Wednesday, September 02, 2015 

Subtext is everything.


There is always a danger in reading too much into works of art, whether they be music, film or animated comedies.  The number of obsessives that regard American Pie (the song, not the film series, you dullards) as a masterpiece with meaning and allusions so deep that it can never be fully deciphered, or have detected things that were never there in the Eagles' Hotel California is testimony to that.

And so we must then return to Rick and Morty, for which I make no apologies whatsoever, although if you have been watching and haven't reached this point yet there are obviously spoilers ahead.  The third episode of the new series ends in another exceptionally bleak denouement: after being dumped for a second time by Unity, a being that can take over the minds of the inhabitants of entire planets, Rick comes within a whisker of killing himself, passing out moments before the suicide machine he constructs would have turned him to dust.  Clearly it's not just because of Unity that he tries to do so, and it's also the case that he's not certain about what he's doing, hence why he drinks a substance that he knows will knock him out very quickly, reducing the chances he actually will die.  Does he also take it though because he doesn't want to experience even the momentary pain the instant cremation will have if he doesn't collapse before the beam reaches full power?  Has Rick reached this point despite being a world-beating albeit unrecognised genius, or is it rather because of that genius, and that despite his intelligence he cannot overcome the failings of his own sociopathic personality, which in the words of Unity, makes him better at what she does without even trying?  And as this is a world where there are an infinite number of alternate realities, as demonstrated neatly by the next episode, in just how many of those universes did Rick kill himself?

Or of course it could be that this was simply a neat way to end an episode that would get an already fevered fan base talking all the more.  Such is television.

Similar pratfalls can result if you focus on one particular issue rather than the whole.  Witness the silliness over the killing of our old friend Cecil, for instance.  You could if you so wish reflect on the impression that gave of an awful lot of people caring more about the death of an endangered animal on the other side of the world than they do plight of other humans on their doorsteps.  You could say that's understandable when animals are, unlike humans, far less complex creatures and operate only on instinct, however much we like to anthropomorphise them.  It's also easy to lose proportion when you don't have to deal with the bottom line, with nature reserves unable to survive on tourism and government funding alone.

All the same, when images like the ones today of a drowned, tiny child washed ashore in Turkey are widely shared, the sort of photographs that manage to speak of both the simplicity and difficulty of the refugee crisis gripping Europe, you can't help but note the other items that are vying for attention alongside it.  The latest on Taylor Swift's latent racism?  How about every single one of you journalists involved in bringing us the latest on this thrilling saga build your own suicide machines?  A 4-page feature on the styles for autumn 2015, including school bully hair, whether to channel the 70s or the 80s and where the only people smiling in the entire feature are notably those smug fucks that sit in the front row at all the shows?  Fashion journalism has always been about incredibly privileged white people in a tiny part of London telling each other to buy £700 trousers and £1,200 pairs of shoes, but isn't it about time you stopped trying to tell us this is of any importance whatsoever or deserving of even the small space it still gets in the national press, especially when the writing reaches ever greater heights of absurdity and insularity?

The real villains are of course not these people, although they make for easy, highly punchable targets.  According to our prime minister, taking in more refugees will do nothing to solve the root problems in Africa and the Middle East.  Well no it won't, but then I don't think anyone was suggesting it would.  It would be a gesture, a recognition that we along with a whole lot of others should play more of a role than we have so far.  Except according to Dave we already are doing our bit to bring peace and stability to these troubled nations.  It's not precisely clear what we're doing to help the situation in Eritrea, for instance, or how aid will help persuade the government there to stop terrorising its own citizens, nor is it obvious what we can do to fix Libya having helped to so comprehensively break it.  

As for Syria and Iraq, presumably the fact we're playing a role in bombing Islamic State targets in the former and the government is likely to seek parliamentary authority to do the same in the latter is what Cameron means, although considering advances against IS have only been won with a combination of air power and ground forces, their defeat is hardly expected any time soon.  Nor would IS's defeat immediately bring an end to the wider conflicts in Iraq and Syria, especially not in the latter, where for all the repeated claims that Assad's government is on the brink of collapse, the murderous stalemate continues.

This is without once again repeating the tedious argument that err, we've played quite a considerable role ourselves in creating this refugee crisis, whether by intervening in Libya and then all but abandoning the place, or by following the Saudi policy in Syria.  If you're going to bomb somewhere or provide support to the people who operate weapons like this with as much impunity as the Assad regime, the very least you can do is offer sanctuary to the people who find themselves in harms way.  

To Cameron, and it should be added a sizeable proportion of people in this country, the 200 who have been give refuge through the specific scheme and the few thousand others that have made it here through fair or foul means are more than enough.  Cameron either doesn't feel any responsibility, or believes that to do the decent, honourable thing would cost him some short-term popularity.  We know he's not going to serve a full term, his government currently faces almost no opposition except from the media; what is there to stop him from this once refusing to bow to those further to his right?  Or is it that he really is just a completely obtuse, pompous snob, from whom there is no subtext to read?

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Tuesday, September 01, 2015 

Germany: putting the rest of Europe to shame.

There is something quite extraordinary taking place in Germany.  With predictions that the country will see 800,000 asylum applications this year, a figure that some are already suggesting is likely to be an underestimate, it's all too predictable that 199 attacks of varying severity on refugee hostels had been recorded by early July.  Polls suggest 40% of Germans are opposed to taking in any more, while the rise of both the Pegida movement and the Alternative for Deutschland party have both further raised concerns.

Yet that only tells half the story.  Established a year ago, the Welcoming Alliance for Refugees, based in Berlin, now has over 1,000 supporters and regularly sees more than 300 volunteers turn out to give donations and help newly arrived asylum seekers with their claims.  Banners making clear that refugees are welcome have been waved not just at demonstrations, but at football grounds across the country.  The German media, regardless of political affiliation, has almost as a whole expressed the same message.  The populist tabloid Bild, which most closely resembles the Sun, declared at the weekend it too supported the "we're helping" movement, having in the past been accused of helping to ramp up xenophobia.  Politicians too have almost universally said that the country can accommodate the numbers coming, even if there has been criticism they have at times been slow in acknowledging as much.  Last week the government also suspended the Dublin convention, if only for Syrian refugees, making clear they would not be deported regardless of if they had already made an application in another EU state.

Indeed, in the main this has been the reaction of the locals at the sharp end of the biggest mass movement of refugees since WW2 regardless of country.  Residents of places like Lampedusa and any number of Greek islands have shown remarkable patience and made great sacrifices to help those whom have landed on their shores, a kindness that has not always been extended by the authorities themselves.  While few will begrudge the Greek government protesting about it being unable to cope, the refusal of other EU member states to agree to a quota system for refugees is one of the first signs of the possibility of the Schengen agreement breaking down.  The Schengen agreement underpins the freedom of movement rules that have become the bete noire of those opposed to "uncontrolled" immigration with the EU, with Theresa May declaring at the weekend that freedom of movement ought to mean freedom to move to a country where a job is waiting, not simply to look for work.

Der Spiegel's depiction of both a "dark Germany" and a "bright Germany" is probably to overdramatise events in the country that will on current trends take in more refugees this year than the rest of Europe combined.  Germany's stance is all the more remarkable when you realise it is motivated less by anything approaching guilt over the role played in the various wars that have led to the refugee crisis and more by memories of the suffering following the second world war, when millions were left to make their way back to places that were either in ruins or soon to be under a new tyranny.  Germany, unlike ourselves or France, refused to get involved in the NATO intervention in Libya, while it has also played a less partisan role in Syria.  The irony that it is now the major destination for refugees making their way through the failed state of Libya and has opened its borders to Syrians as a whole has not been lost on the German media: Bild for one has raged against David Cameron for shirking his responsibilities.

