Tag: Labour Party

Labour party plans to end privatisation of public services

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Carillion was a British multinational facilities management and construction services company which liquidated in January 2018 | Daniel Sorabji/AFP via Getty Images

The current government has consistently failed to fix the serious problems created by its’ privatisation of public services, which has directly impacted on the lives of many citizens. Those needing the support of services have found them less accessible, conditional and often, rather than alleviating hardship and socioeconomic exclusion, the private sector, contracted in tandem with government policies, has contributed to actually increasing the vulnerability of marginalised social groups, exploiting them for profit.

Poorly conceived contracts have created cost increases that surpass the costs of in-house services, and the oversight of the contracts is poor, the government is vulnerable to corruption and profiteering. The scandal of G4S and Serco charging the Ministry of Justice for tagging offenders who were dead shows just the visible surface of how bad things can get.

G4S, for example, has left a wake of human rights abuses on a global scale, and we have to question how on earth such highly controversial companies manage to secure successive government contracts involving working with vulnerable populations. The Ministry of Justice is still spending millions on tagging offenders with G4S and Capita despite the tagging scandal because, despite all of the chatter about ‘market competition’, it has not actively welcomed in or competently procured new entrants in the market.

In the wake of the collapse of Carillion, a succession of scandals involving large British companies like G4S, Serco and others, and the zig-zagging share price of outsourcing giant Capita, now is the right time to rethink the UK government’s approach to the private provision of public services. 

Any government that claims it wants to ‘take on vested interests’ wherever they may be must look first at how it itself has created – and become dependent -on a select number of vested, incumbent private suppliers. In practice, when the government claim ‘efficiency’, that generally means lower wages and substantially reduced services. When they mention ‘economies of scale’, that generally translates as constructing the contracts in such a way as to leave only the largest companies eligible to bid for them.

When the government use the word ‘incentives’, for the profiteering companies, those are perverse incentives. And when they say ‘competition’,  the government is refering to a handful of companies barely compete with one another at all but instead operate as an unelected oligarchy – a shadow state.

A Labour government would end the outsourcing of public service contracts that involve close contact with vulnerable groups, because of ongoing, grave concerns that people are being put at risk by private contractors such as Atos and Capita. The party has drawn up the plan in response to what is described as a series of outsourcing disasters. 

This would mean addressing the controversial assessments for disability and illness related social security, NHS care, the treatment of people in detention centres and prisons, and failures over recruitment and substandard housing for Armed Forces personnel, bringing those services back ‘in house’. 

Under the Labour’s party’s plans, when an outsourced contract expires or is terminated, central or local government will be required to assess whether a service involves significant contact with ‘at risk’ groups, poses a threat to people’s human rights, or entails the use of ‘coercive powers’. People ‘at risk’ are defined as those who rely on state protection, be they prisoners, hospital patients or social security recipients. 

If the answer to these criteria is “yes”, then new statutory guidance would be used,  which will lessen the grip of the private sector over our public services. After years of privatisation, it’s become clear that perverse incentives – the profit motive and ‘efficiency’in particular – have led to very poor service delivery and caused distress and harm to many citizens who have needed to access support, such as social security or healthcare. Private firms have performed notoriously badly, most often prioritising private profit over meeting human needs, while costing the British public billions of pounds.

However, there may be exemptions to the Labour party’s new rule, where:

  • The contract does not fall under a statutory definition of ‘relevant contract’.
  • The value of the contract is below a certain threshold.
  • The contract is between local authorities (or between a local authority and another public authority).
  • The public authority can demonstrate that it has ‘good reason’ to override statutory guidance.

The Labour party has repeatedly criticised the outsourcing of assessments for Personal Independent Payments and for Employment and Support Allowance, saying that this has led to a complete breakdown in trust between disabled people, the assessors and DWP decision-makers. The Ministry of Justice was forced to take control of Birmingham prison from the contractor G4S, after inspections found that prisoners were regularly using drink, drugs and violence, and corridors were littered with cockroaches, blood and vomit last year. The plan comes after a series of high-profile outsourcing controversies.

Andrew Gwynne MP, Labour’s Shadow Communities and Local Government Secretary, said: “For too long the British public have paid the price for outsourcing.

“The Tories’ dogmatic commitment to markets at all costs has delivered sub-standard services at inflated prices. And when they fail, as they often do, it’s the taxpayer that picks up the bill.

“Labour is proposing a radical new settlement that gives people the power to end outsourcing and decide for themselves how best to deliver the services they need.

“For too long this county has been run by and in the interests of a small few who are all in it together.

“It’s time to shift the scales and bring democracy and accountability back to government, and put power in the hands of the many”.

The plan is most likely to be backed by unions, but may cause concern for some councils  under severe financial pressure after years of cuts to their funding.

