Author Archives: elspethparris

Addressing the Vegan argument for better land use in a crowded planet.

1. Firstly, my own, personal point of view as a vegetarian
1.1 I would want an end to factory farming and to ensure that all animals kept for food production are treated decently. I will refer to this as ‘compassionate farming’.
1.2 For centuries, meat was considered a ‘luxury food’, eaten either occasionally (maybe once or twice a week, plus feast days), or in small quantities to give flavour to other protein
sources, by all those for whom ‘luxury foods’ were unaffordable, that is, the larger part of the population. The assumption that a meal is incomplete without inclusion of a large chunk of meat is something I object to – but I do not have any problem with people eating regular small amounts, or less regular large amounts of meat. I have less issues with dairy foods but it would be good to promote other protein sources in order to educe our (particularly my) usage to some extent.

2. Land used for farming which does not currently give rise to food production:
⦁ tea
⦁ coffee
⦁ tobacco
⦁ alcohol (largely grain)
⦁ And to some extent, sugar and cocoa

All of these (and I admit I use all of these extensively apart from tea) use land without providing any noticeable nutritional value. Although sugar (calories) and cocoa (iron) have some limited value, as a society we vastly over-use each of them to the detriment of our health.

We waste productive land on these items, not because of their nutritional value, but because we like them. In some cases, we are addicted to them (I am!). In fact we like them enough that any political party which wanted to ban them would be committing political suicide.

Meat and dairy products have high nutritional value. The problem is not that people eat them but that the wealth, and the nutritional values of these foods afforded by that wealth is inequitably distributed. If people who were better off ate a little less meat and dairy, and at the same time enabled those who are poor to eat a bit more of it, or to afford the compassionately farmed produce that they currently can’t afford, then there would result a more equitable share of nutrition across the world, and across each society.

Conclusion
Meat- and dairy-eating is not in itself the problem. The problem is inequality and a cultural assumption that meat is the only protein source of nutritive value. We should address those two issues and we would find that there is enough nutritive produce for everyone, in a fairer and kinder world. Leaving those of us who choose, as I do, not to eat meat, and those who choose not to eat dairy foods, to contribute personally to further reduce overall consumption of those items without any need to impose their views on anyone else.

Advertisements

Lesbianism in the works of Dorothy L Sayers

What interests me is the way that DLS portrays lesbianism, where it occurs in her novels, as a social normality; not only that she did so, but that the popularity of her books suggests that this wasn’t shocking to her readers.

Her books were placed, socially, largely in the upper and Bohemian classes of society in her own time, the 1920s and 30s, but their popularity suggests that they were read by the middle classes. The characters portrayed as lesbian weren’t central to the plot, not highlighted as figures of shock or even of great attention. They were side issues, part of the normal life of the culture into which her plots were set. And that, to me, is what speaks of their normality, both as perceived by the author herself, and as perceived by her audience.

I am certainly aware that there was an established practice during the Victorian era wherein lesbianism had become, certainly not accepted, but recognised and, quietly ‘glossed over’. It was normal practice, if a woman should reach maturity without being married, that she had to make a choice as to how to live her life. There were a limited number of jobs that she could do if she couldn’t afford to fund an independent life at whatever level of society she felt she ‘should’ be living in. Specifically, as a upper or upper middle class woman, an ‘impoverished gentlewoman’ she could become a governess, a schoolmistress or a ‘lady’s companion’ – and that was about it. Or she could become a perpetual ‘maiden aunt’ living with, or rotating among, the households of her various married siblings. All of these possibilities had the potential to be fairly unpleasant.

If, on the other hand, she were able to fund an independent life, it was simply not acceptable for a woman to live alone, noting that ‘alone’ didn’t what we would mean by it today. A woman might have a household of servants but be considered to be living alone if no-one in her household were of her own social class. While it was acceptable for a man to live alone in a household presided over by a housekeeper or a valet, this would have truly scandalous behaviour in a woman unless she were old enough that the major figure in her household was a nurse.

A woman of less generous means might respectably take up life in a boarding house, run by a retired upper servant, someone who while from working-class origins had established themselves within the households of the wealthy as being utterly respectable. And the lady running the household would act as housekeeper to a number of ladies living within her house. Still, very limiting.

No, for the most independent life which could be lived in Victorian society by an unmarried, or indeed widowed, lady of any means at all – she needed to settle with another woman of her own class. That would most likely require employing an impoverished gentlewoman, the ‘lady’s companion’ previously mentioned but it could also involve two women in similar circumstances choosing to settle together. Such arrangements were normal and would not have attracted any attention or been considered suggestive of anything which could have been considered ‘improper’ in an era when only married relationships between one man and one woman were socially acceptable.

And yet society was perfectly aware that among these pairs of women living together, some had relationships that were rather deeper, both emotionally, and quite possibly also sexually. Victorian society being what it was, where even the legs of tables were considered ‘rude’ and requiring to be kept hidden, this was simply ignored, glossed over. The ladies concerned were living lives within an established social norm, and by merely choosing not to enquire as to the nature of their relationship, and ignoring it when it was obvious, women could choose to live out their lives in deeply committed relationships without any issue within society as to whether or not those relationships were sexual.

The situation for men however was vastly different. The homosexual couple was a stock ‘figure of fun’ until really very recently. It is one of the reasons, quite apart from a sense of justice and fairness, why I support the issue of gay marriage. There was no social stereotype or role model for a young man, realising that he was gay, to build upon in developing an emotionally secure relationship – which I have always felt was very negative. In a society where women were perceived as lesser beings, a homosexual relationship between men suggested that one of the men was placed in a woman’s role: passive, effeminate, not in control. That was socially unacceptable and the man concerned was a source of laughter. The idea that a sexual relationship, whether hetero- or homo-sexual could be a partnership of equals was still a long way away, and hasn’t yet been entirely achieved. No, the sexual life of homo-sexual men was perceived as being one of sordid sexual encounters, not even amounting to what we would today call ‘one-night-stands’, and often with the more masculine of the pair being seen as preying upon the more feminine – leading to a mythology (and it is nothing more than a mythology) which suggested that homo-sexuality necessarily implied sexual predation, since surely no man would willingly choose the subject position of the female. This has nothing to do with sexual practices and everything to do with the position of women within society – lesser, and powerless creatures who were not citizens of the world except through their male relatives : father, brother or husband.

