Tag Archives: Labour Party

Democracy, Diversity & anti-Hate Speech, Norwich Stays pro-EU Brexit rally

Speeches delivered at #NorwichStays pro-EU Remain Rally

I was one of 8 great speakers at a peaceful anti-Brexit demo, attended by 1500 people, organised by UEA students Emily Cutler and Tom Johnston on the steps of Norwich City Hall, Thursday 7 July. It followed the result of the EU Referendum on 23 June which saw 48% vote Remain but lose in a campaign that was punctuated by fear and fraud, rather than reasoned evidenced debate. It was a democratic process that has highlighted and polarised division in the country over the UK’s relationship with the European Union. But democracy also means that we can keep pressing for change and reconsideration of Brexit, which is a once-in-a-lifetime retrograde decision.

Pro-Europe banners at Norwich Stays anti-Brexit rally
Pro-Europe banners at Norwich Stays anti-Brexit rally (more pics here)

Speaker List

Councillor Alan Waters, “this is our moment to shape the future of this city”, Leader of Norwich City Council with a background in education and the arts

Emily Cutler, UEA Economics student and co-organiser

“I can’t believe how many people are standing in front of me. When I was organising this I was expecting a couple of hundred people. I can’t believe how many people have come out to support our future.” – Emily Cutler

Cllr James Wright, Norwich Liberal Democrats and Deputy Lord Mayor

“I’m proud to belong to a city that looks forward and not back to some golden days in the 1950s that perhaps never existed”

Andri Innes, UEA International Relations lecturer

Cllr David Raby, “Another Europe Is Possible”, City Councillor and member of the Green Party’s international committee

Katy Jon Went, writer & diversity activist (full transcript below)

Jon Clemo, chief executive of Community Action Norfolk and campaigning member of Britain Stronger In Europe

Claudina Richards, Europe “part of my identity… part of our identity”, senior law lecturer at the University of East Anglia

For a thoughtful reflection about the event and more on each speaker see Tony Allen’s blog. Check out some photos of the event and consider joining the Norwich and Norfolk Stays Facebook group.

Katy Jon Went pro-EU Speech Transcript

Katy Jon Went speaking at pro-EU anti-Brexit rally in Norwich
Katy Jon Went speaking at pro-EU anti-Brexit rally in Norwich

As the number of speakers grew so inevitably our speeches had to be reduced, so I’ve put below my full-length text, actual text, deletions and ad libs in different colours, so you can compare the planned and final version speech (annoying for many of you, no doubt, but interesting for speech writers!) – if you want a clean actual speech only version click here.

Speech download as PDF

I’m a democrat, a liberal, a socialist, and an economist and statistician, and have previously run a business that enjoyed the freedom to trade across the EU. Fifteen years ago I would have voted Leave. A fortnight ago I voted Remain with all my heart, having spent the month before it writing and debating daily for a reformed EU, not a disUnited Kingdom.

Let me say from the outset that I believe in hope not hate, unity not division, and am totally opposed to all forms of xenophobia and racism, but and this is where you might not like me so much I’m also against tarnishing all Leavers with the same brush. Whilst the majority of racists it has been said voted Leave, the majority of Leavers are not racists. Nor are they all elderly, nor are they all uneducated, nor are they all unemployed, nor of a different class to some people who may be gathered here. Yes, there are demographics that voted more one way than another, but descending into generalisations and personal attacks without factual qualification is part of the very issue that brought such disrepute to the campaigns of both Leave and Remain.

That said, the result of the vote which falls on everybody as much it falls on all voters, as it falls on non-voters, it falls on the media and politicians and everyone who got us where we got two weeks ago which is not the end we can still change that but there have been alike, has been that a majority of people of colour, folk from different countries and cultures, even legally British but ethnically diverse people who have been here for years, my partner is Dutch and has been here 17 years but couldn’t vote. Some of these people now feel less welcome, less safe, and along with a majority of young people under 35, are now worrying about a more insecure future with fewer educational, scientific, cultural and employment opportunities.

At the same time though we have to accept that a majority of unemployed or low-paid working class people also lacked hope and voted ‘Out’ because of their own fears about the future, exacerbated by unfounded beliefs that immigration was a threat to them personally or that the alleged benefits of the EU had passed them by and had not been felt or recognised by them. Our failure was in not getting across that message. We need an inclusive internationalism that leaves no communities and no or classes behind. Being part of the 48 per cent, if we shift that to 52 or 54, or 55% we still end up in a divided country if we can’t make that 65, 75 or 95% in favour of staying in Europe, and that means engaging with the 52 per cent, rationally, fairly and humanely.

We need to unite against prejudice, against discrimination, xenophobia and hate. I believe that the EU has actually helped that over the years with its motto of “Unity in diversity”, not just of nations and disparate peoples, but also of workers and employers, of women and women, LGBT and other minority communities. The Friday just before the Referendum, it was a Herculean task but they got all 28 nations of the EU to agreed common cause on promoting LGBTI rights across Europe, being part of the EU has helped people like me as a trans person because the EU actually trumped the UK in various courts so that laws were actually, yes, imposed upon the UK by Europe, but they were laws to do with human rights that needed imposing on us! But the EU having these kind of rights to do with human rights and LGBT rights and all the other things, they will actually mean that they can demanded improvement from countries that want to join the EU, from accession countries, countries like Turkey, with its poorer that has an abysmal human rights record. If they want to join the EU then they’re going to have to join the unanimity of the countries that have already promoted human rights in Europe.

The very worst thing that has come out of Brekfist (oops tongue tied and hungry!) Brexit, to me, has been the rise in hate crime – already we saw last year in the UK a rise in on the up, particularly Islamophobia in 2015. But even here in Norwich on a single day just days after the Referendum I heard of 3 local hate incidents, by the end of the weekend nearly a dozen I’d heard of, and those were just those I was connected to via social media here in Norwich. There were a hundred more elsewhere over Brexit weekend, and over 500 since, over a week it was 500% up according to the police, 66/day in London, 200+/day across the country, according to Tell Mama, over 800 per cent rise in Islamic phobic hate crime. Most go still unreported, so the situation is probably worse, many are now living in fear. Now, I don’t mean to shock you with this but one of the worst statements of what was actually casual racism as it’s called, as if there’s such a thing I saw was online, and it was locally was, and someone said: “don’t worry about the rise in racism, it will be offset by the fall in murders and rapes murderers and rapists“.

