Posts Tagged ‘Human Rights’

Open Britain on the Tory Attack on Democracy

January 17, 2023

I got this email from the pro-democracy organisation, Open Britain, on the Tories’ continued campaign against democracy in our fair country. It runs

Dear David,

Over the last four years, we have witnessed a rapid reduction in the fairness and inclusivity of UK politics. Rishi Sunak seems determined to continue Boris Johnson’s all-out assault on the rights, institutions, and norms designed to hold the government to account. Academics have a term for this process: “democratic backsliding”.

It’s worth reflecting on recent years through the lens of backsliding to understand where Johnson, Truss, and Sunak are taking us – and how low we’ve already sunk. Researchers at University College London have identified the following critical elements of backsliding:

  1. Breakdown in the norms and standards of political behaviour
  2. Disempowerment of the legislature, the courts, and independent regulators
  3. The reduction of civil liberties and press freedoms; and/or
  4. Harm to the integrity of the electoral system 

On the first element, it’d be nearly impossible to deny that norms and standards in UK politics have become warped beyond recognition, largely thanks to Boris Johnson.

The sheer quantity of Johnson’s absurd lies to the public. The blatant PPE contract corruption. The unlawful attempt to prorogue Parliament. The repeated partying throughout the pandemic. Truss’ appointment of Mark Fullbrook as chief of staff. Rishi Sunak’s refusal to sack Suella Braverman amid egregious security violations. Take your pick.

But norms have also been eroded at a deeper level. The government now appears comfortable with breaking international law whenever it suits their needs.

The Internal Markets Bill (2020), the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill (2022), the planned Bill of Rights Bill, and the plans to offshore asylum seekers to Rwanda all undermine the UK’s long-held reputation for upholding international agreements on human rights and trade agreements (many of which UK ministers and officials helped to draft). Our government is clearly quite comfortable ignoring its citizens and the international community. It’s safe to say that the first box on that list is checked.

On the second element, backsliding may not be as apparent, but close inspection reveals some seriously concerning changes here too.

The government has attracted robust criticism from the Hansard Society for rushing bills through Parliament and abusing the ‘statutory instruments’ mechanism to limit Parliament’s ability to scrutinise bills properly.

They have also drawn widespread criticism for taking steps that inevitably undermined the powers and independence of the Electoral Commission. Boris Johnson removed the Commission’s powers to prosecute and attempted to give a (then) Tory-dominated committee control over its operations, and a number of Conservative MPs even called for its abolition.

It’s not just the Electoral Commission either. Former Commissioner for Public Appointments Peter Riddell also accused the government of “packing” appointment panels to blatantly place political allies in the House of Lords.

On the third element, we’ve also seen that this government is willing to toss aside fundamental rights and freedoms when they become politically inconvenient. The Policing Act (2022) was a significant affront to our right to protest, including giving police the right to shut down “noisy” protests.

That is now followed by the Public Order Bill (2023), currently in the Lords, which seeks to expand these measures further, giving police the right to pre-emptively crackdown on protests before they happen and keep registers of known activists based on facial recognition data. If that’s not an infringement of civil liberties, then nothing is.

And let’s not forget Dominic Raab’s grubby plans to overturn the Human Rights Act. 

We’ve also recently seen the press and the labour movement under fire from the government. Several journalists were arrested while covering climate protests last November, despite showing valid press IDs. And the government’s plans to privatise Channel 4 last year – finally abandoned under public pressure this January – and their continued hostility towards the BBC betray an instinct for threatening vital public news services when they are perceived to be getting in the way.

The Sunak government’s latest priority is to crack down on the right to strike by introducing government-set minimum service standards, once again choosing authoritarian mandates over dialogue or compromise. It’s hard to deny backsliding is also occurring in this area.

On the final element, it has been clear for some time that the integrity of the voting system used for general elections is in jeopardy. The Elections Act (2022) now requires voters to show ID at polling stations, something that creates a barrier to legitimate electors being able to exercise their democratic right to vote. Worse, the government’s choice of valid ID seems to disadvantage people from demographics less likely to vote Conservative. That bill also mandated the use of FPTP for Mayoral and Police Commissioner elections, entrenching a broken system that does not accurately reflect the true will of the electorate. 

It’s clear that the UK is indeed in a phase of democratic backsliding. But that doesn’t mean we have to continue on this path. 

As we move forward in 2023, OB will continue to work, alone and with partners who share our ambitions and values, to ensure UK democracy is striding forwards, not sliding backwards.

The Open Britain team

P.S. We and a number of partners in the democracy sector are working to put pressure on Labour to commit to making the changes we need to renew our political system. You can help right now by signing our joint petition here to get Keir Starmer to support proportional representation.

