An Open Letter To BT Sport – Get Rid of Michael Owen

Michael wonders why everyone has suddenly left the stadium.

Michael wonders why everyone has suddenly left the stadium.

Dear BT Sport;

I know that you’re new to this whole sport broadcasting thing, but if you continue to be a provider of Premier League football coverage there is one thing that you absolutely must do. You have to banish Michael Owen from your team. Do not let him represent you by speaking in any way manner or form in a public broadcast again. He is terrible.

They say some people have a face for radio, well Michael Owen has a voice for mime. Aside from his barely veiled bias toward Liverpool and his hard on for Man United, he sounds like what cardboard would sound like if it could speak. He has a voice  like the Richard Harrow character off Boardwalk Empire, except that character has a voice like that because half his face has been blown off, which is naturally going to effect the way he sounds. That and the fact that he murders people for a living are inclined to make him also sound a bit dull and depressive. Michael Owen does not have this excuse.

Listening to Michael Owen, it… it… it actually hurts. Not in a the way a sharp object hurts when you are stabbed with it, Michael Owen is way to dull for that effect. It’s more like chronic discomfort. It gives you a feeling of anxiety, nausea and mild depression all at once – like the side effects of bad sleeping pills.

Please get rid of him. Please. He was a decent footballer (if not a chronic ‘sick note’), I hear he’s good at golf and a really good horse breeder, but you can’t be good at everything and he truly, truly, sucks at sports punditry. Even when he’s on screen he looks like he’s a prototype of an android, he’s unbelievable awkward looking and dull.

Some things work well together, like strawberry’s and cream, Morecambe and Wise, Lionel Messi and a football. Michael Owen and broadcasting are like Chris Quentin and the American film industry – it’s never going to happen. That is all.

Beasley Green

PS: I am not alone:

‘Boring’ Michael Owen savaged for BT Sport commentary debut
Five Reasons Why Michael Owen Will Flop as a Football Pundit

Me, My Selfie and I


Oh selfie oh selfie
Such self loving ain’t healthy
But by God I can’t help me
How I love me endlessly.
iPhone prepped nice and steady,
Prepared pout and pose ready,
In a club somewhere trendy
With my girls who’re my Besties.
With some guys who just met me,
In a toilet nonchalantly,
Silly face or seriously,
Or just me being me.
In my room getting ready,
Half naked, in flagrante,
Showing off my hot body
And my big bubble booty.
The people will love me
Repost and promote me.
They’ll all look and see me.
They’ll all want to be me.
Everybody will watch me
Nobody can stop me
Oh selfie oh selfie
How I love me endlessly.


Media Outrage is a Great Form Of Publicity

This week French footballer Nicolas Anelka of West Bromich Albion was handed a five-match ban by the FA for brandishing a ‘quenelle’ salute after scoring in a Premier League football match last December. According to The Bleacher Report, this whole episode has “rocked football”. This means Anelka’s actions have actually shuddered the whole footballing world to its very core. But what is a quenelle I hear your collective thoughts ask? Is it a new hairstyle? A euphemism for male genitalia or a radical form of ‘twerking’? Well I had no idea what a ‘quenelle’ was either until the sports media spotlighted it so publicly in the wake of Monsieur Anelka’s FA hearing.

For those who haven’t been informed via the recent media public service announcements on Sky Sports News, TalkSport radio and the BBC’s Match Of The Day and Football Focus programmes, a ‘quenelle’ is an inverted salute that is (to use disclaiming media parlance) ‘allegedly’ anti-Semitic.

Making insulting or indecent gestures during English Premier League (or perhaps I should use the more correct term – Barclay’s Premier League) football matches contravenes FA Rule E3(1). Worse still, as an FA spokesperson told CNN, what Anelka did was “… an aggravated breach, as defined in FA Rule E3(2), in that it included a reference to ethnic origin and/or race and/or religion or belief” [allegedly].

How to do the quenelle - you put your right hand up, your left hand out, you do it after scoring and it gets about.

How to do the quenelle – you put your right hand up, your left hand out, the media is outraged and it gets about.

So now myself along with millions of other people know something that we didn’t know a week ago. We know that there is more than one salute that can be used to insult the Jewish community. The other offensive salute we all know is the Nazi salute, an established anti-Semitic gesture that was brutally hacked into history by the barbaric actions of a delusional and psychopathic dictator called Hitler, who along with his army and the backing of the ruling classes of an entire nation, murdered millions of Jews and almost took over Europe during the Second World War. The quenelle on the other hand is a little know (until now) gesture invented by a little known (until now) French comedian called Dieudonne M’Bala. However, thanks to the media it is now etched into the minds of antagonistic anti-Semites the world over for future reference.

Exclusive: Dieudonne Breaks Silence On Quenelle

Anelka denies the FA charge, claiming that he made the gesture in support of Dieudonne with whom he is friends. But for one writer reporting in ‘Japan Today’ (yes, it has spread that far) Anelka is guilty by association for having “atrocious” taste in friends. Well that isn’t a crime. If it was then entire Western governments would be rounded up and locked away for their politically congenial allegiances to dictators guilty of pillaging public funds, torture, mass murder and any number of crimes against humanity (more later). However, some people in the media are arguing that Anelka is guilty because he deliberately made the gesture during a game that he knew was being televised in France where the quenelle is well known, thus proving that he intended to cause racial insult.

