Tuesday, 18 June 2019

Falling for Fake News - a Possible Explanation

Enemies of this blog, which include George Galloway, OFSTED, Vladimir Putin, Nigel Farage and the Iranian Government, will be hugely amused at a recent faux pas of mine on Facebook. I posted the item above without checking its authenticity, something I have criticised others for doing in the past. The apparent list of misdemeanours by MPs is a hoax and is exposed as such on FULLFACT. It can be read by clicking on HERE
There is little I can say to excuse my mistake. I could dismiss it as a "senior moment" or try to wriggle out of responsibility for my error by saying that many others fell for it as well. Instead, I shall try to explain it. It is true that, as the Roman poet, Horace, said :

"quandoque bonus dormitat Homerus" (Ars Poetica. v. 359) - "Even Homer sometimes nods"

The meaning, as we probably know, is that the wisest among us, even the great writer, Homer, make errors - "anyone can make a mistake". Nevertheless, we should examine our mistakes and learn from them, and that is what I propose to do here. 
So, why did I omit to check the facts of this note? Why did I swallow this item of "fake news"? My self-analysis might be useful, as we are bombarded with fake news, advertising and propaganda of all types every day.
In the first place, I simply re-posted the item because I thought it would make a useful talking point. Mainly, however, I re-posted it because I automatically, albeit vaguely, sympathised with the underlying sentiment, even though it isn't true. In other words, whoever devised this list knew that a lot of people would accept it as fact because they were pre-disposed to believe it - including me, until I thought about it more clearly. And that, I believe, is a warning to us all: the most effective propaganda seeks to confirm our prejudices. Portraying politicians as corrupt self-seeking parasites is not difficult when you know that many people believe it already - in fact, want to believe it.
Does this point to a general fault in us all? Does it explain why so many voters in the USA continue to have faith in Donald Trump, even when his claims are proven to be false or exaggerated? Does it explain why so many voters in the UK support Nigel Farage and his Brexit Party menagerie? Aren't all politicians purveyors of fantasy? The answer to this last question is "No!", but far too many people in the UK seem to prefer the Brexit delusion.
As for me, I have learned my lesson and will try very hard not to repeat it. As G. K. Chesterton said in 1927:

"Every man makes mistakes; they say a man who never makes mistakes never makes anything else"

Quite - in future, like me, will readers check for hoaxes on Snopes or Full Fact? I hope so. As for my detractors mentioned in the first paragraph: don't laugh too much, chaps. I'm still on your cases!
The Ancient Greek poet, Homer. If he could nod, so could anyone.