That is something we need to oppose vehemently, and that’s root and branch, and that doesn’t just mean “Oh I condemn it ” and politicians saying “I condemn it, and we’ll do more about it”, it means getting to the grassroots of culture in our country to change people’s attitude. London was a place that voted predominantly to Remain and yet has the highest immigration and has had it for the longest it is more integrated. I lived there in the 80s when it was less integrated. Places like Boston, yes they have high immigration now but it isn’t fully integrated yet and they haven’t got used to it. Some of these things take time but leaving Europe means we haven’t don’t have that time. There are things that we need to do now.

The UK was actually part of a liberal bloc in the EU, and that is actually weakened by our leaving, we’re abandoning the liberal and reforming movements within Europe by leaving them without what would become a 35 per cent blocking minority on less-liberal proposals from further far right groups factions within Europe the EU.

Absolute sovereignty and security – sovereignty was the biggest issue, even above immigration, in the EU campaign but absolute sovereignty and security in a global world is a myth. Geography continues to be redrawn on maps, and online daily – it doesn’t really exist at all. Instead, according to a leading British professor of EU law it’s about control and power, and they’re not even true. After Brexit we will have more apparent control but less actually less power and less influence in the world, and none at the EU table, and losing a market and community of states, that’s twice the size of America, and nearly half of our global trade. And even if we leave we will remain in the European Courts of Human Rights, we will remain in the Council of Europe, we remain in NATO, WTO, G7, G20, various international laws, human rights, maritime, and environment agreements. This is the 21st century not the 19th! We cannot peddle backwards.

Democracy though is imperfect and not always right – especially, when I don’t get my own way. Ha, no! Yes, the Referendum was democracy in action, but democracy in a factless vacuum and a fatuous vacuum does not work – Hitler rose to power on democracy and then abused and crushed it in the name of national unity and self-interest.

Democracy also fails when there’s evident electoral bias. My South Norfolk Polling Station had two Brexit tabloids on display next to the voting slips, if you ask me that invalidates that vote and that wasn’t Norwich I live just South – still under investigation by the Electoral Commission and local counting officer, despite reporting it halfway through voting day.

Democracy doesn’t work when we are lied to by, both sides, leading to a situation where 22 per cent of people admitted they didn’t understand the facts well and yet still voted, some of those same people googled after the polls closed, “what is the EU?” 47 per cent believed the Leave campaign’s openly acknowledged “mistake” and withdrawn promise, the that of the false £350m a week EU contributions blatantly false and proven to be so. That was and electoral bribe that was withdrawn immediately. That invalidates their entire campaign it would now be spent on the NHS. The Health Service will not be getting £350m more. Furthermore, the vote will make little difference to immigration. Net budget payments to the EU will probably cost us almost the same to get some kind of Norway or Swiss deal. If the Pound remains low, inflation will already add 5-10% to food and petrol prices, affecting everyone and especially the working classes, especially the poor, especially the people who voted ‘Out’. If we ever want to rejoin, you can be assured we will never get the rebates, reforms and exemptions we got before. We actually have one of the best deals in Europe at the moment and we’re about to trash it.

One of my biggest issues, is that people were not informed of the economic, social and legal facts and consequences, without falsehood or media and party bias, in order for the Vote to fairly consent to the Referendum choices, how can they consent when what they heard was not fair or true. In the most more blatant cases they were lied to by again both campaigns. Exaggeration that was what the Chilcot Report criticised Blair’s campaign to go to war over, blatant exaggeration. Fear won. It was a campaign of fear. Democracy based upon lies and fear is not democracy but deception and manipulation. That is how the National Socialists rose to power in the 1930s.

My first degree was in Economics and Statistics so I know very well how to lie! The UK was 5th in the world economic tables, and was about to overtake Germany, because of the Pound’s since Brexit’s 12% currency devaluation the last two weeks, (18% off its 12 month peak) we’ve already dropped a place slipped to 6th instead, behind below France. And we will keep slipping if we do not reform Europe and the UK’s position in it. The FTSE 250 remains 8% down.

But our rights of representation include the right to protest the results of any electoral or parliamentary decision, that’s what democracy is, it doesn’t mean just once every 5 years or once every 50 years which is what the EU Referendum was about. The rights to representation means we can keep complaining, it’s not sour grapes, it’s not just get on with it and accept it, or e-x-c-e-p-t it as a lot of people have been spelling over Facebook! I do agree with ‘excepting’ that decision the other spelling! But as millions have done since austerity under the Tories, or even under the war that Tony Blair took us into. People took to the streets and called for general elections, called for referenda, called to bring down governments, that is our democratic right, not to accept the decision and to keep campaigning, but to keep persuading as well, to keep proving that a majority are moving in favour of staying. 

Agitation to peacefully bring down a government, petition for change, is a very British revolutionary right way of doing revolution in these days. The parties are already stabbing themselves in the back. Brexit It has already brought down several seen two party leaders go and most of the Brexit pretenders. Nigel Farage himself, as you’ve already heard, says admitted that he too would have called for a second referendum had the margin 52-48% been the same in Remain’s favour. So it’s schadenfreude and hypocrisy to say that we shouldn’t be calling for it too.

In the 5 days since the Referendum, Parliament received over 5,000 petitions, nearly 50 times their normal democratic load. The most famous is the call for a second Referendum if there was a narrow margin of victory. It was actually a Leaver’s petition hijacked by Remainers! It has over 4 million signatures even after removing the fraudulent ones, the fastest and largest ever in the UK.

That is a demonstration of democracy, that is a demonstration of people power and a demonstration of political engagement but it is still not enough. If 80% of young people wanted to stay in and yet 80% didn’t vote, then there’s still a lack of political engagement, that’s what we’ve got to change. 

People power can bring down governments and/or prevent Article 50 if we can prove the electorate has changed its mind or was lied to as with the Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq War.

