Demonising the ‘Other’: Tackling the Rise of Racism and Xenophobia

Andy Worthington speaking at RAF Menwith Hill at a CAAB (Campaign for the Accountability of American Bases) protest on July 4, 2013.Please support my work as a freelance investigative journalist and commentator.

 

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 »

YES! Judges Tell Lawless Tory Government That UK Cannot Leave EU Without Parliamentary Approval

A BBC graphic from June showing how three-quarters of MPs support staying in the EU.

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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 »

UK Votes to Leave the EU: A Triumph of Racism and Massively Counter-Productive Political Vandalism

"Don't blame me, I voted Remain": my response to the UK's EU referendum on the morning of June 24, 2016. What a disaster. In the UK referendum on EU membership, 17.4 million of my fellow citizens (52% of voters) voted to leave the EU, while 16.1 million (48%) voted to remain. Turnout was 71.8%, the highest turnout at a UK election since 1992, and by region the strongest support for the Remain camp was in Scotland, which voted 62% to 38% for Remain, London, which voted 60% to 40% for Remain, and Northern Ireland, which voted 56% to 44% to Remain.

In England as a whole, Leave secured 53.4% of the votes, compared to 46.6% for Remain, and in Wales Leave secured 52.5% of the vote, with Remain on 47.5%.

In London, breaking down the figures still further, 28 boroughs voted to remain, and just five voted to leave (Barking and Dagenham, Bexley, Sutton, Havering and Hillingdon), with 2,263,519 votes in favour of remaining in the EU, and 1,513,232 Londoners voting to leave. See the full London breakdown here.

In Lewisham, where I live, I’m glad to report that 86,995 people (70% of voters) voted for Remain, and just 37,518 voted for Leave, but these results, and similar results across London weren’t enough to prevent a victory for the Leave campaign. Read the rest of this entry »

The End of Reason: Lies, Distortions and Misplaced Anger in the EU Referendum’s Brexit Camp

Andy Worthington showing his support for the campaign for Britain to remain in the EU.I thought it was time to make my feelings clear about the EU referendum vote. I know the EU is a profoundly flawed entity, but as I’ve been saying since David Cameron, demonstrating supreme cowardice, agreed to a referendum to placate UKIP and far right critics in his own party, the only way leaving the EU would be acceptable would be if we immediately had a socialist revolution — and that’s not going to happen. Instead, as former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis has explained, we must reform it from within.

A leave vote will be a vote for the terrible racism and intolerance that has been ramped up as a result of the referendum, but that has been cynically promoted by the media and politicians for far too long. A leave vote is not only an unwise leap into the dark economically, but will legitimise the leadership ambitions of Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Iain Duncan Smith and Nigel Farage — who are all disgraceful, self-seeking, deluded and/or sociopathic figures — and the racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia that they have been so shamefully promoting. In addition, please don’t think for a moment that I’m defending David Cameron and other ministers who are currently calling for us to remain in the EU, because they have criticised Europe relentlessly over the years, and have undertaken more than their fair share of immigrant-bashing and Islamophobia.

What depresses me profoundly is how, through self-delusion, as well as the encouragement of the media and politicians, far too many of my fellow citizens have concluded that immigration and the EU are the reasons they are feeling so put upon and isolated, when the truth is that everything they are complaining about is actually the fault of the bankers who caused the global crash in 2008, the politicians of all the main parties who have unquestioningly supported big business and the banks over the needs of the people, and the Tories (whether Leave or Remain supporters) who, since 2010, have presided over an “age of austerity” designed to cynically dismantle the British state in an unprecedented manner, which has involved punishing the poor, the unemployed and the disabled while further enriching those who are already well-off, and pandering relentlessly to the global super-rich. Read the rest of this entry »

Photos: Burning Effigies of Tories and Protesting About Austerity and PFI at the Bonfire of Cuts in Lewisham

David Cameron: "We're all in this together"George Osborne: Stealing from the poor to give to the richTheresa May: "In tough times, everyone has to take their share of the pain"Jeremy Hunt: Selling off our NHS and closing our hospitalsBoris Johnson: Closing our fire stationsGordon Brown: Architect of the PFI catastrophe
Ed Balls: "PFI represents good value for taxpayers' money"David Cameron burnsIain Duncan Smith burnsBurn in Hell, David Cameron, George Osborne and Michael Gove

Burning Effigies of Tories at the Bonfire of Cuts in Lewisham, a set on Flickr.

