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This had to come into my orbit, who doesn't like knickers! Not only that Mary Portas' latest media vehicle plays to the undercurrents of jingoism and scrounging that the media so desperately loves at the moment. Portas is perfect for television: she's effervescent, bubbly (I loathe that word), peppy and likes whatever is current. That, according to her, includes British manufacturing for British knickers for British bottoms.

There have only been a couple of programmes so far, I watched last night completely and saw very little of the first. I gave up on the first episode because I could see where it was going. That episode concentrated on the issue of worklessness in terms of finding British workers for Mary's British factory to make Mary's British pants, to be called 'Kinky Knickers'. Ooo la la! (Sorry that's French.)

That first episode played to the usual media alarm bells: poor post empire Britain, it's beleaguered post-industrial workforce, unemployment. A particularly hard hit area in the north was chosen as the venue for the nine people, aided by former seamstresses, who will stitch the bottom line. The bulk of the programme comprised of Mary interviewing those candidates who a) have a media-friendly story and b) get hired (forget the rest of course, and there were a lot of people interested).

So I get to sneer a lot during this little post, but what annoys me is the way these issues are framed. We get constantly told how great it is to have a job and how these people can walk the streets with their heads held high and a new found purpose in life, and that, prior to their being hired by Mary, their lives were empty and meaningless. So again we get the usual 'pro work' propaganda that is, at the very least, a misrepresentation of the life of ordinary decent people. I don't like this. If these kids enjoy their nine month work contract (we don't yet know what happens after the inevitable success of Kinky Knickers) that's fine. But please stop this constant propaganda: self worth does not come from an employer. Unfortunately people are born so emasculated and disenfranchised and so shabbily treated by a wealthy capitalist elite that it's very easy to malign people on the dole as aimless, feckless and poor - of course they seem better off in work, they get more money. We saw that when they got their first weeks wages last night and they felt flush enough to go to the pictures and down the pub for a pint. Great, I'm glad they are happy. But that doesn't mean unemployment is anything more than a component within the capitalist system.

What interested me most, beyond all the usual anti-scrounger subtext, was Mary's attitude herself. She sets herself up as something of a saviour of British manufacturing and, in the cases of her charges, some poor souls on the dole. However one of those charges had to be let go; a girl called Lauren (iiirc) whose brash, somewhat loud, but ultimately benign (if annoying!) exterior made it difficult to get on with and despite genuinely seeming interested wasn't really learning the ropes as they all had to learn how to sew (none of the employees knew how to sew, though presumably some of the several hundred applicants that didn't get the job must have had some more relevant experience). For a programme which touches issues of unemployment her dismissal was extremely awkward.

What's worse is that Mary's attitude is no better. This is really what prompted me to post this. She's the employer, this is her baby, and she is no less of a child herself. When her lieutenants, the women who know how to sew knickers and are training the kids, explain to her just what's required for a finished product and what's involved in producing them (sewing on labels, tags, stacking them, etc - all the little details) she couldn't concentrate. She sat looking away constantly rolling her eyes with way more boredom and disinterest than Lauren ever displayed (despite being loud and easily frustrated she certainly didn't seem bored or disinterested).

This is her attitude throughout. The woman is a joke. Normally I wouldn't care, especially as most of this is probably manufactured for the storyline the show runs with. A storyline that, like the X factor, will sell the product for her. But when you're dealing with unemployment I think it makes you look even more ridiculous. Presumably these 9 people, facing over 10,000 orders, know they are only going to work for 9 months. What happens then? Do they quietly go back to the dole with a reference from Portas who will no doubt move on to her next TV project? It's cute to have some kind of pre-Olympics pro-British angle, but it tells me nothing. Why should I care if my pants are made in the UK? Aren't we a global village now? Couldn't you argue that clothes made in another part of Britain are equally foreign? They get 'imported' to local shops were local staff will sell them to me. Certainly there are very serious issues with practises such as outsourcing and offshoring and what have you, but that is all part of the capitalist system. Why doesn't she tackle that, or tax avoidance? As far as I know the nine kids on her books are being paid no more than the NMW.

Just more flag waving for the Jubilee/Olympic year that really solves nothing.


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