Saturday, June 11, 2016

Monarchy Malarkey (2016)

The TV Review column from the June 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard
Prince Charles finds out that he has a grown-up mixed-race son from a forgotten fling pre-Diana. Newly-pregnant Camilla fears that this will disrupt her plans for the Parker-Bowles dynasty. So she buys her new step-son a motorbike with faulty brakes, and after he dies in an accident her unborn child is back closer to being the heir to the throne. This is just one of the daft plot threads crammed into The Windsors, Channel 4’s soapy sitcom featuring caricatures of the royal family, or nearly all of them.
Prince William is played with a permanently furrowed brow and steely determination to be a helicopter pilot. His father doesn’t approve, and thinks that William only needed to be in the RAF so he could wear the uniform at his wedding. Kate has a wide-eyed enthusiasm about finding her place in the monarchy, even if her ‘Gypsy heritage’ risks being an embarrassment. Pippa Middleton is portrayed as a sneering, devious gold-digger ‘with a fantastic arse’. Envious of Kate’s promotion to royalty, she tries to inveigle herself into the clan by seducing Harry. He’s depicted as being a bit thick, with the occasional hint that he’s not Prince Charles’ son. Harry Enfield plays Charles, the only actor doing anything close to an impersonation. He fills his time overseeing an organic biscuit company and writing to the government about green issues like woodlice habitats. Camilla is impatient to be Queen and worried that Wills and Kate’s popularity will mean the line of succession to the throne will skip a generation. She works to sabotage their reputation among ‘the Great British scum’ by engineering Kate insulting a group of amputees by dressing as a peg-leg pirate.
Washed-up Fergie gets disappointed when she isn’t recognised and annoyed about having her nickname usurped by Alex Ferguson and the singer in the Black Eyed Peas. Beatrice and Eugenie are faced with having to support themselves, so they set up businesses as ‘online make-up tip girl sensations’ and then a dating app for aristocrats. They fix-up a date between Fergie and a caddish Prince Andrew hoping ‘we can be a happy family again, just like we were in January and February 1994’. Prince Edward’s TV production company folded long ago, so he tries to scrape some money together by working as an incompetent removals service and babysitter for Wills and Kate.
So far, Prince Philip only features in the sweary, racist letters he sends to his grandsons, reminding them that he’s ordered MI6 to assassinate Fergie if she goes within five miles of Buckingham Palace. The Queen has been conspicuous by her absence in the show, and doesn’t even get mentioned. Depicting her has been a risk the programme-makers haven’t wanted to take, perhaps mindful of the controversy when Spitting Image introduced a puppet of the Queen Mother. In the mid-’80s, many thought that mocking ‘the nation’s favourite granny’ was a step too far, and the producers of The Windsors haven’t wanted to take the equivalent step today. Despite the irreverence, the show doesn’t really want to risk offence or encourage republican feeling. The royals’ naivety about the world everyone else lives in is shown in an endearing way. Those who’ve failed to stay in the inner circle (Edward, Fergie, Beatrice, Eugenie) are likeable hard-up has-beens. Apart from Kate, those not in the royal bloodline (Pippa and Camilla) are portrayed as conniving harridans. The world outside the Windsors’ window is largely populated by stereotypes; Northerners wear cloth caps, put ferrets down their trousers and eat chip butties, while Gypsies tarmac drives, grow lucky heather and collect scrap metal. The programme tries to get away with this by pitching all the performances as too knowingly over-the-top to take seriously. The plotlines are also too overblown for the show to have much satirical bite.
The Windsors is the latest in the line of succession of royal caricatures on the telly. Its closest descendent is The Royals (recently shown on E!), a largely poorly-received American melodrama about a made-up royal family’s shenanigans. Spitting Image (1984 – 1996) remains the benchmark, and spawned similar successors like 2DTV (2001 – 2004), Animated Headcases (2008) and Newzoids (2015). Whereas these shows turned the royals into cartoon characters, Doubletake, a 2003 BBC2 series took a different approach. This featured celebrity lookalikes in personal or embarrassing situations, as if captured on CCTV or shaky hidden cameras. Images like doppelgangers of the Queen sitting on the toilet and Camilla in her underwear were intended to demythologise celebs, not make them even larger than life. In contrast, The Windsors is overdone and doesn’t have anything original to say, a bit like its subject matter.
Mike Foster

Canada to grow no wheat in 1970 (1970)

From the May 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

Canada is planning to follow America in its notorious policy of paying farmers not to grow wheat.

Last year the world produced more of this essential foodstuff than could be sold profitably. There was what is often misleadingly called a wheat "glut” or "surplus”.

There had been a bumper harvest in 1968 too so that the already huge stocks of wheat were piled up even higher. In Australia there was talk of leaving some of the wheat to rot unharvested on the farms. The International Grains Agreement, under which the five major wheat-exporting countries fix prices and carve up the world market, was threatened as its members tried to sell their wheat below the agreed prices.

Representatives of these five countries— America, Canada, France, Australia and Argentina — met in London last August and agreed that in 1970 there should be a cut-back in world wheat production. The new Canadian policy is part of this bargain, a restrictive practice forced on its government by the economics of production for sale.

