Tag: Andy Burnham

A few personal thoughts following the devastating terrorist attack in Manchester


Like many others, I am shocked and horrified at the events in Manchester last night. I cannot begin to imagine the pain and suffering of those people at the Arena who were witnesses or directly affected by such an unthinkable, utterly senseless and despicable act of terrorism – one that resulted in the terrible and senseless murder of at least 22 people, while injuring at least 120 others, many of whom were children and young people – and my thoughts are very much with the victims and their families at this incredibly painful and difficult time.

I’m suspending my own political campaigning, as a mark of respect for those we have lost, for those still coming to terms with this brutal and tragic event, and because it’s a time of bewilderment, shock and anguish for our nation. Terrorism is calculated to generate a much wider degree of national hurt and international anxiety in the longer term, in addition to the immediate horror of those targeted victims that it so brutally and despicably claims.

It was in the most horrific and atrocious circumstances that the people of Greater Manchester showed the world how much humanity and generosity they have – how much they care for each other. Many were prepared to go out of their way to help those in need. Bless those many who have helped out, offering food and water, warm drinks, offering lifts, putting people up. That reflects the kindness, good will, spirit and solidarity of Manchester. And I’ve heard some tremendously heartening stories of doctors and nurses going into work to support and police officers, ambulance workers giving up their days off, turning up to help those in need. 

Among those rushing to help was a brave homeless man – Chris Parker – who has spoken of the moment when a woman died in his arms after he rushed inside Manchester Arena to help the victims of the terrorist attack. He was in the foyer at the time of the attack and was knocked to the floor with the force of the explosion, despite this, he ran inside the building to help the victims.

As  said of the strong community spirit in Manchester: Together we stand strong in these difficult times.” 

It’s a time of national unity, solidarity, and of hugging your own family a little closer than usual – a time of drawing together in defiance of the hurt and confusion inflicted on us by those who would damage our society.

Burnham, the newly elected mayor of Greater Manchester, spoke very well following the catastrophic event – as did local commentator Mohammed Shafiq, who was very mindful of the need for a Muslim voice of condemnation of terrorism.

Poet Tony Walsh added his voice in tribute to the spirit of Mancunians and the history of the city:

Watch Tony Walsh’s passionate recital of his powerful poem for Manchester – “This is The Place” – at the vigil held in Manchester this evening.

Yet in the face of pleas for unity, there inevitably comes the opportunist politicking, those willing to search for scapegoats, which makes social unity so much harder to achieve. Those toxic voices that are known for their divisive rhetoric have already used these terrible events and the tragedies of others to stir up emotions and extend a socially corrosive brand of nationalism – the public peddling of indecency to their own pecuniary or political advantage. We need to take the media megaphone from those who use it to inflame social tensions, ethnic nationalism and drive rage-led ideologies.

Hugh Muir says in the Guardian: “There is all-pervasive incivility in this angry age of illiberalism and social media – that, as democrats, we have to stomach. There are those who would attack us with bombs and knives. We expect nothing from them but nihilism and brutality. But a society undermined from within at a time of crisis needs champions unequivocally prepared to protect it. We elect and employ such people. It is their job, and they should leave no doubt that they will do it.”

The article – The rule of law applies to everyone. Even hate peddlers like Katie Hopkins  is well worth a read. He’s talking a lot of sense at a time when a senseless and despicable act has led to widespread uncomprehending horror and national uncertainty. 

We mustn’t let this catastrophic event lead to further catastrophic social divisions, by allowing established right wing demagogues to stir up and direct national anger and hatred. We must not permit such people to use other people’s grief as an opportunity to further their own political agenda.

, writing for the Intercept, voices a perspective I also share: “Then there is Tommy Robinson, former leader of the far-right English Defence League (think of a British Richard Spencer but, again, with a lesser intellect and a long history of criminality and violence). Robinson arrived in Manchester on Tuesday to accuse British Muslim residents of that city of being “enemy combatants.” They want to “kill you, maim you and destroy you,” he told his YouTube audience of fellow far-right bigots.

You can almost hear them cheering in Raqqa. ISIS wants to drive a wedge between Muslim communities and wider Western society; it wants to pit Muslims against non-Muslims. Nor is this a secret: The group’s leaders have admitted as much in their own publications. More than two years ago, in February 2015, the ISIS online magazine, Dabiq, made clear that one of the main goals of the group’s brutal attacks in the West was to destroy the gray zone — of peaceful co-existence between Muslims and non-Muslims — and provoke a backlash. “The Muslims in the West will quickly find themselves between one of two choices, they either apostatize and adopt the [infidel] religion … or they … [emigrate] to the Islamic State and thereby escape persecution from the crusader governments and citizens.”