There are two noticeable lesbian couples in DLS’ works. Both in Bohemian society, one in London – friends of Harriet Vane in Strong poison; the other in a small Scottish town, known for its society of artists, in Five Red Herrings. They are in both cases obviously lesbians, there is no pretence of the Victorian norm of ladies of the gentry living together for respectability. Lord Peter Wimsey, the central character, an upper class gent and amateur detective, relates easily to both couples and indeed, is portrayed as looking forward to meeting up with the couple in Scotland during his visit there, having known them previously.

It seems to be apparent, that while I, growing up in the comparative sexual freedom of the 1960s and 70s was completely unaware of lesbianism, society of the 1930s does seem to have been aware of it. and indeed, not to have been particularly shocked by it – at least as long as it could be dismissed as ‘one of those oddities which could be expected to be found among arty folk’, an eccentricity rather than something wrong. If shock is felt, it is nothing more than a ‘frisson’ of excitement. In fact though, the portrayal of the two couples in Five Red Herrings and Strong Poison is so understated that not even a frisson seems to be expected. It is simply part of the backdrop to the plot. Just as in a major film one must have extras, people who form crowd scenes, and these should reflect the patterns of the society within which the story is told, these two couples could carry their part of the plot perfectly well without being lesbian, but they are described as such as part of Lord Peter’s easy movement, not only with the upper classes (one plot-point hinges on his acquaintance with Royalty (Clouds of Witness) and another on his ability to phone the Archbishop of Canterbury for a chat and to ask for a favour (The Nine Tailors), but also within the Bohemian world of artists and writers.

This could be easily explained away if DLS herself had a tendency to lesbianism, however it seems not. She had a lover in early life, and much later, when she had developed, through successful novel-writing, a great deal of freedom to live as she pleased, she got married. Assuming that she is correct in portraying lesbianism as being socially acceptable within the arty set, then as a writer, that would have been an option for her if it had been her preference, clearly it wasn’t. I feel therefore that we can assume that DLS built these characters in partly to demonstrate Wimsey’s ease of movement between different social sets, and partly because this was the Bohemia she knew, and with reasonable confidence that these relationships would be treated by her middle-class readers, to whom respectability was of vital importance, as being nothing more than eccentricity to be expected of artists.

Eccentricity has been an important feature of my own life, not so much because I am noticeably eccentric, but because of my early experience of both my own and my father’s mental health problems. There was such a difference within society’s attitudes to both of us when we were perceived as mentally ill, to the respect which we were each able to acquire once we were merely perceived as eccentric, that this difference is, to me, important. There is a big difference in the perception of a way of living as being immoral, and seeing it as merely eccentric, the eccentric can acquire respect, even if they are not quite seen as ‘respectable’ those who are perceived as pitiable, wrong-headed or immoral – can’t.

The ladies who live openly as lesbians in DLS’ stories are portrayed as worthy of respect, indeed the two in Scotland are portrayed as being respectable, a different quality altogether. Seemingly Dorothy L Sayers was absolutely confident that she could include such characters without putting off her large middle-class readership, and the popularity of her novels, made as a TV series in the 1970s, bears that out. It seems that while in the 1930s male homosexuality was still, as it was for many years, completely unacceptable, lesbianism, at least within a sector of society known for eccentricity, was something not to be disturbed at by the 1930s. Which while being unfair, I have found to be an interesting observation.

Elspeth Parris
March 2015

Thoughts on: England Arise – Juliet Barker’s book on the ‘Peasants’ Revolt’

I’ve reached the concluding chapter. So before I read Barker’s conclusions, what are my own? That the ‘peasants’ revolt’ was caused by two new developments in society: social mobility and a money economy.

Society had been based on the idea of ‘a place for everything and everything in its place. That’s an excellent way to organise a workshop, pretty good for a kitchen but drastic for a living room, which is primarily about social interaction. It’s not a good way to organise a society – sooner or later, some people are going to feel its unfair.

Medieval society had not been based on money. A money economy requires literacy. If the agreement is to pay 4d an acre in rent for land, then someone needs to work out how much land each person has got, perform the necessary multiplication and then check that the money has been paid – accurately. The villeinage system had worked on a much simpler basis – being a villein you had to work so many days per week on the landlord’s personal land in return for your own landholdings – the amount of work you had to do came from your status as villein rather than the amount of land you had – which in theory would have been the same for everyone in the village. That just wasn’t working any more, particularly as some villeins held a lot more land than others. Because they’d bought extra! There was also the assumption – through all landholdings from the lowest to the highest – that ownership of land was for life and NOT inheritable. Of course in practice, people did inherit but it had to be agreed with the next level of society up (landlord, Manor Lord, Noble, King) and a fee would be charged for their agreement.

What medieval society was based on, in the lack of literacy and money, was mutual exchange of service and loyalty- administrated via the agreed seriousness of oaths. This had been disturbed, for some time. by the growing (indeed, growing very fat!) landholdings of the church – which was literate. The Church recorded everything in writing, for the Church it was not an oath of service which held it all together, it was the written record of previous agreement – the Charter. While ownership of land was by service and loyalty, the idea that it had to be re-negotiated each time the land passed to a new generation made some sense – the new tenant has to make the same oath of service and loyalty in order to retain possession of the land. A Charter for land, particularly on a money basis, is much more fixed. If the rent on the land comes to X shillings and is recorded as such on the Charter, then the land can be passed on, by inheritance or indeed by sale to someone else, who, receiving the Charter, knows that their rent is fixed at X shillings.

