Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Billy Bragg; the Great British Con

Whilst I am no fan of Facebook's ever-changing mood, to misquote an angsty, young Paul Weller, I was pleasantly surprised by their recent promotion of it's erstwhile popular 'Notes' feature; in the past it had acted as a useful cross between a mini-blog and a personal notebook, but fell out of favour with the social network's head office apparatchiks. However, with the latest overhaul of Facebook profiles it has apparently fallen back into favour; like an Old Bolshevik returned from the Siberian mines to be awarded a Stakhanovite medal for labour valor.

On Monday of this week this change drew my attention to one particular note; an Open Letter to Billy Bragg, that I had penned way back in May 2010. I was pleased to note not only what a considered and well-thought out piece it was, even if I do say so myself, but how well it held up after two years and that it was perhaps even more politically relevant now than it was then. 

The following day I was somewhat bemused to clock a Tweet from Radio 6's Radcliffe & Maconie announcing that the one-and-the-same Billy Bragg would be joining them in the studio that day after his appearance on ITV's Loose Women. This tickled me, especially so soon after reading my previous misif to Comrade Billy, so I fired of an abrupt Tweet mocking Bragg's appearance on such a dire and moribund daytime TV show. I was somewhat surprised to get a quick reply from Bragg:

Now, whilst Billy is correct to assert his appearance on this televisual equivalent of the Daily Mail was little indication or anything more than a rather embarrassing need for self-promotion to the audience of a turgid, reactionary production, viewed in relation to previous utterances from Barking's answer to Voltaire [sic], it does not paint a too positive picture.

So I think it is fair to republish a timely reminder of who Billy Bragg was, and what he has become...

Friday 14 May 2010 AT 16:53 GMT


Dear Billy,

You ask why I accuse you of being a sell-out. I thought it would be perhaps beneficially to write an open reply so the points of debate, and my disappointment with you, are in the public realm.

Firstly, may I say how much I admired you as a teenager growing up in a small, reactionary town on the South Coast in the 1980's. Whilst Thatcher was battering the working class at every turn you held out a ray of hope for an alternative, introducing countless young working class people to politics (as well as unrequited love!).

You proudly held the torch for the English folk tradition, the expression of agrarian and working class dissent and struggle, and exposed people to a history they may not have discovered, with songs like your passionate rendition of Leon Rosselson's World Turned Upside Down about the 17th Century Diggers/True Levellers [see footnote].

How slightly surreal to find a facile, teenage programme like Top of the Pops featururing your performance of Between The Wars, a song in that English folk tradition, and singing of the experience and hopes of miners, dockers and railway men. Perhaps it is time for a gentle reminder of the lyrics to that very song:

Cover of the Socialist Anthem penned by Bragg
I kept the faith and I kept voting
Not for the iron fist but for the helping hand
For theirs is a land with a wall around it
And mine is a faith in my fellow man

Build me a path from cradle to grave
And I'll give my consent
To any government
That does not deny a man a living wage.

It was perhaps with a sense of shock and disbelief to then watch you on BBC1s Week In Politics openly and publicly not just accepting but actually supporting a Conservative/Lib Dem Coalition government, which intends to do exactly that; deny a man a living wage. The vicious cuts in wages, welfare and front-line services and VAT tax rises, aimed to hit the poor hardest, that spearheads the public agenda of this new "coalition" regime is no secret. Cameron and Clegg are quite shameless about it, as, it would appear are you.
Whilst you continue to endorse the red herring, cooked-up by Nick Clegg and his second-eleven of Toryism, and served by the petty bourgeois journalists at The Guardian, the journo's themselves are desperately trying to backtrack. Like you they backed Nick Clegg, confident that “the liberal moment has come” and that its readers would loyally follow its advice.

But it hasn’t. And they didn’t. Like your former fans, Guardian readers did what they usually do: they ignored The Guardian's bleatings and voted Labour. Because, although comment is free, facts are sacred, and one of the facts to emerge from the last week of the election was that Nick Clegg was no defender of social justice or champion of the working class.

