Thursday 11 July 2013


Margaret Mountford, Nick Hewer (BBC/Silver River Productions Ltd/Alex Maguire)

 Well, this is quite sickening. Here's the blurb from the BBC website:

"Four claimants and four taxpayers come face to face to explore each other’s lives, examine their values and speak their minds. Will the taxpayers feel that benefits are too high or not enough? And will the claimants decide that hard work is good for them or will the sacrifice be too much?"

When most "hard work" boils down to slaving your guts out for someone else's profit, why on earth is anyone going to decide that it's good for them? And I do like that term "sacrifice" with its (I think deliberately) sacral overtones. So working is a sacrifice, is it? Taking that seriously. we would have to ask to whom, and for whom? But the point seems to be fostering of negative solidarity, which translates as: "we have it shit, so you should have it shit, too". Like Ian Duncan Smith's constant mantra of "making work pay": you might think that that would mean making sure pay and conditions for most jobs improved; no, it means making sure that benefits are harder to get, worth less, and are easier to lose. The working population are expected to be grateful that someone is getting shafted more brutally than they are. More, they are told that it is claimants that are somehow making them work longer and harder for less money, and obscurely, that the precarity of work (zero hours contracts and the rest) is somehow down to the doleys. But if work is a sacrifice, it's not one that is made to claimants, claimants are not the ones who have kept wages stagnating for years.

"[...]in this second episode the experiment is reversed as the claimants spend time with the taxpayers. Getting up early, working alongside them through long shifts and seeing the effects on family life[...]"

So working "long shifts" (we're talking about most work that is done, the savagely underpaid variety) has effects on family life...But because it's a sacrifice (unclear to, or for, whom) it's worth it? The lack of affordable child care is somehow just a fact of life, like those long shifts.

"[...]the claimants experience the sort of work it takes to pay for their benefits and get a taste of the reality of working life. They must decide if they think that work is worth it. With the battle lines drawn between claimants and taxpayers, this series brings the two sides together to discover if any of them can agree."

At what point will we get to see the salt-of-the-earth-taxpayers get to have a face off with Lord Freud, for example, the charmer who recently said that the increase in food banks was due to the fact that they were giving away free stuff, and not because people might not have the wherewithal to buy food. Maybe he could be put in the position of explaining to them why he has so much and they have so relatively little. But no- that's not the way negative solidarity works. The working population are slaving so hard because of the unemployed, apparently, not because of their bosses.

Thursday 10 January 2013


Here we have the centimetres-deep political philosopher Duncan-Smith holding forth on the benefits of (waged) labor in 2010. Unfortunate turn of phrase. To put it further in context, I added bits of a Cameron speech post-riots in september 2011.

duncan smith cameron work from robin bale on Vimeo.

Friday 20 July 2012


Minister Chris Grayling

So by now we all know about G4S's colossal fuck-up with the security for the corporate wank-fest that is the Olympics (although this more serious G4S story has apparently been overlooked during the self-righteous ire poured onto the company by some of the very same politicians who commissioned them for this and many other disasters. Or their involvement with the occupied territories.) Johnny Void has a plausible explanation of what happened there, I think. Also, in another posting he describes succinctly the mechanisms that allow scumbags like G4S (or A4E, or Serco etc etc) to milk the system.

Anyway, yesterday's newspaper headlines presented us with this: the launch of Louise Casey's report, commissioned by Cameron after last year's riots -  "Listening to Troubled Families". There are, apparently 120 000 of them in the country, and they cost the state £9 billion a year. Honest. It's a fact. I thought that it was Blair who first used this   utterly spurious - figure, but actually I haven't been able to track down any reference to that. As a matter of fact, the statistic appears to have been pulled out of the arse of someone in Whitehall, or rather, extrapolated from different studies, as Ruth Levitas points out. What is astounding is that this mathematical conjuring trick has been swallowed, to the extent that critics of the plan are now pointing out that the promised £450 million will not be enough to cover the "120 000" families, as if those families actually exist out there, in those numbers. As the New Statesman blog piece linked above points out, the Casey report is a piece of qualitative research on 16 families with very serious problems indeed. It's only those 16 families that can be said, with any certainty at all, to fit the template.

As Levitas and the New Statesman piece both point out, the original figures that have since been  warped and extrapolated from were an estimate of families in poverty. It's hard to imagine (though it is possible, when one considers the towering intellectual capacities of this government) that this was simply bad accounting. There are happy results of conflating poor people -who are increasingly numerous, for obvious reasons- with people who are -supposedly- a danger to their neighbours, an unwarranted drain on the public purse, and have a prediliction for child abuse. The plain-speaking man-of-the-people fat-Tory-Twat (and minister in charge of this) Eric Pickles put this view succinctly

"[...]these folks are troubled: they're troubling themselves, they're troubling their neighbourhood. We need to do something about it."