Tuesday, 28 May 2019

Nigel Farage and the Future of Democracy

Well, he's beaming again, and he's talking on the Jeremy Vine radio programme as I write - I might switch to Classic FM. On the surface, Nigel Farage has a lot to be happy about. The Brexit Party didn't exist three months ago, and yet has scored an impressive success in the Euro elections, winning 29 seats with over five million votes. Mr Farage has even said that his party could win the next General Election and has pledged to stand 650 candidates. He told the BBC Today programme:
 “The next date is 31 October. That will become as big a day in people’s minds as 29 March. If we don’t leave on [31 October], then we can expect to see the Brexit party’s success last night continue into the next general election.”
Well, maybe. It might prove to be nothing more than a massive flash in a very large pan. Protest votes are nothing new, and voters might well revert to traditional party loyalties instead of plumping for an inexperienced, if sizeable pressure group, which is what the Brexit Party is really. They are a single-issue movement, more an expression of populist anger, rather than a legitimate political entity. If we could interview a cross-section of Brexit Party members, we could well find a wide divergence of views on other important issues, such as education, immigration, etc. Even some Brexit Party voters regard Nigel Farage as an opportunist, which does not bode well for his chances of becoming the PM or an MP,
One positive result of the election must surely be to galvanise the two main parties to pay more attention to the aspirations and concerns of their voters. Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour leadership must come down positively either for or against a second referendum; the Tories need to find a leader who can unify party members and inspire voters.
Another positive result is the surge of support for Remain parties; the Liberal Democrats and Greens made considerable progress. In the case of the LibDems, their revival was an astonishing surge in support, winning 15 seats and becoming the second largest party. I doubt, though, that this will lead in an increase in LibDem MPs at the next General Election, as many Remain supporters voted tactically for them - I certainly did.
While the Brexit Party may be glowing with success at the moment, I foresee problems for them, similar to the reasons for the decline of UKIP. As we know, UKIP have moved even closer to the racist Right so much that Nigel Farage left and Tommy Robinson tried to join. Robinson stood for election as MEP in the North-West and lost his deposit. Even though he is banned from membership of UKIP, he acts as an adviser to the UKIP leader, Gerrard Batten. A failed marriage, if ever there was one.
The problem for the Brexit Party is this: it is a populist party that plays upon prejudice, fear and misinformation. I am not saying that the Brexit Party are fascists, but, like them, populist parties such as the Brexit Party need a grievance (real or imagined) to sustain them. Should Brexit be achieved according to their satisfaction, they have no reason for existence. They will need another focus for attack and events in Birmingham could point to what it might be. The Evening Standard (ES) reported:
 "A newly-re-elected Labour MEP of British-Asian Sikh heritage was heckled by people telling her to "go home" during her acceptance speech in the West Midlands. West Midlands Labour posted a video to Twitter showing angry people said to be supporters of the Brexit Party, yelling towards the stage at the Birmingham count where Neena Gill was making her speech. Labour called the incident "an ugly truth".
There we might be able to see what could be the next big issue for the Brexit Party - Immigration. Resentment towards EU nationals has been a major part of the "leave" campaign, and I have no doubt that resentment could be channelled towards other minority groups in our society. This is not to say that Nigel Farage promotes racism; even Ken Livingstone has defended him on that charge. However, like Enoch Powell (who also denied being a racist), he has the knack of making racists believe that he supports them. Ask any aging racist what Enoch Powell actually said, and the usual reply is that he wanted to send the blacks back. Powell never said that, but that is how he was understood - and he exploited that. Mr Farage might find it useful to do the same thing, in order to sustain the Brexit Party. I shall shed no tears if he fails and the Brexit Party disintegrates. Mr Farage might - assuming he doesn't found yet another political party.

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Unhappy Anniversary

Gerry Gable, editor of "Searchlight", the anti-Fascist magazine, writes in the current edition:
"Readers of Searchlight must be sick and tired of me warning over the past three years that we are seeing a rise of fascism and national socialism, accompanied by racial and religious hatred".
He has a point. I have been something of a Jonah or Jeremiah on this subject myself. Since the struggles of the Anti-Nazi League and Rock and racism in the 1970s, it's been very difficult, for me at least, to convince people that we face a threat from the extreme right. 
Yes, times have changed. Back in the 1970s, when the National Front was the main far-right threat, it was comparatively easy to combat the extreme right. You only had to show that the NF leadership had Nazi pasts, or supported Nazi policies, and it was enough to turn people against them. Times have changed, and our collective memory of WW2 is not as strong as it was. For this reason, I think it appropriate to acknowledge the centenary of the origins of Fascism. This inauspicious date for humanity is 23 March 1919. when Benito Mussolini launched the "fasci di combattimento"., or, as they became known to history, the Blackshirts. The German NSDAP was founded on 24th February, 1920. Since then, humanity has suffered. Statistics for the casualties inflicted in WW2 range from 50 million to 70 million. This does not include the dead of the Spanish Civil War (200, 000) or the Japanese military adventures in China (about 15 million). We can argue here: were the Japanese militarists fascists, or simply allies of fascists? It matters not.
What matters is that the far right are resurgent in a number of countries and circumstances. As the New York Times says:
 "Once in the shadows, Europe’s neo-fascists are stepping back out, more than three-quarters of a century after Nazi boots stormed through Central Europe".
The NY Times only features the rise of the far right in Slovakia, but "the Fash", as "Searchlight" illustrates in its latest edition,  are mobilising in many countries. Hungary, for instance, now has the dubious distinction of :
"...being the only country in Europe where the two largest political parties are from the extreme right" (Martin Smith)
In Ukraine, fascists are attacking the country's arts community. with a number of recorded attacks on art exhibitions and artists, especially those organised by left-wing or gay activists.
According to Alfio Bernabei in the same issue, in Italy:
"In 2015 a report by Pew Research found that Italy was the most racist country in Europe in terms of hatred shown towards Roma people, Muslims and Jews".
In Poland, there is increasing concern at the growing visibility of far right groups. As The Independent says:
"Each year on 11 November, Poland celebrates its Independence Day. It has, however, long ceased to be a day of national unity and has effectively became a ground for far-right riots, with the foreign residents of Warsaw being advised to stay at home. The far-right groups are filled with Polish nationalists, many of them come armed with baseball bats, covering their faces with scarves and waving far-right symbols while parading under police protection".

