence’ that the voluntary roles are due to start in the Spring, at just the time when Britain is due to leave the European Union and there is a risk of economic collapse — perhaps there is the suspicion that a lot of people will have free time on their hands — as well a large number of paid NHS staff from the EU, particularly eastern Europeans who will have been made particularly unwelcome, leaving as a result of uncertainty about their residency. One commentator on Twitter compared it to an arsonist offering a thimble-full of water to put out a fire he started. It also clearly harks back to David Cameron’s rhetoric of a “big society” which put a heavy emphasis on volunteering, and proved to be a cover for public service cuts (and some of the promises made, such as a “national care service”, remain unfulfilled). If we were not about to inflict a major disaster on ourselves, we would not be talking about recruiting huge numbers of volunteers but investing in more paid staff.

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