Kids and contributions…

Aside from the owls, I found little to be happy about in yesterday’s ‘big’ speech by Ed Miliband, and the IPPR report that it accompanied, ‘The Condition of Britain’. A great deal has already been said and written about it – I don’t want to go over old ground, just to write about two specific aspects that bother me, both for what they say immediately and directly and for what they imply about the underlying thoughts both of the IPPR and of Ed Miliband’s Labour Party. The first is the attitude to young people – specifically 18-21 year olds – and the second is what looks as though it’s supposed to be Ed’s ‘big idea’, the revival of the ‘contributory principle’. To me, both are fundamentally misconceived, and betray an acceptance of the false and damaging Tory ‘striver/scrounger’ dichotomy. What’s more, this is both in the overall message – a message which some of the people behind the report have insisted has been twisted and missed by the reactions of people on twitter and in the media – and in the detail. As instructed, I’ve downloaded and read the report, and I’ve read Ed Miliband’s speech. I’m not reassured. Not one bit.

Doing it for the kids?

Perhaps the most noted part of the report is how it deals with young people. The headline recommendation reads as follows:

“For 18–21-year-olds, existing out-of-work benefits should be
replaced by a youth allowance that provides financial support
conditional on looking for work or completing education,
targeted at those from low-income families”

That’s been taken a number of ways in the media – Job Seekers Allowance for young people being removed is perhaps the most common reactions. That is not, of course, entirely true. It hasn’t been removed, but replaced by something different. The devil, however, is in the detail. There are two key words in the recommendation: ‘conditional’ and ‘targeted’. The first is the compulsion part – effectively, unless the young people take up one of the work programmes or sign up for one of the training schemes, they won’t get the youth allowance. Aside from the complications around the way young people’s lives actually work (see for example this excellent blog post by Kate Belgrave) and the deep reservations many people have about training schemes (will they be run by such estimable organisations as A4e, G4S, Serco etc?) and whether any of this would be any different from the hated coalition workfare programmes, the whole idea of compulsion betrays a belief that, fundamentally, young people are scroungers and layabouts at heart. If we didn’t force them into things, they’d spend all day in bed, watching daytime TV or taking drugs. Sadly, however, that seems to be the general approach of all mainstream political parties these days.

However, when the report is examined in more detail, it gets worse – particularly when the second key word, ‘targeting’ is considered. This is from the section on young people:

“To pay for this expansion of support for young people
in education and training, we propose targeting the youth
allowance on those from lower-income families through
a parental means test. This would involve a presumption
that 18–21-year-olds who are not in employment would be
supported by their parents where this is possible…”

First of all, even bringing in a parental means test is (or rather should be) contentious. It has a number of effects. First of all, it adds bureaucracy and stress to an already stressful situation. Secondly, it is a reminder that many young people will be excluded from the allowance. ‘Targeting’ is a nice word – but when you target, you also exclude.  Will the ‘right’ young people be excluded? It doesn’t just depend on wealth, it depends on ability to work the system, to fill in the forms and find a route through the often impenetrable language.  Thirdly, and most importantly, it makes young people even more dependent than ever on their parents. Want an allowance? You have to put your parents through a humiliating procedure. Add to the equation the presumption that 18-21 year-olds will be supported by their parents, and the reality begins to hit home. This is a policy conceived by people who assume that young people have good and supportive relationships with their parents. Some do. I’m sure those behind the report do. But many don’t. Indeed, difficult relationships between young people and their parents can contribute to problems with getting jobs. For some, the best possible thing is to be able to leave their home at 18, to be independent. Forcing young people to stay in the family home, to be even more of a burden, to get their parents to be means-tested, could well be a recipe for disaster. It’s also patronising and demeaning for the young people – when you’re 20, do you want to be treated as though you’re 12?

Making a contribution…

The other aspect of the report is, for me, even more worrying: the emphasis on the ‘revival of the contributory principle’. The idea is peppered throughout the report, and emphasised in Ed Miliband’s speech. The idea, essentially, appears to be that those who make a contribution deserve to get more out of the system. The deserve more ‘protection’. Section 8.2 of the report is headlined ” STRONGER INCOME PROTECTIONS FOR PEOPLE WHO HAVE CONTRIBUTED TO THE SYSTEM.” The question that immediately arises is what does it mean to contribute to the system? When I look back at my life so far, three periods immediately spring to mind. The first is in my first ‘career’, as an accountant, auditing big financial organisations in the City of London. The second is the year I took off, to be a full-time father after my daughter was born. The third is my time as a ‘mature’ PhD student, researching into internet privacy. In which of those three did I make the best contribution to society? Working as an accountant, being a father, or doing what was then pretty pioneering research into a subject of huge current interest?

