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dodgers, scroungers, chavs, chisellers and cheats

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Turning the myth which used to be: Robin Hood stealing from the rich to give to the poor, into its opposite: taking from the poor to give to the … ? The old myth was easy to describe and to get behind: the rich were clearly preying on the poor who were suffering unnecessarily. The new myth, described below, is twisted and illogical, and yet somehow wildly popular the world over. The poor wallow, luxuriate and are idle, while the rich are hard working and deserving. The new Robin Hood is cruel, vindictive, a rat, saboteur, fink, grouse, ammoral, a spy.

It’s a plan. Taking from the rich to give to the poor has been, is and should be the way forward for an exploited majority against remote, unaccountable concentrations of extreme wealth and power. One word for it is ‘redistribution’. Robin Hood is a programme of the left. Robin Hood is Jeremy Corbyn. He’s Russell Brand. He’s Hugo Chávez.

So it used to seem. But a change has come about. The wealthiest and most powerful in Europe, Australasia and North America have turned the myth to their advantage. In this version of Robin Hood the traditional poor – the unemployed, the disabled, refugees – have been put into the conceptual box where the rich used to be. It is they, the social category previously labelled ‘poor’, who are accused of living in big houses, wallowing in luxury and not needing to work, while those previously considered rich are redesignated as the ones who work terribly hard for fair reward or less, forced to support this new category of poor-who-are-considered-rich. In this version the sheriff of Nottingham runs a ruthless realm of plunder and political correctness, ransacking the homesteads of honest peasants for money to finance the conceptual rich – that is, the unemployed, the disabled, refugees, working-class single mothers, dodgers, scroungers, chavs, chisellers and cheats.

In this version of the myth, Robin Hood is a tax-cutter and a handout-denouncer. He’s Jeremy Clarkson. He’s Nigel Farage. He’s Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. He’s by your elbow in the pub, telling you he knows an immigrant who just waltzed into the social security office and walked out with a cheque for £1000. He’s in the pages of the Daily Mail, fingering a workshy good-for-nothing with 11 children, living in a luxury house on the public purse. He’s sabotaging the sheriff of Nottingham’s wicked tax-gathering devices – speed cameras and parking meters. He’s on talk radio, denouncing inheritance tax. He’s winning elections.

Robin Hood in a Time of Austerity, James Meek, London Review of Books

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