In an extract from her recent book Lean Out, Dawn Foster explores the limits of self-proclaimed feminist Theresa May’s solidarity with women.
The notorious Yarl’s Wood detention centre was opened in 2001, under the last Labour government, and management was outsourced to private company Serco in 2007. Poor conditions in the centre and protests against the 400-capacity facility have intensified in recent years, coming to a head in 2015. Reports of sexual abuse and mistreatment in the compound became increasingly common, and self-harm was rife among the women, who comprised of failed asylum seekers awaiting deportation, imprisoned despite committing no crime. A Channel 4 investigation obtained footage of the systemic mistreatment of women detained in the centre, included a guard shouting “Headbutt the bitch. I’d beat her up.”
Rashida Manjoo, the United Nation’s special rapporteur on violence against women, was barred from Yarl’s Wood by the Home Office in April 2014 when she tried to investigate complaints as part of her fact-finding mission into violence against women in the UK. Cameras have never been allowed in. In April 2015, in the same week as a woman died in Yarl’s Wood and a guard with a history of sexually inappropriate behaviour was￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼ suspended pending investigation for a revenge assault, Cristel Amiss, of the Black Women’s Rape Action Project, told The Guardian: “We’ve been supporting women in Yarl’s Wood for over a decade and have heard consistent reports from brave whistleblowers exposing abusive treatment and sexually predatory behaviour by guards.”
After the Channel 4 investigation, Theresa May refused to come to the House of Commons to answer an urgent question from the Shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper, on the treatment of detainees, called amongst other abusive names “black bitch”, “animals”, “beasties”, and “evil”. Cooper said, “There is no point in ministers pretending to be shocked at news of abuse. This is not news. Even now, the ministers have not set up an independent inquiry. This is state-sanctioned abuse of women on the Home Secretary’s watch and it needs to end now.”
Despite May’s assertions that she believes in women’s empowerment, there is a distinct limit to her solidarity, which depends on how your race, country of birth, and economic wealth intersect. As Home Secretary, May is in a position rarely occupied by women, and rarely occupied by anyone for so long. Home Secretaries tend to be hit by scandals and forced to resign with wearying regularity. But whilst in office, May has overseen some of the most draconian immigration legislation for decades, defending immigration detention, renewing contracts with Serco despite sexual violence reports, and introducing rules that mean low income families are split up and British people split up from their partners and children if they don’t earn over a soon-to-be-raised income threshold.
May sits in a cabinet with many other powerful women, especially after criticism of Cameron’s disproportionately male and Etonian cabinet refused to die down until a reshuffle. The policies that trickle down from that cabinet harm women disproportionately. Despite launching a campaign titled “Theresa May for Equal Pay” in 2008, May has endorsed an austerity regime ￼￼￼￼that saw the gender pay-gap increase, and been a stalwart of a government that introduced cuts that affected four times as many women as men.
Meanwhile, there is a burgeoning crisis in the women’s sector: provision of domestic violence services and rape crisis centres and helplines has been reduced due to austerity cuts. Headline figures on cuts to UK domestic violence services often mask the full impact of government cuts on people fleeing abuse at home. Women across the UK have been hardest hit by austerity and attendant spending cuts. Charities in the sector speak out about the problems they’re seeing: Women’s Aid has warned that services are “at breaking point”, with a third of women turned away from refuges due to lack of space, and the total number of refuges falling from 187 to 155 between 2010 and 2014. But for many of the women escaping violence, moving to a refuge is only the first step on the journey to safe, independent living.
The housing crisis, especially in the south east and London, is one of the biggest factors affecting women trying to move on. Most women spend between six to nine months in refuges, where they’re assigned a support worker who offers counselling, signposts services and advocates for the women, helping them build independent living skills, and getting them into education and training. The move to independence after surviving violence is crucial, as without support and safeguards put in place, the risk of returning home to violence and abuse is heightened.
At one refuge in London last year, run by the charity Hestia, the service manager Louise Dickerson told me: “It’s really difficult in the climate now. Because social housing is pretty much abolished, local authorities discharge their duty through private rented accommodation now most often, which is maybe on a yearly license or tenancy.” Housing waiting lists in the UK’s local councils, who have a legal duty to help homeless and vulnerable people, are at an all-time high. With so much pressure on counc￼￼￼￼￼ils, domestic violence survivors can struggle to convince council employees they are a priority. Women have even spoken of being disbelieved when they disclose their need to flee because of violence. Moving to privately rented flats means the women and families are offered less security and are liable for far higher rents: most private housing offers tenancy agreements of no longer than a year, and Hestia report more women are being asked to have a financial guarantor, who agrees to be financially liable for rent arrears. For women fleeing violence, who’ve often cut all ties to their wider family and friendship groups, this is an impossibility and an insult after their ordeal.
Even when women do find a home to move on to, the cuts mean they face even more hardship. In the raft of public-spending cuts in the last few years, many of the financial assistance schemes councils offered have been slashed. The crisis loan fund, which provided a total of £180m in hardship loans to people in extreme financial need, has now been scrapped. Economic control is a commonly used tool of domestic violence perpetrators when preventing women from leaving: removing financial help for such vulnerable women and children puts lives at risk. This money was previously a lifeline for people in extreme distress and very vulnerable situations, and losing it puts even more pressure on domestic violence services. As Dickerson explains:
They’ve taken away the crisis loan, and women relied on that for resettlement. So women will leave without a mattress to sleep on, and some of them have young families. One woman was self-harming recently, living in a shelter that was not homely. It’s very challenging for our workers. We work really hard just to make sure the women can survive.
Other lifelines of financial support are also being slowly eroded. The Discretionary Housing Payment funding, which provide payments of up to a year for people facing difficulty paying their accommodation costs, is to be slashed by 24% from 2015.
In a speech to Women’s Aid’s annual conference in 2010 in the early days of the coalition, May told the audience that both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats would reverse the decline in rape crisis centres, but tentatively refused to make any funding commitments to the women’s sector in the face of looming local authority cuts. “Your problem is my problem”, May said, adding, “Success for us will not mean we’ve spent more of the money we don’t have. It will mean more women have been helped, more abusers have been brought to justice and more attitudes have been changed.”
