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Thirty Years Ago

***Long Read***

I’ve been reading a report called Blood Sweat and Tears, about a project in the 1990s, instigated to address rising racial tensions, crime and related problems on an estate in Bermondsey.

I have this temptation to make a terrible joke first, and I think I’m going to give in to it, and say ‘my but they had proper racism in those days’. It wasn’t about old Tories sobbing over imperialist statues. It wasn’t a spat over the appropriateness of a 1950s novel in the library. Back then, the National Front and BNP were recruiting – or trying to, and shiny-headed boot boys were around in our cities, drawing swastikas on walls, ganging up on immigrant kids and lobbing bricks at black families’ cars.

“Evidence of racist activity in the area suggested that black people were becoming easy targets for the frustrations and political impotence experienced by the local white community,” says the report, and “two cornerstones of the effort were work with young black people to develop confidence when faced with racism and work with young people with racist attitudes and street gangs to promote anti-racist ideas…”

Already, reading that introduction, two thoughts were rising in my head. The first was that someone assigned to deal with the situation would have a choice of two focuses: the “racist activity” or the “frustrations and political impotence experienced by the local white community”. As an anti-racist, if you choose “racist activity” the temptation is to see finger-waving, slogan-chanting and placard-bearing as the way to go. If you focus on the second, and ask yourself what are the causes of “frustrations and political impotence”, you are giving yourself a long, hard and wide-ranging job but that, the Bermondsey team concluded, was the job that needed doing.

My second thought was about current events in my own town, here in 2021 because seriously, I do know that racism, nationalism and related blindnesses are still a destructive force. We too are suffering ”frustrations and political impotence”. We are struggling with austerity and recession, and now people are getting themselves into a state over whether we can ‘afford to’ help refugees who wash up on the beach, and in some cases asking why they ‘come over here’, and now I hear it’s attracting the attention of those far-right groups looking to feed on people’s fears.

I feel we should be talking about austerity and recession, along with the larger, global issues that create displacement. I believe politicians’ chosen stance on those larger issues are the causes of our doubt that we can or should extend a welcoming hand to refugees but, as I settled down to read about the setbacks, lessons and triumphs that made up that three year, government-funded project in 1990s London, I felt my spirits sinking – where would a 21st Century council or NGO find either the patience or the funds to follow where this project led?

Rising Tensions

The report states that in the ‘90s there was a (possibly mistaken) view that racial tension was caused by far-right organisations such as (at that time) the BNP and the National Front, but that among the issues that needed addressing were socio-economic problems and establishment-led anxieties designed to discourage immigration, or to demonise particular elements of society. Those people would then bear the blame for government failings in welfare, housing and education provision. (Believe it or not, black single mothers were often blamed for all our woes back then. I can remember the crazy arguments).

Investing time, thought and planning

Looking at the detailed work that went into setting up and maintaining the project in Bermondsey – and the debate about how to get genuinely, constructively involved with the local community, I can’t help thinking that anti-racist efforts I’ve seen more recently are way, way too brief and self-serving. There is no way the kind of work these people did could be done, for example, within the span of an election campaign or even with a year’s funding with tick-box targets from some grant-farming organisation.

The project put time and a lot of thought into finding, stabilising and activating a team of appropriately skilled people and then into building awareness, trust and relationships in the community. Dealing with racist attacks, and other forms of misdirected (or just plain undirected) anger is a difficult and potentially dangerous occupation, and the staff had other forces – such as local papers – working against them, seeking to sensationalise and even provoke community problems for the sake of a story.

The young men

As for any hopes of black and white kids working together within the project – that took even longer because at the start, they would not see any black kids on the street at all. It simply and obviously wasn’t safe for them, but the project stuck with their work, talking to groups of young men they found hanging out, or playing football until, to use the words of one of those young men, “you lot have stuck it out, haven’t you – you don’t turn your back on us and walk away, you don’t think we’re all bad.”

Respect is a two-way street and responses like the above appear to have been the result of the project’s practice of politely challenging aggressive behaviour, but “there was agreement that challenging would not involve putting individuals down or belittling them in front of their peers”. The staff were resolved to stick by their own commitments, and demand the same of the young people they worked with, and to make “a clear distinction between the young people they were working with and their negative attitudes”.

The young women

It took longer for the project to find the girls. They were “more likely to be in school, less likely to be hanging round the streets” but in time, they did find them, and found the girls to be somewhat better at working together, and also more willing to spot and call out destructive behaviours.

The project team had been concerned that “targeting the potential and actual perpetrators of racial violence would reinforce the exclusion of the black young people who were their potential or actual victims.” This issue began to be solved as girls formed their own activities and relationships, and black and mixed race families began to take part. In the third year, as the project turned their attention to how to create a legacy, some of those girls wrote about the project, and turned up to meetings planning for the future, seeking to preserve new-found support and awareness.

The police

The group were also enthusiastically endorsed by the local police, who reported an impressive reduction in racist, violent and other destructive acts on the estate as the project progressed. One officer also told of the frustration the police feel, when attempting to ‘move along’ potential trouble makers if they know there’s no-where for them to go. While the project was running, there had been somewhere.

Conclusions

Reading the report outcomes, my mind goes back, time and time again, to a stand-off I once had with an ‘anti-fascist’ activist who was seeking funds from my union group to hire a minibus to do what I suspected would not be a million miles away from lobbing half-bricks back at racists on a march. That might be good fun, and I’m not saying there isn’t a place for those parachute-in actions, (I’m reminded of when EDL or some such group tried to descend on Liverpool, and never even got out of the railway station because local socialist activists were there in force – that was, I think, an example of effective on-the-spot action) but this report convinces me that changing hearts and minds requires more, much more, and more sustained efforts.

How you actually counteract fascism has been on my mind lately because I have been the target of some of those parachute-in anti-fa groups in recent years. Seriously, yes, we have a generation that learned anti-fa tactics and somewhat over-applied them. In recent years, some of them added women’s groups to their list of targets, calling us ‘anti-trans hate groups’ and so I know exactly, deeply and personally just how much the targets of such actions (us) do not change our minds because a bunch of yobs turn up to yell at you.

Why am I telling you this now?

