Little Britain and grubby newspapers…

social class

In an epoch when so much is made of democracy, equality, social mobility, classlessness and the rest, it has remained a basic fact of life in advanced capitalist countries that the vast majority of men and women in these countries has been governed, represented, administered, judged, and commanded in war by people drawn from other, economically superior and relatively distant classes.

Ralph Miliband, 1969, from ‘The State in Capitalist Society‘.

Miliband was one of the people that I remember well from my student days 27 years ago. Words like those above seem ever more prescient.

Despite what The Mail will have us believe, his was always a quintessentially British voice- a kind of socialism mediated by gentle academia and quiet discourse. His writings take a deeply thoughtful and engaged look at who we are and what we are becoming, from an ideological perspective of the far left. His determination was to attempt to make Britain a fairer and more equal place. He had the deep respect of everyone, from a wide variety of perspectives.

To hear how he is being vilified at present makes me seethe.

I also think that we could all still learn from his writing- particularly his son Ed, who desperately needs some ideological testicles.

As for The Mail, it is what it is- a grubby small minded prejudiced rag that peddles a little Britain for a small slice of modern Britain. It does not understand the rest, and so seeks to smear it, using a tissue of half truths and distortions.

Which reminds me, I have posted this on my blog before, and was reminded of it by Grahams FB post;

Miliband takes on mental illness…

So, Ed Miliband is to tackle the Stigma of mental illness in his next speech, according to the Guardian. Good for him, although he seems to be choosing some rather soft celebrity hate figures to take a swipe at in order to give his speech some punch- Jeremy Clarkson and Janet Street Porter;

With the cost of mental illness to the NHS believed to be around £10bn, Miliband will announce he has set up a taskforce – led by Stephen O’Brien, the chairman of Barts Health NHS Trust and vice-president of Business in the Community – to draw up a strategic plan for mental health in society, in the hope that the next Labour government can begin work immediately on implementing reform.

He will also say that attitudes in society need to change, criticising “lazy caricatures” of people with mental health problems and highlighting recent comments by Clarkson and Street-Porter.

He will say: “There are still people who abuse the privilege of their celebrity to insult, demean and belittle others, such as when Janet Street-Porter says that depression is ‘the latest must-have accessory’ promoted by the ‘misery movement’.

“Jeremy Clarkson at least acknowledges the tragedy of people who end their own life but then goes on to dismisses them as ‘Johnny Suicides’ whose bodies should be left on train tracks rather than delay journeys.

“Just as we joined the fight against racism, against sexism and against homophobia, so we should join the fight against this form of intolerance. It is not acceptable, it costs Britain dear, and it has to change.”

Whilst I welcome the initiative- I feel slightly skeptical about the outcome, even before it begins. I hope I am wrong, but the problem faced by any such review (particularly one led by someone embedded in the NHS) is that its conclusions are inevitably shaped by the set of lens through which we look at the ‘problem’.

It reminds me a little of theology- we inherit a set of beliefs about who or what God is based on our culture, denomination and hermeneutic. These things are useful, valuable, even essential for a while- they are vehicles through which the Spirit travels. But there can come a point when they obscure, restrict, oppress and close down our understandings. For example, if our theology is based on a flat earth created in 6 days a few thousand years ago, then something has to give when we are confronted with the expanding universe.

The mental illness machine is not working.

I say this not in disrespect of the many wonderful people working within the system, but there comes a time when we have to see the machine for what it is- something that more often than not sucks people in, strips them of who they used to be, and replaces this with a new set of roles- patient, schizophrenic, lunatic, depressive, manipulative, unemployable, benefit scrounger.

Then there is the role played by the pharmaceutical companies, competing to push the next wonder drug, and employing a thousand drug reps to flood doctors, nurses and even social workers with half truths about their new product using everything from free toys (pens, flasks, binoculars) to free meals and holidays. The wonder drugs each turn out to be versions of what has gone before- no Lilly the Pink, just more chemical suspended animation to hold people in half lives.

A few months ago I wrote a piece reflecting on the monster that is the new  American Psychiatric Association  Dignostic and Statistical Manual of Psychiatric Disorders, otherwise known as DSM 5. In this, I wrote of my own hopes for change in the system along these lines;

Away from ‘illness’ towards an understanding that all forms of mental illness are caused by mental ‘distress’

Away from ‘symptoms’ towards understanding that we develop different  means of coping with this distress.

Away from restrictive labels towards listening to individual experience.

Away from medicalised interventions, towards encouragement and support of individual recovery.

Away from simplistic distinctions between ‘psychosis’ and ‘neurosis’ towards a greater interest and understanding of the effect of trauma.

Away from segregation and ‘otherness’ towards seeing mental distress as an essential part of the human experience and as such, part of all of our experiences.

Away from ‘maintenance’ (which is a form of medicalised slavery) towards hope.

If Ed can gather some real radicalism from his up coming review, I really hope it will contain some of these ideas.

When does concern about immigration become racism?

Today, the Limp Lettuce Leaf that heads up the opposition in our parliament spoke out.

