Category Archives: Uncategorized

Church on Sunday

Quick update: On Sunday I had to go to Church again, to the Buwenge Miracle Centre, in order to introduce myself to the community we’ll be working with. On the way there, I had the usual group of under 5s waving at me, and the following interchange happened.

Children (in chorus): Muzungu! Where are you going?
Me (yelling, because they were the other side of the road): TO CHURCH!!!

It was my first evangelical church service, over two hours long, in a stifling brick building. Lots of preaching, and screeching, and tuneless gospel singing. There were endless exhortions to give money, and overall I could only sit there and think “The heavier the chains, the gaudier the flowers…”

 

How to win a Sabb election

Disclaimer: I lost a Sabb election, so take all of this with a pinch of salt.   Also, in case you can’t tell, I’m trying to be funny – obviously there’s a lot more to student elections than oversized egos, badly-painted signs and meaningless manifesto promises…

1. Be popular. This is crucial. Get your name and face known by lots of different people from different societies; start adding masses of people on Facebook in the month leading up to the election. The whole thing is basically a popularity contest. If possible, try and avoid getting featured in a Daily Mail hatchet job two days before voting closes, although there’s a chance people will feel so sorry for you being attacked by the Mail that your popularity will increase.

2. Amass much cardboard. Costcutters will run out early, but Tesco’s always has lots available. When the checkout lady mentions in a surprised tone that they’ve had “loads of people coming in for cardboard this week”, resist the urge to say “Well, obviously, it’s elections week”. Remember that once you cross the road outside Claycroft, no one even knows what a BNOC is.

3. Choose your colour. Choose carefully; not only will you be covering all of the cardboard in this one colour, you will also be wearing it all week, as will any friends you’ve convinced to turn their chests into a walking advertisement for your campaign. Popular colours include red, bright yellow, blue and purple. Yellow is popular because it conveys a sunny personality (until 2011, it could be read as Lib Dem allegiance, but you’d win more votes now from the student population declaring UKIP membership). Red shows passion and left-wing sentiment, green shows a concern with the environment. Blue indicates political neutrality – no one with the slightest Conservative leanings will use blue because they have to spend the week hiding their political beliefs. Purple seems to be popular, and perhaps conveys bipartisanship, although that might be reading too much into it.

4. Choose your slogan. Yes, you could just use “[Your name] for [Position]” but where’s the fun in that? Does your name sound a bit like another word? Is it a word that could conceivably link to an aspect of your campaign? Does it rhyme with a word like “Pick”, “Vote”, “Better”, or “Socs”? Go mad. The sky’s the limit. I’m looking at you, Yes we Dan.

4. Choose your gimmick. This is not essential, but may help. This could be anything from dressing up as a superhero to eschewing sleep for 72 hours. Hey, it might feel humiliating at the time, but have you seen the graduate job market? A few weeks of 15 page application forms and you’ll long for the time you had a decent shot at a graduate job through blasting out a cover version of a popular song with the lyrics changed to talk about your plans to keep food outlets open late after club nights.

5. Make a video. I don’t mean the official SU video where you stand next to a white wall and talk about your plans. I mean the video where you walk around campus to a suitably epic soundtrack and which must, by law, end with at least a dozen people repeating exactly the same phrase, usually “I’m voting X because [insert meaningless slogan here]”. “I’m voting Tom because he is the change we need”. “I’m voting Kate for a brighter future, together”. That kind of thing.

6. Lose all shame. Remember, there’s no such thing as strangers, just voters you haven’t met yet. It’s like Fresher’s Week all over again as you strike up conversation with anyone who’ll talk to you, except instead of talking about your weird new flatmates, you’ll be chewing their ears off about your totally achievable plans to record lectures/reduce bus fares/increase contact hours/make sure the gym is open 24 hours/get rid of tuition fees while they nod and smile politely. Adopt a completely insincere, proto-politician persona and go around sucking up to everyone you meet. Start saying things like “hit the ground running” and “passionate” and “accountability” on an hourly basis.