We can continue to call for compromise and delay, and a fresh democratic mandate to ratify or reject any Exit deal, once the facts are known. This has been suggested by Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, despite being ruled out by all the Tory leadership candidates. There are legal reasons why a referendum based upon lies can be disregarded, indeed Parliament is only morally obliged to follow a referendum’s verdict, not legally.

The regret vote, according to polls, is now already shifting 7-14% away from Leave, (oddly enough 3% of Remainers have shifted to Leave!). But the point is the gap has shifted in our favour. Wales is now polling as majority Remain – probably because of the football! People on Guido Fawkes website are already planning street demos and riots should there be a second referendum or non-Brexit. But it is the extremes of traditional Left-Right politics behind Brexit, nationalistic and anti-establishment views, not the centre ground of engagement with Europe. Politics is changing and it’s calling. It calls for a new politics, a the rainbow coalition and progressive alliances to defeat an insular nationalism. A majority of those under 45 voted Remain, but a majority of those under 35 didn’t vote. We need to re-engage with not only politics but voting and that engagement and education so that people’s futures are enfranchised. I think it was one of the Swiss guys this week who said that where we have failed is by abandoning investment in education over the last 2 decades. I mean with people like Gove at the helm – that is why!

If Article 50 is delayed and a Referendum or General Election called before any final EU withdrawal attempt, by then hundreds of thousands more younger people will have gained the vote and those that didn’t vote can be mobilised.

The UK and its universities receive more funding from the European Research Council than any other country and 50% more than Germany, allowing UK universities to fund more than 10% of project-based research from EU contributions.

The EU has contributed to 50 years of peace and harmony in Europe, prosperity has been dented not because of the EU but because of austerity and the world economic crash of 2008, because of the banks, because of bailing them out and not bailing the poor out.

Being in Europe but not a part of the Euro, has actually served British interests very well. 

The EU does not want us to leave, nor do Scotland, Northern Ireland, Gibraltar, London, Norwich and elsewhere, not to mention Wales and Cornwall beginning to shift. I want to remain and if we have to leave, to revote once the facts of the deal are knows, or to petition to rejoin, as soon as possible.

It is not a loser’s tantrum, it’s my democratic right and yours to keep saying that I want to stay in the EU, even in opposition, but significantly it is and my moral responsibility to stand up for those in the UK who don’t have no electoral rights, no voice, like the millions of EU and other immigrant peoples who cannot vote, and the people under 18 whose futures we are gambling deciding now but the reality of which will not kick in until a time when they would have had their own a say.

With 7-14% of Leavers regretting their votes and 100s of thousands being enfranchised by the time an EU deal is negotiated, we would almost certainly vote Remain at another more honest fact-driven Referendum prior to debating deals or launching any Article 50, next year – according to Theresa May.

We are entirely within our rights to keep making those voices heard, as we are today. Thank you.

 

Highest Numbers Ever on World Refugee Day as Humanitarian Crisis Escalates

World Refugee Day, Record Numbers

Refugees from “forced displacement” recorded worldwide in 2015 numbered over 65 million according to UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency. That’s nearly 1% of the world currently homeless, nationless, fleeing wars, terror, persecution and the slow death and disease of refugee poverty from relying on handouts and the generosity of others, NGOs, international aid and agencies. So far, this year, over 3,500 have died on their migrant journeys to apparent safety. World Refugee Day highlights the plight and peril of people seeking safety amidst an escalating humanitarian crisis.

“At sea, a frightening number of refugees and migrants are dying each year; on land, people fleeing war are finding their way blocked by closed borders. Closing borders does not solve the problem.” – Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees

Refugees & Migrants are People Too!

But numbers, percentages, records, are not facts or statistics, they are people too. They are not just migrants, often prefixed with the dehumanising word “illegal”, or trafficked by exploiters and transporters of vulnerable people with nothing left to risk except their life itself. They are desperate migrant peoples, refugees, asylum seekers, human beings, not cattle or ballast to be bounced around from port to port, dragged back out to sea, or denied entry based upon the decision that they may harbour an ISIL terrorist.

It’s a humanitarian crisis because they share a common humanity with the 99% of people that have settled homes and domestic security. Whilst 1% of the world control half its wealth, another 1% don’t even have a dollar a day because they are stateless, which in some countries means they officially don’t exist, being without permanent address or social security numbers. 50% of the world has access to just 1% of the world’s wealth. Global economic disparity and inequality are an injustice demanding those that have, to aid those that don’t. It’s a moral crisis as well as a humanitarian one.

Definition of a Refugee

Article 1 of the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, as amended by the 1967 Protocol, defines a refugee as:

“A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.” 1951 UN Refugee Convention

Will you stand #WithRefugees?

Don't Bomb Syria Rally, Norwich, 28 November 2015 photo by Katy Jon Went
“Refugees Welcome” Don’t Bomb Syria Rally, Norwich, 28 November 2015

A Global Community & Worldwide Village

The benefits of global bodies like the United Nations and regional socio-economic communities like the African Union or European Union are that they can act as greater than the sum of their nation parts when they pull disparate national interests into international focus on issues facing the world as a whole, for which we a have a common responsibility.

Immigration and the EU Referendum

Whilst the United Kingdom votes this week to Leave or Remain in the EU, thinking little England rather than Great Britain, the world has bigger issues than one nation’s sovereignty or solvency. Immigration has become one of the most divisive issues in the EU Referendum campaign and the responses have turned ugly. Campaign posters have been called racist, Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party, has admitted that we cannot control EU migrant numbers, however, nor would we be able to if we adopted a Norwegian or Swiss-style model of European Economic Area affiliation rather than full EU membership.

“Immigration has overtaken the economy as the most important issue to how the public will vote…[it] is now the most critical issue, cited as very important to their vote by 33%, up five points in a month, including just over half (52%) of leave supporters…which coincides with the official Vote Leave campaign focusing more strongly on immigration.” – Evening Standard

Opinion polls consistently show that immigration is one of the key Referendum issues, but one that is closely aligned with geography, age and gender. The majority of men and people over 65 would vote to Leave and the majority of women and people under 35 would vote to Remain. It’s often the areas with the least impact of immigration that would vote most against it. Those, such as London, with the greatest cultural diversity, are more likely to vote Remain. Integration and acceptance take time but then do bring community benefits and positivity.