Add to this the secret courts that Dodgy Dave Cameron pushed through, in which you can be tried in secret, without you or your defence knowing the identity of your accusers and evidence withheld from you if the authorities deem it necessary for reasons of national security, and we really are heading towards what some commenters call ‘a democratic deficit’.

I didn’t realise this, but the tribune was the Roman magistrate charged with defending the rights of the plebs and the army. Hence the phrase, ‘a tribune of the people’. The late 18th century French revolutionary communist, Gracchus Babeuf, also recommended a panel of officials charged with making sure local politicos performed their duties. If they didn’t, their constituents had the right of recall and out they would go. I like this idea, and the fact that the Romans knew that you needed officials to protect democratic rights and freedoms shows, in my opinion, just how wise they were. Not wise enough not to be ruled by a bunch of raving psychopaths, but you can’t expect too much from past ages.

Boris claims to be a great admirer of ancient Rome. It’s a pity the tribunes aren’t one of them. Instead from the Tories we get a lot of bluster about democracy and free speech right when they trying to undermine all of it.

The Lotus Eaters Reject Objective Moral Values

January 8, 2023

This is a bit abstract, but as it involves issues about the objective reality of moral values and justice against moral relativism, it needs to be tackled. A few days ago the Lotus Eaters published an essay on their website by Helen Dale, which denied that there were such things as objective moral values. This followed an conversation on YouTube between Carl Benjamin, aka Sargon of Gasbag, and the philosopher Peter Boghossian, in which Sargon was also arguing that objective moral values don’t exist. People, including myself, have taken the mick out of Sargon, pointing out that he’s not university educated and that at one point his standard response to his opponents seemed to be to ask if they hadn’t read John Locke. But Sargon’s bright and is well-read in political philosophy, albeit from the Conservative, Libertarian perspective.

Which seems to be where his denial of objective morality comes. Conservatives since Edmund Burke have stressed the importance of tradition, and from what I remember of Sargon’s debate with Boghossian, he was arguing that concepts like human rights and democracy are the unique products of western culture. These notions are alien and incomprehensible to other culture, such as Islam, which have their own value systems, notions of justice and ideas about their ultimate grounding. Now Sargon does have a point. Human rights seem obvious to us, because we have grown up in a society in which such notions have developed over centuries, dating back to the 18th century and beyond, going back to the Roman idea of the Lex Gentiles, the Law of Nations. This was the idea that there were fundamental assumptions about justice that was common to all nations and which could be used as the basis for international law. And the Enlightenment philosophers were confident that they could also discover an objective basis for morality. This has not happened. One of the problems is the values which are to be regarded as fundamental also need supporting arguments, and morality has changed over time. This can be seen in the west in the changing attitudes to sex outside marriage and homosexuality. Back in the early 20th century both were regarded as immoral, but are now accepted. In the case of homosexuality, moral condemnation has been reversed so that it is the persecution of gays that it rightly regarded as immoral. The philosopher Isaiah Berlin was aware of the changes in morality over time, and deeply influenced by the 17th century Italian philosopher Vico. His solution, as someone who bitterly hated Stalin’s USSR and its tyranny, was to argue that although objective moral values didn’t exist, there were nevertheless moral values that acted as such.

I can see some positive aspects to Sargon’s position. If it is accepted that western ideas of truth and justice are just that, localised western notions, that it prevents them from being used as pretexts for foreign imperialist ventures like the Neo-Con invasions of the Middle East. It brings us back to the old, pre-War American conservative values that held that America had no business interfering in the political institutions and concerns of other peoples. But it also leaves the way open for cultural relativism and the justification of despotic regimes. If there are no objective moral values, then there can be no firm moral objections to obvious injustices, such as the genocide of the Uighurs in China or the Taliban’s recent decision to deprive women of university education. From what I’ve been reading, Chinese nationalist communists dismiss such ideas of democracy and human rights as baizuo, which translates as White liberal nonsense. And the Fascists and Communists Sargon despises were also moral relativists. Both Mussolini and Hitler also declared that each nation had their own set of unique moral values and that liberal notions of justice and humanity did not apply to their regimes. In a number of his speeches Lenin denied that there were any eternal moral values, but that these changed instead with each historical epoch, as determined by the economic structure of society at the time. This opened the way to the horrendous atrocities committed by the Nazi and Soviet regimes.

The Lotus Eaters are also staunch enemies of wokeness, but Critical Theory in its various forms also relativizes traditional morality and attitudes arguing that these too are merely the local intellectual products of the west, and specifically White heterosexual elite men. This has led to Postcolonial Theorists betraying feminists and human rights activists in nations like India, by refusing to criticise these cultures repressive traditions, or instead blaming them on western imperialism.

