Homeless in ‘Great’ Britain

 

From my study I can see the common with its tall trees, sweeping seagulls and dog walkers. It  looks like a Christmas card, frosty, silvery and lovely. But, when you step out,  the cold cuts into the skin and eyes water. Yesterday a couple with a young child had an accident outside our house, nothing serious, but the RAC had to be called to tow the car away.  I asked them to come in and warm up. At first they declined, but after about an hour, frozen stiff, they rang the doorbell. Imagine then the suffering of those people sleeping in doorways. How many die of hypothermia? How many get chest infections or pneumonia? How many are mentally ill? We don’t have names or even numbers for such ‘rough sleepers’. We do know, because we see many more of them, that the numbers have gone up shockingly in London, Birmingham, Bath, Oxford, Cambridge, most British cities.

We have no Charles Dickens to awaken our consciences about these wretched souls. Compassion for them can be in short supply. Over the season of goodwill, Russell Lucas Allen was sleeping with his dog in the doorway of Debenhams in Portsmouth, when, he alleges, he was drenched in water by security staff. The recorded temperature was minus 3 degrees centigrade. Allen is a former site manager who possibly never imagined he would end up destitute and despised. Only 8000 people, thus far, have signed an online petition calling for those responsible to be disciplined. Over a million people signed an online petition to stop the BBC from sacking Jeremy Clarkson. Just saying.

The huddled men and women we see ( and mostly walk by) on the streets are the visible tragedies. Thousands more are today without decent housing and struggling to live another day with dignity and hope. The government’s own figures indicate that in the last year there has been a 9% jump in the number of those bureaucratically labelled ‘the unintentionally homeless’.( Question to the Department of Communities and Local Government: Who are those feckless and foolish people making themselves ‘intentionally’ homeless? ). Look back further and you find that the number has gone up by 55% since December 2010. That is six years.  According to the charity Shelter, there are over 170,000 homeless people in London alone- a shameful, staggering figure.

Among those now seeking affordable accommodation are workers on dirt low wages. Aditya Chakrabortty, one of Britain’s most assiduous and searching journalists exposed this major yet well hidden scandal in The Guardian in late December.; ‘…they are as real as you or me- and they are fast growing in number. They are people who are homeless even though they are working’. Their employers are not sweatshop factory owners but Starbucks, Eat, Pret, McDonalds, Pubs, delivery companies, even local authorities.  Chakrabortty met some of them in a temporary hostel aptly named ‘Shelter from the Storm’. Martin, apparently works for Islington Council taking disabled kids to school. He has had to sleep on park benches. Nicola works for a warehouse for Greggs the friendly baker. Its shareholders received over 43-7 million pounds in dividends. She was evicted in June and has been homeless ever since.

Meanwhile a glut of millionaires and billionaires now populate our capital and fine suburbs and desperately seek luxury goods to show off their wealth. Suppliers are happy to oblige.  If you have more cash than sense, you can now buy a most exceptional doll’s house for £25, 000 and a crystal covered rocking horse for their spoilt brats.  (Channel4, The World’s Most Expensive Toys, December 2016)  Oh and if you buy a luxury flat in a 50 storey tower at One Blackfriars, London, you can get to use a ‘snow cabin’ with artificial snow, also a fake golf course and whisky bar, a wine tasting room and a ‘rainforest shower’. Nice life if you can buy one.

Political decisions and priorities created this disgraceful inequality. New Labour believed hyper-capitalism would help fund a decent welfare state. Up to a point this worked but Blair and Co should have been more overtly concerned about the unequal and divided society they presided over. The coalition government had neo-liberals such as Vince Cable and Nick Clegg happily backing hard Tory social policies. They let social housing collapse in urban areas and refused to impose rent controls. That indifference to the plight of those who can’t buy or rent continues apace. These people are the collateral damage produced by a ruinous economic model. Flats are being built all over these isles. They can only be afforded by those with substantial earnings or savings. Those without either do not matter.

Last year Britain was declared the fifth richest nation in the world. It can and yet chooses not to feed and house its most vulnerable people. With so much patriotism swilling around at present, may I humbly ask: is this the great Britain you are proud of?

International Business Times 29/12/15

 

IBTimes UK
@IBTimesUK
Dec 30
Homelessness in ‘Great’ Britain is a plague on all our houses, writes @y_alibhai
trib.al/7rsf01h

 

Bloody Britishness

 

This year Britishness reached its nadir. It turned angry, righteous, hateful, confrontational, inward looking and mean. Brexit was the result and still the rage goes on and on. Our nation’s identity has been and still can be, open and amiably self deprecating. Except for those times when attention seeking or jingoistic politicians jump up and use it as a cultural or racial clarion call. Enoch Powell, Margaret Thatcher, Norman Tebbit, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron, Nigel Farage and various others have led the charge of the white brigade against diversity and multiracialism. We, who came from around the world to make our lives in this country are both used to and heartily sick of these periodic attacks on our rights, dignity, integrity and allegiances.

