Waked after long sleep

Article 22: Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.

I have the Opening Ceremony, Isles of Wonder, open in the corner of my screen at this moment – the industrialists have just arrived on Glastonbury Tor, and Isambard Kingdom Brunel is about to speak Caliban’s speech from The Tempest. Thanks to BBC iPlayer and the licence fee, I can watch any part of it I wish, from now til 12th January 2013. And I would never have thought that this would actually be something I would want to do.

As SharedPast summarises it

My expectations of the London Olympics’ opening ceremony were so low that, I suppose, I would have been impressed if it had featured Boris as Boudicca, driving a chariot over the prostate figures of the Locog committee. (Actually, now that I think about it, that would have been fairly entertaining.)

I haven’t changed my mind about the Olympics or Dow Chemical, but Isles of Wonder is a magnificent piece of performance art. The whole Olympic ceremony impressed and delighted me – to say “beyond expectations” is meiosis: I had sat down to watch it in a negative mood about the Olympics, cross about the money, and fully expecting to spend Friday evening making bread, doing laundry, only a quarter of my attention on the TV.

Ms Mongrel wrote in Bring me my chariot of fire:

Despite my cynicism, I do want things to go well. I want the Olympics to be a success for example, and I was really pleased at the spectacle of the Opening Ceremony. It was magical and silly and the lighting of the cauldron flame, with all the “petals” of the sculpture representing the countries that were taking part coming together to form one great symbolic fire, was amazing. From Twitter and from speaking to people in real life (I still do that sometimes) I think that the response has been overwhelmingly positive. We Brits might be proud but we do sometimes find it hard to celebrate ourselves and our country, and I think the ceremony allowed us to do that without being too earnest or tacky.

There are those however who didn’t like the ceremony. As the saying goes, haters gonna hate. What interests me about this is the particular features of the ceremony they didn’t like, and why.

Frank Cottrell Boyce describes what it was like to work on the show:

Danny [Boyle] created a room where no one was afraid to speak, no one had to stick to their own specialism, no one was afraid of sounding stupid or talking out of turn. He restored us to the people we were before we made career choices – to when we were just wondering.

We shared the things we loved about Britain – the Industrial Revolution, the digital revolution, the NHS, pop music, children’s literature, genius engineers. I bought Danny a copy of Humphrey Jennings’s astonishing book Pandemonium for Christmas and soon everyone seemed to have it. The show’s opening section ended up named “Pandemonium”.

On a trip to the House of Commons Danny was enthralled by the memorial plaque to the suffragette Emily Wilding Davison (it’s on the back of the broom cupboard door where she once hid). The sash that she was trying to drape around the king’s horse when she died ended up in the show. As did, bizarrely, the town motto of St Helens, where I was educated (it’s “Ex Terra Lucem” – “out of the ground comes light”).

It was exactly the kind of show which has the potential to go very embarrassingly wrong. The venue was not built to stage it yet when it was written: there were thousands of volunteer performers and only a handful of technical rehearsals: and yet: nothing did. In under half an hour, from a dragonfly at the source of the Thames through the pageant of British history including the Industrial Revolution with towers rising from the stage, nothing did. And no one told. Not one of the people involved leaked a photo or a story to a tabloid. As Ted Jeory of the Express rightly noted: the volunteers deserve medals.

Frank Cottrell Boyce acknowledged the dystopian aspect of IOC and LOCOG, but “in the heart of it, Danny had built some kind of Utopia, a society run on goodwill“:

Back in our studio, we had imagined flying bikes and rocketing chimneys. We never imagined the power of the volunteers. They were creative, courageous, convivial, generous. The press was full of stories of the greed and incompetence of our leaders, but our studio was full of people doing things brilliantly for nothing – for the hell of it, for London, for their country, for each other.

Danny could have asked for camera phones to be banned from the stadium or for people to sign confidentiality agreements. Instead he asked people nicely to save the surprise. “The volunteers are the best of us,” he said. “This show belongs to them. This country belongs to them.”