And Villeins, people who’s life was fixed in terms of so many days of service to the manor lord in return for a fixed acreage, were buying land by charter. They were moving into the bottom rung of the Gentry. In terms of today’s ‘class analysis’ (very anachronistic I know) they were becoming a new ‘lower middle class’. Not only that, but literacy was spreading – and it was reaching all classes. Barker’s book refers to villeins who had become bailiffs – a task which required literacy. At the same time as reading Barker’s book I’ve been reading a novel about the Alexandrian crusade (1365), where the appointed papal legate for the spiritual leadership of the crusade was (Saint) Pierre Thomas, a Bishop and trusted right-hand-man of the Pope. I looked this man up and found that he had started life as a villein. So even in the Church, where the strictures against social mobility were just as powerful as in secular life, and literacy was vital – even here it was possible to rise to the very top. If Pierre Thomas hadn’t died he was in with a chance of being selected as a future pope. The most important feature of the ‘Peasants’ Revolt’ was the recognition of the importance of documentation – both to oppress and to provide new freedoms. Everywhere they went, the rebels destroyed documents: charters, muniment rolls, court records. And what they demanded were new charters: of manumission, of landholdings, of rights. They wanted this new way of doing things, by having agreements written down so that they could be enforced, but enforced for them, not against them.

The free landholders wanted change too. They too were rising, and finding their raise blocked by the new officialdom. There was a massive increase in the number of oppointed officials, operating on behalf of the crown in every area: sheriffs had always been there (shire-reeves) but now there were also Coroners, Justices of the Peace, Members of Parliament (the early Commons) and especially Tax assessors and re-assessors. Since there was at that point no administration capable of paying salaries to these officials, nor any system of accounting or auditing which could check their collection of funds, the Roman system was used. That was a system which had been used in the Roman Empire, officials were appointed to collect a given sum – if they could collect more – that was their income. This is a system which gives a licence to corruption – and while there will, surely have been honest officers (I live in hope that in any system, at any time, there are some decent people) there were many who made the fullest possible use of that licence to be corrupt. And this class of people too, wanted to see Charters used to give them freedoms, not to restrict their growth and development. The lands they had bought were by charter, but any development tended to be restricted by charters held against them – as in Great Yarmouth, where the borough had been extended by charter to give the town rights over nearby ports – preventing those who were operating out of those ports from doing so.

And above everything else, in some ways more powerful than the king, was the church. Holding more than a third of the land, and with a powerful administration in every locality. In every area the rebellion turned against the church. Not only that, but the church was even oppressive of its own people. There were many clerics involved among the rebels. The repressive class structure was operating even more powerfully within the church as elsewhere. While particular examples (like St Pierre Thomas in Europe) do occur of people rising from humble beginnings within the church, in general, even in the monasteries, if you were born humble then you were limited to the role of ‘lay brother’ – a servant to the (supposedly) holy. And they joined the rebellion in places too. Among the priesthood, there were the rich and powerful who sometimes held the livings of a number of parishes – leaving in their place, to look after the parish, a very low paid cleric who could barely survive. The contrast for these priests must have been something they were very aware of.

As the people who were getting to be better off, but still had no power, began to push against what we would nowadays call a ‘glass ceiling’ the Lords, the Knights, the more powerful among the Burgesses and the authorities of the Church began to push back. The Statute of Labourers was passed in parliament (the Knightly class and the Burgesses) to force the freemen, and those villeins in process of escaping the conditions they were subject to, back towards the conditions of villeinage. And that was on top of a process by which anyone who held some land by villein tenure could be forced to surrender any land they bought by charter to villein tenure too. The successive and ever-increasing taxation to fund ever-failing war was merely the trigger, the match to the flame. The real issue was a drive for increased social mobility from the people who were starting to do quite well in the new, money-oriented culture, but couldn’t stand up against the corruption and power-hunger of the next level up.

In general then, the rebellion appears to have been, not the poor rising against the rich, but the developing ‘middling sort’ rising against the powerful and corrupt who were doing everything possible to keep them down. In anachronistic terms, the lower middle class rising against the upper middle class.

Who are the Poor? Introductory paragraphs to an essay in progress

Who are the Poor?

My interest is in looking at history from ‘the underside’. I want to understand ‘The Poor’ from their own point of view, and that presents difficulties. Throughout most of history, the poor were unable to write, and those who could write had little interest in them. To make things more complicated, from the point of view of the ruling, and literate, classes, the term ‘poverty’ had a variety of meanings, and where there was interest in them, some of those meaning were more interesting that others.

As an example, in later English history, an ‘impoverished gentlewoman’ would have been considered to be ‘poor’, in spite of a lifestyle by definition vastly better than that of the class from which her servants would have been drawn. For although she might be very limited as to the number of servants she could employ, she would still have had servants, or one servant at least. At a time when the upper classes could expect to change their clothes several times a day, with garb suitable for a variety of different occupations, our impoverished gentlewoman might only have a small range of clothes and simply wear them all day. But would still have enough to be tidy and clean, with something for ‘best’. If this is ‘poverty’ then there would be very little to be concerned about, since a person in such a position might not be able to live up to the standards considered suitable for the upper class, but can survive in some reasonable comfort.

But of course, there was a different kind of poverty. A poverty which led to starvation, a poverty where to have any kind of garment, sufficient for decency and to keep out the cold, was something to be achieved – let alone to have spare so garments can be washed. And it is here that there is sufficient desperation to survive that a servant’s wage and life of subservience was an acceptable solution. The existence of people in this situation can be assumed from the fact that our ‘impoverished gentlewoman’ can afford servants. These are the people who are hard to find in history, of little interest to the literate and the powerful.

There are a number of points in history when the poor presented a problem to the ruling class, and it is at these periods when we get a window of opportunity to look at their circumstances. But in doing so, we must remember that the view we are given is rarely from their own point of view, we might at times get a view which is deeply sympathetic to their situation, but more often they are perceived as a ‘problem to be dealt with’. Even so, we must use the information we have and extrapolate from it. That may at times lead us into speculation, and so it is necessary to be clear as to what is actually known and what is possible or likely.

The first period which is of interest occurs in response to the ‘Black Death’ in the fourteenth century. A time when the resulting shortage of labour for work on the land led the poor to the beginnings of recognition of power. This disrupted the feudal relations which had controlled the lives of the poor since the Norman conquest and led to a perceived need to exert some new methods of control. And so, laws began to be passed which tried to achieve that. And in those laws we can see something of the situation which was emerging. When a law is passed to ‘control vagrancy’ then we can assume that something which could simply be described as ‘wandering about’ was so disturbing to the ruling class that it was felt necessary to make it criminal. And so the term ‘vagrancy’ which really only holds the meaning ‘a tendency to wander’ came to mean ‘criminal wandering’. So who were these people who ‘wandered’, and why did the ruling class object to it? This period ends with the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, and there are some important questions to be asked about who was involved in that revolt, what can that revolt tell us about what was happening?

