The UK welfare state is broken

I recently had to attend an assessment by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) in regards my Employment Support Allowance (ESA) which involved a lengthy two hour questioning and then physical examination. Sure, it was with a very decent, kind GP, but not my GP and not anyone who’s spoken to my consultants in Glasgow or back in Bristol however the entire process was designed to relegate people into units where your future ability to provide economic worth to the state is assessed.

Now I want to get back to work and thanks to a mix of improving health and the incompetency of Glasgow City Council that’s probably something that’s going to happen sooner than later. Last week though I saw people who could clearly and obviously barely walk and/or were in such clear pain/discomfort that dragging them through a Kafkaesque procedure only made any conditions they have worse. When you’re ill, seriously ill as opposed to ”oh, I’ve got a bad cold” ill, you’re going to suffer from anxiety.and stress about your own perhaps curtailed or painful existence so the last thing you need is some apathetic DWP employee looking at you as if you’re some sort of stain on their horizon.

The system is broken. Things are going to change in Scotland as the Scottish Government is banning the likes of ATOS and will be attempting to create a more humane system however that’s years away, and for the rest of the UK looking down the barrel of a ruthless Tory government things will only get worse. The system is needlessly cruel because a media reports on people ”scrounging” all the bloody time.

The picture being painted is one of masses of the sick and disabled playing at it to pull in massive riches (as if £146 a fortnight is riches) or defrauding the system but the system is impossible to fathom without having a computer to work out the calculations. And those that do manage to somehow game the system amount to a pitiful 1.8% in 2015. On average the fraud level is around 1% which means the screaming headlines of ”75%” is bullshit, but this constant level of lying has worked. The sick and disabled are seen as ‘faking’ or if you speak to some people you get the line ‘nah, not you, you’re one of the genuine ones” as if there’s massive hordes of people developing debilitating conditions in order to grab money.

I hope the new forthcoming Scottish system helps change things for the better, but it took years to harden things up and it’ll take years to get rid of what are now entrenched opinions. One thing is clear though; vote Tory in June’s general election and things won’t get any better.

My thoughts on the local elections in Scotland, Wales and England.

Firstly, well done to Kim Long of the Greens for becoming a councillor for Dennistoun which is where I am for now. A good local candidate who’ll do the area well and with Dennistoun going through massive changes and gentrification (for those familiar with my blogs, it’s a bit like Stokes Croft from about 12-15 years ago) it needs people who’ll do the incumbent and incoming population well.

Secondly, well done to Plaid Cymru and the SNP for a strong showing in Wales and winning the Scottish elections respectively.

Now, those of you who voted Tory. What the fuck have you done? You’ve given the worst government in my life (which speaks volumes) a boost they don’t deserve because you think they’re ‘strong and stable’ or will ‘fight a second referendum’ or ‘fight for Brexit’ but you’ve fucked it up. So when your bins aren’t emptied, or the potholes in your street aren’t fixed, or your kids aren’t educated because schools are being run down or worse, remember, you voted Tory. This is on you. You own what’s coming. The Tories can’t hide behind ”Remoaner traitors”, ‘Nats’ or blame everything on Sturgeon, Corbyn or the Lizard People. They own the clusterfuck coming thanks to Brexit.

Of course you can change this. Look at the Tory polices. Look at what their record is. Look at what they promise. Look at the Tories elected yesterday and think do you want people like this to decide you and your family and friends futures? Look at Theresa May refusing to debate. Look at Iain Duncan Smith tumescent with excitement about imposing new cruelties upon the most vulnerable. Does that make you angry? Good. Get up then over the next five weeks campaign, and get people out to vote. Pissed off with the result today? Chap doors and get people out to vote. June the 8th get people out to vote. If you’re young and don’t vote you’re dooming yourself to decades of hell.

So vote. If people don’t make a stand next month against the Tories people will die. You will be sending people to an early grave and too many have went that road already. As said, a vote for the Tories means endorsing their policies so make your choice. Where do you stand?

