Home > Labour Party News, Religion > How can Frank Field be such a tit?

How can Frank Field be such a tit?

I was up late on Sunday night and made the mistake of knocking on the radio as I was going to bed. I listened and listened to some Tory twit yakking on about moral life in the modern society, wishing that I could fall asleep but instead getting angrier and angrier. I flung back the covers, and swept downstairs to check the Radio 4 website, to find out who was this insufferable twerp. It turned out to be Frank Field, a Labour MP, not in fact some irritating Conservative backbencher!

Probably the crux of the whole matter for me comes when Field contends that we’ve ceased to nurture children to be citizens. He conjures the image of young people being told to stop doing something and responding, “Why?” Field says “you realise that you can’t run a society where everybody thinks they can say why to every suggestion made to them.” Well, why not? Instead of the pisspoor metaphysical basis of a shared ‘highway code’, which we’re not allowed to question, why shouldn’t the basis of a society be the right to question?

Instead, the sort of society at which Field appears to cast wistful glances is Victorian. The Victorians and Edwardians understood, apparently, the need for collective endeavour in a way that we have lost today. From the religious services which knitted together communities to the church schools, the local hospitals and the other local services which people ran together, Field sees in Victorian England the anti-thesis of the centralising, faceless bureaucracy (though he doesn’t put it quite so starkly).

More even than that, Field attributes to Gladstone an epiphany that because the working classes were engaged in all these common endeavours – plus charities and trades unions, all of which befit and are constitutive of the ideal citizen – they could be given the vote! Except that this neatly ignores how Gladstone can only be so viewed if compared to Palmerstone or some other such reactionary. It also ignores just how inefficient these ‘collective endeavours’ were, serving to mollify middle class consciousness than alleviate poverty.

Field has effectively thrown out the research of the great social researchers of the Victorian and Edwardian eras such as Rowntree or Booth. Famously, Charles Booth once disagreed with Henry Hyndman about the levels of poverty in London, with the socialist claiming that poverty was set at 25% of the whole population. Booth, who had claimed that this was impossibly high, returned a figure of 35%. Frank Field instead seems to prefer a Stage Musical version of lovable rogues and people pulling together.

The research clearly showed just how staggeringly ineffective education and healthcare provision were when left to the consciences of the well off or through market allocation, rather than funded out of general taxation. Moreover, the religious nexus which bound ‘citizens’ together was a block on the self-organisation of the working class (especially during the later 1800’s), as much as the doctrine of moral conscience and voluntarism was the ideological counterpart to a vigorously individualistic approach that saw the Income Tax as an irredeemable evil.

What Field wants to see are moral contracts imposed upon the unfortunate beneficiaries of the welfare state, to ensure their good conduct. Under the guise of rolling back the bureaucracy and the State, what Field wants to see are contracts outlining what is expected of all of us – and he holds his own contract of employment up as an example. Just how that sits with the ‘immoral’ conduct of plenty of MPs escapes me, but nor is this an attack on the State, since all contracts are implicitly guaranteed by the State through the law courts.

He concentrates on the notion that through measures such as this, or through being awarded a rating of ‘stars’ according to how good a parent you are, we’ll all become the perfect citizens. Field is blind to social conditioning, contingent upon the wealth of one’s surroundings, and how that affects ‘morality’ and how it affects behavioural expectations, parenting and all sorts of aspects one might attribute to this anti-material ‘ideal citizen’. I’m moved to ask, therefore, how can the Labour MP for Birkenhead, a one-time socialist bastion, be such a tit?

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  1. April 6, 2009 at 3:10 pm

    “you realise that you can’t run a society where everybody thinks they can say why to every suggestion made to them.”

    OH GOD! if he carries on advancing at this speed, soon he’ll hit the enlightenment! Then we’ll really be screwed.

  2. Robert
    April 6, 2009 at 3:31 pm

    Do we expect any better from New labour anymore.

  3. April 6, 2009 at 3:44 pm

    Even rhetorical questions have question marks, dipshit.

  4. April 6, 2009 at 4:02 pm

    Nothing wrong with Victorian values: Ring worms, diptheria and polio, Poverty we would feel comfortable with in a third world country and Fagin to boot. We harp back on “happier” times and ignore the problems that face us today. It wont mater that the Tories have been replaced by NEW LABOUR cos in Victorian times I wouldnt get the vote.

