Religion & Politics Blog

The Worlds Shortest Political Quiz describes me as a left-liberal. I consider myself a non-fundamentalist protestant. I have little time for dogmatism or sectarianism in either politics or religion, but this blog will contain opinions. Read at your peril.

Why are we not rioting on the streets?

phones4uWriting in that bastion of free-market conservatism, The Daily Telegraph, Alex Proud looks at the recent collapse of Phones 4U, and asks why aren’t the British middle-classes staging a revolution? He paints a grim picture of the endgame of late-stage capitalism.

Phones4U was bought by the private equity house, BC Partners, in 2011 for £200m. BC then borrowed £205m and, having saddled the company with vast amounts of debt, paid themselves a dividend of £223m. Crippled by debt, the company has now collapsed into administration.

The people who crippled it have walked away with nearly £20m million, while 5,600 people face losing their jobs. The taxman may also be stiffed on £90m in unpaid VAT and PAYE. It’s like a version of 1987’s Wall Street on steroids, the difference being that Gordon Gecko wins at the end and everyone shrugs and says, “Well, it’s not ideal, but really we need guys like him.”

I’m not financially sophisticated enough to understand the labyrinthine ins and outs of private equity deals. But I don’t think I need to be. Here, my relative ignorance is actually a plus. You took a viable company, ran up ridiculous levels of debt, paid yourselves millions and then walked away, leaving unemployment and unpaid tax bills in your wake. What’s to understand? We should be calling for your heads on a plate.

People like this are being allowed to loot the economy with impunity, and they’ve being allowed to get away with it because they’re being protected by the political establishment, which has allowed itself to be bought. It explains why nobody was prosecuted for fraud in the wake of the 2008 banking crisis, and there has been no tightening of the lax regulations that allowed this crisis to happen.

It’s exactly the same as the declining cities in parts of Italy and the United States where The Mafia has its hooks in goverment and bleeds the local economies dry. The only difference is The Mafia kill those who oppose them, and the private equity houses haven’t (yet) crossed that line.

The mantra is we must coddle the rich because they’re “wealth creators”. But this mantra comes from the paid shills of these thieves and from their useful idiots who have read too much Ayn Rand. But, as the Phones4U collapse shows, this is a lie. They don’t create wealth, they merely steal it.  As as for them being “job creators”, don’t make me laugh.

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Trust Fund Trolls

It probably ought not to be a surprise that some of the most annoying people on the interweb, from all-round bigot Vox Day to book-burning culture warrior Alex Lifschitz turn out to be trust fund brats. These are people who have either never needed to hold down a proper job in order to lead a comfortable lifestyle, or owe whatever positions they do hold to money and family connections rather than needing to demonstrate any actual ability. They don’t inhabit the same moral or financial universe as the rest of us, and never need to deal with the negative consequences of acting like assholes.

This is what “privilege” means.

The terrible thing is that this isn’t restricted to internet blowhards. Our government is made up of people like this. As the gap between the rich and everyone else grows ever larger in English-speaking world, we can only expect this to get worse.

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Help for Heroes duped by Murdoch?

The Sun This is an appalling story in The Guardian that seems to be dragging the name of a once-respected charity through the mud.

The Sun are claiming that Miliband refused to do a photo-op because supporting Help for Heroes might anger “Lefties”. Labour dismiss this as a lie.

And all too predictably the bottom half of Twitter is full of knuckle-dragging bigots who claim Miliband is pandering to Muslims.

I have supported this charity in the past; in recent years Mostly Autumn have done a lot of fundraising for their cause. Help for Heroes has always advertised itself as non-partisan and non-political; had they ever displayed an obvious right-wing or militaristic bias there is no way I would ever have supported them.

Has Help for Heroes jumped the shark by willingly getting involved in dirty party political mudslinging?  Or have they been misled by the Murdoch press and underestimated just how nasty the gutter tabloids can be?

Whichever is the case, it’s difficult for the charity’s reputation not to be tarnished by this.

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Where Do We Go From Here?

The Scottish referendum has upset the applecart of British politics, and the fact we came dangerously close to the breakup of the UK has sent shockwaves through a complacent Westminster establishment. And it’s about time too.

As Fish eloquently explained in a long and heartfelt blog post, this is not really about Scottish nationalism at all. It’s a crisis of democratic legitimacy affecting the whole of the UK. We had a series of administrations, both Conservative and Labour who have become increasingly remote from the people who elected them, and care more about the financial markets than the voters. While “The Markets” are described as if they’re some impartial force of nature, they actually represent a small number of extremely rich people who do not like democracy. The failure to prosecute a single high-ranking banker for fraud in the wake of the 2008 banking crisis and instead impose a punishing austerity regime squeezing the living standards of the most vulnerable shows where Westminster’s priorities lie.