It’s about perception, integration, insecurity and fear. A Guardian piece included the words of Chantelle, a young mother from Leigh, near Manchester, who despite 96.% of local residents being British thought that “80%, maybe 90%” of locals were immigrant foreigners!

Controls on Immigration or Contributions from Immigration?

At the last UK election, most major political parties except the Green Party were calling for controls on immigration despite its long term benefits.

“Immigration to the UK since 2000 has been of substantial net fiscal benefit, with immigrants contributing more than they have received in benefits and transfers. This is true for immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe as well as the rest of the EU.” – The Economic Journal

A CEBR report on world economic ranking data said of the UK’s growth and dynamism:

“The United Kingdom is forecast to be the best performing economy in Western Europe … likely to overtake Germany and Japan during the 2030s … becoming the world’s 4th largest economy for a short time … The UK’s strength (though mainly in London) is its cultural diversity and its strong position in software and IT applications. Its weakness is its bad export position and unbalanced economy … It also runs the risk of breakup, with Scotland and possibly Northern Ireland seceding and will have a referendum on its continuing membership of the EU in 2016 which might prove at best disruptive and at worst lead to a more insular and less diverse culture which in turn would generate slower growth.” – CEBR

Surely, then, the UK – currently the world’s fifth largest economy, should accept a substantial share of supporting the world’s refugees rather than turning a blind eye and walking on by as the selfish ‘neighbours’ in the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

The country taking by far the largest number of migrants is Germany, down to Angela Merkel’s so-called “open door policy”. Germany is currently the fourth largest powerhouse economy in the world, aided rather than restrained by its immigration policy:

“Germany’s influx of Syrian immigrants is expected to keep the country ahead of the UK for a few further years as skill shortages are alleviated, wage growth restrained and profits boosted.” – City A.M.

EU Migrants a drain on Benefits?

EU benefits claimants are the smallest group receiving either working age benefits or tax credits, according to economic and statistical data. Some 92.5% of benefit claimants are British, 5% are non-EU immigrants, and just 2.5% are EU migrants. Whilst those from outside the EU are more likely to be on benefits than EU migrants, we have a degree of control over non-EU immigrants, albeit an international responsibility to refugees and asylum seekers. Even the Daily Telegraph which is essentially pro-Brexit said this:

“…whatever the arguments for and against reducing the number of EU migrants receiving British benefits, delivering such a reduction wouldn’t make a significant difference to the overall welfare bill…and seeing as the take-up of benefits among migrants is so small, it’s also worth asking how big of a draw Britain’s welfare system really is.”

Migration Breaking Point?

Breaking Point the EU has failed us all, UKIP, Vote Leave, EU Referendum
Breaking Point the EU has failed us all, UKIP, Leave.EU, EU Referendum

UKIP’s ‘breaking point’ immigration poster calling for a Leave vote and taking back of border controls has been compared to 1930s Nazi propaganda by George Osborne and even criticised by other Brexiters, not to mention being reported to the Police for inciting racial hatred. Nigel Farage has defended the poster even saying he is the victim of hate!

Even Michael Gove “shuddered” after seeing the UKIP migrants poster based upon a photo taken of migrants crossing the Croatia-Slovenia border in October 2015, apparently of refugees arriving from Syria – a route now all but shut. Boris Johnson, who heads the official Vote Leave campaign also distanced himself from the poster and announced he was in favour of an “illegal immigrants” amnesty for those that had been here 12 years.

Far from immigration being the ‘breaking point’ for the UK, we are cruising it compared to many other austerity-hit nations, growing off the back of net contributions to the treasury from migrants of the past and present. Migrants are far more likely to start businesses than British nationals, nearly half as likely to be on benefits, pay more in taxes than they take out, and more likely to take the jobs others don’t want to do that keep the economy growing – over three-quarters are in employment, more than their British counterparts. They are not “taking our jobs” just more willing to do them.

Syria & Islamic State – To Bomb or Not to Bomb, is that the Question?

Bombing Syria & ISIL Perpetuates Terror

Don't Bomb Syria Rally, Norwich, 28 November 2015 photo by Katy Jon Went
Don’t Bomb Syria Rally, Norwich, 28 November 2015

Thousands continue to protest and take to the streets to oppose bombing Syria, seeing such a move as disastrous and more likely to endanger the lives of Syrian civilians, and further radicalise and foment future terrorism in Europe by Islamic State (IS/ISIS/ISIL/Daesh). Hundreds and thousands of sorties and bombs by over a dozen nations over months and years did not prevent the attacks in Paris last month.

Update: On 2 December the UK Parliament voted to extend the Iraq bombing campaign to Syria but with no ground soldiers commitment or thought to future outcomes, rebuilding, Assad etc. Admittedly Hilary Benn, did give an excellent, almost convincing speech, but too many questions remain unanswered, avenues unexplored… and the UK has already carried out questionable drone strikes killing two British ISIS fighters – predating and without Parliamentary mandate.

Indeed, a majority of the country probably oppose the action according to polls, and Benn was out of touch with the majority of Labour Party supporters who are against action. Polls in the Telegraph had 59% for, in the Independent 59% against. At least there’s no “dodgy dossier” this time, but could we, in ten years time, be facing a similar enquiry into why we went to war, or even why we may still be at war, given that Cameron has suggested this could be lengthy, even many years.

Many see a bombing campaign as the obvious response to the attacks in Paris two weeks ago – precision, of course, because it is not like we want the human and financial expense of “boots on the ground” who can minimise civilian “collateral” losses by checking who they are targeting first. Presidents Hollande and Obama have called for ISIL to be  destroyed. Many echo that reaction. But, it is just that, a reaction, not a strategic response.
Don't Bomb Syria Rally, Norwich, 28 November 2015 photo by Katy Jon Went
Don’t Bomb Syria Rally, Norwich, 28 November 2015

War on Terror only increases Terrorism

Others recognise that after 14 years of responding to Middle Eastern turmoil by declaring a “War on Terror” we have actually multiplied rather than diminished terror. The 3,000 killed on 9/11 are now a drop in the ocean compared to the tens and hundreds of thousands who have died in the Middle East or fleeing it.