My own belief is that there are indeed objective moral values although human moral intuitions have changed over time. Notions of democracy and human rights may have their origin in the west, but they are nevertheless universal and universally applicable. This does not mean that other cultures may not adopt and adapt them according to their own cultural traditions. In the case of Islam, there are any number of books by the Islamic modernists arguing that modern notions of human rights are perfectly in accordance with Muslim values.

For the sake of genuine humanity and international justice and the eradication of tyranny, we have to believe that there are objective moral values protecting human life and freedom.

Starmer Intends to Repeal Repressive Union Laws; Sunak Wants to Make Them Worse

January 5, 2023

Okay, I caught just a few minutes of Keir Starmer’s speech on the lunchtime news, and for once he said something I agreed with. He announced that Labour would repeal the repressive anti-union legislation put in place by the Tories. The excellent Irish left-wing YouTuber, Maximilien Robespierre, however, has put up a short video warning and commenting on what Sunak intends to do about trade union militancy. Yup, as a Tory, he has no response except more draconian legislation and repression. Sunak has announced that he intends to pass legislation demanding that unions provide a minimum service during the strikes. If they don’t, then the employers can fire workers and sue the unions. He also wants to raise the minimum proportion of votes necessary to call a strike from 40 to 50 per cent and possibly to the increase the period in which the unions must notify their employers that they’re about to call one from 14 to 28 days. Robespierre has said that the stipulation for minimum services fails, because this is precisely what the ambulance drivers have been providing. He considers that Sunak has taken to make these threats because he expected that the public would turn against the strikers, and they haven’t. He also makes the point that the Brexiteers are now making it very clear that they want to tear up the legal protections for workers under the mantra that this will make the country more competitive. Oh yes, and repealing all that pesky human rights legislation will protect us from the channel migrants. Or something.

I’m right with Starmer on this issue, if he can be believed. And that’s the problem, because Starmer is untrustworthy. He said he would retain Corbyn’s policies when campaigning for the Labour leadership. He didn’t. He promised to unify the party, but carried on the vindictive campaign against Corbyn and his supporters. He was going to improve the welfare state, but once head of Labour a little while later he either watered them down or forgot them. And some of the anti-union legislation was introduced by his hero, Tony Blair. Right at the start of Blair’s leadership campaign he told the trade unions that if they didn’t accept his further restrictions on them, then the party would cut ties with them. I’d like Starmer to keep this promise, but am afraid that, once he gets in No. 10, he won’t.

Here’s Robespierre’s video:

Diane Abbott Slams Rishi Sunak’s Bogus Promise about Continuing Maths Education Until 18

January 5, 2023

Yesterday, our latest prime minister, Rishi Sunak, announced that as well as tackling the state of the NHS and channel migrants, he would make it compulsory for school students to continue to study maths until 18. This was, he announced, necessary to combat poor maths literacy. His speech has impressed precisely no-one, and has been extensively torn to shreds by commenters like Owen Jones and Novara Media. After all, it’s the Tory policies of underfunding, cuts and stealth privatisation that have created the mess the NHS is in, in the first place. As for the channel migrants, they’ve been unable to tackle that either, except with Patel’s plan to send them all to Rwanda, a country suffering serious human rights abuses. That plan was condemned by the public and also, I believe, various judicial authorities.

Abbott in a tweet stated that Sunak’s plan for continuing maths education until the school leaving age was bogus because the Tories had cut teacher’s pay, as well as underfunding education generally. She’s absolutely right, as I can remember from my schooldays when schools were increasingly decaying thanks to cuts to funds. Except for the academies, of course, which were given more far more than state schools. Critics have also wondered whether Sunak will even have time to implement this reform before the possibility that he and his wretched party are voted out at the next election.

There’s also been an interesting opinion piece in the Groaniad by a lecturer in mathematical biology. He argues that it’s unnecessary, as maths is already the most popular A Level subject, far outstripping its nearest rival, psychology. He also states that making it compulsory would further decrease the numbers of people taking arts and humanities subjects, as they’d have to give up them as well as choose another STEM subject to harmonise with the maths. He also makes the excellent point that making it compulsory might put people off it even more by forcing them to study a subject they hate.

To me, it just looks like Sunak trying desperately to look like he’s actually doing and standing for something, whereas in fact he stands for nothing except the worn out Tory policies that have driven the public services into the ground and working people to desperation. The fact that he has nothing to say was shown very clearly just before Christmas, when he, or one of the Tories, announced they wanted to meet the railway unions, but wouldn’t talk about wages. As wages are part of the issue, this negated the whole point of any meeting. Again, it was just an exercise in public relations. He wanted it to appear that he was doing something and prepared to negotiate while the reality was the complete opposite.

