Thursday, June 22, 2017

Britain: Politics and People Not What the US Media Portrays

By Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

Well I’m back in familiar surroundings after a two-week trip to Britain and a couple of days in Paris. As expected, my body clock is a bit messed up and it will take a coupe of days to return to West Coast time so I can catch up on blog work.

I didn’t have computer access for half of the time as I forgot some important items, a power cord being one of them, and then my phone broke so I was incommunicado for a bit.  The other thing is that this was more of a vacation trip. A good friend and former co-worker, a long-time union activist as well, had never been. He was planning a trip with his partner but she passed away so we went and took her memory with us.

I want in this post just to touch on the issue of the mass media and how it responds to events, particularly the US media. I was, as I say, on vacation so I didn’t have my nose buried in the papers or Internet news like I do here in the US. But I did manage to read the papers pretty much every day and it was quite exciting arriving on June 8th as voters went to the polls. They were voting in a snap election Prime Minister Theresa May called confident her and her Conservative Party would get a mandate to march on with a swift exit from the EU and to savage domestic austerity policies.

As was reported on this blog, the Tories suffered serious setbacks as Jeremy Corbyn and the Labor Party made some huge gains. May was humiliated and is unable to govern alone, her only option being to form a coalition of the damned with the right wing, Protestant nationalist, racist and homophobic Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland.

Gasp! Republican Corbyn Doesn't Bow Head at Queens Speech
The tragic fire at a block of council flats (social housing) in West London near where we were staying has damaged May and the Tories further. We have posted numerous reports on this.  It is generally believed that if an election were held today, Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, would be elected and the Labor Party in power. Corbyn has faced ridicule along with vicious personal attacks from the gutter press with right wing rags like the Daily Mail, Telegraph and Daily Express leading the way.  From what I could see, the entire bourgeois press pretty much supported the Tories or the Liberal Democrats which, shows, as does the election of the degenerate Trump in the US, the disdain the general public has for established media and established parties. I read that there is a movement against the print and Television media with some even burning papers in response to the propaganda rags that they are. Momentum, the Movement that has arisen to support Corbyn appears to be a lively fairly youthful movement in the main relying on social media as an organizing tool.

What struck me also was the reporting on the mood there by the Wall Street Journal. I should state again that we was there only two weeks although we stayed a few days in Banbury in the Midlands and visited Chester and York before returning to spend five days in London and two in Paris where we met some friends. On the way to York we drove through the tip of the peak District stopping in Penniston for a coffee. We found this delightful little café run by a daughter, her mother and friend, four women in all baking goodies for weary travelers. We had a lovely time and shared much humor while there. They gave us some treats to take with us when we left.

While in London, a white man drove his care at a group of worshipers leaving a Mosque in Finsbury Park where I lived at one time. They were leaving midnight prayers when he hit them. I haven’t followed these evens for almost 36 hours as I was traveling but the guy was captured by locals and held until the police arrived.

I read one article in the WSJ and it reported of a “cascade of violence” in London. It talked of people being “on edge” and the divisions opening up between race, class and religion. In other words, it painted this picture of a nation in fear, a nation whose population was on the brink of fracturing, descending in to civil war. 

Perhaps I am overly critical, but I have often written of the fear the US media injects in to US society. I jokingly point to the African Bees that we were once told would invade the country, Communists, Somali Warlords, hordes of Muslims, brown skinned peoples from our southern borders taking our jobs and on “benefit holidays” as an English woman I spoke to referred to it with regards to the European immigrants in the UK. And of course, there’s Putin and the Russians who are undermining our freedoms and democracy.