“The military actions of Western nations recruit more people to the cause than they kill. Every bomb dropped is a recruitment poster for ISIS, a rallying point for the young, vulnerable and alienated. And every bomb dropped on Syrian cities drives yet more people to flee and seek refuge in safer countries.”The Quakers in Britain

Thirteen countries are already bombing Syria, Canada is considering pulling out, the UK of joining in. One more nation will not solve what a dozen have already failed to do.

Don't Bomb Syria Rally, Norwich, 28 November 2015 photo by Katy Jon Went
Don’t Bomb Syria Rally, Norwich, 28 November 2015

Bombing Syria and anywhere else, for that matter, only increases tension, radicalises countless more fighters. In barely a decade ISIL has grown from a few hundred to a 100,000 fighters on the back of Western intervention and against more moderate interpretations of Islam. “In the month after the bombing began, 8,000 joined Isis alone.”

“I know Isis fighters. Western bombs falling on Raqqa will fill them with joy” – Jürgen Todenhöfer

Terrorist acts on domestic soil need to be treated as criminal rather than military acts. Declaring them a war only intensifies the pseudo-legitimacy of their cause and identity, making them think that they are now a force to be reckoned with.

“One thing I have learnt is that this western intervention never helps, it only makes matters worse. So much worse. These interventions only pour petrol on the fires of Middle East unrest.” – John Prescott

Bombing Syria – A “failed strategy”

Lt General Mike Flynn was Obama’s senior JSOC intelligence officer and head of the Defense Intelligence Agency until last year. He has described dropping bombs from drones as causing more harm than good and a “failed strategy.”

“What we have is this continued investment in conflict… the more bombs we drop, that just… fuels the conflict. Some of that has to be done but I am looking for the other solutions… history will not be kind to the decisions that were made certainly in 2003… We definitely put fuel on a fire… Going into Iraq, definitely… was a strategic mistake.”- Lieutenant General Michael T. Flynn, former Director of the US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA)

A mistake that the West seems to want to perpetuate, as Einstein may have never said, but Nick O’Brien, Chair of Norwich Stop the War, quoted in a rally on Saturday, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” Whilst the origin of this quote in clouded in mystery, another of Einstein’s may be even more apt, namely, that “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” In other words, bombing the bombers won’t solve anything other than create more bombmakers. Every bomb casualty or innocent victim creates loss and anger among relatives leading to further rationale for joining ISIS.

“The US… has been bombing Syria for over a year. Since September, France has been involved alongside them, although other members of a coalition put together last year, including Canada, Australia, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, have effectively withdrawn from bombing. Yet now both Russia and France have experienced severe terrorist attacks. Are we saying they have no connection to the raids? Far from making us safe, as politicians contend, they are likely to make us more vulnerable.”  – Lindsey German, Stop the War

Bombing Syria, as with elsewhere in the Middle East is both a failed and inadequate strategy. Even those prepared to bomb Syria, admit it will not be enough and will require foot soldiers as well, something people are more reticent to commit to.

It is also dangerous and complex with more than two sides. There are factions within factions, militias, rebels, Assad’s forces, vested interests of Russia, Turkey and others, not to mention a dozen other Western allies and limited Middle Eastern nations already involved.

“Politically, it is a grave step. Britain is about to enter a confused battlefield on which Russia, the US, France, Turkey, Iran, assorted Arab states, ethnic foes and rival sects are all fighting for different causes while Syria and Iraq disintegrate.” – The Sunday Times

Anti-War Protests across the UK

London saw the largest no to bombing Syria, anti-war rally, with thousands blocking Whitewall. Dozens of other cities held rallies. BBC and Guardian/Independent journalist Joel Gunter posted this image of at the London protest:

On Sunday another threat to the planet – climate change, saw protests and marches around the world ahead of a climate summit in Paris on Monday. Except in the French capital where such a large gathering had been banned on security fears or pretexts after the Paris attacks. Instead, people donated thousands of empty pairs of shoes to stand where people otherwise would have.

Don’t Bomb Syria Rally in Norwich

Norwich on Saturday saw around 100 people show up on a bitingly cold day to hand out leaflets to the public and hear from half a dozen speakers including local Muslims, Quakers, Labour and Green Party activists. One leafleter spoke to four servicemen who were supportive of the protest. A heckler interrupted by saying “two wrongs don’t make a right”, and then everyone realised that he was actually agreeing with what was being said.

 Don't Bomb Syria Rally, Norwich, 28 November 2015 photo by Katy Jon Went
Don’t Bomb Syria Rally, Norwich, 28 November 2015

Speakers included Dr Ian Gibson – former Labour MP for Norwich North, Nick O’Brien – Chair of Norwich Stop the War, Lesley Graham – Quaker peace activist, Jan McLachlan – Norwich People’s Assembly, Adrian Holmes – Green Party, Muhammad Ameen Franklin – Muslims of Norwich.

Clive Lewis, Labour MP for Norwich South issued this statement on the possibility of bombing Syria. He is a former TA soldier who served in Afghanistan, and BBC journalist.

“I understand there are occasions when military force is necessary. Therefore, I will not rule out supporting the use of military force against ISIL. However, the use of such force must not be an end in itself.
If there is one thing the ‘war on terror’ has shown, it is that military force alone is rarely the answer. We’ve been engaged in this ‘war’ for 15 years with with no end in sight. It has cost millions of lives, trillions of dollars, destabilised an entire region and arguably spawned a series of global, jihadist terror networks.”Clive Lewis

A Muslim Voice

Muhammad Ameen Franklin speaking at Don't Bomb Syria Rally, Norwich, 28 November 2015 photo by Katy Jon Went
Muhammad Ameen Franklin speaking at Don’t Bomb Syria Rally, Norwich, 28 November 2015

The speaker from the Ihsan Mosque in Norwich was warmly received and welcomed to applause. As with nearly 400 mosques and UK Muslim organisations who issued an unequivocal statement in the media on 18 November to “condemn the Paris attacks unreservedly”:

“The barbaric acts of Daesh (or ISIS, as they are sometimes known) have no sanction in the religion of Islam, which forbids terrorism and the targeting of innocents…. The aim of attacks like those inflicted on Paris and other cities across the world is to turn communities against each other. As Muslims, Britons and Europeans, we must stand together to make sure they do not succeed.”

