Archive for the 'politics' Category

Pot Kettle Capitalism

NS November 11th, 2010

I took a quiz the other day on Facebook, a bit of cheeky fun called ‘What type of Leftist are you?’ I answered a few questions and then my result popped up on the screen. ‘You are a Marxist!‘ it declared. No great surprise to me, I suppose —  I knew that my political beliefs were left of what passes for liberal these days — but Marxist? Really?! Hmm.

I know a bit about Marxism, studied it as part of my poly sci degree and have a book about it on my shelf, but I devoted a good hour or two to brushing up on its principles and figuring out whether, actually, I do have a bit of Marxist blood running through these veins.

Turns out, I do. At least partially. Regardless of whether or not I think Marxism could ever become a (successful) reality in this day and age, I do admire and agree with many of its tenets. Not those that were hijacked by dictators and despots looking for a cause to cling to and give rise to the power they so desperately crave, but the core belief that capitalism is inherently anti-proletariat and oppressive to the people, despite attempts of throwing ‘democracy’ at its wretched, greed-encased feet.

In typing these words, I keep expecting a trapdoor to open up below me, sending me into a political black hole that transports me directly back to the United States to face hanging, drawing and quartering for treason. At the very least, my nerves will be heightened when I go through US Immigration in three weeks’ time. What would they care about a simple little mommy blogger like me? Probably diddly squat. But people have been snooped on and detained for less.

So if you don’t hear from me for 24 hours after my flight was due to land, know that I’m paying the price for this post somewhere in a little room with a large woman and a pair of rubber gloves. Maybe George Bush will be there, reading passages from his new memoirs while he chucks bucket after bucket of water down my gullet to try to force me into a confession. By writing it all down here, out in the open for all to see, I save them (and me) a  lot of time and water.

As a friend of mine on Facebook said when he commented on my quiz result, “Is it legal for an American to be a Marxist?”

I very much doubt it, Stuart, but we’ll soon find out.

Anyway. The real reason I’m writing about Marxism and my frustration with capitalism is because of these student protests that took place in London yesterday, which everyone in the UK is talking about today. Essentially, up to 50,000 people turned up to protest the coalition government’s plans to increase tuition fees by up to three times the current limit, something the Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg specifically said he would not do in his campaigning during the election period. In fact, he went further than that and said he would reduce tuition for university students. He then got into office and, after ‘realising the enormity of the nation’s debt’, promptly forgot that promise and agreed to screw all the students (and millions of others) who voted for him and his party.

I don’t like that a fringe group became violent and started breaking shit, I don’t think it was the smartest idea, but I can certainly fucking understand why they were so angry. Hell, I’m not even a citizen of this country (and therefore couldn’t vote) and I’m STILL angry that the Lib Dems completely screwed their supporters by bowing down to the great Tory machine. Nick Clegg is but a puppet and David Cameron has got his hand shoved so far up his felt-lined backside that I do believe he’s moving his mouth now as well.

Listening to a call-in show about the topic this morning on BBC London, I heard over and over again people talking about violence never being the answer, how we have to be peaceful and use democracy to get what we want. This, coming from the same people and the same government that is quite happy to go to war and tear apart entire countries over boundary squabbles, ownership of natural resources and to force democracy and capitalism onto those not fortunate enough to live in a country where we worship the dollar and the pound and the lifestyle that goes with it.

War in Iraq and Afghanistan = fine but breaking windows because you’re pissed off at your government = deplorable? Where’s the common sense in that? If you’re going to condemn violence amongst your own people but then use it as a tool to control, threaten or coerce other nations, you’re really just talking a load of bollocks.

We live in a hierarchal, patriarchal, class-driven society. As much as we like to pretend that we’re all open-minded and liberal and independent, we’re ruled and oppressed just as much as those living in the so-called ‘third world’. We’re just too blind to bloody realise it.

History shows us, time and time again, that those in power will not relinquish it easily. The upper crust of society — the wealthy, the male, the white, the educated, the able-bodied, the privileged — will always have the upper hand, even in our ‘democracy’ where every vote is counted but rarely matters or changes anything. After this election, I found myself thinking for the first time: “Fuck it, why vote? IT DOESN’T MATTER ANY MORE.”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a pacifist. I think war and violence and breaking shit is awful and pointless. But if you think you can condemn these students out one side of your mouth and wage war out the other in the name of something YOU believe in, the hypocrisy is almost more than I can bear.

So yes, I understand why these students and activists did what they did. I understand their anger, frustration and helplessness. I too want to kick at the gilded tower from where the fucking bastards are laughing at us, knowing they’ve got the keys to our cages.

But I’m afraid that while we’ve still got a Pot Kettle Capitalism instead of remaking society into something that benefits everyone, not just the privileged few, this shit is going to keep flaring up and then fizzling out. People will whinge and nothing will change, unless we get not 50,000 but 500,000 protesting, then 5 million, then 50 million.

Realistic? No. Idealistic? Sure. Delusional?

Go ask Marx.

Socialism and social responsibility

NS October 5th, 2010

I am proud to live in a country where everyone (and I mean EVERYONE) has access to a free-at-point-of-use health care system.

I am proud to live in a country where socialism or socialist-leaning systems are not looked upon with fear, disgust and horror, like they are in my home country.

I am proud to live in a country where many women (though not all) have the opportunity to stay at home with their children for up to a year and not lose their jobs as a result.

