Neck-ache nation: what elite sport, elite politics, and elite worship says about us

elitism collage.jpg

If you like substance and things that matter, it’s not been a very good few months to be alive. Feudal-revivalist royal birthday celebrations. The eye-bulging jingoism of Euro 2016. An abyssal new low for establishment post-truth politics with the EU referendum. False-start leadership elections, grubby will-they-won’t-they political coups. And then the Olympics, where grotesque, mind-mangling amounts of money and resources get blown on a hyper-nationalist willy-waving competition.

But at very least, in its abundance of rubbishness, the summer has left us with some fairly big clues as to what’s gone wrong. We are, after all, hurtling towards a point-of-no-return ecological tipping point, having done more environmental damage in 150 years than any other species has managed in three billion – all to build a civilisation where the richest 10% own half the wealth, use 60% of the resources, and 20,000 people starve to death every day.

Why is the world so cataclysmically shit? I think the summer we’re having points towards one big contributing factor. In fact, all the recent events listed above, the Queen, the football, and so on, are arguably symptomatic of the same underlying phenomenon – a giant, normalised, and, as such, near-universally ignored problem afflicting civilisation as-is. Continue reading

Bem Bulletin #2: Glittery Festive Special – Austerity, Porn and Gordon Brown

Occupy Christmas

Occupy Christmas

This month: we finally finished a trilogy of bits about our travels in the Czech Republic, Communism as-was and capitalism as-is that we started in 2012; we got angry at how society lionises business and fawns over the richest, as typified by the BBC’s The Apprentice, and how it neglects, belittles and abuses NHS personnel; and we contrasted the way in which modern parents dote almost obsessively on their offspring, while doing, thinking, or, apparently, caring very little about the climate catastrophe that might rob them of a future.

… And, music-wise: funky Nigerian afrobeat from Fela Kuti, and banal ‘50s country and western.

Deck the halls with boughs of holly, it’s Christmas time, and the Bemolution is communicating with you from its fairylit inner sanctum, swimming in tinsel and shovelling grotesque quantities of chocolate log down itself.

We don’t celebrate birthdays (exceptions made for young children or the impressively old), or like ceremony in general, but we officially do quite like Christmas. Not enough to suspend our miserablist current affairs-prodding, of course. But it at least encourages people to squeeze a trickle of festive goodwill to the rest of the species from their neoliberalised granite-hearts, and stop trying to compete each other into the dust long enough to eat their own bodyweight in turkey and Brussels sprouts.

Anyway – to business.


In this month’s Bem Bulletin

1. George Osborne’s Autumn Statement

1 and a bit. … And Sociopaths in power

2. Porn Censorship and the Tyranny of the Vanilla

3. The Life and Times of Gordon Brown

4. Jim Murphy, Neil Findlay, Scottish Labour

5. Obligatory Christmas Commercialisation Whinge Continue reading

Elitist UK: banning private education would be a start

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Last month, a report by the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission railed against what it saw as the UK’s ingrained elitism. Its knock-me-down-with-a-feather conclusion was that the upper echelons of Westminster politics, law, the media and other senior professions continue to be dominated by – or at least disproportionately filled with – people who were privately educated, people who went to Oxbridge, or, in many cases, both.

For anyone who’s been paying attention for the last forty years, this isn’t in the least bit surprising. The modicum of social mobility enabled by post-war social democracy was dramatically thrown into reverse after 1979, and in the neoliberal era that has followed, the wealth of the family you were born in determines your life prospects more now than it has done in half a century. Continue reading

Oh dear: Growth, Mr Osborne and the ‘UK economy’s’ lovely recovery (Part Two)

Spot the 'recovery'

Spot the ‘recovery’

Read Part One here.

The strange thing about neoliberalism – privatisations, deregulation, ‘the market always knows best’, tax cuts for the riches, implacable hostility to government intervention in the economy and the redistribution of wealth – is that despite the general, all-consuming obsession with economic growth, it’s not the best way of bringing it about.

Its fervid disciples will claim it is until the cows come home to find the dairy’s been closed and they’ve all been made redundant. It’s a way of growing the economy, certainly – very far from the best. But it’s definitely the most reliable way of growing the economy in a manner that benefits the richest people the most – in the same way that austerity isn’t the best and only way out of the financial crisis, just the one that inconveniences the rich and powerful the least, leaving them very well placed to consolidate their hold over politics and economics in the ensuing chaos. Continue reading

Oh dear: Growth, Mr Osborne and the ‘UK economy’s’ lovely recovery

Doing very nicely thank you very much

The City: doing very nicely thank you very much

The ‘UK recovery’ isn’t really the UK’s at all – it’s the richest 10%’s, and represents the revival of the kind of grossly unequal, unstable and ecologically catastrophic economy that got us in this mess in the first place.

George Obsorne was on the telly talking about growth, and he looked very pleased with himself. Not a last-minute hormonal spurt making him finally tall enough to ride the log flume at Alton Towers, not the sudden, much-delayed maturation of his long-lost empathy glands making him go home and rethink his life – growth of the dry, dead-behind-the-eyes economic variety.

The Office of National Statistics has reported that the UK economy grew by 0.8% over the last three months. Compared to the sluggish expansion we’ve seen in the six years since the financial crisis, that’s relatively fast. More significantly, it’s taken us above where we were in 2008 – for the first time, the UK economy is now bigger than it was before the financial crash knocked it off its steady upward trajectory. Continue reading

Teach First Isn’t Very Good, And Neither Is Rampant Neoliberalism

The 'Tough Young Teachers', posing ridiculously

The ‘Tough Young Teachers’, posing ridiculously

The Bemolution has largely given up watching TV because most of it’s rubbish, but we’re informed by persevering telly-watchers that there’s a programme on about Teach First.

Teach First is a government initiative designed to encourage ‘high-flying’ university leavers to have a go at teaching before they join one of the more conventional graduate employers. Its stated aims are reasonably well-meaning. ‘Top’ graduates rarely go into education, the logic runs. They’ll go to into banking, PR, marketing and the like, but for some reason consistently dodge anything socially useful. If that excellence could be harnessed and directed at educating some of the most disadvantaged people in the country, perhaps it could strike a resounding blow against social inequality.

Successful applicants are put through six weeks training then sent off to work in a school for two years – almost always one in a heavily deprived part of the country. They get a nominated mentor, a fellow teacher at the school, and various other forms of support from Teach First itself, but in the classroom they’re very much on their own. And it’s here, apparently, that the BBC’s Tough Young Teachers looms in to follow the progress of six new Teach Firsters.

Someone who’s watched it told us that the featured newbies were posh and useless. That’s probably unfair, and/or a massive over-generalisation. And if it isn’t, you can hardly blame rich, socially segregated graduates who aren’t much more than kids themselves for being bad teachers when they’re parachuted into the toughest schools in the country after a month or so of PowerPoint presentations. Continue reading