The attitudes of the German and British media could hardly be further removed from each other.  At the same time as the German papers have welcomed the 200,000 that claimed asylum in the country in July alone, our finest have been thundering against the 1,500 that equally desperately have been trying to make their way to this country from Calais.  Every solution other than letting those who clearly won't be put off by bigger fences and more security make their claims in France has been considered, including sending in the army.  Some might argue that our papers are more reflective of public opinion than their German equivalent, and to judge by radio and TV debates that's probably the case. 

That this merely demonstrates the nadir the debate on immigration has descended to is hardly something to say in our media's defence.   The number of asylum seekers taken in last year made up only around a tenth of the overall net figure of 330,000, a number which is itself deceptive due to how it includes students coming to study from abroad.  We've reached the point where a Songs of Praise broadcast from a makeshift church in the Calais "jungle" has become a front page outrage.  That once these same papers did on occasion welcome asylum seekers, so long as they were from the eastern bloc, with even those who would now be denounced as people smugglers regarded as heroes just underlines the way in which the default tabloid position has become one of permanent suspicion if not outright opposition.

You could say the reality of mass immigration since 2005 has led to public opposition to migration in general, whether economic or for sanctuary, and there's a smidgen of truth in that.  Easily forgotten is back in 2001-2003 the same scenes of chaos at Calais were a nightly feature on the news, with much the same reaction from the media, including alleged collusion between the Sun and the government over what the paper had deemed to be the biggest issue facing the country.  The main problem for many seems to be those in Calais trying to get to Britain aren't completely helpless: that they are breaking into trucks, sneaking onto trains, cutting fences, scaring holidaymakers means they can't possibly be victims, not least when their actions are or were having such a knock-on effect in Dover and Kent in general.  Combined with the questions over why they aren't claiming asylum in France or elsewhere in Europe, despite France taking more than double the number we have, such an atmosphere is hardly conducive to our politicians attempting to raise the tenor of the debate, let alone draw back from such self-defeating policies as the ever more ridiculous Conservative target of reducing immigration to the tens of thousands.

Credit must then be given to Yvette Cooper, for at least making the case for us to do more.  To be frank, even accepting 10,000 Syrian refugees would be a fairly minor gesture, such are the numbers not just in Germany but throughout Europe and also Syria's neighbours.  It would at least be a start, and as Cooper said, would go some way towards this country once again playing the role it has in the past.  Without going further however, and providing a way for refugees to claim asylum from outside Europe, it is both ludicrous and downright stupid to talk about those involved in getting Syrians and others into Europe as the equivalent of slave traders.  What option is there apart from paying smugglers when the other choices are staying or attempting the journey through Turkey and then the Balkans on their own?  Stripped of those boats and vehicles there would be even less hope, terrible as the sinkings in the Mediterranean and suffocation of so many last weekend are. 

That regardless Cooper is up to now the closest we've come to a politician recognising we have a responsibility, not just to Europe but to ourselves to do more is an indictment of just what a nasty, selfish and brutish country we are in danger of becoming.  The very least a nation can do when it has had such a role in breaking the likes of Libya, Iraq and Syria is to give shelter to those who were in the way.  The selflessness of Germany increasingly stands apart from a rest of Europe that seems all too willing to turn its back on its shared past.

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Monday, August 03, 2015 

Blaming the immigrants.

Those with long memories for arcane decisions by newspaper regulators might recall that the reason the PCC cleared Jan Moir's article on Stephen Gately of breaching the editor's code was because Moir had been careful not to be explicitly homophobic.  She managed not to use any of the more obvious anti-gay epithets while at the same time casting aspersions on how healthy, normal people do not suddenly just die, especially when they might have been doing something shortly before they stopped breathing that a Daily Mail columnist would naturally disapprove of, and so was not guilty, your honour.

Much the same rules are now in place when it comes to discussing immigration, or rather migrants and asylum seekers, as we have been.  So long as you don't use any language which is definitively racist, like the n-word, p-word, call those desperately trying to get to Britain from their makeshift camps in Calais the coloured masses, or anything similar, you can say absolutely anything you like.  Before the panic of the last week we'd seen human beings described as cockroaches, and most people didn't say anything because giving the person behind that diatribe attention is precisely what she wants.  When David Cameron refers to those fleeing war and oppression, some of whom are on the move from conflicts that have either been exacerbated or even in part set off by British participation as a "swarm", it's just a slip.

It isn't, of course.  Whereas in the past Thatcher and Blunkett were both heavily criticised for describing communities as being "swamped" by newcomers, this time there was just as much biteback at the relatively few who did describe Cameron's choice of words as unhelpful.  The fact is you can now say almost anything you like about immigrants or even foreners as a whole, so long as you don't specifically identify them by either their skin colour or race.  This is not because levels of racism and prejudice have increased, far from it; if anything, both continue to decrease.  Rather, it's because immigrants have been so successfully othered, in much the same way as benefits claimants have.  Once you've reached the point that the first thing those in desperate need declare is that they're not like all those others in desperate need who are scrounging bastards and deserve shooting, it's clear something fundamental has shifted.

Nigel Farage did have something of a point when he complained during one of the general election debates that the audience before him wasn't like the ones he usually encountered.  At the vast majority of events his line in blaming the delays in cancer treatment on foreners and immigrants taking up NHS resources with their bad AIDS doubtless went down a storm.  So long as you get the balance just right between being nasty but with reason, and don't go off into being nasty for the sake of it, you'll be fine.  Go home vans?  Not racist, said the majority.  And to be fair, they probably did just about land on the side of not racist.  Nasty but with reason certainly, but not racist.

Anyone tuning into radio or TV debates over the past week on the situation in Calais will have quickly realised the general consensus is the army should be out there fragging anyone who so much as approaches a truck with what could be interpreted as malign intent.  Some, but not all, will broaden their complaints to how immigrants and refugees are first come first served when it comes to housing and how the people featured on Crimewatch are all foreigners, as did one lady on a local BBC station I happened to catch, before the presenter hastily cut in that might be because such people are poor and desperate and it was time to move on.  The same presenter moments later was agreeing with another caller that clearly the army did need to be on manoeuvres and fences reaching up to space were one solution.

Voters no longer blame politicians when it comes to immigration.  If they did, they wouldn't have given Dave "tens of thousands" Cameron a majority, however small.  They've just stopped listening.  It didn't matter however many times Labour and Ed Miliband insisted it wasn't racist or prejudiced to be concerned about immigration, and how deeply sorry they were that they made a balls-up of not putting in place the temporary restrictions most of the rest of Europe did on eastern European migrants in 2005, voters kept on ignoring them.  When said lady above complained about how her son was having to live in two bedrooms in a Travelodge as his local council couldn't find him anywhere to live, and how this was clearly down to all the immigrants, she didn't think it could just as much be the result of a lack of investment in social housing, or the ultimate culmination of right to buy, she just blamed the immigrants.

When politicians then come up with idiot policies like forcing landlords to examine the passports and birth certificates of everyone they rent to on the pain of jail, they can do so safe in the knowledge that voters won't blame them for the inevitable delays and injustices that will result, they'll blame the illegal immigrants.  They know that when they come up with the idea of further impoverishing the families of failed asylum seekers, despite knowing full well that many of those failed asylum seekers cannot be deported because their countries of origin are paradoxically declared to not be safe, they won't blame politicians for their cruelty, they'll blame the immigrants.  They know that when Theresa May and the French interior minister have the audacity and cant to declare in a joint article that the streets of the UK and France are not paved with gold, they won't think this populism of the most self-defeating and stupid kind, they'll nod in agreement.  The contradictions of how the Conservatives present the UK to the world as booming, the place to be to trade, how great it is won't bother them, as the immigrants are not the target audience.  They'll take no notice of the Swedish justice and migration minister calling out the self-pitying bullshit of British and French politicians, as it doesn't matter how many different people try to explain that most don't want to come here, aren't coming here and that those who do overwhelming are seeking sanctuary, minds have long been made up.  Immigrants we know, good.  Immigration as a whole, bad.  Such is the new centre of British politics.

