Rex Bob Lowenstein would make a bad politician

Indigo Jo Blogs - 14 August, 2018 - 16:33

Boris Johnson, a middle-aged white man with scruffy white hair wearing a blue sweat-shirt with the name "Xchanging" on the front, approaching journalists from his house along a cobbled path with a tray of cups of tea in his hands.As I mentioned two posts back about the niqaab controversy, Boris Johnson found an ally in the former (and possibly future) UKIP leader Nigel Farage, who made a comment on BBC London radio to the effect that the people in “the country” were behind Johnson and that it would increase rather than decrease his popularity. This notion that the “real England” consists of its small towns and villages is a common trope of Brexiteers because it its strongest support is in some (though actually not all) of these places: while a lot of urban areas outside London (Birmingham for one) voted by a majority for leaving the EU, the strongest support was in areas surrounding the Wash on the east coast, Boston in Lincolnshire in particular. A few weeks ago a Twitter acquaintance pointed me towards this article by Matthew Goodwin on Quillette, which describes itself as “a platform for free thought” and whose associate editor is Toby Young. The article traces British “scepticism” towards Europe back to traditional English anti-Catholicism, citing Linda Colley’s Britons: Forging the Nation (which I studied at university).

Goodwin notes that the debate over Brexit has been “utterly dry, sterile, and completely lacking in imagination” and overly focussed on such things as the overspending of the Leave campaign, and which shows “no engagement whatsoever with the growing pile of evidence that we now have on why people actually voted for Brexit”. Most Leave voters had, he says, “a clear and coherent outlook and had formed their views long before the campaign even began”. He said he hoped that there would be a “long-overdue debate” about the “divides, inequalities, and grievances that had led to this moment”, but nobody wants such a debate “because conversations require a reply”; their focus has been simply on overturning the result. In this he has a point; putting aside the Tory Brexiteer voters in places like Lincolnshire, a good many working-class voters voted to leave the EU because of long-standing neglect of their parts of the country which coincide with our being a member of the EU or its predecessors, and Labour also made the enormous mistake of opening the doors to hundreds of thousands of workers from eastern Europe, after both Labour and Tory governments had spent years cultivating and appeasing anti-immigration sentiment, perhaps assuming nobody would mind because they were white.

Neither of these issues has been addressed. The idea of rebuilding industry devastated in the 1980s is still dismissed as backward-looking stupidity or inward-looking economic nationalism. Admittedly, the iron and coal deposits which made some of these industries profitable in the past are no longer there, but some of the destruction happened because Tory governments preferred to sell off national assets than turn them around. This is significant because a large proportion of the pro-Remain vote in England came from the southern shires, a tract from Gloucestershire through Oxfordshire and down into Surrey and Hampshire, much of which consists of safe Tory seats, and these are some of the people who should be contemplating the effects of the policies they supported throughout the 80s. Goodwin notes that the tendency to simply oppose Brexit rather than engage with it is “particularly strong in the academy” whose teachers tend to vote for left-wing and ultra-liberal parties. This sounds like a stereotype — I graduated 20 years ago — but it rings true to the attitudes I have encountered on Twitter: ordinary people’s perceptions of the effect of immigration on their wages and jobs are dismissed as fallacies with references to economic theories. No matter if the explanation is not nearly as simple as “immigrants drive down wages” or “immigrants take jobs so British people cannot get them”, people are instinctively resistant to any theory that frames immigration as anything other than a positive.

To be clear, immigration is not the only reason why working-class people’s jobs, wages and conditions are under threat: another is the casualisation of a number of lines of work and the resulting weakness of unions. In many industries, including mine (transport), a lot of the labour is sourced from agencies — many companies do not hire frontline staff (e.g. truck drivers) themselves but get everyone from an agency. Staff do not know each other very well (perhaps inevitable with single-man truck driving). However, with an unregulated labour market, employers are dissuaded from investing in new talent because they have a ready supply of experienced workers from abroad: many transport bosses here will not take someone on who has less than two years’ entitlement as to do so would increase their insurance premiums.

