Posts Tagged ‘Nuns’

Oscar Romero, El Salvador’s Martyr against Fascism

October 27, 2018

I noticed in an article in the I newspaper a couple of weeks ago that the current Pope, Francis, has canonized two saints recently. One of these was Oscar Romero, an archbishop of El Salvador, who was martyred in 1980s by gunmen for the Fascist government. The entry for him in The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, ed. John Bowker, (Oxford: OUP 1997) runs

Romero, Oscar Arnulfo (1917-80), Christian archbishop of El Salvador, assassinated in 1980. He studied theology in Rome, 1937-43, became a parish priest and bishop of Santiago de Maria in 1974. Thought to be a conservative bishop (not least because of his support of Opus Dei), he was appointed archbishop in Feb. 1977, in the expectation that he would not disturb the political status quo. Three weeks later, the Jesuit Rutilio Grande, together with two others was gunned down in his jeep. The even was, for Romero, a conversion. He began a ministry of outspoken commitment to those who had no voice of their own. Paul VI gave him encouragement, but the accession of John Paul II, with its cult of the pope and movement away from the vision of Vatican II, led to an increasing campaign against Romero in Rome. The details of this are disputed. It appears that John Paul asked him not to deal with specifics but to talk only of general principles; Romero tried to explain that specific murders in El Salvador were not adequately dealt with by stating general principles. The Vatican response was to appoint an apostolic administrator to oversee his work, but Romero was killed before this could be put into effect. He returned from his last visit to Rome to the slogan painted on walls, ‘Be a patriot, kill a priest.’ He was killed as he said mass in the chapel of the Divine Providence Hospital where he lived. (p. 823).

Pope Francis has supported a range of broadly left-wing initiatives, like refusing to condemn Gays and making the Church more supportive of the global poor. Mike and I went to an Anglican church school, and we were told about the martyrdom of Romero as part of the way totalitarian regimes, Fascist and Communist, were persecuting Christians. The Fascist regimes in El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala were given considerable support by Reagan’s government, including his statement that the Contras in Nicaragua were ‘the moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers’. And elements of the Tory party under Thatcher were very friendly towards the Central and South American dictators. The Libertarians of the Freedom Association had one of the leaders of one of El Salvadorean dictator Rios Montt’s death squads come over as their guest of honour at one of their annual dinners. This was when Paul Staines, of the Guido Fawkes blog, was a member.

These Fascist regimes have been supported by Conservatives on both sides of the Atlantic and promoted to their peoples as protecting and supporting Christianity and religion generally against godless Communism. The Communist bloc has indeed ferociously persecuted Christians and other peoples of faith, including Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and Taoists. But as the martyrdom of Archbishop Romero shows, and those of many other Christian clergy, monks, nuns and laypeople by the Fascist regimes in Latin America show, these regimes don’t automatically respect religious beliefs. They tolerate religion only in so far as it agrees with their political ideas. The moment people of faith speak out against poverty, injustice and oppression, they will kill them as readily as they will murder, maim and torture anyone else.

Pope Francis’ canonization of Romero is a great, praiseworthy act, which I hope will be applauded by all Christians concerned with preserving human rights, freedom, and dignity from persecution and oppression.

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Democratic Socialist on Thatcher, Cobyn and the Double Standards of the Right Wing Press

November 11, 2017

I’ve reblogged a number of videos from Democratic Socialist, an Aussie Leftie, who knows his stuff about capitalism’s connection to Fascism, the Nazi privatisation programme and support for businessmen as the eugenic elite, and Thatcher’s hideous support for general Pinochet in Chile.

This is another of his videos.

In it, he takes apart the double standards of the British right-wing media, and in particular the Daily Telegraph in its smears of the British Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, and its absolute refusal to condemn its idol, Margaret Thatcher, for her friendship with General Pinochet. Pinochet was, as I’ve mentioned frequently before, the brutal dictator of Chile, who overthrew the democratically elected Marxist president, Salvador Allende. The Tories smear Corbyn as a supporter of the Iran, Hamas and Hizbollah, and an anti-Semite. He is in fact none of these things. But Thatcher certainly was friends with Pinochet, who was a terrorist, torturer and anti-Semite.

The Torygraph smeared Corbyn as supporting the Iranian theocracy In fact, he did nothing of the sort. The article the Torygraph refers to appears on the page of the Mossadegh Project, an Iranian group that supports and celebrates the work of Iran’s last democratically elected president, Mohammed Mossadeq, who was tolerant and secular. Mossadeq was overthrown by a British-American coup in 1953 because he dared to nationalise the Iranian oil company, then consisting of the British owned Anglo-Persian Oil, which later became BP. His fall resulted in the gradual assumption of absolute power by the Shah, who instituted a reign of terror that eventually culminated in the Islamic Revolution of 1979, when he was overthrown by the Ayatollah Khomeini.

