Scotland 44 now available

Our new book is now available, you can buy a copy for £5 or download a free PDF. I’m working on a .epub version which should be available soon, and though I’m reluctant to produce a Kindle version we may do that if there is demand.

If you want to buy a copy just get in touch with me, or else you can currently order one from Word Power Books.

You can download the pdf from the Post website here.

Scotland 44 coming soon

Scotland 44, the first book from Post, is now with the printers. Few events coming soon:

  • We’ll be launching it on August 21st at Word Power Books as part of their radical book fringe programme.
  • We’re also discussing it at the If Scotland conference in Stirling on August 23rd/24th
  • We’ll then be having a launch party in early September.

More to follow…

Scotland 44 book cover
Scotland 44 book cover

Post Book Project: Scotland ’44

The next big project form Post will be a book, titled ‘Scotland ’44: Ideas for a new nation’. The idea is to engage with the referendum without getting bogged down in yes vs no arguments, which you’ll be hearing plenty of over the next few months. While much of the debate seems to surround what might happen to Scotland in the first few years after a Yes vote, we also wanted to think about how Scotland might change over a longer 30 year timescale, because we think this will be when the effects of independence will really start to matter. Hence ‘Scotland ’44’.

To fund the book we are running an Indiegogo fundraising campaign. Just a £5 donation gets a copy of the book with your name printed inside as a supporter of the project. You can find more about how to support the project here: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/scotland-44-ideas-for-a-new-nation.

The line-up of contributors is pretty strong, including Patrick Harvie MSP, academics Kirsteen Shields and Oliver Escobar and equality campaigner Jacq Kelly. More info here: http://postmag.org/scotland-44-post-book-project-title-and-contributors-confirmed/.

My own contribution will be looking at what a truly democratic media might look like in Scotland. I’m not sure what that might be just yet, but basically looking for a media that isn’t funded by advertising or subscriptions, allows for a diversity of viewpoints, is democratically accountable and responsive to the society it serves and and is resourced enough to be able to make a serious contribution to public understanding. Not an easy problem to solve.

I spoke to Prof Greg Philo of the Glasgow Media Group

Interview with Professor Greg Philo, Director of the Glasgow Media Group, a group of sociologists at the University of Glasgow who analyse the media and its impact on public understanding

What is the work of the Glasgow Media Group trying to achieve?

Right from the beginning we were interested really in the construction of public knowledge. We didn’t really see ourselves as a media monitoring group, we were really interested in questions about ideology and the way in which the media contributed, or didn’t, to public understanding and in the construction of available debate in society around what were in effect a rather narrow set economic and political prescriptions.

We began simply looking at a range of different issues looking simply at what was available in terms of public debate, and how the absence of alternatives structured what was possible in public understanding. So we moved pretty quickly from looking at the content of news to looking at public reception, and we were always interested in production processes so we interviewed journalists and looked at the construction of particular stories.

Do you think the Glasgow Media Group has had an impact on the media in the UK?

I think we have had an impact because we took a set of what were quite remote arguments and made them almost mainstream discourse, certainly amongst the left. The analysis we offer in terms of understanding news and information, and the dissemination of information as being intricately linked to political power and to structures of power within society has almost become mainstream in contemporary thought. We were part of a whole strand of intellectual work in that area and it did have an influence.

On the extent to which we influenced the actual output of journalists, I think it has varied at different times. For example at the time of the second Intifada I think what we wrote did have an impact, a lot of journalists wanted to talk to us, and that was in a sense one of the last periods when the BBC was quite open to discussion and debate.

Since then the BBC has moved very much to the right alongside the movement of politics to the right in the country. In some ways I think we won all of the battles in which we were involved but the war moved in the direction of neoliberalism and that is an enormous struggle still to be fought.

But I think our contribution is still there. There is now a large body of well-educated people on the left who do understand those kinds of issues and who are very interested to debate them, but its a minority, and that minority doesn’t have access to the mainstream media. That’s why it’s strange to see someone like Russell Brand appear. I don’t accept any of his solutions, I think they’re daft, but it’s interesting to see someone like that use his celebrity status to get onto Paxman and to lay out in clear terms the kinds of things that are routinely said on the left that now look so bizarre when they are on Newsnight.

