Saturday, 6 September 2014

Sticking to Knitting - Some Thoughts on Brooks Newland

          Last week, I opened my newspaper and read
A knitter, not a sneering Tory
that the Tory 'Minister for Civil Society' (whatever the hell that means), a person by the name of Brooks Newmark, has had the bald audacity to tell British charities to 'stick to their knitting' and 'keep out of politics.'

          Obviously, he's never heard that 'everything is political.' A strange omission for one in his line of taking money from the public purse.
          It's an interesting phrase, that  - 'stick to your knitting.' Shall we unpack it? Who does he think knits? Who can he mean?
          I doubt that he's thinking of the fishermen and whalers of the Orkneys and Shetlands, who spent such spare time as they had on board knitting and embroidering, to produce warm clothing for themselves and for sale. Which makes knitting and embroidery the pastime of tough, independent, self-reliant men who would have little time or sympathy for a soft, southern,Tory minister.
Taking a break from knitting
          No, I don't imagine he's thinking of those crofters. Do you suppose that, when he says, 'stick to your knitting' he's thinking of women? Perhaps the kind of women whom he imagines, with his limited, dated Tory imagination, staffing charities. In Newmark's tiny, rigid mind, Oxfam and Shelter, among others, are staffed entirely by dear little old ladies with too much time on their hands, who while it away by knitting, and who, in the minister's words, should concentrate on that and on 'helping others,' and not worry their dear little blue-rinsed heads with politics. Aah, bless.

          Newmark, dear readers, is an example of the people the Tories rule us with. Is it any wonder the Scots want to leave?

          Lisa Nandy, shadow minister for that thing, 'civil society,' said, Newmark's remarks are '...patronising and...deeply offensive at a time when charities are picking up the pieces from this government's awful, unfair policies...'

         Newmark, we can only suppose, is also deeply ignorant of the role charities have always played, both in politics and 'civil society.' 

         There was a time when we had no other government except that by the rich, land-owning, factory-owning, selfish elite, who governed entirely in their own interest. (Some might argue - not me, good lord, but some - that Newmark and his party continue to represent these people, and to manage affairs for their benefit.)
         In the past, the Tory Party, most of them, couldn't see any problem with children crawling under dangerous, working machinery to clean it, or spending all their daylight hours three miles underground in pits. They sentimentalised childhood while the children of the poor were prostituted and worked to death.
         The Tory Party, most of them, couldn't see anything wrong with slavery - well, it made them rich, didn't it? Built them beautiful homes. It was good for trade.
         Most of the Tory Party saw nothing wrong (and they were looking in the other direction anyway) with burning Scottish crofters out of their homes and sending them off to starve by the seashore, while the landlords replaced them with sheep. After all, these inland crofters could easily learn to fish, couldn't they? Nothing to it - they only had to buy a boat. Idleness, that was their problem, said the land-owning elite, unable to move for servants.
Should have stuck to his knitting...

         Captain Coram had to beg his friends for money, and set up a charity to prevent abandoned babies being left to starve in gutters. Government had been leaving them to die for years - and would have gone on letting them die if it hadn't been for Captain Coram.
         It goes on and on - shocking prison conditions, appalling working and housing conditions for the poor, starvation wages, under-age prostitution, lack of education, homelessness... All things which the comfortable, complacent, selfish political elite did nothing to alter until they were goaded and prodded into action by charities. Which is another name for a minority of determined, incensed people getting on and doing themselves what government refuses to acknowledge as a problem or do anything about.
          Some of those determined, honourable people have always been women. Some of them may even have knitted. I'm not sure that Coram, or Shaftesbury, or Barnardo was either female or a knitter.

          Oxfam, Shelter and all those other 'political' charities are continuing a proud and honourable tradition by opposing, among other things, zero-hours contracts and benefit cuts.
          (These cuts having been imposed with ever greater severity because of a banking crisis brought about by greedy bankers who exploited the freedom from pesky regulations given to them, originally, by the Tory Party. Rather in the manner of giving a fox freedom in a chicken house.
          (After the crash, the bankers are rewarded with rescue and bonuses, while the poor are penalised for doing the work which supports the rich, greedy bankers.)

         The ghastly Newmark later back-pedalled hard, saying that he'd 'only' meant that charities should keep out of 'party politics.' A phrase without meaning except for weasels. Where does 'party politics' end and 'everything is political' begin?
          "They [charities] have an important role to play in helping to shape government policy," said the ghastly homonculus, continuing his vein of pompous condescension. "...they have a right to campaign (why, thank you!) but should stay out of... party politics."

          I would like Newmark to answer this question: Why should they stay out of party politics? Or any other kind of politics?
           Since everything is political, and politics is the way we order our communities, and decide the laws we live our everyday lives by, then the people who make up charities have as much right to take part in politics, even party politics, as the very wealthy American Newmark does. Indeed, they have a duty to take part in 'party politics.'

         Another question for him: What, exactly, does he think 'free speech' means?

                Think of those charity workers - knitting needles flashing away as they work on the front-line of civil society, where things are a little less civil than in Westminster. Now and again, I think it's fair to say, they witness, up close, the cruel and unfair effects of the policies concocted by such as Newmark.

         When that happens, it might be argued that those knitting charity workers - pinnies, blue-rinses and all - have a duty to lay their knitting and tea-pots aside and report what they see to the rest of our civil society - to speak up and make people aware of what is going on.

          Just as, in the past, people spoke up about the injustice of slavery, and workhouses, and the Clearances.
          As a party politician and a servant of civil society, it might be thought that Newmark should humbly thank the charities for doing work that his government should be doing, and for calling attention to his government's - well, shall we be polite and say, his government's 'mistakes'? Because it's not possible, is it, that, for instance, something as unfair as zero-hours contracts would have been allowed, except by mistake?
          It couldn't be that the Tory Party represents people who benefit from zero-hours contracts, and therefore resent charities objecting to them? - What? I won't believe it of them. 
          It's not as if the Tory Party, which Newmark works for of his own free will, was ever involved in anything, er, less than fair and just and of benefit to all, is it? (Opposition to the founding of the NHS, dismantling of the NHS, Poll Tax, Bedroom Tax, destruction of unions, selling off and destruction of state-owned assets, opposition to working conditions reform, Tolpuddle Martyrs, heavier taxation for the poor...)
          So far, Newmark has not humbly apologised to charities, or thanked them for their honesty - or for doing more to protect members of our 'civil society' than the Tories have done.
          But then, he's a Tory.
          Expect nothing from a pig but a grunt.
          Pigs, though, are nice.

Photograph of knitter: Thomas Quine, Wikimedia Commons.

1 comment:

madwippitt said...

Don't forget Guernseys and Jerseys, which like Arran, loaned their names to knitwear ... :-) And yes, pigs are both smart, industrious and good looking which is more than can be said for most politicians. If politicians had got it right in the first place there would be no need for charities. Pfffft. Give 'em a short, sharp poke with the business end of a knitting needle.