Tag: Racism

David Graeber speaks about dangers of ‘fanning the flames’ of antisemitism controversy for Jews

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The mural commemorating the battle of Cable Street

David Graeber is a Professor of Anthropology at the London School of Economics and is also involved in social and political activism. His books includDebt: the First 5000 Years and Possibilities: Essays on Hierarchy, Rebellion and Desire

In September this year, Graeber wrote an article that was originally published on the OpenDemocracy site – For the first time in my life, I’m frightened to be Jewish.

He says: “I am 58 years old, and for the first time in my life, I am frightened to be Jewish.

“We live in a time when racism is being normalized, when Nazis parade in the streets in Europe and America; Jew baiters like Hungary’s Orban are treated as respectable players on the international scene, “white nationalist” propagandist Steve Bannon can openly coordinate scare-mongering tactics with Boris Johnson in London at the same time as in Pittsburg, murderers deluded by white nationalist propaganda are literally mowing Jews down with automatic weapons.

“How is it, then, that our political class has come to a consensus that the greatest threat to Britain’s Jewish community is a lifelong anti-racist accused of not being assiduous enough in disciplining party members who make offensive comments on the internet?”

He later says: “The problem is that exploiting Jewish issues in ways guaranteed to create rancor, panic, and resentment is itself a form of antisemitism. (This is true whether or not the architects are fully aware of what they’re doing.) It creates terror in the Jewish community. It deprives us of our strongest allies.”

That is the left.

You can read Graeber’s candid, excellent and thoughtful article in full here.

Graeber has also made this video:

 

Related

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

Michael Rosen discusses antisemitism

An open letter to the Chief Rabbi from an Imam, about Jeremy Corbyn

Letter endorsing Jeremy Corbyn, signed by key public figures and Jewish academics

Techniques of neutralisation: Cameron says keep calm and carry on climbing Allport’s ladder

 


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We must not permit the prime minister to tell lies in parliament with impunity, it’s dangerously authoritarian behaviour

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The government has been dismissive when facing challenges regarding the Windrush scandal. The prime minister has refused to intervene when it emerged that one man was being denied radiotherapy unless he could pay a £54,000 bill upfront. Downing Street also initially rejected Caribbean countries’ request for a meeting to address the problem. 

As outrage over the grotesque injustices has  grown, the home secretary made an unusually forthright apology in the House of Commons on Monday. Amber Rudd described her own department’s actions as “appalling”.

A new taskforce has been created and is supposed to resolve cases within two weeks. In a statement on Tuesday, the Home Office said that “in 2010, the decision was taken by the UK Border Agency to securely dispose of some documents known as registration slips.”  

This decision was made in line with the Data Protection Act 1998, under which the Home Office has a legal obligation to ensure that the personal data it holds is not kept for longer than is necessary.” 

However, speaking during Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons, Theresa May claimed that the decision to destroy the documents had been made in 2009, when a Labour government was in power. The misleading of parliament is the knowing presentation of false information to parliament, a very serious charge in Westminster-style parliamentary assemblies. Especially from a prime minister.

The Home Office spokesperson also argued that the landing card slips did not provide proof of residence: “Registration slips provided details of an individual’s date of entry, they did not provide any reliable evidence relating to ongoing residence in the UK or their immigration status.”  

“So it would be misleading and inaccurate to suggest that registration slips would therefore have a bearing on immigration cases whereby Commonwealth citizens are proving residency in the UK.”  

Yesterday, the prime minister lied in parliament during prime minister’s questions. Jeremy Corbyn asked Theresa May if she  had “signed off” the decision to destroy the Windrush landing cards. May claimed that an “operational decision” by the Border Agency was made in 2010, but that the original decision was made in 2009 under the last Labour government.

Yesterday I posted a Home Office whistleblower’s account, reported by Guardian prior to May’s lie. The account contradicts the prime minister, saying that the Home Office made the decision and destroyed the records in October 2010, when May was Home Office secretary. Furthermore, May was warned at the time by staff about the problems it would cause for the Windrush generation migrants. So she knew about the purging of  disembarkation documents.

The prime minister delivered what seems to be an intentional lie with an expression of fury and sheer malice, the Conservative benches sneered and brayed like unpleasant boorish beasts in a zoo as usual, showing utter contempt for parliamentary procedure, norms and conventions of decorum and public expectations of objective, rational standards of parliamentary debate. And honesty.  

The Labour leader raised the “hostile environment” policy that Theresa May created in 2014, with an aim of “deterring” illegal immigrants. Because the landing records had been destroyed, the imposition of a harsh “verification framework” – which was designed to ensure that immigrants provide documentary proof of their legal citizenship status – presented unacceptable hardships and difficulties for some, leading to the absolute scandal of citizens who had lived and worked in the UK for many years being refused essential NHS treatment for cancer, being evicted from their home, being unable to access social security support, losing their jobs, being detained and facing threats of deportation. And death.  

The mother of a Windrush citizen who died suddenly last month after being classified as an “illegal immigrant” and sacked from his job believes the stress caused by his immigration problems was responsible for his death.  

Dexter Bristol, who was 57 when he died, moved from Grenada to the UK when he was eight in 1968, to join his mother who was working as an NHS nurse, and spent the rest of his life in the UK. He was sacked from his cleaning job last year because he had no passport, and was denied benefits because shamefully, government officials did not believe he was in the country legally. 

One problem facing those affected by the Windrush immigrants is that they cannot get a passport now because the documents proving they are longstanding UK citizens have been destroyed. 

Employers now are legally obliged to check employees citizen status, and landlords too. This has led to more than one person becoming homeless, unable to secure another tenancy, unable to claim social security unable to access lifeline support, and unable to work. These are citizens who have lived in the UK sinve the 40s, 50s and 60s, worked for years and have family here.  

Jeremy Corbyn said yestreday that May had been responsible for the destruction of the landing records in October, 2010, and added that parliament needed “absolute clarity” on when the decision was taken. As Home Office secretary, May must surely have at least given permission for the destruction of the records to go ahead, regardless of where the proposal to do so came from, originally, and why. 

Theresa May’s precise claim was: 

“The decision to destroy the landing cards was taken in 2009 under a Labour government.” 

Dawn Butler, Labour MP for Brent Central), also highlighted the fact that the prime minister had misled parliament with a point of order

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. During Prime Minister’s questions, the Prime Minister said that the decision to destroy landing cards was taken in 2009. I have had it confirmed that the Home Office briefed yesterday that the decision was taken by the UK Border Agency in 2010 and that the records were destroyed in October 2010. Can the House, the Windrush generation, the Commonwealth leaders and the country get clarification from the Prime Minister or the Home Secretary?” 

A point of order is a query in a formal debate as to whether correct procedure is being followed. In this case, the correct procedure is for the prime minister to tell the truth.

May – gloating over the impact of her lie on Corbyn – ventured into a defence of her appalling, discriminatory “crackdown” on illegal immigration, saying it was “absolutely right” that only people entitled to use public services used them. 

This isn’t about illegal immigration,” retorted Corbyn, “but about Commonwealth citizens who have a right to be here”. 

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman has said: “The decision was taken to securely dispose of these documents, and that was the right one to take.” 

Asked on Tuesday if Theresa May had been aware of the disposal of the records while she was home secretary, the Prime Minister’s spokesman said: “My belief, at this moment, is that it was an operational decision that was taken by the Border Agency.”  

The Borders Agency was effectively part of the civil service and it took its advice and direction from ministers. 

The Guardian reports

A former Home Office employee said the records, stored in the basement of a government tower block, were a vital resource for case workers when they were asked to find information about someone’s arrival date in the UK from the West Indies – usually when the individual was struggling to resolve immigration status problems.” 

“The former employee (who has asked for his name not to be printed) said it was decided in 2010 to destroy the disembarkation cards, which dated back to the 1950s and 60s, when the Home Office’s Whitgift Centre in Croydon was closed and the staff were moved to another site. Employees in his department told their managers it was a bad idea, because these papers were often the last remaining record of a person’s arrival date, in the event of uncertainty or lost documents. The files were destroyed in October that year, when Theresa May was home secretary.” 