It’s not precisely clear how May and the government expect rape crisis centres to continue to provide an identical service with less money, which perhaps explains why she is not chancellor, but does little to comfort the women in need who find their service threatened with closure. Violence against women is a problem for all of society, and without accepting that all services must be welcoming and accessible for women fleeing violence and crucially that they must be adequately funded, more women will find their lives in danger.
The benefit of having women in the cabinet remains to be seen for migrant, low-paid, or abused women. For now, it seems as though there is no difference: the powerful look after the powerful, with gender as an afterthought, or a bargaining chip when trying to deflect criticism for cuts that harm women.
J.D. Taylor on the Brexit vote’s fallout as a search for new island narratives.
Strange energies have been unleashed by the Brexit campaign which no political faction looks capable of containing, whatever the outcome of this Thursday’s vote.
Whilst the Brexit vote has effectively become a plebiscite on uncontrolled immigration, the anger it has unleashed around the country raises older questions about narratives of identity and belonging. The cumulative effects of deindustrialisation, austerity, privatisation and the demonisation of the poor has reached a point where many of these narratives are unravelling into incoherency. And whilst efforts are being expended, often ineffectually, to argue for the values of cosmopolitanism or political sovereignty, less has been made of the decades-deep disempowerment and disaffection by which the island’s own collective story has come undone.
The social security contract has become a war against the poor, and an eerily popular one at that; the National Health Service may soon collapse into a mess of private provision and statutory but overwhelmed free access. The great public industries and utilities have been dismantled and sold overseas for peanuts. Talk to any frontline professional in health and social care, education, housing or justice and one is warned that services are at breaking point, crushed between increasing demand and diminishing workforces and pay. For now, heroic efforts are made to keep things going. No doubt fears about rent arrears or losing one’s home are equally compelling. Few (rightly) believe that the welfare state would support them should things turn south. But it is becoming clear that even this noble lemming logic is insufficient to the demands placed on it. And this disaffection against this unravelling ratchets in intensity.
Communities that made things or mined them, farmed things or fished them, have been dashed against the rocks in the last forty years at an accelerating rate, in a story most of us are familiar with, even if some still groan at terms like neoliberalism. Standing without purpose, the towns and cities outside the island’s capital cities, and the lives within which animate them, have found themselves superfluous to a new economic order founded on crooked financial activity and inflated property prices down South. I describe places that I travelled through and spent time in when I wrote Island Story, an account of a long summer journeying across Britain by bike in an attempt to understand its diverse communities and stories. I found a surfeit of communities of non-participants, excluded economically and politically, angered that the decisions that transformed their work, neighbourhoods, family lives and self-images have been made elsewhere. I believe that their voices have for this brief moment become politically important.
The Leave campaigners have exploited this disaffection and disorientation and projected it onto Europe. The EU is now a euphemism for undemocratic, unaccountable and arbitrary authority. Whether this is true or not isn’t in question, because the tenor of the Brexit arguments has been intrinsically anti-political and, in many cases, sceptical of factual evidence or discussion. The interests of private capital have been internalised. People talk of economic growth and trade deals that will benefit no person they know of; they talk of migrants overwhelming services they have never used. They do not perceive that the island’s infrastructure and social safety net has collapsed so unsustainably that in five years Promethean efforts will be required to rebuild them. Remarkably, a decision that could permanently deface apparently ‘British’ ideas about fair play, solidarity, liberalism and communal obligation is being made on the flimsiest of evidence.
But this is a vote about narratives, even where politics is reduced to personality and prejudice. More interesting is that the Remain vote expresses hatred for the political establishment and, in many cases, for the debilitation of working class ex-industrial communities left by capitalism. Contempt for Brussels is overblown: the largely English, non-London support to leave Europe is an English independence movement in parallel to the Scots. Of course, wherever a dominant social group is appealed to as a victim of injustice and moral outrage, bad things follow. But there is a markedly working class composition to this independence movement, one which rejects not the values of cosmopolitanism (an erroneous judgement by the mostly young, middle-class pro-Remain contingent – people like me) but what it considers a political and social establishment which has rubbished and destroyed their class cultures and ways of life, like those I encountered, lived among and narrate in Island Story.
Its response is misguided and likely to lead to disappointment. But this anti-establishment turn among the English is significant. Whether this collection of different social groups will cohere in enough numbers to force the UK out of the EU and its status in the global economic order is unclear, but this new pressure will leave behind an imprint on the terrain around it.
‘Most of England is 1,000 years old’, writes the landscape historian W.G. Hoskins. In a ‘walk of a few miles one can touch nearly every century in that long stretch of time’. Witness time in the undulations, roads and settlements along the landscape. Observe its failure of passage in the fatalistic deference to traditions and to beacons of aristocratic authority. If much of the Brexit discussion is insular and inward-looking, the question it raises — who owns Britain? — presents a more compelling line of inquiry. The old narrative of the United Kingdom is no longer sustainable. Divisions between the island’s countries, let alone between the South-East and the rest of England, are becoming irreconcilable.
In the collapse of the old ways, and the murkiness of the contemporary political fog, comes the possibility to explore what another island story might amount to. One that reckons with the facts of automation and the required reduction of work in our lifetimes, with the possibilities of renewable energies and of the necessity of living sustainably, of individual liberalism, of a sceptical, Internet-reliant citizenship. One that learns from but is no longer burdened by the past.
As I travelled around the island, I found ways of life wrecked, communities dispersed, and a prevailing sense of despair and acquiescence in an unjust but apparently inevitable fate. But I also found people and projects that inspired me in their drive to question the realism and inevitability of the current political order, one that seems now more fragile than at any point in recent history. I met remarkable individuals and collectives determined to re-establish the foundations of a fairer, kinder, more wise and equal society. Rarely are they popular, but they indicate another story or journey that might lead beyond the ugly, hostile and xenophobic miasma of the Brexit question.