Sunak is flailing about with nothing to offer, and it’s obvious.

‘Africa’s Slaves Today’ – A Good, But Dated Book Used by Simon Webb

December 31, 2022

I’ve remarked in previous posts about History Debunked’s Simon Webb that when he cites his sources, he’s usually correct. But that’s when he cites he sources. In one his videos a few years ago, he stressed the importance of reading as a indicator of educational attainment and social and economic success. The most successful children, he claimed, came from homes with a lot of books. I’ve heard that before, and I can see the truth in it. A child is most likely to be successful, if they come from homes where literacy is valued and there are books to read. Although obviously there are exceptions. He then said that it wasn’t expensive to build a good library for yourself – you could get many books cheap from secondhand bookshops. This is true, and I’ve done it myself, but the problem is finding a good secondhand bookshop. There are several in Bristol, and one very good one in Cheltenham. But many towns don’t have them. And the problem is that some of the books available there, while good in there time, are now dated. One of the books Webb waved around, which he supposedly got secondhand, and which he recommended to his viewers, was Africa’s Slaves Today. We had a copy donated to us at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum in Bristol. It’s a very good book, but was published in the 1970s. Some of the information contained in it is pertinent to one of the horrible murder cases of the 1990s. This was the tragic death of Victoria Climbie, a little African girl who had been sent by her parents to be brought up in London by an aunt and her partner. The book notes that it was a common practice in Africa to send children to be brought up by wealthier relatives so that they could enjoy their advantages. However, some of these children were treated as slaves by their foster parents. Something similar happened to Climbie, who was hideously physically abused by the aunt and her partner until she eventually died. I believe she was actually on a social services watch list, but was let down by a heavy caseload and an incompetent supervisor. The Mail reported that the social worker didn’t know what to do about the case, and brought it to her supervisor’s attention. The supervisor, a Black woman, didn’t give her any positive advice, just a speech quoting from Maya Angelou while lighting candles. And thanks to these failings, a girl died.

I can’t remember very much about the book, except that now it seems perhaps too optimistic. The book notes that slavery still persists in parts of Africa, but notes that one candidate for Nigerian presidency had facial marking denoting slave origin. They concluded that it showed that prejudices against such people may be weakening. Unfortunately, this has not happened. The book Disposable People, published in the ’90s, noted that the number of slaves around the world had grown. There were now something like 20 million of them. This included enslaved labourers and prostitutes in countries like Brazil and the Golden Triangle area of southeast Asia. Their servitude was often disguised as long-term contracts. The subject has been covered in various TV programmes. One programme on Brazil showed the country’s task force against slavery liberating a group of them. You probably won’t be amazed by the fact that they mostly seemed to be Black. Disposable People also claimed that it was often the traditional slaves, like those in Mauretania, who were the best treated. Africa’s Slaves Today makes the same claim, arguing it was disproportionate and counterproductive to move against these traditional slaves, who were seen more as old family retainers and treated as such, in societies where slavery was slowly dying out. But this has not happened. There are anti-slavery groups in Mauretania still fighting to end slavery there. Mauretania has officially banned it, but this is not always enforced and the Islamic clergy are still very much in favour of it. And, partly thanks to Blair, Obama’s and Sarkozy’s bombing of Libya, slave markets have reopened in the part of that country controlled by the Islamists to sell the Black African migrants, who have travelled there in the hope of passage to Europe. Slave markets have also opened Uganda. None of this, of course, could have been foreseen by the book’s authors, which is why you also need to read more modern works like Sean Stilwell’s Slavery and Slaving in African History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2014), which also covers modern slavery and the efforts by former slaves and human rights groups to end it.

Back to History Debunked, you need to check some of what he says carefully, as really you should everything on YouTube. And be especially carefully when he doesn’t tell you where some fact he cites come from.

