I wear two hats when I write this blog of mine. First and foremost, I manage a small charity in a small Scottish town called Dumfries. Ours is a front door that opens onto the darker corners of the crumbling world that is Britain 2015. We hand out 5000 emergency food parcels a year in a town that is home to 50,000 souls. Then, as you can see from all of the book covers above, I am also a thriller writer. If you enjoy the blog, you might just enjoy the books. The link below takes you to the whole library in the Kindle store. They can be had for a couple of quid each.

Monday, August 31, 2015


Corbynmania has induced a fascination with echoes. Echoes from times gone by. Echoes of the good old 1980's. In the red corner, a bearded throwback to the old school left. Only the donkey jacket is missing. But everything else from the old Tony Benn playbook is suddenly back in the spotlight from re-nationalised trains to scrapped nukes. And of course in the blue corner is the most right wing government since Maggie.
For newsreaders and stand up comics alike, these echoes are just to easy to be ignored. Archives throw out reels and reels of perfect background sights and sounds from Orgreave to champagne quaffing city boys in braces to Ben Elton on 'Saturday Night live' with the sleeves of his shiny jacket rolled up.
But I am not too sure the 80’s echoes are the ones we should be listening to. They are obvious and they are easy to hear, but that doesn’t make them right.
Cameron’s Tories are constantly compared to Thatcher’s Tories, but in reality there are few similarities. Maggie Thatcher was many things and not many of them were very good, but she was anything but a coward. When she picked a fight, she stood her ground and slugged it out like a street brawler. She was merciless and she was vicious and she had no interest in the Geneva Convention.
She lined up her enemies one by one and she took them on. She always explained exactly why they were her enemies. And then she laid into them. And she wasn’t shy about standing next to her more ghastly friends for a photo shoot, be it the Apartheid Government in South Africa of President Pinochet in Chile.
And let’s face it, very few were able to withstand the manic assaults from the Prime Minister’s handbag.
The Argentinians, the miners and the IRA were all left bleeding out on the floor.
And the Labour Party of course.
The old left.
Michael Foot and Tony Benn and Arthur Scargill and Derek Hatton.
Squashed like beetles under a skinhead’s Doc Martin boot.
There is none of her thuggish bravado to be found in Cameron and Osborne. These are not leaders for the front line. Instead they pull their strings from far back in the shadows and giggle at their covert nastiness.
They could not be less like Maggie and her bully boys.
The real echoes are much more sinister and much fainter. And of course we really don’t want to hear the real echoes because they are so ugly. This is a government that delivers its cruelty through legions of bland faced beaurocrats. They never front up. They hide. And their cowardice is endless.
The echoes are not from the eighties. They are not even from Britain. Instead they float silently through the decades from the dark days of Germany's past. The pitch black horrors of the Third Reich and the grey misery of Communist East Germany. They were both hideous regimes run by miserable cowardly men who were corrupt to their core. From Martin Bormann to Heinrich Himmler to Adolf Eichmann to Eric Honnecker. Grey men. Chicken farmers and paint salesmen.
Evil was delivered with perfect paperwork. Brutality was documented in copper plate handwriting.
A few years ago I visited the museum at Auschwitz on bitterly cold day in February. Those few blighted acres on the Upper Silesian coalfield in every respect represent the very worst place in the world. Nobody will ever find the right words to describe the numbing horror of the place. Certainly not me.
Oddly enough, of all the awful things I saw that day, the one thing that seemed worst of all was some paperwork. A ledger book. I have never seen a document more neatly written. Perfect handwriting. Immaculately lined up figures. The book recorded the exact take from every train that drew up at the platform in Birkenau. How much gold and silver and diamonds and rubies. And dollars and Reichmarks and Swiss Francs. Share certificates and works of art.
The loot. The plunder.
Measured and audited and accounted for and stored ready for transportation.
Right down to the last pfennig.
This was not about the insanity of psychotic zealots. It was plain crime. Industrial robbery. A crime that relied on perfect railway timetables and an assembly line from hell.
Adolf Eichmann didn’t have an office in Auschwitz Birkenau. He never looked his victims in the eye. Instead he hid away in Berlin and drew up his flow charts and cash flows.
When it all started in 1933, Hitler and his cronies scraped over the electoral line much like the currant Westminster Government squeaked home in May. From the very get go they relied on an army of grey, anonymous beaurocrats to cement their power. Endless nastiness was wrapped up in bland civil service language.
And nothing worked. As Germany slipped into a permanent recession, the Nazis tried to mask their dismal incompetence with vitriolic propaganda. Blame the Jews and the Gypsies and Homosexuals and the Slavs and the Communists.
And all the while those obliging grey men in cheap suits did their bidding with unblinking obedience.
