"You may say that I am a dreamer/But I am not the only one" John Lennon: "Imagine"

"So come brothers and sisters/For the struggle carries on" Billy Bragg: "The Internationale"

Elizannie has a reading room at 'Clarice's Book Page' http://www.villiersroad.blogspot.com/

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Who now is the benefit scrounger? Running backwards to the 19th Century

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Many times I have said how much I love the internet and how often it alerts me to a piece of commentary I may have otherwise missed. This morning, whilst catching up with various cousins: wishing one a happy 18th birthday; four of us having an inappropriate giggle over a silly news item; finding out how a dear friend in the US is faring healthwise; smiling at the latest cute picture of Second Youngest Granddaughter - I was alerted by a facebook 'political friend' to a piece in yesterday's Guardian by Suzanne Moore.

Lots has been written about Monday evening's Channel 5 programme 'The Big Benefit's Row'. With a title like that it really was not worth watching, but in the true 'Triumph of Hope Over Experience' spirit and because some good people were on it I thought I would give it a whirl. I didn't take into account that because it also boasted some people who I dislike, the whole thing could turn into a shambles ......

So, in my opinion, the show consisted of people like Ken Livingstone, Jack Monroe, Annabelle Giles, 'White Dee', Owen Jones putting [or rather attempting to put across] reasoned arguments for, statistics about and true case studies of those receiving welfare benefits Edwina Currie and Katie Hopkins hurled abuse and shouted down everyone with whom they disagreed. Yes those two woman really were that bad.

Audience members were not exempt from the opprobrium of the two women. One woman in the audience said she was out every day looking for a job, Currie shouted back at her 'Try harder'.  Panel member Rachel Johnson [editor of 'The Lady' and sister of Boris] put her arm round Jack Monroe and tried to defend her from the worst attacks of Currie and Hopkins. In my last blog I mentioned how benefits campaigner and disabled rights activist Sue Marsh was asked to come on the show and then sidelined and forgotten about. You can read her account here.

And of course someone had to mention during the programme how that dreaded and now demonised group - PENSIONERS - are taking the biggest chunk out of the welfare budget. How DARE they! Most of them having worked for forty plus years, paid tax and national insurance [okay some received Family Allowance. Big deal. Seven shillings and sixpence a week [thirty seven and a half pence] for the SECOND child was my stipend in 1975. And then - oh my - we were granted it for the first child also around 1978. I holidayed in Florida on that. NOT.

It was truly an awful programme. But it seems people are still talking about it [so am I, here!] and when I went out with a large group of friends the evening after the programme it seemed as if the discussion naturally turned to the programme. We all went to uni together back when rocks were soft and now we seem to represent all shades of political opinion and life experience, all of us aged around the 60 age mark, some of us now drawing our state pension. One of our number, who has suffered some truly calamitous life events and after her employer was forced, due to the recession, some years ago to close down his business can only find a job with one of the biggest employers in her village. She 'admitted' that - as she is only paid the minimum wage for her 40 hour week - she needs benefits to top up her wage. In fact most of the employees in her factory have this top up. But her employer is a respected local employer with all the trappings of a wealthy man? Sound familiar to students of the 19th? Who now is the benefit scrounger? The employees or the employer?

I could also talk about my niece who has been for so many job interviews, told on one occasion she must attend wearing a 'business suit' and yet when she arrived was told the person she was to see was 'out for the day'. No-one repaid her travelling expenses or for the suit she had bought [the job centre hadn't sanctioned it. The call for the interview had only been made the night before so presumably the interviewer had had a better offer between making the call and my niece arriving, despite having demanded the correct wearing apparel]; I could talk about the young man I was trying to help find a job for weeks by letting him use my lap top to search the job centre web site. Lots of jobs, pages and pages from one of the pizza delivery shops: zero hours contracts and must provide own car. However tips could be kept; I could talk about the cousin who was struck off DLA by ATOS despite a letter from her consultant and walking with two sticks, and how she had tried for two years to get smaller social housing from her council as she could not afford the heating bills only to be told there was nothing smaller in the area but as soon as the 'bedroom tax' came into force she was fined for having a spare bedroom; I could talk about the single mother who forced to move because of the 'bedroom tax' applied for a bus pass for her son to get to school only to be told he was not eligible as she had 'chosen' to move.

I could talk about all these immoral acts - but what would be the point when those like Edwina Currie, Katie Hopkins and members of this uncaring coalition government would not listen, care or shout me down?

The picture above is from January 2013, I could not access a more upto date one. Below are the figures for 2011/2012, which will obviously have changed thanks to ATOS and the 'bedroom tax'.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

For Richer, For Poorer ....

Travelling around the country last week gave lots of 'thinking and discussion time'. Listening to the news and commentaries on the car radio, quickly turning off if the Environment Secretary or Michael Gove started to stutter out their excuses - and believe me excuses they were - led to discussions. Looking at scenery we have known and watched change - not always for the better - for fifty plus years led to discussions. Looking at housing estates built on what were previously known as flood plains led to discussions. Not being able to drive across usual routes on the Somerset Levels due to the extreme flooding, roads and houses that have been flooded for up to a month now, led to discussions. Observing derelict local schools which we knew to have been happy, community orientated places of learning but now replaced by the school bus which took young people to larger anonymous buildings miles away where youngsters became the equivalent of numbers rather than names and were growing up to feel much less community minded - especially when local amenities like their libraries, shops, doctors surgeries and more had been removed and travel to a larger 'centre' became a necessity led to discussions.