Anelka has been a prodigious goal-scoring talent throughout his illustrious and lucrative career, but he has seen better days – notably at (no offence West Brom) much bigger clubs like Arsenal, Real Madrid, Liverpool and Juventus. To suggest that he chose a specific game to make the gesture is also to suggest that he can score at will. This is pretty ridiculous when you consider that the quenelle salute came after he scored his first goal for West Brom since signing for the club last summer. However, the point here isn’t whether the gesture was intended to be deliberately insulting or inflammatory. Anelka – who is a practicing Muslim and a Black man – may very well have anti-Semitic sentiments. The point is, by highlighting his gesture so publicly, the sports and news media have quite literally given his [allegedly] racist insult a global platform and helped to promote his [allegedly] anti-Semitic message to a whole new audience. If his gesture was intended to insult and incite, he must be sat in his footballer’s mansion beaming with great satisfaction at the global spotlight the media have given to his [alleged] anti-Semitic cause.

I’m not supporting Anelka’s [alleged] racist agenda, nor would I support any racist propaganda. At the same time I’m not agreeing that Anelka had a racist agenda. He denies his gesture is racist but rather “anti establishment”, a claim that is supported by Dieudonne, the very man who invented the gesture. This contradiction in itself makes the whole story a little bemusing. The person who made the gesture says it wasn’t meant to be racist. The person who invented the gesture said it isn’t racist. That means that the media and the small group of people (a group that will undoubtedly be a lot larger since the media have promoted the issue) who have adopted the gesture as a symbolic racist epithet, are the people who have actually radicalised the gesture – this much is clear. So what did the press intend to achieve by giving this story so much publicity? Was it their obligation to ensure that the public’s right to know was satisfied?

Now I have isntructions I can be suitable outraged

Now I have instructions I can be suitably outraged.

First of all let’s get something clear – the media doesn’t really care about whether a footballer or any other sportsperson causes offence to any individual or group unless it impacts on their revenue. The media pays its salaries by the revenue it receives from advertising, so they only care about producing content that will draw attention to their newspapers, magazines, television programmes and websites. That much is a fact. Despite never being involved in any acts of violence or sex scandals in the past, Nicolas Anelka (dubbed by the media as ‘Le Sulk’) has often courted controversy throughout his career and people know who he is. Any story involving Anelka is going to draw attention, and make no mistake, that’s what the media outlets really care about. If their enthusiasm for this story was grounded in ethics then they would have thought about what was going to be achieved by bringing this hitherto unknown gesture to the forefront of the British public’s attention. They would have then come to the conclusion that it would be best to bury the story in the corner of the sports section somewhere and let the FA deal with Anelka quietly. However, the gesture would have no doubt caught the attention of someone somewhere via social media.

Despite what you may be led to believe about social media dictating what the media reports on, this is not true. The popular press and wider media control what the general public see, hear and to a large degree, think. They are more than capable of ‘burying’ a story if they believe it will harm them by offending their political allies or corporate paymasters. For example, prior to Ukraine and Poland hosting Euro 2012, there had been an outbreak of a “plague” in the Ukraine in 2009. I would have thought this detail was newsworthy, but the story got virtually no coverage by the popular Western media. Recently the scandal surrounding allegations that Franck Ribery – a married man and Muslim convert – had sex with an underage prostitute in 2009 only made a little ripple in the British press. Ribery was in the running for the Ballon d’Or and the trial was, somewhat conveniently, adjourned until 20th January 2014 – a week after the awards ceremony (Cristiano Ronaldo won by the way).

I’m a Manchester City fan, but I am under no illusions as to the motivation behind Sheik Mansour’s acquisition of my club. Why would Sheikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, a member of the Abu Dhabi Nahyan Royal Family, want to spend billions on turning a mid-table Mancunian football club with a long history of calamitous failure but a huge fan base, into the biggest club in the world? I don’t think it’s because he loved Subbuteo as a kid. As David Conn of The Guardian points out, it is probably more to do with utilising the club to promote other UAE commercial interests when the oil cash cow of the Middle East finally runs dry, whilst at the same time deflecting from their countries poor human rights record.

Football is a global industry that inspires blind, irrational, passionate support from its supporters. Owners of successful football clubs have a global platform from which they can promote anything. Yet despite the FA’s commitment to ensuring club owners are “fit and proper”, the media has barely rippled the caftan of Sheik Mansour’s political affairs back home. Why would they? Well the Emirates Centre for Human Rights Trial Observation Report concluded that the 69 people convicted and detained without fair trial for petitioning for democratic reforms due to human rights abuses in the UAE ‘had been subjected to torture and denied basic safeguards of a fair trial’? And in the wake of the media support for Thomas Hitzlsperger when he revealed his homosexuality following his retirement from football, aren’t the media concerned that the owners of an English football club have laws in their own country that can lead to a sentence of death for homosexual activity?

The answer of course is, no. The scandal involving Ruport Murdoch’s News Of The World which resulted in The Levenson Enquiry clearly established that there is, and has been for some time, a mutually convenient relationship between press and parliament. Most of us acknowledge that parliament and corporate business also sleep in the same bed. So with the Mansour family plying billions into the British economy in the shape of large developments in Manchester and a £1.5 billion investment being plied into a deep water port development in London, despite David Cameron stating “On human rights, there are no no-go areas in this relationship” during his  delegation to the UAE to sell military hardware to Sheik Khalifa, it is no surprise that the British media aren’t really too keen to press the comparatively minor issue of human rights of people in another country.

When it comes to popular media, the public interest is only important in so much as how much of the public will be interested in the associated advertising. Issues that may impact on profit and the privileges afforded their organisations remain sacrosanct amongst the larger and more popular media outlets. Whilst some prickly issues will be reported on to maintain press credibility, how much they will be reported on will largely depend on how much the powers that be (corporate and political) actually want them to be reported. Therefore the press concentrates on palatable, relativey harmless and vacuously distracting celebrity news that the man in the street can digest without thinking too hard about it. If the readers think too hard about a story they fail to notice the message from the sponsors.

