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What to do about the f*****g poor?

poor

I had suspected for some time that there was more to crime than met the eye and then I found a source. In Edward Heath (Cape 1993) John Campbell speaking of the Conservative Government of 1972 writes,

… they could have done more to remind the public that, demoralising as unemployment unquestionably was, it no longer involved the degree of physical privation that it had done in the 1930’s: not only were social security benefits much higher, but the vast expansion of the black economy offered opportunities which significantly blurred the hard line between regular employment and the dole…

What I took from this frank passage was the dynamic it suggested between demoralisation and opportunities. The demoralisation of a section of the population led to them being the builders of the central criminal money-go-round: drugs. Like jazz and r’n’b drugs were soul implants first taken up by whites who wouldn’t have problems slipping into a comfy job and growing out of their habit. For their white and black brothers and sisters further down the scale or further up the supply chain that wouldn’t be the case. They became professionals.

What did this dynamic mean for economics and for politics? Unemployment was not painful enough. Unemployment could no longer be the hidden hand squeezing the working class balls. Crime would have to take its place. The State would no longer look too closely when the poor turned to the more enterprising and violent members of their clans. In a society of self-motivating self-organising egos mated with open databanks you wouldn’t worry about the poor and you wouldn’t have politics. You would just have the seamless flexing of productive monads.

There is no reason why the pools of unpoliced moneymaking should not deepen and darken. Somewhere down the line is formalisation: legit concessions with electronic gates trading with the natives all the way down the Brighton Road to the sea.  Even when the tobacco and oil companies perfect their models and take over cannabis there will always be the rest of the pharmaceuticals to go at in streets full of guinea pigs. There will always be another generation of council estate and public school Rimbauds looking to turn on.

Those with the pound sign gleaming in their eye know that Brexit will speed internal colony making. An economist might say we find crime more elastic than unemployment. The decision whether to put x more bobbies into y area is cleaner than decisions to encourage industry to locate somewhere daft. For many citizens the deaths by réglement de comte between traders make it a self-policing system whose victims are both unlucky and unwanted, a system whose only disadvantage lies in its territorial coincidence with toe-dip gentrification.

The other area of hidden subsidy to the poor by way of crime is motoring. Licence, insurance, taxation – money I ain’t got and all those bloody forms but I know someone who knows a fiddle for a fiver. If you catch one of the compulsive youtube police channels like Police Interceptors or Cops with Cameras you will find that drugs and motoring are what they catch most of. The they – the boys and girls in blue come over as competent and compassionate. The tragedy is they only get at the small fry. A £19k motor driven by a £40k copper in a hairy blue light pursuit of a whisky bottle shoplifter can’t be called cost effective policing. Higher up the chain with the words serious and organised tacked on crime becomes subject to political influence negotiating with the libertarian desire for cash flows thru the City commission takers.

Sometimes fundamental thinking about the poor breaks thru the political skin. I went back to what Sir Keith Joseph was rumoured to have said about sterilising the poor and found him speaking in Birmingham just after his party under Heath had lost the 1974 election,

… a high and rising proportion of children are being born to mothers least fitted to bring children into the world… … mothers who were first pregnant in adolescence in social classes 4 and 5. Many of these girls are unmarried, many are deserted or divorced or soon will be. Some are of low intelligence, most of low educational attainment. They are unlikely to be able to give children the stable emotional background, the consistent combination of love and firmness which are more important than riches. They are producing problem children, the future unmarried mothers, delinquents, denizens of our borstals, sub-normal educational establishments, prisons, hostels for drifters. Yet these mothers, the under-twenties in many cases, single parents, from classes 4 and 5, are now producing a third of all births…Yet what shall we do? … proposals to extend birth-control facilities to these classes of people, particularly the young unmarried girls, the potential young unmarried mothers, evokes entirely understandable moral opposition…

Er, that moral opposition would be on the grounds that sex before marriage was wrong would it Sir Keith? Or is it the Catholic lobby and the argument against abortion which says that the children actually conceived are a perfect feedback of the state of society and any culling distorts the view and so blurs the focus of change. And if it became a question of intra uterine IQ tests to determine viability would that apply to every mother Sir Keith? In England there is a safety net for nincompoops from well-to-do families: public school mutual aid aka the old school tie. Unless people drop as well as rise it is a meritocracy in name only. The drop can hurt unless you possess cultural resource. I remember very well being called a fifty bob a day nutcase by toughs in a fancy Jag when I parked cars at Sandown races.

Sir Keith Joseph freed from Heaths managerialism was one of the first to express the shift in the point of view that took place in the 1970’s. The end of deference and the rise of television allowed mildly populist leaders to emerge. Having Thatcher’s head and hair in your front room made you believe. Heath lost in 1974 and Thatcher won in 1979. The old benevolent statism with its well meaninglessness of mass housing and uplifting education gave way to the fight your corner complacency of the self-made. Minus the valiant bands of those who had been aborted, the poor were told to stand on their own two feet or get on their bikes or both. How might it have been different? Edward Heath had always followed his Mum shaped star and says in Campbell’s book,

… if you have half a million young people hanging around on the streets all day you will have a massive increase in juvenile crime. Of course you will get racial tension when you have young blacks with less chance of getting jobs…

That was in July 1981. There had been riots in Bristol and Brixton. Nothing wrong with the analysis but Edward was no longer in power. He hadn’t managed to broaden his appeal and had lost his place. Edward (Teddy) Heath was Britain’s first European politician and he had muffed it. They didn’t like Europe really, the continong and all that where their men had died in the mud or the hedgerows.