The report describes itself as “not just an account of an interesting and worthwhile project but as a practical resource that will be of particular use to community workers and activists, youth work students, trainers, teachers and others involved in anti-racist work with young people.” It provides detailed examples of the kinds of situations the team dealt with, and transcripts of their debates about those incidents. It offers “structured tasks and discussions … of particular use to people involved in training youth workers, as well as to others that are keen to develop positive approaches to anti-racist work in their own communities.”

I have discussed this, and other related issues with Leah Levane, who worked on the project, and she told me that the group were invited to give talks on their experience after its completion, and had hoped to see similar projects instigated elsewhere as a result. Unfortunately, as the ‘90s progressed into the ‘00s, we found ourselves with a government even less inclined to invest in local projects, and councils which, as local government grants dwindled away, could not have put up the funds themselves so here’s my appeal to you:

Blood, Sweat and Tears - A report of the bede anti-racist detached youth work project

Don’t let the Bermondsey project work be forgotten

Please download the report and read it in full, and then go tell your local community, union, political or youth group about it. Maybe you can get a working group to study it, and consider how similar work could be instigated or developed where you are.

Download link Blood Sweat and Tears report

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Labour Election Hastings media Politics activism

Local politics – identity v solidarity

If there is anything like a progressive alliance in May, or at the next General Election, it’s going to have to be based on something better than party politics. Last week, I wrote a piece calling for independent candidates for next year’s council elections (well, any elections that happen next year really) because it seems to me that whilst party politics becomes an increasingly opaque scrum for individual gain, the vast majority of us see vital, urgent issues being neglected.

Party politics has failed us

We need people to stand up for the NHS, for public services and transport, for action on the unbelievable pressures on our kids, to stand consistently against poverty and deprivation, and for the urgency of addressing the climate crisis. We don’t need whole swathes of people wasting their time canvassing and leafletting for a bunch of tribal party types who might stand up for us, but only when it fits in with their inter-party and intra-party wars.

My town

Since I left the Labour party, I had been pondering whether I’d vote red or green, locally. We have a pretty solidly socialist bunch of Labour councillors at the moment and, although they’ve struggled with financial issues as local government funds drop away, and baulked at dealing with the more vitriolic identity politics issues that concern many, I suspect they are exponentially better for us than a Tory council would be.

Tory councils in less affluent areas have a worryingly consistent record for doing nothing but serving their own business interests, and we all know now that voting Lib Dem always comes out as voting Tory really, so it would have to be red or green.

Scandal! Drama! Defection!

Or so I was thinking when the latest denounce-and-defect scandal hit my town.

Three councillors have walked out of Labour in my borough during my time in the Labour Party. I think I had the most sympathy for the one that raged out at the start of the Corbyn era – although I utterly disagreed with him politically, the scene had changed dramatically and from his point of view unexpectedly. If all the other Corbyn deniers had done the same instead of staying in and rowing with their ‘comrades’, we’d probably have a Corbyn government in office now.

The other two defectors though, were elected into a situation they were well aware of, then raised hell and walked out. The first ‘suddenly’ discovered the Labour Party was ‘rife with anti-semitism’, and wrote a lengthy diatribe accusing just about everyone, including our town’s two most prominent Jewish socialists.

The most recent one did something almost identical but in relation to the ‘trans rights’ situation rather than alleged anti-semitism. (Personally, I see that as trans demands v women’s existing rights – it should be a respectful negotiation, not endless cries of ‘transphobia’ but anyway….) In both cases, they were referring to well-known situations, and not adding a jot of evidence to suggest anything new had actually happened.

The most recent even refers to ‘something’ (she didn’t say what) said on Facebook several years ago, along with a couple of other pieces of demonstrable nonsense so why the sudden outrage immediately after she was safely elected? Seems to me that has to be planned drama – sabotage tactics.

Identity v solidarity

Identity politics does famously work against class politics and as a result, against group loyalty so it’s not surprising as a human phenomenon, and councils survive worse but for me now, as a non-party person, where does it leave my voting intention? The first two defectors went independent but the most recent was immediately welcomed into the arms of Green Party – they are clearly laying the ground to use it against Labour in the May elections. She says their values suit her better and I could sympathise with that had she not rode into office as a Labour councillor this year – a mere few months ago and immediately accused the entire Labour group.

Bearing in mind that most people do have a pretty well-developed sense of fair play, I see comments around the issue on social media suggesting these events are not going to play well for red or green, and I also see that the fallout is going to take up a lot of hard pressed council workers’ time for a while yet.

Well I certainly won’t vote for the manipulators and operators I’ve seen in action lately, so here’s hoping for some strong, independent candidates in my town ready to devote their time to things that matter to us, as the best of our Labour councillors have been doing (often thanklessly) for a long old time. One thing I definitely won’t be doing is supporting people who rode in on the back of other party activists’ efforts, nor for a party that tries to worsen, and take advantage of, the resulting troubles.

Red or independent? It depends what’s on offer.

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activism Corbyn economics Election Hastings Housing Labour NHS Politics prejudice Uncategorized

Make lousy politicians a minority

We could do this. Here’s how…

There are millions of people in this country who, like me, have used the phrase ‘politically homeless’. They have been thrown out of, or lost faith in, their ‘natural’ choice of party. There are also increasing numbers of people who, like me, have realised there’s more to politics than the competition between red, blue and any other party colours that choose to challenge the tyranny of red and blue. We know the ‘minority parties’ won’t get far, though, and many of us are having trouble believing we can magically agree on yet another new party, and get them into a realistic position before the next election.

There’s a better way

There are millions of people, if you put them together, who have thrown their efforts into the anti-austerity movement, perhaps via the People’s Assemblies, or through their unions. Others have chosen one of the big issues our survival depends on, and started working with XR, or Stop the War, or the women’s movement.

It’s become obvious to most that the main political ‘opposition’ known to the establishment is Keir Starmer’s Labour, despite the fact that Labour’s willingness to defend basics is minimal. By basics, I mean things most of us agree that we need – like the NHS, water, power and transport services, housing and workers’ rights. Many people also value women’s rights, anti-racism and of course the environment, and that means millions won’t sit easy with a party that neglects or worsens those issues.

You are being taken for a ride

Starmer’s Labour is cheerfully dancing to the right, confident that they don’t have to be much different to Johnson’s Tories now. They think a few familiar names from the last century, a few professional looking politicians who handle themselves better than Johnson, is all they need. The Greens are still too absorbed in arguing with each other over whether women exist to come anywhere near XR in environment-defence campaigns let alone on any other issue that matters to real people. The Lib Dems are still as pointless as they have been ever since Nick Clegg demonstrated their ‘beta Tories’ stance. There are other options in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and, if you’re Welsh, Labour may seem less of a lost cause to you but for English voters, no other party is going to get a nose into Westminster politics unless we force our politicians into a complete overhaul of the voting system, and indeed, many have joined vote-reform pressure groups.