The next window into the circumstances of the poor comes in the time of Elizabeth I, with the passing of a new vagrancy law, immediately followed by the first of the Poor Laws which continued, with variations, to provide a system which was supposed to ensure against serious suffering among the poor right up until the twentieth century. Again, we can ask, ‘what were the true circumstances of the poor, that resulted in a perceived need to make laws to deal with them?’ And how did the system created by those laws impact upon them?

Because the Poor Law required some effort on the part of the Parishes, from here on we have some record-keeping of what that effort entailed, and so there is rather more history to look at, but again, that history is recorded by people who have a responsibility to ‘control a problem’ considered to be presented by the poor, rather than the poor themselves.

Although from here on the existence of Parish records gives a more continuous history there are still periods when the poor stand out, and indeed, we begin to get records of their own point of view. The next window of opportunity is during the English Civil War. Although this is generally perceived as a war of religion, there was a civil war within the Civil War, when once Kingless rule had been achieved, the poor turned on the newly established status quo, and clearly stated ‘not good enough!’ From this period we have the Levellers and the Diggers and some of these people wrote their own pamphlets from which we can see that their arguments, which while having a religious dimension, were definitely focussed on socio-economic issues. The Quakers too, were originally quite a revolutionary sect, and again, we have some of their own writings.

From the eighteenth-century onwards there are far more records. Not only do Parish records become much more complete but there are also descriptions of the early industrial processes and how they made use of the poor for the work, and there are some records of the views of the poor themselves. By the nineteenth-century there is the beginnings of the sort of collective action which eventually gave rise to the politicisation of the poor, with the development of unions and the Labour Party. And finally up to today, where it is possible to actually go and ask people.

The Bully

This is indeed what it’s like

God’s Covenant with the Hebrew People

The Jewish people live under a Covenant with God, ‘I will be your God and you will be My people’: that meant being God’s subjects, obeying his commandments.

And what did he command? Well, most of those commandments were given about three thousand years ago. If he had given his commandments in terms of principles, then it would have been possible to reformulate them in the differing context of each era, but a primitive people might have found the very concept of ‘principles’ a little hard to understand. They were used to a brutal reign of the Pharoahs, and the tyrannic commands of the pagan gods. Principles, abstract concepts of how to live life well and build the sort of society God wanted would have been hard to grasp. So they were given concrete commandments: Do not kill, do not covet etc.etc. By looking at the laws they were given, both in the Torah, the books of the Law, and in the Prophets, the wise who gave an understanding of how the Law should be applied – we can see something of what the principles underlying the Law were.

Over and over again, God has said, in many different ways, that we should avoid oppressing the vulnerable, the poor, the helpless.
• Do not be over-efficient in harvesting your crops – let the poor come and pick the crop that is hard to get at. Definitely doesn’t sound as if God would be into Agribusiness or factory farming there!
• Provide for widows and orphans. The poor of the day, since a woman alone had no respectable means of earning a living.
• Don’t be too zealous about collecting debts: if you have taken someone’s land against debt, the longest you can keep it is seven years. If you have taken someone’s liberty against debt, again – you must let them go after at most, seven years. If you have taken a man’s possessions against debt, then you cannot take his bedding unless you give it back each day at nightfall – he will need his bedding to sleep in.
• Do not use different weights and measures when you buy from the poor to those you use when you sell to the rich.
• And above all, the law of the Sabbath!

Ah, the Sabbath. The working class of Britain experienced the Sabbath restrictions as both good and bad. Good, because at least on that one day the bosses, the masters of industry, would let them have a day off; bad, because they weren’t allowed or able to use the day for anything that would be useful to them. Housework, shopping, leisure. All the things they had little time for during the working week. But the Sabbath as it was originally instructed was something very special. You see, a rich man could take a day off any time he liked. “You, go feed my animals; and You, go deal with my clients, and You, go collect my debts, and You, go pay my workers – I shall take my family to the seaside for the day”. Perfectly possible. The rich man always had freedom to take a day of rest, the poor, and the powerless hadn’t.

The Sabbath was a day when the poor could rest. All the things which were forbidden were activities which would require someone else to do something. You may go to the Synagogue to worship – IF is is near enough for you to walk on your own two feet. Not such a distance that would require a servant to prepare an animal to carry you. Not only the servant, but even the animals are entitled to a day of rest. Not even such a short distance that the rich man or woman might require slaves to carry them in a litter – even the slaves are entitled to a day of rest.

And even the poor man might have those over whom he had power. For this was a society where women had no status. And in the domestic sphere we find that it is forbidden to cook a meal, or to light a fire. Both tasks that a woman would have been expected to do. Even a woman was entitled to a day of rest.

The Sabbath, I would contend, was designed primarily to ensure that the least powerful of society were entitled to a day off.

There is another group of people who are specifically referred to in the laws of the Sabbath, whose lack of power I have not yet mentioned: ‘the stranger who lives among you’. The non-Jew, the gentile. Even here there is a requirement that they be entitled to a day of rest. For, we are told ‘you must treat the stranger who lives among you as you would one of your own’.

The underlying principle I find in God’s Law is a requirement that we be aware of the power we have over other people, and avoid abusing it. That we ensure that the least of our society can be enabled to live with some decency. That even where justice would give us the right to take from one of the powerless, then justice must exist within limits which protect the poor.

And do I see God’s Law operating in Israel’s control over Palestine? No, I don’t. For these are ‘the strangers who live among you’. They are entitled to the same care and protection as your own. These are the powerless, abuse of whom is to be guarded against. These people are entitled under God’s Law to a means to stay alive, to gather their crops and bring up their children in peace. These are the people who are entitled to a day of rest on the Sabbath.