Furthermore, as stated, it was reported that a Downing Street spokesman said yesterday that the “operational decision” to dispose of the documents was taken by the UK Border Agency, meaning it would not have come across the desk of the then Labour Home Secretary. They were then destroyed in 2010. 

May has finally acknowledged that the crisis had arisen due to the harsh rules imposed during her time as Home Secretary.

The measures, introduced from 2011 onwards, require employers, landlords and health service providers to demand evidence of legal immigration status. At the time, May said they were designed to create a “hostile environment” for people living in the UK illegally. 

As a consequence, some lost their jobs, others were evicted from their homes, and a few were reported to have been threatened with deportation. 

This issue has come to light because of measures that we introduced recently to make sure that only those with a legal right to live here can access things like the NHS,” May said, according to the UK Press Association. 

And this has resulted in some people who – through no fault of their own – has resulted in some people now needing to be able to evidence their immigration status.” 

May’s apology came after the Home Office announced the creation on Monday of a new team to help those with Commonwealth status secure their UK status. 

Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said: “The Windrush generation have been threatened with deportation because they cannot provide documents, but now we learn that the Home Office destroyed the very records that could have demonstrated their right to remain.” 

On Tuesday, she called on Home Secretary Amber Rudd to announce that she will accept the “burden of proof” in deportation cases for the Windrush generation should lie with the Home Office rather than the potential deportee. 

She said: “The revelation that Windrush landing cards were destroyed is truly shocking and the culpability of this fiasco rests solely with the Home Office.

“Amber Rudd must explain who authorised this action and when, and what Theresa May’s role was as the then home secretary.”

In summary,  two Home Office whistleblowers have rejected May’s claim that the destruction of landing cards had no impact on immigration cases, saying they were routinely used as an information source before their destruction. 

The home affairs committee has summoned Amber Rudd, the home secretary, to appear before it next week and answer questions on the Windrush scandal. 

The Home Office said 113 cases had been reported to a hotline set up to try to resolve the arising distressing issues.

The Jamaican prime minister, Andrew Holness, and the Labour MP David Lammy have called for those denied services, wrongfully detained or deported to be awarded compensation.

Tory immigration policy was “reminiscent of Nazi Germany” – Bob Kerslake

Lord Kerslake has made clear the unease among politicians and civil servants at the set of policies implemented when May was Home Secretary, that have now come under scrutiny amid the Windrush scandal. 

The phrase ‘hostile environment’ was used by May in a 2012 interview, when she was Home Secretary. It involved legislation and regulation to “tackle illegal immigration” and help bring the net number of people coming to the UK down to “tens of thousands a year”. 

Theresa May had repealed parts of the previous government’s immigration legislation and amended overlapping legislation, to narrow the criteria that qualify UK citizenship, making them much more difficult to meet from 2010 onwards. The subsequent amendments were even more harsh. 

The changes involves migrants having to prove their immigration status when accessing NHS services and housing. Landlords and employers are also expected to enforce new policies or risk fines.

Emblematic of Lynton Crosby’s trumpeted dog whistling tactics, the much-criticised, extremely racially divisive ‘go home’ vans where dispatched by the Home Office in 2013,  displaying billboards with the message: “In the UK illegally? Go home or face arrest.”

Remarkably, the vans, which some said out did UKIP in terms of displays of racism, prompted Nigel Farage to criticise them as “nasty” and “Orwellian.”

 

Appearing on BBC 2’s Newsnight, Lord Kerslake, head of the civil service between 2012 and 2015, told presenter Evan Davies about how the civil service gave advice on “some of the challenges of the policies”, especially over taking action against people who are “acting lawfully”. 

Asked whether May, then Home Secretary, was challenged, Lord Kerslake responded:  “It was not just a question of the Home Secretary being told that, the Prime Minister was as well, and this was a very contested piece of legislation across government departments.

The changes since 2010 involve migrants having to prove their immigration status when accessing NHS services and housing. Landlords and employers are also expected to enforce new policies or risk fines. (See also: Windrush: Home Office officials raised concerns over immigration rules says ex-civil service chief)

Yet the prime minister attempted to duck accountability and divert legitimate criticism from the opposition by making an outrageously expedient and deplorable, inaccurate swipe about the “rife antisemitism” in the Labour party. 

Still, it’s a change from the usual deeply divisive, confict-laden and untrue comments about Corbyn’s “special relationship” with Russia. It doesn’t do much for diplomatic relations and de-escalating conflicts when Conservative politicians and right-wing media pundits make openly insulting and disgraceful claims that Corbyn is “Russia’s useful idiot”. Aggressive playground politics, that weaponises Corbyn’s internationalism, diplomacy and respect for diversity, and further underlines Russian observations of “Russiaphobia” in the UK. 

It seems that the humbling public confession of telling outrageous lies and humiliating apology from Ben Bradley, following the threat of legal action, isn’t a sufficient lesson for the wider party to stop telling lies. Utterly despicable behaviour from the government.

 

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Deplorable BBC bias

On a site that makes the deeply ironic comment “Why you can trust BBC News“, which is definitely not because it is “accurate, impartial, independent and fair,” the BBC spectacularly failed to report that the prime minister misled parliament yesterday.

It wasn’t even commented on that May’s claim contradicted previous Home Office statements. The BBC have consistently failed to uphold public interests.  They fail in  challenging injustice, dishonesty and more generally, in holding an increasingly authoritarian government to account. There was no mention of the point of order made by Dawn Butler, either. Basically, the BBC are stage-managing democracy, or rather, they hold up a facade of democracy, on behalf of the authoritarian, media-monitoring Conservatives. 

I can’t believe that even the Daily Mail‘s account of yesterday’s prime minister’s questions was substantially more accurate, balanced, impartial and objective than the BBC’s frequently repeated propaganda. This morning, the record had not changed – May’s lie was presented and repeated as if it was an irrefutable truth, despite the fact that it was significantly challenged in parliament. 

I will stick to reading Hansard records. I know I can’t depend on the BBC for delivering factual and impartial accounts. However, I can always depend on the Corporation for their pro-Conservative grovelling, constructed PR stories and lessons in what not to do while a prejudiced, vile and dangerous authoritarian government systematically targets discrimination at one social group after another, while trampling on their human dignity and violating their human rights. 

“First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out, because I am not a socialist..” springs to mind yet again. 

Looking through the BBC article, the lack of independent and critical analysis leaves me wondering if Lynton Crosby and the numerous other PR/communications consultants employed by the Conservatives have been been distributing crib sheets again. One commentator on BBC News this morning, said “It as to be said that Lord Kerslake has been an advisor for the Labour Party”, as if that somehow negates his account, and the harrowing accounts of those people who are watching their lives fall apart because of the racist and Kafkaesque bureacracy of extremely punitive, socially divisive and discriminatory government policies. 

Back in 2011, Theresa May said: “The government should not be “constrained in removing foreign nationals by the Human Rights Act as it attempts to reduce levels of immigration into the UK.” Her offensive speech was designed to stigmatise immigrants, spoken in the language of hardened authoritarianism. And there was also catgate.  


I think the The British Broadcasting Corporation has become the CCBAC: The Complicit Conservative Bystander Apathy Corporation.

The Ministerial Code of Conduct

I feel very strongly that no politician should lie in parliament, or set out to deceive the public, least of all, a prime minister. The Conservatives have a long history, however, of role modelling atrocious behaviours, and delivering socially divisive rhetoric that signals a permission for public prejudice, discrimination, abuse, bullying and hate crime. 

The Ministerial Code, which sets out standards of behaviour expected from all those who serve in Government, says: “It is of paramount importance that Ministers give accurate and truthful information to Parliament, correcting any inadvertent error at the earliest opportunity. Ministers who knowingly mislead Parliament will be expected to offer their resignation to the Prime Minister. ”

And if the person who knowingly misled Parliament is the prime minister? Well, you can make a formal complaint to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards Office here.

The prime minister has also violated the Nolan principles, which are:

Selflessness: Holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest. 

Integrity: Holders of public office must avoid placing themselves under any obligation to people or organisations that might try inappropriately to influence their work. They  should not act or take decisions in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or their friends. They must declare and resolve any interests and relationships. 

Objectivity: Holders of public office must act and take decisions impartially, fairly and on merit, using the best evidence and without discrimination or bias. 

