Archive for April, 2012

Racism and migration: the Day of the Triffids?

27 Apr

Consider, for a minute, what the UK would actually look like if the Right had their way and Britain had been closed to migration, as they’ve been advocating for most of the past 60 years.

Hospitals would be closed or short-staffed, GPs would be like hen’s teeth, school and hospital canteens wouldn’t open, the tube would run if at all on a reduced service; most buses, taxis and minicab’s would be sat in garages looking out at even more congested roads, where car passengers would suddenly find more time to sit in traffic jams and survey fields of unpicked fruit and unharvested vegetables. Customers at ‘fast’ food outlets would experience half an hour waits, offices uncleaned, convenience stores closed as the invisible people we depend on but never acknowledge, capitalism’s conscripted ghost battalions, disappear.

Sure, the City, company boardrooms, Parliament and local council chambers would look the same, but without the millions of first and second generation migrants necessary to keep the world’s fifth largest economy ticking over? The Britain we know would disappear like the Day of the Triffids.

Yes, I’m well aware that the country’s economic and social disparity means that this wouldn’t necessarily be the picture for every part of the UK, but in the heartlands of London and the South East, the West and East Midlands, Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire, central belt of Scotland and most other big cities it would.

Yet in Britain, as in the rest of Europe, the Right longs for a golden era that never was; an era where people knew their place, where white people lived alongside white people in mono-polar, mono-cultural Christian serenity. It’s as if the post-war era never happened.

The political incoherence here is that the Right are effectively arguing against their own economic orthodoxy. For neo-liberal and free market ideologues, migration is the necessary oil which keeps the economic engine turning, the supply side of the labour market equation. Their philosophical idea is that the free movement of labour allows employers to employ people willing to work on for wages that employers can afford, allowing a labour market to form as (supposedly) free workers willingly sign employment contracts. Capping migration interferes with the market.

The other problem for the Right is that it isn’t a homogenous body. It has gimlet-eyed ideologues citing Hayek, Friedman and Adam Smith in opposition to Marx, Lenin and Gramsci; it has ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ nationalists, professional apologists for the aristocracy and the politically-active landed gentry, arrivistes, entrepeneurs and business owners, forelock-tugging workers, cultural conservatives, racists, fascists and royalists. A bit of a mixed bag, but overall hostile to immigration and multi-culturalism, characteristics shared with Right and Far Right parties and movements across Europe.

On the other side of the political coin, the Left have had mixed successes both in opposing the reactionary force of racism and in stating the positive case for integrated, multi-cultural societies. This has been particularly difficult in the teeth of a bizarre double-whammy: the brutal medievalism of fundamentalist Islam alongside neo-liberal monetary and social policies. These policies are about deliberately shrinking public services and then letting service-users squabble and seek scapegoats for the pressure placed on a rapidly-evaporating pool of resources. Perhaps the Left needs to start by reminding people why the pool exists and why it is being drained?

In any case, the Far Right are never far away. Today’s fight against fascism and racism is simply the latest chapter in a war which has lasted for nine decades and shows no sign of ending. When Mussolini, Hitler and Franco’s thugs seized power from democratically-elected governments, few could have predicted that in the 21st Century their heirs would have such a high profile: the BNP, the EDL, Vlaams Blok, Front National, Liga Nord……..Franco’s Partido Popular governing Spain or Mussolini’s children in Gianfranco Fini’s MSI component  of the Italian government. This is what happens when you don’t confront the politics of hate.

And from the anti-Islamic, anti-foreigner ravings of Marine Le Pen or Umberto Bossi, it is not exactly a huge leap to David Cameron’s call for a cap on immigration. Public services, already under sustained ideological attack from the neo-liberal Right, becomes the battleground. The Right believes small government is best, that in general people shouldn’t be taxed and crucially recognises that rich people can already buy their way out of poor health, housing, environment, transport and don’t need social security benefits. But it avoids having to answer politically if it can blame immigration for the ‘pressure’ on services. And, shamefully, that is exactly what it does.

The Left has also made serious tactical mistakes in engaging on Right’s terms. New Labour’s migration policy is a classic example, opening space for the BNP and paving the way for Cameron and Co (although it didn’t stop David Blunkett intervening to smooth the entryway of a foreign nanny for his love child). The huge recent vote for Marine le Pen can partly be explained by Sarkozy’s shameless populist racism but part of the blame must go to the Left for not making the overwhelmingly positive case for pluralism and multi-culturalism in France. See also the failure of the SPD in Germany to shrug off that country’s far right lunatic fringe or the collapse of the left in the racist kelptocracy that is Berlusconi’s Italy – the Left must stop trying to ‘triangulate’, as if opposing fascists and racists is some sort of board game and start to say what it sees. Moving to the right doesn’t cut off fuel for racism and xenophobia, it says to so-called ordinary people ‘look, they’ve got a point’.

