Chasing Status

“Surprised Brits” is the phrase coined for long-term migrants and British citizens who have suddenly found themselves to have irregular status thanks to the tougher immigration regime. If you’re not a migrant yourself, it’s hard to imagine what it’s like to be in constant pursuit of papers. The right papers. Papers that change with government press releases, at least annually. To qualify for status one year, and then a few years later not qualify for an extension of the same status, even though nothing about you has changed. Britain always changes – or at least the immigration regime does.

That’s the case for some of these people, but for many more, who came to the UK as children, they assumed they were British – and are now finding out that they are not as British as they thought they were, even if it may be their home, perhaps even the only home they know.

Chasing Status tells the stories of this group: those who, after living most of their lives in the UK, find that following legislative changes they are suddenly unable to work or claim beneits. Having long taken their Britishness for granted, such people ‘can’t believe their nationality, much less their lawful presence, is being questioned’

This isn’t surprising. The hostile environment campaign is making life difficult for so many migrants – and Brits; it’s not just a case of legality, as Theresa May would have us all believe, but of family, community and dignity. Chasing Status is the name of the report by Legal Action Group (link above in first paragraph). It’s worth a read.

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Clacton II

So, he won. Douglas Carswell won his seat back as a UKIP candidate. It has been hailed as a grassroots uprising, the birth of four-party politics in the UK.

Grassroots? Carswell is establishment (and so is Farage but that’s a story for another day). Would UKIP have won if they fielded their own unknown candidate? Maybe. Maybe not.

Four-party politics? Now they have an MP. So do the greens.

Predicably, the media backlash has been personal – Farage has said something stupid (again), calling for HIV positive people who migrate to the UK to be excluded. Scaremongering, for sure, especially in these times of Ebola panic. But he tends to say something stupid on a regular basis, but it’s not made a big deal of until he rocks the boat a teensy bit too much. He should be roundly condemned for the statement, but let’s not pretend that this is a one-off or that the people voting for UKIP really care about UKIP policies or controversies, beyond the simple, reflexive EU exit and cutting immigration. Otherwise they’d be a bit perturbed at UKIP calls to privatise the NHS, among other crazy policies.

It *is* remarkable that UKIP have broken through to get an MP, but it looks less like a people’s revolution than the rearranging of the deckchairs in the crazy section of HMS establishment. But as narratives go, nuance isn’t as sexy.

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The Truth Needs New Shoes

“A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” – Mark Twain

Following yesterday’s rant about lies, damn lies and witches, I read three great articles that got me thinking about truth. And politics. (I know, I know…)

One Polly Toynbee on the Liberal Democrats and their difficulties in campaigning on their record in government while deriding the Tories (a bit like picking a few raisins out of an elephant turd – my assessment, not Polly’s). She makes the point that given public trust in them is so low, the Lib Dems could be daring – and tell the political truths that no one is willing to own up to. (see David Cameron cutting taxes on the way to abolishing the deficit, or Labour’s self-flagellating apology tour – grovelling about pretty much everything (immigration, a global financial crisis) but the stuff they should really apologise for (monstering asylum seekers, the War, etc.) She does concede that an unfettered Tory government would probably have done all sorts of things, like abolished the Human Rights Act and the BBC…but that “stopping the worst is their best claim, though what-ifs make thin gruel for campaigning.” My favourite line is: “Jeremiahs don’t get elected, says political folklore, but telling hard truths without necessarily having all the answers might be their route back to public respect.”

Two Joan Smith on the Tories’ anti-human rights agenda. It’s a great article looking at how human rights, like political correctness, has become the scourge of the right. And how ridiculous that is. Most alarming is her observations on the British Bill of Rights proposals:

“Don’t be taken in by the spin that they’re just replacing a messy piece of legislation with a sensible British Bill of Rights. Since Cameron’s speech in Birmingham, headlines have focused on proposals to turn the ECHR into an “advisory body” whose judgments are no longer binding on the UK. This would set a precedent for countries with terrible human rights records, including Russia, which has lost many more cases before the court than the UK. But that’s not the half of it. The Bill would apply only to British territory, according to a policy document published two days ago, so allegations of human rights abuses by British forces serving abroad could no longer be heard in a British court.”