Accountability: Holders of public office are accountable for their decisions and actions and must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny necessary to ensure this. 

Openness: Holders of public office should act and take decisions in an open and transparent manner.Information should not be withheld from the public unless there are clear and lawful reasons for doing so. 

Honesty: Holders of public office should be truthful.

Leadership: Holders of public office should exhibit these principles in their own behaviour. They should actively promote and robustly support the principles and be willing to challenge poor behaviour wherever it occurs.

You can complain about the lack of objectivity, fairness, balance and impartiality of the BBC here

It’s time we demanded democratic accountability from our government, and facts instead of propaganda from the media.


 

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It’s time the government took some lessons in the ethical use of power and influence amid the discussion about abuse

 

Image result for Daily Mail Jo Cox Image result for Daily Mail Jo CoxImage result for This is for britainImage result for Daily Mail Jo Cox

Image result for Daily Mail Jo Cox

Irresponsible racist scapegoating discourse and an utter incapacity to join the dots in the media. When Jo Cox was murdered, her killer shouted “Britain First” – the name of the political party formed by former BNP members, which has over 1.5m likes on Facebook. The Daily Mail buried the news of his conviction for murdering a sitting MP on page 30, almost as if the Mail thought it was somehow unimportant.

Minority groups are demonised and denigrated as a matter of routine and tradition – at what point does our feigning ignorance of this process turn into complicity with it? The problems we face as a society are not caused by immigration, but by socioeconomic inequality, with widespread, growing poverty, exclusion and youth unemployment faced by working class people of all ethnic backgrounds. Pointing the finger at immigrants is an attempt to mask how current government policy is actually exacerbating inequality.

The rise in targeted abuse of MPs of all stripes

It’s quite remarkable that Conservative MP, Simon Hart, claims: “Abuse of candidates and activists is “driving people away from politics,” and it’s also entirely predictable that he almost exclusively blames left wing campaigners. However, we do need to tread carefully when using labels such as “bullying” and “abuse”. We need to be careful not to allow politicians to lump reasonable opposition, challenges, legitimate democratic dialogue and action into the same category as examples of abuse.  

This is a government, after all, that has sneeringly labelled those reasonably calling for an end to austerity, adequate funding for our public services and adequate social security protection for disabled people as “unrepentant Marxists”, “Trots”, “the Hard Left”, “the Loony Left”,  and who ran almost all of their election campaign as a strategic, pointed, deeply personal smear attack on Corbyn and some of the shadow cabinet. 

The Conservatives ran an election campaign that was almost entirely about character assassinations and smearing the opposition, rather than offered policies. It was also about telling the electorate who they must and must not vote for. They seem to have forgotten that it is the public who decide who is “fit” to run the country, not the increasingly authoritarian incumbent government. We live in a democracy, after all, not a one-party state.

Hart told HuffPost UK that “silence” from Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour grassroots campaign organisation Momentum had meant the intimidation of candidates had increased. Labour immediately responded, expressing “deep dismay and concern at the vitriolic personal attacks” carried out and financed by the Conservative Party.

A spokesperson for Momentum dismissed Hart’s criticism as a “ludicrous smear”. I’m inclined to agree. Many of the right wing tabloids have predictably tried to blame Jeremy Corbyn entirely for political attacks.

Yet the same tabloids have printed horrifically dishonest, abusive articles about Corbyn, and historically, against the Labour Party  more generally.

Image result for Labour zinoviev letter Daily Mail

One of the great political scandals of the 20th century. Shortly before the 1924 general election, a letter purporting to be from Grigory Zinoviev at the Comintern in Moscow to the Communist Party of Great Britain appeared in the Daily Mail, along with “concerns” about a proletariat revolution.  The Conservative landslide victory four days later was in part attributed to the fake letter, which is now known to have been a forgery.

Corbyn has previously revealed that the abuse thrown at him over the course of the Labour leadership campaign has been “deeply hurtful” to his family and close friends. Yet he has consistently said: “We’re not responding in any way; we don’t do that kind of [abusive] politics.”

Hart, the MP for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire, said the “general thuggishness” of the election campaign was “deterring” people from getting involved politics. 

I agree. Right wing thuggishness is writ large in screaming headlines, smear campaigns and slanderous columns. The Conservative approach to election campaigns has normalised abuse.  The nasty party probably think that positive role modelling involves the fashioning of voodoo dolls of the opposition out of plasticine to stick their malicious and vindictive pins into.

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It becomes obvious with a little scrutiny who is actually doing the attacking on a very personal level. Debate and political criticism are one thing: personal commentaries, character assassinations, attacks, threats, bullying, abuse and harassment are another. I have seen that quite often, abusive tactics include manipulating people’s perceptions and diverting attention to portray themselves as the injured party, with their target being portrayed as the villain. 

The danger of portraying democratic opposition as “abuse”

The Conservatives seem to be outraged at the very idea of political opposition, to the extent that the Conservatives’ rhetoric and practices are now bordering on political totalitarianism. 

The Conservatives have a habit of stifling legitimate criticism, personalising public issues and frequently labelling the opposition’s concerns with negative terms such as “scaremongering” , “grandstanding” and “crying wolf” in what ought to be democratic debate.

This kind of discrediting  and dismissive language, and unwillingness to engage in a genuine dialogue, sidestepping accountability and transparency, sends a wider message out to the public. Cameron’s “one nation” politics has extended more of a one party state message, creating an illusion of a national consensus bandwaggon that does not exist. 

In a letter to Conservative party chairman, Sir Patrick McLoughlin, Labour’s Ian Lavery and voter engagement spokesman Cat Smith wrote: “The Conservatives ran a negative, nasty campaign, propagating personal attacks, smears and untruths, particularly aimed at one of the most prominent women MPs, and indeed the first black woman MP, Diane Abbott.

“Such attacks on politicians, the consequent intimidating and abusive language and threats of violence towards them online, deter many people from entering politics. Parties and politicians have a responsibility to set an example, by treating others with dignity and respect, including those with whom we strongly disagree. The Conservative Party has instead promoted personal attacks as a core component of its national campaign.

“Abuse against candidates on social media is completely unacceptable. The Conservative Party perpetrated this on an industrial scale by spending millions of pounds to post highly personalised and nasty attack adverts on voters’ Facebook timelines without their permission.”

They say that the Labour party “fought a positive, hopeful campaign” and insisted that all its MPs ran campaigns based on its policies rather than personal attacks.

All of this is certainly verified by the televised debates and media coverage of the election campaigns.Image result for Jeremy Corbyn's positive election campaign

On Monday, Theresa May asked whether Jeremy Corbyn was “doing enough in response to complaints of intimidation” and said she was “surprised at any party leader who’s not willing to condemn that”. Yet Corbyn has publicly condemned personal abuse many times.

May has ordered a review of the law after saying she had been shocked at the number of colleagues who had talked to her about intimidation and harassment during the campaign. It’s notable and telling, however, that the mainstream media’s role in the general election campaigns won’t be included in the remit of this inquiry.

I deeply suspect that this inquiry will be about the hijacking of abuse from the right: it won’t be about an intention to genuinely deal with cross-party cases of abuse to eliminate it, but it will  be about an ambition to weaponise abuse, using it as a political prop to attack the left and silence criticism.  

By emphasising online abuse only, and ignoring the elephant in the room – the hateful right wing media and the Conservatives’ own abusive approach to public debate – the Conservatives are attempting to paint the entire left as being defined by viciousness and hatred, intolerant of opposition, threatening even, according to this narrative  –  and that of course will be used to justify why they must be kept from power.

That’s absolute hypocrisy, indicating clearly that the Conservatives see the mainstream media as an asset, rather than as a source of aggressive and divisive right wing ideological narratives.

It may also be used to justify more repressive reform to social media. May has already pledged to create new internet that would be controlled and regulated by government. I can’t help wondering if that will entail a “management” of “left wing bias”. Who can forget Iain Duncan Smith’s despotic and hysterical  “monitoring” of the BBC for any “bias”.

As I write, every single right wing broadsheet has a deeply misleading published article portraying the left as being entirely responsible for abuse of (all) MPs. Yet the report was about abuse directed at BOTH Conservatives and Labour MPs.