I met people like Eden, rearing sheep on a council farm in Darlington beside a gargantuan Argos distribution centre. He told me of EU subsidies, subsistence farming, the one way of life he and others know, and ‘the unholy mess that’s developing’ in food production. Farmers are often misunderstood and vilified, so too are welfare recipients, like those Sonya was helping in Morecambe. Sonya was a lettings agent in the private sector, increasingly the main handlers of those dependent out of disability or circumstance on housing benefit. She described the choices people made between heating and eating, trapped in a cycle of unemployment, debt, temporary work, and back again. ‘What good are foodbanks when people haven’t got enough to pay their gas or electricity to heat the food?’ she asked. She was also a local historian, one of the brightest minds I’d met, locked out of higher education by circumstance, trying to give her two sons a better life.
Then there was Ciaran, like me in his 20s, working at the Sabhal Mòr Ostaig college on Skye, a centre for the renaissance of the Scots Gaelic tongue. He argued that Scotland’s future had more in common with social democratic Scandinavia than neoliberal London (‘London feels like a foreign country here’). He and his friends couldn’t afford to buy a home locally because of the migration of second-home seeking English incomers, forcing up house prices. Like many young Scots, he was politically informed, passionate, and hopeful about the future, in a way often missing south of Berwick.
I met Thomas Turgoose, the muse of Shane Meadows’ films, pulling pints and interrupting fights in a rough and tumble boozer in Grimsby, who spoke of the incoherency and impossibility of locating a singular national identity. Then there was Colin, attempting to rebuild from a few forgotten rail-tracks the Teign Valley railway that once weaved through Dartmoor. I slept on one of his train carriages and talked into the night about the lost future of a modern and sustainable railway travel that might one day become possible again. Dreamers some, heartbroken others. ‘Stay with life’, said a melancholy Father Michael on the Kyle of Tongue. Among the sadness and incoherence and heartbreak and anger is a hope, a possibility, that permeates these stories, and the book, like a pulse.
And so I have told their stories, because if we are to reconstruct a sense of collectivity and possibility out of this mess, then it will not be through venal and corrupt politicians or Twitter hot-takes, but each of us, all of us, thinking, deliberating and cooperating, living together as a collective endeavour.
The story of another island.
Tariq Goddard delivers his verdict on Ocean Wisdom’s debut album
For listeners of a certain age, myself for example, who feel all of their forty-one years without yet regarding that as old, there exists an uncontrollable reflex when listening to music made by the very young. A mental registrar of the trail of influences on offer, and then a reluctant dismissal of the end product for being less than their sum. In a terrifying presentiment, or perhaps confirmation, of old age and invalidity, it becomes harder to infer what the purpose of these acts adding so little to what they love is, however blameless they are for having been born “late” in the history of musical evolution. This kind of grand reduction is an easy and cheap exercise: no one can feel venerable about practising it, and as being “positively” disposed to something is usually of no help (and the young don’t care what the fuck you think) the generational conversation dies stillborn in the traps.
Something like the reverse of this happens when encountering Chaos 93, the debut album of Brighton rapper, Ocean Wisdom. Spotting the influences is a delayed afterthought, mainly because the music is too arresting and immersive to bother doing so, and partly as where they are audible there is nothing derivative or hand-me-down about their employment. Traditionally British hip-hop has experienced many modifications, and has been at its most popular when transformed, or put at the service of another genre, be it Trip-Hop or Grime. Often playing it completely straight has drawn unflattering comparisons to the States, beginning with Derek B (LL Cool J adapted for laughs) and even the more credible Hijack (whose first album was produced by Ice T’s Rhyme Syndicate). Sharing a language with America, and rapping in it, meant there was never going to be a short cut to establishing a homegrown identity. Ocean’s trajectory, however, owes plenty to those who have tried, moving through Rodney P, Skinnyman, Roots Manuva, and his contemporaries on High Focus, a British equivalent of Def Jux, who, like that label, mentor the sort of boundary pushing hip-hop that musically and lyrically can end up anywhere.
As with his label mates Dead Players and Dirty Dike, who produces and guests on the album, Ocean combines the whispered introspection of Trip-Hop, with the speed and severity of Grime, embracing a similar Pound-Land realist approach to his subject matter. His is a lyrical universe that has emerged under the shadow of Sports Direct and reduced expectation aspiration, where Park and Ride is the new public space, and Red Bull and Vodka the refined drink of choice. Here hip-hop’s traditional braggadocio is deliberately undermined by shrill jackdaw mockery and relentless sarcasm, this is hip-hop that takes the piss. While the form is often faithful to the canon, there are cheeky nods to NWA and Dre, they’re inhabitants of a parallel universe, the weight of history all but thrown off as Ocean chatters away with confident invention, his caustic observations sharing more with The Sleaford Mods or Mark E Smith, than Jay Z and Nas.
As a rapper Ocean revels in busy and wordy compressed rhymes, flaunting his jerky erudition and quick intelligence, ‘watch me pitta pasta to different parts of a written pattern/plus alliteration a wicked blag for a sicker stanza’, while inverting the genres usual tropes, ‘fuck bench pressing, I cover my food in french dressing’ in obedience to its basic one: keeping it real. The verbal hyperactivity is deliberately out of step with the backing, which is mostly minimal, spooky and spare, the mixture of speed and space weirdly hypnotic, nowhere more so than when the music slows to an orchestral crawl. The sprawling exercise in thinking aloud that is “Heskey”, which seems to be about a kind of motorway-ennui, and not the giant striker who kept Robbie Fowler out of Liverpool’s starting eleven, is so unusual that Ocean leaves all comparisons behind.
In a year where the new isn’t always original, and the truly original not always likely to be popular, with two musical legends dead, and the pressure on those who still live to be interesting enough to deserve to, Chaos 93 is vital work in a maturing genre by a young talent, which should be as gripping a listen for those who know they’ll love it, as it is necessary for those who think they won’t.
Tariq Goddard is a British novelist and co-founder of Repeater Books.
