Monday, June 15, 2009

As Libby Brooks said in last weeks Guardian (1/6/09): “It is hard to decide what to object to most in the draft welfare reform bill. Perhaps it should be the clause allowing for the abolition of the fundamental state safety net of income support, or the privatisation of back-to-work services that will benefit only shareholders. Maybe it's the requirement that single parents with children as young as three should be available for "work-related activity" or face sanctions, with the adequacy of childcare provision to be judged by a jobcentre adviser. Others might choose the piloting of "work for your benefits" schemes, which will undercut the minimum wage, offering as little as £1.73 an hour to claimants who have been unemployed for more than two years.”
Brooks is right that this is an appalling attack on what remains of the benefits system at precisely a time when there are less and less jobs to bully claimants into. One might have thought that the Labour Party would still have some residual pride in its creation of the welfare state. However its attacks on legal aid and welfare benefits betray New Labour as a very different kind of animal to the traditional Labour Party of the 20th Century. Now that the architect of the draft Bill, James Purnell, has left the Department of Work and Pensions under such unhappy circumstances, we might have hoped that his successor Yvette Cooper might find more useful things to do with her time. No such luck – there is really no difference between Blairites and Brownites in their shared desire to destroy (or reform as they tend to call it) key elements of the welfare state.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

So here we have Nick Griffin using the old nostalgia about community to bolster his racist arguments (interview with the Independent 14/6/09). More worrying still he happily quotes Kate Gavron's book the New East End in support of these views. This confirms my earlier arguments that this book with its nostalgic and communitarian perspective would do nothing but give ammunition for racists (see previous posts):
"Historically, in the 1970s I spent a lot of time in the old east end with the old community, and it was a wonderful place: poor, rough and ready but extraordinarily hospitable and really good people with an identity of their own, most of those people, some of them are still there, and according to that book, the new east end by Katy Gavron, there's an enormous amount of really bitter hostility in the old white east end towards mass immigration they don't even vote for us. They're so alienated by the process they simply don't bother".

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Yes the Poison Dwarf has gone! Hazel Blears the so-called "Minister for Communities" has resigned and with characteristic chutzpah has attempted to project her resignation as an attack on Brown rather than the abject and embarrassing reaction to her expenses involvement that it really is. She says that she wants to return to political activity and community work in the Salford area. God help the people of Salford who have enough problems as it is

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

With tomorrow's elections and the feared success for the BNP it is worth thinking about how we might really get to grips with the underlying causes of racism. New Labour has for far too long colluded with Migration Watch and the the Red Top newspapers to blame racist attitudes on immigrants or immigration (Blame the victim - it is always popular!). This is of course because they refuse to take the radical steps to attack poverty and inequality which are the real predictors of racist attitudes. The rise in racism and support for the BNP mirrors the degree to which the Labour party and the wider labour movement has neglected or even betrayed its base by promoting inequality at both extremes of the spectrum - rich and poor. In a brilliant letter to the Guardian in January (5/1/09) Professor Peter Latchford shows how the terms in which we talk about racism often set it out in ways that actually "perpetuate the divisions between groups of people." We tend to "focus on semantic niceties, rather than on the deep rooted fundamentals". The rest of his letter bears being quoted in full:
"We do know this: that being poor is a better predictor of negative attitudes to other groups - including other races - than is being white (or black, or Asian). We know that people who feel unable to influence things in their area are more likely to feel resentful towards people they see as being different from themselves. We know that people who live among, and have friends from, different backgrounds are more likely to feel that society is cohesive. There may well be an issue with the disempowered, isolated and impoverished white working class and their attitudes to immigration, race and integration. But the facts are clear: the cause of the issue is not whiteness, or even immigration - the real challenge to a cohesive society is disempowerment, isolation and impoverishment as experienced by any ethnic group.
To describe the issue as "white working class" may be a necessarily emotive media and political device, but it runs the risk of perpetuating one key myth: the myth that breakdowns in cohesion result principally from differences between races."

Not only is this bang on the money but notice he has said such an important thing without any recourse to the blancmange term "community". Whereas alot of the communitarians (Young, Putnam etc) who love nothing better than to blame the victim would have used the word community in at least two conflicting ways here: the geographical sense - for the "areas" in which people live and the population group ("backgrounds") that they are defined as coming from.

It is worth noting again that community is a word that is seldom used to describe middle class areas or population groups. It is usually used as a subtle way of "othering" particular groups. Frida Pinto the star of Slumdog Millionaires makes this quite clear when talking about her native Mumbai society. "We don't call them slums we call them communities" she says.