Random Play by Graham Reid

Of time and the drivel

Some time in the late 60s, during what the Vietnamese call the American War, I read a horrifying news item. The Vietcong were throwing babies into the air and impaling them on their bayonets.

I told my father. He’d heard it before, he said, with barely a flicker of interest.

“The Nazis did that in the Second World War, and I’m told the Kaiser’s troops did in the First. I have no doubt someone will do it in the next one as well.”

Aside from what that told me about propaganda, demonising your enemy, and being a warning about the veracity of news reports during wartime, it also has some contemporary relevance to what is going on in our own fair country.

I woke up on Sunday at some time in the mid 70s. I was reading Deborah Coddington’s latest ill-founded, facile and wobbly-logic claptrap column in the Herald on Sunday.

Needless to say she was having the de rigueur bash at beneficiaries who are bleeding the system dry, are too lazy to get a job or even off their fat arses, and spend their days smoking cigarettes or watching Sky television.

Or something like that, just put in one of those more reasonable voices designed to appeal to decent working class folk with whom she doubtless has much in common, and whose interests Act has at heart.

About a decade ago I decided I quite liked the idea of getting old, but now I’m not so sure because it means you have to sit through the same old political bullshit about every 10 years or so.

Coddington’s line is so old it has a beard. It also comes with all the customary trappings of self-righteousness masquerading as social insight and innovative political thinking.

The bit I liked best was when she had a swipe at these lazy bludgers (C’mon Deborah, just say it why doncha? You know you want to) and suggested they were too lazy to grow veges (broad beans, she suggested) in their gardens because the “tax payer will cough up for a Big Mac“.

Sorry Deborah, but I’ve heard that before too. Many times.

Let’s get realistic: growing your own veges (broad beans?) might sound appealing and a little drive towards self-sufficiency, but it doesn’t feed the family. I know. I did it once.

I got a nice little garden going and tended it carefully. I grew tomatoes, chilli, beans, peas, beetroot, a few herbs and potatoes. It was fun and amusing, and I’d still have to go shopping every week to feed the kids. I probably saved about four dollars on a food bill frankly. And then only in summer.

I don't ever recall hearing of an offer of a Big Mac voucher from Social Welfare either.

Coddington and her ilk who advance this line are caught up in some Waltons/Good Life fantasy. Let us remind them then, those were television programmes. Not true. It doesn’t work in the real world.

In that typically divisive way we see from Act and National politicians right now, Coddington’s column made out low paid workers to be the horny-handed sons of the soil who toil honestly, only to find the food being ripped from the mouths of their children by lazy beneficiaries. Not literally but, you know, through handouts and “beneficiaries having the luxury of going along to Winz and getting more money”.

The workers make do and buy second-hand school uniforms and hand-me-downs, the implication being beneficiaries don’t.

I have heard this many times in the past. There might be an element of truth in some of what Coddington says, but only some of it, however there is something else about this line which I feel even more uncomfortable with, more so than with its base dishonesty and dreary familiarity.

It’s when people like Coddington start taking a whack at people for smoking, for having Sky television and videos.

What would they do? Give a benefit but with specific strings attached?

I am suspicious and fearful of any welfare payout which tells people exactly what they are allowed to spend their money on. Think about it. That isn't genuine welfare, that's moral supriority exercising itself. It's the we-know-best attitude that used to come from 19th century church leaders but now we hear mostly from politicians, of all persuasions.

And isn’t that a move to something even more like a culture of dependency, of the socialist nanny state that these anti-welfare people keep banging on about? Isn’t that taking away the power of decision-making, of freedom of choice?

My dad, the wise one, always used to say when any government upped taxes on booze and cigarettes that it was the unemployed and low paid workers who were being hit hardest. But what else do these people have but the enjoyment of a drink and a cigarette?

These people aren’t watching Charlotte Dawson on a holiday programme and saying, “Pass us the phone love, we’re off the south of France.” These are people who probably haven’t seen the inside of an aircraft for a decade, for whom a beer, a fag and a night in front of the tele might be pretty much all there is to look forward to.

And now you want to take that away from them?

My dad had a word for politicians like that -- and they come in all political colours too remember. The word was “bastards“.

And speaking of family. My mum always used to say about clothes, never thrown anything away because it’ll come back in fashion some day.

She was right.

It applies to political “thinking” too. As Deborah and Don -- reviving ideas from the 60s, 70 and 80s, and for all I know probably the 40s and 50s too -- are proving.

But aren’t they looking more than a little threadbare?