Open Letter to Nigel Farage

Dear Nigel Farage,

This open letter will infuriate you.  I know from personal experience how your temper flares and torches detractors. Do you remember the last time we met? I’ve never forgotten. It was in an  intimate LBC studio, on the Iain Dale show. We were asked to review 2012, discuss key political events. Before I had got four words out, you went for me, like a well trained dog. (I don’t mean that to be an insult. Dogs are noble creatures, held dear by millions in this country, as are you.) You called me ‘a stupid girl’ because I said Ukip was anti-Europe. No, you barked, your party is against the EU not Europe. ITALS PREVIOUS 5wds. Fair point, but did you have to insult and bully me on air? I threatened to walk out and you grudgingly apologised.

I was at the BBC watching you and Clegg battling it out. A few of us were invited to dinner afterwards and I was so hoping for a reunion. But you didn’t show. I had criticised you on Channel4 the week before and we could have had another raging row. You were impressively combative in that debate. And smart. And captivating. One friend thinks you are really sexy and imagines you’d be a good spanker. It takes all sorts.

I, though, am not seduced. Your perpetual smile and famous charm is just a masquerade. And it works. Even did last week on the usually merciless Have I got News For You . They asked you about your expense claims and alleged sexual adventures and you smiled and smiled and smiled, though you must have been incandescent. Many Britons will have been impressed by that performance. Paul Merton and Ian Hislop didn’t pursue you as hard as they did Boris or the Hamiltons, those two now, of course, Ukip names. Perhaps because all broadcasters have been accused by you of bias against your party. To have been on Question Time over 26 times, forever elsewhere on the airwaves is obviously still not enough. You go on about how the Establishment hates Ukip, the party of the common man. This strategy of faux victimhood is working. Congratulations.

Let’s examine this anti-establishment posturing. You have been an MEP for nearly fourteen years on around £70,000 per year, plus the 2 million pounds expenses you boasted about in 2009. Your father was a stockbroker; you went to the private school for the privileged, Dulwich College, and then became a city trader. You employ your wife as a paid secretary and wear tailor made, pin striped suits, silk ties and shirts. Your backers are multimillionaires. You were in a two seater plane which crashed. You survived. What a hero. Later, medical bills for injuries sustained in that accident were, apparently paid by Sir Fredrick Barclay, one of the brothers who own the Telegraph and Ritz Hotel, which held a fiftieth birthday bash for you. You are a man absolutely of the establishment. Smoking and drinking pints does not make you a man of the people. But you, being the Paul Daniels of politics, have tricked many into believing that.

You slag off EU policies ad nauseam. So tell me Mr Farage, would you bring back smoking in public places, free people so they can die? Would you bring in the death penalty? Do you want adults to be able to thrash kids at home and in schools? Would you tear up the Human Rights Act?

You have sexists, racists, homophobes and cheats in your party. Some are exposed from time to time. You seem to think that doesn’t matter, that ‘eccentrics’ are fun.  That, to me, shows tacit approval of some very nasty people and ideas. I can’t see much divergence between Ukip’s views on forced assimilation of migrants and repatriation and those held by the BNP. You just make them sound reasonable and know exactly how to tap into widespread anxieties about migration. (By the way, that was a nice touch, expressing tender concern for workless Afro-Caribbeans who have lost out to Poles and Romanians.) Though you won’t join Marie Le Pen’s coalition of the far right, you still praise her and your party is close to some of those hardliners. Professor Alen Sked of the LSE left your party because it was, he said, too extremist.

 I feel you viscerally loathe cultures and peoples outside your mean little Englishness. You blame the EU, blame migrants and diversity for all the ills of the nation, which you must know has grown and maintained its position by being pro-European, open and cosmopolitan. Ukip MEP Marta Andreasen defected to the Tories last year saying you are a  ‘Stalinist dictator’ who doesn’t like women. I am a woman, Asian, Muslim and a migrant. I must repel you on all fronts. And I, in return, don’t like, trust or believe anything you say.

Yours sincerely

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown 

 The Independent, 21/3/2014

 

 

 

 

 

Planned Poverty in the UK

Poverty made in Britain

On Friday evening On Iain Dale’s LBC programme, I was on with the urbane Nadhim Zahawi, Tory MP for Stratford-Upon-Avon, who claimed nearly £6,000 for heating his stables and £170, 000 in expenses in 2012-13. We argued about benefits cuts and rising poverty. He stated forcefully that  ‘reforms’ enable claimants to move on and up, regurgitating Tory propaganda. When he was nine, his Kurdish family fled Saddam’s repressive Iraq and settled here. It must have been hard. So the boy done good and done the party good too. See? They love striving migrants.

