Monday, February 21, 2011


As the government introduced the Welfare Reform Bill, complaining of spongers getting easy money off the state for doing nothing, I saw nineteen police officers milling about Leeds station with an airport-style metal detector asking - with no powers to compel - random people to go through to see if they were carrying a knife.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

kyoto remembered, and what has to come next

Following last month's piece about the Newbury Bypass, I've written another article for Dorian Cope's kickass On This Deity site.

This one's for the anniversary for the day the Kyoto Protocol came into (non) effect

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

is it ok for protesters to damage property?

I've just done a written debate with another activist for the New Internationalist on 'Is it OK for protesters to damage property?'.

These NI debates try to get an issue that has progressive people on both sides and have a debate that's thoughtful and respectful but strident, and useful to the movement rather than a retread of polarised cliches. I think it's met the brief this time.

[No comments on this post - the place to leave them is on the New Internationalist site]

Saturday, February 12, 2011

watch out for geldof

Saw this in a jeweller's window the other day.

Even by the satanic standards of celebrity-endorsed advertising, and even within the confines of just a few words, it's amazing how many different kinds of wrong this poster can be.

'I don't want to live like you. I don't want to talk like you. I'm going to be like me'.
Sir Bob Geldof - Musician, Activist, Businessman

The slogan makes it clear that we're trading on Geldof's Band Aid reputation here.

His outspokenness with authority was always a fine quality, even before Band Aid had him gobbing off at Thatcher. On a chat show he shared a sofa with Vidal Sassoon who said that everyone owed it to themselves to stay in shape so he does a few lengths of his pool every day. Geldof rounded on him and pointed out that most people have knackering jobs and family responsibilities that sap their energy, as well as a notable lack of money to buy their own pool. That's good stuff, but he crowned it by then asking Sassoon if he didn't consider himself grossly overpaid for a barber.

Anyway, what we're meant to think here is that the part of Geldof that was fearless in dealing with the powerful because he knew he had the moral high ground has somehow led him to wear a particular brand of watch. Whereas it's actually just the pay cheque, a lump of money for a man who is already a millionaire several dozen times over.

But more than this, if you buy the brand of watch that he's prepared to be on a poster for then you too will be as righteous and morally valiant as Geldof is perceived to be. (Let's just ignore his tax evading non-dom status.)

Next up we have that quote that's supposed to chime with this rugged valiance of the spirit that 'follow your convictions' has set up. It's taken from Lookin' After Number 1, the first of the Boomtown Rats' stupendous opening salvo of six singles.

It is written with glaring knowing irony from the perspective of someone toweringly arrogant and selfish.

Don't give me love thy neighbour
Don't give me charity
Don't give me peace and love or the good lord above
You only get in my way with your stupid ideas

I am an island
Entire of myself
And when I get old, older than today
I'll never need anybody's help in any way

I'm gonna take your money
Count your loss when I'm gone
I'm alright Jack,
Lookin' after number one

I don't wanna be like you
I don't wanna live like you
I don't wanna talk like you
I'm gonna be like me

This is obviously written as something that only an idiot would think rather than, as the advert believes, something to identify with.

Even that name under the quote, Sir Bob Geldof, isn't right. Geldof got gonged with a KBE, Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire. As he's a citizen of a country where the Queen is not head of state it's just an honorary knighthood. He is not a 'sir'.

All of this deconstruction component by component focuses on the advertiser and the advertisement. We then have the additional principle of the whole thing. Doing something good that makes you prominent and thereby leads to an incidental increase in your album sales is one thing. Taking the doing of good deeds and using them as a marketing tool to enrich yourself by getting people to buy a luxury item is a leap beyond.

As one of Geldof's punk contemporaries said,

I believe in this, and it's been tested by research,
He who fucks nuns will later join the church

Misrepresented as having integrity, misquoted as a lyricist, mistitled as a British knight, all in one swift shot. Advertising; the area where consumerism packs more of its wrongness per square inch than any other.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

westminster council attack the jobless (slight return)

Further to the last post, not only are Westminster Council punishing the unemployed wanting council houses, they're attacking the poor who rent privately too.

In June last year, Westminster Council's - her again - Philippa Roe defended the forthcoming cuts to Housing Benefit. Lambasting its currently huge cost she said

we have no issue with the families who have been claiming these high levels of benefit, as it is the system itself that is at fault and not them.

The system she speaks of is one the Tories instigated, where few new council houses are built and huge quantities of them are sold off, making the remaining number available spiral down the plughole. So, almost everyone poor has to rent from a private landlord, which is far more expensive than council housing.

Private rent funds two things: money to cover the landlord's mortgage on a property, and extra money to give the landlord a profit for being the owner.

As George Orwell said,

the ground-landlord in a town area has no function and no excuse for existence. He is merely a person who has found out a way of milking the public while giving nothing in return. He causes rents to be higher, he makes town planning more difficult, and he excludes children from green spaces: that is literally all that he does, except to draw his income.

The Housing Benefit system will not buy a house for a family who are renting, yet it will happily pay that same mortgage plus a fat premium to buy that same house for someone who already owns fifty others.

It would clearly be cheaper if the landlord took less of a premium, as is the case with councils who own housing. But the private landlord's main aim is to maximise that premium, so the predictable and inevitable result of reducing council housing is that the Housing Benefit bill will increase. The expense Roe complains of is expense her party created.

The cuts in Housing Benefit will force people to move away, ghettoising them in wherever is cheapest. This will shred communities, with all the associated impacts on crime and mental health, and of course the places with the cheapest rents are the ones with no opportunities. Moving the jobless to unemployment blackspots is hardly going to increase their chances, yet the new benefits regime penalises those who don't find work within a few months.

Philippa Roe assured us last June

the new changes will not take hold until April 2011 and we have time to plan and forecast what the housing needs of Westminster will be.

By December, Westminster Council reportedly

admitted it plans to move 80 per cent of homeless housing benefit claimants needing temporary accommodation out of the borough.

When the Tories talk of 'forecasts' and 'rewards', they are speaking of whitewashes and penalties. Wherever you live, if you are unemployed it is your personal moral failing for which you must be punished.