An interesting feature of the GMG is the extent to which is has been able to take a political stance, which is quite unusual in academia. Have you come under any pressure as a result?

Universities don’t work on political grounds in my experience in that kind of way. They don’t say ‘oh my God you’re really left wing we’re not going to support you’, they don’t see it in that way. If you get research funding that’s enough. They are not going to argue much beyond that.

Universities are becoming businesses and the issue is whether you are doing things which one way or another contribute to the well-being of the university, and that really means research funding. Well the Media Group is very popular with students. It’s not that we are short in any way on the criteria by which universities work by.

We also get a lot of grants from charities. Every time the Conservatives get into power we get loads of work because all the human rights organisations want us to do work, and oddly we did very well under Thatcher because they shut down their own research departments and we received huge amounts of research funding. So there was never any problem getting money in and in us being part of the academy in that sense, in that way we managed to square that particular circle.

The Glasgow Media Group seems to spend a lot of time analysing the media in current form, but without discussing what alternative models might look like, why is that?

We haven’t ever written a book saying ‘this is what an alternative media would be like’, I think I was more interested in explaining public understanding and also in exerting pressure and providing the techniques whereby people could exert pressure on existing structures. The BBC has always been an issue with me because it’s a public body, its owned by the people, and its duty bound along with ITN to be impartial and balanced and accurate. So it always seemed to me to be a point of contact that we could use either by pushing them into changing their coverage with which we had some success, or else by educating people through our academic work by saying ‘look, these are the things you are not being told’.

This article was first published in Post Magazine Issue 2. You can buy or download the magazine here.

Review: Bad News for Refugees

Another review from Issue 2 of Post. The Glasgow Media Group have done some really important work over the years and Bad News for Refugees is no different:

Bad News for Refugees is the latest release from the Glasgow Media Group, a distinguished group of media researchers led by Professor Greg Philo and housed in the sociology department at the University of Glasgow. For almost 30 years the group has been producing essential analysis of the mainstream media and its impact on public understanding, often focussing on particular issues such as industrial relations, British foreign policy, mental illness and the Israel/Palestine conflict. In turning its attention to immigration the group has made an invaluable contribution to what has become one of the most emotive political issues of recent decades.

Those familiar with the work of the group will recognise the methodology employed in Bad News for Refugees. The book begins by setting out some important historical context of how immigration issues in the UK have changed. For example it points out how during the 1980’s the opposition Labour Party often criticised Thatcher’s Conservative government for being too hard on immigrants, and in particular refugees. After Tony Blair’s New Labour came to power in 1997 however we saw the Labour Party largely accept the narrative of William Hague’s Conservatives that the government was too weak on immigration, and indeed it was the Labour government that introduced citizenship tests for immigrants, removed the right for asylum seekers to work and made it more difficult for immigrants to obtain citizenship. This move to the right is also reflected in media coverage.

As with much of their previous work, Bad News for Refugees then proceeds by first considering the range of possible perspectives on immigration issues that might exist and then looking at samples of media coverage to see which of these perspectives actually appear. The results are sadly unsurprising, with media content found to be overwhelmingly hostile to immigrants and refugees. So while it is common to find discussion of ‘abuse’ of the asylum system by ‘illegal immigrants’ (a term that is persistently misused) or how Britain takes too many asylum seekers, it is extremely rare  to find discussion of the benefits that immigration brings to society, or how in 2007 United Nations data revealed how the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan in which the UK took a leading role accounted for more than half of the worlds refugees.

Indeed the lack of discussion of the responsibility of western nations is one of the most striking findings of the book. The policies of western governments contribute to immigration in a number of ways, be that through military interventions, arms trade, imposing ‘free market’ economic policies on developing nations, or, increasingly, through environmental destruction and climate change. In the samples looked at in Bad News for Refugees almost no discussion of these perspectives was found anywhere in the British media, including in so-called progressive media sources such as The Guardian and Channel 4 News.