BBC Criticised for Anti-White Bias: The Case of Romesh Ranganathan and Sierra Leone

December 30, 2022

A day or so ago a group of right-wing historians calling themselves History Reclaimed released a report accusing the Beeb of anti-White bias. They gave a list of 20 instances in which the BBC distorted history for apparently political and racial reasons. One example was of a programme that claimed that Robert Peel had a callous disregard for the victims of the Irish potato famine. The truth, they claimed, was that Peel risked his career pushing through legislation abolishing the Corn Laws, so that Irish, and poor British people, could buy cheap foreign grain. The name History Reclaimed to my ears suggests some kind of link with Laurence Fox’s Reclaim party. The group includes the historians Andrew Roberts and Jeremy Black. While I strongly disagree with their Tory views, these are respectable, academic, mainstream historians. Roberts talked rubbish in a video posted on YouTube by PragerU, an American right-wing thinktank, which tries to present itself as some kind of university. He claimed that the British was A Good Thing because it gave the world free trade and property rights. Well, property rights exist in Islam, and I’ve no reason to doubt that they also existed in China and India, so that’s a very dubious claim. As for free trade, well, the privatisation the IMF has forced on some of the African countries that came to it for aid has generally left them worse off, sometimes catastrophically so, as when one of the southern African countries deregulated its sugar industry. But whatever I think of Roberts’ political views, he is in other ways an excellent historian. The same with Jeremy Black, whose Slavery: A New Global History I thoroughly recommend. Black has also published a history of the British Empire that does acknowledge the atrocities and human rights abuses that occurred. We are not, therefore, dealing with people who want to erase history themselves.

Regarding Robert Peel, I’ve no doubt they’re right. Peel was a great reforming Prime Minister. He founded the metropolitan police, hence their nickname of ‘bobbies’ and ‘peelers’. He also reduced the number of capital crimes from well over hundred to three. These included murder and treason. It’s because of him that you can no longer be hanged for impersonating a Chelsea pensioner. There were British officials, who felt that the Irish had brought it on themselves and should be left to starve. The head of the civil service, Trevelyan, is notorious for these views. But I don’t believe that Peel was one of them.

But it’s not Peel, who I shall discuss here, but Sierra Leone. Another example they gave was of Romesh Ranganthan’s presentation of the history of slavery in Sierra Leone in one edition of his The Misadventures of Romesh Ranganathan. In the programme, Ranganathan went to a slave fort on Bunce Island and talked to local people about the country’s history. By their account, this was very one-sided. The slavers were presented as all being White British. In fact, as History Reclaimed states, the African peoples in the area were also slavers. In 1736 or so one of the local chiefs attacked Bunce Island because it was taking trade away from him. And although the programme mentioned raiders, it did not state that the slaves were supplied by Black Africans, and so gave the impression that the trade’s victims were enslaved by White British.

It also neglected to mention that Sierra Leone was founded as a state for free Blacks, and that there is an arch commemorating the emancipation of Black slaves in Freetown which the UN has stated is comparable to the Statue of Liberty in espousing and celebration freedom, democracy and human rights. I have no doubt that this is also correct.

Slavery existed in Africa for millennia before the emergence of the transatlantic slave trade. While Europeans had and occasionally did raid for slaves, they were prevented from penetrating inland through a mixture of the disease-ridden climate and power African kingdoms. Europeans were confined to their own quarters of indigenous towns, like the ghettos into which Jews were forced in the Middle Ages. The slave trade was extremely lucrative, and the slaves were indeed sold to them by Africans, some of the most notorious being Dahomey, Ashanti, Badagry and Whyday. After the ban on the slave trade in 1807, one African nation attacked a British trading post in the 1820s to force us to take it up again. I found this in a copy of the very well respected British history magazine, History Today.

In the late 18th century – I’ve forgotten precisely when – the colony was taken over by one of the abolitionist groups. It was intended to be a new state for free Blacks. Three shiploads of emigrants, who also included some Whites, set sail. The idealists, who planned the colony also changed the laws regulating land tenure. I’ve forgotten the system of land tenure they altered, but from what I remember they believed it had been introduced by the Normans and was part of the framework of feudalism. I think it was also intended to be governed democratically. The new colony immediately fell into difficulties, and the colonists were reinforced with the arrival of Caribbean Maroons and Black Loyalists from America. The latter had been granted their freedom in exchange for fighting for us during the American Revolution. After independence, they were moved to Halifax in Nova Scotia, Canada. Unfortunately, they were prevented from settling down through a mixture of the harsh northern climate and racism. The colony still experienced considerable trouble, and was saved by being taken over by the British government. After Britain outlawed the slave trade, it became the base for the British West India Squadron, which was tasked with patrolling the seas off Africa intercepting slavers. It was also the site of one of the courts of mixed commission, in which suspected slavers were tried by judges from Britain and the accused slavers’ nation. The British navy were assisted in their attacks on slavers by indigenous African tribes, such as the Egba, and their help was appreciated. The admiralty stated that soldiers and sailors from these people should receive the same compensation for wounds suffered battling slavers as British troops, not least because it would reaffirm British good faith and encourage more Africans to join the struggle.

