A “soft touch”?

In his recent tirade against asylum-seekers and their advocates Phil Woolas was keen to point out that the primary purpose of the government’s immigration policy was to “reassure the public that the government is in control of immigration”. As I pointed out at the time this would indicate to me that its priorities are rather skewed and are being driven by tabloid headines. After all, surely the primary purpose should be to have a system which is efficient, fair and humane – if you have that then in theory public confidence should follow.
That is not neccessarily the case though, because public perceptions do not always match the reality. For example, one of the most common clichés we hear is that this country is a “soft touch” for asylum seekers, a notion that anyone with a cursory knowledge of New Labour’s treatment of asylum seekers over the last ten years would know is risible. There is a very good example here

Twins: Ziyad and Bahabga Zighem aged 6 years 3 months, Rahima 4 years and 4 months, Hani 3 years and 6 months, and Zinedine 2 years and 3 months, have spent the last 29 days in Immigration detention at Yarl’s Wood IRC and are still there today.

These five children are not seeking asylum nor are they migrants, they were all born in the UK, denied the parentage of the country they were born in, by deliberate, discriminatory legislation in the ‘British Nationality Act 1981′ (came into force 1982).

As Justin at Chicken Yoghurt points out, this story is particularly apposite in the light of the shocked reaction of the country as a whole to recent high profile child abuse cases. Our concern for children’s welfare seems to end when they are the offspring of people whose immigration status may be in doubt. So next time you see a New Labour minister congratulating themselves on the government’s “tough” stance on asylum and immigration just remember that it is very easy to be tough when the people on the other end are weak and vulnerable, and especially when they are three year old children.

An open letter to Barack Obama

Over at Liberal Conspiracy, Conor Foley has posted the following letter from Orzala Ashraf Nemat, an Afghan friend. I would recommend to anyone that they read the full text.

I witnessed a historical moment in Washington when I first learnt of Obama’s victory. I joined the crowed of victorious young and old on the streets of America’s capital that night, somehow with confusing feelings. I say confused because I felt so proud to be in America when it happened, but I was unsure whether I should also be happy with what he would do in Afghanistan. I had just – that same day – seen the shocking pictures of women and children injured by a US coalition-forces bombardment in Shah Wali Kot district of Kandahar province.

Would Obama be able to stop such atrocities? Would he be able to fight the war against terrorism with the social and economic means to oppose the military means?

These were the questions in my mind which caused my confusion and made me doubt whether or not to celebrate the moment. I joined the crowd because I saw, for the first time in the history of this land, that an African-American was elected as president; I did so because I had heard him speaking over the past three months about the working class, the middle class and I saw that he was their voice. Such words sounded very unfamiliar to me in the context of a capitalist country, so I thought at least that he is not trying to ‘rescue’ the rich, but that rather he was there also to help the poor and so on. So I joined the crowed. I saw him speaking: “If there is any one out there who still doubts that everything is possible, today is my answer. For those who want to tear this world up, we will defeat you. For those who are looking for peace and security, we will support you…”

Click here to read the letter in full

Watching “Dog Borstal” is good for you

I have to say that the current furore about John Sergeant leaving Strictly Come Dancing has rather gone over my head. Not being particularly interested in dancing or minor celebrities I have no great desire to watch minor celebrities dancing but hey, it may be populist tat but there’s nothing neccessarily wrong with that if it’s done well and I’m happy to get my kicks from the X-Factor (although it’s not as much fun as American Idol).

I did rather raise my eyebrows reading the following comment from the Indie’s Media Editor Ian Burrell though

The problem with Strictly Come Dancing, according to David Wood, of Broadcast magazine, [whom I guess should know about these things] is that the BBC was determined it would be a bona fide talent contest, awarding genuine dancing merit and – most importantly – fulfilling the corporation’s public service broadcasting credentials and thus justifying the licence fee.

Yes, that’s right, Strictly Come Dancing is not just a harmless bit of fun, it is public service broadcasting. Which I suppose makes a kind of sense given that in recent years we have seen the virtual disappearance of current affairs and arts programming from BBC1 (and the dumbing down of what’s left), the shunting of the news to 10pm, a glut of reality and lifestyle programming, historical dramas that are no more than Eastenders in funny costumes with only a faint nod to any notion of verisimilitude (hence the huge steaming pile of shite which is “The Tudors”) and its atrocious US election-night coverage, demonstrating the low opinion the BBC has of its viewers’ intelligence (at least those who watch BBC1). Not only is it desperate to find a “public service” angle to the output on its flagship channel in order to justify the licence fee but it probably does think that anything more cerebral than SCD will have its viewers reaching for the ITV button on the remote.