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Thursday, February 19, 2015 

Bloody football.

"Bloody football," my nan always used to say when it was on TV.  Considering her idea of an evening's viewing was to watch any and all of the soaps that were on, whether it was Scousers living in a cul de sac, farmer drama, former Carry On actors screaming GET OUTTA MY PUB or Mancunians in their local, it was a subject we agreed to disagree on.

That if you weren't a fan of the very occasionally beautiful game there were all those other things you could be doing was at least something.  Now you can't so much as watch the news and switch it off before the sport comes on.  As the ever wonderful Marina Hyde has been at the forefront of identifying, it seems every major societal issue must be refracted through the prism of our national game.  We've had the great Ched Evans debate, from which I think it can be said not a single person came out well, the victim herself all but forgotten.  Nor was foreign policy immune, as it was claimed Islamic State had a former Arsenal trainee in their ranks.  It was complete bollocks, just like the very old tale of Osama bin Laden being an Arsenal fan and turning up for a game at Highbury in the mid-90s was, but hey, it makes for a good story doesn't it?

And so we must sadly come to a combination of this plague with another: the blurry filming of an unpleasant public incident which tells us something very uncomfortable about life as we know it.  Paul Nolan happened to be present at a Paris underground station as a horde of quite probably half-pissed Chelsea fans were on their way to the Champions League game against Paris St. Germain.  We hear them chanting "where you were you in World War 2?" (answer for the vast majority: waiting to be born) before views are apparently exchanged between a black man trying to get on the train and the fans inside.  He is grabbed and pushed off, and then pushed off again.  Next the chant "we're racist we're racist and we like it" is heard, and we at last see a shot of the people who may or may not have been involved.  And that's it.

This has been enough to be front page news for the past two days.  Some have argued, a Chelsea fan amongst them, that it's all been taken out of context and the man wasn't being pushed off because he was black but as he was a PSG fan and there wasn't enough room anyway.  That quite clearly, considering the chanting and the available evidence, isn't the case.  All the same, it's not exactly the hooliganism of the past either, is it?  All things considered, there's likely to be far, far worse happening in cities and town across the country at the weekend, only they won't be filmed and they won't involve football supporters, at least not identifiably.

The search has duly commenced for the perpetrators of this crime, although it isn't exactly clear if one has been committed.  Assault, presumably?  Use of discriminatory language, if it can be proved, as none can be heard on the recording itself?  Acting like a bunch of cretins in a train station?  The Met has nonetheless said it will consider issuing banning orders, while Chelsea has since announced it has suspended three people from being able to attend Stamford Bridge.  One of the men it was soon discovered has even had a photograph taken with Nigel Farage, while the aforementioned Chelsea fan allegedly tweeted the chant about being racist at the time.

A few sensible people have pointed out that abhorrent and disgraceful as this incident was, it's a bit rum to concentrate on the actions of a tiny minority of idiots and suggest they are in any way representative of either Chelsea fans, football supporters in general or Brits abroad, however embarrassing and ugly such things are.  Not least when the "we're racist and we like it" chant is without doubt in part a reference to Chelsea captain John Terry, who was suspended by the FA after charmingly referring to Anton Ferdinand as a "fucking black cunt".  Terry received the wholehearted support of his club, unlike those who help to pay Terry's wages.  We also really don't need to bring up the whole Luiz Suarez debacle again, nor is there any reason to draw wider conclusions about the comments of former Italy manager Arrigo Sacchi, who said his country "had no pride, no dignity" after seeing the number of black players involved in a youth tournament.

You could also, if you wanted, point out the remarkable discrepancy between a profession which more than any other is a model of diversity, proof talent and skill have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with skin colour, and how this obvious truism hasn't filtered down to some of the people watching the game.  This again though would only result in the conclusion some people are complete boneheads, and very little is going to get them to change their ways.  On their own they most likely wouldn't dream of acting in such a way, but in a group the pack mentality comes into play.  It ought to be a equal shame then that the response of so many to such videos is similar, with calls for those responsible to lose their jobs as well as face criminal penalties, the kind of additional punishment that wouldn't be counter-productive in the slightest.  The opprobrium that has already descended upon them is surely enough, isn't it?

Or maybe we should really get to the bottom of the prejudice, discrimination and boorishness at the heart of our country by sending out tens of thousands of pairs of Google glasses to whoever wants them and then compiling the footage into the most wrist-slittingly terrible document of our times yet seen.  The camera after all can never lie, mislead or give a false picture, just as bad behaviour can never be outbalanced by the good, the random acts of kindness that aren't rewarded or come to wider attention.  And just think we'd have bloody football to thank for putting an end to stupidity and the entire darker side of human nature; my nan would turn in her grave.

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Thursday, February 05, 2015 

The numbers game and demanding something must be done.

Many of us have a problem with getting our heads round numbers.  The chief point of protest from those in Rotherham to Louise Casey's inspection team, sent in after Alexis Jay's report into child sexual exploitation in the town, was the 1,400 victims figure.  As I pointed out at the time, Jay had reached this number by not so much as an estimate but an outright guess, as the documentation was so lacking.  Her team had also read only 66 case files as part of random sample.

Casey in her report writes "those denying the figures could not point to any more authoritative figure" (page 22), precisely because of the lack of documentation or the changing counting methods, or indeed different things being counted in the documentation.  In other words, no one has the slightest idea just how many children have been sexually exploited in Rotherham, but it's a high one and Jay's figure is probably a conservative estimate, or rather guess.  When you consider that again Casey is counting not just those definitively groomed by Pakistani heritage gangs, but who may have been abused by members of their own family, it puts further doubt on her own conclusion.

This is not to deny the accuracy of Casey's other conclusion, that behind the questioning of the figure, by the councillors at least, was the denial of the very real problem of CSE.  Alexis Jay's report otherwise was excellent, and if anything Casey's work distracts from it.  When however you have a number that is focused on above everything else, as happened with the excess deaths figure leaked to the press concerning the Mid-Staffs care scandal, a figure that didn't appear in the final report precisely because it was felt to be confusing, it does invite questioning and disbelief.

Which brings us to another example of what happens when the very best of intentions, the demand something must be done, leads to poor decision making.  Back in February last year the Guardian and other newspapers began a campaign against the continued practice of female genital mutilation.  As worthy causes go, there isn't a much higher one: there is no reason whatsoever why so much as a single girl living in this country should be cut in such a way, nor should it ever be tolerated, regardless of any cultural sensitivity.  It's a crime, and its chief aim is to prevent women from experiencing pleasure during sex for the purposes of "control".

Alongside the urgently needed awareness campaign was however the bandied about figure of 65,000 girls being at risk, and much emphasis was also placed on how there had not been a single prosecution in the 29 years of legislation being on the statute book.  The reasons why there hadn't been any were fairly obvious: it's not something many victims are going to confess to until they start having serious relationships, or become pregnant. It's also nearly always organised by the victim's relatives, if not with the active permission of the parents, with all that entails for investigations if suspicions are reported to teachers or the police.  Failing careful monitoring of those most at risk, which carries with it the potential for accusations of profiling, misunderstandings and racism, it's always going to be difficult in the extreme to bring charges.

We can't then know exactly why the head of the CPS, Alison Saunders, decided to go ahead with the prosecution of Dr Dhanuson Dharmasena for committing FGM.  Was she under pressure to do something because of the campaign?  We do know that the prosecution was announced three days before she was due to appear before the Home Affairs Select Committee, where the failure to prosecute anyone over FGM would undoubtedly been questioned.