Similar stories abound about fascist activity in France, Spain and the USA. Perhaps it is time to ask ourselves why this is happening. To do this, I think we need to understand one key element in the way "The Fash" operate: hatred born of fear, resentment or both. Fascists need a target for attack and a visceral hatred to feed upon - rather like flies upon excrement. Without it, they are recognised as a bunch of irrelevant thugs and lunatics, confined to the political fringe. Fascists around the world, and especially in Europe, have a wide range of targets. In the USA, their animus is directed(for the present) against Mexican immigrants and Muslims. In Europe, they are exploiting the fear of  mass migration to mobilise against Muslims, although black people and Jews are still on their radar. Sometimes, this leads them into (almost) hilarious dilemmas. During the last major conflict in Gaza, neo-Nazis in Germany could not decide who to side with, as they hate Muslims and Jews in equal measure.
Here in the UK, we have our own inimitable shower of extreme right-wingers who share the same agenda as elsewhere. Back in the 1970s, the main focus of attack was black and Asian people; nowadays, the main targets of racist bile are Muslims, although, as we have seen since the EU referendum, any hate will do. The situation is now so bad that Michael Heseltine (no left-wing firebrand) has expressed concern:
"The Tory peer said that he did not like people discussing the “extremes of yesteryear” but said he did agree there were similarities in the economic situation that means that anti-immigrant and anti-elite politics have “basic, chilling appeal for people”.
One significant player in the UK to whom the situation has a basic, chilling appeal is Tommy Robinson, pictured above. Once leader of the English Defence League, he now has a strong internet following for his Islamophobic rants. Searchlight notes his gradual adoption of the policies of an outfit called "Generation Identity", which wants an all-white Europe. Robinson has been dismissed by many as something of a joke figure, but this would be a mistake. The recent public screening of his Panodrama attack on the BBC drew 4000 people. Besides this, he is promoting the old German Nazi tactic of hounding the press - Hitler referred to the "Lugenpresse" or "lying press" in the 1920s, and Robinson is carrying on the tradition. One journalist targeted by Robinson is the anti-fascist writer, Mike Stuchberry. Robinson filmed himself arriving at Stuchberry's home address very early one morning. Disturbingly, he gave out Stuchberry's address during the Salford rally.
The unique factor for the stirring of the extreme right in Britain, of course, is Brexit. As David Toube says, on CNN:
"Far-right groups are an opportunistic infection, feeding on a weakened body politic. Extremists are adept at exploiting grievances for the purposes of recruitment. Their failure to establish a cohesive and powerful mass movement, led by the far right, indicates that they are yet to reap the political dividend from Brexit. However, the far right remains emboldened."
As warnings about the far right grow all over the world, there is no room for complacency.
Ending on a positive note, I would like to say that I have faith that The Fash can be stopped. They were stopped in WW2 and we stopped the British version in the 1970s. I firmly believe that we can do it again, but we must start building resistance now. To conclude: I wish all fascists everywhere a very unhappy 100th anniversary of your vile creed and remind you of the defiant words of Woody Guthrie: "All you fascists are bound to lose". Venceremos!
Woody Guthrie - on his guitar was written:"This machine kills fascists".

