Bem Bulletin #5: March 2015 – Budget 2015, Richard III and Bring Back Clarkson

Budget osborne 2015

THIS MONTH: Vote Defensively (But Voting Isn’t Enough)

Observations on The People’s Strictly (featuring Michael Sheen)

The Capitalist Anti-Capitalism of Yanis Varoufakis


On the menu today:

  1. Budget 2015
  2. Del Boy Shapps
  3. Richard III
  4. Bring Back Clarkson
  5. Russell Brand and Aditya Chakrabortty


1. Budget 2015

If you write about politics, you’re expected to make some meaningful comment or other about the Budget when it comes, even when there’s nothing new to say. Which means you usually end up jadedly parroting what you’ve said before, because – horrifically – nothing has fundamentally changed since you said it the last time.

George Osborne represents a section of society materially, psychologically and morally insulated from the experiences of the majority of the species. Who knows, he might well help you pick up your shopping if your Co-op bag split a few feet away from him. But if you exist outside of his everyday experience, he doesn’t give a damn what happens to you. If you were starving to death in a ditch, as long as you did it quietly and didn’t embarrass the government, he wouldn’t be overly bothered. It’s part of what right-on left-wing doomsayer Chris Hedges calls ‘the pathology of the rich’.

For five years at the Treasury, Osborne has provided the economic rationale for turning the UK into a country where hospitals have to run charity drives to pay for life-saving equipment and people with terminal illnesses have their benefits stopped because they haven’t got a job.

It went like this. We had to plug the deficit – the gap between what the government takes in and what it spends – and pay off the national debt. Both ballooned under the previous government, because Labour spent too much. We urgently needed to ‘balance the budget’ – i.e., reach a situation where the state spends no more than it brings in. And to do that, we needed the cuts.

That it was all bollocks designed to accelerate the transfer of wealth from the vast majority to the George Osborne slice of society has always been reasonably clear, if late capitalist modernity hasn’t sapped you of all traces of critical thinking.

Most of the time, New Labour was spending less than Thatcher. The UK’s deficit was relatively small until the government bailed out the banks. Even now, it’s actually quite a bit smaller than it’s often made out to be. Politically motivated to make it sound as big and scary as possible, the government almost always calculates it including things like interest payments on the national debt that the government owes the Bank of England and other public banks – in other words, money the public sector has to pay to itself. And even if you ignore all that and run with the sexed-up Tory version of how big the deficit is, it’s still smaller than ones Britain coped perfectly well with for several hundred years.

But half a decade’s worth of austerity later, George Osborne opened his last budget of the parliament trumpeting his success. “We took difficult decisions in the teeth of opposition, and today Britain is walking tall”, he said. “The latest projections show living standards will be higher than when we came into office. As a share of national income, the deficit is down by more than a half”.

Actually, median household income and mean household income – both of which make a fairly important contribution to determining living standards – are both well down on where they were in 2010. Real wages have just started rising again after the longest drop since the 1870s, but that’s only because falling oil prices have equalled falling inflation.

In addition to repeatedly missing his self-imposed targets for reducing the deficit, Osborne has also borrowed more money in five years than every Labour government in history combined. Making everyone who isn’t like you poorer means they pay less tax, it turns out.

In something almost approaching good news, Osborne pulled back from the most apocalyptic pledges he made in his Autumn Statement. Apparently realising that cutting government spending to 1930s levels would inevitably destroy society as we know it – and how are you supposed to horribly exploit people without at least a basic state infrastructure to screw them over with? – the Tories are now aiming to take us back fifteen years to 2000 spending levels rather than seven decades. He still plans to cut welfare by another £12bn if he gets in next time, mind, presumably suspecting there are a few more bed-ridden cancer patients who could be stacking shelves on zero hours contracts.

Regardless, the Chancellor still found the money to give a big tax break to oil and gas companies, and to take a solitary, populist penny off the price of beer, despite barely mentioning the ransacked NHS.

More tellingly, he announced the introduction of new government-sponsored savings accounts – ‘Help To Buy ISAs’ – with the stated aim of helping first-time buyers into the housing market.

Considering there’s a desperate shortage of housing in many parts of the country, it’s actually very likely to just shunt house prices even higher, and make it harder for anyone to buy one. And in fact, secretly, that’s precisely the point. It’s just the latest step in Osborne’s campaign to essentially rebuild the economic settlement we were lumped with before the crash – rich people getting richer at the expense of everyone else, declining living standards for the majority, but steady, socially useless economic growth on the back of rising house prices, predominantly in the south-east. An entirely unsustainable, crash-prone, majority-immiserating political vision for the twenty-first century. But never mind, there’s bound to be something good on the telly.

