Tuesday, 21 November 2017

We need more funding for services and better education on mental health.

I am suffering with depression. Having experienced it in the past, this time I spotted it early but was still powerless to stop it happening.

It feels like there's a mild fever dream playing out in my mind whenever I'm trying to think or focus. It's noisy but at the same time silent: only I can sense it as it scrabbles around in my brain. And all the while I'm trying to hold down a stressful job and be a good parent and husband.

I was hoping anti-depressants would help. In the past, I've preferred to push on on my own: managing to carry on working and inflicting my ill mind on friends (not that I talked to them about being ill) until, eventually, coming out the other side without having to think about when it might be safe to come off the tablets. This time I have a little boy at home whose future could be affected by having a less able parent, and unlike during previous episodes, work is more difficult to manage when I'm unwell (and taking time off would just give me something else to worry about). Unfortunately, the side-effects were making everything much harder. You know in films where someone is possessed or inhabited by a demon or they have a horrible illness inflicted upon them by a curse or something and the only cure is something that looks even more painful? Well Sertraline was a bit like that for me. I had sickness, diarrhoea, blinding headaches, dizziness and when I read there were more side-effects to come and that some could last for weeks, with some potentially lasting until after I'd stopped taking them I knew I couldn't continue. It's hard enough trying to get through the day while doubting your ability to do your job (due to life-long and deeply-embedded self confidence issues) and being unable to focus on a task for long enough to complete it (I'm procrastinating right now) without feeling physically dreadful as well.

For some people, the symptoms won't be so bad and for others, it might feel worth it. I've come to realise that although I'd dearly like to erase parts of my history so that the way I acted in the worst periods and certain things I said or did could be forgotten by anyone who witnessed me in those phases, I have managed to get through without medication in the past. And wiping history is obviously impossible (I am so lucky that social media didn't exist when I was a teenager and in my early 20s - I would probably have had to disappear to rid myself of the shame of it all).

Having done a lot of thinking and a little digging, it's become clear to me that both my Mum and her Mother had mental health problems so it's perhaps not such a surprise that I have too. I have thought a lot about my childhood in recent years (in fact I'm a bit worried by how fixated on my early years I have become at certain times) and there is no question in my mind now - and I've doubted myself all my life so I have not come to this conclusion lightly - that as a child, when I cried far too easily, felt lonely, struggled to sleep at night and worried about things small children shouldn't be worrying about, it was - at least partly - because I was depressed.

I feel a crushing anguish when I think about that little boy suffering for so long and I want to go back in time and talk to him about it and get my parents to see that I needed help. My parents had a lot going on: their own health concerns and big financial difficulties being the two major themes. But I would like to think if my son was mentally unwell that my wife and I would both be aware and would make sure he saw an appropriate professional.

Today at the train station I heard some high school or possibly sixth form girls talking about someone at school: "...someone took her favourite pencil and she started crying!" I would like to have heard at least one of them say "Why would she be upset about that; maybe she's not well?" So finally, I have arrived at my point: children need to be taught more about mental health from an early age. I'm not expecting children and adolescents, who have enough on their minds, to suddenly become junior psychologists overnight but some awareness would go a long way. If my teachers had a better understanding of possible childhood mental health issues, they may have raised concerns with my parents. I hope that these days, with everything else they are expected to do in terms of safeguarding, teachers might be more likely to spot potentially unwell children and help to ensure that the matter is being dealt with.

There is a huge amount of money spent and lost in our economy to mental health issues. A little money spent on research, better funding for mental health services so that people are seen earlier and treated earlier would save a lot in the long run.








Thursday, 28 September 2017

Take me to your ('moderate') leader

They still think they're the voice of reason in a (constantly expanding) room of deluded fools but, as many before have asked: show me your alternative. I still meet Corbyn detractors who idolise Blair, or talk of Ed Milliband's time as the halcyon days of sensible opposition. Let's compare recent leaders for what they were/are:

Tony Blair: successful, war monger, Thatcherite.
Gordon Brown: smart, out-of-date, inflexible.
Ed Milliband: decent, conflicted, push-over.
Jeremy Corbyn: principled, genuine, improving.

