I never delete people on Facebook for holding opinions that are different from mine. As an advocate of free speech, I welcome comments from lunatics, ‘KIPpers and even Tories (Of course, the first two are far from mutually exclusive).
In spite of all that, my Facebook feed around election time reminds me how much I have surrounded myself with woolly, liberal do-gooding pinko space cadets like myself.
To take an arbitrary example, no fewer than 33 of my FB friends “like” the Green Party. Conversely, not a single one of my friends “likes” the Conservative Party.
So, it should have come as no surprise today that my Facebook news feed reads like a Euripidean tragedy. Between gnashing of teeth, pulling of hair and crying into gluten-free yofu muesli, we had:
“I’m so, so sad”
“FUCK YOU ENGLAND”
“I can’t believe it. Devastated.”
Then I realised: We need to stop being unhappy. In every country of the world, including even formerly socialist places like Sweden, corporate control has made politics redundant. What you do or don’t do at the ballot box pales into insignificance compared with what you buy, where you bank and how you spend your time. We still have the power as consumers and (non-)workers to change the world should we wish to.
I voted Green and then went to Tescos on the way home and bought bacon and used their free plastic bags. That makes me as deluded and confused as the working class people who vote for ultra-capitalist UKIP.
Similarly, those people who are moaning about the election results, yet continuing to work for global companies whilst taking out credit cards and loans to buy shit they don’t need that’s been made in sweatshops from conflict minerals by third world slaves are just as hypocritical as me.
On a global scale, we are the 1%. We blame the Tories, but don’t realise that it is us, yes you and me who are the enemy….
The reason “they” have it all is that we all want what they have. It’s called false consciousness. The only way out of this mess is to create a system with values other than “their” values.
Those who are too chicken shit to consider a sustainable, anti-growth economic model may as well just quit moaning and get out there and make some money.
Liked this? Now read: Whatever happened to the leisure society?
“Did someone just go into the shed?” asked my housemate.
We walked over to the shed and opened the door. A man came out. He was wearing a boiler suit: The uniform from the Mini factory down the road. “What are you doing?” we asked. “Sleeping,” said the man in the shed. He had an Eastern European accent and was clean-shaven. He obviously had a job, but must have been ‘between houses’ at the moment. My husband said “I’m really sorry, but you can’t sleep here.”
The man left.
A few days later, I could have sworn the shed door was at a different angle from the way it had been the night before.
The next day, I looked at the shed door again. It had definitely moved. The lawn was growing longer now that spring was here and there was a path in the grass where our shed lodger had been walking. He must have been coming in and out during the night while we were asleep.
Should I tell my husband and housemate? We should probably lock the shed to prevent our visitor from coming back. Maybe we could corner the guy and ask him for some minimal rent? Perhaps he could mow the lawn.
I had a pang of conscience. The homeless guy wasn’t causing any kind of nuisance. Other than breaking local council regulations on beds in sheds. For now, I would keep quiet.
But my daily shed vigil continued. Each morning, the door was in a slightly different position and the path in the grass was even more pronounced.
Yesterday, I told my husband and housemate. We went into the shed and found a sleeping bag, a small bag of clothes and a couple of books. We bought a padlock from Fred’s hardware store over the road, locked the shed and put the meagre belongings under the gazebo on the lawn.
This morning, the bag of clothes and sleeping bag had gone.
So we carry on with our lives. Me writing articles about homelessness for the compassion research centre website while my husband looks at properties to buy on Rightmove.
So, the latest figures show that Oxford has again received the dubious accolade of being the most expensive city in the UK to buy a house.
Anna White’s daily Telegraph article here more or less sums it up.
It has occurred to me that one of the primary reason of this statistic is that wages in academia are in free fall, with so much work being done by junior academics and Post-Grads.
The article I wrote on the subject gives a pretty decent overview/explanation for those interested:
The media reaction – both through official and unofficial channels – to the news in France has made fascinating reading and viewing over the last few days and has run the full gamut of political opinion.