I think therefore I buy

I think therefore I buy

So Anelka and his [allegedly] racist quenelle gesture isn’t really the biggest story in sport and it certainly hasn’t “rocked football”. If anything has rocked football in recent weeks it is the rapid demise this season of the current Premier League Champions, the once mighty Manchester United. The only thing the media have achieved by blowing up the Anelka gesture story is to add something more to the vocabulary of racist offence. Essentially they have helped the very cause they purport to condemn. Now anti-Semites worldwide have another weapon of insult to hurl at people. Whilst Monsieur Anelka may have tossed a little racist dirt into the public arena (allegedly), thanks to the efforts of the media, his insult is now firmly cemented onto the global landscape. Meanwhile, Sheik Mansour and his family continue to preside over an Arab empire that denies many basic human rights. But hey, that doesn’t really matter because Manchester City are one of the biggest and most entertaining football teams in the world – and the media loves entertainment. Entertainment helps to sell advertising.

Further reading:

The Hidden Story of Sheik Mansour

*If you tire of the inane and politically biased ‘news’ you see in the usual newspapers and media channels such as Sky, Fox, CNN, BBC, ITV etc. There are several independent sources of news that regularly give a more balanced account of what is going on in your world, because it is your world. It doesn’t belong to a small group of wealthy men, despite what you are led to believe.
Try the links below for an alternative view on things:
and for a little bit of satirical light relief…

In Thine Own Image.

Research commissioned by Channel 4 and conducted by the Cumberbatch Research Group showed that during a sample of 368 hours of peak-time viewing in 2009, Ethnic Minority representation (those appearing on BBC1, BBC2, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and Sky One) accounted for just 10.2% of the overall output during this 368 hour period. This data also includes the possibility that some of the individuals counted as an ethnic minority were also counted on several occasions (Trevor McDonald on the news for example). Quite a sobering statistic until you consider that ethnic minority (dark skinned – this detail needs to be pointed out) groups only make up about 13% of the UK population – which may seem an unrealistic statistic if you live in the multicultural centres of one of the major cities in the UK – or Bradford. However, step outside of those areas and sightings of ethnic minorities are as rare as UFO’s. However, it’s the percentage of executives, producers, directors and the people who are at the creative and financial decision making level in the media that is most important. These figures would not even make a whole number.

At a seminar on the subject of increasing the number of ethnic minorities working in the media industry, a chief production executive at Red Productions (one of the UK’s most successful production companies in the 90’s) candidly explained that people instinctively “hire in their own image”. It might be a little unfair, but it made sense to me. However, it doesn’t matter what initiative is put in place to redress the disparity of ethnic minority representation in the arts and media, because what you look like has less to do with how you represent as what you think like. Racial representation is much more than colour, it’s about a shared experience by a minorities’ majority.

One thing statistics of Channel 4’s superficial type won’t reveal is that the few coloured faces representing within the media will not have been raised or educated in Hackney, Brixton, Moss Side, Toxteth or any lower class ethnic part of the country. They will have gone to the same schools, colleges and universities as their white middle class counterparts and identify more with them than they do with their wider ethnic groups. The UK isn’t as backward as the US on race. British society by and large accepts a little bit of colour. We fell in love with Trevor Mcdonald and Lenny Henry in the 80’s, embraced the superb collaboration of culture as reflected in music like ska, jungle, drum n bass and garage, and generally accepted that mixing is ok because it creates beautiful babies and stronger DNA. But that acceptance hasn’t quite permeated the corridors of power or the executive offices of the media where they still have a knee tremble at the idea of social and racial agitation. Now and historically Britain has always been much more apprehensive about cultural interference within its class system and that is where the real prejudice lies in British media.

Whilst the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s may have symbolically vilified ethnic minorities by colour representation, the culture of the lower classes has become more of a target in contemporary media since the 90’s. Fiction like Shameless and The Royle Family, and offensive reality TV like My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding and Benefits Street that explore the lives of fringe sub-cultures, do not divide by racial lines, they divide by social class.

Representation is primarily about intention; what is the intention in the representation. That intention then depends on the viewpoint of the representative. QED – if the representatives have no empathy or legitimate understanding of the subject matter or audience they’re representing, then their message will reflect that. Politicians and their policies have proven that for eons. Objective reasoning is a rare quality, but when an appointed representative who is also intelligent and sufficiently clued up about the subject matter they’re representing has that quality, then irrespective of race, colour or creed, they can still do a good job. But objective reasoning is a rare quality in the arts and media where egos reign supreme.


White singers deserve the same scrutiny for sexism as Snoop Dogg

Jude and Sadie’s daughter in Ecstasy scare

The One Thing White Writers Get Away With, But Authors of Color Don’t

A Year in Review: The Top 10 Most Racist/Privileged Things White Feminists Did in 2013

And now, the news…

So there I was, sat in the kitchen at my mum’s house, just passing time. I’d come around to visit the old dear, but she was pottering around the garden talking at nobody in particular and ignoring me as retired mothers are prone to do. Although I know she still likes the company of her visiting brood, I sometimes get a little bored, so on this day I put the kettle on for both of us and as it boiled I decided to skim through the newspaper that was lay on the kitchen table.

The Daily Star is one of the most popular tabloid newspapers in the UK  with a circulation of over half a million, yet by the time the half-full kettle reached boiling point I’d pretty much read everything of interest that was written in there. Being a Man City fan I wasn’t interested in reading about the boring 0-0 draw between Chelsea and United the day before, so I ignored the sport section and skimmed through the whole paper again just in case I had missed something. I hadn’t – there was literally nothing of any real consequence contained within the 56 pages of that newspaper. So what filled those 56 pages and was I bored enough to find out?