This section of the video includes a clip of an American expert describing how he was corrected by the Iranians, when he told a group of them that their country was incapable of democratically electing a leader. ‘It was,’ they replied, ‘before the Americans came’.

Oh yes, and there’s another reason why Corbyn’s support for Mossadeq certainly does not mean he supports the current Iranian theocracy. Mossadeq was a Baha’i, which is post-Islamic syncretistic religion, that the Shi’a regime in Iran despises as a vile heresy. I’ve been told by Iranian Muslim friends, who are profoundly disgusted by the fact that expatriate Iranian Baha’is cannot go to their homeland without signing a document stating that they have renounced their faith. The regime has killed 60,000+ Baha’is in pogroms, and subjected many to the same kind of tortures that Pinochet oversaw in Chile. I doubt very much that Corbyn’s support for the former Iranian president endears him to the Iranian regime.

As for supporting Hamas and Hizbollah, and therefore terrorism, Corbyn actually didn’t say anything like that. He condemned terrorism, but said that he had to negotiate with them.

Democratic Socialist contrasts this with Thatcher and Pinochet. The head of Pinochet’s secret police, Michael Townley, was responsible for the assassination of Orlando Latelier, who served as foreign minister in Allende’s government. Latelier had fled the country and noted the construction of the prison camps in which 100,000 people were incarcerated. He was killed by a car bomb in Washington D.C.

Corbyn is accused of anti-Semitism simply through guilt by association with these groups. But Pinochet was also a brutal murderer of Chile’s Jews. There’s a memorial in Chile now to the Jewish victims of Pinochet’s regime. Pinochet also gave sanctuary to the Nazis, who fled to Chile to escape justice. One of these was Walter Rauff, an utterly despicable person, responsible for inventing the gas cars. This was the method by which Jews and the disabled were murdered by the SS before the establishment of the great death camps. They were vans, specially adapted so that the exhaust was fed back into the truck’s rear compartment, in which the victim was placed. The van was driven around until the poor soul was gassed by the carbon monoxide. Not surprisingly, Emile Zubroff, one of Germany’s great Nazi hunters, was particularly angered by Pinochet giving this man sanctuary.

And then there’s the butcher’s extensive use of terror. Here’s another trigger warning: some viewers may find this very hard to watch. This part of the video has footage of an Englishwoman describing how she was raped and tortured with electric shocks by the regime. She does not go into details, but she simply states what the shocks and rapes consisted of. As well as how one woman was caged until she went made. This section starts at c. 350 mark. And it shows how vile and subhuman Pinochet and his torturers were.

This lady was abducted and tortured because Pinochet’s thugs believed she had treated the deputy leader of the anti-Pinochet resistance, and knew where the leader was. The woman was kidnapped, despite the fact that she was living with missionaries at the time. Before they took her, they shot the maid dead. I’m emphasising this because the Christian right in America and Britain has deluded itself and others that somehow Pinochet and other Fascists like him were great defenders of Christianity against Communism.

Rubbish. Fascists all over Latin America killed, raped and tortured committed Christians, including clergy, who worked for the poor against exploitation by the elites. This included Roman Catholic nuns, and Archbishop Romero. Romero was killed in the 1980s. He was not a supporter of Liberation Theology, the mixture of Roman Catholic doctrine and Marxism that had gained ground in Latin America. However, he moved left politically on his appointment, when he saw how oppressed and impoverished the mass of the people in his new archdiocese were. Before the Fascists killed him, they sprayed on the wall of his cathedral ‘Be a patriot. Kill a priest’.

I’m afraid I can’t remember off the top of my head in which country this was – Nicaragua, Guatemala or El Salvador. What I do remember is that he was murdered by the type of people Ronald Reagan hailed as ‘the moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers’, as he called the Contras in Nicaragua. And nearly all of these thugs have been trained by the American intelligence establishment on one of the military bases then called the ‘School of the Americas’.

This is followed by one looks like a BBC report, which shows Thatcher, already looking frail, congratulating Pinochet on having peacefully stepped down. This is true, but ignores the fact that the thug didn’t want to. He was forced out of power by a referendum he wanted to ignore, but his generals chose to enforce. Put simply, he was pushed.

Democratic Socialist then asks what the press would do if Corbyn really was like Thatcher, who was friends with a Fascist dictator, who ruled by terror, rape and torture.

He concludes by stating that he likes Corbyn, but doesn’t see him as being able to withstand the assaults on him by the British press.

Democratic Socialist put this up two years ago in 2015. And I am very glad to say that since then, Corbyn has gone on from strength to strength, not just despite, but because of the hostility of the British press and media.