In the terms of this report, only the work as an accountant would ‘count’ – though in my mind, with hindsight, it was the period in which I made the least contribution to society. In the report’s terms, ‘contribution’ means contributing to National Insurance. Nothing more. We’re defined as economic units in GB plc. Other contributions – from child-rearing to caring for ill or disabled relatives, from studying to volunteering to many, many other things – are not considered at all. They may be paid a little lip-service here and there, but they’re not rewarded. And it must be remembered that for every reward, in these cash-strapped times, someone else goes without. What’s more, there are a great many people who can’t make a contribution on these terms, through no fault of their own. People with disabilities, people living in areas where there is no work, people trying to keep dysfunctional families together and so forth. Young people, in particular, having already been slammed directly and slammed still further – how can you have made a ‘contribution’ when you’re only just entering the workforce?

The message here is simple and direct: ‘workers’ are valued (and only for their work), anyone else isn’t. It drives home the damaging and false ‘striver vs scrounger’ agenda. If you ‘strive’ you’re good, and will be rewarded. If you don’t, you won’t.

A sad consensus

What makes me saddest is that this isn’t just Labour. Indeed, despite everything I’ve said, Labour are still probably not quite as bad as the Lib Dems or the Tories. There’s a consensus here that seems almost unstoppable. I can’t see how it can be changed – either for the Labour Party or for the country. The consequences are painful and divisive, and likely to get worse. Ah well. At least we get owls. A shame we don’t seem to have their wisdom.

Owl statue

 

 

 

 

 

 

UKIP and the reality of Britain

The revelation yesterday that UKIP had employed Latvians to deliver the very leaflets that warned people that their jobs were under threat from Eastern Europeans was greeted with amusement and some surprise – but it really shouldn’t have been surprising. This is the same campaign that had posters starring an Irish actor, displayed on billboards owned and run by a French company. This is the reality of modern Britain – and a reality that should be celebrated rather than feared. We’re a country where people of all kinds of origins work well together and, in general, get along pretty well together too. What’s more, it’s not just modern Britain, but Britain throughout the ages. In a lot of ways, for me, it’s the best thing about Britain.

UKIP should really realise this. A quick glance at the names of their leaders should give them the clue. As well as having a German wife, Nigel Farage has a French name – or perhaps a Belgian one. Roger Helmer, the MEP who is now their candidate for the Newark by-election, has a name that comes from southern Germany. No prizes for guessing the origin of the name of their Director of Communications, Patrick O’Flynn. It’s a regular (Swedish) Smorgasbord of national origins at UKIP.

UKIP’s logo also demonstrates their original mission – to save the pound. That’s the pound ‘sterling’. The word sterling is short for ‘Easterling’, the nickname given to the representatives of the Hanseatic League, a powerful group of German merchant towns in the late middle ages: even our currency is originally German. Our language, too, is a hotchpotch of others, mixing Old English, Latin, French, German and others. We might eat pork (French) that comes from a pig (Old English) or a swine (German), with apple (German) sauce (French) and potatoes (Haitian Carib via Spanish). That’s if we’re not eating chicken tikka masala…

The further back you go, the clearer it becomes. Pretty much every Royal House we’ve had comes from Europe. The Normans (French), Plantagenets (French), Tudors (Welsh), Stuarts (Scots), William of Orange (Dutch), Hanovers (German) were all from outside England – and Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (German) only became Windsor for presentational purposes. One of our ‘greatest’ kings, Richard Coeur de Lion, didn’t speak a word of English and much preferred to be in France. St George, the Roman/Palestinian mercenary  we share (like so much else of our culture and history) as patron saint with a wide number of other countries, from Georgia to Lithuania, Moldova, Montenegro and Palestine. Britain has been swept by waves of immigrants as far back as we can record. Celts, Romans, Angles, Saxons, Jutes and Danes were just the start – the likes of the Lombards and the Huguenots more recent examples. In every age we have been mixing cultures with people from all over the world.