Blair is a Thatcherite. Whilst New Labour initially reached out to everyone, there were no long-term solutions for post-industrial decline and their (seemingly keen) embrace of deregulation ensured the global financial crash brought down our economy, and hit the poorest hardest (you understand I'm not blaming Labour for this: but they didn't take the opportunity to reverse the deregulation started under the conservatives - in fact the tories cheered as Brown announced the removal of further regulatory control). It was under his leadership that the Labour party moved to within a sliver of the electoral spectrum from the conservatives and created the opinion that "they're all the same" which eventually, under financial strain, would lead to UKIP, Brexit and Corbyn.

Brown is a smart man, albeit one who listened to the established neoliberal 'experts' and chose to dismiss any cautious voices. Even if I disagree with some of the decisions beforehand, his reaction (along with Alistair Darling) to the financial crash avoided much more disastrous immediate consequences and briefly returned the UK to growth before the Tories chopped down the forest. But he was out of his time: Blair's media persona worked well as television moved into the era of 24 hour rolling news; Brown wasn't comfortable on camera and came across as dour - ironically his personality would have been suited to the austerity politics brought in by his victors.

Milliband found it hard to balance his progressive, socialist ideals with the party powerbase who were willing to besmirch their own economic track record by agreeing that austerity was the only way to fix the broken economy. He wasn't a leader behind the scenes, he wasn't sure how to defend the Tories' attacks on Labour's economic credibility, and we only saw rare glimpses of the sort of leader he could have been.

Corbyn never bought into Thatcherism and he opposed the Iraq war. These two key areas meant members saw him a clean break not only with Labour's recent failures but as a fresh option that might appeal to an apathetic electorate. His detractors saw him as a relic, clinging on to a failed socialist ideology. They felt he was unelectable and they told the world that nobody in their right mind would vote for him. He struggled to begin with: the vast majority of the PLP didn't want him; he was not used to appearing in the media; his internal opposition controlled communications and he had a hard time competing with the tories' savage and well-drilled spin artists.

While the unpopular establishment told a disenfranchised population how to vote in the EU referendum, Corbyn was portrayed as a loose cog in the remain campaign. Whether he truly believed the UK should remain part of the EU or not is uncertain: critical in the past, he would now claim he is broadly in favour. It would be true to say we didn't see the passion that we have seen since Theresa May called the election - although during the EU referendum campaign he was undoubtedly hindered by an uncooperative Labour press office.

In those early days, it seemed the only way for the left to succeed would be to carefully position a younger, more dynamic successor who might be more palatable to the sceptics in the party. Instead what seems to have happened is the resignations designed to bring him down have played into Corbyn's hands. He may have had to turn to new and unknown MPs to fill his shadow cabinet but they performed very well and Labour managed to force the government into u-turn after u-turn on key policies. As the membership grew and Corbyn survived repeated internal attacks and a defence of his leadership, he has grown in stature. Perhaps it is the confidence gained in these successes that has helped him to handle himself in interviews and at the dispatch box in a way that suits him and promotes his authenticity.

Brexit continues to be an area of uncertainty: Labour appear to be trying to walk a tightrope between supporting the outcome of the referendum and keeping disgruntled remainers onside. Whatever Corbyn's true opinion on the EU, it must be recognised that somehow, perhaps by accident, he has, so far, been able to appeal to both remainers and Brexiters (though clearly not everybody in either camp). There is more work to do: remainers are beginning to question the certainty of Brexit, given the sheer ineptitude displayed by the Tory government, and so - as appears to be the case at the Labour conference - Labour need to show they will do what they can to keep us in the single market at least.

There are no strong centrist challengers being touted, as far as I have heard. Since the last round of coordinated internal attacks failed, Corbyn's brand of genuine, progressive, compassionate socialist politics has confounded media commentators and 'moderate' Labour members alike. Some fail to see that it was Thatcherism and New Labour's embrace of it that brought down our economy and gave us the widespread disillusionment which led to Brexit, Whether they like it or not, we need a fundamental shift in British politics: tinkering around the edges of dogmatic neoliberalism will not reverse the damage done by the tories to our public services, job security and wages and to the lives of the most vulnerable.

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Oxford Road, Manchester: how one road can be so important

This is another of my rare departures from Politics (although politics doesn't escape completely!). A project at work (which I won't link to, in order to keep this blog and my opinions neatly separate), looks at Oxford Road in Manchester and the people who live, work, study and spend leisure time there and in the immediate vicinity. This made me think about my own relationship with the road and it's incredible how much of a story there is to tell.