Image result for Hard left abuse

The Conservative Party have cheer-led the personal abuse people on the left receive. The Tories made a strategic decision to discredit, smear and delegitimise the official opposition, portraying Labour’s left supporters as “extremists”, “dangerous”, and “terrorist sympathisers”. Such an attack tactic has some very chilling and profoundly anti-democratic implications, because it leaves the left exposed as a dangerous internal enemy, which legitimises radical right wingers’ belief that the left needs to be “eliminated”.

The “abuse” accusation is one of many techniques used by the right to police the boundaries of “acceptable” political thought.

The right and the dangers of dog whistle politics

It is worth remembering that it was a Labour MP, Jo Cox, who was murdered by a far right terrorist. This has been linked to the rhetoric employed by hardcore right wing Brexit campaign. Others, including myself, have linked it with a growth in wider social prejudiceand the social divisions which have been politically fostered, motivated and manipulated by the Conservatives. Lynton Crosby’s dog whistle racism and negative campaigning strategies have been a key feature of elections over recent years and have normalised below the radar “coded” racist messaging, with the inbuilt “safeguard” of plausible deniability.  

Dog whistling is designed to trigger previously indoctrinated prejudice, bigotry and  hatred without being recognised by outsiders as hateful speech in prejudiced communities. The legitimising of sentiment which has previously been considered inappropriate is one of Crosby’s trademarks, and this approach has steadily pushed at public moral boundaries, making hate speech and hate crime much more likely. 

The philosopher Jennifer Saul has how the linguistic drift of increasingly intolerant speech can lead to racist violence. As we become habituated to a subject of speech, our standard of what is acceptable to say (or not say) shifts, which in turn opens up possibilities for how we may act.

Of course intolerant speech is that which creates categories of outgrouped others, and this process of othering hasn’t been confined to ethnic minorities. The Conservatives have also stigmatised disabled people, social security claimants more generally, trade unions, public sector workers, among others and have systematically demonised and personally discredited critics, opposition (including charities and academics), and especially, those on the left.

The government has consistently sent out a broader message, in the form of a series of coded emotive appeals and sometimes, quite explicitly stated, that the left has/will take your taxes and give it to “undeserving” minorities. Those “minorities” are disabled people, people in low paid work, people who have lost their job, as well as asyum seekers and migrants.

As opposed to undeserving millionaires and rogue multinationals.

The Conservatives have normalised bullying and intimidation to silence dissent

Conservative MP Anna Soubry has spoken out at the Conservatives’ “bully boy tactics” employed against Mark Carney by some of her Tory colleagues. Carney came in for attacks from senior Brexiteers like Michael Gove and William Hague, while other pro-Leave campaigners have called on him to be sacked as governor of the Bank of England. In the run-up to the EU referendum, Tories accused Carney of “interfering” in the campaign by his simple and evidenced warning about the economic effects of a vote to leave.

Speaking to Sky News, former business minister Soubry said: “This is what I mean about almost bully boy tactics, this idea that you just slag people off and then you go to some of our newspapers and they join in this very unpleasant campaign which means people like Mark Carney don’t have any defence, they can’t really come out and fight their corner as they should do.

“He shouldn’t be attacked in the way that he was. He’s done a great job. He was universally recognised as being a real coup for our Bank of England, for our country. I’m just sad that he seems to be going early, but I’m delighted he’s staying.

“We all seem to have almost taken leave of our senses in this country.”

The language mirrored that used in an article for LabourList from Rebecca Long-Bailey, then the Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury.

She wrote at the time: “That a committed public servant like Dr Carney has been the subject of briefings, on and off the record, questioning his fitness for the role – when he himself has no opportunity to respond – is an indictment of the toxic atmosphere now brewing inside the Conservative party.

Denigrating reasonable criticism and monstering campaigns for social justice

Work and Pensions Secretary Damian Green criticised “irresponsible scaremongering” by Labour and insisted the Tories “will always look after the most vulnerable”, following legitimate concerns raised by the opposition about the impact of the proposed dementia tax and cuts to winter fuel payments for the elderly. The United Nations inquiry into the Conservatives’ grave and systematic abuse of disabled people’s human rights certainly doesn’t support Green’s claims. He said: “At the heart of this report lies an outdated view of disability which is patronising and offensive. We strongly refute its findings.”

However, it is the government that hold a deeply patronisingoutdated and discriminatory view of disability, and they are the ones dismissing the concerns raised over and over by disabled people who pushed to instigate and evidence the inquiry in the first place, because the government have disgracefully and systematically marginalised us, and consistently refused to listen to our grave concerns about the harms, distress and premature deaths that Conservative welfare policies are increasingly correlated with. 

Hart says: “I wrote to every MP at the beginning of last week to say would they like to come up with examples of where this has been happening and the only examples I’ve had are of attacks by the left on the right. If there are others, I haven’t heard of them.” 

“I know a lot of Labour MPs have been subject to quite nasty abuse over a number of years now. It’s not exclusively left-wing attacking right-wing, or left-wing attacking center, but there is certainly more evidence of that than there is the contrary.”

Perhaps Hart doesn’t read the tabloids. Or listen to the malicious comments of his colleagues made frequently during election campaigns.

Try as I might, I just simply can’t imagine Jeremy Corbyn calling Boris Johnson a “mutton-headed old mugwump”, or a “benign herbivore”. Nor can I imagine him dismissing United Nations rapporteurs as “loopy Brazilian lefties” or “partisan marxists”.

Tory MP Stewart Jackson tweeted that Miss Rolnick was a ¿loopy Brazilian leftie with no evidence masquerading as a serious UN official¿

The Conservatives don’t take independent criticism of the adverse effects of their draconian policies very well. However, the UK is a signatory to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which means that Ms Rolnik’s independent findings should carry weight within the British justice system and prompt the government to abandon this most inhumane of policies. Rather than approach this public issue with impartiality, government ministers decided instead to launch a disgraceful personal attack on Raquel Rolnik.

Image result for Raquel Rolnik British media

I condemn personal attacks and abuse on MPs of any political stripe. However, it seems to me that the Conservatives are launching a gaslighting campaign, with the sole intention of diverting attention from their own appalling track record on systematic abuse and bullying, and to attempt to further discredit the left.  

What about the abuse directed by right wingers on social media?  Some have claimed that Corbyn supporters are a “cult”, painting a picture of Corbyn’s supporters as “blind” followers of a strange doctrine. It links us with some of the worst instances in political history and develops a narrative that positions Corbyn and his supporters as “dangerous”. It is a poisonous term that should be deployed with caution. But sadly, that hasn’t stopped Corbyn’s opponents.

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This tweet has now been deleted. It’s from Financial Times’ political columnist Janan Ganesh, who seems to have realised his is a difficult narrative to push, as the likes of Stephen Hawkings, Noam Chomsky and much of the academic world explicitly endorse Corbyn’s project.

The Telegraph has patronisingly declared that young people who voted Labour are “deluded about Jeremy Corbyn, and about much else besides”. With the likes of Tory MP, Andrew Bridgen complaining: “The BBC will do everything they can to get their hero Jeremy Corbyn into Downing Street. Now with things like this year’s Glastonbury, it’s becoming ever more blatant.

“They are at the stage where if the BBC give it one more push, we will end up with a Marxist in No 10.”

 “Marxist” is used as a term of abuse here. Yet in this context, a marxist is simply someone who wants to adequately fund public services, raise our standard of living and introduce a progressive tax system  – something that the Conservatives have deemed “reckless” and only possible with the help of a magic money tree. Mind you, that same magic money tree has been supporting the millionaires in handouts for the past few years.

At the same time that George Osborne told us that we needed to make cuts, rolling out his austerity programme that targeted the poorest citizens, he awarded millionaires £107, 000 each per year in the form of a handout tax cut. 

You have to worry at this particularly authoritarian comment, too: “If the BBC feel Labour are potentially close to power, any semblance of impartiality can be disregarded because with the Left, the ends always justify the means.” 

The BBC’s coverage of the event does not indicate “bias”, it’s simply coverage of an event. In a healthy democracy, that should never even be an issue. It’s not the BBC that decides voter’s intentions. It is the voters. It is the nation that decides what is in the “national interest” not the Conservatives.