Great – we need that. Join a vote-reform pressure group, but that isn’t very exciting, and doesn’t feel like the whole of an answer, does it?

Get mad AND get even

The politicians you shout at on the telly are all completely confident that you’ll choose red or blue or give up and do nothing. It’s time to prove them wrong. In the next election, there will be a lot of people who will need to be persuaded to vote at all. This is the situation where inspiring independent candidates have a really good chance and, if those independents want to win, now is the time to be planning and organising. But they need to have something most maverick independents don’t have. They need an organisation, and some informed supporters.

If you’re a member of a campaigning group of any kind, on any issue, national or local, that has natural justice on its side, get talking now about whether you have someone who’s real candidate material – someone your group would rally round with enough enthusiasm to inspire others. You should be preparing now, to offer your own Refugee Support candidate, or Housing is a Human Right candidate, or Anti-Austerity candidate, or No Shit candidate (the latter has become a popular slogan in my town, since our water company was taken over by a shameless, profiteering polluter).

Take back control

In the last two general elections, independent candidates were often unpopular because the main parties had a lot of passionate support. In one of those elections in my town, an independent candidate won a mere 400 votes but they were votes that could have toppled an unpopular MP. Although that maverick candidate raised some important issues and gave the unpopular MP some nasty moments in the hustings, he was seriously considering leaving town after voting day, for his own safety. The situation has changed now. In most constituencies, no-one would weep for the loss of main party offerings.

Consider both council and national elections. Don’t let the reds and the blues choke our politics. If every council had a range of experienced, specialist independents, if every hustings at the next GE had a range of candidates speaking knowledgeably on the real issues, seasoned activists from those pressure groups we all support, like We Own It, Defend the NHS and the rest – if that happened, the major parties would have to pull their socks up, start doing real politics, or lose seats big time.

That will make them listen to you. Think about your groups and campaigns, talk the issue through with fellow activists, and get organised now. It’s a big job, but it’s far, far more satisfying than sitting around feeling bullied by lousy politicians. Find a well known campaigner on an important local issue to put up for council, and an effective activist on a big national issue to put up for the next General Election. At the very least, your candidates will raise the level of the debate and make the big party politicians work but it’s perfectly possible that if enough groups did this, we could make lousy politicians a backward-looking minority on your council and in Westminster.

Doesn’t that idea just bring joy to your heart? Who are you going to talk to? Which of your local groups could do this? Let’s get to it, now.

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activism Book reviews Corbyn Hastings Labour media Politics women

Crosscut your community

In November 2021, the news hit Hastings that a group of refugees had drowned trying to cross the channel. It hit us hard, because being a southern coastal town, the victims of failed attempts tend to wash up on our shore. This has never been a problem we are able to ignore. Local reactions are varied as they are everywhere but on this occasion, as the news came out that those people had had a mobile, and had called both French and English authorities for help and been denied by both, anger rose.

Quite where that anger was directed depended on people’s knowledge and political position. Some feel that looking after refugees is our responsibility because our society, our government are as much to blame as any for the number of displaced people currently crossing Europe looking for safe haven. Some feel that the UK have done all they can, that money and housing are short, so we can’t help any more. Others feel that we have room, and we have housing, but we have a government that won’t allocate resources to match needs. Many more, regardless of their political stance, are unbearably distressed by the arrival of cold, wet, terrified people on our beaches, and want to help whatever the cost and whoever pays it.

I was particularly struck by one man’s comment that managed to cut down the middle of all those views. He said something along the lines of “if I was in their position I’d do the same, but how are we going to cope with them?”

 That’s a discussable position, and a good starting point. But why is a middle-of-the-road, negotiable view of current events – any events – so rare? Why are we so ready to withdraw into opposing camps and shout about things, rather than trying to solve problems?

Party politics? Social media encouraging anonymous, irresponsible scatter-gun commenting? Shortage of money, housing and work making people defensive? I’d say yes, all those things but what we need are answers, and I suspect cross-cutting is one of them.

Crosscutting

Did you, like me, immediately think ‘oh yes, that’s the difficult way of cutting wood’ – but I’ve just seen the term in an entirely different context. I have just started reading The WEIRDEST book…

If you’re not into seriously long psychology books, don’t worry – there’s a single-paragraph abstract of the book here.

In (very) brief, Henrich and his colleagues had a startling moment when they realised that almost all the psychology studies they were relying on for information about humans had used US university students as subjects for study, and they had precious little to go on as to whether there were other kinds of humans in other places who thought in different ways.

There follow 500-odd pages of ‘us and them’ discussions about different societies, about how our own society developed and why, and what the alternatives might be. One of those discussions hinges on a study of a people in New Guinea called the Ilahita, a society that, although broadly tribal, seemed unusually good at growing and assimilating in-comers without strife. The key point, the study found, was how the communities developed interdependence. Not the kind of interdependence that is vital for survival – our modern society has no shortage of that – witness the panic whenever supermarkets run out of anything, or the power goes off – we’re really useless at shifting for ourselves as individuals, however many cans of beans we have in the cellar. No, this is about social interdependence.

Ilahita communities were crosscut, in that every village was sub-divided into extended-family clans, but also into ritual-organising groups that cut across clan groups, and groups who worked together for other purposes that cut across *those*. It meant that people were used to being ‘the same’ as another person on one issue, but ‘different’ on another. As a result, they had no problems with the idea of adopting non-blood relatives, or integrating new people into a community when they needed to.

Always coming home by Ursula Le Guin - cover pic

The idea struck a chord, and I remembered reading Always Coming Home – It’s an epic by Ursula le Guin, whose speciality was writing ‘what if’ books about different ways of living. In this particular book, she builds a detailed crosscut world, where people’s ‘kin’ allegiances were crosscut by membership of community ‘houses’ – and other group allegiances both distinguished and interwove them socially and emotionally.

