October 21st, 1966

We are in a schoolroom; on the eve of the half-term holidays. In a few seconds the vast mound of dirt and coal waste and mud on the hillside above us will start to slide downhill. Most of us will die, and those who live will live forever with the unspeakable guilt of not dying.

Those who have been paid well to keep us safe will face no punishment.

The chairman of the National Coal Board, once a working-class man like our fathers, will keep his job, and his other job on the board of the Bank of England even after the official enquiry shows him to be lying about what was known of the danger. Even later today he will be told of a disaster in a mining village and ignore it to attend a ceremony at an English university.

The Secretary of State for Wales will visit with a royal and astonish our broken parents with platitudes about how privileged they are to drink tea in such company. Then he will steal money donated in our memory and for our living classmates’ futures and give it to the coal board. He will go on to abuse other children and to have a children’s’ charity named after him. He will go on to become a Lord and steal the name of a mining town for his title.

Nobody will be punished. The political party our parents and grandparents made to represent us will appoint the Coal Board chairman to draw up the next round of health and safety legislation. He will make sure it is next to impossible to prosecute those amongst the powerful agents of the state who kill with the banal weapons of business as usual. And the party of the coal owners who killed with those same weapons will sign his proposals into law.

The mines that our parents and our council were terrified to lose because of the memories of the hungry 1930s will close anyway. And the communities built around those mines will be called the “enemy within” when they dare to resist.

Listen. The tip is starting to slide.

For a generation, and forever, our tragedy will be unavenged. In the horror of the desperate hour good people do not reach for hatred, but save whatever and whoever they can with all the love that they can find. They do not play at politics in the heat of that moment, but hope good will win out. When the realisation comes that we were only ever livestock for their abattoirs the killers in the halls of power will sit safe behind the paralysing walls of our sorrow and confusion. The clear facts will emerge, too late, so historians can say “look, there was an injustice here”.

Listen. The tip is sliding.

There will be other tragedies like ours. There will be sociologists and historians who know, and show, that the crimes of the powerful routinely go unpunished, and who maintain a heroic capacity for anger at that denial of justice across the ages and across the world.

Few will read them. Fewer will take notice.

No matter the size of the tragedy, or the size of the crimes committed in the name of calm and business as usual and trust in our richers and betters and superiors, the first instinct of good people will be to save lives now and to leave the reckoning until later. They will retch at the psychic sickness of those they see stealing the name of “Aberfan” for mere point scoring.

Listen. The roaring of the slide has gone.

The tumult of the rescue is over. The official inquiry is over. Decades passed. Nothing changed.

December 31st, 2019

The world is a school; on the eve of the New Year.

There is a stream running through the slag heap on the hillside above.

The authorities have been warned, again and again, but they have chosen to ignore the warning. There’s no profits in planning for disasters.

The UK government’s nine-year old pandemic strategy is woeful and perfectly designed to spread disease faster. These lines are indicative:

Large public gatherings or crowded events where people may be in close proximity are an important indicator of ‘normality’ and may help maintain public morale during a pandemic. The social and economic consequences of advising cancellation or postponement of large gatherings are likely to be considerable…

And this one is, to coin a phrase, a killer:

The UK Government does not plan to close borders, stop mass gatherings or impose controls on public transport during any pandemic.

Protective equipment for medical staff is routinely vetoed by NHS England. Senior officials and ministers have been at war with Doctors and Nurses unions for years. Medical staff have warned of low morale constantly, and have recently gone on strike to prove it.

It is already routine for left media voices to warn of the inadequacy of NHS funding, although they are drowned out by billionaires and their pet journalists, media influencers, state media journalists, and insidious social network advertising. The hangovers of postmodern thought still dominating the senior media, political and managerial classes mean uncomfortable facts come a poor second to image. Except for the facts of who pays their wages – and the terrifying gap between them and those who have not learned to lie for lucre.

“There is no stream running through the slag heap” they say. If they lose sleep over the lie, they do it in comfortable beds.

Then the Chinese government warns the World Health Organisation about a new form of disease, with 44 cases so far.

Listen. Is that the sound of the tip moving above us,?

31st January, 2020

The first British cases are confirmed. Tory Health Secretary Matt Hancock is full of confidence though.

Our world-class NHS is well prepared and we are doing everything we can to protect the public.

Three days later, the nations of the “United Kingdom” put out instructions to wash our hands, and to stay at home if we’ve been in Wuhan province lately. There is no enforcement. There are no checks at airports. The government is so opposed to governing that its entire pandemic response is a wash-and-believe advertising campaign.

The WHO has only just declared that this is an international Public Health Emergency. But in the same meeting, despite the tortured complexities of international medical and diplomatic cooperation, they manage to agree on this:

The Committee also acknowledged that there are still many unknowns, cases have now been reported in five WHO regions in one month, and human-to-human transmission has occurred outside Wuhan and outside China.

