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Posts Tagged ‘Prime Minister’

I’ve always loved cinemas. I’m drawn to them. They are places of comfort. It stems from an early age. I much prefer the old picture palaces over the current industrial prefabs, but any cinema will still pull upon my soul and drag me in. Whenever I’m in a new town I ‘have’ to find out what cinemas still operate or still stand. I am part way through a photographic study of surviving Picture Palaces, be they still in use as cinemas or not. They are my cathedrals.

‘Kes’ was the first film I ever saw, at a cinema, as an unaccompanied child. The cinema was The Essoldo, on King William Street, in Blackburn, long before it was split up into several, smaller, screens.

I’m sorry Ken but I owe you the cost of the ticket as I snuck in through the fire exit.

My parents had noted my interest in animals and had encouraged this, believing that it was important in the development of empathy. They would take me to see films like ‘Born Free’, which I loved. In addition, we made visits to the library to borrow books on nature.

In 1969 a film called ‘Kes’ arrived at the aforementioned cinema. I had seen a copy of a book, upon which it was based, called ‘A Kestrel For Knave’, about a young lad hand rearing a bird of prey. Naturally, I was attracted to this particular film because of its subject matter. Sadly, on this occasion, my parents could not afford to take me but I was desperate to see it. I had heard stories about how easy it was to get into the Essoldo via a back door and, as luck would have it, said stories were true.

Yes, I know – perhaps it wasn’t lessons in empathy that I needed but rather a Casper style caning and a stern lecture on why sneaking into a cinema isn’t a victimless crime.

‘Kes’ made a huge impression upon me for it was the first time that I saw, and heard, people like myself upon the cinema screen. ‘Born Free’ and films of that type all featured people from another class, who spoke ‘posh’ not ‘common’. The characters that populated ‘Kes’ attended schools similar to mine, lived in places I recognised, they spoke like me, like my friends, like my parents. I could identify with them.

47 years later, on a Sunday afternoon, I find myself in a London cinema attending a screening of the latest film, by the director of ‘Kes’Ken Loach and written by Paul Laverty called ‘I, Daniel Blake’.

I ‘did’ purchase my tickets this time Ken.

Before I talk about the film itself I want to share with you what the atmosphere felt like in the cinema after the film had ended. Usually, when a film ends, people are keen to get away and rarely stay to see the end credits. There are buses or tube trains to catch or visits to the bar or toilet to be made.

It wasn’t to be in this case. No one moved away from their seats as the end credits rolled. The theatre lights went up and fell upon the audience exposing an emotional involvement, that could no longer be hidden by the darkness, the lengthy end credits hadn’t been of sufficient time to allow people to compose themselves.

The silence was broken by embarrassed shuffling as tears were either suppressed or in full flow. Heads were held downwards, few wanted to make eye contact. It seemed as if no one wanted to be the one to make the first move and leave their seat. Thankfully, the exit doors were opened by a cinema attendant wanting to clear the auditorium for the next screening and people took this as licence to exit.

No one spoke as they did so.

When did a film last do that? When did you last cry at a film, unable to stop yourself?

On the technical side I am fascinated that Loach, and cinematographer Robbie Ryan, shot ‘I, Daniel Blake’ on 35mm film, via Arricam ST cameras, using Zeiss Master Prime Lenses. In this day and age of digital appropriation one would have thought that Loach might have been tempted to use the digital medium and the freedoms that might afford, especially given the use of amateur actors. It is testament to his skills and his confidence, both in his own abilities and that of his cast and crew, that Loach stuck with film. In doing so ‘I, Daniel Blake’ has the feel of ‘Kes’ and that is a wonderful thing. Like ‘Kes’, the film has a ‘texture’ that adds to the aesthetic nature of the experience.

Loach has struck gold with his two leads. They have terrific chemistry, keeping you fixed upon them. You identify with them. You want to know them. They break your heart.

DAVE JOHNS, a stand up comic and actor, plays Daniel. A down to earth, lovable, caring chap of whom we all know at least one. In fact, he reminded me of my late father. A man who was far more intelligent than the qualifications he lacked and had a heart far bigger than his meagre bank account. In addition to my love of films and reading, I owe much of my politics to that decent chap.

