Sunday, 16 November 2008

Putting Young People in Demonised Categories

One thing which is noticeable when talking to the 6-year old who lives in my house, is how his school demonises 'teenagers'. His school only takes children up to the age of 11 so seems to feel free to portray teenagers as responsible for all the crime in the local neighbourhood. This has been done to such an extent that to this boy and his friends the term no longer designates a period of life most of us go through, but has become synonymous with the word 'criminal' or at least 'delinquent'. In the past we clarified our labelling and they were called 'teenage delinquents' to distinguish them from normal teenagers, but that distinction seems to have disappeared. Of course some of the crime in the neighbourhood is committed by teenagers but a lot of it is not. When a bench was stolen from the school playground, teenagers were blamed. If it had been found turned upside down in the nearby park with tags sprayed all over it, I might have agreed, but it entirely disappeared from the district. No teenagers could be bothered to carry a heavy wooden bench for three miles. It is clear it was stolen to order by people with access to a van and able to leave no trace, this does not sound like teenagers. Yet, the school somehow feels it has to be teenagers and not older criminals.

What situation does this leave the 6-year old and I imagine all the other children in the school as they edge towards becoming teenagers themselves? I know in comedy, notably Harry Enfield's teenage character, Kevin, they mutate into a surly, argumentative being. However, now these children also imagine that they turn into criminals automatically too. This has grown to the extent that when the six year old sees teenagers he assumes they are committing a crime. We saw three boys probably ages 12-14 carrying a sofa and he said they must have stolen it. Then we saw them stopping at the house of an elderly woman and delivering it to her. It became clear she had bought it from a nearby second hand store but had been unable to transport it home. These boys were actually aiding their community but the view of the 6-year old had been so distorted he simply assumed a crime was being committed. Becoming a teenager is very tough anyway, you go through puberty and have all the issues of peer pressure, developing interest in the opposite sex (or the same sex) in a sexual way, acne, deciding what academic path you are going to go down, image issues and so on. There is often pressure to commit crime petty or more serious. However, the way that the school has been educating these pupils is that, well of course they will all commit crime because that is what teenagers do, they cannot help themselves. Coming from a Christian school this is a terrible abdication of direction for their pupils.

The bulk of teenagers never commit a crime, just as the bulk of the population never commits a crime. So why is the school not pointing out role models of teenagers who make a positive contribution? In the district there are Scouts, Guides, Boys' Brigade, martial arts, sports, dancing and drama clubs and other societies through which teenagers do a great deal. Why are they not pointing to them so that in the next few years when their pupils are fed along the conveyor belt of life into being teenagers they can see that crime is not the only option and that they can make moral judgements which are surely part of what being a Christian is about, if not simply about being a human in a civilised society. The school offers to alternative to the pupils, it is almost as if they have been damned to being criminal teenagers and nothing they can do with get them away from this predestined path. They do not even do what private schools are and try to create 'young fogeys', i.e. children with middle-aged attitudes, you know the sort, painfully apparent in the UK certainly, and from what I have seen New England too, they are 40 at 14 and miss out on the important challenges and test of character during their teenage years and ultimately find coping with life difficult even if they have avoided the seemingly inevitable criminal path.

Even when young people have managed to get to the end of their teenage years having been condemned as inherently criminal throughout, they are then beaten with the stick of being a 'student'. Of course those who do not continue study can end up in criminal circumstances, but it seems ironic that in the UK those who try to improve themselves are condemned almost as severely as those who try to find unskilled work and are blamed for living off state benefits. This whole attitude seems weird. Where does the population want people aged 13-26 to go for that period? They seem to simply want them to disappear into thin air and reappear in their late 20s. There is a meeting I saw advertised this week in a town in the South of England, it begins with the line 'due to an unprecedented influx of students into this area', which immediately is a lie. The university has been there for a couple of decades and students have always lived near it. The large increase in numbers going to university was in the late 1990s and early 2000s and whilst there are year-on-year fluctuations, there has been no huge leap, it is just the locals are becoming resentful of students. Anyway, they are going to seek a 'solution'. Students have become so demonised in this area that the approach is beginning to smack of persecution. The only tolerable option seems to be simply to drive them out of the town.

It seems that the only council I am aware of who know what financial benefit students bring to a town is Portsmouth. Neighbouring Southampton wants to restrict the amount of student accommodation in the city and Bournemouth farther West along the coast is beginning to behave the same. The attitude towards students is now becoming like that towards prisons or needle exchange centres or even wind turbines. People want more of them to be built, as long as they are not in their area. Britain's development is being slowed by this attitude.

In Bournemouth the university suggested that it buy and develop a derelict retail site be turned into a new student hall even though it is a number of miles from the university campus. It would hold 7-800 students, equivalent to, say, 160 households of students removed from houses across the town. However, complaints have been raised about this scheme too. So what do people want? They do not want students living in their streets and they do not want them in an area away from residential houses. Again they simply want them to disappear into thin air. If they did, suddenly a lot of the shops that those people like would lose a great deal of custom. Bournemouth University has 16,000 students who literally pump millions of pounds into the local economy, but the local population would rather forego that and gripe about young people. They will neither assimilate the students nor ghettoise them, they just want them gone. I can understand that the seasonal pattern of students do disrupt the nature of a locale. Partly this is caused by landlords simply buying up as many properties as they can to rent out to students. I know one road where six houses in a row are owned by a single landlord and rented to students, they lie empty all Summer. Of course no-one would dare say that the patterns of purchase of landlords should be restricted, because, that would be restriction of free exploitative capitalism, so, instead the blame has to be put on the tenants (as always!), who in this case are students.

Of course there are students who behave badly. Then again there are people aged 18-21, students or not who behave badly. A lot of that stems from Britain's appallingly immature approach to alcohol consumption which marks us out sharply from our European neighbours. Every weekend though I can see men and especially women in their 30s and 40s vomiting into gutters just like younger people, in fact often worse, because they have more money than the students trying to work their way through university. In fact in a pub these days the student is far more likely to be behind the bar working than in front of it consuming as almost all UK students now do many hours of paid work each week to keep down their vast debts. So, I accept there are bad students, but as with teenagers they remain the minority. The ironic thing I have found over the past few years is the sharp criticism of students during the Summer and around Christmas. People portray them as 'outsiders' coming to their town and causing problems, without thinking that at those times of the year, the students around are actually the children of the local population who have come home from university for the vacation. Of course, the reality never gets in the way of demonising young people.

The UK population needs to rethink how it interacts with teenagers and students. At the moment the approach is to condemn them all as criminals and rowdy louts. No positive role models of young people that accept that it is hard being young especially in these times when so many opportunities are being snuffed out and young people face so much pressure to behave in ways that are deemed 'tolerable'. Even when they behave perfectly fine there is no credit given, which produces a terribly nihilistic attitude among the young people. Why should they bother to try if they are still going to be lumped into a huge demonised category? That is not going to resolve tensions in communities. You might as well say, that because old people move slowly and smell, and take up the pavements with their walking frames and their electric wheelchairs, and because they play their television so loud you can hear it doors away and yappy dogs, that they must be banned from town centres. This is the ridiculous level to which young people are being categorised negatively. The UK police and local authorities have more powers to prevent 'anti-social' behaviour than probably any other state in the EU (possibly excepting Germany) and so if there is wrong or disruptive behaviour by people, no matter what their age, it can be stopped, there is no need to keep rubbing in the complaints, which generally impact most against the teenagers and students who are not behaving badly. Being a teenager or a student is not a bad thing in itself, it is individuals who decide to behave, to say otherwise is no different to the Nazis saying that Jews were evil, or apartheid South Africa that blacks were stupid and lazy. See individuals for what they are, do not simply read the negative label you assign all the people of that type.