Phil Knight’s take on the impending EU referendum
On the surface, the debate, such that it is, around a possible exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union, appears to be between two irrationalisms – between the fear of immigration and a globalized world on the one hand, and between the fear of economic collapse and a rise of dangerous nationalist sentiment on the other. The debate has also highlighted an asymmetry in the sides ostensibly conducting the debate, between “populists” who profess to represent the people, and an internationalist elite who affect to represent a disinterested, common sense, preference for stability.
Both of these sides, although they are largely unaware of it themselves, are capable of appearing surprisingly sinister, and that is because Brexit has unavoidably brought to the fore the structures of power that govern the global economy, and which normally prefer to remain unseen. The harsh warnings, easily interpreted as threats, against leaving the European Union that have emanated from foreign leaders and supranational institutions have been surprising not just for their starkness, but for the obvious approval they have garnered from the British establishment, notably from the Prime Minister himself, and his Chancellor, George Osbourne. This has demonstrated a key factor in Neoliberalism, not generally recognised but keenly felt, that national elites are not on the side of those they govern. The referendum has made abundantly clear that Cameron and Osbourne’s “people” are the likes of Christine Lagarde, Donald Tusk, Francois Hollande and Jamie Dimon – these, their fellow members of the international ruling class, are who they feel answerable to, and not their voters or the British public in general. This is now in the open for all to see, in a way that it hasn’t been before.
The consolidation of this ruling class also has a bearing on the stresses within the EU that have helped to generate the referendum. Fundamentally, I suspect that a pan-European state is perfectly feasible, and that state would be capable of absorbing large numbers of immigrants from outside Europe if that was felt to be necessary or desirable. However, such a state would require the genuine acquiescence of the people of Europe, and such an acquiescence would by necessity be a slow, organic process. Patience would be required as a genuine sense of a primary European identity, above existing national identities, slowly emerged and crystallized over generation after generation. This might take centuries to happen, and would require great tact and flexibility from the leaders of the EU.
However, there are two potential problems to such an approach. The first is the ordinary impatience that derives from human mortality. Few people are prepared to lay the groundwork for projects that will only bear fruit years after they are dead. Mostly, people want to see their projects completed within their own lifetimes. Secondly, the necessities of international capitalism, the need to harmonize and regulate markets and reduce barriers to trade, do not move at an organic pace. Indeed they are fundamentally inorganic. The result of these influences has been that European integration has been conducted to an artificial and inflexible timetable, with little regard to the views of the various European publics. This approach could just about be undertaken when the EU could dependably deliver economic growth and social improvement, but any significant economic rupture would always expose doubts in the legitimacy of the European project.
There is yet another, more existential quality to the manner that “ever-closer union” has been undertaken. Both the EU and Globalisation are escatological concepts, and both place their eschatons in the recent past. Just as Globalisation posits the fall of the Berlin Wall as the end of history, so the EU’s eschaton is the Maastricht Treaty, which transformed the European Community into the nascent state that is the European Union, and created its flawed currency, the Euro. This moment, being an eschaton, bestowed upon the EU another pair of characteristics that are implicit in escatology.
Firstly, it conferred upon the EU the aura of a spiritual project, the idea that the EU marks a clear break from the dark days of the old Europe, riven as it was with discord and warfare, into a new, permanent era of peace and light. This sense of a clear break inevitably suggests the second characteristic – the dogmatic, inflexible insistence that there is no turning back. The project goes in one direction and one direction only.
As such the EU, as with globalisation, is a religion, but as the people have not bought into them, they are high caste religions, or temple cults. This is particularly problematic because as the various peoples of Europe increasingly reject the European project, and question its legitimacy, the EU cannot respond with flexibility and compromise. Thus a pernicious dynamic has been generated in which the EU responds to such existential threats by attempting to advance its agenda all the more urgently. This is creating nationalists and demagogues, and contrary to those who believe that the EU represents stability, it is in fact the very source of the instability that threatens to undermine it.
The existential, spiritual necessity of the EU to its ruling class also explains the so-called scaremongering of the Remain campaign. Although its warnings of economic disaster and warfare are dismissed as being purely manipulative by its opponents, this is not the whole story. Because the EU, and globalisation, are necessarily a permanent state of affairs, it is unthinkable to their proselytisers that they might be reversed, or cease to exist. Thus the elite Remainers are, with their scaremongering, projecting the destruction of their own psyches. Following the collapse of 2008, and the failure of the Euro, Brexit threatens to continue the collapse of their entire worldview, as the EU cracks and Globalisation starts to be rolled back. This collapse will happen anyway, as the fissures in both the EU and the global economy are already beyond repair, and all Britain leaving the EU will do is hasten their demise. World leaders, or those who replace them, will then begin the search for the next eschaton on which to build their secular religion.
Perhaps there will be a Cult of Brexit.
Mark Perryman previews England v Wales as competing versions of nationhood
The traditional ‘Battle of Britain’ match is of course England v Scotland, the very first recognised international football match dating back to 1872 and the most intense of rivalries ever since. The last time two ‘home’ nations met in a major tournament it was again England v Scotland at Euro 96. The spark in so many ways for the break-up-Britain agenda that was to follow the Blair government devolution referendums a year later and latterly transformed into the SNP ‘tartan landslide’. Once derided by Jim Sillars as ‘ninety-minute nationalists’ Scots today are so busy building a nation they can call their own they haven’t much time left over for their under-performing football team, ouch!
Instead it will be the Welsh who will take the field on Thursday against Scotland’s ‘auld enemy’. An encounter inevitably affected by the ugly scenes the weekend before in Marseille. It was the historian Eric Hobsbawm who once observed, “ The individual, even the one who only cheers, becomes a symbol of the nation himself.” This was sadly true of those brutalised encounters in the south of France. Though as my friend Julie Nerney who was there has pointed out the habit of most travelling England fans is to “learn where to go and not to when you travel to games. Avoiding the places where it was obvious there was a chance of things kicking off. Knowing what the signs of a flashpoint were and extricating yourself from any situation where you might simply end up in the wrong place at the wrong time.” And thus in Marseille as Julie reports “Bars in the main square of any town are a magnet for trouble. Many sensible fans give them a wide berth.” This is the hidden story behind the headlines about an episode like Marseille 2016. Meanwhile in another part of town I’d helped organise a fans’ mini tournament England v Russia, another mate, John Lunt, who played describes the experience, “Had fun, we may have lost all our games, but made a few friends when others were doing their best not to.”
