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Voice from the Back

Another Labour failure
In 1997 the new Labour Government claimed they were going to make fundamental changes in society and would wage war on poverty, or "social exclusion" as they preferred to call it. A recent official report shows that for all their bombastic confidence, the years from 1997 to 2000 have seen no real improvement for the working class. "Details published yesterday by the Department for Work and Pensions show that a quarter of the population was having to live on less than half the average income in 1999-2000, the same proportion as in 1996-97. . . The share of total income received by the poorest 20 percent of the population, for example, fell from 7.9 to 7.6 percent between 1994-95 and 1999-2000. Amongst the richest 20 percent it rose from 41 to 42 percent." Times (14 July)

Hard times
Times, we are told, are hard in the City these days. The FTSE 100 seems to be in a constant nosedive and millions are being wiped off the stock exchange value of dot.com companies. Time for the high-rollers to tighten their belts? Hardly, for many of the capitalist class it's still a case of let the good times roll. The owner of the restaurant Petros in London's St. James was astonished at the lavish wine bill for a table of six. "His restaurant had sold three of the oldest bottles of the stunning claret from which it takes its name: a 1945 Chateau Petrus at £11,600, a bottle of the lesser 1946 at £9,400 and one of the 1947 – regarded by many as the greatest single bottle of the last century – £12,300. Plus a 1900 vintage of Chateau d'Yquem at £9,200. Oh, and a 1982 Montrachet at a paltry £1,400." Observer (15 July)

Make my day, punk
A recent 10.9 percent annual rise in house prices in the South East of England has led to reformers of capitalism discussing all sorts of schemes to stop low paid public sector workers like schoolteachers quitting their job for better paid ones. Citing the case of the town of Reading, The Times (1 August) provided alarming figures. "The average price of a flat is £105,441 and the Institute for Public Policy estimates that a household needs to earn £25,000 a year to survive. Nurses earn an average £21,000 a year and teachers £24,000." Tough times indeed for British schoolteachers but it could be worse; they could be American workers at the chalkface. "Pity the poor American teacher, besieged by classroom violence. School shootings are now so frequent that the largest teachers' union is to offer $150,000 to families of members who are attacked and killed. Since 1992 there have been 29 such killings." Times (4 August)

North Korean Newspeak
George Orwell's 1984 invented a language called Newspeak that made clear thinking impossible. Thus the Ministry of War became the Ministry of Peace. He was satirising the current use of such euphemisms as the Ministry of "Defence". Carrying on this tradition of capitalist cant the North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and the Russian president Vladimir Putin have issued a declaration on the subject of "peace". "A declaration signed by Kim and Putin called their meeting a "historic landmark in efforts to strengthen peace and security in the Asia-Pacific region and the world", and dismissed US fears of Pyongyang's nuclear missile capability. "North Korea asserts that its missile programme is peaceful in nature and does not present a threat to any nature respecting North Korea's sovereignty" the proclamation said." Observer (5 August).

Vote catching SSP
At a press conference the Scottish Socialist Party revealed its latest recruit – a Roman Catholic priest! Father Steve Gilhooley was welcomed into the SSP by its leader Tommy Sheridan. "Mr Sheridan, however, spoke of his admiration for Father Gilhooley and said he had been extremely struck by his "incredible warmth and compassion". "Steve deals day in day out with some of the ravages of our so-called free market in terms of broken families and broken communities and tries to fix them, so from that point of view he is very well equipped to be a member of the SSP," he said. Herald, 2 August.

And we are asked to believe that this sort of nonsense has something to do with revolutionary socialism.