Heath gave off the smell of loose phrased idealistic discourse backed by technocratic omniscience. He never had the middle men to get the news out to the streets. His solutions were desk top solutions conceived with playmate civil servant William Armstrong: chess without a board. In 1973 he had been Prime Minister and could have changed Britain’s course using the oil crisis as a pivot but he got caught up in Union business: the miners as the Red Army. A three day week with candle-lit dinners for all courtesy mine host Teddy at the piano. At Ditchley Park the country house setting for high flown Anglo-American conversation William Armstrong eventually went mad lying on the Maples carpet and frothing at the mouth. Douglas Hurd at that time still in Heath’s private office tells Campbell … a few days later he broke down completely and had to be shipped off to Victor Rothschild’s villa in Barbados…

edheath2

Edward Heath at Gdansk (Danzig) in 1939 in his Balliol blazer and tramping boots. He was with his half-Jewish chum Madron Seligman. They got out just in time. The woman is unknown but she may have been the mother of the person taking the photograph who was perhaps the future novelist Gunter Grass.

Peculiar James Bondian times. Victor Rothschild of that ilk was a love child of MI5 and biology. When the oil crisis came Heath got a blank niet when he asked British oil companies to give the home market preference. Nevertheless Whitehall had a few months warning of the leap in barrel price from Rothschild or rather by way of Rothschild. The warning triggered several get out of jail scenarios sketched by Oxbridge men in bell bottoms and Zapata moustaches. One was Go Danish. Friendly black and white patched cows gave us Lurpak butter in its gold wrap and their pink skinned blond haired swine gave us bacon. Our country cousin to whom we sent deprived teenagers from the inner city. Fat and green and healthy under the Baltic sun. Leaping the submarine watched sands bits a swinging. And windmills just over the horizon. Legoverland. Perhaps an expanded youth exchange programme might have changed things, a mass Erasmus. Future Labour cabinet minister Alan Johnson then a precocious twelve year old remembers … this was another country where people spoke a different language, watched different television programmes, followed different football teams. It seemed incredible that I should be here…

It seemed attractive. Become a low energy laid-back taxed-up castle. This unrealistic Scandinavian option hovered over the left shoulder of ever more marginal politicians. Social democracy for the mild mannered didn’t extend down into the increasing volatile and disturbed ranks of the poor. And then Britain still hosted the Imperial bug. A bug operable thanks to husky Yanks who scooped the gents up after a night on the town and dri-kleened their corduroys in exchange for all those listening posts in shady cash havens. As the CIA man said to Kim Philby in Washington when they were planning trouble in Ukraine … you know every time we want to get involved somewhere we find the Brits have an island just handy…

What of now? Well-to-do people like to think everything is coming along just fine. There is a prime time schtick from Bill Gates and Stephen Pinker that says … folks have never been better off check out that comfort. No matter what you think you saw round those street corners you are wrong… Seems o’k at first but I caught this from Dr Jason Hickel (Guardian 29 January 2019). He gives an alternative interpretation based on the same Max Roser infographic,

…what Roser’s numbers actually reveal is that the world went from a situation where most of humanity had no need of money at all to one where today most of humanity struggles to survive on extremely small amounts of money. The graph casts this as a decline in poverty, but in reality what was going on was a process of dispossession that bulldozed people into the capitalist labour system… …Prior to colonisation … … they had little if any money, but then they didn’t need it in order to live well – so it makes little sense to claim that they were poor…

Dr Hickel goes on,

… the trend that the graph depicts is based on a poverty line … …  equivalent of what $1.90 (a day) could buy in the US in 2011 … …  the few gains that have been made have virtually all happened in one place: China. … …  over the four decades since 1981, not only has the number of people in poverty gone up, the proportion of people in poverty has remained stagnant at about sixty per cent…

Stagnant. How do the poor learn to live without wealth? What do they become? Does joblessness have to be a horror? What skills do you need to foster if you are not in the market? To live knowing the sooner you’re dead the better is not so good. You’d lend yourself to anything. Is the real lesson from our older African brothers to be happy with nothing but being in your own goddam skin? In an untraceable television interview probably filmed in 1968 Edward Heath said something like … of course if someone wants to sit under a tree and dream, they are perfectly entitled to as long as they don’t expect to be supported … We can’t call the spiced out shapeless bundles on Gloucester benches dreamers. The sorting process between the market integrated folk and the disintegrated is being chemically assisted.

The poor remain …we’re only here to make up the numbers… but they are more isolated more inbred since they are not added to by the fallen. They are making their own culture some of which is saleable. Some of the poor are rich. They are of all colours and more mixed than the well-to-do. They have larger and more complicated families. They are more likely to belong to a diaspora even if it is only an Irish one. They only have a concrete sense of the world, warning signs don’t mean anything – you park where there is a gap. Too often they run up against things which they say… make my brain hurt… Even so, some of them get out thru education as per theory and stay out. Not many. They are city folk tho there are wishy washy outposts of Poorville in all the rural parts of England. They are the people who make such a mess of the picnic place we fought so long to get the Council to landscape.

So that now really it is no longer so much a matter of economics but of culture. Even if it is still true that the poor are marked by having very little or no disposable income, they are marked much more by the adaptations and the habits of mind flowing from such a condition even if individually they may have means which place them in the upper quartile. It is quite possible that this culture will take political form and that we will indeed have Disraeli’s two nations facing off against each other but thanks to Thatcher legitimising crime …there is no such thing as society… facing off against each other on an equal footing.

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