Little of this features in how most would think of the Englishness on parade at Euro 2016. Britain is a mix of contradictions, at home right now. Bathing in the collective and transnational experience of being European via the Euros while according to the referendum polls more than half the country couldn’t exit the continent fast enough For the English such contradictions are exacerbated by a very particular identity crisis. When England and Wales line-up for kick off each set of players, and fans will belt out their respective National Anthems. The Welsh, Land of our Fathers, while the English, like the Northern Irish, have to sing somebody else’s. Eh? That’s right us and the Northern Irish don’t have an anthem as every other country does, instead we have to sing an anthem that belongs to somewhere else, Great Britain. Yet the English tenaciously cling to an anthem which isn’t even ours as a source of great comfort. “Long to Reign Over Us, Happy and Glorious ” in those two lines the English contradictions of subjecthood neatly summed up.
American author Franklin Foer in his book How Soccer Explains the World points to the range of forces of globalisation which threaten this settled subjecthood founded on an unchanging notion of what it means to be English. Take a look at the players on any Premier League pitch, in the technical area the managers, coaches and backroom staff, the ownership of the bigger, and some smaller, clubs, the audience in the stands and via TV, the exchange of playing styles and tactics. There is very little left about our football which is precisely English.
Despite these forces of Europeanisation and globalisation however Foer makes a key point about soccer(sic) and culture; “ Of course, soccer isn’t the same as Bach or Buddhism. But it is often more deeply felt than religion, and just as much a part of the community’s fabric, a repository of traditions.” This is why England v Wales is always going to be about more than a football match.
An Englishness subject to imperial and martial tradition helps explain the ugly saliency of immigration as an issue in the Euro referendum non-debate and this reminds me of Satnam Virdee’s description of 1970s Powellism.
A powerful re-imagining of the English nation after empire, reminding his audience it was a nation for whites only. In that historical moment the confident racism that had accompanied the high imperial moment mutated into a defensive racism, a racism of the vanquished who no longer wanted to dominate but to physically expel the racialised other from the shared space they occupied, and thereby erase them and the Empire from its collective memory.
The make-up of the England team might appear a powerful antidote to these forces of reaction. But unlike the Welsh, and most particularly the Scots, the English barely possess a civic understanding of nationhood, instead it is mired in the racial. A football team may project some kind of alternative sense of being English but in the absence of political forces to make that argument it’s not enough. In June 2016 that couldn’t be more obvious.
None of this will help us predict the score when Bale’s Welshmen take on Rooney’s Englishmen but it certainly helps us understand how such an encounter is framed, consumed and understood. Performance isn’t something restricted just to the pitch y’know.
Mark Perryman is the editor of the new book 1966 and Not All That published by Repeater Books and available from Philosophy Football.
Graeme has a place waiting in the recently requisitioned Walpole Bay Hotel and Nick puts him in a USG minivan with a few other recent arrivals. The rooms are all full and so a series of bunk beds and spaces for sleeping bags have been set up in the downstairs lounge. He sits in the corner feeling vulnerable, his bag held tight, wishing he hadn’t flushed that spliff away; he could do with a smoke, calm his nerves.
How much will his records get sold for? They must be worth six, seven grand if he could get full price for them, probably they will go up for auction on one of the Government’s Clawback sites and be sold for whatever anyone bids for them, anything that isn’t sold after a certain point goes to charity shops for free. He thinks maybe he can sell the records he has in the bag to pay off his debts and buy back his own stock.
The room is filling up now. A dazed looking group in black hoodies is being processed at the doorway and let into the room one by one, activists, he thinks he recognises a few. He doesn’t want to hug the bag of records too close for fear of alerting someone to their value or loosen his hold on them for fear they might be taken. If he loses this he loses everything. He can’t seem to get any kind of signal on his phone down here and needs to get online, to contact his buyer and arrange something. Money no object, they said. He’s seen tape collections go for ten, twelve grand, getting bid up on ExecutiveCollector. This is all a mistake he can rectify if he can just get online.
On the other side of the room he spots another couple of familiar faces, Giveback Partners from one of the refit jobs they did in Elephant and Castle six months ago, a horrible experience that got Graeme ever more frantically pursuing his record trading afterwards in order to stave off ever having to do it again. A group of ten of them in Giveback Boilersuits jogging in lockstep from the branded Giveback van, the team leader, ex-Army, barking instructions at them, the public spectacle of it as much a part of the exercise as anything, letting the poor know, this is what’s waiting, allowing the rich to savour the discipline.
He approaches tentatively, knows faces but not names, they all seemed alright even though they hadn’t communicated much, each one locked away in a pocket of anger and shame that seems here in the light and space of the temporary encampment to have been broken open.#
Alright boss, Graeme says. I know you mate, from Giveback up in Elephant. We did that housing estate, ripping all the old carpets up and that. For a second they look blankly at him then one of them nods, yeah, yeah, bruv. Yeah that’s right. They got you too.
What’s going on? I need to get back up to London. He’s here coincidentally, accidentally he explains, came down on some business and can’t get back up there now, hasn’t had time to sell or stash his stuff, nothing more than the shirt on his back and the phone in his hand. Can anyone get a signal? He needs to ring Matty, he’ll come and get him, ring his contact, let him know he’s got stuff, start negotiating a price. Ring Joolzy, ring the OkupaUK crew, anyone, just to let them know he’s here, that there’s been some mistake. They all shake their heads. Signal’s been jammed, something’s going on. You could try the internet café down on the front but you are not supposed to go more than quarter of a mile from your centre. How can there be no wireless, he asks, no phone signal? They’ve turned it all off. Simple as that. Plus, one of them says we know you yeah, but don’t talk to anyone you don’t know. Lot of undercover narcs about.
