England in 2019

A racist cad caught lying to the Queen;

The house dismissed so he can do his will:

Negotiate a ‘deal’ no one has seen,

While gambling those who watch him will say, “Still,

At least he’ll get us out by Hallowe’en,

And save, each week, three-hundred-fifty mill.”

A brother choosing water over blood,

Knows all the games he tries with us to play.

Sunlit uplands? No, but enough food –

At least till we can find another way,

And after that bleached chicken might sound good,

To those who thought they truly never could.

Yet hope remains that those he lies to may

Still send him packing come election day.

 

(With apologies, again, to Percy Bysshe Shelley)

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The Mask of Austerity

As I heard, on the BBC,
“There is no magic money tree!”
A powerful voice called out to me
To walk in the visions of Poesy.

I met Murder on the way—
She had a mask like Mrs May
Stable, strong, in heels of fur,
Seven blood-hounds followed her

All were fat; and well they might
Be in admirable plight
For one by one, and two by two
She tossed them human hearts to chew
Which from her wide cloak she drew.

From the Bahamas, next came Fraud
In pearls and trouser suit, like Rudd;
Her big tears, for she wept well,
Turned to mill-stones as they fell.

And the little children, who
Round her feet played to and fro,
Thinking every tear a gem,
Had their brains knocked out by them.

Disheveled, like a bumbling fool,
But truly, calculated, cool,
Like Johnson next, Hypocrisy
On a Routemaster rode by.

And many more Destructions played
In this ghastly masquerade,
While loudly braying, at their tail,
The Express, The Sun, the Daily Mail.

Last came Austerity: he rode
On a white horse, splashed with blood
He was pale even to the lips
Like Death in the Apocalypse.

And he wore a kingly crown;
And in his grasp a sceptre shone;
On his brow this mark I saw—
“I AM GOD, AND KING, AND LAW!’

With a pace stately and fast,
Over English land he passed
Trampling to a mire of blood
The adoring multitude.

In hospitals the sick and ill
Expired in corridors, and still
The waiting lists just kept on growing;
Austerity approved this slowing,

While nurses saw wages stagnated,
Contributions underrated,
For ‘many and complex’ reasons some
Would queue at food banks for a crumb.

Demoralized, doctors did strike,
Still, Jeremy Hunt said, “On your bike!
We’ll grind you to the ground then, yes,
We’ll privatize the NHS.”

“And as for those who benefits claim,
They must take their share of the blame.
Our handouts have been far too lax,
Let’s slap on them a bedroom tax!

“Their doctors may say they’re unwell,
But really, who are they to tell?”
So at their bedsides ATOS lurked
To—quick—pronounce them fit to work.

While mothers waded through red tape
To prove their children borne of rape
For ‘twould offend our Lord above
To feed a child conceiv’d of love.

Our Lord Austerity in schools
Pronounced all the Headteachers fools
Who couldn’t make their sums add up:
“Just hand around the begging cup!”

“Next,” cried that snatching, pilfering bunch.
“Let’s rob the infants of their lunch!
We won’t get caught for that of course—
We’ve already cut our police force.”

And while they cut things to the bone,
The Brexiteers got on the phone
To sort out our post Brexit trade—
(Our workers’ rights they’d surely raid).

“We will sell the Saudis arms,
We’ll export innovative jams,
But no, don’t export education—
That’s a cause of immigration.”

Then all cried with one accord,
“Thou art King, and God, And Lord;
Austerity, to thee we bow,
Be thy name made holy now!”

And Austerity, the Skeleton,
Bowed and grinned to every one,
As well as if his education
Had cost ten millions to the nation.

For he knew the Palaces
Of our Kings were rightly his;
His the sceptre, Crown, and globe,
And the gold inwoven robe.