Nonetheless, even on the basic facts of the case it ought to have been clear that Dharmasena had acted in the interests of his patient, even if he erred in precisely the procedure he carried out.  Dharmasena's patient, who did not want the doctor to be prosecuted, had undergone either type 1 or type 2 FGM as a child.  Hospital policy was she should have been seen by the antenatal team earlier in her pregnancy when the damage caused by the FGM could have been repaired.  For whatever reason, this hadn't occurred.  Dharmasena himself had not encountered FGM previously, nor undergone training on it.  After making a number of cuts to the patient in order for the baby to be delivered, it was born safely.  The bleeding however didn't stop, and on the spur of the moment he put in a single continuous suture in a figure of eight.  Hospital policy was the damage should not have been repaired in such a way, and was considered to be in effect reinfibulation, or carrying out the FGM again.  An investigation by the hospital after Dharmasena himself raised concerns over his actions recommended further training and a "period of a reflection".  It was also, fatefully, referred to the Metropolitan police.

Almost as soon as the prosecution was announced doctors responded anxiously, saying there was a world of difference between a repair being made during delivery of a baby and actual FGM.  Calls for it to be dropped were however ignored, and the judge during the trial also rejected 3 separate attempts by the defence for the case to be thrown out.  Even so, it took the jury little more than 30 minutes to decide Dharmasena was not guilty.

On the face of it, as the campaigning midwife Comfort Momoh commented, what Dharmasena did was against the law on FGM.  This was surely though a case with extenuating circumstances, which in itself shows how further training is needed for doctors, let alone other health workers and civil servants.  In the end the jury reached the correct decision and Dharmasena seems likely to be able to carry on as a doctor.  It should also though concentrate the minds of journalists over the power they have to affect policy, and just how easily it can lead to good people being made scapegoats.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2014 

Victims today, undesirables tomorrow.

For the past few weeks I've been working my way steadily through a box set of The Wire, it having sat on my floor for at least four years, ever since I bought it shortly after the BBC had shown all 5 series back to back (I expect to get round to seeing what all the fuss is about Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones some time around 2018).  I'm up to the final season, where McNulty, back on the booze and women and pissed off at the decision to shut down the operation against Marlo, "creates" a serial killer with the intention of getting the money taps turned back on by City Hall.  Only until advised by Lester he can't even do that right, with neither the chiefs nor the media interested in his fictional slayer of homeless men.

Something highly similar went on with the reporting of the Asian sex gangs prosecuted over the last few years.  Let's cut all the nonsense now and say the real reason why it was so many young, not even always teenage girls, predominately in care or vulnerable, were able to be exploited and abused for so long with so little done about it.  It happened because almost no one, with the exception of a few of those in the system and the abusers themselves gave a damn about them.  Whether they really were regarded as "white trash" by those abusers, when the closest the independent report by Alexis Jay (PDF) comes to describing any such direct insult from the men is one calling a 13-year-old a "white bitch" (pg. 140), is irrelevant when regardless of skin colour, these girls were treated as trash by everyone.  They weren't important, and only are now as a grindstone for whichever political axe it is you want to sharpen.

Andrew Norfolk only got his story onto the front page of the Times in the first place by playing up (or rather,  by his editors focussing on) the whole "political correctness" angle.  Asian girls, black girls, white girls being abused by white men, black men, Asian men, who cares unless there's a celebrity or political figure among the latter or a good middle class kid gone off the rails among the former.  Start saying nothing is being done though because everyone's too scared to admit it's predominantly Asian men abusing white girls, a problem within the Asian, if you want to be even more discriminatory the Muslim, community, and you've suddenly got a story the right-wing press is going to love.

And boy, do they.  It doesn't matter either the report is for the most part just restating what we already knew.  Both the Sun and the Mail scream this morning of the betrayals by the PC cowards/brigade.  All but needless to say, the report itself doesn't so much as mention political correctness.  What Alexis Jay does conclude comes in the six-page "Issues of Ethnicity" section of the report (pg. 91).  She finds, predictably, that actual decision making was not affected by any fears of racism, with the "inquiry team confident ethnic issues did not influence professional decision-making in individual cases".  There were however concerns expressed by some frontline staff as to whether their work could be interpreted as racist, and also awareness of, or a feeling of pressure from on high to play down the fact it was predominantly Asian men abusing white girls.

As Anna Raccoon writes, Rotherham isn't worse than any other instance of organised child sexual exploitation because the colour of the penises in this instance were brown rather than white.  Jay goes on to comment on the research done by the UK Muslim Women's Network, which examined 35 cases and details almost exactly the same pattern of grooming and abuse as carried out in Rotherham, only in all these instances the victims were also Asian.  The Home Affairs Select Committee heard evidence suggesting Asian victims were even less likely to come forward as they risked being ostracised by their own families and the whole community.  As well as going against cultural norms, those in the community also feared the same retribution as visited or threatened against the victims if they went public with their concerns.  With hindsight, Jay concludes, "it is clear that women and girls in the Pakistani community in Rotherham should have been encouraged and empowered by the authorities to speak out about perpetrators and their own experiences as victims of sexual exploitation, so often hidden from sight."  Child abusers don't tend to select on the basis of skin colour; they do on the basis of how likely it is they are to get caught.

The problem wasn't with the council and culture at the most senior level being politically correct, rather that it was "bullying and macho" (pg. 101).  As far back as 1998 the chief executive of the council said women officers weren't "readily accepted" by officers or members.  One former senior officer described it as a "very grubby environment in which to work", while another said she was asked if she "wore a mask while having sex" (pg. 114).  As late as October 2009 a senior officer not working in safeguarding is quoted as saying the town had "too many looked after children" and this accounted for a "significant part of the overspend".  When the issue was raised by councillors, it was through mosques, while one senior office suggested some influential Pakistanti-heritage councillors had acted "as barriers" (pg. 93).  "Traditional" channels of communication were used, and some councillors even demanded that social workers reveal where Pakistani-heritage women fleeing domestic violence were staying.  The police meanwhile, whom the report describes as now having a "clear focus on prevention, protection, investigating and prosecuting the perpetrators" are described as in the early 2000s regarding the victims rather than the abusers as "undesirables" (pg. 69).

If there is a section of the report on shakier foundations, it's in the estimate of a potential 1,400 victims, the figure staring out from today's front pages.  This isn't an estimate, rather an outright guess.  Figures on caseloads were not collected, so the inquiry instead looked at case files, and lists of those known to children's social care (pg. 29).  The inquiry read only 66 case files in total; it's unclear why it didn't read all those available to it, instead going for a random sample and drawing conclusions from that.  As the section on victims also makes clear, not all of these are necessarily victims of grooming gangs; at least three of the cases are suggestive of abuse by individuals or within the family rather than groups of men working in concert (pgs. 41 and 42).

Undesirables.  There in a single word is the case summed up and why for all the talk of "never again" it will happen again, as no doubt it's happening tonight.  Demanding the sacking of the now police and crime commissioner for South Yorkshire isn't going to achieve anything, except leaving the taxpayer with the bill for a by-election where only around 10% will turn out.  The right will play the political correctness angle for all it's worth, point fingers at Labour and its rotten boroughs in the north, make subtler noises about the failings of multiculturalism, while the left and those like me will say it's about social breakdown and an underclass ignored by everyone until something terrible on a grand scale happens or there's another outbreak of rioting.  They're fit only for gawping at on Jeremy Kyle and Benefits Street, for being a reason to pare back the welfare state, and the occasional short-lived passing frenzy.  Social workers will go on struggling with a risk assessment culture that can't be applied to such hard cases, underfunded and overworked.  Undesirables will become victims, then undesirables once more.

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Monday, May 12, 2014 

The impossibility of freedom of speech.