One of the group is telling them a story about how he had to go and work for Pret A Manger making sandwiches on a Giveback placement in a big, cold warehouse up the river, standing at a long line of other workers in white coats and hairnets at scratched silver trestle tables. He is tall, six foot three and the bench was little too low. He asked the supervisor if there was any way they could raise the table but he looked at him blankly. That’s the table we use here, he said. Then could he have a chair to sit on? We don’t have chairs, they told him. No one else is sitting down. Yeah, but I am taller than they are. The supervisor smiled. Find a solution, he said. Don’t mention it to me again.
An older guy, maybe early fifties, with a beer belly and glasses has drifted over to join them. Find a solution to being tall? Every day the pain in his back started a little earlier in the shift, until even after a weekend of lying in bed just trying to recover, using the muscles as little as possible, on the following Monday morning the pain was instantaneous, adjusting his posture slightly to pull the first two slices of bread out of the box a strap of raw muscle started heating up until after thirty minutes it was burning and making him nauseous. Every time he finished a sandwich it was pulled across the table cut and boxed then sealed. He began to slow down dramatically, shifting his weight from side to side bending and stretching, pausing as his teammate scowled impatiently at him from across the other side of the table. Each pair was assessed for productivity, each team competing with other teams, each section with others and each individual performance logged, someone would lose out, the least productive pair in each team put the whole table in danger of being deemed to be showing insufficient enthusiasm, efficiency, motivation and penalised, benefits cut, more Giveback hours extended, or worse, both. You could find yourself working more hours for free, racking up Giveback hours for a bare subsistence in terms of on-the-job food allocations. He tried to keep going he said but by the afternoon the pain was unbearable and in the half hour break he sat and wept in the company toilet wondering what the fuck he was going to do, whether they would even let him leave and dreading the sanctions they would apply, the medical tests he would have to go through, which would find him fit to work and give him pain-killers, a privilege he would have to pay for with more Giveback hours. In the end he couldn’t take it any more. And so.
Yeah. Yeah. Everyone nods.
How come you are down here? They ask a guy in his early thirties. Hi alright, he says, I am Charlie. Charlie sounds a little bit posh. He said had been stopped at the turnstile at Charing Cross by some private security guards asking him why he wanted to come into Zone 1, what the purpose of his visit was, asking why a Claimant would have any need to leave his particular, they used the word designated, Zone to come down here. I want to go to the library. You are not a student though, are you? You can do all that online. I want to go to the library, the museum, a gallery, window shopping whatever, what’s the problem with that? Loitering with no clear purpose then. Looking at your Viability Index you have got no money to spend and I am refusing you entry on reasonable suspicion of attempted non-authorised financial solicitation. ITB. Intent to Beg. After some protesting and refusal in which he was very careful not to lose his temper he was eventually escorted into a side office while his details were checked, then he was taken away and kept in police custody for 24 hours as they went round and trashed his flat looking for suspicious or subversive material. Lucky for you we didn’t find anything, they said, though we could have done if we had wanted to. Two days later he received notice that the Giveback hours incurred through the time being held in the police cell had pushed him over some preprescribed limit and that he was to report to the office down here.
They are getting serious; they are cracking the fuck down. Another guy on one of the camp beds at the back chipped in that he had been refused entry to a pub in Blackheath after his Claimant Card set off some kind of alarm behind the bar. He refused to leave and a group of big guys in rugby shirts made the fact that he was not welcome clear to him: fuck off out of here or you’ll be claiming disability from now on, one told him, to raucous laughter.
Well, she said, I was coming back home on the bus one day and I just decided, fuck it, I am going to go full default. I was working in Rootz making £6.37 an hour and I had debts, you know? There was no way I could pay it back, no way, and the interest was accumulating all the time so, I mean it was scary to do it but I’d just got paid and I knew I was going to see all of that money disappear, go to the landlord, on transport, to pay back student loans, to cover credit card bills. Already I was living in a shared house, right, in the cheapest room and every month I am just digging myself in deeper paying bills and expenses. So I ended up looking around for a cheaper place to live but they were all even further away from work so then there was extra transport costs. What can I do, right? I’m not going into one of the Beehives. I can’t live. I am working all week and I can’t live. Do more hours, work two jobs maybe but I am already doing an extra ten to twenty hours a week overtime just to show willing and keep my job at Root and Branch, so about two months ago I thought, well, I can either go back and live with my Mum and Dad or I can go full default, in which case I have got about a two week head start before the bailiffs are on to me. So that means no phone, nothing, you’re looking at five years for some of the debts to be cancelled, some of them never, always trying to stay ahead of the bailiffs, always having to find work from someone who won’t ask questions, no benefits, people always ready to grass you up, you know? The only thing worse than being a Claimant is being a defaulter as far as some people are concerned, but me, I had no choice. I couldn’t see any way out. My Mum and Dad don’t have any money to give me a leg up, you know. I worked through University, I got a good grade, I wanted to keep studying but then the prices went up, the credit dried up, the only jobs I could get were minimum wage, I didn’t know if I would be working from one week to the next. And nearly everyone I knew was the same, some of them had help but I didn’t have any lifelines, you know. So I just had to leave.
How long did you manage?
Six weeks. Immigration raided this meat packing plant I was working in up near York. There were three Brits in there; everyone else was foreign, y’know, from all over. I got shipped back down here.
How much have they got you for?
Giveback? She swallows.
Fucking years and years and years.
Inspired by Matmos’ brilliant new album and live show, Ultimate Care II—made entirely from sounds created by and with their Whirlpool washing machine—we made a mini playlist of songs using or inspired by all things laundry-related.
(Hear all the tracks plus excellent suggestions from Twitter on a Youtube playlist here.)
- MATMOS Ultimate Care II
Matmos have brought the machine they used to make the album on tour with them.