One example proves this, the UK media and in particular the right-wing newspapers who stoke and steer the national dialogue. If, to take one random example, the Daily Mail is racist – and it is – then why aren’t parliamentary representatives of ordinary people, namely Labour MPs, pointing this out? Editor Paul Dacre and the aristocratic Rothmere family owners of the Mail are never, ever, going to cut the Labour Party a break: so why not just expose them for what they are?  This is the newspaper, remember, which had the ‘Hooray for the blackshirts!’ headline supporting Oswald Moseley.

Think back again on our own society if we’d no immigration. No Marks and Spencer in the high street, no Haarland and Woolf dominating the maritime Belfast skyline, no Indian, Chinese, Italian, Thai or Greek restaurants. No reggae, no Diwali, no Eid, no urban R&B, a Premiership devoid of Bergkamp, Cantona, Viera, Drogba, Silva, Jelavic and a hundred more, no Trevor McDonald, no Shami Chakrabati, no Salman Rushdie, no Ulrika Johnsson, no Mo Farar, no Germaine Greer, no Rolf Harris, no Ruby Wax, no Terry Gilliam;  veranda, pukka, silhouette, karma, naïve, coup de grace, café, cappuccino, pizza, kebab and enfant terrible all removed from the lexicon. This country thrives because it is diverse and multicultural. That’s what makes it interesting.

It is a matter of pride to me that the UK is on the whole populated by people who let other people get on with their lives as long as they don’t interfere unreasonably with others. Sure, we have our racists, we have newspapers like the Sun the Daily Mail and the Express who fan the flames of racism, we have sectarian schism in Northern Ireland, sectarianism-lite in Glasgow, hate-mongers and knuckle-draggers like the EDL and BNP polluting our society. But the verdict of most British people is evidenced in their daily lives and shared civic spaces, workplaces, a social legal and civil framework which makes racism, religious hatred and intolerance illegal.

The 21st Century makes the world a small and crowded place where global warming, the global economic crisis, climate change, cheap travel and the rest means what happens in London is directly affected by what happens in LA, Buenos Aires, Melbourne, Hong Kong, Beijing, Jakarta, Mumbai, Rome, Paris etc etc ad infinitum.

Northern and Western post-colonial states, who built their national wealth on the exploitation and rape of the developing world, cannot and should not start building walls and pulling up the drawbridge.


24 Apr

I’ll confess right away that Bruce Springsteen is my favourite musical artist and live performer.  I do, admittedly, have soft spots for many, many other bands and musicians, starting from the time a starry-eyed 14 year old saw Status Quo play at the Glasgow Apollo in 1977. My tastes take in punk, ska, soul, folk, reggae and Motown as well sticking with the heavy rock I’ve loved since I was a spotty teenager. But for me, Springsteen is the artist who pushes all the buttons.

I’ve said before that Bruce Springsteen is by no means the greatest singer or guitarist around; but as a songwriter and live performer he leaves everyone else coughing in his exhaust fumes. Even at 62, with his friends and band mates Danny Federici and Clarence Clemons gone to the great gig in the sky, Springsteen and Co are still the greatest live act on the planet.

Canal Street in Paisley used to have a shop called the Record Exchange, shorthand for ‘we’ll give you 50p for your vinyl’. It was a great shop for picking up second-hand records, particularly from occupationally challenged* people like me. (*unemployed). Sadly, before I went to Canada in 1982 and in order to cut down what I had to carry in 2 record cases, I sold much of my precious vinyl for pennies, including a picture sleeve 7” ‘Pretty Vacant’, Motorhead’s ‘Golden Years’ EP, ‘Inflammable Material’ by SLF, ‘Nasty Nasty’ by 999 – please pardon me for a minute while I sob uncontrollably……

Anyway, this is the shop where I picked up copies of ‘Born to Run’ and ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town’ between 1978 and 1979. Initially, I didn’t like the vocals on ‘Darkness’ but Springsteen’s subsequent self-critique (‘I over-sang on that record’) on an interview for The Old Grey Whistle Test was lost on me, as I watched open-mouthed as he tore through a famous ‘top of the piano jumping about and running about like a hyperactive sprinter’ performance of ‘Rosalita’. That was me hooked.