Three A typical barn-stormer from Aditya Chakraborty: Cut benefits? Yes. Let’s start with our £85bn corporate handout. He fleshes out the issue of coporate welfare – a vague, little-reported, barely-understood but shocking issue. It also shows how language is so important. Who is scrounging now? To me, this article reminds me of US Senator Elizabeth Warren’s riposte to the “wealth creators” in the US: “You didn’t build that”.

“Politicians and pundits talk about welfare as if it’s solely cash given to people. Hardly ever discussed is corporate welfare: the grants and subsidies, the contracts and cut-price loans that government hands over to business. Yet some of our biggest companies and industries operate a business model that depends on them extracting money from the British taxpayer.”


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A very modern witch hunt

downloadI have  long list of books on my to-read list. At the moment I’m thoroughly enjoying Roxane Gray’s Bad Feminist, but now I’ve added the Penguin Book of Witches to my (constantly mushrooming) list.

The NPR review highlights that this is more than just an interesting trawl through history; the past has resonances in the present, particularly with regards to the reasons behind the witch hunts (in addition to a hatred/fear of women):

“Many of the scholarly conclusions as to what underscored the witch hunts are exculpatory, to some degree: it was agricultural ignorance, or it was a mold outbreak, or it was something else comfortingly remote from a contemporary audience.

And the most haunting truth that emerges in The Penguin Book of Witches is that there’s no such reassurance to be found. The reasons behind the accusations were certainly varied, but in their simplest form, the witch hunts happened when government seized the chance to prove its authority by persecuting those outside community protection.”

The review also touches on the difficulty of mounting a nuanced, counter-narrative to propaganda and critiquing government institutions, which made me think of the immigration and welfare debates.

I rant and rave all the time on these two topics because the government’s tone in these “debates” is downright offensive. It promotes the message that people on benefits (the majority of whom are pensioners or working poor) are “on the take” or lazy is a horrid throwback to a Victorian-style morality on poverty.

When it comes to immigration, government agencies – the Home Office in particular – paint caricatures of immigrants in much the same way, except they are able to steal jobs and welfare at the same time. Anecdotes are presented as trends or facts. Evidence is suppressed if it is inconvenient or misconstrued wherever possible.

That it’s the government doing this, with its resources and ability to influence and distort the media and public agenda, is truly dispiriting. It presents a real challenge to marginalised communities and civil society organisations to battle against, as the public mood is stoked and soured.

What I find revealing about both of these debates is that they are on issues that the government is struggling to assert its authority on. Some of this is out of its control. Globalisation means that people are on the move around the world, and despite the anguish of UKIPpers, it’s not one-way traffic (ask the Spanish about the transformation of places like Costa del Sol into British enclaves).

When it comes to welfare, you can’t look at that without looking at the world of work and the fact is that too many people aren’t earning enough to live with dignity without a top-op from the government. I’ll leave it to economists to ascertain how much control the government has over that – but I’m leaning towards the fact that it has a big lever that it can use to make the markets work better for people  – no, for me the real striking similarity on both issues is that the government will not (cannot?) be honest with people about the issues.

Let’s go with “will not”.

They won’t say that we can’t (if that’s your gripe) stop immigration, but we can prepare better and make it work for the country, equipping local councils to deal with changing populations and the pressure on public services.

They won’t say that it has helped to build Britain as we know it and is key to continuing this.

They won’t say that most of the welfare budget goes to pensioners, and they are the ones who vote, so they try to tread gently there and come down harder on everyone else.

They won’t say that for some people, work doesn’t pay more than benefits and this is a problem with the WORK, not the benefits, if the assessment for what you need to live with dignity is a figure higher than what the private sector is offering in some cases.

They won’t say that benefit fraud is a tiny amount, compared to tax evasion.

They won’t admit that blame for the crash lies with the financial sector but that the public is paying for it – that they are the biggest benefits recipients of all, and they still get to profit and gamble with the blank cheque that we’ll always pick up the bill with a bail-out.

And so if you don’t diagnose the problem properly, your solutions won’t hit the mark. Furthermore, when your solutions inevitably fail (immigration cap as a case in point) you doubly disappoint and further undermine public trust in politicians. At the same time, you’ve talked up the problem to the point that it’s a perpetual crisis – a crisis that you now can’t address because the solutions (stop immigration!) are impossible in the real world.

