The Big Short, or why Margot Robbie explaining economics in a bathtub works

Margot Robbie in "The Big Short" via YouTube

Just how often does one leave the cinema these days having actually learnt something?

It’s a question The Big Short, a movie about the men who managed to profit off the 2008 financial crisis, seems badly poised to answer in the affirmative. Economics plus douchebags seldom, if ever, equals entertainment.

Yet somehow, The Big Short works. And why? Because you’ll leave the cinema both smarter and angrier.

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George Osborne’s biography shows the shallow success of the Tory modernisers

George Osborne, Trade Mission, January 2014 by Lee Davy

In the wake of Labour’s humiliating summer it is tempting to think that the Tories have returned as the natural party of government, and are set to dominate politics for at least the next decade.

Few have profited from this perception more than the chancellor George Osborne, credited as one of the chief architects of the surprise Conservative general election victory, as well as the party’s success against New Labour more generally.

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The Importance of Being Elderly: Maggie Smith Stuns in The Lady in the Van

Image Credit – From The Lady in the Van by BBC Films

The Lady in the Van ‘s BFI London Film Festival premiere comes a week after new figures revealed that more than half  a million adults are missing out on care due to government welfare cuts.

I expected the film to entertain me – after all, it’s written by Alan Bennett (of The History Boys fame) and stars the brilliant Dame Maggie Smith. However, I didn’t expect the film to have such an emotional impact.

Adapted from Bennett’s 1999 play of the same name, The Lady in the Van is the “mostly true story” of Bennett’s relationship with Mary Shepherd, an elderly, homeless oddball whose van was encamped on the playwright’s driveway in Camden, London over a period of fifteen years.

Some criticism has been levelled at the film for its use of drama. For the most part, the film is a wonderfully whimsical comedy, with a predictably perfect performance by Smith. But what, to me, truly elevated the film was its engagement with issues of homelessness and old age.

Last year, the Institute of Economic Affairs labelled the government’s welfare spending a “debt timebomb”, suggesting that to solve the problem the government needed a “fundamental reform of pension and healthcare provision”. And the Lady in the Van reminded me of just how important welfare for the elderly and homeless is.

Over the past year, both of my elderly parents have relied heavily upon the NHS – I have to admit, I haven’t been particularly impressed. However, the movie alerted me to the plight of even the most impolite senior citizen.

Many of us are guilty of disregarding the aged and impoverished, despite campaigns by various charities attempting to encourage us to think about the loneliness of both situations. The multi-organisation Campaign for Loneliness claims that nearly one million over-65s feel alone and isolated.

In The Lady in the Van, Smith’s character is both verbally and physically abused. There were only a few of these moments on-screen, but they were some of the most important.

Vulnerable people like the old and mentally ill Miss Shepard are undoubtedly more likely to be the victims of violence, not the perpetrators. And yet, most of us avoid such people due to a momentary sense of fear, or perhaps embarrassment.

In the film, Bennett’s arc compellingly exposes a man who transitions from perspectives. The begin with, Bennett sees Smith’s character as just a homeless old woman. Society has all but dehumanized her, and she is nothing but a nuisance to all.

But as the story unfolds, Bennett sheds this view, coming to appreciate that Miss Shepherd has, like anyone, a complex and rich history. She deserves dignity and care, things all too often missing from many people’s final years.

The Lady in the Van is one of those rare comedies that, after all the laughter, makes you pause to consider the real world. It is, without a doubt, one of the most affecting comedies I’ve seen all year.

The Lady in the Van is set for release in the UK on November 13th 2015.

Image Credit – From The Lady in the Van by BBC Films

Anti-austerity protestors attack and intimidate Tory conference delegates

George Osborne, September 2014 by Gareth Milner

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A small group of anti-austerity protestors spat on and intimidated attendees at the Conservative conference in Manchester on Sunday, with one Tory being hit on the forehead with an egg.

Journalists from Channel 4, the Huffington Post and LBC Radio were all reported on Twitter as having been spat on by protestors, with Channel 4 even filming an incident in which police had to intervene.

One Tory who was stood on Oxford Road was hit with an egg to jeers of “Tory Scum!”, forcing him to retreat from the baying crowd.