This ISIS grand plan has always required the (perhaps unwitting) support of the group’s useful idiots in the West, the Islamophobes, whose harsh rhetoric and actions help drive marginalized and alienated Muslims into the wide open arms of the jihadists.”

Robinson’s bigotry isn’t confined to Muslims. He also likes to direct abuse at people if they are remotely politically left leaning. Especially women. I’ve had first hand experience of his apparently indefatigable inclination to incite hatred and subsequent schadenfreude, as apparently, I’m a “leftist”.  It’s all our fault, he claims. He also likes to give out people’s personal and social media account details on a very widely shared and malicious meme that invites the far right in its entirety to say what they think of a so-called quote (that wasn’t). Of course these “thoughts” included death threats, rape threats, threats from Combat 18, and threats directed at my children. For someone who objects such a lot about his own “free speech” being “restricted”, he sure puts considerable effort into trying to shut other people up with low-life threats and intimidation. He also likes to get others to do his dirtiest work. 

Mehdi goes on to say: “As my colleague Murtaza Hussain has observed, it is “perverse and counterproductive to lump [the West’s Muslims] together with ISIS and blame them for the group’s actions.” To do so is to “grant the Islamic State a propaganda coup, implicitly endorsing the group’s narrative of Muslims and Westerners collectively at war with one another.”  (See the full article – Reactions to Manchester Bombing Show How Anti-Muslim Bigots Are “Useful Idiots” for ISIS.)

A little of what I know about Manchester

I’m from Greater Manchester, though in the olden days of my childhood, my hometown – Bolton – was situated in Lancashire. Manchester is a city I have spent a lot of time in: it’s a city I love. Manchester is just 10 or 15 minutes away from Bolton on the train.

I used to work in the district of Chorlton. I spent my teen years going to concerts and gigs around the city. I saw many bands and performers in Manchester over the years, from Jon Otway and John Cooper Clarke to Pink Floyd, Alice Cooper, Hawkwind, PIL, Elvis Costello, A Certain Ratio and so many others. My own band – Oh no, it’s them again – played gigs around the city, once supporting the Salford Jets at the Gallery.

Over recent years, I have taken colleagues down to Manchester just for a night out. We stayed at the local Premier Inn. I was back in Manchester last October, speaking at a psychology conference in Ardwick Green (north). Afterwards I visited and stayed with my son in my home town, Bolton. It’s always been a unique, warm and wonderful city, people are always very friendly and helpful there. 

I’m horrified and shocked at the events of last night, and feel so very sorry for those who were there, the terrible and heartwrenching loss of life, the injured young people and adults. My thoughts are with those families, and my heart goes out to them. 

How you can help 

I used to work for Victim Support in the early 1990s.  This excellent organisation are providing immediate emotional and practical local support to victims and witnesses of the Manchester attack. You can contact Victim Support’s national support line on 0808 168 9111 or, if you live in Greater Manchester, call 0161 200 1950.

Greater Manchester police have issued a new casualty bureau emergency number for people trying to trace loved ones from last night’s attack: 0800 096 0095.

Greater Manchester Police are also appealing for any images or footage from last night that you believe can assist them. Please upload these to ukpoliceimageappeal.co.uk or ukpoliceimageappeal.com.

Many people have sent messages of support and comfort; the community spirit in the city region has shone through at this very sad time. If sharing information, please be sure to only share trusted information and follow @gmpolice on Twitter and Facebook for reliable updates and information.

A relief fund has been organised by Manchester City Council and the British Red Cross, you can donate here: https://www.justgiving.com/campaigns/charity/redcross/manchesteremergencyfund

Peterloo Massacre.png
Painting showing the Peterloo Massacre – part of the history of Manchester – by Richard Carlile. The politically directed massacre, which happened at a public protest highlighting the poor socioeconomic conditions for many at the time, and was part of the fight for universal suffrage, which led directly to the foundation of The Manchester Guardian (now The Guardian).

Image result for pray for manchester images

What will the Tories suggest next. “Compassionate” genocide?

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The Tory parliamentary candidate for Cambridge, Chamali Fernando sparked outrage and horror after saying mental health patients should wear wristbands to identify their conditions. Fernando was speaking at a hustings event hosted by the campaign group Keep Our NHS Public when she made the comment.

Andy Burnham, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary, said:

“There has been an enormous amount of work in Parliament to challenge the stigma surrounding mental health. But comments like this are so disappointing – they set us back and remind us how far we have to go. Jeremy Hunt must disown these comments, instruct his candidate to apologise and make it clear that they form no part of Conservative Party policy.”

“This proposal shows the candidate’s harmful views on mental health.

Disability and Mental Health Adviser at University of the Arts, London Annabel Crowley said.

“Research carried out by the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King’s College London shows personal contact with mentally ill people is the most effective way to reduce discrimination.”