Of course, we were also reminded courtesy of the car radio that times were bad [due to the last government of course] and there is not the money to spend on luxuries. No mention of the damage done to the areas of S.Wales where we spent some time, by Maggie Thatcher in the eighties. The mines that closed there [and in other parts of England and Wales] and had all traces obliterated in a fit of spite - recently released Government papers have revealed that which many of us suspected. And of course the closures brought with them the loss of so many other jobs tied to other local businesses including shops. In one small valley this could have been the only local food store until the villagers themselves took over. You see, in these areas there has always been the sense of community referred to in the last paragraph, something those in Whitehall will never understand.

Moving on to Somerset there was a sense of bewilderment in the communities there who feel completely forsaken by their elected officials. Discussions reported in the media as to whether it would be better to spend money on flood defences for the countryside or the town are truly irrelevant - in much of the countryside river dredgers have been sold off so that flooding becomes inevitable and additionally clearance of trees in upland areas and building on the flood plains has created a [excuse the pun] 'perfect storm'. However the excuse that there is not enough money to go around to help everyone becomes ironic if one considers that there is always enough money for military campaigns and hardware...... Still Prince Charles is visiting today, so that's all good....

Michael Gove's ideas to change the Head of Ofsted are documented here and in other parts of the media. Putting politics aside, I would prefer an experienced person like Lady Morgan to an inexperienced individual whose only qualifications maybe his/her political allegiance. A story to watch.

And just to plug a blog that is about last night's Channel 5 'The Big Benefit's Row' programme, and its up to you, dear reader, to decide who you prefer, Jack Monroe or Edwina Currie. I am sure you will understand who gets my vote!

Just to leave you all with a picture of the River Parrett in Bridgwater on Saturday evening. It may look photogenic, but the water level is frighteningly high.

Monday, 3 February 2014

Pete Seeger: Gone to Greater Glory. May 3, 1919 – January 27, 2014

Pete Seeger died last week but I couldn't get to my blog to write my tribute until now. Many far better and far more eloquent writers have written thousands of wonderful words about one of my heroes, but I still want to add my tribute and play you some of his songs.

Pete has been a great influence on my for over 50 years now. His music, his life, his political activism, especially his peace campaigning - the whole man. Other Half and I have been off on our travels for the past week and spending hours in the car managed to pick up quite a few tributes and programmes on Pete on the car radio. Last night coming home and listing to yet another tribute we were trying to decide if we were to just choose one song he sang to sum up our feelings which one it would be. Of course an utter impossibility but bear with me as I describe a few and why they illustrate his life and my feelings.

I thought of the first song of his I heard which pierced my evolving teenage activist awareness: 'Little Boxes'. In this song he expressed exactly what I felt I didn't want to be - conformist in a society that seemed to want to pigeon hole its citizens into 'people like us'. Looking back over 50 years I wonder how much I have kept true to this ideal and deviated from the norm.... Some I hope!

Of course the iconic anthem 'We Shall Overcome' sung by so many - Other Half and I and our family included - at so many demos and marches over the years doesn't need an introduction. Pete reworded an old spiritual and this link is not the best rendition musically but historically and emotionally it cannot be bettered - a civil rights concert in the US in 1963. Thank you Pete for all you did.

The picture above shows the first album cover which Other Half and I bought and played to death in the first home we shared [incidentally the small record player developed a fault which periodically tripped the main fuse off and plunged us into darkness but we sang on regardless... ] Although this album [and 'LP'] disappeared over the years as LPs got outdated and through housemoves, many of the songs on it were replaced on new purchases of CDs and MP3s and even DVD*s. 

I had two favourites on this album,  'Abiyoyo' 


and the German protest song 'Peat Bog Soldiers' [In German and English] 

Other Half in our discussions nominated a song from the album - by Bob Dylan -'Masters of War' as one of his favourites. [Another thing about Pete, he was never precious or vain, singing others' songs as willingly as his own and always pleased to share when others' sang his songs] Sadly, I couldn't find a youtube or audio link to this so instead I am putting in a link to another anti war song, originally written by Pete during the Vietnam war but here adapted for the Iraq conflict and Pete is joined by Billy Bragg, Steve Earle and Ani DiFranco   

{*I bought the DVD 'The Internationale' which tells the story of how the internationale workers anthem and how Pete persuaded Billy Bragg to rewrite it in a more modern version 


[Original version in French with English commentary by Pete] Billy Bragg version of 'The Internationale', with his comments of how he wrote it at Pete's request:


Moving on, I love this link which shows Pete singing 'Amazing Grace' with Arlo Guthrie 

And here is Pete singing one of Arlo's father's - Woody Guthrie - songs: 'This Land is Your Land' 

  at his 90th birthday celebration

My final song for you all is a personal one with deep memories, again written by Bob Dylan but Pete's choice to perform on the 'Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan, Honouring 50 Years of Amnesty International' CD

Pete's biography can be found on many sites across the net but this is a rather good oneAnd the same with obituaries but here's one from the Guardian.

Sleep gently, Pete and thank you for everything.