In Memorandum

It is always difficult to blog about a child dying. Gabrielle Price died last month, I understand there’s a small chance that some of Gabrielle’s friends may find this site and I would like to make clear that I mean no disrespect by discussing her tragic death.

What I would like to take aim at is the disgraceful speculation which has followed her  death. Most notably, scaremongering in the gutter press, such as The Daily Mail and The Sun and cheap moral populism from papers such as The Telegraph.

From the BBC we know that the events of the night of her death included: the arrest of a 17 year old man and 39 year woman on charges of possessing and supplying drugs; drug taking at a party and the death of a 14 year old girl. Further details emerged that the drugs in question were Mephedrone, a legal high, and Ketamine, a horse tranquilliser.

This is all that was known that this point. However, bastion of investigative reporting that they are, it appears that The Sun found “a neighbour” and The Mail found multiple “neighbours” to come forward to claim that:

[T]he student had taken the clubbers’ drug [mephedrone] – which can be bought legally – mixed with illegal ketamine

Of course following Gabrielle’s death The Daily Mail made it quite clear that “a post-mortem examination had failed to pinpoint the cause of death and that toxicology reports had been ordered to establish what the girl had taken.” Sadly this did not stop their cynical attempts to capitalise on her death.

The Daily Mail helpfully put its idle speculation in speech marks and I am sure this was of much consolation to the girl’s family. Likewise The Sun’s “tasteful” headline was also written with the “best” of intentions.

Of course a subsequent article left little doubt about what The Mail had decided had happened to Gabrielle Price. “Mephedrone menace: The deadly drug that’s cheap, as easy to order as pizza… and totally legal.”

Disgracefully, The Telegraph claimed that “Miss Price’s death is not the first harrowing account of the devastating effect the drug can have.” As reported in The Argus Gabrielle Price died of natural causes so it most certainly is “not the first harrowing account” it is not an account of a drug related death at all.

Teenager Gabi Price – whose death triggered fears over the dangers of ‘legal highs’ – died of natural causes, a coroner has revealed.

A pathologist’s report showed the 14-year-old died of broncho-pneumonia following a streptococcal A infection.

Mephedrone is not a controlled substance but has effects similar to ecstasy and cocaine, it was originally manufactured by a “legal high” company called Neorganics in Israel but was discontinued in 2008 when Israel made Mephedrone illegal. Production has since shifted around the world, with much of it now produced in China. It is available over the internet for as little as £7 a gram, and that includes Royal Mail recorded delivery.

Since Gabrielle’s death interest in the drug has surged as has the incidence of dreadful newspaper articles bemoaning those that take, sell or fail to regulate legal highs.

I certainly do not want to engage in the same proselytising here. While I hope my own views on drugs and drug use have been made clear elsewhere this is neither the time nor the place to advocate one drug policy regime over another.

As Professor Nutt discovered it is difficult to discuss drugs in anything other than the most derisory terms. Our press have meekly followed – as well as helping to create and enforce -this rule in the articles discussed above but in doing so they have descended to out right speculation and evidence free moralising.

What this death offered was a chance to be be honest and nothing more; nobody was forced to write an article with any more detail than that which was put up by the BBC, linked to above. As has become clear Gabrielle’s death was linked to drugs only by proximity and hearsay but this did not stop a string of articles in the quality and gutter press taking advantage of the circumstance of ther death.

I can see at least three reasons why this may have happened. First of all, paper’s staffing levels have dropped significantly while they have maintained a similar word count to a few decades ago. On top of the erosion of fact checking and real investigative journalism, this means that personal tragedies which can be given a wider angle have become essential to creating a full newpaper at the expense of journalistic integrity. See Flat Earth News for more on this.

The angle given to this story, that of the menace of drugs, has become something which is guaranteed to increase sales and hence revenues. Provocation has become one of the most important ways to sell papers. For example, every Express front page has this element, but this stands out for me.

Lastly there is of course the moral certitude of those working and running these papers that means they thought they already knew what had happened before the coroner or Sussex Police. It turns out their “spcualtion” was incorrect yet don’t expect to see correspondingly sized retractions, or any retractions.

My heart goes out to her family – I am truly sorry that her death has became a good way to sell papers and a talking point for illiberal reaction.

The Times: Now comes in “stupid”

When it comes to missing the point, it is hard to miss it harder or more intensely that in this piece from The Times’ Ruth Gledhill.

Children who front Richard Dawkins’ atheist ads are evangelicals

The two children chosen to front Richard Dawkins’s latest assault on God could not look more free of the misery he associates with religious baggage. With the slogan “Please don’t label me. Let me grow up and choose for myself”, the youngsters with broad grins seem to be the perfect advertisement for the new atheism being promoted by Professor Dawkins and the British Humanist Association.

Except that they are about as far from atheism as it is possible to be. The Times can reveal that Charlotte, 8, and Ollie, 7, are from one of the country’s most devout Christian families.

The British Humanist Society have in the past run bus adverts proclaiming “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” Sick of adverts informing non-believers they were heading for hell, they decided to strike back in to defend the godless, moral majority.

Following the success of the last campaign they have decided to run a new one on an altogether more serious topic.

The new campaign is at least in part inspired by this passage from Dawkin’s The God Delusion (excerpt from Friendly Atheist) (H/T Joé McKen):

At Christmas-time one year my daily newspaper, the Independent, was looking for a seasonal image and found a heart-warmingly ecumenical one at a school nativity play. The Three Wise Men were played by, as the caption glowingly said, Shadbreet (a Sikh), Musharraf (a Muslim) and Adele (a Christian), all aged four. Charming? Heart-warming? No, it is not, it is neither; it is grotesque […]

[…]

Imagine an identical photograph, with the caption changed as follows: “Shadbreet (a Keynesian), Musharaff (a Monetarist) and Adele (a Marxist), all aged four.” Wouldn’t this be a candidate for irate letters of protest? It certainly should be.

Children are innocent, they are yet to develop the power to choose for themselves, and so it is unfair to arbitrarily label them with the philosophical beliefs of their parents. Nothing controversial here, not least if you’re a Baptist.

This campaign has generated a lot of hot air from morons comparing Dawkins to Stalin and Hitler. But little can compare to the utter lunacy, the true idiocy of the Times today.

The headlines says it all really. In bold type across a page is emblazoned: Children who front Richard Dawkins’ atheist ads are evangelicals.

No. They aren’t. They are children. Let me reiterate once again; if these children cannot be Monetarists or Marxists then they cannot be evangelicals.

This is the whole point of the campaign! And for around 700 words Ruth Gledhill misses this point, again and again and again.

She even quotes a demolition of her argument:

The British Humanist Association said that it did not matter whether the children were Christians [LO: they are not Christian]. “That’s one of the points of our campaign,” said Andrew Copson, the association’s education director[LO: Well, duh!].

Not only that, but her sub-editor thought this piece was cogent enough to be put on page seven. Her editor thought it was worthy of printing at all. It is not worth the fish and chip wrapping it is printed on (in fact, I don’t think I’d want my chips wrapped in a turd sandwich like this).

This argument falls over before it is even put up. It is a nonsense which is deconstruction by twelve words from the Humanist Society and the picture of a cute, philosophically agnostic 8 year old.

Not that Ruth Gledhill knows that. Oh no, she’s just written a terribly clever article for The Times.

When it comes to the PCC we’re all just monkeys

The new head of the Press Complaints Commission Baroness Buscombe wants to regulate us bloggers.

Unity has helpfully provided an open letter to sign, which declines her amorous advance rather more politely than many other bloggers would. All bloggers are welcome to sign up and I strongly recommend you follow the link above and add your name. The letter concludes:

Consequently we would suggest that before your even consider turning your attention to our activities, you should direct your energies towards putting your own house in proper order. Should you succeed in raising the ethical standards and practices of the majority of the national press, particularly the tabloids, to our level then we may be inclined to reconsider our position. Until that happens, any attempt by the Press Complaints Commission to regulate the activities of bloggers will be strenuously resisted at every possible turn.

It appears that there appear to be many things which Baroness Buscombe is unaware of with regard to blogs, but that there are a few things she could teach us all about cheap point scoring with future bosses.

As has been pointed out there are many reasons Bloggers should and would resist being brought within the PCC’s remit.

  • Errors are clearly marked on the posts themselves, and not on page 18 of an issue several months down the line. This is done no matter how embarrassing errors were because the truth matters; we’re not here to make money.
  • Few bloggers are keen to sign up to an organisation which is ineffectual in regulating the traditional media but which would be very keen to regulate blogs critical of it (i.e. all of us). Ultimately those who run the “traditional” media also run the PCC. (H/T Paul Sagar)
  • And last but not least, there is the general air of loathing which pervades any blogospheric discussion of the PCC.

Beyond all this there is another reason why Baroness Buscombe has no chance of regulating us bloggers. Criticising the mainstream media – and attacking its ineffectual watchdog/poodle – are key signals that you are “one of us.”

This signalling reduces the opportunity cost of working out who our allies are. There’s a lot of information out there and its rational to be ignorant of most of it, this behaviour  makes it cheaper to work out friend from foe.

