Wednesday, 23 December 2015

The greatest battle

I understand that we all have our own battles, our own focus and our own drive. What makes us feel this most is generally our own experience or what we see other people experiencing. There are some news stories that just ring a bell and we are out of our seat and swinging. I am telling you this so that you understand why I am publishing a badly written and anger-filled blog instead of trying (as I normally do, really) to build an argument based on logic, evidence and conclusion. Really, you can blame the next ten minutes of reading on my upbringing.

                I am talking about a news story last week that has been picked up by the BBC in relation to failing children on social mobility and also picked up by the Guardian. Obviously, the Telegraph, Times, Daily Mail and Sun are saving themselves to splash on to the front page the fact that David Cameron was talking out of his arse when he pretended to give a damn about this during the last couple of elections. Clearly, a shrewd move setting up a Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission and putting Alan Milburn in charge of it – after all, this counts as action doesn’t it?
Clearly, it doesn’t. The Commission’s first report is out since the General Election– you remember that don’t you – an Etonian Prime Minister, supported by his Etonian friends standing in front of 10 Downing Street saying he wanted to make Britain “a place where a good life is in reach for everyone who is willing to work and do the right thing”. How they must have laughed into their piles of family money and unattainable privilege about that one afterwards. The report from the commission ( ) doesn’t make easy reading if you feel passionately that this is an intrinsically unfair country OR if you fell for the crap that he was selling.
                To set the scene of where this current government is taking us, the Commission itself said this
 “In our report last year we warned that without a dramatic change in approach to how governments, employers and educators tackled child poverty and social mobility, Britain would become a permanently divided nation. Nothing we have seen in the last 12 months has made us change our view.”

Nothing has changed. Nothing has improved. What is probably more disturbing is that the actions of the last two governments would appear to be directly opposed to the objective it pretends it has set itself. It is still a sad fact that in our country if you are born rich and stupid you are far more likely to end up with a high-earning job than if you are poor and gifted (and for a worked example of this see Boris Johnson). How can this be right? Even the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child makes it clear what we need to do: “2. States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that the child is protected against all forms of discrimination or punishment on the basis of the status, activities, expressed opinions, or beliefs of the child's parents, legal guardians, or family members.” (Part 1, Article 2, para 2).
I do not think at the moment we are even close to achieving that. There are 1 million children living in persistent poverty. 1 million children living in persistent poverty. Yet, we are told that unemployment is the lowest it has ever been, that wages have started to rise. You would be forgiven for expecting a “you’ve never had it so good” speech at any moment. There are a lot of factors to this. The most obvious ones appear to be the collision of zero hours contracts and the attack on in-work benefits. Whilst we may have increased employment, how much of this is valuable employment? When there are 700,000 people on zero hours contracts ( and this government are trying to push through ever tighter rules on financial aid it makes you wonder how keen they really are. When families are faced by the bedroom tax making decisions onwhether they eat or whether they stay warm? How are you meant to grow, develop and achieve in circumstances where all you can think about is the hunger in your belly and the misery in your families faces? 
Then we get this government promising us jam tomorrow – by way of a “living wage” – which even when it is FULLY implemented will not achieve the living wage called for by the Living Wage Commission. We only have to wait 4 years for it. That’s OK – you stay hungry for 4 years kids – it’ll all be alright. Meanwhile the prosperous families at the top of society will send their children to private schools, and on to Eton and Cambridge – so they can retain their god-given position at the top of society. Just ask Tristram Hunt MP.
What can we do about it? Well, there seem to be some clear actions that we should take as a country. Some of these were mentioned in the Commission report.
      1.      Reduce the use of zero hours contracts (as proposed in the Labour party manifesto for the 2015 election)
2.      Replace ideology-driven austerity (which has no basis in economic theory) with funding to improve the lives of children by reversing the ridiculous benefit cuts 
3.       Targeted funding to tackle problems faced by parents of young children – such as SureStart centres (which all the research shows have a phenomenal impact on outcomes)
4.       Improved educational resources – better teaching through proper investment in training and allowing teachers to teach
5.       Improved social care – better funding and more staff – and this should include CAMHS
Unfortunately, we are not going to get any of this under the current government. This is why I joined Momentum. I also think this is the sort of area that Momentum should support the Labour party in getting the message out. Whilst I agree the question of spending money on Trident is vitally important, do you really believe that is the best way to connect with the Labour voters who didn’t turn out at the last election? When you are crying yourself to sleep because you can’t provide Christmas dinner for your kids do you think you really spend much of your time worrying about global nuclear disarmament? Maybe you are. I would wager for most people on the breadline it is an ephemeral conceptual debate. I’ve got to be honest – if you have time and energy to worry about Internationalism vs globalism then I would wager your life is already comfortable.
This may be where Momentum ends up in the same place as Progress – a talking shop for people who have aligned themselves to positions rather than people. Where the loudest voices get heard – instead of the most desperate. Only time will tell of course. But whilst we are working out what we want to be and why we want to be – children are starving and freezing, and another generation is being left behind compared to the privileged few. Merry Christmas. 

