Last week, research scientists sent an open letter to a group of activists called “Take the Flour Back” imploring them not to damage and destroy a field in Hertfordshire during a day of “planned action” at the end of May. The field is part of Rothamsted Research’s study into a genetically modified wheat which, it is hoped, will be highly resistant to aphids. A crop, which if successful, could eradicate the need for pesticide use.
Which is a good thing right? Well clearly not according to some.
We’ve been tinkering with the science of genetics for thousands of years, it’s almost as old as agriculture itself. Wheat, the most widely grown crop on the planet, is already a hybrid of many different species. Commercially grown modern wheat, untended, wouldn’t even survive in the wild; human beings have changed it beyond what would ever appear naturally. The grains are a lot bigger than undomesticated varieties and it has a real issue with seed dispersal, an impotence which has been cultivated through years of selective breeding: so it’s easier and more worthwhile to harvest. We’ve also bred in “dwarfing” which means the stalk is shorter, so the energy of the plant can be more usefully diverted to the production of seed. Trying to grow it in the wild would be the agricultural equivalent of releasing a sausage dog into the wilderness and expecting it to survive. All the aspects that make the dog desirable to us – in this case resembling a tiny-legged-sausage-with-a-face, would be exactly the things that would give it no chance. It is as far from a wolf as it’s possible to be – because that’s how we want it. But to most of us it’s not a dangerous abomination, it’s just a sausage dog.
So what has inspired such promises of violence towards a field of GM wheat? After all, since the late 90‘s when the widespread commercial use of GM crops started in the US, there has never been a single proven case of anyone ever having suffered ill effects through their consumption. All those millions and millions of people and nobody’s grown another head or a third armpit. Presumably because extensive trials, like the one under threat in Hertfordshire, are carried out to ensure the product is safe. GM Crops undergo a far more rigorous process of regulation than their non-GM equivalents and have since the very beginning.
“Take the flour back”, have suggested the threat of contamination, but that doesn’t really ring true. The safety measures in place for this particular trial are impressive to say the least: the crop will be surrounded by inert fields far beyond the dispersal range of the wheat’s pollen, making the threat of contamination as effectively close to zero as it is possible to get.
It’s difficult to understand the mindset of a group, whose concerns regarding GM include the fact that not enough research is being done, destroying that very same research. Protesters often cite the dangers of corporate oligarchy – control and profit, as a reason against GM crops, and whilst this is a very valid reason for scrutiny and where my own concerns normally lay, it doesn’t apply here either: the end-product, if successful, will not become a patented biocrop only available to the highest bidder. Despite all the doom-mongering, Rothamsted Research is not a malevolent multinational, hushing up mutants in it’s basement, it’s a group of well respected scientists whose aim is to improve on what we have and share it with the world. Their ultimate aim is a crop whose yield, resistance to drought, nutritional value, shelf-life and cost to grow could help end starvation in the Third World.
When I hear people say that we don’t know the results of long term use, that we’ve only been using GM crops for 20 years, I think to myself – that is considerably longer than millions of Africans are currently living. With around 15 million children dying of hunger every year, destroying this important work is destroying a manifesto whose ideals would wipe out famine.
In keeping with the subject of mutation, the word “activist” is one whose meaning has perhaps mutated as much as the crops some seek to destroy. In this instance though it is a moniker that seems destined to ring true. Rather than the admirable mission of concerned citizens, activist is now the “go-to” word to describe any campaigners associated with some degree of violence or destruction. I’ve felt for as long as I can remember that this is exactly the wrong thing, as a protester, to do. As soon as you become a crusader with the mindset of a terrorist, then you sacrifice, not your ability to be noticed, but your ability to be taken seriously, it dilutes the purity of your message. The role of a protester is to engage sympathy through peaceful actions, to shine a light on inequalities or dangers and thereby expand your audience. Once this has been achieved you voice valid points to that audience - be they the community, the government or the world.
You raise your voice, not your fist.
Unlike the White Queen to Alice, I won’t be asking you to believe six impossible things before breakfast or indeed any other meal, but I will ask that you forgive my tenuous analogy. In hindsight, it would have been more appropriate if it were the Red Queen who imparted this nonsensical advice, as the two subjects of this contrast and comparison are closely associated with that hue.
I have an invested interest in, and have been closely following the fortunes of, two public figures and, in spite of there being few obvious connections between them, I decided to kill two birds with one badly considered article. They are Labour leader Ed Miliband and Liverpool FC manager Kenny Dalglish. Their red credentials are under no doubt – the former the younger son of a prominent Marxist theoretician, the latter an Anfield legend both on and off the pitch – but neither came into their jobs through a direct route and both have come under fire from sections of their supporters.
The former Energy and Climate Change Secretary ascended to his current position by the roundabout route of being the least offensive to his party members. His elder brother David, heir apparent, polled more first-choice votes, but due to the complicated AV form of polling Ed won through by being more people’s second choice. Not the most confidence inspiring way to become leader.