With my holidays coming to an end along with the British Summer, my boredom got the better of me and I decided to work out what constituted news in The Daily Star on 27th August 2013. It wasn’t too difficult – simply measure the column centimetres of copy text for each real news item. There weren’t many.

Spread out flat the paper has an area of around 5.75m2 on which to write news. Add the newsworthy copy and you have a diagram that looks like this.

Serious Hard News

The little red bits represent the serious hard news. The kind of thing that people should know about – what our leaders are doing in the world of politics, serious global affairs and crime stories of national interest. According to The Daily Star everything is just peachy with the world around us – “Move on, there’s nothing to see here.”

Next up are those soft news stories, the noteworthy, the strange, the bizarre and the ‘human interest’ stories that you usually get at the “And finally…” section of News at Ten.

Soft News

Not a huge amount there either really. Stories include: a diamond estimated to sell for £12million at auction, Brazilian prostitutes learn English in preparation for next year’s World Cup, police caught ogling celebrities on Twitter, a man who claims to have photographed the Loch Ness monster, a Brazilian footballer called Elvis who was shot dead, a giant gooseberry, a botched wedding proposal, the Royal Mail have done what they have supposed to do and delivered mail on time, and of course, a story about a Panda that may be pregnant – awesome.

There’s half a page dedicated to Hollie, 23, from Eastbourne who has great tits.

Hollie's tits

There are four pages dedicated to what’s on TV.

What's on Telly

There are ten pages dedicated to all sport, apart from horse and dog racing.

The World of Sport

There are four pages dedicated to horse and dog racing times and results.

The Racing News

There are some regular features, including puzzles and games, the daily horoscope, letters to Jane the agony aunt, photo casebook and consumer advice.

The rest of the news

Still, with all those sections covered, there’s still a hell of lot of space left.

news in brief

Now bear in mind that apart from the hard and soft news copy, the vast majority of the content of the other pages highlighted are made up of headlines, advertisements (there are several ‘Daily Star reader’s offers’) and photographs.  So what makes up the rest of the space? Well, the rest of that space is made up of advertisements and photographs of celebrities with various bits of facile and inane celebrity related gossip. I could illustrate how much of The Daily Star’s pages are made up of advertisements and pictures, but life is too short so I’ll make a rough estimate. My rough estimate is that only about 5% of the remaining space contains words that aren’t headlines – and I’m being generous. Sure there are those broadsheets that have ‘proper’ news, but surely even a tabloid should offer something more informative and stimulating than semi-naked, celebrity titillation.

The Daily Star is a pretty poor example of a newspaper, but it is indicative of what you see online, in magazines, on the television and in every media outlet. Marketers and broadcasters will defend themselves by saying that they are supplying a demand – essentially, you get the media you deserve – and they wouldn’t be wrong. But the obsession with celebrity trivia seems to have become a social addiction. The side effect of this addiction is inertia and complacency and a section of society whose lives revolve around an illusion that is sustained purely by their attention. If they stop watching, it doesn’t exist.

Right now England, America and their allies are considering going to war with Syria over the alleged use of chemical weapons. Detainees in Guantanamo Bay are still starving themselves for justice. The Great Barrier Reef is under threat from corporate industrialists. Honeybees are threatened with extinction. Women in India are fighting for humanity, justice and protection from getting raped, beaten and brutalised. There is a global recession that show’s little sign of abating. Bankers and corporate giants are still pocketing offensive amounts of money whilst people all over the world are facing unemployment, bankruptcy, homelessness, increasing food and oil prices. Crime is rising and so are suicide rates… etc, etc, etc. A little bit of light relief is all fine and well, but there’s a lot more important things worthy of a double page spread than what’s going on in the Celebrity Big Brother house and the “controversial” performance of a young Disney star who still looks like a child, sexually gyrating on stage in latex underwear with a bunch of teddy bears.

For most of us there isn’t a great deal that we can do to effect change in what is going on around us. For many of us, the simple pleasures of our day-to-day is the best we can look forward to without worrying about things that we have no control over. TV, movies, magazines, video games, drink, drugs – all these social sedatives make a life less ordinary – or at least palatable. However, when you look around at the media distractions, you can’t help but notice the sheer amount of trivial, celebrity, nonsense that’s staring right back at you.

The irony of this celebrity overkill is that it mainly serves to highlight the shortcomings in your own life. You look on and find yourself worshipping a lifestyle that is unattainable – Photoshop dreams and fake images of ‘bling’. This can either motivate your aspirations or make you feel miserable. Either way, every time you watch and buy into the celebrity bubble, it inflates. The celebrities bay for your attention, you feed their ego and the advertisers fill their bank accounts whilst you go back home to your dissatisfaction and debt and forget that all is not well with the world around you.

If they stop watching, it doesn’t exist.

Toward the end of the Zeitgeist documentary the narrator talks about the media being a deliberate distraction from the real issues that affect people’s lives. The Roman’s used gladiatorial battles to deflect their public away from the affairs of state. Today it’s gadgets, games, sport and popular ‘culture’. Every hour spent on some trivial nonsense is an hour not spent making yourself aware of what is happening around you. It’s an hour not spent educating and improving yourself. It’s an hour not spent supporting a cause. It’s an hour not spent lobbying your local MP for improvements in your local area. It’s an hour not spent soliciting your government to change its policy on something that is worthwhile; something that will improve your life, your children’s lives, your grandchildren’s lives, or just the life of someone less fortunate than you.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with indulging in a little escapism, but too much of anything tends to be bad. The serenity prayer tells us to have the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can and the wisdom to know the difference. There’s nothing in there about burying your head in the sand and pleading ignorance. Ignoring what is happening on your doorstep and in the world around you doesn’t make it go away, it just helps it continue to remain the same.

