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A short fuse

As we keep hearing about how “reasonable” and “measured” – even “nice”! – the police are during the current Extinction Rebellion demonstrations (despite the regular footage of people being dragged across pavements by their legs), it may be useful to remind ourselves how nasty it will undoubtedly get if demonstrators don’t listen to Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick (she who was in charge when her officers killed Brazilian Jean-Paul Menezes on his way to work just a few short years ago) telling us to behave ourselves. So Le Monde quotes today the French government’s response to UN criticism of police violence against the gilets jaunes, in particular their use of “defensive fire” weapons (LBD). First the denial of misuse of weapons and the characterisation of demonstrators as a violent mob:

“At no time is an LBD used against even vehement demonstrators if they have not committed physical violence, particularly against the forces of order, or caused serious damage. But in that case it is no longer a question of demonstrators but of participants in a violent and illegal gathering … The police have recourse to the LBD when it is necessary to dissuade or stop a violent or dangerous person. In terms of the weapons used, the 40mm LBD is capable of causing significant wounds if the people targeted are hit at distances of less than 3 or 10 metres … Although misuse is unfortunately possible, this does not put in question the regular use of these weapons when necessary.”

There then follows a call to the UN to respect French legal processes:

“Inasmuch as enquiries have not yet finished, it is not possible to determine today whether the people injured by the firing of these LBDs were in a situation justifying the use of these weapons or whether such use was abusive or questionable.”

So the message to the UN is not only “Don’t jump to conclusions” but, further, “Don’t interfere – we will be judges in our own case.”
Lesson for us here? The “nice” police officer is on a short fuse.

 

[“A aucun moment le LBD n’est utilisé à l’encontre de manifestants, même véhéments, si ces derniers ne commettent pas de violences physiques, notamment dirigées contre les forces de l’ordre ou de graves dégradations. Mais alors il ne s’agit plus de manifestants, mais de participants à un attroupement violent et illégal. »
Quatre pages sont consacrées spécifiquement à la défense du LBD, rappelant son objectif premier :

« Les policiers ont recours au LBD lorsqu’il est nécessaire de dissuader ou de stopper une personne violente ou dangereuse. » Les spécificités de l’arme sont décrites par le menu et sa dangerosité est en partie reconnue : « En fonction des munitions utilisées, le LBD 40 mm est susceptible de causer des lésions importantes si le tir atteint des personnes situées à moins de 3 ou 10 mètres. »
Les nombreuses blessures engendrées par des tirs de LBD, largement répertoriées, ne sont pourtant nullement évoquées au fil du document, qui prend des pincettes avant d’évoquer de possibles dérapages :

« Si des cas de mésusages sont toujours malheureusement possibles, (…) ils ne sauraient remettre en cause l’utilisation régulière de cette arme en cas de nécessité. »
Et d’appeler à respecter le temps judiciaire :

« Tant que les enquêtes en cours n’auront pas abouti, il n’est pas possible de déterminer, à ce jour, si les personnes blessées par des tirs de LBD l’ont été dans une situation justifiant le recours à cette arme, avec les conséquences malheureuses qui s’y attachent, ou dans une situation d’usage abusif, critiquable. »]

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The Rebellion must continue

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has tweeted about the climate protesters (see below). A few changes need to be made to his tweet.

In the first paragraph, the phrase “but this is now taking a real toll” should be “and this is now taking a real toll …” (because that is a good, not a bad, thing); the phrase “counter-productive to the cause and our city” should be “good for the cause and our city”.

In the fourth paragraph, the last sentence (“It simply isn’t right to put Londoners’ safety at risk like this”) would be correct if it referred to government complacency about climate change. It doesn’t.

The last paragraph shows that despite saying he shares “the passion about tackling climate change of those protesting” he will do nothing to meet their demands.

So the lesson from Sadiq’s tweet is that the protesters should not “pause”, as some of them have suggested. Instead they should spread the protests further. They should not withdraw from some areas and start “negotiating” – who will they “negotiate” with? – the government is rubbishing them as lawbreakers, Khan says they’re a threat to the safety of Londoners and wants them all to go back to their day jobs, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner just wants them to behave themselves. But the government has to be forced out of its complacency, and the Labour Party must swing behind the protesters and their cause. Without equivocation. No ifs, no buts. Labour MPs should join the protests, including the front bench. Then we may all get somewhere.