Casey is obviously singing from the same hymn sheet: "If they are causing so many problems to their neighbours … the families that have to live next door to them, to the teachers that have to teach their kids in schools, to the people on the receiving end as victims of crimes – it is wrong that we allow them to carry on living this way."

So there we have it - a bit of statistical mumbo-jumbo, and there's the proof: poor people are dangerous. And it's their own fault that they're poor because we give them so much money.

It has, of course, private provision as an essential component, or private companies who will cream off their chunk of the funding and then subcontract the work to the voluntary sector. So guess who's got some of the contracts? Yes indeed - G4S. An article in the Salford Star points out some difficulties (to put it mildly) with this model of provision:  

"It's a bit of Catch 22" a Salford City UNISON member told the Salford Star "Either we don't refer to these agencies and there's sanctions imposed on the local authority, or we do and they take our work from us. 

"We're struggling to find work for them" he added "We've been given instructions to refer to these companies who haven't got any accountability and their results are not judged on outcomes but on how many families they get coming through their service. How are they proving their worth by numbers?"

Casey and Cameron claim that it is a "black box" operation, as with the Work Program - providers only get paid by results and their methods are up to them. But as the intended result is to save public money that would be spent on courts, or time in school exclusion units, or benefits - how does one prove a negative? Payment will be on the basis of crimes not committed or school days not skived off, or benefits not collected. Even if the model is plausible, and it isn't, I can't see how this could be assessed. But councils having their budgets viciously slashed have every incentive to provide fodder for this process, where successful referrals will be bring money from central government. Now, having the figure of 120 000, councils will be expected to find those people. Or face Tory reprisals for not co-operating with this innovative, shiny piece of coercive privatisation.

The void article linked above, concerning the practices of welfare to work providers also applies here, where forcing people into work is only one strand of a  complex series of processes. On "Creaming and Parking": "Under the ‘black box’ style of provision on the Work Programme, welfare to work companies are able to almost anything they like to ‘help’ someone back into work. This can include doing nothing at all and in fact that makes good business sense. It’s a numbers game. Some of even the hardest to help will find work on their own [or decide to go to school or get off drugs etc.], meaning yet more money for providers. As to the rest, well the company already have the attachment fee in the bank.

The most lucrative way to manage the hardest to help is to not spend a penny on them. This is far more profitable than throwing endless resources at people who the welfare to work companies know are unlikely to find work.
[or decide to go to school or get off drugs etc.] "

What is deeply disturbing in this, amongst all the other disturbing things, is that data protection is waived for the targets of this scheme:
[...]ministers have agreed to suspend the privacy of poor households. For the first time, local councils will be allowed "without informed consent" to access benefit records. The idea is to build up a map of troubled families – which will be shared with other agencies such as the police, GPs and housing associations[...Casey says...] "I don't think that is about someone's civil rights. I think it's about their right to get help and the system's right to challenge them to take it."  Her statement sums up the coercive nature of the interventions, and the customary couching of them in therapy-speak: the "challenge" to "get help".

There is undoubtedly a reality tv show in the making here - maybe there already has been something like it? Cameras follow Casey around as she kicks in the front doors of those prole-porn staples, the lardy, feckless, overly-fecund, drunk and workshy. She gives them some tough love, they resist. She's warm, empathetic, but takes no bullshit; she's on a mission here, and it's for their own good. Then, roughly at the three quarter mark of the episode, we get the money shot, On being "challenged" the family, as a whole, collapse into lachrymose prostration, burbling through wads of snotty bog-roll clutched convulsively in porcine hands. "You're right Louise! We thought our situation was a result of the vicissitudes of late capital, or perhaps a reasonable reluctance to engage in the pointless grind of wage-slavery or the indoctrination of school - we were wrong! It's all because we've got low self esteem!" She then gets them to "work on their issues" and... well, you've seen the show before. You know how it goes.  At the end, they talk about their "journey".

Before doleys can be conscripted onto the Work Programme they have to sign a consent form, or be bullied and threatened into signing one by JobCentre staff, that gives their consent for their private data to be shared with the provider - A4E, G4S or whoever. The provider gets no money unless they have that person on their books, until they have their data. With the waiving of reasonably informed consent, cabinet ministers in effect giving consent on these "troubled families" behalf, there is no limit to how many people could find themselves signed up to the tender mercies of the providers -that is, as profit-making units to a private company - and it is of no concern to the providers how "troubled" they are.