The pledge is also part of a wider Labour strategy to return public services to public ownership. It reflects that Labour is serious about implementing major democratic changes to the economy, to make it more inclusive.

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The threats to public health care in the UK.

Outsourcing in the NHS is officially said to be about cutting costs and improving efficiency, but such reforms, have really helped create healthcare markets that simply promote inequality among patients and healthcare workers and erode the public nature of healthcare provision.

There is also a very obvious limiting factor to a ‘market’ in healthcare: those in most need of healthcare are least able to pay the ‘market price’ for it – the elderly, very young, people with mental illness and those who are chronicically il , many of whom are poor. So, for private healthcare to be profitable for more than just the wealthiest minority, it still requires public funding.  The government, however, have systematically refused to accept this, despite the empirical evidence that verifies the damage being done to the poorest and most vulnerable citizens.

 


I don’t make any money from my work. I am disabled because of an illness called lupus. If you want to, you can help me by making a donation to help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others going through disability assessment, mandatory review and appeal.

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Campaigners organise ‘First Do No Harm lobby’, aimed at preventing further social security related deaths

this ESA round

Disabled campaigners, researchers and organisations who have played a key role in exposing the discrimination and harm caused by the government’s social security reforms have been travelling to Westminster to attend round table discussions with five Labour shadow ministers. The meetings are chaired by Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell. I was invited to attend by John McDonnell’s office in September, because of my own ongoing campaign work.

The meetings are also the launch of a series of campaigning efforts and consultation between the Labour party, disabled activists, researchers and allied organisations. Labour MPs also hope to secure support from members of other political parties in the longer term.

We will be continuing to challenge the government’s persistent denial of a ‘causal link’ between their draconian social security policies and the distress, systematic human rights violations, serious harm and deaths of disabled people that have arisen in correlation with those policies.

Unless the government undertakes a cumulative impact assessment of the harm and  injustices that have followed in the wake of their welfare reform acts, they cannot provide evidence to support their own claims and flat denials that their policies are causing hardship, harm and distress. 

Public health experts from the Universities of Liverpool and Oxford have also produced a research report titled First, do no harm’: are disability assessments associated with adverse trends in mental health? A longitudinal ecological study. It highlights that the process of reassessing people on incapacity benefit for the new employment and support allowance (ESA) from 2010 to 2013 was “associated with” an extra 590 suicides, 279,000 additional cases of self-reported mental health problems, and the prescribing of a further 725,000 anti-depressants.

Speaking to the Huffington Post last year, the shadow chancellor said that he became furious during a Parliamentary debate when he demanded a comprehensive assessment of the cumulative impact of welfare reforms on disabled people and the government refused. He praised the website Calum’s List, which details the cases of at least 60 deaths linked to welfare cuts.

He added:  “We said to the Government we know now from Calum’s List, listing people from reports in the press and elsewhere of people committing suicide as a result of Government cuts.

We knew the Government were monitoring some coroners’ reports and we wanted them published, but [then DWP minister Esther] McVey wouldn’t and I got really angry.”

“Next week, what we are doing is getting a group of campaigning organisations and a group of experts together to talk about the way in which Work Capability Assessments are still having an impact, to try to get to the bottom in terms of mental health and suicide.”

McDonnell added that Labour’s first Queen’s Speech include legislation “making sure we have a welfare and benefit system that lifts people out of poverty”.

He said that his Hayes and Harlington constituency casework now operates an open-door system four days a week due to demand from people hit by government cuts. 

He added: “Helen who runs my office said the casework now is on a scale and a depth of suffering that we’ve never seen before. And this in a constituency with the [Heathrow] airport, high levels of employment but wages not matching the housing costs and the pressure on people working all hours just to keep a roof over their heads.

“If anything goes wrong they fall out of the system. Last month we were dealing with two families living in cars. We also have the ‘beds in sheds’ phenomenon, families living in a shed or garage rented out to them, it’s staggering really.

“Before this last eight years, those sort of horrendous situations would be infrequent but you wouldn’t have someone so heavily sanctioned. The sanctions often impact on people with mental health conditions hardest.”

The Labour party’s track record of inclusion and democratic consultation with disabled citizens and their communities contrasts starkly with the Conservative’s exclusionary ‘we know better than you’ approach to disability policies. The government have imposed cuts on disabled people, acting upon them as if they are objects of policy rather than being citizens within a democracy.  

Government policies are expressed political intentions regarding how our society is organised and governed. They have calculated social and economic aims and consequences. In democratic societies, citizens’ accounts of the impacts of policies ought to matter.