The most powerful evidence I have seen of Israel’s contempt for God’s Law was when a 12 hour truce was declared on a Sabbath day. There is no specific commandment ‘thou shalt not fire rockets at your neighbours on the Sabbath’ but the principle of permitting the least powerful, and the ‘stranger who lives among you’ a day of rest is most definitely enshrined in God’s Law. The Sabbath lasts for 24 hours – by declaring a truce of just 12 hours Israel declared its contempt for God’s Law.

And yet, having perceived that contempt in the lack of honour for the Lord’s day of rest, the general contempt can be seen too. To covet your neighbour’s land, to abuse the powerless, to deprive the powerless of the means to stay alive, taking their crop-fields for your own ‘settlements’ or even for a park. All these are in contempt of God’s Law.

I am glad to say that there are many Jews, indeed, many in Israel, who do live by God’s Law – but the state of Israel I see as being sadly in contempt. God’s Law of love for all his people is not being obeyed. By this route – the people of Israel will never fulfil God’s requirement that they be His People – to shine a light to the Gentiles that we may know, through them, how he should be honoured. For the people of the world to know that, through the children of Israel would require that they themselves honour his Word as Law.

Israel

I am of Jewish heritage. I grew up in the certain knowledge that, born a few years earlier on the European continent rather than in Britain, I too would have been in the concentration camps along with my mother, sister and probably my father (for being an artist and marrying a Jew). I was proud of my heritage. I went to a school where a third of the pupils were Jewish: we had a kosher kitchen, Jewish as well as Christian assemblies, and Jewish RE was available. In languages, Hebrew was an option. I was very happy to be educated alongside Jewish girls, we learnt about the evils of anti-semitism. I was proud, that in my own small way, I belonged among them. Now, an adult, and a minister of the Church, I have taken the opportunity when it has been possible, to attend the Synagogue. With full knowledge that I am a minister of the Church, I have been made very welcome in the Synagogue. Treated as ‘one of our own’ come home’. I am proud of my Jewish heritage, and glad to honour my mother and grandfather as Jews among Jews.

But when I look at what Israel is doing to Palestine it tears my heart! This is MY FAMILY, my beloved people, who I have been so proud to be part of. Who know, as no other one nation knows, what genocide feels like, what it feels like to be treated as non-human. True, black people know it too but for the Jews, they had it for 2000 years, and finally the concentrated horror of the Holocaust. My people, who know that horror, are imposing the same horror on the Palestinians! My people, whose very identity rests in the escape from slavery in Egypt and the misery of the Exile in Babylon, the pogroms throughout Europe and finally the Holocaust – are doing the same to the people of the occupied lands of Palestine. This is not a war, it is not a conflict – those terms imply equality. This is genocide of people who live, if living it can be called, under constant Israeli control and harassment – and who, from time to time – dare to fight back. They fight back with rockets that are little better than fireworks against Israel’s US-supplied, state of the art munitions. This is pea-shooters against bombs. My people, who I love, I pray that you learn the law of Love which gives peace, not in return for armaments, but in return for love. When Jesus said, ‘love your neighbour’ this was not a new commandment, but one which came from the Jewish tradition. It is a Rabbi who said, ‘love God and love your neighbour, all else is speculation’. Learn to love your neighbours, my family in Israel, and then my love for you will cease to tear my heart to bits.

Nutty Balls

The ever-popular Nutty balls have been re-invented! Originally made with (otherwise inedible) cashew nut roast mix, when that became unavailable I could no longer make them. A new recipe from first principles is now created, however, it does require access to a coffee-grinder or other method for pulverising nuts to powder – as this ingredient is not available in the shops.

Please note: I am incapable of anything other than the roughest idea of measurements, I provide the concept, you make your own version.

Ingredients:
• Nuts: I use cashews (whole) and chopped mixed nuts or chopped hazelnuts – I would use all cashews but that’s more expensive.
• Low fat cream cheese (ie own-brand low fat version of Philadelphia). I use about 1/3 of a packet.
• Some grated strong hard cheese. About 2oz.
• Oil. I used walnut oil, since I had some, but any is fine. About a tablespoon.
• Herbs. Mixed herbs or Italian herbs, and about equal quantity of sage – gives it a good savoury taste.
• Gram flour (chickpea flour). If you can’t get it, and you’re happy to use eggs then 1 egg for binding. Or some commercial egg-replacement stuff. But gram flour is the cheapest for this purpose. About 2 tablespoons.
• A little flour.
• A little water (about a tablespoon probably – you don’t want a sloshy mess). If you use egg instead of gram flour you may not need any water.
• Fresh-crumbed bread. I use about 1 crust and a slice of wholemeal bread going stale. Having a food-processor, I chuck it in there to crumb. I believe there are other methods.

Preparation:
• Nuts: if you have a grinder attachment to a blender or food-processor then it’s worth doing lots but the resulting powder is quite oily so any unused should be kept in the fridge as the oils will go rancid quite easily once the nuts are ground. If you don’t have one, I have seen coffee-beans ground by putting them in a heavy duty canvas bag and hit with hammer – seriously! Old fashioned hand-wound coffee grinder would work too. If previously used for coffee – make sure well cleaned first.
• Mix the low-fat cream cheese with the oil and water. Add the herbs, and perhaps a little salt?
• In a large mixing bowl, put the breadcrumbs, ground nuts, gram flour and mix them together.
• Add in the cream cheese mixture. And the grated cheese. Stir well together.
• At this point you should have a mixture that holds well together but is malleable. If too crumbly, add a little more water, if it doesn’t hold well together, add a little more gram flour.
• Get a plate and sprinkle a little flour on it.
• Take a spoonful of the mix, roll it into a ball or sausage shape (I use somewhere between the two), roll it lightly in the flour and then roll it in your hands again to firm it. Then do the next one until the mix is all used up.

Cooking:
I deep fry mine. If you lightly deep-fry them, then they can be frozen and re-heated in a conventional oven.

Serving:
I like them with salad or with cauliflower cheese.