‘King’ Kenny took the reigns in a temporary capacity after the sacking of predecessor, new England manager Roy Hodgson, who had been a spectacular failure in charge, and hadn’t endeared himself to the Kop faithful. Dalgleish rode in on a tide of popular support, with his name being called out from the terraces.
For the first eighteen months in the position, if Ed Miliband’s record as leader of the opposition were expressed as a series of score lines, read from the old-school videprinter on a Saturday teatime BBC, they’d be a dirge of tedious no-score draws. Politically, he’s thus far squandered every gilt-edged chance he has been served up – and has been accused of bandwagon jumping when he did catch on – and missed more open goals than a blind, drunk, one-legged heifer (or, Andy Carroll, as his friends know him.)
Initially, his sporting counterpart in this shaky analysis, fared a little better. Dalglish stabilised the team, inspired confidence and invested in new and exciting talent. Results improved and the team crawled up the Premier League table.
But recently their fortunes have polarised somewhat. Where Liverpool and their popular figurehead had endured a run of poor form, the Labour leader has began to soar.
Up until the past few weeks, I got the impression when Ed Miliband was handed these golden opportunities to shine he wasn’t entirely sure what to do with them, like the ape at the beginning of 2001: A Space Odyssey, picking up a bone and bashing the corpse until the light bulb above its head flickered into life. But, of late, the government has begun to resemble that corpse. Barely a day goes by without some new grief, some reason for embarrassment, so he isn’t short of material to thrash them with. There has been the débâcle that was the government’s handling of a potential fuel tanker drivers’ strike that caused chaos at the pumps; the resignation of party treasurer Peter Cruddas in the wake of the cash-for-access scandal; a budget that they could not even justify to their back benchers and included the memorable granny-tax, pasty-tax and caravan tax; the Leveson inquiry uncovering evidence of collusion between Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt and News Corp in the takeover bid for BSkyB; and the devastating news that the UK economy experienced a so-called ‘double-dip’ recession, in spite of their claim to being the party with the correct formula to heal the country’s debt problem. An omnishambles, as Miliband catchingly described it. Not even Liverpool’s £35m Geordie statue, Carroll, could fail to hit a bullseye.
With each new mishap, Miliband has taken to the dispatch box at Prime Minister’s questions and has aggressively and effectively taken the Premier to task over them. David Cameron’s only defence, as it usually is, has been attack, rather than answering his opposite number’s questions. The mantra he repeats, regardless of the subject, is that the previous government got the country into these difficulties, and his government is taking difficult decisions to solve them. But how long will that wash?
The party’s defeat at the Bradford West bi-election was the only tarnish to this otherwise excellent purple patch. Labour lost the seat to one policy, professional agitator George Galloway, who was expelled from the party in 2003 and has oft come back to haunt them, like some embittered, shit-flinging, Scottish poltergeist.
Liverpool’s form has also caused them to part company with employees. Director of football Damien Comolli, along with some backroom staff, were given the bullet when results took a negative turn. Frenchman Comolli was the architect behind all of the club’s overpriced and under performing acquisitions, and, as in politics, when dismissals begin the minor functionaries act as a firewall around the person in the hotseat. Although the men on the pitch must take their share of responsibility, Dalglish’s tactical failings must shoulder much blame. He spent a decade away from management, years in which the game has changed radically.
The man is so adored the dilemma for the owners is, by appointing him they have given the supporters exactly what they wanted, now how do you get rid of him? To fire him would be like walking into a nursery with a basket of puppies then, in front of the delighted children, taking out a shotgun and blasting the dogs in the face with both barrels.
But in spite of his good run, I can’t invest much faith in Ed Miliband. It’s only weak opposition making him look good. His father was a socialist poster boy, but so what? My dad used to work for Heinz, but that doesn’t make me a go-to man for baked beans. All my instincts and reason are against his long-term prospects. He is a competent junior minister, but can you see him as Prime Minister? Some have commented he has the look of a Nick Park creation – I’m sure not helped by being viewed as a puppet of the unions – and a personality as dull and lumpen as one of those plasticine figures. It’s sad that personality should matter so much in a politician, but in this day and age of 24 hour multi-platform media it’s a must. A lack of a likeable personality was the downfall of dour, boring accountant Gordon Brown, who, fifty years ago, may have made a fair PM, but under constant, intense scrutiny he lacked the necessary nous. David Cameron, in spite of any opinions you may have about his politics, is very media savvy, although some are finding the smug, posh boy persona becoming very wearing.
Likewise, I can’t see Dalglish staying in his position either. It has become apparent he isn’t the man to restore Liverpool to the lofty successes of the 1980s. For a man who, to the club’s fans, could do no wrong, his reputation has been tarnished a little and perhaps the best result for all parties would be for him to fall on his sword.