However, it is not only Remainers who are often impervious to the facts. Speaking to a group of fellow drivers and a minor transport boss a few weeks ago, I found that many were firmly pro-Brexit; when I pointed out that it would mean isolation from the huge trading bloc on our doorstep, they pointed out that there were still lots of foreign trucks on the road bringing things in and taking them out — proof, they said, that the economy was not collapsing (this is a lot like those who say “global warming, what global warming — look, it’s snowing!”). I pointed out that we were still in the EU and the problems would begin when we actually left, particularly if it was without a favourable deal. They then accused me of being ‘negative’, as if positive thinking could affect the outcome of anything that is independent of one’s behaviour. And this says nothing about the very wealthy Tory Brexiteers who are well known to be too rich to personally lose out much if the economy collapses as a result of our falling into isolation, yet continue to push for a hardline Brexit. Some of them are known to be shifting money abroad already.

Goodwin bemoans the lack of debate about the long-term causes of the Brexit vote. However, the date for leaving is getting closer and closer day by day and there is no longer a long enough term to have such a debate; it is becoming increasingly obvious that a favourable deal other than remaining in the European Economic Area (EEA) is not available to us. The EU will not agree to it because some of the demands Britain makes is not conducive to their security (e.g. allowing a non-member to collect tariffs) and also because of the fear of other states seceding in Britain’s wake. It has to be remembered that the move towards European integration began after World War II because politicians realised that if goods were able to cross borders, armies usually did not: trade barriers caused poverty and discontent, which at different times made both fascism and communism popular. I have seen younger Tories boast that their generation are no longer affected by the fear of war in Europe and the idea that European integration is key to making sure we do not slide back into the past. Personally, with only the UK isolated outside the European Union, I am more afraid of the civil unrest that might erupt here, or the ease with which anger at the loss of jobs or the rise in food prices (or its unavailability) might be deflected towards a visible minority.

A common test I do when reviewing pro-Brexit articles, or those highly sceptical of the media’s role in fomenting the pro-Brexit sentiment, is to search the article for mentions of the press, papers or media (a previous article to this effect scored zero). This one mentions a “jingoistic press” in the paragraph about Linda Colley’s book, and ‘media’ a few times, often in reference to social media. This is, in my opinion, a major weakness of that argument: the debate about the legitimacy of the Brexit vote has been focussed on Russian interference and the Leave campaign’s overspend, but rarely touches on the bias in the commercial print media which is known to have circulated a number of falsehoods about the EEC and EU over the decades since European integration became the watchword in the late 1980s (rather than the EEC as being good for business). The right-wing press have particularly campaigned against the European Convention on Human Rights, enshrined into British law as the Human Rights Act of 1998, which it portrays as giving unwarranted rights to illegal immigrants, terrorists and people in both categories with often mendacious claims (e.g. that somebody could claim a right to a family life on the basis that being deported would mean leaving his cat). The benefits to ordinary people (e.g. a person with a learning disability securing rights not to be detained indefinitely on the say-so of one doctor) are never mentioned. Admittedly, the ECHR is an instrument of the Council of Europe, not the EU, but referring to it as coming out of “Europe” blurs the distinction.

The issue of the extent to which the electorate “knew what they were voting for” is only of limited relevance given that we are a representative democracy, not a plebiscitary one, and Parliament is meant to weigh public opinion against the greater good. A memorable passage from Linda Colley’s book was the section on the Catholic Emancipation Act, which attracted a record volume of petitions in opposition which has yet to be broken. Parliament had behaved, she wrote, as neither a conservative oligarchy nor a representative assembly. It could do this because it knew that the views of the general public about Catholics — that they were a fifth column, loyal only to Rome, regarded Protestants as heretics and would persecute them given half a chance — were based on myth and propaganda. More recently, Parliament has resisted public and press demands for the reintroduction of hanging, aware that innocent people had been hanged and would have been (e.g. Stefan Kiszko, the Guildford Four) if it had been retained.