Crowley says Fernando’s proposals would only alienate the mentally ill and “further curtail their freedom,” which would encourage further stigmatization.

We need to provide adequate care and support, not blame the victims of a failing health service,” she added.

Mental Health Services are in crisis because of Coalition cuts to funding. The Government has been criticised for allowing mental health services to be cut disproportionately, as the NHS as a whole undergoes the most severe budget cut in its history. And let’s not forget that under the guise of a “policy of deinstitutionalisation,” Thatcher’s “Care in the Community” Bill was about anything but care: it was all about cutting costs, as reflected in the experiences of many people leaving long term institutional care and being left to fend for themselves in the community. “Compassionate Tories”: there is no such thing.

Dr. Pooky Kingsmith, a mental health specialist, said that she [Fernando] “fails to understand” what the wristbands would achieve “beyond increasing the stigma and prejudice already experience by mentally ill people.”

A petition has since been set up calling for Fernando to stand down in the election. The description on the petition read:

“This kind of thinking has no place in modern society and especially not in someone who is hoping to be elected as an MP.

I can’t see any possible justification in allowing Ms Fernando to continue to stand for election after showing such prejudice against the mentally ill, and if allowed to do so, shows a total disregard to the people in this country, who already have to battle against the misunderstanding and ignorance of their mental illness.”

Chamali Fernando was asked how the authorities could help the police better deal with people with mental health issues.

Fernando responded that wristbands which disclose a person’s illness could help barristers, such as herself, to better aid the public.

She said wearing colour-coded wristbands indicating the nature of the person’s condition would be helpful to professionals as “they often could not explain themselves.”

Perhaps Fernando had designs that are something like this in mind:


1936 illustration of Nazi camp ID-emblems.

The red triangle was used by the Nazis to identify social democrats, socialists, trade unionists, Freemasons and communists, for example. The pink triangle was primarily used for identifying homosexual men, and the black triangle was used to identify “asocial elements” (asozial) and “work shy” (arbeitsscheu) including those who were mentally ill, pacifists, vagrants and the Roma.

And for anyone itching to invoke Godwin’s law at this point, I suggest you hang fire and read about Allport’s Ladder of Prejudice. Whilst I am very aware that we need take care not to trivialise the terrible events of Nazi Germany by making casual comparisons, there are some clear and important parallels on a socio-political level and a psycho-social one, that I feel are crucially important to recognise.

Gordon Allport studied the psychological and social processes that create a society’s progression from prejudice and discrimination to genocide. In his research of how the Holocaust happened, he describes socio-political processes that foster increasing social prejudice and discrimination and he demonstrates how the unthinkable becomes acceptable: it happens incrementally, because of a steady erosion of our moral and rational boundaries, and propaganda-driven changes in our attitudes towards “others” that advances culturally, by almost inscrutable degrees.

The process always begins with political scapegoating of a social group and with ideologies that identify that group as an “enemy” or a social “burden” in some way. A history of devaluation of the group that becomes the target, authoritarian culture, and the passivity of internal and external witnesses (bystanders) all contribute to the probability that violence against that group will develop, and ultimately, if the process is allowed to continue evolving, genocide.

As I have discussed elsewhere on this site, we have a government that uses words like workshy to describe vulnerable groups. This is a government that is intentionally scapegoating poor, unemployed, disabled people and migrants. One Tory councillor called for the extermination of gypsies, more than one Tory MP has called for illegal and discriminatory levels of pay for disabled people. (See also David Freud was made to apologise for being a true Tory in public.)

David Freud’s comment that disabled people are not worth the minimum wage was not a momentary lapse, nor was it unrepresentative of Tory views more generally. He is the contemptuous architect of the grossly punitive Tory Bedroom Tax that disproportionately affects households of disabled people. The Tories endorsed Freud’s discriminatory policy proposal, and savagely ridiculed the UN rapporteur, Raquel Rolnik, when she pointed out, very professionally and reasonably, that the policy contravenes human rights.

He is the same government minister that rejected suggestions that austerity policies have led to an increase in food bank use – making the jaw-droppingly astonishing suggestion that food bank charities are somehow to blame. This former investment banker and peer told the Lords that the increase in the usage of food banks was “supply led”. He said:

“If you put more food banks in, that is the supply. Clearly, food from the food banks is a free good and by definition with a free good there’s almost infinite demand.”

Poverty reduced to blame-the-individual neoliberal motivational formulae. Yet it is the government that are responsible for policies that create and sustain inequality and poverty.

We need only look at the discriminatory nature of policies such as the legal aid bill, the wider welfare “reforms” and research the consequences of austerity for the vulnerable – those with the  “least broad shoulders” –  to understand that these comments reflect how conservatives think.