In two weeks one can’t see it all and talk to everyone. There are genuine fears about immigration, and terrorism, jobs and health care, that are all actually due to domestic policies rather than the perceived threats created by the capitalist press. But I found, as did my friend, a genuinely optimistic response to the election results. There is the usual disdain for politics as usual and the entrenched political class and their party in particular but despite the London Bridge attacks and the Manchester bombing, people continued with their lives as before. When I lived in London it was the IRA that were placing bombs in garbage cans and such.  
White Horse pub at Kings Sutton

With few exceptions, we were met with a very positive mood, one that sought out unity and a collective response to the social ills that have their roots in a decaying social system. We met a Welsh family in a village pub on one of the canal boat holidays. They all opposed blaming religion or national identity for people’s actions, “terrorists are terrorists” they said. I reminded them of the days when Welsh Nationalists were blowing up Welsh road signs written only in English. It got the ear of the Anglo-Saxon ruling class but it was terrorism by official standards.

Another thing that remains is a fondness for the American people. I was there in 2003 at the march of two million or so against the bombing of Iraq. I was with the US contingent. No one was hostile, they wondered what happens that an imbecile like Bush could be elected. Now we have Trump, who makes Bush almost appear cuddly. People might despise the US government as many Americans do. But most will say that Americans are friendly people.

We stayed in Marble Arch where the Edgware Road meets Hyde Park and it was a vibrant, rich community of Turks, Kurds, Lebanese, Indians. There were tourists from all over the world there. As I wrote previously, we had a great laugh with three young Somali women in an outdoor café smoking Shisha with those big Hookah’s (Water Pipes).  On hearing Roger’s (my buddy) American accent they reminded us that they were banned from the country because the were terrorists being Somalis and Muslims and all. We all had a good laugh as they told us there were only 12 million of them on the planet. We had a chance to visit the center of the Tamil community in East London as we visited a friend that lives there.

As we took the bus from Marble Arch down Oxford Street to Piccadilly Circus we could see the sidewalks on both side of the road were literally packed with people. I doubted that there were but a handful of people even aware of the Mosque attack or much else; they were there to enjoy their holidays.

At Piccadilly I found the guy who works a booth selling souvenirs. I had videod him and his buddy who gives bus tours around London when I was there last March and we had a laugh about Trump. That was before he became the Predator in Chief of course.

The response to the Grenfell Tower response was also amazing. The conservatives had cut the fire department which added to the tragedy that was a result of social cleansing, removing working class and poor people from the area and giving the private sector free rein in housing construction and maintenance.  There were protests and rallies that followed and further attacks on the Tories and Theresa May.  There is a huge outcry about this war on poor people and anger at the rich. Most of the victims would be Muslim as well it looks like. It appears that there are another 600 hi-rise buildings constructed with the same flammable cladding used at Grenfell Tower.

The first day we arrived we drove up the A40 towards Banbury. This first day in a pub we stopped in we had one of the few negative experiences. We got in to a discussion with a group sitting next to us and one of them said that “You don’t hear English spoken here anymore”. We found that a bit odd as everyone we spoke to that day spoke it; the Bulgarian who drove the rental car shuttle, the Romanian woman and her Punjabi co-worker at the desk and everyone on the road up. I happened to use the term anti-immigrant with reference to their views and one woman angrily responded to that. She wasn’t anti-immigrant just those that come for the benefits and good life. Perhaps the reader is familiar with this argument, you know, like the Mexicans and Central Americans do here.

But as Roger put it, it wasn’t that English isn’t spoken here anymore, it’s her desire that “only” English is spoken and not by Poles, Latvians, Syrians or others from overseas. One good thing about people like Trump, he forces these people out in to the open where all cards can be laid on the table.

I am not trying to paint a rosy picture here, trying to imply they aren’t having similar problems that we are here in the US or that there is not nationalism or racism developing in response to the rise of the right amid capitalist decay. The election of Trump has emboldened the racists and anti-social, anti-working class elements; they are in Britain too. But maintaining racial, gender and religious divide at a level that suits their class interests is important for the ruling class----there is no basis for being overly pessimistic, just the opposite.

Sorry for what might be a bit disjointed collection of tales but I am still jet lagged. I loved my visit as did one of my closest American friends but it’s always good to be back home wherever home is.

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