MARK FRANKLAND

The picture? Well the picture says that anything is possible. As in anything. The town is Darwen. And of course the guy is Gandhi. And those around him are unemployed cotton workers. When he heard they were all but starving because of his Indian boycott, he insisted on going to see them. Before he got off the train they were all ready to lynch him. By the time he got back on board he was their guy. Like they say - form is temporary, class is permanent.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

DOES 'MERE ANARCHY' PAINT A PICTURE OF WHAT SCOTLAND MIGHT LOOK LIKE AFTER A 'NO' VOTE? GOD FORBID


 

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Over recent days my blog describing the desperate plight of the ex coal mining village of Kirkconnel has received a huge number of hits. In the blog I wondered if the only hope for those in Scotland who have been forced into such deprivation is a 'Yes' vote in next year's referendum. Three years ago I wrote a book called 'Mere Anarchy'. Every day since its release the fiction in the story seems to have become more and more like the fact of the world we live in. I cannot help but wonder if it might be painting a bleak picture of a Scotland after a 'No' vote. It is a chilling thought.

The idea at the heart of 'Mere Anarchy' was pretty simple. In a fictional Britain in 2016, the moneylenders finally call time on us and say enough is enough. No more guys. We don’t reckon you’re a good bet anymore. In fact we reckon you’re a busted flush. So it’s back to the 1970’s and time to go cap in hand to the IMF. The book kicks off with a delegation of Chief Execs from the Multinationals summoning the Prime Minister to a secret meeting where they lay it on the line. They tell him that they know all about his secret conflabs with the IMF. They tell him that they know all about the fact that he has been ordered to implement an immediate 25% adjustment in the nation’s budgeting. And they tell him that they know all about his plans to achieve this by a mixture of savage cuts and equally savage tax hits on the super rich and the big corporations. Then they hit him with an ultimatum. Don’t even think about taxing us because if you do we will up sticks and get out of Dodge.
So my fictional Prime Minister is left with no choice whatsoever. He has just a few weeks to slash the country’s expenditure by a quarter. Once I came up with the idea, it was time to do some research and get a handle on what our Government spends £700 billion a year on. It didn’t take very long to discover that the vast majority of this cash goes on the big three – Welfare, Education and the NHS. At this point I set myself a second parameter for the story – Britain would by hook or by crook remain a democracy. So how on earth can a politician find a way to slash costs by 25% and still stand a chance of getting re-elected? This seemed suddenly very clear. Cut the NHS to pieces? No chance. Make all schools fee paying? Be serious. Dump the old age pension? Not a chance in hell since the ‘Grey Vote’ determines every election. Which of course left the vast and endless billions spent on our huge list of benefits that have mushroomed since the sunny optimism of the introduction of our safety net in 1948.
Phase two of the research involved digging into the crazy world of our benefit system and it didn’t take so long for the story to start to come together. Even back then, there was a clear agenda in the media to make the working majority of the population loathe, despise and detest the scrounging poor.

The trouble is that getting the majority to loathe the scrounging poor isn’t all that hard to do. It isn’t difficult to find alarming echoes of the job the Nazis did on the Jews back in the early 30’s. Goebbels found Anti-Semitism was an open door to push at. Take an average German family in the early 20’s. Dad works for the Council and for the whole of his adult life he has done the German thing and saved for his old age. Then over the course of a few desperate weeks, his savings became worthless as the Great Inflation swept through the land like a fire storm. All of a sudden thirty years worth of savings are only worth enough to buy a day’s worth of groceries. At this point he is forced to look around the house for things to pawn. Sound familiar? In the lounge there is a grand piano which his prodigiously talented teenage daughter uses every single day to practice to become a concert pianist. But needs must. They heave the piano out of the front door and wheel it down to the Pawn Shop on the corner where Mr Rubenstein offers them enough cash for two loaves of bread. And as the family trudges home, the Rubenstein family drive past in their shiny new Mercedes. Not surprisingly, it was the hard grafting middle classes who saw their savings and pensions stripped away who made up the majority of the millions who voted Hitler into power in 1933.

