Last week, I took part in a fascinating event, the Brockley Festival of Ideas for Change, just a few minutes’ walk from my home in south east London, which was organised by two local organisations, the Brockley Society and the St. John’s Society. This was the talk I gave, which I wrote in a 90-minute burst of concentrated creative energy just beforehand. It distils my feelings about the current rise of racism and xenophobia in the UK, the narrow victory for leaving the EU in the referendum in June, and the terrible indifference to the current refugee crisis, which is taking place on a scale that is unprecedented in most of our lives, and I examine the dangers posed by an “us” and “them” mentality, laying the blame on cynical politicians and our largely corrupt corporate media, whilst also asking how and why, on an individual basis, people are becoming more and more insular, and what, if anything, can be done to counter these dangerous trends.
I was asked to join this event today because I’ve spent the last ten years — nearly eleven now — researching and writing about the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, telling the stories of the men held there and working to get the prison shut down, because it is, to be frank, a legal, moral and ethical abomination that should ever have existed.
Discussing Guantánamo here today wasn’t of particular relevance to most of the problems facing people in Britain right now, as the last British resident in Guantánamo — a rather lovely man named Shaker Aamer — was released over a year ago. I could have talked about Britain’s complicity in the existence of Guantánamo, and how we replicated part of its lawlessness here in the UK, holding foreign nationals without charge or trial, on the basis of secret evidence, and subjecting British nationals to a form of house arrest and/or internal exile, but I thought it would be useful to look at a key aspect of Guantánamo that has relevance to so many of the things happening in Britain today that are so deeply troubling to so many of us; namely, the rise of racism.
It doesn’t take a genius to look at Guantánamo and to realise that everyone held there since the prison opened in January 2002 is a Muslim. And because of all the disgraceful rhetoric about terrorists and the “worst of the worst,” Americans have been encouraged to accept that. But imagine if there was a prison run by the United States where people were held without charge or trial, and subjected to torture, and everyone held there was a Christian, or Jewish. There would be an unprecedented uproar. Read the rest of this entry »
The NHS faces an unprecedented crisis, and it’s all the Tories’ fault (with the help of some senior NHS officials). A new report by the National Audit Office, the government’s official auditor, has found that “[t]wo-thirds of health trusts in England are now in deficit,” and “their total debt has almost trebled since 2015 to £2.45bn,” as the Guardian described it, adding that auditors “were particularly alarmed by the decision to transfer £950m [out of a total of £4.6bn] from the NHS’s budget for buildings and IT to pay staff’s wages.”
The report follows the revelation on Monday that, as the Guardian described it, “[c]ontroversial plans put forward as a way of improving the health service in England and ensuring its sustainability risk being used as a cover for cuts and running down the NHS,” as Dr. Mark Porter, the chair of the British Medical Association (BMA) council explained. The Guardian added that the BMA stated that the 44 regional Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs) put forward in September “amount to £22bn in cuts by 2020-21 to balance the books, which will have a severe impact on patient care” — an understatement if ever I heard one. The impact, if implemented, would be nothing short of disastrous.
Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, stated that its report found that the NHS’s “financial problems are endemic,” and that this situation “is not sustainable” for a functioning health service. Her analysis of the crisis also included a recognition that “an increasing number of clinical commissioning groups (CCGs)” — the groups set up under the Tories’ complete (and manifesto promise-breaking) overhaul of the NHS — were “unable to keep their spending within budget.” Read the rest of this entry »
Is anyone really surprised that, in a leaked memo, a consultant from the global financial services company Deloitte, working for the Cabinet Office, has concluded that the Tory government is in disarray when it comes to implementing Brexit?
The consultant highlighted that “no common strategy has emerged” between government departments regarding how to implement Brexit, despite what the Guardian, reporting on the memo, which was leaked to the Times, described as “extended debate among the permanent secretaries who head Whitehall departments.” The Guardian also explained that the various government departments are working on “well over 500 projects, which are beyond the capacity and capability of Government to execute quickly,” adding that the government may need to hire an extra 30,000 civil servants to deal with the additional work.
The consultant added:
One Department estimates that it needs a 40% increase in staff to cope with its Brexit projects … [E]very Department has developed a “bottom up” plan of what the impact of Brexit could be — and its plan to cope with the “worst case”. Although necessary, this falls considerably short of having a “Government plan for Brexit” because it has no prioritisation and no link to the overall negotiation strategy.