Billy Bragg enjoys a cup of tea with the Labour leader who failed to lead Labour and betrayed the Miners
But how could someone who prides themselves on both their social conscience and depth of historical knowledge have managed to not only get it so spectacularly wrong, but also continue unperturbed down the road of the now discredited "progressive" Lib Dems? Although perhaps we should not be that surprised when we recall your infamous jolly, sipping cups of tea and chortling at Neil Kinnock's jokes shortly after he betrayed the miners, the vanguard of the organised workers in their battle against Thatcher in 1984-85, allowing her free reign to dispose of workers rights and destroy working class communities nationwide.

The Liberal Democrats presented themselves as something “new”, “clean” and "progressive", but at the first whiff of power jumped both feet first into bed with the party of privilige, wealth and bigotry. We no longer need to take a closer look to reveal a very old party, the Whigs, that has always carried out the policies dictated by the capitalist class of Britain, because it is spalshed all over the front pages of the press!!!

Republican Billy Bragg "excited" about meeting and performing for the Monarch
The Liberal Democrats have always been a party of the rich. They still are. They claim to be new and different from the two main parties. In fact they have done centuries of abject service in Parliament for the rich. Now they still stand ready at the disposal of the ruling class, like the Tories, to load the burden of the crisis on to the shoulders of the working class.

The Lib Dems went into this general election campaign calling itself "new" and "modern" and "progressive" without any shadow or irony despite it's entire Front Bench team consisting of white, middle class men. Considering Shirley Williams is an elder stateswoman of UK politics why wasn't she sat on their front bench?! So the "progressive" Lib Dems did not have ONE single woman or ethnic minority on their front bench!!! The new ConDem cabinet contains only four women, none of whome are Lib Dems, and just one solitary member of an ethnic minority who isn't even elected but a Tory peer!

But should we really be surprised that the party of "proportional representation" has magnifiently failed to be representative of modern Britain? Clegg himself admitted last autumn that his party is "woefully unrepresentative of modern Britain". At a time when both Labour and the Conservatives increased the number of female candidates they are fielding, the Lib Dems are the only party to field fewer women this time round – 22% of their candidates, compared with 23% in 2005. They haven't acknowledged this huge democratic deficit – their radicalism doesn't extend to challenging the status quo.

Let's look at the Lib Dems actual voting record over the last Parliament - virtually consistent in their support for the Tories, lookie here:

And the fresh-faces "modern" and "progressive" Nick Clegg has openly admitted his admiration for Maggie Thatcher and her economic policies:

Far from challenging the old establishment elitism, Nick Clegg is personally from a privileged background. He went to one of the most expensive and elite public schools in the country, Westminster. British papers have published pictures of the family chateau in south-west France. Early in his political career he was taken under the wing of Tory grandees like Lord Carrington and Leon Brittan. Only the lurch of the Conservative Party into euroscepticism deflected him from following the natural course of his career into the Tory party. For him, as for the ruling class, the Lib Dems were the next best thing.

Clegg denounces trade union backing and financial support for Labour. What is his alternative? His party, like the Tories, is financed by big business backers. Some of these, like some Tory supporters, are ‘non-doms’. That means that they are not recorded as living here (because they are dodging UK taxes), yet they presume to buy political influence with their tax-free cash. Does that sound ‘fresh’ and ‘clean’?

Clegg and his Party offer no alternative to the orthodoxy of austerity pushed by the Tories. Nick Clegg promised, at his Party Conference last year, bold and even "savage" cuts in government spending that he claimed would be necessary to bring the public deficit down after the next election. Clegg set out plans including a long-term freeze in the public sector pay bill, scaling back future public sector pensions, and withdrawing tax credits from the middle class. He is even prepared to examine means-testing universal child benefits.

In many solidly working class areas the Tories are so widely hated that they never had a realistic prospect of getting more than a handful of seats on the council. So the opposition to Labour has been taken over by the Liberal Democrats, who are really Tories in yellow rosettes. As an opportunist capitalist party, they take on whatever colouring is convenient to win support and office. For instance leaflets from the Lib Dems in Holborn and St Pancras cry, “Stop Arming Israel Now”. Holborn has a large Muslim population. Nearby in Kilburn and Hampstead the local party boasts that Clegg attended an event sponsored by Jewish News. This, of course, is intended to go down well with the local Jewish population.