If you’ve stuck with me this far, you’ll be relieved to know the connections between the two men do tie together a little neater than this article has so far given the impression. Both face stern tests of their leadership this week that could make or break their careers.
On Thursday 3rd May 2012, up and down the country, those not too apathetic will vote in local council elections. Parties in government usually suffer badly in mid-term elections, and with this government experiencing what can only be described as a crisis anything less than a Labour whitewash will be seen as a failure and an indictment of Miliband’s leadership.
On Saturday, the men in red shorts will face the toughest test of Dalglish’s reign so far when they face a enlivened Chelsea in the FA Cup final. They have already won a trophy this year – the League Cup – but this will be a make-or-break moment.
Good form in politics, like football, is fickle and fleeting. You can be riding high one week and plummeting the next. Unlike in football, this form is not so easily chartable, with no league tables to express results. The closest indicators would be polls conducted by the likes of YouGov and Ipsos MORI, but these are to be used only as a general guide. People are more willing to make a decision with no consequences, but when it comes to an election they tend to vote truer to type, so polls do not necessarily accurately represent an election result. But most polls are currently agreed that Labour are well ahead, with trust in the government ebbing away. Liverpool’s eighth position in the league tells a different story. They have fallen well short of the expectations of the owners and the fans.
The fear is that should both individuals succeed this week, it will buy them time in positions they have already outstayed their welcome.
On a sunny but windy Saturday 31st March, residents of Washington, young and old, gathered along Concord Front Street to witness the unveiling of the new Miner’s Statue in the heart of the town. With speeches from Councillor Kelly (Portfolio Holder for Safer City and Culture), Sharon Hodgson, Member of Parliament for Washington and Sunderland West, the Chair of the Durham Miner’s Association and the Deputy Mayor of Sunderland City Council it was a day that many had been eagerly anticipating.
I stood with the crowd and watched as the statue was unveiled, people filled with anticipation waited to see what the end product would be and it did not disappoint. The statue was greeted with a warm round of applause and a gentle undertone of genuine appreciation. A few of the comments I overheard included: ‘What a wonderful, traditional statue’ and ‘It has been a long time coming’.
Indeed this statue has been a long time coming!
For a few years now, individuals and community groups have been raising money to get the statue erected in Washington and support has been coming from many different organisations to the cause; from the Durham Miner’s Association to Sunderland City Council. I, like many others, donated money to the Miner’s Family Statue through buying a miner’s lamp key ring a few months ago.
Yet this day of commemoration has been marred by recent events. Not even three days after the statue was unveiled on Saturday afternoon, an unnamed suspect tried to ruin the statue. News broke this morning on Facebook that at around 1AM the statue was targeted by metal thieves trying to hack off the leg of the child – a part of the statue portraying a miner and his family. This news comes as a major blow to everyone who was involved in the planning, fundraising and campaigning to bring this statue to Washington and to all those people who attended the event to see the statue unveiled.
It is sad to think but it was inevitable that some where down the line the statue would be defaced but sadly things like this happen to statues in busy public areas. I spoke with a few local councillors afterwards who had these fears but every one felt that the statue represented something so special to the community of Washington that no one would deface it. How wrong we all were.
This mindless criminality is exactly why people feel that doing projects like the Miner’s Family statue are worthless. Why should we spend money on something we know is going to be ruined by some thug? No doubt this thought will cross many people’s minds over the coming days, but we should not have this attitude towards future projects.
Firstly if we let this deter us from future projects then we have let who ever did this win. Secondly, the way the statue has brought people together. The statue represents a sense of community and a sense of worth that we lost decades ago.People are proud of the statue and the past that it represents in a time when people feel that society gives us nothing to feel proud about.
Why should we punish ourselves for one persons evident disengagement from the significance of the statue? Simple answer, we should not.
A leak from Department for Education has suggested that Michael Gove, Education Secretary, will ban the discretionary up to 2 weeks leave of absence that Head Teachers are permitted to grant during term time, according to the Telegraph. Apparently, this will help cut down on truancy.
Ostensibly this leave of absence is supposed to be for cases of illness, bereavement and bad weather, but is regularly used by parents to take holidays during term time, when it is cheaper. According to a survey by the Travelsupermarket.com website,
‘Prices increase by up to 42 per cent for a family of four taking a two-week trip to the Algarve during the school holidays.’
The justification in this draconian measure is that it will stop parents putting pressure on Head Teachers to authorised holiday absences. As a parent myself, with a child about to start School in September, this is something of great interest to me.
So what are the arguments for and against this move?
Arguments for :
There are holiday periods built in to the school calendar so you should take your holidays then.
If you can’t afford a holiday abroad during the holidays you should set your sights lower and go camping in the lakes instead.