This is a government that is using public prejudice to justify massive socio-economic inequalities and their own policies that are creating a steeply hierarchical, society based on social Darwinist “survival of the fittest” libertarian, minarchist principles.

The Tory creation of socio-economic scapegoats, involving vicious stigmatisation of vulnerable social groups, particularly endorsed by the mainstream media, is simply a means of manipulating public perceptions and securing public acceptance of the increasingly punitive and repressive basis of the Tories’ welfare “reforms”, and the steady stripping away of essential state support and provision.

Let’s not forget that we were recently informed that the Tories plan to limit child benefit to the first two children because it would save money. The idea is being examined by the Conservatives, despite previously being vetoed by Downing Street because of fears that it could “alienate” parents.

Asked about the idea on the BBC’s Sunday Politics programme, Duncan Smith said:

“I think it’s well worth looking at. It’s something if we decide to do it we’ll announce out. But it does save significant money and also it helps behavioural change.”

This is a clear indication of the Tories’ underpinning eugenicist designs – exercising control over the reproduction of the poor, albeit by stealth. It also reflects the underpinning belief that poverty somehow arises because of faulty individual choices, (as opposed to faulty political decision-making and ideologically-driven socio-economic policies), that those choices are non-rational, stereotypical, and that reducing cost to the State involves making people change their “faulty,” stereotypical behaviours.

This government’s policies are contibuting significantly to mental illness: Suicides have reached a ten year high and are linked with welfare “reforms”.

And Osborne announced in the budget that the government will be funding a “package of measures” to improve “employment outcomes” which will entail putting Cognitive Behaviour therapists in more than 350 job centres to provide “support” to those with “common mental health conditions” who are claiming employment support allowance (ESA) and job seekers allowance (JSA).

As I have written elsewhere, the government have put up an online contract notice which specifically states:

“This provision is designed to support people with common mental health conditions to prepare for and move into work, with intervention at the earliest possible point in a claim to benefit or access to the Fit for Work service.”

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) is used to change how you think (“Cognitive”) and what you do (“Behaviour”). It bypasses emotions, personal history and narrative, to a large extent, and tends to focus on the “here and now.” In this case, the here and now consists of taking any job available, regardless of its suitability, or face being sanctioned.

CBT is an approach that facilitates the identification of “negative thinking patterns” and associated “problematic behaviours” and challenges them. This approach is at first glance a problem-solving approach, however, it is of course premised on the assumption that interpreting situations “negatively” is a bad thing, and that thinking positively about bad events is beneficial.

The onus is on the individual to adapt by perceiving their circumstances in a stoical and purely rational way.

So we need to ask what are the circumstances that the government are expecting people claiming benefits to accept stoically. Sanctions? Work fare? Being forced to accept very poorly paid work, abysmal working conditions and no security? The loss of social support, public services and essential safety nets ? Starvation and destitution?

The political vilification of sick and disabled people and the poor, amplified in the media, has preceded policies particularly aimed at the steady removal of State support, indicating a clear scapegoating process, and this isn’t indicative of a government that is “neglectful”- it is patently intentional, hence the pre-emptive “justification” narratives to garner public support and acceptance towards such punitive and harsh policies.

As Frances Ryan says:

“The ideology of a small state or the belief that benefits build dependency are crass, irrelevant details to what at its core is simply a decision about how to treat a human being. This is particularly damning when one person has all the power and the other is forced through economic necessity to take whatever humiliation or pain they are given. To do that to someone – let alone hundreds of thousands – is no accident. It is a conscious decision, that has been made over and over again by this government.”

I’ve consistently expressed my own well-founded, carefully considered, evidenced view that the Tories are authoritarians,  social Dawinists, and their social policies are founded on a creeping and implicit eugenics by stealth, fueled by their preference for a steeply hierarchical, unequal society, anachronistic ideas about “deserving” and “undeserving”, which belong to the 1834 Poor Law era, and a behaviourist approach to socio-economic circumstances .

In Edgbaston, Keith Joseph, (1974) announced to the world that:

“The balance of our population, our human stock is threatened … a high and rising proportion of children are being born to mothers least fitted to bring children into the world and bring them up. They are born to mothers who were first pregnant in adolescence in social classes 4 and 5. Many of these girls are unmarried, many are deserted or divorced or soon will be. Some are of low intelligence, most of low educational attainment.”

And in 2010, the former deputy chairman of Conservative Party, Lord Howard Flight, told the London Evening Standard:

“We’re going to have a system where the middle classes are discouraged from breeding because it’s jolly expensive. But for those on benefits, there is every incentive. Well, that’s not very sensible.”

These comments are not momentary lapses, nor are they unrepresentative of Tory views more generally. They reflect the true colours of the nazi nasty party.

demcracy

Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone


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