The Whitstable Gazette: "Jerusalem Postponed"
Columns from the Whitstable Gazette.
There was a strange item in the news the other week. It seems that the famous anthem Jerusalem can be sung at gay civil ceremonies, but not at straight weddings. This is because it falls between two camps. The clergy don’t recognise it as a hymn because it is not a song addressed to God, whereas the civil authorities won’t allow it because of its overtly religious theme. It was, however, sung at the Royal Wedding.
Sir George Young, the Conservative leader of the House of Commons, said, ‘I think that Jerusalem should be sung on every possible occasion.’The Daily Mail described it as 'England’s most patriotic song,' while it has replaced the Red Flag as the Labour Party’s official anthem.
Now this is all very odd. If you listen to the words of Jerusalem you will find that it is a call to resistance, and that it layers mystery upon mystery in the form of questions that have no answers. It is anything but patriotic.
Milton was a civil servant who worked under Oliver Cromwell and who wrote possibly the greatest epic poem in the English language: Paradise Lost. Samuel Johnson described him as "an acrimonious and surly republican". In his political writings he dealt extensively with the trial and execution of Charles I, praising it as a justifiable act.
Blake was also a republican. At the time of the French Revolution Blake could be seen wandering around London wearing a Liberty cap and was once arrested for sedition, having been overheard to make disparaging remarks about the King. He was a personal friend of that great radical thinker Thomas Paine, one of the leading lights of both the American and the French revolutions.
So how did it happen that a revolutionary anthem, written by a republican, in honour of a republican, has somehow transmuted itself into a patriotic hymn to be sung at Royal Weddings?
Stranger things have happened I suppose. But not many.
The Bedroom Tax
A friend of mine has just received confirmation that, because of the bedroom tax, he will now be required to find an extra £13.38 per week towards his rent.
My friend is disabled and the spare room for which he is liable is little more than a box room. Two square feet less and it would have been defined as a box room. The letter also contains a veiled threat. “If you don’t keep up with your rent payments,” it says, “your home will be at risk.”
Isn’t this just the meanest piece of legislation ever? What it really amounts to is a benefit cut for the most vulnerable in our society, penalising them for being unable to work.
What is my friend supposed to do? He cannot move. There are no suitable one bed room flats available. His only option will be to absorb the cut in his already meagre income or risk being thrown out on to the street.
Meanwhile, at the same time, the government has also scrapped the 50p tax rate which will mean that, on average, millionaires will be £100,000 a year better off. And on the same day, Barclays announced that is was giving its top executives £38.5 million in bonuses.
You may wonder at the timing of this, making this announcement on budget day. Was it a ham-fisted attempt to bury the news, or a show of bravado, making it clear to the public that the bankers really don’t care what we think?
Head of the investment arm of the bank, Rich Ricci was given £17.6 million in share options which he immediately cashed in. In other words, this one man, with one single bonus payment, could pay the bedroom tax for well over twenty five thousand people for a whole year.
The single homeless person’s charity, Crisis, said recently that in the last two years there has been a 31% increase in rough sleeping. What the bedroom tax will do will be to exacerbate the situation even further, driving many more people out of their homes. Expect more deaths on our streets in the near future.
The news that homeless people have been kipping out in the graveyard next to the Guildhall in Canterbury should come as no surprise. In this era of unprecedented shifts in the balance of power and wealth in this world, it should be expected that some people – the poorest, the most vulnerable, the most damaged, the most lost and confused – will bear the brunt of the changes.
According to Porchlight, the Canterbury-based homeless charity, homelessness in Canterbury has gone up by a quarter in the last year. That is an extraordinary figure, and would bring shame to our region if it wasn’t for the fact that the same thing is happening throughout the country…. indeed, throughout the world.
Poverty is on the rise. The price of basics relative to income is going up. Food is more expensive. Affordable housing is getting rarer and more difficult to find. More and more people are being squeezed by the new economic “realities” being imposed on us from above.
Meanwhile, the rich are getting richer. In 2010, the average annual salary of the top 100 chief executives was more than £3,747,000, 145 times greater than the national average wage. At the current rate of increase, by 2020 that ratio will have risen to 214 to one.
Think about it. While our public services are under attack, while more and more homeless people are appearing on our streets, while poverty and unemployment are on the rise, while every family is being forced to make cuts in their living standards, some people – the already extraordinarily rich – will be siphoning off an ever greater share of the national income.
This is no accident. It represents a hidden policy agenda underlying the economic crisis. You might almost imagine that it had been engineered that way.
You will notice that I put inverted commas around the word “realities” above. That’s because economic forces aren’t like the weather. They are not imposed upon us by some outside force over which we have no control. The economy is a purely human phenomenon.
Human beings make the economy. Human beings can change it.
Letters to the editor
The Whitstable Gazette is part of the Kentish Gazette
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I overheard one of the boys. He was perched on a groyne, with the sea at his feet, dropping live crabs into a bucket. “I could stay here forever,” he said.
© 2011 Christopher James Stone