Nobody NEEDS a holiday. It is not a human right to have one.
It disrupts the education process.
It will have no affect on persistent truants. They are the ones who bump up the figures, whose parents never even ask permission anyway.
The biggest cause absence was due to illness, not holidays! Perhaps we should be banning sick days instead as that will have a bigger effect on attendance?
Again it is an attack on impoverished families. I think it sends a very clear message that poor people shouldn’t have holidays. I would argue they need it more, just a week where a family who is struggling day to day can have some quality time together just having fun.
It will affect people who have family abroad. Families generally don’t schedule weddings, birthdays, bereavements and other family events around the school holidays. It may be only time parents can afford to take their children to see overseas families is during term time. Certainly, this is something that I have experience of, seeing that I am half Spanish and my Dad lives in Spain.
Some parents may struggle to get time off work during the holidays, especially if others in their workplace are all wanting time off then – this is something my husband struggles with.
The holiday companies share some of the blame with the ridiculous hikes they put on holidays during the school holidays. Even campsites charge premium rates for pitches during the holidays. The argument is that they are there to make money and it is all about supply and demand. Surely though, if they offered cheaper holidays then more people would go?
To illustrate a typical price rise, I picked a popular UK holiday company, it has caravan parks all over the county. I priced up a 4 night stay for 2 adults and 2 children, in a one up from basic caravan, in a park on the Yorkshire coast.
For week commencing Monday 27th August, the cost was £325.50. Go the following week, and it would cost you £197.50 – a saving of £128! For a family only able to save a couple of quid a week for the family holiday, this is a big difference.
There are times when parents are taking the piss and absolutely this should be clamped down on. No-one needs to take their child on an uber expensive holiday to Disney Land, and Disney is horribly overpriced anyway. I would argue that some holidays can have value to a child’s education, teaching them about geography, allowing them to experience new people and places.
Perhaps an overhaul of terms and holidays is needed, to spread them out, with different schools having their holidays at different times?
All I know is this; once again the government are attacking families. Nice one Tories!
Earlier this week it was seen that Tesco were (apparently mistakenly) advertising for permanent slaves. Oops. In fact I believe the slavery contracts are supposed to be temp only. So, whatever, does anyone fancy going and working night shifts at Tesco for free? You know, learning really valuable skills that will look great on your CV? No? Well, I hope for you you’re not unemployed because you may actually not have the choice.
Anyway, there was justifiable outrage. There are calls to boycott Tesco. It’s a good reason to boycott them. Another good reason. If I lived in the UK I wouldn’t set foot in the place. For me it is the most despicable of the supermarkets, ruthlessly bullying farmers and small business owners in its quest for profit.
Other businesses are falling over each other to tell the world how they will not use Workfare. Tesco are mightily embarassed. They are working 24/7 furiously deleting critical posts on their Facebook page.
Tesco are not the only bullies outed by this furore. The world is finally opening its eyes to the government’s schemes to starve people back into work, to thieve back the benefits from those who need them most. The Department for Work and Pensions, led by Ian Duncan Smith are still churning out abhorrent policies which seem to be a deliberate attack on the most vulnerable.
What can you do? Not much actually. Write to your MPs, tell them how appalled you are at the government sponsored slavery and other initiatives aimed at stealing from the poor. Lend your support to the Boycott Workfare campaign. Boycott companies who are benefiting from the disgusting schemes.
And remember the Tories will not do anything to help you and me. It is all about helping the rich people. They may have squealed a little about the bonuses of the bankers a few weeks ago. But honestly? A few people’s bonuses aren’t going to change anything. Bonuses, despite what the press said, don’t create the recession. They may be pretty huge sums of money to you and me, but they are in fact peanuts in the whole scheme of things. Rich people are getting richer under the Tories. Which is fine. Nothing against rich people at all. It’s just when the government steals from the poor to enrich its friends that I feel very very very nauseous.
When I told my sister that I wanted to join a union, she laughed and said: “You can’t go on strike – what will you do, go to work?” She had a point.
I suffer from a severe mental illness, and so am unable to work. My husband works part time in a shop and we have two young children, so we don’t have much spare money. I am a member of the Labour party, and strongly feel that the only way to counter the imbalance of power is to work collectively. If we are to stand up for our rights, we need a bigger voice. Unions are a good way of getting that voice.
As soon as I heard that some unions accept unemployed members with a cheap subscription I decided to join. I might not be able to work, but I can do what I can by being counted. Hopefully I can help with campaigns and volunteering. Maybe my voice will make a difference, and I can prove that I’m worth listening to even if I don’t have paid employment. I have become a bit of an informal benefits adviser to friends and family – having had dealings with benefit forms I’ve started following changes with interest, and so I know how important it is to be able to get advice from others.
There are other aspects to being a member of a union that are particularly important to me as a mother, such as legal advice and cheap deals on insurance. Young children make you want a secure life – we need to know that if things go wrong, someone will help.