Monday, 14 December 2015

Gender role inequality - still easy to spot, no easier to solve

             I am sexist. No two ways about it. But then, whether we realise it or not most people are. Let me give you a recent example. I am a massive rugby fan – and I am desperately trying to get my 4 year old boy to watch the game and hopefully start playing. At the start of the recent world cup I rushed out to buy him an England rugby top (I know, I should have bought him a disposable one). I was so excited because I had a photograph with him from 4 years earlier wearing an England rugby baby-grow. Of course it never occurred to me at the time to buy a baby-grow for my 4 month old daughter. So yes, I can be sexist.
               Now the challenges in terms of tackling sexism in our culture and structures are immense – and certainly too deep for me to consider all of them in a blog. We should never lose sight of the fact that when looked at from pretty much any perspective you care to imagine those who have lost the most from this are women and girls. Both historically and presently the greatest challenge is to the rights of women. We can look at this is in terms of access to senior positions and positions of authority, in terms of equal pay or in terms of job opportunities as the liberal feminist tradition would have us do. We can look in terms of domestic violence, domestic servitude, caring and family role expectations as being a more important indicator if we choose – and there is certainly still a great deal of work to be done here.
               I make no apologies for focussing almost exclusively on western ideas here by the way. I simply do not have enough information or understanding to apply this more widely. Whilst I admit that like most people I was delighted that Saudi Arabia has now allowed women to not only vote but stand as candidates in elections, I am too far removed to really be able to understand and involve myself, other than to be amazed that we still don’t have universal suffrage in every country. Having said that Saudi Arabia is a country so intrinsically corrupt and evil that it will work with the likes of David Cameron, so you can’t really be surprised by anything rotten there.
               The reason for telling you this was that I noticed a couple of really interesting episodes over the last week or so. The first one was rather innocuous in seeming, however I think perhaps underlines some of the challenges that we face (and partly gives me an excuse when I sometimes behave in a sexist way – ie without realising it until later). I attended my son’s nativity play and in order to ensure everyone could take part the stable was a little bit crowded. I am not sure the original writers had time to put 60 different roles in there. What really stood out for me (as well as enjoying the antics of 4 year olds on stage) was the role assignment. There were 8 angels and 8 shepherds – split perfectly down gender lines (yes, I know, only on a purely “cis-“ basis). Now, from a historical accuracy point of view it may well have been that only men were allowed to be shepherds 2000 years ago in Judea. I don’t know, I am not a history buff but I would imagine there could be some truth to that. But certainly angels, if they had gender at all, would be both male and female.
               What is worrying about this is, whilst we are a fairly affluent and liberal part of Liverpool I believe that these roles were assigned by the school. Is it sexism? Was it even considered? The school has an almost entirely female teaching staff. Surely one of them has hard of gender equality. Maybe I have completely misunderstood – maybe this is liberal feminism in action “Right, the angels are the most powerful creatures in the story – therefore we will keep all of those roles for women. After all if we can set aside roles solely for women that’ll upset hegemony”. However, I very much doubt that.
               In a very dissimilar setting but very much aligned topic I attended the local meeting of Momentum for Merseyside. Now, as a socialist who has not been inculcated I am still getting to grips with everybody calling each other “comrade”. Whilst I can understand the importance of this in 18th Century Paris I am less certain it is required in 21st Century Liverpool. It must be remembered that Momentum is a proto-organisation at the moment, and that is because of the way it developed – almost organically. Nobody expected that they would have to find something to do with so many activists when Jeremy Corbyn started his leadership campaign. I actually wear it as a badge of honour that Tom Watson called us a “bit of a rabble”. We are, and we need to organise. The proposal for Momentum Merseyside was that as well as committee positions (which there was a general view on splitting 50:50 between female only and open to all positions or co-holding in a similar fashion) there would be 2 delegates from each CLP / Borough in the area – matching the Labour party set up in that area. The proposal was (similar I guess to the angels above) that for every delegation there should be one female only position and one open to all position.
               Whilst this was originally slated to be mandated a motion was put forward that this should be a recommendation only following by a member of one of the constituency parties who wanted the right to choose as their delegates, if they so wished, men to either role. For me, this was a fantastic moment for the little corner of the organisation in the North West. After some fairly impassioned speeches on the matter, the motion was passed – and this gave 2 things really. Firstly, it allowed each CLP to make their own decision – removing a top-down paternalistic drive to be shaped a certain way. Secondly it showed that the new organisation was going to be democratic and open in the way it decided things. Once the motion was carried there was clear acceptance of it in the room. I hope that this is a clear indication that Momentum is going to be a truly democratic organisation – perhaps we are already showing a level of maturity that other organisations don’t.
               What brought the nativity play role selection and the Momentum meeting together was the idea that we still have a long way to go to achieve gender/role equality, but perhaps the real focus of our efforts should be on the structures that entrench traditional gender roles and values rather than the focus on positions and hierarchical authority. After all, what did Margaret Thatcher ever do for women? Whether this is through looking at advertising on TV where for every woman in a bikini being seen as simply an object for sexual gratification to every father shown up as a useless man-sized child reliant on his wife, or nativity roles for 4 year olds, we simply need to do better. It is a really worrying state of affairs when Saudi Arabia are moving faster in terms of gender roles and equal rights than we are.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