In 1967, In an article in the Daily Telegraph, Powell wrote a column complaining about the ‘rising flood’ and ‘invasion’ of migrants who were despoiling the old traditions of his beloved country. Then came that infamous racist Rivers of Blood speech in Birmingham. Margaret Thatcher warned in 1978 that the country was being swamped by too many diverse peoples. Tebbit instructed us dark skinned folk to pass the ‘cricket test’. In 2000, he and I were discussing immigration on the BBC’s Today programme. He refused to say my name and declared that even though I had a British passport, I could not be a true Brit. The barefaced prejudice shocked listeners. Didn’t shock me. Tony Blair tried to sell a new, cool Britishness. It bombed. Gordon Brown whose heart and soul are Scottish, used Britishness as an alibi. Cameron believed ‘British values’ were freedom, democracy, parliament and fair play none of which are uniquely British. As the BBC’s Mark Easton said in 2007: ‘We have our share of scoundrels and bigots and in the absence of good evidence, I’m not sure it is wise to claim a podium spot in the league of gentlemen’

And anyway, our governments are getting more authoritarian and snatching many fundamental rights. Furthermore, what happens to these noble virtues when we sell cluster bombs to horrid regimes, when we secretly facilitate torture, when we keep out child refugees as the Home Secretary Amber Rudd has just done? Where’s the fair play when black and Asian Britons are discriminated against in jobs and housing?

Migrants and their children are not meant to ask such questions. We are expected to fall in line. So along comes the high Tory Sajid Javid, a British-Pakistani, skin as brown as teak, born in Rochdale,  son of a bus driver. He wants all  public service officials to swear an oath of allegiance to ‘British values’.

You have to pity Javid, a man who wishes fervently to be seen as colourless and a vacuous patriot. Before the referendum, he was a close ally of George Osborne and Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills. Now he holds a humbler position running the Communities and Local Government department. Maybe his latest wheeze is just to show the cold Mrs May that he is worth it. But let’s to his whizzo idea. Would he dare to demand such an oath in Scotland? Or Northern Ireland where so many crave reunification with southern Ireland? Or indeed insist upon such an oath from the English who now disdain the British identity perhaps because it is contaminated by different ethnicities? He wouldn’t dare. This is Javid waving his anti-immigrant credentials, hoping to pass, trying to shed his otherness. As if he ever can.

The harsh truth is that in the eyes of many white citizens, we can never ever be British. We can work hard, pay taxes, do essential jobs in the NHS and transport services, create successful businesses and jobs, read and love Shakespeare, Dickens, Jane Austen and Fredrick Forsyth, become parliamentarians, fight for the country, join the police forces, commit to democracy and freedoms, marry native Brits, speak and write English impeccably, win Strictly Come Dancing and The Great British Bakeoff,  bend our knees to the ( German/Greek) royals, even eat pie and chips, but will still kept firmly outside the tent of Britishness, shivering probably, and perpetually humiliated.

There is much to love and admire in this nation. Recent surveys show that minorities feel more British than do indigenous Britons. This is a porous, agile, sophisticated society where, in spite of bigotry, one can find a way to belong  and flourish. Oaths, enforced patriotism, tests of allegiance dishearten and discourage the most integrated of us. And the exigencies further estrange the disaffected-young Muslims in particular. Such alienation will inevitably produce its own horrors and small nationalists will get more emboldened and concomitantly more furious. Next year the clash between these entrenched forces could create mayhem and maybe good immigrants will finally give up and move elsewhere. What will then happen to Great Britain?

International Business Times 21/11/15

http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/i-am-immigrant-i-refuse-swear-oath-allegiance-british-values-1597607

Children of the Jungle

 

Thousands of unaccompanied children and young people will, by the end of this week, lose the perilous, bleak place they have sheltered in for many months, some, for years.  ‘The jungle’ in Calais is being demolished and inhabitants bussed out to various places in France. Natacha Bouchart, the mayor of Calais wants the world to know that: ‘For the last three years life has been hell in Calais’. She is not referring to the Syrians, Eritreans, other Africans and Arabs who were surviving under tarpaulin covered flimsy structures, dirty, exhausted, often hungry, fearful yet hopeful. No. She means  the locals. The suffering victims of war, revolutions, poverty and natural calamities, weeping, wounded, starving kids until recently, were but media stories and characters in charity appeals. Now, Europeans find the folk they pitied from afar have materialised, stepped off newspaper pages and TV screens, even built a shanty town in a place best known for cheap booze and great garlic mussels.

In 1886, the French government gifted the Statue of Liberty to New York. The American poet Emma Lazarus wrote a sonnet titled The New Colossus. Some of her words are inscribed at the base of the arresting monument: ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore, Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door’. There is no better description of the thousands crossing over stormy seas to get to Europe today. But there are no golden doors.

Of course it must have been hard for the good people of Calais. ( I am not being sarcastic) France has tried to do what it can for the migrants coming into Europe. It accepted over 80,000 asylum seekers in 2016. And the people of the ‘jungle’ will get accommodated and looked after. Citizen hostility and the increasing popularity of neo-Fascist parties means trouble ahead for the governing national and local politicians. But for now, they are showing moral fortitude and some compassion.

