Writing, music, cycling, history, politics, saving the planet
Imagine a society where people who are poor, disabled and vulnerable are targets of widespread abuse. Okay, that was easy. Now imagine that the Government has uploaded onto the web details of what everyone gets in benefit payments, along with the medical conditions, psychiatric assessments and personal circumstances? I can write you the Ministerial brief if you like:
“Edited versions of people’s lives are already on display on social media, so it is not unreasonable that those who are dependent on the state should have their ‘expenses’ available for others to check on. After all, if people have a genuine condition then they should be supported and society should be proud of offering them a helping hand. It allows hard-working families to make a judgement about whether their taxes are being well spent and during these hard times when money is tight, to come to a sensible view about priorities. There are many in our communities who deserve our support and who will get our support. There are others who are scamming the system, expecting others to do all the work for them and living luxurious lives built on lies. This measure will enable ‘people power’ to expose those lies and eliminate fraud.”
In my new detective thriller, Dead Poor, the ‘voice’ of the people is supplied by an organisation called the Middle England Society which organises a system of local juries to examine the personal information on the Government website and make judgements about people. Those found wanting have an “S” sprayed on their front door which is meant to represent nothing more than Society’s judgement. However, everyone knows it also represents Scrounger and Scuzzy.
The word Scuzzy is a near future version of Chav. It’s a near future update on an age old attempt to divide communities into the deserving and undeserving poor – ignoring the reality that they are mostly the same people at different stages of their lives. Owen Jones book ‘Chavs’ brilliantly explores the media’s role in this process of creating scapegoats during a period of hard times, but these terms do become embedded in popular culture. In my book, this popular anti-Scuzzie movement takes the form of the Middle England Society.
Britain First may have nearly 3m followers on Facebook, but it’s held back by the impolite, whiff of thuggery. For a form of English Fascism to really creep into the tidy living rooms of the middle classes and appeal to those who John Major described as the net curtain poor, then it needs mainstream appeal. The Middle England Society rings the right doorbell.
Given a backdrop of escalating public anger at ‘scroungers’ and other ‘no hopers’ on TV, at benefit tourists with smartphones, resentment at the ‘privileges’ given to the disabled, or the ‘queue jumping preference’ attached to refugees, it is inevitable that this will boil over into physical attacks. In Dead Poor, the shooting of poor people seems like the natural next step in a new form of hate crime, but are these random murders, or is it assassination? That is the question privatised detective, Tom Barlow, struggles with right from the start of Dead Poor, as he tries to understand why he feels the distinction is so important.
Selecting people for assassination is an extension of the jury judgements for painting the ‘S’ on someone’s door. The purpose is to terrorise the poor, as Tom Barlow explains when the killer returning to the site of a previous shooting. Such killings give a clear message that no one is safe, no matter how much attention from the police they are getting.
A serial killer targeting poor people is nothing new in the world, it just doesn’t happen much in a modern social democracy. However, what becomes really shocking is not the person doing the shooting but the number of people who will cheer them on. That is the importance of the killer selecting and assassinating, rather than randomly shooting. The right message has to be sent in the right way. To gain public support for that message requires the murder victims to be the least sympathetic individuals in our society.
There are examples of collective resistance in Dead Poor and Feel.it as the people at the bottom seek to defend their right to exist, but it is ultimately Tom Barlow who is in the best position to get justice. He is reluctant to act the hero after working hard to establish a thriving little business and bring stability to his life. As he struggles with his rekindled conscious Barlow uncovers the complicated truth about the dole street killings. That is when people try to kill him.
As the shootings escalate and fears grow of copycat killings, the country stands on the brink of civil unrest and the Government announces a plan to relocate the long-term sick, disabled and unemployed to safe Havens where they can be protected and given the intensive care and support which failing local authorities are unable to provide. The Government’s stated aim is to take the ‘under-dogs’ out of the firing line and deal with the localised resentments which have been stoked by the Middle England Society. Big corporations will be invited to support these havens as part of their corporate responsibility work, but they will be given the assurance that this is not simply charity work or an excuse for the unemployed to get more hand-outs. The same rules apply in the Havens as the rest of society, i.e. harsh assessments of ability to work combined with tough sanctions. People will have their benefits linked to their willingness to work and work will be the gateway for their return to regular society, outside of the Havens.
As these Havens require cheap land and preferably, well-established housing stock, some of the ex-industrial areas in the north are seen as ideal locations. Companies will be offered tax breaks to locate there and ‘red tape’ restrictions like the minimum wage will be suspended. Large Havens will have the clear advantage of economies of scale, especially with the need for security measures such as fencing and restricted entry/exit points.
These measures will be necessary and reasonable.
Just don’t call them work camps.
Dead Poor on Kobo https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/dead-poor
Dead Poor on Amazon http://amzn.to/1PhP24S