So he sent his slaves before
To seize upon the Bank and Tower
And was proceeding with intent
To meet his pensioned Parliament

When one fled past, in tie of red
And his name was Hope, he said:
But he looked more like Despair,
And he cried out in the air:

“My father Time is weak and gray
With waiting for a better day;
See how idiot-like he stands,
Fumbling with his palsied hands!

“He has had child after child,
And the dust of death is piled
Over every one but me—
Misery, oh Misery!”

Then he lay down in the street,
Right before the horses feet,
Expecting, with a patient eye,
Murder, Fraud, Austerity.

When between him and his foes
A mist, a light, an image rose
Small at first, and weak, and frail
Like the vapour of a vale:

Till as clouds grow on the blast,
Like tower-crowned giants striding fast,
And glare with lightnings as they fly
And speak in thunder to the sky.

It grew—a Shape arrayed in mail
A planet, like the Morning’s, lay;
And those plumes its light rained through
Like a shower of crimson dew.

With step as soft as wind it passed
O’er the heads of men—so fast
That they knew the presence there,
And looked,—but all was empty air.

As flowers beneath May’s footstep waken,
As stars from Night’s loose hair are shaken,
As waves arise when loud winds call,
Thoughts sprung where’er that step did fall.

And the prostrate multitude
Looked—and ankle-deep in blood,
Hope, that gentleman, serene,
Was walking with a quiet mien:

Austerity, the ghastly birth,
Lay dead earth upon the earth;
The Horse of Death tameless as wind
Fled, and with his hoofs did grind
To dust the murderers thronged behind.

A rushing light of clouds and splendour,
A sense awakening and yet tender
Was heard and felt—and at its close
These words of joy and fear arose

“Men of England, heirs of Glory
Heroes of unwritten story,
Nurslings of one mighty Mother,
Hopes of her, and one another;

“Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you—
Ye are many—they are few.”

 

(Largely lifted from Percy Bysshe Shelley)

The Eton Rifles (Or, The Tragedy of the British Left)

[First published at https://supupyourbeer.wordpress.com/ , July 2016]

I’ve been thinking a lot about The Eton Rifles these last few days. Paul Weller’s re-imagining of a real incident from 1978: a Right to Work march in Slough during which a fight broke out between a break-off group of marchers and a crowd of Eton boys who had been jeering at them in their lunch break. The working class lads prove no match for the Eton boys, muscular rugby players trained in the college cadet corps; most run off home leaving and the few that remain to take a beating. One of David Cameron’s favourite songs, prompting Weller to ask, “Which part of it didn’t he get?”

As Jeremy Corbyn stands “like a guilty schoolboy”, increasingly isolated in the Commons with Eton’s finest jeering from across the benches, it’s hard not to think that we’ve been here before and we all know how it ends for the left: beaten and bloody, with sick down our shirts. Bitter recriminations will follow for the ones who left him standing there, but the real tragedy is that the odds were so stacked that it was hard to see it going any other way.

Just take a peep in their artillery room: the establishment, the press, all on their side, the big guns all lined up and ready to do whatever they need to do to protect the interests of the elite. We’ve seen it again and again. Try to offer even the tiniest alternative to the status quo and the sell-swords of the right wing press are ready on command. Look at Ed Miliband: his father’s adolescent jottings rolled out under the headline “The man who hated Britain”; Cameron’s father defrauds the country of millions in tax revenue hidden in offshore funds in Panama and it’s a private matter and a fuss about nothing that will “only serve to deter good people from politics”.   Propose a modest ‘mansion tax’ and the Telegraph warns of an economic disaster, with mass exodus of ‘wealth creators’ and ensuing job losses; Johnson and Gove suggest we leave the EU and the same paper dismisses predictions of doom and gloom as “scaremongering”, promising “a world of opportunity” if we go. Sun readers are warned that voting for Miliband’s Labour will leave Nicola Sturgeon calling the shots, while the idea that Scottish independence and the break up of the Union would be an inevitable result of a vote to leave the EU meets a conspiracy of silence in the press. And alongside all this there’s the constant drip, drip, drip of xenophobic whisperings, misdirecting the anger of the dispossessed towards immigrants rather than the ruling class, the oldest and most effective trick in the book, and, as Marx said, “the secret of the impotence of the English working class”.