In contrast in ‘Great’ Britain has turned off the taps of integrity and empathy. Here are some facts: Thousands of children were in that Calais camp; a large proportion had relatives already settled in the UK; Lord Dubbs, himself a Kindertransport child who escaped the Nazis and found refuge in England, had the law changed so more of these lost children would be admitted to our country; Cameron promised we would take them; some of them have been sexually exploited, others have become mentally distressed while they waited in limbo for years; an uncounted number came as children and grew into teenagers; the NSPCC and Unicef have campaigned to get the young asylum seekers reunited with families in the UK; the coalition and now the Conservative governments could have, but chose not to have a proper plan of settlement for the Calais kids.

Now, as the bulldozers flatten the ‘jungle’, Home Secretary Amber Rudd wakes up and starts taking a few of the lost children. Some councils are receptive, others not. No funding plans are in place. Some newspapers and politicians,  turn into mad bulldogs, bark at and besiege the young arrivals. They demand teeth tests, guarantees that these are not cannily disguised terrorists. An aunt of a nine year old Syrian girl tells me the child has started her period and screams for hours ‘like we are burning her’.

I could say: ‘Imagine these were your children. Would you want them treated like this?’ But that sounds trite, insincere, bogus. Children born in the west are forever protected. History and fortune have been exceedingly kind to them. We cannot imagine such things. And the truth is too many Brits have resolutely hardened their hearts. Football broadcaster Gary Lineker and singer Lily Allen recently spoke up for the displaced and were shockingly abused online and in tabloid newspapers. Today anyone who defends refugees is atrociously assailed  and demeaned.

In 1729, Jonathan Swift penned a satirical essay, A Modest Proposal on the terrible poverty suffered by the Irish and England’s irritation with these hopeless subjects. ‘[Their prodigious number of children] … in the present deplorable state of the kingdom was a very great additional grievance’. He suggested the babies should be sold and eaten. We have moved beyond satire.  Here’s a recent unsigned missive from someone who calls himself a ‘true-Britt’ [sic]. : ‘ I don’t care if they die. They are a bother. We should shoot the boats, have shooting parties in Calais. Let them hide and we find them. Kill the young before they grow’.  So why not gas ovens? Extermination camps?

Conscientious Britons must stand with these refugees and speak up. If they don’t, such voices will get bolder. For the sake of all our children we must fight this irreversible descent into a new barbarism.

International Business Times 26/10/15

IBTimes UK
@IBTimesUK
Oct 26
Britain’s hard-hearted response to Calais kids is destroying the values that make our country great | @y_alibhai ebx.sh/2dKqd0p

 

 

 

Whitewashed History

 

This week, in an Uber taxi, going past four lovely Portland stone pillars near Hyde Park corner. These are Memorial Gates dedicated to the South Asian, African and Caribbean soldiers who fought in the two world wars. My driver is a young Sikh man. He’s wearing a poppy. As am I. I ask him if he knew about this monument which took its place only in 2002. He didn’t. He didn’t know about the five million of these soldiers, the hundreds of thousands of them who died. So who does he remember with his poppy?  ‘Oh you know, English and American soldiers who saved us from Fascism. heroes like’. He’d learnt about the Holocaust and great battles but never about the part played by his people in the war sagas. His own parents had never told him. How sad it that?

Muslims and Sikhs were exceptionally brave. They were even praised by German soldiers. Field Marshall Sir Claude Auchinleck, Commander in Chief accepted that ‘Britain could not have come through both wars if they hadn’t had the Indian army’.  Caribbean, Arab and African soldiers played their part. A good number of soldiers of colour and valour received George and Victoria crosses. Yet many of us who hail from the colonies are often told by native Brits: ‘ You can never be British. We didn’t fight the Germans to have you come and steal our country’. To them the wars were won by men who looked like Michael Redgrave or Henry Fonda.

Much of this past lies under our feet, unknown. Our establishment likes to keep historical narratives simple and uplifting, and white. Until this year, no Briton of colour was ever allowed to present television history series. Those of us who’ve tried to get the opportunity are rebuffed, told  such programmes are ‘difficult’ and ‘complicated’. That is about to change as at long last. David Olusoga, mixed race and hugely talented, excavates the buried stories of black and Asian people going right back to the Roman occupation. Africans were in England then, noblemen and women. The series Black and British: A forgotten History, begins on the 9th of November, two days before Remembrance Day. There is also an accompanying book.

Hitherto, the only substantive book on the black presence in Britain was Staying Power, by the late Peter Fryer, published in 1984. Most Britons have never heard of this enlightening and eloquent book. Fryer, an Englishmen,  once told me that history was the passport to national belonging. He was so, so right.