HAYLEY SQUIRES, an actress and playwright, takes the role of Katie. A homeless, single mother sent miles away from her community and children’s schools. A character whose eyes speak far louder than any of the words that come from her mouth. Squires performance is heartbreaking, real, raw and so bloody human.

It is to the credit of Loach as a filmmaker that he does not go for an easy target and demonised all who work at the DWP, rather instead showing that some go out of their way to try and help, but they are themselves crushed by the system. Such people are also victims of this government’s pernicious welfare policies.

Once upon a time, your local DWP office and Job Centre was a place where help and advice could be sought and it would be freely given, without threats, without sanctions. You would not be belittled, humiliated, demoralised.

Everything is now down to the ‘The Decision Maker’. An unseen overlord who would not be out of place in a dystopian science fiction movie.

I expect soon that the new monster in ‘Dr Who’ will be called ‘The Decision Maker’

‘Forget The Daleks! Forget The Master! The Doctor faces his greatest enemy. For he may be a Time Lord but this time he is up against The Decision Maker.’

People, especially with mental health concerns, are sanctioned simply for exhibiting the symptoms of their diagnosis. Indeed, it seems that the system is designed to ensure said symptoms present themselves so that they can be used against the claimant to terminate a discussion or even a claim.

It is hard not to become emotionally involved in the viewing of ‘I Daniel Blake’ and hence so it is that, due to personal experiences, it is hard to review the film completely detached. Especially when you have experienced some of what happens upon the screen. The inevitable, forewarned, outcomes may seem dramatic cliché to those who either haven’t experienced them, or simply have an ideological reason to push them as cliché in an attempt to undermine them, but they are damn real to those who have experienced them or know those who have.

As one who is both disabled and a carer, and who has volunteered helping people who find themselves in a similar position to the films main characters, I can testify to the accuracy of how the system is depicted within ‘I, Daniel Blake’. I can confirm the feelings of frustration felt at simply trying to get yourself heard, to feel listened to when dealing with the DWP process. Likewise, I can unashamedly state that I feel fear whenever a brown envelope is pushed through my letterbox.

Such is the fear felt at the changes being made by this government, the person I care for has made two attempts upon their life that required lengthy stays in hospital. The medical team and Mental Health Crisis Team all stated that such actions are becoming increasingly common. Such is the fear felt by those being targeted by Government.

It has been an interesting experience to read attempts, by those who support such pernicious policies, to criticise this film in the hope of undermining its message. They also have a vested interest, they are also emotionally involved.

I have always experienced abuse, of varying levels, directed at my disability, but I have noted an increase over the past few years. It has also changed somewhat in nature. It can’t be a stretch of the imagination to say that media and government ‘scrounger’ and ‘faker’ rhetoric, designed to nudge acceptance of pernicious policies, is the cause.

One only has to read Toby Young’s attempt to undermine the film’s message in the Daily Mail to see an example…

“I dare say some were men like Daniel Blake, who were wrongly assessed. But the vast majority should never have been receiving disability benefit.”

Of course Toby, of course! You have no proof, no understanding of what goes on, but you are happy to further fuel the narrative that most disabled people are not genuine. This is, for a man in his position, totally irresponsible and dangerous. Toby is big on personal responsibility, so he shouldn’t be surprised if I hold people such as himself personally responsible for contributing to a climate that feeds disability abuse.

I wrote about my daily experiences and my thoughts as to why they occur in an article here.

The aforementioned ‘man with an opinion’ Toby Young tries hard to negate the impact of the film. He fails, but he does succeed in making himself look rather silly.  Can he really have watched the film? He claims that its running time is 140 minutes rather than its 100 minute duration. He asks questions that, ‘if’ he had watched the film or at least paid attention, he would have found answered by said film.

Young claims…

“…it is dishonest to suggest, as the film does, that Daniel couldn’t appeal until a so-called ‘decision-maker’ had called him. Employment and Support Allowance claimants are entitled to appeal as soon as they get the letter telling them their application has been turned down.”