The real civil war that the media should focus on

It seems a real shame to me that looking at the newspaper headlines this morning, there was so much focus on the “civil war” in the Labour party. There is no civil war, not yet. There is a media narrative that was constructed in the hours after Jeremy Corbyn won that this civil war would happen. What amazes me is the complicity of some Labour MPs for grabbing this narrative and feeding it. John Spellar MP and Simon Danczuk MP certainly spring to mind – but that is only because they are dim enough to be used by other members of the Parliamentary Labour Party.
               Our media, and our political parties really should be focussed instead on the civil wars taking place in Syria and Iraq. After all, they are about to debate and vote on sending British aircraft armed with British missiles to attack Daesh (I use Daesh in place of IS, ISIS or ISIL throughout) targets in Syria. This is an extension of the bombing runs that we are already taking part in in Iraq – at the request of their government who, for better or for worse, we are allied to.
               This is an unenviable task. The potential risks from either taking part or not taking part are huge. One of the true measures of leadership (whether in politics, business or life) is being able to take a decision based on imperfect information. I certainly don’t know what the answer is. It is almost impossible, in my opinion, to come up with a definite answer – i.e. one that you can promise is definitely the right thing to do. Of course, you wouldn’t think that looking at social media. I think it is probably worth trying to frame the questions that we think our politicians should ask themselves when coming to a decision. By the way, these are not questions that should be limited to Labour politicians – every MP of every hue should be challenging themselves in this. If they get it wrong history will not judge them kindly.
               So how do you decide on which course of action to take? My very humble opinion is that you need to ask yourself these two questions:
1.      Do I believe that extending  bombing against Daesh will degrade their ability to cause harm and suffering BEYOND the level of harm and suffering our bombing will cause AND beyond the level of risk (known and unknown) to our interests that this cause of action will create?
2.      Do I believe that bombing Daesh is the best course of action to achieve this when compared against the other possible courses of action that we can take to reduce their effectiveness?
Now, I am sure that other people would come up with different questions – and I absolutely accept that my questions are coloured by my own background and political persuasion. I am more than happy to have that debate, although our MPs are being forced into having this conversation in an unseemly rush so we may never have time.
               So asking the questions is really only the start of the process. Answering them is a much more difficult one. I do not believe that we have concrete answers to many of the parts of that question, and we can only base our decisions on what we know – whilst taking into account the possible risks of those bits of information we don’t know.
Will bombing Daesh degrade their ability to cause harm and suffering?
This is really a military answer. However, what harm and suffering do we hope to reduce? Is it the harm they are causing to the people of Syria? If that was our aim surely we would be bombing the forces of President Assad – after all he has caused much more harm and suffering to his own people. Is it that it will reduce their ability to cause harm and suffering to the UK and our interests? I think unfortunately we haven’t yet seen the evidence of this. How will dropping bombs on Raqqa reduce the risk of harm to the UK? We have been targeted numerous times we are told, and our security services have managed to stop seven attempts this year. But there has been no offer of evidence that these attacks were planned by IS in Syria. Clearly, we can not be privy to all available information in this area. But when even the Conservative Chair of the Defence Select Committee is not convinced, I see no reason for the rest of us to be convinced.
Will it be beyond the level of harm and suffering caused by our bombing?
               Apparently, we have the smartest munitions in the world. Our Brimstone missiles are so amazing they can fly into a HQ building, put bomb-proof blankets on any civilians there and THEN detonate killing only people marked as DAESH members based on DNA profiling performed by the missile. True story.          
There will be civilians deaths from our bombs. Of that there is no doubt. Anybody who does not believe this is ignoring all technical and historical evidence. Just a few short weeks ago the US military blew up a clinic being run by Medicins Sans Frontieres on Afghanistan. We can not rule out civilians being murdered by our bombs. It is that simple. So, given we can’t say that this will reduce the chance of British casualties, this “sum” is very much imbalanced in the other direction. Every man, woman and child murdered by our bombs will be a black mark against our country. Oddly though there COULD be an argument that using British pilots and British munitions would mean France, Germany, US and other partners fly fewer sorties and drop fewer bombs. Perversely from this argument, our involvement could lead to fewer civilian deaths overall – it will simply be that some of them will come from British bombs instead of other countries.
What level of risk will our bombing create / mitigate?
               This is really the hardest thing to grasp for many people. We are much more prepared to deal in certainties. However, the key risks that are being mentioned are: That by bombing we will increase the likelihood of a terrorist attack and radicalisation; secondly that if we fail to bomb we will lose our place in terms of world standing.
               Firstly, I do not see any evidence that individual actions will increase the likelihood of an attack on the UK. Young people who are radicalised become that way because of a complex mix of factors – social, educational, family, quasi-religious etc. Individual actions that we take will not change that. The issues come from not challenging the underlying core of what allows a bredding ground for radicalisation. We must remember that the biggest terrorist attack in the UK in the name of Islam came from people born and raised in the UK. Similarly with the Paris attacks. There particularly ideology might have been shaped by others, but the process of making them susceptible to radicalisation started way before that. I am therefore not convinced by this being an actual risk.
               For the second risk, I find this a truly amazing argument. Whether it comes from the fact there is a UN mandate, or the fact that France has requested our support under a little known clause of the EU contribution, or our membership of NATO. There are a myriad of counter-examples. It is an incredibly spurious invented risk. China are a member of the security council, and have suffered their citizens being kidnapped and murdered by Daesh too. They are taking no part. When we attacked Iraq during the second gulf war, France played no part. It is a tired, and quite frankly irrational train of logic.
               So I think on the basis of those points taken in total, then there is no real case for bombing Syria. I think even those of us who have wavered and thought long and hard about this, when you consider the evidence that has been made available to us, AND then compare it to the evidence put before the Defence Select Committee, if even their chair is going to defy the Conservative whip and vote against this, we must reach the conclusion that bombing Syria is the wrong action to take. On that basis, we need to answer the second question – what action should we be taking?
               Well, there are a variety of areas that need to be really looked into. First of all, we need to degrade the capabilities of Daesh – this would require removing their funding (from interests in Turkey and Saudi Arabia), removing their access to arms, limiting their infrastructure, limiting their ability to carry out attacks in the UK. Whilst bombing may degrade their infrastructure, it does not impact the other 3. Quite simply, we need much stronger international controls on money flow and on arms exports. We also need a political settlement involving everyone including, as a novelty, Syria. In terms of removing the radicalisation of people in the UK, this requires funding for social housing and a range of other problems – many of which are being cut by the Conservative government. One of the key things that also reduce their ability to perform terrorist acts in this country and the police and security services. Thankfully the Tories have been forced into a U-turn on police cuts and have announced greater resources for security services.  We would be much better using the £200k cost of each Brimstone missile being poured into those efforts.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Every day is men's day

