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Some troubled thoughts on the Jubilee.

I need some help understanding. Why is it something to celebrate – Queen, country, flag, all that.
ESPECIALLY in Liverpool? Why is this bolshy, independent working class city so into the whole queen/flag shit?

I genuinely don’t get it. Aren’t the royal family mostly just a sort of embarrassing joke? That kind of hereditary power and wealth doesn’t make sense on any rational measure. As a system it is, put simply, “preposterous”. Supporters of the monarchy are the sort of people you know exist, but never really encounter in real life, like people who fox hunt, prefer ready salted crisps or vote for the Tories. Or so I thought, until this weekend…

We often see the argument that within the system we have, this Queen’s probably been quite good at it. I mean, she could have been worse. She’s got that wave down. We’ve been sold a personal story, through extended exposure and familiarity. But even accepting that, it doesn’t cut through the issues with that system

The other defence sometimes put up is that an elected president would be just as bad. Yknow: Bush, Sarkozy, President Blair… People who shudder at the thought are frankly right to do so. A few tinkers with the constitution and yet another election might be a tiny bit better (and I think the past few governments have been a bit daft to miss out easy quick wins to take out the more egregiously sexist and racist elements of it), but if we keep everything else to do with the system we have now, it’s pretty pointless. Having an elected neoliberal head of a capitalist state would make no difference to people’s lives. It’s like LibDem thinking, and we know where that gets us. The system we have is not good enough. The monarchy is a part of it (however a tiny part and an anachronistic irrelevance it seems at times). Any doubts about this being a systemic issue and the monarchy being on the other side must, surely, be squashed by this news story about unpaid stewards. I’ve even seen hopeful appeals to the imaginary, benign monarch: ‘does the Queen know about this?’ as though if she did she’d do anything to change it. Just as there was quite a sweet call to deny Royal Assent to the NHS reforms. Which, of course, she didn’t.

The nationalism thing is, of course, more complicated. I know, intellectually, that some people attach importance to ‘belonging’, and that the national prism is a pretty mainstream vehicle for that. I have to admit that as the child of immigrant, leftish but middle class parents, British/Englishness has never been that important to me. For the record, I’m not proud to be Irish either. I’m a citizen of the world! Those drawn-on borders & accidents of birth that make up our ‘imagined communities’ don’t mean anything to me. Of course, they mean a great deal, in practical and experiential terms, but that doesn’t stop them being a construct.

Having said that, I don’t think ‘don’t be proud to be of this nation because of all these awful things ruling classes did in past’ helps anyone. It reaffirms that essentialised identification along ‘national’ grounds and puts up people’s defences; guilt tends to be unproductive. We know what happens when someone tries to start a public conversation about slavery. BUT I think it’s crucial that we need to recognise that those awful things done by the ruling classes in the past (and present, and future) is what we’re being told to celebrate for the Jubilee. In an exclusionary society, with a brutally exclusionary history, there’s a lot not to celebrate, as articulated brilliantly by Black Feminists.

But the flags and the bunting, the street parties, the mugs with their faces on, the Jubilee-themed everything.

It’s a version of belonging that is so commodified we can buy our way into it. (In our version of consumer capitalism, nothing is safe, as Stavvers has bravely discovered). A bonus day off from our shit jobs (those of us who have them), overindulgence, a false nostalgia for an imaginary past (On Twitter, @mortari created #youin52 as a sinister reminder of what kind of society some people are nostalgic for), maybe a dash of knowing irony. It’s just such blatant bread and circuses tactics I can’t believe anyone is going for it, even if we do all need a bit of fun in our bloody miserable lives.

So why, Liverpool, why? It’s the most deprived city in England, with the highest unemployment, and is being profoundly affected by the austerity agenda. It’s not even as though there isn’t an understanding in the city of its situation as political – between the Tory policy of ‘managed decline’ and an appreciation of tabloid class hate. It’s a city that, last year, celebrated its radical history – but is that just the bourgeois arts establishment? It’s also a city full of Irish-descended Catholics, with (some of) the exploitative experiences of Empire inscribed upon their ‘national’/’ethnic’ histories – or so I thought – and who are expressly forbidden from joining this ruling family. And yet, there were street parties across Liverpool – almost 200 in Merseyside (including, gallingly, in my street. Celebrations held in schools, nurseries, hospitals – all the sorts of places most threatened. Is this what they mean by cognitive dissonance? 

If anyone has any clues, I would be genuinely interested to hear them.

Actually just read this on how to treat workers!

Jo Bloggs

If a 50% rate of tax is enough to disincentivise work, what will low or non-existent wages do?

There seems to be an accepted consensus amongst business leaders and many senior politicians – at least, the right of centre ones – that the 50p rate of tax is harmful to economic growth. The 50p rate is serving as a disincentive for wealth creation, we are told. Top earners are creating fewer jobs, moving assets abroad, generating less wealth, and in general taking extra pains to avoid their taxes. In short, taxing incomes over £150,000 at 50% instead of 40% is enough to make people fail in their patriotic work ethic.

While this may well be true, and cutting the 50p tax rate may be a good idea for a whole myriad of reasons, not least because it is possible that it actually brings in a lot less revenue, although this…

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In which I found work and lost it again

I have recently experienced a spell of employment, which is now over. I have also run out of money.

I  am not going to blog about the work, mainly because I am not an idiot and the agency made me sign a thing saying I wouldn’t. All I really want to say is that I had thought my standards were quite low, but it turns out my tolerance for tedious routine work is not as high as I had thought (or as it used to be). My mum was delighted I had a job, any job, and, exasperatingly wanted me to be happy to experience ‘the dignity of work’. Conversely, I found it useful, politically, to experience first-hand the indignity of precarious, poorly paid, repetitive process work. The mechanisms of control, close monitoring, scrutiny, divide and rule tactics, the humiliating rituals, the dismal surroundings of the ‘technology park’, the terrible coffee. Not to mention the casual routine sexism (and other forms of hate) of the workplace.

The experience, like many I have had since giving up my job and moving to Liverpool, has forced me to face up to my privilege.  I can’t honestly describe myself as poor. I have some of what might be called social and cultural capital, more than enough material possessions and friends and parents who would not let me starve. I am able to come away feeling confidently ‘I’m too good for this work’ and hope, eventually, I will find something less shit. Some of my colleagues were more upset and worried than me about their return to unemployment, and did not deserve to be kicked out, and I feel outraged, and guilty about this unfairness.

But I have also been forced to realise the limits of my privilege, as I have actually run out of money. It’s not really surprising, but the rational knowledge that it would happen soon has not prepared me for the feeling. I feel guilt, for being so spoiled, but also know that many of the ways of making my life more enjoyable cost money.

So, back to the applications, back (more assertively this time) to the dole office.

In the meantime, I wrote two poems about the experience.

The Sack (For Jack)

End of contract
Don’t come back
There it is in black and white
there it is there’s no use fighting it
Some of the others were hit with grief
I just feel a big relief.

Injustice 

The naughty kids were taken in
and told the bad news one by one,
but when she came for Liam
we all wondered ‘what’s he done?’

When we were chatting about cake,
it was Liam who got told off;
the others were not picked on,
but then, we’re not from Toxteth.

I know that when we’re unemployed
I’ll stay in bed ’til three,
but in his orange swimming kit,
he’ll swim in Wavertree.