Tag Archives: Liberalism

#Europe, my country

#Europe, my country

When I was nineteen, my friend Paula and I went inter-railing around Europe. The Berlin Wall had come down just the year before.

We splashed in the fountains in front of the Eiffel tower, then took a train East, chatting all day in English with a young man from Iceland. We stayed in the Ruhr and then in a small castle in Bavaria that was full of Yorkshire Terrier puppies. But we had to carry on East because Prague was the place to go, the recently uncovered jewel.

Being vegetarians then, all we could eat in Prague were white bread rolls, plain yellow cheese and the sweetest, most pungent tomatoes I’ve ever tasted. In the old town the statues of heroes on horseback, and the shutters and curtains decorated with hearts, recalled to us our own childhood fairytales of gingerbread cottages and earnest princes.

We wandered in grand nineteenth-century cemeteries, peered into dynastic shrines where brown and white photos showed familiar old-fashioned costumes – fluffy beards, cravats, monocles.

A history teacher and his wife and teenage son had us to dinner and spoke to us in broken English and broad smiles of delight that we could all be there together. After dinner the couple withdrew to the sofa to watch TV and cuddle unashamedly.

Paula and I took our picnics of white rolls, cheese and tomatoes to benches in the wide squares. Around us the middle-aged and the old walked slowly, almost gingerly, out from their apartments to sit on benches and talk, softly, casually, about this and that, the pigeons, the children. We were told this was a great new pleasure for them, that they hadn’t been able to do for forty years. The women were stout, with knotted nets of varicose veins around their calves.

Taking the train back we passed leafless forests, where smoke from soft coal had burned away the leaves.

We saw the wound, and we saw it starting to heal.

#Mohammed Ali

Guest Post on Mohammed Ali by Herbie, St Albans

If the Bay of Pigs can be seen as a straight right hand to the psychological jaw of White America, then the Las Vegas defeat of the {black Christian} Floyd Patterson by {the black Muslim}  Ali was a perfect left hook to the gut”.——-

The heavyweight champion is a symbol of masculinity to the American male. And a Black champion, as long as he is firmly fettered in his private life, is a fallen lion at every white man’s feet. Through a curious psychic mechanism, the puniest white man experiences himself as a giant killer, as a superman, a great white hunter leading a gigantic ape, the black champion tamed by the white man, around on a leash. But when the ape breaks away from the leash, beats his deadly fists on his massive chest and starts talking to boot, proclaiming himself to be the greatest, spouting poetry and annihilating every gun bearer the white hunter puts on him { the white hunter  not being disposed to crawl in the ring himself } a very serious slippage takes place in the white man’s self-image – that by which he defined himself  no longer has a recognisable identity. “IF THAT BLACK APE IS A MAN,” the white hunter asks himself,

“THEN WHAT AM I”.

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Guest blog: Herbie Agyemang-Duah

From Herbie, St Albans:

 Donald Trump is getting angry white men very excited. Unfortunately, they won’t decide the election.

In 2016, race trumps class in America.

The most important American political act of this year by some degree was Beyoncé’s performance at the Super bowl.  

Her homage to the 1960’s Black Panthers and her Black Power salute brought the Black Lives Matter -– the protests about the disproportionate number of African American men who die at police hands – campaign to the mainstream. And she foregrounded the fact that the Presidential primaries are – in reality – about whether race matters more than class.

In all of the agonised analysis of what Donald Trump means for the Republican Party,  apart from the fact that the GOP grandees have lost control, one fact is repeated again and again – this has been a long time coming. The Trump Supremacy is not an aberration in Republican history, it is the culmination of a strategy that started with Richard Nixon’s Southern Strategy; his 1968 law and order { rein in the black trouble-makers platform } which won the  white working-class Southern voters back from the Democrats with a strong populist appeal rooted in values. And again repeated in 1972  his “Acid, Abortion, and Amnesty” assault on George McGovern saying that Democrats were hippies, un-Christian and pacifists who wanted Vietnam deserters pardoned to Reagan’s “Morning in America” optimistic patriotism (plus Guns, God and Abortion) that populism won over working class white voters. Again race was not off the menu: His “welfare queen” rhetoric referred to single-parent black mothers on social security.