My Personal Manifesto

My personal manifesto – what I would do if in power (a daydream, but I also use it to compare with party’s policies):

 (The aim is: to increase employment, thereby increasing tax income and reducing the benefit bill, to spread taxation more fairly across the economy and to lead to a healthier nation thereby decreasing healthcare costs) 

  1. Stop all the various austerity programmes: DWP sanctions, Atos, bedroom tax, workfare, UC, DLA ⇨PiP.  
  1. Assessment of those on sickness/disability benefits.  Where someone has been receiving benefit as sick or disabled for more than six months the DWP will pay for a second opinion from a doctor working at another surgery from that which has been providing the patient’s sick note or has supported their DLA application.  That doctor should have access to the patient’s notes and, having seen them, may or may not feel the need to see the patient IF they are going to support the continuation of benefit.  Doctors providing such a second opinion should state the period of time before the patient should be re-assessed.  Once a doctor has provided a second opinion confirming that a patient is suffering from a chronic, terminal, or degenerative disease then that patient’s receipt of benefit requires no further re-assessment. 

 

  1. Sign up to the EU working hours directive that no-one, without exception, should be working more than 48 hours per week. 
  1. Introduce a new working hours limit:
    1. 35hrs per week maximum contractual hours for all – that will mean less money for many – tax credit system would need to ensure picking up anyone who lost out to an extent that made life difficult.  ALL employment contracts are amended by that law.  Temporary exception (5 years): health care (see training and education 5b below).  The minimum wage to be raised to £8ph so that those on the lowest wages will not lose out if their working hours are cut by this provision.  A higher rate may be needed in London.
    2. Working Tax Credits which currently require an individual to be working a minimum number of hours: 30 hour limit reduces to 25; 16 hour limit reduces to 12.  Over those limits Working Tax Credit is payable to top up incomes which are too low.
    3. Overtime limited to 5 hours per week other than in emergencies and to be paid at 125% for weekdays, 150% for Saturdays, 200%.  Businesses who use more than that must, on each occasion, notify the home office.  Those who use this frequently or inappropriately will be fined – they should be employing more staff.  (An example of an ‘emergency’ would be when power lines are down over large areas and the electricity supply company needs to restore power.  On the other hand, a large order to be fulfilled for sale is not an emergency – it would be more appropriate to take on temporary staff).

 (Shorter working hours will mean less money for those currently working long hours but where the difference is small and the earnings low this should be covered by improvements in the tax position for the low paid, where the earnings are low and people were working very long hours to make up for it, tax credits should pick this up – and at least people get something for the reduction in income, more time to do their household stuff, care for their children etc.) 

  1. Tax: Progressive taxation to be re-introduced but not to extreme:
    1. Personal allowance to be increased to £15K – applicable to all sources of income.  And from then on to be tied to a calculation of the equivalent of fulltime hours (as at any time they may be declared to be) multiplied by the minimum wage.
    2. Tax banding of 20% from £15K – £50K
    3. Tax banding of 30% from £50K – £80K
    4. Tax banding of 40% from £80K – £120K
    5. Tax banding of 50% from £120K – £200K
    6. Tax banding of 60% over £200K

These bandings to be applicable to ALL sources of personal income. 

National Insurance personal allowance to be equal to Taxation personal allowance, and then paid at the same rate for all earnings (currently the cost of NI is reduced for higher earnings).  Employees working at least 2/3rds time but earning too little to pay NI to be ‘credited’ for that year to ensure entitlement to pension/national insurance benefits.

  1. Corporation tax rules to be tightened up, preferably in co-operation with other countries.  New rules are needed to ensure that companies pay corporation tax which bears some proper relation to the profits made in the UK.  Companies wishing to trade in the UK are required to use a UK bank and any money transferred to a tax-haven will be deemed to be taxable profit.
  2. Individual use of Tax-havens.  Any money transferred to a tax-haven will be taxed on transfer at 30%. 
  1. A Parent who stays at home to look after children.  All/any arrangements currently existing to support women who wish to work will continue, however, where either parent would prefer to stay at home and care for children under 11 years old they will be entitled to benefits (at the single-person JSA rate) without any suggestion that they should be searching for work and, while the capital element of means-testing will continue, means-testing on the basis of their partner’s salary will not be considered relevant.  Any such payment must always be made directly to the parent who is caring for children. Parents receiving such payments will be expected to sign paperwork annually to state that they have not worked and do not intend to work for the next year.  They do not have to attend the Jobcentre for this purpose.  If they do take on paid work during the year they must inform the JC within two weeks. 
  1. Training and education
    1. Employers should be discouraged from requiring a university degree for employment unless knowledge of the particular subject is a requirement for the position.  (e.g. We don’t want physics teachers who don’t know any physics; we don’t want industrial chemists who haven’t studied chemistry, but a person with a history degree shouldn’t have an advantage over someone without a degree when applying for an administrative job).  Therefore, equal opportunities recruitment will be required not to specify degree level education unless a degree in a particular subject can be shown to be relevant and necessary to the job description.  
  1. Larger Employers (those employing more than 100) who specify the necessity of a degree for positions are to be required to sponsor 1% of their staff level at University for a relevant degree and may impose conditions requiring that the recipient of sponsorship enter into employment with them for a minimum of 3 years.  Such sponsorship should involve:

                                                  i.      Payment of all university fees

                                                ii.      Payment of a student income equivalent to 30hrs per week of the minimum wage – to be paid all year round regardless of vacations.  Students can be required (and companies are encouraged to use) to work for the sponsoring companies during university vacations with recognition that they should be entitled to at least the minimum legal requirement of 4 weeks annual leave each year.  Sponsored students working for their sponsors during vacations may not be required to work more than their contractual 30 hrs per week – they often have studies to do during vacation and this must be allowed for.

NOTE: This applies to governmental organisations as much as to industry – therefore where specific medical qualifications are required for employment in health care or teaching– the government will be sponsor for such education on the same terms.  Given the necessity to increase the number of health care workers so that working hours for them can be decreased, the government would be looking to sponsor more than the minimum 1% to enter into education leading to medical qualifications. 