Manchester was a revelation: moving here changed my life. From feeling like I didn't belong in the town I grew up in, with little or nothing in common with my peers, here – on or within a stone’s throw of Oxford Road, I found myself at home. 

I moved into a shared house in Chorlton, a kind of student house for recent graduates. One of my housemates worked at the University on Oxford Road and so did his girlfriend*. These new friends welcomed me to the area and introduced me to, directly or indirectly, to almost everyone I now know in Manchester. In those early weeks and months, I went to see bands including Elbow and I Am Kloot at The Main Debating Hall and The Hop and Grape (now Academy 2 and 3 respectively). I ended up invited to be in the audience at the Dancehouse Theatre for the filming of the music video for Elbow's re-released 'New Born'. I chatted with musical heroes from The Charlatans in The Academy and resisted bothering Supergrass in Big Hands. I was testing my expanding musical tastes (and inadvertently damaging my hearing) at Electric Chair in Music Box. All on Oxford Road.

My ex-housemate's *ex-girlfriend introduced me to some former school friends of hers who had just moved to Chorlton. Almost overnight I became part of their larger friendship group and part of their band. We went on to play in Oxford Road venues The Thirsty Scholar, The Attic, Academy 3, The Oxford (that was a rubbish gig), Jabez Clegg (almost on Oxford Road), The Font (close enough), The Greenhouse (there or thereabouts), Saki Bar and The Whitworth. I bought my two electric guitars at Sound Control (now a music venue) and Johnny Roadhouse. 

For a while after being sacked from my first proper job (their loss), I worked at the University - on Oxford Road  - and had an office to myself with the internet, a set of pc speakers, mind-numbing tasks to perform and no one checking up on me. I whiled away the hours finding new music via burgeoning online tools (this was long before Spotify, YouTube or even MySpace) and emailing friends in similarly menial jobs. Although I was quite poor, I felt young and life, on the whole, was a bit of a lark. 

In 2004, at one of the band's many gigs (on Wilmslow Road which, as if we needed more, is the continuation of Oxford Road), a work colleague of one of the band (who, let's remind ourselves became a friend thanks to my friends who met at the University on Oxford Road) brought along a friend who had recently moved to Manchester for a job, at the University on Oxford Road. Although we weren't really introduced on the night, we started dating soon after (our first date was also on Wilmslow Road).

As my life turned part of one group to being part of a number groups of friends, Oxford Road continued to play a significant role, though not always positive. My girlfriend was taken ill and needed an operation, at St Mary's on Oxford Road. The following year, after being badly let down by her supervisor, she almost failed her PhD (at the University on Oxford Road). Another year later, however, she resubmitted and passed and we celebrated with bottle of prosecco in Kro 2 - on Oxford Road (Sand Bar wasn't open yet; it wasn't quite noon). Despite having her PhD, however, Manchester turned her down for the next opportunity she applied for an instead, she took alternative opportunity in Edinburgh where we spent the next three years.

We visited Oxford Road a couple of times during those three years: once to celebrate her 30th (at the KroBar on the Science Park, just off Oxford Road), and again when we broke up the journey back up north by spending the last night of our honeymoon in the Midland Hotel (ok so the Midland isn't on Oxford Road but it's really really close!). Shortly after returning to Manchester I got a job at the University (on Oxford Road, of course) and on my daily walk down Oxford Road, I couldn't help but notice the huge increase in homelessness in Manchester, with many people sleeping under the Mancunian Way than there had been before we left. Oxford Road had changed in just two years of the Tory-led coalition government (there is is: the only political bit!).

Knowing we were planning to buy a house and start a family and with many of our friends already settled down and rarely making it into town, the two of us spent the next year making the most of our last year or so of 'freedom' in Manchester. Highlights included the Dot to Dot festival (set in several venues on and around Oxford Road) and Adam Buxton's 'Bug' at the RNCM (on Oxford Road).

Our little boy's first trip into Manchester was to a baby sensory group at the Whitworth Art Gallery (on Oxford Road) and our first night out together as parents was to see Gaz Coombes at Academy 2. I'm still working on Oxford Road and hope to continue doing so for the foreseeable future. Alongside her main job my wife also teaches and supervises students here.

Oxford Road brought us together and it's hard to see a time when it won't play a significant role in our lives.

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Left vs Centre (my longest ever post: lucky you!)