However, in the UK, the way that welfare policies are justified is being increasingly detached from their aims and consequences, partly because democratic processes and basic human rights are being disassembled or side-stepped, and partly because the government employs the widespread use of linguistic strategies and techniques of persuasion to intentionally divert us from their aims and the consequences of their ideologically (rather than rationally) driven policies. Furthermore, policies have more generally become increasingly detached from public interests and needs.

The Labour party listen to citizens’ accounts, and have always acknowledged our concerns. John McDonnell was involved in the setting up of Disabled People Against the Cuts (DPAC). After a nationwide round of consultations with disabled people about policies which enshrine the Equality and Human Rights acts, led by Debbie Abrahams, the Labour party wrote an additional manifesto, outlining policies for disabled people, called Nothing about you without you, which many of us have contributed to.

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Alex Cunningham, me, Debbie Abrahams and Gail Ward after the Disability Equality Roadshow and consultation in December, 2016.

The First Do No Harm lobby on 13 February aims to expose the continued harm caused to disabled people by government social security reforms, and to seek safeguarding changes to the social security system. It follows many years of growing concerns about the controversial Work Capability Assessment (WCA) and the failure of Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) ministers to make the necessary changes to make the assessment process safe.

Disability rights campaigners and MPs will focus on the repeated failure of the DWP to ensure that the “further medical evidence” needed to demonstrate a disabled person’s eligibility for out-of-work disability benefits is always collected, particularly for claimants with mental health conditions.

The three key asks of the lobby are:

1. To incorporate the principle of “First Do No Harm” into the assessment process for disabled people in the welfare system.
2. To call for the publication of a cumulative impact assessment of social security changes to disabled people.
3. To implement an assessment framework that treats disabled people with dignity and respect.

The lobby has been facilitated by Labour’s Treasury and work and pensions teams, through shadow chancellor John McDonnell and shadow work and pensions secretary Margaret Greenwood. Both Labour MPs and activists hope that MPs from all parties will attend. 

Shadow chancellor, John McDonnell has previously said that he believed the ongoing meetings with disability rights campaigners and allied organisations could herald the start of “a significant movement to expose the brutality of the system” and secure “permanent change”.

He told Disability News Service: “Disabled people have had enough of the continuing austerity, attacks and discrimination.

“The lobby will brief on the plight of disabled people and lobby for reform to protect against this harm.” The aim is to push for the principle of “First Do No Harm” to be included in the benefits assessment process, through a framework that “treats disabled people with dignity and respect”.

The lobby also aims to push the government to acknowledge years of raised concerns by our community to carry out a cumulative assessment of the impact of its social security cuts and reforms on disabled people. 

Campaigners will also call for an end to the government’s punitive sanctions and conditionality regime.

The First Do No Harm lobby is the first organised action arising from the ongoing meetings between disabled activists and allies and Labour shadow ministers, including John McDonnell, Margaret Greenwood and shadow minister for disabled people Marsha de Cordova.

Both Margaret Greenwood and Marsha de Cordova are to speak at the briefing as part of the lobby on 13 February.

A mass lobby is one way of using your right to turn up to the House of Commons and request a meeting with your MP as one of his or her constituents. An MP’s role is to represent a constituent’s interests – even if he or she does not entirely agree with them. As each MP may have up to 90,000 constituents to look after, it is best to be as brief, clear and courteous as possible when you meet your MP.   

Disabled people or allies who want their MP to attend the lobby should write to their MP – you can find MP’s email addresses here: WriteToThem – to inform them you wish to seek an appointment on the day of the lobby. 

The lobby is due to take place on Wednesday 13 February between 1pm and 6pm, with the briefing from 2-3.30pm, in the Palace of Westminster’s committee room 15. The committee room can be used for one-to-one meetings with MPs or further discussions on the issue from 1pm-2pm and then from 3.30pm-6pm 

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The most recent meeting at Portcullis House, Westminster.

 

Related

John McDonnell attacks Tory disability cuts and vows to address suicides linked to welfare reforms

Lobby aims to persuade MPs that DWP must First Do No Harm on assessments

Labour’s Disability Equality Roadshow comes to Newcastle

Nothing about you without you – the Labour party manifesto for disabled people

I very much wanted to attend this very important mass lobby and contacted my MP in respect of this. However, unfortunately I am currently not well enough to travel down to Westminster. I will, however, be working hard promoting the event on social media. 


 

I don’t make any money from my work. But you can make a donation if you wish and help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others going through disability claims, assessments, mandatory reviews and appeals. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.

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Jeremy Corbyn tables motion of no confidence in the government

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I have just received the following email:

Sue, this country needs a proper government

Jeremy Corbyn

Dear Sue,

Theresa May’s Brexit deal has just been defeated.

The government is in chaos. The country is in crisis. This can’t go on.

The country needs an election. That’s why tonight I tabled a vote of no confidence in Theresa May and her hopeless government.