  5. April 6, 2009 at 4:02 pm

    But, acknowledging that ‘social conditioning’ and surroundings may impact on morality, it’s self-evident that this isn’t a deterministic process, and that ultimately it is within the power of almost any parent to raise their child to proper moral standards. Certainly, the state should act to make it easier (dealing with alcoholism, addiction, illiteracy etc), but poverty is no excuse for propagating poor behaviour – as our parents and grandparents well know.

    I wholeheartedly agree with Field that we need a coherent shared moral code – it is not enough to leave it up to individuals; and we need as many cross-cutting bonds within communities as possible aswell. Hence I like his idea about baptism – creating shared experiences is crucial to building shared values. Although I’m a reluctant atheist (raised on Christianity), I fear that the demise of the church (and of the secular Christianity Field refers to) is and has been a very worrying trend in terms of child and moral development: I think you need the drama, the hymns, the stories in order to flesh out the ethics which are the crucial part of faith.

    And of course there should be no ‘why’ about poor behaviour; no-one should question that you shouldn’t do things that damage your community or hurt others – and parents should drum that in from birth – no excuses, no relativism. I like the 5-star idea too: early intervention is crucial, and parenting should be our number one priority (indeed, parenting classes are hugely effective in reducing ASB). Some would call it stigmatizing or offensive, I would say they haven’t seen the extent of the problems we face.

    PS. 5Live is much better when you’re up late…

  6. April 6, 2009 at 4:30 pm

    Well, when you get down off your moral high horse, might I suggest to you that actually certain features of background are an excuse for improper behaviour.

    I have some experience of children from ‘broken’ backgrounds: crime, lack of boundaries, missing role models, alcoholism and so forth. The link between these things and poverty is undeniable: it is a determinant.

    That is not to say that poverty inevitably produces these things, but to regard them as a ‘choice’ on the part of the ill-educated working classes, which they can be convinced out of is to cut the notion of choice out of the circumstances which create it.

    It would be more accurate to edit your definition of determinism as mechanistic “all or nothing” to something more fluid, where probability and choice are themselves affected (conditioned) by the available material: situational, intellectual and physical.

    If you say that parenting classes reduce ASB (for which I’d be intrigued to see the study you’re referring to, if you would provide a reference), I’ll take you at your word – but then, it is not the only thing likely to do so, which is why crime rose in both the USA and UK during the 1980s, as neo-liberal reforms and sinks of unemployment set in.

    Moving along…

    There is room to ask “why” about absolutely everything. It’s not good enough to suggest that it is wrong to murder, or wrong to harm one’s own ‘community’. The very words we use when saying these things need to be broken down. And we need to underpin these imperatives with reason.

    Why is it wrong to kill someone? If you can’t metaphysically ground the notion, then you can’t say that it is ‘wrong’, just as you won’t be able to define ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. Even the basic opinions on what is right or wrong are part of the notion of hegemony and are conditioned according to the mental processes we socially inherit.

  7. April 6, 2009 at 5:04 pm

    John

    I refer to your notion of (desirable) ‘cross cutting bonds in communities’.

    It seems to me that such communitarian babble, artculated with Field’s (and Tom Harris’ recent) call for a return the the simplistic, status quo-enhancing certainties of return to ‘morals’ is a dangerous new hegemonic aspect: you are an individual with individual responsibilities for your own welfare and moral upkeep, and society can’t be expected to help you if you are a lazy poor person, but you do have responsibilities to that society. The catch is both ways.

    Stand back and examine what you mean by a community bond, or even a community. It’s all just a clever piece of discourse, aimed at ever tighter control at those who lie within those bonds, bonds made all the more effective because those inside are made to feel threatnened by the ‘outsiders’.

    Not v coherent, maybe more later.

  8. April 6, 2009 at 5:05 pm

    I would agree that certainly the choices we make are circumscribed by our circumstances. But too often, that notion leads to stagnation and making excuses. We can understand, help and yet condemn at the same time: when a social worker goes into a house with filth dripping down the walls, I don’t want them just to ‘understand’, I want them to get out the buckets and help the parents get it clean. And of course unemployment etc is connected to rising vulgarity and poor behaviour – but again, it’s ‘on average’, there are exceptions.