In Chimpanzees grooming is used not only to “pluck parasites” but also “as a social glue between related and unrelated apes.” In the blogsphere criticising our ineffectual press is necessary because of the state of modern journalism but it is also used as something to connect unrelated bloggers like Devil’s Kitchen, Sunder Katwala and Paul Sagar.

This is our in group and there is good reason to stick with it. It provides security, solidarity and a sense of society.

As shown by the recent spat between Laurie Penny and Harry’s Place – and any comments thread anywhere ever – the internet can be an unremittingly hostile place, and this signalling behaviour helps counteract this tendency.

If you look to Tim Ireland‘s brilliant anti-Sun videolemic – or his well drafted A4 insert – you can tell quickly he is on “our” side. Conversely, when someone rushes to defend The Sun or The Mail, because they “just reflect public opinion,” without confronting the fact that they are “just fucking liars,” you know they are dealing with someone from an outgroup.

Numerous blogs have been created to monitor the press but few in the blogosphere refrain from putting the boot in. To some it may seem pointless or that we are merely preaching to the converted, but it serves a much deeper purpose.

We’re just great apes, the ticks we pick are called The Sun, The Mail and The Express, but in the end we just sit around, plucking out vermin. We do this not only because its essential for everyone’s health and sanity but also because it binds us together.

Left Wing blogger in rage at Daily Mail shock: Updated

Its hardly news is it? The Daily Mail’s readers are reactionary bigots.

However, just how shockingly hateful they are is hard to comprehend until you’ve seen their reaction to the death of an immigrant. You worry as soon as you see the title: Migrant found dead in the back of a lorry as it prepares to enter Channel Tunnel (H/T Five Chinese Crackers and Tabloid Watch). But what follows is one of those articles that reveals the Mail does have writers who can write; its not vitriolic, its not angry, its even vaguely concerned. Its the comments that really shock. By now I know they shouldn’t, but they do.

Saved us a house car and free money then.
– martyn robinson, northampton uk, 31/10/2009 09:12

one down, millions to go
– crackers, yorkshire, 31/10/2009 2:42

Good news. One less to worry about!
– keith jones, porthcawl, south wales, 30/10/2009 22:13

Shame but I would be a hypocrit if I said I was sorry!
– Nanny B, West Sussex, 30/10/2009 17:42

At least 115 people have clicked on the green “up” arrow for that top one. 115 people think that this immigrant is better off dead because he was after a “house car [sic] and free money then.”

Mark Twain said that a “lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes” and it seems Carol Malone‘s lie that immigrants are given cars is one of them.

The Mail creates an atmosphere where displaying joy at someone’s death seems appropriate. Often its said that The Mail merely reflects it readers views, and to an extent its true, however The Mail will always run up against a problem. Immigrants aren’t that bad.

Sure some are illiberal nut jobs, but I don’t see anyone arguing for Melanie Philips to be deported (well I do… but that’s besides the point) and some do “scrounge” but the vast majority do not.

In fact, economically they bring benefits, that’s pretty hard to argue with, I’d say impossible. The culture, music and food – especially food – that they bring enriches this country, you’re entitled to disagree but remember this. You’re wrong.

So to get round these simple truths the Mail regularly lies, distorts and misleads, ask Nick Davies if you want to know more. This is the end result. This is the real “Broken Britain,” but I don’t imagine I’ll see much about it in anyones manifesto. Apparently hate sells and more hate gets you elected.

Updates from Five Chinese Crackers.

**UPDATE** It’s lunchtime on Monday, and I’ve been checking in now and again, watching as the comments get red-arrowed by the more sane.  One seems to have been deleted, but it’s not possible to tell which one since the option to view all comments has been disabled.

**UPDATE UPDATE** A few minutes later, and the comments are down to 5.  I can’t imagine they’ll all be there by the end of the day, since ‘One down and quite a few to go’ is still there.

**UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE** Quarter to four and they’re all gone.  Phew!

**UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE** Now two are back.  Including my favourite one about trucks not being searched at border controls.  Genius.

It appears the Mail may have realised not all those visiting the site are frothing racist mouth breathers and have removed some of the content. Wouldn’t want the advertisers taking fright.

Just in case any advertisers were interested in what the Mail chooses juxtapose with their material, there is a picture here of the comments in question (H/T Y Dysgwr Araf and Nic Dafis. Cymru am byth!). Delightful I’m sure you’ll agree, really puts me in the mood to buy stuff.

Courtesy of Y Dysgwr Araf

Courtesy of Y Dysgwr Araf

Give ‘em enough rope

The BNP leader Nick Griffin gave a ridiculous performance on Question Time, it seems too soon to really take stock of what happened, but it looked like car crash from where I was watching.

Later on This Week, Diane Abbott mentioned that it may not look so embarrassing outside of multicultural London, but I’m not so sure. Someone pretending it is illegal to explain their views on the Holocaust doesn’t go down well anywhere.

Neither do I think he looked bullied, everyone was just in shock at the nonsense pouring out of his mouth.

The only weak part of the evening was when the evening turned to immigration. Labour, Lib Dems and Conservative MPs all tried to talk tough sat opposite Nasty Nick.

Has the Government position on immigration helped the BNP? It depends if 5 acts in 12 years is not enough for you. It depends if removing all legal entries to the UK for asylum seekers is too soft for you. It depends if you think immigrants paying 37% more in tax than they claim in benefits, as they did last year, counts as scrounging.

Perhaps the Government has helped the BNP, but not in the way they think it has, judging by the answers given tonight.

Luckily Nick Griffin is a moron, no racist can look otherwise. Give the man enough rope and he’ll hang himself, give him enough airtime and he’ll tie himself in knots.

Platform the Bastard, he hasn’t got a chance.

BBC: UK economy ‘is growing/is still not growing/is shrinking’

Great reporting form the BBC.

Contrary to expectations, the UK economy did not grow in the third quarter of the year, an influential economic group has predicted.

Gross domestic product (GDP) was unchanged from July to September, the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) calculated.

That’s bad news isn’t it? Oh wait a minute.

The NIESR points out that its forecasts tend to be within 0.2 percentage points of the first official estimate from the ONS, which means that it is likely the economy will show either a small amount of growth or decline.

So the story comes down to: “we might be growing, we might not be growing, or we might be doing neither.”

Really enlightening. You may as well read the press release (pdf), at least it has a pretty graph.

Given that at one point the “NIESR incorrectly predicted earlier this year that the downturn ended in March” and in the hope of finding some scoop, I checked the the NIESR figures on their own accuracy.

Annoyingly they are particularly accurate and fair.

The NIESR declare to have an error rate in the region of o.1 to o.2 percent of GDP. Below are figures comparing the quarterly GDP change from the NIESR and the Office for National Statistics.

NIESR        ONS
2008 Q1 +0.7    2008 Q1 +0.8
2008 Q2 -0.1    2008 Q2 -0.1
2008 Q3 -0.7    2008 Q3 -0.7
2008 Q4 -1.8    2008 Q4 -1.8
2009 Q1 -2.5    2009 Q1 -2.4
2009 Q2 -0.6    2009 Q2 -0.8
2009 Q3 0.0    2009 Q3 N/A

At this point this is a non-story but it fits nicely in with the “new” narrative  from the Conservatives’ that “Labour isn’t working”.

This is another example of a story that gets coverage even when it lacks content because it fits within a dominant media narrative.

Labour still isn't working

Still a cunt: Peter Hitchens caught abusing the Holocaust

Yesterday the Irish voted YES to the Lisbon treaty. Septicisle surmises the reaction from the blogosphere [inserted below] but I personally don’t really have an opinion.

On the Irish yes vote to the Lisbon treaty, although some wrote before the result was known,Lenin bemoans the victory for neoliberalism, Bob wonders where this leaves the Tories, as does Jamie, while Nosemonkey critiques the view that having a second vote was undemocratic.

Having studied it at University the only thing I am certain about is that the EU is incredibly boring. So dull I can barely finish this sen…

…where was I? Ah, for the record I am vaguely in favour of supranational institutions but think that the EU is a particularly badly run one. [1] One run in the interests of the few at the expense of the many.

I’m more interested in the thoughts of Peter “if I had come first, it would have been hitchenary not reactionary” Hitchens.

Peter is of course livid that the Irish have voted to adopt the protocols of the Lisbon Treaty. But he decides before attacking the EU, or the treaty, or our own Government, he would attack Jews.EUIRELAND

I don’t think he’s an anti-Semite, Jews are probably one of the few groups towards which he does not regularly pour his vitriol. But this throwaway paragraph really took my breathe away [my emphasis].

The Passport you hold is not British, but European. You are a European citizen. British Embassies are European Embassies – as they already show by flying the EU’s meaningless and tasteless blue and yellow dishcloth.  Shouldn’t somebody have pointed out that in the recent history of the Continent, yellow stars call up only one dismal image, the mass murder of Europe’s Jews.

The jaw dropping ignorance of the man is palpable. The coy manipulation of history is truly sickening.

The holocaust still matters. It is as impossible to understate the horror as it is to visualise the scale of what occurred. And Peter “in fact, just shorten that to Cunt” Hitchens wants to use it to attack the fucking EU?