My tribes

Like many of us, I got deeply involved in politics during the last decade, feeling that the time had come to agitate for change. I joined first the Green Party and then, when Jeremy Corbyn offered a new way of going on, the Labour Party. The switch from one party to the other felt odd to me. I was aware of changed perspectives, and also of a change in who was rude to me, and who gave me house-room. I made a point of still trying to talk to, and work with, Green Party people, and was enthusiastic about the ‘Progressive Alliance’ for a while.

And then the ground moved. I was also involved with the women’s sex-based rights campaign, and was shocked to find that sizable elements in both the Green Party and the Labour Party had decided this was not acceptable and worse, they had decided being rude and destructive towards gender-critical women’s groups didn’t count as bad behaviour, because we were ‘the enemy’.

I stuck around in the Labour Party and then some other lefty groups for while, and tried to build bridges, talking to trade union people, to shadow cabinet MPs and other party members about how they had been blinded by the demonisation of the women’s groups, and talking to women about how our views of the politicians involved were becoming skewed and polarised. I thought about how (former?) comrades were completely unaware of how insulting and dismissive they were of my views on this issue, or how infuriating that was for me and, as a result, tried to think more about the affect my words had on others.

In February 2020, Woman’s Place UK ran a Women’s Liberation conference at UCL in London, to which over a thousand women came. I collaborated with a woman from the Green Party to present a workshop there about how to work on women’s issues within political parties. The women who came to that workshop, and worked together for the afternoon, included Conservatives, Lib Dem, Labour, Green Party and Communist Party members. They worked well together because we were all feminists and, as women, facing a lot of common issues.

The nature of that group was in itself liberating and I tried to bring that mood back to my other political groups. The trouble is, political parties are more or less the opposite of that Ilahita culture. It became too much of a strain for me in my local Labour Party, and I left and soon afterwards, I left the other lefty groups I was in, feeling suddenly aware of just how worn down I was by tribal disagreements and blindnesses – I still can’t decide whether that was sensible self-protection or a failure of nerve.

I still try to maintain the diversity of stance in the women’s groups I work with. When I find a woman backing away, thinking a group is too far this way or that way, I sympathise. There are always going to be people at the extreme ends of every opinion within a group, and it’s hard work being one of those people – but I don’t want them to leave, because it narrows the scope of the group and someone else finds themselves being ‘the extreme’.

I don’t think that would happen in a properly crosscut society.

Avoiding polarisation

There are so many current issues and behaviours that encourage polarisation. Brexit, responses to COVID (here’s an interesting take on that – I don’t agree with everything said in this article but there’s plenty worth thinking about ), the sex-based rights campaign and, of course, how we deal with refugees and other in-comers. But is it actually the issues that are divisive, or the way we approach difference? It’s well known, for example, that the damage wreaked by racism is much *lower* in areas with well-mixed communities, where people maintain allegiances to ‘their own kind’ but also manage to function in different aspects of the wider community.

I hope and trust that Hastings will resolve its differences over refugees because there are huge overlaps between the fishing community, the RNLI, the refugee support groups and the coastal-dwellers generally. At the moment, a minor altercation on the beach has become national news, and the national media are world champions at driving a wedge into a small dispute to make a big story – but I see that members of all those crosscut local groups are investigating, and trying to heal the division. Good for them.

Let’s mix it up some more, and get on with what needs doing. I place hope in the politicians I see around social media currently looking to be (or forced into being) independent MPs and councillors. That could be a disaster, a fracturing of power – but it could also be the beginning of people mixing it up more, and having complimentary allegiances that *work*.

If you’ve read this far, please join me in resolving to crosscut our lives more. Look at your communities, your allegiances, and your attitude to ‘others’. How can you broaden it, and learn some new angles? Also (I guiltily say to myself) look at who you think it’s okay to be rude to, and who you assume you have nothing to learn from, then look again, a different way. This is the call to adventure.

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activism Hastings media Politics

What is a safe country?

Our politicians are talking about safe countries. They say refugees need to claim asylum in the “first safe country” they reach. In today’s news, we’re told that the UK and the Netherlands have agreed that refugees arriving here need to be “returned” to the “first safe country.”

Screenshot of MSN article,, header pic shows beach-art message 'safe routes now'
link to article

Sounds logical doesn’t it? But who decides what is safe, and how? Or is the very idea of “first safe country” yet another convenient myth, some words to say in parliament? I think this is likely, firstly because the problems that are creating the tide of refugees across the world are enormous – wars created by the arms industry, climate crises created by a generation of destructive industries, and unstable, unsafe regimes created by lousy politicians, mostly propped up by the USA, who don’t like to see other countries running independently of US hegemony.

It could not be more obvious that we have no politicians in our own current government with the intention or the ability to solve problems that big, so jockeying with other countries to try and prove refugees should go somewhere other than here is likely to be the best they will attempt.

In fact, according to France, our politicians are so bad it’s not worth talking to them at all. Macron is apparently annoyed with Johnson for tweeting one thing when he’s just said another, and although it’s possible he’s making a fuss, all our experience of Johnson suggests that when Macron says there’s no point in trying to work with him, it’s likely to be true.

We need a proper government, managed by professionals.

Our Home Secretary is making the refugee situation a crime issue, and thinks the answer is “tackling the criminal gangs” who arrange channel crossings – an absolutely standard Tory response that amounts to treating the symptoms. No-one would be paying strangers to organise stupid little boats if there was an official, safe route available.

Our so-called opposition has at least managed to point out that there needs to be a safe passage.

Michael Rosen tweeted the other day about the masses and masses of displaced people who were on the move after the Second World War, about how the UK had refugee camps all over the country then about how, despite being broke and all but broken by the war, we assimilated many of those refugees and organised passage to places they could live for many more. When you have a proper government, you can do things like that. Like any other project a government runs, such an endeavour builds bonds, creates work, and generally becomes a part of the life of a healthy country.

My second reason for not believing in the “first safe country” idea is that I have seen a stark example of how this works in reality.

An example of a ‘first safe country’

I went to the FiLiA women’s conference in October and in one of the plenary sessions, we all joined a zoom with some women in a refugee camp in Kakuma. It was a devastatingly emotional experience. Most of the women we spoke to were lesbians, and had been put in a ‘special’ area in the camp, because they were in a place where LGBT people were seen as something strange, something to put ‘outside’ the ‘normal’ area. There had been attacks, there had been rapes, there had been tents set on fire. One woman’s baby had been killed.