  1. Larger employers (those employing more than 100) are required to create training/apprenticeship positions amounting to 1% of their staff.  (Additional to any university sponsorships).  These should involve payment of an apprenticeship rate (which will be set by government and must be at least 20% higher than single-person benefit rates); there must be proper supervision of trainees who should be given opportunities to develop skills and understanding of the nature of the employer’s work, such positions should also, wherever possible, involve the trainee spending at least one day of each term-time week at some kind of external educational facility.  Companies may apply to be excused from the ‘external’ element of this if they have an excellent in-house training facility and trainees spend one day a week on in-house training.  Such in-house training facilities to be inspected.  Companies which split themselves into associated companies owning shares in each other will be counted as ONE company for this purpose. 
  1. Housing
    1. Housing associations to be given funding to purchase properties suitable for accommodating those on their waiting lists (including those who wish to move to a smaller property) if it has been empty for more than a year and the seller would be considering using a ‘quick-sale’ agent to buy the property at value minus 30%.  These properties to be refurbished as necessary and let.  Where the waiting lists, or requests to move to smaller properties cannot be satisfied by purchasing and, if necessary refurbishing into smaller units then Housing Associations to be enabled to build.
    2. Planning permission to be made easier where an owner (private or social) wishes to split a large property into smaller units.  Building regulation for such amendments to current housing stock are, however, to be very strictly adhered to.   Since ensuring better insulation of properties is a priority, planning permission for installation of shutters on domestic property (as is normal in most of Europe) is to be enabled subject to a design of shutter to be approved by the local authority which must take into account the need for emergency egress from a building in the event of fire. 
  1. Derelict listed buildings:   Where a listed building has been derelict and is an eyesore, spoiling the appearance of a town the local authority is given power to offer the current owners 3 years to put forward a valid plan as to how the building could be improved and used.  Such a plan to include solid evidence as to how the work will be funded.  Once the plan, or an amended plan is approved the owners are expected to start work within a year and complete it within 2 years.  If no plan is forthcoming, or the work doesn’t happen within the time scale the council can buy the building in at a nominal cost and if it wishes, buy the plan for the building’s use from the architect concerned. The council may then fulfil the previous owners plan for the building or, if it feels that the building has lost it’s value to the community as a result of lying derelict for a long time then the council may, after consultation with the community, apply to the appropriate body for ‘de-listing’ to enable the building to be demolished and the land re-used for housing.   (The council may require that the architect for such housing take into account the original appearance of the demolished building and design something which in some way reflects the building which was previously there.  It may be appropriate to place a plaque on the new building or name it with reference to what was there before.)
  2. Building regulations are to be improved to ensure that all new housing is dry, well insulated, well-ventilated, easily heated and incorporates any effective micro-generation of electricity which may, at that time, be available.   The use of heat-exchanging ventilators is to be encouraged.  ALL ground floor properties, and the ground floor of ALL new properties is to be wheelchair accessible and have accessible sanitary facilities. 
  1. Industry.
    1. We are no longer the manufacturing country that we once were.  Investment into industries looking to create new ecological ways of managing our lives will be encouraged and government funds will be used to invest in this area (on the same basis as would a venture capitalist ie government will be taking a risk but will expect a return if the venture is successful!).  Such schemes might include affordable 1 or 2-seater electric vehicles for commuting purposes, micro-generation of electric power suitable to be built into all new building and retro-fitted to older ones, improved property insulation, bio-degradable ways to package products for transport.
    2. Re-nationalisation: Utility, transport and communications businesses which were previously nationally owned to be considered for renationalisation wherever possible.  Railways for instance are comparatively easy to nationalise as they operate on contracts for set periods of time. 
    3. Privatisation and out-sourcing.  This will not be supported for any public service. 
  1. Farming. 

While we can’t enforce organic farming on the entire country we can encourage it, and investigate and ban those products and processes which are most damaging to our communities.  The health of the nation is our concern – unhealthy people cost us money.

  1. The use of Genetically Modified seed is discouraged but in particular the use of GM seed to enable treatment of growing crops with insecticides and pesticides is to be banned!  The growing healthcare bill cannot stand the cost of increasing illness in the population.
  2. Blanket use of antibiotics in farm stock is to be banned.   Antibiotics to be dispensed by Veterinarians who will keep records of their usage identifying the particular animals, the date used and the reason.  These records to be submitted to the Home Office who will take action if there has been over-use.
  3. In discussion with the EU it may be possible to introduce a subsidy to those farmers willing to commit a significant acreage of land to organic farming.  
  1. Nutrition. 

Looking at the extent of both the fast-food market, and the ready-meal market it appears that we are a nation which has forgotten how to cook.  With the more even balance of working hours and income which this manifesto aims to produce it should be possible for everyone to be able to afford fresh ingredients and the time to prepare them.

  1. Community gardens, producing fresh vegetables, and possibly even free-range eggs are to be encouraged.  Local councils to identify land suitable for such use, ensure the land has a water supply and provide an onsite toilet if no public provision is available nearby, and encourage formation of local groups to manage them.  Funding for provision of basic equipment and the first year’s supply of crop-seeds will be provided to properly constituted community garden groups.
  2. All chemicals used in commercial food-production to be re-examined for potential harm in long-term use with a view to reducing the prevalence of ill-health of either clearly ecological significance (e.g. asthma) and those which have causes hard to identify.  These illnesses, such as ME, CFS and Fibromyalgia seem to be increasing in the population (statistics required) and since their cause is undefined a generally healthier food supply cannot make things worse and may make things a lot better.
  3. Cookery and household budgeting (we used to call the whole subject Home Economics) should be a compulsory subject for all children at secondary school.  The aim is that all adults should be able to prepare healthy and nutritious food for themselves without reliance on ready meals or fast food outlets.  Personal taste, preference and principle should be taken into account – no child should have to drop out of cookery because e.g. vegetarianism/halal/kosher can’t be taken into account.  Nor should a child have to cook something they seriously dislike, however ways of cooking different foods should be experimented with – it may be that a particular food is disliked because of the way it is cooked. 
  1. International relations
    1. Remaining part of the EU seems to me to be important – arguments may be presented against that but if there is a referendum it will be the FINAL decision.  Being half-in half-out and constantly trying to change our mind is not good for our relationships within the EU.
    2. The Ministry of Defence should be purely about Defence – not Aggression!  Anyone during their  first year after leaving school should be entitled (not required) to enlist with the army for 3 months paid training which would not involve actually fighting.  Those who wish to stay on and enlist for long term service will be able to apply for those few jobs required to enable us as a country to take part in United Nations directed peacekeeping forces.  We will not send armed forces out of our country other than as directed by the United Nations.  As a nation with large numbers of people trained in basic skills of warfare we will take up a position of armed neutrality in any conflict other than as directed by the United Nations.