The 10 Stages of Pain When Making a JSA Claim

When you live in Britain the media and the state like to remind you about the scourge of ‘benefit scroungers’. The Daily Mail are often the spearhead of media outrage against the lower-class, welfare pariahs and ‘chavs’ who they seem to believe enjoy do nothing more than hanging around waiting for their 15 minutes of fame on Jeremy Kyle in between picking up state handouts.

The scourge of the benefit scrounger is usually reignited every couple of months by an inflammatory story highlighting an isolated case of extreme governmental incompetence; like the one where Kensington and Chelsea Council moved a family of Somali’s who had migrated to England from their war torn country and placed them in a £2million pound house in a posh part of London. Then there are stories like the one about Joanne Sheppard, who has 12 children by three men and hadn’t worked for 19 years. Her 12th child (“an accident” apparently) was to a man who had no job, but was collecting £89.80 a week for long-term incapacity whilst allegedly still pursuing his hobby of riding motorbikes. This was the one that tipped the scales of outrage for The Mail, who stated that Miss Sheppard claimed £30000 a year in benefits. Perhaps Miss Sheppard and her partner have a long term plan to create there own Apostles and set up the church of Evel Kinievel, who knows what could motivate such irresponsible copulation. More to the point, who would seriously want to raise that many children on welfare money!?

Benefits couple with ELEVEN children rake in £30,000 a year and a free-five bedroom home (and now they’ve got another on the way)

Somali asylum seeker family given £2m house… after complaining 5-bed London home was ‘in poor area’

I’d like to think that most rational people would recognise that both of these stories are exceptions to the rule. For the vast majority of people who are claiming benefits long term, life is pretty grim. Let’s face it, you can’t exactly live it large on around £70 a week. However, for those of you who may be ‘between jobs’ due to the total mismanagement of the country by government and the total mismanagement of taxpayers money by bankers which has left you unemployed due to a declining economy; if you have decided to claim Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) for a period of time whilst you sell yourself cheap to an employers market, you will find that just making that claim is a harrowing process. A process that makes you want to dive out of a window – a plate glass window that is closed and exits a 10th story apartment. I found myself in this position and spent a very frustrating hour or so trying to make a claim. Although not as frustrating as the time I spent three weeks on the phone to BT technical support in some place in India trying to get my broadband problem resolved, but that’s another posting…

1. The first call – 0845 608 85 04
You start off with a call – that’s where it always starts, that first call. You know how it is, you’re wondering; “How many button choices will they give me to get to the right department? What will her voice be like? Or will it be a he? What about the hold music – classical, calming, some Costa coffee, soft, indie, rock/pop – what will be poisoning my ears for the next twenty minutes? Or will it be an hour? Ooh I’m scared!!!” But you have to make that call. I’d actually been told in the Job Centre that they prefer you to make the application online, but that has become little more than the alternative of two evils these days, and often results in having to make a phone call afterwards anyway, so I thought I’d try and skip the middle man. Bad idea.

2. Navigate the automated phone directions
She has quite a nice voice – calming and almost caring whilst also somewhat alluring. But it’s early days. She hasn’t even repeated anything yet. She gives you the customary preamble, which like the lengthy opening credits of a HBO series, is worth sitting through the first time round, but after episode 3 you’re reaching for Sky+ fast forward on your TV.  Fortunately the second option was the option I need so I opted for option two. This option instructs you to give your postcode so that you can get put through to the right area. My postcode is for Manchester, so I got put through to a woman in a call centre in Eastbourne, which is about 220 miles away!

3. The first interrogation
So you get asked a whole bunch of questions in this bit – name, address, national insurance number, when you want to claim from etc, etc, etc. Essentially, you answer enough questions to fill a good-sized application form – then you get told you can’t make a new application over the phone, you have to do it online!

4. Complete the online application form
This takes about 10 – 20 minutes depending on how much information you put in. There are some really useful questions like ‘How did you find out you could claim Job Seekers Allowance? Who did you ask for advice about claiming? When did you ask them? What did you ask them? What did they tell you? Is it safe?’* But this is okay because you’re only given 200 characters to answer the long questions. After you’ve completed the form you are informed that you will be contacted by telephone within the next 48 hours between 7am and 9pm. This all makes it seem quite exciting, like an important arrangement between secret service operatives.

5. Wait for the call
I missed the call – both of them. Instead I got an answer machine message telling me that because I missed both calls I had to call a freephone number to complete my claim otherwise they will assume that I no longer want to continue the claim. So I called the number 08000 55 66 88…

The second call (listen)

6. Call the 0845 number again
When you navigate the options for this call you find you get redirected back to the first number you rang!

The third call (listen)

You eventually get put through to someone who tells you to call the 0800 number again. By this stage you have heard the recording four times and the lady’s voice is no longer calming, caring or alluring, it’s just fucking annoying. The hold music is like an acoustic ice ballet performed on your brain by miniature sadists wearing razor blades for skates. You try to stay calm as you explain that you have already made an online application and you have already called the 0800 number. They detect the tremulous hint of desperate frustration in your tone and concede that the automated directions aren’t very clear, so they instruct you to select the option for a new claim, even though you are calling about a claim you have already made. You accept those instructions and you end the call politely.

7. Call the 0800 number again
You call the 0800 number again, this time making the incorrect selection in order to get to the correct person but…

The fourth call (listen)

…this takes some time. Your patience withers and wanes as you are told over and over again to make your application online, knowing that you have already made an online application. Your ears start to bleed as you listen to that first part of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons again and again and again and again – knowing that when it finishes you’ll have to listen to her voice again telling you to make your application online. And this seems to go on forever and ever and ever. In desperate reverie you imagine yourself smashing your phone against the wall and the pieces shattering in slow motion before you turn to the owner of the automated voice – who looks like the woman you hate most in your life – and you imagine strangling her with the strings from one of those violins playing Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Then you imagine just giving up on the claim, buying a local newspaper and replying to the first vacancy for door staff, cleaners or traffic wardens – anything just so that you don’t have to hear Vivaldi play that tune again!!!!!!!