Who to vote for in the 2017 General Election?

Some election thoughts on the cusp of what is going to be a hellish election campaign…

In Scotland it’s simple. Vote SNP, get that second referendum happening and then we go out and win it so we can break free of the Union and hopefully end the ideology of Unionism.I’m not an SNP voter. I’ll be putting the Greens at the top of my preferences for the local elections in a fortnight, but we need to break this cycle we’re in as well as rejoining a more socially democratic Europe than the increasingly far-right British state we’re in.

Wales-Vote for Plaid. Labour have let you down far too often. The Tories will laugh at you if you do and if you vote UKIP then Wales will rue the day you elected a UKIP MP.

Northern Ireland-Vote for the candidate who will beat the Unionist one. If that’s Sinn Fien, Alliance or SDLP, it doesn’t matter. The less Unionists NI return the less Tory enablers there are.

England-Dear god, England, you have issues. Don’t vote Tory but outwith of Brighton and Bristol voting Green won’t work. Voting Lib Dem means voting for Tory enablers as Farron’s rhetoric about creating a ‘soft’ Brexit only makes sense when you realise their unspoken tactic is hoping for a hung parliament and siding with the Tories.

This leaves Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour. There’s an expression in NI-”vote til you boak” and I think in England, you’ll be boaking your guts out as Corbyn’s a Brexiter who’s enabled Theresa May throughout this process but you have no other choice. Voting Tory would be a disaster. I fear though the damage Labour constantly inflicts upon itself is too severe and they’ll take a pounding.

The Tories win this election and Theresa May gains the sort of power no Prime Minister should have. This will be the last cry of Unionism/Imperialism and the sort of ultra-British nationalism once thought to be unelectable but normalised through a media crying out for blood and a Westminster elite that have pandered to the worst for too long. We may have an escape route up here but fucks sake, whatever you do next month don’t vote Tory/UKIP/Lib Dem/Unionist or we’re screwed.

A word about the snap General Election

After writing this I thought things couldn’t get weirder or more scary. Then Theresa May calls a snap general election on the 8th of June and the arse falls out of any idea we might be hitting a phase of relative sanity.

Using the line The country is coming together but Westminster is not May obviously sees a chance based upon current polls to have the sort of majority that we’ve not seen since the Tony Blair years. May is essentially going to have to scrap the Fixed Terms Parliaments Act to hold this snap election which may well provide some more interesting snippets as although the Tories are putting on a united front, there’s a lot of Tories out there (Hi David Mundell!!) sitting on paper-thin majorities in areas that thanks to Brexit may well be facing unemployment in June.The Act was designed to stop PM’s doing just what May is doing which is hold an election when the polls are favourable.

Problem is polls can be read wrong. Take the Scottish independence referendum. David Cameron happily let the Scottish Government hold a referendum in 2014 the polls showed only around 20% support for independence. That changed over the campaign as more people became informed of the issues, so May’s taking a risk but this is a risk which if it pays off means she personally has an eye-watering majority (if the polls are accurate around 100) not to mention she intends to change the makeup of the Lords, while Brexit hands her the sort of power no Prime Minister should have.

So this is about Theresa May grabbing power. See all that bumf about ‘division’? That’s about creating a state where the opposition is muted and ineffective where it needs to be in Westminster. There’s also the matter of the Tory election fraud scandal which menaces the Tories and taints their 2015 victory, though as Michael Crick points out, this means the hard decisions are now in the hands of the CPS.

The question you have to ask yourself is what sort of future you want for yourself and for others? This is a general election where the future of the UK itself is up for grabs. If you want a future where Tory Prime Ministers have the sort of power where they can sail through whatever they want unopposed though Westminster then look to see where your vote belongs.In Scotland that means voting for the SNP, a party I reluctantly will give my vote to in June (I find their economic policies to be far too conservative) because their social policies are good and they’ll beat not just the Tories, but a hopeless broken Labour Party who’ve run up the white flag on Brexit.