    As you’ll note, I said we should be tackling these risk factors to make it easier for parents to provide moral guidance – but equally, let’s not patronise working class people by saying they can’t do it without this help, as a great many can! I know families with 7 or 8 kids and not a penny to their name where the kids are incredible role models of good behaviour. The key is the phrase ‘risk factor’ – it’s about averages. Why, though, would you oppose schemes to boost morality and encourage parents to fulfil their obligations towards their kids? Do we have to dismantle capitalism before we can expect kids to live in clean homes, and for their parents to get out of bed before 12?

    As for the ‘why’ question – why the need for all the philosophical bullshit? Parents (backed up by school, church, peers, whatever) should be saying x and y are wrong because they harm others, a and b are what you should aspire to because they’re good for others. Is that really so hard or complicated?

  9. April 6, 2009 at 5:43 pm

    Dismantling capitalism is the only way it’s ever going to happen. Think clearly; the scale of social welfare required to begin the sort of programmes we wish to see is liable to beget a backlash from a Conservative/capitalist axis. Such a backlash leads to one of two things: violent socialist revolution or the decimation of the organised working class (again) and a ‘return to’ (or rather a ‘New’) Thatcherism.

    If I might pick up your example of parents staying in bed til noon, you neglect to paint the full picture. Pride in one’s home, in one’s children, motivation to get out of bed and so forth are not things intrinsic to human nature, the absence of which we can label moral wrongs. Indeed, labelling them such is much the same as the bullying sports coach yelling at the Yeare 7 that he’s not trying hard enough.

    These things are established socially. You can live in the most poverty stricken of neighbourhoods and still take pride in your home – but you find such things come with collective links such as working men’s clubs, trades unions, local activities such as dancing or sports and a job which you have some prospect in. Remove those things – and they have been slowly atrophied for decades now – and you have to ask from whence this inner well of human strength is to come?

    It’s not enough to simply say, “Well, tough.” That’s like telling someone who has stress problems that they should stop worrying. It is not addressing the key issues in the way they need to be addressed.

    The collective bonds you seek to restore through some secular quasi-state religion are atrophied not because of a moral degeneracy inherent to affluence but as part of the atomisation of capitalist society. The hegemonic treatment of the ‘free’ individual as the highest possible goal in human society is part of this – and it can be combatted, but your method strikes me as particularly deficient, leading instead down the same road as Andy Burnham’s attempts to toss people off welfare if they don’t measure up.

    Our strategy should be two fold; firstly, it should be redistributive. Not simply in terms of welfare, though that is part of it, but also in terms of the control and restructuring of the economy to address human needs and not profiteering overproduction. Secondly, it should combine redistributive politics with a social approach: rebuilding local libraries, sports centres and so forth, and making them open to even the poorest.

    These two processes cannot be separated out; making self-improvement easier does not determine that self-improvement will occur. I come across a shocking number of kids who simply declare that they don’t like reading. Many of them are from backgrounds where the horizon stretches to some dead-end job in a chippy or Tesco, or on the dole. Reading not required.

    This lack of opportunity is directly tied to the need of capitalism for a permanent under-class. It in turn colours the world view of the people trapped by that need. That it can’t colour their worldview entirely is testament to our capacity to resist – and resistance should be encouraged and organised, but needs no moralisation.

    Finally all this “philosophical bullshit” is needed because you have no rational methods of establishing what X and Y are beyond opinion, and opinion when unexamined is often part of hegemonic discourse. To take a recent example, I don’t consider breaking into RBS to be a moral wrong; in fact, I’m prepared to excuse that damage to property entirely. There are people who aren’t prepared to excuse it: you have no way beyond simple guesswork to determine which group has the right of the situation.

    That’s where “philosophical bullshit” comes in.