Then you get your breakthrough. A voice. A voice at the other end that isn’t automated. You feel like Columbus, starved and deluded after months at sea, when suddenly land appears on the horizon. Hallelujah!

8. …It’s not over yet
I don’t know if it’s the effects of exhaustion or chronic exasperation – but you are calm. You’re just happy to hear a voice again – a real voice. This voice asks you questions that you have been asked before over the last hour but you answer them calmly. Then she tells you to ring that 0845 number again!

9. …you’re almost there
To your surprise you do not explode. You appeal to the lady in Eastbourne to consider your situation and ask her to actually try to resolve the issue rather then putting you through that hell again. Then there’s a pause at the other end of the line.

“Ok, can you just hold for a second whilst I speak to my supervisor?”

Now this can go one of two ways; the supervisor can resolve your issue there and then or they can insist that you have to jump through another administrative hoop and do something else. I got lucky and the lady from Eastbourne came back to me and went about resolving my problem. And the solution was? I was given an appointment to go into the job centre and complete a ‘clerical’ application.

10. The Clerical Application
Having spent over an hour making phone calls and filling in online forms I now have an appointment to go into the job centre. When I get to the job centre I will have to fill in a paper form in order to make my JSA claim.

Fortunately I was offered a job before I actually made the claim and I am now in gainful employment again. The thought of having to become an unwilling player in the sadistic administrative pantomime of welfare living frightens me. I cannot believe that anyone in their right mind would genuinely want for this. The process in itself is almost like a war of attrition. I can only assume that those who have been on long-term benefits without any genuine reason simply don’t have a mind that is right, or have been oppressed into submission by this process. They have been demoralised to the point of abject inertia as their resolve and motivation has been eroded by pointless and monotonous administrative processes. If daytime television isn’t enough to get you out to work, surely being counted and questioned and qualified every fortnight must be. Whatever the reason you find yourself on welfare, one thing is for certain – there are far easier ways to process a claim.

* ‘Is it safe?’ isn’t really one of their questions, it’s a parody of the classic Dustin Hoffman and Lawrence Olivier movie ‘The Marathon Man’. Good film if you haven’t seen it, one of Hoffman’s most accomplished performances. Thank you for taking the time to follow the asterix.

Margaret Thatcher Is Dead

The witch is dead

(This posting is re-blogged courtesty of Another Angry Voice)

It was announced on Monday 8th April that the former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was dead. The sense of jubilation at her death is truly remarkable and obviously distressing to the many millions of right-wing people that describe her legacy in glowing terms, even going as far as claiming that she was the best Prime Minister ever, despite her massive unpopularity and her appalling legacy of failure.

The fact that so many people have taken to open celebration of her death is evidence of her legacy. The woman clung to power by dividing society and setting the factions against each other, instead of allowing them to unite against her. Even after her death British society is still clearly divided and the same divisive scapegoating tactics are being used again by the incumbent Tory led government.

Thatcher became Prime Minister in 1979, the first ever adherent of neoliberal pseudo-economics to gain power at the ballot box rather than through violent US backed military coups. She remained a lifetime friend of her fellow neoliberal adherent, the murderous Chilean dictator General Pinochet, even going as far as direct intervention to assist Pinochet in evading justice after he was threatened with extradition to Spain to face trial for crimes against humanity.

Margaret Thatcher and her friend, the murderous  Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.

Margaret Thatcher and her friend, the murderous
Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.

Thatcher’s rise to power signaled the end of the post-war consensus mixed economy and the beginning of the neoliberal age. The old agreement between the parties that Britain should strive to balance regulated capitalism with state control over vital infrastructure was torn up in favour of Thatcher’s barmy post-industrial dream of a hyper-capitalist nation built around the financial services industry in London.

One of the core tenets of Thatcher’s neoliberal agenda was the firesale of state assets based on the absurdly fallacious reasoning that capitalists can always run things more efficiently than the state. Huge swathes of taxpayer funded industry and infrastructure were given away at bargain basement prices. In some cases such as the sale of British Telecom, the exponential improvements in technology give the impression that privatisation was a success, however the privatisation of utilities like gas, electric and water have severely damaged the UK economy by eroding the disposable income of the public with ever inflating prices, meaning that the public have less money to save or to invest in genuinely productive activity. Even after Thatcher’s demise, this mania for privatisation continued with all kinds of barmy privatisation scams from John Major’s botched privatisation of the railways to Gordon Brown’s massive expansion of PFI economic alchemy schemes. Some of the most barmy privatisations include the sale and leaseback of the HMRC property portfolio to a tax haven based company (seriously) and the privatisation of the UK independent nuclear deterrent into the hands of a consortium 66% owned by US based companies!

Another way in which the Thatcher government fueled the City of London post-industrial fantasy was through the abandonment of capital controls and the deregulation of the financial sector, which opened the floodgates to an unprecedented tax-dodging bonanza. In return for these changes, financial sector interests and major tax-dodgers poured cash into Tory party coffers allowing them to present their loopy free-market ideology as some kind of slick modernisation programme through expensive ad agencies such as Saachi and Saachi. The Thatcher government introduced the new brand of politics where style took precedence over substance and the real political agenda remained hidden behind impenetrable layers of presentation. Subsequent leaders such as Tony Blair and David Cameron have pushed this kind of spin even further, seeming at perfect ease as they outright lie to the public (Iraqi WMDs, David Cameron’s debt reduction lies).