I too am a migrant who has found some success. But unlike Zahawi, I cannot forget the hard times, both back in Uganda and for the first years here. For most people raised in poverty, that fear and fragility still lurks inside, ghosts of times past.  My mother cooked and sewed for people; my father worked sporadically and disappeared for years. Sometimes the neighbours sent us food because the electricity was cut off and there were weevils in the lentils. My only brother, eleven years older than me had to leave school and work. He got rich but drank too much, was never able to be happy, died too young. My sister is mentally ill and hardly speaks.

Today, in the seventh richest country in the world, this government is on an ideological mission to punish and degrade the poor. Those who question the mission are savaged. It is political sadism. Cameron, Osborne, Ian Duncan Smith and others inflict incalculable pain on the most dispossessed because they can. The psychological harm to them and their families is irreversible. Mental health problems are increasing and services are unable to cope.  In the last fortnight, Vincent Nichols, Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, has spoken up against the welfare policies which are leading to extreme poverty and at the start of Lent,  27 leading Anglican leaders wrote an open letter in the Daily Mirror expressing their disquiet about spreading hunger even among families where adults work. Rowan Williams went further. Those on benefits, he wrote, were not ‘scroungers’ but people who had no other options. ( Why haven’t Rabbis and Imams joined this truly moral crusade? )

Food banks are reporting increased demand and some are seeing people seeking sustenance who were once entirely self –reliant. There are three food banks in Hart in Hampshire, recently named the most desirable location in the UK to live. In my visits to food banks, I have met a teacher in his thirties who is now on disability benefits, a businessman widower who went bankrupt and a young mum from a housing estate whose three kids had eaten nothing for two days. The children were listless and unnaturally quiet, even when they were given a biscuit. She sobbed when we spoke and said she had thought of suicide so her children could go to homes where the cupboards are full. Some claimants are indeed idle or cheats, others drunks, smokers and gamblers. That would be true of all classes. But all children still deserve life chances. Remember the Big Society?  

Now George Eustice, the ‘food minister’,  finally admits that ‘families are struggling to afford to feed themselves’. Well, George old boy, where have ITALS PREVIOUS WD you been? On a space mission to Mars? Or just not peeping out from behind the gold Jacquard curtains of your privileged life? A review by academics at Warwick University  commissioned by the government on this crisis was completed last June. Its findings have just been released after much editing: though privation is indeed growing, it is hard to make a clear link between that and policies. Really? Meanwhile a Scottish government report has found that missing link. Obviously can’t trust those Scots.   

This Sunday, ‘radical’ coalition plans were helpfully leaked to the press. The government may reduce energy and water bills and hand food vouchers to the needy. They are running to catch up. Or maybe show willing, that’s all. Too late already.

In 2010, the respected IFS, an independent financial research organisation warned that by 2013, hundreds of thousands more children would be living in absolute poverty and that there would be the largest fall in median incomes since between 1974 and 1977. Fuel poverty was predicted to kill over 20,000 people, according to the Mail last autumn. Alison Graham, chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group, has repeatedly said ministers are in denial about the extent of deprivation. They weren’t in denial; it was part of their cunning plan. Planned poverty. How can that be acceptable in a western nation? Unless the government changes course radically and finds its compassion ( won’t happen) those who vote for the Conservatives in the next election, will be assenting to policies which humiliate and mortify millions of men, woman and their children while they try to survive on starvation wages and punitive benefits. Democracy is, after all, responsibility. Is that what you want?   

The Independent, 24/2/14

  

 

War Mania

War Mania

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown

My dad Kassam, who looked like Jeremy Thorpe, didn’t eat much, but greedily consumed books on British politics and British wars.  He bought them on credit knowing he couldn’t  pay the bills.  In the end, the owner of the only bookshop in town, banned him from his store. This was in Kampala, capital of Uganda. Exiled ignobly from his daytime hangout, Papa turned into Coleridge’s mad Ancient mariner, pulled people into his obsessions. One story he told over and over again was of an Indian relative called Jaffer, who had volunteered to fight with the  Allies in the Great War – as did thousands of other Indians and Africans.  In fact, at the beginning the Indian army outnumbered British army. Jaffer died soon after somewhere near Neuve Chapelle-Givenchy. ‘ War made him great, made him a man. Without his guns he would have been nothing, just a dukanwallah ( small shopkeeper)’   Jaffer’s suffering widow and kids didn’t get parts in Papa’s heroic yarns. Before I was born, he himself had tried to enlist when the next world war broke out but was deemed physically  unfit. I didn’t see the glory then and don’t  now.