Progressive media like Films For Action took the line that we should treat this tragedy like any other killing spree. Here’s an excerpt from the Films For Action article:
“What happened today, according to current reports, is that two men went on a killing spree. Their killing spree, like most killing sprees, will have some thin rationale. Even the worst villains believe themselves to be heroes. But in truth, it was unprovoked slaughter. The fault lies with no one but them and their accomplices. Their crime isn’t explained by cartoons or religion. Plenty of people read Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons and managed to avoid responding with mass murder. Plenty of people follow all sorts of religions and somehow get through the day without racking up a body count. The answers to what happened today won’t be found in Charlie Hebdo’s pages. They can only be found in the murderers’ sick minds.”
It is an unfortunate internal contradiction of the West that freedom has to include the freedom to not believe in freedom. But how much any society can tolerate intolerant people remains to be seen. An unusually wide range of views was given oxygen, including those uncomfortable right wing views which tend to be suppressed on things like the Channel 4 News.
This all gives credence to the idea that freedom of the press is something worth preserving.
Mic.com’s Mark Cogan wore his metaphorical “Je suis Charlie” badge with pride, in this article, saying
“The events of Wednesday remind us of the striking fact that at least 66 journalists were killed in 2014, many for daring to express unpopular or dangerous ideas, to speak truth to power and to tell the stories that powerful institutions around the world, from terror groups to transnational corporates, would rather not have told. Now more than ever is the time to stand forcefully against those who seek to silence criticism or expression through violence and terror.”
Perhaps the most interesting perspective – and one which has been given very little coverage is the view from inside Islam. Most notably, the tensions between the moderate and fundamentalist strains of the religion and how they view each other. A really good explanation of this can be found on Juan Cole’s blog here. The basic crux of his argument goes:
“…in polling, only a third, less than 2 million, say that they are interested in religion. French Muslims may be the most secular Muslim-heritage population in the world (ex-Soviet ethnic Muslims often also have low rates of belief and observance). Many Muslim immigrants in the post-war period to France came as laborers and were not literate people, and their grandchildren are rather distant from Middle Eastern fundamentalism, pursuing urban cosmopolitan culture such as rap and rai. In Paris, where Muslims tend to be better educated and more religious, the vast majority reject violence and say they are loyal to France. Al-Qaeda wants to mentally colonize French Muslims, but faces a wall of disinterest. But if it can get non-Muslim French to be beastly to ethnic Muslims on the grounds that they are Muslims, it can start creating a common political identity around grievance against discrimination. This tactic is similar to the one used by Stalinists in the early 20th century.”
Further insight into the Muslim mindset was voiced by Catherine Guilyardi on this Al Jazeera news piece. Catherine says that everyone – Muslim and Non-Muslim – need to unite against Fascism.
“Fascism is the rejection of people who are not like me and do not believe like I believe… The Middle East is the first victim of this fascism with what is happening with Daesh (ISIS)”
Clearly, yesterday’s news threw into relief the fact that we in Europe and the Middle East are currently grappling with the question of how much intolerance we can tolerate.
The most important thing about all the media hype is to not get caught up in the frenzy. Ten people will die in car accidents today in France, but the TV will not have special reports into car death. Or heart disease. Or cancer. It’s also interesting to note that not a single newspaper or TV report I’ve seen asks the question of why these men have Kalashnikovs lying around. If this had been a white-on-white killing, the news would have been dominated by gun regulation chatter.
The incident is being used by lots of people to further their own agenda, be it liberal, fascist or something in between. For all its intelligent or interesting analysis, the media is a spectacle. The best way to react to all of this might be to turn off your TV and be good to the people around you.
It appears that London’s commuters have been attacked by anarchists telling them they need to stop working.
For those struggling to live and pay rent in the world’s most expensive city, those posters probably won’t cut much mustard.
However, the posters are indeed correct.
Revolution will only happen the day the working class realize they don’t have to work. It is only work which makes someone working class.
Socialists (as opposed to anarchists) on the other hand, are convinced that jobs are a great thing. They hold miners’ strikes and march for the ‘right to work’. Which means that Marxism might not be the best hope for the poor after all.
I wrote a blog about this a while ago, which explains all this. It’s here, if you haven’t already read it.