Ever since the chasm in UK politics started to open up between the left and the right, I've often been surprised to find that people from similar backgrounds to myself and who traditionally vote Labour hate the rise of the left. After the snap election, some of those people had a change of heart but for many their anti-Corbyn views are stronger than ever and some say they would not vote Labour again under the current leadership.

I recently had a brief debate with one such person - lets call her Ms X - who felt that the left had abandoned aspiration. Aspiration had got Ms X from her working class background to where she is now: in a middle-class career with a middle-class lifestyle. The message was that everyone should aspire to 'better' themselves and the Labour party should be the party to help them to do that. I (and I wasn't alone) countered this idea by pointing out that there simply aren't enough middle-class jobs for everyone and not everyone wants to do them anyway. Sadly we didn't have time to debate further. I was left feeling that Ms X was puzzled by my alternative views. I hope I backed them up with enough clear knowledge to show that I wasn't simply a crazed Corbynite. Perhaps not; perhaps Ms X was puzzled as to how I could hold down my job while suffering while suffering from delusions.

I have a similar back story to Ms X: working class background; first in my family to go to University (not quite true: my Mum had gone back into education and enrolled the year before I did thanks to my artsy three years at college); moved from a small provincial town to a metropolitan city and now have a middle-class job and a middle-class lifestyle. Growing up, my parents were (and have always been) Labour voters. They were also Christians and while I don't share those beliefs, I do share the strong morals and underlying messages of equality and compassion espoused by true Christians (I say "true" Christians because if any Tory or Trump supporter claims to be a Christian, they need to read the bible and actually take it on board).

I grew up in an area with no grammar schools and that meant the affluent and the less fortunate all attended the same schools (I accept of course that some people would not move to that area as a result). A pupil who had spent their childhood being shifted around council estates in Chorley and Coppull could sit next to a child whose parents had a big detached house in Charnock Richard (ooooh) with land and their own horses. Of course, the children tended to feel more comfortable in friendship groups which more-or-less conformed to their parents' societal status. But to an extent, they understood how each other lived and the divisions were more nuanced: what sports you played, what hobbies you had, what music and clothes you liked. The differences were as much down to preference as wealth.

The grammar system divides children at an early age into the successful and the unsuccessful. From that point on, the differences can become deeper and more important. The grammar school children would go to University; for the state school children it might feel like University and the sort of career opportunities more available to them thereafter were out of reach. I went on to college where there were the majority who wouldn't go on to University, but also many who did and so for me, University felt achievable.

In the last 30-40 years, the UK has been in the grip of neoliberalism which (whether they like the word or not), is the basis on which both Labour "moderates" and the centre right build their policies. What we have learned in those decades is that neoliberalism is not compassionate and its principles do not align with the notions of collective endeavour that rebuilt the UK after the war and made it economically strong. The rich have become far richer and far more influential, while the poor have become disenfranchised, ignored at best and often vilified as spongers, a dirty underclass whose lives are worth so little that their safety is compromised in the name of saving/making a few quid (see Grenfell). The Labour centrists (for want of a better term) might feel a little sympathy for the poorest people and as they've done before, might secure the welfare safety nets and schemes aimed at helping people to help themselves. They might take some steps to make sure they're safe at least. The right would not feel sympathy and would continue to shrink the state and erode support for anyone struggling to get by.

It is important to note that for a decent chunk of my young adult life, I too was dismissive of the class I had left behind. I didn't fit in at school and while throwing myself into my new life with middle class friends in a middle-class area, I had a similar level of derision for those I had left behind as they had had for me. I absorbed the easy rhetoric that was all around (not coming from my new friends, I should add) about unemployed benefit 'scroungers' without engaging my brain long enough to do some easy logical thinking about why people might not - as far as we could tell - aspire to what we consider a better life. Thankfully I don't recall sharing these opinions widely, and I was always charitable (possibly more then than ever: I had spare time and causes I wanted to help) but it took time to replace the ideas that sheer proliferation had implanted in my head.

Ms X and I are no more worthy of praise for aspiring and achieving than anyone else is to blame for being unemployed or struggling with insecure work. Some people have opportunities presented to them. Some are shown that they are achievable. Others are neither presented with nor made aware that opportunities could (or at least should) be within their reach. People need to feel that there is a future for them. It would help if they felt represented. Politicians and media pundits are too white, too male and too middle-class: at present the left is led by white middle-class men but the ethos of their policies is inclusive and at least there are prominent female, working class and black and minority ethnic MPs coming to prominence in the party since Corbyn became leader. At the moment, we live in a country where Angela Raynor's outstanding performance since becoming a shadow minister has been broadly ignored because she has a regional accent. This has to change.