This blog is a week later than I wanted. I had hoped to put something out to coincide with International Men’s Day. Unfortunately we were overtaken by the terrible events across the world due to atrocities caused by people calling themselves followers of Islam. I am grateful I had time to wait, as it allowed International Men’s Day (IMD) to play out in the UK in all it’s technicolour ridiculousness. It’s an interesting idea, and unfortunately seems to have been hijacked by other agendas. Which is a real shame, because if we want real gender equality, then issues which affect either sex disproportionately need to be addressed.
                For a lot of people the basis of International Men’s Day may still be a mystery. It receives far less airtime and support than the day of the child or the UN Women’s Day. You can find the basic idea at and I am going to reproduce some of the material here.
“Objectives of International Men's Day include a focus on men's and boy's health, improving gender relations, promoting gender equality, and highlighting positive male role models. It is an occasion for men to celebrate their achievements and contributions, in particular their contributions to community, family, marriage, and child care while highlighting the discrimination against them.”
There is a lot in there, so for now I am only going to pick up on a single point. “Focus on men’s and boys’ health” – there are some really startling statistics on this, and in particular in the area of mental health in the UK.  If you are a man living in the UK you are 3 times more likely to kill yourself than a woman living there. 3 times. Clearly, anyone with compassion can see that this is a major issue that requires consideration and action. Depression, suicide and mental health issues affect 1 in 4 of us. The Labour Party has rightly stated that from now on in their consideration Mental Health will be seen as every bit as important as physical health services.
Which is why it surprised me that Jess Phillips (a Labour MP) chose to so snidely attack it in a free run in the Independent. To hear such openly crass and antagonistic language used by somebody who is recognised as a campaigner for sexual equality really surprised me. For example, the quote “Even a big, fat, thick feminazi like me” seems to suggest this is how she is seen. By whom – Philip Davies MP? By the organisers of IMD? Perhaps she should call out who called her this. If it is either of those two she is right to point it out and we should barrack them for it and demand an apology. Or is it, for want of a better word, arseholes? Those idiots who think Meninism is an excuse to issue rape threats in the name of meninism? We can’t possibly conclude that they are a true reflection of all meninists. After all, claiming they speak for meninism is akin to saying Daesh speaks for Islam. Both are positions nobody with sense can take.
In fairness to Jess Phillips, she recognises this is a problem and one that requires attention. What she doesn’t agree is that we need an International Men’s Day to tie it to. In fact, in her own words, “{Men}..Yes within your group things are tough for all sorts of reasons. None of them are because you are a man”. I understand the challenge – there might be a correlation between suicide rates and gender – but is there a causal link? Yes, there is. It has been quite clearly shown in research by CALM ( ) and the Samaritans that gender IS the big factor in this. Put simply, cultural pressures on men mean that they are less likely to recognise they are depressed until it is too late. So the basic crux of the argument put forward by Jess Phillips is fundamentally wrong. The reason that men commit suicide is because they are men.
So how can we challenge this? Well, the available evidence shows incredibly strongly that where we have a service directly focussed at reaching men to stop them committing suicide these services work. The problem is that this issue does not get the attention it requires. It is almost as if we need some form of action, some focal point, a single point in time to raise these issues to get more done about this. In short, we need an International Men’s Day to bring out these issues. Before the public spat between the two politicians and the host of events which were cancelled because of complaints by some feminist groups, how many people even knew this was an issue?
I really think there is a danger when women who are rightly recognised as equality campaigners turn their back on attempts to raise issues like this through support for a real meninist cause. Yes, it brought out the usual nutjobs who took to social media to threaten rape and over disgusting acts. But failing to engage with men who really believe there is work to be done on gender equality because of these idiots is as short-sighted as the thugs on the street who abuse Muslims because of the terror attacks on Paris. I feel passionately about gender equality. I want my two daughters to grow up in a world where we truly have that. Whilst progress has been made it has now become painfully slow – and that is just taking a UK-centric view. But my view on equality is “to each according to their needs” (see I managed to sneak in a bit of socialism). And I know a little something about depression – I have 3 failed suicide bids behind me (see, I can’t even live up to the male ideal of just bloody getting on with it) and enough therapy sessions to surely have earned something on my rewards card by now. So I would challenge feminists out there to help the real meninists by joining our cause – and taking it out of the hands of the few who are sneering idiots. We really need you. After all, surely for gender equality to truly exist the other half of the saying needs to be true “from each according to their ability”.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Why we must not lose our humanity

            This is far and away the toughest blog to write so far, and so it should be as it covers a horrific cowardly attack by a bunch of terrorists on innocent victims – 132 of whom (so far) lost their lives on Friday. There should be nobody who does not realise the importance of this or why it matters. The fact that it happened in a capital city of Europe has (rightly or wrongly) intensified the interests of both the mainstream and social British media. It has also allowed those of us who have not been directly impacted to see the best and worst of humanity through that distorting lens of social media.
               There are so many different aspects of this heinous crime it is really hard to button down all of them. Whether that is to look at the responses of national and international political figures, or understand why this has had so much more coverage than similar attacks perpetrated in non-European countries such as Lebanon, Kenya and Pakistan. We could even look at the impact that this has had on the grand coalition that is potentially forming now that Russia believe that the terrible bringing down of a passenger plane on the Sinai was perpetrated by IS. I do not doubt some of these things will pop up in future blogs. Certainly, there is a much wider question of what do we do to stop these attacks in the future.
               For now though, I want to focus in on one area alone. That is the attempted use of this tragedy by the right wing to close European borders to immigrants. I have tried to argue this is the wrong response, and for my troubles on social media I have so far been unfriended, called a coward / leftie w**ker / terrorist sympathiser / bad father (I will come on to that one). I have been told to f**k off to Syria and threatened with physical violence. Remember, this is not for cheering on the psychopaths, this is not for mocking the dead. This is for saying that we should not turn away refugees. Oh, and these are not from general members of the public. My statuses can only be seen by friends. That is incredible and terrifying. Now, many of my mates are forces / services and so a certain amount of robust banter should be expected, but those are still some very extremist views to me holding a different opinion.
               This is a blog, and I am not a journalist. Even if I was, it is impossible to get all of the details right. As we are only a few days after the events the police are still trying to piece together what happened. What there seems to be agreement on / known factors now are this – a bunch of a*seholes claiming to be part of the Muslim faith used marauding attacks on suburbs in Paris to attack places where normal Parisiens were out to enjoy themselves on a Friday night. None of the attackers have yet been identified as refugees. This might change – it is early days, but so far the evidence points to this being home-grown terrorist activity.
               It is curious then that as early as Saturday morning (less than 12 hours after the attack) the rallying cry went up from a rainbow alliance of the racists, nationalists, right wing and those who didn’t understand the situation that we should close our borders to refugees. I would suggest that, and this is only a suggestion, I would suggest that if before we knew “anything about the attacks, or who carried them out, or why,” You were calling to close our borders to refugees – you were probably just waiting for an excuse to call for that.
               Let’s consider some of the arguments that have been put forward for closing our borders to refugees, and some possible responses to them.
               The central tenets of the right wing argument are constructed something along the following lines. It tends to change as you argue against each point:
1.      This terror attack proves that refugees are a threat to us – look what they have done in Paris.
2.      If we allow refugees in to Europe, terrorists will use this route in order to enter Europe and attack us.
3.      Much better to keep these refugees in the Middle East and let them sort out their own problems.
4.      We have won our freedom from terrorism and tyranny – why should we import their war?
5.      How would you feel if the next attack killed your child / grandchild – I won’t let that happen to mine.
6.      If you do agree with refugees coming in, then you are as good as risking my children – and therefore you are as bad as the terrorists themselves. (5&6 together are used to question your parenting)
Some counter arguments to this:

