The Normalisation of Nastiness: Where Will It Lead? By Kelly Grehan

A few years ago it seemed the UK was well on the way to becoming a country where difference was celebrated (rather than tolerated).

If I think back to Summer 2012 posters for the Paralympics proclaimed disabled people as ‘superhumans,’ Mo Farah, a muslim who came to the UK as a child refugee, spoke movingly about how he is British.

A few months later the Equal Marriage Act was passed.

Today, the UK feels a very different place.  

Hate crime is on the rise;

Poverty among the disabled has increased;

Homelessness has risen by a shocking 168%;

Brexit has caused a division that does not appear easy to mend …

I could go on

But, in summary this country feels a much less kind place to be than it did just a few years ago.

A bizarre and frankly quite nasty culture has developed, masquerading as free speech in which the belittling of others is celebrated and a good way to get attention.

I could discuss a number of commentators continually wheeled out by the mainstream media to discuss topics they have no knowledge or expertise in purely because they will say something nasty – think former reality show contestant Katie Hopkins or Milo Yiannopoulos.

But the best example of this is agitator-in-chief, Boris Johnson.  

Last week, the former Foreign Secretary and Mayor of London wrote an article in which he said Burqas made the women who wore them look like ‘bank robbers’ and ‘postboxes.’

Supporters of Johnson claim that as the article was arguing against a burqa ban his other comments are acceptable.  But if Johnson wanted to write in defence of women to dress however they damn well like then he should have done just that.

But anyone who has had the misfortune to follow Johnson’s career knows he was not interested in the rights and wrongs of symbols of religion or dress choices but is only interested in the headlines he can generate.

He wrote those words in the full knowledge they would bring him what he craves most: attention.

He might play the bumbling idiot, but he knows exactly what he is doing, playing into the hands of dangerous people who hold deep seated hatred to anyone who is different to them.

He knew that his words would serve to legitimise the vile beliefs of far right groups who share them and that inevitably this would lead to an increase into the hostility felt by those wearing burqas and (as idiots often are unable to distinguish between them) over minority groups.

Now some may argue that women wearing burqas are oppressed. Let us just, for a second, assume that to be true (and I’m not for a second suggesting it is).  

In what way would calling people ‘bank robbers’ help empower them to fight back?

How would being compared to an inanimate object like a postbox make a person feel worthy enough to seek help?

It wouldn’t; more likely it will lead to further oppression, and of course, Johnson knew that too.

Boris Johnson is a man, who specialises in causing offence for offences sake.  

For example in 2004, in similar fashion to his current grab for the headlines he wrote an article in which he accused people from Liverpool of ‘wallowing in victim status’ and referring to the ‘more than 50 fans who died’ as ‘having fought their way into the ground’ at Hillsborough.

How crass to make such a claim without even having the decency to google the number of people who died before writing such rubbish, although I struggle to believe the number 96 is not known to him as it is to everyone else.

Like the burqa column, he wrote this knowing it would cause upset to people who had already suffered terribly, but carried on, knowing it would get him attention.

Is a man like this really fit to be a politician?

All of this feeds into a culture of nastiness. All of us are familiar with the phrase ‘political correctness.’ What does this actually mean?

As far as I can see it is a derogatory phrase rolled out for anyone wishing to act to make life easier for anyone from a minority group. Look at where those whose who use the phrase ‘political correctness’ and its bed fellow ‘political correctness gone mad.’

In my experience they never have a serious argument as to why whatever they deem ‘politically correct’ is wrong, just a desire to stop it, and to continue with their bigotry against one group or another.

I’m not arguing for a curtailing of free speech at all, I’m saying we need to stop giving a platform to people merely because they have something offensive to say, which is not based on fact when we know it legitimises the hatred others act upon.

We need to stop a culture where the best way for public figures to gain a platform is to say something nasty – let us not forget the hundreds of columns written by other politicians on any number of issues, which are well researched and are on very important matters – none generate the coverage of a column with something nasty in it.

