John Bird: With useless friends, the poor will always fall prey to the wolves

It's easy for the poor to be eaten up and spat out when the people who are supposed to be backing them are looking the other way.

I’m writing about wolves, but only in the sense that they are turned into symbols of avarice, greed and disregard for human wellbeing.

It got me thinking about Animal Farm, George Orwell’s book about the collapse of the aspirations of communism to produce a classless society. A book that seemed to please many people after the war, as a living proof that you could not really be having social equality; and all of the things that go with it.

There is certainly an enormous rise in the amount of books that try and return to the communist project. People are talking about Marx as if he was the best and most incisive critic of capitalism. As if you might be able to weld Marx on to something more self-sustaining than the former Soviet Union and its imperial ambitions.

I’m writing about wolves because I am writing about the enemies of the poor – if one can see their enemies as represented by one symbolical piece of animal-hood. An animal that frightened the life out of people in the old days. An animal that led to countless Little Red Riding Hood stories. Did you know, by the way, that the last wolf killed in the British Isles was by Sir Ewen Cameron in 1680, in Perthshire? Wolves haven’t dominated for over 1000 years, and yet they represent so much.

One of the reasons the wolves are so successful in ripping exploitation and profit out of the poor is that their supporters are inept

The wolf in my piece of writing is like The Wolf of Wall Street, that lovable piece of anti-capitalism and greed where the really nasty wolves come out as the heroes. I saw the 2013 film starring Leonardo DiCaprio and it was done in a sexy, ‘let’s all join in’, ‘what’s wrong with some raunch and fun?’ type of way.

The wolves come across as your regular Joes with scams aplenty, as if a precursor to what was to happen to US politics not long after. Perhaps explaining why supposedly wolf-like behaviour has become so desirable and so normal in modern America.

For when there’s so much financial insecurity, grabbing stuff – irrespective of who gets hurt – might seem like a good thing. As if there’s nothing much wrong with winner-takes-all finance, as if glorifying the ‘smash and grab’ is perfectly honourable.

But my piece of writing, moving to conclusion, is more concerned not necessarily with the wolves who prey on the poor but on the inadequate response by their supposed friends. That one of the reasons why the wolves are so successful in ripping exploitation and profit out of the poor is that their supporters are inept at best and downright delusional at worst.

That the poor, if they can be seen collectively, have appalling friends if you look into the world and witness the amount of times they’ve been given a bum deal in life.

That in some ways you might just need some wolves on the side of the poor, to see off the pack, so to speak, and not the pusillanimous supporters who claim to be supporters but are too much of a pushover.

But wolves in the real world are not all they are cracked up to be. Individually, they’re lost. Individually, they are dogs. But collectively, they are astute combiners of energies into powerful forces for the greater good of the pack. Their power lies with each other. Which seems opposite to the whole idea of the ‘lone wolf’ being frightening. Perhaps we might try the ‘lone fox’?

When planning my attack on the ineffective friends of the poor, I did at one time consider using the Animal Farm model, turning post-war Britain into a large farmyard, to explain all of the dumb things that were done to people in poverty that didn’t get them out of it. That didn’t give people an education, but creamed off the best for grammar schools. And then replaced it with a comprehensive system that hid the same cherry-picking in with a different name, and still didn’t give the average Joe a good crack at education.

Sometimes, the wolves can get away with more and more because the friends of the poor are looking in the wrong direction

Perhaps ‘crying wolf’ might be incorporated. This is the sense of people always going on about how bad things are, and how deep the attacks are being made on the poor, and ‘how it’s never been so bad’, and ‘there’s so little we can do about it’. There are certain papers that seem to cry wolf every day, as if this really was Armageddon, the end of days, our Ragnarök. Crying wolf over the environment, over Brexit, over government attacks, over all manner of things. Important issues, yes. But by so doing, by trying to scare the shit out of you, they inadvertently lull you into a false sense of security.

We believe in the right to citizenship.

Which is why the Big Issue Foundation, our charitable arm, helps sellers tackle their social and financial exclusion.

Learn More

I’m writing about the forces that are arraigned against people in need and how we need to do better than merely divide them between their exploiters and their friends. And that sometimes, the wolves can get away with more and more because the friends of the poor are looking in the wrong direction. Or, more often than not, looking down on them. Or even through them.

It’s a work in progress, and I’ll keep you informed on its headway. But it does make me feel that wolves get a bad name, and a wolf in sheep’s clothing is certainly not someone you’d want to encounter.

And whatever happened to the wolf whistle? It used to seemingly echo from every scaffolding of every building site in the country, at passing women. I think it’s because people have given up whistling.