2. Vivien Goldman – Launderette
From post-punk/new-wave pioneer Goldman’s 1981 EP, Dirty Laundry. The EP had Adrian Sherwood, Robert Wyatt and John Lydon on the production credits, (although apparently Lydon’s credit is down to allowing the EP to be recorded on the sly during PiL’s sessions for the Flower Of Romance album (source) )
3. Sonic Youth – Washing Machine
Very pleased to have been reminded of this ace 1995 album. 20 minute wig out, The Diamond Sea, sounds like it could conceivably have washing machine sounds in it, but couldn’t verify this so went for the obvious choice.
(Trivia: before this album’s release the band had been considering changing their name to Washing Machine, thanks wikipedia)
4. Petwo Evans – Tumble
Petwo Evans make polyrhythmic club music often using found objects for percussion. This track features Rich Thair’s drumming on the inside of an old tumble dryer.
5. Kate Bush – Mrs Bartolozzi
Brilliant character/concept track from Kate Bush’s 2005 comeback album, Aerial. Widely reported as being “about a washing machine”, when asked about it on Radio 2 Kate Bush set the interviewer straight:
“Is it a song about a washing machine? I think it’s a song about Mrs. Bartolozzi. She’s this lady in the song who…does a lot of washing! (Laughs) It’s not me, but I wouldn’t have written the song if I didn’t spend a lot of time doing washing. It’s fictitious. As soon as you have a child, the washing suddenly increases.
What I like is that a lot of people think this song is funny, I think that’s great, but, actually I think this is one of the heaviest songs I’ve ever written! (Laughs)
I like the idea of clothes, they are very interesting things aren’t they, because they say such an enormous amount about the person who wears them, they have a little bit of that person all over them, Skin Cells. What you wear says a lot about who you are and who you think you are. I think clothes, in themselves are very interesting. It’s the idea of this woman, who’s kind of sitting there, looking at all the washing go round and she’s got this new washing machine, and the idea of these clothes, sort of tumbling around in the water, and then the water becomes the sea. The clothes and the sea…
I just thought it was just an interesting idea to play with, what I wanted to get was this sense of this journey, where you’re sitting in front of this washing machine and then, almost as if in a daydream, you’re suddenly standing in the sea.” (source)
6. Neal Howard – Indulge
This last one is a little tenuous but included because a) it’s an absolute banger and b) it featured on Network Records classic 1990 Bio Rhythm compilation (Dance Music With Bleeps), which contained in the sleeve notes a brilliant and almost definitely imagined history of a Sheffield micro rave scene based in launderettes
Update: As pointed out by @skeuomorphology on twitter, the Mr Fingers track mentioned in the sleeve notes is very real and also a ? certified banger
7. Mr Fingers – Washing Machine
Guest post by John Medhurst
The central concern of modern politics is the extent to which the destructive, anti-social effects of neoliberal capitalism – most obviously those produced by the financial sector and fossil fuel industry – should be subject to public regulation. The most life-threatening activity within modern America—wide-spread and easily accessible gun ownership—is a relic of rampant free-market individualism. The results are grim.
The superhero genre (comics or film) cannot avoid the issues raised. Most superheroes, after all, are vigilantes. They have no legal sanction to do what they do, yet because the rules of the superhero story function in their favour they are seldom hunted down and arrested. The threats they respond to are always real, the actions they take avert a far worse injustice or disaster (sometimes genocidal), they never accidentally kill someone, and thus their actions are justified in the terms of the world they inhabit.
In the most famous example of police-vigilante collusion, Batman is given tacit authorisation for his activities by Gotham’s senior police official. In recent Batman stories Commissioner Gordon is criticised for this by the media and politicians, even investigated by antagonistic colleagues, but he always prevails, usually after a homicidal psychopath like the Joker is brought to heel by Batman. Christopher Nolan’s trilogy of Batman films placed its hero’s relationship to the law front and centre.
DC and Marvel rarely do the same. Superman, the Flash and Green Lantern carry on regardless. Grant Morrison’s iconic run on the Justice League simply made the League’s threats so cosmic they either never took place on Earth, or if they did there was self-evidently no other body than the League who could deal with them. Warren Ellis’s The Authority addressed it by frankly admitting that the Authority – An alternate version of the Justice League with added sexual diversity, radical politics and ultra-violence – were imposing their power on “bad guys”, and bad governments, simply because they could. As a limited series outside DC continuity it could do that. Mainstream heroes cannot, or at least not without raising intractable problems that would dominate future storylines.
Marvel has a double standard. On the one hand its “street level” heroes – Spiderman, Daredevil, Luke Cage – are routinely harassed by the media, the most obvious example being the Daily Bugle’s editor J. Jonah Jameson’s obsessive pursuit of Spiderman; and the X-Men are frequently persecuted by anti-mutant forces within government. On the other its premier superhero team, the Avengers, is granted enormous latitude.
Although the Avengers’ team roster continually changes it revolves around the “big three” – Captain America, Iron Man and Thor. Given the iconic nature of these characters, and the manner in which the Avengers operate openly from Avengers Mansion or Stark Tower in New York, a dramatic device is needed to explain their freedom to operate. Thus, since the 1980s, the Avengers have been a semi-official arm of first the American government and then the UN. They have official license to respond to major threats. Their status dwarfs that of local law enforcement or even national armed forces, and ensures support from inter-governmental bodies such as SHIELD.
The only real political difficulty was in Kurt Busiek’s daring 2001 storyline in which the Avengers’ government liaison insists they meet diversity criteria and have more black and minority ethnic heroes in their main 7-person roster. “All the founding Avengers were white,” he points out, “even the Hulk, when he’s not green”. Thor, not of this earth, finds the demand incomprehensible. Captain America frankly admits he is of a different era and not the man to oversee it. Iron Man concedes the group should be more representative of society but prefers “…it happen naturally, rather than by quota”.
Busiek carefully balances the issue by including a demand from anti-mutant bigots that the Avengers actively exclude mutants like the Scarlet Witch. For all the subtlety of the storyline, the main Avengers (Thor aside) are presented as well-meaning liberals, assailed by petty ideologues on both sides.