Newt Gingrich even labelled Black President  Barack Obama the “food stamp president” during the 2012 presidential election.

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#LibDems: Death of a Class

In 1997 I had the honour of being a journalist at the Financial Times. One afternoon we were summoned by our chief exec to the large lecture hall to hear a presentation he’d entitled ‘The Cascade’.

Long-standing foreign correspondents, eminent leader writers and small fry such as myself, a sub editor somewhere towards the middle of the second section, sat in the half dark while flow-charts flashed across a screen. It was in the days when Management was still on honeymoon with PowerPoint.

On the CE’s screen, boxes were arranged in pyramid formations, with vertical lines joining them up. These pyramid shapes appeared to be what had given rise to the CE’s title ‘The Cascade’.

The presentation centred around who was now reporting to whom in some new structure, of little interest to the journalists who ethically kept away from the commercial departments and simply reported to their Managing Editor of the day who operated like a ship’s captain, making instant decisions that commanded instant respect.

Now and again the CE mentioned his new word: ‘Delight’. Then he would click on a box, which would magically open up to reveal an inner core of bullet points – how that department was going to ‘delight’ its ‘stakeholders’. When we got finally to the Editorial box and the click was made there was just one item: Free Giveaways.

‘How are we to delight our readers?’ asked the CE. This was a rhetorical question. He didn’t await the journalists’ views. Instead, he reminded us that recently the FT had offered free gold-plated pens to readers.

We should have walked out then.

It was business doing the two fingers to the professional classes, on whose expertise that business depended.

I had already encountered management bullying and disrespect in smaller financial magazines: well-educated apprentices working all hours in the hopes of being kept on, only to be fired and replaced by a new eager apprentice; long-standing reporters constructively dismissed over tiny errors. Coming from a private school and Oxford, I had already by age 25 seen the necessity of joining my union.

But this, in front all the journalists at the Financial Times, when that paper was probably at the height of its prestige (the year it told the City to vote Labour), was an insult on a new scale.

It should have been a call to arms for the entire intelligentsia. But the intelligentsia has stayed mute about its own interests as a class, its members by long British tradition ashamed to be middle class, instead joining in others’ narratives, either sycophantically identifying with the toffs or sentimentally identifying with the remnants of the working classes whom they are now rapidly joining, to nobody’s benefit. It is this unwillingness to identify with the middle classes, in both Liberal Democrat politicians and their natural voters, the educated middle classes, that has led to the demise of the Party and, with it, a class, a way of life, a way to make a living.

Since 1997 I have seen more restructuring flow charts than I’ve had hot dinners. I moved into teaching but it made no difference. Skilled labour is replaced with unskilled labour. Inspections and targets are used to bully teachers, but doing well by those measures is no protection against sacking. Teachers at every level of the education system including university lecturers are forced to re-apply for their jobs. In my sector, Further Education, most colleges have a cull every summer. The result of all this is that the hirers and firers, the managers, practise bullying and favouritism on a grand scale. End-users suffer from the instability and the lack of motivation and skill in staff and the amount of sick leave.

Anything that can call itself a profession has been attacked: the civil services, the social services, the police, the military, the creative industries, academia, librarians, medical practitioners. Professionals have lost job security, pension and prestige. Doctors are well paid, but we don’t train enough doctors, so opportunities within the NHS are limited if you are British. Lawyers can survive because they have private clients, but the underlying justice and prestige of the legal system is eroded by the lack of Legal Aid and thus also the lack of test cases involving poorer people feeding into Common Law. Scientists and engineers can get jobs in industry, but who will educate the next generation of scientists?