But the Tories are getting ready too. Right now their millionaire donors will be reaching for their cheque books.

We’re relying on people like you to help fight and win.

Your donation will give the country the government it desperately needs. Will you help? 

An election is coming, and your support will help to win it. Please, donate now.

Thank you.

Jeremy Corbyn
Leader of the Labour Party


I’ve chipped in my last £3, for now. 

Update

So, Theresa May is facing a no-confidence vote that could bring down her government after MPs rejected her Brexit blueprint by a record 230 votes – an historic defeat.

Jeremy Corbyn said he had put forward a confidence motion in the aftermath of  May’s crushing Commons defeat, with the dramatic debate scheduled for Wednesday. 

Parliament finally delivered its verdict on the prime minister’s withdrawal agreement after months of debate as hundreds of Leave and Remain protesters gathered outside parliament to express their anger.

The EU president says UK remaining is only option ‘if a deal is impossible, and no one wants no deal’.

Interesting times…


 

My work is unfunded and I don’t make any money from it. This is a pay as you like site. If you wish you can support me by making a one-off donation or a monthly contribution. This will help me continue to research and write independent, insightful and informative articles, and to continue to provide support others who are affected by the welfare ‘reforms’. 

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Jeremy Corbyn’s calm decency is the best antidote to the Conservatives’ perpetual politics of spite


Yesterday I wrote two articles about the Conservative’s latest grotesque dead cat strategy. The second was concerning an email I got in the early hours from the Conservative Party’s Vice Chair, Helen Whatley, which gave the whole series of  ever-complicit mainstream media commentaries and events in parliament a staged and an “integrity Initiative” kind of feel to it. I wrote a very angry and swift response. The bloomin’ cheek and brass neck of the Tories, asking ME to join their party to “show” Jeremy Corbyn. Needless to say I told them exactly what I thought of their psyop-styled invitation.

The Conservatives turned parliament into a spite-riddled pantomine yesterday, despite the fact that a homeless man who had collapsed outside the houses of parliament died hours before. He is the second homeless person to die after falling ill outside parliament this year. True to form, the heartless government refused to see this as a wake-up call, and instead, unabashed, they indulged in disrespectful and vindictive performances to attack  HMs opposition leader.

Data released on Thursday by the Office for National Statistics shows nearly 600 homeless people were found dead on the streets or in temporary accommodation in England and Wales in 2017. They are the first official government figures and show a 24% increase in deaths over five years.

Deaths have risen every year since 2014, increasing from 482 to 597 last year, according to the figures. The average age of a rough sleeper at death was 44 among men and 42 for women. Eighty-four percent of the homeless people who died were men. London and the north-west had the highest mortality of homeless people in England and Wales.

Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn addresses a demonstration against nuclear weapons this year.

The trials, tribulations and triumphs of Jeremy Corbyn

Jeremy Corbyn has done more to increase his party’s vote share since Clement Attlee in 1945. Corbyn has remained calm, measured, rational and reasonable despite the general hatred directed at him by the Conservatives, from some of the ‘moderate’ left and of course, the far-right. Despite being targeted by truly evil and relentless propaganda and smear campaigns which a amplified by the media, he has, nonetheless seen considerable electoral success in spite of it all.

A whistleblower, Peter Francis, revealed in 2015 that the Special Branch were ordered to put Corbyn under surveillance, and they compiled secret files on the political activities of Corbyn and nine other MPs, even after they had been elected to the House of Commons. Francis disclosed that he had read the files on the 10 MPs while he worked for the Metropolitan Police’s special branch.

He added that he had personally collected information on Corbyn, and two other MPs, while he was working undercover infiltrating anti-racist groups in the 1990s.

In March 2015, Francis named the other Labour MPs whom police had kept files on – Harriet Harman, Diane Abbott, Joan Ruddock, Peter Hain, Dennis Skinner, Jack Straw, Ken Livingstone and the late Bernie Grant and Tony Benn.

The revelations prompted criticism from some of the MPs who swiftly went to the Commons and demanded answers from the police. (This is a transcript of the parliamentary debate, and Guardian articles here and here).

John Bercow, the Speaker of the House of Commons, has told MPs that the revelations were “extremely serious”, warning: “This matter will not go away”.

Hain, a former cabinet minister, (here) wanted to know why he was being watched by the police when he was an MP, adding that the revelations raised “fundamental questions about parliamentary sovereignty”. Two politicians have established that the police maintained files on their political activities in recent years. Neither of them – Jenny Jones, a Green Party peer, and Ian Driver, a Kent councillor who stood against ex UKIP leader Nigel Farage at this year’s general election – have a criminal record. 