The women were terrified, and tearful, and had no idea how they could get away from that camp to a place where they would actually be safe. Most of them had no money, and those who did found that traders would not take ‘dirty’ money from gay people. Some had tried to escape from the camp, only to be attacked by security forces and dragged back. They had run away from a country where LGBT people were not safe, and been trapped in a place that was as bad, if not worse.

When I realised what the zoom was about, I worried at first that this would be some terrible spectator drama, but it wasn’t. The women had wanted to do the link-up because of the way news and politics works, because people who are known, people who have names and faces and voices, people who are in communication with others around the world, are harder to kill. I’m writing this blog post because I saw those women, they spoke to me, and I will never forget them.

We know about those women, Ms Patel. We have heard about “first safe countries”, Mr Johnson. We don’t believe you, we don’t trust you, and we require that you participate in #safepassage arrangements for refugees.

If you would like to help the Kakuma women, please visit the FiLiA website here.

Joanna Cherry has written to Priti Patel – one of the outcomes of that zoom…

Header from Nationa Scot article "Joanna Cherry: Priti Patel must help the women from the nation her parents left
Cherry’s column in the National Scot

We need to make more contacts with refugees, whether they are here or in camps elsewhere, find out more about them, and the issues that drove them from home, and then we need to educate our government.

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activism Hastings Politics prejudice

Christmas lights on the beach

Dear Home Secretary,

Fairy lights are on the trees and the lamp posts in the town centre, and the coloured lights are appearing in the shops and the windows of everyone’s houses, but these lights are the ones people of Hastings took to the sea-front, as a farewell message to the families who drowned in the English Channel this week.

They drowned in the sea because France rejected them and Britain would not help them. It’s very clear that you, like the former Home Secretary, who was our Hastings MP, do not prioritize people whose families come to Britain seeking sanctuary, or a more bearable life, you prefer to prioritize ‘our own’ – but could I ask you to look at it like this?

How do you think the people of seaside towns like ours feel, looking out over that cold, dark sea at night, and thinking there may be families drowning in that cold, dark sea? How do you think we feel, knowing that you are asking our RNLI – volunteers, who do the work they do because they care deeply about people – you are asking them to turn their backs on those people, and you are asking our border forces to do a ‘push back’ which will lead to more drownings?

I don’t believe that you are unable to find a humane solution to this. I don’t believe you are trying. The people of Hastings have been going down to the waterline to help frozen, soaking wet, terrified refugees for a long old time now.. This Christmas, if you wake up in the night, never mind the little match girl, try to imagine a little girl drowning in that cold, dark sea. For as long as that is happening, our country is not civilised, and your party is not the party of ‘law and order’, or ‘family values’.

Yours sincerely,

One who stood on the Stade tonight, unable to stop imagining families drowning in that cold, dark sea.

People of Hastings stand vigil for the drowned refugees, November 2021.
Categories
activism economics Housing media NHS Politics prejudice Uncategorized

Transports of delight!

Oh, what an original idea! Gather up all these alarming, inconvenient people and send them to some far-flung corner of the world we have a bit of control over.

https://www.dumptheguardian.com/world/2021/nov/21/migrant-crossings-are-becoming-a-problem-for-red-wall-tory-mps

It worked before, didn’t it? That’s why Australia is what it is. Come to think of it, lots of UK citizens who hadn’t been marked as undesirable followed them, once the country got on its feet. I think we should all consider jumping the gun this time – depart Cruel Brittania, and go with the refugees to a new world built by those the Tories always did, and always will think of as ‘undesirables’.

Now, what next? As they dismantle and sell off the remains of our services (the NHS is to all intents and purposes under the hammer in parliament this week) which of the Victorians’ cruel ideas do you think our abysmal politicians are going to try out next in their endless attempts to avoid the obvious truth?

The obvious truth

We had the best NHS in the world. We had transport, power, education and care services that were faulty but sort of worked. Now so many of us are struggling to find dentists, get medical and social care, we realise ‘sort of’ was a lot better than nothing. We got as far as ‘sort of’ because we had a government that saw its job as running the country, and local authorities that saw their jobs as running the services in their areas. We knew that all those administrators were there to provide people’s needs. They were paid to do it, and paid enough to live decently, not to get rich off our services. For decades, we’ve been told our services all needed to be sold off because they were faulty. Not so. We needed a government that would keep at it, make the poor services better and the good truly great.

Demand better – demand change. If you’re over 50, you’ll know we did it once before so we can do it again. If you’re under 50, ask granny how the NHS, housing, education, social services etc etc used to work. Fight back. If acting on your own doesn’t work, get some people around you and become an active part of everyone who’s demanding better.

What’s it got to do with refugees?

All those services we fought for and won in the last century – we did all that in time when (as now) lots of people emigrated to the UK when things were unsustainable where they lived. They came because they heard the UK was better. This was not a bad thing. They can’t help coming now. The ones who reach the north coast of France and get bullied into the sea by the French authorities are a minority of the refugees on the move. Pity them – they’ve landed in a country with a merciless government, and next to no local services.

But one thing we do know about the people washing up on our beaches is that they’re strong enough and clever enough to get that far. Maybe they’re strong enough and clever enough to help make a new country, either here or on the other side of the world when we all get sent to the Falklands for stealing our daily bread, like desperate people did in the bad old days before the NHS, social care services, etc etc.

This week’s ‘Destruction of the NHS’ Bill in parliament

If you want some help fighting back, contact the People’s Assembly office@thepeoplesassembly.org.uk Or try your local Trades Council. Or check if there’s a local branch of Defend the NHS where you are.

Categories
activism economics Election Labour media Uncategorized women

Luxury beliefs versus vulnerable women

This week on the BBC, we saw a stand off by the two sides of the deepest and most harmful split I have ever seen in left politics, one that I am still waiting for many on the left to even acknowledge.

I believe that the resurgence of the establishment wing of the Labour Party re-establishes their inability to see what most people see – that we are once again faced with a Labour Party that can’t communicate with ordinary people. I also believe that the lines in the sand are not where they appear to be. All those lefty unpaid interns and academics who were brought into the limelight by Corbyn and MacDonnell a few years ago really do not count as ordinary. They were popular because they brought in ‘the new economics’ that we needed, to challenge the corporate stranglehold on our economy, but they were not ‘ordinary’ people so no, this dreadful split is not about left and right, but it IS about class.