You might not like the EU, but you do not use the holocaust to attack a fucking flag you don’t think is as good as the Union Flag. That makes you a colossal fucking prick.

Peter Hitchens is one of your common and garden Armchair Imperialists, and I understand his hostility to the EU. Not only that but I can see his target market every time I stumble into an Agricultural Show.

He often claims to be speaking from history – he even approvingly quotes Hugh Gaitskell in this same article – but this vile display of manipulation puts pay to any notion of objectivity or historical insight.

As I’ve written this post I’ve gradually become more and more angry, and have inserted sweary things where once were polite ripostes. Fucking Bastard.

[1] In the EU’s defence, it was one of the first transnational institutions and had to make all the mistakes other learn from.

UPDATE: NoseMonkey has also noticed this ridiculoous article and has rightly pointed out the Peter Hitchens represents exactly what is wrong with Euroskeptics today.

Honduran Coup: Zelaya under siege in Brazilian Embassy

Earlier today forces commanded by interim leader Roberto Micheletti surrounded the Brazilian Embassy (H/T Calvin via Socialist Unity).

At some point in the previous 24 hours the democratically elected leader of Honduras Manuel Zelaya returned and took shelter in the Brazilian Embassy.

Following this reports have become increasingly confused, and little is known for certain. For one thing it is claimed that Zelaya’s arrival was a surprise to those working in the embassy, although he was welcomed.

Nonetheless it is clear where the sympathies of the Brazilian authorities lie. They regard Mr Zelaya as the legitimate president of Honduras and say there is no question of either handing him over to the military forces outside or asking him to leave.

One official told me “he is welcome to stay for as long as he wants”

Hondurans in civil resistance surrounded the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa yesterday to greet their returning president. This morning, coup regime troops attacked them violently, sending 24 wounded to hospitals. D.R. 2009 Mariachiloko, Chiapas Indymedia.

In the short term, the overnight curfew due to last from 4pm to 6am has been extended to 6pm and is expected to last into the night. As pictured, many appear to be in open revolt.

Supplies, power and water have been cut off from the Brazilian Embassy and there is something of a siege situation emerging.

Brazil’s President Lula has called for a cessation of hostilities and the immeidate withdrawl of troops from near the embassy. He has also called for Obama to voice his support for Brazil and Zelaya.

The only anti-coup TV station Channel 36 has gone off the air. Radio Globo’s Internet site is down too. There are also efforts to scramble mobile phone usage.

From Al Giodarno

3:18 p.m.: Micheletti blinks:

Honduras’ de facto leader, Roberto Micheletti, said on Tuesday he has no intention of confronting Brazil or entering its embassy where ousted President Manuel Zelaya has taken refuge to avoid arrest.

“We will do absolutely nothing to confront another brotherly nation. We we want them to understand that they should give him political asylum (in Brazil) or turn him over to Honduran authorities to be tried,” Micheletti told Reuters.

Meanwhile, at least two popular barrios in and around Tegucigalpa have defied, en masse, the curfew order and chased National Police out of their communities: El Pedregal and Colonia Kennedy. They’ve erected barricades and declared the coup regime and its security forces non grata.

More information as it comes in. Narco News will carry more up to date information than I possibly could, subscribe.

Lawsuits from the ’20s/Jackboots from the ’30s

So what do we call these Scum? Anton Vowl asks, what indeed.

The English Defence League claim to have been declared a “proscribed organisation” by the self-proclaimed “anti-establishment” BNP. Yet, their propaganda uses headlines garnered from the mainstream media.EDL

Set up following protests in Luton organised to abuse returning British Soldiers, they are a gang of overwhelmingly (possibly exclusively) white, poor, disaffected football hooligans with a fanatical hatered of Islam.

However rather than being ideological firebrands, the rank and file are apolitical and “their main motivation is actually the beer, camaraderie and chance of a fight.”

Better than Islamists, “brown people” or “foreigners” might be a more apt description for their targets – or it might not – it is quite hard to tell whether their propaganda about targeting “islamification” is genuine or a smokescreen.

Although keen to present themselves as only opposing extremists like Anjem Choudhry, Carl Packman highlights the hostility of the EDL towards all Muslims.

Ray, during the interview conducted by The Stirrer’s editor Adrian Goldberg on Talksport, revealed, however, that it is not just Islamic extremism that he takes a disliking too. The entry explains;

During the course of the interview, it became apparent that Ray’s own view of Islamic extremism isn’t limited to suicide bombers and hook handed preachers of hate.

He argued that the Qu’ran teaches all its advocates to wage jihad or holy war in non-Muslim countries, and acknowledged that on this basis, all devout or practising Muslims in Britain, are – in his words – “at war with our country.”

When pressed, he said:  “They’re ultimately engaged in converting our country to an Islamic state…that is the religious mandate of the Qu’ran that all Muslims must adhere too.”

The organisation, along with another similar Stop the Islamisation of Europe, with divisions all across Europe, has tried its hardest to appear simply against “Islamofascism”, and the apparently slow descent into a totally Islamic state.

A Very 1930s Wardrobe.

Battle of Cable StreetUAF (United Against Fascism) undoubtedly see the EDL as a modern British Union of Fascists, contemporary footsoldiers for the BNP.

In 1936 Oswald Moseley tried to lead his Blackshirts through the Jewish East End of London and was repelled by Jews, Socialists, Irishmen, Anarchists and Londoners. This is the scene UAF and SWP envisage, probably hope for.

This is an unlikely but realistic development from the EDL’s current position. Although the BNP have disowned the EDL – even admonishing them for “marching with negroes” – it seems their mutual disrespect does not extend to Facebook where senior figures remain friends (H/T Eric the Fish).

A modern Battle of Cable Street would not be pretty but it may be on the way. Despite their cowardly exploits so far, it seems the EDL are spoiling for a fight and various Muslim groups are only too keen to give them one.

There is something particularly un-British about Jackboots on cobbled street and it would be hard not to join Lenny’s triumphalism if Cable Street repeated itself. I agree that they must be challenged, but no arguments would be won and it may play directly into the EDL’s arms.

It seems the EDL have struck a chord with some. Their arguments questioning the loyalty of Muslims come not only from their own paranoia and the pages of the Daily Mail, they come from the pages of history too.

A Very 1820s Argument

Anyone who knows anything about the Tudors knows that a lot of Catholics got burnt to death.

Burn Them!

Whether this is entirely accurate or not, it illustrates the difficulties which Catholics have had to endure living in Britain. Since the establishment of the Church of England by Henry VIII Roman Catholicism has been viewed as an existential threat to Britain, and until relatively recently Catholic have been pictured as inferior, feckless and treacherous.

The reasons for this pariah status are many, but the arguments provided then bare a striking symmetry with those deployed by the EDL against Muslims today.

To provide some historical background you have to understand that following the Act of Union between Scotland and England in 1707 the positions of Catholics was enshrined in law as second class citizens. In fact, our constitution still bars them from becoming the Head of State.

Life only began to slowly improve for these poor souls with various Catholic Relief Acts in the 18th Century. While these only allowed them to own property, inherit land and join the army they still provoked riots. While progress had been made since the bonfire-happy 1500s the nineteenth century was still fairly unpleasant place for Catholics.

The slow expansion of the franchise had entirely bypassed Catholics, it was only in the 1829 that the vast majority of the various laws penalising them were repealed. For example, only in the 1830s could they become MPs or senior civil servants.

Catholics and Muslims

First of all, there is the simple pre-existing prejudice that existed and exists against Catholic Irish and Muslim South Asian and Arab immigrants.

It is easy to rationalise hostility to the competing Catholic Irish labour force during the nascent Industrial Revolution, but it is more difficult to explain the brazen Sieg Heils at recent EDL rallies without reaching fairly daming conclusions.

But there are further reasons both groups have faced hostility. These are more complex than simple racism, but can prove just as stubborn to overcome.

Arguments for repressive action against Catholics and Muslims have been couched in terms that portrayed them as a physical threat to the UK. The EDL are quite plain that they consider the recent appearance of Muslims and Mosques an invasion.

The Catholics in early modern Britain were seen as such a threat that Test Acts were introduced in 1672, 1673 and 1678 to “test” those who wished to become public officials. The Long Title of this act was “An act for preventing dangers which may happen from popish recusants.”

The idea of an external Catholic threat to Britain was quite valid at the time, although the threat from actually existing Catholic subjects was negligible.

The King of France had taken in Catholic James II following his overthrow in the Glorious Revolution, and a Catholic invasion was attempted via Ireland soon after. Moreover, the Pope was no mere public figure head in the 17th Century, he was the head of an army and his own Papal states with a penchant for interfering in the affairs of Sovereign nations.

The same challenged is levelled at Muslims today. Under the pretence of helping to avoid another 9/11 or 7/7 Muslims are stigmatised as part of a larger conspiracy just as Catholics were accused of being a part of a “Popish Plot.”

While it probably true that some Catholics were plotting to bomb parliament, just as some Muslims have planned terrorist attacks, it was ludicrous to treat them as second class citizens for the criminal actions of a minority. The threat from a certain tiny number of Muslims has been used and abused to stigmatise the majority. This is as futile now as it was then.