This isn’t just mindless BBC bashing either, I totally support the principle of public service broadcasting and there is still some genuinely great stuff on the BBC, see Picture Book for example (buried on BBC4 of course) but I can’t help thinking that the BBC should lose one of its digital channels, use the money saved to make better quality programming for its terrestrial channels, stop chasing ratings and trust the intelligence of its viewers.

Do you agree or disagree? Text your vote to 83635 or call 0890 53468273

Calls cost 50p per second, text messages cost £5.00 from all networks and the result will be whatever I say it is.

Phil Woolas…the new Richard Littlejohn

Not content with his previous they come over here and take our jobs rhetoric about immigrants, Phil Woolas has now turned on asylum seekers and those who act on their behalf.

In an interview with the Guardian, Woolas described the legal professionals and NGO workers as “an industry”, and said most asylum seekers were not fleeing persecution but were economic migrants.

“The system is played by migration lawyers and NGOs to the nth degree,” Woolas said. “By giving false hope and by undermining the legal system, [they] actually cause more harm than they do good.”

Of course what this means is that the said parties use all possible legal avenues in order to serve the interests of the people they represent, something which I would say for lawyers in particular is exactly what they are paid to do.

Woolas cites as an example

…an asylum seeker had won the right to stay after going through six layers of appeal. “That person has no right to be in this country but I’m sure that there is an industry out there [with] a vested interest.”

This is of course total garbage – if they went through the legal process and were granted the right to stay in this country then they manifestly do have the right to be here. As for and “industry” with “vested interests”, that’s the typical lazy language of the right wing tabloids and therefore exactly what one expects from a “New” Labour minister. Anyone who is involved in the immigration system, none more so than government ministers, has an interest in the system. Woolas’s assumption of bad faith on the part of those working on behalf of asylum seekers is just childish and an insult to the people who do lots of hard (and far from lucrative) work on behalf of extremely vulnerable people.

He then describes the primary purpose of government immigration policy as

to reassure the public that the government was in control of immigration. “The public recognise that we don’t know the exact numbers. They see the asylum backlog and what they fear is that we don’t have any control over the system,” he said.

This just demonstrates how the government’s agenda on immigration has become warped by the scaremongering of the tabloids. The primary purpose is to reassure the public – this is more important than ensuring we have a system which is fair and efficient and treats people who want to come to this country decently and with dignity, whether they come here fleeing persecution or merely to build a better life for themselves.

Woolas rejects the notion that his comments on immigration may lead to comparisons with Enoch Powell

“Enoch Powell was trying to divide this country. I’m trying to heal this country by allowing us to have a mature debate on immigration,” he said.

Well you hardly have a “mature” debate by resorting to lazy tabloid cliches and putting “tough” talk above fair and humane treatment of asylum seekers. As for the comparison with Enoch Powell, well much as we may deplore Powell’s views on immigration he was a substantial and significant politic figure who posessed a great intellect. Woolas isn’t the new Enoch Powell, he is the new Richard Littlejohn.

Gordon Brown – the White Queen of British politics

Another day brings yet another eyebrow-raising pronouncement from Gordon Brown.

In Sunday’s Observer he was singing the praises of progressive governments like our own Labour one for having the right kind of policies to help people through the current financial crisis and denouncing the kind of economic policies which have got us into this situation. Steve Richards’ description of this in today’s Independent as “chutzpah and astonishing opportunism” is an understatement.

Now he is criticising the Tories for proposing national insurance cuts for businesses worth £2.6bn on the grounds that they are “unfunded”. This is after the government has already made unfunded cuts to personal allowances to get them out of the 10p tax hole, delayed petrol duty increases and reduced stamp duty, in total reducing the tax take by about £3.5bn, and are hinting at more tax cuts to come. What’s more they have abandoned their fiscal rules and promised a public spending splurge in order to stimulate the economy. And I’m assuming that they will ultimately get back the billions they have spent in bailing out the banking system.

And of course he continues to maintain the fiction that the UK is somehow better placed than other countries to weather the storm despite all the evidence being to the contrary.

I find myself so dumbstruck by the continuing absurdity of his pronouncements that in trying to imagine how he might justify them I could only think of the following –

“I can’t believe that!” said Alice.

“Can’t you?” the queen said in a pitying tone. “Try again, draw a long breath, and shut your eyes.”

Alice laughed. “There’s no use trying,” she said. “One can’t believe impossible things.”

