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First it was the Big Society; Now it's the Broken Society
Last uploaded : Wednesday 17th Aug 2011 at 05:11
Contributed by : Carol Gould



'...What does David Cameron have to offer but divisive and crude rhetoric? How dare he call this remarkable nation broken and sick? Millions of citizens like me are penniless and sick because of criminal bankers and endowment and pension providers giving us a pittance after twenty-five years of loyal investment....'

16 August 2011

Selma was yesterday....

Where do I start? I am old enough to remember my mother telling me the ‘nine million concentrated hates behind the barricades’ would one day break those barricades and burn down America’s cities. I remember the firehoses, or water cannon, as Britons call them, being turned on peaceful civil rights demonstrators in the Deep South and I remember the march on Selma, Alabama, Watts and Rodney King and the Fire Next Time, so evocatively depicted in James Baldwin’s eponymous, prescient book. I remember the curfew in my hometown Philadelphia and the nightly murder rate against mostly Jewish butchers, pharmacists, shopowners and businessmen. (Despite the deep involvement in the civil rights and anti-apartheid movements by Jewish activists including my parents, for some bizarre reason the 1970s saw a wave of gang homicides against the Jewish community.) I am old enough to remember the bombing of the MOVE conurbation by black Philadelphia Mayor Wilson Goode, so virulently condemned but which some say brought a halt to drug-inspired crime.

I am old enough to remember the hacking to death in 1985 of London Police Constable Keith Blakelock, an iconic event that resonated with me when the Tottenham riots unfolded in August 2011. (It is regrettable that BBC ‘Panorama’ of August 16 referred to Cynthia Jarrett, who died of a heart attack during a police raid on her Tottenham home as ‘a black woman,’ as if she had no name.) I am old enough to remember that on my father’s seventieth birthday in April 1984 unarmed WPC Yvonne Fletcher, on duty with her beleaguered colleagues outside the Libyan Embassy in London, was shot dead by a gunman inside the building. The British police have come under fire for everything they do or do not do; they were condemned for the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes but given little credit for thwarting with great brilliance and bravery the fertiliser and liquid bomb plots that would have killed tens of thousands. As I write this Press TV, the television network of the Iranian regime, is running a story about the four-hundred souls killed by British police over the past decade.

Lest we forget the ‘cricket riots’ in 2001, when Nasser Hussain begged young British-born Muslims to support England, not Pakistan, only to watch the wicket-keeper at Trent Bridge nearly lose his spleen in a beating, and Michael Bevan narrowly escaping death when a full beer tin was thrown at his face. In that same 2001 summer of the Palestinian Intifadah I remember sitting on a train reading an editorial in the Observer by a young third generation Muslim who said he and his friends shouted angry epithets in Urdu at England cricketers to the bemusement of the England fans in the stands. He said their anger was not with England cricketers but with the nation in which they lived and its support for Israel and the United States. Later that summer 9/11 occurred. Nineteen angry young men died in order to kill as many westerners as they could….

So what does this all mean?

Just eight weeks ago on 8th June I attended a You GovStone event at the Royal Commonwealth Society focusing on Prime Minister David Cameron’s ‘Big Society.’ The event had barely got underway when I began to grind my teeth -- me, the ‘neocon’ of yesteryear who used to support the Tories until I was rendered penniless by a string of British financial institutions. The woman sitting next to me got exceedingly annoyed as my tooth-grinding metamorphosed into quiet heckling as one Shaun Bailey said he saw no reason for public money to be spent on opera or culture. He could easily have been a New Labour philistine but I found it loathsome that anyone born in this nation of great literature, poetry, philosophy, music, opera, ballet and theatre could espouse such tripe in an evening promoting a ‘Big Society.’

Those of us old enough to remember, to quote the Alan Jay Lerner line from ’Camelot,’ one brief shining moment of the Kennedy years will recall the evenings at the White House with Pablo Casals, Marilyn Horne, Artur Rubinstein or Robert Frost ( I doubt Shaun Bailey, or in fact anyone on the aforementioned ‘Big Society’ gathering, would know who any of these luminaries were.) If Cameron’s Big Society was to be shaped by the likes of Shaun Bailey and his Tory henchmen on the panel it is little wonder the entire exercise has unravelled.