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2. Del Boy Shapps

News that arrived too late to include in last month’s Democracy Is A Sham special: despite repeatedly, vehemently denying it in every manner conceivable, it turns out Conservative Party chairman Grant Shapps did continue to pursue his laughably dodgy side-line flogging get-rich-quick schemes to gullible businesspeople after he became an MP.

Having a second job as a sitting MP isn’t illegal, but since when has what is and isn’t against the law been a reliable indicator of moral conduct? In the economic realm, not for about forty years.

Operating under the pseudonym Michael Green, Shapps founded HowToCorp in 2000, specialised in helping people get rich using the internet in less than scrupulous ways. One of his key products was a bit of software called TrafficMaster, that automatically started online blogs, filled them with extracts pinched from other websites, then collected advertising payments from Google.

He also produced a range of self-help guides for wannabe plutocrats, including one called ‘Stinking Rich’. The Political Scrapbook website dug up a HowToCorp newsletter where ‘Green’ boasted about his £100,000 private plane, six-bed mansion, and owning a sports car with a fridge in it.

Again, all perfectly legal. But it shouldn’t be. And a lovely insight into the character of the modern Tory Party.

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3. Richard III

Last week, the five hundred-year old bones of fifteenth century monarch King Richard III were reburied at Leicester Cathedral. Found under a carpark in 2012, the remains were stuffed into a coffin and paraded through the city, where thousands of people turned up to watch. Channel 4 dedicated nearly four hours of live coverage to the event.

For some reason, twenty-first century human beings deemed it all significant enough to give over a large chunk of their Sunday to stand at the side of the road and watch a box full of bones roll past. Some were throwing flowers like he was Princess Di. Another opportunity to bask in the horror of what British people choose to care about, and the infinitely more important things they choose not to.

Also, with another horribly inbred genetic mutant due any week now, a timely reminder that so much of the dewy-eyed blather we hear about the magic of the monarchy is rubbish. It’s not some mystical, unbroken link to the past – for hundreds of years, it was just a grubby bauble that brutally unpleasant landlords fought over, sending thousands upon thousands of poor people to hack each other to bits in the process.

Richard III stole the crown from his young nephew, probably killing him and his little brother to do so. Henry Tudor stole it from Richard III, after a war that killed a hundred thousand – in the same way that William the Conqueror had stolen it from Harold Godwinson centuries before. When the Tudor line ran out of steam, the crown went to the Stuarts – when the same thing happened to them, they imported some Germans. If George V hadn’t been frightened of being toppled amid the anti-German sentiment that was rife during the First World War, our current crop of vacant aristos would be called the House of Saxe-Coburg Gotha. Instead, he changed in to Windsor.

There’s not much else to say, other than re: Richard’s reburial, what a waste of money.

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4. Bring Back Clarkson

Mid-life crisis Pinochet and enthusiastic ozone depleter Jeremy Clarkson has been sacked from the BBC for punching a TV producer in a dispute over a lack of steak. After a day spent filming hit motoring show Top Gear, Clarkson returned to his Yorkshire hotel expecting a hot dinner. Tragically, the chef had already gone home, and so the TV star was offered a cold alternative instead. Clarkson expressed his displeasure physically, and the producer ended up in A and E.

Since car use needs to be drastically curtailed in order to reduce the colossal and unsustainable damage humanity is doing to the ecosystem, on one level it’s very easy to agree with Frankie Boyle’s assessment that Clarkson is a ‘cultural tumour’ who needs snipping out the popular consciousness. Male chauvinist pig extraordinaire, proud xenophobe, public-funded 1%-er, he’s a snickering bigot only mildly to the left of Mussolini. At the same time, it’s hard to get especially worked up about him. He’s not quite the worst thing in the world.

The tsunami-grade backlash against the BBC’s decision to get rid of him wasn’t in the least bit surprising, given his staggering popularity amongst emotionally fragile, overcompensating men-children in jeans. If we had an elected head of state, Clarkson would probably win by a landslide if he stood.

What was striking, though, was that so many allegedly sane adult human beings were willing to defend him with the fanaticism of a mama bear protecting her cubs despite the fact that he physically assaulted someone for not getting what he wanted for tea.

Millions of people have clearly developed an emotional attachment to Clarkson. A fair number of them completely refused to even engage with the fact their idol had done something irrefutably wrong, and instead defaulted to behaving like children whose favourite toy had been confiscated – ‘We like Clarkson! Give us back our Clarkson!’

Before long, Oisin Tymon, the TV producer Clarkson punched, was receiving a flurry of death threats. At the time of writing, some outlets are reporting that BBC Director-General Tony Hall is under 24-hour guard after being sent similar messages.