P.P. 18/11/2008 I posted this just at the right time. Today I read a report on the BBC website which highlights a Barnardo's research which shows young people are 'casually condemned' with 54% of adults thinking children 'behave like animals', 43% said they felt adults needed to be protected from children and over a third thought the streets were 'infested' with children. Comments on websites of national newspapers said teenagers were 'feral' and should be 'shot'. Taking up this line, Barnardo's is running an advertisement in which adults are shown as hunting down 'vermin', i.e. teenagers. There is no denying that there are young people who do commit crime. However, whereas people think teenagers commit 50% of crime, in fact they only commit 12%. You are at more danger by far from adults than from teenagers. The United Nations last month highlighted Britain's intolerance to young people. This is unsurprising given that even schools who should be highlighting the achievements of good children are simply putting out the same negative stereotypes. Consequently it is unsurprising the attitudes shown up by this research suggests that the only solution many adults can think of is violence. None of them take responsibility for the fact that some children end up this way. The whole response is irrational, you cannot eliminate a whole generation and in fact they are far less of a problem than is assumed. Alienating young people just exacerbates the problem. Adults who can make their voices heard are just scapegoating young people who cannot.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Retro Pop Yourself

I have noted on this blog over the past couple of years how we have seen a tendency by many pop artists to go back to 1960s influences for their current releases. We have seen the enduring career of Amy Winehouse with a very soul/mowtown approach and then Duffy with her kind of Sandie Shaw/Dusty Springfield British 1960s flavour. Duffy seems to be releasing almost everything off her album and it all has that sound, very nostalgic to those who know the originals, but clearly appealing to younger people too. It was also interesting to note that Sharleen Spiteri's solo album, 'Melody' which was released in July also has very much a 1960s feel which is apparent if you look at the cover with her dressed in that smart, almost cute, black dress with the white piping. Her singles, 'All the Times I Cried' and 'Stop I Don't Love You Any More' mix together 1960s influences from both the USA and UK with the quite highly orchestrated, complex instrumentation with a force behind it that underlies lyrics which are belted out and are highly emotional. This pattern can be seen in Duffy's work too. Winehouse has overlaps with this style but also tinged with a bluesy flavour coming through the mowtown approach. Even performers who you would anticipate as being deep in a 2000s approach, notably the group, Girls Aloud (formed in 2002 for the TV show 'Pop Stars: The Rivals') who have just become the most successful female group in British history (19 consecutive Top 10 hits) and yet have joined the bandwagon of retro pop. This is most apparent in their current single 'The Promise'.

Not only does the video show them at a drive-in watching themselves dressed in outfits The Supremes would have worn, but the lyrics betray some of the submissive female lines that I had detected before especially in Duffy's early releases (though I am glad to say things like 'Warwick Avenue' are more ballsy). The opening lines from Girls Aloud's song that go: 'Everything he does, is better than anything ordinary/ Everything he wants he gets, cause everything he does is kinda necessary' really hammer home that the 'heroine' of the song judges her needs as being subservient to those of the man, not just because they are 'better' but because even though she cannot rationalise it, his self-importance asserts itself over anything she needs. This could almost be a Doris Day song and I think The Supremes themselves would have jarred a little at its sentiments. Despite the success of this song, I hope that young women do not think they have to subvert their goals to those of a man because he says it is necessary. Interestingly this submissive approach of the white female performers is in direct counterpoint to the songs that seemed to condemn men as unfeeling and selfish, notably, Beyonce's 'If I Was a Boy', Alesha Dixon's 'The Boy Does Nothing' ('boy' seems to becoming the derogatory term for men, though of course for American blacks it is a very loaded term for applying to men), Jennifer Hudson's 'Spotlight', Rihanna's 'Take a Bow' (which itself seems to be inspired by Beyonce's earlier single 'Irreplaceable' (2006)) and of course the ever-reliable white exception, Pink with 'So What' (though given the split from her husband there were clear motives for that one). This trend is going to the extent of Leona Lewis's 'Forgive Me' in which the woman she sings about feels that even though the man she is with had 'love that always passed the test', she feels 'I had to go and look somewhere else'. I suppose this is turning gender dynamics on its head with the woman setting very high standards for me, criticising them for failing to meet them, and thus feeling free to conduct affairs.

To some extent these singles are taking extremes on both sides. As a man I feel terribly uneasy that all men seemed to be being condemned as unfaithful and useless by influential female singers. I am sure it is doubly offensive to black American men at whom these songs seem aimed, surely there are positive examples out there who treat their wives/girlfriends decently, though this is certainly not the image received from Beyonce who portrays anyone who is 'just a boy' as incapable of any emotional attachment to their partners. Such songs do shape attitudes, as Blue's disgraceful 'All Rise' (2001) encouraged boyfriends to throw away all their girlfriend's possessions if she was not sufficiently forthcoming in information about her activities when away from him. The influx of 1960s sentiments through using 1960s stylings further complicates the battle of gender politics of the 2000s that seems to have been going on in the charts.

The most interesting entry in the current retro pop wave is Sir Tom Jones (1940-). What makes this so interesting is that Jones was an original 1960s recording artist anyway. He released his first single in 1965 and has sold 100 millon records since. He has always been hard to define as he has had one foot in the pop area and one in the more 'crooner', lounge singer area. Jones has constantly re-invented himself, first notably by covering 'Kiss' with the Art of Noise in 1988 and then performing with other pop acts, EMF and particularly 1999-2000 with The Cardigans, Cerys Matthews, The Pretenders, Mousse T, The Stereophonics and Robbie Williams. With the success of Tony Christie's 'Is This The Way to Amarillo?' re-released in 2005, maybe he has been tempted more back to the crooner side. The first single off his new album, '24 Hours', 'If He Sould Ever Leave You' is very much a song Jones could have released successfully in 1967 with lines such as 'He should be inclined to keep you close' and references to 'your captivating eyes' would not be out of place sitting alongside his 1960s hits such as 'It's Not Unusual' (1965), 'Help Yourself' (1968), '(It Looks Like) I'll Never Fall In Love Again' (1969) and 'She's A Lady' (1971). I suppose that given his success with this style he must be delighted he can continue to produce records in this style and have them still selling forty years on. I suppose it is what you say with all fashions if you stay still long enough with a style it will all come round again. Jones has had the best of both worlds, success with adapting his style and success with remaining with his original approach too. I wonder who will be next to benefit from the retro pop wave of the moment.

P.P. 11/01/2009 The Christmas period seemed no cease in the retro style pop songs coming from younger performers. Notable were Boyzone with 'Better' (2008) which could easily have been a Roy Orbison (1936-88) track, especially with the guitar and drums marking time, it was very remiscent of so much Orbison material. The group even tried his spread across the octaves though even using two lead vocals they cannot attain his two-and-a-half octave baritone stretch. The other was Gabriella Chilme being the Ronettes, the Crystals, Darlene Love or some similar mowtown style performers with her 'Warm This Winter' (2008) with the wall of sound and brass, it could have been write off the Phil Spector's 'A Christmas Gift To You' (1963; re-released in 1972). Perhaps she is seeking longevity as tracks from that album are still played on the radio today.

John Prescott and Class

As I have commented before, I have thought that John Prescott received an unfair condemnation as a politician. I do not think he is the best politician the UK ever had and his support for Tony Blair especially over the war in Iraq angered me. However, his abilities and in particular his analysis of the UK political scene I think have been under-rated. Due to his physical stature, his accent, his behaviour that is like many ordinary men of his age and background, people have assumed that means he lacked knowledge and skill. However, even if incompetents rise to the top of various political systems he would not have been able to hold his position as deputy prime minister for ten years if he lacked ability; Blair removed even close allies if they blundered. Throughout his term as prime minister, Blair was almost untouchable for the media, so Prescott took some of this flack. In addition, Prescott's ordinary nature, his moments of temper made him an easier target. However, interestingly things that he was ridiculed for, such as bus lanes on motorways, actually worked. Of course in the UK as elsewhere bringing in a successful policy is less important than winning the approval of the media and thus the public. A key challenge for the media, of course, was that right throughout the period of rule by the Blair party (1997-2008) Prescott was seen as the embodiment of the Labour Party that had gone before. He complied with Blairist policies but there was always a suspicion from the right-wing media that he Prescott would contaminate the policies that they (and their constituency of the wealthy and the nationalistic) were enjoying so much with something that had more reference to the needs of the broader British community.