From the Salford Star article:  "[A]t a Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion conference in May, titled Families, Communities, Places: A New Way Forward for Delivery. Hot topics included `public sector and welfare reform', while a presentation was entitled `Cost benefit modelling for working with troubled families'...

On the day, George Selmer, North West contracts director with G4S, gave a presentation
[...] He revealed that, six months into the Government contract, G4S had achieved only 15% of its target… "This represents at best a delay, at worst a loss of around £2million of revenue for our supply chain."

Admitting a lack of referrals and `questions over where the programme fits', Selmer urged conference attendees to provide more referrals and to `trust' the ESF  programme [the European Social Fund, who have been providing money for the initiative so far]… "Providers only get paid if they deliver…But if they don't have enough customers to enable them to hit their targets they can't afford to maintain the service to the necessary levels…" The article points out then that Salford council social workers already do the work that G4S wants referred on to them, so it seems a bit redundant and G4S's duplication could well lead to job losses amongst council staff. It's worth remembering here that G4S will use the voluntary sector for delivery, in true workfare style.

the idea of some sort of multi-agency action to "help"  "problem families" was first floated by the last government. It was Blair who revived what is arguably simply another version of that old chestnut, the dichotomy between the supposedly worthy and unworthy poor, but with the family as the basic unit; something that the present government obviously believe still has some mileage.

I thought that Blair was the one who first came up with the precise - and

Blair blithely posited a continuum from what he and his government called "Anti-Social Behaviour" (which, by definition, is not actually criminal) with actual crimes and, at the top end of the scale, international terrorism. Quite how there is a spectrum with, at one end, drinking in public, or dropping litter, and at the other, bombing a tube train or flying a plane into a skyscraper, is beyond me. Nevertheless, the phrases "crime and anti-social behaviour" and "crime and disorder" have become part of common parlance.

There is more than a little continuity here. Louise Casey, a civil servant who became the Blair governnent's "Respect Tzar" (why tzar? Who knows.) and then Commissioner for Victims and Witnesses.

What might have helped with getting the contract would be this sort of thing, or this.

Tuesday 14 June 2011


I'm struggling with a leaking toilet at the moment. Not leaking in the sense of effluent on the floor, but a cistern that won't stop filling. It's pretty nightmarish- I will go up and adjust the gaffa tape on the ballcock or try and wedge something underneath it, and the next minute I'll hear a torrential outpouring that goes into the cistern and then down the back wall of the house. Just a minute ago, I thought that it had started to rain again, but then realised it was the bog.

There is something remorseless and inexorable about the power of water. We might think that we've domesticated it with pipes and sewers - to some extent we've treated it with contempt - but we're wrong. It's there right now, eating at the bricks of the house, and our neighbour's fence. It sounds like a small, localised rain shower.

This is my dad's bog. It has nothing to do with me. In my mother's lifetime it was secured with elastic bands, she didn't care too much about these things. To flush it one would fill the cistern with the jug on the side of the bath. It was always going to be fixed next year. Now it's not.

I can hear it now, turning the back garden into a swamp, and giving the neighbours a free new age -1990's- sound effect to assist them in their slumbers (unless it's deeply annoying, which is entirely possible) like a "rain forest waterfall".

I'm going to sort it tomorrow with a bent coathanger. That will make a cradle to hold the ballcock at the appropriate angle to shut off the valve that allows this miniature Niagara to persist. Obviously, a plumber is required at some later date - was always required.

But it is ultimately the noise of family. My dad has just got up for a slash, necessitating, I hope, flushing, which will give me a bit of respite from having to re-adjust the ballcock- for maybe half an hour.

As I was saying, anyway; it is the noise of family. As the Amazon ad for the the alarm clock that I linked above puts it: "filters out background noise as you read, work or study", family is the background noise. This is the noise of my particular place, where you fix the bog with elastic bands; my inheritance, where I must live - when I'm here- with the remorselessness of water, the sound of it, or I must get it fixed, because no-one else is going to.

Sunday 12 June 2011



Tuesday 18 January 2011


Contrary to what a lot of thoughtless people seem to believe, dandyism is not even an excessive delight in clothes and material elegance. For the perfect dandy, these things are no more than the symbol of the aristocratic superiority of his mind”

Charles Baudelaire “The Dandy”

Zurburan "Saint Francis in Meditation" National Gallery

“We” are not “All In This Together.”