And the moral character of the hacks in the British right-wing press is appalling. I remember reading a story in Private Eye back in the 1990s about the reaction of some of the journos in the British right-wing press, who were sent down to one of the South American countries to cover its transition from Fascism to democracy. I think it was El Salvador. On their visit, they met members of the El Salvadoran opposition before meeting General Noriega. Later talking about the meeting with the opposition leaders, one of the hacks said to the other that if he were the dictator, he’d shoot them.

Just let that sink in. This hack said that he was in favour of a Fascist dictator, responsible for appalling crimes against humanity, killing the very people, who wanted to lead their country to a new, democratic, better life. Now I dare say it was probably meant as a joke, but it’s a sick one. Especially as the Times and other establishment newspapers a few years after Pinochet seized power in Chile were demanding a coup in 1975 to oust the minority Labour government. The Times didn’t, it is fair to say, want a right-wing government. They wanted a ‘Government Of All the Talents’, containing right-wing Labour as well as Tories to govern after a military uprising. If you want some of the details, see Francis Wheen’s book Strange Days: Paranoia in the 70s. ‘Red’ Ken Livingstone also revealed in his book, Livingstone’s Labour, how MI5 also had plans to round up British leftists in a coup and imprison them in camps in the Hebrides or somewhere else remote.

This is the political background behind Alan Moore’s and David Lloyd’s graphic novel and film, V For Vendetta, starring Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving, John Hurt, and Stephen Fry. I don’t like the movie because of its pronounced anti-Christian bias. But it does depict a chillingly plausible view of what a future fascist Britain would look like, based on what really happened in Nazi Germany. With the exception that the victims of biological experimentation in the Nazi camps never developed superpowers, and single-handedly inspired the masses to revolt and topple Hitler.

The right-wing press just loved Thatcher. They still do, but did not condemn Thatcher for her friendship with Pinochet. They were candid about the nature of his regime, or at least, some where. And some of the hacks, who supported Thatcher maintain that they would have loved to have killed Pinochet. Julie Burchill, a long-time staple of the Mail, went on about what would happen to the Chilean Fascist if she and him were in a locked room with her having a gun. Well, I’m very sceptical about that. Not least because in another of her articles, La Burchill vilified the idealistic young men and women, who went to Spain to fight for the Republicans against Franco during the Civil War as the equivalent of the bloodthirsty tourists, who go to watch a bullfight. So she was quite prepared to support the Spanish Fascists against the anti-Fascists, who risked and lost life and limb against him.

Burchill hates the left, and probably thinks that the Republicans were all Communists and Anarchists, but they also included POUM, which was roughly the equivalent of the British Labour party at the time, and liberals. They were a coalition of forces, united against the threat of Fascism. As the ‘Red’ Duchess of Atholl pointed out at the time.

Now it seems to me that if Britain had suffered a military coup in 1975 against the Labour administration, it would have not differed much from the Fascist regimes in Latin America. We would still have mass incarceration, the suspension of traditional British constitutional freedoms and rape and torture.

And I have no doubt that the Tory press, which lauds Thatcher and vilifies Corbyn, would have been 100 per cent behind it all.

Fake News Alert: Fox News Interviews Bogus Swedish Defence Expert

March 2, 2017

After Trump and the mainstream media have been going on about ‘fake news’ when they mean accurate reporting by independent media that makes them and their right-wing political and industrial paymasters look bad, here’s some real fake news from Fox. After Trump made a speech about a completely nonexistent terrorist attack in Sweden last week, Fox’s anchorman, Bill O’Reilly, interviewed on his show a ‘Swedish Defence Advisor’, Nils Bildt, to confirm his and Trump’s prejudices. Bildt confirmed that there was indeed a problem with crime and immigration in Sweden. Immigrants weren’t assimilating into Swedish society, and this problem was confounded by the liberal Swedish mindset which refused to accept this.

Except that it was all rubbish. After the programme, senior officials in the Swedish defence ministry and associated organisations contacted the country’s national newspaper, Dagens Nyheter, to say that Bildt wasn’t one of them and they’d never heard of him. Robert Egnell, the leadership professor at the Swedish Defence University, said that Bildt was ‘not in any way a known quantity in Sweden’ and that he had ‘never been part of the debate’. Johan Wiktoren, a real Swedish intelligence and defence advisor, said that he had heard of him. When Pakman’s people tried to contact Bildt’s company, they were told by an employee that Bildt was an independent US-based defence advisor, and that the decision to credit him as a Swedish defence advisor was Fox’s. To make matters worse, Bildt hadn’t been in the country for over 25 years. As Pakman and Louis point out, this makes you wonder just how much he knows about his country of origin.