The police were unable to say how many elected progressive politicians have been monitored by its ‘domestic extremism’ unit (whose formal name has been the National Domestic Extremism and Disorder Intelligence Unit.)

It’s an utter outrage, and clearly demonstrates the sheer unaccountability and contempt for democracy that the establishment have and hold. Yet the despicable prop and propaganda mouthpiece for a profoundly antidemocratic establishment, the Daily Telegraph, reported that undercover police officers had monitored Jeremy Corbyn for two decades. It was claimed that he had been put under surveillance “amid fears that he was attempting to undermine democracy.

It was part of a barrage of stories from the rightwing press intended to damage his attempt to win the election.

But those of us with more sceptical (and less cynical) minds are asking a different question – why were the police spying on an elected MP who has been committed to nonviolent protest? 

As Corbyn has previously said: “I am a democratically elected person and it turns out I was put under surveil­lance for a long time because I campaigned on human rights issues and was involved in justice campaigns.”

Meanwhile, the Conservatives see universal human rights as an inconvenience to be  disregarded for those who can’t afford the privilege. They think social justice is about property rights, the right for employers to exploit workers, the right for the state to coerce ill and disabled people into exploitatively low paid jobs, regardless of whether or not they are well enough to work. 

It’s high time the UK public asked itself what kind of leader isthe best kind for the majority. Authoritarian leaders seem to conventionally appeal to historically stereotypical notions of “strength”, but who genuinely believes that this bunch of arrogant, sneering, narcissistic bunch of public school bullies has any real strength? And why does anyone imagine they give a toss about the majority of people’s lives? 

It’s time for us to emancipate ourselves from the conventional, overbearing authority, hierarchy and other forms of centralised, commanding domination of government. A collaborative, facilitating kind of leadership and political organisation is the only one with which we can genuinely engage and be engaged.

I’ve spent quite a bit of the last few years reflecting on the baleful influence of shadowy pressures coming from the establishment – ‘the permanent state’ – who quite simply will go to any lengths to prevent a thoroughly decent democratic socialist who means what he says, to be Prime Minister. 

And that in itself shows just what a flimsy facade democracy has become, serving as little more than a fact-proof screen erected around a very nasty long standing authoritarianism embedded in a deepest, darkest state. It’s time to knock it down and rebuild an accountable responsive government that serves the people, rather than simply enduring one that thinks we should serve it.

I’ll leave you with Jeremy Corbyn’s comment on yesterday’s shenanigans in parliament.

 


I don’t make any money from my work.  If you want to, you can help me keep going by making a donation to support me in continuing to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to continue to provide support and advice to others affected by the Conservative’s punitive welfare ‘reforms’.

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Labour is preparing for the possibility of a general election because of instability of the Tory government

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Labour’s Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell has sent a letter to the Treasury’s permanent secretary, which shows the Labour party is prepared for a general election and an opportunity to mitigate the damage done by the Conservatives over the last 8 years:

JM letter


 

My work is unfunded and I don’t make any money from it. This is a pay as you like site. If you wish you can support me by making a one-off donation or a monthly contribution. This will help me continue to research and write independent, insightful and informative articles, and to continue to support others.

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‘As Jews, we reject the myth that it’s antisemitic to call Israel racist’

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Despite Theresa May’s claims that the Conservative party had adopted the full definition of antisemitism used by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), thei party rulebook mentions neither antisemitism nor the IHRA’s definition.

A worldwide coalition of 40 Jewish groups from 15 different countries has issued a joint statement condemning attempts to stifle criticism of Israel with false accusations of antisemitism. The statement has been published in the Independent.

The statement is timely, as the UK Labour Party is currently facing pressure to adopt the full guidelines accompanying a definition of antisemitism from the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).

Labour adopted the 38-word definition long ago.  They include two controversial examples of antisemitism, which are directly connected to criticism of Israel. 

The guidelines have already been used to target organisations campaigning for Palestinian rights. Supporters of Israel have called on government to stop the annual “Israeli Apartheid Week” on university campuses on the grounds that it breaches the IHRA. The guidelines suggest that “claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour” could itself be racist. Secondly, it’s claimed that “applying double standards by requiring of Israel a behaviour not expected of any other democratic nation” is potentially antisemitic. 

However, antiracist principles must surely permit us to legitimately criticise Israel for its  discriminatory policies, whether its segregated road network, its dual justice system, or the “Jewish nation state” bill passed on Wednesday, which entrenches ethnic inequality in law.

Maliciously or perversely labelling critics of this ethnic-based discrimination as “antisemitic” also silences Palestinians who object to Israel’s historic and ongoing commandeering and occupation of their land, and who are experiencing violations of their fundamental human rights as a consequence.