I tweeted during the march of the Suffragettes and the Jarrow unemployed, that UK Uncut should be there. Ironically, it would have been just then, though most of us didn’t know it yet, that the Metropolitan Police had begun attacking the Critical Mass cyclists
Critical Mass bail conditions
with the intent of rounding them up, arresting them, and giving them draconian bail conditions ensuring none of them could take part in any Olympic protest:

Some of those who took part in the Critical Mass bike ride point out the juxtaposition of the ceremony’s themes with the oppression of civil liberties going on outside. But I don’t see the two as being in conflict. When Danny Boyle chose Shakespeare’s words “Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises,” he was recognising Britain as a troubled and frenetic country. He was acknowledging that Britain has often been a country of struggle, and of noise. Boyle reminded us that Britain’s greatest moments have been those where people stand up to the powerful. By refusing to abandon their tradition at the behest of the authorities, Critical Mass, in its own small way, was continuing the legacy of those the ceremony was celebrating.

I have found myself in London on these nights [last Friday of every month] and suddenly a sea of cyclists has whizzed by ringing their bells, penny farthings trundling after honking their horns, all smiling. The rides have become, love them or loathe them, a feature of London life. Some cyclists see it as a political statement for better conditions for cyclists, promoting the environmental and health impacts of cycling over cars, or reclaiming public space. Some see it as an awesome bit of fun and civil disobedience and others simply love cycling in their city. The best bit is that none of these opinions is wrong; they are all present and all welcome. (The Total Policing of Critical Mass – An Eyewitness Report)

Perhaps not surprisingly, the Conservatives – who after all would have wanted the Opening Ceremony to celebrate themselves and their kind – for the most part did not like it.

Aidan Burley’s angry tweets about its “multiculturalism” were quick and blatant – the man who’d seen no problem with hiring Nazi uniforms for a party was clear he didn’t like a vision of Britain that was not all white.

The Daily Mail’s reaction was even angrier – Rick Dewsbury wrote a savage attack on the magnificent celebration of the NHS – and more explicitly racist:

“This was supposed to be a representation of modern life in England but it is likely to be a challenge for the organisers to find an educated white middle-aged mother and black father living together with a happy family in such a set-up.

Almost, if not every, shot in the next sequence included an ethnic minority performer. The BBC presenter Hazel Irvine gushed about the importance of grime music (a form of awful electronic music popular among black youths) to east London. This multicultural equality agenda was so staged it was painful to watch.”

The piece was ninja-edited shortly after it appeared online, but the Botherer blog got screen caps and noted:

I am very aware that getting cross with Daily Mail articles is like shouting about how the sun can be hot. However, my motivation is not to cry, “How dare they!”, but instead to say, “Please understand that they do.” I still meet many people who do not understand how the Daily Mail is not just another tabloid, not just as bad as the rest of them, but instead something far more despicable and dangerous. It’s one of the most popular papers in Britain, and when we say, “Just ignore it – they’re just trying to get hits,” I shudder. We do not ignore evil – we challenge it and get angry about it. We make more people aware. Some people reading won’t have realised. And others can maybe point someone this way when they ask what they’re getting so worked up about.

If Michael Gove had got his way, we wouldn’t have seen Isles of Wonder at all:

In one account of the meeting Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, was said to have scored the ceremony just four out 10, a claim his spokesman denied last night.

Mr Gove was also said to have objected to the absence of Winston Churchill from the ceremony.

According to this version, Jeremy Hunt, the Culture Secretary, was also sceptical about some of the scenes, while Theresa May, the Home Secretary, was said to have intervened to defend Boyle and to have told her colleagues it was unfair to judge the ceremony in such a crude way.

Michael Gove would like the history taught in England’s schools to be a pageant of kings and queens culminating in Winston Churchill, and if he can’t get it via the state system he is perfectly willing to privatise:

Mr Gove says he has no problem with private sector entry into state education, and by this means is trying to achieve what previous privatising governments never dreamed of. According to Gove, the competing chains will force up quality, despite the lack of evidence that markets ever do that. In its 2010 report Fulfilling potential, the business role in education, the Confederation of British Industry has openly backed this development. England’s schools – a bastion of the community impulse, a haven of ethical values, a profit-motive-free zone – will go private in a trice. And these organisations will rake off a ‘surplus’ that should be spent on our pupils.

