Tuesday, 26 October 2010

It's been a while...

Good lord, a whole month - that's the longest I've gone for three years without updating this blog. It got to the stage where the guilt was festering away like a delicious and quite important sandwich that you know you lost somewhere around the house a few weeks ago and now can't find. So I thought I'd do a placeholder post to explain just what the fuck I've been doing with myself.

As some of you will have noticed, I now blog and write a column for the New Statesman, and this would be the point to update your blog-reading aggregators or other such internet robots. I no longer work for the Morning Star; instead I'm a freelance journalist, which means I'm terribly poor but can stay up reading as late as I like. I'm nonetheless incredibly busy, but this blog will update periodically with cross-posts from New Statesman and any posts that are too long, too strange or too sweary for the national press .

This arrangement will continue until such time as I say something really truly awful and am inevitably and summarily fired, at which point it's all go on Penny Red again, so don't delete this blog just yet!

In other news, in case anyone's wondering: I found a place to live, not a hugely nice place, but a place nonetheless, with walls and a ceiling and bizzarre arty lesbian housemates and enough space to recover from the emotional maelstrom of the summer. This currently puts me in a far better position than most of London, given that the Tories have just imposed a Final Solution on the urban poor.

It feels a little hypocritical to be so incensed with rage about what's happening to this country, the ruthless neoliberal revenge agenda being enacted on the lives and bodies of the vulnerable and the socially invisible, when I've had such a lucky escape this summer. I could have become more unwell and lost my job and my income. I could have remained homeless. I could have had to fall back on a welfare system that's about to be snatched away almost entirely. None of that happened, and it happened to a large number of people I know. I will never get over just how lucky I am; sometimes I feel my privilege sitting on my chest like a Fuseli painting, but that's a fucking poor excuse for lying down and exempting oneself from the struggle.

So I'm going to keep writing and keep on trying to anatomise the reasons behind this assault on human decency. I'm going to link into more activist groups and more local and global campaigns and try to understand how strategies of resistance might be imagined, dreamed of and realised. Because it's the only way we're ever going to stop the right. I'm going to carry on writing; I hope some of you will carry on reading.

Love, solidarity and squalor bombs. xx

44 comments:

  1. Oh, Penny, you really should be more careful with your sandwiches. Joey from "Friends" would never have lost a sandwich and let it fester. Unleash your inner Joey (to a certain extent) and feel virtuous about saving food!

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  2. PS I am having a little trouble trying to work out twitter and I don't think I will join up. Just wanted to say, maybe you could consider wearing a red poppy alongside a white one, which might convey the spirit of what you think even if technically the message might seem unclear.

    I used to think that wearing badges made my views on certain topics clear. Then I found that it didn't quite work like that: they knew a little, but then drew erroneous conclusions based on stereotypes.

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  3. "I no longer work for the Morning Star"

    Good thing too, I've no idea how any genuine left-wing believers in democracy and liberty could bring themselves to write for an organ of Soviet apologists. The Right don't try to excuse Nazi Germany, the Left shouldn't try to excuse the Soviet Union.

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  4. The other place you might like to run a privilege check is on describing current circumstances as the Tories have just imposed a Final Solution on the urban poor.

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  5. ...given that the Tories have just imposed a Final Solution on the urban poor.

    Grow up.

    I hold no candle for the Tories but that is a puerile and pathetic comment. To effectively compare any mainstream party to the odious crimes of the Nazis should be beneath you. However clearly and sadly it isn't

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  6. Hi Laurie, have you seen this blog about cuts impact on disabled people? http://thebrokenofbritain.blogspot.com/

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  7. Hi Penny

    A little ditty about the cuts:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BQFwxw57NBI

    Happy sailing

    Captain SKA

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  8. how's 400 quid a week (21k a year) limit on housing benefits a "final solution". I dont even earn that.

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  9. @ Anon. Firstly, the ConDems want to slash housing benefit for people who have been job seeking for over a year without success, even if they have proved their diligence at said job search.