Slaving by the surrounding tribes and even by some of the liberated Africans in the colony itself remained a problem. As a result, British officers from the colony made anti-slavery treaties with the chiefs of the neighbouring Sherbro country, and reported on and took action against the Black colonists stealing young boys to sell to the slave states further south. Freetown became a major centre of education and western civilisation in Africa. Many of the anthropologists, who first described African languages and societies, were Sierra Leonean Blacks. The father of the 19th century Black British composer, Samuel Coleridge Taylor, was a Black citizen of Sierra Leone.

None of this is at all obscure or controversial. African slavers and their complicity in the trade are mentioned in Hugh Thomas’ brilliant book, The Slave Trade, as well as various general histories of Africa. There is even a book specifically on the history of Sierra Leone and the West India Squadron, Sweet Water and Bitter: The Ships That Stopped The Slave Trade by Sian Rees (London: Chatto & Windus 2009). One of the Scottish universities over two decades ago published a book collecting the Black colonists’ letters. I’m afraid I can’t remember the title, but we had a copy at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum. Now a programme could well be made about the Black colonists and their struggles from their own words. One of the problems with history is that the lower strata of society generally remain silent, unless described or remarked upon by the upper classes. This is particularly true when it comes to slaves or former slaves. But somehow mentioning that it was settled by former slaves was considered unimportant or even embarrassing or controversial by the show’s producers.

Simon Webb of History Debunked has noted the various instances where the account of the slave trade has been selectively retold and omits any mention of Black African complicity. As far right as Webb is, I believe he has a point. But this attitude is not only anti-White, it also does Blacks an injustice by assuming that they are emotionally unable to handle this aspect of the slave trade. One Black historian with whom I worked at the Museum stated quite clearly that in the Caribbean they were told by their mammies that it was the Africans who sold their ancestors into slavery. And no, he didn’t hate Africans either. Channel 4 even presented a show about African involvement in the slave trade twenty or so years ago. This is the channel that the Tories hated for being too left-wing and having Michael Grade, ‘Britain’s pornographer in chief’ as they called him, as its controller. I am not blaming Ranganathan himself for the bias. The right hate him because he is very outspoken in his anti-Brexit views. But I doubt he knew much about Sierra Leon and its history. The fault lies with the producer and director, if not further up BBC management who may have laid down rules regarding the presentation of slavery and the British empire generally.

Black complicity in the slave trade doesn’t excuse White European involvement, but it does need to be taught so that people get a balanced view of the historical reality. And I wonder why the Beeb didn’t.

Email Calling for the Labour Party to Speak Up for Palestine

December 2, 2022

I got this email from Labour and Palestine asking people to sign their call to the Labour party to speak up for the Palestinians against their continued oppression and dispossession by the Israeli state, in stark contravention of international law. The email runs

Labour Must Speak up for Palestine – add your name!

UPDATED FOR #PALESTINEDAY 2022: Sign here // Share here // Read our article here // Retweet here

“To be an internationalist and democratic socialist party, it is the responsibility of the Labour Party to speak up for Palestine and stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people and their fundamental rights, including to self-determination.

Recent actions by the Israeli Government have illustrated the continuing nature of Israel’s illegal occupation and the denial of the rights of Palestinian peoples with the use of militarised violence and forced displacements. The attacks on Gaza in August 2022 killed 44 Palestinians, including 15 children, and were described by the UN Special rapporteur as an act contrary to international law. The Israeli army’s killing of the Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh; the attacks on the Al Aqsa mosque and the outlawing of 7 NGOs who spoke up for Palestinian rights being just some examples.

The seriousness of the situation facing the people of Palestine is confirmed by the fact the International Criminal Court is holding an inquiry into abuses committed in the occupied Palestinian Territories since 2014.

The continuing de facto annexation of Palestinian land by accelerated settlement building alongside statements of Israel’s continuing intention to proceed with annexation, show it is clearer than ever that the Israeli State is intent on eliminating any prospects of Palestinian self-determination, including by trying to annex Jerusalem as its sole capital.

Major reports by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem have concluded that Israel is practising the crime of apartheid as defined by the UN.

Labour must build on – not step back from – its commitments to immediate recognition of the state of Palestine and an end to the blockade, occupation and settlements as outlined in the 2017 and 2019 manifestos, and in the motions overwhelmingly passed by the Party’s annual conferences in 2018, 2019 and 2021, the last  of which stated “that the Labour Party must stand on the right side of history and abide by these resolutions in its policy, communications and political strategy.”