Like June 23, 2016, November 8, 2016 will go down in the history books as a day when dreams of progress and tolerance and hope were brutally dashed. On June 23, in the UK, a slim majority of voters who could be bothered to turn out to vote in the EU referendum gave a kicking to the British establishment and endorsed racism and xenophobia, damaging the economy for no discernibly important reason whatsoever, making us a laughing stock around the world, and resetting the UK’s default position on tolerance to one in which foreigners can be openly abused, and anyone foreign-born, or appearing to be foreign-born, can be treated as “the other.”
In the US, as Jonathan Freedland wrote for the Guardian today, “We thought the United States would step back from the abyss. We believed … that Americans would not, in the end, hand the most powerful office on earth to an unstable bigot, sexual predator and compulsive liar.”
And yet, that is exactly what happened, and the parallels with the UK are, unfortunately, illuminating. Voters gave a kicking to the establishment, represented by Hillary Clinton, and white voters turned to Trump, the showman who, like Nigel Farage, pretended to be a “man of the people,” even though that was patently untrue. Read the rest of this entry »
As we feverishly await the result of the US Presidential Election (with, to my mind, the clear recognition that there is such a thing as the lesser of two evils), I wanted to take the opportunity to shine a light on another story of government cruelty in my home country, the UK, to add to the colossal and unprecedented incompetence of the current government, under the stunningly inept leadership of Theresa May.
Unlike the Brexit debacle, which is being spectacularly mismanaged by May and her post-referendum Cabinet, the story I want to shine light on predates May, but is part of a continuum of cruelty for which the current Conservative Party is notorious; specifically, the benefit cap, introduced by George Osborne, when he was Chancellor and David Cameron was Prime Minister, and relaunched on Monday with an even more savage bite.
The benefit cap was introduced in April 2013, capping at £26,000 the total amount that any family can receive in benefits, which might have sounded fair to anyone who wasn’t really paying attention. A little thought, however, would reveal that the majority of that money went not to the claimant, but to their landlord. Read the rest of this entry »
Great, great, great news from the High Court, as three of the most senior judges in the UK — the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, Sir Terence Etherton, the Master of the Rolls, and Lord Justice Sales — have ruled that “Parliament alone has the power to trigger Brexit by notifying Brussels of the UK’s intention to leave the European Union,” as the Guardian reported it, adding that the ruling was “likely to slow the pace of Britain’s departure from the EU and is a huge setback for Theresa May, who had insisted the government alone would decide when to trigger the process.”
Despite Theresa May’s wishful thinking, the Lord Chief Justice reminded her — and her ministers — that “the most fundamental rule of the UK constitution is that Parliament is sovereign,” something that those us with better knowledge of British democracy than our most senior ministers have been pointing out for the last four months.
Lord Thomas said, specifically, “The court does not accept the argument put forward by the government. There is nothing in the 1972 European Communities Act to support it. In the judgment of the court, the argument is contrary both to the language used by parliament in the 1972 act, and to the fundamental principles of the sovereignty of parliament and the absence of any entitlement on the part of the crown to change domestic law by the exercise of its prerogative powers.” Read the rest of this entry »
On the face of it, only a little, but beneath the surface all is not right with the Brexit camp, as Britain — or perhaps, particularly, England — has settled into some horrible racist reality that ought to alarm all decent human beings. This week, as child refugees with relatives in the UK were finally allowed into the country after months languishing in the refugee camp in Calais (the so-called “Jungle”) because the government, up to that point, had done nothing, the response of our disgusting right-wing tabloid newspapers — the Mail, the Sun, the Express, the Star — was to claim that they were not children (I was reminded of Donald Rumsfeld and Chief of Staff Richard Myers claiming that the children held at Guantánamo were not children).
Then the disgusting ordinary racists of Britain got involved — the seemingly countless numbers of people empowered since the referendum result to be even more openly racist than previously, and, of course, those who, for many years now, have been exulting in their power to write whatever filth they want on social media, up to and including death threats, and mostly to get away with it.
Two particular targets of the online trolls were the singer Lily Allen, who had been reduced to tears after visiting the Calais refugee camp, and had apologised “on behalf of England”, and footballing hero and Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker, who so appalled by the media witch hunt and support for it that he tweeted, “The treatment by some towards these young refugees is hideously racist and utterly heartless. What’s happening to our country?” and then faced calls for him be sacked, which he fought back against admirably, His best response, I thought, was, “Getting a bit of a spanking today, but things could be worse: Imagine, just for a second, being a refugee having to flee from your home.” Read the rest of this entry »
Nearly four months on from the EU referendum, and Britain is in meltdown — and yet the Tory government and its unelected leader, Theresa May, continue to behave as though nothing is wrong, while what springs to my mind is the Emperor Nero, fiddling while Rome burned.
