There isn’t *quite* a poem called sweeping the street by George Herbert, but you don’t have to be religious to grasp the wonderful truth of his idea that you can sweep the street ‘for god’.
Hastings and Rye MP does not understand Cities of Sanctuary
In a recent interview, MP Sally-Ann Hart said she could ‘count on one hand’ the number of her constituents who wrote to her in support of accepting refugees in Hastings.
Cornered and anxious?
This comes after Hart wrote an inflammatory letter to Priti Patel, claiming Hastings people felt ‘cornered’ and ‘anxious’ about desperate asylum seekers washing up on the beaches in Pett and Camber. She said she was afraid they were bringing the virus to Hastings.
On her publishing her letter, many Hastings people wrote angrily, directly to her and also on social media, saying that she doesn’t understand what it means to be a City of Sanctuary. I don’t know how many fingers Hart has, but I have just counted the number of people I know personally who wrote to her about the many mistakes in her letter.
Asylum seekers washing up on the beaches do not ‘bring the virus’ to Hastings because they do not come to Hastings. They are picked up – usually immediately, on the beach, by police or immigration officers, and taken to processing centres outside our constituency. They do not have the time or the opportunity to mix with local people so cannot possibly spread the virus. Anyway, Hart also said in that same interview that we should stop being scaredy cats and get out there and ‘live with the virus’.
Asylum seekers seek asylum
It is true that Hastings is, and according to many constituents is proud to be, a City of Sanctuary. That does not mean we take in and house anyone who washes up on the beach. It means our council decides, along with government authorities, how many refugees we can take and when. And those refugees have been through the processing system, they have not just arrived so the virus situation is as irrelevant to what happens in Hastings as is everything else she said about new arrivals.
France is a safe place?
Hart also said no-one should be washing up in the UK because asylum seekers should seek asylum in the first safe country they come to. But a very cursory study of what happens to the victims of war and aggressive governments will tell you what is wrong with that idea.
The people who have sought sanctuary all the way across Europe and ended up in camps full of traffickers and pimps, or who have experienced French police setting fire to camps, will tell you what is wrong with that idea.
Sally-Ann, please have a heart, and do some research before you speak.
Hastings in Focus interview with Sally-Ann Hart MP
What Sally-Ann Hart MP said about hungry children:
I saw my old school on Derelict in the UK! But the photos didn’t show the thing I really loved about that school, so I went and took some of my own…
Let’s get one thing straight from the start: me and school – we really didn’t get along. I am not nostalgic, I do not dream of the ol’ school days. But I am aware that my secondary school was a far, far pleasanter experience – and in many ways, a better learning environment than that many teenagers have to put up with nowadays.
I went to secondary school in 1972. I was in a bit of a pickle because the changeover from eleven-plus and selective education had happened during the latter half of my junior years and my family managed to compound the confusion by moving house midway through the assessment period from an eleven-plus town to a select-by-school record town (that was a sort of halfway stage before ending selection).
So – Hastings High School (latterly known as Helenswood), and us pretty much the last of the ‘selected by ability’ intake. I got a default place because my Hastings primary school hadn’t had me long enough to do a performance-based assessment, and because my mum made a fuss. I’m not sure which bit did it, but it got done.
So I was at a school with very good facilities, a wide range of subjects to choose from and – this is the thing – superb grounds. The single greatest compensation for all the things I didn’t like about school was the opportunity to just disappear into playgrounds, loll about on lawns or stroll in woods.
I’m writing this now because there was a time when many schools, not just the posh ones, had great outdoor space for break and lunchtime wanderings and sport for those that liked it (I didn’t!). I’m convinced it vastly reduced the stress of bad times at school and I’m furious that so many schools have lost those spaces.
I’m particularly furious about Helenswood, and I want the people who went there in my time and later on to be furious. I have no idea if the building is rescue-able – it was built in the era of flat roofs, which was never a good idea, and buckets-in-corridors was the norm in winter in all the schools I went to – but it’s the grounds I’m furious about, and here’s why.
Like most of the state schools in this country, Helenswood was handed over to an academy trust some years back. In this case, an outfit called ARK so it became ARKHelenswood. They put ARK before the names of all the schools they take over (any conversation about education in Hastings sounds as though it’s being constantly interrupted by chickens).
A second building was constructed a mile or so up the road, and the school run across two sites. My daughter and her friends told me they didn’t like the new building – it was cramped by comparison with the old one, and seemed to be a very efficient stress-building sound-box. It wasn’t sited so well either, fronting right onto a main road intersection opposite the new hospital –
But that academy trust had more problems than bad school design. People started sending their kids out of town to avoid the trust and that, coupled with a projected reduction in population, apparently led the trust to decide they didn’t need the Helenswood building after all.
I am highly suspicious. They didn’t own it for that long, and the population projection didn’t come out of nowhere – why did they take on that school, with its extensive and highly desirable grounds, and set about building another one when a reduction in uptake was on the cards?
I suspect the Helenswood grounds have been stolen from our town, stolen from the next generation of kids, and I think we should start making a lot more fuss about the loss of school grounds. Please tell me what you think. Links to campaign groups and info about the value of school grounds especially appreciated.
What we’re all gradually realising…
We’ve been warned and warned about extremism … meanwhile, whilst asking teachers and nurses to do the downright impossible, and the rest of us to panic over the day’s headlines – maybe Mr Cummings, or the arrival of a few desperate asylum seekers, the government has had a free reign to take our attempt at a constitution to bits, set up any kind of Brexit it likes, and sell off anything we still own, all the while blaguing their way into one of the worst covid-19 scenarios in the world.