As well as the breath-taking honey-coloured stone, the famous dreaming spires and the tweed-clad Dons, the one thing that many visitors first notice is the number of homeless people on Oxford’s streets. Indeed, the homeless in Oxford are as numerous as they are visible. On any one night in Oxford, there are dozens of rough sleepers, hundreds more in hostels and thousands more ‘sofa surfing’ or sharing three or more to a room (making Oxford the UK’s 4th biggest ‘homelessness hotspot’). Some two miles away on the outskirts of town, the Oxford ring road is choked with stationary traffic at rush hour. Commuting to Abingdon or Whitney is the stuff of misery for a huge proportion of those who work in the city. These two seemingly disparate facts (homelessness and traffic) are, of course, intimately connected: Oxford is in the midst of a housing crisis. And the trouble is, there are no easy solutions. In spite of what commentators on the left and the right might have us believe.
The lack of housing cuts through all sections of society and is not reserved for some imagined underclass. Wages and job security in publishing and academia are enjoying a race to the bottom while property prices are continuing to out-perform the rest of the UK. The average property price is an eye-watering £380,000, while wages hover at around 1/12th of this figure. Simply put, Oxford is the country’s most expensive place to live, in proportion to wages.
The situation for Oxford’s less-well-off is, of course, even worse. The maximum housing benefit is £800 a month for a parent and child. A quick look at Rightmove reveals that the cheapest 2-bed property in town costs £865. You can, as they say, do the math. The Government’s so-called bedroom tax does not get a look-in here.
As we move further down the social scale, beyond town and gown towards down-and-out, the picture is even gloomier. The number of new arrivals at homeless shelters is growing by the day, yet the council has cut the hostel budget by 1/3rd. Many of what me might glibly call ‘normal’ people are now destitute, due to something as simple as falling out with a partner or losing their job. Most of the new arrivals were not into drugs or drink – until they slept rough for a couple of nights, that is.
Housing crisis affects all walks of society: The homeless panhandler, the debt-laden student, the impecunious young professional, the struggling single mum, the miserable commuter. But how can we really, honestly, help them? How about we think about supply and demand? Or, as Oxford Labour party say, let’s build more houses. If you look at a map, much of Oxford’s geographical centre is green. The colleges own plenty of marsh land, pastures and playing fields which could be used to house Oxford’s poor, or so the narrative goes. The City Council has outlined the development (NIMBYS-notwithstanding) of around 10,000 homes in the next fifteen years, including a new garden city at Bicester. Unfortunately, this still leaves a shortfall of 20,000 when compared to its own estimates of population growth.
The council is in constant wranglings with itself over various building projects. It recently tried to build housing association homes for over 3,000 people in a new complex near the Kassam stadium, but it was wisely blocked by the Green party. I say wisely, not because I especially care about the no doubt very beautiful sparrows, earwigs and dormice in the proposed location, but because – I’m sorry to say – it is a fallacy that building houses reduces housing demand. Just as building motorways increases traffic, building more housing attracts more people.
Expanding a city attracts more people. There are already twenty thousand or so miserable commuters who’d love to move back to the city, let alone all the service industry staff – by which, of course, I mean immigrants – who would flock to a growing Oxford if it were to expand. Oxford’s reputation as a city of scientific research and a publishing mecca outwith the academy mean it will always have top people setting up great start-ups. The Universities themselves are, of course, growing exponentially, stuffing in more international students, as well as the home grown elite who are willing to shell out the fees for the word “Oxford” on their degree. Building new developments would merely serve to line the pockets of construction companies and landlords, which I can’t help but think is the real motivation behind the purported ‘public good’ of building more homes.
As is so often the case with macroscopic, top-down thinking, seemingly attractive technological solutions ultimately mask a deeper structural problem. Houses have become properties – commodities to be bought and sold. Student towns, pretty towns and towns near London are even more susceptible to house price inflation than most. Oxford is all three of these. The likelihood of Oxford University’s reputation waning any time soon is pretty slim. It made it through the last 1,000 years in good shape. As long as The West remains the ideological gatekeeper of knowledge, an investment in Oxford property looks like a no-brainer.
In saner countries than Britain, these problems have been solved by introducing rent caps or clamping down on buy-to-let. But there are no guarantees. Rent caps in Berlin held back astronomical rent rises, but the city is becoming less affordable to locals by the day. There really are no simple solutions to Oxford’s housing crisis, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do what we can. We may not be able to make the Government put the needs of its citizens before that of the banks, but each of us can be conscious of the housing needs of those around us and ensure that we act with compassion towards the homeless this Christmas.