We desperately need to address the uncertain future for our large working-class population: there are not enough 'middle-class jobs' for all of the middle-class and working-class people in the country. My family laboured in mills, mines and factories and it was workers like them, not clerks and bankers, who grew our economy into one which could support everyone in it. We can't build an economy around middle-class jobs with too many people fighting for them and only the scraps for the rest. The 'gig economy' is regressive. More and more people are self-employed, which effectively means there is no minimum wage, no paid leave, sick pay, maternity pay or pension schemes, no health and safety and no maximum working hours (if someone needs to work 100 hours a week to make ends meet, their physical and mental health will suffer - and what if they're drivers or working in construction?). We need a strong industrial strategy, with well-paid and secure work for millions of people. We would need to invest heavily and we might see the economy take a temporary dip (undoubtedly a smaller one than 2007/8/9) but if more people are earning more, they will pay more tax and need less benefits and they will spend their disposable income, which will grow the economy. And as we have seen exports fall with the decline in industry, we would expect to see growth there too.

It is still not clear to me why people like Ms X are so put out by the current Labour leadership. They are very defensive of New Labour, but so are the left. In fact, people such as Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell are far more likely to defend New Labour's economic record than the previous party leadership. Let's not forget the confused, apologetic austerity-lite offered by Milliband and Balls. It wasn't until the last days of campaigning before the 2015 general election that I heard either of them challenge the notion that Labour caused the global financial crash. When it finally came it was both half-hearted and way too late.

One of the most glaring issues in my view, is that there really hasn't been an alternative. Had the "moderates" had anything to offer, Corbyn wouldn't have stood a chance. But having lost the previous two elections, the other leadership candidates seemed to be offering more of the same. Many still can't take Corbyn seriously but only he was the only one who offered something exciting and hopeful that potentially appealed to the public and could repair the damage caused by neoliberalism. We are where we are because of the financial crash and the failure of austerity policies. Centrists didn't see Brexit coming. The establishment didn't see Trump as a serious contender. The "moderates" believed that Corbyn would be a complete disaster and yet, despite their repeated attempts to bring him down, he came within a whisker of winning the election. Centrists feel there's a place for an anti-brexit party but the Lib Dems actually ended up with a reduced vote share (albeit while winning a couple more seats) with a centrist anti-brexit manifesto.

The assumption is that a compromise from the centre is the wise and sensible thing to fight for. But UK politics has moved so far to the right in the last few decades that we have to move it back to the left in order to reduce inequality and disillusionment. We've tried centrism and it left us with a handful of unspeakably wealthy people and a huge number homeless and hungry. We can't fight populism from the right with more unpopularity from the centre. Let's try something different.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Centrism is a duff concept right now

Ever since Jeremy Corbyn was first elected Labour leader, centrist Labour politicians and a lot of political commentators have been extolling the virtues of 'third way' ideas and there has inevitably been talk of break-away centrist parties. With the Brexit negotiations going terribly, some Conservative remainers have finally joined in. In the last week or so, James Chapman, former advisor to David Davis and George Osborne, has been touting for interest in an anti-Brexit 'Democrats' party and this has stoked a lot of media interest. Some have been talking about Macron's success in France but it is hard to draw many significant parallels with what has been going on politically in France and the UK over the last 40 years. And already, Macron is quickly losing popularity.

To me, any talk of centrist politics as a viable option at the moment is another indicator that some people simply cannot understand what has been going on politically for some time now, at least since the 2007/8 financial crash. The 2017 snap election, which was contested by the Conservatives, supporting Brexit and with some of the most right-wing ideas we've seen in decades, the Labour party, reluctantly supporting Brexit and with a more left-wing platform than we've seen since the 70s, and amongst others, the anti-Brexit centrist Lib Dems. The result was that the biggest proportion of votes went to the two largest parties since 1970. Yes, that's right: there is already a centrist, anti-brexit party people can vote for and overwhelmingly, they chose either the left or the right instead.

