Last week, I went to see the film “Inside Job”. Suffice it to say it is an excellently crafted documentary, hugely deserving of the accolades and praise heaped upon it. Being an avid news watcher, there wasn’t a huge amount in it that I hadn’t read about before, but there were certain scenes that shocked even a hardened sceptic like me. (*Spoiler alert now*) There is one scene in particular that hit home particularly hard. After the revelations that it was common practice among the traders that caused the crash to regularly use coke and prostitutes, to the extent that they had black cards for certain escort agencies, there was a scene showing certain traders being cross-examined at a congressional hearing. Though to see these men trying to avoid any culpability was infuriating, there was a question posed that for me really stood out. One of the Senators, who seemed bemused and exasperated at the utter lack of concern of the traders for anyone but themselves and their own lifestyles, asked one of the defendants in so many words about how he felt about how his recklessness had affected others. The look he received back was from a man whose soul was dead inside. It was a small moment, but distinctive because of the total lack of empathy the man had, apparent in his eyes. And it is one that shook me, and has remained with me all this week.
Here’s the thing: we, the public, are, whether we realize it or not, in the fight of our lives which will affect generations to come. And essentially, as in all fights, and all situations in life, it comes down to patterns that are learned very early on, normally in the school playground. It seems to me that in its most basic form what is being exhibited is a kind of bullying. We have the power, the corporates, banks, some media and governments are saying: we don’t want to lose our wealth, our riches, our lifestyle; so you, little people, are going to have to pay the price. You will pay the price in your social rights being eroded; you will pay the price in having to pay more taxes, and getting less for them; and we expect you, the unwashed masses, the gormless plebeians, to just lie back and be grateful that we allow you any rights at all. If this is not bullying on a national and international scale, then what is?
This is something I have been musing on recently. I guess as one gets older, there are more patterns that become apparent, and we can see how our little lives relate to the world at large. One of the episodes in my life that I would say has had a pretty fundamental effect was a two-year period where I was bullied at school. Prior to this, I was a very shy, introverted and insecure 13 year old. As I’ve written before, I had a very debilitating case of acne, which absolutely affected how I felt about myself. My lack of confidence must have been palpable, because pretty much the second I landed in secondary school, the bullying started. It was mainly, and pretty much on a daily basis, by two older boys, who would follow me down the corridor at school, and when no one else was around they would hurl obscenities at me (but always sotto voce in case a teacher heard them): “You’re a f**king bitch, you’re a f**king cunt” (Now at that point, I had no idea what a cunt was, such was my innocence, but I knew by the tone of voice that it wasn’t a compliment). This went on for two years. I finally told my parents about it, and they agonized over what to do; in the end, I think they thought it best that I sort it out myself, but that I let them know if it was too much.
Although I loathed secondary school generally for a variety of reasons, these two years were horrendous – I do not recall one single day that I didn’t come home in floods of tears. I just didn’t know what to do. If I confronted these boys, what would they do to me? I had no idea. The randomness of how or why they had chosen me as their target indicated to me that they could be capable of anything – there didn’t seem any rhyme nor reason to this, other than perhaps I was different – unusually tall (5ft9” at 13), acne-ridden, with a slight American accent. The outcome might be far worse, so for a period of two years I put up and shut up.
Everything in my life changed when my darling father, who was my shoulder to cry on, became fatally ill with the Hodgkin’s disease he had been battling for 7 years. I came home from a summer holiday in Italy to find him wasting away, and even though I didn’t realize fully what it would mean, I knew he didn’t have long to live. Though it sounds banal, I also had a tan, my skin looked somewhat better, and after two months of living in Sicily and being treated like an exotically beautiful girl by over-amorous Italian men, I had also gained in confidence. And funnily enough, for a few weeks I didn’t see my tormentors. When I finally did see them, I remember it was in the school library, in front of a crowd of people. One of them said something derogatory, and I can’t remember what he said or my reply, but I quickly shot him down with a sharp and pointed riposte. I was never bullied by those two again. And neither have I ever allowed myself to be cowed again. As I learned early on, the cost was too great, and the cure, though daunting, relatively simple.
What is very clear to me, and many others, is the unnecessary nature of any cuts whatsoever. For example, in the UK, on the day that the news media chose to report only on the “violent” nature of the student riots (and with very few exceptions, the only violence on display was with police employing the infamous kettling procedure, which they vowed they wouldn’t use after Ian Tomlinson was killed in the G20 riots – who gives the police their orders? Who pays their wages? Essentially, they would have had to follow orders by their employer, the government) Parliament passed through legislation which meant that the banks only have to pay .05% in levies. Keep in mind that it would only take the banks being levied at .75% to CLEAR the deficit, and one can detect the complete sham, the fraud that is at work here, the myth that we are “all in this together” (and since when has it become acceptable to make political slogans and soundbites from children’s TV? Oh that’s right, since 2008, with the equally nauseating line from Bob the Builder “Yes we can!” – I can’t decide whether High School Musical is a step up or back – but I digress).