Very much the same is true of many of the public’s beliefs about the EU and the difference here is that some of the Brexiteers in Parliament who are leading the charge are those who have been peddling the myths about the EU in the press for years — Boris Johnson being the most notable example. Goodwin mentions the ethnic minority vote for Brexit; I can state that myths were behind some of this too. Some believed the European Parliament was going to ban halal slaughter; some believed that shutting off migration from the EU would lead to the gates being opened to migration from South Asia again; some simply believed that the EU was hostile to Muslims and that Muslims were safer in a Britain that is outside Europe.

Goodwin does not really address the issue of the narrowness of the vote either. 48% of those who voted, voted to remain in the EU and this is considerably greater than the share of the vote traditionally required to win a general election. Put a specific deal on the table which does not make it easy for British people to holiday in France or Spain and does not guarantee low food prices and easy availability and it is unlikely to garner the 52% of the vote that went to Leave in 2016. Divide the vote up as you would a general election vote and Remain comes out the winner. Now that people are more aware that Brexit is unlikely to be a simple process and that the politicians charged with it are incompetent and in some cases venal, evidence is showing that support for Brexit is ebbing away, especially in Labour-voting constituencies — the ‘true English’ in the provinces are hardening in their support for it, perhaps perceiving a “stab in the back”, but small towns in Lincolnshire are no more or less the “real England” than inner-city London and Birmingham or the old mining towns of Yorkshire.

There is a song, Rex Bob Lowenstein, about a fictional radio DJ who resisted his company’s demands to implement playlists and went to jail for his efforts; in the last verse, the singer and songwriter Marc Germino sang that his efforts were “just to find what the people W.A.N.T.” (which was also conveniently the station’s call sign). The song is often played as a tribute to DJs who play “real music” rather than pop, but when I heard this final verse I could not help but be struck by how banal and anticlimatic it was. This is real life, not a radio request show, and whatever the merits of Rex Bob Lowenstein’s approach, it does not translate well into politics. What the people W.A.N.T. does not always mean the greater good and a majority, especially a very slim one, and however well-distributed, does not have the right to destroy the prosperity that is vital for everyone’s well-being. As the Rolling Stones (and, I suspect, your mother) said — you can’t always get what you want.

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The Guardian World news: Islam - 14 August, 2018 - 10:50

Crossbencher Fraser Anning widely condemned for speech praising white Australia policy and pushing for plebiscite on Muslim immigration

An Australian crossbench senator has invoked the term “the final solution” in an inflammatory speech calling for a plebiscite asking voters whether they want to end all immigration by Muslims and non-English speaking people “from the third world”.

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Beijing blasts 'anti-China forces' for claim of million Uighurs in prison camps

The Guardian World news: Islam - 14 August, 2018 - 06:01

Foreign minister claims residents of Xinjiang are ‘living in peace and happiness’ after UN panel hears reports of secret internment camp

Anti-China forces are behind criticism of policies in the far western region of Xinjiang, the Chinese foreign ministry has claimed, after a UN panel aired accusations that one million ethnic Uighurs may be held in internment camps.

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Any defamatory rumours are futile

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Boris Johnson or the burqa? It’s a false choice – both dehumanise Muslim women | Polly Toynbee

The Guardian World news: Islam - 14 August, 2018 - 06:00

Racism is a virus that can be easily released by politicians who stoop low. But we can’t ignore how religions treat women

So, what is the good liberal to do? What is the good humanist to say? Boris Johnson’s anti-Muslim “jokes” were not a dog whistle, but a foghorn beckoning racists to his Steve Bannon-assisted leadership cause. But in the maelstrom he has deliberately caused, the risk is that liberals are silenced on criticising religion, Islam in particular. Are you for the niqab or for Boris’s racism? That’s a preposterous choice.