The vaults of the banks of Zurich were filled with treasure whilst a million souls went up the chimneys of Birkenau.
Obviously the cowardly crew who are running Britain are not even beginning to touch the evil of the Nazis or their successors in East Germany. But they are using the same playbook.
You start by blaming people who are easy to blame. The poor. The immigrants. You orchestrate a relentless drumbeat of hate in a compliant media. And once the eyes of the public are firmly fixed on your chosen bogeymen, you quietly get on with the job of looting everything you can lay your hands on. And all the while you pretend that you are the most efficient people the world has ever seen. George Osborne started out with a record National Debt and doubled it and still managed to con people that he was a penny pinching master of austerity. And as the country slips ever deeper into poverty and mediocrity, you keep everyone looking the wrong way by bombarding them with wall to wall propaganda. You keep on blaming the poor and the Jews and immigrants and the Gypsies and the feckless Labour Government and the feckless Weimar Government. And you spend a vast fortune of borrowed money on holding the Olympic Games in your capital city.
And all the while you keep coming up with completely inept ideas and pushing them down everyone’s throat via your army of grey men in cheap suits.
Take just one First Base example from last week. Let’s call the lad Joe. Joe is 43. Joe left school at 16 and went to work on a building site. Joe has worked on building sites for twenty seven years. He’s never been unemployed because he’s a good builder. He’s an ordinary Joe. And for 27 years he paid his National Insurance into the pot to make sure he would be given the lend of an umbrella should a rainy day ever come.
Well the rainy day duly arrived a couple of months ago when Joe was paid off. So he signed on. Like you do. And he signed up to his part of the Jobseeking contract the grey men have drawn up for the citizens under their charge.
Joe doesn’t want to be unemployed.
Joe hates being unemployed.
Joe is used to earning over £300 a week. So why would he be happy with £70 a week?
So Joe has been looking for his next job. Looking hard.
How does a builder look for work? Well everyone knows that. You wear out shoe leather. You go from site to site. You ask for the foreman. You introduce yourself. You leave your number.
And you keep calling again and again. You make sure that every site foreman knows your name. Your face. Your number.
That’s what Joe did.
But there was a problem. When Joe entered into his Jobseeking contract with the grey men in cheap suits, he failed to read the small print. And the small print demands that he must spend a minimum of 35 hours each and every week seeking work online. Joe hasn’t come close. Instead he has spent his days walking from site to site to site.
So they sanctioned him.
No more £70 a week.
Instead Joe has had a month of living on fresh air and two food parcels per week care of First Base. Adolf Eichmann would have been proud of the beaurcratic trap that ensnared Joe. It had the impossible lunacy that the hideous regimes of Hitler and Honnecker so specialised in.
If Joe DOES spend 35 hours a week online, he will never find a job. Building sites don’t do online recruitment. They like face to face. Site foreman like to shake a man’s hand and judge the work in the man from the hardness of the skin on his palms.
And so Joe has been plunged into the same crazy Alice in Wonderland world that generations of Germans became so familiar with.
Spend 35 hours a week online and never get a job. But get £70 a week.
Or spend 35 hours a week visiting building sites and get sanctioned.
And all the while Osborne and Duncan Smith preen themselves for the cameras and keep banging on about how superbly competent they are. And all the while the media rubber stamps their nonsense.
And all the while the country gets poorer and poorer whilst a few off shore accounts get filled up. And still wave after wave of propaganda blames it all on poor people and immigrants.
And we buy it!
Just like the Germans bought it.
It emerged last week that over the course of two years almost three thousand people died within a fortnight of being deemed fit to work. Surely that represents the almost perfect blend of cold brutality and breathtaking incompetence.
Telling someone who is ill enough to have less than two weeks to live that they are perfectly fit for work beggars belief. It is incredibly cruel. Of course it is. But it is also utterly incompetent. After all, what do you actually gain? You save a lousy £140.
No wonder these cowardly idiots have doubled the national debt in five years.
And then there is once last echo, though this time it is an echo to be found from our own past.
Hundreds of thousands of desperate souls are fleeing from lives made up of the kind of hell that we cannot possibly imagine. Our response? Build higher fences. More razor wire. Blame them. Drown everything out with an ever louder barrage of propaganda.
Keep them out, keep them out, keep them out….
This is road we have been down before. Eighty years ago in fact. Hundreds of thousands of Jews begged us for a place of safety and we slammed the door in their faces. We put up the ‘Britain is Full’ sign.
We double locked the door and switched up the TV to drown out the sound of their pleading. And a few years later they went up the chimneys of Birkenau.
Have a read of this. WH Auden wrote these words in 1939. It seems to me that there is a familiar echo here.