What’s more, this policy is a huge exception to the rule that he who pays the piper calls the tune. In this case, taxpayers provide the funds for these schools but lose all democratic accountability. Without a geographical base, these chains will be in no position to deal with local disputes about the provision of schooling – and neither will any other public body. Where will a parent go if there is no school place, or if no school will take on their child’s special needs? We shall have, if the government is successful, a national service privately administered. (England’s Schools – Not Open for Business)

The Conservatives are tied ideologically to a model of the world where the private sector is much more efficient than the public sector and “volunteer labour” is used to save money: in this picture of the world, you don’t lavish time, money, support, or trust on volunteers, since the point of having volunteers is, first and last, that you don’t have to pay them. That this vision creates an omnishambles – as we have seen with G4S and A4e – that this could not have created the magnificent Opening Ceremony of the XXXrd Olympiad – is not something that apparently concerns them. (They preferred the “volunteer labour” of the Jubilee, where the people working for free didn’t get a choice.)

Article 23: (1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.

Although – unlike Aidan Burley and Rick Dewsbury – they have more political nous than to say so publicly, I cannot imagine that the founders of Sovereign Capital (John Nash and Ryan Robson and three others) liked it either. Sovereign Capital owned Employment and Skills Group (ESG) between 2004 and 2012, a “training company” that had got £73m worth of government contracts (and was sold to an investment bank last week). In the Observer yesterday:

ESG has been awarded two lucrative contracts from Iain Duncan Smith’s Department for Work and Pensions. It won a £69m contract in May 2011 for the work programme, the government’s scheme for unemployed people, in Warwickshire and Staffordshire, which runs until 2016.

The company was also chosen to run a £4m mandatory work programme contract across the West Midlands – paid to find work-for-benefit placements for at least 5,000 unemployed people over four years. The firm will receive an £800 bonus for every unemployed claimant it places in mandatory work.

So for the next four years, any time an investment bank places an unemployed person on mandatory workfare, the investment bank gets £800 from the government, the owner of the business gets free labour, and the unemployed person gets to work 30 hours a week for their dole money. We pay an investment bank £800 for ensuring that someone who doesn’t have a job is penalised by working 30 hours a week for criminally-low wages.

Article 23: (2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.

How did Sovereign Capital get into this line of work?

Nash and his wife, Caroline, have donated £182,500 to the Tories since 2006 and are said to have financed David Davis’s 2005 leadership bid. Nash was appointed to the Department for Education board in 2010 by the secretary of state, Michael Gove.

As well as being a non-executive director of Sovereign Capital, Nash is a key member of the Independent Challenge Group, which advises George Osborne on “thinking the unthinkable” on government spending. The group has pushed for efficiency savings across social care and the national health service.

This is the ideology of the Tory party: give millions of taxpayer’s money to the rich, deny benefits to the poor, make unemployed people work for free. This is not efficiency: this is the brutal transfer of wealth upwards to the already-wealthy.

The IOC and LOCOG are part of that corporate world. More than half of the people who applied to buy tickets in the ballot didn’t get them, but every event has empty seats because thousands of seats were reserved for corporate sponsors (or “Games Family” VIPs) and can’t be sold to people who actually want to be there.

Peter McColl writes in Bright Green Scotland that it’s only notable because it’s “so obvious”:

In other places it’s hidden because you can’t see the massive pile of cash that corporations have stacked up. You can’t see the impact their executives have on the housing market, buying properties they neither need nor use. The damage they do by manipulating food prices to the cost of consumers and producers. The people untreated so that the NHS can pay for the profits of corporations that have built PFI hospitals. The NHS is obliged to meet PFI payments to corporations before they pay for treatment for the ill, for doctors or for nurses.

This has a huge impact on our lives. The recession is being lengthened by a lack of spending – a lack of spending caused by corporate hoarding of money. Big corporates are raking in the profits while people go untreated in PFI hospitals. Public services are being slashed while quantitative easing building up banks’ balance sheets and in turn fueling bankers’ bonuses. Speculators are driving up the price of food and other commodities. All of this is causing the cost of living to increase for most people. And most of it is being done simply because corporate Britain likes hoarding things it doesn’t need. Things much more important than seats at the Olympics.