Perhaps it's just the years spent examining my own navel, but for the most part I go out of my way not to be an appalling hypocrite, choose the easy target (yeah, right) or make the obvious riposte/joke about things.  When faced however with the fact that someone was starved enough for excitement in the first place to be listening to David Lowe's Singers and Swingers show on BBC Radio Devon, then was apparently so exercised by how the version of The Sun Has Got His Hat On he played included the original, n-word using second verse that they felt the need to complain, I find it difficult not to wonder about how desperately empty their life must be.  Those minutes spent contacting the BBC could have been used in any other way imaginable; life might not always be all we would like it to be, yet surely, surely, even the most miserable, wretched and pitiless individual could have come up with something more entertaining and intellectually nourishing to do than whinge about the content of an 82-year-old song?

No?  We are back in context land, you see folks.  I can perfectly understand the BBC cutting the Major scene from The Germans episode of Fawlty Towers, especially pre-watershed, not least when John Cleese has himself said it's not something he would write now.  When it comes to material pre-1960 though say, to cut racist dialogue or stereotyping out of either music or films is to deny history.  You're not protecting people, you're censoring something approaching the norm and which should be recognised as such precisely because we've moved on from then.  David Lowe didn't even realise the song featured the n-word, and either wouldn't have played it at all, or as would have been best, prefaced it by saying it contained some language we would view as offensive now but wasn't then.

The only reason the Mail on Sunday decided this was a front page story is obviously due to the discrepancy of treatment between Clarkson and Lowe.  Clarkson, like Lowe, offered an apology and got a final warning; Lowe offered an apology or resignation, and the BBC accepted the latter.  Who knows whether there were extenuating factors or a manager was already looking to get rid of the DJ,  off he went.  The BBC has since done a reverse ferret and offered him the show back; Lowe has declined on grounds of stress.  It looks bad, and it is bad.  Often the BBC ignores complaints on the reasonable grounds that most are from the usual suspects, either with an axe to grind, nothing better to do, or the consistently and never knowingly under-outraged.  Why they took the single complaint this seriously is anyone's guess, unless post-Sachsgate and the Savile/McAlpine disaster they've become far more proactive than previously.

Then again, they could just be entering into what seems to be the new spirit of the age.  Nearly 40 years ago newspaper editors worked themselves into a frenzy over the use of a word they no doubt heard and used multiple times every day.  In our brave new social media world, we have people who can only be described as half-wits making complaints to the police about tweets they don't like.  Rather than the police telling said half-wit to stop wasting their time with spurious politically motivated whining, they instead visit the individual targeted and ask him, despite no laws having been broken, to take the tweet down.  Everyone then duly wonders whether things can be really that slow in Cambridgeshire for two officers to find the time to make such a visit, and if perhaps we've reached a new low in the great giving and taking offence stakes.

On the surface at least, the problem is the law.  We have free speech, except we don't.  Article 10 of the ECHR allows free expression but makes reasonable exceptions, including for the prevention of disorder or crime.  Section 127 of the Communications Act 2003 duly makes it an offence to send a message that is grossly offensive (or menacing), which even by the standards of legislation that leaves it up to judges and juries to decide what can deprave or corrupt is by definition subjective.  As a result we've seen the likes of Matthew Woods jailed for three months for making unfunny, off-colour jokes, grossly offensive to some certainly, but par for the course for others.  Last week saw another victim, with Robert Riley jailed for eight weeks after tweeting in the aftermath of the murder of teacher Ann Maguire that he would have killed all of her colleagues at the school as well.  Riley was, predictably, another of those lonely people who enlivened his existence (spent as a full-time carer) by trolling, tweeting purposefully "outrageous" things in the hope of getting a response.  He had in fact as the judge noted sent other messages, including some that were racist in nature, but it was the couple about the dead teacher that resulted in Inspector Knacker getting involved.

Precisely what benefit anyone gains from sending pathetic misfits such as Woods or Riley to jail isn't clear.  It might make someone feel slightly better for a few hours, and could feasibly shock those convicted out of immaturity; it could also cause further bitterness, dare I say perhaps somewhat justifiably.  It certainly isn't a good use of resources, and yet despite the attention giving to trolling last August, the debate Keir Starmer urged nearly two years ago concerning the boundaries of free speech online hasn't really happened.  Abuse on the scale of that received by Caroline Criado-Perez is one thing; surely the despaired upon works of Woods and Riley ought to be something else.  We can't however seem to get perspective, as lazy journalists and also bloggers seek out the next comment or slight to get angry about.  We should hardly be surprised when the police and BBC management can't either.

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Tuesday, May 06, 2014 

Clarkson and missing the real issue.

At times, I get the feeling I'm the only person ostensibly on the left who doesn't get instantly outraged when someone is accused of or indeed has used a racist epithet.  Now obviously, as a white 25 to 34 male who has enough free time to have spent the last coming up on nine years writing a politics blog almost every night, the first thing I should do is check my privilege.  

OK, privilege duly checked, and I still think that in most circumstances the context, rather than just the actual word used, is just as integral.

This is why Ron Atkinson had to be sacked when he described Marcel Desailly as a "fucking lazy nigger" in an aside to his co-commentator that was inadvertently broadcast in some countries due to the microphone being left open, and why Jeremy Clarkson and the BBC have just about got away with the former using the same word in unused rushes from Top Gear.  Some will vehemently disagree with me, but I simply don't accept the line that some words are so reprehensible or have such a history they should never be used unless reclaimed or for reference.  It's in how they're used, and Atkinson's ought to be the textbook example of insult married with latent racism. You could also include the case of the LA Clippers' owner, secretly recorded telling his girlfriend not to bring "black people" to games, as blatant, shocking prejudice.


With Clarkson the case is far more nuanced. Counting against him is that at first he seemed to deny he had used the word at all, then in his apology that he hadn't done enough to disguise the word or not say it at all. As is fairly apparent from the video the Mirror soon provided, he does say nigger, albeit quietly. In his favour is he's using the word in the context of the well-known child's rhyme, eeny meeny meiny mo, in order to choose the car to drive. While there are variations on it, Clarkson was more than likely brought up on the version he used, before the word rightly become truly beyond the pale. Old sayings often become engrained in the mind; there was also controversy a few years ago when a judge talked of "the nigger in the woodpile", with a Tory peer also using the phrase.  Offence wasn't intended, but both should have known not to use such an archaic metaphor. For further context, the rhymes we used playing tag when I was a sprog were similarly vulgar: we usually alternated between "each peach pear plum, choose your best bum chum" or "ip dip dog shit fucking bastard silly git you are not it".  Then again, I can't say if I was a TV presenter on a popular motoring programme I would use either to faux choose which automobile to hammer round a race course.

The problem is Clarkson's apology video thickens the plot somewhat.  If as he says there was a take where he said teacher, it seems odd that he would have written a note at all to the production staff telling them to use that rather than the others unless he wanted to be certain.  It would make more sense if they had overdubbed the scene later, especially as Clarkson does lower his voice when say the specific part, and changed it to teacher then.  More likely is that someone said, err, Jeremy, we can't use that for obvious reasons and they then did the teacher take, with Clarkson having seen the rushes later sending a note to confirm the change.

As the epithet wasn't specifically directed at anyone, it was never intended to be broadcast, it's possible Clarkson was mumbling precisely because the intention was to overdub the sound later and an apology was reasonably swift in forthcoming, I don't really have a massive problem with the BBC issuing a final warning.  Indeed, I'd say the use of "slope" during the Burma show was by those standards far more serious and worthy of further action, as it was directed at someone and with Clarkson apparently safe in the knowledge that not many people (myself included) would even realise he was talking about the man on the bridge.  Top Gear often walks the incredibly fine line between stereotyping for (dubious) comedy effect and outright prejudice, arguably staying just about on the right side of it.  You can say this is further evidence of how Clarkson has form, and he probably does.  Is he racist though, rather than just an arse, tweaking the nose of the politically correct, as Paul Dacre described it?  Probably not.