“I dare say you haven’t had much practice,” said the queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

Conor Foley book launch report

As promised…

On Thursday evening I went along to the launch of Conor Foley’s book Thin Blue Line, which took the form of a debate on humanitarian intervention and Western foreign policy between Foley, Oliver Kamm and Dennis McShane (who had to leave early so I won’t dwell on his contribution).

Foley started off by giving a brief history of humanitarianism since the action to protect the Kurds in Northern Iraq in 1991 and a bit of his own history. He said that the debate about intervention is often polarised between the more muscular liberal interventionists on the one hand and the “anti-imperialists” on the other, whereas in truth that intervention can sometimes be neccessary and successful and sometimes misguided. He mentioned Kosovo as an example of  the latter, which I guess may be a controversial view for some, although my own knowledge of this particular topic is (shamefully) inadequate. He said that humanitarianism is always a difficult business and humanitarian workers are forever facing difficult dilemmas. He spoke about the need for humanitarian organisations to remain neutral in order to guarantee access to the areas where they are needed. Continue reading

The weight of expectation

So he’s done it, in fine style too. Absolutely fantastic – a truly momentous and uplifting result.

What now though? There is so much talk about the huge expectations which people have of President Obama and whether he will able to deliver. Are we expecting too much and will Obama be able to bear the “weight of expectation”? Certainly, many on the right (and some on the “Decent” left) are eagerly waiting to express their delight at the sight of disappointed and disenchanted Lefties.

To start with it’s worth asking exactly what our expectations are. I mean it’s no use just saying “change”, what do we think he will, or should, actually do? By what criteria will we judge him?

Well first of all there is one expectation he cannot fail to meet, which is that he will not be George Bush. The sheer irredeemable awfulness of his predecessor means that so long as Obama shows even a reasonable amount of competence and decency and eschews Bush’s naked self-interest, belligerence, ignorance and complete lack of scruples* he will already be a huge improvement.

As for his policies, well despite what his more absurd opponents say, Obama is not a far left/Stalinist/Marxist. He is not even going to try to turn America into a Northern European social democracy let alone some kind of socialist paradise. What I would hope to see is a more liberal, inclusive president who makes it his main priority to help the poorest, not to cut taxes for the rich and pander to corporate interests. Obviously the current financial crisis will be his immediate priority and it will severely limit his options but I hope to see broadly redistributive fiscal policies and ideally he will try to address the inequalities and corruption endemic in the healthcare system. I expect him to stand firmly against the Christian right on the right to choose.  I expect he will respect human rights at home and abroad, close Guantanamo Bay and  put a complete end to the use of torture by the US state, its agencies and foreign proxies. I expect him to take climate change seriously and produce serious policies to tackle it.

I certainly don’t expect him to withdraw troops from Iraq and Afghanistan tomorrow. I would expect him to negotiate a timetable for withdrawal with the Iraqi government and them ramp up efforts in Afghanistan. I don’t object to this as long as he can stop things like this happening, but I appreciate that others on the left would disagree. I would expect him to have much better relations with Europe and other foreign nations than his predecessor and to improve America’s standing in the world generally. I think this will make it easier to bring about multilateral action over situations such as we have seen in Darfur and are currently seeing the DR Congo, although I am not naive enough to thing this will be some magic wand to solve what are complicated and deep rooted problems. He has said he is willing to talk to the likes of Iran without preconditions and I think this is sensible. I doubt he will bring about a resolution to the Israel/Palestine problem.

So those are my expectations, others may have different ideas, but I don’t thing they are excessive or unreaslistic, and I believe President Obama will on the whole meet them.

*I felt a slight twinge of guilt at typing this after seeing Bush’s gracious and magnanimous speech today, but then I reminded myself of the last eight years.

More on Mad Mel

Those nice people at Liberal Conspiracy have let me write a piece there on Mel’s anti-Obama hysteria.

By the way, can anyone explain to me the difference between these two statements?

“They are the people who, by smearing every conceivable criticism of Obama or revelation of his unsavoury associations as ‘racist’, have emptied the term of its meaning. They are the people who, posing as ‘progressive’, display daily their utter contempt for their fellow human beings who are apparently incapable of voting against Obama on the rational grounds of the disturbing information they have learned about him, because by definition such information is just a load of racist smears.”

“They are the people who, by smearing every conceivable criticism of Israel or revelation of its unsavoury actions as ‘anti-Semitic’, have emptied the term of its meaning. They are the people who, posing as ‘progressive’, display daily their utter contempt for their fellow human beings who are apparently incapable of criticising Israel on the rational grounds of the disturbing information they have learned about its actions, because by definition such information is just a load of anti-Semitic smears.”