Nick Clegg and the “Total abdication of responsibility”

I wonder if Russell Brand had any idea just how much debate and analysis he would ignite when he shoved his wrecking ball off through the political sphere last week. Every wannabe journalist, writer and political commentator with an internet connection has weighed in on Brand’s controversial disillusionment with British politics, myself included. And in fact, I’m currently working on another Brand flavoured blog hopefully coming your way in the next few days.

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A heartfelt plea to friends and young people everywhere – please, don’t listen to Russell Brand!

There are a great deal of people on various social media feeds today sharing the Jeremy Paxman/Russell Brand interview with declarations of affinity for Brand’s ‘fuck the system’ attitude. If you haven’t seen the interview (link below) it really is worth a watch, Brand makes some very good points and Paxman really does have the most wonderful beard, but the comedian’s ultimate message is one that infuriates me into an uncontrollable typing frenzy (exhibit A).
I’m all for raising political awareness and encouraging people to voice any disillusion they might have with the current political climate, as I hope was Brand’s ultimate motive, but by encouraging people not to vote he will do more harm than good.
However broken the system may be it is the only one we have and by not voting you may do more damage than you can imagine – every vote wasted by the young and socio-economically deprived might as well be a vote for the Tories. I’m not saying vote for the best of a bad bunch, spoil your ballot paper if you must, but for your own sake vote!
As Sinn Fein say, vote early and vote often!

It’s the only way your voice will be heard no matter how angry your tone. Its all well and good for Russell Brand to sit in a cosy hotel room enjoying the luxuries of his fame while denouncing the political system but we won’t all have the opportunity to announce our discontent so publicly, no matter how many Facebook friends like our online rants or shares of this interview (yes I am aware of the irony, thank you). We can mouth all we want on social media about the ‘lies, treachery and deceit’ but unless you go out and vote with your feet in the next general election in 2015 it will count for absolutely nothing.

Get on the electoral register and vote.
For anyone who still believes that voting won’t make a damn bit of difference, open a history book to any page and enlighten yourself to how much better things would be if people had decided not to vote on issues such as health, education, welfare, justice, social equality or foreign policy.
In particular I’d ask all women and Northern Irish Catholics to bear in mind the struggle and human sacrifice that was made for your right to vote.
The system still isn’t perfect but Christ, its been a hell of a lot worse.

The House of Commoners

Last week I shared a collection of statistics that have been floating around on the social media sphere which, understandably so, have been creating a stir of discontent among the voting public. It went something like this:

“Can you imagine working for a company that has little more than 635 employees, but has the following employee statistics:
29 have been accused of spouse abuse
7 have been arrested for fraud
9 have been accused of writing bad cheques
17 have directly or indirectly bankrupted at least 2 businesses
3 have done time for assault
71 cannot get a credit card due to bad credit
14 have been arrested on drug-related charges
8 have been arrested for shoplifting
21 are currently defendants in lawsuits
84 have been arrested for drink driving in the last year
And collectively, this year alone, they have cost the British tax payer £92, 993, 748 in expenses.”

The organisation in question was of course the House of Commons, the main legislative body in the UK. Yes, that’s right, the law-makers in this (apparently) Great Britain have among them more than a handful of law-breakers.

And are we surprised?
Hardly.

It’s common knowledge that politicians are all crooks and liars, only out for themselves. Ask any barfly or taxi driver and they’ll waste no time in telling you all about it. The MPs expenses scandal of recent years certainly convinced us so. What’s that old saying? ‘The last person to enter Parliament with honest intentions was Guy Fawkes’.
Interestingly though, Guy Fawkes was a trespasser in West Minster, the crooks and liars of the House of Commons have all been democratically elected by the people, us, the persevering voting public. Those of us who, when election time nears, look through the list of MP wanna-bes, listen to them spout the usual old tripe about community spirit, economic development, education and old people, watch them open hospital wards and kiss babies and then go along on election day and tick the box of the least irritating/most comical name. But we don’t trust them. We pick the best of a bad bunch because none of us are perfect, we can hardly expect our MPs to be so.

But seeing the misdemeanors of our democratically elected Members of Parliament listed neatly in a who’s who of robbing bastards, somehow despite all our prior suspicions and assumptions, it still holds an element of shock.
Personally, I’ve never done time for assault or been responsible for bankrupting a business or two, I have my faults, I’ll be the first to admit it. But then I am not currently responsible for the pulling the country out of economic disaster or improving the general state of the healthcare or education systems. I mean… I’ll give it a go if they want, but I’m not promising miracles. Which is why I don’t expect them from our MPs.
As much as I’d like to imagine our political leaders are some super-human Justice League of educated, morally upright do-gooders it is reassuring to know that despite the thousands of pounds spent on the Eton and Oxbridge educations of the likes of Cameron and Osbourne, the boys at the top are just as common as the peasants they serve.

