What would Clement do?

A Labour blog that witters on about Clement Attlee. Hurrah for The Major!

Archive for the tag “Unite”

I’m Proud of The BBC – Are Labour???

Back in 2010, Mitch Benn – a comedian and songwriter of nearly godlike genius if you ask me, had his biggest hit so far with “I’m Proud of the BBC”, extolling the very real benefits that we all gain from auntie.  Newsround, Newsnight, iPlayer website – the list went on and on. And it hit a chord with listeners and viewers across the nation.

Well, we’ll know what we had if we lose it. The recent reshuffle was nothing more than another stacking of the deck against public service broadcasting as we know it. True, Mr C has moved on, but the tune remains the same – beggar the Beeb, and give a helping hand to Fox – sorry, Sky News.

Does it matter? Well yes it does. Every Government since Harold Wilson has accused the BBC of bias against them, and many have threatened to emasculate the corporation. As part of the fall out of the Hutton Inquiry, the last Labour government may just have started the process. However it was not irreversible, and we are now in a much more dangerous situation.

After all of ten minutes thought, The Coalition decided to cut funding via a freezing of the Licence Fee, then to stop funding The World Service via the Foreign Office. Yes, our Government took one ;look at our greatest soft power asset and said ” fuck it”. And fuck it they have.

As jobs are lost across the corporation, Unions are leading a campaign to stop the cuts – UNITE, BECTU, EQUITY and others, posing an alternative to the cuts – savings on top salaries, and a proper, forward looking policy.

 So where are the Labour MPs? Who is standing up for one of our great national institutions? One that unites us all much more than lousy weather, class snobbery and football? They, shamefully, seem as quiet as the grave, and I call that an outrage of the first order.

 Maybe it is simply an unwillingness to talk about shared culture, or to sound anti- big business. Maybe this is some kind of twisted revenge for Paxman, The Today Programme and trying to be unbiased in its foreign coverage. I don’ honestly know, and if these are the reasons, it must stop now.

Just look at the people throwing mud at the BBC – The Daily Mail, Express, Murdoch, the Tory right and any weirdo who read Ayn Rand and never grew up…

Carlton TV gave us David Cameron, whereas the BBC has given us:

Round The Horne, Miranda, Who Do You Think You Are? The day To Day, Nigella, Panorama and Bagpuss, I Claudius, Absolutely Fabulous!

Sherlock, Fireman Sam, Bruce Forsyth and The League of Gentlemen, The Thick of It, Jeremy Hardy Final Score, everything on BBC Four…

And something that can never be replaced – Sarah Jane Smith – did I mention Doctor Who? 

 

 

apologies to Mitch Benn, hope he doesn’t mind…

 

 

One Cheer for Downton Abbey on Ice

Well, one thing about enforced idleness, you get to catch up on the telly. Thanks to a nasty manager in my un-unionised industry, I presently have more time on my hands than I need. So, after watching all of Downton Abbey  in between job applications, I have been watching Julian Fellowes’ latest opus – “Titanic”. Tactfully released (along with the needless 3D version of that film) to coincide with the centenary of the disaster, and in no way a transatlantic cash-in…

Fans of period drama, and of  Mr Fellowes, will be relieved to find that his portentous dialogue is still there, the much sought after period detail (Churchill growls his lines to an officer of the Scots Guards after the Sidney Street Siege), and that the romance of country house living survives – this is still, as Nick Cohen has already noted of Downton, “MTV for Tories”. Fellowes is on record as saying that he wanted to do something different as compared to “A Night to Remember” and other celluloid versions, or Beryl Bainbridges excellent “Every Man for Himself”. He claimed that the previous dramas had focused too much on the upper classes or plebs, and not enough on those he regards as his people – the middle classes.

It may be instructive to know what Mr Fellowes believes the “middle class” is, for his background and upbringing place him far above, say, the average wage earner. It may be better to say that he comes from the “lower-upper class”, as George Orwell described himself as “lower-upper-middle class”. The Fellowes’ are part of that gang that used to be called the yeomanry – not quite aristocrats, but not on their uppers either. Rather let us say that whilst being servants of the true masters, they were also truly masters of servants themselves.  

His middle class is very wide indeed, which fits into most modern british class definitions, including self-definition. This perhaps is why he is so successful, for his country house writings do seem to find a wide audience that can identify with his characters. It allows him to create sympathetic characters such as an Irish Catholic engineer, escaping the hardship and discrimination of Belfast for example. There are some problems at the top, of course, but in general, officers are decent sorts, as are the better sort of bourgeois. Snobbery is highlighted and condemned, yet there is a nasty taste at the end of all of this.

In “Gosford Park”, his first massive hit, Mr Fellowes had the luxury of setting all of the action in one location – the great house. This allowed the author to create his own self-contained society – one which he clearly feels is ideal. in the first series of Downton this theme was expanded upon at length. The lower orders know their place, the Lord is kindly and compassionate, loyalty is a two way street. Suitably enlightened middle class types can be co-opted if they wish – it really is bright and beautiful – provided that the poor man stays at the gate. 