  10. April 6, 2009 at 6:14 pm

    Of course I agree with you that e.g. not getting up is caused by other things than laziness. My point is that we should, as you put it, encourage and nurture resistance to our circumstances – through state help, through community help and through promotion of responsibilities. Then it becomes an empirical question: do ‘contract’ systems actually promote better parenting behaviour – I don’t know. But if they do, then great, let’s do it – why not? We can still tackle the risk factors for this behaviour whilst working on the behaviour itself (tough on x/tough on the causes of x – it’s a good slogan because it’s the best way of resolving social problems). You seem to be saying that as long as there is an excuse for poor behaviour, then that’s fine – but it’s not, because the kids suffer if their parents don’t clean the house or whatever.

    And of course I agree with you about clubs and jobs – that was precisely my point about creating cross-cutting ties: we don’t need capitalism to end before we start sports clubs etc etc. And I’m sure you’re not really arguing that capitalism prevents my social worker from getting that house clean – and what a difference it would make. I agree, of course, that moral decline is linked to atomisation – but I guess I think we can transcend that, whereas you’re more pessimistic. I think it’s a problem associated with a particular kind of capitalism, not a mixed economy in general.

    I’ll leave aside the right/wrong debate as I know most people disagree with me on that one, but I’ve never understood the need to complicate things – things don’t need to be objectively true to be incredibly strong as social forces, so whether it makes logical sense or not, let’s just get on with saying ‘do as you’d be done by’ to our kids as much as we can!

  11. April 6, 2009 at 7:16 pm

    Why would you leave aside something just because people disagree with you? I’m not complicating things, things are in fact complex. If I reveal that complexity, it is not out of some self-aggrandizing intellectualism, it is because understanding complexity is necessary to actually extracting an answer to our conundrum.

    That’s not to say that things must be objectively true to constitute a social force. In fact, I would agree that things don’t need to be objectively true to be a social force, but it does not follow from this that we should simply invent a social highway code on the basis of what most people agree most of the time to be wrong.

    Returning to what we might term our ‘main’ argument…

    A ‘contract’ system (of parenting, of acceptable social behaviour, etc) is not empirically comparable to challenging the causes of such social maladies as we can agree need remedying. This is also a challenge to your contention that “Tough on X, Tough on the Causes of X” is the best way to proceed. The underpinning of both a “contract” and “Tough on X” is punishment.

    When we’re trying to lift a sizeable chunk of our own society out of poverty and to recreate collective links whereby to better fight the discourse of individualism, what part does punishment play? Again, I refer you back to the sort of thing which Andy Burnham is attempting. If people don’t play along, are we going to cut their benefits?

    How will that lift them out of poverty or make easier their circumstances?

    It’s easy to say, “Well it’s their own fault” but moralising like that doesn’t actually solve the problem. Moreover, we come back to the notion that it is acceptable for governments (on the current model) to prescribe set parameters for behaviour – and as with any system based on private property, we find that extending that right bites us in the ass when it comes to the ‘political’ aspect to our behaviour.

    If contracts for good parenting, why not contracts prescribing set terms for civil behaviour? And if we violate the contracts, what penalty? To have civil rights removed? Or to have our use of the welfare system proscribed? No, I can’t see any value in contracts when the end we have in mind is not simply changing behavioural standards by compulsion but by changing the whole social and economic basis of society for everyone so that the compulsion is unnecessary and so that we are truly ‘free’.

    Finally, I am not pessimistic about our possibilities under capitalism. I am a materialist. Capitalism is not a static body of laws and situations, it is a group of processes. Within what we call “capitalism”, the processes can be adjusted by conscious action, but our every action has consequences and creates a reaction.

    We could return to a less exploitative capitalism than exists currently by fighting for different conditions of labour and life, but once achieved, the fight would not suddenly end. Either we’d be called to extend our reach (we being the labour movement) until we overthrew the private property regime which sustains capitalism or we’d begin to reduce that reach and ultimately succumb to exactly the same problems as before.

    This isn’t pessimism – I’m not denying that our current troubles are associated with a particular kind of capitalism. Rather it is a more acute understanding that capitalism never stands still, proceeding instead by certain laws which we can rationally grasp and by then extrapolating from that the potential outcomes of what you suggest.

  12. April 6, 2009 at 8:24 pm

    Well if contracts etc can be shown to improve outcomes for children, I will support them wholeheartedly. Of course, if it were the case that, after sanctions, a good number persisted with behaviour damaging to their children, then it wouldn’t be worth it, but if sanctions (or rather the threat of them) were effective, then it would be.