Prescott was the embodiment of man who had got on. In some ways he should have been the symbol of the input the Labour Part had made to the UK in the last 60 years. His grandfather was a coal miner, his father was a railwayman, having failed the 11-plus exam (which separated children at 11 into different types of schools and curricula) he worked as a ship's steward and yet ended his career as deputy prime minister. This says a great deal about increased opportunities and how education can help you get on. Someone coming from that kind of background today would find it far harder to progress than Prescott did through the more liberal times of the 1960s and 1970s. Ironically the Blair Party's policies have shut off so many routes that Prescott's equivalents in the 2000s could have come through.

Now, on 27th October 2008, Prescott presented a programme on BBC2 (you can still watch it on the BBC iplayer) called 'The Class System and Me'. Social class is a big issue in the UK. Despite rhetoric about the classless society in the UK since the mid-1990s in fact it is incredibly difficult to break away from the class you are born into in the UK and to be something of higher status than your parents. My father came from a working class background and moved into the technical lower middle class ranks. He could now be counted as middle class, as a property owner with investments. I attended university the first (and last) in the whole of my extended family to do so. Yet, rather than rising to a class higher than my father I am busily sliding down, pushed around by landlords, having few items that I own and with the casualisation of labour, having no career structure. I am back down to lower middle class and anticipate that by the time I retire will actually be worse off than my grandfather (who actually owned a house for many decades) floating down in the unskilled working class, certainly in terms of my income and what I own and the shops I frequent, if not in terms of the culture I put myself in.

Prescott saw himself as having risen from the working class into the middle class. That is a good thing. It is easier on you living a middle class life than a working class one (even easier if you are living an upper class life) so much more is done for you. It is unsurprising that Prescott enjoyed having the large cars that came with his job. Only those who had been used to driving themselves around in small, old cars or going by public transport truly relish having a car at your command. Prescott was ridiculed as 'two Jags' (as in Jaguar cars) but actually I would be more alarmed at someone who did not relish that opportunity and saw it as something normal. Prescott received criticism in 'The Guardian' newspaper for his programme on class. Having risen through the classes it is naturally a topic that interests him, added to this he comes from a political party that was founded on a class basis. It was suggested that he was somehow now only learning the 'ropes' of being in a higher class and that he should have known that before he became deputy prime minister. That utterly missed the point. It assumes somehow that middle and upper class behaviour is somehow more correct and more valid than behaviour of people in other classes. Of course that is not the case, though society insists that it is. In addition, whenever Prescott indulged in upper class behaviour, notably when he tried out the game of croquet, he was mocked for apeing his 'betters'. In the USA black politicians and business people (probably far less now since Obama) were often ridiculed for behaving like successful whites, and yet if they did not then they would always be seen as behaving 'wrongly'. This is the 'lose-lose' situation that social elites set up to keep capable people out of their ranks. In their view you must assimilate yourself into their modes of behaviour and so adopt all the assumptions and values that come with them, or you are invalid. However, some people, whether they are black or from a working class background will always be seen as invalid and so their attempts to assimilate or be assimilated are simply ridiculed and the British media was wonderful at doing that kind of social policing on Prescott on behalf of the elites who both feared and despised him. It is interesting to see the comments written on the BBC messageboards, some suggesting that it is wrong to see Prescott as having become middle class as even though he has middle class trappings, they argue, he will never be middle class, only his grandchildren could reach that ranking!

Prescott is not the first Labour politician to be in that position. We can see parallels to Ernest Bevin, a leading trade unionist and Labour Foreign Secretary 1945-51 who was in a similar position vis-a-vis the upper classes. Of course the progress of such men in British politics is portrayed by the upper class as demonstrating that we have an egalitarian society. As Lord Onslow noted to Prescott, there had not been an Onslow in the Cabinet since 1870. What Onslow of course conceals is that actually he probably wields far greater power outside the government than part of it. These days so much government policy is channelled by what the rich and the upper classes will tolerate. They were given their greatest burst of freedom by the Thatcher regime and no-one is really in a position to limit that. The policy arena in which Prescott operated had parameters set by Onslow and his kind, nothing could stretch beyond these. In fact all Labour governments in British history have run up against these parameters set up by the upper classes, but over the decades the arena for policy has been increasingly narrowed. People like Onslow, show, how effective the propaganda machine of the upper classes is, in making so many people believe that any reference to privilege, class structure and lack of social mobility is somehow 'outdate' especially since the collapse of Communist regimes in the 1980s. It might be portrayed in that way, but in fact the upper class and super-rich have far more grip on British society and have clamped down on social mobility in a way that they have not been able to do to this extent since 1945.

One aspect of Prescott's programme which received particular attention was his reference to private schools. As regular readers will know their privileges and their distortion of opportunities in education, especially access to leading universities, is something I have long bemoaned. Prescott was right on target when he noted that private schools uphold many of the elements of the British class system. I will add that you can see this in sharp contrast to France with its post-revolutionary society in which anyone who has the ability can attend a Grand Ecole, whereas in Britain only a tiny fraction of society, the most privileged will ever get into the so-called 'public schools' (the elite private schools) and from people from these ranks are heavily over-represented in senior political, legal, religious, civil service, military positions not because they are of greater ability but because they have the right connections. Prescott acknowledged that the parents of the 7% of children who go to private schools were seeking to buy their children the best opportunity in life and he did not begrudge them doing that. He did, however, note what that signals to the 93% of children whose parents cannot afford to send them to these schools.

Prescott wants the break down of the sharp divide in British education. It is ironic that the Blair government actually sought to increase division in education by further segregating the schools that 93% of children go to into faith schools, grammar schools, specialist academies, etc. so exacerbating the shutting off from access to good schooling to even groups of children who are in this 93%. Of course Prescott was attacked for being 'out-of-date', an unreformed class warrior and seeking to 'punish the successful'. They also said that a quarter of pupils come from areas of below average income. Well, in the UK in a single street you can have a wide range of wealth, you can see it all over London, so I would not put much store by that point. In addition these schools are successul because they are not constrained by the factors that ordinary, state schools face in terms of pupil numbers, constant monitoring and a sustained shortage of funds. If state schools each received as much money as the average or even poor private school, you would see immediate improvement. Of course people do not want to pay the taxes to provide that and parents who send their children to private schools have the gall to say they should be exempt from part of their tax bill as they do not use the state system (yes, but all your British teachers were trained by it).

Prescott argues that the only way to begin to erode the sharp class divides in the UK, which are detrimental to social harmony and its economic success, is to break down such divides and invest heavily in state education. To say that Prescott's views are outdated is utterly wrong. In fact given how social division is increasing in the UK and social mobility reducing rapidly, his points are even more relevant today than they were in the past. If we are going to have a better society in the UK in the future in fact we need many more class warriors like Prescott, all strength to him!

P.P. - 12/02/2009: I was pleased to see that he was behind a 13,000-signature petition to try to get the government to block banks that have been bailed out granting their employees huge bonuses. A good step, keep it up John.

The Christian Heresy I Feel Makes Sense

Despite growing up in a mildly Christian country (the UK) where people tend to take on the trappings of religion and increasingly use it as a basis to be self-righteous and condemn others, religion never appealed to me. Rationally, also I could see no sense of it. I could deal with the possibility of a supreme being, but all the other trappings which came with the worship of God seemed simply human constructs, again to encourage segregation. Also I have trouble with this concept of 'worship'. If a being is supreme, why does it need to be constantly reminded of that fact. Surely worship actually wastes time and distracts from doing what the being wants really us to do? Yet for church organisations, worship is the prime activity.

Having studied the breakaway of the Protestants from the Catholic Church in the 16th century I noted that whereas the Catholics had said you got to Heaven both through doing good works and having faith in God, the Protestants said that you only needed to have faith in God to get to Heaven, you did not have to put in any good work. I felt they had got this the wrong way round, and actually doing good works was the important element and actually demonstrates that you had faith in God. I could not go with Catholicism because it had far too many of the irrational trappings such as saintly intercession and the general pomp and circumstance that the Protestants were against. In addition, I could not accept its attitudes on contraception or abortion for the World we currently live in. So I suppose I felt I was outside the two main strands of Christianity around me.

