Here we are then. We’ve all sobered up, rubbed our eyes and taken stock. Everyone still hates the Tories, the party that cut everything from aid for the disabled to the taxes of the rich. But they won. Eighteen months ago I wrote that the government, without a hint of irony, would come to us in 2015 and ask to let them “finish the job”; the job of decimating our public services, welfare safety net, health service, care for the elderly and disabled and working conditions. I also said the scary bit was that with our track record as an electorate, we probably would. Guess what? They did – and we did.
The capacity of the British people to vote in large numbers against their own interests is mind-boggling. If we thought zero hours contracts were bad, just give it eighteen months and we’ll be begging to get on one of them for some job security! The jugular is about to be gone for, by a party that had to pinch itself to see if it was awake after the election result. Despite struggling to keep a straight face, they’ve started their mission to deliver “A brighter, more secure future” (their 2015 election slogan).
To this end, the queen will today sit on a golden throne to announce:
- Vicious cuts in support for some of the poorest members of society.
- The abolition of the Human Rights act.
- Draconian Legislation curbing the ability of trade unions to protect their members’ pay & conditions.
- Tax cuts for rich people.
She will be wearing a hat made entirely of precious jewels.
The entire earth is but a point, and the place of our own habitation but a minute corner of it.
— Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor; Meditations, Book 4 (CA. 170)
In 1990, as it sped out of our solar system, its tour of the outer planets complete, Voyager 1 turned its camera back towards us and took a few final shots, capturing five of the eight planets in a “family photo”. The Earth is one of the planets in the pictures. Taken from beyond the outermost planet, 6 billion kilometres (3.7 billion miles) away, one of them – the famous “pale blue dot” picture – features a tiny earth caught in a sunbeam in the vastness of space; a dot barely a pixel in size which contains all of us.
The astronomer and author Carl Sagan summarised the image so eloquently in a speech at Cornell University in 1994. In his book of that year, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space he expresses his thoughts on a deeper meaning of the image. Sagan knew that the picture was the first (and probably the last for a very long time – the foreseeable future) glimpse of Earth as a visitor might see it, approaching our solar system after a long interstellar flight. His words are particularly poignant set against the present situation here on Earth of relentless war, hunger, greed, poverty, punitive austerity and climate change created by our politicians:
“From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it’s different. Consider again that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.
Our posturing, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity – in all this vastness – there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.
The Earth is the only world known, so far, to harbour life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment, the Earth is where we make our stand.
It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known”.
I always find recalling this quote helpful when I hear the utterings of Cameron, Farage, Clegg, Blair and all the other would be Ozymandias figures. It illustrates better than any other I can think of, the complete absence of anything resembling genuine vision, empathy or moral conviction in any politician, national or international. Enter, Jeremy Corbyn.
This week it was again mooted that a museum be established to honour former PM.
The measure of any society, it is said, lies in how it looks after its poorest and most vulnerable members. John Locke opined that when we decided that we wished to organise and call ourselves civilised, we had to abandon the rights we had against each other in our state of nature in order to live together without fear or destitution. In effect, we subscribed to a form of social contract, a usually implicit agreement among the members of an organised society or between the governed and the government, defining and limiting the rights, duties and responsibilities of each. This is how we secure mutual protection and welfare, ensuring that those who fall ill or become unemployed can be helped, keeping some semblance of their dignity intact. Quite simply, we all pay into the system when we are able through our taxes, and make ‘withdrawals’ in the form of services and pensions or welfare when we need them. These ‘withdrawals’ are ours by right, but are these days referred to as ‘benefits’. Of course, with the rights come the duties and responsibilities, such as respect for each other and the law, the education of our children, the well being of our elderly and so on.
Over the years, certain people have been chipping away at our perception of this ‘social contract’. Most of it has been very gradual and very subtle. The Tories have always been set against the principle of the state providing for the less fortunate and, more recently the Labour party, in a bid to be seen as ‘electable’ in the eyes of the rich owners of the press, has been shedding several of its core principles. This gradual shift became an outright onslaught with the election of Margaret Thatcher, remained unaddressed under New Labour (to its eternal shame), and is now being viciously completed by the present rotten, corrupt coalition government.
The scale of Mrs Thatcher’s assault should not be underestimated. In her determination not just to emasculate the trade union movement, but to completely stamp it out, she also attacked the heartland where they were at their strongest: the manufacturing industry. The result, as we can see, was the complete laying to waste of this sector, along with a rapid decline in the living standards of the millions of decent, working people employed therein. Where we once built ships and manufactured steel, machines and electrical appliances with tradesmen and women on proper wages paying proper taxes, we now sell each other mobile phones (manufactured elsewhere) or make coffee and burgers on minimum wages paying little, if any tax. Mrs Thatcher and her friends in the elite-owned press convinced people by drip-feeding that the unions, which had achieved the decent pay and conditions that were now being stolen from them, were actually the villains, and that we should look after ourselves individually and not each other.