No, Toby. Daniel could not simply appeal, he did indeed have to first wait for the call from the ‘decision-maker’. The film is correct, you are in error. And no, Toby. Daniel could not simply appeal as soon as his ESA rejection letter arrived. Again, the film is correct and you are in error – again!

This is because the architect of much of the horror YOU support Toby, the lamentable Iain Duncan Smith introduced ‘The Mandatory Reconsideration’.

Now why did he do this?

Because, upon seeing that the number of people who made an appeal were actually winning their appeals, because they were indeed genuine, what did he do? Did he say ‘Hmm, there must be something wrong with the process if so many are winning on appeal. Let us take a look at it to make it fairer?’

No. Iain Duncan Smith introduced another layer of bureaucracy, the aforementioned – mandatory reassessment. You cannot appeal until this mandatory reassessment has been undertaken. In which time you, like Daniel, are in limbo. Told by your trained, experienced, medical experts that you should not work, that doing so could endanger your health and even take your life, all this is overruled by some chiropractor ‘retrained’ and I use that phrase loosely, to become an HCP. These HCP can overrule all the medical evidence in 10 minutes – Oh I’m sorry, what am I thinking, it isn’t the HCP but the Decision Maker.

Toby then moves onto the plight Katy finds herself in…

“What about poor Katie? Is it likely she’d be reduced to selling her body to buy her daughter a new pair of school shoes? Hardly. A single mother with two children typically gets more than £200 a week in state hand-outs and her rent would normally be covered by housing benefit. School shoes from Tesco cost around £10.”

Again, all explained there in the film you ‘said’ you watched Toby. Katie had been sanctioned!

Now, Toby. Let us be totally clear as to what a sanction is. ‘I, Daniel Blake’ clearly shows the impact of a sanction. It is a young mother choosing between eating food herself or feeding her children. Toby, the woman depicted within ‘I, Daniel Blake’, like so many women, so many parents in this pitiful, unnecessary, inhumane situation, display far more courage than you will ever know. I would not wish such experiences upon you.

A sanction is the threat of starvation, of eviction, of homelessness. It is BLACKMAIL, it is state terrorism. We do not threaten to starve those found guilty of murder, they are also not denied fair trial and representation. We also do not incarcerate innocent members of said persons family. But the state does all this to a claimant and their family. The state punishes the children because they are also starved for a ‘crime’ they certainly did not commit.

Young concludes by saying…

“But don’t call it ‘social realism’. Judging by its misty-eyed, laughably inaccurate portrait of benefits Britain, it should be called a ‘romantic comedy’.

In those two sentences Toby Young attempts to negate the experiences, the pain, of so many people. It is accurate Toby, you only have to listen to those who live it, but then you know it to be accurate. Let us not be under any illusion that what the likes of Young want is a reasoned debate. Far from it, furthering their own pernicious ideology is what they aim for and this film, and the audience it is getting, endangers that pursuit.

The only honest thing in Young’s hate filled rant is when he says…

 ‘I’m no expert on the welfare system…’

Bernadette Meaden, amongst others, has brought up Toby Young on his many ‘errors’ but he is isn’t willing to really engage, to correct, to see just how dangerous said ‘errors’ are.

Now the attacks upon the film, from the likes of Camilla Long, Young etc, rather than hurt the film, actually display the strength of ‘I, Daniel Blake’ and show it to be a work of great importance. The honesty scares the likes of Young and Iain Duncan Smith. It is the nail that has to be hammered down and they are desperate to do so.

Iain Duncan Smith is already attempting to rewrite history on his involvement, as he usually does when things he has had a hand in go wrong.

I have been critical of many a government before, but I had NEVER, until the Conservatives came into power in 2010, been scared of my Government. When I cried at ‘I, Daniel Blake’ the tears erupted out of a sense of relief. For here, finally, on the screen was something that actually understood the pain of the experiences I, and many like me, have endured over the past 6 years. The anxiety, the sleepless nights, the damn FEAR for the future.