    Secondly, the HB cap is just a way of warning people with a lot of kids that they'd better not end up out of work ... or else! Whilst it seems okay for the ultra-rich like Mick Jagger to have 7 kids (by 4 different mothers).

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  10. I just found your blog through the Stephen Fry piece... which I really enjoyed.

    Good work.

    I really enjoy this.

    Best from Toronto

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  11. I am glad to see you have secured tolerable accommodation for yourself, Penny Red. Many of us who visit your blog on a regular basis were probably feeling concern about your well-being. Only mentions of you on other blogs, like Harpy Marx and Madam Miow, reassured us that you were alive.

    I hope you are well.

    I recently wrote to my Conservative MP to express my objections to the completely arbitrary 10% cut in Housing Benefit for people on Jobseeker's Allowance for over a year, irrespective of how hard they have tried to get into work. Her response was:

    "The proposal to cut by 10% the Housing Benefit of the long term unemployed is fair. It is fair to the hard working families who witness neighbours, who have made the decision not to work, enjoy a superior quality of life. The message of the Government is simple, work pays, deciding not to work does not."

    So apparently everybody unfortunate enough to be unemployed for a year - doesn't matter where they live, how old or young they are, how well or ill they are or what difficulties they face - are unemployed by choice.

    The MP in question is Sarah Newton.

    Are these people living in the real world?

    And these are the scumbuckets that might be ruling the country for another four to nine years!

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  12. Anonymous:

    They're cutting housing benefit to deal with the costs, rather than doing the decent thing and imposing rent controls (landlords jacking up rents being the cause of the increase of the bill). The result will be a complete reconfiguration of London's demography, with poverty concentrated in suburbs a la Paris. The 'cleansing' metaphor is somewhat apposite, as a way of describing gentrification by economic coercion. The 'final solution' metaphor is perhaps too hyperbolic, but then oppositional politics is conducted through that kind of rhetoric and it's typical liberal deflection to start making the style of discourse conditional for solidarity rather than, you know, acknowledging the real problem being signified by the hyperbole.

    The '400 a week' is problematic because people won't be able to pay rents in certain areas; policies should be measured against the cost of securing one's subsistence, not some abstract figure that doesn't take account of geographical unevenness. The alternative is to admit population transfer through economic compulsion is a matter of policy, but then you can't keep harping on about fairness (because your definition of it is revealed to be whatever market outcomes are - that is, markets are auto-validating.)

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  13. Perhaps I am not familiar with the finer details of British politics, but reading your blog I usually get V for Vendetta flashbacks. Britain sounds scary...

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  14. Re Radio 4 today (Thursday)
    What a moaning little madam you are. Suddenly the Faceboog generation discovers it doesn't know everything and can't understand why not.
    Welcome to the adult world, time to grow up.
    Socialist - Bless. Socialist are people who think that if everything is equal, they may just get a little bit more.
    Your mate Gordon told us there was no end to the party. Grownups, those tiresome 50 year olds - knew better, and you wouldn't listen. Whose the Fuckwit now?

    Sadly anon, as I can't seem to get a URL to work

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  15. Just heard you on R4—never heard of you before that so had no expectations. Surely, surely, surely you didn't REALLY believe the consumerist dream (did you?) You were just saying that for the sake of the discussion (weren't you?)

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  16. Morning Star used to have the best races tips, but I didn't know they're still Soviet apologists.

    Laurie, I've just learned about your blog from 'Living Cheap' on Radio 4. What a blast of fresh air! With the sorry shortage of sensible ideas on the left, it's just what we need. As St Paul said, I keeps laffin', instead of cryin', I must keep fightin', Until I'm dyin'.

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  17. Heard you on Radio 4 this morning, sorry to hear about all the graduate unemployment. I graduated back in the early 90s and things were tough then as well.