Labour’s pledge to make university education free was claimed to be “the £11 billion bribe”, according to the Daily Mail. Unlike, for instance, the £350 million “save the NHS” lie plastered on Boris Johnson’s Brexit campaign bus. Or the Liberal Democrats’ giant cardboard cutout promise that tuition fees would absolutely never in a million years go up to 9K per year. Nope. Honest…

Since when was an inclusive manifesto considered “bribery”? Have we travelled so far down the road of Conservative authoritarianism, which has normalised the politics of stigma and exclusion, that reaching out and democratically engaging with politically betrayed, marginalised social groups to acknowledge and reflect their needs is considered so baffling and alien?

The language use that has been used to describe people exercising a democratic right to protest peacefully against government policies, variously described as “mobs”, a “rabble” and “thugs”.  As a disabled activist I have been called an “extremist” by the Conservatives and their supporters.

In 2015, a campaign group working to protect the NHS criticised Employment Minister Priti Patel, after she allegedly described members that gathered at her office – some of whom were elderly and others were disabled – as a “thuggish gang”.

Members of the People’s NHS gathered outside Patel’s constituency HQ in Witham, Essex, to urge her to protect the NHS against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnerships which they fear will lead to the health service being privatised. A photo of the protest shows around a dozen peaceful demonstrators holding a banner reading “fight for our NHS” and protecting themselves from the rain with umbrellas.   

Patel responded to the demonstration by writing to Unite union boss Len McCluskey, who she wrongly believed was heading the campaign. The letter read, according to The Sunday Mirror, that the woman who works at the Witham Conservative Association office “felt harassed, frightened and intimated” by “a thuggish gang of People’s NHS campaigners”. Patel went on to accuse the group of “intimidation and harassment”. 

However, someone in a position of power using such derogatory labels to discredit, smear and pathologise people raising legitimate criticism is intimidation, harassment and bullying. We live in a democracy, and the right to protest is a manifestation of the right to freedom of assembly, the right to freedom of association, and the right to freedom of speech. Whether the authoritarian Conservatives like it or not.  From the historical UK Labour movement, civil rights protesters such as Rosa Parks in 1950s America, to the 60,000 participants in Gandhi’s Salt march, people throughout history have chosen to resist injustice because, as Rosa herself said, they’re “tired of giving in”. In contemporary Britain, disabled people are fighting a battle of life and death proportions. People are dying as a consequence of draconian policies. No-one is listening, so we protest.

The Conservatives fear civil unrest, yet every Tory government prompts protest because of their grossly injust, punitive policies. Protest is what happens when governments refuse to listen. It’s what happens when policies are non-inclusive and nasty. It’s what happens when ideologies are manifested, causing people distress and harm.

Simon Hart has complained that almost half his election campaign boards were defaced, stolen or damaged, adding that he and other MPs received abuse on social media “on an almost daily basis”.

“These are things that have significant financial consequences and it’s driving people away from politics, even on the fringes, at a time when actually it’s never been more important that they’re part of politics,” he said.

The importance of practicing what you preach, and keeping your own house in order

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However, Hart seems to have forgotten all about the details of his own election campaign, and some of the issues arising because of his election boards being placed without permission on private property. In fact one of the Tory MP’s own campaigners attacked a local resident, slamming his van door on the man, and hurting his arm, before driving at him – in a row over Hart’s election boards.

John Kilcoyne, a Conservative campaigner for Hart, infuriated local Adam Morres, after he put up signs promoting Hart in a field near the local’s home in Manorbier, Wales, back in May. Morres took them down and billed the local Conservative party for rent and damages – but then caught Kilcoyne putting them back up a day later.

The video appears to show the volunteer smacking the villager in the arm with his van door – before repeatedly DRIVING his van at him along a rural road. The police arrived moments later and are now investigating the incident.

Morres said: “Normally, I would choose who to vote for based on their policies, but in this instance I will be choosing based on the party I think has employees who aren’t going to attack me.”

The furore began on Sunday, May 7, when Morres was out for a walk with his ex-partner in the fields that she rents for her horses. They spotted two blue signs supporting incumbent MP Simon Hart nailed to a fence post inside the field. Morres says that he phoned the Electoral Commission who he said told him they could be removed, so he took them down the next day.

He invoiced Camarthen West and South Pembrokeshire Conservatives £50 for rent and damages.

“The damages are in case out neighbours thought the signs meant we were Conservative voters,” he added sarcastically. 

He claims John Kilcoyne – named as the seconder on Mr Hart’s 2015 election nomination document, came to both his home and his partner’s house. Kilcoyne claimed he had permission of the land owner to put the signs up, and left. Moments later  spotted him back next to his ex’s field getting new “Simon Hart” signs out of his van and the two men rowed.

The video appears to show the pair arguing before the volunteer sharply pulls his van door onto Morres’ arm before mocking him, saying: “Watch out, watch out.” He denied his actions. With a smirk.

Morres phoned the police and when he stood in front of the van to record the licence plate, claims Kilcoyne repeatedly drove at him. 

The footage on the video – taken moments before police arrived – appears to show the car inching towards him as he moves away across the road before driving off.

Astonishingly, Morres woke up the next day to find the signs had been reinstated.

“The police have told us not to touch them in case they get damaged and Simon Hart claims criminal damage,” he said. 

Dyfed-Powys Police said: “The force received a report of an assault without injury at approximately 9.40am on Tuesday, May 9.

“The incident took place at Wheelers Way, Manorbier. The investigation is ongoing.”

The Welsh Conservative Party and Simon Hart refused to comment. Kilcoyne, from Pembroke Dock, Pembrokeshire, said: “Have you spoken to Mr Hart?

“I’m in the same position as Mr Hart. There is a police officer dealing with it. I have nothing at all to add.”

Meanwhile, Wales Office minister Guto Bebb said he had also been a victim of online intimidation, and has surprisingly accused serving police officers of being among those who have abused him.

Ah yes, the sensitive Guto Bebb, who dismissed Dylan Barlow’Asperger’s syndrome as a “sob story” in a series of emails after his constituent raised questions on foreign matters.  

The MP for Aberconwy, North Wales, wrote: “If you have mental health issues then you should possibly refrain from commenting in the public domain since it might create problems for you.”

I’m disabled because of illness. I am a campaigner that supports Labour’s policies. I have had a lot of abuse, ranging from name-calling such as “leftard” , “trot”, “loony leftist”, “scrounger” , “lazy” to organised hate and smear campaigns, malicious communications that have used my social media account details and my photograph, resulting in death threats, rape threats, threats to my family and a threat from Combat 18. I involved the police at the time. I have also received very offensive comments calling for disabled people to be shot.  

disability hate speech

Conservative rhetoric, policy practices and in particular, their anti-welfare campaign which has been amplified by the media, has systematically dehumanised and scapegoated disabled people and migrants, and has contributed significantly to my experiences of abuse these last few years.

Divisive rhetoric, such as Cameron’s “scroungers and strivers” dichotomy, and traditional, embedded Conservative prejudices (based on class, ableism, economic productivity, ethnicity and gender) have added to the problems of social division,  encouraging and legitimising hate speech and hate crime.

The unedifying sight of Conservative ministers’ sneering contempt and laughter when they hear accounts of people suffering hardships and harm because of their policies in parliament isn’t a rare event. The persistent denial of a “causal link” between policy, hardship and distress, and refusal to investigate an established correlation between policy and hardship – all of this sends out a negative message to the wider public.

The message is that hate speech, bullying and abuse of marginalised social groups is permitted, and by gaslighting – negating or attempting to invalidate those group’s common experiences of harm and distress – the Conservatives have othered, isolated and dehumanised them.

A major contributing factor to the increase in bullying is the collective behaviours of the current government, which has perpetuated, permitted and endorsed prejudices against marginalised social groups, such as disabled and unemployed people, with a complicit media amplifying these prejudices. Their policies embed a punitive approach towards the poorest social groups. This in turn means that those administering the policies, such as staff at the Department for work and pensions and job centres, for example, are also bound by punitive, authoritarian behaviours directed at a targeted group.