Evidence based – None of the terrorists involved in this attack were refugees. NONE. Not one of them. Not a single one of them. Each and every one of them had an EU passport – and could therefore travel freely anyway. As a fundamental basis for your argument, this is a pretty important point. So far, none of the evidence points to this being an attack carried out by refugees. Further, the mastermind behind the attack is believed to be a Belgian, and those that supported the attack appear to be French and Belgian.
Now, that does not counter the 2nd argument above, that if we allow refugees in, terrorists will use this as a route into Europe. Whilst this hasn’t happened, there is a risk. That is why it is important to ensure that we have a proven route to allow refugees in directly from the refugee camps. This should allow us to check backgrounds and has the added bonus of stopping the vile hideous people smugglers that prey on refugees. This isn’t fool-proof and there could still be terrorists that get through. But we would have a record of those people coming in, and they would find it harder to bring in materiel and money for terrorist attacks that way. In order to do this though we need to SPEED UP the process to get people out of the camps and into Europe.

Goals based – What is it that IS want to do? This is tricky as their approach, goals and methodology do change and we have limited background to understand whether they mean what they say or what is disinformation. However, we have 3 conflicting reports from the organisation itself in their magazine Dabiq. Firstly, that they want to draw the West (ie non-muslim countries) into a ground war to bring about the end of days as prophesised. Secondly, that they want to attack those countries currently involved in bombing campaigns against Syrian targets. Thirdly, that they want to break down links between European and Muslim countries so that we take no more refugees, and those we leave over there become part of the IS caliphate with nowhere to run and a seething resentment of the West for turning their back on them.
So, if we believe their third claim then to stop accepting refugees we are actually giving IS what they want. We are helping them to achieve their goals. By refusing refugees we are actively acting as a recruiting sergeant for the very terrorists we are trying to stop. Additionally, if there are more non-IS muslims stuck in the warzone our airstrikes are more likely to hit them. Creating more death, more pain and ultimately a bigger problem to resolve than it already is. I personally think those arguments really cover off right wing arguments 1,2 and 3 above. 

Historical based - For most of us, we don't profess to live in history. For some, they can feel empathy with what it is like for others in other times. I personally can't feel empathy. I can understand on a logical level what those people must necessarily have felt, but I can't feel it myself. Wont go in to the arguments why (although my wife tells me I am a l-o-o-o-o-ng way down the spectrum). But I can imagine this. 
Imagine being stuck, in a corner of a continent surrounded by war. You never wanted to be here. You never wanted to fight. You have a range of different powers around you. All are fighting - and none of them want what is best for you. You know what is best for you is to carry on with your day job - bake, teach, cook, look after others, raise a family. However, there is a so far unstoppable force ranged against you. They have you surrounded and cut off. You are getting some aid to feed you and your family. But only when it can get through - and that is hit and mess. They are as happy to blow up your food supplies as they are yo attack you. You have asked for help from the international community, but they wont help you - they'll send aid and guns but it's your war. It's not their job to get involved. You look around and can't see anyway to escape.
Thank fuck Japan bombed Pearl Harbour, or we would have never got the help we so desperately needed from the USA. We won our wars and our freedoms? Tell that to the Russian Army who suffered the most casualties of the Second World War. Or trying telling the British Colonies - who lost over 180,000 dead during the second world war to protect us. What arrogance - that we won our own freedom. We survived the second world war thanks to the British Empire (as it was) and only turned it around thanks to the US and Russia. Yet you want to turn your backs on other countries and the refugees of those countries?

