A government fuelling xenophobia… with tragic results

The end of November 2021 shone a spotlight on some very unsavoury attitudes towards people migrating to the UK, with the government making the situation worse, for political gain, rather than showing the wise leadership that would build a better society.

First there was a story that Dominic Raab had confirmed that the government is exploring ways of processing asylum seekers abroad, with ministers thinking of flying migrants to processing centres within seven days of arriving in the UK. There was a rumour, hotly-denied by the Albanian government, that people would be held in their country.

Then there was news of the Home Office covering up its own report on why migrants come to the UK because the actual evidence didn’t fit with a government narrative about there being a “pull factor” bringing people particularly to the UK.
Continue reading “A government fuelling xenophobia… with tragic results”

Covid and authoritarianism: were Liberal Democrats wrong-footed over Covid passports?

Civil liberties concerns over Covid Passports are misplaced — and opposing them risks fuelling the anxiety that is creating the space for increasingly authoritarian government behaviour

I’m hearing genuine concern about the increasing authoritarianism of the Johnson government and more complicated concerns about civil liberties and Covid regulations — particularly around the idea of Covid passports. But these are profoundly different. Joining them together is a bad idea, and plays into the government’s hands.

Creeping authoritarianism

The Tories thought nothing of illegally proroguing parliament. They responded to losing in the Supreme Court with a threat to stop “leftie lawyers” challenging the government. Proposals for compulsory voter identification and redrawing constituency boundaries are likely to help them at the next election, and they are alarmingly-happy to use “Henry VIII powers” to sideline parliament in facing the legislative consequences of Brexit. And it’s probably best not to mention the recent Conservative Party conference.
Continue reading “Covid and authoritarianism: were Liberal Democrats wrong-footed over Covid passports?”

“Freedom day” — detached from reality and spiked with racism (just like Brexit)

The relaxing of Covid rules, at a time when infection rates are rising, is a rash triumph of political will over reality, which will land badly, particularly for some minority groups.

“Freedom day” night clubbing
19 July 2021 — trumpeted as “freedom day” — with Covid regulations coming to an end, saw infections rising and 39,950 new cases. The daily number of new cases hasn’t been that high since the emergency tightening of rules at Christmas (where the surge peaked at 68,053 on 8 January). That’s not a good sign. Vaccinations have helped bring numbers down, but the increased infectiousness of the delta variant is pulling the other way. No vaccine is 100% effective, and it’s right to be concerned about parts of society where people are chosing not to be vaccinated.

Denying the seriousness

In the Daily Mail of 17 July, Graham Brady argued that relaxing the rules is about freedom. He likens the people’s reservations about the change to “Stockholm syndrome” — where captives identify with their captors. Choice extracts from the article include:

“After 16 months of being told by the state when we could leave our homes, whether we could see our families, with whom we were allowed to have sex, or what kinds of sports we were permitted to play, many of us are eager to regain the human dignity that comes with the exercise of our own free will.”

Continue reading ““Freedom day” — detached from reality and spiked with racism (just like Brexit)”

So, really, what lay behind the Boris Johnson’s ‘greed is good’ gaffe?

On 23 March, Boris Johnson told the 1922 committee that we have success with the vaccine because of “capitalism” and “greed”. Then he added: “forget I said that”.

Outrage is an appropriate response, but it’s worth thinking further.

Perhaps Johnson made a mistake. Perhaps he had a good sense of what his audience wanted to hear — and was so caught up in where they were that he didn’t realise how it would go down in the country. On the other hand, both greed and capitalism are powerful defences against difficult emotions.
Continue reading “So, really, what lay behind the Boris Johnson’s ‘greed is good’ gaffe?”

Towards a politics that’s not about “winning” and “losing”

Are we losing something in the seeming increase of polarisation in the political world?

As results were coming in from the Georgia run-off, I found myself thinking about polarisation in politics. The shape of Joe Biden’s presidency hung on the small number of voters in Georgia who would, or would not, give the Republicans a Senate majority.

In the end, both Democrat candidates won, though Jon Ossoff came in with just 50.6 per cent of the vote. Logically, this was just the last stage in a close election. Emotionally, the situation charged.

We discovered how charged it was when rioters burst into the Capitol, desperate to stop Biden being confirmed as President-elect. One said: “We are the last hope for the world, at least in my mind and everything I’ve seen. We are free.” Another carried a banner with the word “treason”. More worryingly, a Yougov poll found 45 per cent of Republicans supporting the rioters.
Continue reading “Towards a politics that’s not about “winning” and “losing””

The Trump legacy: a reminder from history, and a mammoth task for Biden

The case for impeaching Trump seems overwhelming: but is it wise? The risk is that it inflames division and creates a future for Trumpsim.

Watching a documentary about the rise of Nazism on the weekend before Biden’s inauguration, I am struck by historical echoes.

I don’t buy the idea that Hitler “magically” cast a spell over the German people. In another time he might have been a failed artist ranting on a street corner, ignored by passers-by. The point is that his words struck a chord. They gave form to a range of not-quite-articulated grievances.