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Muslim leaders urge May to launch inquiry into Tory party Islamophobia

The Guardian World news: Islam - 13 August, 2018 - 19:48

Muslim Council of Britain tells PM to act after Boris Johnson’s ‘dehumanising’ comments

The Muslim Council of Britain has urged Theresa May to launch an independent inquiry into Islamophobia in the Conservative party after several MPs supported “dehumanising comments” made by Boris Johnson.

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China denies violating minority rights amid detention claims

The Guardian World news: Islam - 13 August, 2018 - 13:46

UN panel says 1m ethnic Uighur Muslims being held in internment camps in Xinjiang

China has denied claims made during a UN panel last week that authorities are suppressing the rights of Muslim minorities in the west of the country in the name of fighting terrorism.

A Chinese delegation told a UN human rights panel on Monday that China has launched a “special campaign” to crack down on “extremist and terrorist crimes”, but no specific ethnic or religious groups were being targeted.

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All this Islamophobic bigot deserves is to be forgotten

The Guardian World news: Islam - 13 August, 2018 - 08:26

Anger is precious - don’t squander it on a dog-whistle politician who wants us to throb with fury at the mention of his name

Oh, great. Another article about him. You know who I’m talking about. The fuzzy-haired boil on the back of British politics, the walking indictment of the British class system, the bumbling consequence of decades of a lazy media implicitly trusting the poshest person in the room, the sentient sack of potatoes whose political highpoint was getting stuck on a zipline during the London Olympics.

I’m so tired of hearing he’s 'broadening the debate' when he's just an old Etonian doing an impression of a cabbie

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Boris Johnson must face full inquiry, Muslim leaders tell May

The Guardian World news: Islam - 12 August, 2018 - 20:30

Islamophobic incidents have increased after Johnson’s column disparaging veils worn by women, says Muslim Council

Britain’s largest Islamic organisation will write to Theresa May on Monday demanding that Boris Johnson be subject to a full disciplinary inquiry, arguing that no one should be allowed to victimise minorities with impunity.

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Johnson has created a moment more decisive than ‘rivers of blood’ | Matthew d’Ancona

The Guardian World news: Islam - 12 August, 2018 - 17:12
Politics can be decent, or it can be deplorable. Conservatives stand at a fork in the road, and must make their choice

There was a time when Conservatives used to split over this or that aspect of an EU treaty; or the practice of monetarism; or the composition of the House of Lords; or the consequences of welfare policy. Now they argue over whether it is acceptable to sneer at Muslim women in religious dress. O tempora, o mores, as Jacob Rees-Mogg might say.

There is depressing bathos in the fact that two cheap gags in Boris Johnson’s Daily Telegraph column about the burqa have caused such a rift. But they have.

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Charities drop Christine Hamilton after post likening burqa to KKK costume

The Guardian World news: Islam - 12 August, 2018 - 16:14

Tweet by wife of former Tory MP Neil Hamilton comes during escalating row over Boris Johnson’s burqa remarks

Christine Hamilton has been sacked as a charity ambassador after comparing the burqa to the outfits worn by the Ku Klux Klan. “If the burqa [sic] is acceptable then presumably this is too?” she tweeted, posting a picture showing individuals wearing Ku Klux Klan-style clothing.

Following the criticism she received, Hamilton insisted her tweet had been misunderstood: “For heaven’s sake – no, I am not comparing Muslim women to KKK members and yes, thank you, I do know the difference. I was graphically illustrating how full facial cover can be sinister, which is how many people view the burqa.”

If the #burka is acceptable then presumably this is too?