7. Appeal to different demographics. You need to find a way to simultaneously appeal to LARPers, bellydancers, radical socialists and people who want to work for Goldman Sachs. Attend any large gatherings you can conceivably wangle your way into, and find a way to link your policies to the concerns of the assembled group in front of you, most of whom you’ve probably spent the last three years trying to avoid.

8. Realise when you’re wasting your time. Most students take only a passing interest in the elections, and will not appreciated being harangued about your plans to lobby the NUS for fee waivers while they’re on their way to the pub. If someone doesn’t look interested, you’re better off leaving them alone rather than pissing them off so they go and tell twenty people in the pub how annoying you are and go and vote for the joke candidate instead. Oh, and don’t be too disheartened by the “FUCK OFF WANNABE POLITICIANS, NO ONE CARES” signs on the front doors of accomodation. Do what someone I know did, and sign it “I will eat your babies, love [their opponent’s name]”.

9. Pick and choose a few of the following policies – Fresher’s Week/recorded lectures/cheaper drinks/24 hour library/reduced library fines/online voting/a bus between town and campus after nights out/more contact hours/more feedback/a Rate my Landlord system. I don’t mean to be facetious – I ran for an election and know that Sabbs work hard and influence the University. It’s just every year people promise exactly the same things, which tend to be outside not only their remit, but outside the remit of anybody working at the university.

10. And lastly – don’t, I repeat, don’t drink a bottle of wine whilst waiting for the results. I know that come 9pm on Friday you’ll want a drink more than you ever have in your life, and that the results aren’t announced until after midnight. But if you win, you don’t want your first appearance to the student population as their elected representative to involve your slurring your way through an acceptance speech whilst the student newspaper takes lots of photos. If you lose, you’ll take the results much more graciously if you aren’t completely pissed in addition to being disappointed, sleep-deprived and with the dawning realisation you have no idea what you’re doing with your life post-graduation.

Enjoy!

The Internet is a weird place

Thought I’d do the obligatory “look at the weird search terms for my blog” post. Apparently putting the words “sex scenes” and “Borgen” in a blog post is the kind of unintentional SEO money can’t buy. No, I wouldn’t have thought there’d be great interest in finding brief clips of middle aged Danish people engaging in PG sex scenes before rushing off to report on healthcare reforms either. Still, who am I to judge?

I hope the people searching for variations of “gillard lying bitch” read my post and immediately became feminists/Gillard supporters. I’m intrigued by who would want to read “jokes about focus groups”. But overall my favourite search term is “Is Chuka Ummana gay?”, mainly because this blog is way past the first ten pages of results for that on Google. Someone really wants to be sure about that one. Well, Anonymous Chuka Fan, I can confirm to you that no, our Shadow Business Secretary is not, to my knowledge, gay. If that’s not the answer you were looking for, I can only hope that my little corner of the Internet has not disappointed you as much as it has all those people coming here in the hopes of seeing “Borgen nude scenes”.

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More thoughts on The Hobbit and the Bechdel test

Things I can recall having talked about with other women during the past few weeks:

Our plans for the day. The cost of public transport. The quality of food in local restaurants. What policies we would pass immediately if we were Prime Minister. Our relationships with other members of our family. The weather. Which pair of shoes go best with my new dress. Climate change. Travel plans. Money worries. Whether it’s better to rent or buy your first property. What time we’ll be going for lunch. The rising cost of food. Boyfriends. The fantasy series we liked most as children. Austerity politics. The difference between British and American comedy. What time the shopping centre will be closing. The places we’d most like to visit in India.  Depression. Why the Inbetweeners USA was so crushingly unfunny. How to get from Putney to Harrow on the tube. The economy. Why the London Underground is so inaccessible for wheelchair users. Whether puppies or kittens are cuter. Electronic cigarettes. Whether Karl Marx was just “too downbeat” (thanks, Bethany!) Whether there should be a maximum wage. The logistics of fitting pieces of mirrored glass into a clear plastic raincoat. How to correctly pronounce someone’s name. Poetry.

The number of times I have seen women in popular media discussing anything over the past few weeks: 2.