I played ‘Thunder Road’ until I wore it out but neglected most of the rest of the record, doing the same with ‘Darkness’ other than ‘Prove It All Night’ and ‘Promised Land’ largely because of the sax part. And other than the title song, ‘The River’ as a record largely passed my 18 year old self by, obsessed as I was with The Stranglers, Black Sabbath and Judas Priest. Then, in 1984, Bossmania struck.

Like the entire population of the globe, I stood there as ‘Born In The USA’ pranced in front of us with its chest puffed out and its eyes twinkling. Suddenly everyone loved The Boss: his music was accessible, the E-Streeters were on jukeboxes across the land and those epic live performances came to the fore in the new video format. A Springsteen gig looked like the most fun you could have with your clothes on and ‘Born In The USA’ coincidentally provided much of the sound track to me making a new life in Blackpool, humming along to ‘Dancing In The Dark’ and Glory Days’.

As a fan of many years standing now, I rarely play ‘Born In The USA’

but at the time it captured the 80’s zeitgeist perfectly. Play the songs again and you find dark and shadowy lyrics lurking very close to the surface. ‘I’m on Fire’ is the song Bruce wrote for Elvis Presley, imagining his boyhood inspiration at the mike singing sinister stuff like ‘it’s like someone took a knife baby edgy and dull and cut a six inch valley through the middle of my skull’. ‘Downbound Train’ is a song of profound loss and abandonment, ‘Glory Days’ a quiet but hard-edged deconstruction of fuzzy nostalgia, the title song a yowl of despair from a Vietnam veteran ignored by his country amongst the division and indifference of the Reagan era. Jon Landau’s bright and light production is a sleight of hand which almost takes the listener away from the lyrical intensity. Almost.

The record that made me into a fully-fledged Bruce nut was the Live 75–85’ cut, a 3 CD tour-de-force of Springsteen’s work, running through the ballad and jazz influenced ‘Greetings’ to the stark musical plains of ‘Nebraska’, constructed to tell the story of the songwriter’s life and showcase his outstanding work. To this day, it remains my single most treasured record, one I play every couple of months and the one I’d take on a desert island. If you only ever buy one Springsteen record, buy this one. The highlights are too many to mention so just make the time, sit back and drink it in.

Another time, I’ll run through the Springsteen songbook of 17 studio albums, but for now will leave a recommendation for ten songs pre-1985, which capture the scope and depth of Bruce Springsteen’s song writing and performing talents. Check these out on Spotify, YouTube or Amazon.

He’s coming to the UK in June and if you haven’t made plans to see him then you really should. Really. There are lots of excellent live acts out there, but there is only one Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.

1.            It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City

2.            4th of July, Asbury Park. (Sandy)

3.            Lost in the Flood

4.            Thunder Road

5.            Born to Run

6.            Prove It All Night

7.            The River

8.            Independence Day

9.            Downbound Train

10.          Mansion on the Hill

Five things that annoy you and won’t ever go back to the way they were. Ever.

23 Apr

Yes, it reads like archetypal grumpy old man musings, but here they are all the same. Inspired by having the misfortune to be sat behind 2 Oxford undergraduates in ‘Eat’ yesterday lunchtime, trying to have a conversation with the lovely Cherry and being distracted by the loud and vapid wittering going on in my vicinity. Meh.

How many strike a chord?

1.The use of ‘like’ in a totally inappropriate way.

‘Well, like, I, like, spoke to him, yeah, and he, like, was totally distant with me?’

Someday, somewhere, blood will be spilled if this goes on.

2.The pointless inflection at the end of sentence.

A legitimate linguistic approach if you speak Spanish, Italian or English and are American or Australian.  In all other circumstances, especially if you are posh and sat near me, it is strictly forbidden.

‘Like, I went to Subway? To get a sandwich? And, like, they didn’t have any hearty Italian bread? And, you know, no mayo either?’

Honestly, this would give an asprin a headache. Speak normally, or I may well do you harm and then explain to a sympathetic jury how your actions justified me twisting your head clean off and kicking it down the street shouting ‘I can’t take this any more!”. A jury of my peers would have me free and clear inside an hour.

3.The replacement of ‘have’ and the phrase ‘please have’, with the word ‘get’.

Symptomatic of linguistic dumbing down, a deterioration in politeness or a negative Americanisation. Take your pick.

‘Can I get a latte with milk?’ ‘Can I get a capuccino?’ Of course you can, you halfwit, you are in a coffee shop asking for coffee. And just because the person serving you earns £5 an hour, doesn’t mean they don’t merit ‘please’ or ‘thank you’.

