Tag Archives: politics

If the government always had to observe ASA guidelines…

The ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) decision against the Department for Work and Pensions’ misleading advertising about Universal Credit is welcome, and requires amplifying by as many people in as many forums as possible.

The DWP published adverts in the Metro (a free paper available at railway stations) and on the Daily Mail‘s website that claimed:

  • People moved into work faster on universal credit (UC) than under the old system
  • Jobcentres will pay an urgent advance to people who need it
  • Rent can be paid directly to landlords under UC

The ASA looked into these claims and upheld complaints about all of them*. A government department, staffed by supposedly neutral civil servants serving more or less willingly Conservative party spads and ministers, spent taxpayer money to tell their target audience (commuters) things that are untrue about a policy that affects the most vulnerable and frequently poorest people in society. Put more bluntly, they spent public money lying to the public.

In my day job, I have the ASA and its guidelines in mind constantly. I copy-edit, word by word, to ensure the company I work for never misrepresents the products it sells. The pains we take to be transparent and honest are the reason I feel comfortable working there. If the government was forced to abide by ASA standards in the House, on TV and radio and during press conferences, rather than just when producing their squalid marketing trash, none of them would be able to say anything at all beyond “Good morning”.

This advertising material from the DWP – and it was advertising, and it was from DWP, not the Conservative party directly – was egregiously, deliberately untrue, and so very damaging for people who have genuine reason to fear for their futures. If you live with a disability or long-term illness, or even if you’ve only read about people dying of terminal illnesses after being declared fit for work and having been denied UC and had their incomes taken away, it’s mystifying how the Tories could attract any share of the vote at all when this is the depth to which they have sunk.

There is a word for knowingly telling untruths about the most vulnerable people in society. That word is evil. We must punish them for it the only way we can: at the polls.

 

*The complaints were:

  • “People move into work faster on Universal Credit than they did on the old system” – no actual evidence to support this could be found. Complaint upheld
  • “Jobcentres will pay an urgent advance to people who need it” – “urgent”, if within five weeks can be considered urgent. Upheld
  • “Your Jobcentre can pay rent directly to landlords” – misleading, because it only applies to a small number of claimants. Upheld

A complaint that the adverts were not clearly identified as adverts was partially upheld. There was a disclaimer, but in very small type.

The Lay of the Land, 6 December 2016

Four years ago today, I had a pacemaker fitted at Papworth Hospital in Cambridgeshire. The year before that I was in an advancing state of heart failure. At the point of my diagnosis, I was Class IV on the NYHA classification chart; the subsequent class is “end stage”, which is what it sounds like. My diagnosis was idiopathic hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a disease where the myocardium is enlarged, weakening the left ventricle and impeding the heart’s ability to pump blood effectively.

*

I’ve done one of these each year on 6 December since I started my blog, and they’re shoot-from-the-hip affairs. They’re a snapshot of how I feel on this day when it rolls around. The 2013 and 2015 pieces were positive, contented pieces; the second one was probably the angriest thing I’ve ever written on this blog..

This year, it’s been hard not getting angry every time I read a newspaper. But we on the left must resist the temptation to wallow in anger, bitterness and resentment. Our world is being remade into something ugly, and it will take a long, long time to undo the damage that’s been done.

Yet we must believe it can be undone. The only alternative is despair, cynicism, nihilism: destructive emotions that help no one, change nothing and destroy a person from within.

*

In the meantime, you have to live life, with all its ups and downs. This year, my father’s sister, Marion, died unexpectedly. She was only 72 and had not been ill. I’ve also seen more friends and relations get married and start families. Mel and I look to our future and make our own plans.

We’ve been fortunate enough this year to see Santorini, Tuscany, Madrid and Liverpool, and I’ve just got back from Biarritz, where my company had its conference. I’ve continued to make music, helping James, Mel and Yo with their releases, and planning for my own, which will definitely be happening in 2017. Enough waiting. Time to make it happen.

I began running again, after my mum remarked that I never mentioned going running any more. I started, on the hottest day of the the year, by seeing if I could do 2.5 kilometres. Two weeks later, I ran 5k for the first time since I was at school. Two months’ after that, I ran 10k to raise money for Southend Hospital (where I was an inpatient on the cardiac ward). Next spring, I plan to do a half marathon, possibly for Cardiomyopathy UK. Training begins in earnest after Christmas.