So….you assert your authority. The best way to do that is a modern-day witch hunt.



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(really) Small Politics

“This is electioneering on the backs of Europe’s most vulnerable. Under these plans human rights would be reserved for only those people the Government decides should get them. This is a blueprint for human rights you would expect from a country like Belarus.” – Tim Hancock, Amnesty UK.

“Puerile” “highly problematic, to put it mildly” “unworkable”

These are just a few of the adjectives experts and lawyers have used to denounce the Tory plans to repeal the Human Rights Act and withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights unless they get certain exemptions. I can think of a few countries that would like to withdraw from various international conventions on human rights or to have special exemptions. Yeah… is that the company we want to keep? And while we are members of the UN Human Rights Council? While we presume to stomp around the world making speeches and dropping bombs in the supposed defence of human rights?

“Limiting the application of human rights law to ‘serious’ cases and making them subject to ‘civic responsibilities’ is really a way to restrict rights to people the Government likes. Rights will be rebalanced to fit with the ideological leanings of one section of the Tory party.” – Adam Wagner, human rights barrister.

Apart from the very real and chilling problems with the proposals, as explained by a number of legal experts (such as in this article by Democratic Audit), I find the short-termism of the Tories quite breathtaking. They just want to win the election, to hell with what they do when they get there. They don’t even seem to have a reason to get there other than they want to or feel that they’re owed a shot at the big time (I’d say the same is true of the other parties, apart from the Greens).

They’ll promise to withdraw from the EU, roll back the human rights regime, probably even bring back the death penalty if that’s what it takes. Some of them might then do that awkward thing where they campaign against their own proposal, but in reality what will probably happen is that given the chance they would just follow through – regardless of the consequences, regardless of the cost, to satisfy a demented but vocal section of Little England and its super-charged allies in the press. The contrast with the inspiring and fundamental debate that Scotland had just last month is breathtaking.

These policies are basically drawn up with Farage and the Sun in mind (and the crazy wing of the Tory party, which, quite frankly, is eating the rest of the party up anyway).  But we would all have to live with it. And there will be fewer avenues to address the lies of austerity and miscarriages of justice. I don’t want to have my rights and defined by a small section of the Tory Party, the Daily Mail and UKIP. Human rights are there precisely for those who are marginalised and vulnerable. The reason most of us never need to claim them is because we have them already, and we are fine. But the poisonous Tory rhetoric which saves its arrows for the poor, the vulnerable and the marginalised (and, yes, even criminals, whose human rights we preserve because they are human not because they “deserve” anything) is creating a crueller, smaller-minded country.

This is small politics that makes moral pygmies of us all.

Populism dressed up as “common sense” leaves us all naked.


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Party On

We’re just emerging from party conference season. Today David Cameron promised tax cuts for those who earn the most and the least, hot on the heels of George Osborne’s pledge to cut even more from welfare – but not pensioners, who make up the bulk of those on welfare (and who happen to vote), and not the disabled (though they’re still getting slammed by the bedroom tax. So…cuts will hit those who are already struggling so that “welfare doesn’t pay more than work” but there is nothing to address in-work poverty, which the Joseph Rowntree Trust has pointed out has grown. And for ethnic minorities, they found, it’s even worse.

Miliband forgot some stuff, but remembered some other stuff. Labour’s message, which emerged from the fog of conference, sounded to me like something-something mansion tax something-something hard choices something-something cutting child benefits. See…the problem here is, when the Tories are mean, they at least throw some tax cut candy in there. Labour just looks like it’s aping them. But what’s the point? As Sunny Hundal pointed out today, they are doing so to win credibility from a section of the press that won’t give them any, while sounding unconvincing and uninspired to the rest of us:

“The media’s attitude to Labour on austerity has been akin to Eurosceptics Tories with Cameron: forever demanding more concessions without giving an inch.”

UKIP meanwhile, were batshit crazy as always. Farage claimed that Cameron raised the terror threat level and recalled MPs to vote on bombing the “Islamic State” to distract from their conference. Yeah. But he still managed to make the political weather with Reckless’ defection and nabbing a Tory donor too. I still think that UKIP are allowed to influence the agenda in a way that is disproportionate to their number of MPs (to date, zero) compared to, say, the Greens. They will probably win in Clacton, but for a party that’s meant to be a grassroots insurrection, they seem to rely heavily on poaching MPs with ready-made support bases.