Now, we’re angry. Now, we know who the real extremists are, and we’re all running in circles (without leaving home) trying to work out what to do about it. As a popular cartoon yesterday asked, is Laura K covering for Cummings, is Cummings covering for the govt? Is the govt covering for Murdoch? … is there another layer, called ‘the deep state’?
Did Cummings go travelling to further this or that scurrilous political or business plan? Yes, quite likely he did but how many years will it take us to work all that out? I’ve wasted a whole week’s thinking on it and now I’m bored with it.
Was supporting Jeremy Corbyn extremism? Is supporting Boris Johnson extremism? What about supporting XR? Or Julian Assange? Or sex-based rights? What about losing patience with lockdown, or saying there’s no point in sending your kids to school? Is Piers Morgan an extremist? Who cares! What the Cummings story did is push a lot of people over into ‘who cares’ but – would it be extremism to include in that mood not caring about what the media wants us to think?
Maybe real extremism is blaming whoever we’re encouraged to blame, or refusing to work with someone as soon as you find they take a different line to you on party politics, or Brexit, or religion, or one of the other things we’re so good at falling apart over, or maybe it’s spreading the propaganda we read in the less tabloidy papers, or just being noisy and angry because it makes us feel better. Maybe we’d better give all that up right now.
There is another option
If you haven’t already, take some time out to listen to Laura Pidcock and Noam Chomsky.
Or if you prefer a book, get hold of a copy of ‘The Shock Doctrine’ by Naomi Klein. It explains that the government wants a never-ending crisis-scandal-disaster. It wants us running in circles getting angry with people at random. It takes our minds off the real enemy. Come election time, we’ll be back to battling over whether we like the blue cardboard hero or the red cardboard hero, or whether to ignore both if the green one’s in with a chance.
One conclusion from watching the Pidcock/Chomsky interview is that we ought to give ourselves a break from arguing the toss over establishment figures and ballot boxes. Let’s think about our own, local resources. Many towns did remarkably well setting up local covid-19 help schemes. Generally, they are the same people who’ve been running foodbanks and all the rest of it – they did it no thanks to the govt, or what was said on telly.
We ought to do this all the time. Local networks coming together, doing their own thinking, doing local activism on issues that matter to them and choosing their own political education – and then doing more thinking, activism and education. And then more – it’s fun and it’s necessary. And let’s make sure the education we choose shows us the big picture, because we’re not just patiently doing the government’s job for them, but building our own way forward (we can still go and vote too, come the time but we don’t have to work ourselves to death over some party or candidate who wouldn’t walk half a mile for our sake).
The people’s extremes are about dodging the establishment ‘mainstream’, about focusing on localism and internationalism, instead of the Westminster-generated, big name ‘news’ in its blinding spotlight.
Localism and internationalism – there are real human stories to be found at those two extremes. With real humans in mind, we can leap-frog over what the government, the television and the newspapers think we should be worrying about.
Does it work?
Let’s consider the contrast between Pragna Patel’s speech here, where she cheers on a global rising and the gradual coming together of women’s movements…
…and Arundhati Roy and Naomi Klein here, where Roy concludes that people just don’t rise up.
Which one do you believe?
Maybe the point is that a massive rising of the people is not necessarily a crowd running down a street. Maybe it’s a tidal wave of new thinking and co-operation that we’re aiming for.
It only takes a few people an hour or so to set up a local action, it only takes a few minutes to set up a pol-ed watch-party – but each time you do it, you’re adding power to the movement – and every time you set one up, ask each of the people who take part to set up another one of their own. And if you remember to take photos, and film speeches, you can get on social media and make each action grow and spread and inspire more people…
The point Roy missed is – The Tipping Point. People don’t rise up, right up until they do. And what brings us to that point is persistent local activism and political education.
Remember the energy and the numbers at the peak of the Corbyn movement? We were nearly there – and although the Corbyn project failed, its gains in the population are not lost. It wasn’t a waste, all that activism and pol ed. We now have many, many more people with experience in taking the initiative and working together – keep going. Keep going until we have enough people, ready enough, willing enough, that the initiative is all ours.
And at the other extreme
One of the things Pidcock and Chomsky mention is a plan for a new international. Pragna Patel wasn’t imagining things when she said women’s action is going global. Lockdown does not change what millions of women have learned in the last few years. Keep your eye on the women and also, keep your eye on Sanders, Varoufakis and others. I hope that conference Chomsky mentions (The Progressive International Conference, in Iceland in September) isn’t really in Iceland – no more jet-set politics please! I hope that really, it’s going to be hosted in Iceland and held online, where it can be seen globally – but whatever.
Localism and internationalism are the healthy extremes, they are the people reaching out, and together, we have the widest reach. Have plenty of international stories in your local activism and pol ed. Find out what the people’s movements are doing in South America, in France, in India, communicate with them, learn from them and then act local – let’s learn planet-sized politics because after all, we have a whole planetful of people who need saving from the real extremists.
Some good sources for pol ed until we can get back to real world films and face to face discussions…
Stories from home and abroad
Socialist pol ed from the Labour Left Alliance
Blogs and podcasts by and about women at FiLiA
… but the choices are endless – just get Googling.
(It’s a work in progress – I want to hear about yours, too.) What do we change, what do we scrap – what can we do?
… what the fighting all was for
Thoughts for VE Day…
Or – who nicked our retirement, and how did they do it?
Not so far from the supermarket queue…
Did you know some theatre companies drop the last couple of pages of ‘Hamlet’, because they like Hamlet’s dying words, “the rest is silence” as the last line?