The danger here as so often is that with focusing on the ephemera we miss the significance of other statements that have gone almost entirely unchallenged.  Last year saw Nigel Farage repeatedly claim that London was going through a Romanian crimewave, without a single opposition politician challenging him on picking out a specific community, or indeed making clear that the figures are disputed and have been repeatedly misunderstood.  More recently, as Atul Hatwal writes in one of the first posts on Labour Uncut I've ever agreed with, Farage has moved on to saying people would be right to be concerned if a Romanian family moved in on their street, with the party's spin doctor repeating that message, again with only the heavily criticised campaign against the UKIPs saying anything about racism, and without directly calling them out on their sub-Powellite message.  Directed against almost any other community, creed, or race, there would deservedly be a Clarkson-type outcry.

As potentially self-defeating as it is call out the party's underlings, to not do so when it comes to Farage and others at the top of the party is sheer cowardice, especially when Farage has now resorted to highlighting the party's "black and ethnic minority candidates", having decided not to do so on their previous conference literature.  Regardless of what you think about Clarkson, the failure to properly take on UKIP bodes extremely ill for the general election campaign to come.

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Thursday, October 31, 2013 

The immigration monster and the "go home" vans.

If anything, it's a bit of a surprise that as many as 11 people decided to "go home" rather than face the rather distant possibility of arrest after learning of the Home Office van campaign. This raises the obvious question of just how desperate a situation they must have been in to want to take their chances back in their home country, but such concerns are clearly irrelevant. These people shouldn't be here and they should go.

Only, as the reporting of Mark Harper's written answer makes clear, it costs more to enforce a deportation (£15,000) than the average illegal immigrant costs the taxpayer a year (just shy of £5,000). The latter figure seems difficult to believe, in any case: most illegal migrants won't/can't access public services, and so will use hardly any resources at all.  The motivation behind the campaign is then somewhat financially sound: paying for a flight for someone is hell of a lot cheaper than doling out money to our friends at G4S or Serco to "Mubenga" someone.

The problem was in the execution, but then that was clearly the point. This was a stunt straight out of the Lynton Crosby playbook. Wait until news was slow, then launch a campaign using a borderline racist slogan designed to attract both condemnation and attention in equal measure. If some people did take up the kind offer, all the better. The Tories could portray themselves as tough as well as practical, and Labour would be caught in the trap of either condemning sending illegal immigrants home, or condoning a 70s style National Front demand.  They didn't however factor in that this being the social networking age, a thousand people would prank the phone and text line, or indeed that even Nigel Farage would denounce the campaign as being too nasty, designed purely to win back some of those who had defected to his party.

Without figures for voluntary deportations for a similar period prior to "Operation Vaken", we clearly can't make a comparison as to how successful the whole charade really was.  It might well be that a similar number to the 125 total claimed to have been motivated by the operation would have submitted themselves anyway without prompting.  This is the thing: there is absolutely nothing wrong with ensuring those here illegally know they can return to their country of origin if they so wish, with the government picking up the tab.  It's how you go about doing so, and telling people to go home or face arrest is manifestly not the right way, not least when it's clearly a political campaign designed to look tough and win votes.  It probably does save money, although the idea the Vaken might have saved the taxpayer £830,000 is ridiculous.

Something that wouldn't just save money but actually benefit both the taxpayer and the economy would be an amnesty, bringing those working cash in hand out of the shadows and onto the path towards citizenship.  That however would go completely against the rhetoric and policies of the past few years, where politicians have followed public opinion rather than attempt to lead it.  Too bad that as Sunny wrote previously, it's now probably too late: the monster is loose.

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Wednesday, October 23, 2013 

How discrimination still works.

Is there anything the media loves more than a good scare story, particularly when it involves the other?  When it also plays on the desperation of those who have lost a child, the cynicism takes the breath away. The story from Greece of little blonde girl found with a Roma family she has no biological link to doesn't have any significance outside of eastern Europe whatsoever, and yet thanks to global coverage of this truly shocking discovery the authorities and charities have received thousands of inquiries from those who hope the child may be theirs.

Quite apart from how the case seems likely to lead to Fritzl style demands for every Roma child in that benighted country to be investigated, something of great help to the Golden Dawn movement, the last thing it ought to have inspired is raids elsewhere. Just as we had idiots a few years ago who thought every blonde child in a foreign clime with parents of the wrong skin colour could be Madeleine McCann, so it seems the garda acted after a numbskull thought a gypsy couple couldn't possibly have produced a blonde girl. 48 hours later, and after the Mirror had splashed on the "panic", it unsurprisingly turns out the child is theirs.  The parents now seem certain to take legal action.  Rather than offer an apology, the garda has instead restated they "take extremely serious all reports received from members of the public concerning child welfare issues", which seems to suggest anyone acting upon prejudice and age-old racist assumptions still has a friend in the Irish police.

The Roma really are the last racial group it's socially acceptable to discriminate against.  Nor is it just in Europe, as a headline in last weekend's New York Times made clear, asking whether the Roma are primitive or just poor.  The body of the article is in fact, as you would expect from the NYT, a perfectly sensitive account of the attitudes towards the Roma on the continent, but the idea the paper would run a headline asking whether any other racial group is primitive or just poor, or cultured or just rich is laughable.

As Joseph Harker writes, whereas we now have endless discussions about whether or not a celebrity of one kind or another has said something racist, with what seems like an incident every month or so, the latest being the ridiculous mini-furore last week over Roy Hodgson's use of an old joke as an illustration, we don't seem to want to talk about genuine discrimination.  There was almost no wider coverage of BBC London's investigation into letting agents that suggested some were more than prepared to abide by stipulations from landlords that they couldn't let to those of an Afro-Carribbean background.  It's even more surprising when allegations of misogyny are thrown around in regards to the silliness surrounding a fucking baking reality show, and so much was made of the way women who come into the public eye were being treated on Twitter.  Like with so much else, we focus on the ephemera and neglect that which lurks just out of our line of sight.

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Monday, October 21, 2013 

Coming over here, bombing our mosques...

Back in the febrile environment of the days after the failed 21/7 attacks of 2005, the Daily Express ran a headline which has stayed lodged in my memory.  "BOMBERS ARE ALL SPONGEING (sic) ASYLUM SEEKERS" it screamed, while underneath the legend ran: "Britain gave them refuge and now all they want to do is repay us with death".  Quite apart from how the Express decided to prejudge the trial of the men, it was just about as inflammatory a statement on a 21st century front page as can be imagined.  Not long after, with the rest of the tabloids also in full panic mode, Tony Blair declared that the "rules of the game are changing", and the tone was set for the next five years of foiled plots, parliamentary battles and repeated fearmongering.

Tomorrow, I can't help but suspect the Express won't be splashing on the conviction of Pavlo Lapshyn, who pleaded guilty today to the murder of Mohammed Saleem, as well as conspiracy to cause explosions, having planted bombs outside 3 mosques.  Lapshyn had been here in the UK for just 5 days before he stabbed Saleem to death, out of what he told police was a purely racist motivation.  He was caught only thanks to old fashioned detective work, albeit using modern technology, as officers identified him using CCTV footage, then took his picture round local businesses, until he was finally identified as the work experience student recently arrived from Ukraine, living in a flat at the back of the software firm he had won a placement with.  Inside they found further unfinished devices, making clear that had he not been apprehended, Lapshyn's one man campaign against Muslims would have continued, and possibly resulted in further fatalities.