I come from a family that has done just about all the professions connected with words and reason, counting over the last few generations a lawyer, a vicar, an archaeologist, writers, editors, a Maths teacher in a secondary modern, an actor, a master of an Oxford college, a History professor (and some of those have been women). My uncle was the first to leave, setting up his own business in the 1980s, trading in books, caught by enthusiasm for Thatcher. Now I am switching to business too. I am the main carer and main provider for my son and I think I have a better chance of developing an income stream going forward, and having time with him, even having some kind of pension, if I let my spare room and self-publish my own text books. I may not have sufficient business in my background for it to work. No guarantees. No doubt the Tories will self-righteously approve of my insecurity – professionals brought down at last.

I won’t have time to write novels about the state we’re in that can’t get published because Waterstones wants to run a limited number of titles, mainly celebrity cookbooks; or to be an activist in a Party that has to work twice as hard as the main parties for every vote; or time to try and influence public opinion and society at all.

Here ends the chattering classes, the chatter and this blog.

Adventures in Tory Land: Democracy in Middle England, comic tales of the canvassing trail, is available on Amazon.com for £2 here: http://amzn.to/1GpXY1F

Or, if you want to twang your heartstrings more, listen to ‘What I Did for Love’ sung by Engelbert Humperdinck on youtube: http://bit.ly/1JBe0Wi

#UKIP Myth 2: #Race

Leo is two and eight months and still hasn’t noticed skin colour. He knows his colours, and he’s got no qualms about making personal comments, remarking loudly on beards, moustaches, moles, hats, shoes and walking sticks. Very occasionally he talks about hair colour. ‘I’ve got brown hair. Mummy’s got brown hair. Daddy’s got…. grey hair!’

On Saturday we were coming back from the big Quaker meeting in Friends House in London and Albert pulled up in his car to talk to us. Albert is from Trinidad. After the chat, Leo asked me, ‘He’s a boy?’ ‘Yes, he’s a boy. He’s a man.’ ‘He got a willy?’ ‘Yes.’ With that cleared up, Leo went back to talking about trains.

The Racist Animal Lover by Asbjorn Gundersen

The Racist Animal Lover by Asbjorn Gundersen

Adventures in Tory Land: Democracy in Middle England, by Katie Barron and Asbjorn Gundersen, is available as an ebook and paperback through Amazon and in Waterstones St Albans. Yours for £2. For a laugh, click here! http://amzn.to/1GpXY1F

Leo and #Justice

Leo has been asking me ALL DAY, ‘Why does Mr King hava go to jail?’

‘Because he took some money’ is not enough of a reason for Leo.

And because I’m a Liberal parent, I’m just not gonna say ‘because he is a BAD MAN’. I’m not going to say it, although it might reassure Leo.

So why does Mr King, the smuggler in Graham Greene’s The Little Steamroller, have to go to jail?

Is it because he was grumpy?

Mr King is grumpy (Ardizzone)

Mr King is grumpy (Ardizzone, from The Little Steamroller, by Graham Greene, 1974)

Is it because he lied?

Mr King lies to a customs official (Ardizzone)

Mr King lies to a customs official (Ardizzone)

Is it because he crashed his car and lost his hat?

The Little Steamroller deliberately crashes into Mr King's car (Ardizzone)

The Little Steamroller deliberately crashes into Mr King’s car (Ardizzone)

Leo just can’t see stealing some gold and hiding it in some toy bricks as nearly as awful as having your hands ‘tangled up’ and being locked up in a cell without Mummy and Daddy, with no one to talk to and where you can’t get out. The only way out for us, at teatime, bathtime, bedtime, was to enact a role play where one of us would be Mr King. We said sorry, we gave back the gold, and then the policemen mended our car and our hat and we went home and had tea. But the hand-cuffs were insupportable. When I tried to mime wearing hand-cuffs Leo simply shouted ‘No!’

The day has been torture, and Leo has won. Because I don’t know why a punishment should ever be more painful than the original crime.

As Gilbert & Sullivan’s Mikado says, let ‘the punishment fit the crime’. By the way that was a brilliant production by St Albans Chamber Opera in March. They’ve another opera coming in May. http://www.stalbanschamberopera.org.uk/

BabMikadoTeeth
His teeth, I’ve enacted,
Shall all be extracted
By terrified amateurs.
(Cartoon by W. S. Gilbert)