Notes on the issue of class – work in progress

Firstly, this is NOT an academic document, one day it may be, but that would require adding lots of references and bringing those I have used into one of the various referencing schemes. This is a working document.  The larger study it is part of is on the ‘separation of the church from the poor’ and it is requiring me to think in terms of social classes – but I don’t have a definition for the particular group of people I am concerned about.  As it is a working document, an effort to ‘feel my way’ towards a point, I would really appreciate constructive criticism.  There would be no point however in criticising it as if it were a finished piece of writing – it isn’t!

 I was reading Social Change and the Middle Classes – Butler and Savage, which started a chain of ideas.  I note that I need to read their references: Giddins and Margaret Archer.

 

These days I often come across the suggestion that the whole concept of ‘class’ is no longer relevant.  [refs]  This seems to result from a definition of class as a political self-awareness developing within a group which shares a socio-economic status.  The definition is usually rooted in an understanding of a developing politicization of the ‘working class’ with all other classes defined in relation to it.  Clearly there have been some changes in class patterns, and there doesn’t appear to be much of a politicized working class any more compared to previous generations but that doesn’t mean that class itself has gone away.

 I have a very different interest in the whole issue of class.  I do not require a group of people to be politicized or to be aware of itself as a group with the potential of collective power.  I need, merely, to recognize and acknowledge the existence of groups with shared socio-economic circumstances in order to study the tendencies which exist for relationship between the group and the power-structures of the society of their time – in particular the church, since my study is in the social history of that organization.

 It is undeniable that in every era (certainly, in Britain, since 1300 where my studies have effectively begun) there have been people for whom their economic existence was, to say the least, precarious.  People who, if not destitute, lived just one disaster away from destitution.  And the potential disasters have always been many: a bad harvest, an unusually cold winter, epidemic, loss of a bread-winner (a variety of possible causes), eviction by landlord, downturn in trade, loss of employment etc.  All of these potential disasters have been, through the ages, of sufficient likelihood that between them they must have produced a tendency for people to live in constant awareness that they were ‘on the edge’ – that the boundary between themselves and destitution was very thin indeed.

 In previous times, before the politicization of the working class (described so ably by EP Thompson) they were much more likely to be aware of themselves as ‘folk of this parish’ (Pounds, The English Parish) or at a later stage, of ‘this mine’, or ‘this factory’ than as a politico-economic class. 

 So, I can’t possibly use the term ‘working-class’ to describe the mediaeval poor, since I have no reason to suppose that they had any political self-awareness of themselves as a group.  And it appears that it doesn’t seem to work as a descriptive term today either – the people who would come within my field of interest can see the unions, supposedly representing the working class, as relating to those groups who, to a large extent through union action, now have secure, relatively well-paid jobs.  While the people I am concerned about are in insecure employment, working irregular hours either part-time or on so-called ‘zero-hours’ contracts and on very low wages indeed. To them, the salary and conditions of employment of a teacher, nurse or train driver is beyond their dreams – and, largely, these are the sort of people they will see the unions representing.  Butler and Savage include these types of employment within their description of a new class – the ‘service class’ – a subset of middle-class.

I am left with two possible terms to use to describe this group of people which has existed through the ages.  The ‘underclass’ or the ‘precariat’. 

 The term ‘underclass’ is sometimes used dismissively or pejoratively which certainly counts against it.  And yet it does adequately describe a group of people who are simply ignored when class structures are drawn up according to people’s long term employment.  A person who has (relatively) secure employment as a nurse, or a carpenter, a shop assistant or a cleaner can have an economic status defined by such a structure.  The person who manages to get a few weeks or months work in one form of employment and then some time later a short period in another – interspersed by periods when it becomes necessary to fall back on whatever safety net may be provided by society at that time – that person is simply missed out of class structures when they are defined by type of employment.

 The term ‘underclass’ is however defined in terms of a politico-economic structure of society and although such a definition could be used in all periods it would require re-definition in each period to relate to the political realities of the time.  In other words, defining people as being part of an under-class is time specific – it begs the question, in each period – ‘under what class?’  I therefore choose, for simplicity’s sake, not to use this term.

 The term ‘precariat’ however seems to describe the circumstances that I am concerned with.  An existence which hovers on one side or the other of whatever line, at the time, defines the minimum for existence.  While it might (or might in fact be very difficult) be possible to define that line for any period it is the insecurity of such a life which is its distinguishing feature – and that is so for any period.

 So when the Webbs (History of the English Poor Law) talk of what they describe as the ‘labouring classes’ of the 18thC, being largely dependant on poor relief regardless of employment status, they are describing a precarious existence. Their ‘labouring classes’ could be defined as members of the Precariat, just as today’s benefit claimants, many of whom we are told are in fact working (Refs) who live in fear of whatever scheme may be brought in next by the government to reduce or remove their benefit, may also be so described. 

 I do however, have an interest in the politicization of the working class.  In previous eras, much political activity among the sub-gentry levels of society was at least to some extent in relation to the church.  Noticeably however, from the so-called ‘Peasants’ Revolt’ (1381 Ref) to the chapel revivals of the early 20thC, the people concerned are consistently described (refs) are being of the ‘middling sort’: yeomen, small traders, artisans etc.  If these were to be considered as the ‘working-class’ equivalent of their era, there were definitely people in more constrained economic circumstances than these.

 And so I have to consider what the impact of the politicization of the working class was on the precariat.  To what extent it involved them?  It certainly did, but in what manner?  Did it have the effect of lifting some forms of employment from precarious to secure status resulting in what is perceived today as a reduced relevance of the whole concept of working-class? Is the precariat something which re-forms in every generation as working practices change?  Or is it more continuous, with a culture carrying on from one generation to the next?