I will be eternally grateful to Ken Loach, and his creative team, for having made this film. For offering up a much needed counter to the hateful onslaught directed at us. It is an important film. It shows the reality of the situation for many disabled people and carers. It shows the reality of what many like ‘me’ have faced over the past six years.

‘Kes’ was one of the films that made me want to tell stories, to make narratives – be they through the lens of a camera, on a page or on stage.

‘I, Daniel Blake’ has re-energised that desire.

Christopher John Ball is, along with Dean Sipling, co-author of the play Throwing Stones – ‘What’s in your family album?’ Order your copy today from Amazon

“Mid-life male photographer meets young, nubile female student-cum-artistic muse – so far it’s old hat. But photographer turned playwright Christopher John Ball and co-writer Dean Sipling, whose background is film and television, bring the pairing into a thoroughly contemporary world of intercepted emails, sinister insinuation and sharp retorts. Their ‘guilty until proved innocent’ plot … is thoroughly watchable and believable – perhaps as a result of Ball’s professional insights and DS Dom Lucas’ services as police advisor to the production” Barbara Lewis – The Stage

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Evening Standard announcing death of Thatcher on 8th April 2013 - news stand at Kings Cross London (c) Christopher John Ball 2013Like many people, I hold very strong views on Margaret Thatcher and her politics but I can differentiate between the politician in office and the frail old lady who died. This is why, even though her policies had a huge impact upon my life, most of it negative, I refrained from exploring my views within this Blog until after her funeral had taken place.

It should have come as no surprise that Baroness Margaret Thatcher would have proved to have been as highly divisive a figure in death as she was in life: one either loved her or loathed her and death didn’t change that. Coming from the northern town of Blackburn, and having seen it torn apart by the policies of Thatcherism, I would be lying if I said I didn’t fall firmly into the latter camp.

Without doubt Baroness Thatcher and Thatcherism served to politicise me; her policies, and the effects they had upon the people I cared about, such as my father, heavily influenced my political leanings, writing and photography. Indeed my first major photo-documentary project, exhibited in the 1980’s and funded in part by the Arts Council, was a study of the effects of Thatcherism upon my home town.

The work was entitled ‘Blackburn: a Town and its People,’ and Baroness Thatcher’s death came at an interesting moment; I was, at the same time, in the process of digitising and collating the images I had produced with the aim of releasing it in book form later on this year. So, I was already reminiscing about the period of time Thatcher dominated when the news of her death was announced.  Sadly, much of what I photographed during that period, the poverty, hopelessness, division etc., is returning. It is doing so with such ferocity that I fear it will be far and above that which was witnessed during Thatcher’s reign as Prime Minister due, in no small part, to this Coalition’s austerity policy.

With the simplistic politics of ‘greed is good’ and ‘empathy is weak’ Baroness Thatcher put in place the very means by which she and successiveDiscarded UB40 from Blackburn - a town and its people. (c) Christopher John Ball politicians, in particular the current Coalition, would be able to cut society to its core. Splitting communities and rupturing the very social fabric essential for any civilised society, if it hopes to live, nurture and thrive in a spirit of fairness, especially in times of crisis.

Under Thatcherism the country became not a community but a business, the United Kingdom PLC., where profit became King and the ‘bottom line’ the enforced end to any discussion. Despite its failure, we are still told, by the likes of Dr Liam Fox, that there is no other way. Its effect upon the country has been such that it has left many, even today, far too weakened, frightened and demoralised to put up the fight needed to counter the Coalition austerity policy.

Thatcher believed that ‘market forces’ and ‘minimum regulation’ were the answer to everything but she never provided an answer to the biggest question, the one inherent within such a philosophy: What do you do for those for whom market forces has no need? Apart from offering up some vague notion of ‘trickle down’ economics, I’m not even sure if she ever seriously stopped to ask that question of her policies or even cared, something shared with many of her apologists and acolytes today.

I will concede that, during the late 70’s, the country was in poor health and that something had to be done to help it move into the modern world. But it was both the nature of the medicine and the manner in which Thatcher callously administered it that was the problem: she had no comforting bedside manner.