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

"Joinedupwriting" - Roger McGough Apologises

"Joinedupwriting" is the latest volume of poetry by the one-time Mersey poet, now described by Carol Ann Duffy as "The patron saint of poetry": Roger McGough. I'm unsure how McGough has reacted to that, as he is 81 years old and, as so many of his poems betray, highly conscious of his own, and others', mortality. As he says, in "Big Hugs":
"Before I go, who do I give a hug to?"
This poem (pp74, 75 in the new hardback) is a retrospective glance backwards over his long career and the range of topics he has covered since emerging as one of the three poets featured in "The Mersey Sound", who appeared on the scene like a breath of fresh brown ale in the 1960s. McGough is now a CBE, and an FRSL, but still writes broadly about the same issues he began with back in the 60s. A selection of topics are "Exes", classmates, teachers, friends, family, Hull University and, of course, Liverpool. In the poem, he asks:
"How do I give Liverpool a hug?
High five a Liver Bird?"
With his marvellously quirky selective memory, he is able to juxtapose a poem about the Queen's visit to Liverpool in 1949 and another about "The Bridle Path at Litherland" (pp 16,17). With typical McGough wit, he remembers Lord Gloucester, "fat as a globe", bowing to Her Maj and his hat falling off. As for the Litherland bridle path, he observes:
"We saw fish and birds and gypsy boys,
But never once, a bridle".
As well as affectionate recollections of his Liverpool youth, he also remembers the religious bigotry of the day (and, to some extent, now) between Protestants and Catholics in Liverpool. In "Of Protestants", he calls up the memory of Sister Malone who thought Protestants should burn in Hell.
McGough is of Irish Catholic extraction; in his personal life, he has taken a DNA test to check how English/Scots/Irish he is. He told "The Irish Times":
 “I did that DNA heritage thing and found out I am 70 per cent Irish, not surprisingly, and 16 per cent English.
 Only McGough could have turned such an experience into a poem: "The Full English" (p.9), where, as he confides:
" The results confirmed/what I had long suspected, a dearth of Englishness...but 12.5% Spanish, Italian and Greek?"
One thing I have always admired about McGough is his tender, yet unsentimental way of writing about his relatives. One of the earliest, back in the 70s, was "Sad Aunt Madge", although I was never sure whether she was a fictional character or not. Then there was "Snipers", about an uncle who returned from wartime service in Burma, and suffered a breakdown. The most moving for me, however, was "Hearts and Flowers", a non-fiction poem about a spinster relative who died alone in a council flat - a poem in which the pain of McGough's sadness is almost palpable.
In his latest collection, Roger acknowledges that he has written much about his late docker father, and so many other relatives, but not his mother. He addresses this in "Where is my Mother? (p.73), saying:
"And the one missing, my mother, where is she?
Memory fading, at the margin still, just out of sight,
The one I aim to please with every poem I write".
By way of farewell, McGough has saved an apology to us for the last pages of the book (pp.76,77) in "So many Poems, an Apology". Roger recaps again over his motives for writing poetry. It is a marvellous piece of poetic self-analysis and deserves to be read in full. His closing lines, however, can to be quoted here:
"From wherever it comes, and for whatever reason,
I apologise for writing so many poems".
No need to apologise, Roger. Your poetry has been a faithful companion and inspiration to so many - including me.
Just keep writing.

The Mersey Poets, back in the day. Left to right: Brian Patten, Adrian Henri (d.2000) and Roger McGough.

