It was with incredulity that I read the reports of that David Miranda, partner of the Guardian journalist who worked on the Snowden leaks, was detained by UK agents for 9 hours under anti-terrorism legislation. (In what sense is Snowden related to terrorism, anyway?)
It felt like when I was back in my teens, when the government attempted to ban books and every CND or anti-fascist march I went on (most weekends) would be surrounded by police photographing all the marchers, and every newsletter I received from the British Communist Party was mysteriously opened in transit.
The Thatcher years were dark times for real liberals – the neocons were economic “liberals” but social authoritarians (see Section 28 as an example), and I hoped that the UK was getting better when Blair came to power. Ha!
I used to switch voting between the Labour and Liberal parties, in order to ensure the Tories stayed out. Eventually, I decided I couldn’t vote Labour again while those who supported introducing ID cards were in its hierarchy. For people my age (who grew up in the 70s, just 20 years after the end of WW2), a representative of the state murmuring “papers, please” in a film was a short-cut for Soviet or Nazi state. I’ve always been proud that in the UK, if I’m lawfully going about my business, no-one has a right to ask me to prove who I am. (Of course, if I had been a young black man, the Sus law would have been my nemesis).
But now we have a government made of a coalition of the Liberal Party and the Conservatives that seems to me even more authoritarian. The Conservatives constantly bang on about “rolling back the state”, but that is a smokescreen for ideological dismantling of state benefits, of planning regulations and of redistribution of wealth. The state increasingly meddles in the lives of people in the UK, even though the government promised
I used to mock Americans who were programmed to believe their government was corrupt and intrusive. Of course, that can lead to weirdos in the mountains with huge caches of legal guns, or the absurdities of an American friend of mine who told me once that she had no moral obligation to pay any tax while bemoaning the fact that there is no NHS in the USA.
But I’m starting to feel that the Americans who are healthily suspicious of government have a point. Just as any company in a capitalist economy tends to monopoly (the imperative to maximise profit and marketshare inexorably points that way), it seems that, without proper check and balances, all government tends towards authoritarianism.
It’s obvious that in the UK we no longer have the correct checks and balances. “They” do as they please, because we – and “they” – have forgotten that they work for us, and are not our masters. This doesn’t feel as the UK should. We, the people, need to declare a war on authoritarianism.
I’m deeply concerned at the scope-creep of these policies. We all oppose obscene images of children and rape. But those are illegal, and filtered, already. Is it true that we will have to opt-in to “extremist” material, and material on “smoking”? Who decides what is “extremist”?
I urge you to oppose this censorship by the back door, and I hope you’ll raise it in parliament, which is the proper place to debate such matters.
To Mr Hemming’s credit, his reply came after a couple of hours:
My understanding is that the proposals relate to the default or factory settings of the domestic broadband router. I don’t think anyone has a problem with this.
Why not write to your MP? Hopefully you’ll get a more sympathetic response.
Added 17 August 2013: I’ve just had an hour long meeting with my MP, John Hemming (both of us lying on his floor as his back was gone, and it was weird for me to sit while he lay) about the plans for a UK-wide Web filter. He agrees with me that it’s a civil liberties problem, and we’ll work together to campaign against it. More detail later.
I lived in Istanbul for a couple of years and love the city enormously, so have been glued to the coverage of the Istanbul protests (revolution?) over the last few days.
It started out as a peaceful sit-in by some citizens who were angry over plans to redevelop one of the few remaining green spaces in the city (the population of which has increased tenfold between 1950 and 2000). Heavy-handed policing brought more people out into the streets. This cartoon (circulated by a Turkish friend) illustrates this well:
When I lived in Turkey (in the mid nineties) the police were a law unto themselves. Every month they’d come to the bar where we English teachers hung out to demand on-the-spot “fines” for our not having passports (they knew that the passports were taken away for weeks by the grindingly bureaucratic work permit authorities). When a bomb planted by the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) exploded, my Kurdish girlfriend hid in the house for a week; she explained that the police would beat or rape local Kurdish people. Forced virginity tests were common.
So what do the protestors in Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir want? It seems (bucking the comfortable Western narrative) that this group of young muslim people aren’t reactionary zealots. Sumandef, a Turkish woman writing in English on her blog post What is Happenning in Istanbul? says what many of those interviewed on TV and friends of mine say:
By so called «complaining» about my country I am hoping to gain:
Freedom of expression and speech,
Respect for human rights,
Control over the decisions I make concerning my on my body,
The right to legally congregate in any part of the city without being considered a terrorist.
To all who are protesting in Turkey (or anywhere else) against authoritarians who wish to tell us how to live our lives, I wish you safety, and success.
