Thomas Paine

Thomas Paine
"These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman."

Monday, 26 March 2012

So – should the unemployed ‘give up’?


‘So’ is an album by Peter Gabriel and was recently featured by BBC4 on their ‘Classic Album’ series. It was Gabriel’s seventh album and, like most of his work, took a long time to make – a year in this case.
‘Sledgehammer’ and ‘Don’t Give Up’ are the best known tracks from ‘So’, but it was inspired by a dream Gabriel had had that is the subject of the first track ‘Red Rain’ that seemed to relate to or foretell of some horrific episode [red rain implied blood] – the album was released in May 1986.
Those old enough to remember, or have studied politics, will know that in the early years of her first term Thatcher closed factories, shipyards and coal pits – seen as inefficient – in an effort to bring down inflation. This was successful, but it also created 3 million unemployed – a level not seen since the 1930’s. To put this into context 1.5 million were unemployed when she took office in 1979 – this compared to 1 million in 1974, 580 thousand in 1970 and just 300 thousand in 1964.
Not only did her actions put many out of work, it also marked the time when the UK became a net importer of goods with so much of the manufacturing base destroyed and the underlying cause of the nations continuing financial difficulties to this day.
Thatcher faced down the riots of 1981 and those of 1985 [when Gabriel had his dream] because even by then, although inflation had been brought under control, unemployment was still high. Given the apparent elation with which Osborne delivered his recent budget – suspicions must be raised that he sees himself as Thatcher’s successor.
There is little doubt that the impressionable male Tory youth of that time saw and still see her as some kind of demi-godess – as do some from other political parties. They do not take heed of the fact that Thatcher, by the time she left office, said that if she had her time again – she would not have taken up politics, because of the effect it had on her family. Her children now rarely see her.
A lesson that might have been learned is that if something is achieved by force, rather than agreement – it cannot be sustained indefinitely and that hatred by those defeated is the reward for those who pursue this course.
One matter that does bear considering is that ‘Don’t Give Up’, one of the biggest hits from the album contained these words:
‘got to walk out of here
I can’t take anymore
going to stand on that bridge
keep my eyes down below
whatever may come
and whatever may go
that river’s flowing
that river’s flowing
moved on to another town
tried hard to settle down
for every job, so many men
so many men no-one needs
don’t give up [etc.]
Since the album was a hit and ranked high in both 1986 and 1987 in many countries, we must assume that the sentiments expressed were generally accepted – that it is right to extend compassion to those out of work during times of high unemployment. How different today when Cameron and Osborne seem to have successfully branded the unemployed as benefit scroungers and are condemned for not chasing every job – even if there is little or no chance of success.
How was that done? It is not the unemployed fault that there are not enough jobs – yet it is they who are being blamed. They did not cause the financial crisis that has led to the Coalitions austerity measures and a reduction in public service jobs – that was the bankers.
Quite why it is the ‘squeezed middle’ who are receiving the majority of the Party’s attention when this group are least likely to vote Labour because the Tories have successfully laid the blame for the financial crisis at the Party’s door. Also because all of the three main parties are, and will, make every effort to win this vote – as the next General Election approaches.
In contrast, the worst off and the unemployed are a significant part of the electorate, who are  less likely to vote unless a party recognises their plight and appeals directly to them. The best placed party to do this is Labour and winning a large proportion of this vote would almost certainly see its returned to power, but this will not happen unless they are given priority.
The measure of a civilisation is not the splendour of the lives of its richest – but the quality of the lives of the poorest.

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