Sunday, 31 March 2019

Mother's Day for Nazanin

Yesterday morning, I attended a peaceful ceremony outside the Iranian Embassy in central London. As yesterday was Mothering Sunday in the UK, Amnesty International, together with Richard Ratcliffe, had organised the event to mark the third Mother's Day that his wife, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, has spent in prison in Iran. As Richard said: “We’ve come to deliver her a Mother’s Day card, because obviously we can’t do that in person, and to deliver 155 bunches of flowers, one for each week she has been held".
Now, as a number of people, including my colleague, Rednev, have noted, I am not a great fan of the regime in Iran. I am only too knowledgeable of the human rights abuses perpetrated by this theocracy. George Galloway's favourite state has an appalling human rights record, ample testimony to which has been collated both by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Anyone doubting this should read both these linked reports in full.
Richard Ratcliffe looks the picture of determination in the above photograph, standing in the doorway of the Iranian Embassy. If you looked a more closely at his face, however, the marks of strain were only too visible. He has not seen his wife and daughter for three years, and the suffering he must have gone through is unimaginable to most of us. He can communicate with Nazanin by phone at infrequent intervals, as with his daughter, Gabriella.  Gabriella was 22 months old when Nazanin was arrested at the airport in Tehran, waiting to fly back to the UK, on April 3, 2016. She is now four years old, and in the care of her maternal grandparents. Understandably, Gabriella now speaks no English. Nazanin herself has endured agonies of confinement, and fears have been raised about her mental health, especially since the Iranian prison authorities released her for a long weekend, and then peremptorily ordered her back to jail.
Although anyone outside Iran can see that Nazanin is being held on trumped-up charges, it's worth looking back at why she was arrested, the "charges" against her, and British Government intervention. The BBC says:
 "Iranian authorities allege Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was plotting to topple the government in Tehran - but no official charges have been made public. Iran's Revolutionary Guards said she was visiting Iran leading a "foreign-linked hostile network".
Further details can be found elsewhere, but it is difficult to see how a young mum and daughter can possibly be a threat to the organised paranoid spy state of Iran. If Nazanin was such a threat, why was she not banned from entry or arrested at the airport upon arrival? 
As we know, international pressure and the granting of diplomatic status to Nazanin by the British Government has not resulted in the Iranians releasing her and Gabriella, which begs the question: why are they really being held? Suggestions have been made that the Iranians are holding them hostage in order to recoup money owed by the British Government over the purchase of tanks ordered by the Shah, but not delivered. The tanks were paid for, and the Iranians want the money back. It seems rather a spiteful measure to detain an innocent woman and her child, but there may be something in this suggestion. If we remember, the Iranians have done this sort of thing before, during the 1979 US hostage crisis. The US hostages held during this 444 day crisis were finally released after the US Government unfroze Iranian financial assets, which may point to a financial factor in Nazanin's case.
As for our government, diplomatic efforts have been made to obtain Nazanin's release. Jeremy Hunt, our new Foreign Secretary, has said that he would do everything to bring it about. Unfortunately, remarks by his predecessor, Boris Johnson, have probably made Nazanin's situation worse. As the BBC says:
 "In November 2017 then Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson faced criticism for suggesting Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was training journalists".
Boris later apologised for his gaffe and phoned Iran to retract his words, but, four days after he put his foot in his mouth, Wikipedia comments: 
"...Zaghari-Ratcliffe was returned to court in Iran where the Foreign Secretary's statement was cited as evidence against her".
Standing among the press and protesters yesterday, I began talking to a couple about Richard and Nazanin and what they were going through, only to discover that these two people were Richard Ratcliffe's parents, John and Barbara, pictured above. It came as quite a surprise to find myself talking to people intimately involved in a situation that I only knew of through the media. It was a pleasure and an honour to meet them, and they told me a number of details about how Nazanin's incarceration had affected their family life. I must be circumspect here in what I write; a number of people warned me that it was by no means impossible that the Iranian authorities would be reading this blog item. As we saw with Blundering Boris, the Iranians are adept at using unguarded statements as propaganda. Still, I was moved to learn of how, at family gatherings, John and Barbara's granddaughter, Gabriella, was able to speak on the phone to her uncles, aunties and cousins in the UK. 
I was very interested to learn that Richard, John and Barbara had all made applications for visas to visit Iran, but had all been turned down. Besides this, it appears that John is considered by the Iranian authorities to be a spy. If anything points to the absurd nature of Iranian governmental paranoia, it's that charge. If John was a spy, the Iranians wouldn't know - instead of catching true spies, they have to frame innocent people, such as Nazanin.. Besides which - at the age of 69, John is too old for MI6 and would have retired by now. 
At the close of the ceremony, which showed a Mother's Day card for Nazanin being delivered to the Embassy and the 155 bunches of flowers laid on the entrance steps (I laid one), Richard Ratcliffe thanked us all for coming and urged continuing support for the struggle to release his wife and daughter. His parents told me how much the whole family valued the worldwide support they received. They thanked me for coming, which means a lot; it made me feel I'd done something worthwhile (which it was). I can only pledge my continuing support for the Ratcliffe family, and look forward to the day when they can all be reunited. We must not give up on the struggle; we must not abandon hope. Anyone wishing to help, please click on THIS LINK.