People affected by those behaviours are then encouraged to blame other marginalised groups – migrants and asylum seekers, people who are “not really” disabled, and others politically deemed “undeserving”. This creates a hierarchy of needs, when the reality is simply that people have different but equally pressing needs for basic support. Everyone, after all, needs food, fuel and shelter. Without being able to fulfil those basic needs, we cannot fulfil higher level psychosocial needs.

As authority figures and role models, the government’s behaviour establishes a framework of acceptability. Parliamentary debates are conducted with a clear basis of one-upmanship and aggression rather than being founded on rational exchange and mutual respect. Indeed, the prime minister sneers at rationality and does not engage in a democratic dialogue, instead she employs the tactics of a bully: denial, scapegoating, vilification, attempts at discrediting, smearing and character assassinations. This in turn gives wider society permission and approval to do the same.

At prime minister’s questions, Cameron found it hard to rein in his Flashman reflex. His answers were frequently ever more sneering and personal, determined to characterise his political rival as weak and useless. It was not pleasant to watch the jabbing finger and the reddened face, especially when the Tory backbenchers behind him join in with bullying jeers.

Even Steve Hilton, David Cameron’s former aide has accused the political establishment of bullying Jeremy Corbyn after he was elected as Labour leader in what he described as “incredibly unattractive” behaviour.

It’s dangerous behaviour

Scapegoating has a wide range of focus: from “approved” enemies of very large groups of people down to the scapegoating of individuals by other individuals. The scapegoaters’ target always experiences a terrible sense of being personally edited and re-written, with the inadequacies of the bully inserted into public accounts of their character, isolation, ostracism, exclusion and sometimes, expulsion and elimination. The sense of isolation is often heightened by other people’s reluctance to become involved in challenging bullies, usually because of a bystander’s own discomfort and fear of reprisal.

Another tactic commonly used by Conservatives is projection – a defense mechanism used to displace responsibility of one’s negative behaviour and traits by attributing them to someone else. It ultimately acts as a diversion that avoids ownership and accountability. Simon Hart’s emphasis on “left wing bullying” is an attempt to steer us away from his own party’s entrenched prejudices, draconian policies, bullying practices and the hectoring approach to dialogue and debate.

The Conservatives have played the “blameshifting game” on many occasions over the past seven years. The objectives of the game of course are that it simplistically dichotomises issues, turning debate into often diversionary, personalised, simplistic arguments of reductive one upmanship: for the Conservatives, it’s about winning  and getting your own way, while others lose and are also blamed for everything that’s wrong with them. Ad hominem arguments have been normalised by Conservatives.

Image result for disability stigmatising messages in the newspapers

It’s time for the government to consider the impact of negative role modelling – Conservatives regularly use abusive language when challenged. Politicians have a responsibility to set an example, by treating others with dignity and respect, including those with whom they may strongly disagree. However, the Conservatives seem to regard opposition and challenges as an irritating inconvenience rather than as an essential feature of a functioning democracy.

The Conservative Party has promoted personal attacks as a core component of its national election campaigns, and has used stigma as a justification for extremely punitive policies that target marginalised groups. 

Bullying and abuse within the Conservative party

Let’s not forget poor Elliott Johnson: the young Conservative who was destroyed by the party he loved, and subsequently took his own life in 2015, aged just 21, as a result of blackmail and persistent bullying. Earlier this year, the Conservative party were accused of ­withholding evidence from police about the death of the young party activist who said he was systematically bullied. Others have since come forward – a further 13 alleged victims of Mark Clarke came forward, the so-called “Tatler Tory,” over a 20-month period, and allegations included six accusations of “sexually inappropriate behaviour”.

Clarke, who was appointed by the party to run its RoadTrip2015 election campaign, came under heavy scrutiny after Elliott Johnson, a young Tory activist, took his own life in September 2015 and named Clarke as his tormentor in a suicide note.

Then there was the Tory MP who “faked” a death threat, accused of threatening to sack a member of staff if she took four weeks off work sick – as advised by her doctor. 

Telford MP Lucy Allan was accused of launching a “vicious” verbal attack on a female staff member who phoned in sick. Allan accused the alleged bullying victim Arianne Plumbly of having an “alcohol problem,” dismissing her claims to be ill as “pathetic”. In a recording of the telephone call handed to the Evening Standard,  Allan is heard telling the alleged bullying target Arianne Plumbly: “I’m not paying you for that then; it’s ridiculous” and told her she had “pissed around on my life”. 

The Nasty Party and dehumanising language

Rosemary Carroll, a Conservative councillor, shared a post about a man asking for benefits for his pet dog, making very offensive racist comparisons.

She was Mayor of Pendle until last month but was suspended from her party after the post appeared on her account, pending an inquiry.

The post

Only last week, a Tory Brexiteer described the UK leaving the EU without a deal as a “real n****r in the woodpile” at a meeting of eurosceptics in Central London. 

Anne Marie Morris, MP for Newton Abbot since 2010, made the astonishing remark while discussing what financial services deal the UK could strike with Brussels after 2019.

The phrase she used is from the nineteenth Century, and refers to slavery. It is thought the phrase arose in reference to instances of the concealment of fugitive slaves in their flight north under piles of firewood.

The origin of the phrase is from the practice of transporting pulpwood on special railroad cars. In the era of slavery, the pulpwood cars were built with an outer frame with the wood being stacked inside in rows and stacks. Given the nature of the cars, it was possible to smuggle persons in the pile itself, giving rise to the phrase.  

In July 2008, the leader of the British Conservative Party, David Cameron, was urged to sack Conservative peer Lord Dixon-Smith, who said in the House of Lords that concerns about government housing legislation were “the n***er in the woodpile”. Dixon-Smith said the phrase had “slipped out without my thinking”, and that “It was common parlance when I was younger”. 

Despite using the racist term, none of Morris’s fellow panelists, including Tory MPs Bill Cash and John Redwood, reacted at the time. 

Racism isn’t the only traditional Conservative prejudice. Who could forget David Freud’s offensive comments, made when he was a Conservative Welfare Reform Minister, that some disabled people are not worth the full national minimum wage”  and that some “could only be paid £2 an hour.” Cameron claimed the disgraceful comments made by Lord Freud at the Tory conference do not represent the views of government. 

However, his government’s punitive austerity measures and the welfare “reforms” tell us a very different story. The comments came to light after they were disclosed by Ed Miliband during Prime Minister’s Questions

Freud’s comments are simply a reflection of a wider implicit and fundamental Social Darwinism underpinning Tory ideology, and even Tim Montgomerie, who founded the Conservative­Home site has conceded that: “Conservative rhetoric often borders on social Darwinism […] and has lost a sense of social justice.”  

David Freud was made to apologise for simply being a Tory in public. The Conservatives have systematically blamed poor people for their poverty rather than acknowledge that poverty arises as a consequence of political decision-making and policies that financially penalise the poorest while handing out rewards to the wealthiest

Conservative policies are not only entirely ideologically-driven, they reflect traditional Tory prejudices. We have a government that uses words like workshy to describe marginalised social groups. This is a government that is intentionally scapegoating poor people, unemployed people, disabled people, asylum seekers and migrants. If that isn’t bullying and abuse, I don’t know what is.

One Tory councillor, Alan Mellins – called for the “extermination of gypsies”, more than one Tory MP has called for illegal and discriminatory levels of pay for disabled people. Philip Davies has also said that the national minimum wage is “more a hindrance than a help” for disabled people, and proposed that we are paid less. A Conservative deputy mayor – retired GP, Owen Lister –  said, unforgivably, that the “best thing for disabled children is the guillotine.”

Let’s not forget Boris Johnson’s grossly racist comments describing black people as “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles” in the Telegraph in 2002. He only apologised when he first ran for London mayor in 2008.

And Cabinet minister Oliver Letwin also escaped disciplinary action after it was revealed that he had said black people have “bad moral attitudes” when he was a top adviser to Thatcher. He actually said that any government schemes to help black people would be wasted in “the disco and drugs trade.” 

In August, 201, Dover Conservative councillor Bob Frost describes rioters as “jungle bunnies.” He lost his teaching job but the Tories suspended him for just two months. In 2014, he referred to the prospective Middle Eastern buyers of Dover port as “sons of camel drivers.” No action was taken.