But it is perhaps the final section of the book, which looks at the impact of media coverage on migrant communities in the UK, that is most noteworthy. Two contrasting case-studies in particular are striking. In 2001 a Kurdish asylum seeker on a Glasgow housing estate was stabbed to death and two other Kurds attacked. A statement from the United Nations Refugee Agency described these kind of attacks as predictable ‘given the climate of vilification of asylum seekers that has taken hold of the UK in recent years’. In contrast, a Sudanese asylum seeker describes a candlelight vigil that took place in Glasgow to try and stop a deportation:

“The Scottish people when they are going to work they just asking us, ‘Why are you standing like this?’ and we tell them this is happening. Most of them they come and join us there. The second day they came because before they don’t know why these people are standing outside.”

The message from these examples, and from the book as a whole, is clear. Informed understanding leads to empathy, and this empathy makes an enormous difference. On this point our media is failing.

This article was first published in Post Magazine Issue 2. You can buy or download the magazine here.

Review: The Circle by Dave Eggers

Review taken from Post Magazine Issue 2

The Circle, the latest novel from the acclaimed American author Dave Eggers, is a thoughtful and engaging treatment of the implications new technologies have for privacy in the digital age.

Set in the not too distant future, the story follows recent graduate Mae Holland as she begins her new job at The Circle, the world’s most influential and powerful technology company (read Facebook or Google). The Circle, led by its enigmatic ‘three wise men’, have come to dominate technology, and society, through its development of TruYou, a system that combines every aspect of a users life into one account, including social media profiles, passwords, emails and payment details. The success of this system provided the basis from which the company continues to expand into all aspects of public and personal life as The Circle seeks to dominate not just the commercial world but the political world as well. The world of The Circle then is Facebook and Google taken to the next logical step.

In many ways The Circle can seen as an updated of George Orwell’s 1984.The references are plentiful, for instance in its plentiful use of slogans (‘ALL THAT HAPPENS MUST BE KNOWN’, ‘SECRETS ARE LIES’, ‘PRIVACY IS THEFT’) and the company’s ‘SeeChange’ program that aims to fill the populate the world with publicly accessible cameras. Like 1984 the book is rich in ideas, including how the ‘four horsemen of the infocalypse’ (namely paedophiles, drugs, terrorists and organised crime) are persistently used to justify greater surveillance, the relationship between anonymity, trolling and the role technology might play in democracy and the extent to which our online lives are suffocating our ‘real’ ones. Even Julian Assange and Wikileaks get a mention.

But beyond the Orwellian pretensions the book I think makes two particularly important contributions to contemporary debates around privacy. Firstly, the novel helps us appreciate why these issues of piracy matter on an emotional level. It isn’t that analytical argument isn’t present. It is, notably from the mouth of Mae’s sceptic ex-boyfriend Mercer. Eggers is a talented writer, and he uses this talent to impress on the reader what living in the world of The Circle actually feels like. It’s exhausting, as the constant surveillance forces citizens to permanently modify their behaviour, hold shallow conversations and generally suppress their natural inclinations. But surveillance makes us behave better we are told, so what is the problem? The problem is that privacy is an important part of what it means to be a human. It plays an important role in our general well-being.

Secondly The Circle is important in helping us refocus our attention. Much has happened since the publication of 1984. The cold war is over, to be replaced by the age of neoliberalism. In this age, characterised by the large scale privatisation of power, it is often not the state but corporations that need reining in, a fact that is frequently misunderstood. Consider the coverage of the recent PRISM revelations. Much was made of the fact that America’s National Security Agency was able to access the data of users of a number of the internet’s most powerful companies (Facebook, Google, Apple, Microsoft etc.), but little concern was expressed that these companies held this data in the first place. In recent years it has often been corporations, not governments, who have been implicated in the most disturbing cases of censorship and violations of privacy. To pick just two examples, Google is known to (over-zealously) censor search results related to file sharing, while Facebook has been guilty of removing political satire from its pages after complaints from a government employee.

Even activist groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Open Rights Group and Open Knowledge Foundation frequently struggle to focus their attention away from states, with the general public tending to follow their lead. The Circle might just help us reassess.