The external threat from Muslims rests on the idea of a unified body politic. Failing this it is argued that Muslims owe a loyalty to the Ummah first, and not their fellow citizens.

The diversity of Shia, Sunni, Sufi and other Muslim sects should be a poweful argument against the idea of any unified force existing, but is seems theology is not be the EDL’s forte.

In retrospect we can see that the contemporary arguments against Catholics seem to hold little more water than their modern equivalents. However, at the time we must remember that there really was a united head of the religion who demanded ultimate loyalty, the Pope.

Of course, for all the theoretical devotion which is demanded by the Ummah – or Pope – the actually existing situation differs greatly from the one proposed by the EDL.

Just as it has proved easy to be Catholics and British, it is equally possible to be Muslims and British.

The arguments that Muslims or Catholics are a threat because they owe a loyalty to something other than the motherland, or fellow citizens, is based on a fundamental misunderstanding. This won’t stop the EDL using it but,  bearing in mind these historical parallels, the majority of the population will not be taken in.

Demographics are Destiny

Ironically, the one thing which made the Catholic’s triumph inevitable has also proved the hardest hurdle for Muslims to overcome: Demographics.

The 1800s saw the Catholic population grow in size, power and influence, while demographic changes did not make the extension of suffrage inevitable it made it possible. Direct action from Daniel O’Connell met broader societal change and helped to smash the old system and bring Catholics into the mainstream.

The paranoia which helped spark the riots which followed the earlier Catholic Relief acts had been disproved by simple experience. The expanding numbers and influence of Catholics was no longer used as reason to mistreat them but as a reason to allow them full rights and respect.

The contemporary account of demographic change is less pleasant. The relative fecundity of Muslims has become a major rallying cry for the EDL. Despite the dodgy figures and sums being debunked the EDL still claim a Muslim takeover is inevitable.

The ideas of a Muslim Majority Europe relies on a series of assumptions so colossal that no demographer worth their salt would back them. Muslim birth rates rarely seen outside rabbit warrens would have to be combined with a lack of integration unheard of outside of southern Spain.

As has been shown time and again, familiarity breeds tolerance and even acceptance.  Today the EDL should be openly challenged, and broader changes in society will do the rest. The numbers of Muslims will increase but not dramatically and the world will not end (personally I hope they see the light and join me in blissful atheism, but that’s for another post).

The changing composition of society proved that Catholics were not bent on world domination and could be trusted. In the following years Catholics made ever greater contribution to society.

Hopefully the same will be said when people look back at this period and the EDL will be relegated to an aside in a footnote on some protests in Luton.

More information on the EDL available from ByrneTofferings and Liberal(Democrat). Pickled Politics, Lenny and Socialist Unity also all carry stories on the EDL. Visit your Pastor for more information on Catholics or email god@heaven.com.

during the interview conducted by The Stirrer’s editor Adrian Goldberg on Talksport, revealed, however, that it is not just Islamic extremism that he takes a disliking too. The entry explains;

During the course of the interview, it became apparent that Ray’s own view of Islamic extremism isn’t limited to suicide bombers and hook handed preachers of hate.

He argued that the Qu’ran teaches all its advocates to wage jihad or holy war in non-Muslim countries, and acknowledged that on this basis, all devout or practising Muslims in Britain, are – in his words – “at war with our country.”

When pressed, he said:  “They’re ultimately engaged in converting our country to an Islamic state…that is the religious mandate of the Qu’ran that all Muslims must adhere too.”

Left Outside Rovers 1 – Littlejohn United 0

Pudding Renamed Spotted Richard

The traditional suet pudding Spotted Dick has been renamed “Spotted Richard” at a council canteen – because customers keep making jokes.

You couldn’t make it up, and I didn’t. Beneath the obvious “PC gone mad” exterior, in reality this is a non-story. Workers in a council canteen decided to put a stop to endless knob gags with a printer, a laminater and 20 minutes spare time. No management were involved, and nothing’s been banned. From the BBC again:

This was not a policy decision, canteen staff simply acted as they thought best to put an end to unwelcome and childish comments, albeit from a very small number of customers.

A couple of days ago I came across this article on the BBC website and it got me wondering, who would this story really interest?

The answer is obvious, and the answer is Richard Littlejohn. There’s only one man who has to turn in 2,000 words a week with only half that number of brain cells.

So imagine my joy when I see this headline. “Killjoy canteen chiefs ban Spotted Dick… and rebrand it as Spotted Richard!” (H/T Stirring up Apathy)

With all the thundering and tedious inevitability of a freight train, Littlejohn took hold of this story and stretched it for all it was worth.

Like Victorian prudes draping a cloth over a well-turned table leg, killjoy canteen chiefs at Flintshire council have banned Spotted Dick.

These Welsh puritans have ordered the name of the popular pudding changed to Spotted Richard. If they knew anything about cockney rhyming slang, they’d have given that a miss, too.

Spotted Richard sounds even less appetising than Spotted Dick. (Richard the Third, madam. Something you wouldn’t want to step on.) Where does this leave cock-a-leekie, let alone coq au vin?

And woe betide anyone who asks for a knob of butter or meat and two veg.

Ignoring the truly dreadful writing style – particularly paragraph three – he crams in a huge amount of vintage Littlejohn too.

  1. They’re “Welsh.” Story about foreigners? Check .
  2. They’re described as “puritans,” when they are clearly just low paid kitchen staff a bit miffed with endless cock jokes. A wilful misrepresentation of the story? Check.
  3. Dick, tehehe. A story which allows a liberal spattering of cock jokes? Check.
  4. Missing the point? Well, if making an endless series of nob gags in a story about people getting annoyed with endless series of nob gags counts, then yes. Check. In fact, this article proves Littlejohn is without doubt exactly the sort of person who prompted this name change in the first place. Double Check.
Although it’s a little unfair as I was the only competitor this week, I am awarding myself a trophy for the first weekly You could make up” awards.
This is my first meme and I hope it catches on. Tag you’re it! Anton Vowl, Upon Nothing, Stirring up Apathy, MacGuffin, Jamie Sport, Five Chinese Crackers, Omni and Eric the Fish what will Littlejohn write about in his next column?
trophy

Bring me the head of Richard Shears

The Daily Mail knows no shame. I was innocently scanning their website, looking for light hearted misogyny and celebrity gossip when this story on Caster Semenaya caught my eye.

The story of the “sex test” Olympic athlete has been in the media a lot in the past few weeks, and I’m not going to pretend that there isn’t a fair amount of public interest in this story, but it takes some bottle to do what The Mail has.

The headline is fairly unambiguous. Gender-row runner Caster Semenya ‘is a hermaphrodite with no womb or ovaries.’ That’s pretty conclusive that she’s “failed” the sex test.

Of course then you notice the old tabloid trick of putting the important information in ‘ ‘ marks so they can plausibly deny reporting it as fact.

That is fairly standard practice now, it wouldn’t shock many and most are wise to this trick. However this later paragraph really stood out, halfway down the page from that headline:

[The Sydney Daily Telegraph] added that Semenya had internal testes – male sexual organs which produce testosterone and which in turn produce muscle bulk, body hair and a deep voice.

Semenya, said the paper, is so far unaware of the tests identifying her as a hermaphrodite.

Without consulting this woman – and I will call her a woman until I’m told otherwise by her – the Daily Mail have seen fit to report the confidential reports of a medical enquiry.

Not only will this report determine her future as an athlete, it may determine her future as a woman. It is treated as flippantly as slagging off Natalie Cassidy or bad mouthing the Roma.

Of course in Richard Shears‘ eyes these aren’t equivalent at all. Stories on gypsies and celebrities get the advertisers interested, they really pull in the punters. Female athletes don’t attract the numbers The Mail needs. However, sneering at an hermaphrodite does the job just perfectly.

Migration is not a crime, but the way it’s discussed is criminal

Carl Packman has very nicely leap frogged from my post to a discussion on the limitation the left faces when discussing immigration. Nice enough for him this is now the second post of his which has been cross posted to LibCon, and as usual for posts on immigration it has incited a very “lively” discussion.

However, it is not the just the left which has difficulty discussing immigration. The right does too, because they just can’t help themselves distorting the truth or outright lying.

As I began to discuss here, talk about immigration in this country is tainted by decades, indeed centuries, of prejudiced stereotypes that are difficult to escape. Unfortunately some papers extend so little effort to escape this regrettable history that numerous blogs have been created to monitor them.

A lack of originality, a surplus of bile

Migration is not a crimeWhat I want to create is a crib sheet for any article you see on immigration, migrants, refugees or asylum by looking at the history of that discussion. Our modern debate on migration has not developed out of a vacuum. In fact, we are forced to watch tedious reruns of discussions concerning Huguenots in the 1680s, Irish migrants in the early 19th Century and Eastern Europeans in the late, Jews in the 1930s and West Indians and South Asians in the 1960 and 70s. As Paul Gilroy describes in There Ain’t no Black in the Union Jack “the wearisome task of dissecting the rhetoric is not helped by its lack of originality: ‘they’ are taking our jobs and houses, using up local resources and undermining ‘our’ culture and, in return, offering ‘us’ disease and terrorism.” However, dissect it we will, again and again, until they fucking learn.