Around 80, 000 people are caught drink driving every year. The figures for domestic abuse are shocking (to give you an idea, two women a week are killed by a current or former partner) and as for the poor credit, well with the current economic disaster we’re probably all a little guilty of that one. But in general, the offences of our MPs are very much common offences in the UK. One would imagine then, that those in the glass houses of Parliament would not go throwing stones, but then, one is never surprised by the contemptible actions of a politician.

Recently the Government have been building up a profile of benefit claimants in the UK – those whose curtains are still closed when the hardworking taxpayers are on their way to the office, those who are perfectly content to sit back in their council flats watching their widescreen TVs, smoking, drinking and filling their truant children with ready meals from Iceland. What a pretty picture the Coalition Government has painted of our more dependent or deprived neighbours – the scum of society, the wife-beaters and drink-drivers, the drug-addicts who cheat our grannies out of their pensions, thieves, felons, fraudsters… hmmm, I guess it does take one to know one.
But I shall not get into that particular kettle of fish today.
I will just make one simple suggestion.

If we must accept that our democratically elected members of parliament are just as corrupt and dishonest as the sector of society they are quickest to condemn, surely we can make it all a little more transparent. The fact that an MP has been guilty of writing bad cheques has not the slightest impact on my day-to-day life, saving the unlikely occurrence that cheque is being written to me, but I don’t particularly want him divvying up the exchequer come budget time. However, if a politician likes to indulge in a little powdering of the nose at the weekend, I would be more than a little concerned about their job performance, and thoroughly pissed off if they were claiming it on expenses.
So this is what I propose.

The voting public are perfectly aware of the imperfect nature of their MPs criminal records and personal reputations. Some of these misdemeanors we are willing to tolerate on the condition that they shape up and successfully prevent the country from falling in on itself. We just need to know everything up front, honesty and clarity are the best policy.

The easiest option?
Top Trumps.

Come election time, a pack of Top Trump cards displaying the strengths and weaknesses, vices and virtues of our potential Parliamentary representatives should be delivered to every home so the voting public can decide the best candidate for the job through PR-free, good old-fashioned fun.
I can picture it now…

Mr. Joe Soap, Labour Party
Strengths: Promotes local business, job creation and regulating the banks.
Weaknesses: Recreational Cannabis user, wears socks with sandals.

Would he get your vote?

An Honest Crust – Making the minimum living wage

Since graduating in 2010 I have somehow managed to sustain an (almost entirely) independent lifestyle through bar and restaurant work – a concept which seems even more unbelievable with reports today that 90% of bar and restaurant staff earn less than is required to maintain a basic standard of living.

The news isn’t entirely shocking. I’ve worked up to three jobs at a time and still struggled to meet rent, bills and not starving myself for the month. Thankfully I’ve always had the reassurance of financial support from my parents when I really need it, fifty quid to keep me alive until the end of the month, an ASDA shop to ensure I’m not just eating cereal and Pot Noodles.

Of course not everyone is quite so lucky. For most what they take home from their overworked, underpaid restaurant job is all they have to rely on in life, or to support their family. It’s easy to imagine why people feel their only option is to avoid paying tax by taking cash in hand or doing the double, drawing the dole and taking whatever benefits they might be entitled to. It’s not so difficult to cheat the system when it’s a case of eating a solid meal or not.

I’ve seen people do it. I’ve watched friends live in a cold, dark shell of a council flat listening to the electricity metre beeping every half an hour, walking the streets rather than going back to the misery their wages can afford them. But then I’ve also watched those same friends hand over their last few pounds for a box of cigarettes and put a week’s wages in the poker machine on payday. Desperate times, stupid measures.

But how people spend their money isn’t really the issue here, I for one will always live beyond my means, to my own detriment, and that of my mother’s credit card no doubt. We can’t tell people how to spend their money (we could educate them about how they could budget or start saving, but that’s another rant for another day). The concerning bit of this report is the stark difference in what is deemed the minimum wage that people need and the minimum wage they actually receive.  Employers are only legally required to pay their staff one pound less an hour than they actually need to live comfortably, eat properly and help maintain a healthy lifestyle. The message from these employers is simple – we don’t need you to live comfortably, eat well or stay healthy, we just need you to turn up, fill the tills and keep your head down.

