A (Late) Valentine to Jeremy Corbyn and Boris Johnson by Joe Reynolds.
Right Honourable Gentlemen,
Roses are white, violence is who?
Give ’em enough rope
And they’ll do it for you
I write to live but I am going to die. I have no address, I have no health insurance.
I was diagnosed with a brain disease last year but I have lived with it for over 13 years of my life. My European neurologists tell me; “You are going to die.” It was time to make my way back to England.
I was in Europe when the last seizures took place and since then my mental health has suffered, exasperated violently by my next move. I applied for Personal Independence Payment, a disability welfare. The epileptic seizures feel like dying through electrocution and the focal seizures resemble the aura I get before losing consciousness.
When you mess with a higher power, it is important to not lose your nerve. Leaders of the House, I did this with open eyes.
120 days ago I was driving at 200km/h towards the British border with two swan eating Eastern Europeans and a Nigel Farage supporter. There was tension in the car when it was clear that a carpooling app had brought together opposite sides of the Brexit referendum debate.
The two Polish residents of the UK could not vote, of course, and the Farage supporter obviously voted for Brexit.
I was having problems with seizures that had left me crushed on my way back home. For the first hour, we desperately tried not to mention the referendum on Europe. Recognizing my British accent, the Brexit supporter asked me in that classic tone of trepidation, “So… what do you think of the referendum on Europe?”
I looked at my swan murdering drivers in front and debated in my head how this ten hour conversation would go down. It is probably worth noting that I did not vote in the referendum. Leave or Remain were binary solutions to solving an internal identity crisis the Conservative Party has suffered since the fall of the Berlin Wall. What had formed us all into the mass of hysterical lunatics needed for a fringe issue to become a mainstream referendum?
“You’re not a Jeremy Corbyn supporter, are you?” the Brexit supporter winked.
Suddenly, the Polish driver exploded in the front seat. “Do you have any idea how much immigration actually helps the UK, do you know that structurally the facts are overwhelmingly against you?” said the driver to the passenger. The debate had begun again, a debate where no-one listened to each other, where both sides get angry at how distant the opposing reality is.
Remember Boris? It was what your old friend and political strategist Lynton Crosby called “throwing a dead cat on the table.” Why would this Australian recommend slaughtering a metaphorical cat? It has something to do with your old school friend and Tory in exile, and his alleged necrophilia bestiality.
There was an issue more pressing than pork in 2015. The largest data leak in history, known as the Panama Papers, were published around the world by a vast network of collaborative international journalists. They revealed through a criminal process of concealment, the personal income of some of the biggest dictators, autocratic leaders and corporations were shielded from taxation and international sanctioning in Panama.
The documents leaked from Mossack Fonseca revealed many surprising elements, including the fact that Jurgen Mossack’s father, Erhard, was a former Waffen-SS solider in Nazi Germany, brought to Panama by the Americans at the end of the Second World War. He became an informer for the CIA and erased his blood group tattoo before setting up the German Export Union in 1965. These seeds would ensure his son the title of ‘Offshore King’.
Jurgen still had German nationality at the time of the leak and is head of an organisation that protects the wealth of our present-day dictators. 2.6 terabytes of data was leaked by one whistleblower, proving that the richest in society and those in power are stealing from their own nations. From Iceland to Russia, Siemens to Commerzbank. From the City of the London to 10 Downing Street. Even those who are on international criminal sanctioning lists were allowed a haven in Panama.
Remember, Jeremy? The system of political austerity was already a form of punitive punishment. People were taking their own lives. We stood outside of the Department for Work and Pensions, five years ago, as the names of those who had died in this sanctioning were read out. Those of us who had lost loved ones were crying, there was anger and futility in the air.
Information on these people, since 2010, has been destroyed by the Department of Work and Pensions, citing the Data Protection Act 2018 which dictates that “personal data kept for any purpose should not be kept for longer than necessary”. This was partly because between 2011 and 2014, 2,380 people had died after their disability benefits were stopped by Atos, the outsourced French corporation that was handling these claims at the time.
Atos paid no corporation tax in 2012 and the following year was awarded over a billion pounds in contracts with the UK government. For this pain, with these injustices we had suffered, it became obvious that the rich were scrounging from the poor and something had to be done to re-frame the argument. In your own words, Boris;
“Let us suppose you are losing an argument. The facts are overwhelmingly against you, and the more people focus on the reality the worse it is for you and your case. Your best bet in these circumstances is to perform a manoeuvre that a great campaigner describes as ‘throwing a dead cat on the table, mate.’
The key point, says my Australian friend, is that everyone will shout, ‘Jeez, mate, there’s a dead cat on the table!’ In other words, they will be talking about the dead cat – the thing you want them to talk about – and they will not be talking about the issue that has been causing you so much grief.”
My two Polish friends are not murderers of Royal fowl. The myth was published in The Sun newspaper and based on an internal memo within the police force, clarifying the rules over poaching. The journalist who wrote it has since admitted it was fabricated but it is part of a long line of terrible journalism that corrupts that heart of the media in the UK.
Referring to asylum seekers as ‘parasites’ stinks of premeditation.
Out of the window, the miles and miles of white fencing could be seen snaking around the motorway as we approach the port of Calais and Eurotunnel terminals. Through these fences; miles of bulldozed land could be seen, a testament to the demolitions of dwellings for humans; evicted before and after the referendum on Europe. The Brexit voter is silent.