As the audience near me became increasingly annoyed by my barely-muffled groans, I became angrier and angrier as each speaker talked about prison knocking sense into bad people and that layabouts ought to be kicked up the backside. People who are on sickness or disability benefit but want more than anything to get back into work this is IMPOSSIBLE because every major company requires prospective employees to complete a 'medical questionnaire.' This usually asks the job applicant if he or she has seen a GP more than five times in the past two years. On four different occasions in the past eight years I have heard of highly educated and immesely qualified individuals beign turned down for majoe posts because their doctors have had to be honest about their past medical conditions including cancer and shingles.

With nearly a million 18-24 years olds out of work, [Editor's Note in February 2012 -- over a million] how can kicking people jump-start a ‘Big Society?’ How can kids in gangs, who have no sporting facilities that remotely match those of American youth, be expected to turn up in suits at an office in the City? One of the miracles of the black community in the USA came from the churches, who began a nationwide initiative forty years ago to get gangs off the streets and into church. It worked ! Not every criminal became a bible pounder but church leaders introduced youngsters to elderly people whose parents and grandparents had been slaves, and encouraged them to video their remarkable stories. Black businessmen shared free dinners with the young troublemakers and soon got them into jobs. But the most important social exercise that has kept hundreds of thousands of children off the streets has been sport:

When I was on ‘Any Questions?’ in Blackpool in 2006 in the context of a discussion on’ASBOs’ the audience roundly applauded my comment about American youth being kept in check because they participate in Little League, junior high, high school and college sport that is televised in the highest-quality stadia. They learn about teamwork and set out in the evening to practice, locking the facilities at night after leaving without one ounce of trouble. After the broadcast audience members came up to me and said they envied the American model.

We now have a situation in Britain in which disaffected middle class, middle-aged people are talking about going out and joining the next wave of riots. (See the August 16 edition of the London ‘Evening Standard.’ ) Our Prime Minister proclaims the rioters are all scum and are sick. Aren’t these the same hoodies this superficial, privileged, mean-spirited man wanted us to hug last year? What of his Big Society? Does he not appreciate that the large and often violent demonstrations earlier in 2011 occurred because there is discontent afoot? Does he not know from history that in the 1920s and 30s after Germans had to carry a wheelbarrow of money to buy a loaf of bread Hitler rose to power? Does he not understand that Russians taking to the streets resulted in the slaughter of the Czar and his family and to the rise of Stalin? Does he not understand that the Spanish Civil War resulted in the rise of Franco and fascism?

Does he not understand that his fellow millionaire Franklin Delano Roosevelt prevented a descent into fascism or communism in America because, unlike Cameron and Co, he was a rich man with deep compassion for the angry poor? FDR created TVA, the NRA, the WPA and Social Security in a coalition with Republican allies like John Gilbert Winant and saved America from catastrophe. He and his wife Eleanor raised Americans from abject poverty to prosperity and to feeling good about themselves. When Americans celebrated Thanksgiving in the Depression the Roosevelts made them feel they were part of a manifest destiny. Had FDR not inspired his nation with the words ‘the only thing we have to fear is fear itself,’ just as Abraham Lincoln before him had united a broken nation with the words ‘government by the people, for the people, of the people shall not perish from the earth,' that nation would have descended into anarchy.

What does David Cameron have to offer but divisive and crude rhetoric? How dare he call this remarkable nation broken and sick? Millions of citizens like me are penniless and sick because of criminal bankers and endowment and pension providers giving us a pittance after twenty-five years of loyal investment. I am sick because of a criminal millionaire surgeon who was let off by the General Medical Council when he should have gone to trial for gross misconduct. My pitiful breast cancer payout, most of which was already stolen by my blue-chip provider, was then stolen en masse by the company into which I had deposited the funds ! Will I go out and riot? No. I was born a Jewish Princess and shall remain so. I don’t riot -- it would spoil my nail varnish. But I warn my prime Minister that uttering degrading words to already degraded people begets violence and mayhem. Is he next going to re-erect Tyburn Stone and have public hangings or open the London Dungeon to real-life prisoners?

He is no Roosevelt. He is no Churchill. And how this country needs one of those.


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