    A degree helps you become over qualified for most work, and now we have lots of hard working east europeans those low paid jobs are no longer an option anyway.

    Freelance is the way to go

    Good luck with it all, and good on you for promoting protest. Taxing the super rich is the way, not cutting benefits.

    up the revolution !

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  18. Penny,

    I listened to your comments this morning on Radio 4. In fact, your mention of Penny Red drew me to your blog and a quick read of your thoughts.

    Unemployment this month stands at 7.7% of the working population which suggests that 92.3% of the population have some kind of job earning them some kind of living.

    Times are tough but then are they any tougher than the Thatcher revolution in the early eighties and presumably before you were born? And they're certainly a lot less tougher than the early nineteen thirties.

    Thirteen years of Labour added close to 1m people to the public payroll i.e. instead of paying these people unemployment benefit Labour made a conscious - and some might argue cynically political - decision to give them jobs within the public services. There's little doubt your Lesbian flatmates could find a well paid Lesbian counselor on the local council who'd listen to their Lesbian problems. This was the New Labour way to bring down unemployment.

    You blame the new coalition - although you call them Tories which suggests a built in bias since you probably can't remember living under the last Tory government - for daring to suggest our need to cut jobs and welfare but let's be fair here, the country is broke and we need to all cut our cloth accordingly.

    And let's also have a reality check here - the bankers lent to us i.e. we spent the money and we could not pay it back - which is why the banks were close to collapse.

    Jon

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  19. This disinvestment and the choices of this regime are actively going to create the Big Broken Society, that's for sure. I was going to say, "when people start dying, let's shout loud to pin responsibility to the choices of this government". However, instead, let's actively fight for fairness and build a Coalition of Resistance.

    Thanks for speaking out!

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  20. Penny,

    Would you care to give an idea how the country can afford to keep paying housing benefits and all other benefits?

    Serious question, where does the money come from?



    Dominic Pope.

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  21. Hi Penny, I've just listened to a pre-recorded programme on Radio 4, all BBC jounalists being on strike today, in which you described to us the way in which you are forced to live due to lack of income other than benefits and how you, and your generation, have been cheated by previous generations who led you to think that a degree was the passport to an affluent and fulfilling life. As one of the people mof the previous generation I'd like to make one or two comments on living in poor circumstances. I'm 60 in a couple of months, I grew up on a council estate in the '50s/60s, my dad went to evening classes for years to qualify as a legal executive thus allowing my parents to buy a house. I passed the 11+ and went to agrammar school and was then the first person in my family to go to university, when about 5% of young people went. Yes, there were no fees to pay, there were maintenance grants but the latter were means tested. Many parents contributed to their kid's costs as they were so proud that the child had made it so far. I also worked every holiday ( 12 hour cleaning shifts in local hospital, factory canteen) and also had jobs in term-time. Lucky old you you'll be saying, there is no work for students now. Well, before I retired early this year on a privately funded pension, having worked extremely hard and saved my pennies to facilitate that, I worked for a market research business. We had a telephone research centre in a town with a university college, which offered work to students. We took the view that the demands of their studies should come first and therefore did not demand a minimum number of hours a week, fixed working times etc. We leant over backwards to accommodate them. The result? They were unreliable, they were lazy, they were rude, they messed around and frankly some of them hardly had the ability to perform this fairly mundane task. They caused more disciplinary related work than the rest of the 2000 strong national workforce ever could. We paid adult minimum wage rather than under 21 rate on the basis that they were all doing the same work regardless of age, with evening and weekend enhancements. Eventually it became cheaper to send work to other agencies to complete and we shut the unit, paying redundancy where it was warranted to some of the older people who worked there too and were therefore deprived of a flexible and convenient source of income.
    Their attitude to work was appalling so although I am personally against students paying fees at all, I also am alarmed at the quality of the workforce that this generation of graduates are going to provide the country.
    I, like many of my generation were brought up frugally, and continue to live in a frugal manner. We don't need to learn about recycling, we've been doing it all our lives. In 1980 with 2 small kids and a husband at college we had all to be fed on £10 a week. It's not new.
    PS Don't waste money on poison for rodents - dreadful stuff anyway. Just buy the ultimate deterrent, fully re-useable - it's called a mousetrap. No, it's not nice, but nor is poison.