It is strange to think that an experience which happens daily, if not hourly, in my life, is something I witness so infrequently in popular culture. With the exception of Newsnight, for me to see two or more women discussing anything at length on film or television is so rare that I always notice it.

I wonder what effect this has on men. I wonder if it has anything to do with the number of men who say they “can’t talk to women”, as if the kind of things women talk about are limited to a) fashion and b) babies. I wonder if it is really beyond the imagination of male scriptwriters to write female interaction not limited to discussing the actions of a male character.

I wonder if it would change how I thought about the men around me, if every time I watched a film or a TV show, they were presented almost entirely in relation to the women around them. If the sight of two men discussing anything on TV or film – from how to destroy the Pale Orc to the failure of austerity politics – was so rare that I always noticed it.

I loved The Hobbit, but the male-centredness of it should be an anomaly for a film produced in 2012, not just an extreme example of the sexist status quo.

Election reactions

Some thoughts on the immediate aftermath of the 2012 American election

I actually thought I would relish Mitt Romney’s losing speech, but I didn’t. As odious a human being as he is, it’s hard to lose an election. It’s especially hard to publicly lose something you’ve been fighting for for seven years, and now that I know Mitt Romney has about as much chance of ever being President as I do, I actually feel a modicum of pity for him. He seems like a very bitter and entitled man, more interested in the Presidency for the validation it would confer on him than because of any actual political convictions. He was a centrist as Governor, an extremist during the Primaries, and then went back to being a centrist for the national elections. That it is now impossible to be simultaneously right-wing enough to win the Republican primary, and moderate enough to win the Presidential election, appears to be a given. If the Republicans have any hope of winning in 2016, they need to wrench power away from the neofascist Tea Party wing which currently control the party. It’s not just a moral imperative for the party to stop relying almost entirely on the votes of angry white people happy to blame the country’s ills on blacks, gays, Muslims and single women – it’s a matter of political survival. The strategy didn’t work.

When the Romney and Ryan families joined Mitt on stage – two straight, white, conventionally-attractive heterosexual millionaires, with their two blonde, conventionally-attractive wives, with Mitt’s five  ultra-privileged, heterosexual sons, and everyone was awkwardly hugging each other and smiling at an audience chanting “U!S!A!”, which always reminds me of the Two Minutes Hate bit in 1984 when everyone starts chanting “BB”, anyway, the whole scene seemed to me the death throes of a certain vision of America – one that is explictly rooted in sexism, homophobia and white supremacy. These sentiments are still widespread, in America and abroad. But the Republicans had one last shot at winning an election through appealing mainly to angry and misinformed white people, and it didn’t work. Because of demographics, yes, but also, I hope, because of progress. This election was theirs to win, and losing it to such a fragile incumbent is testimony to a strategy that was hopefully condemned to the dustbin of history approximately eight hours ago. Not many general elections are won by a candidate who essentially told half of his electorate to go fuck themselves. Romney may think it’s not his job to worry about “those” people, but it is demographically essential for the GOP to widen their base. How they do attempt to do this over the next four years will be interesting.

My emotional reaction to Obama’s victory speech surprised me as well. Ten minutes in, and I was crying. It was 8am, I was sitting on the sofa in a friend’s bedsit in Nottingham, weeping at the victory speech of a man I will never meet and whose policy positions I mostly disagree with. It was the crowd shots which set me off. All those people cheering and weeping for a candidate they put faith in, at the end of an election which seemed at times like an epic Manichean battle. I love seeing people getting involved in the democratic process. It just moves me. The closest thing I have to a religion is a belief in the importance of empathy and equality. I know many people hold those values while coming to very different conclusions about which policies will best implement them, but anything is better than apathy. Sometimes I think I have more in common with the people I ardently disagree with than I do with the people who are just apathetic about the world outside their front door.  And as I switched between the BBC coverage and the reactions of my friends on Facebook and Twitter, it occurred to me how thankful I am for the many people in my life who take an interest in the world around them. Even the Romney supporters. Even the Tories. When I saw footage of the celebrating crowds in Chicago and Washington DC last night, it made me happy because I saw people engaged in that endless quest for solutions to the only problem which really matters – how to live well, together. We may never get there. But when I see people actively participating in the democratic process, even when I disagree with them, and even when it seems futile, I feel they are expressing something that is fundamental to their humanity, and it makes me tear up.