Hatred breeds hatred.  We need to stop celebrating those who spread it.

In This Together – Anonymous

To my darling boy,

I couldn’t save you today. I couldn’t be there to hold you as the tears fell from your cheeks or make it all better.

Since you were a baby we knew you were different, I remember telling the doctor how hard it was to step into your world and how you wouldn’t let us in. The diagnosis of autism actually came as a relief in the end.

Things moved fast after that, school managed to put in place support, we learned how to communicate with you and how to help you feel safe.

However the one thing we couldn’t prepare you for is the heartache of watching your nursery friend now run off laughing with other friends as they look at you with pity, neither of you knowing how to step into each other’s worlds anymore.

Their needs and communication have now surpassed what you can offer and inevitably they have moved on.

You try and join in but it’s just too much, you cannot understand the invisible rules of making friends, it’s so hard and complicated and eventually you walk away lonely and heartbroken.

The world you were once a part of, the children you once called friends now moving further away as their understanding and expectations of what a friend is changes and you are just not able to keep up anymore.

I come up to you, I wipe away the tear and kiss your perfect cheek. I check my phone, no messages and just a Facebook update of a mum I used to spend time with, she is now busy with the other mum’s and it seems their children are all having a sleepover tonight and making cookies.

I silently say goodbye to yet another friendship and thank god you do not have social media yet.

I turn to you and tell you that I love you, that we will always be in this together.

I remind you that you have so much to offer this world, that you can point out the smallest detail in something that other people cannot see, you are loyal and focused when something interests you and because of that you will excel in your chosen field.

You rarely judge other people or get caught up in social expectations, you accept a person for who they are and would never lie or cheat them.

You are passionate, you live for the moment and despite common belief actually have the biggest heart I know!

But mostly importantly, you are unique and beautiful, and even the loneliest butterfly eventually spreads their wings and finds their place in this world.

In the meantime my darling boy I will always be there for you, we are in this together and I will always be your best friend.

I will help you understand this world and see the beauty within it.

I will teach you the things you struggle to see and together we will make sense of it.

I will forever walk by your side and you will forever have my love.

Love Mummy xx

Why should I know?

I was driving along listening to Radio 4 this morning when the news came on at the top of the hour. Just the headlines, you know.

One of the stories caught my ear, and I’ve been thinking about it all day.

In Portsmouth, a primary school head teacher had admitted in Magistrates Court to drink driving and being in possession of half a gram of cocaine.

That was one of the headlines they read out on the BBC news. Now, this wasn’t a detailed news programme, but a bulletin with headlines. That a head teacher had been fined in a Magistrates Court and banned from driving.

They read out his name, maybe they read out his school, I don’t quite recall now and it doesn’t seem the news from that time is on the iPlayer radio app. But on the BBC website there’s a link to his schools OFSTED report if you want to read it.

Please, don’t for a minute think that I think it’s OK for head teachers to be driving drunk and taking cocaine. I don’t. But with all that’s going on in the world, is that really one of the top stories, the few headlines, chosen to be read out on the BBC news?

His school, by the way, has 300 children on role according to the OFSTED report. So, if you’re a parent to one of those 300 children, or a parent thinking of sending your child there, perhaps it’s of public interest that you should know.

But I live more than 200 miles away.

Maybe it should be in the local paper? But as a headline on the national news? Surely not. It was also one of the top 10 most read stories on the BBC website at one point in the day.

The guy has been to court, he’s been banned from driving, he’s been fined, he’s been suspended from his job, he’ll probably be sacked and never teach again. Should he have been driving drunk? No, of course not. Should he have been in possession of cocaine? No, of course not.

Is it national news? One of the top six stories to make the news bulletin at the top of the hour on BBC Radio4? Is it in the public interest that everyone across the country knows the name of this guy? No, I shouldn’t have thought so.