The mood in the country is that things cannot go on like this. Where we go from here is an interesting question. There is a lot of talk of constitutional reform, of increased powers not only to Scotland but to the English regions and big cities, and presumably to Wales. And if electoral reform isn’t also high on the agenda, it really ought to be.

But tinkering with administrative structures or electoral systems isn’t the only issue, since the crisis of legitimacy goes far deeper. There is a media that exists within a Westminster bubble, and gives the impression it’s on the side of the politicians rather than the people. And then there is the Labour Party which had adopted the same neo-liberal agenda and become indistinguishable from the Tories in any meaningful sense. This means we’re denied any real choice even if we’re fortunate to live in one of the small number of marginal constituencies where our votes actually matter.

With nobody to offer an alternative vision of a better, more hopeful world that isn’t ruled by unelected bankers, the only other vision on offer is UKIP’s fear-driven swivel-eyed xenophobia.

And we need something better than that.

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“We have witnessed a total breakdown in political legitimacy” -  A very powerful piece blaming the near-breakup of the UK not on the Tories, but on the corrupt political media and the cowardice of the Labour Party.

Posted on by Tim Hall | Leave a comment

Satanic Panics and Cover-Ups?

Satanic Jimmy SavileYears ago, back in the late 80s, the English-speaking world was in the grip of the so-called “Satanic Panic”. Driven by American or American-influenced fundamentalist Christians, we were told that things like heavy metal and Dungeons and Dragons were tools of Satan, and there were baby-sacrificing Satanic cults whose members included powerful figures in the upper reaches of society. It all seemed ridiculously far-fetched and offered a window in what appeared to be a paranoid and warped world-view.

In Britain we saw a moral panic about Satanic ritual abuse of children which parts of the social work profession fell for. This eventually culminated in the Orkney scandal in 1991, where despite the complete lack of evidence large numbers of children were forcibly removed from parents later proved to be completey innocent. Jonathan Calder blogged about in “The devil on South Ronaldsay“. It makes disturbing reading.

Decades later we have the revelations about the activities of Jimmy Saville, Cyril Smith and others, and the realisation that there really was a paedophile ring in the corridors of power in politics and the media, and powerful figures had been covering it up.

All of which make you wonder. How much were those two things were connected?

Were the stories of Satanic ritual abuse inaccurate rumours of what was really going on, like the party game of Chinese whispers? Or was it something more sinister, a manufactured lie from those who were covering up real abuse, to divert attention?

I suspect we will never know the truth.

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If Scotland votes Yes today, will this mean that Sainsburys will start stocking Tunnocks Snowballs in their ethnic foods aisle along with the Australian and Polish delicacies?

Posted on by Tim Hall | Leave a comment

It is hard to get to grips with them in argument because they constantly shift their stance and reinterpret the meaning of words to help them evade difficult questions“. The context is a blog by James Christie about ISO 29119. But it’s a far wider truth. Professional cliques and ideological sects have long used jargon words as an in-group identifier. But it always frustrates communication when they insist on applying new jargon-meanings to perfectly good existing words.

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Will They Stay Or Will They Go?

Next week, Scotland may vote to end the 300-year union with England. If it happens, it won’t just change Scotland, but England as well, and there are legitimate fears than it will unleash ugly forces that will leave the remainder of the UK far less of a green and pleasant land.

Superficially, the removal of 60-odd Scottish seats from Parliament appears to benefit the Tories, who have barely existed as an electoral force north of the border for a generation. But it’s difficult to imagine the break-up of the United Kingdom not changing the political landscape south of the border. The possibility of England lurching to the right after Scottish independence is certainly possible but is by no means inevitable.

Another possibility is that it will provoke a backlash against the same forces that were seen as driving Scotland away from the UK, and are as true for Wales and the English regions. If the London-centric ruling elites are found guilty in the court of public opinion of destroying the union just to line their own pockets, there will be blood. Hopefully just metaphorical blood, but….

If we’d had electoral reform years ago we wouldn’t currently be facing the possibility of the break up of the UK. We would not have been electing governments who could afford to ignore entire regions of the country because a handful of marginal constituencies were all the mattered in elections. And we would not have been electing governments with a mandate to enact far-reaching and irreversible changes with the support of just 40% of the electorate.

I’m a former Liberal Democrat voter who’s currently politically homeless. I have always considered myself left-of-centre but I have never trusted the authoritarianism that was never far below the surface of the Labour Party. But, whatever Scotland decides next week, if Ed Miliband promises electoral reform as a manifesto commitment, he will have my vote.

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This post on Stonekettle Station about American gun culture contains some quotes from Ted Nugent that are so violently racist it makes me wish I’d bought some of his records back when I was young and stupid. So I could publicly destroy them.

Posted on by Tim Hall | Leave a comment