Children of all backgrounds need to know about slavery, the truths, good and bad, about the empire, migrants who came from the 16th Century onwards, England’s love of the east- the subject of my last book Exotic England. The design of St Pauls, for example, was described by Christopher Wren as ‘Indo-Saracenic’. Queen Elizabeth 1 adored Ottoman style and fashions, invited Istanbul’s oligarchs to London and gave them a good time. That Kohinoor in the queen’s crown was take from Duleep Singh, a boy Prince of Punjab, whose land had been annexed by the British. The child was separated from his mother and vigorously Christianised. Samuel Johnson loved his young black servant, Francis Barber, who was sent to school and left an annuity by his great master. Warren Hastings, the first director general of the East India Company, was shabbily treated by British politicians partly because he went native and fell in love with India and its peoples. He built an Indian manor house, a sanctuary in the Cotswolds. Most Britons have heard of the noble William Wilberforce, but how many know Olaudah Equiano or Ignatius Sancho, freed slaves who inspired the abolitionist movement? Peggy Ashcroft had an affair with the black American singer/actor Paul Robeson and fell a little in love with him. There were three Asian MPs  in our parliament in the late Victorian age, all elected by white people. When Gandhi came to London, the white working classes came out in their thousands to show their love and respect.

Young British Muslims perhaps would not feel so alienated if they knew that that hundreds of upper class Englishmen converted to Islam in the 1800s, that Winston Churchill gave Muslims the land in Regent’s Park so they could build a place of worship in the heart of the city, that the first scientists of the Royal Society learnt deep Arabic so they could read the books written by early Arab intellectuals, that  Muslims helped liberate Jewish people in Europe.

These facts really matter. Those who have whitewashed history are guilty of either terrible deception or terrible ignorance. Britons from elsewhere helped make this country; our roots go deep into the soil. We have inviolable rights. We belong. Brexit makes it more important than ever before to lay down that claim and fight for it.

International Business Times 3/11/15

Anti-Semitism in Britain

 

I am a Muslim, so that makes me suspect. Also a leftie, so doubly suspect. Add to that the conclusive proof: I have often criticised Israeli policies in newspapers, on radio and TV. This is exactly what an Anti-Semite looks like in our times. The more you deny it, the more you ‘prove’ your accusers are right.  This is worse than McCarthyism, because you are not even interrogated or presented with spurious evidence. ( At this point I start to feel silent terror. Am I allowed to say this? Will I, once again, be labelled anti-Semitic? How do I persuade them I am not?)

But hey, they do say we live in a society where freedom of speech is sacrosanct. Read on. I think it is important and perfectly possible  to discuss the topic without causing offence to this side or that.  The Jewish Chronicle, the Jewish Board of Deputies, Friends of Israel in Parliament, sundry commentators and activists, and increasingly, politicians of all parties, fear anti-Semitism is on the rise. They are right to be concerned. But some of them now knowingly  shield Israel from opprobrium by averring that all critics of that state are veiled anti-Semites. That is plainly wrong and unfair.

Those who deny anti-Semitism are just as iniquitous. Thousands of British Muslims who claim to support Palestinians are, in truth, deeply anti-Semitic. Palestine gives them a useful alibi, a respectable way to vent their ethnic hatred. The same is true of a vast number of other British citizens from right to left. I recently asked why habitual protestors had not gathered outside the Russian Embassy to damn the inhumane assaults on Syria. ‘What if Israel was doing this?  I asked. That provoked much hot rage and abuse. Overnight I became a ‘Jew lover’.

Last week the cross party home affairs committee, made up of reasonable and honourable MPs, produced a report which stated that anti-Semitism is spreading across the UK and in all the political parties. The committee reproved Corbyn and his supporters most of all. Tim Loughton, the acting chair of the committee said Corbyn was ‘in denial’. A media blizzard followed. Shami Chakrabarti was denounced because in her report on anti-Semitism in the Labour party she did did not savage the leader or his supporters. Soon after she was then given a peerage and front bench job. The campaigner, once so admired for her relentless fight for justice and human rights is today traduced as a corrupt operator. ( I think the timing of the peerage was a hostage to fortune, but Chakrabarti is a woman of integrity. I know that because I know her)

Corbyn should have taken the committee report findings seriously. He failed to do that clearly and cleanly and so the story continues. But again, Corbyn is not Hitler or Idi Amin. Labour colleagues who detest him are using this report to bring him down. Columnists- among them Hugo Rifkind of The Times-  are gunning for him again. None of this is edifying. It’s as if the nation needs a replacement Guy Fawkes to burn. This year, they are metaphorically burning effigies of Jeremy Corbyn.

Seems to me all sides have so muddied the waters that it has become impossible to examine the issue clearly and dispassionately. It’s like stepping into a gaseous swamp, into which you soon sink, unable to see, breathe, or think clearly.

Some things do need to be stated without fear or favour. Israel continues to flout international laws, grabs territory illegally, has nuclear weapon which are not inspected, has turned extreme humiliation and violence into state policy. Radical, ruthless Palestinians are responsible too for the unending dispute. They aggravate, kill and destroy the peace of Israeli citizens. But Israel  is vastly stronger and that is why the world is appalled. That is why so many Jewish activists support the Palestinian cause. They are much ostracised.

Influential writers such as Melanie Phillips, Fredric Raphael, Howard Jacobson have, for a while, been making the case that objections to Israeli policies amount to a ‘new anti-Semitism’. That is exactly the same argument made by those  for whom criticism of bad Muslims is, in essence, an expression of subtle ‘Islamaphobia’.  Staunch Zionists and equally staunch Muslim dogmatists, defenders state and faith,  have more in common than they care to know. They devalue the principles they hold dear. Not good.