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The Guardian World news: Islam - 12 August, 2018 - 08:00
As cultural assimilation intensifies, lifelong residents feel increasingly isolated in a place once known as a haven of tolerance

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The Observer view on Tory party Islamophobia | Observer editorial

The Guardian World news: Islam - 12 August, 2018 - 08:00
The need for an inquiry into religious and racial prejudice within the party has become pressing

Boris Johnson’s comments about Muslim women who wear the burqa have raised a number of issues, some of great importance, some less so. One aspect of this controversy that does not matter very much at all is Johnson himself. As his Daily Telegraph column reminded us, he is a self-regarding, immature and irresponsible man whose overweening ambition fatally clouds his judgment.

The Observer is the world's oldest Sunday newspaper, founded in 1791. It is published by Guardian News & Media and is editorially independent.

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Another lesson in diplomacy

Indigo Jo Blogs - 11 August, 2018 - 22:29

A black-and-white image of three members of the Ku Klux Klan, two women and one man, in white sheets and masks, standing by a burning cross.As Muslims face the consequences of Britain’s one-time “top diplomat” insulting an ethnic minority (and, by extension, the women of a number of the countries where Britain could do with having friendly relations) and provoking a ‘debate’ on Muslim women’s dress which served to distract from the cliff-edge Boris Johnson and his fellow Brexiteer wingnuts are dragging us towards, I came across a tweet this morning from Christine Hamilton, media ‘butterfly’ and wife of UKIP Welsh assembly member Neil “cash in brown envelopes” Hamilton, comparing the niqaab to the white hoods and sheets worn by members of the Ku Klux Klan. Hamilton is “ambassador” for the Muscular Dystrophy campaign and Balls to Cancer (though she has removed references both from her profile to avoid embarrassment to them) and has posted pictures of her trekking through the Andes in Peru in aid of the former. “If the #burka is acceptable then presumably this is too?” the tweet asked, accompanied by a picture of some Klansmen in full pointy-hat and white sheet regalia (not the image accompanying this entry). For their part, the MD campaign has been tweeting the same statement all day to those who complained: “Christine Hamilton’s tweet was made in a personal capacity and does not reflect the views of Muscular Dystrophy UK. We believe in a diverse and equal society, and are firmly against any form of discrimination.”

In case anyone needed an answer: no, because when the KKK were still strong and had the support of the powers that were, they used to ride into areas where Black people lived in order to terrorise them and they would kill Black people who were accused of a crime or who “stepped out of line” by getting into an argument with a White person or demanded such things as the right to vote. In some areas, in fact, they were powerful enough not to have to wear sheets; members of the KKK were police officers, judges and politicians. In her book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou recalled how a local policeman had told her grandmother that her son (Maya’s uncle) Willie should “lie low” because “a crazy n***er messed with a white lady today” and that some of “the boys” would be down to teach the Black people in the town a lesson. The family buried Willie under a pile of potatoes, and in the event he made so much noise that they would have found him anyway, but they called off the ‘demonstration’.

A front cover from Melanie Phillips's book Londonistan, with the sub-heading "How Britain is creating a terror state within". The picture shows three women, all wearing niqaabs, one of them pushing a child in a buggy with the clear plastic rain shield pulled down, and the one on the left is giving a V-sign to the person who is taking the picture.If Muslim women who wear niqaab ever did anything like this, the comparison would be justified. As they do nothing more threatening to anyone than buy groceries and take their children to the park, it’s grotesque. (In the US, laws aimed at the KKK have been used by police in some states to try to prevent women wearing niqaab in public, but it has always been put down by the courts on First Amendment grounds.) And yes, there has been the occasional story about the family of a terrorist getting a nice town house in Notting Hill on housing benefit and the Mum usually wears niqaab, but that’s not the majority of them, and there’s that picture of three women in niqaab and one of them appeared to be giving society a big V-sign (it’s been on the front of the Daily Express at least once and was the cover image for one edition of Melanie Phillips’s Londonistan), but actually, she was giving the V-sign to some journalists and/or paparazzi. These women have taken far more abuse from the public, in large part because of malicious press reporting, than they have caused anyone.