What I see is countrywide mania, cravings for military braggadocio and justifications for action, most of which are post-victory, well shined up lies . The illegal war on Iraq was the only example I can think of when millions of Britons, high and low, rebelled against the mission, its pretexts and methods. That was a blip in an unbroken narrative of armed valour and supremacy.  Britain is arguably more addicted than is the US to wartimes past and present. Wars, not religions, are now the opiates of our people. And the state funds the drug habit, big time. With so much of the stuff sold energetically in the marketplace, few will escape from its effects. And there are no curative clinics, clinicians or therapists to help the young. Those who work with terrorists know how hard it is to detoxify a mind that has been indoctrinated. When the minds of millions are systematically turned by the UK political and military establishments, restoration to rational, independent thought is well nigh impossible. We are the great brainwashed.    

The government has decided that World War 1 will be marked over four years. Four Years, costing over 60 million pounds. Andrew Murrison is appointed the minister of the Great War. A minister for rain would make more sense. Jeremy Paxman was absolutely right when he said recently ( when talking about his own sensitive, BBC series on this conflagration)  that ‘only a complete idiot would celebrate such a calamity’. According to soldiers who were there and experts over the decades, the conflict was devastating, needless, ruthless, and dishonourable. It badly affected  Africa, Arabia, Asia and led Europe inevitably to the next global inferno.  Why even the right wing, pro-Empire, hawkish  historian Niall Ferguson, says: ‘ It was the biggest error in modern history’. Michael Gove will be most displeased. ( He looks and acts like a Dickensian character when most displeased. Will Fergusson be summoned and bent over a table and caned?) Our resolute Secretary of State for Education is determined to turn this remembrance into a pro-war cant- fest. As Simon Jenkins observed last week: ‘It will be the British at their worst; sanctimonious, self-congratulatory, worshipping at the tomb of the unknown, awful German…[already] there are war poems, war propaganda, war nurses, war horses everywhere’.

The potent myth of sacrifice is evoked whenever men and women die in wars. Britain beautifully embalms these victims and those to come in these sentiments. It is to ensure the army remains big, popular and ready for the next big battle. Five years ago the armed forces were no longer held in awe. Their PR sorcerers went into battle and got the nation to hug soldiers again, all ‘heroes’ who give their lives so we may be free. The poppy is now a mark of loyal citizenship. Once the people are manipulated to back the military, they do not ask why we must have the Trident defence system, just one part of which has gone up 600% in costs. Thanks to MP Paul Flynn we know the final bill will run into between 15 to 20 billion. My colleague Any McSmith ran this story in the paper last week. Was there any public consternation? No. How much of the deficit would be cut if we dropped this vanity project? How does it help fight the Al-Qaeda threat? Imagine if the NHS overspent this profligately.

The next four years will push militarism down our throats, so we assent to the next armed venture in a fug of druggy pride. Resist the peddlers. Read No Man’s Land: Writings from a World at War, (ed Peter Ayrton) and seek the truth.  And know this nation is more than the sum of its wars.     

 The Independent 3/2/14

Hating the Immigrant: A National Sport

Immigration Hatred

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown

 I want the BBC’s political editor Nick Robinson to look me in the eye and tell me that it was a big mistake to let my people- the Ugandan Asians- into this country. A big mistake because the majority of Brits resented us coming, believed the ‘influx’ would put intolerable pressure on jobs, housing, NHS and education and corrupt the national identity. Local authorities paid for full page adverts in Ugandan newspapers asking Asians to keep out of their areas. Most of the media was maniacally opposed, same as when Jews were coming over before World War 11 and in the centuries previously. Mr Robinson is presenting a programme on BBC2 this week showing the scale of public concern about immigration. Instead of being an objective conduit, he has, in a jingoistic, right wing newspaper, slammed the Corporation for censoring anti-immigrant opinions. A big lie. These are the only views now dominating the papers and airwaves. Robinson was once an ardent Chairman of the Young Conservatives. Possibly deeply held political positions don’t just wash away when you get a top broadcasting job. If that feels like a slur, forgive me. But as an immigrant I feel slandered by the caustic populism now flaunted by respectable intellectuals and politicians.

Roger Mosey, previously a BBC executive, now Master of Selwyn College, Cambridge,  made similar observations late last year. Others are on the same warpath. They seem or care not to know the history of this eternal crisis. Here are a few of the facts gone missing in this so called debate: In 1903, Cathcart Wason, Liberal MP for Orkney and Shetland- no migrants there, even now-  asked in parliament: ‘What is the use of spending thousands of pounds on building beautiful workman’s dwellings if the places of our own workpeople, the backbone of the country, are to be taken over by the refuse and scum of other nations’? In the sixties the people and many of their leaders complained bitterly about ‘aliens’ living off benefits. Patrick Gordon Walker, Midlands Labour MP said in 1962: ‘This is a British country with British standards of behaviour. The British must come first’. Not only Cameron, and May, but Ed Milliband and Yvette Cooper too are repeating that mantra. Remember the hysterics over migration from Hong Kong when it was handed back? The way Afghani refugees were treated when they came here? Migrant hatred is part of the complicated story of this country. And so is hard won migrant love. The media surely has a duty to ensure social trust and tell the whole story.  