From a humanist perspective I could see good elements of Christianity and having looked at history I recognised that whilst Christianity and Islam formed the basis of many bloody and cruel conflicts, at times they also restrained excessive behaviour especially in terms of the vulnerable. I think we should be good to other people because that is what being human should be about, but I recognise that the majority of people need something like the threat of eternal damnation to encourage them to moderate their behaviour towards other people especially those they can easily exploit. Increasingly I felt attracted to Pagan approaches to the cosmos, because at least these seem to fit in with how it functions and Pagans do not these days start major wars or seek to categorise and so exclude other people. In contrast there seemed to be so many sub-sets of Christianity and even within a small organisation like the Church of England, even individual churches (as in a group of people going to a single building) seemed to conflict with other churches of the same denomination.

Now, my opinions have shifted in recent years. Analysing it I think this is due to a number of causes. One is that I am ageing and coming closer to when I die as my life expectancy now is about 10-15 years. I do not feel fearful of eternal damnation or consider going to Heaven, but perhaps it is simply that as you age you reflect more on your own life and how it fits into the broader pattern of humanity. Other factors have also contributed, such as 'The Da Vinci Code' movie. I know people saw this as irreligious, but as I have noted here before it actually got me thinking about Jesus as a man rather than something divine. I am convinced he was married and that he lived a normal life for most of the time. I think he was supposed to supply the catering or at least the wine for one of his brother's weddings. That made him seem much closer to me in my outlook. I think churches are on the wrong track when they portray Jesus as somehow super-human, far removed from us mere mortals. How can we ever aspire to be anything close to that? I am never going to be semi-divine, not even one tenth divine, so Jesus is always going to be very far from my existence. If Jesus was an ordinary man, then that is very different. As an ordinary man, he demonstrates things that I myself could achieve. I can do good works, help people, make sacrifices and these things could win me a place in Heaven, because I would be putting myself to the ultimate test which is assisting humanity as a whole.

Now, I was encouraged to reflect on Jesus's humanity by playing the 'Barbarian Invasion' expansion to the computer game, 'Rome Total War'. This might seem a very peculiar source of religious reflection, but bear with me. The expansion starts in the 4th century CE at a time when a lot of aspects of what we see as Christianity in western and eastern Europe were being defined and a lot of things that had been put forward as being part of Christian canon were thrown out at various councils and became known as heresies. These things which were thrown out such as the Gospel of St. Philip and the perception of Jesus as being more human than divine (though the dispute on this is what still keeps the Catholic and Orthodox churches apart) was also pushed aside and as is highlighted in the 'The Da Vinci Code' one day Jesus was human and the next day divine. This was not decided by Jesus but policy-makers four cecnturies later. In 'Barbarian Invasion', various characters you encounter subscribe to different Christian 'heresie' that normally you do not hear much about. So I was attracted to what has been written out of mainstream Christianity. The three I would point to are the Arian Heresy. This went against the concept of Trinity, that Jesus, as the Son, is an eternal element of God, rather it sees him as distinct. Furthermore there is the Nestorian Heresy that Jesus had a purely human element as well as an element which came from God, but that these are distinct. When Jesus was on Earth he was a man. Now to me this makes sense. What is the point of sending down a part of God to show humans how to live, it is much more effective to charge a man with doing that. People emphasise the very ordinary nature of Jesus, who like so many people suffered upheaval and persecution, arrest on the grounds of conscience and execution, things that millions have been through. Surely this is a better illustration to humans of how to behave with humanity, dignity and courage than having a super-human who can opt out of the hazards of life?

Interestingly, in the Gospel of John, Chapter 10, Jesus says he calls God his father, but feels that all men should do that.  He quotes Psalm 82 (Psalm 81 in Catholic Bibles) as reinforcing this view.  This suggests that at the time John was assembling his gospel, which seems to have been around 90CE, that it was being stated that Jesus viewed everyone as a 'child of God' and that he was unexceptional in that.  Nowhere do I see Jesus marking himself out in the Bible as being divine, though many people seem to argue that these days.  Talking of the Gospels, it is interesting how the date of their authorship has been pushed back.  When I was at school we were taught that the New Testament was written 80-200 years after Jesus's execution.  However, now popularly you see statements that it was started in 45 CE, only 10-12 years after Jesus's death.  Previously the different gospels were supposedly written anonymously and given the different names of the supposed authors, even though they state that they were written by apostles close to Jesus.  Many people believe now that the gospels were written by actual apostles of Jesus, but there is evidence that they were only appended these designations later. The Gospel of Mark was written around 64 CE, possibly in Syria rather than Palestine, and seems to have drawn some of its information from relatives of the apostles. It seems the Gospel of Matthew was written sometime after 80 CE by a wealthy Jew, showing adherence to Jewish law and aware of the theological debates of that decade rather than earlier.  The Gospel of Luke was probably also written late in the 1st Century CE and used Mark's gospel for chronology.  Despite people now saying that these were written by apostles alive at the time of Jesus's life and noted down soon after, in fact what we read is more like an account of events in a location with no modern media that occurred in the 1960s compared to today.

Another heresy which attracte my attention was the Pelagian Heresy which argues that individuals choose whether they make their way to redemption and into Heaven without necessarily the input from God. In its view Adam set a bad example to humanity and Jesus a good example. Humans take entire responsibility for their own behaviour whether it is good or sinful, they cannot blame divine forces. Of course God still judges at the end of the person's life, but there is not intervention by God in the process up until then. In addition, everyone starts life with a clean slate, there is no original sin, it is up to you if you are going to be sinful or not. To some degree this is the basis on which most societies view and judge crime. Only individuals of 'diminished responsibility', i.e. deemed not to be in a position to distinguish properly what is good or sinful, if even temporarily, are viewed as exempt from this. In combining Nestorian and Pelagian heresies, I feel you actually have a perception of the role of Jesus which is far more appropriate for guiding human development than mixing it all up with the super-human elements.

Interestingly, of course, Jesus appears in Islam. He is not the son of God (no more, than we are all in fact sons and daughters of God having been created by Him), he is a prophet. In Victorian times, Westerners called Islam, Mohammedism after the leading prophet, Mohammed. Now if we see Jesus as not being a divine being at all, just the leading proponent of a set of principles that lead us to lead a life that is welcomed by God, then on this basis, Christianity is the correct term for what we would be following.

Thus, I suggest that people consider this 'heresy'. Jesus was a man who existed. He came from an ordinary background (though as the Bible makes clear from the Nativity onwards, not as poor as some people make out) and he was filled with a desire to show and instruct people how they can live together in a way that minimises the cruelty and suffering in the World. Naturally this mode of behaviour is one that God approves of. However, God's involvement with Jesus was no greater than rewarding him for the life he lived by giving him a place in Heaven at the time of his death. Jesus was a son of God just as every man on the planet is a son of God and every woman, one of his daughters, but he had no divine elements in him. As such, all of us could aspire to live and behave in the way Jesus did, as fits with the societies we now live in. If we do so then we will achieve a place in Heaven. However, it is up to us to decide how we are going to behave. If we choose to sin, then we suffer. 'The wages of sin are death' and this might be physical death, but even before that it is likely to be spiritual and intellectual death. A sinful life is an empty life, and reward for behaving in a good way is a full life, now and for ever more, that is what humans are here to experience.