This article was first published in Post Magazine Issue 2. You can buy or download the magazine here.

Can culture really save us?

This was my main contribution to Issue 2 of Post. The issue of culture led regeneration, and gentrification which is a closely related phenomenon, is something I’ve become very interested in recently. It’s particularly interesting to me having lived in places like Shoreditch and Brixton when I was in London, and in the North East of England where these issues are prominent.

Like most people I used to assume these kinds of processes were an obviously good thing, though having looked into it my view has changed entirely. Interestingly my current flat in Edinburgh has an original promotional poster for the 1990 Glasgow city of culture on the wall. When I first moved in I thought it was really cool advertisement for Glasgow (one of my favourite cities), whereas as I know see it as something akin to Soviet propaganda. I still like it though.

In writing this piece I was heavily influenced by a number of articles I read in a sadly now defunct magazine called Variant, an apparently anarchist-situationist Glaswegian magazine recommended to me by Tom Leonard. If you are interested in this sort of thing I highly recommend checking it out.

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When Hull was announced as the 2017 UK City of Culture in November last year it became the latest in a long line of attempts to use ‘culture’ as a tool for economic regeneration. The idea, whereby large scale investment in cultural projects is intended to rejuvenate under-developed areas and stimulate economic growth, has been a much tried technique the world over,  most famously in the ‘Bilbao effect’ of Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum. In the UK such projects can trace their roots at least as far back as Glasgow’s 1990 tenure as European City of Culture, and more recently in towns and cities including Newcastle, Middlesbrough, Dundee, Liverpool and recently Derry/Londonderry, the inaugural UK City of Culture in 2013. ‘Cultural Regeneration’ has proved a remarkably popular idea with planners the world over, but to what extent does it actually work? And what is the effect on ‘culture’?

The theory behind cultural regeneration fairly straightforward, and much of it can be found for example in the 2009 report from the UK City of Culture Working Group, led by famed television producer Phil Redmond. The report, which was commissioned by the New Labour government and led to the establishment of the UK City of Culture, stated that culture should be used as a ‘driver for economic benefits’ by developing tourism industries, promoting inward investment by improving a city’s image and by encouraging start-ups in the creative industries.

To this can be added the ideas of Richard Florida, the sociologist whose ‘creative class’ thesis has been central to global trends towards cultural regeneration. Florida’s idea is that 21st century economic growth will be driven by ideas, so in order to be successful cities and regions must compete to attract the ‘creative class’ of professionals who provide these ideas. Since this class tends to prefer to live in areas with strong cultural assets, cities must provide these assets in order to compete. So while historically cities, regions and even countries might compete to attract corporations, today the competition is for a cultural elite which in itself attracts investment. Government’s buying into this theory have tended to assume a ‘trickle-down’ effect of this process, whereby the wealth created by the creative class at the top of society will spill over to those at the bottom.

Using Florida’s framework it quickly becomes apparent that not every city can be a winner in the competition for creative talent, and the ‘successes’ of cultural regeneration have shown predictable variation. But even on its own terms the results of investing in culture have been decidedly mixed.

A study of the impact of the 2008 European Capital of Culture programme on Liverpool concluded that  the city received 9.7 million additional visits as a result, with an economic impact of £753.8 million from tourist spending. The programme was also said to have coincided with a substantial increase in hotel stock, with occupancy rates reaching 77% in 2008 compared to a North West average of just under 60%. Although the effect of being Capital of Culture began to decline after 2008 they remained higher than previous levels. Similar effects can be seen in other cases of cultural regeneration. It is, however, worth thinking about what these seemingly impressive figures translate into. The employment created by tourism spending is frequently low waged, including jobs such as cleaning and reception work, while larger hotels are frequently owned by large investments groups. The effect is that the greatest rewards of a cultural boom are unequally distributed, or somewhat ironically extracted from the region altogether.