Any immigration story you read in the above papers will be shaped by the groundless assumptions under which the anti-immigrant polemicist operates. These do not pop out of thin air, they are drawn from the past. Pick an article; I will guarantee that it will contain a combination of the below:

The Disloyal Immigrant

This is perhaps the oldest argument of them all. It certainly dates back to the 17th Century. In Catholic France the Huguenots stood out as Protestants and in 1685 the Edict of Nantes was revoked and open season was declared on France’s heretics. They left France for more welcoming shores and arrived in England. [1]

They have since been co-opted as the “good immigrants;” those that integrated, brought valuable skills and blended seamlessly with the indigenous Anglo-Saxon-Norman-Norse-Roman-Celtic population. Those opposed to immigration often make disparaging comparisons with the Huguenots. [2]

In fact the Huguenots were subject to much the same treatment that welcomes modern day refugees, sometimes even worse. They could be subject to double the normal parish dues and national taxes. Petitions were organised against them and their daily lives a constant struggle. The Huguenot’s being refugees inhabited the poorest parts of town, and were soon charged with causing poverty. Even seeking it out in order to undercut the indigenous workforce. These most loyal of migrants were in fact treated like criminals.

This was repeated with each subsequent migration. The most interesting comparison can probably be drawn between Muslims and Catholics. In the early 19th Century the Great Reform Act was in the offing and there was much talk of how far suffrage should be extended. One key sticking point was whether Catholics should have the vote or not. The problem was that a Catholic’s ultimate loyalty was to the pope, not parliament; sound familiar?

The Ummah has been cited as a reason to distrust Muslim immigrants, Muslims in general in fact. This makes about as much sense as denying Catholics the vote, but it won’t stop some people parroting this argument. This is because the migrant must prove their loyalty, they are not innocent, they are guilty until proven otherwise. Even if no one knows guilty of exactly what.

Soft Touch Britain

In the late 1990s William Hague accused New Labour of being “too soft” on immigration. This period saw a marked increase in the number of asylum applications received in the UK and was snatched upon by the press that Britain was being targeting for its benefits system and wide open borders. As early as 2001 the BBC were running myth debunking stories. In fact throughout Europe record numbers of Asylum Seekers were being received. The collapse of Yugoslavia will do that

Even as benefits have been slashed, this discussion has not ended. Even as Labour enacted five Acts on migration and asylum this discussion has not moved on. At the worst of the “asylum crisis” the numbers reaching Britain were comparable to Germany, France or Italy. Rather than being a “soft touch” Britain was finally receiving its fair share of refugees.

There are few things which make me feel patriotic, as a Socialist I’m sure that doesn’t surprise you. But one thing that makes me intensely proud of this country is that up until 1905 we had no immigration controls. None. Nada. Zip. The irony for the casual anti-immigrant-armchair-colonialist is that the height of Soft Touch Britain™ coincided with the height of Empire.

Diseased and sex obsessed migrants

Concentrating on health concerns, the language is unequivocal, “asylum seekers raising HIV risks.” The Times also contributed to the press personification of contemporary immigrants as carriers of disease with it’s that demands for HIV checks for all immigrants, to prevent “draining the resources of the NHS.”

Previously it has been Tuberculosis that has been the immigrants disease of “choice.” The update does nothing to hide the worrying trend to target migrants as a carrier of disease and instigator of national decay. Now from above you can tell the asylum seekers are going to give you AIDS. HIV is a scary illness, but a particularly had one too contract if your not going to share syringes or have sex with those infected.

This is of course irrelevant because the one that has been associated with migrants is sex: a very unBritish thing indeed. By threatening the local population with HIV The Mail and The Times very effectively demonise asylum seekers as either promiscuous or drug users or both.

The links to sexualised black and asian immigrants or the Opium dens of past Chinese immigrants are plain to see; and about as well founded. There is a lot of could, may, might in those articles, and very little proof that migrants are infecting the “indigenous” population.

Criminal immigrants

It seems, shortly after loyalty, firmness, cleanliness and sexual inadequacy, the one thing we British pride ourselves on is our law abiding nature. Migrants, if we judge by the hysterical historical record, are anything but law abiding. The same that was true of anti-Jewish agitation in the 1900s is true today; the lies remain the same too.

Likewise, in the 1970s it became “common sense” that criminality was a distinct way of expressing “Black Culture,” whether it was a Rastafarian smoking marijuana or a black youth mugging someone. Although these crimes were certainly committed by members of this “immigrant group,” this was not in any proportion to the dominance that this issue had in the 1970 and 1980s.

The obsession with crime and the durability of its images are a focus for discussions on national decline. More than that, they are a way of articulating a crisis of national confidence totally separate from the crimes and criminals themselves. After all, the tumult of the 1970s and 1980s had little to do with race.

Lump of Labour/Housing/Hospitals/Women Fallacy

Yes the Jews/Irish/Blacks/Asians/Chinese/Asylum Seekers are taking your Job/House/Woman/Healthcare [delete as applicable]. This theme is no doubt familiar to you.

The economics of migration are fairly clear. Even Migration Watch UK and the infamous James Slack admit that migrants benefit the UK’s economy. It is instructive that the worst claim they can create, using the most miserly figures, is of a modest benefit. The NHS would collapse without migrant labour and it would never have started without the tremendous work of West Indian nurses in the 1950s.

Similarly, the Lump of Labour Fallacy is often displayed when people argue that immigrants are “stealing” jobs. The jobs and wealth created by immigrants, from Huguenot Weavers to Jewish Cabinet makers to Bangladeshi caterers, is ignored.

Although the immigrant “stealing” theme is a fairly large one I will only pass over it briefly, it is so common as to be particularly irritating. I would like to conclude this short section with a personal gripe; by asking those arguing that immigration in the last decade has made housing less affordable: How would reducing the numbers of builders, plasters, plumbers and electricians in this country make it easier to build a house?

Swamped

Perhaps behind all of this is the idea of being “swamped.” Whether on an individual level, like the little old lady in Powell’s “Rivers of Blood” speech, or on a national level, like the paranoia that created this article, swamping is pervasive to discussions of immigration.

Of course over the last couple of thousand years these islands have absorbed millions of migrants, and a sense of continuity  has remained. In the 1680s in a matter of years fully 1% of the population became Huguenot, it sounds like a small number, but far smaller increases cause massive ripples today. These Huguenots have become British.

The same swamping was seen by Powell in the 1960s

Sometimes people point to the increasing proportion of immigrant offspring born in this country as if the fact contained within itself the ultimate solution. The truth is the opposite. The West Indian or Asian does not, by being born in England, become an Englishman. In law he becomes a United Kingdom citizen by birth; in fact he is a West Indian or an Asian still.

…and by Major Evans Gordon of Jews in East London in the 19th Century…

East of Aldgate one walks into a foreign town. [The modern englishman lived] under the constant danger of being driven from his home, pushed out into the streets not by the natural increase of our own population but by the off-scum of Europe

It wasn’t true in the 17th century, nor in the 18th, nor in the 19th, nor in the 20th. The 21st century is certainly no different. But this “swamping” theme will be repeated ad nauseam, unless we challenge it.

Immigrant Bingo

Now we have tackled those basic assumptions we can move onto the language and imagery which is used. These can be used to spot which of the above ignorant preconceptions are the inspiration for the article you are reading. They are like a tell that a poker play just can’t hide. And they also make for an excellent bingo game. Cards at the ready:

Tabloid Bingo

I’m not going to argue that because some of the arguments descend from xenophobic drivel that they are essentially racist; I’m sure sometimes it is just coincidence. What offends me is the acceptance that this is the best way to discuss immigration. That the above assumptions form the basis for any discussion on immigration in our press or parliament would be a colossal national disgrace if things were not worse elsewhere.

This could be a fairly dry essay on the history of our national debate on migration. I have several thousands words written on the subject and just two thousand of the multitude are here. But just illustrating the pattern and repetition of the same tedious lies and distortions is not enough. We need to be able to combat it. This post is meant to provide people with a tick list to check and a way to say, “actually that was bollocks then and it’s bollocks now.”

[1] As an aside, there is a mosque on Brick Lane that used to be a Huguenot church. Later it became a Methodist chapel and later still a Synagogue, before finally becoming the Mosque you find there now. With each new migration migrants find their niché.

[2] In the same way, modern asylum seekers are castigated as being less deserving than the Jews fleeing Nazism, despite this being manifestly untrue.

________

For the record, philosophically I am for almost total free movement of people. I will outline why at a later date, but for the moment Paul offers quite a good discussion why a Socialist must fight for the rights of migrants. Funnily enough, this Paul does as well arguing against the arbitrary benefits of birth.

However, pragmatically (i.e. what I think can be achieved in the next 10 years) I am for a similar regime for economic migrants as is in place now, and a massive resettlement plan for refugees from all over the world.

This is a piss poor compromise and one I may have to reconsider, but I do think restrictions are inevitable while the world is so dangerous and while people are worried by the unknown. However, one thing I’m not going to compromise on is refugees, I wish the same could be said for this Government.