The trendy left who had such a good time during the Corbyn movement era are every bit as off-key on this issue as the ‘centrists’ who are now in charge. It shows up painfully in the interview with Rosie Duffield and Ellie Mae O’Hagan, which many lefty commentators have automatically responded to by rushing to defend O’Hagan’s side of the debate.

Ellie Mae O’Hagan is a member of ‘CLASS’ but, as the average working class person does not get to expound their views on the telly, I think wherever she started from, she now belongs with the ‘trendy left’ rather than the working class. This would explain why she completely misses anything that could be understood by a class analysis of the point in question.

Rosie Duffield is also a maverick here. The perfect example of the misfit who by their very existence flags up hidden problems, Duffield rode to victory and became an MP (well-paid middle class professional by definition) on the wave of the Corbyn movement. When she says that before that, she was ‘just normal’ it is far more true than it is when most MPs say that. She can remember having an ordinary job that didn’t easily cover ordinary needs. I was among many who were underwhelmed by her in 2017 because she did not acknowledge the movement that carried her to victory, so one would expect to think of her as on the ‘establiishment’ side of the debate. It feels odd to be fighting her corner, but here’s the thing:

The divide

It all hinges on whether you’re willing to pretend you don’t know what the vast majority of people mean when they say ‘woman’, and if you follow the currently fashionable mantra that trans women are women (TWAW), or whether you are one of those who think sex matters, and real women – vulnerable, ordinary women, can suffer terribly if you sit in a well-protected, middle-class professional space, and pretend it doesn’t matter, that it’s all a case of applying good drawing room manners and being ‘nice’.

Duffield can see what her constituents experience, and therefore does not think that TWAW is sufficiently captivating as a progressive idea that she can forget what ordinary, unprivileged women go through when women’s spaces and services are inadequate.

Here’s the interview, with its groovy, trendy header quote and my comment and transcript below:

Let’s look at (my attempt to produce) a transcript, with some interpretations added, then I’ll say a bit more about why I think Duffield is the way she is.

The unasked and the unanswered

It’s not unusual to listen to TV interviews and hear yourself squeaking in frustration because the interviewees are not answering the questions asked but this is a particularly strange case because there is such a hammered-on script for the TWAW stance that I found I could hear the unasked questions O’Hagan was actually answering, so I am going to reproduce that conversation, and try to shine some light. At the end of this commentated transcript, I will say a bit about the situation we are in, and why mavericks like Duffield are appearing.

The interview

The video cuts in slightly oddly, but I think we can imagine how it starts. Interviewer: “… views that are expressed by Rosie that are held by many in society and yet they seem to be unacceptable to express, certainly in some forums – why?”

Ellie Mae O’Hagan: “Well the first thing to say is that the majority of women actually do support transgender rights and they do say that a trans woman is a woman and so actually it may be held by some in society but it’s not the majority view of women I think that’s the first thing to say.”

My response: The question O’Hagan actually answered was ‘do you think we should support people’s right to live and express themselves as they choose?’ O’Hagan is being extremely rude to Dufflield by assuming that Duffield’s opinion is that they should not. I suspect O’Hagan knows perfectly well that most of us, including Duffield, accept trans women as women socially, but she is stretching this to assume most of us accept them as women legally, which is what self-ID, and gender-identity theory, require, and what the ‘trans rights’ campaign is actually asking for. Duffield has not rejected trans women socially. I can’t believe that O’Hagan doesn’t know that, so why is she answering a different, unasked question? I suspect because neither published polls nor experience in the real world support the idea that a majority accept trans women as women legally. People like O’Hagan prefer to fudge the issue, and just make the social argument (which really is a ‘no brainer’ in most cases, and is covered by ‘be nice’).

The interviewer realises this, and tries to sort it out by asking: “But what about the definition of woman as by your biological sex rather than as by your preferred gender identity?”

O’Hagan answers: “You know I actually don’t know why some people are women and some people are men. No-one on this panel does and anyone who claims to know the answer to that question is a liar. All I care about is the principle of live and let live, and showing one another respect, and if a person says ‘yes I was born a man but I am a woman and this is how I live my life’, I want to respect that person as who they are because I don’t think they’re doing anything wrong and they are certainly not bothering me in any way so I think the ultimate important principle here that we should all share who want a free and accepting society is ‘live and let live’.”

My response: Although it was not asked, the question O’Hagan actually answered is ‘do you think it is dangerous to pretend we don’t know the physical difference between men and women?’ This is the key point because O’Hagan’s answer is that it is not dangerous to her. She is not a sportswoman, or a young girl in a badly managed, mixed school. She’s not likely to end up in prison, or a hostel, or insecure housing in a dodgy area, and her answer therefore is ‘I don’t care about women in those situations.’ That’s why I call her TWAW stance a luxury belief.

She has already negated her claim that she believes in ‘live and let live’ by dumping the fears of vulnerable women, in effect saying ‘live fashionably and let them take the hit’ and she has negated her claim to value ‘showing one another respect’ by telling Duffield to her face, and viewers by default, that they are liars.

Duffield then explains who the women are who are at risk: “if you are a woman who has been abused all of your life and ended up in prison you may not feel quite that liberal towards someone in a male body …. It’s usually working class women who haven’t necessarily had the best start in life or the best experience that are really worried about this, and are the ones that are having to deal with it, rather than politicians.”

O’Hagan retains her claim that “the majority of woman actually agree with me on this issue” She hasn’t answered the point at all, so I suppose we must take that as a re-iteration of ‘I don’t care about the women who are vulnerable.’ But the interviewer does stop her and press for a proper response, and Duffield manages to get in an important question – is she “talking about self-ID particularly?”

O’Hagan answers: “No, I’m talking about the broad, um, the broad principles of supporting people to change gender which they’re legally allowed to do.”

My response: so she does know she’s not really answering the issue Duffield has presented. She then busily talks over Duffield’s “so do I”, and pushes on before we get a chance to think about the difference between ‘sex’ and ‘gender’, which is the smokescreen she is using. She is now answering an imaginary question along the lines of ‘why is Duffield so old fashioned, when we are so progressive?’

Then she goes on to answer a second imaginary question … “So let me finish my point. Um, I think you know, we’ve seen other issues like um, abortion for example where, er people who oppose often use the most extreme er cases to argue against in principle against what are positions we could all agree with which is people should be respected for who they are, and actually when we’re saying that a small group of people should not be allowed to live as they are because other people might be upset about it well that is the very essence of discrimination and I don’t think that most of your viewers watching this would support that.”