BBC and other journalists  have not excitedly prioritised  the majority view that the death penalty should be brought back or that paedophiles should be put away on some remote island forever. Ministers too have been leaders not followers on these issues.

Until a decade back, most Brits did not support real equality for gays. Leading media outlets presented sane arguments and aired persuasive voices, felt morally compelled to argue the case. By not pandering to democratic tyranny, they enabled the population to shed prejudices.  On immigration the BBC and others are led by right wing trendsetters on social media and encourage the tyranny. I do understand that in recession people fear the foreigner. And that Islamicism has increased those fears. But those can’t be the excuses for the pervasive nastiness directed at migrants and refugees.

Robinson is disdainful of senior BBC figures who feared a free-for-all immigration debates ‘would unleash some terrible side of the British public’. They were right. When doors are opened to objectors and neo- jingoists, responsible broadcasters must ensure fairness. They don’t. For balance, programmes should cover the concerns of immigrants too. How it leaves us feeling vulnerable and devalued. Call me Tony Hall. Let’s talk. It’s time.

According to received wisdom, those opposing migration are not racist . But if verified data is ignored, if immigrants’ voices are silenced, if the bullish majority freely maligns incomers, it is  xenophobia. The economic downturn was caused by irresponsible bankers and a dysfunctional economic model not by migration. Housing shortages and the misery of the poor, for whom I feel deeply,  is the result of government policy not the Polish carpenter or Punjabi waiter. We came, settled and became productive citizens. As did most of those who came before us. Researchers at Manchester University have found the most mixed UK neighbourhoods are the most healthy and that it is deprivation, not diversity, that adversely affects the quality of life in some urban areas. In 2012, The National Institute of Economic and Social Research found ‘no association’ between higher immigration and joblessness and that immigration was an economic stimulant.

All Britons should keep a diary for one week and note the interactions with ‘outsiders’. It’s what we all do, have to. So why this relentless hostility?

 The independent, 6th January 2014

 

 

  

Remembered and Forgotten Histories

 

The government has just agreed to pay twenty million pounds to over five thousand Kenyans tortured under British rule during the Mau Mau uprising in the fifties. William Hague, in a commendably sober speech, accepted that the victims had suffered pain and grief. Out rode Military expert Sir Max Hastings, apoplectic, a very furious Mad Max. Gabriel Gatehouse, the BBC Radio4 reporter who interviewed survivors:  ‘should die of shame’, roared the Knight of the realm. Kenyan Human Rights organisations and native oral testimonies could not be trusted; the real baddies were the Mau Mau;  no other nation guilty of crimes ever pays compensation and expresses endless guilt and finally there ‘comes a moment when you have to draw a line under it’.  Actually Sir, the Japanese did compensate our POWs in 2000 and Germany has never stopped paying for what it did to Jewish people.

The UK chooses to relive historical episodes of glory- and there were indeed many of those- but also glorifies those periods which were anything but glorious, and wilfully edits out the dark, unholy, inconvenient parts of the national story. Several other ex-imperial nations do the same. In Turkey it is illegal to talk publicly about the Armenian genocide by the Ottomans ; France has neatly erased its vicious rule in Arab lands; the US only remembers its own dead in the Vietnam War not the devastation of that country and its people. GB proudly remembers the Abolitionists but gets very tetchy when asked to remember slavery without which there would have been no need for Abolition. The Raj is still seen as a civilizing mission not as a project of greed and subjugation. Not all the empire builders were personally evil, but occupation and unwanted rule is always morally objectionable. Tony Blair was probably taught too much of the aggrandizing stuff and not enough about the ethics of Empire. The Scots, in any case, in spite of being totally involved, have offloaded all culpability for slavery and Empire on to the English. Their post-devolution history has been polished up well. But it is a flattering, falsifying mirror.

Indian history, as retold by William Dalrymple and Pankaj Mishra, among others, is very different from the ‘patriotic’ accounts Britons been fed for over a century. The 1857, Indian Uprising, for example was a violent rebellion during which British men, women and children were murdered  (so too was the Mau Mau insurrection)  but the reprisals were much crueller and against many more people, many innocent. Our War on Terror is just as asymmetrical.