 

 

Paris is personal

I’m upset by this. Politicians will make what capital they can out of this fire. But I’m upset. I haven’t been inside the building much – it always seemed a gloomy place to me. But it’s a memorable piece of Paris architecture and it contains a lot of history, both the kind we may celebrate and the kind we would have to deplore. And it’s just down the road from where I used to work. Paris is where I always feel at home – immediately, no matter how long I’ve been away. Paris is personal, and this catastrophe feels like an injury to someone I love.
I know that if a fire broke out (and they often do) in what are called the “difficult suburbs”, where many of the city’s ethnic minorities live out their marginalised lives, the media wouldn’t be piling in to report on it and photograph it. The president wouldn’t cancel a speech and turn up, there would be no inquiry announced into its cause within the hour (as was the case with Notre-Dame). And the cause of the fire would sure as hell not be related to any renovations because there wouldn’t be any renovations, let alone ones costing millions of euros. But I’m sad, because I once lived there, and I know it a bit. I’m going to be there in the middle of May and I will visit the site of this disaster. And I will wish Paris well, from its centre to its “difficult suburbs”.

On Popes, cardinals, paedophilia and cover-ups

In the New Testament, the apostle Paul had a big argument with the apostle Peter: “I opposed him to his face”, he said.[1] There is, however, nothing to suggest that Peter (in Catholic teaching, the first Vicar of Christ, or Pope) ever trod on his own toes. We’ve had to wait till the 21st century for that. Former Pope Benedict XVI (who was allowed to retire rather than wait to die in office) is poking his nose into the business of his successor, Pope Francisco. And that is to go where angels fear to tread, and Benedict seems to have stumbled into the paths of foolishness. What he has done is lay the blame for paedophilia among priests on “the revolution of 68”, reports Le Monde,[2] because, according to Benedict, it made paedophilia “something that was permitted and appropriate” (of all the ills blamed on 1968 I don’t think I’ve heard that specific one before – but I may have lived a sheltered life). But back to Benedict:

Why has paedophilia attained such proportions? At the end of the day, the reason is the absence of God … [A] world without God can only be a world without direction and therefore a world without a notion of good and evil.”[3]

But remember, we’re talking about the Catholic Church. Benedict must surely believe that God is present in the Church. He has to believe that, if only to justify his salary and his robes and cassock allowance when he was in office, and his pension since. And it is paedophilia tolerated, denied and covered up by the Church that concerns his successor today.

But if Benedict is right and all this happened while God was absent from the world, what was God doing to stop the abuse, the denials and the cover-ups in the domain in which he was uniquely present, the Church. Not a lot, it seems.

And Benedict? He is now trying to limit the damage the scandal has done to the Church by blaming 1968, and he says that “paedocriminality” became severe only after the second half of the 1980s. This claim, says Le Monde, is particularly questionable because “there have been numerous revelations that go back to at least the immediate post-Second World War period, as in Ireland, for example.” But what was he doing in “the second half of the 1980s” anyway when, he says, paedophilia was raging? “Before succeeding Jean-Paul II [as Pope]”, reports Le Monde, “Cardinal Ratzinger [Benedict’s real name] was fighting hard to change canon law in order to allow the guilty to be kept out of harm’s way” (i.e. protected, their crimes covered up).

Perhaps Ratzinger now regrets not resisting the temptation to interfere. Too late now though. The cat is out of the bag. Or the toothpaste is out of the tube. But I don’t think the shit will hit the fan: he’s 92, he’ll get the sympathy granted to the elderly, he’s Pope Emeritus, he won’t go to jail. But there’s not much merit in that.

 

[1] Galatians 1:11.

[2] Le Monde, 11 April 2019: https://www.lemonde.fr/societe/article/2019/04/11/benoit-xvi-attribue-la-pedophilie-dans-l-eglise-a-mai-68-et-a-l-absence-de-dieu_5449019_3224.html

[3] Ibid.

No ifs, no buts – Labour must support free movement

At a jamboree of the G7 interior ministers this week, the French minister, Christophe Castaner, took his chance to attack the non-governmental organisations (NGOs) saving migrants from their sinking vessels in the Mediterranean. The NGOs, said M. Castaner, were “complicit” with the people traffickers.[1] This was in line with his president’s view of the matter: last summer Macron declared that the NGOs were “playing the game of the smugglers”. In saying what he did at the end of this week’s conference, Castaner joined forces with his far-right Italian counterpart, Matteo Salvini, who had also said, during the conference, that there was “collusion” between the NGOs and the traffickers. Salvini’s contribution seemed to be a reassertion of the Italian far right’s earlier campaign against the rescue ships, calling them “the taxis of the sea”.