Elsewhere in the UK its down to you to make the choice. I hope Corbyn’s smart and takes the offer of a progressive alliance Ed Milliband refused in 2015 but I fear the Labour Ultras won’t do that. I hope I’m proven wrong. Whatever you do make the right choice because we have a choice and if that choice is Tory (or UKIP) then we’re heading down the same path as Turkey, America, Russia and possibly France in having a hard authoritarian leader who stamps over human rights. Do we really want to be on the dark side in the years ahead?

Götterdämmerung

In Wagner’s Ring Cycle, Götterdämmerung, is the final act. It means ‘Twilight of the Gods’. That’s relevant because on Saturday morning I went through to Edinburgh and the news-stands were full of papers heaving with the threat of war, in particular the nuclear kind, or the realisation one gets at 8am in the morning when your brain processes the reality of what’s going on which is something like this train of thought; ‘ohmyfuckinggodtheresaloonintheWhitehousewhomightactuallyfuckingdoit!’ . Or to put it more succinctly…

So what the fuck is going on? Is Donald Trump mad enough to actually use nuclear weapons and will North Korea be mad enough to push a madman far enough to do it? Will Putin step in and what about the wave of far right authoritarians in Europe from Erdoğan in Turkey through to Le Pen in France and Farage and May here in the UK?  Where does Brexit fit into what’s going on? Is there a grassy knoll I can hide behind?

It does feel like it’s either a massive series of unconnected events which makes me a paranoid conspiracy theorist (which means I should move into a basement somewhere and live in my own filth) or there’s a load of stuff going on and various people/groups are taking advantage of what is a breakdown of the old social and economic order which has placed us in a time of chaos. So a twilight of the old ways as it were. Whatever is going on one thing is clear; we’re living in a future dystopia that if this had been written about in the 90’s would have been dismissed as bollocks. Trump in the Whitehouse? Aye, right. UKIP a powerful force? Oh fuck off. The far right on the rise across Europe? Oh fuck…

As future dystopias go this is more the 1984 type than the Threads type, but it doesn’t seem it’ll take much to push it towards that which as someone who lived through the 1980’s scares the crap out of me. See, we went to sleep with nightmares of nuclear wars which bled into every aspect of 80’s culture from film to comics to music which at times was positively Wagnerian in its scope.

We’re never going to grasp what’s going on because everything is just too huge and our minds aren’t built to process the scale of it in the same way that we can never see the entirely of a fractal shape or all of our life at once. We can only pick and choose what it is we want to see and how we want to interpret it, but either consciously or unconsciously we dismiss the scale of what we’re looking at. The reason I’m probably more scared now than I was in the 80’s is there’s too many wild cards out there and there’s a lunatic in the Whitehouse, the Kremlin, North Korea and smaller (but no less worrying) lunatics across the world, including our own Theresa May, who are driven by ideology, faith and an uncritical way of thinking. Reagan and Gorbachev look like giants compared to these people who seem to be intent on taking us down a path where we end up in caves drinking our own urine as it’s the least radioactive liquid available.

This is an unstable time where we’re governed/ruled by unstable people influenced by populist, hard/far right religious views from all the faiths you’d like to imagine.If this is the twilight of an age then lets make it the end of these people rather than us or democracy. We have to ensure things like Brexit, and people like Trump and Putin don’t walk us into the end unchallenged. We’re in a fight and it won’t be nice, easy or simple and it will involve many on the left, especially the liberal-left pulling themselves out of their echo chambers too. Because the stakes here are massive and quite frankly I’m not keen in spending my remaining decades on this planet living in fear of what may happen if one of these lunatics goes that step too far that takes us beyond the twilight and into the night.

Do Marvel have a diversity problem?

Marvel vice-president David Gabriel recently said that Marvel Comics are suffering a sales slump due to the fact they now publish a diverse line of comics featuring people of all sexes, races and ages. As this Vox piece says, the truth is somewhat more complex but that was lost in the outrage from all sides when this story broke into the mainstream from the comics ghetto.

