More Equal Than Others
Sun 30th Oct 2016
THE HORRORS OF ABERFAN
Imagine it was your kid ... or you! Last week the UK movingly marked the
deadly collapse in October 1966 of a coal waste mini-mountain which
engulfed swathes of a Welsh village, burying alive most of the pupils
and teachers in the primary school. A tragedy indeed. What I hope angers
you as much as it does me, though, is the over-balance of commemoration
on the deaths of the innocent and the bravery of the rescuers, compared
with the almost zilch coverage of those responsible for the disaster.
Though long known by a privileged few, to this day not one person has
ever actually been called to account, let alone prosecuted.
As the 1967 government report and subsequent analyses pointed out, the
National Coal Board, which administered the country's pits and mines, had
several times been warned in writing by local officials of the imminent
danger to the village and its surroundings. Yet nothing was done. All later
reports reached the undeniable conclusion that it was the NCB which had
to take full responsibility. And that was despite attempts to blame the
weather and underground springs, not to mention the back-room political
manipulations of NCB Chair Lord Robens and his cronies. He'd falsely
reported that he was personally directing rescue operations, when he was
actually in Surrey, being invested as its University Chancellor. Gosh, I
knew aristos are heavily burdened with privilege, but I'm shocked and a
tad spooked to discover they can actually be in two places at once! It
was only some time later that the noble Lord agreed the NCB was indeed
What's even more telling in this tale of inequality is the way the
villagers were compensated financially. As always, the British people
responded generously to pleas for a disaster fund, which quickly topped
a million and a half quid - something like 28 million even in today's
wobbling currency. But, under the scrutiny of our old friend Lord
Robens, the Charity Commission took control of doling it out. Government
papers have revealed that Robens' first plan was to make the
heart-broken grieving relatives appear before a vetting committee to
determine the extent of psychological damage and measure how close they
were to the deceased.
You can just see it, can't you: "So tell me Madam", sez the Man From The
Big City Who Feels Most Uncomfortable By How Much Coal Dust Keeps
Landing On His Lovely Cream Linen Waistcoat, "on a scale of one to ten,
how much would you say you miss your nine-year-old daughter." Just
After some nifty skull-duggery to minimise any promised or expected
government funding, the surviving villagers finally received about £500
each. A tribunal and several further reports were commissioned, with
Robens determined to lobby for as little NCB expenditure as possible on
making the site safe. Legal arguments included the Board's actual lack
of actual total responsibility because the actual deaths didn't actually
occur on an actual colliery site. And when Barbara Castle set up a
committee to assess reform of health and safety law, guess which NCB
Lord chaired it?
Yep, from the wormy squirms of corporate Big Biz and their bankers, to
the military, to vested interest public officials of all political
parties, and even union big-wigs more focused on balance sheets than the
balances of justice, our society thrives on inequality, insofar as it
thrives at all.
ALICE VISITS ANIMAL FARM
Remember that bit in Alice in Wonderland when her copious tears inundate
all the animals, and the Dodo urges them all into a caucus race to dry
off? Alice soon discovers the so-called race involves everyone running
hither and thither and in the end, everyone wins. The Dodo hands her a
prize thimble; not exactly an outsize sporting trophy full of bubbly.
And there we have Lewis Carroll's wonderfully surreal view of the
meaning of equality. He satirises the very concept of winning and losing
against a backdrop of society's absurd rules.
The important race is the human race. No winners. No losers. Anything
else is supported by the underlying bedrock of various versions of
capitalism, all dependent on competition. Implicit in this analysis are
the rigid hierarchical divisions which stigmatise anyone "lower down"
than you. In other words, the Us and the Them.
These include gender, ethnicity, creed, age, disability, and above all
class. Do you wonder, as do I, who exactly is setting those boundaries,
drawing those lines? When we're promised a debate to define terms and
set policy, whose voices comprise the mix of views?
In a week when Parliament is split over when and how much it may hold up
the various implications of May's Tory Brexit to public scrutiny - and
this against the backdrop of her decision to exclude even one single
union representative on any negotiating body - I fear the greatest
casualty of our wider EU implications is the deliberate ignoring of the
British people over and above the simplistic, undefined Yes/No
Readers of outRageous! know I listen to lots of BBC speech radio, the
WorldService and Radio4 in particular, with occasional seasoning from
the differently-voiced Radio 5Live. The first two parrot agendas from
international news services such as Reuters, while 5Live purports to be
the voice of the people - increasingly extrapolated from right of centre
print media to the dangerously extreme Mail. The latter finds its
divisive and vicious bile aired in the mouths of such slimeballs as
Charlie Wolf, originally named Stephen Linskey in his native US. He
never fails to analyse UK policy and events by irrelevant comparisons to
America, using every chance he gets to vilify Obama, Clinton, and anyone
who contradicts the calm pronouncements of his former employers
Republicans Abroad. He calls himself a journalist, which makes me quite
ashamed to apply the title to myself.
The game-changer of our era has been the Internet. From its inception
it's been improving on its potential promise to democratise thought. But
so much for promises, when mainstream media tips the balance of equality
well away from more reasoned alternative views not regularly covered on
air and in print.
I've pointed out many times the superiority of the BBC over the public
and private broadcasting of every other country, along with some of its
faults. Today's rant is predicated on the quaint notion that to
acknowledge the flaws and weaknesses in any socio-cultural institution
is not the same as denigrating its essence. This is as true for the
media and culture as for politics. So when I praised the Beeb's
initiative several weeks ago to mark the publication anniversary of
George Orwell's Animal Farm - a quintessential text on social equality -
it's also fair to note the broadcaster's overwhelming identification
with middle-class values. Which is not always a good thing!