Or if it is, let’s make the news bulletin longer – because if we’re going to read out the name of every head teacher who’s been caught drink driving or taken cocaine maybe we should do the same with doctors? Police officers? Politicians? Who else, maybe members of the clergy? Anyone who ever breaks the law? Let’s read them all out every day.

Is that news? Does it make the world better? Does it heck.

Anonymous.

Carillion: Public Risk, Private Profit By Kelly Grehan

So Carillion has gone into liquidation, plunging the lives of the 20,000 people working for them in the UK and those reliant on the public services they are paid by the coffers supplied by taxpayers to provide, into uncertainty.

Carillion is one of largest providers of NHS facilities management, covering:

200 operating theatres;

-300 critical-care beds and

-11,500 in-patient beds.

It also has contracts to maintain:

-50,000 armed forces’ houses;

– £680m contract to provide 130 new buildings in Aldershot and Salisbury plain for troops returning from Germany;

– It provides cleaning and school meals for 875 schools and

– Maintains 50% of prisons.

When governments began outsourcing the work for public services we were told it was a means  of transferring the risks arising from major projects to the private sector.

Of course this has proven to be categorically untrue.  

Outsourcing and privatisation doesn’t transfer risk to a company. Instead, it transfers any profits or savings made (coming from general taxation)  to shareholders and leaves taxpayers exposed and vulnerable towards all the risks and failures; because if they fail the government bails them out.

Privatisation simply means no accountability for public money

For over a year now, Carillion has been in meltdown. Its shares have dropped 90% and it issued profit warnings, and went through three chief executive within six months  Yet they continued to be awarded government contracts including the £1.4 billion HS2 contact.

Could the reason Carillion have continued to be given government contracts have anything to do with their Chairman, Phillip Green being a Tory Party donor?

Of course, while Carillion workers are likely to face a difficult time with regards to their future, no such worries exist for those who headed up the company.

Carillion’s pay policy wording was changed to make it harder for investors to claw back bonuses in the event of ‘corporate failure.’

Chief operating officer Richard Howson has made £1.9m in cash and share bonuses during his tenure while ex-finance chief Richard Adam has received £2.6m.

Shadow Business Secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey has already said contracts run by Carillion should be bought back ‘in-house.’

Rehana Azam, the National Secretary of the GMB Union, said: “The fact such a massive government contractor like Carillion has been allowed to go into administration shows the complete failure of a system that has put our public services in the grip of shady profit-making contractors.’

So what will happen next? Is this the beginning of the end of the privatisation of public services?

We are told that MPs will be holding an enquiry into outsourcing Public Sector jobs in the wake of the Carillion collapse.

Jeremy Corbyn echoes once again what most of us are thinking and hoping for. He has said that this ” Is a watershed moment for PFI contracts”.

One can hope.

What they will ‘find’ and act upon remains to be seen and many will feel that this is just the current government making another empty promise in a long and sorry saga of public services outsourced for private profit.

Family Life, Support and Judgement By Kelly Grehan

By Kelly Grehan

Yesterday I attended an event organised by Mums4Corbyn at The World Transformed.

It was clear that women have a lot to offer each other in terms of support. One issue that came up was that of breast feeding. The problem, in Britain at least is that the feeding of babies can often feel an issue of division rather than unification.  

The UK has the lowest rates of breastfeeding in the world.
About 80% of women try breastfeeding at birth but by the end of the first week half have given up.  
Lots of new mums speak about feeling pressure to breastfeed and experiencing guilt about ‘failing.’ 
In recent decades a newer pressure has emerged, for babies to be in a sleeping and eating routine as quickly as possible and this is largely incompatible with breastfeeding and not good for milk production. Mothers are now experiencing a sense of failure if their children are not complying with this picture-perfect experience of motherhood.

To be clear if women chose not to breastfeed this is absolutely fine, what concerns me is a society that tells women to breastfeed, fails to support them to do so and then instills guilt into them for the failure.  