Famously the Liberals who ruled Tower Hamlets in the 1970s flirted with racism and the far right National Front. In Southwark and Bermondsey they ran a vicious homophobic campaign against Peter Tatchell. The irony was only recently revealed when the Lib Dem victor, Simon Hughes, had his secret gay past revealed.

Billy Bragg working for the right-wing establishment broadsheet, The Daily Telegraph
Far from being a fresh face in politics, the Liberal Democrats are Tories in all but name. Whilst you dream up new sound-bites for your media appearances fom you costal mansion in Dorset working class people are about to suffer at the hands of your new darlings of government. Sorry, Bill, but you cannot speak for the working class like some leader or spokesman when not only have you shown yourself to be hoodwinked by blatantly opportunist carreerist politicians but are also attemtping to serve them up to that very elite class as victims to the slaughter.

The Liberal Democrats progressive mask has slipped, revealing the old discredited face of Tweedledum and Tweedledee politics that the workers turned their backs on when they took the historic decision to set-up a Labour Party to represent their own class interests. Class is the defining feature of British politics. The Tories and the Liberal Democrats are prepared to make cuts because that is what the bankers and landowners needs. The solution is for workers to reclaim Labour as a working class party with a socialist programme.

I urge you to reconsider this foolhardy flirtation with a party of wealth and privilge and return to your roots. You will be welcomed with open arms. Infact, just to be cheeky, I end with your own words...

In conclusion, bear in memory, keep this password in your mind
Worker's strength cannot be broken when unions be combined
Stand up tall and stand together, victory for you prevail
Oh keep your hands upon your wages and your eye upon the scale


Paul Nelson

Bragg in his former Red Wedge incarnation with Ken Livingstone, Kinnock and Paul Weller
Police being used as political tool by Thatcher at Orgreave during Miners Strike, an echo of the Diggers struggle
The political and social upheaval that resulted from the English Civil War in the seventeenth century [effectively two conflicts between 1642 -1646 and 1647/48] led to the development of a set of radical ideas centred around movements known as ‘Diggers’ and ‘Levellers’

The Diggers [or ‘True Levellers’] were led by William Everard who had served in the New Model Army. As the name implies, the diggers aimed to use the earth to reclaim the freedom that they felt had been lost partly through the Norman Conquest; by seizing the land and owning it ‘in common’ they would challenge what they considered to be the slavery of property. They were opposed to the use of force and believed that they could create a classless society simply through seizing land and holding it in the ‘common good’.

To this end, a small group [initially 12, though rising to 50] settled on common land first at St George’s Hill and later in Cobham, Surrey and grew corn and other crops. This small group defied the landlords, the Army and the law for over a year. In addition to this, groups travelled through England attempting to rally supporters. In this they had some successes in Kent and Northamptonshire. Their main propagandist was Gerard Winstanley who produced the clearest statement of Digger ideas in ‘The Law of Freedom in a Platform’ published in 1652. This was a defence and exposition of the notion of a classless society based in secularism and radical democracy

World Turned Upside Down (Diggers)
(Leon Rosselson)
Recorded by both Dick Gaughan and Billy Bragg

In 1649
To St George's Hill
A ragged band they called the Diggers
Came to show the people' s will
They defied the landlords
They defied the laws
They were the dispossessed
Reclaiming what was theirs
We come in peace, they said
To dig and sow
We come to work the land in common
And to make the waste land grow
This earth divided
We will make whole
So it can be
A common treasury for all.
The sin of property
We do disdain
No one has any right to buy and sell
The earth for private gain
By theft and murder
They took the land
Now everywhere the walls
Rise up at their command.
They make the laws
To chain us well
The clergy dazzle us with heaven
Or they damn us into hell
We will not worship
The God they serve
The God of greed who feeds the rich
While poor men starve
We work, we eat together
We need no swords
We will not bow to masters
Or pay rent to the lords
We are free men
Though we are poor
You Diggers all stand up for glory
Stand up now
From the men of property
The orders came
They sent the hired men and troopers
To wipe out the Diggers' claim
Tear down their cottages
Destroy their corn
They were dispersed -
Only the vision lingers on
You poor take courage
You rich take care
The earth was made a common treasury
For everyone to share
All things in common
All people one
We come in peace
The order came to cut them down

Home page located at: http://www.diggers.org