And this is what the report doesn’t tell us. Up to 90% of bar and restaurant staff are underpaid, but exactly to what extent they are overworked or underappreciated isn’t noted. We work long, stressful shifts, late nights, working with chefs (who are, as a race of people, generally bastards), biting our lip as we try, tirelessly, to accommodate customers at their most rude, demanding and inebriated because as much we would like to punch the foulmouthed, difficult drunk in the face, we need the tips. We need the tips to get a taxi home after our fourteen hour shift, to pick up bread and milk on the way so we can have tea and toast after picking at chips off the pass all day, or ever more likely, so we can walk to the next bar still serving and drown our miserable sorrows at being stuck in a menial job, enduring humanity at its most obnoxious while earning pittance.

That one pound extra an hour might not magically bestow good manners or patience on the general public, or make them any less of a git when intoxicated, but it might help us feel we are getting what we’re owed, that we’re earning an honest crust, that our work is not so menial, because we work pretty hard.

Actually, I retract that. Most other bar and waiting staff work hard and earn pittance. In the last few months I broke into the 10%, I earn above the minimum living wage, and honestly, I don’t have to work all that hard. I enjoy my job. I work as a supervisor in a small student bar where I am practically encouraged to berate bad manners or attitude as a kind of educational process. We close for the weekend and the summer holidays so I have the time and energy to try and become a writer (you know, because it’s such a well paid and rewarding profession). I work with my best friends. I have the greatest job ever, because it’s an honest crust. I’m paid well for the work I do, my employers show me respect, have faith in my ability and consider my contribution to be worth more than menial or minimum wage. It’s not a lot to ask, but it’s very much appreciated when you get it.

David Cameron’s Naughty Step

Ladies and gentlemen, you may want to take a seat for this. It may shock and surprise you but I can assure you, it’s in the Guardian this morning, so it must be true.

A groundbreaking report due to be published this Monday has confirmed that “tougher prison sentences reduce crime” and “levels of police activity and staffing – have a direct impact on criminal activity”. Can you hear the countrywide vast intake of breath as an entire nation utters the same three words: “no fucking shit.”

So this latest report in the series of pointless social research provides more evidence to confirm something else we already bloody knew. Of course greater punishment will discourage further offending and ‘DUH’ if there are more police on the beat they are going to prevent crime or at least bring more criminals to justice – its basic maths. A small child could have written this report in crayon on the living room wall.

In fact, a small child probably has the answer to all Mr Cameron’s problems at the minute.

When children reach that enviable stage of knowledge when they know the difference between right and wrong, understand that wrong-doing is punished, right rewarded and repeatedly throwing your plastic spoon from your highchair is in fact not funny – at that point, children are the centre of all universal knowledge. They have learned the basic underlying foundations of society, mostly from Ceebeebies and the Disney Channel, but they care not a jot how the whole thing is implemented outside of their own playschool.

This small child could explain it to old Dave – it’s simple, someone gets sick, they go to hospital, doctor and nurse make them better. They understand that if many people get sick and need to go to hospital, you might need more hospitals, more doctors, more nurses.

The tot could also inform Cameron how the ‘time out step’ is meant to work – you bite your little brother, you get five minutes on the naughty step and you sit there for five minutes and think about what you’ve done – not two and half minutes playing Grand Theft Auto on a Playstation 3 – the full five minutes, focusing on the crime. Chances are you probably won’t go biting your little brother again – you might throw something at him instead.

They also understand basic policing – a parent may be able to keep three or four children in check and in one piece, but at a birthday party when there might be up to ten or fifteen kids running riot – the parents bring in reinforcements.

And kids at that age – they know exactly what they are going to be when they grow up. They want to be princess, so when they’re old enough, they’ll start wearing a tiara and go to the castle, or they want to be a fireman, so when they grow up they’ll get a big truck and go work at the fire station – it’s simple. See Dave, simple!

Unfortunately, like all ideas of innocence, they are complicated by the question of money.

Although having watched well educated, experienced bankers fuck it up over the past few years, it probably couldn’t hurt to put a small child in charge for a while.

But Cameron will undoubtedly ignore the small child’s very useful advice, at least until he needs to be re-elected, then they’ll do well for a photo opportunity. He will continue to release criminals after half serving half their sentence because it saves him a jolly amount. He will cut police numbers and later wonder where the bloody hell the Bobbies were when his car got nicked! And he will continue to bustle about in number ten with his plans to make my generation not only jobless, but homeless to boot.

Thatcher stole our milk – but Dave’s determined to steal any future we might have had.