The Committee believes that it is still possible to interrupt virus spread, provided that countries put in place strong measures to detect disease early, isolate and treat cases, trace contacts, and promote social distancing measures commensurate with the risk.

The landslide is not coming yet. Maybe we’re safe. Maybe there’s time.

Now, and for the next six weeks, is the time when the powerful, if they care and if they have the nerve that justifies their vast salaries, can take decisive action. They can stand up and say that this is the emergency that will define our lives. They can shout that everybody needs to pull together. They can tell us that the stocks of protective equipment and ventilators we need are not ready, and that we must get them ready now. They can appear grave-faced on our TV screens and utter low words about how we need to check and trace the contacts of everyone who has holidayed or visited anywhere that Covid-19 is present.

They can look us, the people, in the eye and tell us that we need to close the schools and universities within days, so that it will be safe to reopen them again within months. They can show us fancy pictures of the COBRA briefing room, and introduce us to the medical experts they are going to rely on.

They can tell the BBC to interrupt its interminable round of “how to make your house more boring” shows and interview doctors and care workers and paramedics about the exact specifications of the protective gear that needs to be made, chemists and biologists to give classes on television about how exactly the virus attacks the body and what can be made or done to stop it.

They can do all this, for the moment, without new legislation. They can call in the multi-billionaires and tell them that, until they’ve got Coronavirus beaten, they must help the country, rather than just helping themselves to it as usual.

They can act out their fantasies of being historical figures who mattered, who did something right at the vital moment. Boris Johnson can even get his Churchill moment, instead of being Chamberlain.

In the Senedd, Vaughan Gething can solemnly tell us that our precious NHS is at risk of being overwhelmed if we do not act now as a nation. Mark Drakeford can be the First Minister who saved your elderly parents’ and grandparents’ lives. Kirsty Williams can be the first ever useful Liberal Democrat and institute a cohesive and brilliant plan to accelerate online learning and laboratory cooperation across Welsh education. The Senedd can tell the tourists to stay home; and the Welsh people will make sure they do.

Failing that, our national medical officers can go off-message. They can point to the World Health Organisation’s increasing warnings. The behavioural scientists can ‘fess up and say that the spread is too fast, the nudges are not working. The scientific advisors can break ranks and admit that there is something to be scared about. It will only take one authority figure taking action and the horror can be minimised.

Any of them can tell us that business as usual is suspended; and the spell will be broken.

But they don’t.

Through three weeks of March 2020 we get “take it on the chin” and “herd immunity”. We get Gething and Drakeford refusing to stop a rugby game and the Welsh people (of all the nations in the world the least likely to do so) making the WRU back down, if only once the ticket money’s been taken. We get caravan sites open whilst Senedd leaders dither about what powers they have to close them. We get billionaires running to their private islands and begging bailouts for their pet airlines. We get the Cheltenham Gold Cup. We get the Stereophonics playing the gigs that must destroy them. We get pub chains refusing to close because, after all, they own us. We get Lee Waters telling us to stop point scoring. We get a million people in a virtual breadline. We get a testing contract kiboshed by Westminster like our dead do not matter. We get bullshit behavioural science pumped out by coward jobsworths redefined as “the science” because it’s British, and Welsh people dying from our slavish obedience to it as even Donald Trump cackles at the stupidity of our rulers.

April Fools 2020

Listen. The mudslide has started.

In the next three days the raw numbers of Welsh dead will outstrip the total who died at Pantglas School, and for whom there was never justice.

The world will change utterly, even for those of us who make it through alive. Even for those who hold on to their lovers, parents, sisters, brothers, friends and workmates. But the people who led us into the disaster are still there. And the poorest and most vulnerable are trapped indoors, at the mercy of rent demands and spivs and dwindling and tiny savings. Only our anger and our vigilance will rip away the lifetimes of business as usual.

Now is not the time to “get behind” the dear leaders. It is the time to humiliate and harass those who did not do their jobs: out of public life; and out of history.

Ted Jackson, April 4th, 2020
Translation into Welsh: Angharad Tomos
Image: Mel Hartshorn (CC BY SA)

2 replies on “Now is not the time to “get behind” the dear leaders.”

  1. Ted Jackson – I don’t think I have ever felt so frustrated by not being able to do anything. Not because we as a community in Aberfan would not pull together and make choices that will help us, will help wales but because of a block in a red tape funding that says – this is your money use it to better your community, then blocks the very thing that could make the difference- testing is all – 3800, a similar study to the Diamond Princess. What I don’t want to see is another row of arches on the hillside from waiting, sitting ducks waiting to be done to !! Well the council buildings are closed, there are helplines and yesterday I heard that lots of graves in our cemetery have been dug. That is scary.

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