Morality based – I don’t profess to being a great philosophical thinker. I will therefore hand over to a couple of people who have a lot to say on the basis of morality and humanity. Firstly, Jesus Christ (by the way, you don’t have to be a Christian to agree with somebody’s words – morally right is morally right).
Behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested him, saying, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" He said to him, "What is written in the law? How do you read it?" He answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, with all your mind, and your neighbour as yourself." He said to him, "You have answered correctly. Do this, and you will live." But he, desiring to justify himself, asked Jesus, "Who is my neighbour?"
Jesus answered, "A certain man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who both stripped him and beat him, and departed, leaving him half dead. By chance a certain priest was going down that way. When he saw him, he passed by on the other side. In the same way a Levite also, when he came to the place, and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he travelled, came where he was. When he saw him, he was moved with compassion, came to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. He set him on his own animal, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, and gave them to the host, and said to him, 'Take care of him. Whatever you spend beyond that, I will repay you when I return.' Now which of these three do you think seemed to be a neighbour to him who fell among the robbers?" He said, "He who showed mercy on him." Then Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."
Luke 10: 25-37
Now, I understand that Jesus isn’t to everyone’s taste, so when Rev. Martin Luther King was repeating this story, he added:
And you know, it's possible that the priest and the Levite looked over that man on the ground and wondered if the robbers were still around. Or it's possible that they felt that the man on the ground was merely faking, and he was acting like he had been robbed and hurt in order to seize them over there, lure them there for quick and easy seizure. And so the first question that the priest asked, the first question that the Levite asked was, "If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?" But then the Good Samaritan came by, and he reversed the question: "If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?" (He gave this thought in his famous "I've been to the mountaintop"speech - just one day before the was murdered).
I am not going to add any more to this really, but I think this comes down to what sort of human you want to be and what sort of world you want to both create and live in. One which is coloured by fear and hatred, or one which is coloured by love and hope. 
Sadly, the right wing argument continues that if you don't want to live in the one built on hate and fear you are a bad parent and a terrorist sympathiser. The question I have been asked twice by people on the right is "How would you feel if it was your child?". I don't know. I can't answer that. Nobody possibly can. However, I would hope that I would feel the way that Antoine Leiris did at the loss of his wife. As one of the victims of this horrible attack, I think he should have the last words.
Friday night, you took an exceptional life — the love of my life, the mother of my son — but you will not have my hatred. I don’t know who you are and I don’t want to know, you are dead souls. If this God, for whom you kill blindly, made us in his image, every bullet in the body of my wife would have been one more wound in his heart.
So, no, I will not grant you the gift of my hatred. You’re asking for it, but responding to hatred with anger is falling victim to the same ignorance that has made you what you are. You want me to be scared, to view my countrymen with mistrust, to sacrifice my liberty for my security. You lost.
I saw her this morning. Finally, after nights and days of waiting. She was just as beautiful as when she left on Friday night, just as beautiful as when I fell hopelessly in love over 12 years ago. Of course I am devastated by this pain, I give you this little victory, but the pain will be short-lived. I know that she will be with us every day and that we will find ourselves again in this paradise of free love to which you have no access.
We are just two, my son and me, but we are stronger than all the armies in the world. I don’t have any more time to devote to you, I have to join Melvil who is waking up from his nap. He is barely 17-months-old. He will eat his meals as usual, and then we are going to play as usual, and for his whole life this little boy will threaten you by being happy and free. Because no, you will not have his hatred either.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

How to protect our pretty little women

                I originally hail from Hartlepool, a small town in the North East that I regularly go back to. My parents and family are still there. In fact, my fabulous and talented daughter is studying there at the Cleveland College of Arts and Design. But to be honest, not a huge amount that is newsworthy happens there. Imagine my surprise then when I came across this story making waves (it’s a coastal town, geddit) in the daily mirror.
               This poor headteacher is being pilloried for being in the vanguard of protecting her weak naïve charges from the clutches of those dastardly men and boys. Why, all she is doing is trying to protect their modesty. My God! Don’t these people know its 1915! Because apparently the last 100 years have not happened in the education system in Hartlepool. (I would also add, having suffered the fate of being a teenage boy in Hartlepool 20 years ago – very few girls in Hartlepool are weak and naïve – they were very much more in charge).
               Unfortunately for the the Headteacher, she almost certainly does have the best interests of her pupils at heart. She wants her pupils to go to a school and be free from harassment, judgement and potentially danger because of the simple fact that they are women. 2015. A headteacher feels that this is still needed in 2015. What is worse is that I can absolutely understand where she is coming from. She has identified the problem correctly, but in my opinion, she has identified the wrong solution. Harassing someone, judging them or putting them in danger is very rarely THEIR fault. It is the fault of the person doing it.
So what is the real problem? Well, surely a culture where women don’t feel safe wearing whatever they choose to is the problem of the society, not the individual? We have to start off with a basic unassailable fact – people find other people sexually attractive from around the age where there body decides they are becoming sexually aware. That is it. Can’t get away from that. It has been quite important to us – without it we would never have survived as a species. It is fundamentally important. Therefore, people will be drawn to look at your body – it is a biological imperative. However, this shouldn't lead to harassment, judging and assaults. Sadly it does.
This is a worldwide problem – and demands a worldwide conversation and response. Whether this is SlutWalks taking place in North America and Europe , demonstrations in India by female students in Delhi or various other acts and protests around the world, women and men are standing up to try and change this. What else can we do?
Next week sees the annual International Men's Day. This ties in with Universal Children's Day and International Women's Day. The aims of International Men's Day are to promote men's and boys' health, promote gender equality, improve gender relationships and highlight positive male role models and their importance. What can be more important to a man than to ensure that your sons and daughters understand the right and wrong way to treat other people? To role model behaviours that show respect for other people, for their lives and their choices in how they look?
Gender relations and the equality of genders will never, ever happen through women alone changing their behaviours and their actions. This change needs to come throughout society. And the discrimination on the basis of gender needs to be addressed in both directions. It must be with a large dollop of irony that International Women’s Day is supported by the UN, however International Men’s Day is not.
Please support International Men’s Day. If we truly want to work towards a world where men and women know how to show respect to each other and feel safe being themselves, then this change needs to come from all of us. Otherwise we will have another 100 years of the well-meaning trying to protect our pretty little women from themselves.

If you want to know more about International Men’s Day
About International Women’s Day

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Poppies, Patriotism and Perspective