Not against injustice, overconsumption, unsustainable lifestyles- he spoke about immigration.

In an interview with the Guardian, he concedes that immigration is being discussed in “every kitchen” and that the Labour party has been too quick to dismisses the concerns of ordinary people as “prejudice”.

He says the government should strengthen the law so that employment agencies cannot – even informally – favour foreign workers.

He was at pains to suggest that the former labour government had got it wrong on immigration- that it had ‘let too many people in’. This from the son of an immigrant- his mother, Marion Kozak (a human rights campaigner and early CND member) survived the Holocaust thanks to being protected by Roman Catholic Poles. His father, Ralph Miliband, was a Belgian-born Marxist academic, who fled with his parents to England during World War II.

With this in mind, perhaps we might take a moment to reflect on the fact that in the middle of just about every renewal and innovation in our society has always been the incomer- the outsider seeking to make good. At the middle of industry, and at the centre of our professional groups.

Also of course, doing all the jobs we do not want to do, and in times of economic success, refuse to do.

To be fair to the Leaf, if and when he does speak out on issues of justice no one listens, but when he speaks out like this he is at the top of every news bulletin.

But our kitchen has hosted no debates over immigrant labour of late- has yours?

If it did however, I might find myself suggesting that the reason why so many Eastern European people, or so many Asian people, come to this country is very simple- economics. Our lifestyle is based in the need to sustain huge inequality, some of which was enforced at the point of an imperialist bayonet. The shadow this casts is over a dozen generations or more.

In the Eastern European case however, the opening up of the borders in the European Union did indeed cause a large movement of migrant workers far beyond what was expected. Working people in some cases were simply priced out of the market as workers from the East were cheaper, and willing to work long hours.

In the past this would not have been possible, because of something called Trade Unions. But we more or less neutralised them in the name of free market economics.

So- when does concern about immigration become racism? Remember the famous spat between Gordon Brown and the redoubtable Gillian Duffy? Was she a bigot as he famously was heard calling her?

The answer of course, is probably not- but at the same time, maybe we have to acknowledge there is something about our society that is instinctively hostile to the outsider, or the other. When this becomes part of our politics, it gets ugly very quickly and the victims are usually those with the least power.

Particularly during an economic downturn- when we have the need for a scapegoat.

If the Leaf should visit our Kitchen, we can discuss it in more detail.

Let the grand correction commence…

Today we heard from the Labour leader.

I find so little to celebrate in what he said, or the way he said it (so said the Guardian– “Miliband’s pedestrian, drooping delivery did no justice to the ambition of his argument.”)

In saying this, I feel sad. Sad that once again I am writing out of negativity not from a position of hope. Sad too that the party I have roughly aligned myself with all my life appears so bereft of ideas.

A swipe at the Tories, the bankers and Southern Cross care homes- then a strange promise that people who work hard or volunteer will get preferential allocation of social housing. (Sounds a bit like ‘the deserving poor’ to me.) But at least ‘I am not Tony Blair (awkward pause…..)

I have been asking myself what is missing- and I think it is this- a visible value base that comes from a passion that is not merely manufactured, or self consciously media friendly.

I have also been thinking a lot about just how bankrupt our political/economic system seems to have become. When did commerce become capitalism, and when did capitalism become turbo-capitalism? How did the survival of our affluent way of life come to require the addiction of a whole nation to the accumulation of ever more stuff that we do not need?

And perhaps the most important question; what might be an alternative way of ordering our collective economy?

Ed Milliband’s father, the late great Ralph Miliband, was a Marxist Sociologist whose writing was an essential part of my student days. For a while, my hope was for an egalitarian socialism to take gentle hold in our country- mixed in the very British way of changing slowly whilst still holding on to idiosyncratic anachronisms- because it is better to accommodate and compromise rather than to revolt and overthrow…

But it seems that at least for now, ‘Free Market’ Capitalism has cleared the playing field of all opposition. The Berlin wall has been reduced to the dust of folk memory.

And in the middle of all this economic mess, Capitalism (despite being the cause of so much difficulty) continues to present itself as the solution.

I am no longer a political ideologue. All of that was killed by Blair and middle age. But still, where are the critical voices? Where are those who bring hope for change- for better ways of living that are not geared towards entrenching the global inequalities that condemn the poor south to be one large sweatshop for our supermarkets and high streets?

Do we need more riots? More kids in hoodies running away with box-fresh trainers and security tagged x-boxes?

As someone who tries to follow Jesus, I am ever more conscious of the way he had of standing as a faithful, hopeful, critic of the way we live. This is not the same thing as condemning and rejecting- rather it might mean that we should seek to participate, whilst at the same time hoping for better.

Hoping for voices to be raised that offer an alternative- that start not from a position of protecting the status quo, but instead long for justice for the global poor, and a sustainable, honest and healthy way of life for the rest of us. Looking for love, Grace and beauty, then seeking to nurture it.

Little of which did I hear today in Milibands speech. But perhaps there is time yet…

Time for a song I think…