The Same Mistakes

Disappointment at learning that the ‘wrong’ Dylan, Bob, not Thomas, had been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature this year was only partially mitigated by the reminder that being dead disqualifies one from winning a Nobel Prize. Dylan Thomas has been dead for 63 years and in his turbulent lifetime never courted Establishment recognition.’Llareggub’ was what he expected and that’s what he got.

Establishment recognition is a heady treat that recipients are well advised to imbibe with caution. The credibility of the British gong system and, in particular, membership of the House of Lords, is at an all-time low following misuse by successive governments to reward party donors and pack the second chamber with party hacks. Can it still be deemed “an honour” to receive such taudry awards? The Nobel Prizes for Chemistry, Literature, Physics, and Physiology/ Medicine were first awarded in 1901 and remain hugely prestigious. Less so is the Nobel Prize for Peace – awarded to Barack Obama in 2009 for no obvious achievement than that he had won the US Presidential Election eight months previously. The so-called Nobel Prize for Economics was the creation of the Swedish Central Bank in 1968 and is awarded to whichever bourgeois economist can come up with the least implausible justification for sticking with free market economics.

Notwithstanding the award to Bob Dylan, the Nobel Prize for Literature, while inevitably more contentious than awards for science, has until now retained its credibility. The award in 2005 to Harold Pinter cannot, for example, be faulted. Another worthy award, albeit one given very little coverage or endorsement in the UK media, was that to Svetlana Alexievich in 2015. She writes in Russian, which could conceivably explain this lack of interest, but a more likely explanation is that her interviews with citizens of the former Soviet Union are far too sympathetic for the tastes of our newspaper owners; and, although she does not whitewash the shortcomings in the former USSR, neither does she portray a system that was all bad. The current edition of the London Review of Books contains a detailed and largely positive review of her book Second-Hand Time: The Last of the Soviets and may encourage sales of the book.

Another sympathetic look at the shortcomings of the USSR is Landscapes of Communism by Owen Hatherley (Penguin, 2015). This book looks at the built environment of the former socialist states and China and refrains from rubbishing them out of hand. Mr Hatherley, coincidentally, also writes for the London Review of Books. While it would be pleasant to dwell only on the successes of communism, glorying in the October Revolution, the Long March etc, it’s vital to understand what went wrong in the first attempts to build socialism. Superficial analysis that focusses on the flawed personality of the leader or conflates socialist states with totalitarianism won’t achieve this. We need honest and thoughtful analysis so that we don’t make the same mistakes next time.

An Alternative to Job Seekers Allowance and the State Pension

With the UK economy faltering and in no state to withstand another shock – we are still paying for the bank bailout – you may think that the prospect of  Job Seekers Allowance – £72.40 a week or £57.35 if you are under 25 – is not a very attractive prospect even assuming you can satisfy the onerous conditions and limited tenure.  Much better, surely, to collect £300 a day for simply turning up at your designated place of work and then doing absolutely nothing. Furthermore, unlike JSA you won’t be singled out as a work-shy scrounger by the press; payments are non-contributory – you don’t even have to have paid any UK tax; and there is no retirement age  – more than half the current claimants are over 70. Important fringe benefits include a subsidised canteen and bars and every prospect of an upgrade the next time you fly.  Yes –  it’s Member of the House of Lords and you can nominate yourself at House of Lords – self nomination.

Be warned: there is only seating for 400 Lords at Westminster and there are already 783 of them including 26 Bishops. You may not therefore get a seat, but not to worry. No one expects you to actually go to the Chamber and listen to the interminable speeches, let alone speak yourself. You can even claim your allowance without turning up if you say you are working at home. Finally, unlike JSA, not only can you have another job without being prosecuted, you can actually pimp this one to any interested business – they don’t even have to be based in the UK – provided you record that you have done so in the Register of Members Interests.

Too good to be true? The problem is that Cameron, having secured only 36.9% of the vote at the General Election on a 66.1% turnout, i.e. the support of 24% of the electorate, intends himself to appoint some 50 additional Lords in order to secure himself an unearned majority in that House too. As this will cost us as a nation at least £1.3m per year more, the prospects for further expansion will be limited and your application may not be treated as favorably as it deserves. As a job creation scheme, the House of Lords may have reached its capacity. As it serves no other useful function, the time has come sadly to merge it with JSA and the State Pension. But good luck with your application anyway.