That’s the bottom line. Our culture and history, as well as our present day, is one based on immigration and the joining, merging, mixing and enjoying of different cultures and peoples. It has always been that way – and that’s something we should understand and celebrate. We shouldn’t be trying to invent some ‘pure’ past or mythical identity of Britishness that is separate from everything else. We’re not separate. It’s the mix that makes us what we are – and the continuous changing and developing of that mix. Immigration doesn’t threaten some pure culture – because that pure culture doesn’t exist and never has. Our culture is one of immigration, and always has been. That’s the reality of Britain.

Guest Post: Rights of Academics and Prisoners

Guest post by  @Super__Cyan

On May 4th (be with you), the Independent reported that sources suggest that Chris Grayling, the Secretary of State for Justice, is blocking the work of the first ever independent inquiry into the extent of rape and sexual assault in Britain’s prisons.

The Commission on Sex in Prison (the Commission) was set up by the Howard League for Penal Reform and is made up of academics, former prison governors and health experts. Their aim is to focus on three broad themes: consensual sex in prison, coercive sex in prison, and healthy sexual development among young people in prison.

Apparently this inquiry was fine by Ken Clarke (the former Justice Secretary) but not so welcomed by Chris Grayling. It may not come as a surprise that this may well be incompatible with certain rights under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

Rights of the academics

The most obvious relevant ECHR provision is Article 10, which states that:

  1. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises.
  2. The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.

This is taken to encompass an academic freedom standpoint. Therefore Article 10 protects academic freedom. Receiving information with regards to the function of the Commission would be information gathered from research, and imparting would be the publication of findings and conclusions. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, in its Recommendation 1762 (2006), adopted the following declaration for the protection of academic freedom of expression:

4. In accordance with the Magna Charta Universitatum, the Assembly reaffirms the right to academic freedom and university autonomy which comprises the following principles:

4.1. academic freedom in research and in training should guarantee freedom of expression and of action, freedom to disseminate information and freedom to conduct research and distribute knowledge and truth without restriction;…

4.3. history has proven that violations of academic freedom and university autonomy have always resulted in intellectual relapse, and consequently in social and economic stagnation;…

This sentiment was further reiterated by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Sorguç v Turkey [2009] ECHR 979, underlining ‘the importance of academic freedom of expression, which comprises the academics’ freedom to express freely their opinion about the institution or system in which they work and freedom to distribute knowledge and truth without restriction’(para 35).

So any restriction on the freedom of members of the Commission must be prescribed by law, which is essentially the same (para 116) as ‘in accordance with the law.’ Chris Grayling’s blocking has to have a lawful basis. It is alleged that he has claimed that ‘[p]risoners aren’t going to have sex on [his] watch’ and he has been accused of taking it personally, even politicising his role, with other suggestions that the Ministry of Justice is doing ‘everything in its power to block the commission’s work.’ If Grayling is indeed taking a personal political standpoint on the Commission’s research, then this may call into question the legality of his decision, as it would seem to imply that he is taking irrelevant (personal view) considerations into account, failing to take relevant considerations into account (the possible benefits of this research), having his opinion influenced by the Howard Leagues opposition to policies (improper purpose), and applying the possible irrational/Wednesbury unreasonable belief that sex will not happen on his watch. In terms of public law, if this was indeed the process of decision making, it would be illegal, and therefore would fail the first hurdle of restricting the Article 10 rights.

There is also an important point regarding Article 8, which states that:

  1. Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.
  2. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

The ECtHR in Niemietz v Germany [1992] ECHR 80 believed that there was ‘no reason of principle why this understanding of the notion of “private life” should be taken to exclude activities of a professional…nature since it is, after all, in the course of their working lives that the majority of people have a significant, if not the greatest, opportunity of developing relationships with the outside world. This view is supported by the fact that…it is not always possible to distinguish clearly which of an individual’s activities form part of his professional or business life and which do not. Thus, especially in the case of a person exercising a liberal profession, his work in that context may form part and parcel of his life to such a degree that it becomes impossible to know in what capacity he is acting at a given moment of time’ (para 29).

This would suggest that the Article 8 rights of the Commission are also interfered with and would therefore require a justification under Article 8(2); but as seen above, with the lack of justifications in relation to Article 10, Article 8 would also be violated.

Prisoners have rights too

Sadiq Khan made an important point where he noted that:

Not only are there public health issues [with sex in prison], but some of what goes on might even be criminal. Standing in the way of research which will help us find out more about what’s happening in prisons seems like a petty response from Chris Grayling.