When the horsemeat scandal was all over the papers showing that lots of readymade and fast food is really nasty, I said to some friends that I was glad that my family always buys real meat, and fresh vegetables and prepare them ourselves (we don’t do it to save money, we just hate junk food). Some of my friends told me that’s because I’m comparatively well-off and that many poorer people can’t afford to do that.
I decided to cost up a favourite meal of ours: free-range roast chicken with all the trimmings: roast potatos, roast pumpkin, carrots, parsnips and frozen peas (life’s too short to shell peas). We also had Yorkshire pudding, even though this shocks traditionalists who clam they exclusively accompany beef.
This easily serves five (including two ravenous teenagers) so that generally we don’t need an evening meal if we eat this at lunchtime.
This makes the ingredients, fuel and wine cost £13.51, or £2.70 a head. I can’t find the pre-recall price of Findus “beef” lasagne ready meals, but a search on Tesco website for “ready meal” suggests that the cheapest are about £1 for about 300g of food, which wouldn’t satisfy me let alone growing kids. My meal was at least double that size – each person had 200g of roast spuds as well as all the other stuff – and included a large glass of wine each for the three adults (and a good glug into the gravy).
Therefore, I’m going to stick my neck out and say that it certainly isn’t more expensive to eat properly, and is much better for you (although it took me about an hour of prep time rather than 5 minutes to microwave).
My daughter’s Easter holiday homework was to design and make a commemoration cake. Like most of her class, she had planned to make an Easter cake, until the day when Margaret Thatcher died.
She researched her life and found a graph of unemployment figures during the Thatcher premiership which resembled the letter “M”. Add a swift “T” for the initials of The Great Helmswoman, the dates of her life in icing over a home-made Victorian values sponge and we have an edible commemoration of a true “Let them eat cake” politician.
My daughter felt it important that the cake be entirely factual. There were other graphs and statistics we considered, many of which contradict the hagiographies that are being circulated by the right wing at the moment.
For example, her Right To Buy scheme turned the UK into a nation of homeowners, we’re told. Actually, a third of ex-council homes are now owned by rich landlords rather than their occupants. Because councils were forbidden from building new housing with the cash they received from selling their old houses, we now have a huge housing problem, with many young people unable to leave home at all.
It’s a similar story with the utility privatisations which were to make us a nation of shareholders and participatory capitalists. “Small British shareholders have no influence over the overwhelmingly non-British owners of the firms that generate and distribute power in Britain.” writes the London Review of Books:
when local electrical engineers dig up the roads in London, they’re working for East Asia’s richest man, the Hong Kong-based Li Ka-shing … In north-east England, they work for Warren Buffett; in Birmingham, Cardiff and Plymouth, the Pennsylvania Power and Light Company; in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Liverpool, Iberdrola; in Manchester, a consortium of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia and a J.P. Morgan investment fund.
Like the American neo-cons she was so friendly with, her fiscal policies were laissez-faire but she believed in government small enough to fit into the bedroom. She was deeply socially conservative and enacted the shameful Section 28 legislating that a local authority “shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality” or “promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”.
You might believe the way she treated striking miners was justified, but her contempt for the working class is demonstrated by the Hillsborough cover-up.
Social mobility hasn’t changed since the 1970s – and in some ways has got worse. For every one person born in the 1970s in the poorest fifth of society and going to university, there would be four undergrads from the top fifth of society. But if you were born in the 1980s, there would be five.
Yes, yes, Thatcher stopped the unions “bringing the country to its knees”. Then she delivered it to the bankers’ exemplary stewardship. Her Big Bang city deregulation paved the way for casino banks with decreased reserves, so the financial crash could happen.
If only her legacy were as easily swallowed and as quick to demolish as my daughter’s delicious cake.
Goodbye Mrs T, friend of Pinochet and the Khmer Rouge, homophobe, opposer of sanctions in South Africa and destroyer of the domestic mining industry.
It’s bizarre that a grand funeral is planned, when she believed that “there is no such thing as society” and that the state should be rolled back.
I hope that her funeral will be a huge demo against the savage austerity policies her successors are enacting. Let’s also note that her City deregulation allowed the casino banks to behave so recklessly before they collapsed, causing the financial system catastrophe that (apparently) requires the current attacks on the poor.
She was long ago irrelevant. But her legacy is vile, and current.
I’m hopelessly naive about financial systems. (I have a grade C ‘A’-level economics, but that was in 1985, back when people still voted for Mrs Thatcher, so it’s like a degree in physics before relativity was discovered.) So I don’t understand the current lamentation about Cyprus.
Cyprus built up a gargantuan banking sector (835% of annual national income). It was a low-tax regime, in the sun, that encouraged lots of Russians (in particular) to invest their money there.
The significant expansion of the Cypriot banking system in general, and of the big domestically-owned banks in particular, has been part of the broader push to promote the island as an international business centre …
The current size of the Cypriot banking system, and particularly of the two biggest banks, raises the issue of whether growth has unequivocally been a good thing that should continue indefinitely.
