…Call Me Daniel Blake

When Ken Loach’s films work, they really work: I’ve met the man in real life and he is impressively self-effacing, putting ordinary people and their stories at the centre of his films.  And having been on the dole myself in the ’80’s I totally got ‘I, Daniel Blake’.

In the 1980’s things were both better and worse.  They were worse in the sense that unemployment was much higher (zero-hours contracts notwithstanding) and that was especially true where I’d ended up.  In the North West there literally were no jobs, especially not for a shellshocked teacher who absolutely refused to go back to the chalk face.  I guess I could have gone on sickness benefit, but I resisted the medicalisation of my mental illness and decided to face it out without the dubious help of anti-depressants: I still maintain this was the right approach for me.  But I know in my soul the grinding despair of unemployment: the feeling that you are judged by others; the impossibility of finding work no matter how you try, and the never-ending financial hardship.  Matthew Parris, then a Minister in the Thatcher government, did a TV programme where he ‘tried’ living on unemployment benefit for a week: he planned to save £3 and ended up sitting in the dark with no heating.

But I was lucky: I had a family who could help, and in the end (though very reluctantly) I returned home for a while and eventually found work.

Daniel Blake is not so lucky: he has to stop work as a carpenter when he suffers a heart attack.  His doctor signs him off but when he tries to claim ESA (sickness benefit) his claim is refused.

‘I, Daniel Blake’ is the story of one man’s attempt to navigate a labyrinth of bureaucracy and human indifference and retain his self-respect.  After he is defeated at every turn and ejected from the Job Centre (or whatever they’re called this week) he gets a spray-can and writes his testimony to the world on the wall:


This is his attempt at finding a voice in the midst of defeat and degradation.

I won’t spoil the ending for you but go and watch the film.


And in case you think it’s mere left-wing propaganda, here are a selection of ESA stories from the media:




In the interests of fairness, I tried to find some positive stories.  Here’s what I found:


There’s to be a lot of anecdotal evidence that what happened to Daniel happens to many people and that claims are routinely refused.  Whistle-blowers in the ‘service’ talk of a culture of trying to put claimants off so as to save money.  Of course, these services are now privately managed, meaning that there is a need to generate profit.

Words fail me: I just feel desperately sorry for people caught in this situation because I could so easily be there too.

If you’re in this situation and need help, don’t despair.  Help is available here:


Kirk out


There’s a War On

Here’s the poem I did on radio Leicester:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01yy5kz – about 1 hr 40 mins in.

It has had an outing at a number of local groups and is available for performances to political groups, poetry groups and arts groups.

There’s a War On

(for all those suffering from the Bedroom Tax)


There’s a war on, they say

we must all make sacrifices

tighten our belts

there’s not enough money to go round

so we must

tighten the public purse-strings

because there’s a war on.

I thought that was all over and done.


We are all in this war together, they say

we are all fighting this war

but I am on the losing side

morale has plummeted

the troops are ill-equipped

rations are low.

The Captain says,

he says it won’t last long.

But we don’t see him here on the front line

not here.


And now we must all be evacuated

we must move

we’ve got too much space, they say

too much living-room

an extra bedroom.

We must evacuate



This is our home, we’ve lived here for years

but there’s a war on, now.


And so they come with their long knives

and they slice up our benefits

and we don’t know what to do

we used to manage

but we can’t, now.

We have to move

we have to cut back

we have to

put that light out

put that light out

– put that light out!

Don’t you know there’s a war on?

Kirk out



Ken’s Got the Cake but What Really Happened in 1684?

Well!  Yesterday was the founding conference for the establishment of Left Unity as a new political party, and we drove down to London at an unfeasibly early hour in order to get there in time.  The morning was taken up by voting on ‘platforms’ – basically, ideas of where the party should be and where we should be going.  Ken isn’t keen on the platforms but in our party Ken Loach, film director, is just a member like anyone else – and that is exactly how it should be.  I think it’s quite dangerous to have charismatic ‘figure-heads’ – whilst they can be inspirational, they can also ‘punch above their weight and wield excessive influence.

So what happened in the morning was that the broad-left platform was agreed and the others were thrown out.  This was a huge relief to most of us, as other groups who had been pushing a narrower version of left politics, coming from specifically Socialist or Communist perspectives.

So who are me and what do we believe?

Hang on, did I write ‘who are me’?  OK, moving on…

Who are WE?  We are a broad-left coalition of people from different perspectives who are not afraid to debate and thrash out the issues.  Sometimes I wish we were more afraid, but you can’t have everything.  Anyway, though specific policies remain to be thrashed out, we are broadly in favour of renationalising essential services (post, transport, health); we are against excessive greed and global capitalism, and we are exactly what it says on the tin, which is now officially ‘Left Unity’.