We must support “effective measures” including sanctions, as called for by Palestinian civil society, against actions by the Israeli state that are illegal according to international law. This must include action to ensure that Israel stops the building of settlements, reverses any annexation, ends the occupation of the West Bank, ceases the blockade of Gaza, brings down the Wall and respects the right of refugees to return to their homes under international law.

We oppose measures designed to stop civil society using non-violent actions, including ethical investment policies, to try to ensure Israel complies with international law.”

* Sign here // Share here // Read our article here // Retweet here

I’ve signed it, as it is clearly a matter of simply justice to defend the victims of persecution regardless of the state doing it. I fear that it will probably do little good, as Starmer is ‘100 per cent Zionist’ and backs the Israeli state to the hilt, even employing a former Israeli spook to hunt down the emails and social media posts of people he can smear as anti-Semitic. But if you are a member of the Labour party or a Labour supporter and feel the same way about it I do, please consider signing this as well.

Open Letter from Hope Not Hate for Tories to Expel Former Fascist Local Councillor

November 16, 2022

I got this email from the anti-racist, anti-religious extremist organisation Hope Not Hate asking people to sign an open letter calling for the Tories to expel a local councillor, who used to be a member of the Mosleyite fascist group, the New British Union. It runs

Dear David,

Last night we broke the news that we’ve discovered a Conservative Party councillor with a worrying fascist past. 

Andy Weatherhead (formerly Andrew Beadle) represents the ward of Hythe West on Kent County Council. But as recently as 2014, he was a member of the fascist group the New British Union where he’d held the positions of Business Officer and Policy Officer.

The NBU is full of nazis and violent bigots. They are fascist revivalists who proudly display pictures online of members wearing pre-war fascist uniforms and openly try to emulate Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists. One member of the group, Clive Ceronne, was even jailed for an arson attack on a mosque in Gloucester.

Tory councillor Andy Weatherhead wrote several blogs on the NBU website under a pseudonym. In them, he published deeply antisemitic passages, including criticising the government for “appeasing the British and International Jewish lobby, whilst allowing the British people to be feed [sic] lie after lie through the Jewish controlled Press and Media.”

Weatherhead’s NBU activity did not end there though. In 2013, he attended an NBU demonstration outside the Greek embassy in support of the Greek neo-nazi Golden Dawn party. Golden Dawn members were often accused of violently attacking immigrants, ethnic minorities and their political opponents. 

David, it’s simple. Andy Weatherhead is not fit to hold political office. 

And this is where you come in. Will you join other HOPE not hate members in calling for Andy Weatherhead to be permanently expelled from the Conservative Party?

EXPEL THIS TORY COUNCILLOR

This isn’t the first time that HOPE not hate has exposed elected officials with dangerous far-right beliefs. Last year, we discovered Tim Wills, a borough councillor in Worthing, West Sussex was an active supporter of the UK’s fastest-growing fascist threat, Patriotic Alternative. 

HOPE not hate supporters contacted Conservative Party Chairs asking for them to remove Wills and eventually, after immense pressure, he resigned.

Together, let’s drive out hate from our communities.

In solidarity,

Gregory – Researcher at HOPE not hate’

I’ve signed the open letter because the NBU really does seem to be exactly as they describe it – an attempt to revive Mosley’s British Union of Fascists. They even wear a uniform rather like Mosley’s Blackshirts, albeit the colour looks like very dark blue rather than black and have insignia very like Mosley’s black lightning bolt. Weatherhead also seems to be someone who really does believe all the real poisonous anti-Semitic conspiracies, which shouldn’t come as a surprise if he was a Mosleyite. Mosley denied he was ever anti-Semitic, but it was clear from his actions and general attitude that he was. He also changed the name of the BUF when he was trying to ingratiate himself with Hitler to the ‘British Union of Fascists and National Socialists’. Nazism is, by definition, anti-Semitic, and the Golden Dawn racist thugs. He’s definitely the kind of activist David Cameron made so much noise about expelling the party. And somehow, I’m not surprised that he also used to be UKIP, despite that party also stating that they would not accept former members of the far right into the party. It’s possible that Weatherhead might have changed his attitudes towards race and human rights since he left the NBU, but that’s highly debatable considering how many real islamophobes and anti-Semites were found on internet groups supporting Rees-Mogg.

Avaaz Petition for FIFA to Compensate the Families of Migrant Workers Who Died Building Stadium in Qatar

November 1, 2022

This is another internet petition I’ve received and signed. As many people have pointed out, the conditions for migrant workers in Qatar is very much like real slavery, and it is only just that the families of those who have died building the multi-million dollar footie stadium for the coming world cup receive their proper compensation.