This may have implications for Article 3 of the ECHR, which states that:

No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

This rule is said to be absolute (para 137) and therefore there can never be justification for its breach. Additionally, as Article 1 suggests, the state has the duty of securing the rights that are contained in the ECHR for everyone under its jurisdiction. The ECtHR in Đorđević v Croatia [2012] ECHR 1640 further maintained that this required states ‘to take measures designed to ensure that individuals within their jurisdiction are not subjected to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, including such ill-treatment administered by private individuals. These measures should provide effective protection, in particular, of children and other vulnerable persons, and include reasonable steps to prevent ill-treatment of which the authorities had or ought to have had knowledge’ (para 138). Having an inquiry into sex in prisons may go some way in bringing knowledge to the authorities, which is why it does not make sense to prevent this.

If there were indeed sexual offences committed, not only would this engage Article 3 but also Article 8, as ‘private life’ covers the physical and moral integrity of the person, including his or her sexual life (X and Y v Netherlands [1985] ECHR 4 para 22). In M.C. v Bulgaria [2003] ECHR 651, a case involving rape, Articles 3 and 8 were read together (para 166).

There is a problem however, in Osman v United Kingdom [1998] ECHR 101,as the ‘[s]tate’s obligation… extends…to…putting in place effective criminal-law provisions to deter the commission of offences against the person backed up by law-enforcement machinery for the prevention, suppression and sanctioning of breaches of such provisions’ (para 115). These are already in place and, in referring to a state’s procedural obligations, Grand Chamber in Janowiec v Russia [2013] ECHR 1003 noted that:

[T]he reference to “procedural acts” must be understood in the sense inherent in the procedural obligation under Article 2 or, as the case may be, Article 3 of the Convention, namely acts undertaken in the framework of criminal, civil, administrative or disciplinary proceedings which are capable of leading to the identification and punishment of those responsible or to an award of compensation to the injured party… This definition operates to the exclusion of other types of inquiries that may be carried out for other purposes, such as establishing a historical truth. (para 143)

However, in the same judgment, the joint partly dissenting opinion of Judges Ziemele, De Gaetano, Laffranque and Keller vehemently disagrees, stating that ‘[s]ometimes, one procedural step is a precondition for another…[and] in international law there is a clear trend towards recognising a right to the truth in cases of gross human rights violations’ (para 9).

Research by the Commission could initiate some of the proceedings mentioned by the majority of the Grand Chamber, i.e. sexual offences between inmates, sexual offences between inmates and staff or staff having sexual relationships with inmates which would involve misconduct in public office (which are all criminal) which can also lead to disciplinary proceedings (for staff members if relationships have been uncovered between them and inmates, this may also lead to civil action depending on the circumstances). So what the minority are suggesting is that even the ECtHR’s own case law betrays the reasoning of the majority; historical truth can lead to civil action. If one only looks Ndiki Mutua and Others v Foreign and Commonwealth Office [2012] EWHC 2678 (QB) (the Mau Mau case), this was set in motion by academic research conducted by Professor Caroline Elkins, Professor David Andersonand Dr Huw Bennett. This ultimately led to William Hague announcing that the Government will provide £19.9m in compensation. This demonstrates how valuable research can be even if it was not intended to provide legal avenues.

So it would seem that blocking this inquiry may not have any implications for the state’s positive obligations, because there are no allegations of any sexual offences/inappropriate relationships; and if there were, it would be the duty of the police to act upon this. It seems Grayling does not want human rights to apply to those in prisons, nor to those who want to help them.

And as Yoda would say:

Yoda

#FailingGrayling

 

Thanks to @RichGreenhill for reading initial draft.

Yashika, UKIP and us….

It was sadly poignant that the same day that Yashika Bageerathi was deported, UKIP leader Nigel Farage was trouncing Nick Clegg in a televised debate. The two things may seem unconnected – but they’re not, they’re intrinsically linked. Xenophobia rules the roost in the UK right now. The deportation of Yashika – and the death, just two days earlier, of Christine Case, in Yarl’s Wood Immigration Detention Centre – may look like tragic, individual events but they’re not. They’re what a ‘tough’ immigration policy looks like. Yashika’s case has been highlighted as particularly cruel, but to imagine that it is unique is naïve to say the least. All the hand-wringing over Yashika, important though her case is, misses the point to a great extent. We’ve build this system. These are the consequences.