The original dandies dressed like you – that is to say, like anyone2. They took on the "Buff and the Brown", the uniform of the American Revolutionaries – those slave-owning avatars of egalite. The difference was in the individuality of the cut; an impeccable silhouette might, perhaps, assuage the sting of merely being subsumed into that tedious, newly minted abstraction -“The People”.

In opposition to the blunt bluffness of the democratic Everyman, whose sober attire was a sign of the bearer's public virtue, they disguised themselves as themselves. They displayed – I was about to say “their otherness in public view”, but this not only lacks precision, but is also misleading. Their otherness as the public is closer to the mark, but might imply a collision between private inclination and civic demands. Apparently trivial details on the surface of appearance, the minute stitching of a button hole, a knot on a cravat or the width of a lapel, signalled the otherness of the public, its difference from, and incapability of being reduced to, itself.

This index of withdrawal, invisibility, was a style in the most serious sense of the word *; and style, as the tangible arrangement of elements, is always serious.

*"...Every style embodies an epistemological decision, an interpretation of how and what we perceive...Every style is a means of insisting on something... It will be seen that stylistic decisions, by focusing our attention on some things, are also a narrowing of our attention, a refusal to allow us to see others."

Susan Sontag “On Style”

Contempt, to be elegant – as wholeness or necessity - has to be marked with a totality - that is to say –like any totality – artificial, or symbolic. It has to be raised above its everyday self to become its own sign, stark against its shifting background.

It requires a gesture that inscribes a circle that encloses itself. That which is mixed with, say, compassion or indulgence, belongs too much to the heterogeneous world.

Contempt is sterile. Closed within itself, it expresses only itself - ultimately its own difference from itself. In this world, there are only two qualities, the gesture and its background. To this gesture, all is background, and it indicates this with subtle and weary brevity. It neither genuflects, nor grieves.

Dandyism is a form of address, a subtle inclination forwards, merely enough to display a hint of shirt front and the cut of the sleeve. The immaculate contains itself, gives little more to the world than its scent.

The surface, the gesture that encloses itself, gives a brief farewell - perpetually departing. A sign of legitimacy external to all other forms can do no other; it cannot explain itself. It barely acknowledges what it departs from; marks its own difference/indifference to it with the briefest nod - not even something that could be called a glance.

"Whether the Lumpen … present themselves as paupers, dandies, or poets makes little difference. They are, in any case, beings without dignity (if anything, they have majesty). What deprives them of dignity is precisely their contact with something extrasocial and self-sufficient, true nefas: pleasure, the invisible, the gratuitousness of art…as soon as he speaks of l'art pour l'art … his insolent retort, in a cracked falsetto, to the power that has stripped him of authority. Since he no longer has a function and has been banished from Court, he spurns every function".

Roberto Calasso, “The Ruin of Kasch”

“Nefas” here, is the deepest level of offence - adherence to something beyond getting, spending, voting: a subject whose legitimacy (in the sovereign sense) derives from something different to a deeply prosaic and disappointing participation in the role Homo Economicus. That apparently hard-wired “enlightened self-interest” has recently displayed remarkable results.

Zurbaran’s “St Francis in meditation”, which can be seen at the National Gallery, depicts a man (or Saint, if you prefer) wearing a monk’s habit, clutching a skull. He kneels in a starkly lit concavity. The painting is a study in holes. The shadow cast by his cowl dissolves most of his face, except where the strong chiaroscuro reveals the tip of his nose and, beneath that, his mouth, gaping in ecstasy or vacancy- a void within a void. The skull clutched in his praying hands is also illuminated; displaying its hollow sockets filled with the same darkness that has invaded Francis, who gulps at a vacuum. He is nothing more than a rough garment, torn at one elbow (the last detail, in stark illumination, is the stray threads on his torn robe) folded around a void. This space would, in fact, be invisible, if Zurbaran had not clothed it in hessian robes and painted light. This is Zurbaran’s version of St Francis of Assisi. He does not depict the devotee of brotherly love in the usual saccharine manner, not preaching to birds or beggars, but hollowed out, absent – as if the message of a radical equality can only come from, and maybe be addressed to, a place where the subject is no longer itself.

St Simeon Stylites stood at the top of a column for thirty six years. The column was periodically rebuilt, each time higher. Paradoxically, this incremental withdrawal from the common things of the earth, further into a solitary communion with his God, led to his ever greater visibility. His increasing elevation, index of his vanishing, must have been evident for miles around, like an ornament on its plinth.

“…there is no valid reason why we should not believe that the tribes we call savage are not the remnants of great civilizations of the past. Dandyism is a setting sun; like the declining star, it is magnificent, without heat and full of melancholy.”

Charles Baudelaire “The Dandy”