The Norwich mosque also issued a statement on the atrocity in Paris, calling them “brutal murders”, not deaths or killings that might arise in a conventional war.

“we want to make absolutely clear not only our complete abhorrence of the outrages perpetrated in Paris, Beirut and elsewhere by this small group of well-organised and ruthless killers, but that the religion of Islam does not countenance such actions in any way whatsoever. Moreover, not only is their action a crime, but there is prima facie evidence of such serious flaws in their apprehension of Islam as to call into question whether they should even be considered Muslims.”

It isn’t about race, faith, or nation state. Any political, religious or nationalistic ideology can be taken to extremes. Treating other’s lives as collateral in any cause is the inhumanity in any ideology.

“It’s not about Islam, or indeed any religion – each has been there with its own extremisms, the Crusades, the Inquisition, Biblical Judaism, even Buddhism and Hinduism, and Sikhism. As John Lennon sang – “Imagine … no religion”. But then there’s the Hitlers, Stalins, Maos and Polpots, of this world. Roman pagans trying to wipe out Christianity, Communist extremism. It is the extremism they have in common, not faith or race.” – Katy Went, Imagine all the people, living life in peace

Each religion can be twisted to apparently justify slaughter, but that comes from man’s inhumanity to man, not faith per se.  Equally, most faiths can be quoted from to encourage love, mercy and kindness.

Backlash from Bombing and Terrorism

The important thing, now, is to avoid the backlash. If increased bombing of Syria goes ahead then there will be a backlash in terms of home grown and exported terrorism by those who see Britain’s involvement as Western interference, imperialism, and immorality. The other backlash is that against refugees and asylum seekers, particularly as one of the French terrorists was alleged to have gained access to Europe as a refugee. Thirdly, and an already happening reaction in the US, France, Britain and elsewhere is one that targets existing resident Muslims, those more or less happily already domiciled. Often, a kickback response to the visible presence of a mosque or headscarf, in total stereotyping ignorance of the variety of Islamic opinion and interpretations and indeed, the majority opinion in the UK, as expressed by the Muslim Council of Britain, that “almost all” Muslims “abhor terrorism”, though “even one person harbouring sympathy for the Daesh death cult is one too many”.

Don't Bomb Syria Rally, Norwich, 28 November 2015 photo by Katy Jon Went
“Refugees Welcome” Don’t Bomb Syria Rally, Norwich, 28 November 2015

Norfolk People’s Assembly Anti Austerity Protest Rally, 30 May, Norwich UK

NPA Anti-Austerity Protest Rally

Julie Bremner protesting Get The Tories Out at Norwich NPA Rally
Julie Bremner with Socialist Worker protesting Get The Tories Out – Strike, Protest, Occupy at Norwich NPA Rally

Saturday 30 May at midday saw several hundred people “depressed and angry about the election results” gather at the Norwich Haymarket who wanted “a more equal, fairer, kinder system…” standing together to find “a better way”. The growing local Norfolk People’s Assembly saw hundreds of local activists heed the call for a National day of Action from the UK People’s Assembly as a pre-cursor to a larger anti-government rally on 20 June in London. Some 475 joined the Facebook event and around 200-250 showed up at the Norwich Haymarket, nestled between McDonald’s, Top Shop, Next, Starbucks, and Primark. The statue of a pensive  Sir Thomas Browne – the medic and author of “Vulgar Errors”, looked down upon the modern crowd, probably wondering why we hadn’t yet solved 17th century problems of inequality and poverty, more than 3 centuries later.

Norfolk Peoples Assembly Anti Austerity Demo, Norwich Haymarket 30 May 2015
Norfolk Peoples Assembly Anti Austerity Demo, Norwich Haymarket 30 May 2015

Different interest groups but a common message

Banners for Saving Mental Health Services in Norfolk and Suffolk (currently in special measures), the Norfolk People’s Assembly and DPAC Norfolk (Disabled People Against Cuts) were unfurled along with dozens of printed and home made anti-austerity signs held aloft by arms weary after 5 years of Coalition cuts and now faced with another 5 years of threatened welfare budget reductions under the recently elected Conservative Party.

Stop the war against the poor
Stop the war against the poor

Diverse people representing numerous special interest bodies such as Save the NHS or the Hewett School, students, unemployed, disabled groups, political parties, affiliations and none, all called in unison for an end to the cuts and austerity.

A lone young female heckler raised a sober voice saying that “you people on benefits already get too much”. Perhaps, influenced by the hardline Right wing and Ukip rhetoric in the East of England during the recent election campaign.

Passionate Political Speeches

If the personal is political then that rang true of speakers from across the board, less because it was about them, more because of the passion with which they spoke for and on behalf of others but from the depths of personal experience of austerity and cuts to their sectors or own lives.

Green Party spokesperson at Norfolk Peoples Assembly Anti Austerity Rally, Norwich Haymarket
Political speeches at Norfolk Peoples Assembly Anti Austerity Rally, Norwich Haymarket

Speakers from the rally organisers, included Jan McLachlan, representatives of the Green Party, and Mark Harrison of the disability charity Equal Lives who drew attention to the ongoing access issues at the Duke Street work capability assessments centre.

Recently elected local Labour MP for Norwich South – Clive Lewis, suggested that even illegal direct action may be necessary to oppose immoral laws and Government inaction. Lewis spoke in an impassioned way that would probably shame the current batch of Labour leadership hopefuls and their copycat “aspirations of hard working families” soundbites.