Obama’s victory speech included the line that “the duties of a citizen in a democracy do not end with voting”. Here’s to four more years of a humane, intellectual progressive, and a mixed-race man born before the Civil Rights Act was passed, grappling with the most difficult job in the world. I wasn’t crying this morning because of Obama, I was moved when I saw shots of the crowds because I saw millions of people who care enough to inform themselves and get involved in politics. From the tiny stakes of student union politics to the US Presidential election, 2012 was a year in which I variously rooted for the electoral success of myself, Jean-Luc Melenchon, Ken Livingstone, and finally, Barack Obama. This is a long way of saying that I love elections, and last night reminded me why.

Focus group lolz

This evening I found myself sitting around a table in the meeting room of a hotel in my hometown with seven other women, taking part in a focus group for the Labour party. My aunt is on a mailing list for focus groups and she received an email looking for female Labour voters which would pay £40 for an hour’s worth of your time. She sent it on to me; I needed the money and thought it might be interesting; and so off I went. Not only were we handed £40 the minute we walked in, we also had to hang around the bar area for a while beforehand and were offered “a free drink – which can be alcoholic”. I settled for a J20 but most of the women had wine. I got the impression this was rather encouraged – after all, we were there in our capacities as ordinary people to give our honest opinion, and in vino veritas.

The discussion kicked off with us giving a short introduction on our family situation, where we got most of our news from, and who we voted for in the last election. I was the youngest person there by 25 years, and the only one who had any real political interest. Everyone took great pleasure in introducing themselves and saying a lot about their families, and very little about their news sources. It took me about 2 minutes to realise I was the least appropriate person for this kind of group ever. Focus groups are not about listening to the opinions of politics obsessives like me, they’re about gauging the mood of  people who don’t generally pay much attention to politics. I was at a loss how to respond to most of the questions, because if you ask my opinion, I’ll give you an analysis, but they were looking for reactions. The role of the interviewer is very interesting . They run the group like a discussion, throwing out questions and seeing who responds, encouraging currents in a conversation, and steering the topic back towards certain issues. I would actually love to do that job. It’s amazing how much people will tell you if you act as though their opinion is worth listening to (and maybe give them some wine).

The first topic of conversation was our views on Ed Miliband. There were eight of us in the room, and two women stuck out – one was very domineering and spoke over people a lot, and the other was a Malaysian woman who came to the UK to study and met her husband, and who kept describing herself as “very family orientated”. It was someone else who first described Ed as “creepy” and there were murmurs of assent around the room as most people agreed. It surprised me that they called Ed “creepy” – I can understand thinking he was geeky or awkward, maybe, but “creepy” seemed unnecessarily harsh. I disagreed and said I thought Ed comes across as who he is – an affable, intellectual policy wonk (I didn’t use the word wonk) and that I thought he’d make a decent leader. Then the Malaysian woman kept going on about how she couldn’t trust someone who had “stolen” the election from his brother. This view was quite widely shared; at least, everyone was more interested in the sibling rivalry between Ed and David than in any of Ed’s policies. At one point they were so busy speculating about why it often is that siblings compete in the same field that the interviewer had to shut everyone up. I was genuinely baffled that these women thought they were being paid £40 for their pseudo-analysis of the Miliband family. It was probably the most heated part of the discussion, and the Malaysian woman said that “as someone who is very family-orientated, I just don’t understand how those two brothers and their wives can sit around a table together… after Ed betrayed David like that”. It was all completely bizarre. We were asked whether it made a difference to us that he got married – the consensus was “No it doesn’t”, and then Domineering Woman quipped that she “felt sorry for his wife”, to general laughter. And we were all chosen because we were Labour voters! You could do a lot worse than Ed, that’s all I’m saying.