We are most definitely not “all in this together”. Companies like Vodafone, Boots, the Arcadia Group, Topshop, BHS, Tesco, HSBC et al are avoiding paying billions of pounds in tax, while banks are bequeathing millions of pounds in bonuses to those traders and executives who, over-sexed, over-paid and over here squandered taxpayers’ money in what has been described by one of the interviewees on “Inside Job” as being equivalent to competing to see who could piss furthest, while back in 2008, in the words of the then Lib Dem Treasury Secretary Vince Cable, the New Labour government “aided and abetted the super-rich creating new loopholes for the super-rich to avoid paying tax. Even last week, by setting capital gains tax at 18 per cent when the top rate of income tax is 40 per cent, they’ve allowed potential for clever accountants to turn income into capital.” In the meantime, Cable, who wanted to bring reforms into the City, has been silenced by virtue of an incident involving the BSkyB takeover which was deemed by corporate media to be “embarrassing” because he was caught speaking his mind; and effectively one of the better minds in government has been muzzled to preserve a barely plausible illusion that everyone in the Coalition is singing from the same hymn sheet.
So who is benefiting from the cuts? Banks, who still aren’t regulated, who have been bailed out by the taxpayer, and know they have carte blanche to behave as they always have done. Corporations, who have seen corporation tax lowered in the Budget this week; but who also, in cases like Vodafone, have been excused paying billions of pounds in tax to the Exchequer (though interestingly, Vodafone are being pursued by the Indian government to pay tax they have avoided in that country – and we wonder why the Indian economy is set to be one of the future dominant economies? Granted, it is not dependent on tax alone – but surely in a country with a massive deficit, getting companies like this to pay the tax they owe to the Exchequer could only be helpful in reducing said deficit?). Governments: In the Obama administration, Tim Geithner and Rahm Emanuel were both involved in the Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac debacle – and they are both heavily involved in “financial reform” – which serves no other purpose than to maintain the system as it is, despite even bankers telling the US government that they are simply not capable of self-regulation. In this country, Osborne, Cameron and the other members of the Oxbridge elite are so far removed from reality that Osborne stated recently about his school, St Paul’s (annual fees:£30,000) was so egalitarian that “It didn’t matter who your parents were. Your mother could be the head of a giant corporation – or a solicitor in Kew”. Although the statement itself can be at best be seen as naïve, at worst hugely ignorant and out of touch (as if a solicitor in Kew was at the lowest end financially of the social spectrum in the UK – if only), it does clearly exhibit one thing: Osborne and his ilk have no interest or empathy in the wider world outside their own tiny, privileged circle – and their main concern is to preserve the status quo at all costs, and again, the lack of regulation is against what the Governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King, has recently advised. But if life is made harder for the majority through cuts, “reforms”, changes in legislation across the board, indiscriminate cutting of funds for public services, then so be it – if the plebs are busy scrabbling about trying to make ends meet, perhaps they’ll let us get on with the slightly more important (and profitable) business of ruling, what? And finally, these cuts benefit the corporate media; because moguls like, for example, Rupert Murdoch, have a vested and again, very profitable interest in keeping us all ill-informed and afraid.
But afraid is the one thing we must not be. Our ancestors fought long and hard to earn us social rights: the right to fair wages, the right to vote, the right to be treated equally, the right to protest peacefully. We are being told by these bully boys (and sorry, gentlemen, but it is mainly Type A males that have wrought this latest havoc on the world) that it is their way or the highway, and that is simply not the case. There are countless groups now devoted to showing this is not the case; some of the better ones I have come across are the likes of OneGoodCut.org, ProsperityUk.com, the Robin Hood Tax website, UKUncut, 38Degrees.com, and for excellent reportage I cannot recommend enough the writings of Johann Hari and John Pilger. The battle that is ahead is akin to the battle for Middle Earth in The Lord of the Rings, in that we are now seeing the folly of allowing the industrialists free rein, and equally the nonsense that is free market capitalism, and how the misuse that is being made by corporations, banks and governments of the world’s resources has a human and planetary cost that is far too high. The time has come to stop believing, like little children, what we are told; and to realize that bullying, in its many guises, seeks only to dominate and control; and this is what corporations and the banks, who would flout the very essence of democracy, have as their endgame.
Over the last few months we have seen how the inhabitants of the Arab world long for democracy; and we, who have long had democracy, but for the longest time have not had to stir ourselves to really flex our democratic muscles, must do so now. It is not an overstatement to say that the future of the world depends on this; and if you, whoever you are out there, think that it is, again I urge you to go see “Inside Job” (and I am not on commission for the film, before anyone asks). Even if it is only for an hour tomorrow, make your presence felt. It won’t change things immediately, and in fact what I believe needs to happen is a movement whereby banks and corporations are hit where it really hurts – financially. But tomorrow sends a very important message, and it is important that it be made impossible to ignore. Although I quote him slightly ironically, given his opposition to the French Revolution, in the words of Edmund Burke “when bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.” Let us, the good, demonstrate that we will not be the sacrifice this time.