I, Daniel Blake directed by Ken Loach

This fascinating film was viewed in a hall on a cold evening. The event had been organised by local campaign group Wirral Against Benefit Cuts. It seemed a million miles away from the Cannes Film Festival where the gritty drama secured the Palme d’Or last year. Nonetheless, warm tea was served and the enabling technology worked at the third attempt.

The debate which followed the film reached few solid conclusions. Nonetheless, the discussion touched on local government cuts, electoral politics and the ideology of Ken Loach. It was noted that I, Daniel Blake had a documentary feel. It was also observed that the film was not really sentimental. Further, the pertinent comparison with Cathy Come Home was made.

One criticism made of the film was that it was negative. However, optimism can be generated through political action. Thinking about the dreadful way we live now can lead us to act to enhance our future. Not everyone is an admirer of Jeremy Corbyn, but voting for Labour in upcoming elections is in accordance with the thinking of Loach.

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Politics by Nick Clegg

This text argues that the coalition between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats was a positive thing for the people of the UK. It contends that compromise between the political extremes is always healthy. Further, it suggests that liberalism is an ideology which can stand next to conservatism as well as it can work with socialism.

On a human level, this book is a genuine irritant. The core idea is that the reader should empathise with Nick Clegg and his family. This may be an unwelcome thought for those profoundly affected by austerity or betrayed over the costs of being a student. However, it is the arrogance of the former Deputy Prime Minister which is ultimately of importance.

Clegg attacks Marx for being opposed to freedom, rationality and individualism. When engaging in philosophy, Clegg does not bother to engage with the target of his critique. Regardless of what later Marxists have done in practice, Marx was not hostile to the best Enlightenment values. Instead, Marx wanted freedom to be rolled out to groups excluded from it. In The German Ideology Marx and Engels wrote about how people could be liberated from social arrangements which were inimical to individual freedom:

“In all expropriations up to now, a mass of individuals remained subservient to a single instrument of production; in the appropriation by the proletarians, a mass of instruments of production must be made subject to each individual, and property to all. Modern universal intercourse can be controlled by individuals, therefore, only when controlled by all. “

In Praise of Slow by Carl Honoré

“After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relations.”

Oscar Wilde

This colourful tribute to the slow movement is worth savouring. In the UK, many economists are obsessed with the puzzle of low productivity. It has become quite common for people to eat their meals standing up. Speeding on the congested road network is not unusual, while some motorists use a mobile as they drive. Multitasking is widely praised and technology has arguably become a substitute for religion.

However, slackers everywhere are rejecting the rushed excesses of modern capitalism. Walking, cycling and slow reading have acquired new followers in recent years. Middle class parents are often tempted by home schooling. Above all, slow cooking has been revived as the huge costs of fast food have become evident.

Carl Honoré is a competent journalist with a great sense of humour. He recognises how hard it is to ditch our unfortunate habits. His humility makes this an ideal text to take on holiday. Nevertheless, its simple lessons should never be forgotten. There is nothing wrong with making slow progress.

Media misrepresentation? The Love Activists on Merseyside

“The Love Activists are well known on Merseyside after occupying the old Bank of England building on Castle Street in April and May 2015. That occupation, which the Love Activists said was in protest over a perceived lack of support for the homeless and government austerity, was said to have cost the taxpayer £120,000 to police and resulted in an estimated £25,000 of damage to the Grade-I listed building, which is still empty, as well as legal costs for the owners.”

 

A recent article in The Liverpool Echo has served as a reminder of possible media bias against the young. A few days ago, a group of Love Activists occupied a former bank in Hamilton Square in Birkenhead. The young people were protesting against homelessness and environmental degradation. A proper interview could have illustrated the idealism and courtesy of those involved.

However, a journalist chose to refer back to an earlier protest which took place on the other side of the River Mersey two years ago. The journalist alleged that the Love Activists are “well known.” No evidence was provided to support that specific contention. Further, the journalist omitted to refer to statistics about actual homelessness. According to official figures, the problem has worsened for the last six years. Since 2010, homelessness within England has increased by over 50 per cent.  While the journalist mentioned controversial numbers about a perceived protest cost to “the taxpayer”, they failed to provide data about the social context which prompted both occupations.

A lack of balance has caused many citizens to become sceptical about the standards of the national media. A journalist for The Sun has recently got into trouble for perceived racism against a footballer. The Guardian has been much criticised for a seeming absence of fairness towards the leader of the Labour Party. While it may be inaccurate to talk up ‘fake news’, it could be really complacent to believe what we read uncritically. The apparently hostile attitude of The Liverpool Echo towards socially concerned youth is arguably evidence that local media can be as lacking in compassion as the contributors to national newspapers.

Marie by Madeleine Bourdouxhe

This novella by the Belgian writer Madeleine Bourdouxhe is a surprising read. Its portrait of an emancipated woman has an existentialist flavour. Nonetheless, it also owes something to the meditations of Proust. The result is that the reader is sometimes confused by the unconventional morals which bubble up through the narrative.

The context of the story is of real importance. Composed during the hardship and chaos of the Second World War, depicting characters acting in accordance with desire instead of tradition must not have seemed to be a strange choice for a creative artist.

The unpredictability and beauty of life is central to the tale. Playing it safe is not seen as a valid option. However, there is arguably a selfish simplicity near the core of the work:

“Just as she smiled at all the gentle people who passed: at two children who lingered to look at her, satchels under their arms; at a woman in a hurry; at a young soldier who had no desire for victory of any kind: at all these gentle people touched by the simple grace of being alive.”

 

Hard Choices by Hillary Clinton et al.

“I’ve always believed that good decisions in government, in business, and in life are based on evidence rather than ideology.”

Hillary Clinton

This lengthy text illuminates the strengths and weaknesses of Hillary Clinton as a candidate for the President of the United States. Polished by a speech-writer, it shows the reader the breadth of her experience. However, the narrative lacks an effective structure and the blurred messages fail to connect with the idealistic values that have allowed other Democrats to secure the White House.

There is a determination about Clinton that is evident in the book. And it is still very hard to accept the candidate who beat her in the election. Nonetheless, the vagaries, contradictions and failures of large swathes of American foreign policy did not show Clinton in a particularly positive light. The Secretary of State is often painted as being at the mercy of unpredictable events.

Ultimately, Clinton fought bravely against Donald Trump. Nobody can know whether or not Bernie Sanders would have been a better candidate. All one can say is that pragmatism is not necessarily the most appealing ideology. This is because those who aim to be pragmatic can too easily become Machiavellian under the pressure of circumstances.

For whose benefit? The everyday realities of welfare reform. Dr Ruth Patrick at the Bluecoat

This colourful event took place in the attractive Bluecoat chambers and felt many miles away from the world of poverty. However, academics and journalists repeatedly made the point that the dominant political narrative about social security is misleading. The Conservative Party has set up a false dichotomy between those who do paid work and those who do not.

The discussion was of interest because it showed that civil society can think critically about these questions. Further, it allowed activists to respond to the platitudes of a member of the Labour council.

Nevertheless, there was a real gap in the debate. There was far too little discussion of political economy. The way people feel about the issues in question is not divorced from contemporary capitalism. The media does not operate in a vacuum and altering the discourse about welfare recipients is not an adequate strategy. Nor is sharing accurate empirical data likely to be a positive way forward. Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell needs to get his message out there. People need to know there is a realistic alternative to living in such a divided society. This involves using the state to support the economy. McDonnell has warned:

“Our economy is failing on productivity because the Tories are failing to deliver the investment it needs, and government investment is still planned to fall in every remaining year of this Parliament.”