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  22. Oh hello - I'd never heard of your blog till this morning when R4 were playing Off the Page instead of the Today programme due to a journalists' strike. It was so refreshing to hear your views at that time in the morning - telling it like it really is, instead of the usual over-careful sitting-on-the-fence that the Today programme usually has to adhere to. I hope a lot of right-wing political types accidentally stumbled across it too.

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  23. No body expected the recession ... but over at housepricecrash forum we've been discussing the overspending and madness for a long time.

    I only caught a bit of the radio thing this morning but it really was quite refreshing to hear!

    Thank heavens for listen again!

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  24. up the revolution !

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  25. Anyway listening to what you were saying half asleep it touched very much to topics I have researched from over population, peak oil, exponential debt based fiaHi Penny,
    I was in bed with the radio alarm coming on.. with your bit on radio 4 as there was a strike and it was used to fill in the gap.

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  26. I heard you on the radio yesterday morning. The other contributors didn't seem to get it. I would like to point out that it is not really correct to see the situation as a generational thing.

    I graduated in 1979 and hit the Thatcher cuts. I didn't know what I was going to do with my life but I expected something to turn up that'd be okay and worthwhile. But it didn't.

    So I have spent my entire adulthood in unemployment, underemployment and soul destroying mind numbing low skilled employment.

    It's a class thing, not a generational thing. For a time after graduating, I didn't really know what was happening. It's really difficult when everyone says "It's your fault", including your family. But it wasn't my fault and it's not the fault of anyone in that position. I suppose I was in the vanguard of this phenomenon of educated people being denied any meaningful career. It hurts, but it has it's upside. You don't become stupid for a start.

    Reading some of the comments here just makes you wonder if there is ever going to be anyway out of this. I heard some guy on "Any Answers" last week saying he was earning less than £20,000 and posing the question as to how it could be fair that his taxes were paying someone Housing Benefit to live somewhere he could never dream of living.

    These people are like gold dust to the economic elite. Why is it that people accept there should be places that are too good for them to ever dream of living in? Why doesn't it occur to him that nobody should be earning less than £20,000? A great wrong has been done to him, and is being done to him now. But he feels unable to shout at the people really responsible for his poor existence, so instead he joins the mad crowd baying for justice to be meted out to the easiest victims.

    When it comes down it, it is only the authority lent to the economic elite by the victims themselves that allows everything to carry on the way it does.

    All the money, all the debt is just part of a social convention. It doesn't really exist. It's just this social convention that determines that so many people have to be poor. It doesn't have to be like this. Things could be as good as our imaginations allow; but it will have to be for everyone, or else it won't work.

    Having made my initial comment against defining the problem as a generational one, I have to say my generation has been pretty disappointing. Another lost one, I suppose. And it started off so promising really. The Beatles and all that.

    I can only see things getting worse as time goes by, through the logic of the situation. Maybe then, with sufficient articulate, educated and profoundly disappointed and hurt people, things might start to change for the better.

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  27. But the good thing is, you got yourself and your ideas out there. I was one of millions who listen normally to the Today programme and instead there you were. As many have said - including a Guardian commentator - the programme was more colourful, more sparky, more thought provoking, more insightful than a year of the Today programme. I wanted to become friends with every single one of the panellists. You all sounded like such wonderful, interesting, resourceful people. You sounded ALIVE. I went off to the rest of my day, brain buzzing.

    You were bound to get a response here and some of it was bound to be abusive. I don't want to comment on your views or your political perspective. I am of the older generation and so have come to believe there is no right way, no perfect world. There will always be rich and poor, good and evil. Any political system will deliver power to those who most want it and are therefore almost inevitably least suited to have it. All we can do is look to our own individual conduct, hehave honorably and act generously ourselves. Treat others as we would think it fair to be treated ourselves in the same circumstances. It's the best we can hope for.