One of the key principles of the IHRA guidelines is that it is the victim of racist (or antisemitic) words and behaviour who has the right to say this is unacceptable and must stop, not the perpetrator. The problem is that has given rise to people insisting that they have experienced antisemitism, when it has been quite clear that they haven’t. On more than one occasion, the alleged perpetrator has not been given space to defend themselves against individuals who have used this principle in malice.

Palestinians have collectively called for solidarity through the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement  until their fundamental human rights are observed and upheld, including the right of return for refugees to their homeland. 

Supporters of Israel have already used the idea of “double standards” to attack the BDS movement. Supporters of Israel claim that unless all nations that violate human rights are boycotted, there must be some antisemitic intent underpinning calls for BDS. Of course this isn’t a reasonable argument.

The IHRA definition states that holding Jewish people collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel is antisemitic. I agree. However, this at least recognises the potential for a state to act in ways that may attract international criticism, such as ethnic discrimination.

The “double standards” clause, however, and some interpretations of “claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour” – bearing in mind that Israel has expanded beyond internationally agreed boundaries – may be used to exempt Israel from international norms and human rights obligations.

There is a world of difference between denying Jewish people “the right to nationhood” and recognising that Israel is systematically denying Palestinians the right to nationhood. We must ensure that antiracism guidelines are not used to permit and excuse other forms of racism, too. Human rights are, after all, universal.

Another problem is that our own government offers military, financial and diplomatic support to Israel and are therefore deeply complicit in Israel’s human rights violations. Implementing a boycott strategy in the UK therefore is no different in terms of motivation as the boycott of South Africa was – on which BDS is modelled – which helped to bring an end to apartheid there.

In conclusion to their letter, the authors say: BDS is indeed working, as worried pro-Israel groups themselves acknowledged last year. Due to the success of the movement, a global response by Israel’s supporters is in full swing, with legislation to repress the boycott initiated in many countries.

“What is happening in the UK is but one example of attempts to redefine antisemitism to include criticism of Israel. In the US, the Antisemitism Awareness Act does the same.

“As Jews who support the BDS movement, which is based on universal human rights principles and opposition to all racisms, we find it distressing that some imply Jewish communities are unanimous in their support of the IHRA. 

On the contrary, we believe that by dangerously conflating opposition to Israel’s discriminatory policies with anti-Jewish racism, IHRA politicises and harms the fight against antisemitism as well as the struggle for justice for Palestinians.

We take the threat of antisemitism seriously. Indeed, from our own histories we are all too aware of the dangers of increasingly racist governments and political parties. The rise in antisemitic discourse and attacks worldwide is part of that broader trend.

“In such urgent times, it is more important than ever to distinguish between legitimate critiques of unjust Israeli policies and “hostility to Jews as Jews”, as leading expert Brian Klug defines antisemitism.

“It is profoundly wrong to label the Labour party “antisemitic” for refraining to adopt IHRA guidelines in their entirety. Criticising Israeli policies – or indeed the tenets of Zionism – must be allowed to be part of political debate. That’s why Labour’s national executive committee has found aspects of the IHRA guidelines wanting.

Leading lawyer Hugh Tomlinson QC has criticised the IHRA on these grounds. Civil liberties champions Liberty recently cautioned public bodies that it could constitute a threat to freedom of expression. Tellingly, even US lawyer Kenneth Stern – a key figure in crafting early incarnations of the IHRA – has warned that it could “encourage punishments of legitimate expressions of political opinion.

“Last weekend, two Palestinian teenagers in Gaza were killed by an Israeli air strike. Since the beginning of the Great Return March protests on 30 March, more than 130 people have been killed – including 25 children. These are just the most recent examples of why we call for a non-violent boycott of Israel until it complies with international law.

With Jewish and Israeli organisations across the globe that have varying approaches to the BDS movement, we stand united against harmful definitions of antisemitism and together for human rights and the freedom to protest.”

Authors: Richard Kuper, who co-founded the UK-based Jews for Justice for Palestinians. Rebecca Vilkomerson, who is director of US-based Jewish Voice for Peace.

 

Related

Marginalisation of left leaning Jewish groups demonstrates political exploitation of the antisemitism controversy by the right wing

Antisemitism and the Labour party – a deeper look (cont) – Jewish Voice for Labour.

The Conservative code of conduct does not at any point mention the word “antisemitism” or spell out a definition of antisemitism, IHRA-approved or otherwise.

 


A response to Guido Fawkes about his despicable use of my photosensitive seizures to score nasty political points

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Migraine aura: scintilating scotoma

Yesterday I contacted the Labour party about their Labour Live event promotion video because it made me ill, causing a partial seizure. The video didn’t carry a warning about the flashing images it contained. I have had an apology from Jennie Formby on behalf of the Party, and it looks like the video has been taken down. The response came within a couple of hours of my contacting her. I feel that’s a very reasonable and rapid response. I was concerned that the video may trigger seizures in other people who are susceptible, too. 