And so we find ourselves with a parliamentary Labour party full of people who believe, faced with the hostile press, that all they can do is appease them in the hope of being elected on a platform that’s slightly less nasty than the Tories will offer. The disgrace of a party so cowed that it could not even bring itself to vote against an austerity budget that introduced measures so severe to have now been denounced by the UN as in breach of human rights. The disaster that in the world’s fifth largest economy (as was) desperate people are queuing up at food banks in ever greater numbers to eat, the poorest squeezed and squeezed and squeezed again to fund tax breaks at the top. And the shame of a group of MPs so scared to show that there could be any last bit of red left in the Labour party that they couldn’t even unite behind Ed Miliband let alone Jeremy Corbyn, despite the clear wishes of their members. And maybe they’re right, for after all “What chance have you got against a tie and a crest?”. Maybe with the odds are stacked so much against us the best we can hope is to sneak a few years in government every now and then in which we get to be a bit less nasty than the Tories, just so long as we still let those at the top carry on with the business of getting filthy rich (and paying at least some of their taxes).

But these are extraordinary times. Through the staggering recklessness and foolish miscalculations of Eton rivals looking solely to further their own careers, the country is changed forever and the establishment at least temporarily weakened. Extraordinary times can achieve extraordinary things; in the US the depression brought FDR and the New Deal, and never forget it was the Labour Party who were able to build our NHS out of the rubble of the Second World War. If Labour could just pull themselves together and get their full forces behind a genuine alternative offering, well, if not now, then when? Alas, though, the shameful behaviour of the centre right of the party in launching their long-planned coup just as the country and the party needed them to stand firm leaves the chances of them standing together on anything looking slight.   Instead, it seems likely that we’ll be left with the party split to pieces while the Tories lift themselves up and restore their stranglehold on the country. But not to rise to the battle now is more dangerous than ever; the once Labour heartlands, so long left behind by the Labour party, have voted for revolution, and are waiting to see it delivered. The Tories who gave them their “Leave” will let them down, of course, and things are about to get very nasty. There was a time where they voted Labour or simply stayed home because they had nowhere else to go. But now they do have somewhere else to go, and it’s not pretty. With Nigel Farage already riding high on a wave of anti-establishment disaffection, if the left of the Labour party cannot be supported to deliver a genuinely new deal for working people, we had better hope that the right of the party can come up with something more convincing than “Vote Labour, Win a Microwave”, or UKIP will do in England and Wales what the SNP have already managed in Scotland, and we’ll be left wondering whether we have the stomach to come back again next week, or just stay home hoping rain stops play.

The Eton Rifles, David Cameron’s favourite song. Which part of it didn’t he get? Actually, I think he got it well enough. He may have just had the wind knocked out of him, but give him a chance to get his breath and it won’t be long until he’s pogoing to it again while the rest of us burn.

We’re Going on a (Ministry Approved) Bear Hunt

[First published at https://ministryapprovedbearhunt.wordpress.com/, May 2016]

We’re going on a bear hunt.

Hem, hem.

We’re going to catch a big one.

            Hem, hem.

Excuse me? Did you want something?

 

I just wanted to let you know that I will be observing today’s bear hunt, on behalf of the Ministry. There have been reports of failing standards, so I am here to provide the Minister with some proper on-the-ground feedback on the situation.

 Oh, okay. So what should I…

Just carry on. As you were!

Right, well…

We’re going on a bear hunt.

We’re going to catch a big one.

What a beautiful day!

Hem, hem.

Yes?

You appear to be trying to make an exclamation.

Yes, that’s right. I did exclaim, didn’t I? I exclaimed, “What a beautiful day!”. Is there a problem with that?