Pakman and Louis point out that this piece of bogus reporting is exceptionally deceitful, even for Fox. But it’s not as if the company doesn’t have previous for fake news and bogus reporting. Academics analysing the broadcaster’s actual news content have concluded that 75 per cent of Fox’s news was actually false, and you were less informed if you watched them than if you didn’t. And O’Reilly himself is certainly no stranger to making false claims. He has made up numerous stories about himself, claiming that he was in south Argentina during the Falklands War while he was actually in Buenos Aires, having witnessed a sectarian riot in Northern Ireland when he was nowhere near it, having seen nuns raped and murdered in Central America, and having been outside the front door when one of the witnesses to the JFK assassination shot himself. All fantasies from a serial liar, working for a company broadcasting lies and deceit.

Fox News – ‘a company with a proud future behind it’, as that great, computer-generated newsman, Max Headroom, would say.

George Galloway Speaking at the ‘Stop the War Coalition’ Conference at TUC Congress House, 2015

August 25, 2016

I’ve been putting up a series of videos this week of George Galloway speaking on particular topics. As I’ve said, I’ve got strong reservations about Galloway, but he is absolutely correct about many issues. He is correct about Jeremy Corbyn not being a Trotskyite. He is correct about Ken Livingstone speaking the truth when he said that the Nazis and the Zionists co-operated to send Jews to Israel. And this is another speech in which he shows that he was also correct about the Iraq Invasion.

This is a video of the speech Galloway gave last year at the TUC headquarters in London to the Stop the War Coalition. He begins by thanking some of the others attending and speaking, and quotes approvingly Dr. Mustafa, who said that they will never surrender. He states that this should be the Coalition’s motto, as they will never surrender criticising and opposing Britain’s participation in this imperialist war. He then says of an American speaker, that he wishes everyone in America were like her, and everyone in Britain like them. He then goes on to describe his last conversation with Tony Blair ‘before I see him at the Hague to give evidence against him’. It was outside the gents’ lavatory in the House of Commons, where he met Blair and Alistair Campbell, whom he describes as a ‘6 foot 3 Goebbels’ tied to Blair’s hip. Galloway states that he told Blair that there were no al-Qaeda in Iraq, but if he goes ahead with the invasion, there will be hundreds and thousands of them, and they will spill over into our streets and countries.

He goes on to state that he’s telling that story, not to say ‘I was right’ but to make the bigger point that if they were lying then – and he states the media has been wrong, except when its been telling bigger falsehoods – then why should we believe them now, when they tell us we should be prepared for further military action in foreign nations. He then tells a story about his reply to a retired general about a possible future war with Russia over Latvia. Galloway speaks every year at the Hay-on-Wye ‘How the Light Gets in Festival’, and he states that ever year the panel gets more and more loaded against him. Last year the chairman and two of the other panellists were against him. But even there, the audience recognises the truth. At that event, the panel and a recently retired general from the NATO secretariat said that British mothers must get used to the fact that their sons may be required to shed their blood in our new front line in Latvia. Galloway replied that he didn’t think many British mothers new where Latvia was, or that it was our new front line. But he knew that they would not accept their son’s lifeblood being shed on his artificial front line.

He also says that at Hay-on-Wye, three of his opponents told him that Russia was the aggressor in the Ukraine, and that there were Russian troops in the Ukraine. He states that there is no Russian aggression in the Ukraine. But there are British and American troops in the Ukraine, and NATO aggression in the Ukraine and all around the borders of Russia. He makes the point that this is a stranger world than Orwell imagined, and these people can tell you that war is peace, and truth is lies, with a straight face and a posh accent.

He states that they have to continue challenging them over their attempts to rewrite history, and point to the fact that the Stop the War Coalition was and is right. He mentions that before he came there he was watching footage on his phone from RT of a 70-year old man being savagely beaten by Israeli soldiers for not leaving his home. How is it, he challenges the audience, that the Palestinians are described as the terrorists, when the majority of the terrorism is committed by the Israelis, and always has been?

He asks the audience to look at what the West has achieved in Syria, where the Jihadis are nearly at the gates of Damascus, and there is hardly a Christian priest, monk or nun, who has survived unscathed by the barbarians. He states that if they take power in Damascus, then no person will be safe from ‘these heart-eating, head-chopping barbarians’. He describes them as the true children of Bush and Blair. He rhetorically asks how proud David Cameron, William Hague and Peter Hammond will be after the caliph comes to power in Damascus, after he has demolished all the churches, destroyed all the historic building, and massacred everyone he wants to massacre. He then recalls how he and one of the organisers of the conference were among the last men standing in the 1980s when they told Reagan and Thatcher that by creating the mujahideen, they had opened the gates to the barbarians. He states the barbarians are using our weapons, and driving around in our Humvees. He says that the government’s crimes could be listed far into the night, but the important point is to remember what the German revolutionaries said nearly a century ago: our enemies are many, but our primary enemy is right at home. He ends by urging everyone to join the Stop the War Coalition, as there are too many people, who agree with them but haven’t joined, or are in organisations that agree, but haven’t affiliated. The current people are getting older, but their brains are still good. However, if people want a Britain and America that still feels like their countries, they should join them.

