Make Up Your Mind
In case anyone is having difficulty deciding who to vote for in the General Election – or perhaps, somewhat easier, who not to vote for, here are three books that might help to make your mind. I admit, though, that it might be quite a stretch to read them before 8 June.
The Establishment and How They Get Away With It, Owen Jones, Allen Lane 2014
Even for readers who think they are aware of how the powers-that-be reproduce themselves in this country, this is something of an eye-opener. What I like most about it is that its analysis provides the answer to those who argue that unless corporations, banks, multi-nationals, etc. are allowed to operate unfettered and minimally taxed, there will be insufficient wealth to support even the ailing public services that we have. Jones lifts the lid on the massive hidden subsidies that these companies currently have in the form of, among other things, a workforce largely educated at public expense, and asks why they shouldn’t be expected to contribute more towards this. While benefit claimants are portrayed as the ones getting something for nothing, the amounts in question are as nothing compared to the millions trousered by big business through free infrastructure, education, tax breaks and tax avoidance.
This is a novel explicitly about the people Theresa May termed ‘JAMs’ – the Just About Managing – and no one is teetering on the brink more than Emma and Johannes Pinneberg, the young couple at the centre of German writer Hans Fallada’s 1932 novel. Each mark is counted, recounted, and sometimes – disastrously – double-counted. The normally equable Johannes, whose demeanour is calculated to soothe and charm even the most difficult of customers in the gentleman’s outfitters department, flies into a rage when his wife serves him an egg alongside his potatoes: what reckless extravagance! And when he ruins his best – indeed his only – pair of trousers by wearing them to tar the roof of their allotment shed home, the game is up: he is unlikely to get another job.
No one needs reminding of the consequences of surging unemployment and a homelessness crisis that saw families living in sheds and caves.
South Riding, Winifred Holtby, BBC Books 2011
I know I keep banging on about this book, but I won’t be happy until everyone has read it. First published in 1936, it presents a cross-section of society in the fictional South Riding of Yorkshire, from minor gentry to the truly destitute. It is a corrective to anyone who thinks things were better in the old days: child sexual abuse is as real a problem then as it is today, and local government corruption was alive and kicking. One thing that was definitely a lot worse, though, was access to health care. In South Riding, if you can’t pay for medical treatment, you are doomed. It’s as simple as that – and the precursor to this is to have to wait too long for treatment or diagnosis, which we already beginning to see.
I really can’t better a quote from this remarkable book:
“We’re so busy resigning ourselves to the inevitable that we don’t even ask if it is inevitable. We’ve got to have courage, to take our future into our hands. If the law is oppressive, we must change the law. If tradition is obstructive, we must break tradition. If the system is unjust, we must reform the system.”
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And two final words: tactical voting.