The Canadian prairies are particularly suited to growing wheat and in a rationally-organised world (one based on common ownership and production solely for use) could make a major contribution towards abolishing hunger. Even now the 1,300m. bushels of wheat lying unused, some of it going to rot, in warehouses and on farms throughout Canada amounts to nearly three years’ consumption.

Under capitalism such potential abundance presents a problem, since if profits are to be made output must be restricted. The man in charge of Canada’s wheat sales. Minister without Portfolio Otto Lang, has suggested that no wheat should be grown in Canada for at least one year. He told the Canadian House of Commons in Ottawa on 27 February how the government planned to tackle this "problem” of potential plenty.

They would spend $100m. on paying farmers to take up to 22m. acres out of wheat production in 1970. Since in 1969 only 24.4m. acres were used for wheat-growing, a reduction of 22m. would mean that in 1970 practically no wheat would be grown in Canada. Lang confirmed that this was the government’s aim and estimated a drop in wheat production of 500m. bushels in 1970.

His whole speech is an amazing indictment of capitalism (see Canadian House of Commons Debates, Vol. 114. No. 76, Friday, February 27, 1970). “Mr. Speaker”, he began
the carryover of wheat in Canada will be approximately 950 million bushels on July 31 of this year, equivalent to nearly two years’ disappearance. To reach a stock position in reasonable relationship to normal sales volumes, production of wheat must be reduced substantially below sales levels.
If the government did nothing, he went on, wheat farmers would switch to growing other grains. This was undesirable:
In large measure, this would lead to to increased acreage in other crops. Our stock positions particularly in oats and barley, arc already high. A further increase in acreage in these crops this year would result in burdensome surplus and lower prices for these products.
Since the farmers had to be prevented from growing barley and oats as well as wheat, the government had no choice.
The government proposes to implement a programme to reduce wheat acreage and to encourage farmers in the Wheat Board designated region to hold this land out of production of any crop this year.
Farmers will be paid $6 for every acre they turn over to growing “forage crops” (that is, grass) and $10 for every acre they take out of production altogether (this higher payment will be restricted to 2m. acres in order to avoid the danger of a dustbowl). The whole programme is supposed to be a temporary measure to clear existing stocks and the Minister predicted that in time “Canada will be able to return to a level of production in the area of 20 million acres”. But he went on to warn:
Additional measures will be required in 1971 to assure that production does not exceed acceptable levels.
He means “profitable levels” of course.

So Canada is to pay its farmers $100m. not to grow 500m. bushels of wheat in 1970. Remember that the next time someone tries to tell you that world poverty is caused by over-population. Tell him it’s caused by the underproduction that goes with capitalism’s profit motive.

Deep in the Heart of Texas (1948)

From the August 1948 issue of the Socialist Standard

One of the many despised racial minorities in the United States are the Mexicans. Many of them are actually American citizens, descendants of those who happened to be on the spot when the United States extended its frontier to the Rio Grande after the Mexican War.

During recent years, however, many Mexicans have taken to migrating across the border into the U.S.A. to work for Southern farmers and planters, mainly as cotton pickers and also to help in the harvesting of seasonal crops like vegetables. They have usually been hired on a contract basis, returning to Mexico after the harvesting has been completed, although a small minority have remained as semi-permanent residents.

The Mexican Government has always kept a watchful and jealous eye on these workers and during the war was able to take advantage of the labour shortage to insist upon certain minimum conditions for them, which the farmers were forced to accept. Realising that it has still got the economic whip-hand, the Mexican Government has now thrown the farmers into a panic by announcing that it henceforth intends to forbid the entrance of Mexican workers into the United States unless Texas (one of the chief states involved) suspends social, educational, and economic discrimination against Mexicans and Mexican Americans in 38 specified school districts.

Says the American correspondent of the Manchester Guardian (6/7/48), obviously enjoying the joke:
“Thus compelled by a foreign Government to live up to the Declaration of Independence, which  Texans have been celebrating as lustily as any other group of Americans, the Texas Cotton Ginners’ Association has promised to go around every one of these districts and persuade farmers and business men of the beauties of tolerance.”
Extra humour is added to the situation, the correspondent points out, because this crusade to impress upon Texas farmers, the virtues of racial tolerance happens to coincide with the Democratic Party’s Convention at Philadelphia which is meeting to decide whether to run President Truman for a second term of office. Truman, who always seems to be dropping bricks, somewhere, has dropped yet another by submitting to Congress a series of laws against racial discrimination. Having done this without apparently first finding out what the rest of the Democratic Party thought about it, he has now asked them to incorporate these laws into their electoral programme. Unfortunately for Mr. Truman, all the Democrats, particularly the Southern Democrats, are very far from seeing eye to eye with him on this issue, and the whole Party has been set into a ferment. As for the Texas delegation, which represents among others the interests of the cotton growers, and other big farmers, they must be suffering from an even bigger headache than the rest. What are they to do? Renounce their prejudices and save their crops or stand by their prejudices and run the risk of losing their crops?