I’m not a member of the Coalition, but everything he says here about the war, and the preparations for war in Latvia, is correct. It sounds like the general he met at Hay-on-Wye was the same general that wrote the book predicting that by May next year, Russia would have invaded Latvia and we would be at war. Contrary to the line that Private Eye is pushing, it appears very much that it is the Russian population that is being persecuted by the Ukrainians under a far-rightwing government that includes Nazis. There is footage on YouTube apparently showing American and British soldiers in the Ukraine. And both Counterpunch and Lobster have argued that the aggressor in the Ukraine isn’t Russia but NATO. Having turned the Middle East into a bloodbath, they are lying to turn the Ukraine and the Baltic into another.

Modi and Zac Goldsmith’s Attack on Sadiq Khan for Mayor of London

March 15, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political has also this morning put up a piece commenting on Zac Goldsmith’s leaflet for his bid to become mayor of London. One of these is aimed at the metropolis’ Tamil community. Goldsmith is keen to present himself as someone, who has participated fully in the Indian communities festivals, supports family businesses and will protect their homes and valuables from thieves and footpads. This is contrasted with Khan, who supports the trade unions and threatens to nick their family jewels through a wealth tax. Mike comments on how desperate this is, reblogging a Tweet from Chesterfield’s Labour MP, Toby Perkins. Amongst other things, Perkins points out how patronising it is with the scaremongering about Khan coming for the family jewels. Mike’s piece is at:
http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/03/15/goldsmith-calls-khan-divisive-then-targets-ethnic-minorities-with-scare-campaign-about-him/. Go and read it for more information.

In fact, the hysterical accusation about Mr Khan threatening to rob hardworking Indians of their mother’s jewels is one of the least offensive items in the entire wretched screed. Far more alarming is Goldsmith’s outrage that Khan supported Jeremy Corbyn, and Corbyn did not want the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, to come to the UK. The leaflet also claims that Khan did not attend the welcoming party for Modi when he did.

In point of fact, I can think of several reasons why no liberal person, and particularly no-one from a religious minority or from the Dalits should want to welcome Modi, any more than anyone would want to welcome any other Fascist. Because Fascist is what Modi is, just like General Pinochet and various other bigots, who have goose-stepped into power. Modi’s a member of the BJP, the Bharatiya Janata Party. These are militant Hindu nationalists. They even have a paramilitary wing, the RSSS, which was founded in the 1920s and partly modelled on Mussolini’s Blackshirts. They are just about as far away from Gandhi’s policy of ahimsa or non-violence as you can get. Since the BJP took power in the 1990s, they’ve been active fomenting riots against Muslims, Sikhs and Christians, including leading angry, violent mobs into non-Hindu areas to beat, kill and burn. They’ve been responsible for attacks on mosques, and clashes with Muslims, which have led to hundreds, if not thousands of deaths. The attacks on Christians also include a horrific gang rape of a nun, and the forced conversion of Christians to Hinduism in some areas by Hindu priests. As for the Dalits, their position has become much worse since the BJP took power. The upper castes have been pressing for the system of affirmative action which guarantees Dalits a certain number of places at university to be cut or removed. The Dalits have complained that they are being treated as slaves. They and the Muslim minority suffer high unemployment, and do the lowest, most degrading jobs. And under Modi human rights activists and campaigning journalists have been beaten, imprisoned and murdered.

There’s an entire chapter on India in John Kampfner’s Freedom For sale, including interviews with activists and campaigning journalists. One of these is Tarun Tejpal, who runs an investigative website Tehelka. This has not only uncovered cases of corruption, but in 2007 his organisation filmed a number of politicians, businessmen and policemen actually boasting about how they had supervised and managed the mass murder and rape of Muslims in Gujarat in 1982. Tejpal has said about the state of tolerance and democracy in his country

People abroad have been bowled a Gandhian googly. The myth of tolerance remains strong. In fact, through our treatment of caste, gender, children and class we must surely be one of the cruellest free societies in the world. (p. 161).

Modi is the Prime Minister of a great nation, but he’s a ruthless bigot from a party that supports violent thuggery towards the poorest and most marginal in Indian society. He no more deserves a welcome in Britain than that other aspiring bigot, Donald Trump. That Zac Goldsmith has decided that Sadiq Khan is somehow reprehensibly at fault for not welcoming Modi says less about Mr Khan, and much about the qualities Goldsmith clearly admires in a ruler: a jackboot aimed at the face of the poor.