Pressure has rightly been put on Theresa May and James Brokenshire over Yashika – because they could potentially have intervened – but there’s remarkable political consensus over immigration policy, which is even more depressing than the individual case. Labour’s response to the deportation amounted to ‘keep on going with the same policy but be nicer in her individual case’. The Lib Dems wrung their hands as they always do, but May and Brokenshire are ministers in their government, and this is their policy being brought into action. What’s more, they (almost all) voted through the effectively racist and authoritarian Immigration Bill in December – Labour abstained, which was tantamount to supporting the bill. ‘Toughness’ on immigration is pretty much the norm. Whether the major parties are supporting it ideologically, through fear of UKIP, through fear of the more rabid of the tabloids (the Mail and Express have a particularly poisonous role to play), because they have no principles and believe it to be electorally advantageous, or because they actually believe in this ‘toughness’ in the end doesn’t really matter. It certainly doesn’t matter to Yashika or her family, or to Christine Case, or to the large numbers of others suffering as a result of it.

What is clear is that almost no-one in the political establishment is challenging the ideas that underpin this ‘toughness’ agenda. The idea that immigration is somehow ‘bad’ or damaging. The economic case against immigration is flimsy at best – most of the evidence seems to suggest that immigration is essentially beneficial to the economy. The historical case is equally flimsy – we’re a country of immigrants, the product of wave after wave of immigrants and invasions, from the Celts onwards. The moral case, as exemplified by Yashika and Christine Case, is even worse. And yet no politicians from major parties even dare to challenge the current anti-immigration rhetoric to a serious degree. A few (notably the Lib Dems in a recent policy document) dare talk about the positives, but only with huge caveats and statements about making sure it’s the ‘right kind’ of immigration and so on. Mostly, though, the consensus is clear. Clear, xenophobic, and wrong.

Why is this? Can we shift the blame to supine politicians playing to the tune of the tabloids and the tabloids’ masters? I don’t think so. We’re complicit in this, and deeply. We’ve let it happen – I don’t mean at the detail level, and I know lots of individuals who have spoken up boldly and bravely about it, but as a nation, this seems to be the way we’re going, and what we seem to be accepting – and even applauding, if the enthusiasm for Nigel Farage last night is anything to go by. That is profoundly depressing, and we should be deeply ashamed.

Why I’m NOT rejoining the Labour Party

As (almost) everyone worked out, this morning’s blog post (see below) was an April Fool. I haven’t rejoined the Labour Party today, and I at present I can’t really see myself doing so. The problem, as I outline in the post, is that in far too many crucial policy areas there’s almost nothing between the policies of Labour and the Coalition. In some areas – crucial areas – it might even be worse. Labour’s digital policy – my specialist area – is particularly dire, and shows no sign of improving. Indeed, it might even be getting worse.

There are a few spots of brightness – I’m delighted about Labour’s commitment to get rid of the Bedroom Tax – but they are few and far between. At a time when coalition policy is so appallingly cruel, incompetent and damaging, for Labour to be practically the same in so many areas is more than disappointing. It’s depressing.

To those who say ‘join, and fight from within to change things’ you might well have a point – but my encounters with Labour activists on the doorstep in Cambridge have been even more depressing than the public outings in the media of Rachel Reeves and so forth. Our local candidate seems to put more energy into denigrating Tony Benn than he does in putting forward positive proposals. That may just be my perception – and sorry for being snarky, but that’s how I feel. I would love to be able to join the party – but right now, with all conscience, I can’t. Anyway, here’s the morning post…

——————————————

Screen Shot 2014-03-31 at 14.30.32After much thought, I’ve decided that now is the day to rejoin the Labour Party. I have been out of the party for a long time – I left in 1999 – but have finally been persuaded to rejoin. The possible damage that a Tory government might do, particularly to our education system, our vulnerable people, our social cohesion – to the future shape of our society – are so great that I now believe it’s time to get behind Labour.

Welfare

I have had reservations before, but now realise that I must bite the bullet and take that crucial step. I realise now that Rachel Reeves is right to proclaim that Labour will be tougher than the Tories on welfare. True, a few thousand vulnerable people may suffer as a result, but it is vital that Labour aren’t seen as a ‘soft touch’. The ‘striver vs scrounger’ rhetoric has resonance with so many people, we have to accept that and move on. There’s no point in fighting the battles of the past – we must make sure we don’t make the same errors as Labour made in the 80s. Support for the welfare cap was an excellent decision – as was Liam Byrne’s earlier decision to get Labour to enable the retrospective legislation over workfare. The public like workfare. Labour needs to accept that – and so do I.