Next up was our views on why Labour lost the last election. By this point I decided just to give pat answers.  The general view was that Labour were unlucky enough to be in power when the financial crisis happened, but that it was partly their fault because (apparently) the crisis was caused by too much borrowing and public spending. Tony Blair was a good leader because he was a showman, but Gordon Brown seemed awkward. The low point of the evening was when a woman (one who was particularly obsessed with the Ed-and-David psychodrama) said she started taking in an interest in Gordon Brown when she read about his child being ill, and subsequently dying. That warmed Brown to her. Someone else pointed out that David Cameron’s child had died too. No one had any qualms about this. I thought it was grotesque.

There was a brief detour onto Boris Johnson, who divided opinions. About half the group liked him, although they couldn’t really say why. I actually gave my real opinion at this point – “he’s ruthlessly ambitious and would do anything for power, I don’t think he even has any principles beyond a vague view that rich people are better than the rest of us” and no one challenged me. Domineering Woman said that “at least Boris is dynamic enough to get people talking”, to which my (inner) reply was that if it takes Boris Johnson to get you interested in politics, that probably says more about your ignorance than anything else. I spend a lot of time around young people who are informed and very used to defending their opinions. It was a shock to be around middle-aged people simultaneously so uninformed and so sure of themselves. At several points people said “It’s just common sense” or “Everyone agrees that…” or “Come on, we all know that”. There’s something stultifying about people who haven’t changed their opinions in the past two decades. Not everyone was this bad – two or three kept quiet for a lot of it. But overall I was amazed to think that in this day and age there are still people confident of walking into a room of 9 strangers and expecting that everyone shares their point of view.

Next up – the economy. “There do have to be cuts because we’ve run out of money” was the general consensus. No one talked about inequality, but there were comments about “the bankers”. Most were broadly in favour of the changes to the benefits system – “people have been milking the system for too long”. In fact, the interviewer steered the conversation around to ask whether Labour would have more chance of winning the 2014 election if they would take an equally harsh line on benefits cheats, and most people said they would. And this is people who have almost always voted Labour. Domineering Woman claimed to “know better than anyone” how the economy worked, because she was a mortgage advisor. This was one of the many times I had to refrain from laughing out loud. That the country is in debt, that a structural deficit is essentially a national overdraft, and that the only solution was spending cuts, was accepted by everybody. Most of the women had professional jobs, or their husbands owned small businesses, and almost all of their children had or would consider university. When the subject of tuition fees came up, there was talk of how people they knew had put their children off going to university, because of the cost. And while everyone thought the rise in fees was disgraceful, their understanding of why it had happened, or just how shocking the cost is in comparison to every other developed country in the world, was very superficial. They complained about it in the way people complain about the weather.

The conversation turned back to Labour, and who else in the party aside from Ed we had any strong opinions on. One woman complained that the party has no rising stars, and this then segued into a talk on why young people weren’t interested in politics. My favourite question of the evening came from the interviewer – “After all, do normal young people go into politics? Aren’t all these student activists a bit weird?” No one agreed, exactly, but there was definitely a consensus that politicians can’t be trusted. And that student activists are weird. We are, of course. Anyone who is really into politics isn’t normal. I forget most of the time that a “normal” interest in politics is thinking about it for about 30 seconds twice a week. When the interviewer asked if we thought the Labour party had any rising stars, I mentioned Chukka Ummana, and nobody knew who he was. In fact, not a single person could name a member of the Shadow Cabinet, which I thought was mindboggling. These were middle-class women, and they had only the vaguest idea of who Ed Balls is.

Lastly, we were asked if we would vote in the European elections. The interviewer (I can’t get across how much he conducted the session as though he were making up questions in response to peoples’ answers) asked if any of us would vote for UKIP. One woman said “Ugh, no, they’re horrible” and the Malaysian woman asked if they were the Party who didn’t like foreigners. The interviewer summed them up as the party who want Britain out of the EU, partly because they think the EU brings in too much immigration, at which point the Malaysian woman said she might vote for them! Someone else chimed in with a comment about there being too many immigrants, and no one disagreed. And then it was time to go home.