The very first edition of the book was subtitled A Fairy Story, changed
in subsequent editions to A Satire and A Contemporary Satire. Avowedly
Orwell himself described the tale as a satire against Stalin. He
considered it a successful attempt to combine literary artistry with an
analytical political vision. The book has become a classic not least
because that vision remains true over time and across all borders.
Instead of Orwell's disillusion with the USSR's revolutionary zeal into a
self-serving tyrannical piggy state which has sacrificed the ideals of
its conception, Animal Farm has been mistakenly deemed anti-Soviet in a
wider sense. In reality, this subtle satire also sweeps British [and
other] corruption under the same rug. The tone throughout measures equal
doses of comedy and horror. Nowhere is it more cogently expressed than
the distillation of the farm's Commandments as "All animals are equal
but some animals are more equal than others."
Orwell knew that was nonsense. Somehow, though, we've come to accept it
as a witty given.
You may believe people have always been unequal, it's human nature, and
that's just the way it is, so man up, get used to it, get over yourself
and accept your lot in life. You may believe that, but only because you
haven't looked hard enough at the evidence. Or perhaps you don't care
because you're all right, Jack; you're not starving with all that cheap
junk food, and look! there's plenty to laugh about on telly, innit.
HITTING THE HEADLINES OR HITTING YOUR HEAD AGAINST THE WALL
Arguably no place on Earth epitomises such a belief as my old country,
the US of A - which I recently read online actually stands for the
United States of Arseholes. Or Assholes to give it a New World spelling.
And given what has passed this year as political debate, I'm tempted to
In case you hadn't noticed, American election fever has been breaking
the thermometer barrier with its daily demos of many varieties of
inequality. Yada-yada screeches the alleged billionaire who assures
everyone he can do whatever he wants. In this case, such "everyones"
have almost nothing in common with him, even as they affirm he's just a
regular guy who speaks for them. Any drawn parallel with a certain Nigel
is purely coincidental ... Ahem!
Meanwhile, across his self-erected wall, another be-suited candidate
whose daily mode of transport is more private plane than NYC subway
train, speaks to her own dear rabble using terms of inclusion meant to
bond, but which don't allow much close scrutiny. I admit, her rhetoric
is apparently based on a more cogent set of principles than her
opponent's, who's failed to grasp the very concept of value unencumbered
by dollar signs.
But the glaring message from them both - and, to be fair, from all
politicians hungry for political power in a capitalist matrix - depends
on a woefully unprepared electorate most easily massaged by platitudes.
Complicity for such a simplistic presentation of the issues must be
shared across the board by those self-appointed or designated opinion
formers in education, commerce, the press, the unions, and - closest of
all to the coal-face - the politicians.
Sadly, this American blueprint for government, upping personality over
policy, has been bleeding across the ocean, dyeing our own political
fabric with the dull carnelian of inequality. What may be most
misunderstood in comparisons between the UK and the US, is the notion of
Head of State. Over here the monarch is unelected and selected by
lineage. Whatever your opinion of any specific member of the royal
family - insofar as we ordinary people are allowed to know - none is
considered in the front line of British political policy-making or
implementation. Not publicly, anyway.
No, that role is reserved for the Minister of Ministers, or The Prime
Minister, the person who represents whatever political party has been
voted by the public to form the government of the day. We vote for a
party, not a party leader.
In direct contrast, the US Head of State is a ballot-box choice, along
with whichever Congressional, state and local elections are up for
grabs. That's how a President of one party can be presented with either
or both Houses of Congress [Senate and House of Representatives] which
have a majority of an opposing party.
For many decades, probably since WWII, UK party elections are
increasingly hung with erstaz presidential bunting. This gives rise to a
feeling among the electorate that the Prime Minister should indeed
fulfil the role of Head of State. The office increasingly attracts
incumbents who tend to replace conviction oratory full of specifics with
the Mother Knows Best empty rhetoric to soothe public anxiety. Such a
system can only work if the patronised public becomes informed solely
on a need-to-know basis, or, if they're very lucky, because some brave
and tenacious Sherlocks share shocking snippets from a pile of secrets.
It's a system based indeed on inequality.
Even casual online browsing reveals Internet debates about how many
paid-for and private residencies are occupied by the Queen and, for
example, Vladimir Putin. What I don't see so much - well, never, if I'm
honest - are those guesses juxtaposed with the homeless stats in their
respective countries. So even the web's loudest voices of the people
appear unwilling to relate society's inequalities to an elite who might
garner their respect, however grudging. Usually for the misplaced reason
of equating fame with dosh.
Of course, you'll be aware of many other example of society's equality
wins and losses. Gender, for instance. Despite the
anthropological/geological record documenting our earliest ancestors'
equal role division of labour before agriculture, we continually hear
glib pronouncements about the inferiority of women, both intellectually
and physically. It truly pains me to say it, but the lingering sexism
throughout the world stems from an unsupported fear by many men that the
very presence of women threatens their essence. I speak as a
heterosexual, who's never succumbed to such a demeaning notion.
Here's a particularly telling snippet from a fairly recent news story in
Rawalpindi. When 53-year-old single mum Shamim Akhtar overcame hurdles
to become Pakistan’s first female truck driver, she declared “Nothing is
too difficult if you have the will, however if women make themselves
believe that they can’t do certain tasks then nothing works for them.”
And when told by friends and family that a woman couldn't drive a truck
because women are too weak, she replied: It's not like I have to carry
it on my head!
Now that's what I call more equal than others ... wotcha reckon?