In January 2013, Enfield Conservative councillor Chris Joannides compared Muslim children to black bin bags in a Facebook post. In April 2014, Barnet councillor Tom Davey complained online about “benefit claiming scum”, and said that it might be easier to find a job if he were “a black female wheelchair-bound amputee who is sexually attracted to other women.” He was not disciplined by the party.  

These are NOT “slips”, it’s patently clear that the Tories believe these comments are acceptable, just as long as they aren’t made in public. We need only look at the discriminatory nature of policies such as the legal aid bill, the wider welfare “reforms”, the cuts aimed at disabled people s support and services – which were unthinkable before 2010 – and tresearch the consequences of austerity for the most vulnerable citizens, those with the “least broad shoulders” and the least to lose – to understand that these comments reflect accurately how Conservatives actually think

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That any of this is considered acceptable behaviour by a government – who serve as public role models – is an indication of just how far our society has regressed in terms of human rights and our democratic ideals of equality and diversity. This is a government that has purposefully seeded and permitted social prejudice in order to gain support and power. 

The Tory creation of socioeconomic scapegoats, involving vicious stigmatisation of vulnerable and protected social groups, particularly endorsed by the mainstream media, is simply a means of de-empathising the population, manipulating public perceptions and securing public acceptance of the increasingly punitive and repressive basis of the Tories’ crass neoliberal welfare “reforms”, and the steady stripping away of essential state support and provision, for the public, which the public have paid for via taxes and national insurance.

At the same time that austerity was imposed on the poorest citizens, the millionaires were awarded a £107,000 each per year tax cut. It seems only some of us have to “live within our means”. 

The political construction of social problems also marks an era of increasing state control of citizens with behaviour modification techniques, (under the guise of paternalistic libertarianism and behavioural economic theories), all of which are a part of the process of restricting access rights to welfare provision. Discriminatory political practices and rhetoric send out a message to the public, and that permits wider prejudice, hate speech, hate crime and discrimination.

The mainstream media has been complicit in the process of  constructing deviant welfare stereotypes, folk devils and in engaging prejudice and generating moral outrage from the public. 

The growing inequalities we are witnessing in western neoliberal “democracies” create profound psychological trauma, hermetic material and ontological insecurity. Humans are fundamentally social beings. We thrive best when we have a social rationale which tends towards the promotion of cooperative and collective creativity. This was perhaps expressed best in our civilised, progressive institutions and civilising practices, facilitated by the social gains and economic organisation that arose from the post-war settlement.  

Those gains are now being systematically dismantled. Our culture has been saturated with conceptual schema that demand we remain committed to a socioeconomic Darwinism, a kind of economic enclosure: a neoliberal competitive individualist obsession with our private, inner experiences, the pursuit of economic self-interest, and ultimately, this embellishes our separability from other human beings. It alienates us. 

Neoliberalism scripts social interactions that are founded on indifference to others, tending to be dehumanising, adversarialand hierarchical in nature, rather than social and cooperative. Neoliberalism is the antithesis of the responsive, animated human face; of collectivism, mutual support, universalism, cooperation and democracy. Neoliberalism has transformed our former liberal democracy into an authoritarian “still faced” state that values production, competition and profit above all else; including citizens’ lives, experiences, freedoms, wellbeing, democratic inclusion and social conditions that support all of this. 

Neoliberal socioeconomic organisation has perpetuated hierarchies of human worth, and pitched social groups against one another in a fight for resources.

I condemn all abuse, be it from the left or right of the political spectrum.

However, it’s time the government took some lessons in the ethical use of power and influence, democratic inclusion and accountability.

pie-wealth

The still face paradigm, the just world fallacy, inequality and the decline of empathy

Ken Loach Criticises BBC’s “Disgusting” Political Bias Ahead of U.K. Election

More allegations of Tory election fraud, now we need to talk about democracy

MPs speak out about ‘sinister’ election abuse

Death threats and daily hate: MPs recall abuse they have received

Not one day more: Tory councillor suspended for sneering racism and vindictive Tory anti-welfarism

Some of the lies politicians and the media have told about Jeremy Corbyn 

Tory attack ad misrepresents Corbyn views on IRA

A couple more lies that politicians and the media have told about Jeremy Corbyn – editing someone’s character is abusive

From the Zinoviev letter to the Labour party coup – the real enemy within

Conservatives, cruelty and the collective unconscious

 


 

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Who killed Jo Cox?

 

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I’ve said before, probably more than once, that the Conservatives are, on the whole, supremicist creatures of habit rather than reason. They carry with them a poisonous, heavy burden of longstanding, traditional grudges and prejudices. That is why their policies are so stifling and anti-progressive for the majority of us. It’s why Tory policies don’t meet public needs and are so blatantly class-contingent.

There’s always an air of doom and gloom when we have a Tory government, and a largely subdued, depressed, repressed nation, carrying vague and fearful intuitions that something truly catastrophic is just around the corner.

It usually is.

I can remember the anxiety and creeping preternatural fear infecting and agitating young people back in the eighties, and our subsequent teenage, transcendent defiance, which we carried like the banners at the Rock Against Racism marches, in the Thatcher era. It struck me more than once that we always witness the social proliferation of ultranationalist sentiments and fascist ideals whenever we have a Tory government, too. It stems from the finger-pointing divide and rule mantra: it’s them not us, them not us. But of course history refutes as much as it verifies, and we learned that it’s been the Tories all along. Well, some of us did, anyway

With a Conservative government, the general public are always fighting something. Poverty, inequality, social injustice: we fight for political recognition of our fundamental rights, which the Tories always circumvent. We fight despair and material hardship, caused by the rising cost of living, low wages, high unemployment and the intentionally manufactured recessions that are a key characteristic of every single neoliberal Tory government. 

I think people mistranslate what that something is; they quickly lose sight of what they are fighting, of why they feel fearful.  A loss of identity and sense of belonging is inevitable, because Tory rhetoric is all about outgrouping and othering: dividing, fragmenting society into alienated bite-sized manageable pieces by amplifying an ultimately anomic, pathologically paranoid narrative of sneaking suspicions and hate thy neighbours

The Tories are and always have been psychocrats. They insidiously intrude into people’s everyday thoughts and try to nudge, micro-manage and police them. They use Orwellian-styled rhetoric crowded with words like “market forces”, “meritocracy” “autonomy”, “incentivisation”, “democracy”, “efficient, small state”, and even “freedom”, whilst all the time they are actually extending a brutal, bullying, extremely manipulative, all-pervasive and socially damaging authoritarianism.

The man who murdered Jo Cox in cold blood, who shot her, stabbed her, then continued to brutally kick her when she was on the ground, was apparently described as a “loner”. Neighbours expressed their shock at the atrocity he has committed, because he was “quiet” and because he also has a strong work ethic. He tidies people’s gardens and he had said that he believed “hard work” could cure mental illness. That’s a Conservative notion, by the way. Work is now considered to be a “health” outcome. We have a government that wants to put therapists in jobcentres and job coaches in GP surgeries. Not that all hardworking and reserved people are right-wing or murderers, of course. Nor are most people with mental health problems.

He said: “All these [mental health-related] problems are alleviated by doing voluntary work. Getting out of the house and meeting new people is a good thing, but more important in my view is doing physically demanding and useful labour.”

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I wonder how many of those people who readily misjudged Mair because of his superficial politeness and reserved nature would be equally quick to condemn those who cannot work because they are sick and disabled?  Or those so poor that it takes every ounce of energy they have to simply survive, with none spare for cutting people’s hedges or passing on horticultural tips?

The hardworking taxpayer and economic free-rider myth is founded on a false dichotomy, since it is estimated that around 70% of households claim benefits of one kind or another at some point in their lives. In the current climate of poor pay, poor working conditions, job insecurity, and high living costs, the myth of an all pervasive welfare-dependent something for nothing culture is being used to foster prejudice and resentment towards those unfortunate enough to be out of work. It also serves to bolster Right-wing justification narratives that are entirely ideologically driven, which are aimed at dismantling the welfare state, whilst concurrently undermining public support for it.

Thomas Mair was clearly wrong about “hard work” being anything like a positive “mental health outcome” and so are the Tories. It’s frustrating that people don’t pay enough attention to details and look beyond surface appearances. Since when was being “quiet” or submissively “hard working” anything to do with being a decent, humane, moral, empathic and good citizen? And since when did having those qualities exclude the possibility that someone may be a murderer?

