Sunday, September 28, 2014

Austerity Isn't Working

With Members of Parliament having recently heard that they will be awarded a 10% pay rise next year, the rest of the workers in the public sector will reflect on their own lot. Having just come out of a three-year pay freeze, this year's and next year's 1% rises look positively generous by Gideon Osborne's earlier standards. But compared to MPs, it really isn't funny that workers in the NHS, education and public services have experienced a pay cut of up to 20%, in real terms, during the life of this government.

It is mostly women, in part-time work in the child and adult care sectors and administrative jobs in vital local services, who are disproportionately affected by government pay policy. The Child Poverty Action Group recently reported that 60% of children living in poverty in Britain today have at least one parent in work. Maintaining - and effectively reducing - low levels of pay does nothing to restore a healthy economy. The government's mantra of getting the deficit down rings hollow when Osborne is missing both his deficit reduction and borrowing targets this year - austerity isn't working.

With none of the various Tory parties prepared to stand up for the low-paid, it falls to workers and their unions to stand up for themselves. As next month promises industrial action by Unison and the PCS public sector unions, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) has announced a mass march and rally in central London on Saturday 18th October as part of its Britain Needs a Pay Rise campaign. Eastbourne Trades Council is arranging free train travel from East Sussex to London; local trade unionists and their families can book their places here and make their voices heard in the capital on the day.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Rusty Sword of Truth

In the graveyard of St. Mary Magdalene church in Whatlington, a village hard by the A21 two miles north of Battle, there is a small unassuming gravestone bearing the legend “valiant for truth”. Having ploughed miserably through John Bunyan’s allegorical A Pilgrim’s Progress a few years ago, because I thought I should, I recognised the phrase as the name of a character appearing towards the end of the pilgrim’s journey to the Celestial City: Valiant-for-Truth is engaged in a single-minded pursuit of the truth.

The trusty sword of truth was not something I associated with the occupant of the grave, the writer and broadcaster Malcolm Muggeridge. As someone born just over fifty years ago, I was familiar with Muggeridge for his regular appearances on television in the late 1960s and 1970s. But, picking up on the responses of my mum and dad, I formed the impression that he was a figure of fun.

My view of him as a pompous moraliser was cemented around the time I became an adult, when he famously appeared with the Bishop of Southwark on the television chat show Friday Night, Saturday Morning to take on two of the Monty Python team and denounce their film Life of Brian as blasphemous and “tenth-rate”.

However, having read Muggeridge’s obituary – he died in a Hastings nursing home in 1990 at the age of 87 – I realised that his Christian evangelism was something that only developed in the late sixties. Prior to that, he had been an acerbic and rebellious journalist, challenging the social order of Britain and the world in the middle part of the 20th century.

Born in Croydon to socialist parents – his solicitor’s clerk father later became an MP in Ramsay MacDonald’s second Labour government – Muggeridge was fervently left-wing in his youth. And when the Manchester Guardian posted him and his wife, Kitty, to Moscow in 1932, the Muggeridges’ admiration for the Soviet Union was such that they intended never to return to Britain. However, the widespread famine he discovered that year, and the censoring of his journalism, quickly disillusioned him. On his return, he wrote Winter in Moscow, a fictionalised condemnation of Stalin’s system.

Continuing his journalistic career before and after the Second World War, there was no target too sacred for Muggeridge - his agnosticism and republicanism were constant themes. In a 1957 article entitled Does England Really Need a Queen? he denounced the monarchy as “a royal soap opera” and caused an international controversy. And in 1965 he courageously attacked the virtual sainthood bestowed upon the assassinated John F. Kennedy as hypocritical. However, in 1969 he hung up his sword, published Jesus Rediscovered and began to attack the permissiveness of society, hanging-out with that monumental figure of fun Mary Whitehouse and her Festival of Light reactionaries.

Picture by Lori Oschefski

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Born To Be A Rebel

It is surely a testament to the brilliance of Vic Godard that, nearly forty years - and almost as many incarnations – after the first gig by his band, Subway Sect, he still has the enthusiasm to be an energetic and creative musician and performer. On stage at the Brass Monkey in Hastings last night, as part of the Trash Cannes punk festival of music, film and art, the ever-contrary Godard threw himself into both the Northern Soul sound of his new Edwyn Collins-produced album, 1979 Now, and the raucous coruscations that made Subway Sect the most interesting of the crop of bands from ’76.

After a tentative start with an instrumental-cum-soundcheck, the first half of the set was mostly made up of a selection from the new album, which is a re-working of songs that Vic and the Sect wrote in 1979. Some – Holiday Hymn, The Devil’s in League With You – surfaced on later albums, but others, Happy Go Lucky Girl and the amazing Born To Be a Rebel, appear on the new album after a 35-year hibernation. Having been performing the tracks live, and recording them at Collins’ studio, over the last couple of years with the core band of Mark Braby, Kevin Younger and Yusuf B’layachi, they sound tight and impassioned.

When Vic announces halfway through that things are going to sound rawer from here on in, you realise why Edwyn Collins describes the Subway Sect as “the best punk band - fact.” They rip through early classics such as Chain Smoking and Parallel Lines and, as Vic straps on his guitar, he recounts a Spanish soundman telling him “the band make the music, you make the noise.” Introducing the debut Sect single, he says to forget about Mark E. Smith and How I Wrote Elastic Man, he wrote Nobody’s Scared as a distillation of an essay on Jean-Luc Godard he penned at college in Ealing - that’s how. With the line, “no-one knows what they’re for, no-one even cares”, he could have written it today for our listless times. It is the song’s second outing of the evening: fantastic support band, the New York Dollies, a female ukulele doo-wop trio (oh, yes!) covered it in their set of punk classics. If that seems improbable, the Dollies reminded me that the sound of the Ramones and the New York Dolls was more rooted in the 50s and early 60s than in the 70s.

When I saw Vic Godard last year at Brighton’s Green Door Store, 2010’s We Come As Aliens supplied the majority of the set; but only two numbers, Best Album and Music of A Werewolf, featured from that album last night and there was a little gem in the appearance of Common Thief from “an obscure album, Log Term Side-Effect”. Not obscure round our house, Vic! And as befits the headliners of a festival that is a celebration of art school punk, the nihilism of legendary Rough Trade single, Ambition, brought down the house.

1979 Now is released on 6th October on AED.