*

Things are fine for me. But they are not fine looking at the wider picture. Far, far from it. In a year of remarkable, unpredictable political upheaval, it seems daft to try to second guess the future, but next year is likely to be another difficult one for too many of us. It may seem an ivory-tower kind of exercise, but I’ll still be here, looking for music that means something to me. It still feels like a job worth doing.

Back at the weekend with drums. Take care, y’all.

running

Nearing the finish line

 

The Lay of the Land, 6 December 2015

This was mostly written last Sunday but wasn’t published at the time – halfway through writing it, I yawned, stretched and pulled a muscle in my shoulder, then spent the rest of the day lying on my back in a world of ow. I’m better now.

Three years ago today I had a pacemaker fitted at Papworth Hospital in Cambridgeshire. The year before that I was in an advancing state of heart failure. At the point of my diagnosis, I was Class IV on the NYHA classification chart; the subsequent class is “end stage”, which is what it sounds like. My diagnosis was idiopathic hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a disease where the myocardium is enlarged, weakening the left ventricle and impeding the heart’s ability to pump blood effectively.

*

I started this blog in spring 2013, so this is the third “Lay of the Land” post I’ve written. The first was a kind of round-up of all the changes that had happened in my life in the previous six months – starting a new job, moving to London, beginning a relationship with Mel – and how amazing it was to me that any of that had happened, given the place I’d been in. Last year’s was a very different piece, easily the angriest thing I’ve ever written on this blog. It was about a subject I care about very much (how the language we use around illness shapes the way we think about it, in a profoundly negative way). I haven’t changed my opinions on any of that stuff; indeed, I’ve seen some terrible, inexplicable things happen to good people this year. It’s not a comforting thought to us that a life-threatening illness could overtake any of us at any time, no matter how cleanly we live our lives, or how “strong” we think we are. But we must realise it, about ourselves and about others. It’s the only way we might develop empathy and a fair and just social policy. We sure don’t have one now, and as a nation we don’t vote as if we want one. I won’t get into that again now. I said it all last year and would just be repeating myself.

So 6 December 2015 – the third anniversary of that pacemaker procedure – finds me tired, but happy and looking to the future. I played a gig with James McKean last night, drumming at the Harrison Arms, and so I’m pretty shattered from having lugged a set of cymbals, a snare drum, and a kick pedal around all day. Which explains the tired, but I’ll be fine tomorrow. As for the future, let me tell you about that. First up, I remain healthy. I go for check-ups and scans and pacemaker tweaks at St Thomas’s Hospital in London, and at a scan earlier this year the cardiac physiologist told me that according to their classification chart, my heart is now within the “normal” range; I’ve improved from “severely impaired”, through “moderately” and “mildly” impaired to normal. My next trip to St Thomas’s is in a week or so. Let’s see what they say.

In the last few months I’ve begun working full time at my copy-editing job. I’ve been there two and a half years now, and still enjoy it. Mel and I have been together for over two years and we continue to make plans for our future, and not just in terms of holidays and trips. I’m blessed with friends who understand and care about me, and who for reasons better known to themselves than to me seem to like having me around.

I continue writing, recording and playing, both on my own and with Mel, James and Yo. Mel released her first EP this year, Yo his third album. I did my usual jiggery-pokery on both. James’s second album is pencilled in for March (my work on it is done; it’s just mastering, artwork and manufacture to go now), and I’m looking to release a proper full-length CD album soon, too, which is a long-held ambition but not something I’ve ever done before. Nearly finished on the music, but then that too will need artwork and so on. I was hoping it’d be ready to come out in February, but it might be a few months yet.

That’s what’s going on with me. But that’s only a small part of a wider story. More importantly, the lives of my friends and family members continue to change and develop, mostly in good ways, too. Just one small, happy example: I’m now the uncle of a nephew as well as a niece.

No life is perfect. No world is perfect. This is not the best of all possible worlds. There are things that I would change if I could in my life and in the lives of those closest to me. But I look around at the people I know and see folks who are mostly happy, mostly fit and well, mostly getting quietly on with whatever lives they have found themselves in, mostly fairly content with those lives. And speaking for myself, I have everything to be thankful for, much to look forward to, and lots to be getting on with.