All in all, it was an interesting evening, and certainly the easiest forty pounds I’ve ever made. I think there’s almost nothing as interesting as just getting people to tell you what they think, even if their opinions will probably appal you. I was reminded of the extent to which people use political opinions to voice certain things about themselves – whether that’s an opportunity to go on about how “family focused” they are, to talk at length about the several hospitals they’ve worked in as an NHS nurse, or perhaps to point out how their immigrant story was a respectable journey into middle-class Englishhood, unlike the hordes who arrive today. Liberal leftie types like myself do this as well, of course. It still infuriates me when people blame their political ignorance on politicians, and I feel for the policy wonks who will have to make sense of an hour’s worth of very misinformed, tipsy ramblings from seven “ordinary voters”, and one girl rolling her eyes in the corner. If I had several hundred pounds to spend on gathering the views of, to quote The Thick of It, “muggles”, I would hang around in pubs, buy people drinks, and ask them what they think. Or I’d just pick up a copy of the Daily Mail, because evidently most people just agree with what they read in the papers. But as a rule of thumb, it’s less about the politics of pre-distribution and more about how Ed Miliband looks a bit funny. Oh, and student politicians are weird.

Louise Michel, anarcho-feminist of the 1870s

Written for the (mainly) Welsh-language anarchist fanzine Ffwff 

If you go to Paris and spend the day in Montmartre, you’ll see the Sacré Coeur, and a small square nearby named after Louise Michel, both of which are intimately connected to the events of the Paris Commune. Louise Michel, described by Emma Goldman as “sublime in her love for humanity”, was one of the most inspirational women in the history of anarchism.

Nineteenth-century Paris was a hotbed of anarchism, socialism and other left-wing ideas. Anarchist theatre, anarchist communes and anarchist terrorism all flourished. The communes on the outskirts of Paris planned full programmes of concerts, country walks and communal meals for working-class families, asking that people gave what they could, and took only what they needed. Anarchist, Marxist and socialist literature abounded to give those who wanted it a political education, but the aim was to embody the ethos of anarchism – Mutual Aid, comradeship and joie de vivre – in the here and now. In the city itself, forms of direct action ranged from releasing rats into bourgeois theatre audience to attempts to bomb the Chamber of Deputies. Everything I assumed started in the 1960s at the earliest turns out to have been in evidence in Belle Epoque Paris.

And in the March of 1870, the citizens of Paris, beginning in Montmartre, rose up against the State. The immediate catalyst was the events of the Prussian siege of Paris, but poverty was widespread and extreme, and anarchist ideas had been gaining traction. The Revolution of 1848 was in living memory for most people. An attempt by the military general Adolphe Thiers to seize the cannons that had been stored in Montmartre to fight the Prussians quickly turned into a revolutionary situation, as the soldiers joined the side of local residents and local militias. The government fled and the Commune was established on March 28th, with a Central Committee democratically elected to run the city of two million.

Louise Michel fought on the barricades and then was one of several anarchist women who threw themselves into the running of the Commune. The Commune gave women the vote, had directly elected representatives subject to immediate recall, set up secular schools and nurseries, and put businesses under the control of workers. Louise Michel wrote of it as the happiest time of her life.

On May 24th, the Communards organised a popular concert in the Tuileries garden, in what used to be the gardens to the Louvre palace, in the district of Paris that we might now call the home of the city’s 1%. But Paris was singing its requiem. That night, Thiers’ troops entered the city and thus began one of the most shameful episodes in European history. They slaughtered not only Communards but anyone suspected of supporting them, killing 40,000 people in one week, with the battle ending in Pere Lachaise cemetery, with the last of the Communards shot again what is now known as the Mur des Féderés (the Federalists’ Wall, in reference to the Communard belief in a federation of communities rather than nation states).