Until recently I felt secure that legal aid and the welfare state would be there if things went wrong – we are already very vulnerable, and so I will grab with both hands anything that might put a cushion between us and disaster. It isn’t our children’s fault that they have a mentally ill mother – the illness makes day-to-day life hard enough without extra worry.
I probably will never use a good proportion of a unions services, but plenty of people will, and by paying this very small amount we’re helping to spread the cost. Keeping unions viable makes employers act that bit more honestly. They have to do whatever makes the most profit, but if unions are still strong, that becomes a factor they have to consider when making their calculations, and hopefully that is a good thing overall for everyone. Even if I can’t strike.
Scotland is going through the motions of divorcing itself from England. No counselling, no trial separation, straight to the severing of their union, followed by the ugly scene of dividing the spoils and arguing over who gets custody of their shared debts.
Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond was elected to the post with a mandate to push the agenda of further devolution. The SNP leader, independent of the UK government, this week set a rough date for a referendum on the constitutional future of his country for the autumn of 2014, in a bold move designed to bring the debate to the forefront of Westminster politics. Unsurprisingly, both sides of the House of Commons united in support of the continuation of the status quo, and made moves to ensure that, if the question of Scotland’s position within the union is to be on the agenda, then it is so on their terms. A unilateral move towards independence, it has been pointed out, would be illegal and illegitimate, and talks between the First Minister and Prime Minister David Cameron should be entered into before any decision is made by either government.
One of the main sticking points is what question or questions, exactly, should be on the ballot paper. The bottom line would be a decision on whether or not Scotland wants to remain part of the United Kingdom – a simple yes or no, in or out choice. The most likely outcome of that vote would be in favour of maintaining full membership. It would not be in their best interests to leave, nor is it quite yet the right time. David Cameron knows this, as does Alex Salmond. The First Minister is angling to change the paper to a multiple choice vote, with the aim of compromise being the outcome – more powers than are currently held by Holyrood, but short of complete independence; so called ‘Devo Max,’ until the Scottish people are better prepared to cope with the idea of freedom, and all the problems engendered by it.
A change as fundamental as the complete removal of Scotland from the British landscape is difficult to envisage. At no point during the life of any living person has Scotland not been tied to their English neighbours like an old married couple – sometimes bickering, sometimes sleeping with their backs to each other, but they’ve been together for so long it’d be unimaginable that they ever separated. You have to go back to 1707, when the Treaty of Union between the countries was ratified – before that, they were merely dating – to reach the point where the two were not officially joined. The shared history of our respective countries goes back a lot further than that, much of it conducted with feelings of animosity that occasionally makes good, if inaccurate, Hollywood fodder. It’s been a long and not always amicable relationship.
Much of the mental block comes from sharing this small island. It’s not like the whole nation can weigh-anchor and let itself float into the North Sea. We’ve always been physically attached, and that has proved problematic in overcoming many barriers. Were the countries to go their separate ways, it’s not as if it’d be necessary to erect another wall and set up check-points with border guards, but so many cultural signifiers are shared, as is co-dependence in terms of finance, defence, energy, and the infrastructure that has been built up in the past few hundred years of mutual habitation that no severance could be an easy or comfortable one for either party.
We are still just passing through history. The shape of the British isles may only be altered on a geological scale, but the boundaries within have been altered many times within the past two thousand years. The Romans drew their northern frontier a little short of where the current dividing line lies; the various Germanic and Danish settlers cohabited along different lines. The current map may have been settled for the longest, but that doesn’t mean it will remain the same forever. We have the habit of presuming change can’t and shouldn’t happen.
From an English perspective, only the most xenophobic, Daily Mail-reading nationalist would want Scottish independence. Politically, the Tories are unionists, despite it being against their interests, as, without its fifty or so Scottish MPs, the chance of there ever being another Labour government would be all but buried. I do wonder, however, how much of a role post-imperial collapse trauma plays – without its empire, Britain is desperate to hold on to whatever it still has.
If the split were to include a fair proportioning of debt and assets, it wouldn’t be favourable from the Scottish side either. Since the founding of its parliament in 1999, Scotland has been subsidised to the sum of 45 per cent more than the tax it generates, and, as of 2010, on average a Scottish citizen receives approximately £1,600 more of public spending per annum than an English one. Given the powers to raise and spend its own taxes, an independent Scottish government would have no choice but to plug the gap with savage cuts – with the loss of such generous policies as free university tuition – and make a substantial increase in personal contributions. Chancellor George Osborne has also presaged that Scotland would not be permitted to retain Sterling as its currency, and would be forced to adopt the faltering Euro. Historically, the Scots have been willing to fight for their freedom, but would they be willing to pay for it?