Panorama on the Rise of Food Banks

March 5, 2014

Monday’s edition of the BBC’s investigative documentary programme, Panorama, covered the massive expansion in food banks across the UK. Filmed in Bristol and Derby, the programme’s host, Darragh McIntyre, spoke to the organisers of the food banks, including a community of Anglican nuns in Bristol, the Sisters of the Church, who provide food to over 2,28 people, the unemployed and destitute forced to use them, and Tory spokesmen defending the government’s policies, including Edwina Currie. The people filmed using food banks including a young couple living in a homeless hostel. The young woman had been referred to the food bank by the staff at her hospital, as there were complications with her pregnancy and they feared that she was not eating enough. The reported stated that many of those being fed by the nuns had drug and alcohol problems. Another Bristolian using the food banks was Steve Hudson, who, although he was unemployed, was not yet on benefit. The man had gone without food for days on end, and there was literally nothing in his fridge except a bit of ketchup and a tin of kidney beans. He had to walk the four hours to the Jobcentre because he had no money for the bus fare to get there. The programme later returned to Hudson. By this time he had got a job, but it hadn’t worked out and he was back on the dole. He was again forced to use food banks as most of his dole money went to paying off the utility and debts. They also spoke to the head of the East Bristol Food Bank, Andy Irwin, which was run in partnership with the Trussell Trust. Three years ago the Trussell Trust had only 50 food banks across the UK. Now they have more than 300. The programme state that the food banks in Bristol feed about 8,000 people. The Trust claims that they supply food to hundreds of thousands of people across Britain, and that since 2012 demand has tripled.

Food Banks Created Through Poverty, Not Scrounging

The programme also reported the Tories claim that the existence of the food banks was responsible for the increasing numbers of people using them. They showed a clip of Ian Duncan Smith in parliament, reading out a statement from a member of staff at the Oxford Food Bank, stating that although food banks do a good job, the people using them were often those, who had asked members of the various welfare agencies, such as their social workers, to refer them. This claim was rebutted by Chris Mould, the chairman of the Trussell Trust, who stated that it was ridiculous as it suggested that the 18,000 members of the various agencies, that had signed referrals for the food banks, were somehow in collusion to rip the system off.

Anglican Bishops Condemn Rise of Food Banks and Government Policy

The programme also talked to one of the 27 Anglican bishops, who had written a letter roundly condemning the rise of poverty and hunger in Britain. This was after they had interviewed David Burrowes MP, the chairman of the Conservative Christian Fellowship, who claimed that the bishops were exaggerating the problem. He stated that although they had the right to address their concerns, they did it in the wrong way and so had been used as ‘pawns in a wider political agenda’. This was rebutted by the bishop of Manchester, David Walker, who said that it was ridiculous that they were being used as part of anyone’s agenda. He quoted Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who said that there comes a time when, having fished enough people out of the river, you go up river to see why they’re falling in. And this, said the good bishop, inevitably draws you into politics.

Founder of Bristol Food Bank and Prof Elizabeth Dowler also State Food Banks due to Poverty

They also spoke to Mark Wing, an evangelical Christian, who runs the Matthew Tree in Bristol. This is the seventh food bank he’d opened in the city. When he was asked if Bristol needed seven food banks, he replied that it absolutely was. Wing aims not only to feed people, but also to reform their lives, and so those using the food bank are expected to show their bank accounts. They also interviewed Professor Elizabeth Dowler, the author of the government’s report Household Food Security in the UK. She too rebutted the claims that the explosion in the number of food banks was due to the number of people using them. She stated that it was simply because there were many more people in need. She pointed to the rise in food prices coupled with wages remaining the same or falling as a reason for the increasing numbers of people forced to use them.

Derbyshire County Council Funding Food Banks, Criticised by Edwina Currie

The programme mentioned the government’s view that the best way out of poverty was through work, and their statement that unemployment was falling. However, the programme pointed out that official figures show that 9.8 million people were living in relative poverty, that is, they had an income below 60 per cent of the British average. They also spoke to Julie Hirst, the Public Health Specialist on Derbyshire County Council. Previously the council had been concerned about healthy eating. Now they were worried about ‘food poverty’ – that people were not eating at all. As a result the county was investing £126,000 pound for its public health budget into food banks. They then invited one of the critics of food banks, Edwina Currie, to one run by a church pastor, Christian Thorpe, who church feeds 60 people a week. Currie was polite, but made her disapproval of the whole affair very clear. Shown the stores of food at the bank, she immediately picked at some of the items, asking whether they should really be giving food like it to the hungry. She objected to food banks, because they weren’t teaching people to live within their means, plan for a rainy day and not get into debt. Pastor Thorpe stated that they were indeed working with other agencies to teach people responsibility. Currie then stated that she felt food banks were ‘a bit of a trap’, and said that there wasn’t a need for food banks. She said that there should be more help for people with problems, but said that she didn’t believe there was food poverty. It was all due to people making the wrong choices. People, according to Currie, were not making the right, responsible choice because they knew they could get free food. Back in Bristol, Andy Irwin rebutted Currie’s remarks. 23 per cent of the people they saw, the largest single group of users, were people who had problems with their benefit, such as it being stopped. This was confirmed by the Citizens’ Advice Bureau. The government, however, denied that there was any link between their reforms and the increasing numbers of people forced to look for free food. They repeated the line that their reforms were encouraging the unemployed to find work.