    I don’t think it’s contradictory to say to people ‘we’re going to help you with your addiction and your illiteracy, and we’re going to make sure there are jobs there for you and people in the community looking out for you, but we expect you to keep a clean house, get your kids up for school, make sure they’re eating properly and not watching telly when they should be doing their homework’. That strikes me as a pretty fair balance of responsibilities. And if some sanctions are needed to get people into work (where it exists and they’ve refused it), or to make them do things for their kids (where they’re physically and mentally capable), then that may well be worthwhile. Otherwise, the punishment falls on the child – not from the state, but in life chances, health and wellbeing. We cannot leave those kids to wait until we’ve brought about the profound transformations we both agree are needed – the problems are too intense in the here and now.

    I would add, rather hesitantly, that perhaps with the existence of a strong moral code based on religion or whatever, perhaps capitalism could ‘stand still’, as those at the top would be compelled by their morals to rein in their acquisitive urges and submit to the needs of others. But that’s a pipe dream, so you have a point.

    PS. I think you mean Purnell – Burnham does sports and such, and seems quite a nice bloke, whereas Purnell’s, er, not…

  13. April 6, 2009 at 8:45 pm

    I don’t know why I do that. I can name every member of the cabinet and their portfolio, but James Purnell and Andy Burnham inspire a mix up. It’s like Richard Cromwell; I always call him Oliver Cromwell’s son / uncle / gigolo and it takes me minutes to remember that he was Cromwell’s brother.

    I do, of course, mean Purnell. Gah.

    There are two different sanctions you’re discussing. The first, the idea of forcing people into jobs, is a preposterous one. If jobs such as McDonalds paid more, were less exploitative and had better working conditions, more people might be inclined to work there. Until we can secure adequate unionisation etc, no one should be forced to work anywhere. Period.

    The second is the idea of sanctions on the basis of these contracts, but you rather missed my earlier point. If the sanctions we’re likely to impose are to withdraw the very services / payments we recognize that these families need, how are we solving the problem? In fact, we’d be perpetuating the problem – a key element of the problem being the absence of these services and payments!

  14. April 6, 2009 at 8:49 pm

    See? I did it again. R. Cromwell was O. Cromwell’s son, not his brother *grumbles*

  15. April 6, 2009 at 9:45 pm

    Well, I disagree on work. For the kids’ sake, if people are turning down work which they’re capable of doing, I have no problem with sanctions. Harsh it maybe, but the kids must come first, and growing up in a workless poor household is worse than growing up in a working poor household.

    And as I’ve said, the question on behaviour-related sanctions is an empirical one, and a matter of cost-benefit: if, during trials of ‘contracting’, the threat of sanctions works to change behaviour, and few sanctions actually need to be used, then it’s worth it. Because if it does actually change behaviour, you won’t need the sanctions, will you – and if it doesn’t then we can try another approach. I agree that actually using sanctions may be counter-productive – but it may not come to that in the majority of cases. It’s something we need to test, rather than a matter for theory alone.

  16. Robert
    April 7, 2009 at 6:52 am

    Poverty again and kids coming from a home which was or is in poverty have problems, bull shit mate plain and utter bull shit.

    I was brought up in a house hold which was nothing but impoverished. I went to school for two years without a blazer, I had to paint my shoes black because my parents could not afford new ones. I did not do PE because my mother just did not have the money. My three brothers grew up knowing what it’s like to be poor and we pulled through because my mother was strong willed.

    I know all my friends were in the same boat wages were rubbish and so were some of the parents, my mother did not smoke did not drink she worked 72 hours a week to make ends meet.

    I knew a very well off family who’s boys went to the same school as us, then went to boarding school before going to Eaton, both her kids are drug addicts one runs a well known company the other is in banking, both are working because of the parents not because of what they are. Their kids one in prison one is in a mental home.

    Parents are what makes the difference, you can pay some parents as much as you like and they piss it up against a wall, poor parenting is the problem not poverty.