A Christian friend of mine was surprised that I felt more belief in Jesus the more human I perceived him. This is in contrast really to the approach adopted by churches over the past 1700 years to emphasise his exceptionality and his super-human nature. This lifts Jesus farther and farther away from us and so makes his message seem inapplicable to us who are just simple humans. Bring Jesus back to humanity and hopefully humanity will be able to behave in a more humane way.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Obstacles to Obama's Change

I am already hearing strange things coming from the USA in the wake of Barack Obama's victory in the presidential election. The odd rumours that he was going to plunge the USA into some kind of race war and that black people will be favoured over any others. Bizarrely people did not say when George W. Bush was elected that they feared a class war or that the super-rich would be favoured over everyone else. I was fearful up to the last that this election would resemble the UK election of 1992 at which it was assumed that the Labour Party would win and end 13 years of bleak Conservative rule. However, at the last, the 'grey man', John Major pulled off a surprise victory which led to a further 5 years of Conservative rule, whilst not as proactively nasty as the period under Thatcher, still a period of economic troubles and social division. Major was held by the eccentricities of the British electoral system just as Bush had been aided by the eccentricities of the US system in 2000. Thus, it is heartening that Obama won with such a majority, 364 of the college votes to McCain's 162, which was 94 more than the 270 Obama needed to win. The fact that he took all the Great Lake states shows the advantage for the Democrats of selecting him over Clinton. Also vitally important is the fact that the Democrats have majorities in both houses of Congress and Obama will not face the opposition to policies from that quarter that previous Democrat politicians have faced.

In 1997 when Tony Blair won the election in the UK for New Labour with the largest majority in living memory people expected radical change in British society of the kind they are expecting from Obama. Of course many people had been deluded and they had elected not a Labour government but a Blairite government, which effectively was simply an invigorated version of the Major Conservative government which had just led office. Naturally the reason why Blair attracted support was that he was not radical and presented no threat to the majority of the British public who are conservative and want the status quo maintained in so many aspects of British life, even if that leads to a weaker economy and wide social division. They always see the reason in scapegoats rather than realising that the UK needed substantial change.

I feel, and I hope I am right, that Obama represents a government that actually does want true change rather than simply using the rhetoric of it. To some degree there would have been change whoever had been elected President in the USA or if there had been no outcome and the Speaker of the House of Representatives had stepped in to fill the gap. This is because Bush was utterly incompetent. He lacked the intelligence to run a company let alone a country. He did not really even effectively carry out the Republican agenda. It was embarrassing to see him speak because he simply showed up his ignorance and inability to address the office he held. Even Ronald Reagan, despite his substantial flaws, came across as slightly more in control, and that is a shocking comparison to have to make. In fact John F. Kennedy dead, would have made a better president that Bush alive, because even though his image has been augmented beyond the truth, his legend presents a better guide to how the USA should be run than Bush ever could.

Though I am not doubtful of Obama's sincere wish to change the USA, I think still faces major challenges in bringing about genuine reform. The first problem is that people are so willing to believe the lies. Hearing white Americans from states that elected Obama, commenting that he will be running the USA like an African state, shows the level of racism still prevalent in the USA. All the rumours around Barack Obama being a Kenyan were also silly. Anyone who knows the US constitution would know if that had been the case he never would have been able to stand for the position (this is why Arnold Schwarznegger can never be US President under current laws) and the Democratic Party would have never made such a blunder. Such a level of ignorance opens people up to believe whatever lies are levelled at the new president and Obama is constantly going to have to fight such ridiculous stories even before he can explain his policies. What these people do not realise is that Obama represents so many aspects of the 'American dream'. All people in the USA are immigrants. Even the ancestors of the native Americans, immigrate into the continent from Asia. Many people in the USA have ancestors of different races, Barack Obama has a white mother and a black father. Obama, his parents and his wife all benefited from the US attitude to education which sees it as a way to get on and improve yourself. So, attempts to portray Obama as somehow alien to US culture fails immediately.

The other key obstacles to Obama will come from vested interests. The US$ did go from US$1.67 to £1 to US$1.58, but we have not seen the stock exchange 'bounce' that you usually witness following a US election no matter who has won. This is partly due to the ongoing financial crisis, but also shows that the super-rich know that their man, Bush, is going and they will not receive such preferential treatment as they have seen since 2000. Bush said these people were his core constituency and his policies have been mainly to help them. He secured Iraqi oil to keep it out of the hands of the Chinese and he baled out the banks who had brought themselves down by their greed. Such policies will not be pursued by Obama. In fact quite likely they would not have been pursued by McCain. However, I will anticipate a capital flight from the USA as the big investors seek to salt away funds so that they will not be asked to contribute to social reform programmes in the USA. Bush did do one thing in Obama's favour by nationalising AIG in September. This could provide a useful basis for a reformed social insurance scheme for the USA and the stigma of 'creeping Socialism' which has long been used against real social reform in the USA can be diverted to Bush's lap rather than Obama's.

In introducing reforms especially in economic and the social sectors, Obama will face the might of US big business. Brown has seen how tough this can be in the UK when he tried to introduce a windfall tax on the very wealthy power companies here, and Obama will face similar opposition, effectively blackmailing the president by holding consumers to ransom. Both Brown and Obama need to gain state control of the real levers of the economy whilst facing condemnation that this is 'wrong', 'dictatorial' or 'unhealthy' in a 'free' market economy. Of course there is no 'free' market it is just the way those who actually control it portray it. Markets have always been manipulated, since the 1980s almost exclusively in favour of those who already have money and power so they can protect and augment that money and power and reduce the gains of the rest of society made in the 1940s-1970s. Obama will not be able to overturn such ingrained power, especially as the 'norm' now says that state intervention is evil, when in fact it can really benefit far more people than any effect of the market could ever do. It would take at least a decade to shift away from this terrible 'free' market attitude that shackles so many people to life without opportunity. If Obama was becoming president after 8 years of the Gore administration, well then, things might be different, but unfortunately this is real history not a 'what if?'. Divisive, super-rich friendly policies are so fixed into Western societies that it is going to require more than one or two terms of office to alter them.

Obama will not only face harsh opposition from those who have power but also often from the ordinary people who will actually benefit from his reforms. It is fascinating how hostile the ordinary American is to policies which would actually help them (many Britons are the same though). They have been so misled by politicians like Bush to think that anything which makes the USA a more socially equal place or at least one where the people at the bottom (the majority) do not suffer so much, is somehow unpatriotic. Too many Americans believe that they will gain through force. This is why there is so much adherence to the use of guns. People feel they buy them a place in society whereas in fact they just contribute further to the deterioration of that society. The post-apocalyptic myths are still too strong in the USA. Too many Americans believe that in a 'simpler' society they would be better off, whereas in fact, those with the power currently would be the barons of such a landscape. More Americans, whites particularly, need to see how their ancestors were exploited and had short, bleak lives. They were not successful or powerful, they were ground down in the way current working class is by the US system. Despite this somehow many white Americans in that category today see such a society as being better. Blacks look back to slavery and can see how things have improved, but whites need to learn much more how far they have come in the past century in the USA but also how much further they could go if they did not think a gun buys them a good life. Of course one great fear is that someone will assassinate Obama. Of course it will win him yet more profile in history but it will deny the ordinary American the reform they need and the rest of the World the peace they require.

For the sake of the World I wish Barack Obama all the best in trying to bring about change. However, I am not going to be among the critics in 2012 complaining that he has not changed much at all, because I am already aware of how many people with so much power and wealth, aided by the entrenched attitudes of so many others, will be out to stop him.

Saturday, 8 November 2008

The Great Unrest 1910-11. Part 7: Consequences of the Unrest

This section looks at some of the policies which were adopted following the Great Unrest including extensive plans to defend London from riots, especially in wartime. It also considers the extent to which the First World War quelled the unrest which had been so virulent in 1910-11.