Today we get to hear plans to mark the centenary of the start of World War 1. The coalition government wants to spin this terrible conflict into another victory fest in 2014. Brits addicted to war memorialising will cheer. Michael Gove will have our children remembering only the ‘greatness’ of the Great War and David Cameron will pledge millions of pounds for events which will stress the national spirit and be as affirming as ‘the diamond Jubilee celebrations’. I bet Max Hastings won’t  ask for a line to be drawn under that bit of the nation’s past.

A group of writers, actors and politicians, including Jude Law, Tony Benn, Harriet Walter, Tim Pigott-Smith, Ralph Steadman, Simon Callow, Michael Morpurgo and Carol Anne Duffy has expressed concern that such a ‘military disaster and human catastrophe’ is to be turned into another big party: ‘We believe it is important to remember that this was a war that was driven by big powers’ competition for influence around the globe and caused a degree of suffering all too clear in the statistical record of 16 million people dead and 20 million wounded’.  After 1916 soldiers were conscripted from the poorest of families.  The officer classes saw them as fodder.  Traumatised soldiers, as we know, were shot. In school back in Uganda, I learnt the only words of Latin I know,  Wilfred Owen’s ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’. His poems got into my heart and there they stay.

Let’s not expect the Establishment keepers of our past to dwell unduly on those facts and figures or to acknowledge the land grabs in Africa in the latter part of the 19th Century which led to that gruesome war or to remember how it played out on that continent. With the focus forever on the fields of Flanders, forgotten are those other theatres of that war, in East Africa, Iraq, Egypt and elsewhere.

In Tanganyika, where my mother was born, the Germans played dirty and the British fought back using over 130,000 African and Indian soldiers, thousands of them who died horrible deaths. Her father told her stories of, yes, torture by whites on both sides, trees bent over with strung up bodies, some pregnant women, and fear you could smell on people and in homes. Edward Paice’s book Tip and Run: The Untold Tragedy of the Great War in Africa, ( Phoenix, 2007) finally broke the long conspiracy of partiality.

The historical truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth matters. It is hard to get at and forever contested, but the aspiration still matters more than almost anything else in a nation’s self-portrait.  With incomplete verities and doctored narratives, younger generations are bound to repeat the mistakes and vanities of the past. There will be a third global war because not enough lessons were learnt about earlier, major modern conflicts. And then our world will end.

The Independent 1/7/2013

 

 

The Politically Correct, Rabid Right

The Politically Correct Rabid Right

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown

On the 30th of January 1978, the day my son was born, Margaret Thatcher charmingly told white TV viewers that their country was in danger of being ‘swamped’ by other cultures. Enoch Powell’s gory warnings about black and Asian immigration  were rebranded and detoxified by the wily, well groomed, Lady Toryand embedded in the nation’s psyche. Her words were calculated and won her populist support and admirers within her party. Sixteen months later she became PM.

In all the miles of newsprint and ceaseless cacophony following her death, no attention has been paid to her supremacist views of Empire ( Bruge Speech, 1992) or the race riots, or the many deaths in custody of black men, or government sanctioned unfair policing, or  her deep hostility to immigrants of colour or concomitant warmth towards white Zimbabweans and South Africans. As blogger Jacqueline Scott, writes: ‘Racism fattened under Margaret Thatcher’, but hush, don’t mention that.  Forgotten too is Thatcher’s vendetta against the GLC and ILEA, institutions which did not fall in line with her little Englandism. The politically correct, radical right has silenced all such talk and much more besides.

Make no mistake, the most intolerant, Stalinist and insistently PC forces today are on the right, not on the so called ‘loony left’. Last week this wing hysterically attacked the Diana Fund for supporting a campaigning pro-immigration organisation. Diana was a friend to the outsider and the despised and yet those she was close to are kicking up about this funding. The same reactionary battalions stopped the BBC from playing a song that legitimately got into the top of the charts, because it ‘insults’ the hallowed Tory matriarch. Most of our newspapers are on the right and they push, sometimes bully broadcasters into that same ideological space. Fearful of bad headlines, the BBC meekly accommodates their propaganda and so the right gets bolder and more demanding.

I was on Channel 5’s Wright Stuff as a panellist all week and expressed unfashionably critical assessments of the Thatcher era, well, because, I am told, we live in a free society. Some of the reactions I subsequently received made me wonder if I should better conceal or disguise my deeply held socialist, anti-racist  views. Walking through Whiteleys, where the programmes are recorded, a group crowded and abused me. Some of their comments were racist, others insulting or filthy. It was horrible. Back home, onto my screen came more from the rabid right PC brigade. They are offended by anything or anyone who disagrees with their views. Dissent, to them, is treason, and an embodiment of the enemy within (Thatcher’s term used for striking miners).