    In 1990 after a major accident at work, I was left without the use of my legs, bowel bladder, and I’ve a serious problem now with asbestos’s, we are now brining up two grand kids after my daughter had a break down when her partner died in an accident, we live on £220 a week, in a one bedroom bungalow, believe me the two grandkids are now 13 and 15 and both are well looked after they get everything they need, poverty is only a problem if you allow it yes it’s nice to be able to afford new cars new house but these are material fact, understanding and a dam good parenting skill are needed

  17. April 7, 2009 at 7:14 am

    And yet you have time away from your perfect grandparenting and backbreaking poverty to use the internet and read blogs. Well done.

    John, you may say that kids growing up in a household of no jobs may have a less great start than kids who grow up in a household where their parents have jobs, BUT there are a few other factors to think of also.

    It’s vital to ensure that the unemployed can’t be used as a reservoir of labour to drive down terms and conditions of the rest of the workforce. This is what your road leads to. Instead why not a union of the unemployed, like the Communists organised back in the 1930s?

    Why not a democratic, voluntary organisation that can put the unemployed to work without a) tossing them off the welfare rolls or b) forcing them into some shitty job that undercuts terms and conditions for everyone else?

  18. April 7, 2009 at 12:04 pm

    It might help your cause to be a bit less hostile, Dave! Robert, the fact is that excellent, loving parenting can and does transcend poverty – we all know that. But of course, some things make being a loving parent a lot more difficult – domestic abuse for instance, having been abused as a child, addictions (which may be partly individuals’ own faults, but usually the result of other bad things in their lives). And of course, not everyone has the same resilience or ability to cope with stress, nor the same social support or life history – that’s a fact of life, and all that effects parenting. So you’re being a bit glib I think.

    Dave, surely we can and have put legal safeguards in place to ensure wages and conditions aren’t driven down? And surely reducing unemployment will force wages up in the long run? It’d also free up vast sums of state money to push into community projects and poverty reduction. You have to appreciate the lack of self-esteem and the feelings of worthlessness that result from worklessness – I’m not convinced that’s something that can be replaced by voluntary work etc. It think most people want to look after themselves if they can – but many think they can’t, or that ‘people don’t work round here’, so they might need a step up, a motivator, to convince them they can do it and that they have a responsibility to do it.

  19. April 7, 2009 at 12:12 pm

    Oh, and having done some pretty shitty (literally!) jobs, for pretty shitty wages (I have no-one to support etc so very different, but still) I think you’ve got to understand that even those jobs have prospects if you work hard, they give you links to co-workers, they build your confidence and skills and they leave you knackered but knowing that you’ve earned an honest day’s pay – I don’t think you can underestimate the effects of that for self-esteem. And that passes on to kids. The hardest-working person, taking the most pride in their job, that I swear I will ever meet was someone who stacked shelves in Tesco – and if you’d told her that her job was worthless, that she’d’ve earned the same on benefits, she’d’ve had plenty to say to you.

  20. April 7, 2009 at 12:27 pm

    I have no intention of being less hostile. Any commentator on this blog who starts off with “Do we expect any better from New Labour anymore” when Frank Field isn’t ‘New’ Labour, and then continues to actually contradict his own earlier point by essentially defending the voluntarist notion of society that Field revels in is unlikely to get a warm welcome.

    John, I worked in Tesco for five years. I wasn’t saying that the job is worthless: in fact, working in Tesco, you get a damn sight better treatment than in other jobs. Working in McDonalds for example, where in Belfast they overworked and underpaid the workforce, though nothing could be done since on the basis of their contracts and the fact that they were desperate for work, McDonalds was within its rights to do what it wanted.

    That’s not all, I’m just using it as an example. That said, working in Tesco for 36.5 hours (since they don’t like paying overtime) is not a rewarding job; it builds neither confidence nor skill and the only way to get ahead was to become one of the shit-eating managers, kowtowing before company policy and rolling out with fake smiles whatever corporate prattle was in vogue.

    Seriously, I don’t know how many times I wanted to take the “Team 5″ notice and shove it up my manager’s ass. Not to mention that large swathes of the notices etc are nothing but corporate propaganda at a time when Tesco was being hauled over the coals for tax avoidance, potential monopoly practices, bad treatment of farmers etc.

    As for the contact it gave to a workforce, the new people coming in undermined the terms and conditions of the old. When I joined, staff got time and a half for overtime; the previous lot got double time. The newest lot get time and a quarter, and I suspect by now that overtime pay is on its way to being abolished. How do they get away with that?