But back to the home affairs committee report and Labour’s response. Corbyn  should stop shilly shallying, man up, and confront anti-Semitism in his party. It is there; it’s real; it hurts. Hitherto he has sounded too shifty and floppy. But he must also confront the bullies inside and outside parliament who are using slurs of anti-Semitism to stop Labour party members and other Britons from scrutinising and condemning the Zionist state’s treatment of Palestinians. None of this is easy. But he was elected leader and now he must prove he understand what leadership entails.

International Business Times 19/10/15

http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/corbyns-critics-want-new-guy-fawkes-burn-theyre-using-anti-semitism-do-it-1587202

God Help America

 

Just got back from a short lecture tour in the US. I was there last in 2010 when I spoke at a diversity and inclusion symposium organised by the pharma company, Novartis, in Newark. I met journalists in New York and visited friends in Pennsylvania and Ohio. Oh my. How different it is now. Gone is that ebullience, the darned ‘have-a-nice-day’ chirpiness. Instead, in conservative and liberal states, across age, race and class, Americans seemed to be confused or miserable or rattled or livid or ashamed, most of all, fearful. The ground is shifting beneath their feet.

In the Mining Exchange, a charming, old hotel in Colorado Springs ( where Donald Trump stayed in August and got stuck in an elevator for 45 minutes) some guests were staunch Republicans who would not be voting for their nominee. A businesswoman from Denver simply said: ‘Donald Trump offends me as a woman, a Christian and an educated  voter. I feel like a stranger in my country. I am scared.’ This was before the release of the tape last Friday which showed Trump laughingly tell TV host Billy Bush ( nephew of George W Bush) how he felt free to touch women and even grab their genitals. That tape resulted in a massive loss of support for the billionaire outrider, including from some Republican senators and congress representatives. Rudy Giuliani, carries on believing in Trump the saviour,  but, by the time I flew back on Wednesday, the previously suave  ex-mayor of New York was sounding like a Millenarian hillbilly.

Now come a new batch of allegations of gross, sexist incidents involving the man who would be President of the most powerful nuclear armed nation on earth. The New York Times carried the stories of two women who claimed Trump had groped them foully.  One of them, Jessica Leeds, 74, described how, when she was in her forties, she sat next to Trump in the first class cabin of a plane to New York. He lifted the armrest and fondled her breasts, tried to get under her skirt: ‘ He was like an octopus. His hands were everywhere’. Other media outlets report various invasive Trump behaviours with Miss US contestants and a journalist, Natasha Stoynoff who, in 2005, went to interview Trump and his wife. Most disturbing is a 1992, TV Christmas show in which the Republican nominee says about a ten year old girl: ‘ I’m going to be dating her in ten years’.

Polls suggest this repulsive man cannot now win. But remember polls can be very wrong. He has vowed to incarcerate Hillary Clinton if he becomes President and to avenge himself on his detractors. Even if he loses, he will claim the vote was rigged and continue to agitate. This is banana republic politics and it goes down well with his ill informed, easily aroused, discontent, faithful followers. This campaign has marked the end of America as was. Its great myths have been turned to great lies.

Young people I met at the University of Colorado, in homes and public spaces, seemed buffeted by the current tornados of change in their nation. As Jezebel (real name Isabelle) , a young art student told me: ‘When my great grandfather moved here from Scotland, this country was the future. Now it’s the past. He got rich making metal pipes. The American dream. Now there are no dreams. Nightmares, yes. No jobs. No jobs. No jobs. People know they are fucked and still  blame the politicians or Hispanics or whoever. Or go shoot some kids in a school’. True, many manufacturing jobs have gone to nations where labour costs are unforgivably low, but objectively, Obama did turn round the ailing economy he inherited. Then, 750, 000 jobs were being lost every months. In 2014, America created more jobs than in the previous decade. But nowadays, perceptions are more powerful than facts and figures.

The only upbeat young people I met were techies who inhabit an alternative reality.   And some who cling on to idealism and hope a more stable nation will be rebuilt after these storms. I can’t see that happening for a long time if ever. When millions of men and women despise most elected leaders, resent the diverse citizenry, distrust facts, expertise and historical truths, are drawn to outrageous conspiracies and boorish, racist, sexist individuals,  they permanently disable the functional political order.

In this week’s Time Magazine journalists, Charlotte Alter and Michael Scherer have penned an incisive assessment of the current state of the nation. They quote people who really believe Obama is a Muslim double agent, that Hillary Clinton has arranged several murders, that immigrants are stealing cash from ‘real Americans, that global warming is a hoax, that white people don’t riot, that police, teachers, judges, fact checkers, scientists and economists are all shysters. Democracy is losing the battle against extreme cynicism. This election has both arisen out of and deepened national pessimism. God help America.

