Monthly Archives: July 2014


This week is The Heatwave. I appreciate the warmth, but the air is heavy and oppressive.

So is the news. Israel and Palestine. Flight MH17 and the reminder of ongoing conflict in Ukraine. (and other places too – Central African Republic, for example – which aren’t in the headlines at the moment but which continue to be troubled)… sometimes the mind boggles at all the turmoil in the world.

One tender love poem is on my mind at times like this:


A man crosses the street in rain,

stepping gently, looking two times north and south,
because his son is asleep on his shoulder.

No car must splash him.
No car drive too near to his shadow.

This man carries the world’s most sensitive cargo
but he’s not marked.
Nowhere does his jacket say FRAGILE,

His ear fills up with breathing.
He hears the hum of a boy’s dream
deep inside him.

We’re not going to be able
to live in this world
if we’re not willing to do what he’s doing
with one another.

The road will only be wide.
The rain will never stop falling.

– Naomi Shihab Nye, 1952


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Civil Liberties is a social justice issue

The rush to push through DRIP reminds me of the accelerated Immigration Bill, which, as it turned, out, also introduced powers to effectively turn doctors, lecturers and others into de facto border agents.

Sunny Hundal wrote a blistering piece today on Miliband’s civil liberties credentials and makes the point that “civil liberties are a social justice issue”:

“Civil liberties are a social justice issue too – a point some Labour MPs and activists don’t seem to have quite yet grasped. When the police or security services abuse their ever-growing powers, the victims are invariably ethnic minorities and/or the most marginalised in society. From stop-and-search to 90 days detention and even the Malicious Communications Act – it has always people from minority backgrounds or those with unpopular opinions who get harassed, spied on or arrested.”


The Immigration Bill extended the policing of the national border into private life – and who is more likely to be considered foreign? To be stopped and questioned? To be suspected (because this is basically what we’re being asked to do, make a snap judgment on who might not belong) of being a foreigner?

Invariably, undoubtedly, overwhelmingly ethnic minorities.

What Sunny highlights so elegantly is how everything is connected and how efforts to compartmentalise lead to contradictions. (like how Theresa May can decry stop and search on the one hand, and champion immigration spot checks – which open the door to similar discrimination for ethnic minorities – on the other)



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Mission Creep

Be concerned. If like me you’re a little fuzzy on DRIP and why it matters, a group of internet law experts have published a really straightforward, clear open letter on the worrying power grab by the government in terms of surveillance and data retention.

“The legislation goes far beyond simply authorising data retention in the UK. In fact, DRIP attempts to extend the territorial reach of the British interception powers, expanding the UK’s ability to mandate the interception of communications content across the globe. It introduces powers that are not only completely novel in the United Kingdom, they are some of the first of their kind globally.”

Worryingly, this crucial legislation is being rushed through, potentially undermining parliamentary oversight.

Why the rush? We’re told it’s because it’s an emergency. But Open Rights Group has published a useful fact-check of these claims. First off, the government has had 3 months since the court ruling that precipitated the issue to do something about it, but now we’re told it has be rushed. “Legislate in haste, repent at leisure”, the saying should go.

There’s a sunset clause apparently – this “emergency” has a two-year life span. For starters, that’s a long emergency. And, if it can last that long, why not longer? Once this is on the books, renewing it (especially as all the parties are in lock step on the issue) won’t be too hard.

My thesis is on the securitisation of immigration and how it’s used as an excuse by the government to amass more powers. This is no different.

We are told we must be afraid all the time. And at risk of sounding like a woman with a tin foil hat yelling at Speaker’s Corner, we are passively allowing the growth of the surveillance state  under the pretext of security. We surrender more and more, but we never feel more safe. Meanwhile, governments and certain corporations profit off the political economy of securitisation.

And then, for good measure, we are encouraged to be sceptical about human rights.  In the name of independence, Euro-sceptics would have us pull up the drawbridge and burn down our own house, all to be free of the supposed jack boot of the European Court of Human Rights.

There’s definitely undue pressure to restrict our rights, and it’s not coming from the ECHR, that’s for damn sure.


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On Voting

1994. I was about 12 years old. Two images stand out in my mind: news reports of Black South Africans standing for hours in the hot sun, many under umbrellas, waiting to cast their vote. Young born-frees and older people who never thought they’d see the day that they would be able to vote. The second image is my father, visibly moved and sitting beside our beautiful old wireless radio in the living room, listening to Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda conceding Malawi’s first multiparty democratic elections. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but I knew that there was something immensely significant about the claiming the right to vote. It mattered.

It still matters. The odd thing is, the people in the UK who really need the political system to respond to their needs (the young in particular) don’t really turn out in force. As a result, the system is skewed to those who still do: the old. I don’t believe in generation wars, but it’s a fact that if you don’t turn out and get heard, you’re more likely to get overlooked when it comes to policy decisions and cuts.