That no one was injured or killed by his bombs was by luck rather than judgement.  Each device had been more powerful than the one before, and it was only due to prayers starting later at the Tipton mosque during Ramadan that the congregation hadn't been caught in the blast.  Packed with nails and other shrapnel, it made clear the bomber's intentions were deadly serious.  Coming in the aftermath of the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby, the police have found no evidence Lapshyn was acting out of a sense of vengeance, or that he had any interest in far-right politics in this country.  It seems, simply, that his hatred for non-whites had reached such a peak that he wanted, like others before him, to foment racial conflict.  His move to England gave him the opportunity to act on his beliefs.

There was comment at the time, including from the police themselves, about the apparent lack of interest from the wider media in the series of attacks.  West Midlands' deputy chief constable David Thompson pondered whether there would have been more coverage of their appeals for information if it had been another faith being targeted during their main festival season.  One suspects that rather than it being purely down to attitudes towards Muslims, the biggest contributing factor was the attacks had all taken place outside London, such is the bias towards the capital when it comes down to it, both in terms of interest (amongst journalists themselves) and resources.  It should also be noted however that both the Daily Mail and Telegraph felt the need to question the claims of Tell Mama, a charity that measures attacks on Muslims, after it reported a large increase in such incidents after the murder of Lee Rigby, including on mosques.  Lovely as it would be to think that we've reached a point where every potential terrorist incident isn't reacted to by the entirety of the media descending on an area for a week, on this occasion it was more down to a combination of indifference, the scale of what had happened, and where it had took place.

Thankfully, the lack of wide coverage was probably beneficial.  Almost no one knew who Lapshyn was, and the very few who did failed to recognise him due to the poor quality of the initial CCTV footage released.  Had he been aware there was a massive search on for him, he may well have attempted to leave the country; instead, he felt safe enough to carry on as he had done since he arrived.  What we didn't know previously was despite politicians keeping an extremely low profile during the search, the home secretary had been suitably exercised to contact the West Midlands force, while MI5 was also involved.

As much as the case gives pause for thought over the the way all involved approached it, as well as how it has since been reacted to, it also reinforces a few things we already knew.  First, and regardless of where the perpetrator is from, far-right terrorism remains a threat, and it's one which the media has repeatedly ignored or minimised, whereas it has willfully exaggerated that from jihadists, impugning the Muslim community in the process.  Secondly, just as those who become Islamic extremists tend to sup from the same sources, so too do those on the far-right: the Turner Diaries is the far less intellectually stimulating version of a lecture from Anwar al-Awlaki, let alone Sayid Qutb's Milestones.  Lastly, it further suggests that the threat from "self-starters", regardless of their ideology, is increasing, while that from major, large cell, easier to foil plotters continues to decrease.  The security services and police can't stop those who don't share their plans or aren't loose with their tongues.  Tempora and Prism aren't useless, but the privacy trade-offs when they might be fighting yesterday's battles are far too great.  Some recognition that Muslims are just as much targets as everyone else wouldn't go amiss either.

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Wednesday, August 07, 2013 

Don't you just love nostalgia for the 80s?

The Department for International Development today insisted that it was allocating aid according to need following allegations from a UKIP MEP that taxpayer's money was being sent to fictional countries.

Speaking at the Embassy comedy club, George Stereotype was recorded as saying: "An if it weren't bad enough that they're still all coming over ere, did you know that we're sending £1 billion a month to Bongo Bongo Land? The place doesn't even exist, and yet they're all swanning around in their Ray-Ban sunglasses, with their F18 fighter jets and nuclear powered toasters!  What about our people, having to live in cardboard boxes and get by on 15p a week and a kick up the arse if they're lucky?  It's treason, I tell ya, treason.  If you ask me, I'd string 'em all up.  An I mean all of 'em.  It's the only language they understand.  I'd do it myself an all, only I've got a bad back at the moment.  An I'm married to a Pole, so don't start with none of that racist bollocks.  An I pay two Kashmiris to be my friends.  I'm speaking for the common man, not these politically correct namby pamby shandy drinking southern softies down in that there London.  I met that Rod Liddle once.  Very clever man."

A spokesman for DfID, after a prolonged conversation with a man with an Australian accent, gave the following statement: "We would like to thank George Stereotype for bringing this issue to our attention.  As far we can ascertain, Bongo Bongo Land has not received any government aid since our records began in 1841.  We do however understand people's concerns about taxpayer's money being misspent, and so in future we will not be allocating any spending to countries where it is known that tribal drums are used.  We hope this reassures the general public.  I've also been asked to say that if you see anyone carrying around a set of bongos, don't be afraid to inform the Home Office so that their immigration status can be checked."

Having originally refused to apologise for publishing the original article, the Guardian has since shifted its position.  "We sincerely regret any genuine offence that was caused by presenting George Stereotype as a comedian.  He is clearly a highly accomplished politician, likely to be welcomed with open arms by the Conservative party in time for the next election.  All he needs to do is moderate his language slightly, and his fantastical tale of aid being spent on Ferraris and solid gold AK47s will be accepted by all right-thinking people as a perfectly accurate picture of our development programme."

The Labour leader Ed Miliband is still missing.

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Tuesday, July 30, 2013 

Political dog-whistling: still not working in 2013.

It took a while, but by the end of last week the government's billboard campaign telling illegal immigrants to "go home or face arrest" had attracted the wider press attention it deserved from the outset.  One of the old chestnuts we often hear when it comes to debating immigration is that politicians of old shut down debate by calling people racist.  Accurate or not, we now have the opposite problem: politicians are afraid to say that some of those opposed to immigration are racist, as one thing racists don't like being told is that they are racist.  Hence despite criticism of the campaign coming from the Lib Dems, a few Labour MPs (although not the leadership, again presumably because they fear it being used as "evidence" of their weakness) and even Nigel Farage for goodness sake, who in the next breath scaremongers about a Romanian crime wave, none have called a spade a spade.

It's therefore only lunatics on the left and the "pro-immigration industry" that believe such a straightforward message is racist, says Mark Harper, the immigration minister described by Nick Clegg as "a very good guy", given space in the Mail. He doesn't expand on just which organisations make up the pro-immigration industry, but perhaps he means the Office for Budget Responsibility, set-up by the coalition, which only last week published research on the continuing benefits. Harper for his part doesn't even bother to engage with the argument as to why the billboards are racist, which is that they reprise the old NF slogan and play on the most obvious of racist sentiments, he instead uses attack as defence, saying that those critical are encouraging the breaking of the law. To call this a non sequitur doesn't quite cover it; a billboard threatening illegal immigrants with arrest if they don't leave voluntarily is hardly the most striking example of the law being enforced. Rather, it only underlines the reality: it's completely unfeasible to deport every person here illegally.  Continuing to claim it is only raises unrealistic expectations which then feed further discontent.

For such a short piece, Harper makes up for it by packing in as many distortions as he can. He conflates perfectly legal migration with the illegal by going into the standard riff on Labour's supposed "open borders" policy, says there is evidence that migration has pushed down wages when there's plenty (PDF) that contradicts the claim, that some areas have faced "intolerable" pressure due to migration, despite services continuing to function, then tops it off by saying the government is controlling immigration, if failing to meet their target of bringing net migration down to 100,000 by 53,000 can possibly be considered controlling.

He ends by saying that if the poster campaign helps tackle illegal immigration, who could oppose it? Considering a poll for the Sun suggests that there's almost an even split between those in favour of and those opposed, a remarkable result when there's such a prevailing sentiment against immigration, it suggests plenty don't like such "stupid and offensive" campaigns, even if they don't regard them as racist.  Seeing as Harper doesn't even repeat the actual wording used on the billboards, perhaps he secretly feels the same.  Either way, someone ought to explain to Lynton Crosby that if dog-whistling didn't work in 2005, it isn't going to now.

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Wednesday, July 24, 2013 

Silly racism season.