In the case of Cyprus, the two big domestically-owned banking groups appear to satisfy the criteria for being systemically important… Their role as intermediaries of foreign financial flows and as providers of domestic financial services means that the collapse of either of them would have significant negative repercussions on the real economy and deleterious reputational effects on Cyprus as an international business centre.
Lots of people invested their money in Cyprus because it had low tax and good returns. They put their money there, rather than somewhere else, because they believed that they would get more money in Cyprus than in their own countries.
Meanwhile, the banks in Cyprus were too big to fail. Those words – “too big to fail” – are to international capitalists what “YOLO!” is to mid-teenage girls as they guzzle five bottles of alcopops, take selfies of themselves doing duckfaces with their bezzies before they snog an ugly stranger, burst into tears and throw up.
In brief: investors got better returns for their money, but took no actual risk because the banks were too big to fail. Until they failed.
The EU decided to bail out Cyprus. If it hadn’t, presumably those banks would have collapsed and depositors lost everything. Because it’s being bailed out (with EU money), depositors with over 100,000 Euros will lose 30% of their deposits, and retain 70% of them. They took a risk in the hope of better-than-average returns, as is their right in a capitalist economy, and lost. But instead of losing everything, they keep most of it.
Meanwhile, I’ve given them some of my money as part of the EU bailout, yet I was never invested in the dodgy Cypriot bank in the first place.
But has anyone stopped for a moment to think of the devastating effect all this is having on those who really matter? Children as young as seven aren’t equipped to compute this kind of information …
Why should they be forced to deal with the news that a male teacher they have always known as Mr Upton will henceforth be a woman called Miss Meadows? Anyway, why not Miss Upton?
The school shouldn’t be allowed to elevate its ‘commitment to diversity and equality’ above its duty of care to its pupils and their parents.
It should be protecting pupils from some of the more, er, challenging realities of adult life, not forcing them down their throats.
These are primary school children, for heaven’s sake. Most them still believe in Father Christmas. Let them enjoy their childhood. They will lose their innocence soon enough…
But if he cares so little for the sensibilities of the children he is paid to teach, he’s not only trapped in the wrong body, he’s in the wrong job.
(I don’t know if Mr Littlejohn has any children, but mine and the Primary school children I taught in Turkey and Thailand were certainly far more matter-of-fact about such matters than adults are.)
Sadly, Miss Meadows is dead; it’s presumed she committed suicide. In an email to a friend, she described how she was hounded by the press, noting that many parents had tried to give positive reactions to the press, but those were ignored:
I know the press offered parents money if they could get a picture of me… Many parents have been quite annoyed with the press too, especially those that were trying to give positive comments but were turned away.
Entirely co-incidentally, no doubt, Littlejohn’s column has been removed from the Daily Mail website. The newspaper issued a statement:
It is regrettable that this tragic death should now be the subject of an orchestrated twitterstorm, fanned by individuals… with agendas to pursue. Our thoughts are with the family and friends of Lucy Meadows.
This enrages me. I’m one of those on Twitter who’ve tweeted about how nastily Littlejohn and The Mail have behaved. As a white heterosexual male in a nuclear family with a professional job, I’m probably one of the army of “normals” that the Mail wishes to mobilise against the freaks, perverts, lefties and other undersirables (just don’t tell them that my family is mixed race).
No-one has “orchestrated” my outrage. But I certainly do have an agenda to pursue. It’s the agenda of fairness, of tolerance, of live-and-let-live. These are qualities that I associated with Britishness, incidentally; “Britain” is a flag that Littlejohn and The Daily Mail like to wrap themselves in, yet they want a society in which people think it’s right to hound, harrass and hate “minorities”. And I won’t have it.
For “minorities”, read “people”.
Miss Meadows caused me no harm. She was obeying the law, involved in her community, hurting no-one and helping many. My agenda is that such people deserve our respect and support. And if you find men transitioning to women makes you queasy, simple: don’t do it. Just quietly go about your business and don’t interfere with how other people live their lives.
So, in the unlikely event that any Daily Mail journalist or reader ever sees this, yes – I do have an agenda: fairness, tolerance, live-and-let-live. What’s your agenda?
The man has a history of ethnic jokes in questionable taste. But this one has a nugget of truth in it. For years, UK governments have let other, poorer nations pay to train their own nationals to be doctors, nurses or midwives, and then, when they’re ready to help their own populations we recruit them to work in the NHS here.
And what about the health care needs of the people of the Phillipines, India, Bangladesh and other major sources of health-care professionals? Not our problem.
What is our problem is that the same governments posture and prattle about curbing immigration, giving British jobs to British people, and generally promote anti-immigration feeling which they know can become racial tension.
The NHS is a vote-winner. So is sounding off about immigrants. See how it works?