    I do not believe in the notion of fault. Our older generation were not 'greedy'. We just played by the rules of the world as it then was. And because it delivered results, we did not really question it. Our trick was to be born at the 'right time'. In my case 1948. As a woman it meant contraception and womens lib were there just as I got old enough to need them. And it meant my working life wsa spent in a period of economic expansion so that i was able to have a lifelong career doing work I loved. I don't feel greedy. But I do feel lucky. I never do the lottery for that reason. I already won it just by being born when and who I was.

    But more importantly I wrote to tell you that I think you should turn your considerable talents to fiction as well. Anyone who can have me right there, in the kitchen of some decayed squat, coming down to breakfast to find a comatose rat in a bag of sugar has to be an important 21st century author in the making.

    So good luck to you. Along with Robyn, the feisty 16 year old street kid on Dispatches this week, you give me hope about the future of our sex. You are both your own people, strong and proud whatever you are having to suffer. And that is fantastic.

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  28. Surely the only way to progress is by engaging people in debate & that would include people you (strongly) disagree with? Accusing such people of a 'final solution' isn't therefore going to help.

    Unless of course you think imposing your own solution would be better?

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  29. Hi. I, too, heard your broadcast on Monday 8th November on Radio 4.

    Anonymous (above) said: ". . . in which you described to us the way in which you are forced to live due to lack of income other than benefits and how you, and your generation, have been cheated by previous generations who led you to think that a degree was the passport to an affluent and fulfilling life."

    Yep, that was pretty much what I understood you to say as well.

    You know, I do have some sympathy for you. However, let's set the record straight: being an undergraduate in the late 70s wasn't quite the milk-and-honey experience you make it out to be. The student grant was means-tested. And how fair was it? Well, both my parents were schoolteachers (a profession not exactly known for its lavish pay) and their means test on my behalf meant that I received exactly £0 grant, and in the first year had to pay about 1/3 of my fees as well. Like your correspondent above, I had to work all the holidays, and all the hours that God sent, just to earn enough to live on during the term time. (The lass who sat next to me in lectures was the daughter of a company director. He used to come and collect her in his company Jag at the end of term. Due to some fancy accounting, she got a full grant and fees paid.) The fact is that life isn't always fair, and that's how I'm going to conclude this post.

    The problem, I think, stems back to people's expectations after WW2. After the war there were (a) a shortage of male employees - because of yet another wholesale slaughter of young men, but that's another story. (b) A world-wide expansion of trade, mainly to the benefit of the winning side. (c) The need to spend a huge amount of money repairing all the damage. This led to about 30 years of full employment, with lots of promotions for loyal employees, and this in turn led to career expectations that were passed onto my generation.

    It did not happen: in 1980 a global recession began and the consequences for my generation have been pretty harsh. Along with redundancies and lack of employment opportunities, for those of us in employment most of the time there has been little fulfilment or career progression: all the things we were led to believe would fall gently into our laps if we waited long enough. Your experience has not been so very different from mine, in fact, other than you have found it much harder to get any employment at all. But this is not new. IT'S NOT EVEN NEWS! A joke, current at the time I graduated in 1979, went like this: "What do you say to a sociology graduate?" "Big Mac and chips, please."

    To cap it all, as far as I'm concerned, those baby-boomers who were lucky enough to be born at the beginning of the boom, who all got full grants regardless, and who did waltz into fulfilling and satisfying careers, have now decided that they don't want to retire! The buggers are hanging on, well past 65, and blocking all the opportunities for anyone younger than themselves. We saw it with Thatcher, then her son Blair. It happens everywhere else too.