People Forced to Use Food Banks Through Sanctions

The programme also spoke to Ian Hoswell, a man who had been sanctioned by the Jobcentre and had his benefit stopped for three months after he missed three interviews. McIntyre reported that for breaking the rules, you could have your benefit stopped for the minimum of a month to the maximum of three years. He also reported that the DWP had said that the conditions were made clear to claimants, and that they could apply for hardship payments and loans. Hoswell had applied for a hardship loan, but as you don’t get this for a fortnight, he had been forced to sell his CDs in order to eat. He was forced to go to the Matthew Tree for food because the £46 odd hardship payment left very little left over after he had paid his bills and also bought cigarettes. An increasing number of people are in Hoswell’s position. The programme cited government statistics that last year 875,000 people were sanctioned. They interviewed the founder of the Matthew Tree, Mark Goodway, who said that the people they saw were those who had no money. He felt that, while it could be debated whether the sanctioned claimants should have the money, they shouldn’t be starved while this was done. Back in London, Burrowes admitted that he realised that people went to food banks because they had no money, and that for many it was because they had been sanctioned, but the government was working to supply local authorities with funds for hardship payments.

McIntyre reported the ‘shocking statistic’ that in 11 months, over 133,000 sanctions had been overturned on appeal. This was almost 400 every day. It can, however, take weeks to overturn the DWP’s decision, during which time the sanctioned claimants were left with little or no money. He spoke to Dr David Webster, of Glasgow University, who has investigated and strongly criticised the immense number of people sanctioned by the government. He stated that there would be many more sanctions overturned if more people appealed. He also stated that part of the problem was the bureaucratic procedure, which people had to negotiate to overturn their sanctions, during which time they had little or no money. He stated baldly that people who started poor, would be driven into complete destitution. He talked to Susan Harkins, a woman with a partner and two young children. They had been forced onto benefit after her husband became to ill to do his job, and she lost hers. They were wrongly sanctioned, and placed on a low income of about £63 a week due to a clerical error. She stated that this meant that she and her husband had gone for days at a time in order to feed their children. They eventually managed to get the sanctioned overturned, but by that time they had been on an extremely low income for three months. She stated that her in opinion, such sanctions were simply a way for the government to save money.

Government Sanction Targets

In support of this statement, McIntyre showed the wall chart showing savings from sanctions, that was on display at a Jobcentre in Grantham last year. According to this, one three-month sanction would save £932. They spoke to Charles Law, of the Public and Commercial Services Union. Law stated that the government tells their members that there wasn’t a target, but then expects them to do the same as a cluster of other job centres over a week or month. He stated what was obvious: this was a target.

Needless to say, this was denied by the government, who said that the wall chart was only an isolated incident, which did not reflect policy, and that there were no targets for sanctions. Most of the decisions were correct, and the appeals process was an important part of the systems safeguards.

Part-Time Workers also Using Food Banks

McIntyre also reported that it wasn’t just the unemployed, who were forced to use food banks. He spoke to another Bristolian, Lisa Hall, who lived in one of the city’s suburbs. She worked in McDonalds, and had been forced to go to a food bank after going for days without food. Although she took home £900 a month, she was left with only a tenner a week after paying bills and debts. Her children had left home, and so with two empty bedrooms she had been hit by the government’s ‘bedroom tax’. They asked her the obvious question: why didn’t she move. She replied strongly that she didn’t want to, and explained at length that it was her home. She had managed to get another job, delivering pizzas, that kept her working sometimes till four in the morning. This meant she was earning enough not to need the food bank.

Food Banks funded by One Third of All Councils

McIntyre reported the government’s statement that food banks were not part of the welfare system. The lines were, however, increasingly blurred. In IDS’ own constituency of Chingford in London, the two councils which comprised it were spending £70,000 a year on food banks. The film-makers had contacted every council in the country, and 140 of them – a third – had confirmed that they were funding food banks. In the last two years, £2.9 million had been devoted to combating food poverty in the UK.

The Government’s Statement on Food Banks, but No Interview Given

The Trussell Trust’s Chris Mould stated that the concerns that food banks were becoming a part of the welfare state were valid, and that they should be tackled by politicians. Elizabeth Dowler of Warwick University declared that they were ‘an inadequate plaster over a gaping wound’ and the fact that they were being presented as a solution was ‘deeply immoral’. McIntyre said that they had tried to get someone from the cabinet to talk about their investigation into food banks, and had been shunted from pillar to post. The Department for Work and Pensions referred them to the Cabinet Office, and the Cabinet Office referred them back to the DWP. They were then referred back to the Prime Minister’s own press team at 10 Downing Street. They were not, however, given an interview. The government simply issued a statement that local authorities were now responsible for giving emergency help, and that they were being given additional funding to pay for it. It was giving help to families with the cost of living, and that thanks to its reforms three million households would be better off.