My response: So O’Hagan has now re-imagined Duffield’s position completely and appeals directly to the viewers not to support people ‘being upset about’ an ‘extreme example’ – that is, ‘please forget about the very real and present danger to a vulnerable woman of being confined with a male sex offender’.

Can you imagine the horror of that situation? Because it is happening now, in our prisons. In the face of that, why should we do as she says? Because in her view, recognising a male as a male makes you a liar, even if he is a violent, in tact, male. In this situation, says O’Hagan, standing by your legal right to recognise sex as reality is ‘the essence of discrimination’.

She has now turned the law, and our lived experience, completely on their heads. If I was that interviewer, I would now ask O’Hagan if her trans friends would really thank her for persistently confusing them with self-IDed male sex offenders.

Duffield is asked if she agrees. She pulls the conversation back to the real point by saying: “I fundamentally disagree that we should impose male-bodied people on single sex spaces and if that’s called discrimination I think that ‘s really unfortunate. I think we need a conversation about…”

O’Hagan interrupts: “I’m really glad you said that because I think you’ve hit on exactly what the problem is there. So instead of saying, first of all there are transgender men which don’t seem to be part of this conversation, but what you’ve said there is ‘male bodied people’ and I want the viewers at home to really think about why it might be upsetting for a transgender woman who has suffered a lot – I have a few friends who are transgender women, who have had periods of their lives where they have not been able to leave the house because they are abused in the street and where the process of changing gender has been quite distressing and difficult and to go through all of that and to have somebody in public life who is a representative of the public and has a big public platform and a lot of responsibility to call them male bodied people, I think what is being communicated there is ‘I don’t accept and respect you for who you are, I am not interested in your journey’.”

My response: This is a baffling response by O’Hagan, but one I have seen many times. Duffield is talking about male-bodied people – that is, people whose only concession to ‘transition’ has been to say ‘I am a woman’. That is self-ID, and it is what is happening in prisons, and it is why Duffield and others are objecting. These self-ID males arrive in prison with all their bits, and a history of sexual violence, and cause dread, fear and danger. It seems to me very obvious that they are the people Duffield is talking about.

But O’Hagan’s answer doesn’t address this. In effect, she says: I have friends who have transitioned, who have taken every step available to them to leave the estate of men – they’ve had surgery, they’ve taken hormones, they have no history of sexual offending, and they will be very upset when I tell them you have called them male-bodied people.’

But Duffield did not say that. It is trendy lefties like O’Hagan here who are creating the fear and hatred her friends felt in the street, by pretending they have so many ‘anti-trans’ enemies. Thankfully, the interviewer interrupts at that point and says “Rosie, is that what you mean? And does Rosie have rights that she is also trying to protect here?”

Duffield replies: “51% of the population are physically female and have the right to at least debate or talk about whether people in a male body are allowed in single sex spaces without any debate or discussion.”

I say well done Duffield. If you cut through all the crap that went before, you have the key issue there in her final statement. Women currently have legal, sex-based rights that are being infringed by people who try to claim that sex does not exist, or is not evidencable. Women who have harder lives, who live in the real world, understand the dangers. Those women could answer O’Hagan’s point about why trans men are not mentioned in the context of prisons. They are not mentioned because trans men (who are female) are not queuing up to be admitted to male prisons, because they simply and obviously would not be safe there.

Why can’t MPs and celebrities see why so many women are rebelling over ‘TWAW’?

I wrote about Duffield once before, along with J K Rowling. Do you know what those two have in common? Something that comes before the somewhat overplayed rags-to-riches stories? If you don’t, here’s the story. They both started out in a sufficiently ordinary place that they can remember being truly vulnerable.

And here’s another clue. Afshan Arad is pretty much the only member of the cast of the Harry Potter movie who chose to stick up for J K Rowling, and the reason would appear to be that Arad understands all too well the fear and the danger women encounter, when there is no getting away from a violent male.

I once had an apparently useful conversation with John MacDonnell about this. He seemed genuinely concerned but men of the left, like the privileged, protected women who reach political circles, are not in the firing line on this, and can easily disregard the fear and the danger. I’m sorry to say that he’s lost it. On seeing this interview, he immediately took to twitter to join the charge of the blind, encouraging women to address this real, legal threat to their safety by ‘being nice’.

John MacDonnell praises O'Hagan's 'empathy', and careful and caring tone.

Women who are actually using their brains responded thusly…

women's groups disagree with John Mac's tweet

That era when we thought ‘the many’ would take over party politics has passed. Very few MPs, left right or centre, are going to get this. They all live in protected space. The left has deserted working class and other vulnerable women. It’s up to the rest of us – ordinary women with no special privileges, those of us who have experienced, or have been near enough to imagine, the fear and the dread of ending up in a prison or hostel, facing a violent male. We must drop party factional politics and fight this on behalf of those women who are facing that fear and dread right now.

Categories
activism Corbyn Labour media NHS Politics Uncategorized

Who is best placed to get the Tories out?

We know, we know – Jeremy Corbyn is still the most popular option among Labour voters.

Graph showing popularity of various politicians. Corbyn is still preferred by Labour voters.

I do think we should all support those good people who are trying to reinstate their MP in the Labour Party, even if we have rejected and reviled the Party in its current form. His reinstatement as a Labour MP is a point that needs making.

Twitterstorm 18th Nov 7pm #ReinstateJeremyCorbyn
Islington Friends of Jeremy Corbyn

Please join in the Twitterstorm – and all the rest of the noise. Because people-power works. Understanding that is how you get your power back – the power we lost when we thought losing Corbyn, losing the election, losing the Labour Party, was the end of everything.

Where socialism went wrong – both in 1945 and in 2017 – was putting all its faith in one man, expecting salvation to come top-down, or from the centre. Who knows whether, given the chance, Corbyn would want to go through all that all over again – but what he did remains valid. He called together the biggest gathering of socialists in Europe. He called together a force that was – and is – big enough to push politics where we want it to go. The very least we can do in return is to make sure he gets his proper job back. But that’s not THE issue. The real pay-back to Corbyn, and for all of us – is to stay powerful, stay confident, and stay active.