Education

I also understand and agree with Tristram Hunt that we shouldn’t fight the reforms that Michael Gove has been pushing on the education system. It doesn’t matter that the vast majority of teachers have been demoralised and depressed by his policies; we must not be seen to be held to mercy by the teaching unions. Free schools offer choice, and choice matters above all things. Tristram Hunt is right to accept pretty much everything Gove says, even if so many experts in the field have disagreed with him. Going back to a 50s style curriculum, before the ‘educationalists’ had their way, is what the people want. Labour needs to accept this – and so do I.

Immigration

On immigration, too, it’s time to accept that the need to get the support of the key demographics matters more than the economic, cultural, moral and human rights arguments in favour of immigration, no matter how compelling those arguments might be. It doesn’t matter how much the evidence points to the benefits of immigration – the game has changed, as the rise of UKIP has shown, and we must change with it. Keith Vaz was quite right to visit Luton Airport to meet the flood of Romanian immigrants in January. Labour were quite right to acknowledge their errors over immigration in the past, even if those errors had a significant beneficial effect on the economy. By acknowledging these ‘errors’, Labour can position itself much better as a ‘tough on immigration’ party – something crucial for its electoral prospects.

Justice

Sadiq Khan, too, is right not to commit to reversing the reforms to the legal aid system put through by Chris Grayling. It would be a big mistake to be seen to be on the side of the ‘fat cat’ lawyers and on the criminal class, even if the evidence suggests that the changes will have a devastating effect, particularly on the criminal bar and the family courts. Yes, a few more innocent people will end up in jail and a few more families will suffer, but that’s a small price to pay for the possibility of electoral success. Votes are what matters – and in this case it’s a double whammy. Labour can show they’re economically prudent and at the same time tough on crime. It’s a win-win situation.

Digital policy

I have decided that I should also hold back my reservations on the digital world. It doesn’t matter that Helen Goodman is even more vehement than Claire Perry about porn filters – the evidence that the filters are easily bypassed, block crucial LGBT and sex-education sites and put into place an infrastructure ideal for political censorship really doesn’t matter in the face of the likely headlines in the Daily Mail of being soft on pornography if we continue to challenge them.

The fervour for surveillance of the likes of Hazel Blears and David Blunkett – and even Yvette Cooper – no longer bothers me as much as it did. It’s time to give up on privacy and accept that we should trust the security services. They’ve proven themselves worthy of that trust again and again over the last year or so. We don’t need the sort of hand-wringing over security that they’re having in the US – we can trust our security services and our police to be responsible at all times.

Not falling into traps

I’m also delighted to see that Ed Miliband hasn’t been falling into obvious traps. It might have been possible to conclude from the success of the energy bill freeze policy suggestion, which provoked changes in practice by the energy companies as well as changing the whole political agenda, that bold, popular policies that help ordinary people and challenge vested interests would be a good idea to follow. In particular, policies like the re-nationalisation of the rail companies, the energy companies – and the reversal of the Royal Mail sell-off – which by all accounts would be very popular, help ordinary people and protect them from manipulation by big business, might seem superficially attractive. Labour is much better off avoiding such obvious traps.

Saving what matters

All in all, then, I’m convinced that I need to rejoin Labour so that we can protect all those things that matter to me, like protecting vulnerable people, building a tolerant and supportive society, a positive and forward-looking education system, a justice system that serves the people and a society that protects civil liberties. If we let the Tories win, all these will be at risk. That means that a few sacrifices, a few compromises, need to be made – particularly in those areas where Labour has looked soft in the past, such as over-protecting vulnerable people, kowtowing to teachers over education, and caring too much justice and civil liberties.

For this, and so many other reasons, I’ve decided today is an excellent day to join the Conservative Party.

Screen Shot 2014-03-31 at 13.41.06

THE CORE OF THE UK

paulbernal64:

A piece of highly appropriate poetry from Chris Wayne!