Do We Want People to Have to Survive on Food Hand-Outs?

The programme ended with Bishop David Walker saying that a clear statement from the government was needed whether or not food banks were part of the system, and if they were, how they could be improved. They reported some good news with the people they had interviewed using the food banks. Steve Hudson had now found work at a bar in Bristol’s city centre, while Lisa now had a full time job with B&Q. McIntyre ended with the statement that there was no doubt food banks are here to stay, and that they have helped very many people. He then asked the question, ‘Do we want to live in a society where people survive on food hand outs?’

Here’s the video

It can also be seen on Youtube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NKVPwdNVb4s. The video is on a channel by someone called Theworkprogramme, who has posted a number of other documentaries and excerpts also tackling poverty in contemporary Britain.

It was a very, very good documentary, and did show the immense hardship experience by people due to the government’s welfare reforms. For that reason, I expect that it has already attracted the ire of the Tory faithful, who believe that the Beeb is composed entirely of liberals, Leftists and Commies dedicated to destroying British values. I do have some criticisms, however.

Firstly, I don’t trust the government statistics showing that unemployment is falling. Mike’s devoted a lot of time on his blog, as have a number of other Left-wingers on theirs, showing that these figures are the result of manipulation and falsification. The government’s figures only deal with those, who have been unemployed for under a year and are on a particular type of benefit. Those, who have been unemployed for longer and placed on the Work Programme are not counted as unemployed.

Then there’s the government’s statement that hardship payments are available for those, who have been sanctioned. This is another falsehood. While it may have been true when the documentary was made, the hardship payments are now being withdrawn. See Johnny Void’s pieces on this. Moreover, they were another benefit, about which claimants were not told by the Jobcentre staff.

As for help being available for families, this is being cut all the time. Mike and the other blogger have also extensively demolished the government’s claims that their reforms will make three million people better off. The fact that no-one from the government wanted to be interviewed seems to demonstrate that the government knows this is a lie, and really don’t want to have to face any intensive questioning on this issue.

As for the question of whether we want a society where people have to survive on food hand-outs, my guess is that the government does. The unemployed in several American states are given food stamps, rather than a welfare cheque, and it seems to me that food banks are being used in the same way here. It’s a way of punishing and humiliating the poor for their own poverty, exactly as it was intended to be.

As you might expect, I was also resoundingly unimpressed by Edwina Currie. She clearly was there simply to parrot the government’s line that poverty was all due to people’s own wrong choices. This is the attitude of the American Conservatives towards the grinding poverty that exists in the land of the free. One of the contributors to Lobster in one of its articles mentioned how it never ceases to amaze him about the way American deluded themselves about the cause of poverty there. He had been in a commercial conference in one of the American cities. During the conference, there was a report on the local news that 50,000 local citizens were homeless. When he asked one of the American attending the conference about how that could possibly occur, he was blandly told that they had all chosen to be homeless. Her comments also showed the strong influence of social Darwinism and 19th century notions of the deserving and undeserving poor, as well as a doctrinaire adherence to the party line that there was no link between the government’s reforms and poverty. It was also evident from the outset that she was not going to give the food bank a fair hearing by the way she picked around some of the articles and pointedly asked whether the bank should be giving such foods – like biscuits – to the poor and starving.

But then, my impression is that for all her Oxbridge education, Edwina has never been the sharpest knife in the kitchen cabinet. I’ve mentioned before how she looked bewildered when she was booed on Clive Anderson’s show on Channel 4 after making sharp comments about pensioners This was along the lines of ‘that’ll teach them to wrap up’, after he had asked her about her remark when in government telling them to wrap up warm when Major’s administration cut the cold weather payment for the elderly. She also made the mistake of locking horns with Ian Hislop a decade or so ago on Have I Got News For You. She was talking about how she had one a court case against someone for libel. She turned on the editor of Lord Gnome’s much-sued organ, and said, ‘Aren’t you glad I didn’t sue you?’ To this Hislop replied, ‘Aren’t you glad, my dear.’ I will give her some credit, however. Unlike IDS, Cameron, McVey or anyone else from the government, she did actually turn up and speak on camera. The others just seem to have hidden in the cabinet office and issued a press release in the hope it would all go away.

Unfortunately, it won’t. The poverty and starvation the government is wilfully creating is here to stay, and as long as it does, it should be criticised and challenged, along with the government, whose punitive cruelty creates it.