The silly season is descending, although frankly it's getting more and more difficult to tell the difference between the dog days of late July and August, and well, almost any other time of year.  Apparently, "bitchy resting face ... makes Gangnam Style look like a slow burner", at least according to Hadley Freeman, and yet somehow I had avoided encountering this cultural phenomenon until she elected to write about it. Beards have also reached their fashionable peak, doncha know, and in what seems to be an extraordinarily late April 1st joke, Kerry Katona is to be Marilyn Monroe.  Presumably alongside Peter Andre as JFK.  Oh, and Guido Fawkes, he of repeatedly declaring he can't be sued fame, threatens to sue Claire Perry.  Perry we've already established is a dangerous nincompoop, while Paul Staines is just a hypocritical tool.

Is there anything even vaguely serious going on then?  Well, sort of.  Coming from the same great minds behind the idea of putting up "adverts" pointing out how shit Britain is in Bulgaria and Romania (while at the same time declaring how great we are everywhere else), one of those billboard vans is being sent round six London boroughs telling illegal immigrants to "go home or face arrest".  Why, we'll even be kind enough to help you with your travel documents, and we'll tell the immigration officers not to "Mubenga" you, as long as you come along quietly, of course.  Who wouldn't have their head turned by such a tempting offer?

Understandably, quite a few people are suggesting this is just a teensy bit racist.  On its own, it isn't.  There aren't that many pithy formulations you could put together that are simple to understand and carry the same message.  I mean, they could have gone with "In the UK illegally and want to leave?", but that doesn't carry the same element of menace all rhetoric on immigration must now have.  "Go home" though carries decades of baggage with it; it wasn't just a National Front slogan as Sunny says, go home (or words to the same effect)  is still one of the first resorts for racists, regardless of who it's used against.  "Go back to where you came from", even if you were born here and so were your parents; your skin colour doesn't fit.

When a government is reduced to such, err, dog-whistling, it ought to be apparent that it's in trouble.  One thing the Tories remain terrified by is the likely failure to keep their promise to get immigration down to the "tens of thousands" by the time of the next election.  Almost all the decline we've seen under the coalition has come as a result of the crackdown on overseas students, those grasping, scrounging bastards who come here, take almost nothing out and put hell of a lot in (is this right? Ed.).  Hence this year, as well as being partially in response to the rise of UKIP, we've seen further punitive policy proposals, including the ridiculous prospect of landlords being asked to do the job of the UK Border Force, as though making illegal immigrants homeless is something approaching a solution.  Sarah Teather made clear just how far the Tories would like to go when she revealed the "Inter Ministerial Group on Migrants' Access to Benefits and Public Services" was first known as the "Hostile Environment Working Group".

As pointed out before, this is a great example of how the new politics works.  Politicians say they're listening to concerns, they talk tough and tighten the rules ever further, and then act surprised and chastened when the mood against immigrants hardens as the numbers stubbornly refuse to fall precisely because freedom of movement is clearly here to stay.  Rather than confront voters with a few facts and ask them if they like being able to move freely around Europe even if they don't want to at this precise moment, we just get ever more discriminatory rhetoric.  Once, that the government was paying for adverts which contained allusions to the racist slogans of years gone by would have caused a storm.  That it hasn't shows both how the Tories have succeeded and why they will also end up being hoist by that petard.

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Wednesday, April 03, 2013 

My swastika tattoo doesn't mean I'm a fascist. Honest.

Paolo Di Canio is not a fascist.  Nor is he a racist.  Just because he said he was a fascist in an interview in 2005 doesn't mean that he's still one in 2013.  Nor does that the fact he has a tattoo that says "dux" on his right arm, meaning leader or Il Duce signify anything.  I mean, we all have body art we regret nowadays, don't we?  As for all those instances where he gave the Roman salute to Lazio fans, including when they were playing local rivals with a left-wing political history, all he was doing was saluting his people "with what for me is a sign of belonging to a group that holds true values, values of civility against the standardisation that this society imposes upon us".  Who could possibly disagree with that?

Sunderland's owners seemingly thought no one would.  Quite apart from the stupidity of changing managers this late in the season (Harry Redknapp looks like being unable to save QPR from themselves, and he was appointed their manager back in November), they apparently lined up Di Canio as Martin O'Neill's replacement without so much as considering whether his past affiliation and gestures might cause controversy.  They certainly did at Swindon, when the GMB union cancelled its sponsorship deal after Di Canio was appointed manager there, even if that hardly received the same national attention his taking the job at Sunderland has.

As the students and historians of fascism have been so swift to tell us, it's certainly the case that we shouldn't confuse Italian fascism prior to Mussolini's alliance with Hitler with the ideology that emerged in Germany after the first world war, heavily influenced by the often eccentric nationalists of the day.  Nazism from the outset was virulently racist, whereas Mussolini's brand of nationalism only became overtly racist with the anti-semitic Manifesto of Race in 1938, by which point it was Hitler who was influencing the leader who, while not his mentor, had certainly been the one figure from outside Germany to most inspire him.

The emphasis on race is perhaps to miss the point a little.  While you certainly can be a fascist without being a racist, there are only so many ways you can hold an admiration for someone like Mussolini without either downplaying or completely ignoring certain parts of their legacy.  I personally find Stalin infinitely more intriguing a historical figure than any of the other totalitarian dictators of the 20th century as his path to power with the Bolsheviks is so extraordinary.  Pick up any recent biography of him and there is almost a consensus that despite being one of the greatest monsters in terms of the numbers who died as a result of his policies and paranoia, his role in the defeat of Nazi Germany is so significant that he can't be dismissed as Hitler or Mao often are.

In that sense, you can still be shocked, disgusted and overawed at how tens of millions died as they came under Stalin's yoke, while also being thankful that his leadership of the Soviet Union after the initial shock of the Nazi invasion helped to ensure that democracy and freedom in (most) of western Europe survived (and yes, obviously most of the respect should go to the sacrifices made by the Russian people and then to the strategies pursued by the Red Army's generals, but you can hardly ignore that Stalin, unlike Hitler, allowed his generals the freedom to plan and execute their manoeuvres, and towards the end of the war only really intervened to increase the competition between them).

With Mussolini, the case against him surely outweighs any positives.  His alliance with Hitler brought nothing but absolute disaster to Italy.  Certainly there are those that will cite the period prior to then as being more favourable, yet while there will always be some who are content with living under a one party system, very few are likely to say they would prefer to today.  
If Di Canio's politics are of the far-right without being totalitarian, which is rare, then that's one thing.  The point is though that fascism so much as it exists in 21st century Europe is almost entirely racist in nature.  While you can't really describe the British National Party as neo-Nazi when their most extreme racial policy (in public at least) is voluntary repatriation, Golden Dawn in Greece or Jobbik in Hungary have made no such gestures towards respectability as the far-right here have.  You can argue about whether groups such as the EDL hide their real intentions behind their campaigning against Islamic extremism (and I'd say they most certainly do, and they don't really even bother to hide it), yet the closest thing we now have to a party with mass appeal on the hard right is UKIP, which treads an extremely fine line between being anti-immigration and openly xenophobic.

Even if Di Canio is a fascist, albeit not a racist one, despite his denial today after he prevaricated yesterday, his political views shouldn't be held against him as long as he doesn't discriminate because of them.  Just as it's always been absurdly illiberal and discriminatory for BNP members to be barred from teaching when the idea they could indoctrinate children is laughable, no one should be refused a job based on their political beliefs.  The real reason this has become such an issue isn't so much down to Di Canio himself, although both he and Sunderland should have seen this coming and addressed it properly at the outset, or as soon as David Miliband resigned, but due to how racism remains such an issue in the English game, as demonstrated by the behaviour of some England fans at the San Marino game last week.  All this has also taken attention away from the real issue for Sunderland as a football club; whether Di Canio is the right man for the manager's job, and to judge from his time at Swindon, he almost certainly isn't.

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