The marvellous Sofi Taylor has written a great blog for Migrant Voice on what sorts of questions to ask on the doorstep if you care about migrants and immigration. Crucially, it’s a reminder that migrants need to make their voices heard too.

Just do it. Because you’re worth it.

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Fact Check: Update on Atos

Update on my post on Atos below: The Telegraph’s Tom Chivers has done some fact checking and good old fashioned digging around to get to the bottom of the statistics cited in the Big Issue article:

“The DWP spokeswoman was keen to say that the Big Issue has reported the issue properly: the deaths did occur “within six weeks” of the claim ending. I would say that any natural reading of that implies that the six weeks are after the death, but since the DWP’s own document uses that language, they’ve got no one to blame for the misunderstanding but themselves. Nonetheless, the story here is not “10,600 people die right after they’re told they’re fit to work”, but “the DWP’s record-keeping system is efficient enough to stop paying people disability support within six weeks of them dying”.”

What Tom Chivers does point out, and what I think holds true, is that Atos has done a terrible job of administering the contract on assessing whether people are fit to work. Even Atos acknowledges that. And the distress felt by people who are seriously, even terminally ill is very real, very unfortunate and absolutely unacceptable in the pursuit of a primarily ideological austerity drive.


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Ten Months, over Ten Thousand dead

Ten months. 10,600 people dead. In an article in Big Issue in March, “Atos, Death and Welfare Cuts”Adam Forrest explores the impact of the Atos’ workplace assessments on the disabled. There are stories of people who are classified as fit to work and have their benefits revoked, only to die months later. Worse, many of them, some of whom have their stories highlighted in the article, suffered immense distress at the assessment process and the withdrawal of their benefits.

“I’m not blaming Atos for her death. She died because of a collapsed lung and blood clots after a medical procedure. But I pitied the way Linda was made to feel and I still feel very, very frustrated at the way she was treated.”

The numbers are stark:

“Government statistics indicate that between January 2011 and November 2011, 10,600 sick and disabled people died within six weeks of their benefit claim ending. Such was the furore about this figure, the DWP has stopped using Atos data to count the number of deaths.”

I’m glad that Atos is being made to feel the heat but they are just contractors. The blame lies squarely at the feet of IDS and the DWP, who have set the policy. I don’t understand how he has been allowed to remain in post while Universal Credit is a disaster, his IT system is an expensive mess and things like these assessments and bedroom tax are causing distress for so many vulnerable people, many of them disabled.

A society should be judged on how we treat those in most need. The fact that we (through our government) are squeezing those in need till the pips squeak while proferring tax cuts for those who are better off just beggars belief. Caitlin Moran tweeted the article earlier, followed by a series of tweets that basically sums this up for me:

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When tortoises attack

I was about nine years old. His name was Turbo. He liked lettuce and water and walking in the grass. We got along well, until THE DAY.

I still don’t know what I did, but he rose up and hissed at me. Yes, I realise that he was a tortoise but they are actually really scary in a prehistoric sort of way. Like crocodiles minus the teeth*

And now I know I’m not alone.

News out of Uganda: “In a bizarre incident in Nebbi district, a policeman says he was attacked by an aggressive tortoise at his home.”


*At least to nine year-old me.

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So, Where are you Really from?

The Atlantic published this great piece last week on the age-old question that minorities are often asked, “So, where are you from?” It stemmed from a panel discussion on NPR’s Race Card Project.

I know so many people who get asked this question and the answer is, quite simply, “here.” I don’t find this so hard, mainly because I wasn’t born here. I have another home. However, it is a stark reminder that even though this is also my home, it’s the other one that defines me. So, what about those who were born here? Or those for whom this is the only home they know, or the only one that matters? At that point, the question strips you bare.

“It’s just curiosity!” some protest. But, is it? The article quotes researchers Virginia Mapedzahama and Kwamena Kwansah-Aido, who reflected on this “quintessential question of identity” in a 2010 paper on African identity in Australia:

While acknowledging that a certain ‘curiosity’ sometimes drives the asking of this question, we still question the implications and multiplicity of meanings to those whom it is asked. We contend that being asked the question raises three key issues for us. First, we perceive it as exclusionary, in that in a white dominated society it is asked, mainly of certain groups of people who are visibly different. Second, the assumption behind the question—that one is not ‘from here’, constructs an/other whose identity is fixed and tied only to one faraway place, thereby erasing our hyphenated identities, which define our everyday lived realities. Third, it invokes feelings of ambivalence about place when it is interpreted as demanding a justification of the claim to belonging and being ‘from here’.

Brianna Roger tackled it perfectly in her spoken word poem “Being British”, which she performed at the Open Generation event in April. Video link here – from 01:50.

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