There is no mention here of our own home secretary, Savid Javid, who has just been forced to apologise for the Home Office’s treatment of the Windrush generation, an affair which also resulted in death for some of its victims. Javid said it was all a terrible mistake, and that it will never happen again. He then popped back to the office where his officials are continuing to steal, and keep, the UK passports of up to 6,000 British-Iraqi citizens on the spurious ground of finding discrepancies in their dates of birth. The Home Office knows full well that many Iraqi Kurds (and most of these people are Kurdish) are uncertain about their dates of birth. Historically, records were not kept in the same way as in the West. The Home Office knows this, yet, cruelly, it persists. The hostile environment continues.

But back to Christophe and Matteo. The “let them drown” brigade in Europe began its campaign some time ago. The UK was complicit.[2] The far right is getting its act together across the world. Will we continue to be complicit? Nothing suggests that the Tory Party will suddenly become migrant-friendly. Its leadership after May will become more right-wing, its home secretary (Javid or otherwise) will become more migrant-hostile.

That’s not where the Labour Party wants to go. Its 2017 election manifesto made this clear:

Labour will not scapegoat migrants nor blame them for economic failures … We will not discriminate between people of different races or creeds. We will end indefinite detentions … Labour will protect those already working here, whatever their ethnicity … Labour values the economic and social contributions of immigrants. Both public and private sector employers depend on immigrants. We will not denigrate those workers. We value their contributions, including their tax contributions … Labour will restore the rights of migrant domestic workers, and end this form of modern slavery … Refugees are not migrants. They have been forced from their homes, by war, famine or other disasters. Unlike the Tories, we will uphold the proud British tradition of honouring the spirit of international law and our moral obligations by taking our fair share of refugees. The current arrangements for housing and dispersing refugees are not fit for purpose. They are not fair to refugees or to our communities. We will review these arrangements.[3]

But if Labour doesn’t want to go down the same road as the Tories, it now has to change its stance on freedom of movement – for its current position, also set out in the manifesto, undermines these commitments. “Freedom of movement will end”, says the manifesto, “when we leave the European Union.” The reason for this was suggested by Emily Thornberry in an interview, apparently citing voters’ concerns about immigration:

As for the single market, you know and I know that it’s very difficult for us to remain in the single market as it currently is because nobody can pretend that the referendum didn’t include a debate on immigration and we want to have fair rules and managed migration when it comes to immigration so we need to negotiate something.[4]

But we are on dangerous ground here. Conceding to voters’ concerns and fears is no substitute for facing them honestly and allaying them. So what are the concerns that voters have about immigration? One of them is the idea that immigrants take jobs from the native population and depress wages. Liberal leader Vince Cable has summarised some of the arguments on this:

At the heart of the politics of immigration is the belief, repeated by Theresa May as a fact, that immigrants, especially unskilled immigrants, depress wages. At first sight the argument seems plausible – and undeniably there is low-wage competition in some places. But there is no evidence that this is a general problem. [In 2013, during the coalition government] I commissioned a range of reviews and studies to establish the facts. They showed that the impact on wages was very small (and only in recession conditions). By and large, immigrants were doing jobs that British people didn’t want to do (or highly skilled jobs that helped to generate work for others). This research was inconvenient to the Home Office, which vetoed the publication of its results.[5]

In 2016, Paul Johnson of the Institute for Fiscal Studies produced a report and asked:

But aren’t all these foreigners taking our jobs? That’s true in the Premier League. The more foreign footballers there are playing for the top clubs, the fewer English players there will be. There’s only room for 11 players in a starting XI.

Yet there is not a fixed number of jobs in the economy. There are seven million more people in work in the UK than there were 40 years ago. Astonishingly, there are nearly two million more than immediately before the recession in 2008. Employment rates among the UK-born are close to record levels. More people means more jobs, not more unemployment. There is absolutely no evidence that higher levels of immigration have increased unemployment among native-born Brits.[6]

On wage levels he wrote:

Evidence on wage impacts is a bit less conclusive. While many studies do not find any evidence of immigration depressing wages, a recent Bank of England paper suggests that the impact of migration on UK-born lower-skilled workers might have been to reduce wages by 1 per cent over a period of eight years. Thus it may have played a part, though only a minor one, in recent experience of low or negative pay growth.[7]

In fact, instead of seeing the fears and concerns of people as a reason for declaring an end to free movement, Thornberry could have argued those points and others in order to allay them and embrace free movement. Labour’s failure to do this had its impact on the Labour manifesto itself. First, the Tory White Paper on immigration post-Brexit included an income threshold of £30,000 p.a. which migrants would have to meet before they could have the right to work.[8] This would keep the poor out, and because of the way poverty is structured it would discriminate by race and ethnicity too. Labour’s response was:

We will replace income thresholds with a prohibition on recourse to public funds. New rules will be equally informed by negotiations with the EU and other partners, including the Commonwealth.[9]

This suggests that the “no recourse to public funds” rule would apply to EU and Commonwealth citizens alike, and it has the same effect as the Tory proposal: it discriminates against the poor and in the end it also discriminates by race and ethnicity.