So there you have it – and here’s the national website:


My favourite platform, apart from the broad left one, was Platform 9 3/4, which voted to give Ken Loach a cake on his birthday every day of his life.  This was accepted and duly given.  Platform 9 3/4 was of course an attempt to introduce a little light relief, and was taken as such: what was unintentionally amusing was the bloke who spoke on Scotland.  Wearing a shirt saying ‘Another Scotland is Possible’, he started his talk by referring to events from 1684 (or thereabouts) and never really moved on.  Why?  Why, when everyone in Scotland is buzzing with excitement, when the country is in a ferment of change and decision; when there must be at least some anticipation of a different future (otherwise why wear the t-shirt?) – why, in god’s name, would you bang on about something that happened in 1684?  I switched off after a while, but not before I’d had a good laugh.

And blow me if I haven’t gone and left out the best bit!  Which was this: in Leicester we have been having meetings involving culture and the arts in the political debate.  Richard was due to propose a motion that the arts be recognised as an important part of politics, and I was to give a poem.  They told us there was no time: but ho! for Richard!  Richard! ho! – for he went and argued with them and we got our two minutes.  Even then they weren’t going to let me do my poem (‘one speaker only’) but Richard introduced me and I was on, doing the poem I’d performed at the Leicester meeting.

It went down really well and you can find it here:


It’s about 28 minutes in.

And I must away now for I said I would post the poem to someone.

Happy Sunday!

Kirk out

Poetry Please!

OK come on now – I’m asking nicely.  Can I have some of your poetry – please! – so I can put other people’s work on here?  When I reorganised this blog I wanted it to have more of a collaborative aspect and so far that hasn’t happened: so send me a poem or two and I will put them on.  I won’t comment unless you specifically ask me to, so what have you got to lose?  Others will read your work – it’s a win-win situation.  I am hourly anticipating a contribution from Marie-Christine and here, from me to her, is the poem she wanted to read: it’s about my attempts to walk to France when I was four years old and is a translation of the poem ‘Rye Harbour’.  I first performed it at Pinggk’s ‘In Translation’ evening:

Rye Harbour

1.  Longtemps la mer lointaine s’ecoule

ou nous sommes alles en vacances

par ce sentier Saxon qui roule

loin des eaux qui vont a la France;

sentiers mysterieux sans fin,

sentiers qui font mon chemin.

2.  La mer est parti siecles avant

mais sa memoire reste dans la plage

ou poussent les fleurs comme des gants blancs

et l’herbe qui dans le fosse nage

fosse mysterieux sans fin

fosse qui fait mon chemin.

3.  La mer, qui peut-a-peut s’eloigne

qui passe un epoque en retraite

nous laisse les tours de Napoleon

le reste d’une guerre que je regrette;

le chateau d’Henri VIII en jaune

qui nous rappelle les cotes du Rhone.

4.  Ici l’histoire est toujours vif;

le colonialisme en retraite

les jours de the et de rosbif

quand tout to monde etait tout bete

on laisse tout ca avec chagrin

pour les sentiers du mystere sans fin.

5.  Que la guerre reste toujours lointaine!

Que les fleurs poussent partout dans le monde

et Henri VIII et Napoleon

dorment toujours dans une paix profonde

– et a la mer comme a la mer –

sentiers mysterieux sans fin

sentiers qui font mon chemin.

Last night at the Phoenix I performed ‘Blair’, a political poem expressing many of the reasons I didn’t vote Labour last time – before we watched ‘Spirit of 45’.  And I met the guy who has organised ‘Citizen’s Eye’ – a great local project designed to get people creating their own media: I went to his very useful blogging workshop on Wednesday.


OK that’s me done – over to you now.  Next Monday I hope to be putting some of your work in this space…











Kirk out

…but is it Politics?

Yesterday was buzzy and busy and great!  A service fizzing with children was followed by the usual lunch and Casualty, and then we hied us to the Phoenix for a meeting of arts and politics.  Yes, it was a local left Unity initiative, started at the behest of Richard but also as a response to Ken Loach; in which we set up a means of dialogue between politics and the arts.  I am very excited by this initiative: I normally go to political meetings out of a sense of duty and, if I’m honest, I approach actions such as demonstrations and lobbying with a sense of dread.  My instinct is to shy away from conflict, and I hate situations where conflict may break out.  Of course, it hardly ever does – none of the demos I’ve ever been on has turned violent; no councillors have thrown things at us as we lobbied them at the chambers – but even if somebody shouts something at us, I feel uncomfortable.  In the interests of achieving our objective, I try to conquer these feelings, but they remain.  So, to find a forum where I am comfortable, happy and at home, is a great joy – and since the whole Left Unity movement started in response to a film, I think it’s entirely appropriate.