Sunday, 24 March 2019

Fighting the Far Right - From the SA to the Lone Wolf

Jacinda Ardern, the New Zealand Prime Minister, has said, following the horrific attack on the mosques in Christchurch, that she was calling for:
"... a global fight to root out racist right-wing ideology following last week's deadly attack on two mosques in Christchurch."
That is a worthy aim, and one which has been pursued by many thousands of anti-Fascists of all hues since the founding of the Nazi Party in Germany,1920, and Mussolini's National Fascist Party in Italy, 1919. The problem is that it's not so easy to identify the extreme right as it once was; when the S.A. paraded through German cities in the 1920s, you had an enemy you could recognise. It's not so easy now. There are still fascist groups who take to the streets in Europe and the USA,  and it's possible to identify them easily. The Christchurch attacker, Brenton Tarrant, however, though an obvious right-wing extremist, wasn't even on a terrorist watchlist, nor does he seem to have appeared on right-wing demonstrations anywhere. 
The problem, of course, is that Tarrant, and others like him, including jihadis, are being radicalised by the internet in the privacy of their homes. Even if identified by the security forces, it does not follow that they are planning terrorism. We sometimes describe terrorists radicalised in this way as "lone wolves", but I believe this to be a slight misnomer. If these people, jihadi and fascist, are being radicalised by what they see on the internet (the Dark Web, in Tarrant's case), then, strictly speaking, they are not acting alone. They do not have the support of an organised group, but they do have a cyberspace community from which they draw inspiration and strength. As Foreign Policy says:
"...the perpetrators operate in isolation from each other without direct communication or formal cooperation between them. But that doesn’t mean that these lone actors and autonomous cells don’t draw inspiration from each other."
There are, of course, many examples of so-called "lone wolf" attacks, many of which can be found listed on Wikipedia and elsewhere. Yet, if we look deeper, even the most murderous and disturbed of the "lone wolves" has operated with some support, logistical or otherwise. Take the case of the right-wing extremist, Timothy McVeigh, who carried out the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. As Wikipedia says:
" Terry Nichols was convicted of conspiring with him, though his involvement was limited to helping mix the fertilizer and other bomb ingredients; McVeigh had threatened to harm him and his family if he did not help".
Robert Gregory Bowers, who has been charged with the murders of eleven people during the Pittsburgh Synagogue attack on October 27 last year, drew much of his "inspiration" from websites such as Gab and other extremist outlets. Should we continue to use the term "lone wolf"?
Here in the UK, I myself have noted that the struggle against far-right ideas has changed, if not become more difficult, in recent years. In the 1970s, when arguing against the National Front and others, describing the neo-Nazi past of NF leaders and their aims was highly effective, and it was a relatively straightforward matter to discredit the NF and others. It comes as an unpleasant surprise to learn that one in twenty British people does not believe the Holocaust took place. As WW2 becomes further away in time, people's understanding of what the Holocaust was, and what Fascism is, seems to be weakening. As "The Guardian" says:

"One in 20 British adults do not believe the Holocaust happened, and 8% say that the scale of the genocide has been exaggerated, according to a poll marking Holocaust Memorial Day.
Almost half of those questioned said they did not know how many Jews were murdered in the Holocaust, and one in five grossly underestimated the number, saying that fewer than two million were killed".
Besides this, it comes as a nasty shock to learn that some counter-terrorist experts now believe that far-right extremists pose a serious threat in my home turf of the north of England, following the Christchurch attack. The highest number of referrals to Prevent have been made in my home region. One expert, "Simon", told the BBC:
"We've got former mill towns and cities across the north where this ideology, that white people are supposedly superior to everyone else, is growing and becoming more entrenched. I've no doubt that there are far-right extremists across the north who are planning to use violence to target Muslim or Jewish communities.They'll harbour the ambition to copy what happened in Christchurch"
Lest we dismiss this as alarmist, let's not forget that one Yorkshire fascist, Thomas Mair, murdered Jo Cox, MP, and that Leeds, in particular, has a grim history of neo-Nazi violence dating back to the 1970s. Remember also, that while the fascists in UK don't have the same access to firearms as their "brethren" have in the USA, hate crime continues to rise across Britain. As the BBC says:
 "The number of religious or racially motivated hate crimes in England and Wales, increased from 37,417 in 2013-14 to 79,587 in 2017-18, according to the Home Office."
Jacinda Ardern is right to call for a campaign against racism worldwide, but I don't see it happening when the threat of Islamic terrorism remains so serious. Also, I doubt that "the Fash" will change their ways because of the horror and condemnation of the Christchurch massacre. In their twisted little worlds, they will be gloating about it and someone, somewhere, will be planning their next attack.