Secondly, Tory policy matches this exclusion of the poor with “a new, skills-based immigration system”. Such a system “will mean we can reduce the number of people coming to this country, as we promised”.[10] On this, Labour’s manifesto (p. 28) says a Labour government would work

with businesses, trade unions, devolved governments and others to identify specific labour and skill shortages. Working together we will institute a new system which is based on our economic needs, balancing controls and existing entitlements.

This sounds no different to a Tory skills-based system.

The failure to defend immigration also led to the fiasco of Labour’s front bench at first whipping to abstain on the government’s Immigration and Social Security Bill a few weeks ago. There were many reasons to vote against the Bill. As David Lammy MP described it:

It will force our NHS and other vital services into an even deeper staffing crisis. There are already 41,000 nursing vacancies in England. The salary threshold still under consideration would exclude many skilled medical staff, including nurses, paramedics and midwives.

It continues the inhumane practice of indefinite detention. We remain the only European country which does not set a time limit for detained migrants. This sullies our international reputation and undermines complaints we make about human rights abuses abroad.

The 1.2 million [UK citizens in Europe] will inevitably see their own rights eroded too. Overnight they could lose their ability to live and work freely in Europe. Young people who overwhelmingly want the chance to live across the continent are having their horizons permanently narrowed.[11]

But Diane Abbott argued at the time:

The Labour [P]arty is clear that when Britain leaves the single market, freedom of movement ends, and we set this out in our 2017 manifesto. I am a slavish devotee of that magnificent document: so on that basis, the frontbench of the Labour [P]arty will not be opposing this bill this evening.[12]

In the event, the Labour front bench changed its mind and whipped MPs to vote against the Bill, rather than abstain, after protests by several MPs and an immediate on-line and email protest from Labour activists and others. But it took the front bench 90 minutes to do this, after MPs had originally been told they could go home as their votes were not required. Many of them did. Only 178 out of 256 Labour MPs were present to vote.[13]

Labour, under its present leadership, and with its expanded membership, is better than this. At a time when far-right forces are getting their act together, Labour should do so too, giving not an inch of ground to racism and xenophobia, whether it comes from politicians in France, Italy, Brazil, or the United States, or whether it is home-grown. In the Brexit arguments we should be fully in favour of the right to travel, to move from anywhere to anywhere, and for whatever reason: we should be in favour of the right to free movement.

 

[1]« Castaner accuse les ONG d’être complices des passeurs » Le Monde, 6 April 2019: https://www.lemonde.fr/international/article/2019/04/06/castaner-accuse-les-ong-d-etre-complices-des-passeurs_5446576_3210.html

[2] “Mediterranean Massacre”: https://bobmouncerblog.wordpress.com/2015/04/22/mediterranean-massacre-job-done/

[3] For The Many Not The Few: The Labour Party Manifesto 2017, pp. 28-29: https://labour.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/labour-manifesto-2017.pdf

[4] “Labour signals that Britain should remain in customs union”, Irish Times, 18 February 2018: https://www.irishtimes.com/news/world/uk/labour-signals-that-britain-should-remain-in-customs-union-1.3396757

 

[5] “The Tory fallacy: that migrants are taking British jobs and driving down wages”:

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/sep/08/tory-fallacy-migrants-british-jobs-wages-brexit

[6] Immigration limits won’t lift Britain: https://www.ifs.org.uk/publications/8317

[7] Ibid.

[8] White Paper: “The UK’s future skills-based immigration system”: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/766465/The-UKs-future-skills-based-immigration-system-print-ready.pdf, p. 3.

[9]For The Many Not The Few: The Labour Party Manifesto 2017, p. 28: https://labour.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/labour-manifesto-2017.pdf

[10] White Paper: “The UK’s future skills-based immigration system”: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/766465/The-UKs-future-skills-based-immigration-system-print-ready.pdf, p. 3.

 

[11] In a series of three tweets on 28 January 2019, before the front bench change of mind, declaring his intention to vote against the Bill.