The best books to consult are Matthew J Gibney’s The Ethics and Politics of Asylum: Liberal Democracy and the Response to Refugees and Bloody Foreigners: The Story of Immigration to Britain by Robert Winder. The first is essential reading for those of an academic bent, but Robert Winder provides a good journalistic overview of immigration throughout Britain’s history.

Holiday Reading Meme

Bosh! I’ve been tagged by a meme. After five months of blogging Dave Semple has very kindly tagged me with my first.

It’s taken me a while to get to it but as I sit here, drying out from an ill considered kick-about in the rain, I think it is at the end of holiday season that it is the perfect time to review my reading.

If you click here you’ll be redirected to a more or less comprehensive list of what I’ve read in over the summer, but if that doesn’t interest you – and why would it? – read on for my book review.

Bit of a Blurbit of a blur by Alex James

I could quite easily (or not so easily) review Anna Karenina or Capitalism and Freedom but that wouldn’t nearly be as fun and I wouldn’t add anything particularly new or interesting to what’s already been said. But Bit of a Blur is about on my level.

“Bit of a Blur” is magisterial in it’s decadence and reminded me that I am only writing a politics blog because I never made it as a musician. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always loved politics and was always slightly hurt by the idea that “politics is showbusiness for ugly people” but you can’t read this book without realising you really really really wanna be Jim Morrisey.

Alex James wastes little time on his upbringing before getting to the really good bit about being a rock star: The utterly pointless self-indulgence

I’ve spent a million pounds on champagne and cocaine. It sounds ridiculous but, looking back, I don’t regret it. It was definitely the right thing to do. It was completely decadent, but I was a rock star, after all, a proper one with a public duty to perform.

There’s also the time he decided to learn to fly and bought his band mate “Dave the drummer”‘s spare plane, as you do. This book is alive with stories that make you realise how fun life can when you are (willingly) unaware of the hardships others live through and your income is not restricted to call centre wages.

Of course it’s not all fun. You can’t read this without feeling sorry for his long suffering girlfriend Justine. She put up with a lot of arrogant rock star behaviour beyond mere adultery. And yet you can’t help but be drawn in by James’ delivery even as he has treated his girlfriend so badly. Their heart-wrenching break up is related as the thing which James “judges all other pain against.”

Good is not the word for it, it’s pure entertainment. But in reality I’m not sure I’m jealous. I’m not a rock star, I am writing a political blog and I’m not unaware of the darkside of the world James inhabited.

From the dreadful recording contract Blur are drafted into to the amount of Cocaine that drifted up James’ nose you can’t miss the fucked up politics and economics of this world.

My opinion on illegal drugs has been party covered here; in short they should be legal, regulated, taxed and enjoyed.

The fact that the supply chain for Cocaine glistens with blood means that I can’t ever imagine myself in James’ position and nor would I want to.

In his defence he was too wrapped up in his own ego at the time to realise what was happening, and he has made some effort to understand the situation since going straight.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough but the lifestyle I can do without. As much as it is nice to read about someone living like that I think I know too much to do it myself .

Holiday Reading

What have I read? I’m sure I’ve forgotten some but I think the fiction to non-fiction ratio is correct. Writing a political blog will do that, if you’re not careful, all your reading becomes research. Well, I’ll start with non-fiction in no particular order.

And the fiction too:

All of these link to Amazon but that doesn’t mean I want you to shop there.  As much as I would love a lucrative career plugging their service I do actually have a better idea. Go here, get it and never pay over the odds for anything again.

Invisible Hand scans t’interweb, finds the best price and then lets you know where your book, CD or DVD is available cheapest. Genius!

I won’t tag anyone, I don’t want to remind them that holidays seem well and truly behind us.

Autumn

Dan Hannan, Enoch Powell, Volcanoes and the Daily Mail

Powell seems to be quite the rage at the moment. After publicity whore Tory MEP Dan Hannan cited Enoch Powell as one of his key influences nobodies seems to be able to stop talking about either of them.

powell

Powell has been painted a racist, and it is clear that some people think that Hannan is trying to use a “racist dog whistle” to bolster his growing profile. Like adding sodium to water, one thing is certain, Hannan never fails to produce a explosive reaction.

On one hand there is the corrosiveness of introducing Powell to any debate, given his reputation, but as Mark Thompson successfully argues diatribes like Sunny’s may be counter productive, only narrowing the political debate in this country. Speaking as an extremist, I don’t want extremists silenced.

In the end, Guido has actually spoken to Hannan and cites his earlier telegraph article as evidence that Hannan rejects Powell’s position on immigration. The below exchange is what has caused all the current heat.

Q: “Who are your political influences? I’ve seen you reference Ron Paul, I believe you have referenced Hayek and Friedman on your blog.

Hannan: “Yeah, all of those guys…In the British context, Enoch Powell. He was somebody who understood the importance of national democracy, who understood why you need to live in an independent country and what that meant, as well as being a free marketeer and a small government Conservative.”

I am fairly convinced of Hannan’s Friedmanite stand on immigration. If it’s not considered damning with faint praise, he’s definitely more liberal than Phil Woolas. Ultimately, I think this  situation may boil down to one of three things. Either it proves once and for all that Hannan is simply a publicity seeking egotist; it shows that for all his posturing he is still a political novice, or it shows that there is still a great deal of unsavoury things we do not know about Mr Hannan. I’d plump for a little from column a) and a little from column b).

However, what this situation does provide is an excellent chance to look at how Powell has affected and reflects the way we discuss immigration. And how in the decades of change and progress since, a great deal has remained the same.

National Front

Sadly, a frightening similarity exists between the way immigrants were discussed in the bad old days of the 60s and 70s and the contemporary speeches of our Labour Government, their opposition and the press which was meant to protect us.

Most interesting is the similarities between the language used in Powell’s “Rivers of Blood” speech, and the Eastborne speech discussed by Sunder, and the language used by our modern press.

In the 1960’s race played an important role in the political debate and contemporary politics is no less enthralled to the more amorphous topic of “immigration.” In the 1960s “wide-grinning piccaninies” molested old ladies and Powell declared Britain “mad, quite mad” to allow so many immigrants to enter. In contemporary Britain asylum seekers and refugees from around the world are not quite met with such blatant racism, nevertheless, the diverse language used to describe these immigrants is frighteningly similar to the language used four decades ago.

You only have to browse The Sun Lies, The Enemies of Reason, Tabloid Watch, Angry Mob and so on, to see just how poisonous the national debate on immigration and race still is. But, this post is not going to look at any “new” stories, the purpose of this post is to look at what old stories they are still reporting.

Tony Benn – “Enoch Powell is raising the flag of racialism over Wolverhampton, a flag which is beginning to look suspiciously like the one that fluttered over Dachau and Belsen”

In Wolverhampton in 1968 Powell begins the speech, which was to see him pushed of the Tory front bench, with an anecdote, in which he talks with an “ordinary” man, who describes his fears for the country. This culminates in the peculiar prophesy that “in fifteen or twenty years’ time the black man will have the whip hand over the white man.” In a later speech Powell again switches the relation between Empire and colony:

It is… truly when he looks into the eyes of Asia that the Englishman comes face to face with those who would dispute with him the possession of his native land.

The imperial imagery is not mere rhetoric, in Powell’s view England should only ever be presented as strong, masculine and dominant. Powell’s world revolved around an England which remained unchanged, and immigrants are presented as unassailably un-English. By reversing the imperial imagery he none too subtly links immigration with national decline. And later uses this to link national restoration to the repatriation of immigrants.

National decline was a hot topic in the 1960s and is only slightly less prominent today. However, modern narratives tend to focus on a nation declined, not a nation in decline. Immigrants still feature prominently in this narrative.

Worryingly, before I even arrive at the Tabloids there is a vile example equating immigration with national decline from a paper in the aledged “quality” press. As Anton Vowl describes, The “Telegraph can’t be bothered with dog-whistles; [so it] goes for straight racism.” The story in question argues for a “middle-class baby boom” to correct some sort of balance.The message is clear, the “wrong sort” of people are having babies, immigrants and the poor, and they are going to ruin everything. Much in the same vein as Powell’s prediction 40 years ago.

Of course there are further examples of this. Five Chinese Crackers offers an excellent take on the Express and Mail fitting unyielding facts to their own narrative. The Office of National Statistics has recently brought out figures on immigration, births, deaths and population; these show the UK population hitting 61 million for the first time. The upshot of this is – immigrants now appear to be leaving as we have entered recession and there are no jobs, they are not “benefits scroungers,” net immigration is at a 10 year low, and predictions of a Muslim takeover were and remain based on ludicrous demographic assumptions.

However, in an effort to squeeze an anti-immigration story out of these figures both the Mail and the Express have created an “Immigrant Baby Boom.” Just as in the 60s children or “dependants” are depicted as a time bomb waiting to sabotage “our” national heritage. The implicit assumption here is that 2nd generation immigrants (or as I like to call them British people) may be fellow residents, but the are still just another immigrant. The not so implicit message here is not far from Powell’s declaration that:

The West Indian or Asian does not, by being born in England, become an Englishman. In law he becomes a United Kingdom citizen by birth; in fact he is a West Indian or an Asian still.