    The trick is, Laura, to try and spot the changes as they happen and to do what you have to do to take advantage of the shifting situation. The biggest mistake anybody can make is to imagine that the world owes them a living. It doesn't. Very often the people who get on are the ones who are best at networking. Some of them are pretty good characters, but some of them can be real shits - but it doesn't matter - they are good at getting on with people who have power and influence, and they use this skill to get on themselves. Remember the old axiom: To succeed in life, you have to start at the bottom - and kiss it! It's awful, and objectionable, but it's the way things are. It's almost as bad as people who get on because of heredity or wealth - but that's a fact of life too, and the little people - people like you and me - have to like it, or lump it.

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  30. First of all, congrats on your new place. And yes, you were lucky, but don't beat yourself up about the head. You just work your butt off. I enjoy your pieces in the NS. As for the Morning Star, it's not a paper, is it? It's more like The Sun, but on the other side of the political spectrum and with no Rupert.

    Keep up the good work.

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  31. Hi Penny,

    I just wanted to say that I think you ought to read some of Theodore Dalrymple's early books. I think you'd find that he is one of the most compassionate people you could hope to meet.

    Thanks,
    Andy

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  32. Hello Penny,
    Life in the UK is OK, except when it isn't, because of who you are, and lack of luck.

    GOING DOWN 10/5/99
    The world is collapsing round our feet
    lambs turned into sausage meat
    can't believe a word you hear
    truth is crucified on fear
    children barely out the crèche
    burning, beating, eating flesh
    Auld Nick rocking on a hill
    laughing loudly as we kill
    fruits from out of mothers wombs
    Angels fly about on brooms
    fluffy kittens micro-waved
    Jesus tried, but no one saved
    once a trickle, now a flood
    madmen irrigate with blood
    good grapes rotting on the vine
    I'm dying as I write this line


    Davie Munro, Glasgow

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  33. Thank you for being in a place where you can articulate the ideas of what seemingley feels like the minority.

    It is so refreshing to hear your words full of passion, drive and certainly in my mind, truth.

    I recently graduated, but im still involved witin the University. I graduated within the Drama field, so you would think my peers and colleagues would be of the same thought process. Sadly, not. It is so sad to see the students certainly who Iknow, who remain in subdued, manifestd state, vry quick to believe the press and love the factthey can detach themselves from the fact they are no longer students.

    Most of these people are creative, open minded individuals who have been gropped by the media and now form the web of Camerons words.

    So thank you for presenting articles and accounts which show a sense of realit,

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  34. "...Final Solution on the urban poor."

    FINAL SOLUTION !?

    You abuse this by using it.

    I'm sure you'd be suitably ashamed if you knew its connotations. A disgraceful choice of phrase.

    You've had a privileged education - use it!

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  35. I hope you went to the protests, people need to go to university so they can become unemployed graduates.

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  36. Being lucky, as the others said, is not reason to feel down. And at least you are using your luck in a positive manner, rather than carpeting your home with the bodies of the poor as so many others are. And it's always good to read your columns and see some sense published in the media, a little column of solidarity in an avalanche of lies and BS that is the rest!

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  37. Richard Woods, Norfolk18 December 2010 16:30

    Now see hear (sorry but irresistible!) Ms Red you need some good old fashioned PR to get your name known (talk to Uncle Max...) See I'm an antique hack who has been despairing of anyone getting to the meat of the mess we are now in. And LO! It should be that nice but still a bit smarmy one of the Dimbleys that gets me to you (as it were!).
    Anyway so far have only heard you talk a load of good sense on the BBC today, read this and your latest NS piece (full marks for that one too!). But hang on - isn't this an oxymoron or something: "no longer work for the Morning Star; instead I'm a freelance journalist, which means I'm terribly poor" My old mate Mike Ambrose worked for the Morning Star and he was as poor as a church mouse. Where's your collecting tin?
    Best of, oh mighty sword!

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  38. Keep it up Laurie! The New statesman blog is always thought provoking.
    http://clemthegem.wordpress.com/

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