    It’s because people need the work. Students and people of pensionable age particularly flock to retail jobs and the problem of unionising such groups is acute. The introduction (or rather the forced creation through mass unemployment) of a ‘flexible’ labour force has meant that all these advantages you’re taking about aren’t there. And jobseekers allowance is not as easy to claim as some tabloids would have us believe.

    In fact, dragging yourself into work day after day, to the fake smiles and the realisation that you’re keeping the General Manager in his BMW whilst he swans off on management jollies is probably one of the most depressing experiences. And I’ve seen the matter from both sides, having spent a fair amount of time unemployed and seeing what it can do to self-esteem.

    However, I always consoled myself with a particular quote:

    “Life is not an easy matter… You cannot live through it without falling into frustration and cynicism unless you have before you a great idea which raises you above personal misery, above weakness, above all kinds of perfidy and baseness.”

    I had my great idea; and since finding rewarding employment I’ve improved further still. But the notion that having a shitty job can’t be just as soul destroying, the notion that the supreme exploitation we visit on our ‘flexible’ (i.e. desperate) labour force can’t be just as demoralising as outright unemployment is plainly laughable.

  21. April 7, 2009 at 1:15 pm

    Ah yes, ‘Team 5′ – you didn’t actually read them did you? I’d forgotten about all that bollocks…I guess we go back to the point about some things working for some people some of the time.

    I’m not saying everyone in Tesco’s was fulfilled or happy – most probably weren’t, but it worked for some people very well; yeah, maybe they’d rather’ve been doing something else, but they were providing for their kids, and paying for their holidays, and that meant a lot to them. Personally, I enjoyed working on the checkouts, would gladly do it again, but it certainly wasn’t as fulfilling as working as an HCA, which was a hell of a lot harder, more tiring and, er, messier; but again, in that role some people made the most of it and others just didn’t take pleasure from it: it’s horses for courses. Everything’s about averages.

    Of course for some people work will be soul-destroying; for others it won’t be – I’d rather people found out. Even when it is, you’re making human contacts, building up a network of people you can rely on, building a CV. And think of the kids growing up knowing that ‘people in my family work’ rather than ‘people in my family get benefits’ – I know which I’d rather have.

    We have to at least make sure people try and realise their potential, instead of writing them off because they don’t believe in themselves – surely that’s crucial? At the same time, of course USDAW etc must fight for better conditions/higher unionisation rates: it’s not either/or, we need both practical help, and a little push in the right direction, I reckon.

  22. April 7, 2009 at 1:32 pm

    Except that you neatly ignore the following: unemployment is prerequisite of post-fordist capitalism. You can prefer what you like, but capitalism means unemployment – anything else is unsustainable, as the Labour and One Nation Tory governments found out following World War II.

    And out of curiosity, what’s wrong with claiming benefits? I don’t see any opprobrium attached to being unemployed, bearing in mind just how intrinsic to the current exploitative economic model it is. We have an obligation to support such people – without forcing them into the sort of jobs you’ve just conceded exist.

    I’d also point out that the current model of welfare is a drastic change on the older, more progressive system – and to return to it would require an increase in general taxation. This in turn raises once again the backlash we’ve spoken of.

    If we’re to ensure parents have the time and energy to look after their children, or that medical disabilities are properly looked after, all the while paying rent, we need a massive restructuring of the economy. We’d have to restore social housing, amongst other things, unless we’re prepared to fund the profits of private landlords.

    You are considering this as though it can be objectively formulated independent of the real world. Even if everyone who has such a job builds their CV, builds a network (don’t make me laugh!) etc, capitalism still requires a large number of people working for very little. So outsourcing, immigration and the movement of industry abroad takes place.

    This is the globalisation you are promoting.

  23. April 7, 2009 at 4:51 pm

    Whether or not unemployment is necessary to capitalism is irrelevant to welfare reform – it’s about, when and where there are jobs, people taking them if they are able, with an element of compulsion and an element of help. Clearly no-one should be penalised when there are no appropriate jobs. There’s nothing wrong with claiming benefits if you need to – but where you’re able to work, you should do so for the sake of your kids and your community, and your own health. After all, there’s no more sure-fire way of staying in poverty than being on benefits (not that work is always a route out, but it’s much more likely to be than staying on benefits).