Where the ugliest and, literally, dirtiest disagreements will be encountered, will be in the ownership of Scotland’s oil industry. Alex Salmond has claimed ownership of 90 per cent of the precious black commodity on behalf of any prospective independent Scottish government. Technically, as Scotland is not a sovereign state, it has no claim over maritime boundaries, whereas the United Kingdom does. Were Scotland to suddenly become a sovereign state, its ownership would depend on international recognition of their latter claim over the UK’s current and long standing one.
I’m a nine-parts Englander, with some Scottish heritage on my father’s side – my first name was chosen as an acknowledgement of the family surname. I like to regard myself as Scottish in a shortbread-tin, touristy way – ostensibly so. I have divided opinions on the issue. I’m generally for giving people what they want, and if the Scottish people want independence I’d let them have it, along with everything that entails. It couldn’t happen without severe damage to both sides, and any negotiation entered into would have to be intended to minimise fallout, but I think it an accommodation could be reached.
A simile like the loss of a limb would be a little unfair – the body is stronger with it and the limb can’t survive on its own – as I believe the limb could survive, the question is if, after all this time, it’s really the right thing to do. As the Rolling Stones put it, you can’t always get what you want, but…sometimes…you get what you need. For the foreseeable future, Scotland and England need each other, and any decision taken now on their independent futures would have repercussions that could do untold damage to both for generations to come.
It’s a rare occasion that I leave the house other than to go to work, Greggs, or the pub. I went to see a photography exhibition this week.
Entitled No Redemption and showing at Northumbria University, it is a documentary by Keith Pattison of the miners strike in 1984/85. Pattison was commissioned by Sunderland Artists Agency to document the strike as it affected one small community in County Durham; Easington Colliery. He lived among the community and recorded the strike from beginning to end.
Pattison was accepted by the community as they wanted him to show their perspective, and this proximity to the miners and their families helped him create many striking images. He was present on the picket line, in the streets of the town, in the miners welfare and in their homes. The shots taken on the picket line were particularly effective, as he witnessed miners being arrested and police escorting working miners home. Some shots were slightly blurred and out of focus which gave the impression of a photographer hard at work, battling with his camera to capture an expression on a face and the feeling of a moment.The shots showed how life had changed for local people in the village; police guarding street corners as old women shopped and a school girl returning from school with police marching past. This kind of photo puts extraordinary events into the context of the ordinary.
One of the first things that struck me, upon seeing small children innocently caught up in a very adult world, was that I could have been one of those children. I was 4 at the time. It’s strange to think that this was going on as I was growing up, not just in a village down the road but all over Britain.
I find fault with the exhibition at this point, as the images were all in black and white. If the shots were in colour, I think it would have brought the events to life. It was in my lifetime, it was the 80s. Displaying the events in black and white ages them, and perhaps keeps them in the past. At the time a lot of photographers were shooting in colour as part of the “social realism” style of the day. This project would have worked well in colour.
Still, the exhibition got me thinking again about the strike. I was too young at the time to appreciate what was happening but as I’ve taken more interest in society, politics, history, the media, class issues and all that kind of crap, the strike fascinates me.
The strike initially began as a response to Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Government, announcing that many pits across the country had become unprofitable and would be closed. Many communities, especially in North East England, relied almost entirely on the pits. Without the pits there would be mass unemployment. Angry and fearful, many miners in the affected areas went on strike. Supported by their union, the National Union of Mineworkers led by Arthur Scargill, the strike was declared a national strike.
As it progressed the strike became increasingly bitter. Stung by a previous strike which effectively brought down the previous Conservative government, Margaret Thatcher brought down the full weight of the state upon the miners, their union and its representatives. She was determined to bring national industries into a free market and to crush the trade unions that prevented it.
Police were drafted in from around the country to oppress protests and used brutal and violent tactics, resulting in the injury and arrest of thousands of miners. MI5 was used to spy on union officials. The courts were used to freeze the assets of the union. Welfare benefits to strikers families were stopped. The right wing media condemned the strike on a daily basis, often editing events to make the strikers look bad.
Thatcher declared war on the striking miners and the union, calling them “the enemy within”. Scargill declared this to be class warfare, and for many miners struggling to feed their families and heat their homes whilst the middle classes thrived, it was. Millions of pounds of public money was spent on policing the strike – money that could have been spent on supporting the mining industry.
Support for the strike was much stronger in working class areas. Scargill was a hero to many, refusing to back down in the face of severe personal provocation from a government hellbent on destroying working class communities. To the ruling classes, he was a dangerous revolutionary intent on overthrowing their way of life with the intention of housing the Queen in a council house and creating a Marxist superstate.
Of course, there is only so long that a family can do without money, and the miners had to return to work. And of course many mines were closed, many jobs were lost, communities were torn apart and broken and lives ruined. The coal industry was privatised along with many other industries and unions damaged forever. Thatcher got her wish. The government was free to run the country at the expense of the poor for the benefit of the rich.
