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Season of Goodwill
'Now I’m not so sure. The reason I say this is Labour’s plan to spend a quarter of a million pounds of taxpayers’ money on a pre–Christmas campaign to dissuade you and I from giving money to beggars'.

by John Peters

It may sound odd to say this six weeks in advance of the event, but Christmas always takes me by surprise. Maybe it’s because I’m allergic to shopping or because I spend TV advert breaks with my head buried in the paper. Either way, the whole build up passes me by and I’m left on Christmas Eve with a stack of presents to buy. This isn’t a problem though, far from it; present buying is so much easier when there’s hardly anything left in the shops. You just take what’s left over. No agonising choices to keep you from the pub.

My Grandma used to plan for Christmas, big time. Due to reasons of economy and retirement she would take the bus into Birmingham city centre to start her Christmas shopping during the January sales. Because of this, the Thornton’s toffee we got each year had a rather peculiar texture. You had to scrape off a (not unpleasant) soft sugary layer with your teeth before getting to the chewy stuff underneath. I thought it was supposed to be like that until I bought some in adult life and took it back to complain that there was no squishy layer.

Despite her impressive forward planning, Christmas to Grandma was about far more than just buying presents. As a committed Christian it was a time to think of Jesus, to celebrate with her family and to pray for the rest of the world. After my Dad said grace at the dinner table she would always urge us to think of those less fortunate than ourselves. Trying to do this while faced with a mountain of food was very hard.

Grandma’s religious convictions informed her politics. As a Christian she was, of course, a Socialist. She believed in the Unions, the National Health Service and the redistribution of wealth. Until she died nearly twenty years ago, the Labour Party to her stood for the people, of justice and moral good. Throughout my life I’ve still clung to the notion that the Labour Party, for all its many faults, is more caring, kinder, more principled than the other parties. Now I’m not so sure.
The reason I say this is Labour’s plan to spend a quarter of a million pounds of taxpayers’ money on a pre–Christmas campaign to dissuade you and I from giving money to beggars. What, I wonder, would Grandma have thought about this? Well, in fact, I don’t wonder. She would have been horrified. I mean, if there was ever a time to give to the poor, to redistribute the wealth and be true to the spirit of socialism, isn’t it at Christmas?

Not according to the homelessness tsar Louise Casey, mastermind behind this shoddy campaign. According to Casey, direct assistance to the homeless such as soup runs and handouts is ‘misplaced goodwill.’ No doubt Ms Casey would have deemed the Innkeeper who gave over his stable to a couple of ragged travellers – one of whom happened to be heavily pregnant – to be misguided also. He should, obviously, have referred them to an appropriate agency or made a donation to a charity, then sent them on their way.

Now, I know that being pestered for cash can be a drag. It used to happen to me a lot when I worked in the middle of Birmingham. Most lunch times I would get stopped. Sometimes you could tell they were just trying it on; one guy with a sign saying ‘hungry and homeless’ lived in a decent flat round the corner from my girlfriend, and occasionally you’d get asked ifyou could spare some change please by someone too pissed to get the words out properly. But other times you could tell they were desperate, caught in a situation where they clearly needed a few bob for a meal and maybe a roof over their head. Quite a lotof the time you couldn’t be sure if they really needed your money or not, but I always reasoned if someone is prepared to beg in public for some of your spare change, they must need it pretty badly. Even more than Blair needs the votes of Tories.

It seems that, having incurred the righteous indignation of Daily Mail Land with its refusal to climb down over fuel tax, the Government has clearly spied an opportunity to win back the hearts and votes of this self–centred constituency. I fear how far it will be prepared to go to achieve this end. After all, didn’t the Daily Mail support Sir Oswald Moseley’s British Union of Fascists in the 1930s? Grandma, incidentally, met Moseley once: she refused to serve him and turfed him out of her corner shop with his tail between his legs. Thinking about it, whilst Grandma may have disapproved, I’m sure Sir Oswald would have whole – heartedly approved of New Labour’s clampdown on some of the most downtrodden members of our society…

"This generation has grown up ignorant of the fact that socialism is as old as the human race…When the old civilisations were putrefying, the still small voice of Jesus the Communist stole over the earth like a soft refreshing breeze carrying healing wherever it went."
James Kier Hardy, From Serfdom to Socialism, 1907.

© John Peters 11/2000

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