Consequences of the Great Unrest

The riots of 1911 alerted government to the potential burden that strikes could place on police forces nationwide. On 17 August 1911, Sir Edward Troup, Under Secretary of State at the Home Office reminded police and local authorities that they should recruit special constables to augment their forces. Many forces felt no need for special constables and in Llanelly and Manchester such steps were seen as dangerously provocative. The Glamorgan and Hull forces felt no volunteer was suitable. Of the 9,000 volunteers, 2,500 were sworn in, over half in Liverpool. Though only around 300 insisted on being paid, this cost central government over £500 [equivalent to £31,000 at today’s values].[1]

In 1911 the Army Act was amended to permit Army Council-appointed inspectors recording all the horses, motor vehicles and boats which could be ‘impressed’ into service in case of ‘emergency’ or war. Keen motorists, among them politicians, wrote to the newspapers and the Home Office suggesting a national register of those among the 120,000 car owners in Britain who were willing to lend their vehicles to the government in time of crisis feeling this would mean ‘any railway strike would be shorn of many of its terrors’. The idea floundered as motorists and the government recognised volunteer drivers would be at the risk of attack. In such suggestions one sees attitude that would find fruition in the volunteer action during the 1926 General Strike.[2]

As early as 1909, officials anticipated a European war and there was concern over unrest breaking out in wartime. In February 1909, Director of Military Training, Major-General Murray warned of the problems facing wartime London ‘with vast numbers of ignorant, underfed and discontented unemployed, together with the alien and criminal population...’.[3] Though Churchill felt such concerns were exaggerated, in March 1911, he, Haldane and Murray met with the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, General Sir William Nicholson and Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Edward Henry to develop plans for combating unrest in London. Later Murray believed the strikes of 1911 had brought the Home Office around to the War Office’s way of thinking.[4] Given the experience of the general transport strike in Liverpool which had cut food supplies to that city and had result in looting and food riots, it is unsurprising that when the London dock strike broke out in August 1911, Asquith assured the King that there were 20,000 troops ready to intervene if the dispute was prolonged and particularly if rioting broke out. The dockers’ leader, Tillett saw this as intimidation towards strikers. However, given the potential chaos, the government was obliged to be ready to cope with such problems provoked by a strike.[5]

By January 1913 the ‘Suppression of Civil Disturbances in London’ guidance had been printed. It argued that to protect the listed range of locations, including the royal palaces, 250 vulnerable points necessary for public service and 160 locations of military importance in London needed over 13,500 troops. The allocation of forces was given in immense detail with London divided into five zones stretching up to 15 miles from the centre. The ‘armed guards’ protecting the vulnerable points would be ‘given definite orders to fire to protect the premises they are watching or to prevent crime or riot.’, i.e. very similar to the incidents which had occurred in rioting 1910-11. The plan came into force on 2 August 1914 and steps of this kind were implemented during the Metropolitan police strike of 1918.[6]

In November 1914, a survey was conducted of the forces around London which could combat disturbances; the total was around 15,000 the same as had been in London during the 1911 rail strike. Despite Henry’s disdain and counter to standing guidance, an intelligence network, under Sir Schomberg McDonnell, was established in all five zones.[7]

The Home Office opposed militarisation of the police even in wartime. Henry who resisted the formation of two Metropolitan Police Territorial Army battalions. Once war had broken out, he had only 2,500 officers on any shift. London had a population of 7.25 million and only about 5,000 of the 29,000 German and Austrian males of military age in Britain had been interned. Henry feared that the police were stretched even without ‘imposing upon them duties of a quasi military nature’. However, he did permit 5,000 M.E. Mark II carbines to be stored in the Tower of London, plus 500,000 rounds of ammunition and 5,000 fifty-round bandoliers for police use. Henry personally issued 1,000 Scott-Webley automatic pistols to police.[8]

The remaining period of peace saw only sporadic strike-related disturbances, the most serious being in Dublin in August-December 1913 which witnessed riots leading to two deaths. Though the strike disturbances had waned, unrest associated with female suffrage and Irish Home Rule struggles continued.

One commonly asked question is whether the Asquith government was encouraged to declare war in the belief that rousing patriotism would counter domestic unrest. To some extent the war had this effect as ‘[d]isputes melted away as fast as the hours of the day...’. Paul Johnson believes that ‘in a state approaching revolution - only our submersion in a general European catastrophe averted a crisis ... [o]ur parliamentary democracy was, perhaps, saved in the mud of Flanders.’.[10] In addition reports to the Cabinet Committee on Industrial Unrest predicted large scale strikes in Autumn 1914 and that Lloyd George held such concerns.[11]

The concept of declaring war to calm domestic unrest was applied to Imperial Germany by Hans-Ulrich Wehler as the ‘Flucht nach vorn’ - escape forwards. He sees German √©lites as using war to counter the rise of the socialists. Wehler feels that British √©lites were more adaptable than their German counterparts, but in the 1910s were becoming equally as ‘inflexible and irresponsible’ and Britain faced greater actual unrest than Germany.[12] No government could have articulated such a reason for declaring war and it is clear there was little forethought among ministers until days before the declaration. Whilst as Peter Rowland shows Grey’s anti-German stance was challenged in 1911, generally Grey’s foreign policy had been secretive from even the Cabinet, and the distractions of Ireland had meant little attention had been paid to developments in the Balkans. It was assumed that many ministers would resign rather than support going to war, though ultimately only two did. These different factors suggest, that in contrast to the Kaiser’s circle, the British government had no strategy to use war this way.[13]

Though reducing the number of strikes, the outbreak of war did not end unrest and wartime rioting resembled that seen in 1910-13.[14] As David Englander shows, the motives of those involved in anti-German riots in 1915, largely were often economic and looting was seen as justified. In addition, he notes that over half of these rioters were women. However, despite the parallels to the pre-war unrest, in contrast to the riots of 1910-13 the labour movement condemned these wartime disturbances as disrupting the work of shops.[15]

Following government attempts from the mid-1900s to encourage the creation of police reserves, there were 150,000 by the end of 1914, however, it remained difficult to suppress rioting. Troops were used against riots in South Shields, Gravesend and Southend. In 1917 anti-Semitic riots in Leeds and London aimed at the 30,000 Jewish refugees from Russia seen as shirking military service. Despite the war and ultimately rising living standards on the home front, violent unrest could still break out.[16]

Owing to shifts within classes; a fall in real wages and trade union developments, Britain in the early 1910s witnessed new heights of industrial unrest. Violence stemmed from these disputes, but usually with different, often more parochial, motives. Working and middle class people became involved in destruction that normally they would never had considered. This rioting occurred against a background of a new form of industrial action, virulent rhetoric and novel types of protest linked to the issues of Ireland and female suffrage that appeared to legitimise outrageous behaviour, that as Meacham notes, even contemporaries saw as distinct to nineteenth-century popular unrest.
[17] The government’s response showed continuity, augmented to cope with the extent of disturbances and its greater involvement in industrial conciliation.

The first line of defence, local police forces, were too weak and fragmented to counter the riots’ scale and ferocity. Only the military, directly controlled on a national basis by the government could tackle them effectively, even then this proved challenging. At full mobilisation in August 1911 British forces would have found it impossible to deal with rioting occurring in more than a few towns. That experience prompted government plans to counter subsequent similar action. The deaths during the riots were avoidable, but with different approaches or commanding officers far greater bloodshed would have been witnessed. As Churchill noted, more people were killed by the rioters than by soldiers’ bullets.[18] Though the government had to maintain law and order, and this was unpopular with sectors of the population, the successful suppression of unrest meant it never approached the civil war many anticipated.