Other protestors picketed the entrance to the conference, telling “soulless Tories” that they were not elected in Manchester and that they were “not welcome here.”

Many protestors also made a point of referencing the recent piggate scandal, in which Tory leader David Cameron was accused of performing a bizarre ritual involving a pig’s head.

Despite this police reported that most of the 60,000 protestors were well behaved, with chief superintendent John O’Hare of Greater Manchester Police telling the Guardian:

“Today around 60,000 people took part in a demonstration and I would like to thank them for their cooperation. The overwhelming majority of people have exercised their democratic right to protest with dignity and good grace. The fact that only four arrests have been made throughout the day so far was particularly pleasing.”

Image Credit – George Osborne, September 2014 by Gareth Milner

‘End Austerity Now’ protests show how marginalised the fringe left is

End Austerity Now, 20 June 2015, JC Servante

Outside of King’s College’s Strand building a crooner had dressed himself in black tie and put on a badly made mask of Iain Duncan Smith, work and pensions secretary in the government for the last five years. Out of a speaker sat next to him a cover of Frank Sinatra’s Mr Success bellowed, albeit with some minor alterations: “Screw the poor, no redress/ That’s why I’m Mr Success!”

It’s a song that captures the mindset of the fringe left that has been bad tampered since the Tories were re-enthroned with their first majority in the Commons for some twenty years. The day after the election a crowd assembled outside of Downing Street, angry that their enemy David Cameron would enjoy a few more years as prime minister, leading to the phrase “Fuck Tory scum” being scrawled on a nearby war memorial.

On Saturday June 20th, with IDS crooning merrily, a similar crowd trooped from the Bank of England on Threadneedle Street past Fleet Street and onto on the lawns of Parliament Square – a neat tour of the homes of finance, journalism, and politics, which have all felt the ire of those marginalised in the current Westminster system.

Standing outside a pub near Mansion House Michael Wright, a Socialist Party member, tried to keep his cigarette alight as he spoke to The Right Dishonourable about that election result. “I think it’s pretty clear there’s a total democratic deficit in this country,” he said, citing the fact the Tories claimed a majority on a mere quarter of registered electorate’s votes.

Why even that many voted for austerity policies is pinned on a number of demons by the fringe left, including the media and Ed Miliband’s Labour party, which was poorly represented among the protestors’ banners despite London mayoral hopeful Diane Abbott turning up to a mini-rally near the start of the march.

“The media don’t report how much hostility there is to austerity,” said Huw, an unaffiliated protestor who had travelled in from Bath. “Labour doesn’t do a very good job of making the argument against austerity,” he said, a policy he dismissed as “junk economics”.

The view that cutting public spending is damaging to growth has been widely expressed since the chancellor George Osborne first started to focus the public’s mind on deficit reduction in the wake of the financial crisis. As the Oxford economic professor Simon Wren-Lewis put it, Labour “spends too much time listening to people in the Westminster bubble and fails to spend time thinking about basic electoral strategy.”

The reason he makes this argument is that public’s support for austerity is hardly unanimous. In March of this year a survey by ComRes found that only a third wanted to maintain or increase spending cuts to close the deficit. The two-thirds that disagreed with this must have comprised many of those who did not vote for the Tories at the election.

Among them was Jean, a worker from a community health trust who came down to protest over disgust at the way cuts have affected the NHS. “I have seen the damage that’s been do to the service and the staff as individuals,” she said. “Services are getting worse, but they think they should run it like a business.”

A number of those that The Right Dishonourable spoke to at the march noted the varying fortunes of this loose band of protest groups over the last few years. The viciousness of some of these groups has already drawn negative publicity, and is not approved of by many at the march. “Privately, I think David Cameron’s a wanker,” one man admitted as the protest readied itself to set off. “But I wouldn’t put that on a banner.”

But other than show there anger at marches like this, it seems there’s little the anti-austerity crowd can do. With a fresh, if slender, mandate the Tories will surely argue that they have earnt their chance to alter the country more to their liking. And with up to five years to keep the momentum of the marches going, it’s going to be a long walk for the fringe left.

Header Image – End Austerity Now, 20 June 2015, by J.C. Servante