Tag Archives: switch

New play explores what makes us ‘Switch’ against those who exploit us

The cast of Switch. No, that is not Llandrindod Wells behind them.

Drama has huge power to prompt social change and it is astonishing that the outrages heaped on the people of the UK by the Conservatives since 2010 have not led to an enormous upsurge of social comment in the theatre.

Today I saw a new play that takes a step towards rectifying that omission.

Switch takes its title from a slang term referring to people who turn on others after suffering severe provocation. They “switch”, usually from passive tolerance to extreme violence.

The play examines how people were provoked into such violence in two historical cases: The Rebecca Riots in rural Mid Wales during the 1830s and 40s, and the Hackney riot of summer 2011.

I had to look up the Rebecca Riots. They were prompted because farmers who were suffering extreme poverty because of poor harvests were being subjected to high rents, rates, tithes and tolls, which were increased to an extorionate degree by the trusts running them – which had been created to maintain the roads but allowed them to go to ruin instead, diverting the money to other uses.

The 2011 riots are still fresh in my memory. The spark that triggered the violence was the shooting of Mark Duggan by police in London, but the city had become a tinderbox because of the grotesquely repressive decisions of the Coalition (Conservative and Liberal Democrat) government. Perhaps it is because this play is a collaboration between two youth theatre groups (Mid Powys Youth Theatre and Immediate Theatre, of Hackney) that the emphasis was placed on the closure of youth centres, cuts to EMA (Education Maintenance Allowance) and rises in university tuition fees, along with the introduction of the Bedroom Tax that threatened to pitch poor families out of their homes, and unemployment following the international financial crisis of 2008 that meant people were finding it impossible to make ends meet.

One scene plays out the frustrations of young people whose youth centre had been closed without warning and who, left on the street with nowhere to go, were preyed on by police looking for easy arrests.

In both cases, the players argue, it was desperation – the sheer impossibility of a situation forced on them by an uncaring elite – that led the impoverished to violence.

And in both cases it was put down harshly. In the 1840s, the troops moved in and rioters were faced with the threat of transportation to Australia, among other harsh penalties. Seven years ago, more than 1,000 arrests were made and courts dealt out harsh punishments – one person was sentenced to 16 months in prison for stealing a single ice cream.

Did the riots lead to social change for the better? That is debatable. After Rebecca, some rent reductions were achieved and toll rates improved, but that was about it. Hackney had no discernible effect on the decisions of the government. EMA was never restored; tuition fees are still high; youth centres are still closed. The Tories would argue that employment has improved, but we all know that in-work poverty has skyrocketed because the new jobs pay starvation wages.

Rebecca is better-known as the inspiration for later Welsh protests, which raises an important question about Hackney. Are we all sitting on a time-bomb that is waiting to blow – an explosion that is only being delayed by the anaesthetic pronouncements of a complicit right-wing press that keeps telling us, in the face of the facts, that we’ve never had it so good?

Of course, the riots weren’t just about frustration with oppressive social conditions. Some people took advantage of them for their own gain and Switch does not skirt over this uncomfortable fact. The Rebecca riots petered out because groups had started masquerading as Rebecca to carry out criminal acts. And Hackney saw its fair share of looters. Switch stages a TV interview with rioters who boast about the items they lifted – even though, in real terms, the money they expect to make from them is negligible.

But the causes of a riot should not be downplayed because of opportunist criminals. They simply took their chance under cover of a genuine expression of anguish by a downtrodden peasantry who rose up – leaderless – against their oppressors.

The lack of a leader is the reason such expressions fail to yield results, in my opinion. If I had been involved in 2011, I would have wanted to cut off the ability of the police and the armed forces to react, and then I would have targeted the mechanisms of government and the headquarters of those who either supported the government in its activities or benefited from its decisions (let us not forget that the UK’s richest have seen their income multiply massively while the rest of us have suffered.

But I suppose that would mark the difference between a riot and a revolution.

Switch isn’t perfect. It doesn’t really address the difference between those with a genuine grievance and those who took advantage, and it doesn’t make a strong enough point of the fact that nothing got better after 2011.

But it is a muscular piece from a committed group of young performers, that raises serious questions and asks the audience to find their own answers.

As attempts to revive social and political commentary in drama go, it’s a good start.

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Half of mental health sufferers have had their benefits slashed after switching to PIP

More than half of mental health sufferers have had their disability payments cut or scrapped [Image: Getty].

The statistics are damning. The people who have lost benefits after being forced to claim Personal Independence Payment didn’t do so because they got better.

They lost their benefits because the government wants disabled people to die.

The best way to do that is to ensure that those with only the most serious disabilities receive any benefit at all – and even then on only a reduced rate that is more likely to contribute to their ill-health than help them live a reasonably normal life.