Every day we, the people, are instructed on what we should say, think and feel. To belong, we must not only praise Thatcher for her greatness and femaleness, but also be foolish, doting Royalists, hate the poor, approve of welfare cuts, hate the unions, reject the principle of equality and proclaim immigration as a deadly threat. Thatcher, the Boudicca of the fanatical right reclaimed the kingdom and they remain powerful, unbeatable and unbearable.

The Independent 15th April 2013

Immigration and the Democratic Deficit

 

During its holy festivities, this Christian country remembers its Saviour and his holy lessons. Mary and Joseph sought asylum, needed the kindness of strangers. Ever year, I hope that Britons will learn from that story to embrace the needy wanderers of our times.  It is a forlorn hope. For every year Britain becomes more virulently hostile towards most incomers and the same big lie is repeated- that this tolerant nation has always welcomed people until now, when there are simply too many coming in and sinking the island nation. They said that when Huguenots in the 17th century and later Jews needed a sanctuary, when Caribbeans took up essential public service jobs, when factories invited Pakistani and Indian workers, when we East African Asians were forced out of our homelands and again when Vietnamese boat people came to stay.  The singers pass on but the song never changes.

Through those centuries there were always public figures who bravely stood up for immigrants for moral and economic reasons. Some were even Tories. During the debate on the Nationality Act of 1948, Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, Conservative spokesman on home affairs said: ‘We are proud we impose no colour bar restrictions…we must maintain our great metropolitan tradition to everyone from every part of the Empire’. Ted Heath took on Enoch Powell and allowed British Ugandan Asians to settle in the UK and though a little Englander, Margaret Thatcher welcomed in the Vietnamese. Labour MPs championed immigrants, and won their trust but in government the party was often cowardly and surrendered to base instincts. Its 1968 Immigration Act which discriminated against non-white Commonwealth British citizens was described by Auberon Waugh in the Spectator as ‘ the most immoral legislation’ ever to emerge from any British parliament. Almost as an apology, the party pushed through race relations laws for which we are grateful. The LibDems always spoke up for immigrants and internationalism. They even elected as their President, Lord Dholakia, an Asian from East Africa.

Today’s leaders are, in contrast, spineless, contradictory, deceitful, and outdoing each other on ferocious anti-immigration rhetoric and policies, mainly because they are spooked by that grinning maverick Nigel Farageof UKIP. Clegg, whose principles are as dispensable as chewing gum, now spits out the policy of amnesty for undocumented, low paid migrants. He once mustered the passion of Mark Anthony to argue for their rights. Furthermore he wants a £1,000 bond on visitors from non-white nations. Not Australians and New Zealanders and all those kith and kin who stay forever. By the way, did you know there are more Americans living in the UK than Jamaicans and Somalis put together? Meanwhile Ed Milliband is busy saying sorry for Labour’s immigration policies, instead of reminding Britons about the high living standards they enjoyed between 1992 and 2007, partly because of the high productivity of EU migrants. Cameron is trying to face both ways on immigration- his neck must hurt. In India he magnanimously invites them over to study and work while back home he makes speeches that make Norman Tebbit look like a cuddly toy.

The Tory threats to restrict medical services, housing and education to new migrants ( even if they are working) have been lauded by the French National Front. These politicians are influenced by public intellectuals like David Goodhart who burble on about national solidarity being weakened by migrants. Yes, sure. What deep common bonds there are between Ian Duncan Smith and the poor he is systematically destroying.

David Walker, Bishop of Dudley has attacked the way all our political leaders are encouraging popular fury against migrants and refugees, exaggerating the ‘problems’ which often have ‘little relationship to the actual reality’.  The Council of Europe is alarmed by the extremely hostile public debate on Romanian and Bulgarian would-be migrants to Britain. The European Commission has attacked the ‘knee jerk xenophobia’ in the UK led by those entrusted with responsible leadership.

The consequences of the latest anti-immigration mood are barely considered. There has been an 11% fall in Indian investments between 2011 and 2012, according to the new, much needed Migration Matters Trust, set up by the Tory Gavin Barwell and Ex-Labour minister Barbara Roche. And then there are the ‘ethnic minority’ constituents. Some oppose immigration but most don’t. They have traditionally voted for Labour. LibDems, still disgracefully white, needs their support to survive. Lord Ashcroft and other Tory grandees know the ethnic vote will determine results in key constituencies. In the next election these voters and white Britons who support immigration will have no democratic choice because all the parties are lining with UKIP now.