International Business Times 13/10/15

http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/i-just-returned-america-trumps-campaign-has-marked-end-optimism-1586223

Lay Off the Millennials

 

Millennials are fair game these days. Their crime was to be born after 1994. Around 13.8 million of them, not all the same of course, are depicted as monolithic and a sinister threat to so- called British values and cultural security. These citizens  are freely scorned, mocked, debased and feared by baby boomers and fortysomethings. The woebegone generation can’t bear it that stripling upstarts are rebelling against established ways and systems, that they are so damned smart with new technology, that they are remaking political activism, that they abjure set commandments and anointed leaders, that so many of them have joined the Labour party and are rooting for Jeremy Corbyn and socialism, the credo that flash Tony Blair and his cronies thought they had seen off forever. It is embarrassing to witness my contemporaries turning so bitter and curmudgeonly.

Recently, on Sky News paper reviews,  I have been on with Sebastian Payne, the alarmingly young and astute digital comment editor at the Financial Times.  On other channels too, I have been paired   with youthful, opinionated  commentators. Apparently these matches work- a cougar media mistress with fresh, savvy youngsters. I learn much from these adversaries and they treat me with respect. One of them, a young woman, asked me in the greenroom why Millennials are treated with such contempt by oldies: ‘ I mean if we talked about you all like that, there would be an uproar. So why don’t you defend our rights like you do black rights and female rights?’ Fair question. I do that today, in this column.

Ok, so  I too can get irritated with this cohort. They moan endlessly about how their parents had it too good and believe that they are entitled to own their own homes and get all those abundant opportunities that ( they think) were available until the end of the last century. True, buying is now an option only for those born into wealthier families. And student loans are a burden when you are starting out. According to the Resolution Foundation, the money earned by those in their twenties is significantly lower than was previously earned by this age group. But most middle class children in the last twenty years have had more commodities and wider experiences than kids born in say, the sixties, seventies or eighties. They travel, buy, have choices we never did. Parenting got better too, corporal punishment was banished, schools became sensitive to psychological well being, sex education has helped reduce the number of teenage pregnancies, kids have started getting back into sports and so on. Whole new areas of the post-industrial economy are opening up. Renting is not the end of the world. Across Europe, most people live in rented accommodation.

But Millennials are not fools, treacherous, lazy, cosseted, narcissistic, perpetual adolescents,  or, the current insult, ‘snowflakes’, meaning naive,  fragile and pathetic. It’s a hateful term in all senses of the word. The right wing papers are full of  judgemental commentaries by reactionaries who believe they hold the torches of truth and righteousness for eternity. Middle aged authors are taking up truncheons to fight contemporary cultural challenges and creating a whole new, obscurantist genre. I edited  I find That Offensive, by the polemicist Claire Fox, in which she confronts politically correct university students who need ‘safe spaces’ and want to bring down statues of known racists. Fox knows I disagree with almost all the points she makes. These young people were raised to understand the wrongs of history, to be sensitive to the hurt caused by words and exclusion. So now grumpy baby bombers bully those who promote and protect those values?  Do they not remember their own political and social rebellions? There is a balance that must be kept between freedom and responsibility, but that balance will be decided on by the young not by older people who think they know it all.

At Middlesex University, where I’m a part time professor, I talk to NUS reps and others about freedom of expression, history, censorship  and open debates. I tell them intimidation is unacceptable and open debate an invaluable right. But I also listen when they tell me that they want to challenge and change sexist and racist discourse, to fight against injustice and inequality.  They use new technology for ethical purposes, environmental causes, smart business ideas and to create a more benign and tolerant nation. If I were in my twenties or thirties, I would be with these idealists all the way.

But I am old, as are the new reactionaries. The future is not ours to shape. The Lebanese American poet Khalil Gibran put this beautifully: [your children] ‘ You may give them your love but not your thoughts, You may house their bodies but not their souls, For their souls dwell in the House of Tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.’

International Business Times 27/9/2015

 

 

New Year New Fight

 

New Year resolutions are playful diversions in those grey, hollow days  period after the Christmas splurge. You make promises you will never keep because they really don’t matter. Or because the pledges are made in jest, just for a laugh. This time, however, millions of Brits will not  be so trite and jokey. For those of us who are liberals, lefties, cosmopolitans, internationalists and egalitarians, 2016 was one of the most depressing and disquieting  years ever. We were thrashed, and did nothing. We were too damned polite, too respectful, too decent. We yielded to our scornful opponents. We even acceded to and recycled  their insults and insidious indictments.

Reactionaries took over over much of the world, including GB, one of the world’s most enduring and mature democracies. Nigel Farage became GB’s true messiah,  aided and abetted by the BBC, populist radio stations and tabloids. But it was the millionaire backer Arron Banks, who enabled  the leader of a fringe party to become the defining force in British politics. Probity, checks and balances, the safeguards to protect our electoral system were all demolished by the brash , crass and insanely ambitious.

Between 2014 and 2016, democracy – often flawed and always fragile –  was manipulated, exploited, then seized by strong, narcissistic males. Farage, Boris and Trump, Modi, Erdogan, Putin, the neo-imperialists who control internet companies and social networks and vast global corporations now own the world’s money and votes, humanity itself. They direct the way people think, have power over what people know, command individual and group behaviours. This week in India, claims were made by some hyperactive trolls that the ruling party encouraged them to harass and intimidate public figures who voted for the opposition- including some stars of Bollywood.  (As a remainer and vocal opponent of Ukip, I too am hounded for my views. Sometimes you just want to give up. That would be giving into the bastards.)