Margaret Thatcher and Rupert Murdoch shared a marriage of convenience.  She allowed him to build up a vast anti-competitive press empire, and he  used that empire to back her policies.

Margaret Thatcher and Rupert Murdoch shared a marriage of convenience.
She allowed him to build up a vast anti-competitive press empire, and he
used that empire to back her policies.

Slick advertising wasn’t the only way in which the Thatcher government managed public perception. Thatcher allowed right wing interests to build up vast media empires. The most famous example being her intervention to ensure that Rupert Murdoch could buy up the Times newspaper. This marriage of convenience between the UK establishment and Rupert Murdoch has continued to the present day. Murdoch commands a huge audience and continues to be sucked up to by British political leaders despite the shocking revelations about the disgusting criminality and corruption at his newspapers.

Aside from handing over valuable state assets for derisory prices and recklessly deregulating the financial sector, another way in which Thatcher coddled the wealthy was through huge tax cuts justified with the ludicrous trickle down fallacy. Allowing the wealthy to extract ever more wealth from society was never going to enrich the poor as the Thatcherites loved to claim, especially given the the way that the Thatcher regime facilitated offshore tax-dodging. Instead of investing the glut of North Sea oil wealth and the cash raised through privatisations into a sovereign wealth fund like Norway or reinvesting in British industry, Thatcher wasted it all on ludicrous tax breaks for the wealthy.

Another area in which Thatcher wreaked her havoc was in housing policy. Her loathing of anything social led to her direct attacks upon social housing. Her government arranged the firesale of social housing with the stipulation that the money raised could not be reinvested in building more social housing or renovating existing social housing stock. The construction of social housing was all but abandoned in the 1980s and has never resumed.  Othodox neoliberal theory tells us that a reduction in state intervention in the housing market should lead to a rise in private sector housebuilding, however, just like with most neoliberal theory, the reality was completely different and this rise in private sector housebuilding never happened. In fact, private sector housebuilding has declined since the 1980s. The housing shortage created by Thatcher’s assault on social housing led to unsustainable property price inflation, with investors preferring to get fat as ever rising demand pushed their property prices and profit margins upwards, rather than investing in anything productive like the actual construction of new housing.

Thatcher also oversaw the deregulation of the private rental sector and the abolition of security of tenure for private tenants. Countless greedy Thatcherites have sat back and raked in the cash as they allowed other people to pay off their buy-to-let mortgages. This idle rentier class is now a clearly defined Tory demographic. In a way, it is a return to the old days of idle landlords soaking up the wealth of entire communities by renting shit houses to transitory “peasants”. One of the very worst aspects of Thatcher’s housing reforms is that one third of all of the social housing that was sold off on the cheap has now found it’s way into the hands of the idle buy-to-let brigade. In fact, probably the largest former council house property portfolio in the entire country belongs to the son of the minister charged with selling off all those state owned properties in the first place!

In order to build the foundations of this ideologically driven neoliberalisation experiment, Thatcher needed to hobble all opposition and consolidate as much power as possible in her own hands. She castrated local government, closed down the Greater London Council and oversaw a centralisation of the education system (based on privately operated exam boards) that has churned out generation after generation of inadequately prepared an politically naive students.

Thatcher spent eleven consecutive new years eve celebrations with  Jimmy Savile. The idea that he would have been allowed such a close relationship with the Prime Minister without being thoroughly vetted by the security services is frankly laughable.

Thatcher spent eleven consecutive new years eve celebrations with
Jimmy Savile. The idea that he would have been allowed such a close
relationship with the Prime Minister without being thoroughly vetted by
the security services is frankly laughable.

Undoubtedly the most famous way in which she consolidated her own power was through her war on the trade unions. She famously derided the miners that had been the productive backbone of the nation for centuries as “the enemy within” then removed their union powers and crushed their industries, ruining countless communities throughout the industrial heartlands of the UK. The fact that these communities built around their mines, shipyards, and steel factories were predominantly Labour voting areas was absolutely no coincidence. Not only did she castrate their unions and steal their jobs, she had no plan at all for the regions she was destroying, other than to leave them in a permanent state of destitution and social degeneration. It took the outright defiance of Michael Heseltine to save cities like Liverpool from suffering even more from the brutal indifference of Thatcherism.

Such a centralisation of power runs entirely contrary to the libertarian and minarchist principles that supposedly underpin neoliberal theory, but the only way that such a barmy neoliberalisation process could ever have been enforced was through the ruthless revocation of power from anyone that stood in her way. The fact is that all of Thatchers successors have all enjoyed the dictatorial powers she carved out for herself, with very few central government powers being redistributed back to local government.

Another defining characteristic of the Thatcher regime was brazen economic mismanagement. From the massive inflation peaks in the early and late 1980s to the deliberate neglect of British manufacturing, the ever widening trade deficits; and the fact that her government ran constant budget deficits in all but two of the years for which she was Prime Minister (in fact the 1988 and 1989 budget surpluses are the only Tory budget surpluses recorded since 1973, so perhaps, with an 18% budget surplus rate as compared to 0% for all of her Tory party successors, she wasn’t actually that bad by the usual Tory standards).

Still, it didn’t seem to matter that interest rates on people’s mortgages went through the roof, that the long forgotten phenomena of mass unemployment was stalking the land again after a 50 year hiatus, that British industry was collapsing into terminal decline: The right wing press and the Tory propaganda machine spun an unrelentingly positive story of “modernisation” and the public lapped it up and carried on voting for her.