Most interesting/dismaying at a cultural and political level was the fact that so many of the Bring Back Clarkson mob attacked the decision to sack him from the weary old right-wing populist ‘political correctness gone mad’ angle – again, seemingly incapable of digesting the fact that he hit someone for telling him he couldn’t have a steak gone 10pm.

Clarkson has always been a sort of curmudgeonly, casually racist folk hero. Now, he’s the latest star of a grand political myth that practically everyone seems to believe in these days. In the 1970s, it runs, Great British Common Sense, already much-weakened after years of neglect by lily-livered politicians, was finally overthrown by an alliance of militant lesbians and left-wing geography teachers.

They plunged the country into a sort of candlelit Communist nightmare world where the binmen were on strike every other day, the streets were littered with unburied corpses and singing ‘Baa Baa Black Sheep’ was a capital offence. Mrs Thatcher heroically appeared just in time to rout the loony left scourge on the political plane, but the survivors just went into deep cover, continuing their PC jihad from such pinko-liberal bastions as the Health and Safety Executive, the Commission for Racial Equality, and the upper echelons of the BBC.

And after years of groping for any old excuse to get rid of Man of the People Jeremy Clarkson, who dared speak his mind rather than kow-tow to their stifling PC agenda, the liberal left illuminati have finally succeeded.

It’s because of this kind of thinking that Jim Davidson and Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown still have careers. Millions of people accept this version of events unquestioningly. You find a lot of supposedly intelligent and politically discerning intellectual types swallowing quite a lot of it too. You might be one of them – in which case, immediately go and read John Medhurst’s splendiferous alternative account of the ‘70s and ‘80s, That Option No Longer Exists.

Why are people so easily deluded by this kind of thing? Because society is rubbish, and it’s been getting worse since the ‘70s. And the only way so many people can understand the world around them, the only political vocabulary they have, is that of the grouchy, authoritarian, xenophobic hard-Right.

And that, in turn, is because the media, that plays probably the most crucial role in shaping how people see the world beyond their everyday experience, is run by five billionaires – some of whom may genuinely believe the myths they spin, some of whom just see them as a means to an end.

Since so much of the information people receive is skewed in favour of corporate dominance, the existence of abhorrently rich people and all the rest, people don’t realise that it’s exactly those things that are making their lives miserable.

So they’re not struggling horribly because our collective resources have been hijacked to serve the fabulously well off – a minority of strange, asocial aliens content to squeeze the poorest and most vulnerable until the pips explode. They’re struggling horribly because foreigners have taken all their jobs and bastard socialists spent all their money. And just to rub it in, you can’t say anything anymore, and the PC fundamentalists are gradually bumping off the few remaining Clarksonesque dissenting voices.

And that’s how you create a situation where a Neanderthal broadcaster worryingly obsessed with cars and guns can bellow ethnic slurs at then thump an Irish TV producer because a chef has gone home, and be widely accepted as the victim.

5. Stuff By Other People

Welcome to our new regular item, which involves pointing you to things other people have done because it’s less work than writing anything original.

Speaking of irrational attachment to media personalities, The Bemolution likes Russell Brand, and will defend him to the death despite being abundantly aware of his various failings, contradictions and hypocrisies, and hating stand-up comedy almost as much as neoliberalism.

Thousands of squeaky millennials who might otherwise have never contemplated much beyond One Direction are thinking about politics, thanks to his fairly courageous decision to start using his public profile to attack capitalism. This week on his regular web show The Trews, a vehicle for his zany spin on Chomskian media analysis, he talked about the media’s handling of the horrific case in which a suicidal German airline pilot purposely crashed a plane, killing all 150 on board.

Meanwhile, Aditya Chakrabortty at The Guardian continues to get away with saying quite left-wing things. Hardly Hugo Chavez, but it’s pleasing to see a paper that’s assuredly far less radical than it likes to make out give someone a bit leftist an important-sounding job – ‘senior economics commentator’ – rather than using them in the tokenistic, aren’t-we-plural manner it employs excellent figures like Owen Jones, Seamus Milne (who, to be fair, was comment editor for six years) and George Monbiot.

And to finish… Since the next month of all our lives is likely to be dominated by election mania, let’s all take a moment to cheerily dwell on how much money will be wasted throughout the course of the campaign, the abject, tawdry rubbish the news media will obsess over, the suffering and the misery and the pointless death that it’ll ignore, and the fact that, no matter which of the realistic choices wins, the losers are very likely to be almost everyone.

And while we’re auditioning to answer the phones at the Samaritans, for the people dying of starvation at a rate of one every three seconds, and of malaria at the rate of one a minute, and the people sleeping under newspapers in alleyways, and having human beings they’re quite fond of blown to bits before their eyes, and everyone else suffering needlessly in a world that can’t be bothered to do anything about it, please be upstanding for the Bemolutionary anthem, on permanent loan from the late Johnny Cash.