That’s not to say that everyone who lives here likes these things or approves of how they are set up or run, but overall, the majority are happy to live in a state where (in theory, anyway) everyone is looked after. It’s never been nor will it ever be a perfect system — some people will always be looked over and given appalling care while others revel in and are rewarded for their riches and privileges, while yet others milk the system to their advantage — but at least that safety net is there, even if it’s got holes in it.

I’m bringing all of this up because the media and the parent blogs are alight this week with talk of the proposed axing of child benefit from homes where any person earning a salary of more than £44,000 per year resides. At first glance it seems fair. Earning more than £44k should not put a family in hardship, surely they don’t need the extra cash, right? After all, that’s double the average national wage!

Two things not take into consideration with this proposal (or, if they have been taken into account, discounted as not important) are cost of living in different areas of the country and single income families earning above the £44k cut-off. How exactly is it fair to say that a family living on £42,000 in the very expensive London or the South East should be on level pegging with a family in, say, Grimsby, where the cost of living is much lower?

The second and more infuriating problem with this proposal is the fact that it completely discounts single income families with children to support. And who makes up the vast proportion of single income families with children to support? Single mothers and at-home parents (usually mums) whose spouses or partners work full time.

Put more plainly, child benefit will remain for families where one or both parents work but each earn less than £44k. Dual income families who earn, say, £30k and £40k respectively (for a combined income of £70k), will keep their child benefit while the single parent earning £45k won’t.

Now, I realise that there aren’t perhaps all that many single mums and dads earning more than £44k a year, but it still doesn’t seem fair that those who earn a good but certainly not extravagant salary may not receive child benefit when a family earning nearly double that will. Because let’s not forget that a single working parent usually pays the largest proportion of their income to childcare than any other family since they have to pay for someone to look after their children not only during the work/school days but also at evenings and weekends if they need or want to go out without the children.

Also significantly affected will be families where one parent is staying at home to look after the children and their partner earns more than the proposed cut-off point of £44k. A family of four or five (or more) living on less than £50k in London is not all that much. It may sound like a lot but after you take out tax, travel, housing, living expenses, food, etc.. for all members of the family, it really doesn’t leave you with much. I know because we were that family until very recently,when my husband got a promotion and a pay rise and I began pulling in a bit more money with my self-employed endeavours. Until then, we lived paycheque to paycheque and were unable to save or invest a single penny. Even now there are months when an unexpected car repair or a growth spurt requiring new clothes and shoes for one of the children can put a real strain on our finances. Child benefit has saved the day more times than I can count and I have truly appreciated it over the years.

Essentially, this proposal penalises single mums (and dads) and families where only one parent works while the other stays at home with the children. But does that come as any real surprise to those who voted for a Tory government? I could’ve told you before this cut was announced that large swathes of the working class and the struggling middle class would be most affected, a disproportionate number of whom are women.

However, I can understand that cuts have to be made somewhere and that it is a bit ludicrous when extremely high earners are receiving a not-insignificant sum of money each month simply for having a child or children. I agree that those earning six figures (or quite near it) do not need child benefit, but £44k?  I don’t think that salary, particularly in the South East, is extravagant for people who have dependants.

The thing is, it’s impossible to put a number on need. You can’t possibly know each family’s circumstances and whether the loss of this benefit would actually hurt them or not affect them at all. That’s why I think it’s perhaps counter-productive to take away the right to this benefit (at least at the proposed level). I have a better idea.

Any psychologist or sociologist worth her salt will tell you that people respond better to rewards than they do to threats. Hell, any parent of a young child or pet owner can tell you that! So maybe instead of taking away a benefit from a group of people that may or may not desperately need it, we start with the ones who most definitely don’t.

Why don’t we stop child benefit for those earning high five or six figures or more and invest that money into a social program wherein those who fall in the ‘questionable’ range of £40-80k (this is a ballpark figure and would depend on location, family size and personal circumstances) are awarded child benefit but have the opportunity to voluntarily rescind the award in return for points in a ‘social responsibility bank account’ of sorts.

Each time a person or family does something socially responsible (such as install solar panels,  grow their own veg, care for children, volunteer at a non-profit or community organisation, quit smoking, reduce water consumption, provide a safe place for teens to gather and socialise, voluntarily give up a state benefit they no longer need, or any other activity that is deemed beneficial to the greater good), they would receive points in their account. After a certain number had been collected, these points could be redeemed for the purchase of items and services.  These items and services would be partially funded by the state (generated by the funds no longer outgoing in child benefit to top earners) and partially donated by private, ethical businesses  in return for free advertising, priceless PR and the feel-good factor of being involved in such a project.

I’m aware that this is a simplistic, idealistic plan and I’m sure someone will be along to tell me why it would never work ‘in the real world’, but it’s the kind of thing I wish the government was thinking up instead of the same ol’ tax and spend loop that we’ve been stuck in for decades, with everyone getting screwed somewhere along the way.

What do you think about the proposed cuts to child benefit? Do you have any ideas for how we can get this country out of its financial mess without shafting the hardest working and most disadvantaged?

Of Tories and t-shirts

NS May 11th, 2010

If you haven’t already heard, the Tories are in. David Cameron managed to convince Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats to sell their souls to the devil and form a coalition with the Conservatives.

I think we all know how I feel about that.

I made an offhand comment on Twitter tonight, in which I said, “Making a t-shirt: I voted Lib Dem and all I got was this lousy Tory government.” People seemed to like this idea so I thought hell, I’ll actually make a t-shirt. With Noble Husband’s graphic design skills, we put a little something together for all of the other Lib Dem voters who feel betrayed and disappointed with this new ‘coalition’ government.

Get yours here and wear it proudly angrily. And don’t say I never made you anything.