I contacted Jennie on Twitter, as well as sending a direct message to the Party, and an email. The Tweet received a prompt response, for which I am very  grateful. I figured the Labour party get many emails and it may take a while for mine to be seen. 

It’s highly likely that the Labour party hired a communications and media company to undertake making the promotion video. So this issue needs to be addressed with those who actually did the work in putting the video together, too. 

I do feel the Labour party have responded appropriately. Although my hypersensitivity to flickering and flashing images and light is quite rare, it does make my time on social media very difficult. I only wish that Facebook and Twitter would respond as quickly to my complaints about the abundance of flashing GIFs that I encounter online, which sadly make me very ill, and can incapacitate me for days on end.

I also had the following excellent email response yesterday morning from the Labour Party:

Dear Sue,

Many thanks for your email. Thanks also for your support for the Labour Party – together we truly can build a Britain for the many not the few.

I am deeply sorry to hear that the video had this effect on you. I have noted your concerns and feedback and passed these onto the relevant team. They will factor this into any future video content we create. 

Many thanks for letting us know – it is very important to us that we can create video content that is accessible to all.

Best wishes,

Maria

Membership Services and Correspondence

The Labour Party.

I am more than happy with that swift response, because it indicates a party that cares about inclusion, and is more than willing to take responsibility for ensuring their material is up to a high health and safety standard. My condition isn’t very common, I guess I represent what you would call a very small minority group. Yet the Labour party have gone out of their way to ensure my wellbeing, and the safety of those who have the same level of sensitivity to flickering and flashing images. And best of all, the information I provided will be applied to released video material by the Party in future. That’s a very good outcome. 

All the more reason why I’m not happy that Guido Fawkes (AKA Paul Staines, the right wing politico gossip- monger) has used my illness to try and score political points. I am unusually very sensitive to flickering and flashing images, and don’t feel it’s appropriate to use someone’s illness and misfortune to make a tenuous attack on the Labour party. Or my account details, for that matter. In fact it’s a despicable thing to do.

I have requested that he removes the Tweet.

I have to say that it’s to their credit that Labour responded so quickly to my message.

I have a rare condition and don’t blame the makers of the video for being unaware of that. The Party responded promptly and appropriately. Unlike Facebook and Twitter, who have never responsed to my previous complaints about the flashing images that are frequently posted around social media. Christmas and New Year were particularly difficult for me on Facebook, for example, because of well meaning people sending me flashing images with their Christmas greetings. It caused me so much difficulty that I had to avoid my inbox for a couple of weeks. That’s because I am very very sensitive to flickering lights and flashing colours. Unfortunately such images can leave me ill and incapacitated for days.

Visual reflex seizures induced by complex stimuli may be triggered by patterned and flashing displays that are now ubiquitous, especially on social media. This said, ordinary fluorescent lighting, driving, walking past railings, moving escalators, looking at ripples on a pond and some geometric patterns may also trigger illness and seizures in some people who are particularly sensitive. I’m an individual who is unfortunately both photosensitive and pattern-sensitive, though I haven’t always been.

Sometimes, in susceptible people, seizures can happen because of the properties of video displays, the triggers are identified as perceived brightness, pattern, flicker frequency, and colour contrasts. 

Fawkes is a nasty gossip-mongering vulture, who will use anything he can to promote his vicious right wing views, while  being among the first in line to attack a “snowflake” like me. Some of his equally virulent followers commenting on the thread under his post thought my seizure was hilarious. 

That’s pretty low to stoop, even for someone who is a master at consistently clearing the pole in right wing moral limbo dancing competitions. 

A little about photosensitive and pattern-induced illness and seizures

Not everyone who has seizures because of flickering and flashing images has epilepsy. I don’t. Photosensitive epilepsy is quite rare, it’s a type of epilepsy, in which all, or almost all, seizures are triggered by flashing or flickering light. Only one in a hundred people with epilepsy have the photosensitive type of epilepsy. That’s a very small percentage of the population. However, some people complain that flashing imagery makes them feel generally unwell, too. A few people experience dizziness and nausea, but don’t have seizures. Others have flashing or flicker-induced migraines. I also suffer from migraines.

Both natural and artificial light may trigger seizures. In my case, it is thought that an illness I have called lupus has caused neurological changes that have led to the photosensitivity problems I experience. At first, I was diagnosed with classical migraine, as there is an overlap with seizure symptoms. An “aura” is common for both, which includes scotoma – a kind of temporary blindness, or ‘holes’, or sparkling shapes that take up large parts of people’s field of vision, severe vertigo, confusion, extreme mood and perception changes, coordination and speech difficulties, tingling and numbness, nausea and so on. Often there is muscle rigidity and twitching, or jerking. In my case, this usually affects my legs when it happens. Sometimes people lose consciousness during an attack, too.