This kind of inequality is a more general feature of culture led regeneration, with even Richard Florida acknowledging a strong correlation between creativity and inequality. In many ways it echoes more general trends in western economies in recent decades. As the geographer Jamie Peck has pointed out, ‘creative cities policies would hardly be spreading like wildfire if they represented a challenge to the neoliberal status quo’. At the same time cities are destined to find themselves locked in a race-to-the bottom, where any attempt to redress this imbalance risks their flight. Cities, regions, and even countries can be held hostage to these creative classes in much the same way as they are by footloose international business. This can be difficult to stomach when projects such as the Liverpool Capital of Culture programme are almost entirely publicly funded and ostensibly benign.

Cultural regeneration has other negative effects. Improving the image of an area often has the effect of raising property prices, triggering a process of gentrification that forces the local populations out of their homes. The Shoreditch area of central London is a classic example, associated as it was with the Young British Artists of the 1990’s and subsequently with 2000s hipster culture.
The economic effects of cultural regeneration are less positive than is frequently assumed, and a similar conclusion can be drawn with regards to its effect on culture itself. Public investment in cultural institutions and events is almost unanimously lauded, but the outcomes for culture itself are hard to gauge.

One uncomfortable truth is that investment in cultural regeneration can divert funds from elsewhere. In 2007 the Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art (MIMA) opened its doors as a symbol of the Northern English regeneration. Several years down the line local residents are asking tough questions about why their libraries, community centres and lollipop ladies were being cut while money continues to be heavily invested in maintaining the £18 million gallery. The campaigners publicised their point by carrying out research suggesting that more than half of the gallery’s visitors entered the building to use its public toilets rather than view the artwork on display.

This hints at another concern, that the elitist and aspirational nature of these projects often excludes much of the local population. With projects often aimed at an economically productive cultural class there can be a tendency for those outside that elite to feel detached.  Although many of the new wave of cultural hubs are free of charge, they do not belong to the target audience. This is the reason why MIMA has failed to gain traction in Middlesbrough, one of the poorest parts of the UK, and why those from lower socio-economic groups were underrepresented in participation figures for Liverpool’s year as European Capital of Culture (34% of the audience were from lower socio-economic groups, despite making up 58% of Liverpool’s population).

At stake is the ability to determine what culture is, as cultural value is largely reduced to economic value. So long as cultural investment is aimed at attracting or appeasing those cultural or economic elites it is they who get to determine, if only indirectly, what cultural initiatives are worth investing in. Only those groups may fully participate, as those aspects of culture deemed economically inactive are neglected. At the same time, producers of uneconomic culture struggle to make a living, which has a negative impact on artistic diversity.

In the absence of alternatives it can be argued that the regeneration approach is better than nothing. In this sense the phenomenon coincides closely with more general trends in recent decades that have seen governments shift their attention away from providing services crucial services for the general population in favour of placating drivers of economic growth, be that corporations or the creative class.

Greater democratic participation in cultural bodies, featuring both artists and the general public, might help give the interests of those groups greater prominence. Such an approach was pioneered by the Polish collective Rewolucja Kulturalna when they created a manifesto to integrate artistic support with social welfare which among other things would act as a form of redistribution and help cultural producers of all kinds sustain themselves. In the younger democracies of Eastern and Central Europe, the cultural sector has come to fill an important role in the national picture, and maybe what the UK needs is fewer draughty monuments to the economic might of the state and a more equitable, decentralised cultural conversation.

This article was first published in Post Magazine Issue 2. You can buy or download the magazine here.

Event: New Scotland, New Culture?

So the Post Collective will be co-hosting an event tomorrow evening looking at the future of ‘culture’ in Scotland, alongside the Scottish Green Party and National Collective. We’ll have musicians, artists, poets and politicians discussing culture, alongside performances throughout the evening. It’s at Summerhall from 7pm, £5 in advance, £6 on the door, with post-event discussion in the Royal Dick bar.