Wednesday, 6 March 2019

Racism, anti-Semitism and the Conservative Party

While the controversy over anti-Semitism has raged in the Labour Party, the question of Islamophobia in the Conservative Party has gone largely unnoticed. That happy state of affairs for the Tories has been brought to an end with the recent accusations made by Baroness Warsi that Theresa May was burying her head in the sand about Islamophobia in the party. As the BBC comments: 
"Former party chairwoman Baroness Warsi said the PM had failed to "acknowledge" or "tackle" the problem and this was "symptomatic" of her wider leadership."
 The Conservative party has since suspended 14 members for making Islamophobic Facebook comments. Significantly, the BBC goes on to say:
 "The suspensions followed messages posted on a Facebook group called the "Jacob Rees-Mogg Supporters Group...She (Baroness Warsi) suggested the "rot had set in" several years ago and accused senior party officials of being "in denial".
With all due respect to Baroness Warsi, while the Tory party may have problems with Islamophobia now, the "rot" of racism and anti-Semitism set in with the Conservatives a long time ago.
From its founding in 1834, the Conservative Party has had a "problem" with anti-Semitism. The party founder, Sir Robert Peel, was a vocal opponent of Jewish Emancipation. Benjamin Disraeli, a Jewish convert to Christianity, was shunned by fellow Conservative MPs following his election as an MP in 1837. The Conservatives fought against the Jewish Relief Act until its passing in 1858.
With the influx of Jewish refugees from Tsarist persecution at the turn of the 19th century, Conservative party members founded the para-military British Brothers League and the  Parliamentary Alien Immigration Committee, both of which exerted pressure to pass the Aliens Act of 1905.
 Fast forwarding to the 1930s, the Conservative government expressed no condemnation of Nazi Germany's persecution of the Jews, dismissing it as an internal matter. In more recent times, Alan Clark, who later became Minister in both the Thatcher and Major governments, wrote in his diary in 1981:
 'I really believed it (National Socialism) to be the ideal system, and that it was a disaster for the Anglo-Saxon races and for the world that it was extinguished'
Both Edwina Currie and Leon Brittain reportedly felt that they were criticised unfairly by other senior Tories simply because of anti-Semitism.
More recently, there have been a number of instances of anti-Semitic activity at national and grass roots level. Boris Johnson has held talks with the alleged anti-Semite, Steve BannonIn November 2017 it was revealed that Conservative Party activists were members of a Facebook group called Young Right Society, which posted anti-Semitic, Holocaust denying and racist material. Conservative history on this matter dwarfs Labour party anti-Semitism into next to nothing - no wonder the Tories have been so quiet on the subject.
As for racism against black and Asian people, we saw clear manifestations of this in the Tory party with the election of Peter Griffiths, MP for Smethwick, in 1964, and the infamous so-called "Rivers of Blood" speech of Enoch Powell, in 1968. In 1978, Margaret Thatcher, then Leader of the Opposition, said on TV:
 ""People [in Britain] are rather afraid that this country might be swamped by people with a different culture"
She also described Nelson Mandela as a "terrorist", and did nothing to stop Conservative university students distributing "Hang Nelson Mandela" posters. Also, it's forgotten now, but future Tory PM David Cameron went on a "sanctions-busting jolly" to South Africa with the anti-sanctions Conservative Research Department.
It's no surprise , then to learn of incidents such as this, taken from REKNR:
"In a 2002 column for the Daily Telegraph, Boris Johnson (then MP for Henley) described black people as “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles”. He apologised six years later in 2008 (when running to be London Mayor). No disciplinary action was taken by the Conservative Party at any point."
Or this:
"In January 2010, Tory Councillor for Colne, Smith Benson, complained that there were “too many P***s” in his town.  Council Leader Tony Beckett refused to discipline him and said, “I think for the Labour Party to say he should be sacked for making a sweeping statement is a bit strong.”
One last example:
"In December 2015, it was revealed that Oliver Letwin, then an adviser to Margaret Thatcher, had made a series of racist remarks following the riots in 1985, describing black people as having “bad moral attitudes”, and saying schemes to help black people would be spent in “the disco and drugs trade” and employment programmes would only see black people “graduate… into unemployment and crime”. The Conservative Party took no disciplinary action and Mr Letwin remains a government minister".
All of which points to a far worse situation in the Conservative Party than a recent outbreak of Islamophobia. The worst racists I have ever known were all Conservative Party members or supporters; the passage of time and the development of a multicultural and multiracial society has clearly not eradicated those racist attitudes among the Tories. Good luck, Baroness Warsi - you've got your work cut out.