On November 5, 2013 — Bonfire Night — I photographed effigies of members of the cabinet of the Tory-led coalition government — including David Cameron, George Osborne and others, as well as key Lib Dems and Labour politicians — as they were burned by activists in a brazier in the centre of Lewisham, in south east London. The caricatures were drawn by a member of the political group People Before Profit.

The activists in Lewisham were part of a day of action across the UK, in which numerous protestors held Bonfires of Austerity, initiated by the People’s Assembly Against Austerity, an anti-austerity coalition of activists, union members and MPs, to protest about the wretched Tory-led coalition government’s continued assault on the very fabric of the state, and on the most vulnerable members of society — particularly, the poor, the ill, the unemployed and the disabled.

The borough of Lewisham, where I live, is famous for successfully resisting the government’s plans to severely downgrade services at the local hospital, and on Bonfire Night activists marched from Catford to an open space in the centre of Lewisham (by the main roundabout, and affectionately known as “the grassy knoll”), where they burned effigies of David Cameron, George Osborne, Theresa May, Jeremy Hunt, Michael Gove, Iain Duncan Smith and Boris Johnson. The protestors also burned effigies of the Lib Dems Nick Clegg and Vince Cable, key members of the disastrous coalition government, and Labour’s Gordon Brown and Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor. Read the rest of this entry »

Disgusting Tory Britain: UN Housing Expert Attacked After Telling Government to Axe the Bedroom Tax

Well, what a lovely place Britain is these days. For the last two weeks, Raquel Rolnik, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on housing, has been visiting the UK to “monitor and promote the realisation of the right to adequate housing,” visiting London, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Belfast and Manchester, where, as a UN press release explained, “she met with government officials working on housing issues, various human rights commissions, academics and civil society.” She “also carried out site visits, where she heard first-hand testimonies and discussed with individuals, campaigners and local community organisations.”

However, when she dared to criticise the deteriorating state of Britain’s social housing provision, and to call for the “bedroom tax” to be scrapped, she was laid into by senior Tories, and by the right-wing media, in a series of vile and hysterical outbursts that ought to be a disgrace to any country that claims to be civilised.

The “bedroom tax” is a widely reviled policy dreamed up by the millionaires in the Tories’ cabinet, which provides financial penalties for people living in social housing and in receipt of benefits who are deemed to have a spare room. It is forcing many people to move from homes they have lived in for decades, even though there are very few smaller properties to which they can move. Read the rest of this entry »

The Tories’ Cruelty Is Laid Bare as Multiple Welfare Cuts Bite

Ever since the Tories came to power in May 2010, aided by the Liberal Democrats, who, sadly, demonstrated that everything they professed to believe in could be discarded if it meant being in government, the very fabric of civil society in the UK has been faced with extinction. This is a country that has developed a welfare safety net to protect the most vulnerable members of society and those who have fallen on hard times, and one that has guaranteed healthcare for its entire population, through the NHS, paid for through general taxation, but the Tories are determined to destroy it, and far too many people have been fooled by their poisonous persecution of the poor and disabled, and their ideologically motivated “age of austerity,” which continues to ruin any chance of economic recovery, while plunging millions of people further into serious poverty.

On Monday, April 1, multiple welfare cuts hit hundreds of thousands of the poorest and most vulnerable members of society, and although two newspapers led with the news on their front pages — the Guardian (“The day Britain changed”) and the Daily Mirror (“D-Day for Savage Con-Dem Cuts”) — there is no sign that the British people, in general, have woken up to the full ramifications of what is being done in their name.

From the beginning of the Tories’ attack on the state, the government and large parts of the media have successfully lied about the unemployed and the disabled being scroungers and shirkers, creating a climate of mean-spiritedness and hatred amongst my fellow citizens that I have found to be both shocking and disgraceful, because the blunt truth, which anyone could find out if they could be bothered, is that there are around 2,500,000 people unemployed but only 500,000 job vacancies. Read the rest of this entry »

Disgusting! As Tories Lurch to the Right, Criminal Jeremy Hunt Takes Over Health

Please sign the campaigning group 38 Degrees’ open letter to Jeremy Hunt, warning him not to mess with the NHS.