New Scotland new Culture
New Scotland new Culture

The line up includes:

  • Fraser MacDonald – Fraser is one of Scotland’s foremost cultural geographers and writes in the media about Scotland’s future, its culture and how culture and academia can be be communicated to the public.
  • Andrew Patrizio – Andrew is Chair of Scottish Visual Culture at the Edinburgh College of Art
  • Claire Askew – Claire is an award winning young poet based in Edinburgh. Her first full collection of poems will be coming out later this year
  • Andrew Eaton Lewis – Andrew is the former arts editor at The Scotsman, a member of the band Swimmer One and a contributor to the Whatever Gets You Through The Night multi-platform project. He also runs Biphonic Records.
  • BEAM – The gifted young alt-folk artist Amy MacDougall is one of the Scottish music scene’s most promising stars. Working as a backing singer to house names such as King Creosote, Amy will be performing her own instrumental compositions and songs in a special performance.

More info here.

It’s our first real foray into putting on events, and will hopefully be the first of many. The event fits in nicely with our recently released second edition of the magazine which has a large cultural theme. I’ll probably be at the back trying to sell a few.

I interviewed the poet Tom Leonard

I’ve been a big fan of Tom Leonard for a while now, so I was very excited to interview him for the second edition of Post. I first became interested in his work after attending a reading at Word Power books a few years ago. I bought Outside the Narrative first and became a huge fan of his poetry, and after that started to read his essays and criticism. I highly recommend Definite Articles, his recently released collection of prose.

When we decided to focus Issue 2 of Post around a theme of ‘culture and democracy’ he was someone I immediately thought would be interesting to talk to, and he didn’t disappoint. I was fortunate enough to be able to chat with him for a couple of hours about a wide variety of topics, which I edited down to this:

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Tom Leonard (photo by Dominic Charlton)
Tom Leonard (photo: Dominic Charlton)

You’ve written a lot about the effect of current education structures on culture, for example about how they create a canon of literature. You also talk a lot about how the teaching of literature is a essentially a form of acquisition, where the students acquire an understanding which is then ‘sold’ to an examiner in exchange for the currency of the degree certificate. So why do you think this is so important?

When I wrote all living language is sacred I believe it. I believe that existence is sacred. I don’t know why, and I don’t know what I mean by that, but I know I believe it. And I believe that art is part of the process of existence. Art is an instance of the human, and the human is not a commodity. Good teachers do facilitate children to become themselves. And that’s happening all the time.

The value is within, and to educere, education, is to lead out from within. That means a person-centred respect for the local, the universal which is within the local, within what the person can see, hear, touch, feel. That connects to the whole world. There is no break in the lines of knowledge.

But under the quality control system pervading education systems, everything has to be seen as an object first in order to be centrally evaluated. That includes the human as object. It includes the teacher. The teacher has to be turned into a kind of agent of pre-ordained multiple choice options. The moment of existence, the moment of potentiality, cannot be trusted. I once reviewed the memoirs of the Lord Chamberlain in Britain who until 1968 had to have every new play written in Britain submitted to him for approval regarding its political and sexual decency. An absolute no-no for the Lord Chamberlain was if a dramatist wrote in the margin of a script the word ‘Improvise’. No way could an actor be allowed to improvise, that was handing over the power of the moment of their own existence to them — and they might take off their clothes! There is a correspondence between the Chamberlain’s drive for control and Gove’s approach to education.

It seems the kind of approach to education and culture you were arguing against has become even more extreme in recent years. Perhaps more significant than the recent tuition fee rise is the increased marketisation of education that is happening alongside it. Would you agree with that?

Absolutely, that’s what is happening throughout education, across all the disciplines. It was d riving me insane when I was up there at the University. The income generation mantra. The way the whole model works is that you begin with a projected outcome. There is absolutely no way that you begin with the open power of the human. You begin with an outcome, and the outcomes have to be agreed by the market, because the outcome is what generates the source of funding. The projected outcome is the generator of the funding. This applies with so-called Creative Scotland as well.

The whole idea is to impose from above or outside, as if to create value where there i s no value. What I say is that everyone has intrinsic constant value which exists and remains unchanged before and after any art or that which would officially be called culture is poured into them. Culture is a process that is intrinsic not a valued object or series of such to be magically added to the valueless.

How do these recent developments contrast with your own experiences of university?