Aaaand!  The Ken Loach film which started it all off is coming to the Phoenix next Sunday.


It will be at 6 pm so if you haven’t seen it yet I urge you to come. I will be doing a poem at the beginning and Sheila will talk about the local LU group.
I may even buy you a drink…


I met and talked to Ken in the summer, and he’s a really pleasant, unassuming bloke.

And so! from there we made a quick foray into the depths of our kitchen, whence I emerged with a plate of curry – and so to Yesim’s.  I was hosting an evening which got off to a slow start but built to a wonderful climax with two beautiful Kurdish songs from Sheila and friend.

There was a good balance of poetry and song and we finished with one of my favourite valedictory numbers:


Kirk out

* if I have any dosh, that is…

How I Met Ken Loach and Saved the Left..

Well!  No post yesterday because I was down in London at the first national meeting of Left Unity:


The morning began with introductions and what you might broadly call statements of attitude and belief: it was interesting to hear where people were coming from and what they wanted from the group, where they thought it should go and what they might bring to it.  If I had been in charge of this session I think I might have given half an hour to small-group discussion and then feedback as some people began grandstanding and making speeches.  What was crystal-clear, however, was a widespread determination to avoid the mistakes of the past and crucially, to prevent socialist groups from hijacking the party (if it becomes a party).  Speaker after speaker said the same thing: that we must not allow Socialist Workers or Militant or any other special-interest group to take us over.  I found that encouraging, if a little startling that so many people seemed to have had bad experiences in this regard – but forewarned is forearmed and I think our strength will lie in quite simply the numbers of ordinary, unafilliated people and our determination to avoid takeover.  The debate did get rather bogged down at one point and I left the room for a few deep breaths as people started to bang on about what we could and couldn’t decide on, since we hadn’t been properly and democratically constituted.  It’s this kind of debate, seething with Points of Order, which tends to make me lose the will to live and I did leave the room at one point in order to breathe and recite a few mantras.  However, we soon got back on track and were all heartened by the appearance in our midst of Ken Loach (for it was he!)  Yes, God bless him, the man himself had come among us and after lunch he gave a short and very inspiring speech which I think focussed us all on why we were there.


I was struck by the differences in style of many of the people there and how, whilst some, like me, are simply frustrated former Labour voters, others clearly come from more political backgrounds where they are used to doing things in a certain way and wanted to keep doing them in that way.  One of the bones of contention was whether groups should be allowed to affiliate to Left Unity, which might (as I understand them) give those groups – such as Trades Unions etc – more sway in the form of a block vote.  There was widespread opposition to this and it was eventually voted down as we decided overwhelmingly to adopt OMOV ie One Member One Vote.

The meeting ended with a sense that we had got back on track and made some worthwhile decisions, including to hold a conference in November where ideas can be ratified and a committee established.  In the meantime I have put my name forward for an interim organising group and I am waiting as we speak for the results of the vote.  There were some great people there: apart from Ken (with whom I had a brief chat – he’s a really ordinary bloke; quite shy really) there was Kate Hudson, Chair of CND and some other really interesting and personable people.

I have a number of comments to make on inclusive language and the utterly abhorrent fake glottal stop, but I shall save those for tomorrow.

And thanks to Sheila for getting the train tickets.

Kirk out

Personal views on inclusive and ordinary language.

Left Right! Left Unity is Off and Running…

An excellent meeting last night of Leicester Left Unity, a group which was set up in response to Ken Loach’s film ‘Spirit of ’45’.


I haven’t seen the film, but I gather it is a focus for people who feel that the collective spirit that was around after the war has now been lost, sold, broken up or made redundant, and who want to find a way back – as well as a way forward.  For me it was a very encouraging meeting for several reasons: firstly, because nobody there seemed to have any particular axe to grind apart from presenting a proper opposition to the current regime: nobody thinks Milliband et al are a credible opposition and there is a general consensus that Blair was Thatcher’s heir rather than the representative of the Left.  Secondly, though everyone had something to say, everyone was also willing to listen – and thirdly, there seemed to be a general awareness that above all we must not repeat the former mistakes of the Left, which were to allow ourselves to fragment into splinter-groups who seemed to hate each other more than they hated the Thatcher regime.  I came home feeling empowered and encouraged and feeling that, above all it is good to be doing something rather than feeling powerless.

So far so good – and I have been chosen to go with Sheila to a London meeting on May 11th.


I’ll keep you posted.  Meanwhile if you want to register an interest you can join the group on Facebook or else comment here and I’ll put you in touch.  Meanwhile, to save my blushes, the US right-wing libertarian mag I sent things to has summarily rejected them.  So I say ‘phew,’ and ‘you don’t know what you’re doing’ – in that order!

Today I shall be mostly… checking out more places to send stuff.

Kirk out