Floods and Influxes

Rhetoric about floods and swamps of immigrants (or Asylum Seekers) is not new before Powell, Duncan Sandys, a Conservative MP, called for “turning off the tap” on immigration; moreover, Powell himself said that the flow of Commonwealth immigration would never go away and that “turning the inlet tap down or off” could never be the solution.The language of “floods” or “influxes” will be familiar to those with any passing reference to our Forth Estate; for example here, here and here.

The language of floods and influxes extends to all corners of the national debate on immigration and race. In the early 1970s in response to Idi Amin’s expulsion of the Ugandan Asians, The Telegraph said that a “further large influx of coloured immigrants to Britain is wholly undesirable on social grounds.”

The language used suggests that immigration controls are a restraint on an indeterminate flood of immigrants who wish to enter. It has been pointed out repeatedly, and research confirms this, that migrants largely travel to where there is work. They also travel, not in floods, but in brave expeditions, with only a few members of an given population likely to take the colossal risk.

Modern discourse on immigrants has gained new intensity as asylum seekers are denounced as bogus. As Paul Gilroy describes in There Ain’t no Black in the Union Jack “the wearisome task of dissecting the rhetoric is not helped by its lack of originality: ‘they’ are taking our jobs and houses, using up local resources and undermining ‘our’ culture and, in return, offering ‘us’ disease and terrorism.”

I hope Everyone’s got Volcano Insurance

From the outset the Labour government of Tony Blair had made clear its attitudes towards asylum seekers. The tiny British overseas territory of Montserrat was being threatened by the impending eruption of a volcano, and help was not forthcoming. As an island with the same territorial status as the Falklands, the islanders expected help as unquestionably genuine refugees; however, Britain regarded their pleas as a nuisance. No effective measures were enacted to aid travel to Britain, but those islanders which eventually arrived were seen as a burden, Clare Short [Minister of State for Overseas Aid and Development] described their petition for help after a Volcano shattered their island as akin to asking for “golden elephants.” The continuity in bigotry obviously made its mark on policy for this Labour Government.

There are some worrying similarities between the language used in Powell’s era and today, but also some interesting differences too. The most striking similarity is the continued use of language presenting immigrants as both a drain and a burden. Powell presented immigrants as parasitic on locales previously pleasant, and the government of 1997 clearly resented the legitimate needs of the Montserrat residents, comparing them to asking for help with asking for “golden elephants.”

There is a good reason to be worried about the continuity in our public discourse from those dangerous days. The threat of fascism has returned with two MEPs elected and Daily Mail articles are now used as BNP propaganda. Unfortunate, there are differences which signal a worse deal for some of the most vulnerable. In the case of Ugandan Asians government and opposition spoke of a “clear obligation” to help, once the horror of Amin’s regime was revealed. Now, even British subjects threatened by volcanoes cannot expect help, and refugees who do make it to Britain can expect to be labelled as illegal immigrants, or “bogus” asylum seekers.

Discussing immigration is difficult in this country, often it descends into one side calling the other racists. Or more commonly, a writer beginning a piece by stating that it is no longer possible to discuss immigration in this country, without being accused of being a racist. I don’t think that this is a particularly healthy way to conduct debate.

What I hope to have shown is that the way immigrants are represented and discussed now, bares a scary resemblance to how they were discussed when racism and bigotry was unashamedly on show. Any discussion on immigration in this country is poisoned by this. You cannot blindly argue that avoiding the race of an immigrant means avoiding the racism of the way you present them, the two remain intertwined.

My second Quail: ID’s ridiculous, what sort of official document wouldn’t have a Union Jack on it?

Today I got to work early and accidentally picked up my friend’s copy of The Sun. I read this article and I started to feel a rage building inside me. Next time I get to work early, I’m just going to start work early.

ID’s ridiculous, what sort of official document wouldn’t have a Union Jack on it?

Alan Johnson ID cardAlan Johnson has today been slammed for his unpatriotic and craven appeal to the Socialists who hate our country. Today it was revealed that new national ID cards would no longer proudly display the Union Jack. The move was ordered to avoid upsetting groups who may not identify with the UK symbol, officials admitted.

SLAMMED

The old design featured a Union Jack in the top right corner, as all official documents should. But the new cards have been altered in an attempt to pander to the “rights” of “minorities.” The Sun today submitted its own design for ID cards which is shown below.

SUN ID

Rent-a-Quote Nigel Farage applauded the decision not to put the EU flag on the card but said the “Union flag should be displayed, it’s what Churchill would have done.” The cards, which once featured heavily in the Government’s anti-Terrorism plans were thought essential in preventing future atrocities. However, the plan to make them compulsory has since been scrapped.

FLAG

The Government has been accused of doing nothing more than making loud noises in support of the British people, and this latest fiasco proves it. Future home secretary Chris Grayling accused ministers of lacking pride in the nation’s flag.

He intoned: “If the Government don’t even have enough pride in our national flag to put it on an ID card that nobody wants then they really are out of touch with the national mood.” He added “the British people don’t mind a massive waste of money, so long as it has a flag on it.”

LOUD NOISES

This minor Quail asks, in a nation of patriots, what sort of National Identity document wouldn’t have a Union Jack on it?

Hey, you! Put down that Passport! No, of course it doesn’t matter that your Passport doesn’t have a Union Jack in it. Ignore those rational thoughts: this is an outrage because we say so.

Beware the Spinal Trap

Simon Singh, a well know science writer, is currently being sued for libel by the British Chiropractic Association. Below is the article which has provoked this case.

I would like to follow those at Shiraz Socialist, The Ministry of Truth, Jack of Kent, (who has some fantastic coverage on the case) and all the others who have republished this article in solidarity.

Beware the spinal trap

Some practitioners claim it is a cure-all, but the research suggests chiropractic therapy has mixed results – and can even be lethal, says Simon Singh.

You might be surprised to know that the founder of chiropractic therapy, Daniel David Palmer, wrote that ‘99% of all diseases are caused by displaced vertebrae’. In the 1860s, Palmer began to develop his theory that the spine was involved in almost every illness because the spinal cord connects the brain to the rest of the body. Therefore any misalignment could cause a problem in distant parts of the body.

In fact, Palmer’s first chiropractic intervention supposedly cured a man who had been profoundly deaf for 17 years. His second treatment was equally strange, because he claimed that he treated a patient with heart trouble by correcting a displaced vertebra.

You might think that modern chiropractors restrict themselves to treating back problems, but in fact some still possess quite wacky ideas. The fundamentalists argue that they can cure anything, including helping treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying – even though there is not a jot of evidence.

I can confidently label these assertions as utter nonsense because I have co-authored a book about alternative medicine with the world’s first professor of complementary medicine, Edzard Ernst. He learned chiropractic techniques himself and used them as a doctor. This is when he began to see the need for some critical evaluation. Among other projects, he examined the evidence from 70 trials exploring the benefits of chiropractic therapy in conditions unrelated to the back. He found no evidence to suggest that chiropractors could treat any such conditions.

But what about chiropractic in the context of treating back problems? Manipulating the spine can cure some problems, but results are mixed. To be fair, conventional approaches, such as physiotherapy, also struggle to treat back problems with any consistency. Nevertheless, conventional therapy is still preferable because of the serious dangers associated with chiropractic.

In 2001, a systematic review of five studies revealed that roughly half of all chiropractic patients experience temporary adverse effects, such as pain, numbness, stiffness, dizziness and headaches. These are relatively minor effects, but the frequency is very high, and this has to be weighed against the limited benefit offered by chiropractors.

More worryingly, the hallmark technique of the chiropractor, known as high-velocity, low-amplitude thrust, carries much more significant risks. This involves pushing joints beyond their natural range of motion by applying a short, sharp force. Although this is a safe procedure for most patients, others can suffer dislocations and fractures.

Worse still, manipulation of the neck can damage the vertebral arteries, which supply blood to the brain. So-called vertebral dissection can ultimately cut off the blood supply, which in turn can lead to a stroke and even death. Because there is usually a delay between the vertebral dissection and the blockage of blood to the brain, the link between chiropractic and strokes went unnoticed for many years. Recently, however, it has been possible to identify cases where spinal manipulation has certainly been the cause of vertebral dissection.

Laurie Mathiason was a 20-year-old Canadian waitress who visited a chiropractor 21 times between 1997 and 1998 to relieve her low-back pain. On her penultimate visit she complained of stiffness in her neck. That evening she began dropping plates at the restaurant, so she returned to the chiropractor. As the chiropractor manipulated her neck, Mathiason began to cry, her eyes started to roll, she foamed at the mouth and her body began to convulse. She was rushed to hospital, slipped into a coma and died three days later. At the inquest, the coroner declared: ‘Laurie died of a ruptured vertebral artery, which occurred in association with a chiropractic manipulation of the neck.’

This case is not unique. In Canada alone there have been several other women who have died after receiving chiropractic therapy, and Edzard Ernst has identified about 700 cases of serious complications among the medical literature. This should be a major concern for health officials, particularly as under-reporting will mean that the actual number of cases is much higher. If spinal manipulation were a drug with such serious adverse effects and so little demonstrable benefit, then it would almost certainly have been taken off the market.

