Friday, 26 April 2013

The best people for the job

"It is not the man who has too little, but the man who craves more, who is poor." - Seneca

"I want my leaders to be the best people for the job", said a friend to me recently, over a Jamaican lager on one of the first sunny evenings of Spring, in another friend's back yard. On the kind of evening that can't help but fill you with optimism, a cloud suddenly formed in my mind.

Not because of the deep-seated, unquestioned, desire for a leader; not even for the denial of our own worth, the insidious idea that some people are just better; but because he believed that only by paying them lots of money would we attract these 'best people',  these ubermensch, and that our politicians weren't actually paid enough.

Perhaps it's based on a fair premise - that, in a fair world, those who worked the hardest would be best rewarded (and another, distinctly dodgy, premise: that wealth is the best reward). Perhaps, as a teacher himself, that's just an idea he desperately needs to cling to, to stay optimistic as those poor underpaid politicians keep piling up work at outside his classroom door - his own mental light at the end of the tunnel. One day, Lord, one day. But it's denial; in George Monbiot's phrase, "if wealth was the inevitable result of hard work and enterprise, every woman in Africa would be a millionaire."

And even in that imaginary fair world, the more money for better people premise only works if you want to be led, rather than represented - if you want politicians to look up to, someone to adore, rather than representatives who know how you feel. Fuck sympathy, I want my politicians to have truly empathetic understanding of the dread fear caused by an unexpected bill landing on the doormat - and then work hard to eliminate that fear for everyone.

This is something that Mujica, the world's poorest president, understands.  Now that he's attained office, he's on a deliberate drive to make the presidency 'less venerated'. He refuses to live in the official presidential palace, instead using it as shelter for homeless people during the coldest months. While our own venerated leaders are driven around in limousines, Mujica gets about in an old VW Beetle. 
His presidential salary is about $108,000 per annum, but he donates 90% (mostly to programs for expanding housing for the poor), which leaves him with an amount comparable to that of an average Uruguayan. 

When asked if he has enough to live on, Mujica's response is straight-forward:

"I do fine with that amount; I have to do fine, because there are many Uruguayans who live with much less"

Life dominates thought and determines will; if your life is one of privilege, how often will your thoughts be with the poor? How likely will reducing inequality be your will?

Monday, 22 April 2013

Queen Pig

Be the inferior to no one, nor of any one be the superior’
William Saroyan

Lots of people say, ‘oh, leave off the royal family, they do a lot for charity, y’know?’. If I was an unemployed multi-millionaire, I’d do a lot for charity, too. Many fine people do work for charities; most manage to get there everyday without the aid of a chauffeur. That the royal family are themselves a charity should negate any charitable work they do; why not cut out the middle man and give the cash straight to those in need? This might avoid parties, palaces and peacocks being skimmed off the top.

Yes, but what about the tourism, man? Don’t forget the tourism!’ It is as patronising as it is insulting to the entire nation to suggest that people would not visit our green and pleasant land without the Windsors – that the entire sum of our cultural worth resides in the crown and its cronies. France doesn’t have a monarchy, but plenty of people go to Paris to see the Louvre. I hear the food’s half-decent, too.

We Brits love democracy. We’re mired in misadventure all around the globe, obliterating foreigners and putting our own sons and daughters in danger in its name. Yet, in our own country, we’re happy with the hypocrisy of having a picture of a lady on our stamps and sterling who believes she deserves to be there by divine right – because God said so. And simply because, for as long as we care to remember, it has always been so. Doesn’t democracy deserve better? Are we so unimaginative?

Sunday, 21 April 2013

"The Argument of the Broken Window Pane... the most valuable argument in politics today." - Emeline Pankhurst.

Letter to Dame Joan Ruddock, Labour MP for Lewisham Deptford:

RE: Early Day Motion to repeal s.144

Dear Joan,

It has to be said, at the outset, that I have very little faith left in the parliamentary process in general, and the paliamentary Labour party in particular. Is Liam Byrne a Tory in disguise, or what? Does wearing red have any meaning for him, or merely salve his conscience? Abstaining from the vote that will force people to work for free is an out and out betrayal of the working class in this country – all it takes for evil to prevail, and all that. I notice that you never rebel against your party – are they always right?

So I'm wondering if you can help to restore a little bit of faith – to prove that there are still good people left in parliament. I'm writing to ask you to support John McDonnel's Early Day Motion to repeal the odious section 144 of the Legal Aid Sentancing and Punishment of Offenders Act.

I was one of the 2000+ respondants to the Ministry of Justice's euphemistically titled consultation, Options for Dealing with Squatting, that were against criminalisation; along with people like the Law Society, The Metropolitan Police Force and homelessness charities Crisis and Shelter, a full 96% of respondants were against criminalisation. All were ignored, in favour of the seven landlords that took the time to respond. What is more important to you as a politician, protecting property or protecting people?

Of the 33 arrests made since section 144 came in, not a single person was found to be displacing a homeowner. Indeed, ministers and the media alike deliberately misled the public over this issue, and constantly conflate homeowners with empty property. Are you on the side of those desperately seeking shelter, or are you on the side of the super rich? As Alter, a lib dem think tank, explained in its response to the consultation:

This change is contrary to the interests of UK taxpayers. It would provide a valuable state funded benefit to wealthy tax avoiders. This influential lobby has the ear of Conservative Justice Minister Crispin Blunt. If he were concerned about ordinary property owners who actually pay tax in the UK, there are far cheaper ways of protecting them from squatters.”

Here is an article I recently wrote on the subject, for the New Internationalist. It explains why I think the law has caused more harm than it might have prevented. Why I think that Alex Haigh, an apprentice brick layer searching for work in our capital (a striver, to use your own devisive parliamentary language), did not deserve a custodial sentence and accompanying criminal record for seeking shelter in a property that had been empty for over a year. And why I think L&Q property are the real criminals in this scenario.

One of my friends has recently been toying with the dangerous idea of joining the Labour party. After your most recent betrayal, I told him he'd be better off hurling a brick through his local Labour party's HQ wndows (a la Emeline) than walking through its doors and signing up. I do hope you can go some way to prove me wrong.

Best wishes,

Vyvian Raoul

ps. Everywhere I go I hear people talking of alternatives to the Labour party. If you want to stop people fighting against you, you only have to start fighting for them. The only apathy I'm aware of is from those in power towards the needs of those who are not...

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Mr. Hollywood

It was with intrigue that I read Mike Weatherley MP's recent comments about the squatters on the Grand Parade:

I was intrigued as to how Mike considers himself to be 'like the rest of us'? After all, how many of us - as Mike does when he goes to work for the Motion Picture Licensing Company – get paid £422 an hour?

Mike likes to portray himself as a rock music lovin', curry competition judgin' man of the people; the truth is, Mr Weatherley is more Hollywood's man than Hove's. In 2012, Mike did just 72 hours of work (six a month) for the MPLC and was reimbursed a total of £34,000. That's in addition to the £65, 738, he gets paid as an MP, and the £24,192.77 he claims in expenses for travel and accomodation. At a time when most are struggling, we have to ask – when was the last time Mike Weatherley felt the dread-fear of an unexpected bill landing on the doormat?

And one wonders just how hard Mike's working for Hollywood's money. His own website proclaims that he's just helped to push through changes to copyright legislation worth £500m to the industry; indeed, Mike is currently the secretary for the all party parliamentary committee on intellectual property.

How close does this come to the line where conflict of interest is concerned – and how squarely is his mind on the residents of Hove and Portslade?