November is an important month of the year for many people with an involvement or interest in the armed forces, as well as the wider community. The closest Sunday to the 11th November (Armistice Day) is Remembrance Sunday. This provides an opportunity for us to remember the dead and the survivors of past wars in Britain and around the world. Whilst there are many variations on a theme, this certainly holds for many European and Commonwealth countries. It is just a shame that the un-patriotic, pacifist, communist lick-spittle Jeremy Corbyn wants to ban this and urinate on the graves of the war dead.
               OK, well not really. But anyone reading the various “offerings” by right wing pressure groups, individuals on Facebook and even the mainstream media would believe this is the case. After all, it ties in with his plans to give the Falklands back to Argentina, move the Queen out of Buckingham Palace and turn it into an IRA memorial, all whilst turning over the Home Office to ISIS (if they are still called that this month) and Al-Qaeda to implement Sharia law on us. There will be a large proportion of not only the media and tories, but members of the public just watching for the leader of the opposition to get something wrong in the various ceremonies on Sunday.
               As a serving soldier I believe that both the act of remembrance and the funds raised by the Poppy Appeal are incredibly important. That is why it galls me so much that people of all hues are trying to politicise this. This includes the repulsive Britain First and EDL (who have been told NOT to use the Poppy symbol in their campaigns), the IRA sympathisers who attach wearing a poppy to actions in Northern Ireland and ignore everything else, and those people who measure how patriotic you are by how and where and when you wear your poppy / join in the national anthem / cheer on this weeks national sporting team as they channel headlong into disaster.
               Let’s have a look at what we call patriotism. Patriotism is generally accepted (other definitions exist) to be an emotional attachment to your country, based on aspects of shared culture, shared religion, shared political/historical events. So on that basis we can discount all of those who fought for us in wars who are non-christians – they don’t share our religion. Also, anyone who is the son or daughter of a migrant to this country – they haven’t been here long enough to share our culture. Certainly we should discount those French and Polish pilots who flew for us to save our country during the Battle of Britain – how can they have an “emotional attachment” to our country. Oh, and all of those celebs, business people and others who shout “if xxxxx party get in, I am leaving the country”. Come on, what sort of attachment is that? So we can discount them as patriots. Obviously anyone under 30 – they didn’t share the 80s and the major political and social changes in the country, so they can’t be patriotic.
               That’s the problem with shouting about patriotism or calling someone unpatriotic – it’s a thread that unravels far, far, far too quickly. By my reckoning we are probably down to about 60% of the population can rightly call themselves patriotic. Well, that should save too many people wearing and buying the red poppy. After all, that is the ultimate symbol of whether you are a true patriot.
               Actually, no. The Poppy has absolutely nothing, whatsoever, to do with patriotism. It never was the point and never has been the point. In fact, the poppy started in the US – so if it’s going to be claimed by anyone as a symbol for their national patriotism its theirs. If it is patriotism that the Poppy shows, it is being corrupted as it is used in Canada, Australia, the US, Ukraine and countless others. How can it be a symbol of emotional attachment to your country and so many other countries too? So maybe, it really does have nothing to do with Patriotism. All of those countries have services of remembrance too. Maybe we should avoid looking at who is and who isn’t wearing a poppy and what acts of remembrance they attend to work out if they are patriotic.
               These acts of remembrance and the wearing of poppies are identified by the Royal British Legion as “to commemorate the sacrifices of our Armed Forces and to show support to those still serving today”. That’s it. No tubthumping nationalism. No small minded militarism. Nothing to do with the Queen, the Flag or St George. The white poppy by the way, simply has the intention of remembering all casualties of war – whilst at the same time adding the hope that there are no more wars. That has always been the intention. Doesn’t sound so different to me. I do not know many serving soldiers who want there to be more wars. So maybe that is as good a way as any to show support to those still serving today.
               You know, the original derivation of patriot DOESN’T come from standing FOR your country, it comes from standing WITH your countrymen. So if you are standing ready, poised to villify one of your countrymen because he doesn’t attach the right level of importance to all of the same whistles and bells you do, may I make an honest request of you. That you consider whether you are truly involved in either an act of remembrance OR an act of patriotism? Because on Sunday I shall be parading in Prescot with one thing only on my mind – commemorating the sacrifice of others, showing support for those serving today and hoping there are no more wars. If that isn’t your perspective too, I would argue you are the one letting down those aims, not Jeremy Corbyn.
(I won’t normally do this, but you can give to the Royal British Legion for the good work it does at )

Monday, 2 November 2015

The biggest story you are not reading about this week

Ah, the difficult decision of what to talk about in my second ever blog. A very interesting week for me. Some obvious ones to discuss – obviously tax credits and the impact it may have on our longer terms governance arrangements through the house of lords? Perhaps responding to a challenge from a  very good (and too smart for my own good) friend of mine – why do we need Momentum and the Labour Party to both exist? The parlous state of the economy based on the latest growth figures?
               I have decided to go for one of the stories which has as far as I am concerned been massively under-reported this week. I don’t know whether this is because it has been pushed off the front pages by the Commons/Lords/Tax Credits debacle or whether because it has become so accepted that we have forgotten we need to do something about it. The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC – remember them?) today posted the results of research into the question of “Is Britain Fairer?”
               This is a really important question for all of us. Fairness and equality of opportunity affects everybody. There is no-one this should not matter to. This has always felt like something that has been at the heart of Labour politics, has been explicitly included in Liberal Democrat policies for a while, and is now even (if you can believe anything from their last conference) central to the Conservative parties plans for the future.
               The report paints a balanced picture of where we have improved as a country and where we still need to improve. But the stand out point for me is that the single biggest factor that impacts whether you do well at school or not is if your parents are poor. 130 years after school became compulsory in the UK. 70 years after the introduction of the Tripartite System and 50 years after Labour started dismantling it in favour of comprehensive education. We have had implementation of the market system (because as we know that fixes everything), grant-maintained, academies and free schools. And yet, still the biggest determinant of whether you will achieve through education is which social class your parents belong to. We have not moved on since the Newcastle Commission of the 19thCentury.
               Now it may be that I feel this acutely for personal reasons – maybe this didn’t hit the news because genuinely nobody gives a shit any more. But we really should. To use the report’s own figures – if you receive Free School Meals (which are taken as a proxy of poverty in the report) then your chances of success at GCSE level are 38%. If you don’t receive free school meals – your success rate is 65%. That is not quite, but not far away from double the chance of success. Why are there not riots in the street over this? This was a report produced by the EHRC because they have a statutory duty to report on it. What was the government response? An unelected official at the Department for Education spouted some kindly sounding drivel. Wonderful.
               150 years of making no progress in addressing the underlying unfairness in our society. 150 years of failing to address the fact that if you are born into a poor family you are more likely to die in poverty. What was the big idea of the last Labour government when it came to education? Academies and stuffing universities with slightly less able middle class kids. Brilliant – because what is holding us back is having Local Government involvement in setting educational priorities and standards and a lack of people with Media Studies degrees. The biggest change in this area recently has come from the Liberal Democrats (wait, is this somebody DARING to say something positive about the Lib Dems in the area of Education?). Their introduction of the pupil premium, and the focus of OFSTED on how this is spent is a real challenge to this ingrained lack of attainment. Money alone is not and will not be enough to fix this - but at least it is a start. 
As a country we should be embarrassed about this – we really should. As a socialist organisation we should be apoplectic with rage. I really hope that Lucy Powell MP, in Education is able to understand how important this is and that we have a plan for how the next government will do this differently. Certainly, it appears today that this certainly wouldn't have been a key focus of Tristram "We are the 1%" Hunt. I am avoiding putting down my feelings on his comments, and leave it to somebody else who is much better at being angry than I am. 
There is a real tragedy here. In my view, the quality of our education and the changes we can make to a child's level of aspiration and self-confidence are the best way to upset the status quo. 150 years ago we knew that. 50 years ago we knew that. It is bitterly disappointing that the party who seem to have had the biggest focus on this over the last 20 years is the Liberal Democrats whilst we let jokers like Hunt be shadow education secretary. Perhaps we really are destined to fight the same battles over and over for the rest of time. I have the greatest hope that Lucy Powell can prove me wrong. 