I was home but still 20 miles from Dover. Our country, gentlemen, has juxtaposed borders. A New Labour legacy, a Conservative Party tragedy. Part of a collective crime which only one of the recipients of this letter is responsible. Jeremy, your voting record speaks for itself.
In my former home, London, the people had previously elected a clown as mayor. The clown spent more time writing articles for the Daily Telegraph than running the city, and was paid over twice as much for the privilege. Everyone loved the clown. For the rich it was freedom: Let the market decide!
For the poor? Those in power and opposition decided, as a political decision, for the country to pick up the bill for the failures of market freedom. In one of the biggest transfers of wealth from the poor to rich, government spending on welfare would radically change. The economic term is austerity but the reality is rooted in social cleansing, homelessness, poverty and a national mental health crisis.
The welfare system needed to change. It is designed like a Franz Kafka novel, a set of impossible conditions dictated by a faceless organisation of bureaucracy. Instead of reforming it, the government reinforced that power and used it as a political weapon to sanction those who were referred to by the media as scroungers, benefit cheats and thieves.
Fraud in the welfare system was estimated to be between 0.5-3%.
The introduction of the new regime (between October 2012 – September 2013) resulted in almost one million people sanctioned from Job Seekers Allowance. Vulnerable groups like lone parents, the disabled, the homeless and those with complex issues, like myself, are disproportionately effected as a result of welfare conditionality. Both political parties must be held accountable for this process.
The number of sanctions has risen dramatically since the election of the coalition in 2010 but the first rise was in 2007-08, reflecting the reaction to the economic crash. The rise of unemployment was met with the rise in sanctioning – we were being punished for the failures of the market. Young people were particularly vulnerable, with a chaotic and insecure base to handle sanctioning.
I have reached 120 days without support. My death will be the deference of my claim.
Sanctioning works. It rapidly reduces claims and increases exits from benefits, reduces job quality, earnings over time and negatively effects child welfare. It has an effect on crime rates, documented in the United States of America, and known to the government before they implemented austerity.
I am your raging success story, Boris.
I am now going 200km/h back home with open eyes, honourable gentlemen, knowing what system I have put myself in the hands of. The welfare system and the arbitrary sanctioning I experience has exasperated a range of psychological issues, the same issues I used to investigate as a journalist, when I first read the briefing report from Psychologists Against Austerity.
I am now trapped in a chaotic downward spiral, an economics of hate.
Fear and distrust has created a prison in my mind. The process of asking for help and being forced into a worse situation, with no further communication as to why, has lead to a worsening of depression and suicidal tendencies. It has damaged my relationships with my family and my partner, leaving me with little support. I am now waiting for my basic right of survival. 120 days.
At times I am humiliated by my situation, I feel I have no agency to change it and have in fact been brought closer to death. I can’t even access food banks, the amount of emergency food supplies given out by the Trussell Trust alone, was up to 1.5 million at the start of 2019. The nine years of homelessness and insecurity I have over my accommodation has lead to unmanageable forms of mental distress.
Like in a prison cell, the room that usually protects is transformed into the opposite. My pain destroys language.
I feel largely alone and isolated within this prison. Feeling powerless in this situation leaves me exposed to psychosis and paranoia. When you mess with a higher power, it is important to not lose your nerve.
I wish I could have what you have, right honourable gentlemen. Agency, security, connection, meaning and trust; this is what psychologists have recommended as a framework for social security. Instead I must consider the only option one has in a prison cell. The definition of collective privilege is putting what we want over what we need. My pain destroys language but I must break the silence.
The definition of collective responsibility, Boris, is accepting your part in this crime. The political concept of sanctioning the disabled, in particular, slides you into the arena of Nazi politics that even Mossack gave up to become a thief for the rich. As chief clown, you are part of a government that has left me with the smell of a rotting feline.
I continue to write, Jeremy, because it is one of the only things I am effective at while hungry. It allows me to restore my dignity and resist with whatever I have left. I refuse to starve for months while my right to bread is debated by private organisations and state bureaucracies. This is merely an effort at transparency and accountability, if not survival. I feel when you are homeless you have the tendency to feel like you don’t exist.
I will fight with the last of my existence to be as loud as possible because I am not alone, gentlemen.
I know with the same intensity that I see myself hanging from the trees in the madness of my suicidal tendencies, I know you too see our world crumbling under the weight of a greed that has consumed us all. The Polish drivers are now gone and the grinning Brexit supporter is pushing the pedal to the floor.
As the wall approaches, take off the seat belt. Open the door and jump. The landing will hurt, remember to roll. The faster you do this, the quicker you have to learn. This is the end of living and the beginning of survival.
That is what my generation has inherited from yours. My only agency now is suicide. Give ’em enough rope Boris, and they will hang themselves but I will not give you my neck.
I write to live so it follows I am alive. The last flames of dignity come from the farmer, Jessie Lopez De La Cruz, who once said;
“We have a saying in Spanish for when things look bleak. Esperanzas mueren al ultimo.”
Hope dies last,
~ Joe Reynolds
Main pic: A protester discusses gentrification with a guest of the Property Awards, 2015 in Mayfair, London. By Joe Reynolds.
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