Clive Lewis Labour MP for Norwich South speaks passionately about opposition and direct action
Clive Lewis Labour MP for Norwich South speaks passionately about opposition and direct action

Media & Press Coverage

Norwich Evening News covers NPA Anti Austerity Rally
Norwich Evening News covers NPA Anti Austerity Rally

Norwich Evening News reported very briefly on the rally but unfortunately made the demonstration sound like it was organised by Clive Lewis, which was not the case. Great publicity for the Labour MP, whose support and speech were appreciated, however poor journalism and social media tweeting by the EDP‘s Evening News arm, neglecting to mention many speakers and making it sound like the excellent Norfolk People’s Assembly organisers joined Mr Lewis, rather than the other way around. Political fairness also dictates that other parties such as the Norwich Green Party were also represented there. After contacting Archant I was assured that they would pass on “corrections you’ve pointed out to the reporter who wrote the story who will amend as appropriate”. Four days later, finally, an amendment to the online news story: “The rally, organised by the Norfolk People’s Assembly, was attended by Unison members, and pupils and parents from the Hewett School.” But still no response to the original and even more inaccurate tweet:

If Monday is a slow news day, then posting about Saturday’s event, also on the EDP site, has led to 44+ comments, the most commented on article today (58 now).

More photographic coverage on Demotix.

Earnest about Education too

Education was well represented by Ian Anderson a spokesperson for the We’re backing Hewett campaign, UEA staff, and Postgraduate Education officer UEA Students Union Liam McCafferty.

Liam, depressingly depicted a dystopian future where people would not be able to afford higher education.

Nick O'Brien speaking at the Norfolk Peoples Assembly Anti-Austerity Rally
Nick O’Brien speaking at the Norfolk Peoples Assembly Anti-Austerity Rally

Local deputy head teacher, NUT Campaigns Coordinator, Norwich Pride Chair and social activist, Nick O’Brien mentioned the reportedly over 27,000 children in Norfolk now living in poverty, at increased risk of poor health and educational achievement, whilst more than half a dozen children of protesting parents were happy, beyond most young kids’ attention spans, to hold up placards drawing attention to the plight of people of all ages and abilities under the current cuts.

NPA Press Release

Family solidarity as kids affected by austerity say "No Cuts"
Family solidarity as kids affected by austerity say “No Cuts”

Norwich Radical writer and NPA Press Secretary, Jack Brindelli, issued this statement for the press:

We at the People’s Assembly are steadfastly opposed to the Tories vicious plans for Britain, and the implications they will have for the people of Norfolk. On David Cameron’s watch as Prime Minister, the country has become bitterly divided along the lines of wealth inequality. His government’s cuts have shamefully targeted society’s most vulnerable – from the disabled, to the unemployed, to the unborn.

Whilst the Conservatives have been selling off the NHS through the backdoor, Britain’s infant mortality rate has risen to become the highest in Western Europe. Since 2010, the Black Triangle campaign estimates more than 80 suicides have been directly linked to cuts to social security – as those who need help most have been driven to desperate decisions by the Tories’ savage austerity measures. Over the duration of the last Parliament, the government have also butchered our legal rights by cutting legal aid – and are currently poised to axe the Human Rights Act, which currently protects ordinary citizens of all races from torture and persecution.

Young emboldened activist stands defiantly for "No Cuts"
Young emboldened activist stands defiantly for “No Cuts”

They have dismantled the comprehensive education system with their failed Free Schools and Academies scheme, turning schools like Hewett into profit-driven production lines, and they have tripled tuition fees – essentially ending the chances of a generation to learn beyond a GCSE level.

Kids who can't vote yet say "Get the Tories Out"
Kids who can’t vote yet say “Get the Tories Out”

We have a clear choice for the next 5 years then. If we want to live in a world without an NHS, without universal education, without opportunity, without hope, then we need only sit back and wait for 2020’s election to at best deliver us cuts from a different party. If however, we are intent on not only protecting the ideas of freedom, opportunity and the right to live with dignity, but also determined to literally save hundreds of lives, and to provide our children with a future worth living, then we must stand together now. Over the coming months, across the country from Glasgow to Newcastle, to Liverpool to London, the People’s Assembly plans to take action to stop David Cameron’s gang of market-extremists in their tracks, and build a better alternative. For us, the fightback starts here, in Norwich.

More photos of the Norfolk People’s Assembly Norwich rally here.

UK Uncut Anti-Austerity Rally in London

Human Rights Act protest
Human Rights Act protest

London saw two rallies on Saturday, one against the proposed replacement of the Human Rights Act by an expected to be watered down British Bill of Rights, and another called for by UK Uncut which saw 4,700 join the Facebook event. Less than that, as is usual with online events, turned up, but the hundreds that did protested peacefully and painted in situ a large 20m banner: “12bn more cuts. £120bn tax dodged – Austerity is a lie“, which they subsequently hung over the side of the bridge opposite Parliament. Although paint bombs were let off and direct action was called for, no arrests were made. Beth Cunningham told reporters:

“Direct action is what works. It sends a loud and clear message that people aren’t happy. And it’s part of acknowledging that our current political resources aren’t enough. People don’t have enough resources in the current political system to make their voices heard and that’s why we resort to direct action.”

 

Immigration controls, an arms race of rhetoric over rational realities and positive benefits

The Labour Party Shadow Cabinet Home Secretary Yvette Cooper has promised today to clamp down on immigration, yet a year ago, said Labour will not enter an “arms race of rhetoric on immigration” … yet does. What is more, she clearly believes in recycling as half of today’s speech on immigration is 13 months old.

In the polls Labour is barely a few points ahead of the Conservatives, despite their expenses debacle over Maria Miller, and is little more trusted than the Tories. Nobody trusts the Lib-Dems for having gone to bed with the Tory government in coalition leaving Nigel Farage and the further right UKIP free to wipe the floor with Nick Clegg in the TV political debates, that Labour and Conservative leaders refused to partake in. Politics and politicians are back to an all time low. So to resurrect trust, they pick an ‘easy’ subject, soft target – immigration, one on which UKIP do well at the polls, in order to gain political traction and voter empathy. If only it were not the wrong policy, feeding on fears and not hopes, as with  Clegg and Farage’s clash in the televised EU debate. Polls show UKIP on 25-29% for the European elections.