[1] National Archives [henceforward NA], HO 45/10659/212708 sub-file 114a, Sir E. Troup, circular, 17 August 1911; ‘Special Constables’, 23 August 1911; sub-file 190, ‘Hull’, 23 August 1911; sub-file 238, Letter to Accounting Officer, Treasury, 15 March 1912.
[2] NA, HO 45/10659/212856, pamphlet, ‘The Impression of Horses in Time of National Emergency’, 1912; The Times, 23 August 1911, Lord Montagu to the Editor, ‘Road Transport During Strikes’; A.W. Gamage to the Editor, 25 August 1911; The Daily Telegraph, 1 September 1911, ‘Our Food Supply’; The Autocar, 2 September 1911, ‘Notes’; NA, HO 45/10571/176569, sub-file 3, W. Joynson-Hicks, M.P. to Home Secretary 29 August 1911; sub-file 4a, undated memorandum on visit of Mr. Stenson. Michael Bentley, Politics without Democracy, 1815-1914, (London, 1996), p. 327, states there were 140,000 cars in Britain by 1914.
[3] NA, WO 32/5270, A.J. Murray, 11 February 1909.
[4] NA, WO 32/5270, Memorandum of Conference at the Home Office, 6 March 1911; Major-General A.J. Murray to C.I.G.S. [Chief of the Imperial General Staff, General Nicholson], 22 September 1911.
[5] Barbara Weinberger, Keeping the Peace? Policing Strikes in Britain 1906-1926, (Oxford, 1991), p. 105.
[6] NA, HO 144/1650/179897, sub-file 16, ‘Suppression of Civil Disturbances in London’; WO 32/5270, map; letter to G.O.C. London District [Lloyd], 2 August 1914; Weinberger, p. 146.
[7] NA, WO 32/5270, B.B. Cubitt to G.O.C. London District, 6 November 1914; Major-General Sir Francis Lloyd to War Secretary, 17 September 1914; HO 144/1650/179987, sub-file 15, Sir E. Troup to Secretary, War Office, 10 March 1915; sub-file 16, Sir E. Henry to Sir E. Troup, 5 May 1915, unaware that the intelligence network was already in place, Henry dismissed even the idea as ‘childish’.
[8] NA, WO 32/5270, Major-General A.J. Murray to C.I.G.S., 22 September 1911; HO 144/1650/179987 sub-file 12, E.R. Henry to General Sir J. Wolfe Murray, 21 November 1914.
[9] George Dangerfield, The Strange Death of Liberal England, (London, 1966), pp. 257-8, 260, 264.
[10] Lord George Askwith, Industrial Problems and Disputes, (London, 1920), p. 359; Paul Johnson, ‘Preface’ in Dangerfield, p. 10.
[11] David Powell, The Edwardian Crisis: Britain 1901-1914, (Basingstoke, 1996), p. 128.
[12] Hans-Ulrich Wehler, The German Empire 1871-1918, (Leamington Spa, 1985), pp. 192, 198.
[13] Bentley, pp. 345, 361; Kenneth O. Morgan, The Age of Lloyd George. The Liberal Party and British Politics, 1890-1929, (London, 1971), pp. 53-4; Peter Rowland, The Last Liberal Governments: Unfinished Business, 1911-1914, (London, 1971), p. 362.
[14] Weinberger, p. 124.
[15] David Englander, ‘Police and Public Order in Britain in Britain 1914-1918’ in Clive Emsley & Barbara Weinberger, ed., Policing Western Europe. Politics, Professionalism and Public Order, 1850-1940, (New York, 1991), pp. 106-107, 116; Weinberger, p. 125.
[16] Englander, pp. 93, 109-110, 113-114; Whiteside in Turner, pp. 86-7; Weinberger, pp. 125-6, notes that concerns over the rising cost of living and dissent over excessive profits motivated most industrial unrest, as before the war.
[17] Standish Meacham, ‘“The Sense of an Impending Clash”: English Working-Class Unrest before the First World War’, American Historical Review, Vol 77, no. 4 (1972), p. 1346.
[18] The Times, 23 August 1911, ‘The Labour Unrest’.

The Great Unrest 1910-11. Part 6: The Liverpool General Strike

The most extreme events of the Great Unrest occurred in Liverpool which suffered a local general strike. As a result there was rioting, including bread riots and the largest military presence put on active duty into any city during this period and included two warships being moored in the River Mersey. Sustained rioting led to deaths, but again, cool-headness by commanders on the spot avoided the massacre which could have easily occurred if local politicians had had their way.

Liverpool: a city under siege

Unlike for the rest of Britain, in Liverpool, a major port on the North-West coast of England, rioting was pretty common occurrence. This was founded on the sectarian division between Protestants and Catholics in the city, which had a large Irish population. For example, the March 1911 Bootle by-election which the subsequent Conservative leader, Andrew Bonar Law, won, led to rioting and sectarian attacks. However, the strikes and accompanying unrest in summer 1911 went much further, effectively sealed off the city. A combination of strikes by seamen, dockers, and local railway men as well as numerous sympathetic strikes plunged the city into chaos and helped spark the national rail strike.[1]

The strike began on 5 August 1911, when 1,200 goods porters of the London and Yorkshire Railway Company struck. Within days they had been joined by thousands of other railway workers in Liverpool. This action was to trigger a national rail strike on August 18. Mounted police had been used against disturbances at pickets and food vans had been attacked and looted. On 9 August the council and the police requested military assistance and the following day 400 soldiers from the Warwickshire Regiment arrived. They were joined by two squadrons of Royal Scots Greys, plus a detachment of the Royal Service Corps to supply the supply the troops. In addition police were brought from Leeds and Birmingham and 200 police officers of the Royal Irish Constabulary, a police force equipped with rifles, were also shipped across to Liverpool. A break down of talks between ship owners and dockers led to a lock out of 25,000 dockers on 14 August. Convoys of vehicles carrying food had to be escorted by soldiers as they travelled through the city. On Sunday 13 August a rally on St. George’s Plateau turned into a riot with 200 people being injured. However, the riot which had been sparked by a couple of minor incidents was broken by police, and the infantry and cavalry on standby were only needed to patrol the streets afterwards. In no doubt of the potential carnage of shooting into a packed crowd, the commanding officer refused police demands on the spot to open fire.[2]

Magistrates requested more soldiers, especially lancers to run down crowds. On 14 August, the day a general transport strike was declared in the city, a detachment of the 18th Hussars were sent. Looting continued overnight, and as well as bayonet charges, warning shots were fired by Yorkshire Regiment infantry. The following day 3,000 rioters attacked five prison vans transporting people convicted for their part in earlier unrest. Only thirty-four soldiers and police accompanied the convoy. The hussars escorting the vans were caught out by the situation. Their horses were not equipped with the rubber shoes mounted police used and skidded on the street cobbles. In the panic they fired six shots, killing two and injuring two more. The ensuing rioting led to many injuries and the killing of a police office kicked to death.[3]

Unlike at Llanelly, later that week, the death of rioters did not ultimately calm the situation. The situation deteriorated. With the docks closed and rail services suspended no food was coming into the city. Tramway men struck on August 16, followed by power station workers and refuse collectors. Power in the city began to run short and volunteer workers had to be enlisted. Attacks began on bakeries by people desperate for food. By August 19, Churchill wrote the lord mayor advising him to recruit a special corps of dockers to unload food and fuel ships. He promised he would be ‘prepared to support you by force or otherwise’. With garbage piling up in the streets the city’s health committee noted that the average death rate had almost doubled since the strike had started.[4]

The general strike in Liverpool impacted on the surrounding region of Lancashire, Cheshire and the North Welsh towns dependent on food supplies through the city’s docks. Contact with the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea was also broken, as many steamship services had been curtailed. The Government Secretary on the island could only communicate with the mainland via the H.M.S. ‘Warrior’ berthed at the island.[5]

By the third week in August there were 2,500 soldiers in the city and an additional 4,000 special constables were sworn in to augment the police force. Public houses closed at 2 p.m.. With the national rail strike over, but with unrest continuing in Liverpool, a three-man team was appointed by the Home Office to investigate what was happening. The team consisted of two Liverpool MPs - Thomas O’ Connor, a Liberal and the Conservative, George Kyffin-Taylor along with D.J. Shackleton, the Home Office’s labor advisor. They provided Churchill with a more objective view of the developments in the disputes than the city council or local employers could offer. Despite the settlement of the national rail strike on August 19, the strikes in Liverpool, which had become highly entangled, continued. The complexity of the situation is shown by the example of loyal tramwaymen striking to protest about previously striking tramwaymen being reinstated. Thus the dispute continued until finally all the different grievances could be settled on August 26. [6]

The prompt dispatch of military units to Liverpool shows that by the summer of 1911 the government realised that in certain circumstances they were the only solution. There were lessons to be learnt from Liverpool, particularly from the attack on the prison convoy. Some of these would be integrated into the Army's 1912 pamphlet on action in civil disturbances. It would have been difficult to avoid the St. George’s Plateau riot, but the calmness of the military at the scene prevented the incident becoming more severe. In a city where rioting was all too common any authority faced a difficult task of balancing the need to minimize unrest and ensuring law and order.