I’m passionate about more support and understanding for new mums, partly because of my own experience. My first child struggled to latch on, was losing weight, not sleeping. He is 10 now, but I’ve never forgotten the awful sense of failure that overtook me. It later transpired I had a tongue tie which made it hard for him to latch on. I fed half breast milk and half formula for four months, before giving up completely. Anytime I met anyone who talked of finding feeding easy or of having fed for long periods I felt jealous and the sense of disappointment hit me.  
Three years later my second one fed without any issues immediately after birth and I breastfed him for over a year. My previous guilt and anxiety about breastfeeding melted away.

What the experience of having two such polar opposite experiences of breastfeeding I have been able to observe the divisive nature many conversations about breastfeeding take, with it often causing conflict, defensiveness and separation between mothers. 

Then of course other issues start to take on the form of division and competition between mothers – weaning, childcare, controlled crying, discipline, clothing, diets, going back to work – discussions around all these things often feel like they end in judgement rather than support.

Is there something about our approach as a society that is unsupportive towards parenting and parents in general?

Well research confirms that if women receive support – whether it be from a friend or family member, a health professional, or volunteer breastfeeding supporter – they are likely to breastfeed for longer. 

Yet, Peer Support and Drop in sessions for breastfeeding services are being cut all over the country. 

In Kent where I live, the County Council was proposing to absorb the support into the health visiting service make a saving of £404,000 a year.

This week the consultation was suddenly halted until September so we await news of what will happen next. Sadly, I think we all know health visitors are too overstretched to offer the help needed.

It is a similar picture with other parenting issues. Up to 20% of women experiencing mental health problems in pregnancy or the first 12 months after birth. A Mental Health Alliance study in 2014 report found significant gaps in the detection of mental health problems in the period before and after birth, only an estimated 40% are diagnosed, with just 3% of women experiencing a full recovery. 

Costs of perinatal mental illness in the UK are estimated at £8.1bn per year, or almost £10,000 per birth. Yet fewer than 15% of areas provide effective specialist perinatal services for women with severe or complex conditions, and almost half provide no service at all.
Sure Start appeared to be making some progress with a culture change, but more than 350 Sure Start children’s centres have closed in England since 2010, with only eight new centres opening over that period. Spending on the centres in the 2015-16 financial year was 47% less in real terms than in 2010.

Childcare remains a deeply expensive and stressful thing for many parents, as work and money compete with family pressures compete, causing terrible stress and anxiety for parents. 

There is nothing I can find to indicate any progress has been made in aiding parents with this.  

It seems that family life, feels very unsupported in this country.
Judgement and pressure reign and support is hard to access and what is available is diminishing.

I think this culture is damaging family life and impacting upon the happiness of parents, children and everyone else. 

 The lack of support undoubtedly impacts on emotional well being across the board. We need better services, but we also need to look at our attitudes towards each other and to create more supportive dialogues and attitudes. 
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Grenfell : Neglect, Shock and the Idea Some Lives Are Worth More Than Others By Grehan

By Kelly Grehan 

It is now 100 days since the Grenfell fire.

In the days following the tragedy the emotion that overwhelmed me was anger that this had happened, and that although maybe the fire was not preventable, the loss of life was compounded by decisions taken in the name of austerity, deregulation, outsourcing and a general disregard for the economically poorer members of the community.  
As London Mayor Sadiq Khan said at the time “There is a feeling from the community that they’ve been treated badly because some of them are poor, some of them may come from deprived backgrounds, some of them may be asylum-seekers and refugees.”
As is now well known Grenfell Action Group warned the council and the estate management company of multiple fire hazards within the building including failing alarms, a lack of sprinklers and of faulty electrical wiring causing frequent power surges and small fires. They warned that the wholly cosmetic refurbishment of the building was a serious fire risk. 

Rather than heed these warnings the council responded with legal action against the group. 

For several decades now a denouncement of regulation has taken place. Phrases like ‘health and safety gone mad’ and ‘red tape’ are common. Free market think-tanks, such as the Institute of Economic Affairs and the Centre for Policy Studies and property developers lobby government against regulation.
In recent years it has become apparent that poorer people are no longer welcome in the Capital.