Sometimes it’s almost unspeakably depressing to be living in England, in a dystopian fantasy that no one voted for, with a useless coalition government of the Tories and the Lib Dems that required Frankenstein-like engineering just to come into being.

Yesterday was one of those particularly depressing days, as David Cameron shuffled his cabinet and lurched even further to the right. Of course, there is desperation in the Prime Minister’s manoeuvring, and we should be thankful for that. Cameron has not got rid of George Osborne, of course, as he is the prime architect of the Tories’ economic policy, which involves allowing the rich to hoover up whatever they can, including that which has been secreted offshore, while obliging the rest of us to have to try and prise five pound notes out of Osborne’s hands, who it turns out, has the tenacity of a corpse with advanced rigor mortis. However, when 48 percent of voters recently gave Osborne a vote of no confidence, it was obviously significant. Cameron may be the whey-faced buffoon who can come up with an opinion at any time of the day or night, but Osborne is the whey-faced buffoon in charge of economic policy — Gordon Brown to Cameron’s Tony Blair, if you will.

48 percent of voters recognised the toxicity of Osborne, thereby providing a stunning vote of no confidence in the government, but he remained in place in the reshuffle while other buffoons got shifted around or axed. Andrew Lansley, who trailed the Chancellor with a 37 percent disapproval rating in the Guardian/ICM poll on August 28, was shifted out of health, to be replaced by Jeremy Hunt, who had a 24 percent disapproval rating as culture secretary. Michael Gove (on 36%) keeps his job as the butcher of education, Kenneth Clarke (on 28%) was replaced at justice by the incompetent employment minister Chris Grayling, and William Hague (on 21%) kept his job as foreign secretary. Read the rest of this entry »

Today the Tories Took £100 A Week from Some of the UK’s Most Disabled People: How Can This Be Right?

Today, largely unnoticed by British citizens fortunate enough to not suffer from any sort of disability, the vile Tory-led government hacked away much of the financial support for disabled people. As austerity cuts go, the cutting of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) for disabled people is particularly harsh on some of society’s most vulnerable people, to an extent that makes me feel queasy, and will severely diminish the lives of tens of thousands of disabled people and their partners, reducing them to a level of poverty that ought to be unacceptable in a civilised society.

As Claudia Wood, head of public services and welfare at Demos explained for the Public Finance blog yesterday:

Today marks a watershed in the history of the welfare state. It is the last day that the contributory principle — the concept of social insurance that underpinned [William] Beveridge’s vision [for a welfare state] — remains intact.

This is because tomorrow 70,000 ill and disabled people will lose their Contributory Employment and Support Allowance — a benefit that provides financial support for those who become unemployed due to illness or disability, in return for the national insurance contributions they made during their working life. Read the rest of this entry »

Lying Bully David Cameron Hails Passage of Welfare Reform Bill

Ever since the Tories sneaked into power nearly two years ago, having failed to convince a majority of voters to trust them, and having had to construct an unlikely coalition with the Liberal Democrats, my country has become an unrecognisable place: mean-spirited above all, as the tiresome David Cameron — an unqualified, whey-faced buffoon, but one with an opinion about everything, who is barely ever off our TV screens — has presided over a wholesale attempt to raze the British state to the ground, conceived by an array of unpalatable and arrogant ministers with no clue as to the true costs and ramifications of their tired ideology.

This has involved encouraging British citizens to turn on one another, and, when not blaming the Labour government for the crash of the casino economy that the Tories had also encouraged, and that almost everyone bought into for over a decade, David Cameron has taken cynicism to new depths, blaming the poor, the unemployed and the disabled for the debts racked up primarily after the economic collapse for which Wall Street and the City of London were largely responsible. In response, I’m sickened to note, the British people have obligingly bought into this disgusting charade.

After early success in axing university funding, the coalition government has struggled with its attempted hatchet job on the NHS, but appears to be largely getting away with its welfare reforms, under the guiding hand of Iain Duncan Smith, an allegedly kindly man who, in fact, blames the poor for their poverty, and is, therefore, the most dangerous kind of reformer — the kind of Social Darwinist familiar from the Victorian era, who, in the early 20th century, often began to embrace the deadly pseudo-science of eugenics. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

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 (The State of London).
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