My own symptoms started at the same time as the onset of the wider symptoms of lupus – susceptibility to infections, joint and tendon pain and inflammation, nerve pain, blood abnormalities and so on. Lupus is an autoimmune disease that can affect many organs and parts of the body. Very often it includes skin photosensitivity too, many of us develop a severe rash and illness in sunlight, even when we wear a sunblock.

Various types of seizure can be triggered by flashing or flickering light. These include tonic-clonic, absence, myoclonic and focal seizures. The most common is a tonic-clonic seizure. The seizure(s) will usually happen at the time of, or shortly after, looking at the “trigger.” Sometimes people may experience more than one kind of seizure, too. 

Again, photosensitive seizures affect a very small percentage of the population. Epilepsy -related forms of the condition usually begins before the age of 20, most commonly between the ages of seven and 19. Photosensitive epilepsy affects more girls than boys. 

The exact spacing of a pattern in time or space is important and varies from one individual to another: a person may readily experience seizures when exposed to lights that flash seven times per second, but may be unaffected by lights that flash twice per second or twenty times per second. Stimuli that fill the entire visual field are more likely to cause seizures than those that appear in only a portion of the visual field. 

Stimuli perceived with both eyes are usually much more likely to cause seizures than stimuli seen with one eye only (which is why covering one eye may allow people to avoid seizures when presented with visual challenges). Some people are more sensitive with their eyes closed; others are more sensitive with their eyes open.

Not everyone who experiences seizures through flicker sensitivity has epilepsy. A seizure without a known cause is called an “idiopathic” seizure. Those are the kind that I suffer from, though I am currently seeing a neurologist to try and work out why I am having the seizures. I have had an MRI scan to see if there are any brain lesions or inflammation, caused by the lupus, and I am waiting for some further tests.

A seizure is the result of experiencing a surge of electrical activity in the brain. The electrical disturbance can, as outlined, produce a variety of physical symptoms.

UK television broadcasters and studios now screen content through the Harding FPA Test, an objective standard of assessment of potential to trigger seizures in those susceptible to photosensitive seizures. I’d like to see social media platforms use the same standard of testing on GIFs and other moving images.

It’s now thought (by my GP) that my sensitivity to flickering has happened because of how lupus has affected my neurological system. I developed lupus during a pregnancy in my thirties. I’m so sensitive to flickering that I can’t drive, as lamp posts, trees and telegraph posts along the road act like a strobe light in a moving car, and trigger severe symptoms, such as the scotoma, which causes temporary blindness, severe vertigo, confusion, coordination difficulties and partial seizures. I can’t even walk past railings without experiencing problems, moving escalators also make me ill, and more recently, some geometric shapes with highly contrasting colours, like black, red and /or white stripes, have made me ill, too.

The word hertz (Hz) refers to how often something happens in a second. For example, it can mean the number of times something flashes or flickers in one second. It can also mean the number of times the scanning lines on televisions and computer monitors ‘refresh’ themselves in one second.

Most people with photosensitive epilepsy are sensitive to 16-25 Hz. Some people may be sensitive to rates as low as 3 Hz and as high as 60 Hz. I’ve yet to find out what ranges I am sensitive to. I know that a visible flicker on fluorescent lighting triggers seizures.I

I think a campaign to make social media a more “friendly” place for people like me would be a good thing.

I hope this article will help to raise awareness of this condition, which is extremely intrusive, restrictive and distressing.

Ways to reduce the risk of seizures if you have photosensitive epilepsy

  • Avoid looking at anything that you know may trigger a seizure. (Not aways easy!)
  • Avoid things that can increase your risk of having a seizure. These can include feeling tired or stressed, not having enough sleep, low blood sugar and drinking alcohol.
  • If you take epilepsy medicine, always take it as prescribed by your doctor.
  • If you look at something that might trigger a seizure, don’t close your eyes. This could increase your risk of having a seizure. Instead, immediately cover one eye with the palm of your hand and turn away from the trigger. This reduces the number of brain cells that are stimulated and reduces the risk of a seizure happening.

Related

One of the key reasons I have faith in the Labour Party, and give them my continued support, is their policies, which are inclusive, recognise the value of diversity and treat everyone’s life as having equal worth. This is such a stark contrast to Conservative policies, which emphasise competitive individualism and an elitist perspective of society, which is profoundly isolating, socially divisive and leads to exclusion and outgrouping.

This in particular impressed me last year, released in the run up to the general election –  Nothing about you without you – the Labour party manifesto for disabled people

 


 

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