[1] P.J. Waller, Democracy and Sectarianism. A Political and Social History of Liverpool, 1868-1939, (Liverpool, 1981), pp. 249-50.
[2] National Archives [henceforward NA], HO 45/10658, sub-file 452, ‘Disturbances’, undated. This gives a day-by-day account of the unrest; T.A. Critchley, The Conquest of Violence. Order and Liberty in Britain, (London, 1970), p. 170.
[3] Anthony Babington, Military Intervention in Britain from the Gordon Riots to the Gibraltar Incident, (London, 1990), p.141; Waller, p.255.
[4] Liverpool Daily Post & Mercury, 18 August 1911, ‘The Unscavenged City’. [Scavenging was the term given to rubbish collection]. The death rate had risen from 13.3/1000 the previous August to 24.5/1000.
[5] NA HO 45/10655/212470 sub-file 176, Home Secretary to Lord Mayor, 19 August, 1911.; sub-file 179, Government Secretary, Isle of Man to Under Secretary of State, Home Office, 19 August 1911.
[6] Waller, p. 256; NA, HO 45/1065/212470, sub-file 356, T.P. O’Connor, G. Kyffin-Taylor, D.J. Shackleton to Home Secretary, 20 August 1911, 1 am and 11pm; 21 August 1911, 3 telegrams; 22 August 1911, 3 telegrams; Lord George Askwith, Industrial Problems and Disputes, (London, 1920), p. 172.

The Great Unrest 1910-11. Part 5: Hull

Hull, on the North-East coast of England with docks that could be accessed at any tide, was the third largest port in Britain. Much of its trade was with Northern Europe, but had it increasing links with the rest of Europe and South America. However, the focus on trade with the ice-bound ports of the Baltic Sea made much work in the city seasonal. The local North-Eastern Railway Company had already recognized the trade union, however, this was not to prevent the city suffering unrest through the summer of 1911. Between them the North Eastern and the Hull and Barnsley railway companies owned the extensive docks. Most of the work in the city was related to the docks or industries processing imports, directly or indirectly for the merchant shipping trade.

Housing was cramped and over-crowded. Public health in Hull was poorer and infant mortality higher than the national averages. Despite the city’s deprivation unrest had been uncommon until a series of strikes from the spring of 1911. Even in July when strikes had broken out among dockers on the south coast and at neighbouring Goole local dock trade union leaders were reluctant to call a strike, but on June 20 yielded to rank-and-file pressure. As was becoming common once the dockers struck other unions followed in sympathy. When Askwith, who was well known in Hull because of his work dealing with fishermen’s strikes there, arrived, local carters and railway men had also come out. Unlike the dockers though, these other workers did not have clear demands, thus making settlement of the dispute that much harder. Despite brokering a deal among the different sides of the dispute this was rejected by a crowd of 15,000 many of whom were women, that rioted in opposition to the settlement.[2]

The Home Office maintained that the Hull local authorities were responsible for dealing with unrest, but by the last week in June, this was proving to be beyond their capabilities. The Mayor of Hull, J.S. Taylor, faced pressure from ship owners wanting their perishable cargoes unloaded. They went over his head, straight to the Home Office. Meanwhile the Norwegian vice-consul and the Russian consul were also bringing pressure over ships that could not be unloaded owing to the dispute.

Taylor faced the problem that even if they could be unloaded strikes in other trades prevented goods being taken from the docks. Food supplies in the town were beginning to run short and prices were rising. Given the international pressure which was soon exerted on the Foreign Office too, the government had to intervene. Despite thousands of rioters in the streets and with the town paralysed through strikes, procedure was adhered to. The chief constable of Hull applied to Leeds for twelve mounted police, to triple his mounted force. On the evening of June 29, it was clear that strikers were resentful of Askwith’s deal. Rumours that blackleg workers would start unloading a ship sparked a riot by about 2,000 strikers. Offices belonging to shipping companies, and depots belonging to the British Free Labour Federation were wrecked and many shops were looted. Seventeen people were hospitalised but there were no arrests. Police repeatedly baton charged the crowds which finally brought to an end eight hours of rioting. The mayor requested Metropolitan police. Five hundred were in Hull by the following morning. [4]

Combined with police from other constabularies the number imported into Hull soon reached a total of thirteen hundred. The insignia showing they were not Hull police was removed, but they were far better received than they were to be in towns like Cardiff and Liverpool. Askwith gave a gloomy report on the situation. He saw the mayor as ‘stupid and wobbling’ and feared that if an acceptable deal could not be found the town might ‘see such a revolution as it has nerve done before. The Chief Constable remained wary and following procedure contacted the Northern Command of the Army at York. This was forwarded to Macready for assessments. Two squadrons of cavalry, up to 400 soldiers, were held on standby in York, only ninety minutes by train from Hull.[5] However, these were not needed and on July 4 most strikers accepted the original settlement rejected the previous week and returned to work. The Metropolitans left immediately though other imported police stayed on until June 17. Like other leading northern towns, Hull received troops, two battalions of infantry, in August 1911 to deal with the rail strike. Drawing on the experience of June and July a cruiser H.M.S. ‘Attentive’ sailed to Hull to guard the dock gates from interference. It stayed until August 24.[6]

It was estimated that £300,000 worth of cargo [equivalent to £16.5 million today] had been delayed, some of which had naturally rotted beyond use. Churchill praised the mayor’s action in requesting help, but the council was shocked at the bill for the Metropolitans. After four days Hull had had to foot their normal pay as well as the special duty money. The ordinary pay per day for a police constable was 8s 5d and the special pay 12s [total per day is equivalent to £60 now]; police inspectors received twice as much. There had already been problems with local authorities in Glamorgan not paying for police sent to the area the previous November. Hull’s position attracted similar attention. It could be argued that such large bills for importing police encouraged other mayors to call for troops, who were funded by central government, rather than police on the first occasion. [7]

[1] Keith Brooker, The Hull Strikes of 1911, (Beverley, Yorkshire, 1979), pp. 1, 4, 6, 9.
[2] Brooker, p. 10; Lord George Askwith, Industrial Problems and Disputes, (London, 1920), pp. 148-150.
[3] National Archives [henceforward NA], HO 45/10649/210615, sub-file 5, Under Secretary of State, Home Office [Sir Edward Troup] to Mayor of Hull, undated [28 June 1911?]; sub-file 10, General Shipowners’ Society to Home Secretary, 29 June 1911; sub-file 4, Under Secretary of State, Home Office to Mayor Hull, undated [27 June 1911?]; sub-file 24, J.S. Taylor to Under Secretary of State, Home Office, 1 July 1 1911.
[4] NA, HO 45/10648/210615 sub-file 13, Russian Embassy to Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs [in French; diplomatic correspondence at this time was often carried out in French and as a result it is often difficult to find English language versions of treaties that the UK signed], 30 June 1911, sub-file 5, Letter to Mr. Blackwell, 28 June 1911, sub-file 9, Mayor of Hull to Home Secretary, 29 June 1911; Brooker pp. 20, 22.
[5] NA, HO 45/210615, sub-file 19, S.W.H. to Home Secretary, June 30, 1911; sub-file 12, Memorandum [handwritten], I.R.W., June 30, 1911; sub-file 26a, G.R. Askwith to President of the Board of Trade, 2 July 1912 [sic, should be 1911].
[6] Brooker pp. 21-22; NA, HO 45/10655/212470, sub-file 158, ‘Hull, 19 August 1911; Home Secretary to Mayor of Hull, undated [19 August 1911]; Admiralty to Home Office, 19 August, 1911; NA HO 45/10656, Sir Edward Troup to Secretary, Admiralty, 24 August 1911.
[7] NA, HO 45/10648/210615 sub-file 21, Letter to Mayor of Hull, undated [July 1911]; Mayor of Hull to Under Secretary of State, Home Office, July 1, 1911; sub-file 14, Home Secretary to Mayor of Hull, 30 June , 1911; Parliamentary Debates. Commons. 5th Series, 1911, vol. XXXVII, June 19 - July 7, 3 July 1911, cols. 791-2.