In another blog post I tried out the idea of “quasi-religious” support for Brexit, suggesting that some of the Brexiteer myths got support because they focussed people’s anxieties. An obvious example is immigration. “Immigrants taking out job” and “immigrants scrounging our benefits” don’t work together: an immigrant can’t be both taking our jobs and our benefits. They don’t make economic sense either — as the evidence is that the economic activity of immigrants boosts the economy. But the myth of “immigrants taking our jobs/benefits” might well resonate for people living with lack, who don’t hear their experience reflected in the words of political leaders. The problem is that the words are not on the lips of political leaders because things are more complex than that — which is heard as “politicians don’t care”. I’m mentioning Brexit, but one of the Hitler echoes is that there never was a “Jewish problem”, but it was a shorthand for issues that were more complex. Using that shorthand might have had an emotional appeal, but it did no more than enable immense suffering.
Continue reading “The Trump legacy: a reminder from history, and a mammoth task for Biden”

Harsh realities of Brexit appearing: is this what people voted for?

The government has been claiming they are implementing “the will of the people” but as reality bites, how many will be saying “this is not what I voted for”?

On 28 December, Sky News ran a story about Peter Wood, who runs a business exporting glass eels, and voted Leave, who now faces going out of business because of Brexit. He commented:

“be careful what you wish for. I thought we were going to get a global market. This was going to be a new opportunity. It hasn’t turned out like this. I would never have voted for Brexit if I knew we were going to lose our jobs”

There are many more stories of this sort on the horizon as we face disruption — to travel, insurance, exports and even the fishing industry realising it’s not getting what it hoped for.
Continue reading “Harsh realities of Brexit appearing: is this what people voted for?”

Not disregarding Tony Blair because of Iraq

There’s a tendency to dismiss Tony Blair because of Iraq. Even though the invasion was a mistake, might he have been right to support it? Might people be wrong to dismiss him because of it?

President George W. Bush and Tony Blair

At the time, I didn’t support the invasion of Iraq. Saddam Hussein was clearly unsavoury but the evidence made public for his having weapons of mass destruction that posed a real threat to Europe was weak.

My sense at the time was that things would have looked very different if Iraq’s neighbours had been appealing for help.

The best account of the messiness of the situation that I saw lay in some deft editing by John Wilkins of The Tablet. My memory is that he published five articles, in successive issues. Two were from supporters of invasion and two from opponents. His editorial masterstroke was that the fifth article written by an Iraqi Kurd arguing that Saddam Hussein’s killing Iraqi Kurds twenty years earlier had put a duty on the international community to act (and Hussein was eventually executed for the killing of 148 Iraqi Kurds in 1982). The fact that the international community had waited for two decades before acting put a very different light on the “urgent” invasion.

Things would have looked very different if the West had waited and trusted the Iraqi people to change their own government rather than “bring” then democracy. In this sense I thought and think the invasion was wrong.

But, if the US had decided to invade anyway, might Blair have been right to join in?
Continue reading “Not disregarding Tony Blair because of Iraq”

Is creeping consolidation of power in the Executive a sign of authoritarianism in post-Brexit Britain?

Timing the Brexit deal so Parliament has no choice between this and the disaster of “no deal” is the latest in a long series of steps that look like a consolidation of power in the Executive. This is dangerous.

Downing St entrance

The leader article in The Economist for 21 November, “remaking the state”, offered a chilling and credible reading of the present government’s attempt to reform the state — by concentrating power in the Executive through a mix of reducing the power of judges, pushing back against devolution, reforming [sic] the civil service and tipping power from parliament to government. It comments (rightly) that “The Tories are right to advocate constitutional reform, bit their proposals take the country in precisely the wrong direction”.

I share the diagnosis from The Economist, but am less optimistic.
Continue reading “Is creeping consolidation of power in the Executive a sign of authoritarianism in post-Brexit Britain?”

Rules or guidance over Covid19: an authoritarian problem

The government’s authoritarian approach to Covid19 has tilted the balance from medical sense to a demand for obedience — this isn’t good either for civil liberties, or handling the medical, social and economic problems caused by the pandemic.

The outbreak of an infectious and serious illness is a global problem. It needs mature and collaborative leadership. Sadly a failure of leadership in the UK has been making the situation worse.

An illness that kills some, makes many more very seriously ill, and yet leaves others unscathed, is a perfect storm. Those who want to say “it’s nothing” or “it’s no worse than the flu” can find plenty of people to illustrate their point, and yet intensive care units and mortuaries show that they are ignoring reality.
Continue reading “Rules or guidance over Covid19: an authoritarian problem”

Ursula von der Leyen gets it right on Brexit, alas

In contrast with Boris Johnson’s hubristic announcement, Ursula von der Leyen has got it right on the sadness of Brexit — and the folly of the fantasy of “sovereignty”.

Ursula von der Leyen
In her statement on the conclusion of the talks she said, with measured dignity:


So, we have finally found an agreement. It was a long and winding road but we have finally got a good deal to show for it. It is fair. It is a balanced deal. It is the right and responsible thing to do for both sides.
Continue reading “Ursula von der Leyen gets it right on Brexit, alas”

The Brexit deal is done: a shabby Christmas present from a shabby government

Was the Brexit deal announcement timed for Christmas Eve so that its shabbiness would go unchallenged? Does Boris Johnson actually believe in it?

Boris Johnson’s bluff-and-bluster announcement of his Brexit deal on Christmas Eve sounded more-or-less credible, as long as you didn’t listen too closely.

He managed 30 seconds before mentioning the “oven-ready deal that you voted for” [in the General Election], deftly overlooking the fact that, if it had been “oven-ready” it would have been signed a year ago… instead it was concluded with just over a week to go before the brutal realities of a “no deal” Brexit would have kicked in.

His words might have sounded more-or-less credible had I not just listened to Ursula von der Leyen’s wise and balanced comments on the same deal. The contrast should ring alarm bells.
Continue reading “The Brexit deal is done: a shabby Christmas present from a shabby government”