    I don’t think I ‘conceded such jobs exist’ – my point was that for some people, such jobs will be great opportunities, for some they won’t, but they’re far better opportunities, on average, than no job at all. More people in such work would allow us to provide far more generous benefits to those with disabilities, and money for training for those who’re currently under-skilled. I do wonder, even if we had the wonderful social housing etc you envisage, whether even then you would support welfare reform? You seem content for kids to grow up in homes where their parents simply don’t believe they can work or don’t want to work – that’s a cop out, it’s not good enough, and I find it very odd for someone on the left not to see that.

  24. April 8, 2009 at 9:16 am

    He’s *so* going to cross the floor.

  25. Liberanos
    April 8, 2009 at 11:11 am

    How I love it! Genuine Trots, bold enough to ignore the monitory whining of the capitalist ghosts and monsters running our media and venture into print.

    What we need is a proper people’s state, with free health care, free, universal education, unemployment and sickness benefit, and votes for all.

    How can capitalism ever provide any of this?

    Cuba and North Korea are showing us the way.

    In the meantime, class traitors like Frank Field should be taken before the revolutionary council of the people, so that his crimes may be exposed and his re-education begun.

  26. April 8, 2009 at 11:15 am

    Very droll.

  27. Robert
    April 8, 2009 at 11:34 am

    It is droll it’s what people think within labour, thats why 200,000 packed up and left, thats why Thatcher came to visit Brown, so that Brown could look more Thatcherite then Cameron.

    The big problem with Welfare of course is that you have to find a reason for employers to take on the respnsiablity of employing people. Labour says that 400,000 people who claim depressive illness can and should work. but of copurse taking on and employing somebody who might then try to take his or her life does not make for good employment. Labour said last month that if a person can propel his or her own wheelchair they should be classed as mobile, in the same way that a person with legs is mobile, when I aqsked the question about access, I was told by Labour that 90% of all houses offices and shops are now classed as having access. Yet a council report in myv town reported that 75% of all offices and building of work had yet to make them accessiable to the disabled.

    I once went to my local health board for a medical, the sign said this lift is broken please ring for access, I rang the bell to hear somebody shout down use the stairs, I shouted back I’m in a wheelchair, nothing, I rang that bell for an hour before a lady came down and

  28. April 12, 2009 at 9:37 pm

    @ Alex, he won’t cross the floor. He represents the old right of the Labour Party: and in Birkenhead’s recent history, he probably has a lot of support. In fact, far from being a bastion of socialism Dave, Edmund Dell was MP before him: he wrote a very good book (A Strange and Eventful History) about the history of democratic socialism in the UK and why Labour should just be a socially reformist liberal party. Anyway, I digress. Pop over to http://colenotdole.wordpress.com if you fancy some Tory bashing…

  29. Delboy
    April 17, 2009 at 2:19 pm

    You seem to be able to put up with this shit repeatedly from members of your own party, Semple: so when Field crosses the floor, why not cross it with him? What difference would it make? Precisely none, I’d wager.

  30. April 17, 2009 at 3:27 pm

    I have considered ‘crossing the floor’, as you put it, but it’ll not be to another party in the Commons. I’m wondering through, which party do you support, and why do you think my ‘crossing the floor’ would make no difference?

  31. Robert
    April 17, 2009 at 11:07 pm

    Spot on crossing the floor would make little difference at all. I doubt many would notice the difference if the whole labour party crossed. After all Labour keep running over asking for help from the Tories.

  32. frapou
    April 27, 2009 at 12:52 pm

    I think frank field got it right in the sunday mirror sunday 26th april 2009 stating that our way of life is in danger with the government’s policy on immigration he said that immigrant’s would accountfor 70% OF population growth seven million people in the next 20 year’s

  33. April 27, 2009 at 12:54 pm

    Even were we to accept those figures as true, please tell me how an additional seven million people – of disparate backgrounds and culture – put our ‘way of life’ in danger?

  1. April 6, 2009 at 3:16 pm
  2. April 6, 2009 at 3:51 pm

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