Monday, 26 October 2015

First Post - the influx of the "Far Left"

It’s hard to keep up with the figures, so by the time I publish this mine will be out of date. Variously, 20,000 people joined the Labour party directly after the election. Since Jeremy Corbyn, it has been reported that 150,000 have joined Labour – or it could be 200,000. Staggering numbers, meaning the total Labour party membership is now around 2 to 3 times that of the Conservatives if a total membership of 500,000 is correct. To put it another way, that is more members than people willing to admit they voted Lib Dem in 2010.
            A lot has been made about this growth, firstly by the right wing media of how this is a “left-wing” infiltration and take-over of the party. Where I live in Liverpool this has included dire threats of a return to the 80s “militant tendency” days. This probably hasn’t been helped by choosing the name Momentum. After all, 8 letters, begins with an M, it’s an obvious punt for the silly in the right wing press. Confusingly, a lot of Labour’s own MPs in the Parliamentary Labour Party have also expressed concerns – how they will be deselected and pushed out by these left wing joiners. Can anyone defend Simon Danczuk – a man complaining about the party with which he won his constituency, through their hard work, funding etc. now complaining that those members have the hubris to think they should have a right in asking him to represent their views?
            At this point, I should hold my hands up and be completely honest. I am one of those 200,000 (ish) people to have joined. Therefore I am sure you now know that I have been brought through student politics and protests, the trade union movement, have a grey beard and sandals and refer to everyone as “comrade”. Whilst working my way through a public sector job for the last 20 years I have made sure I am protected by being a shop steward and selling copies of the morning star. After all, the Daily Mail have plotted the new Old Labour party as attracting these Dave Spart caricatures – so it must be true.
            Actually, not much could be further from the truth. My new party colleagues (apologies, I am going to really struggle to start using the term comrades, and I hope you can forgive me for that) are probably going to be quite surprised to learn who I am. I am a 30something (not giving up vanity yet) white male, who is a husband and father of 3. I am also a property owner in a very well off, leafy corner of Liverpool – where I moved to with my wife so that my children could get to the Catholic school of her choice. I am a chartered accountant who works in financial services. Oh and if that wasn’t enough, I am also a serving member of the British Army. I believe in capitalism (with controls). I don’t believe in centralisation as always the best answer. I don’t believe in nationalisation as always the best answer. I don’t believe in reducing our military and the level of power we can project.
            If we are to believe the rubbish the mainstream media presents, then a lot of the Marxists and Trotskyites that I met at the first Momentum meeting I attended are right now choking on their warmed soya milk. After all, we are all members of the “loony left” aren’t we? And aren’t we fighting against the right wing of the left wing (I think, I always get confused on these debates). After all, we have frightened off Lord Grabiner and Lord Warner. Well, I say frightened off, it’s not as if they were still all that keen on attending the House of Lords. Lord Mandelson is hanging on in there for his business interests the good of the party.
            So, why the hell have I joined? Maybe out of guilt for becoming middle class? Anger from not having made it to the upper classes? Boredom or to try and destroy Momentum from within perhaps? Well, none of these really. It is because of humanity. I honestly do not believe there is any way that any human with an ounce of decency can continue to support the current Conservative attack on this country and its people. Whilst George Osborne has given tax breaks to the largest corporations and wealthiest families he has systematically attacked the disabled, the working poor and the public sector on which we ALL rely. There is no set of facts or arguments that can refute this view, no spin that can suggest anything else.
            Our way of life in Britain is being attacked. Not the way of life of “scroungers” or “immigrants”. Our way of life. All of us. We all rely on the NHS. We all rely on social services. We all rely on mental health services, on education, on the blue light services. All of these have been put to the torch and provided the fuel to stoke the engines of the wealth factories for the very rich. I have joined the Labour party because I have no choice. There will be no Britain left if this continues – not one we recognise and certainly not one we would want to live in.
            That is what makes watching this branding exercise of left wing and right wing so frustrating. Anyone who thinks their “wing” is the only one that cares or can deliver for the people of this country is wrong. And all the time the party is tied up responding to the complaints of Danczuk, Field, Warner, Grabiner and others is less time spent trying to wrest back power and protect those people who most need it. Call me what you want – left wing, right wing, centrist. No skin off my nose, just let us get on with the job.
The press are going to paint it their way to support their right wing media owners agenda. But we don’t have to. Stop worrying about wings – our policy ideas can’t fly without both anyway. And if you do now feel that this party no longer reflects your own views as an MP / councillor / representative, then have the integrity to move aside – or take your support with you. Because once you decide your view is more important than the democratic mandate that got you there, you are no longer fit to govern, and this has stopped being a calling and become paid employment. Because if we can’t turn this Momentum into something good for the people of this great country, we don’t deserve to continue either.