So far, so establishment.

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Rolling in the Deep

Since I finished my dissertation, I’ve been MEH. Sure, I’ve had thoughts, I’ve even started some posts, only to run out of steam after the first sentence. Maybe I was a bit burnt out….?

Then today, I heard Aretha Franklin ripping up Adele’s Rolling in the Deep and I couldn’t help but write a little something. Now, my critques: it’s a bit overproduced, in the way that producers seem to do when they have a legendary talent in the studio. It’s as if they panic about keeping a person relevant and current and forget that this person can actually sing. So… the production values are a little too slick. And others have raised the spectre of autotune. Perhaps a touch? But you can’t deny the best part of it….

Her voice. Aretha takes Rolling in the Deep, which I love anyway, and gives it edge and soul. I do love Adele’s pared-back (by comparison) version which is moving and defiant, but when Aretha sings:

Go ahead and sell me out and I’ll lay your shit bare/See how I’ll leave with every part of you/Don’t underestimate the things that I will do….

…you believe it. She brings out a deliciously threatening quality to the song (in the same way that Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings’ song Retreat gives me exquisite chills) until Aretha stalks through it and lets her voice into every nook and cranny of it.

I’m also not sure about the foray into Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, but her treatment of the song just has me in ecstasies. I’ll forgive that.


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Soft (Panda) power

I’ve finished my dissertation now, but thinking is like wading through treacle. The only thing to permeate the fog (as I come back to myself) is a very interesting articles on pandas.

Yes, clearly I don’t like pandas. This is well-documented. But I hadn’t fully appreciated how they were used as a diplomatic tool by the Chinese government, which actually rents them out to trade allies. Naturally, zoos get a bump in visitor numbers, but I hadn’t realised the animals were being rented.

The Observer article has a  great quote from researcher Kathleen Buckingham:

“A new phase of panda diplomacy is under way. Panda loans are associated with nations supplying China with valuable resources and symbolise China’s willingness to build trade relationships,” said Buckingham.

She likens the loans to Asian rulers’ traditional gifts to foreign powers of rare white elephants in the knowledge that they would cost a fortune to keep but ensure closer relations. “The panda may be the modern-day white elephant – a powerful emblem of the modern Chinese nation,” she said.

So – to recap, these furry white elephants (didn’t know that was the origin of the phrase!) are an expensive, but also unreliable (phantom pregnancies) diplomatic tool.

*ponders this* Yup – still don’t like them.


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And I’m still writing

Still writing my dissertation. My brain is utterly addled. Thinking is like wading through treacle. I have had many shifting deadlines, but for now it’s Monday. Again.

But I’m still watching the news. My reactions, in brief:

Oscar Pistorius verdict: Whisky. Tango. Foxtrot.

Scotland: I actually think  the arguments for independence are very compelling. I also think that this issue is as much emotional as practical and all the whataboutery (Why can’t England vote? Why shouldn’t London vote for independence?) is pretty insulting and historically illiterate. This isn’t happening on a whim. The real question is, how can roughly half of Scotland (the polls change day by day) be so disenchanted with the UK? Why doesn’t the union work for everyone? (OK, let’s be honest, everyone who’s north of London) How can we be better? Even if you’re a happy right-winger, it says a lot that the Scots see this as the only way to realise some sort of social justice. (maybe social justice not a left-wing plot, guys?) Either way, a bum-squeak of a vote isn’t good for either camp. A slim yes vote means independent Scotland is bitterly divided at the outset. A slim no means that about half of Scots are “meh” about the union. That’s a real problem, whichever way you look at it.

IDS: Haven’t heard much from him lately, meaning he and DWP are probably out on the tiles, wasting money and making poor people feel bad about themselves.

Summer: Hello, my lovely. You’re back. I love your bright little face.


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Quite simply, Jr Walker and the All Stars’ hit Roadrunner is my song of the week. To be fair, any of their songs would have been a contender, but I think in addition to the vocals it’s the musical arrangement that got me:

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