As in 1984, Britain in 2012 is divided along class lines. The Conservative led coalition government is continuing what Thatcher started, with a constant stream of policies protecting the privileges of their own class whilst simultaneously attacking the vulnerable working classes. The police continue to oppress demonstrations with brutal force and the right wing media continues to demonise those who go on strike to protect their livelihoods and their futures.
So when David Cameron talks about “Broken Britain”, he would do well to remember it was none other than his idol that broke it. But then, that’s exactly what they want, because when Britain breaks, it’s the poor people that suffer. And they ain’t poor.
Pattison’s exhibition is showing until 27th January. Here’s a link to the images if you can’t make it…
Situation A: One night, a man and a woman meet at a party and have some drinks together. She’s dressed in hot-pants and a sparkly top. They’re at the party for a while and they get on well. They like each other; sex may, at least, be on the agenda. Other couples around them are clearly about to hook up. An hour after they part, the man accidentally wanders into the host’s bedroom and finds the woman lying on the bed. She is clearly unconscious with drink. He later claims he innocently presumed it was okay to go ahead and have sex with her.
Situation B: One night, a man and a woman meet in a hotel bar and have some drinks together. She’s dressed in a smart suit and low heels. They’re in the bar for a while and they get on well. They like each other; sex may, at least, be on the agenda. Other couples around them are clearly about to hook up. An hour after they part, the man idly tries the handle of the connecting door between their rooms and discovers it has accidentally been left unlocked. In the next room, the woman is lying on the bed. She is clearly fast asleep. He later claims he innocently presumed it was okay to go ahead and have sex with her.
Here’s another example. Somewhere in London, two women go to two parties. Woman A is dressed in a thigh-skimming mini-dress. Woman B is wearing a knee-length skirt and long-sleeved blouse. Woman A gets blind drunk and is escorted home by a male friend. Woman B suffers from narcolepsy and is escorted home by a male friend. On arriving home, both fall unconscious. Both are raped by the men who brought them home. Whose rape provokes the most outrage?
However much we don’t want to, we see the difference. We hate and despise this difference, and when Ken Clark refers to “degrees of rape”, we’re rightly outraged. Nonetheless, the difference is there. But it’s not about degrees of consent, or degrees of rape, or even degrees of confusion. The terrible truth is that, when a woman is drunk and in a mini-skirt, the man knows he has society’s permission to rape her.
Very early on, we learn the rules of nakedness, display and sexual contact. Context matters. If it didn’t, acts of attempted rape would happen most often on beaches and in swimming-pools, and Beauty Pageants would need to take place behind closed doors. In this sense, rapists are just like anyone else. And, just like consensual sex, society tells us when and how rape can take place. Like most social rules, the rules of rape are irrational, but – just as we generally don’t wear our underwear to the beach – we abide by them, and we expect rapists to abide by them too. As a bald statement, this fact is appalling; but on a basic level, we know it’s true.
This is why we tell our daughters (but not our sons) that they “can’t go out like that”. This is why reporters speak of drunk women (but not sleeping women) as “vulnerable”. Through these phrases, we reinforce the rules of rape.
“You can’t go out like that.” “Don’t make yourself vulnerable.” When we teach our daughters how they can evade rape, we also teach our sons that raping a drunk woman in a mini-skirt is socially sanctioned.
This is not to say that all men are rapists. I hope and believe that almost no men are. But all men learn the rules; and among them are those who enjoy forcing sex on an unwilling partner.
Here’s a statistic that shows how good rapists are at keeping the rules. I have a friend who is a police officer. She’s damn good at her job; she’s clever and diligent and careful, and her success rates are excellent. She’s worked on the force for seventeen years. In that time, she’s put away one rapist. This isn’t the only case she’s seen. It’s just the only case where the perpetrator was sent down.
Successful police officer. Seventeen years. One rapist. Am I still going to teach my daughter the rules? You’re damn right I am.
Is it possible to change the rules in our favour? I have an idea for this. It has its flaws, but I think it could work. In every alternate year, rape will become the default position for all sexual acts, between all men and woman, anywhere. In every alternate year, for a woman to prove rape, all she’ll have to prove will be sexual contact. If she says it’s rape and sex took place, then it’s rape. Job done.
The only permissible defence will be if the man can produce a standardised form, signed and dated by the woman, confirming consent for the sexual acts defined on the form, on that date, at that time and in that place.
This form won’t be infallible. If she says she was drunk when she signed, it’s invalid and he’s guilty of rape. If she says she was coerced or threatened into signing, it’s invalid and he’s guilty of rape. If she says her signature was forged, it’s invalid and he’s guilty of rape. If sex took place on a different date, at a different time (each form will allow a maximum of, say, one hour for the agreed acts to be completed) or in a different place to the ones specified on the form, it’s invalid and he’s guilty of rape. If she says he committed an act not agreed in advance, it’s invalid and he’s guilty of rape.