Life must indeed appear hard to the racialist when he has to choose between his pocket and his prejudices.
Stan Hampson

Minor distractions on the Road to Freedom (1998)

From the August 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

Paris erupts. 'At last - Victory Is Ours! We beat the world' And Chirac was wearing the team scarf. Who cannot be proud to be French tonight. asks the ecstatic newsreader. Old woman on the corner of the Rue de Rivoli throws her hat in the air and thinks of next week's rent. Liberty? Fraternity? Equality? Maybe not. but We won the Cup. Let the world gloat.

Of course, we should have played Gazza. Two men in a pub relive a battle in which they fought valiantly with six-packs and a remote control.The BBC should have played the fat Italian opera singer. Having Faure's music as the theme tune could only encourage the French. Beckham's name is spat with contempt. He robbed us of elusive victory. Forgive what Thatcher did to the miners and Blair's grin of the youthful oppressor as he picks on the disabled and single mums, but who can think welt of national treachery cheered only by Scots and Posh Spice?

Why Did Ginger Spice Leave? The nation demands to know. Man at the Job Centre with three kids and no prospects reads the Sun with latest revelations of Spice News. Which one is your favourite Spice Girl, then? When did we last hear the gossip about Fifteen-Hours-A-Day-In-A-Bangkok-Shirt-Factory Spice? Ad exec sighs; the name has no ring to it. The kids need a role model. Look at Barbie Doll: always smiling. She can take it. Why can't everyone?

Bowler-hatted bigoted know-nothing no-surrender boys demand inviolable right to pester neighbours. It's tradition, see? So, No Surrender. Three kids burned to death in their home. It's tradition, see' Burning kids alive will soon be forgotten. but never the triumph of 1690.Were they waiting for the Big Match, these harmless, innocent. defenceless children, before the psychotic patriots extinguished their lives? Blair condemns, with limp sincerity.

But what about the stink in his back yard? Yes, you Tony—you with the permanent ad-man's smile. Did young Draper promise to fix it for a yankee capitalist in return for a well-stuffed envelope? Mandelson lets Draper take the rap. Blair lets Mandelson take the rap. Clinton insists that Tony would never mess. Tony declares that Bill would never take advantage of no~one. The girl was only in his room to get a saxophone lesson. It was all a horrible misunderstanding. Honest, guy. The People Must Be Told. Did Monica inhale? Had Dodi and Di done the business before that fateful journey? Is Big Mac better than a Burger King Whopper? And why are William Hague and Baroness Thatcher never seen in the same room? lt's an old trick. Will. You can't disguise it by wearing your baseball hat and bopping to reggae. You're an octogenarian n the body of a young man. What do you think about these alien abductions? They wish for little else in Wolverhampton.

Have you booked your ticket for the Greenwich Dome? Why, what's there? Dunno—but I'm definitely going. Where will you be on New Year's Eve 999? Drunk as a skunk in an East End boozer reliving 1966—Geoff Hurst, Harold Wilson. the Kray Twins. They was harmless boys—only wanted to look after their mum and torture people. Wonder how Gerry Adams treats his mum. Isn't the Queen Mum wonderful! Won't we weep like babies when she finatly comes to terms with nature. Old women in tower block (Bevan Court, by name) decide whether to open baked beans or put on the heater. The blood gets thinner when you're old. Unless it's blue. Queen Mum always has a spare coin for the meter. They have her girl's picture on, you know.

What about this Euro, then? Give up the Queen's head on our flyers? Never! Lining up at the cash machine will never be the same. Sorry. But Your Request Has Been Referred To Your Bank. Young William Hague will lead a national crusade to save our currency.We remember the blitz, Fritz. Britons never never never shall be. Gissa Job, guv.

Irritating pictures on the news of starving kids in Sudan. It's wrong—it's just not right to show that kind of thing when people are eating their dinner. Isn't life miserable enough without that? Pass the Prozac, pal. They look like humans. In your nightmares they look like your own children. The newsreader says—some of the images in this report may disturb some viewers. But most of the images won't. They'll leave you alone and let the mind rot in maladjusted tranquillity. It's called Normality.

After Winston Smith had come out from Room 101 he could see everything much more clearly. Distracting thoughts of freedom had been cleared from his head. News came on to the telescreen. France has won! Rejoice! But England should never have dropped Gazza.

An Old Comrade Passes (1943)

Obituary from the May 1943 issue of the Socialist Standard

London members of the Party will learn with great regret of the death of Comrade J. Barker, of Tottenham Branch. He joined the Party on March 11th, 1919, and from then right up to the end of 1942 he was always in attendance at branch meetings, propaganda meetings, and always willing to give every help he could in the work of the Party. He was known as a member who was always keen, patient and dependable. Whether to sell literature, take up collections, act as chairman, or carry the platform, he was always on the spot, no matter what the weather. No difficulties were too great. In recent years, age (he was well over 70) and the hardship of the life he had to lead were telling on him, but it made no difference to his enthusiasm and willingness to help. The Party has lost a valuable comrade.