When a doctor treats a patient s/he takes into account the effect that the medication might have upon the patient. S/he anticipates any potential side effects and looks to alleviate them. Thatcher, for the most part, did next to nothing to alleviate any side effects of the medication. Other countries faced similar problems, such as inflation, but solved them by taking a different, less divisive path: administering the medicine with more thought for the patient. It was Thatcherism’s thoughtlessness, the lack of foresight and the unwillingness to empathise that I find hard to forgive. We are still suffering today for that lack of thought…and yes, Labour should have done more to rectify those errors whilst in power.

from Blackburn a Town and its People (c) Christopher John Ball

As stated, it is my belief that much of the problems we face today are a result of the policies of Thatcherism: the Big Bang, deregulation, Building Society Acts, removal of employment rights and privatisation, which in some cases has put essential services into the hands of foreign companies and out of our control. Her much lauded ‘right to buy council houses’ scheme and ‘stated’ desire for a ‘property owning democracy’ had hidden intent. Thatcher hoped that wider home ownership would turn people away from socialism but I believe she intended to do this through extra burden and fear of loss. She wasn’t unduly worried if the ‘right to buy’ scheme failed to turn people into ‘conservatives’ because it would still serve a purpose; that being a simple, cynical attempt to tie people, long term, to a mortgage. Having done so, it was thought that people would be more wary of endangering their job and income by striking for better conditions or pay. It could be argued that it was one of the ways in which she was able to take away workers rights with a minimum of trouble, rights that had been hard fought for and still to be returned.

Income generated from the ‘right to buy scheme’ was not used to replace the affordable social housing lost to sales. Indeed, many of the houses sold have found their way into the private rented sector but at much higher rents. There is an argument to be made that the current high housing benefit bill, money that goes not into the claimants pockets but into the landlords, is in part the result of a combination of the ‘right to buy’ scheme and the Thatcher Government’s 1988 Housing Act. This saw rents rise along with the introduction of far less secure tenancies, no doubt as a result of lobbying by bodies that represented landlords. Whilst there was short term gain for a few individuals, in the long-term, Thatcher’s housing policies have made a major contribution to the housing crisis that this country faces today.

Far from saving Great Britain, as David Cameron has tried to claim, Thatcherism’s unquestioning faith in the free market, and the refusal of those who came after her to challenge it, came to a head in 2008 as the country was brought to near financial collapse.

That financial crisis, being made worse by Thatcherite inspired austerity measures, has shown that Thatcherism, as a political philosophy, has Coal not Dole - from Blackburn a Town and its People (c) Christopher John Ballended in failure. A failed experiment whose shameful conclusion is one where huge sacrifices are being demanded of those who can least afford to pay the penalty, whilst at the same time, seeing those actually responsible for the disaster bailed out and made richer.

Unless challenged, her legacy will be one of increasingly entrenched wealth in the hands of the very few, and, nothing but the crumbs of austerity for the many. For in the end Thatcherism simply paved the way for the selfishness that is the Coalition and that is far too high a price to pay, no matter what you are trying to achieve.

It was through Thatcherism that the Conservative Party gained the reputation as the nasty party. Cameron, upon gaining leadership of the Conservative Party, stated that it was his intention, through something he called ‘compassionate conservatism’, to rid his party of the label: he failed. David Cameron and Nick Clegg have taken politics, with the aid of Coalition Ministers and MP’s such as Iain Duncan Smith, Grant Shapps, Danny Alexander, Esther McVey, Steven Webb and others, to a new level nastiness, a level far and beyond Thatcherism; the Coalition isn’t simply nasty, it is wicked.

The fact that Cameron, upon hearing the news of Thatcher’s death, rushed away from, what were billed, as important talks in Europe to bask in the reflected ‘limelight,’ speaks volumes about the man. I have no doubt that Cameron has one eye on the upcoming local elections and will seek to try and make politic profit from the hagiography that erupted from some quarters.