Everywhere I looked I found ample evidence of the uncontrolled idiocy of the benefit system. I rang an expert I know and ran a hypothetical scenario by him. A 30 year old single mum with four kids who is signed off sick with depression. What would she get? To cut a long story short, she would get £20,000 a year in cash and a free five bedroom house. In these parts such a house costs about £150,000 and requires a mortgage of about £15,000 a year as well as £1200 council tax.
So. The maths.
How much would my fictional depressed mum of four have to earn to stand still financially if she decided to come off benefits and get a job? What gross pay is required to leave £36,000 after tax? I am no great tax expert, but it didn’t take all that long to work out that she would need about £60,000 a year to stand still. And that didn’t factor in the free childcare and free dentistry. It’s crazy isn’t it? £60,000 a year jobs are as rare as hen’s teeth in these parts. In reality, my fictional mum might get lucky and get a checkout job in Tesco for a sixth of that. Is it her fault? Is she intrinsically evil because she has worked out that having four kids and playing the sick card will get her a six times better living than forty hours a week on the check out?
No wonder persuading the majority to hate the poor represents the same kind of open door to push at as Goebbels discovered all those years ago.

So my fictional Prime Minister in ‘Mere Anarchy’ bites the bullet and announces the end of all benefits other than the old age pension. He goes the whole nine yards. No more Jobseekers, no more tax credits, no more sick pay, no more housing benefit, no more Council Tax benefit, no more disability allowance. No more nothing. Instead, every town will have dormitories and feeding stations. He promises that nobody will have to sleep in a doorway or root in a dustbin for food.

The bones of the story are all about whether a government would be able to keep the lid on in the wake of such a massive change. Or would the country descend into anarchy?
At the time it seemed to be a work of the very purest of fiction. People who read it shuddered at the thought and then consoled themselves with the fact that like Orwell’s '1984', it was never going to happen.

And I wholeheartedly agreed.
But for three years now the bloody thing seems to have been coming true little by little. My how we are being taught to hate the poor. And little by little, we are making the poor ever poorer. The Bedroom Tax is the latest and most brutal brick in this particularly vicious wall. And how do the majority feel about it? They like it. It makes them feel better as they work all hours God sends but still can’t cover all the bills.

Then there is the new and fiercely denied policy of driving workers at the Job Centre to 'sanction' three clients every week. Regular readers of this blog will be more than aware that 'sanction' is Government speak for take away; suspend; render completely penniless. A first offence means a month. The second offence is three months and the third offence is six months. Stop for a second and imagine that. As I write this, a cold and frosty dawn is breaking across Scotland. For the first time the fields are white over. Imagine if you had been sanctioned yesterday for being late for an appointment for the third time. The next time you would have a penny to your name would be May of next year. In front of you would be the prospect of six months of living in the dark and eating food from charities. No wonder an increasing number of people in this desperate boat are opting to get themselves locked up. At least jail means a cell complete with heat and light and three square meals a day. It's a no brainer really. At least my fictional Prime Minister in 'Mere Anarchy' has the decency to go on the tele and tell it like it is. As it stands, the policy to remove people from the Welfare State is a secret and denied policy.  

‘Mere Anarchy’ was supposed to be a story about the unthinkable. It certainly isn’t that any more. The unthinkable has become the new normal. Not very long ago it would have seemed utterly unthinkable for a government to raid people’s savings accounts to the tune of 40% on the orders of Berlin. It ain’t unthinkable any more. It was done in Cyprus. It would have seemed unthinkable that a government would take a quarter of the disposable income from the very poorest people in the land as punishment for them having an empty box room in their flat. Again. It ain’t unthinkable any more.
And still every minute or every day the country is borrowing £8500 from Arabs and Chinamen to cover the bills. And every day we see and hear about the damage caused by the austerity cuts.
Hang on a minute.
What austerity cuts? The problem is that the Government is spending more than it was in 2010 and we are borrowing ever more. It’s a nightmare scenario and if our lenders decide that enough is enough, the dilemma of my fictional Prime Minister will become the dilemma of a real Prime Minister.

How far away is such a real life scenario? Who knows? And if the Government has to chop 25% of expenditure in a big hurry, then how will they do it? Will it be the NHS? Or Education? Or the old age pension?

Or will it be benefits?
No prizes for guessing the answer.

If you would like to have a read of ‘Mere Anarchy’, you can download a free copy by clicking this link.


If you are not into Kindle and you want a paperback, then drop me an e mail with your name and address and I will send you a copy out in the post. When the book arrives it will come with an invoice for £6 and you can send me a cheque.

You can e mail me at markglenmill@aol.com 

Before clocking off, I really should pay proper homage to the guy who gave me the title. It was WB Yeats the Irish poet and his great poem. ‘The Second Coming’.

‘Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world’

I am in good company in raiding this verse for a title. Fifty years ago the great Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe named his finest work ‘Things Fall Apart.’ Sadly Chinua passed away recently but not before ‘Things Fall Apart’ had sold 4 million copies all over the world. I am still going, but I have one hell of a way to go to catch up Chinua in the bestsellers’ chart!

 

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