Refugee Blues

Say this city has ten million souls,
Some are living in mansions, some are living in holes:
Yet there's no place for us, my dear, yet there's no place for us.

Once we had a country and we thought it fair,
Look in the atlas and you'll find it there:
We cannot go there now, my dear, we cannot go there now.

In the village churchyard there grows an old yew,
Every spring it blossoms anew:
Old passports can't do that, my dear, old passports can't do that.

The consul banged the table and said,
"If you've got no passport you're officially dead":
But we are still alive, my dear, but we are still alive.

Went to a committee; they offered me a chair;
Asked me politely to return next year:
But where shall we go to-day, my dear, but where shall we go to-day?

Came to a public meeting; the speaker got up and said;
"If we let them in, they will steal our daily bread":
He was talking of you and me, my dear, he was talking of you and me.

Thought I heard the thunder rumbling in the sky;
It was Hitler over Europe, saying, "They must die":
O we were in his mind, my dear, O we were in his mind.

Saw a poodle in a jacket fastened with a pin,
Saw a door opened and a cat let in:
But they weren't German Jews, my dear, but they weren't German Jews.

Went down the harbour and stood upon the quay,
Saw the fish swimming as if they were free:
Only ten feet away, my dear, only ten feet away.

Walked through a wood, saw the birds in the trees;
They had no politicians and sang at their ease:
They weren't the human race, my dear, they weren't the human race.

Dreamed I saw a building with a thousand floors,
A thousand windows and a thousand doors:
Not one of them was ours, my dear, not one of them was ours.

Stood on a great plain in the falling snow;
Ten thousand soldiers marched to and fro:
Looking for you and me, my dear, looking for you and me.


  1. If you appreciated this blog post, then I would encourage you to read Mark's novel "Mere Anarchy" (on Kindle), which presents a dramatised fictional scenario that reflects the same themes of cruelty and behind-the-scenes manipulation. Mere Anarchy was written in 2012. I believe that the events of this year demonstrate that what Mark wrote about in that novel are starting to happen, but in a slower more subtle manner. The ending of the novel is extremely dark.

  2. Brilliant, Mark.

    I've worked in the employment business for some time, and of course you're right. It would never occur to folk in the jobcentre or the most of the piss poor companies that deliver their training, that not everything starts and ends with a neat CV and covering letter, and turning up with a suit and shirt and tie on.

    They like their political masters are just not competent or experience enough to understand that not everything is like the Civil Service or Government.

    I wish Joe every success, and, once again, thank goodness you guys are there.

    I tried to get in touch via your email to thank you for the book... but it bounced back. So, shouldn't have, but it was hugely appreciated.

    Next time I'm in Dumfries I'll drop in, help with some parcels, and hopefully not get kidnapped.

    Will shortly start on Mere Anarchy. Looking forward to it.