It is the great merit of the 7-issue Marvel “event” comic Civil War (first published in 2007) that it directly addressed, in a relatively adult and sophisticated manner, the politics of superhero regulation. Significantly, it was written by a non-American writer, Mark Millar, whose Kick-Ass and Wanted also gleefully deconstructed the tropes of the genre.
In Civil War a crisis of confidence in superheroes arises when a second-tier band of heroes, whose adventures are filmed for a reality TV show, attempt to take down some “super-villains” who are out of their league in order to secure higher ratings, leading to a catastrophic explosion in a suburban town which kills hundreds of people, including an entire infants school.
The disaster starts a public debate about the need to “register” superheroes to ensure they are trained and accountable to the public they are supposed to serve, encapsulated in the proposal for a “Superhuman Registration Act” (SRA) under which all who wish to behave as a superhero must first divulge their identity to the government, which will then train and license them.
The proposal splits the superhero community down the middle. At a meeting called by the Fantastic Four to discuss the issue, the Wasp (who is independently wealthy) decries the absurdity of “turning us into civil servants” with “pension plans and vacation time”. Others disagree. Interviewed on Larry King Live, She-Hulk – aka lawyer Jennifer Walters – asks of super-heroes, “Training them up and making them carry badges? Yes, I’d say that sounds like a reasonable response”.
The debate polarises around Iron Man (Tony Stark) and Captain America (Steve Rogers), with Stark regarding the accident as a “wake up call”. “Becoming public employees makes perfect sense if it helps people sleep a little easier” he tells his colleagues. Rogers, the man from the 1940s, sees the demand that superheroes disclose their identities and work only to government dictat as a fundamental attack on civil rights.
Significantly it is Stark, not Rogers, who has the personal effect of unregulated superheroics brought home to him. At a memorial for the dead, the mother of one of the children killed in the explosion slaps his face and blames him for her son’s death. Stark is shaken by the encounter and forced to re-think his assumptions. Rogers never has such an encounter.
Instead, his crucial moment is a stand-off with the new Director of SHIELD, Maria Hill. At first Hill believes that Captain America will help SHIELD enforce the new law, simply because it is the law, but Rogers disabuses her. He insists that superheroes must “…stay above all this stuff, or Washington starts telling us who the super-villains are”, to which Hill responds “I thought super-villains were guys in masks who refused to obey the law?”. Rogers then breaks out of the SHIELD Helicarrier and forms a group of underground heroes who refuse to abide by the SRA whilst continuing their activities.
Interestingly, the common position amongst American readers was that Stark was the “villain” and Rogers the “hero”. But the text does not bear this out. Stark’s arguments are logical and reasonable, whereas Rogers’s are emotional and dogmatic. It is clear that Stark is simply trying to control an impossible situation and respond to public concern. Later in the story the argument is skewed because Stark and his main supporters (Reed Richards and Hank Pym, the “intellectuals” of the Marvel universe and therefore, by implication, lacking Rogers’s simple humanity) make some dubious decisions and catastrophic mistakes.
After it becomes clear that the two sides are evenly matched Richards and Stark make a cyborg clone of the absent Thor to take down Rogers’s team, but it malfunctions and accidentally kills the second-stringer hero Goliath. Stark and SHIELD then grant a special license to jailed super-villains such as the homicidal Bullseye and Venom (controlled by nano-implants to ensure they do not go too far) to enforce registration. At this point Stark loses the moral high-ground.
But Millar is careful to balance every decision and compromise. Even the flinty integrity of Captain America is tainted when he allows the mass murderer Frank Castle, the Punisher, to fight for his side. Castle, who is already a wanted fugitive, joins Captain America’s team after Stark starts using super-villains to enforce registration. When two minor villains come to Rogers’s team for help against the government the Punisher casually shoots them both dead, whereupon an appalled Captain America beats him to a pulp. When one of the team wonders why Castle refuses to strike back, another answers “Are you kidding? Cap’s probably the reason he went to Vietnam”.
Millar’s most effective device (impossible to replicate in the film version as the Fantastic Four belong to another studio) is to bring the division in the Marvel fraternity down to the most intimate level – the marriage of Mr Fantastic and the Invisible Woman, Reed and Sue Richards. Sue, appalled at her husband’s complicity in creating the Thor-clone that killed Goliath, and after penning a poignant goodbye note, leaves Reed to his “graphs and social projections” and joins Captain America’s underground network.
Sue is presented as more emotionally empathetic, but is Reed actually wrong? In discussion with She-Hulk, who feels that he and Stark “gave us a future”, he cites massive public approval for the SRA and a subsequent decline in crime rates after the new “50-state Initiative” (a different team of registered super-heroes assigned to every U.S state) is rolled out. His points are never answered or refuted.
This is rich source material for a film, and is the basis of the recently released Captain America: Civil War. In the film the main issue is not superhero “registration” in the sense of revealing secret identies, but the need for the Avengers to place themselves under the “Sokovia Accords” agreed by 150 countries – in effect UN oversight, with the Avengers only allowed to do what an inter-governmental panel authorises them to do. As in the comic, Stark (who in the last Avengers movie created the Ultron robot that led to mass destruction in Sokovia) agrees that this is for the best. Rogers does not.
Naturally, in a film intended for a mass audience, the nuances of the comic are simplified. The final confrontation between Stark and Rogers, seemingly averted after they realise the entire situation has been stoked by a hidden villain, erupts because Rogers’s brain-washed friend the Winter Soldier is revealed to have killed Stark’s parents.
But neither Civil War the comic or Captain America: Civil War the film can disguise the vital political issue they raise, which is the extent to which important public functions should be publicly controlled and accountable, not privatised or subject to “light-touch regulation”. The notable achievement of the comic – and the film, to a lesser extent – is to base its drama around a real philosophical and political argument, and to give the protagonists on either side credible, understandable positions, neither of which is entirely “right” or “wrong”.
The final word should rest with Maria Hill, the salaried civil servant possessed of no super-power except her democratic political mandate. When Captain America stands before her in all his glory and tells her “Masked heroes have been a part of this country for as long as anyone can remember”, she brusquely replies “So’s smallpox. Now grow up and stop being an idiot”.