 Well, it’s just that the Minister would prefer all exclamations to be made, where possible, using Ministry approved exclamation sentences.

 Ministry approved what?

Ministry approved exclamation sentences. Your utterance, ‘What a beautiful day!’, though used to make an exclamation, does not meet the standards for Ministry approval, as it doesn’t take the form of an exclamation sentence. You see, and I quote, “An exclamation must be introduced by a phrase with ‘what’ or ‘how’ and should be followed by a subject + verb + any other elements. It is typically demarcated by an exclamation mark”. Your utterance – I won’t dignify it with the label ‘sentence’ – falls short as it is missing the all-important ingredient of a verb.

Oh, okay. So you want me to put a verb in?

 Well yes, if this is going to be a Ministry Approved bear hunt, you had better do just that.

 Right then. So,

We’re going on a bear hunt.

We’re going to catch a big one.

What a beautiful day it is!

We’re not scared.

 

Uh-uh! Grass!

Hem, hem.

Yes?

What did you just say?

I think I said, “Uh-uh! Grass!”

And you’re happy with that, are you? Just a sound followed by a word on its own? Could you not try to express yourself in full sentences? What message were you trying to get across?

Well I suppose I was trying to express some concern at our having met with some long grass.

Exclaiming, perhaps?

 Oh, OK then. You mean I should say something like, “How concerning for us to encounter some grass!”

 Better. But how about you tell us a bit more about that grass? Why don’t you pop in some adjectives to make it a little bit more interesting for us?

 Well I was about to… Oh well, OK then.

We’re going on a bear hunt.

We’re going to catch a big one.

What a beautiful day it is!

We’re not scared.

 

How concerning for us to encounter some long wavy grass!

We can’t go over it.

We can’t go under it.

 

Oh no!

Hem, hem.

Exclamations again?

Exactly.

 All right.

We’re going on a bear hunt.

We’re going to catch a big one.

What a beautiful day it is!

We’re not scared.

 

How concerning for us to encounter some long wavy grass!

We can’t go over it.

We can’t go under it.

 

What a calamity to have befallen us!

We’ve got to go through it!

 

Swishy swashy!

Swishy swashy!

Swishy swashy!

Hem, hem.

What now?

What was all that ‘swishy swashy’ stuff about?

Well it’s meant to be the sound that the grass makes when you walk through it.

Couldn’t you tell us that then? Put it in a proper sentence?

 You mean, “The grass goes ‘Swishy swashy! Swishy swashy! Swishy swashy!”.

 Better. Now let’s hear it!

We’re going on a bear hunt.

We’re going to catch a big one.

What a beautiful…

Hold on a minute. It was a beautiful day. But now… What on earth? What the devil are those things?

Oh that lot? Don’t worry about them. They’re out on Ministry business. The Minister’s having a crackdown you see. Zero tolerance. Long overdue of course. I’ve said it for years. They should never have let them get away with ‘To boldly go’. That’s when the rot started, if you ask me. But the Minister, you see, he’s finally taking things in hand. He’s issued warrants, bringing people in. I expect those ones are off to sort out that dreadful business with the Pontipines. They’ve had it coming of course. They’ve had their warnings. “There are ten Pontipines”, we’ve told them, or “The number of Pontipines is ten”. But still they go on, day in, day out, “And even when there’s ten of them”. “There’s ten”, I ask you.   Well I’ll tell you something for nothing. Once that lot have had finished with them they’re going to wish they really were hardly there at all.

Hey, wait a minute. Where are you going?

 Back through the grass! Swishy swashy! Swishy swashy!

Stop!

Get to our front door.

Open the door.

Up the stairs.

Come back here!

Oh no!

We forgot to shut the door.

Back downstairs.

When the Minister hears about this…

Shut the door.

Back upstairs.

Into the bedroom.

Into bed.

Under the covers.

But what about the Minister?

Tell him we’re not going on a bear hunt again!

 

 

With apologies to Michael Rosen and J. K. Rowling.