What do we mean by ‘diversity’ though? Well, this is the Marvel Universe in the 1970’s into the 1980’s.

Here’s a poster of the Avengers in the 90’s.

To put it bluntly the Marvel Universe is a white one.  Sure there’s the odd green skinned hero and blue mutant but black characters, or anyone non-white, are thin on the ground. In short it doesn’t reflect the world of today and that’s a problem if you want to pitch to as wide an audience as Marvel did in the 60’s.

The Marvel Universe today is better. There’s Ms Marvel, Moon Girl and a load of other characters that expands what the Marvel superhero universe is and many of these characters are in decent to good books, but for people like Gabriel the sales figures are what’s important and they don’t add up.Which brings me to the point that this isn’t an issue for comics as a medium, but the superhero genre which may have had over the last decade undreamed of exposure, but that’s never translated to sales.

This Cracked article touches on some of the reasons why this is the case. Some of it will be painful reading as the point that Marvel can say ”we have an <insert minority here> character! Why are you moaning!?’ is going to resonate. For years Marvel did this with the Black Panther before they actually started creating other black characters but even then that was mainly to cash in on the 1970’s Blaxploitation craze.For me though the issue is accessibility. There’s no point coming up with say, a Muslim Ms Marvel if you’re rebooting the series with a new number one every other year, and your entire superhero universe has a massive crossover event once a year. People may have more disposable income in 2017 but people have limits.

If you want to have read all of 2016’s Civil War II with all the crossovers then with titles priced at $2.99 to $3.99 (or for the UK, somewhere between £2.00 and £3.50) then you’re paying hundreds to keep up with an event where to be blunt, most of the series is shite. You may pick up a few issues but finances and tedium dictate that you bin the rest so you leave only the hardcore fans to carry on. Which is another point as if Marvel pander only to the core fan (as DC Comics are doing) then they’ll never grow and develop to take advantage of the fact their films are making billions having been seen by hundreds of millions of people worldwide.

So the hard facts are that Marvel are the creators of their own problems. Yes, it’s a tough market but making it harder for readers doesn’t help so it isn’t a case that Marvel has a diversity problem which causes them sales, it has a problem with making easily accessible comics for all ages. Until it gets to grips with that and at the same time it stops pandering to a decreasing, ageing core then it won’t be picking up the readers it could, and indeed, should.

Ruth Davidson defends the ‘rape clause’

Since moving back to Scotland I’ve been subjected to the full-on Ruth Davidson (Scottish Tory leader) experience. This is a typical piece of jolity from Davidson’s well-oiled media machine.

Ruth Davidson is being presented as the soft, cuddly version of Toryism. She’s the Tory you think may be alright. She’s just a jolly person. Look, she’s on Have I Got News For You so she can’t be all bad right? Davidson is, as said, a Tory that sits at the right hand of Theresa May.

This brings me to a despicable piece of legislation called ‘the rape clause’. Here’s MP Alison Thewlis making clear what it is the Tories have made law.

We think the policy on limiting tax credits to the first two children is appalling and tantamount to social engineering, but to put a woman who has been raped in a position where she needs to declare that to a government official is just abhorrent. This also stigmatises the child involved, which is surely against the UN convention on the rights of the child.

The Tories have been playing down this policy since it was made law last week but with the local elections weeks away it is worth realising that when they say in Scotland that they want to ‘get on with it’ it means stuff like this.

Ruth Davidson has been mysteriously quiet on defending the clause which is most unlike her but today she Tweeted this.

The spokesman’s comments can be found here.

Davidson is hiding behind a spokesman, failing to make any personal defence of it as somewhere deep down there’s a realisation the thing is indefensible but as a Tory, she’ll defend it. This is the reality of the Tories, even ones with fluffy media profiles, that if you scratch the surface it won’t take much to find out what they really are and what they really stand for.

So vote Tory in May if you support putting rape victims through hell. That’s what they stand for and this is the vision of the future that Ruth Davidson wants for all of us.