Simon Singh is a science writer in London and the co-author, with Edzard Ernst, of Trick or Treatment? Alternative Medicine on Trial. This is an edited version of an article published in The Guardian for which Singh is being personally sued for libel by the British Chiropractic Association. Read the uncensored article here.

sciencelibel

Inheritance and Entrepreneurship Fail

Entrepreneurs are great. The fact that Dragon’s Den makes great TV and that Joseph Schumpeter thought they were great more or less confirms it.

The Other TaxPayers' Alliance, <em>our</e> TaxPayers' Alliance

The Other TaxPayers' Alliance, our TaxPayers' Alliance

Most in a society will always tend to favour a safe, pleasant life, if they can get it. So individuals who act to take risks and experiment are vital. By taking risks and attempting to innovate entrepreneurs add value to the world around them. They help create new technologies or organisational structures which change the way we live our lives. Ultimately they help unleash the storms of Creative Destruction which have helped create the tremendous wealth we see around us. Even as the price for this has been tremendous suffering. [1]

The TaxPayers’ Alliance have a new report which attempts to attack Inheritance tax from a new angle. They have proposed that our Inheritance Tax is a bar to entrepreneurship and job creation. In a recession, job creation is vital to recovery and so this tax and they argue this tax should be scrapped. This is a nonsense argument for a number of reasons.

Won’t someone please think of the Children

Firstly we will consider their argument that Inheritance Tax reduces the incentive to experiment, invest and save because it reduces the amount you can pass on to your children. This argument is dealt with well here and here. The TaxPayer’s Alliance claim that taxation on income, savings and inheritance lead to an effective tax rate of 90% and reduce the incentive to interest, start a business or innovate within an existing one.

Anyone who knows any entrepreneurs or the literature on entrepreneurship in general, will know that analysis of future inheritance tax rates rarely figure in the list of reasons businesses are started. You don’t consider your death before you have even lived.

Dropping bags of Money from Hearses

A second argument which has been proposed is that Inheritance is an effective method for providing low cost capital for business start ups. Forgive me for saying this of the TaxPayer’s Alliance (who I lampooned here and there only today) but there is a reasonable level of logic behind this argument.

It has been suggested by Dani Rodrik and James Galbraith and others that the market produces less entrepreneurs than is optimal. In other words, investment for entrepreneurs is undersupplied because, although the benefits are widespread, those who invest are not able to capitalise on all of this increase in wealth. Investors therefore do not provide as much capital as is best for society overall.

However there is no evidence or theory which suggests that allocating resources at random throughout the population, by virtue of birth alone, is a better way of stimulate entrepreneurship than a more redistributive system. The TaxPayers’ Alliance propose that creating a tiny minority of arbitrarily enriched individuals will boost entrepreneurship in the most efficient way. This is not ture.

It is, in fact, yet another reason to ask:  Who fund the TaxPayers’ Alliance? What are their links to the Tory Party? Why don’t they target corporate tax avoidance? Why are they so obsessed with Inheritance Tax when it affects only 6% of estates? And why don’t they stop pretending to represent you and I?

[1] Unfortunately, one factor which is always ignored by the pro-entrepreneur anti-redistribution right is that those employed by entrepreneurs are taking every bit as much a risk as the entrepreneur themselves. If a company fails then employees are in almost as precarious a position as the entrepreneur. Conversely, if a company is a success then they usually obtain at best a very minor share of the payout.

My First Quail: 150,000 ‘SOFT’ JOBS TO SLASH DOLE QUEUES

The Daily Quail has requested help in his quest to safe guard GREAT (not rubbish) BRITAIN. So I thought I would have a little go myself. This article was submitted to the Quail’s site and is reproduced here.

The original story comes from The Daily Express and discusses a new Government creation scheme. Regardless of the merits of Government job  schemes, it seems that social workers and carers are still fair game for the Express, being particularly “soft” jobs.

150,000 ‘SOFT’ JOBS TO SLASH DOLE QUEUES

Social Workers? Scroungial Workers more like

Social Workers? Scroungial Workers more like

TENS of thousands of “soft” public-sector jobs are being created in a £1billion Government scheme to provide work for the feckless unemployed.

In a perverse attempt to further frustrate the fine traditions of Great Britain a total of 150,000 taxpayer funded jobs are to be created for lazy layabouts, who probably don’t want them anyway. All paid for by you.

Ridiculously easy jobs are to be created under a Government scheme which is being spearheaded by Yvette Cooper.

The jobs created will include meddling Social Workers, Teaching Assistants with cushy holidays and Carers who only have to wipe arses and take care of the most needy in society. The TaxPayers’ Alliance has called the creation of these jobs “indulgent.”

The TaxPayers’ Alliance continued: “The public sector has failed to cut back in the recession.” They continue “soft jobs like Social Workers or Home Carers would be indulgent even in good economic times, let alone in the current climate. When times are tough we have to make sure they are even tougher for the poor and the vulnerable.”

To Vote or not to Vote; that is the Question

It is, for me, the first Total Politics Top Blogs 2009 poll. And what a fracas it has caused already. There have been impassioned pleas for a total Boycott and there have been skin crawlingly supplicant attempts to harvest my vote.

Vote for Me

Tim Ireland implores me to boycott this Poll of Blogs. The argument for a Boycott is fairly straight forward. First of all there is the fact that Iain Dale is a vile hate merchant. That may sound polemic, but look at this. What sort of a man wants to whip up anti-immigrant feeling like that? Who would want to lie so brazenly? Someone looking to score cheap political points off the most brow beaten and vulnerable people in society.

Moreover, some bloggers who I really respect are also Boycotting this poll (not to say I don’t respect Tim Ireland). Anton Vowl of the enemies of reason fame. Anton explain why he holds Mr Dale is such contempt.

Here’s a man, after all, who said there were ‘no border controls’. A man who vilified Tory MP James Gray, whom he doesn’t like, when he was *falsely* accused of having claimed a remembrance wreath on expenses, yet said nothing when Boris Johnson, whom he does like, actually *did* claim a remembrance wreath on expenses.

Ouch Iain… Ouch indeed. Secondly, another post over at Bloggerheads also gives a very good summary of why Iain Dale’s Poll is a actually just a Poll of Conservative Voter opinion. When two polls are taken, one by an “impartial” politics magazine and another by a partisan conservative blog, and both return almost identical results you have to discuss the validity of their methods. Ultimately, it appears, a vote in this Poll could become a vote to validate the result of an inevitably right-leaning poll and legitimise the ramblings of a right-leaning man.

So, why should you Boycott this Poll? I’ll let Tim have the final word.

Well, let me put it this way:

1. Iain Dale is a lying, self-publicising blog-cheat who knowingly uses smears against his political enemies. Why should you reward him with the status this poll affords him?

2. The poll is (and always has been) sponsored by APCO Worldwide, a pro-tobacco PR company with a history of astro-turfing. Why should you lend credibility to a sponsor that engages in activities most bloggers regard to be abhorrent?

On the other hand, there are plenty of bloggers who I also respect who are taking part. Dave Semple over at Though Cowards Flinch can hardly be described as pandering to a right wing crowd and he is taking part. The Third Estate also get in on the act, as does Charlotte Gore.

So if Iain Dale is such a hate figure for many in the blogoshpere why is this Poll popular? Well, if there’s one thing which Bloggers love it is people listening to them. Or at least visiting their blogs so that they think people are listening to them. And this poll caters to their vanity. As much as I agree with some of the reasons for Boycotting this poll I don’t think it’s enough to stop me joining in. I love a good old fashioned popularity contest.

So, who have I voted for?

  1. Liberal Conspiracy
  2. The Bickerstaffe Record
  3. The Third Estate
  4. John Q Publican
  5. Obsolete
  6. The Daily Quail
  7. Though Coward Flinch
  8. Upon Nothing
  9. The Daily (Maybe)
  10. A Very Public Sociologist

This doesn’t nearly cover all the Blogs I like, or read, or use for their weekly selected reading, or… well you get the picture.

There are definitely some Blogs which only just missed out. Some great stuff written over at Lenin’s Tomb, Shiraz Socialist, The Ministry of Truth, Pickled Politics, The Enemies of Reason (not in my top ten for obvious reasons), Various Philosophies of Cynicism, The Sun Lies, Freemania, Himmelgarten Café, Libertatrian Lib Dem Charlotte Gore, Libertarian Son of a Bitch Old Holborn (usually talks utter nonsense, but is an interesting window into angry anti-politics), Bob from Brockley, the excellent Penny Red and the hilarious spEak You’re bRanes to name but fourteen more.

Oh yes and before I forget, vote for me!

Vote for Me

Selected Reading 19/07/09 UPDATED

I’ve just spent a fantastic afternoon at the races. I won a magnificent total of £5.60 from the £18 I put on… so maybe some more practice necessary. It’s Sunday and time for some selected reading.

That’s your fill for now. Happy blogging guys!

UPDATE: Fantastic article from Cath Elliott at LibCon on The BNP’s lies in Norwich North