On Easter Friday, we went to the V&A, and nearly every member of staff there was from somewhere else, working hard and with a smile. I go to radio and TV stations early in the mornings and late at night- the cleaners are ghosts, doing a job, unseen by the journos around them. Delivering a speech at a City bank, again the service staff were almost all black or Arab. The street cleaners in my borough are ‘outsiders’. They, we, still have to endure ceaseless attacks on us, day after day. And those elected to hold the country together and protect the vulnerable now use persecution as a political weapon. So, tell me, Cameron, Clegg and Milliband, why should we who don’t fear and loathe migrants and refugees, vote for you?

The Independent 1st April 2013

Why Not a Palace Tax Too?

 

Last week Ed Milliband audaciously promised a mansion tax on homes worth over two million pounds and was rightly praised. In the end though, he was too pusillanimous and timid to take the final, logical step, a palace tax. So the policy would make, say, the CEO of Marks and Spencer pay the tax and not the Queen who ‘resides’ in eight or so palaces, or Prince Charles who occupies many fine abodes, and all those other princes and princesses and sundry living in royal mansions. Yes, mansions. Unlike the poor, the spoilt Royals won’t pay bedroom taxes either. OK, these opulent residences, even if properly taxed, would not swell the national revenues much. But it is the principle. Why should this clan be, and expect to be, excused from all laws trying to make the country fairer and more equitable? They could themselves volunteer inclusion, but don’t, because they know their subjects, from left to right, the poorest and most wretched, to those with money and power, are happy to indulge and adore them. Which is why millions were generously spent on the Jubilee during the recession and Monarch showed off her diamonds in a special, and especially crass exhibition. Punters queued up, paid up and gawped at the sparkling gems, a Queen’s best friends.

This in a country where last week, senior academics and children’s charities warned that child poverty was increasing rapidly and asked the government to urgently review its approach to this crisis. Week after week we hear of businesses collapsing and layoffs. The young, our future, have no jobs to go to or dream of. Suicide rates, especially among middle-aged men have risen by 15% since 2007 and some experts link that to the recession. I see many more homeless people on our streets and hopelessness on the faces of people living in tough neighbourhoods.

Incredibly, in these hardest of times, the adulation and glorification of royals is reaching new heights or depths, more accurately. Last week, BBC Radio4’s Woman’s Hour- one of my favourite programmes- broadcast their list of the nation’s most powerful women. The Queen, who inherited her position and is apparently just a figurehead, came top. OK, she deserves some respect because she’s been around a long time, performed her duties and lived through some major historical changes. However, the judges simply endorsed their own, un-examined royalist sympathies and that of the BBC which rarely gives republicanism a fair hearing. The choice also exposes that the big Establishment lie that the monarch has no clout. She does, and uses it when necessary and without accountability. In January, we learnt that the Queen and Charles were given powers to veto legislation thirty nine times and that she blocked parliament debating air strikes on Iraq. Prince Charles is getting a specially designed, protective BMW worth £300,000  and his mum, God bless her, had her state income hiked up 16% last year. Prince William, meanwhile was handed 10 million pounds on his birthday, from us, you and me and all the rest of his future subjects.    As for political neutrality, it’s a joke. These are natural born old Tories with no empathy at all for the other parties.

The Audience, a new play, by Peter Morgan opens next month. It’s about the Queen and her ‘frank’ views of successive Prime Ministers and yes, She is played by Helen Mirren. Audiences will love it for sure, her Royal self humbling elected and accountable leaders who worked and fought for their positions.

The population is so brainwashed now that they can’t think clearly and rationally about the institution or its dysfunctional family. It is, as the theatre director Richard Eyre says, a cult which denies ‘the light of reason’, an alter, before which the people metaphorically cross themselves, ‘crook the neck..bend the spine, bob and curtsey’. More disheartening still is that the liberal intelligentsia, arty types, serious writers, even scientists, who claim to be smart atheists, succumb to this cult.

Recently, at Madame Tussauds, female visitors voted on the man they most fancy. George Clooney came first and Prince Harry second. And all because they believe the Kate and William fairy tale.  More seriously ( and embarrassingly), the Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie, daughters of Prince Andrew, girls who wear funny hats, have been appointed British trade emissaries, now that Andrew himself has been grounded because of his dubious mates and  dealings. Just why and how this decision was made, has not been explained. It’s that blue blood again. As the inimitable Will Self wrote in Prospect Magazine: ‘The monarchy infantilizes the public and squats like a fat toad atop the still-existent hierarchy of class in British society.’

That hideous tradition of obsequiousness has allowed the Royals to keep their financial affairs secret for too long. Now the Public Accounts Committee headed by the formidable Margaret Hodge is about to unlock their guarded safes and to scrutinise their tax affairs. The Queen’s accounts will be audited for the first time and Prince Charles, who regards his Duchy of Cornwall ( 53, 000 hectares) as his private, economic fiefdom, may pay more tax, maybe lose some of those valets and button his own shirts. Hodge is performing her public duty and honourably, though she is going where angels fear to tread.