For example the demolition of social housing estates, such as the Heygate estate in Southwark, has made way for luxury flats with many bought by super-rich investors. Plots are often sold abroad in Asia or the Middle East prior to domestic sales.

The £83.7 million of cuts in Kensington since 2010 have disproportionately impacted servicers relied upon by poorer people. 

This includes closure of nurseries, of homelessness prevention schemes, of local A&E departments and in a move that says it all to me, there is an attempt to sell a public Library to a nearby fee-paying Prep School.

I can only conclude that the safety, health and quality of life of those in rented accommodation is seen as a secondary concern to profit. 

Last year, an amendment to the Housing Act tabled by Labour to introduce a legal requirement for landlords to ensure their homes are fit and safe for human habitation was voted down by Tory MPs including 71 who were themselves private landlords.



So the catastrophe that has occurred in Kensington causing, death, destruction, injury, trauma and displacement should not be dismissed as an accident. 

It is the culmination of policy and neglect aimed at those whose lives are regarded as less valuable. 

This is seen as unbelievable by those unfamiliar with being on the receiving end of policies designed to ‘punish’ those who are not high earners or wealth accumulators. But the circumstances and outcome of Grenfall are repeated throughout the world in places where neoliberalism rules. 

One such example is Hurricane Katrina which occurred, causing mass flooding in New Orleans in August 2005. It is easy to see it as a natural disaster, but that is to ignore the neglect in maintenance of the flood defences which should have protected the city from what was actually a tropical storm by the time it reached New Orleans. Despite previous repeated warnings the Army Corp of Engineers allowed the defences to fall into disrepair. 

This happened in the context of a neglect of infrastructure throughout America as neoliberal policies gained control. But is also relevant that the homes left the most vulnerable by the failure to fix the levees were those occupied by economically poor black people.  

After the storm it took five days to get water and food to people sheltering in the Superdome. In common with Grenfell people did what they could to help each other but, again in common with Grenfell the state failed. 

Divisions formed along class and racial lines. Healthy people of means were able to leave the city – others – vulnerable by nature of being unable to leave – stayed. 

As people began looting to survive, news outlets used the opportunity to paint the black residents as dangerous. A war zone atmosphere emerged as vigilantes and private security guards ‘’controlled’’ the streets. Survivors of Grenfell now speak of being let down by the council, living in transit in crowded hotel rooms, some without hot water.  

My concern in Kensington now is what happens next: Milton Friedman once said ‘Only a crisis-actual or perceived- produces real change.’ 

In New Orleans , with residents dispersed across the country and schools and homes in ruins; Friedman described this as an ‘opportunity’. Public housing, including that which was undamaged was demolished and replaced with housing far out of the price reach of those who had previously lived there. 

Mike Pence (now Us Vice president) chaired a meeting 14 days post disaster to look at ‘Pro-Free-Market Ideas for Responding to Hurricane Katrina.’ New Orleans quickly became the place with the most privately run schools.  



There must be real concern that Grenfell residents and those living in surrounding blocks are able to remain in the area in suitable accommodation. 

Any suggestion that people should be grateful for what they are offered should not be tolerated. 

Counselling and therapy services need to be offered as standard to anyone in the area impacted by what has occurred. Let us not forget many witnessed horrendous scenes and have lost friends.  
History, though leads to concerns that enquiries and cover ups can go on for decades. There is something about this situation which feels like Hillsborough to me, a feeling that the fight for justice here will not be easy and that nothing will change without a real fight.  

Indeed lessons could have been learnt after the Lakanal Tower block Fire in Southwark in 2009 which killed 6. 

Recommendations followed in 2013 but were never implemented, including one to fit sprinkler systems in all tower blocks. 

Lessons about outsourcing, which leads to responsibility and ultimately blame being diluted must be examined. But more than anything I hope we see a change in this attitude that some lives are worth more than others and that profit is worth endangering life for.