The Thatcher administration then proceeded to sell swathes of state controlled industries. The eminently viable names (which could have been still delivering billions in income and duty to the exchequer) to be hawked off for private companies to trouser the profits included:
- British Aerospace
- Cable & Wireless
- British Telecom
- British Gas
- British Steel
- British Petroleum
- Rolls Royce
- British Airways
- British Coal
- British Rail
- Associated British Ports
- Enterprise Oil
- British Shipbuilders
- The Water Board
These all belonged to the nation, but are now in the hands of (largely foreign) private companies. People are suggesting that we have a museum as a monument – to this?
The NHS is being prepared for total privatisation, care for the elderly is decimated, the ambulance service is collapsing, our children are being charged £27,000 to educate themselves – a birth right in my day, fire stations are closing, coastguard stations are closing, libraries are closing, police numbers are being slashed, the terminally ill are being told to find a job, people will be forced to work ’til they’re 70 and young people will be forced to work for nothing as interns. Nixon bugged one office and was impeached; our government is spying on all of us and laughs in our faces. To the people considering the Margaret Thatcher Museum I have a simple message: Take a look around you. . . . .YOU’RE LIVING IN IT ! ! !
It would be funny if it wasn’t so bloody awful. Last week (9th Feb) the Grosvenor House Hotel in Mayfair (where else?) played host to the Tory Party fundraiser entitled the ‘Black & White Ball’. It’s an apt title, as there, for all to see in black & white, was the very reason we’re not “all in this together”: a gathering of as many money-grabbing, benefits-sanctioning, hedge-fund-managing, tax-dodging bastards as you’ll ever see in one place this side of Davos.
You know the sort. The type who will see you sanctioned or imprisoned for claiming benefit incorrectly, then say, “oh, I made a mistake, I’ll just pay it back” when they’re found to have embezzled £20,000 from us to pay for their castle portcullis to be polished. The sort who, after lecturing us about the ‘feckless, idle layabouts’ falsely claiming a few million over the top, will then shovel billions out of the country without paying tax on it, into the accounts of their wives’ companies registered in the Cayman Islands. The ones who wanted to tax pasties, for Christ’s sake! They all arrived in their limos, having paid up to £15,000 for a table at the ‘do’, to bid for lots at an auction to raise funds for the Tories.
It would be in bad taste for me to list the items for which they were bidding (you can see them here); suffice it to say that one of them was your own private jet to Santorini and five nights at ‘The Villa’, a luxury suite with it’s own private spa at the 5 star Grace Hotel. Now I don’t know about you, but I would have to work overtime for the next 500 years or so to even contemplate bidding for that! The sheer arrogance of holding such an ostentatious cash-fest whilst simultaneously hectoring us to tighten our belts and be glad of our zero-hours contract jobs, proves that they’ve given up even trying to keep a straight face about inequality. The only thing missing was George Osborne lighting his cigar with a £50 note.
Whilst we all strive to strive to get on with our lives and cope with the loss of our public services as a result of austerity, it is worth remembering that if the majority of party donors, attendees and bidders at this noble event simply paid the tax that they should, there would be no need for a single cut. Not one.
On Remembrance Day, I was listening to a local affairs phone-in programme on BBC local radio. A debate evolved about the wearing of the poppy, arising from a news report about Sunderland’s Northern Irish footballer James McLean wearing a shirt without an embroidered poppy in contrast to the rest of his teammates. The general mood was one of condemnation. During the debate, a gentleman caller related the fact that, whilst he was waiting on a railway platform this week, most of the people on the platform were not wearing poppies. His tone of disbelief implied that it was despicable of them to be in a public place without one. Another gentleman (ex forces) said he wears one “out of respect”. Where then, is the respect for the position of people who don’t wish to wear a poppy, for whatever personal reason they may have?
Personally, I don’t wear a poppy, even though my father and grandfather were servicemen (one in each war). This is for my own reasons, which I don’t wish to force upon others. I do, however, observe the silence, which is a personal thing, allowing the individual to honour privately, whomever they choose, without having to make a public declaration of blanket loyalty without question. I don’t try to influence people to this point of view, and I would be grateful if they, in turn, would stop treating people like me as if we were low life for not sharing their blind beliefs and loyalties. Anyone who prefers not to wear a poppy is considered anti-British and subjected to a form of poppy bullying by jingoistic poppy-wearing nationalists.
I have no religious beliefs, but it often amuses me that these little Englanders are often the same people who witter on about immigration and that it’s an attack on Britain’s “Christian” values. They should stop and think that the present xenophobic rush to defend these “Christian” values, by the press and the political parties competing to have the most austere and nationalistic policies, would see Jesus Christ not even allowed into this “Christian” country.