Of course, along with all the adulation from within the Conservative Party, they have tried to brush over the fact that it was the Party and not the electorate who removed Thatcher from office. When it looked likely that the people were inclined to remove her at the ballot box, the Party, in an attempt to survive, robbed them of that opportunity. It might have been better for the soul of the country had she lost the next election; better to destroy the Thatcher myth by means of the will of the people than have it shamble along for a few more years under the Premiership of John Major.

Closed Palace Cinema from Blackburn a Town and its People (c) Christopher John BallWhen it comes to her funeral, its cost and its nature, whilst Clement Atlee was more deserving of, but didn’t get, a state funeral, as he, unlike Thatcher, changed the UK for the better under the most trying of times, I think that it was perhaps right to commemorate her; not for her policies but simply because she was the UK’s first female Prime Minister.

There will come a time when the politics she espoused will be discredited and consigned to history. I look forward to a society were the combined pollutants of Thatcherism, the more cruel elements of Supply-side Economics and Monetarism have long been cleansed from its heart. Sadly though, for this country and its people, that time is still some way off as it would appear there are not yet politicians with sufficient courage to leave Thatcherism behind or perhaps they are so bereft of ideas that they simply have nothing else to offer…but, one day, there will be.

Upon achieving the office of Prime Minister in 1979 Baroness Thatcher famously paraphrased Saint Francis of Assisi. Baroness Thatcher and her legacy can perhaps be summed up in much the same manner…

‘Where there was a chance for harmony, she brought discord. Where there was a chance for truth, she brought lies. Where there was faith, she brought doubt. Where there was hope, she brought despair and, where there was a chance for something better, ultimately she brought us the Coalition and with it one of the most cynical of political conceits: We are all in it together.’

Looking back upon that period, my thoughts on Thatcher and her politics haven’t mellowed but for all that I disagreed with her on policy, and the manner in which she was determined to push it through, she was a politician of conviction and, at the very least, you knew where you stood with her. Perhaps more importantly, I never ‘feared’ Margaret Thatcher or her ministers.

Worryingly, I cannot say the same of this Coalition; for the first time in my life I am, as a disabled individual who is also primary carer for aOld man seated from Blackburn a Town and its People (c) Christopher John Ball disabled partner, utterly terrified of my own Government, the politics that drives it, its intent, and the gallery to which it plays. I do not feel safe and I honestly fear for my future.

Whilst I have always experienced disabilism, the nature, frequency and tone has changed, as this government, out of desperation and failure, irresponsibly tries to push through its policy via the politics of the scapegoat.

My partner, who lives with hidden disabilities, has been assaulted and even spat upon for having dared remonstrate with those who have mocked my disability.

Concerns about this government’s disability policies have even reached the point where Amnesty International UK, at its AGM on April 14 2013, felt the need to pass a resolution condemning the Coalition for its attacks upon disabled people within the UK.

Any government that, despite the lessons available to it from history, feels the need to resort to scapegoating vulnerable sections of the community has lost all moral authority to govern; I shall be exploring this issue in future posts.

It must say something about my feelings, with regard to the current political climate, when someone as anti-Thatcherite as I finds himself looking at photographs, made during the period in which she was in office, and comparing the Thatcher government with more favour than I do the current morally bankrupt Coalition we are having to endure.

That is not to say that life under Thatcher was good but that it is far worse under this current regime. This government is a union without mandate, one that can offer the country nothing more than a pernicious combination of the economics of the workhouse and the politics of the scapegoat.

I do so long for 2015 and the opportunity it affords to put the Coalition out of my misery.

Christopher John Ball is, along with Dean Sipling, co-author of the play Throwing Stones – ‘What’s in your family album?’ Order your copy today from Amazon

“Mid-life male photographer meets young, nubile female student-cum-artistic muse – so far it’s old hat. But photographer turned playwright Christopher John Ball and co-writer Dean Sipling, whose background is film and television, bring the pairing into a thoroughly contemporary world of intercepted emails, sinister insinuation and sharp retorts. Their ‘guilty until proved innocent’ plot … is thoroughly watchable and believable – perhaps as a result of Ball’s professional insights and DS Dom Lucas’ services as police advisor to the production” Barbara Lewis – The Stage

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