Returning to Thatcher’s war with the trade unions, the ongoing decline in British manufacturing can be traced back to this divisive class war against the working people of Britain. Thatcher’s ideological hatred of the trade unions was so rabid that she would rather the entire industry be destroyed than allow adequate trade union representation for the workforce. A good contrast can be made with Germany, where instead of playing class warfare, with the government and business interests on one side and the workers and trade unions on the other as Thatcher did, they built their industrial strategy on co-operation between the bosses and the unions, even allowing union representatives onto the boards of directors as a matter of course. Thatcher’s divide and rule strategy has resulted in decades of industrial decline, social fragmentation and vast trade deficits, whilst Germany have cemented their place as world leader in the production of high tech machinery, successfully reunified their divided nation and run enormous trade surpluses.

Any commentary on Thatcher would be incomplete without mention of the Falklands. It is quite clear from declassified documents that the conflict was deliberately provoked through the withdrawal of the South Atlantic naval defence. Thatcher was warned several times by military experts that such a withdrawal would be seen as an open invitation for the Argentine military dictatorship to invade. In the buildup to the invasion, Thatcher was languishing in the polls, the most unpopular Prime Minister in history. After the Falklands victory she rode the tide of jingoism to a landslide election victory and a whitewash investigation concluded that the war had been “unavoidable”.

Another incident that must not be forgotten is the Hillsborough disaster where 96 Liverpool FC fans were crushed to death due to police incompetence. It took 23 years for the evidence to be released, evidence which demonstrates beyond any doubt that the Thatcher government and South Yorkshire police colluded in a massive cover-up campaign, where blame was deliberately transferred to innocent Liverpool supporters with the willing assistance of the right-wing press. Especially the S*n, (belonging to Thatcher’s chum Rupert Murdoch) which is still boycotted in the city of Liverpool to this day as a result of the outright lies that were printed about the behavior of Liverpool fans on that tragic day.

The final factor that cannot possibly be excluded is the policy that eventually brought the Thatcher regime down. By the late 1980s Thatcher must have come to believe that she was invincible. She’d crushed the unions, castrated local government, sold off the national silver on the cheap, slashed taxes for her wealthy backers and done it all with three landslide victories at the polls. Her final folly was Poll Tax; a policy so unpopular that it provoked the largest wave of civil disobedience in living memory. Only a power crazed fool with a head full of neoliberal gibberish could possibly have thought that they could get away with imposing it. She was warned by her Tory party colleagues that it wouldn’t float but she persisted with it until she was driven out of office by her own MPs.

Only the blue tinted spectacles brigade would even try to pretend that Thatcher didn’t leave the UK countless toxic legacies such as over-centralised power, adherence to ideological neoliberal pseudo-economics, countless failed privatisations, the massive scale of tax-dodging, industrial decline, mass unemployment, housing policy neglect, rising debt (national, corporate and private), a hopelessly mismanaged education system, political reliance upon the Murdoch empire and the reckless gambling of the deregulated financial sector that eventually led to the global financial sector meltdown. Probably the single thing that stands out above all of these toxic legacies is the way that she ruthlessly destroyed the gains of the post war society, cynically setting sectors of society at each others throats whilst deliberately re-extending the wealth gap.

Another of Thatcher’s toxic legacies was Tony Blair. Many Tories try to deny the link between Thatcher and Blair, however the similarity is absolutely obvious to most people. Tony Blair was quite clearly a Tory in a red tie. Instead of undoing the damage that Thatcher had wrought, he intensified it with more privatisations, more dodgy outsourcing contracts, more Murdoch love-ins, more bank deregulations, more tax-dodging scams and more deliberate neglect of British industry. Even the most rabid Tory would hesitate to contradict Thatcher herself ,and when asked what her greatest achievement in politics was, her reply was “Tony Blair and New Labour”. The affection between the two was mutual, with Blair providing a grotesquely uncritical eulogy to the sworn enemy of anyone remotely left-wing or liberal minded:

Margaret Thatcher was a towering political figure. Very few leaders get to change not only the political landscape of their country but of the world. Margaret was such a leader. Her global impact was vast. And some of the changes she made in Britain were, in certain respects at least, retained by the 1997 Labour Government… As a person she was kind and generous spirited and was always immensely supportive to me as Prime Minister …  you could not disrespect her character or her contribution to Britain’s national life. She will be sadly missed.”

Tony Blair was obviously saddened to hear of the death of his ideological mentor. I thought that I’d be much happier on the day that Thatcher finally died, however, it is absolutely clear from the shape of the UK political landscape that she is actually still alive. All three of the establishment parties are now wedded to her brand of ideologically driven orthodox neoliberalism; the scars of her economic blundering can be seen carved across the landscape and across countless communities; the gap between rich and poor is wider than ever and still growing; the post war welfare system is under ruthless attack from both sides of Parliament; crony capitalism and industrial scale tax-dodging are rife and the tactic of playing elements of society off against each other in order to distract attention away from the villainy of the establishment powers is as prevalent today as it was at the height of Thatcherism.

It doesn’t matter that the woman is so reviled that her grave will have to be kept behind a security cordon to prevent it from becoming an extremely popular open air toilet. It doesn’t matter that she is dead and that people are satisfied that she is gone. Her toxic legacy has not gone, in fact, the current government are busy with schemes that Thatcher herself would never have dared dream of, such as privatising the NHS and simply giving away half of the secondary schools in England, £billions worth of taxpayer funded property and all, for free, to unaccountable private sector interests.

It is 34 years since Thatcher introduced neoliberal pseudo-economics to the UK and we’re still paying the price now. Hell, we’ll still be paying the price in another 34 years given that the entire political establishment is utterly riddled with this rotten ideology. The economic and social destruction she inflicted can never be fully repaired. Too many industries destroyed, too many taxes dodged, too many communities divided and too many generations brought up on the right-wing mantra of “greed good; social conscience bad”.

Reblogged courtesy of: Another Angry Voice