Marx argued that this meant the Communards should have spent less time organising elections, and more time organising a revolutionary vanguard to finish off Thiers’ troops, an opinion whose implications reached their conclusion in the Russian Revolution 50 years later. Louise herself had offered to go to Versailles to assassinate Thiers. When she was captured by his soldiers and lined up against a wall she is rumoured to have told them “Since every heart that yearns for freedom must expect its measure of lead, go ahead and shoot me! For if you don’t I shall spend every moment of the rest of my life seeking my vengeance on you”. They didn’t shoot.

She was instead exiled to New Caledonia for seven years. Thousands greeted her return to Paris, and she spent the rest of her life between London and Paris, educating and agitating, including lengthy spells in jail. “If the equality between the sexes were properly recognised”, she wrote, “it would be a noteworthy exception to the history of human stupidity”.

When offered release, she refused without “amnesty for all”. Anarchism was the guiding principle of her whole life, and even friends criticised her habit of taking in anyone from the street, feeding and clothing them even when she had nothing. “La Bonne Louise” lives on in popular memory as France’s schoolteacher, the stubborn, headstrong woman caught between a burgeoning bourgeois feminist movement, and the internalized misogyny of her anarchist-socialist comrades. As the French say, plus ça change…

So next time you go to Paris, ignore the military victories commemorated by the vainglorious Arc de Triomphe and instead take a walk in Père Lachaise cemetery. In 1870 the gunshots that raged among the Baroque headstones were testament to a battle between two views of what human society is for – co-operation or competition? Human flourishing or the pursuit of profit? The people who believed in the latter won in that round, and went on to lead the country into the butchery of the First World War, and the attendant horrors of the twentieth century. But under the Mur des Féderés you’ll doubtless see a basket of red flowers, not too wilted, placed in memory of the thousands who lost their lives to a belief in a fairer society, and the need to fight for it. Their ideas did not die. La lutte continue.

The Citigroup Memos

In October 2005, Citigroup sent out a series of memos to their wealthiest investors which essentially celebrated the fact that some societies (including the US and UK) were no longer really democracies but plutonomies – countries controlled entirely by the top 1% of the population, who had more wealth than the bottom 95% combined.

Under “What Could Go Wrong?” they wrote:

“Our whole plutonomy thesis is based on the idea that the rich will keep getting richer. This thesis is not without its risks. For example, a policy error leading to asset deflation, would likely damage plutonomy. Furthermore, the rising wealth gap between the rich and poor will probably at some point lead to a political backlash. Whilst the rich are getting a greater share of the wealth, and the poor a lesser share, political enfrachisement remains as was – one person, one vote (in the plutonomies). At some point it is likely that labor will fight back against the rising profit share of the rich and there will be a political backlash against the rising wealth of the rich. This could be felt through higher taxation (on the rich or indirectly though higher corporate taxes/regulation) or through trying to protect indigenous laborers, in a push-back on globalization – either anti-immigration, or protectionism. We don’t see this happening yet, though there are signs of rising political tensions. However we are keeping a close eye on developments”.

Yes, those bits in italics aren’t from a member of Occupy London but someone working for Citigroup. And in the next breath they tell you protest doesn’t change anything…

Stabbing Students in the Heart: The System

The Government’s Higher Education White Paper: “Putting Students at the Heart of the System” is such utter garbage, so barely cognisant of what a university is, what the very concept of an education is, and how it might be a good thing if lots of different kinds of people could benefit from one, I barely know where to start with summarising it. I will, at a later date, but for a fuller idea of just how damaging this White Paper is, you can read the full text here, and the response of the Alternative White Paper here.

The Alternative White Paper concludes, correctly in my opinion, that:

The commodification of higher education is the secret heart of the White Paper, which the government does not wish to debate openly. The government seeks a differently funded sector, one which can provide new outlets for capital that struggles to find suitable opportunities for investment elsewhere. Against the backdrop of collapsed productivity in traditional sectors, we are in a new phase of private sector stimulus at the expense of public provision. The role of government will act as a broker for private investment in services and it will be achieved on higher levels of individual indebtedness and higher leveraging at institutions. These are the very conditions which have given rise to the current financial crisis”.

We need to force this debate to happen in the open.