I’ll be back on Sunday.

Election results – a few thoughts

Identity is a perennial concern of the far right. Its enemies are cosmopolitanism and rootlessness. Identity in this sense is a form of communitarianism which defines people by their race and their inherited culture rather than by their individuality, aspirations and talents. It’s a kind of prison.

Jonathan Meades

I live in London now, but yeah, it’s depressing that the people of Blenheim Ward in Leigh-on-Sea, where I grew up and lived for many years, voted a UKIP candidate on to Southend Council on Thursday. I know in perennially Conservative-controlled Essex that shouldn’t be a shock, but apparently it’s not a big jump from the politics of selfishness — of ‘Fuck you, I’ve got mine’ — to the politics of hate, fear, economic illiteracy and willful ignorance represented by UKIP.

Part of me just wants to say, ‘God rot the lot of them’, and not think about it any more. But I just can’t reconcile these election results with the people I know personally from the town. Did they all stay at home? Are they all really that gullible? What the hell is going on?

 

A political preamble

This is not going to be a political blog. However, I do see the world a certain way and my appreciation of music, the arts and all the other things I’ll talk about here is filtered through a left-wing political sensibility, which may at times become evident. So on this single occasion (OK, I can’t promise never to return to matters political – they preoccupy me more and more), I may as well give you a bit of background.

Since the Thatcher/Reagan era, the narrative of the ideological right, reinforced constantly by politicians, newspapers and media figures, has essentially been, and this doesn’t seem set to change any time soon, that successful people have earned their success and they deserve to enjoy it. If that was all there was to it, it wouldn’t be all that objectionable. But the corollary to this – sometimes unspoken but implied, sometimes proudly declared – is that if the rich have earned their wealth, the poor have earned their poverty, whether through misdeeds, or poor choices, or lack of hard work. The money earned by wealthy people, then, should not be taken away from them and spent on the poor, the sick and the unemployed, who by and large deserve their fates.

Where to start with this? Well, this view of the world supposes that we are all in control of our lives and our choices, and that whatever we are, we have chosen to be. Anyone, if only he or she has the gumption, can make a material success of their lives with hard work and ambition. Far more than talent, graft and determination is all that is necessary.

This view of the world fails to recognise the importance of contacts, access to capital, luck, good health. It doesn’t acknowledge the existence of poverty of familial expectation. It fails to appreciate that a person might have the business acumen of Richard Branson and the inventive genius of James Dyson, but if she can’t get a loan because she has a low income, if she is struck down by degenerative illness, if she has talents that no one ever identified and helped nurture, if she has dependents who need her to earn a steady income – any steady income – then her talents will go unrewarded and unrealised.

This worldview results from this lack of imagination and empathy, from not understanding that it could happen to you.

Let me be clear (as politicians love to say): it can happen to you.

Unemployment can happen to you – it happened to me, when the firm I worked for full-time as a freelancer ceased trading without notice after the directors transferred all the assets out of the company and locked the staff out of the building, defrauding their employees, their freelancers and their clients.

Ill health could happen to you – it happened to me when my heart failed in 2011, leaving me hospitalised, facing an extremely uncertain future, and truly aware for the first time that in this country we really don’t care for our sick, our poor, our elderly and our under-educated. We treat them instead with barely concealed suspicion and resentment.

I am lucky. Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy did not kill me, like it kills so many others. It – and this is down to extraordinary luck and good NHS treatment – did not even leave me particularly damaged. You wouldn’t know if you saw me on the street now that I had ever been ill. But when I was trying to come to terms with a life without any of the old certainties and opportunities, I realised what it is to depend on others, and I came to understand (not merely in an abstract sense) that the state does not want to help you, that for many there is no safety net.

You might not need a safety net today. You may imagine that those who do have been reckless and deserve the hardship they face. God forbid you ever go through what I have.

But when you’re next reading the paper, watching the news or casting your vote, perhaps you’ll think about this. And be thankful for the good fortune that allows you to live in such unthinking complacency.

That said, let’s talk music.