I went up to university in 1967 as a mature student. On my website journal just now I’m piecing together the geneological line of my Mother and Father, their Mother and Father, and so forth, using photographs and text. There seems a very big shortfall between the culture for instance of my mother’s paternal grand father, a man called Joseph Mulgrew born in 1850, who was a steamship stoker, coalminer, then latterly a worker at Ardeer dynamite factor — between all the culture that’s coming through him and the others in my lines, and the culture I found in university. It does not connect.

I went to university myself to read books and discuss, and in those days you got a grant. I feel almost sort of ashamed saying it, I can feel all the eyes of my forebears upon me, but I went in pretty well unemployable and I came out unemployable. By which I mean I always seemed to have difficulty holding down a job more than nine months, there was this sort of gestation process. This sort of talk can appeal to the Tories I know. All these working class people, they don’t need to be taught to think. Universities should teach practical jobs or else to run the fucking financial markets or something, then they’ll be doing something useful. The utilitarian concept. I like the idea of the university as agora, an open place for the discussion and open development of ideas.

As well as your views on the place of art in society, what about the place of the artist? Philip Pullman recently said that ‘piracy’ is tantamount to stealing his wallet from his pocket, so as someone who hasn’t made a living from their work as such and stressed the importance of libraries for instance in exploring literature, how do you feel about people downloading your work?

Well if they’re corporate, fuck them, I’ll screw them for every penny I can get. But if they’re a guy like you or me then I hope they enjoy it. But no one should be allowed to make money out of my work when I’m not making money myself.

I’m not completely anti-corporate, I’ll always try to support an independent coffee shop for instance, but I happen to like Costa Coffee, and I also happen to like that a Heinz tin of beans always tastes the same. Although maybe if I analysed the content I could be persuaded that I’m destroying the planet.

I run my website journal now online, that’s me sharing my work as far as I’m concerned. I’m aware that hardly anybody will read it and that’s fine. But if a publisher wants to use a poem and charge for the book they should pay a copyright fee.

One of the other things that Pullman said is that “if we want to enjoy the work that someone does, we have to pay for it”.

Yes in the particular instances I mention, but not as a given universal, that’s a different principle. That’s to accord the necessity of monetary value as prerequisite to aesthetic experience, conferring on it the status of acquisition. It’s like people speaking of culture as a commodity, as object, as other. But culture is not an object, it’s a process of which the human is part. Wherever there is human, or wherever there is something living, there is culture in that, in its context. When you separate culture to make it an object to be acquired, you’re playing away from home the moment you accept that argument. That notion of culture is something I not only don’t accept, but would say is inherently in opposition to what art and existence itself actually is. I don’t make culture, I’m someone who is part of a culture and is making works of art.

You wrote in your essay The Proof of the Mince Pie that ‘‘To be or not to be’ is something of a metaphysical luxury if you’re on a 40-hour week, with three nights overtime’. Are you sympathetic to the view that we as a society should be working much shorter working weeks?

It’s the opposition of leisure to work that is the nub, where in society as presently structured the former is really compensation for the latter. When you say we might be working shorter hours, you have to look at what is meant by we. Let’s start it in Bangladesh where folk are working huge long hours at pitiful wages to make clothes for people in the west. Primark might have to shut if you reduced those workers’ hours or gave them decent wages. The industrial revolution with its nineteenth century manufacturing horrors isn’t over. It’s just moved overseas.

There is a line in William Carlos Williams, ‘unless the ecstasy be general’. But I would like shorter hours ideally, yes, ‘the dignity of labour’ is a phrase that never did much for me. When I went to London just after I got married, we moved into a room and the landlord didn’t want to give us a rent book. I decided to join the Communist Party, not just because of the rent book but because I was becoming more politically aware. At that time one of the big slogans was ‘the right to work’. I remember one of the first questions I asked at the first meeting, I put up my hand to ask ‘what about the right not to work?’. That went down like a sack of cement of course. It was naive of me, but I think I know what I meant. The right not to be alienated from myself, the right not to feel myself a commodity.

Again, what I am talking about is why people like Gove and the government loathe the concept of public service. The concept of public service stands centrally against self-commodification, it stands against money as core determinant of value. If money is the core determinant of value, then those who possess it own all the values and own the right to determine what value is.