Originally posted on CHRIS WAYNE POETRY:

Services in the UK                                                                                                                               Are slowly being cut                                                                                                                           But Cameron and his chums                                                                                                            Just don’t give a f*ck

As though they provide the public                                                                                                     With a vital need                                                                                                                             They’re being sacrificed                                                                                                                         For the government’s own greed

The value of these services                                                                                                          Should never be ignored                                                                                                                      As they give the public                                                                                                                   Some much needed support

They save our lives, rescue us                                                                                                            Make us feel safe                                                                                                                                  They do this from their hearts                                                                                                         For very little pay

They give the country                                                                                                                            A much needed stable core                                                                                                               They help those who struggle                                                                                                              Like the vulnerable and poor

But government spin                                                                                                                        And media lies                                                                                                                                       Has made the public think                                                                                                              That they are in decline

That the cuts to services                                                                                                                      Are for our benefit                                                                                                                                    But in reality they’re needed                                                                                                              By the defenseless and sick

And don’t buy this b*llocks                                                                                                                  That it’s to do with austerity                                                                                                                As since they came into power                                                                                                        They’ve borrowed more money

And…

View original 142 more words

Martin Bernal Memorial, Cambridge

Martin

A celebration of the life of my father, Martin Bernal, former Fellow of King’s College Cambridge and Professor Emeritus, Cornell University, will be held on Friday, 29 November 2013.

The celebration will be at King’s Hall, King’s College Cambridge, from 2.30-5.15 pm, including a reception.

Anyone who knew Martin or his work is welcome to come. If you need any more information, please let me know by email, at paul.bernal@uea.ac.uk

Martin died on the 9th June 2013 – his Guardian obituary can be found here.

Racist or authoritarian?

The new Immigration Bill had its second reading in the House of Commons yesterday – and was passed with almost no resistance. 303 votes in favour, just 18 against. The Labour Party effectively backed the Bill – to the distress of a considerable number of people, including myself.

Why are some of us worried about this Bill? Well, there are lots of reasons to object to it – not least the overall message that it sends, that somehow immigration is a big problem, one that we can pin a huge number of problems onto, from the pretty much bogus claims of ‘health tourism’ to unemployment to strain on schools to somehow blaming the entire economic problems of this country on them. If we have a problem, immigrants are a convenient group to blame – and have been for a long time. Making such a point of an Immigration Bill just adds to this… and Labour supporting this just adds to the feeling that  it’s just ‘truth’.

Your papers please!

That, however, is not what bothers me the most. I’m afraid that battle is one that right now is too hard to fight. The Mail, the Express and UKIP have done their work too well, and Labour, the Lib Dems etc are too scared to oppose it. No, what bothers me most right now is the increasing idea that we need to ‘check’ on people. Doctors need to check people’s immigration status, landlords need to check people’s immigration status, banks need to check people’s immigration status, the DVLA needs to check people’s immigration status etc etc etc…. I can see the argument for some of these – the DVLA it makes the most sense for – but it all adds to an atmosphere where ‘your papers please’ is pretty much the standard answer to any request. That in itself has deep and disturbing implications, implications we should be thinking about.

Racist?

The first question to ask is who will be asked for their papers. Are people asked for papers only when there is a ‘suspicion’ that they might be an illegal immigrant? If so, what could create that suspicion? That they ‘look’ like an illegal immigrant? What does an illegal immigrant look like? Recent activities of the UKBA suggest that they have certain ideas of what illegal immigrants look like – and those ideas have a distinct whiff of racism in them. Or, perhaps that they ‘sound’ like an illegal immigrant? An accent that doesn’t seem ‘local’? The implications of the possibility there will be more checks on people who look or sound ‘foreign’ should worry anyone with any sense of decency – or any knowledge of history.

Authoritarian?

There is an alternative, non-racist alternative: that everyone, no matter what they look like or sound like, should have to prove who they are and their immigration status in pretty much every situation. That wouldn’t be racist – but it would be deeply authoritarian. In the UK we have had a deep resistance to the idea of identity cards for a long, long time. We allowed them in the second war, but after the historic case of Willcock vs Muckle in 1951 we rejected them, and attempts to bring them in since have all failed. Indeed, opposition to the last Labour government’s ID card plan was central to the Coalition government’s plans – and one of their first actions in government was to cancel the programme.