[12] House of Commons debate, 28 January 2019: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/jan/28/labour-in-embarrassing-u-turn-over-immigration-bill-vote

[13] By my calculation, since the government won the vote by 297 votes to 234 (a majority of 63), if the full quota of Labour MPs had turned up to vote against them (another 78), the government would have lost the vote on the Bill.

An attack on human rights posing as a clampdown on “terrorists”

Here’s a translation of part of a story in the French newspaper Libération[1]:

They call it the optimisation of security. Or how to do still more, on the cheap, with an existing system that is already not exactly lax. So on Monday the government responded to the damage caused in the Champs-Élysées during the gilet jaunes’ “Act XVIII”. The new measures, intended to stamp out these actions once and for all, have been announced from the desk of the prime minister, Edouard Philippe, at his desk in Matignon [the prime minister’s Paris residence]. He chose, incredibly, a martial tone for the occasion.

The most spectacular measures concern the banning of gilets-jaunes demonstrations “each time it is necessary” “in the areas which have been most affected”, whenever the authorities “know that extreme elements will be present willing to cause damage”. Let’s be clear, this means in fact banning all gatherings of the gilets jaunes, by its nature a very heterogeneous movement and reticent from its very beginnings to organise hand in hand with the authorities. Until now, the authorities have shown indulgence in the first hours of demonstrations but called in the forces of law and order at the first signs of conflict. After Saturday the shape of things looks quite different: if there is a publicly declared ban police and gendarmes will be ordered to question everybody present in the places named – Édouard Philippe mentioned the Champs-Élysées in Paris, Capitole Square in Toulouse, Pey-Berland Square in Bordeaux. Such an operation has already been tested, notably on the celebrated Parisian avenue during the “Demonstration for All” during the presidency of François Hollande.”

You get the picture. On a pretext of knowing the unknowable, they will deny everybody their right to protest. This, in the land of human rights. This, in the EU with its much-vaunted human-rights guarantees. We must be careful when we ask for clampdowns and bans on the people we don’t like – such bans are easily extended to people we do like and to ourselves.

It is also interesting to note that no mention is made by the French prime minister of the policeman caught looting on Saturday during the demonstration,[2] no sign of “questioning” him for being “present in the place named” and caught looting, or charges being made, or court hearings to come. Remember, the “authorities” are after us, never after them.

 

[1] https://www.liberation.fr/france/2019/03/18/gilets-jaunes-l-executif-montre-ses-muscles_1716016?xtor=EPR-500001&utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=quot

[2] A policeman was videoed looting clothes from a shop in the Champs-Elysees during the gilets-jaunes demo. A second police officer then struck the camera operator with a truncheon. The first officer apparently nicked a Paris-St-Germain football jersey! – https://www.lemonde.fr/societe/article/2019/03/17/gilets-jaunes-l-igpn-saisie-apres-une-video-montrant-un-policier-prenant-des-vetements_5437508_3224.html?fbclid=IwAR0qfiwyAgpS8N1pgOjqnNEurAI1rmRNiL-O3ZkmKBFO4y_U_-XrmhxXoYo

 

 

The view from Canterbury and York

Let’s start with the Right Reverend Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury. He’s CEO of the Church of England. He’s worried about Brexit, he’s worried about poverty (not his own, you understand, he lives in a palace, so he’ll be OK; he, and the church, are worried about the growing numbers of the poor up and down the country). So what are you all going to do, Justin? Well, first, he’s not sure what the problem is, or even if there’s a problem at all. He told the church’s general synod (the church’s Annual General Meeting): “We cannot ignore the warnings that have been proffered about the possible profound impact that the next months may possibly have on the poorest of our society.” You see the uncertainty – the warnings have only been “proffered”, and they were about a “possible” profound impact on the poor which the next months may “possibly” have. Still, the church’s leaders put a motion to the synod that nobody could take exception to. It said that the voices of the poor and marginalised must be put at the heart of the nation’s concerns. Mind you, when you think about it, whatever does that mean? Ah, that nice John Sentamu, the down-to-earth, foot-washing, all-singing, all-dancing Archbishop of York, holds the key: he led the synod in prayer before they voted, asking God to “save our parliamentary democracy” and “protect the high court of parliament and all its members from partiality and prejudice”.

Of course – save the institutions, the very ones that got us into this mess in the first place. If he thinks about it (sorry, John) he might consider, next time he falls to his knees, whether he should ask God to save us from them.

 

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2019/feb/23/justin-welby-says-poorest-face-biggest-risks-posed-by-brexit-uncertainty

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