Cutting off those who don’t have the most serious conditions – and consider this: their numbers include a man with life-threatening bulimia, OCD, depression and anxiety – is calculated to increase stress and worsen their ill-health, while also causing their mental health to deteriorate.

So, if their disability doesn’t kill them, they’ll be pushed into suicide.

And your Tory government wants you to believe it is a great success. On whose terms?

More than half of people with mental health problems have had disability payments axed or slashed under the Tory benefits shake-up , new figures reveal.

Nearly 125,000 people with psychological conditions who got Disability Living Allowance have been hit by the switch to ability-assessed Personal Independence Payment, says the charity Mind.

Victim James Downs lost his PIP despite life-threatening bulimia, obsessive compulsive disorder, depression and anxiety.

His housing benefit was also reduced and, facing eviction, he considered suicide.

Source: Half of mental health sufferers have had their benefits slashed after PIP switch – Mirror Online


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Who will (unofficially) sponsor David Cameron’s next Prime Ministerial statements?

130819lobbying

Tobacco, fracking or private health companies seem the most likely choices.

The Conservative-led Coalition has become an excellent practitioner of bait-and-switch fraud, it seems. First it ‘baits’ the general public by promising a new law, reforming part of society that is seen to have fallen below the standards expected here in the UK. Then it ‘switches’ the legislation into something else entirely.

So it is with plans for a new law to end lobbying scandals. It won’t do anything of the sort. In fact, it is likely to lessen the legal burdens on lobbyists.

However, it will impose onerous new burdens on trade unions and charities, in what the Trade Union Congress has described as “an outrageous attack on freedom of speech worthy of an authoritarian dictatorship”.

(This is not to say that the TUC believes the UK government is similar to an authoritarian dictatorship. View it instead as the TUC saying this is what the UK government has become under the Coalition)

The Transparency of Lobbying, non-Party Campaigning, and Trade Union Administration Bill apparently features a new, looser definition of ‘campaigning’ that risks including all activities that could be seen as critical of the government of the day – and if any government was likely to crack down on such activities, on any day, it’s this one!

Mr Cameron’s spokesman said this was not the aim, and that the plan was to ensure lobbyists’ allegiances are known, ascertain how much money is spent on third-party political campaigning and ensure trade unions know who their members are. His words may have been sponsored by CTF Partners (look them up).

The proposals are likely to introduce a statutory register of consultant lobbyists, but only firms which say it is their main business need register, only firms which meet ministers and senior civil servants need declare whom they represent, and in-house lobbyists are also exempt – so, from 988 meetings between the Department for Business and lobbyists in 2012, only two were with consultant lobbyists who would have had to declare the meetings under the new law.

An Independent article stated that the plans lack credibility and are regarded as “a bad joke” inside the UK’s £2 billion lobbying industry – so much so that the chairman of Parliament’s Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee recalled its members before the end of the summer recess, to hold evidence sessions on what he has described as a “dog’s breakfast”.

Graham Allen MP (Labour) told the paper, “This flawed legislation will mean we’ll all be back in a year facing another scandal.”

And lobbyists themselves said the industry could gain nothing from flawed legislation. Iain Anderson, chairman of the Association of Professional Political Consultants (APPC) and director of the lobbying company Cicero, said: “This law will only undermine public confidence.”

The planned legislation would also set a cap on the amount any organisation other than political parties could spend during elections, and would end self-certification of union membership numbers for all but the smallest unions, with records checked by an independent officer.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said in the BBC article that “this rushed Bill has nothing to do with cleaning up lobbying or getting big money out of politics. Instead it is a crude and politically partisan attack on trade unions, particularly those who affiliate to the Labour Party”. Bait-and-switch, see?

But she said the plan was much worse than that: “Its chilling effect will be to shut down dissent for the year before an election. No organisation that criticises a government policy will be able to overdraw their limited ration of dissent without fearing a visit from the police.”

Mr Cameron, now revealed as a corporate mouthpiece after his U-turn on plans for plain packaging on cigarettes (his election strategist Lynton Crosby also works for a major tobacco corporation), his support for fracking (several leading Tories stand to benefit if the process becomes widespread) and his government’s privatisation of the National Health Service, amazingly promised to crack down on lobbying in the Coalition agreement with the Liberal Democrats after he, himself, described it as the “next big political scandal”.

If fears are borne out, the new law would have a direct effect on Vox Political and blogs like it. Rest assured that VP will continue criticising government policy and demanding better from the opposition.

They can’t say we overspend – we don’t have any budget at all.

My e-petition calling for MPs to be banned from voting on matters in which they have a financial interest is here, and is nearly at the point where a reply will be required from the relevant government department. Please support it with your signature, if you haven’t already done so.