Sleaze? Call it shameless theft

Never mind what the media says, we, the people, are unforgiving of MPs who use their position to get rich, and don’t address the problems we have. That’s why the ‘sleaze story’ won’t go away. Those few MPs who are on our side continue to help plug OUR concerns…

Don’t let their efforts be in vain. Join in the noise. Our determination to address the ‘second jobs’ problem has forced a reluctant Boris Johnson to try to look as though he’s taking action, and in his limited and compromised way, Starmer is trying too – but he can’t do much, he has his own skeletons to cover up.

But we can do something. All of us, and any one of us. That popular outrage – over the severe limitations of COP26, over the degradation of our NHS, over the increasing expense to us of rip-off Britain and now, over the discoveries about just how much MPs are earning by NOT treating their parliamentary roles as full time jobs has forced the leaders to do something. We need to keep that rolling, and force them to do more than a bit of PR.

This anger, this very visible anger, demonstrates the continuing force of ‘the many’ who Corbyn called together, and the door is still open for a new way for the many to do politics. Don’t give up, don’t give in – keep it going by keeping in touch with all those who are ready to stand beside you and do politics. You could join a union, you could get more active in your union, or you could just contact all those people you were working with when the Labour Party was really active. You could get together and visit your MP, or write to them, or do a public demo on any of the issues that really matter to us all. Whatever you do though, never forget, your small, local action is enormous and powerful because it’s a part of what we, the people, are doing …

Corbyn: it's not me they fear, it's you

Who is best placed to get the Tories out? WE ARE. Who is best placed to force the next government, whoever they are, to address our problems? WE ARE.

Categories
activism Labour media Politics

The slings and arrows of outrageous social media

When you set up a forum or a social media group, the software sets out a series of steps for you which assume an authoritarian hierarchy. It assumes you are ‘the administrator’ – although you have the option of setting up further administrators. Then it asks you to specify the moderators (sort of electronic grand viziers) and you write the rules. You then get to decide who can post stuff, who can see stuff, and a host of other things like whether admins or moderators get to see, and pass or decline posts, before or after they appear on the page.

You also, of course, have the inalienable right to ‘switch off’ anyone who, after you have made your personal interpretation of your rules, has committed a cardinal sin. It is fascinating to watch these groups emerge and evolve. If you watch with this perspective in mind, you see dictators rise and fall, you see oligarchies, democracies, autonomous collectives and every other permutation of human organisation developing and falling.

But the software was designed with dictatorship in mind, and where humans manage to create something else, they do so ‘against the tide’, as it were. They manage it surprisingly often. Three social media situations in my personal online world this week caused me to do some serious thinking.

Who would fardels bear?

  1. The temptation to rule

I’m currently a despot in one social media group, which I set up with another person who then disappeared. I’ve posted an appeal for two more volunteers which so far, members are managing not to notice. I can just feel those power-muscles twitching – come on, comrades! Quick, volunteer before I become immovable!

2. People power bites back

Elsewhere, a large, locally focused political group (around 1000 members) was set up with two administrators (always dodgy that – if you’re going for dictatorship, have one or three, then you can’t come to an impasse, with one saying ‘yes’ and one saying ‘no’). This group had a rule with massive room for interpretation:  local issues only, admins to decide what counts as ‘local’. How big is local? How far do national stories impact on local elections, and thereby become local issues?

No surprise that it became a point of contention. (If you’re going for any kind of system of management, have rules that are not wide open to interpretation). Personally, I would have resolved it by saying okay, if you think a national and/or party-political issue is relevant to local elections, please post with a comment saying why, and what the local discussion point is. Another option would be to do the hands-on moderator thing and just delete any posts that you don’t consider local.

Yet another option would be to tell people off for doing it, and if they do it again, boot them out. That happened once too often in this particular group, and the organic nature of human social groups came into play. Quite a few members felt the people who’d been booted out mattered. Some (myself included) made “I’m leaving this group” statements and left. Others argued the decision on the page. Someone set up a poll, and lots of others joined in both the poll and the discussion in the comments after it.

To me, it was all very interesting, and I’d expect the group to be the better for it. To the administrator and the grand viz… sorry, admin two (or was it moderator?) It was a ‘horrendous situation’. People got very upset and switched their accounts off entirely, and an attempt has been made to go back to the original rule, and a warning about breaking it. No progress there, then. I suspect another rebellion will happen, somewhere down the line.

Proud contumelies

3. Partisan administration

Meanwhile, in a national Labour discussion group with around three and a half thousand members, someone posted an article from a lefty Jewish website, and one of the three admins rejected it. The Jewish poster messaged an appeal to an admin, and was angrily told that his post was ‘contentious’.  Well, you do hear things about Labour and anti-semitism, and I personally have the impression that the current leadership of Labour are very agin socialist Jews so I tried posting another Jewish socialist article to test the situation. It was deleted with no message to me, but a telling off to the original poster for ‘telling’.

I considered starting a revolution in that group, then I thought about what strange little worlds these are, and about how upset the (now self-deleted) admin of that local group was and I thought nah, I won’t fight this one, because…

Strutting your hour on the stage

What we really need to remember, whilst observing and or participating in all this stuff, is that admins are not really in charge; that over and above all these lessons in human organisation, there is this thing called the CEO – because after all, very few popular social media sites are open source. Most of them are profiteering companies, standing ready to switch off any group that they feel is seriously interfering with where they want their profit-spinning content to be going.

If the boss hasn’t switched your group off, your group is not doing anything they consider seriously threatening. If the boss has switched your group off (I know of one very big, very politically relevant Instagram account that disappeared this week) if that happens to your group, you should probably congratulate yourself for giving the system a serious scare, find another platform and KEEP DOING WHAT YOU’RE DOING.

If that hasn’t happened to your group, stay cool and just regard it all as lessons in human society. Try not to get upset about the fate of little worlds, and plug on…. or not, if you have a better idea. Two of the players in those dramas I describe above (sorry about me waxing Shakespearian with the titles, it just got me that way) – two of those players got so upset they switched their accounts off. Maybe they even deleted them. But don’t worry, girls and boys – even if they did that, they are probably still alive out there in the world. You could even go and have a coffee with them, as long as you know how to contact them – surely you haven’t been depending on soc media messaging to contact people?

Friends

There are social media contacts, and there are friends. If your social and political life is largely online, make sure you have phone numbers or email addies for the people who matter to you. As to real friends, for heaven’s sake, know who you can trust, and have real world contact details for them (addresses for the people you *really* trust and *actually* know, and fave pub/cafe meet-up places/days for the rest).