An ambassador is obviously meant to be an asset to a charity in upholding their reputation. I do not honestly see why anyone would want Christine Hamilton as an ambassador (even if they have several) given that her own reputation is not exactly spotless. Besides his corrupt history (he was the MP toppled from a Tory safe seat by Martin Bell back in 1977), her husband Neil Hamilton now sits for UKIP, a party noted for its flirtation with xenophobia and Islamophobia. A disability charity is there to serve those with the disability in question, and muscular dystrophies affect people of every ethnicity, both sexes and every religion. I used to know a Muslim man who had a severe form of MD, was a power-chair user, and was dependent on others for his every need; he experienced all the usual problems of being a wheelchair user such as taxis driving off at the sight of him, and wondered whether it was because of his disability or his Islamic appearance. Only this past week there was a report of a Muslim lady who wears niqaab and walks with a walking stick being attacked by three white youths in an east London street who urinated on her. Being disabled, especially if visibly so, makes anyone from a visible minority additionally vulnerable to abuse or harassment targeted at their race as well as at their condition and this increases if they need personal care; they may also need dietary needs met when in their own home or in hospital. Every disability charity needs to be race-aware and aware to the religious issues facing the people they serve, and should not be associated with people whose behaviour might inflame prejudice towards them.

Of course, a charity needs the money and they should not refuse money raised independently of them by people with controversial opinions, but the status of ‘ambassador’ should be special and reserved for people with major fundraising potential and an unblemished reputation. If Christine Hamilton ever had one, she doesn’t now, and she should have the status removed.

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The Guardian World news: Islam - 11 August, 2018 - 15:00

His calculated remarks about burqas fuel the flames at a dangerous time for ethnic minorities

I remember the first time I was called “Paki”. It was 1978 at primary school in Ealing, west London, now my constituency. I was quite startled. My playground tormentor had to explain the etymology of the term to me. I retorted:“Actually, East Pakistan has been liberated into Bangladesh since 1971; it’s an independent country”, which shut him up.

I was born in Hammersmith the year after Bangladeshi independence and recall the racism of old. In those days, “the host community” saw the likes of me and the two kids in our school with turbans (brothers) as “Asian” – the shorthand “Paki” overlooking different nationalities. The subtitles of religion had not reared their head. The Satanic Verses and 9/11 changed that when the badge “Don’t freak, I’m a Sikh” was produced, signalling a disaggregation of Asians. Race broke down into religion.

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Muslim group joins condemnation of Boris Johnson burqa remarks

The Guardian World news: Islam - 11 August, 2018 - 13:58

Muslim Council of Britain says comments reveal ‘underbelly of Islamophobia’ within Tory party

Conservative MPs’ support for Boris Johnson over his comments comparing Muslim women in burqas to bank robbers has “shone a light on the underbelly of Islamophobia” within the party, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) has said.

Harun Rashid Khan, MCB’s secretary general, said the former foreign secretary’s comments, which have attracted criticism and divided opinion since appearing in the Daily Telegraph on Monday, had had a “real and worrying” impact on the Muslim community.

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The rottenness of Boris Johnson goes deeper even than his casual racism & his equally casual courting of fascism. He will advocate literally anything to play to the crowd of the moment. His career is a saga of moral emptiness & lies; pathetic, weak & needy; the opposite of strong

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I was called a "f*****g letter box" by some lady in Parsons Green.
Told her to "try posting a letter and see what happens"

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Equality watchdog attacks Boris Johnson's 'inflammatory' remarks

The Guardian World news: Islam - 10 August, 2018 - 18:14

EHRC says it has no powers to investigate MP’s ‘divisive’ comments about burqa

The equalities watchdog has branded Boris Johnson’s comments on the burqa “inflammatory and divisive”, but said it has no powers to launch an investigation.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) said it had received a complaint from a member of the public about Johnson’s controversial article in the Daily Telegraph, but its remit extended to breaches of equality law, such as the denial of a service on the grounds of race or religion.

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