As someone with an academic background in psychology (and sociology), and as someone who also worked within mental health services, I have yet to encounter a mental illness that directs people to plan and carry out the brutal murder of their political opponents.

Thomas Mair, it emerges, is a neo-Nazi. He was living quietly, he presented himself to his community as a plausible, calm, respectable character, generating positive public perceptions of himself, whilst arming himself and planning to carry out a murder in a calculated, cold-blooded manner. All of those very dutiful people out there conforming to the frightfully exploitative and alienating Tory redefinition of our social norms, and a narrative that imposes directives of how a small group of authoritarians think we ought to be, seem to fail to recognise how empty such superficial gestures are, and how they lack meaning when they are premised on repression, festering hatred, fear of others and such rage-driven motives. It’s time to take a closer look at what is happening here. Here is where people are getting poorer, more excluded, isolated, more fearful, suspicious, lonelier and angrier by the day. 

And who really bothered to get to know Thomas Mair?

How quickly his local community disassociated themselves from him, preferring instead to see him as some kind of pathological mystery; someone with “mental health problems” hiding in their midst, rather than as a member of the community, as someone living and sharing a realm of intersubjective cultural meanings. Us and them again. He was apparently a pillar of the community, until it was very plain that actually, he wasn’t.

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More than one person killed Jo Cox. Surely our whole, indifferent, ever so competitively individualistic, neoliberal, right-wing, increasingly intolerant, prejudiced society is also culpable. Sure, it was only one person that pulled the trigger of a gun and wielded the knife, but Jo was murdered by a process of unfolding prejudice and hate every bit as much as by the person and weapons chosen and purposefully gathered to carry out the terrible and intentional act. It’s all too easy to dismiss this terrible murder as a random and meaningless act carried out in isolation by a “mentally ill loner” (yet another prejudice), but we must not take the easy option: there is an awful, but far bigger and more important truth to be found in exploring the broader context of these horrific events, difficult though that is. 

The Conservatives (and those further Right) have parochialised both explanations of and responses to the global economic crisis, reducing us to a gossiping around the parish-pump type of politics. Parochialism entails neglect of the interests of identified “outsiders”, and this kind of isolationist tendency has also provided a political platform for nationalism. Parochialism tends to support inter-group hostilities, and it tends to lead to violations of human rights, as we are currently witnessingParochialism directly opposes a fundamental set of [internationally agreed] principles that constitute these rights: namely that all humans beings are of equal worth, and that human rights are universally applicable – they apply to everyone.

Even to the social groups that you don’t like.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that fascists never stop at discriminating against and persecuting the one social group of your choice. Fascists are fascists and tend to discriminate almost indiscriminately. However, fascists generally spare the establishment, curiously enough. Pastor Martin Niemöller famously observed public complicity and the consequences of bystander apathy and silence when he wrote: First they came for the socialistsand I did not speak out – Because I was not a Socialist…”

Of course Britain is not divided by race and culture: it’s divided by wealth inequalities fueled by the government’s ideology, policies and austerity programme.  Blaming people who are unemployed, sick and disabled, refugees and immigrants for the failings of the government has fueled misperceptions that drive support for the far-Right. People complain they can’t get council houses, surely the only really honest question an honest politician ought to ask is: “Why aren’t there more council houses?”

And when there are large numbers of people receiving unemployment benefit or tax credits, then the only honest question to ask is: “Why is the economy failing to provide enough jobs, or pay adequate wages?”

As a society that once promised equality and democracy, we now preside over massive inequalities of wealth: that’s a breeding ground for racism, classism and other vicious resentments.

Hate crime directed at disabled people has risen over the past five years, and is now at the highest level it’s ever been since records began. That’s the kind of society we have become.

Austerity cuts and the steady and deliberate erosion of democratic inclusion have served to awaken the disgruntled beast within people, the one that feeds on anger, disempowerment, demoralisation, fear, resentment and uncertainty. And loss of a sense of meaning and identity.

And wherever antipathy and a degree of enmity exist, the far-Right have always tried to perpetuate, exploit and increase rancour. The fascism of the 20s and 30s gained prominence because it played on wider public fears, manipulating them, and deflecting attention, as ever, from those who are truly to blame for dire social conditions: the ever-greedy elite. There’s a well-established link between political extremism, economic hardship and recession and social cleavages, with the far-Right “anti-system” parties now deceitfully winning the support of those who would never previously have thought of themselves as extremists. 

Such extremism and rancour feeds the disgruntled beast. The political Right have always sought to divide sections of the poor and middle class and set them to fight one against the other; to have us see enemies in our midst which do not exist, so that we see economic policies – the Tory-rigged “free market” competition – as the solution rather than the cause of our problems.

And here we are again.

When you just feed disgruntled beasts, you only end up with beasts.

I’ve often written about the Right’s tendency to infrahumanise, dehumanise and create categories of “others”; scapegoating, using a media manufactured stigma to extend the politics of division and prejudice, and hate-mongering rhetoric.  I’ve also written about how Conservative governments always work to encourage the rise of far-right groups and a toxic climate of nationalism. Thatcher’s government was no different. Now they need to take some responsibility for what that kind of context does to people’s sense of identity and mental health, to social solidarity and community cohesion. They need to take some responsibility for transforming what was a diverse and reasonably tolerant culture into one of labeling and bullying, and ultimately into, dear God, one of murder: Perhaps the Conservatives need to read Gordon Allport’s work about how prejudice escalates and as a reminder from history about the terrible social consequences of that, again.

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 tenable: it happens incrementally, because of a steady erosion of our moral and rational boundaries, and propaganda-driven changes in our attitudes towards politically defined others, that advances culturally, by almost inscrutable degrees.

Decades of research findings in sociology and psychology inform us that as soon as a group can be defined as an outgroup, people will start to view them differently. The very act of demarcating groups begins a process of ostracisation.

The process always begins with the political scapegoating of a social group and with ideologies that identify that group as  the Other: 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, extermination of the group being targeted.

Economic recession, uncertainty and political systems on the authoritarian -> totalitarian spectrum contribute to shaping the social conditions that seem to trigger Allport’s escalating scale of prejudice.

Prejudice requires the linguistic downgrading of human life, it requires dehumanising metaphors: a dehumanising socio-political system using a dehumanising language, and it has now become familiar and all-pervasive: it has seeped almost unnoticed into our lives. Because we permitted it to do so. 

‘Though some of us do challenge it, we need the wider public to recognise their moral and rational boundaries are being politically manipulated and systematically pushed. That has consequences. Increasing inequality, poverty, prejudice, discrimination and social injustice and social isolation, decreasing democracy, social inclusion and civic rights are just some such consequences. There are many more, some happening at a profoundly existential level. All at a time when supportive provision is being steadily withdrawn, public and mental health services are in crisis because of the Conservative cuts to funding. And many people are dying as a consequence.

Let’s freeze this, let’s stop and observe the context and full horror of this awful event for a moment, so we can see something of the enormity of the tragic murder of Jo Cox. She was a dedicated Labour MP, who fought tirelessly for social justice. She was just 41 and was taken from a husband and two young children, as well as her friends and constituents. Her final words were “my pain is too much.” Jo’s grieving husband, Brendan, has urged us to “fight the hatred that killed her.”  We must.

It must be time to recognise that each and every one of us bears some responsibility and has some positive contribution to make to the kind of society we live in.

And want to live in.

And surely that society is not the one we witness today.

 

Allport's scale

Adapted from Gordon Allport’s The Nature of Prejudice”

Related 

The Psychological Impact of Austerity – Psychologists Against Austerity

Mainstream politicians ‘clueless on migration debate’, says Jo Cox’s husband – Brendan Cox /  Patrick Wintour

Jo Cox: The Labour MP who campaigned tirelessly for refugees

Jo Cox’s Husband Brendan Pays Moving Tribute To Labour MP After Shooting In Birstall, West Yorkshire

UKIP: Parochialism, Prejudice and Patriotic Ultranationalism

The disgruntled beast

Aktion Arbeitsscheu Reich, Human Rights and infrahumanisation

 


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