Yet this outwardly paternalistic vision of an idealised Edwardian world shows glimpses of Mr Fellowes’ real conservative prejudices when the Suffragette Lady Sybil attends an election hustings. She is injured in a violent clash with working class toughs who violently object to the pro female suffrage candidate. Mr Fellowes, like all good members of his middle class, has an undisguised fear and hatred of the industrial workers. In the first episode of “Titanic”, in the very first scene, it established beyond any doubt that discrimination against Catholics in Belfast is caused by – you guessed it – working class protestants. The owner of Harland and Wolff Shipyards can state with no contrary evidence that he is an egalitarian employer as regards to religion – flying in the face of historical evidence. This is where we see the pernicious attempt by jolly good Fellowes to rewrite history to suit the modern Conservative Party. And he does this on a scale that is only matched by Boris Johnson in its infamy. It seems that from an early age the young Julian was taught that, as Orwell puts it, “the working classes smell”.

Let us lay his awful prejudices to rest. It is true that workers no doubt did rough-up Suffragettes, as did the police, and Oxbridge students of the Bullingdon type. They were encouraged and led in this campaign of intimidation by the Tories, who mobilised the very worst dregs they could find to physically attack these brave women and their male supporters- especially those from the Independent Labour Party, such as Kier Hardy, MacDonald and the later murdered Grayson. A mainstay of the Suffrage movement were the socialist women, such as Annie Besant and Christabel Pankhurst.

Far far worse is his depiction of the Belfast working class. Modern Conservatives have sought to ignore the “Unionist” in their party name, and to pretend that they had nothing to do with the heightening of sectarian violence across Ireland before 1914. Yet it was they who encouraged the slogan “Ulster will fight, and Ulster will be right” against the Home Rule Bill. The Tories went so far as to applaud and back the mutiny of serving protestant Army officers at Curragh, bringing Britain to the brink of Civil War. They called for the harshest penalties for Trades Unionists, yet clemency for a potential armed rebellion against an elected government. This is a matter of historical record. Their financial backers in Belfast also armed the UVF with smuggled german rifles.

In point of fact, the great 1907 Belfast Dock Strike showed a glimpse of a non-sectarian future. The strike, mainly protestant led, was solid in both East and West Belfast, and provided the unheard of spectacle of 12th July rallies where mass meetings and marches from working class districts denounced the religious divide. Even the Police mutinied against guarding blacklegs, but I doubt that dear Julian would have anything but revulsion for this. It inspired Jim Larkin and James Connolly, as well as the founding of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union a year later. Those unwashed plebs, the mob that Fellowes so fears, were the real hope of a better life for all, yet he casually, almost nonchalantly slanders a whole people, a whole class.

Period drama can, and has been better than this. Lets hope that The Boat can come in again soon…

What is the point of Dispatches?

Last night was exceptional for any student of politics watching telly – not only was a Panorama expose on the supposedly dodgy dealings of Lord Ashcroft kiboshed at the last minute, but Dispatches supposedly tackled Bob Crow, Trades Union militancy, and the Trades Union movement in general.

From the start, the images used were of old-style picket line violence from the 1970s and 1980s, whilst the narrator intoned on the threats of  fighting in the streets a’la Greece, none too subtly I fear.( Although she made it clear, in hushed tones, that Bob Crow was advocating nothing of the kind) There was an allegation of bullying within the RMT – a serious allegation, that would have been worthwhile following up as a whole programme. It wasn’t pursued, so the reporters’ source is left high and dry, and a valuable and important line of enquiry was left hanging, easily dismissed as a smear. Supporting evidence for bullying came from an ex Tory minister, and a senior figure at London Underground – both guaranteed to be neutral observers. There was shock news that Bob Crow is a bit of a Communist. Speaking of which, most of the footage shown of the annual Tolpuddle March concentrated on stalls for tiny organisations – such as Class War, and the Communist Party of Britain – very representative.

Moving on to more moderate Leaders, the image used to illustrate a more diversified campaign against cuts was of the Battle of Trafalgar Square Poll Tax Riot. Hardly a balanced image for a campaign with the purpose of uniting Union members with other members of the public against cuts.

The pay packets of Union Leaders were at least mentioned – again, a worthwhile avenue for exploration, very few of us would want to see many TradesUnion Leaders on banker-style pay. It was interesting to see Derek Simpson trying to justify his wage, and at least featured Jerry Hicks a candidate who would halve his pay packet, if elected.

Dodgy charity deals involving Les Bayliss (another Unite candidate and Simpson’s heir apparent) were aired – but again, this needs a whole programme to present a proper investigation. Again, what we get is easily batted away as “media smears”. This is a huge disservice to Trades Union members, and to journalism. Very serious accusations such as those posed so far really do need much better coverage. Worse I am afraid, was to come.

Misrepresentation by Unison officials to their low paid female members was next, potentially taking tens of thousands of pounds out of members pockets. Unpaid officials being intimidated and harassed for simply doing their job, and eventually removed. If these stories are true, and they certainly could be, there is a lot that Union Machines and their functionaries have to answer for.

The final expert witness was Tory-about-town James Forsyth, assuring us all that the Coalition wanted nothing more than to be friends with the Trades Union movement, and that it was only their horrible leaders who prevented this love-in.

A little repetition of the canard that Ed Miliband was selected by the Unions rounded of this episode.

All-in-all, it painted a pretty bleak picture of todays Trades Unions, and each and every accusation deserves to be treated seriously, and with full investigations. This is not what we got here. What we got was more or less a scattergun of lightly investigated stories, that the guilty will brush aside, and will only be used by right wingers to hit ordinary Union members fighting against the cuts with.

All found, one is left asking “What is the point of Dispatches?”

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