The mentally enslaved remain either oblivious to their enslavement or have no will nor desire to fight against the takeover of their lives and souls. In part this is because the new masters of the universe have effectively incited the masses to go after softer targets:  elected representatives, spry urbanites, migrants, females, minorities and equality activists .

Those thus ostracised seemed to lose the will to resist the calumnies. Conscientious and virtuous men and women have lost their voices and meekly accept the heavy burdens of guilt heaped upon them. Since Brexit and the Trump victory, diligent journalists, public intellectuals,  MPs and Peers – perhaps terrified of being branded ‘elitist’ or ‘enemies of the people’- have been flagellating themselves over their failure to ‘understand’  inchoately furious voters. Oh how many times do we have to apologise for the ‘metropolitan elite’, the ‘Westminster bubble’, ‘the forgotten people’ and other such tropes?

Even seriously good thinkers are falling into this trap. Listen, Liberal by the distinguished American columnist Thomas Frank, for example,  castigates the Democrats and voters from the professional class for their ‘righteousness’ and more still for ‘losing interest in working people’. It is indisputable that in this century of globalisation, the poorest have been left to rot in the US and UK and the emerging economies too. But hey, Obama created more jobs than Clinton, Bush Snr or Bush Jnr. And even those who grew to despise Tony Blair because of the Iraq war, must admit that his social policies truly lifted many of the most disadvantaged.  Since the coalition government, there has been a slide back and once again, the poor and helpless are maligned as ‘shirkers’ and left destitute. So why are centrists and those on the left attacked by their own as well as their ideological opponents? Such unseemly self-flagellation and  submissiveness  further validates those millions who now believe it is morally right to be bigoted and savagely intolerant.

We must find fortitude, passion and moral courage. This is no time for humility and niceness. Remember tens of millions of people do not back megalomaniac  rulers and big businesses. We must robustly uphold good values, a good society, never let bigotry walk by, carry on defending the EU, be proud of educational achievements  and expertise, not be scared off by social media thugs, stand up for migrants and refugees, for diversity and London, the heart, the super-engine of this dynamic nation. As the bold columnist Matthew D’Ancona writes: ‘ ….soft liberalism doesn’t cut it any more. Time to try the hard variety’. Previous generations had to confront Nazism, two world wars, Apartheid, racial discrimination in the US and UK, Vietnam. In these pre-Fascist times, It falls upon us to take on the new hard right. Onward comrades. In 2017 either we fight back or the enlightened world dies. It’s that serious.

Edited Version 29/12/16

 

 

 

Anonymity For Alleged Abusers?

 

Put yourself in the classy shoes of Sir Cliff Richard. Imagine how he felt on the 14th of August when the South Yorkshire Police ( SYP) raided his house while the BBC had a helicopter hovering above, filming the operation. The star had been accused of sexual abuse by four men and was being investigated. The assaults allegedly took place between 1958 and 1983. After twenty two months, he was told no charges would be brought. It didn’t have to be done in that way. Guarded Auntie had lost all sense, turned into a lurid, invasive tabloid outlet and SYP too should have behaved with some discretion. So I get it, the distress felt by the veteran pop star. And the broadcaster Paul Gambaccini, who spent twelve anxious months on bail before being told he would face no charges. Both men went to the House of Lords on Monday to lobby for a change in the current law. They want those accused of sexual abuse to be guaranteed anonymity until and unless they are charged. LibDem  peer Lord Paddick, previously deputy assistant Met commissioner backs this change. It all sounds so reasonable.

But here’s the rub: if these famous and or powerful chaps get what they want, it will become unbelievably harder for the police and courts to nail abusers. As lawyer Richard Scorer, a specialist in this area, says: ‘We have seen countless times how perpetrators isolate their victims, make them feel no one will believe them’.  Releasing names of alleged perpetrators gives courage to other victims. They then come forward. In May 2012, I received a letter from a nameless woman who claimed she had been groomed and raped by the entertainer Stuart Hall. He handed her a school prize, offered to mentor her, then repeatedly raped her over a long time. I took the anguished letter to the police and they began looking into the allegation. When news broke of this, other women came forward. Without similar, accumulated testimonies Hall’s lawyers would have got him off.  He denied it all of course, said the accusations were ‘pernicious, callous, cruel and pernicious’. He was convicted and sent to prison, still arrogant and unrepentant. When I finally got to talk to the woman who wrote to me, she described her years of silent suffering when she blamed herself. She hadn’t even told her husband about what happened to her. Knowing he did it to others helped her get over that guilt.

Cliff Richard, national treasure,  has suffered humiliation, trauma and depression. Victims feel all that and worse. Repression, inhibition, shame and pain lead to self destructive and destructive behaviours. Many are irreversibly damaged.