Britons now understand that hereditary Lords are an anachronism and iniquity, but refuse to see the same applies to the state funded Royals. They won’t abandon their blind faith or imagine the alternatives. No system is forever. There is a better, fairer way to run a country. At least let yourself think about it.

 

Euthanizing The National Health Service

 

Euthanizing the NHS

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown

Listeners welled up when the Labour MP Ann Clwyd described on BBC Radio4 how her beloved husband, Owen Roberts, had caught pneumonia, was treated in a Welsh hospital like a ‘battery hen’, neglected, left to breathe through an oxygen mask which cut into his face,  died in a bed which was too small for him. The nurses didn’t give a damn, according to the grieving MP. Since the broadcast in December Clwyd has had ‘hundreds and hundreds’ of letters and emails from people sharing their similar or worse stories. Now she claims ‘normalisation of cruelty’ is widespread on wards, denounces the entire NHS and wants radical action. And she does so in an avowedly right-wing Sunday newspaper.

I  can understand her passions and truly sympathise with her family and others. No medical professional should behave with the callousness she witnessed and experienced, and too many do. We have probably all come across uncaring and scary nurses and doctors. But I say gently, Clwyd’s high emotions are leading her to declare another unwise war and a little caution and restraint needs to be injected into the discourse she is stirring up. I remember her genuine distress about Iraq’s Marsh Arabs and others oppressed by the Saddam regime. And her intense, sometimes hyperbolic interventions supporting Blair and the Neo-Con case for going to war on Iraq. That catastrophic conflict killed and maimed countless Iraqis. This campaign of hers, I fear, is again, impelled by much feeling and inadequate reflection and at a time when the NHS, its founding mission and future, are seriously at risk, more gravely than at any point in its history. To speak of ‘normalisation of cruelty’ in the service is plain unfair though very helpful to Tory ideologues. They, who are hell-bent on disabling the institution to justify and facilitate privatization and profiteering by businessmen and women waiting in the wings, and health professionals too who know they can make personal fortunes if the service is further ‘liberalised’.

LibDem activist Dr Evan Davies has been campaigning against these plans, many of them surreptitiously pushed through across the country. Citizens too have been protesting against closures of A&E departments, labour and paediatric wards and other key facilities. I will be joining a vigil in Ealing this Saturday of people against the closure of our hospital’s A&E unit, a demo which will, as usual, be disdained by the government. Consultant radiologist Jacky Davis has warned repeatedly that an integrated, accountable NHS is being replaced by a fragmented, ‘rag bag of competing providers’. Even the most informed of us know little about how fast the ‘reform’ is being imposed. Dining with some friends on New Year’s eve, I sat next to Dr Guy Bailey who told me what was happening. Bailey, with Davis and others has formed the National Health Action ( NHA) Party which aims to contest seats in the next election to try and save what’s left of the NHS.

Now, this is not a good week to be defending the NHS. The final Francis Inquiry report is expected to be published and will severely criticize staff and the leadership at the mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust for poor leadership and a culture of indifference to patient safety which led to the unnecessary deaths of between 400 and 1,200 patients, many of whom were treated far worse than are sick and needy animals. What happened at Stafford Hospital is still happening elsewhere. I know because I am part of  an Imperial College/ NHS Trust project investigating and committed to improving patient safety across the NHS. These flaws and foul-ups cause untold anguish and dishonour the founding mission of our healthcare provision. But it is at these times of utter disillusionment that we most need to champion the best of the NHS.

A young uni student, a relative, nearly died last year because of dreadful mistakes made by a reputable hospital. One evening while out with friends, her drink was spiked. She went into a coma. Nurses took blood for tests, but without checking results, sent her home in a taxi once she had recovered a little. She was still in and out of consciousness. Twelve hours later they looked at the tests, apologised and told her she had the right to sue. She refused to do so: ‘They cocked up badly, shouldn’t have. It’s my NHS. Why should I take money from them? How many times have I had brill treatment?.’ Wise words from the mouth of a teen. We both have chronic problems. Good doctors and nurses keep her and me alive. But will we get that in the years to come?

Heed  the judicious words of Peter Walsh, chief executive of the Action Against Medical Accidents: ‘We now see ‘perfect storm’ conditions for further ‘Staffords’ to happen with not only pressures on resources but increased demand, fragmentation, low morale and chaos brought by reorganisation’ He links bad practice to low staff numbers, a message the government will ignore. Clwyd’s emotive crusade and the Francis Report may, sadly, help the government’s organised disintegration of the NHS, an unintentional consequence. We will only realise what we have lost and how we lost it when it is too late. It may be too late already.

The Independent, 4th February 2013