Everyone needs to stand up for this for us to have any hope of change.
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Dear Mr Clegg: Austerity Is Not The Victim In All Of This!!! And There Is An Alternative…

Nick Clegg has criticised Corbyn and Labour for “Demonising Austerity” . This will no doubt anger many of us but worryingly it will probably fuel the fire of those that support austerity measures. 

He has personified austerity. As if austerity is a defenceless being that has feelings. 
So let us take a look at the meaning of the word austerity. 

** Spoiler Alert – Austerity is not an actual person **


The truth is that austerity has been falsely used.

True austerity would mean cut backs in all government spending including MPs salaries but that hasn’t happened has it?

The average basic income for an MP increased from £67,000 a year in 2015 (the year they won the election and got into power without the Lib Dems) has rose to £74,000. A whopping 10% !! Hardly ‘tightening our belts’.

Well perhaps they can console themselves that they solved the deficit problem, which surely was the reasons they introduced austerity in the first place? But that hasn’t happened either.

In fact the deficit has increased by 53% (and that is taking into account inflation, otherwise the figure would be much higher).


** Provided by FullFact.org

So what exactly has austerity ‘achieved?’
If you can call a 134% increase in homelessness, a rise in the deficit, a pay cap on public sector workers so severe that now 17% of nurses now have to rely on foodbanks an ‘achievement’ then yes it has achieved something.

The biggest ‘badge of honour’ that austerity has achieved is the UN finding that the Human Rights of disabled people has been violated by austerity.  That is surely something to write home about?

If Nick Clegg would like to point out exactly what  positive outcomes austerity has achieved, then I will gladly listen to him. Because I don’t understand how can you ‘demonise’ a severe economic policy that has left millions in poverty. 

What about the feelings of families that have to choose between eating and heating? Do their feelings not matter?
Many of those in favour of austerity may cry well how do we deal with the economic problem that we have following the Global Crash of 2008? 

Well there is an alternative…

Perhaps we need to think outside of the box that is Neoliberalism, we have afterall been in this situation before. 

The Great Depression of 1931 was followed by austerity and a World War that plunged many of the poor into even worse conditions than they were already living in.
Similarly, the Global Crash of 2008 and subsequent recession led to the introduction of austerity measures in 2010, and an increase in poverty.

Has no one learned yet that tightening our belts after an economic crisis does not work?

On the back of the austerity that followed the Depression, Labour Party created the Beveridge Report of 1942, which set out a grand vision of public spending much like the Labour Manifesto of 2017 did. It provided an alternative to austerity and eventually it was accepted and proved very popular. It led to a landslide victory for Labour and the creation of NHS and the Welfare State. After years of austerity and changed the social and economic landscape of the UK for the better and it was just what everyone needed.

So when will we learn from previous mistakes and eventual victories?

The Crash could have been avoided. Remember, it was caused by the over inflation and free market economics, much like 1931. Keynesian economics would have controlled the over inflation that preceded the 2008 crash and would have opposed austerity measures that followed. 

Keynesianism is an economic theory that works on the belief that economic demand determines economic output, in other words the more the public are willing and able to spend, the better the economy will perform. And this means investing more into public spending, not less . If the public have more money to spend the economy recovers quickly. If the public are skint and poor, how on earth can they spend anything? It’s quite logical really! 

Today we see that austerity has not reduced the debt but that the government are quite happy to spend generously when it suits them with the £1 billion DUP deal, so how long can we live under a false austerity?
The Tories voted against the public sector pay cap only a fortnight ago, flying in the face of hopes of an end to austerity. 

The optimist in me however, would like to think that we are on the brink of a radical change for the better and that it is only matter of time before we have a government that rejected austerity.

For now though if Nick Clegg wants to defend and personify austerity then we should treat austerity as a person.

And in that case (Mr or Mrs) Austerity should be punished by the UN for its’ Human Right Violations and stand trial for fraud. It has been lying to us all from that start.


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