More than 6750 modern day slaves have died preparing Qatar for the 2022 World Cup. Hundreds of thousands more still toil for as little as a dollar an hour. FIFA stands to make billions of dollars in profit, but refuses to compensate workers or their families fairly. Sign now to demand that FIFA pay these workers and their families what they deserve! #PayUpFIFA

SIGN THE PETITION

Dear friends,

Imagine being so desperate for work that you left your family behind to live in a squalid camp thousands of miles away and toil in the desert heat for as little as $1 an hour. Then you died, alone, and your family got nothing. This was the terrible fate of more than 6,750 modern-day slaves who died preparing Qatar for the 2022 World Cup.

Now imagine that those who exploited and abused you were set to rake in billions while the family you left behind spiraled deeper into poverty.

FIFA chose Qatar’s despotic regime to host the World Cup, well aware of reports that forced labor and abuse of poor migrant workers was a common practice in the country.  As a direct result, more than 6,750 vulnerable migrant workers have died building the glitzy stadiums and posh hotels that will be filled with football fans in a few weeks. 

That’s 40 deaths for every goal expected at this year’s World Cup.

Don’t let FIFA profit off of abuse!

FIFA is under pressure to set aside $440 million for these workers – the same amount that will be awarded to the winning teams. Rights groups, footballers, and even some of the World Cup’s top corporate sponsors are part of the push. But with less than four weeks until kickoff, we need to amplify this call to force FIFA to do the right thing. So sign now and we’ll deliver your voices straight to FIFA’s front door in Zurich.

Don’t let FIFA profit off of abuse!

Avaaz stands up for human rights and workers’ rights around the world. Already in 2015 Avaaz urged Qatar to end its modern slavery ahead of the World Cup, receiving almost a million signatures. In the years since, the Qatar government has taken steps to address these issues, but more can be done!

With hope and determination,
Bieta, Nate, Christine, John, Laura, Miguel, Marta and the rest of the Avaaz team

More information:

Open Britain’s Scathing Criticism of Rishi Sunak’s Government

October 26, 2022

Here’s another piece I got yesterday from the pro-democracy group Open Britain, giving their damning opinion on our new, unelected Prime Minister and his wretched cabinet.

‘Dear David,

Here we go again. Rishi Sunak claims that he is a unifier, that his administration will be a fresh start, and that he will bring “integrity, professionalism, and accountability” to office. Unfortunately, his words are already conflicting with his actions.

Sunak may have seen off Jacob Rees-Mogg today but he went on to reinstate some of the most dangerous ideologues from the Johnson and Truss administrations. It doesn’t look like the fresh start we’ve been promised. 

Dominic Raab, a man dead-set on dismantling our human rights framework with a bill that the Law Society says would “damage the rule of law” and “prevent access to justice”, is back in post. Even Truss saw the danger of this bill and it’s astonishing that it now looks to be back on the agenda.

Suella Braverman, anti-woke culture warrior and architect of the reprehensible Rwanda-deportation scheme, is back as Home Secretary. Just six days ago she resigned from office after breaking ministerial rules and jeopardising national security. Don’t forget, Braverman is a former chair of the European Research Group and her reappointment shows that the group’s stranglehold on government priorities did not depart with Liz Truss. 

Michael Gove, Therese Coffey, Kemi Badenoch, Steve Barclay and others have also returned. It looks like this cabinet will be more or less a hybrid of Johnson and Truss’ senior teams…the very people who got us into this mess.

But what about Sunak’s programme for government? Well, we still haven’t heard much at all about what his plans are. Perhaps we will get some early clues at PMQs tomorrow, but it is astonishing that he has been installed in Number 10 on the say-so of about about 160 MPs with almost zero discussion of the plans he has to fix the economy and restore political stability. Surely a sign that our democracy is not exactly in tip-top shape.

And while all this was going on in Downing Street, in Parliament the Second Reading of the Retained EU Law Bill was taking place. If passed, that bill will automatically scrap regulations and protections associated with the EU, and give ministers massive powers to replace them with whatever they want. It will put all kinds of regulations in danger, including environmental rules, food safety standards, worker protection laws, and more. It will be a disaster for businesses and will undermine our democracy (Ministers should not have that much unchecked power).

We can be grateful that Boris Johnson isn’t back in office, but this cabinet and these bills remind us that not much has really changed. We’ll be watching what the new PM does over the coming days and weeks, but the early signs are that the chaos will continue and that our campaigning will be as important as ever.

Nothing that has happened in the last 48 hours or so has persuaded us that this is what the country needs. We are still firmly of the opinion that the only credible route to sustainable political stability is to let the people decide how we should move forward. We won’t stop pushing for a general election.

All the very best,

The Open Britain Team