Please note: this form isn’t compulsory. It’s simply an optional tool to protect men against wilful rape accusations. You can still have sex without the form. Most couples in established relationships may not bother ever. Probably even most couples having sex for the first time won’t use it. But if men want to be safe – they’ll get that form signed, and get it signed properly.
And men themselves can do a lot to avoid the risks. For example: don’t have sex with women you’ve only just met – you can’t spot a false-accuser by looking. Don’t have sex when you’re drunk – you’re more likely to lose the form, or forget which acts she consented to. If possible, get your form signed in public, and in front of a good friend. That way you’ll have a witness. You might want to carry a tape-recorder to collect proof that she didn’t tell you “no” at any point during the act.
This system will lead to some miscarriages of justice, and I’m very sad about that. Some innocent men with no bad intentions will have their lives destroyed by women who, for some sick reason of their own, abuse the power they’ve been given by society. That will be terrible, and I mean that sincerely. I’ll pray it never happens to my son. If you organise a march to protest about it, I might even go on it.
But you know what? I’ll also know, in my secret shameful heart, that l have the power. I’m a good person, so I won’t abuse it. But I’ll have it.
Okay, even I can see this completely fucking ridiculous. But you know what? At least it’s equally fucking ridiculous. At least this way, everyone gets to experience both sides of the equation. At least this way, everyone gets an equal amount of time in power, and time in fear. And maybe when we’ve all experienced the other side of the equation, we’ll find some way of living together that lets us all get disgustingly drunk in clothes that don’t suit us, without the Rape spectre hanging over us.
When the government proposed to change the benefit system, from Disability Living Allowance (DLA) to Personal Independence Payment, a consultation period was begun.
The government itself has a code of practice for consultations, that it has quite clearly broken. It was two weeks shorter than recommended and took place over the Christmas holidays of 2010/2011. It was also not completed by the time the Welfare Bill was presented to Parliament, so it is clear that it was not taken fully into account.
This was not simply asking a bunch of people, this was a consultation based on the answers from 523 groups – local authorities, national charities, legal groups, user led organisations, health care professionals and businesses.
The government claims that the proposed changes to DLA to PIP has the support of a wide range of the public, and that they have consulted disability campaigners and charities.
It is a bit reminiscent of the old, “I did not inhale” excuse.
We consulted, but we did not listen.
Since the government was not willing to use the responses gathered during the consultation period, a group of campaigners decided to do so. They raised the funding through donations and requested the documents needed through the Freedom of Information Act.
What a surprise it was for them to read the statement from London’s Mayor, Boris Johnson:
The Mayor would call for the Government to retain the (current) three-month qualifying period, as the increase to six months will mean that people with fluctuating conditions have increased difficulty meeting the qualifying period.People with fluctuating conditions face the same barriers that all disabled face in relation to higher costs of living, and DLA is essential to maintain a decent quality of life.The Government proposes imposing penalties if disabled people do not inform the Government of changes in their circumstances.‘However, the overall fraud rate for DLA is less than 0.5 per cent. For those with fluctuating conditions, asking them to report every change to their condition would prove very stressful.
Further, the campaigners found that the other respondents were almost unanimous in their response to some points, and that
Several points were raised by many respondents, including that the government’s motivation in proposing these reforms were perceived to be a saving 20% of disability benefits. When the overall fraud rate of DLA being estimated at 0,5%, surely it is clear that this will cut benefits from those who need it.
So why was the bill allowed to go ahead, with the government asserting that the proposals were supported by disabled groups?
Please read the Spartacus Report and pass it on to your friends and family (although I expect they will read about it in the newspapers).
I would like to point out several issues that are often misunderstood by the general public.
1. DLA is an in work benefit. It aims to assist the disabled person in his or her daily life and often provides the means for them to be able to work
2. DLA is a highly efficient benefit, in that it saves the tax payer money. For every disabled person who is able to work because of the support, the country “earn” taxes.
3. DLA is not given out easily. It is a long and difficult process, and even someone as ill as Sue Marsh can fail to be awarded DLA
4. DLA does not automatically mean that the recipient gets a “free car”. Those on DLA who are awarded the higher mobility component of DLA. No matter what the Daily Mail tells you.
5. DLA recipients “pay” for their car using their benefit payments. So a person who has the highest possible award would pay half their DLA benefit toward a leased car. Only 30% of those eligible for a car take one.
If the government were more honest, both about the recipients of benefits not being lazy scroungers, and the response of those who replied to the consultation, I very much doubt that they would have been able to bring the Welfare Bill as far as they have.
And where the hell is our opposition party in all of this?
Why is it left to campaigners who struggle with their own disabilities and have to raise money on social networking websites to fund and produce this report?