4. People on mobile phones trying to do two things and failing, badly.

It grinds my gears to watch oxygen-thieves who stand in line at a supermarket or board a bus and absolutely must carry on their oh-so-interesting conversation, without acknowledging or speaking to the assistant/driver/HUMAN BEING they are handing money to.

Unless your call is life or death – and in which case why are you stood in Sainsbury’s and not jumping quickly into a taxi? – put the frackin’ phone down. Or try these words: ‘I’ll call you back in two minutes’. Go on, give it a bash. How would you like it if you went to pay at a till and the shop assistant scanned your items, didn’t look at you, whilst yammering their pointless drivel into his/her phone?

5. People who talk too loudly on their mobile phone.

Dear halfwit, the phone you hold so close to your ear has this device called an amplifying microphone. That means it will pick up your voice IF YOU SPEAK IN A NORMAL TONE AND AT A NORMAL VOLUME. If you think your mate or your sister will hear you better if you shout, you are a moron, Yes, you. No, I’m serious.

I’m not the only person within a fifty yard radius with minimal interest in who is picking Darren and Kylie up from school, even less interest in whether you ‘got that email’, and I am deeply and profoundly unimpressed if you think your life so important that you need to share the pointless, mind-numbing tedium of your working day or social life with me. Speak quieter, text or just better still shut up and let me read my book.

I’m aware this sounds like futile railing against modern life, but I don’t care. The older I get, the less inclined I am to just put up with sh*t and the more inclined I am to accept the wisdom of Jean-Paul Sartre’s observation that ‘Hell is other people’.

It’s not that I’m turning into a sociopath, it’s just that my Mother taught me basic manners and mutual respect should always be my starting point. Just as you sow, so shall ye reap, it says in some book or other……




11 Apr

Quotes can be tedious if misused but I ought to share half a dozen favourites I came across recently clearing out an old ‘My Documents’


‘We could manage to survive without money changers and stockbrokers.

We should find it harder to do without miners, steel workers and those who cultivate the land.’

Aneurin Bevan

‘You do not lead by hitting people over the head. That’s assault, not leadership.’

Dwight Eisenhower

‘My country, right or wrong’ is a thing that no patriot would think of saying except in a desperate case. It is like saying, ‘My mother, drunk or sober’.

George Bernard Shaw

‘What luck for rulers that men do not think.’

Adolf Hitler

‘To repeat what others have said requires education: to challenge it requires brains.’ 

Mary Pettibone Poole

“If we don’t stand for something, we may fall for anything.”

Malcolm X

The Chancellor of the Exchequer: fool or liar?

10 Apr

Well, I think the scion of a 17th century Baronet has to be one or the other.

Don’t you?

Read what this ineffectual pipsqueak had to say in yesterday’s Daily Torygraph about those he described as “people right at the top….with incomes of many millions of pounds a year.”

Wee George was, apparently, “shocked to see that some of the very wealthiest people in the country have organised their tax affairs…so that they were regularly paying virtually no income tax.”

The very idea!

Next he’ll be saying rain makes you wet and Pope Benedict is a Roman Catholic……

I wrote a pretty long piece on this eejit’s Budget last month, and the jury deciding whether George is batting for Team Wealthy or Team UK delivered its verdict a long time ago, so I won’t waste many more words on him. Suffice to say Osborne is either the world’s biggest fool or a cynical liar who thinks that the public he purports to serve are stupid, credulous and naïve.

Whichever way that coin falls, its bad news for us.

As for the true cost of tax avoidance? Here is what tax expert Richard Murphy wrote in a report compiled for the TUC in 2008:

“The amount of tax lost to avoidance and planning is a number bigger than most might ever imagine. It is estimated here that £25 billion annually is lost from tax avoidance. This is made up of £13 billion p.a. from tax avoidance by individuals and £12 billion p.a. from the

700 largest corporations. Estimating these figures involved an original detailed analysis of several sets of Government data and further analysis of 344 sets of accounts published by the UK’s fifty largest companies covering a seven-year period. It is estimated that an additional £8 billion p.a. is lost to public funds from tax planning by the wealthiest members of the UK community, i.e. those earning over £100,000 p.a.”

So why didn’t Pipsqueak do something when he walked into 11 Downing Street two years ago?

And how is cutting higher rate tax to 45% going to bring in more of the £8,000,000,000 being avoided by those earning over 100k?


Stephen Smith: writer

Rants, rambles and other assorted thoughts

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