False allegations are rare. False allegations against the rich and famous rarer still, although their fury and sense of injustice thereafter is boundless. Even when there is a serious case to answer, in cases where a celeb stands accused, juries tend to doubt the accusers. A prosecution barrister described to me, the courtroom dynamics he has witnessed. The conversation was off the record : ‘Those elected to be on juries do often believe celebs are targeted by low life. They can be very sceptical particularly when the victims are female or from working class backgrounds. They mistrust lawyers too. So to get a conviction is hard. Victims accusing high profile men have a credibility problem not of their making. This is why so few of them dare’.

We should be far more concerned about the countless men and women who never dared to tell, who will never find closure nor heal. According to the NSPCC, ninety percent of children raped or molested know the perpetrator and around 3000 children needed protection from sexual abuse in 2014. Unknown are the numbers of those who do not come forward. These people matter more than celebs who were wrongly accused and never tried.

The law must not be changed. Anonymity will lead to fewer prosecutions because the case will depend on one person’s complaint. Stuart Hall, Max Clifford and Rolf Harris ( all contemptuous of their victims) would have had their comeuppance if their identities had been protected. Sir Cliff has come through the dark days. He should now think of them who never leave the darkness and step back from  this vindictive campaign.

Edited Version I newspaper 19/10/16

 

 

Hating the Powerless

 

Damien Green, the Works and Pensions Secretary has a kindly manner, unlike his predecessor, Ian Duncan Smith, who acted like a slightly demented, paranoid colonel. But, as we know, appearances can deceive. Personable Mr Green has just announced yet another ‘revolution’ to modernise the disability benefits system. IDS pushed policies that were ‘fair to the taxpayer’ and intolerably unfair to lone parents, the long term unemployed, the disabled. 2,650 men and women who were declared fit for work, died between 2011 and 2014. Tales of woe abound. Linda Wooten, 49, who had serious heart disease was informed she had to get a job as she lay dying. A father whose son was murdered, was judged not to have mental health problems because his anxiety was based on something real and not fearful fantasies. (https://www.commonspace.scot/articles/9741/neil-mcleod-i-spent-20-years-working-welfare-rights-toby-young-its-time-you-listen)

Such claimants will now get ‘personalised’ pathways to employment. ( All those jobs waiting to be filled by the willing sick and impaired!) Oh and their Employment Support Allowance (ESA) will be cut from £105-15 a week to £73-10. The Disability Rights website lists fifteen benefits which are to capped. It’s hideously complicated. Nothing like a kick in the groin to set the juices of aspiration flowing. The powerful never have to pass such gruelling tests. They can waste eye watering amounts of public money, break rules and set new rules. The most brazen climb on the backs of the unfortunate to get fame, status and glittering careers.

Let’s take as our example, Dame Louise Casey, DBE, CB, previously Tsarina for preventing extremism, anti-social behaviour and whatever, then Director General of Troubled Families, now the Boudicca of integration.  This brusque and pushy woman was much admired by Blair, then Cameron. Her tough approach often failed to deliver; those she was meant to uplift stayed ground down. 1.2 billion pounds was spent on her troubled families plan. An official recent report found it had had little impact. None of that has ever prevented her rise and rise to informal power. Mrs May’s government will, no doubt, find Casey very useful for their forthcoming cold-blooded economies.

The PM has indicated that those the bottom of society will lose more cash if the economy plummets. At the party conference, she promised to make society ‘fairer for families’. It was political blether. She, who once warned her party was seen as ‘nasty’ is today pushing the cruellest of policies in an increasingly nasty nation which has no place for the the working and workless classes or the dispossessed. 48% of Britons think there should be more benefit cuts. Many believe most people who seek state help are lazy liars. Some are, but so are some MPs, lawyers, police officers, humans of all backgrounds. The Chartered Institute of Housing warns that new measures will negatively affect over 300,000 children. A local food bank I take stuff to, desperately needs toothpaste and nappies. While there I saw a little waif picking up a tissue from the ground to wipe her runny nose. Charities are alarmed, teachers too as more  and more pupils turn up hungry and bedraggled. But, hey, think of the billions that will be plucked back from the ‘feckless’ and voiceless. Mahatma Gandhi believed poverty was the worst kind of violence. How then, shall we describe state planned poverty?

I, Daniel Blake, by the globally admired director Ken Loach is on general release. It’s won prizes, had great reviews. It should awaken the indifferent and inert.  Loach’s Cathy Come Home about a homeless couple, had a huge impact in 1966. Some right wingers are seriously displeased. Damien Green, who has not seen the movie, accuses Loach of being ‘monstrously unfair; obdurate Toby Young,  son of acclaimed social reformer Michael Young, was scornful. There were no laughs, he moaned, the characters were not the roughnecks we saw on Benefits St, it reflected Victorian Britain. Too right.

In 1851, Henry Mayhew wrote in his book on the indigent of London; ‘The condition of a class of people whose misery, ignorance and vice, amidst all the immense wealth and great knowledge of the ‘first city in the world’ is …a national disgrace to us’. We are back there. Only attitudes have so hardened, that few would feel that sense of national disgrace.

 

Edited Version I newspaper 2/11/16