We are living in a very divided country and the election shows that it is a time when the public either support a party who makes the poorest poorer, increases homelessness, cripples the NHS, worsens the housing crisis, kisses the arse of Donald Trump and cosies up to dictators in the middle east, or a party who would invest heavily in health, education, housing and the environment and would stop selling arms to the Saudis and make sure Donald Trump knows what they think of his words and his actions. What evidence is there that a new centrist party would win anyone over? Surely it's now far too late in the day to come out fighting for our membership of the EU: the time for that was when the little Englanders on the Tory backbenches were discussing UK sovereignty with UKIPpers over pints of Bombardier. They might even have staged an intervention when David Cameron promised the referendum before the 2015 election. Or they could have stood down after winning the election, reducing the slim majority to nothing and stopping the referendum from happening. They could also have worked harder in the referendum campaign.

And this key issue takes me back to the start of this blog: the referendum was lost because those behind it (the Labour side of the campaign was under the command of self-professed 'moderates') simply don't understand the lives of ordinary people and are completely out-of-touch with how most ordinary people think.

Essentially, centrism, as with Tony Blair's 'third way', claims it is possible to marry hard neoliberal economics, which always favours the few and never trickles down to the many, with progressive and fairer policies. In reality, the left agreeing with the right and expanding rather than reversing the deregulation of the financial sector is how we ended up with the recession, huge inequality and the resulting Brexit vote. As many are pointing out - although unfortunately they are not the loudest voices in the press/media - that to propose a solution from the centre is to think that you can fix the problem with more of what caused it.

James Chapman and anyone else who even considers jumping onto this project are completely deluded if they think a new centrist party would be a good move. But hey, if it takes away some of the Labour right and removes and few Tory MPs, you go for it.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Preparing for a week in the company of Tory voters

I'm mentally preparing myself for a week with family, who we can be pretty sure voted conservative in the general election.

It's difficult. I feel very very strongly that they are helping to perpetuate misery for the most vulnerable in society. I don't want to think that they don't care about the poor, the disabled, the young...but if they did vote conservative, these would be logical assumptions to make. I'll be staying in their house for a week, eating their food, probably getting a night out with my wife while they look after our little boy and anyway, they're family and I don't want to end up arguing with them. But we haven't been in the same room since the election and I'm sure it will come up in conversation.

One way I hope to handle it is to calmly offer just a few key reasons why I think Labour was a better choice:

1) The Tories say because of their policies there are record numbers of people in work. My question about that is why, then, is there not enough tax revenue being generated to wipe out austerity and pay off the debt? We still have austerity and the debt is still rising. Where has our money gone?

2) Conservative voters might point to a few Labour policies they don't agree with. First, ask why they don't agree and if it's on affordability, point out tax cuts for the rich and for corporations, over £1bn for the DUP deal, point out that the debt is still rising so austerity isn't working.

3) Ask whether they agree with taking money from disabled people, working people using foodbanks, rising unemployment, untrained teachers, the dementia tax, frozen pay for nurses, doctors, police officers, firefighters which has actually resulted in around a 12% pay cut since 2010? Ask whether they're happy with all of the u-turns which have made lies of most of their manifesto. The Tories have done this after each of the last three elections: why give them another chance and another, and another? Why is it that we have to take the government to court to overturn their cruel policies?

I can't keep quiet but I'm dreading talking about it because I find it hard to stay calm when we're talking about people's lives and real hardship...

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Right wingers call the TV licence fee a "stealth tax". Let's examine that.

There are some things we can't do without in order to live the lifestyle the Tories want us to live in capitalist Britain.

I would argue the TV licence is not one of them.

Food and water is obviously needed.

Electricity is needed to cook and keep our food fresh, for lighting so we can work in the hours before/after sunlight and for work (increasing numbers of people are self-employed and work from home) and for looking for work (a computer, charging a phone, ironing clothes for an interview).

Internet access is needed for applying for jobs, for work - especially all those self-employed people - and often, for filling in mandatory forms such as tax returns.

Mobile phones are needed for keeping in touch with clients, employers, prospective employers (Tories would like anyone not currently working to always be "out looking for work" so if we only had a landline, we'd be missing phone calls).

TV licence is for entertainment and if we need to stay informed for work we have the internet. It's not needed, therefore it cannot be a tax.

So if any of these things could be described as a "stealth tax" it certainly isn't the TV licence. Right wing people who come out with this sort of claptrap think we're stupid.