Russian immigrants disembarking from a ship at Brisbane in 1931It’s also bad timing as Britain’s first Asian male, of Pakistani immigrant parents, whose father worked hard as a bus driver, so that he could become Chase Manhattan Bank’s youngest VP at 25, becomes Equalities Minister in the Government. So as someone of ‘immigrant stock’ gets to the top, Labour complain about non-graduate immigration, the very parentage from which Sajid Javid emerged.

It is another form of class discrimination to have Australian-styled points systems for immigration, to only allow in highly skilled and qualified foreigners, and to turn away low-skilled desperate working class migrants – not very socialist.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that “exploitation attracted low-skilled migrants, when the UK should actually be trying to attract university graduates.”

Labour allegedly got it badly wrong on immigration in their last decade in power, as Cooper admits today, again, “the last Labour government got things wrong on immigration”, and that they were committed to reintroducing full exit checks at UK borders, previously scrapped by the Labour when they were last in government. Not an apology as such, and not really necessary, if, like me, you believe in immigration, multiculturalism and healthy workplace competition.

Protectionist policies are actually very nationalistic and counter globalisation and international aid. People willing to enter this country at their own expense to take on low paid jobs, to literally “get on a bike” – to coin a phrase that when last said by a Tory minister, didn’t go down well – to find a job, even if in another country, should be praised not pariahed.

Socialism only for one’s own country is a nationalistic self-interest. Worldwide betterment and welfare of all would embrace anyone working to feed their family. So long as decent minimum wage controls are in place to prevent employer exploitation then a fair wage is on offer to anyone willing and able to take the job. British people should already have a natural advantage due to their location, education, and own-language fluency – should, I say, but may not due to poor education, training, mobility, motivation etc. There is no need or ethical basis to protect ‘our own’ over ‘immigrant’ competition. To do so, rubbishes the ethics of socialism and international welfare in the name of national interest – for which, read, political self-interest, a phrase that David Cameron has also repeated today, “Britain’s National Interest”, which apparently “sum up everything we are about in Europe.”

So, as Yvette Cooper claims, if Labour win, they would make the exploitation of migrant workers a crime, I wonder if she is protecting their political interest rather than the welfare of migrant workers, who in the same breath she would restrict the numbers of, which is not protecting them. The real aim is to reassure British voters that they will not have undue competition for their jobs and hence Labour votes. But even Patrick Wintour in the Guardian sees the proposal as “legally fraught … giving the state greater control over the setting of wages in the private sector above and beyond the minimum wage.”

It is already illegal to exploit migrant workers, it is just hard to enforce, and workers are unlikely to complain for fear of losing their jobs, or not knowing their rights. So Labour is not bringing in anything new, just tinkering for political gain and to reverse their reputation on immigration.

Her measures are nothing new, and the current Government are already “doubling the maximum fine for employers found using illegal workers … a four-fold increase in fines for firms not paying the minimum wage and increased penalties for landlords housing migrants in illegal premises.” Blatant employment of substantial illegal immigrant workers already merits potential jail terms of up to two years and unlimited fines.

Yvette Cooper also said, “When people go to work in other countries in Europe they don’t expect to be able to claim benefits as soon as they arrive and likewise, I don’t think people should expect to when they come here,” – that could have been said just as easily by a Tory or UKIP spokesperson. The current rhetoric on immigration is knee-jerk political fear that it will cost them votes unless they at least ‘sound’ tough on immigration, and the causes of immigration.

Yet Cooper kept harping on about not having:

“an arms race in rhetoric, but practical policies instead”

She used the same phrase 13 months ago:

“But we won’t enter an arms race of rhetoric on immigration – and we hope the Prime Minister won’t either. That’s not honest, or good for Britain.”

It seems to be her favourite soundbite of the moment, if a moment can last over a year. Today, according to the  Guardian she was planning to attack the approach of UKIP, saying that having simplistic solutions:

“ramps up the rhetoric, raises false promises and expectations, undermines trust and confidence, and creates division and hostility …”

“We won’t engage in an arms race of rhetoric, and we reject the divisive politics of the right that promotes hostility instead of building consensus .”

“We will never compete in an arms race of rhetoric. We will never conduct the debate in way that whips up tensions and hostility.”

Last year, in the same speech, she accused the current Government of being:

“engaged in a frenzy of briefing and rhetoric

and ended by saying:

“It means no rhetorical arms race, just sensible and practical proposals…”

So, all that has changed is proposals have become policies, yet the rhetoric remains the same.

Take, for instance, last December, when Yvette was still on the same song in an article she wrote in the Daily Mirror that the Government’s ministers’ had:

“ramped up rhetoric looks more like panic than plan. Instead of chasing headlines that increase concern and hostility, David Cameron should concentrate on sensible policies to help. Labour won’t join in a Dutch auction of tough language that helps no one.”

Yet that is all Cooper’s words are, “tough language”, allegedly in response to having “listened and learned”. Rather, it is all politicians fearing the rise of UKIP and losing the moral and media battle on immigration. They are listening to the polls and not their political principles, afraid of losing the next election not of making a better world for us all to live in, one with a great multicultural Britain, without racism, prejudice and phobias of several kinds.

Cooper also chooses some strange examples and stereotypes in her speech, suggesting that immigration has given us “Trinidadians on our hospital wards” and that the Norman Conquest was immigration not invasion!

Brits living abroad in EUDespite some of the highest levels of immigration in Europe we also have one of the lowest unemployment figures and now the highest growth figures of all Western developed economies. So, clearly, immigration is good for us. We should not forget that over 2.2 million Brits have emigrated to Europe alone from our shores. It is time to end the “arms race of rhetoric” over immigration, by Labour, Tory, and UKIP, combatants and to start seeing immigration and multiculturalism as a blessing to British society, adding to its richness and diversity. Nobody is selling the positives of healthy immigration.

Motive for UK immigrationThis is an edited, updated version of an article I first published here. I’ve previously written about the scaremongering over Romanian and Bulgarian immigration and the positive benefits of immigration and multiculturalism since migrants are less likely to claim benefits, more likely to contribute fiscally and 99% come here for work, education and family, not for the alleged welfare benefits.