You can see how delusional the Tory leadership’s state of mind is from a few facts from last week: the pound slumping in value to a 168-year low, and the Treasury — yes, the economic heart of the government itself — pointing out that “Britain will lose up to £66 billion a year if it pursues the so-called ‘hard Brexit’ option of leaving the single market and EU customs union,” as the Independent described it, adding, “Government figures suggest the UK’s gross domestic product (GDP) could fall by as much as 9.5 per cent if it leaves the EU and reverts to World Trade Organisation rules.”
I examined the folly of the “hard Brexit” option — and the alarming racism evident at the Conservative Party conference — in an article last week, Theresa May and the Conservative Party’s Alarming White Fascist Aspirations. Read the rest of this entry »
It was always worrying that Theresa May, on being handed the leadership of the Conservative Party, unelected by either the Party or, more crucially, the British public, was immediately positioned as a safe pair of hands by the corrupt mainstream media, an illusion that was widely embraced by ordinary members of the general public. Immediately, it became apparent that a strong-looking woman in charge of the Tory party — and suddenly the ghost of Margaret Thatcher was back amongst us — appeals not just to Tory boarding school inadequates, but also to the British people in general, as a result, I believe, of the deep damage caused to the British psyche by centuries of class division and Puritanism.
Metaphysically, Theresa May was the only senior official left standing after the brutal denouement of the EU referendum — with David Cameron gone, George Osborne doomed, Boris Johnson disgraced for having campaigned to win something he didn’t even believe in, and Michael Gove just plain creepy — but that didn’t mean she should have been anointed to lead, after the last irritant, Andrea Lettsom, was disposed of.
As I hope I made clear in my article, As Theresa May Becomes Prime Minister, A Look Back at Her Authoritarianism, Islamophobia and Harshness on Immigration, she is not a safe pair of hands at all, but an alarming authoritarian, with a track record on counter-terrorism that is dangerously Islamophobic — remember her obsession with deporting Abu Qatada, rather than putting him on trial if he had committed a crime (see here and here), remember how she crowed about extraditing a Muslim British citizen with Asperger’s to the US, but refused to extradite a white British citizen with Asperger’s (see my Al-Jazeera article here), and remember how she stripped British citizens in Syria of their citizenship so that they could be killed in US drone attacks (see here and here). Read the rest of this entry »
Yesterday it was 100 days since a slim majority of the British people who could be bothered to vote in the EU referendum decided that they wanted us to leave the EU after 43 years’ membership, a generally ill-considered decision that I wrote about at length at the time — see my articles UK Votes to Leave the EU: A Triumph of Racism and Massively Counter-Productive Political Vandalism, Life in the UK After the EU Referendum: Waking Up Repeatedly at a Funeral That Never Ends, Not Giving Up: Photos from the March for Europe in London, Saturday July 2, 2016 and As the Leaderless UK Begins Sinking, MPs, Media and British Citizens Don’t Seem to Care.
As the Tories’ annual conference gets underway, Brexit hangs over it like a black cloud, however much our unelected Prime Minister Theresa May wishes that were not the case. The beneficiary of the collapse of David Cameron’s government after the referendum — and the discrediting of the Tories’ main cheerleaders for the Leave campaign, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove — May has done very little since coming to power, beyond expressing a largely unpopular desire to fill the nation with grammar schools.
On Brexit, as a generally unenthusiastic member of the Remain camp, she has tried to wash her hands of the referendum’s toxicity, appointing three stooges to preside over our departure from the EU — Boris Johnson brought back, embarrassingly, as foreign secretary, plus David Davis, allegedly in charge of negotiating our departure from the EU, and the crook Liam Fox, who resigned because of inappropriate behavior in 2011, when he was the defence secretary, after breaking the ministerial code by repeating allowing his friend Adam Werrity, a lobbyist, into meetings with military figures, diplomats and defence contractors. For more on the failures of Boris Johnson, David Davis and, particularly, Liam Fox, see this withering criticism by the Tories’ former business minister Anna Soubry. Read the rest of this entry »
Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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