Such as education, where Sovereign Capital are also investing. Sovereign Capital says:

“The education market is one with high barriers to entry and strong regulation while the training sector remains highly fragmented and, as a market with priority state funding, is forecast to grow substantially throughout the next decade.”

John Nash is former chairman of the British Venture Capital Association, former board member of the Centre for Policy Studies think-tank, Conservative party donor and member of Chancellor George Osborne’s ‘independent challenge group’, which has a remit to ‘question the unquestionable’ in the Treasury’s austerity drive. He sponsors Pimlico Academy in south London via Future, a charity for the “underprivileged young”. …..
Fieldwork Education is an international provider of learning-focused services and products, working in four areas: school management services, international primary curriculum, professional development, and assessment and evaluation. It runs Shell’s international schools and sells its international primary curriculum to more than 500 schools in 50 countries.
It also states: “There are significant opportunities for further organic growth at British schools by expanding pupil capacity in addition to Buy & Build prospects in the fragmented, international market.” (England’s Schools: Not Open For Business)

Or the provision of training courses to unemployed people. In the week before the Opening Ceremony, Ed Marsh was sent on a “training course” on how to create a CV, which he live-tweeted (and you can read on Storify). I have never heard from anyone sent on one of those courses who found them useful or well-run.

Unsurprising: most training companies keep themselves up to the mark by getting feedback from the people who attend the courses, and pay attention to it knowing that if the people who go say that the course was badly run, they didn’t learn anything, the trainer was incompetent, then the money from training will quickly dry up.

This is not the case with training courses paid for by government contracts to be delivered to the unemployed: the people who attend the courses have no choice about going there and the money will never dry up, because neither the Job Centre nor the Department of Work and Pensions care if unemployed people are bored and learn nothing. Read the Storified tweets: that’s private sector profiting from unemployment. That’s what the Conservatives think is a good deal for Britain, which is to say themselves.

Article 23: (3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.

That’s exactly the reverse of the spirit of Britain celebrated in the Opening Ceremony, even to the Torch lit not by a single celebrated athlete but by the cooperation of every nation who took part and by seven older athletes handing the torch to seven younger athletes.

Thomas Heatherwick, the engineer who designed it, said:

“When we were thinking about the cauldron , we were aware that cauldrons had been getting bigger, higher, fatter as each Olympics has happened and we felt we should not try to be even bigger than the last ones.

“It didn’t feel enough to just design a different shape of bowl on a stick so we were trying to rethink it fundamentally — this idea of having no cauldron and instead each country would bring together an object — no bigger than a few bits of paper — and that these children would carry these polished copper objects.”

I was most of all prepared not to like the Torch. Even won over by the Opening Ceremony, I was still cynical. And I was wrong. I was completely wonderfully glad to be wrong: the lighting of the Olympic Cauldron was a splendid moment, perfectly engineered in all possible senses of the word.

Article 24: Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.

And now: can we consider human rights?

For me, the issue was Dow’s sponsorship of the stadium wrap. Dow are – to use a value-neutral word – connected to the terrible Bhopal disaster. Whatever the legal position, it was insensitive and tawdry to take their money. This isn’t the place or the day – given the gorgeous experience we’ve been through – to go into the details of why this seemed so very wrong. You can look it up.

Sign the Justice for Bhopal petition.

Sign the petition to abolish workfare schemes in the UK.

Protest the mass arrests of Critical Mass: Metropolitan Police & Criminal Justice System UK: Justice for the Critical Mass 182.

Update, 13th August, thanks to Channel 4 News: Ask why a 17-year-old boy was arrested under anti-terrorism legislation:

Channel 4 News has learned the one person arrested under terrorism laws was a 17-year-old male near Stratford railway station by a dedicated Olympic security patrol on the opening day of the Games.

The youth was arrested on suspicion of collecting/recording information of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism, but was later released with no charges.


Filed under Benefits, Education, Human Rights, Olympics

3 responses to “Waked after long sleep

  1. Hi! Glad you liked my post (I’m Sarah Emily, who writes Tangerine and Cinnamon).

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