This Immigration Bill, and the strategy in which is plays a part, could well bring about a kind of ‘ID cards by the back door’ plan: if we’re all forced to prove who we are, isn’t an ID card the logical way to do it? They wouldn’t call it an ID card of course – something like an ‘entitlement card’ would sound less offensive…. but the effect, particularly for poorer and more vulnerable people who need to access more services, for people from ethnic minorities who are more likely to be challenged, would be identical. It would be just as authoritarian.

Or a bit of both?

In reality, the impact is likely to be both racist and authoritarian. People who ‘look’ or ‘sound’ foreign will be challenged more often – or simply ignored or refused services, not offered accommodation – and there will be increasing occasions when we all will be required to ‘prove’ who we are.

We should be thinking far more carefully about the implications of bills like this – both in terms of the messages they send out and in terms of their impact in the real world. At the moment we seem to be thinking very narrowly, and on a very short term basis, without seeing the bigger picture. That isn’t good at all.

Mr Gove goes to war!

Mr Gove Goes To WarMr Gove was dreaming.

He was dreaming a dream of history. It was his favourite period of history, when Britain was Great. When Britannia Ruled the Waves.

He was dreaming of one of his heroes, Lord Palmerston. Lord Palmerston knew how to deal with the world. He knew how to make foreigners do what he wanted. He knew how to make Britain Great.

When Mr Gove woke, he met his friend Mr Cameron. Mr Cameron told him that there was a big problem in Syria. It might be so serious that they would have to go to war.

Mr Gove Goes To War Closer

Mr Gove listened to Mr Cameron. He felt sorry for the poor Syrians – but he remembered his dream. He remembered Lord Palmerston. He remembered what made Britain Great.

‘Be brave,’ he told Mr Cameron. ‘You know what needs to be done.’

But when Mr Gove looked at Mr Cameron he was not sure Mr Cameron did know what needed to be done. Mr Gove didn’t really think anyone except Mr Gove himself ever really knew what needed to be done.

But Mr Cameron was the Prime Minister. Somehow. And Mr Gove knew about Loyalty.

Mr Gove Goes To War Even Closer

When Mr Gove sat down in the House of Commons for the debate, he was still dreaming. Gunboats blockading Piraeus. The Charge of the Light Brigade. The Opium Wars. When Britain was Great.

He smiled happily to himself as Mr Miliband whimpered like the wimp he was, knowing that soon Mr Gove and Mr Cameron would be leaning over a map of the Middle East, pushing little model boats with long sticks.

But then, things started to happen that Mr Gove did not like. Not at all.

Some of Mr Cameron’s so-called-friends started asking questions that Mr Gove did not like. They started to ask for ‘evidence’ that this plan would work.

Mr Gove Super Close up

Mr Gove didn’t like evidence. He never liked evidence. All those moaning teachers and namby-pamby academics asked for evidence when Mr Gove wanted to take teaching back to the way it had been in the Great Days. Evidence? It was obvious! Of course Mr Cameron’s plan was the right thing to do!

No-one had asked Lord Palmerston for ‘evidence’.

Still, thought Mr Gove, everything was going to be fine. Those nice people in the Whips Office had told them that.

But more of Mr Cameron’s ‘friends’ asked more questions. They wanted to know what would happen after their little plan was finished. Why? It should have been obvious. Mr Assad was a bully, and we all know what happens when people stand up to bullies. But they kept on asking questions. Mr Gove did not like this.

They started saying that most of the people of the country didn’t like Mr Cameron’s plan. Pah! What do most of the people in the country know?  Who cares about them?

When Mr Clegg was as pathetic as only Mr Clegg could be, Mr Gove began to feel a little less comfortable. His face felt a little hot. Mr Gove did not like this at all. He hated it.

Mr Gove Super Close up 2

And then, something terrible happened. Something unthinkable.

The vote happened.

Mr Cameron lost. He lost. He lost.

Mr Gove felt steam starting to rise. He felt his dreams melting away.

And Mr Gove lost it. He turned to Mr Cameron’s so-called-friends, his eyes blazing, his ears bright red.

‘TRAITORS!’ shouted Mr Gove. ‘TRAITORS! DISGRACE! DISGRACE! YOU’RE A DISGRACE!’

He was still muttering under his breath as his friends led him from the chamber.

Poor Mr Gove.

Sometimes things don’t go the way that you want them. Even if you’re Mr Gove.

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Art based on original artwork by @kaiserofcrisps. Words by me.

The first episode of Mr Gove can be found here…

An excellent dramatic reading of Mr Gove goes to War, by @Elmyra, can be found here…