Wednesday, 21 June 2017

We have to move beyond ‘them and us’ and recognize there is just ‘us’.

There was something tragically inevitable about waking up on Monday morning to hear there had been another ‘terrorist incident’ in London. This time the victims were worshippers leaving a mosque in Finsbury Park after evening prayers mown down by a van driven by Cardiff born Darren Osborne, different community; the misery and mayhem is the same.

The authorities were right to describe his actions as a terrorist attack instead of speculating about his mental state or falling back on describing him as a ‘loner’. Unfortunately that he was able to commit the crime at all shows how the already flawed PREVENT program ignores white extremism.

This is due to a number of factors coming together to make a combination of miscalculations with toxic consequences.

For years, experts have warned about the steady rise of right wing extremism, particularly in white working class communities that feel themselves to have been marginalized. The myopic focus of PREVENT on Islamic radicalization and its clumsy attempts to address the problem, most of which seem to have created more trouble than they solved, has pushed everything else to the sidelines.

Meanwhile in communities that feel they have been forgotten the insidious voice of extremism with its reassuring, though false, explanation that for every problem there’s a scapegoat has been quietly gaining ground.

Supporting Brexit does not automatically equate to endorsing right wing politics, let alone extremism, but how the leave campaign was run legitimized many of the tactics extremists use. It portrayed an image of plucky Britain being kept down by an expansionist EU, never mind the fact that we have gained more from Europe than it took form us, fear won the day.

The rhetoric that ‘they’ are out to get ‘us’, to turn our green and pleasant land into a client state of some larger empire can and is easily expropriated by extremists with an axe to grind and a desire for power without responsibility. There is a tragic irony that the concerns of the likes of Darren Osborne and the people they have been brainwashed into thinking are ‘other’ and therefore dangerous, lack of jobs and housing a gnawing feeling that they have no control over how and how fast the world around them is changing, are marked by their similarity.

The finger of blame must also point to what might be called the ‘metropolitan elite’, be they nominally on the left or right politically. They are profoundly uncomfortable with anyone from outside the, metaphorically, gated community they inhabit.

If they think about right wing extremists at all, they do so in terms of shaven headed stereotypes with tattooed knuckles and single figure reading ages. People like that might talk about fighting in the streets, but they lack the organizational ability to take action. It is a viewpoint similar in its complacency to that their great grandparents might have held regarding whether or not those funny little Japanese soldiers could capture Singapore; we all know how that ended.

The truth is that it is astonishingly easy to be an effective terrorist. All you really need is a van, some simplistic ideas about who is to blame for your misfortunes and a feeling that nothing you can do will ever put them right.

The one positive that can be drawn from the attacks in Manchester, London and elsewhere is that when the worst happened it brought out the best in ordinary Britons. Presented with a need to help others people filled whole warehouses with food and clothing donated for fire victims in a matter of hours, taxi drivers switched off their meters to take frightened teenagers home when a concert ended in bloodshed.

That sends a powerful message to the people, whatever cause they pretend to do so in the name of, who want to attain power by fostering division. As the late Jo Cox, herself a victim of extremism put it there is more that unites us than keeps us apart.

Whatever horrors we face, and there are likely to be more on the way however much money we spend on security, if we want to be safe we have to understand there is no ‘them and us’; there’s just us.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Security tops the agenda as voters meet the candidates in Stoke South.

“Stoke has always been Labour,” I’m sitting in the back row of Fenton’s Temple Street Methodist church as it starts to fill up ahead of the Stoke South election hustings. The man speaking to me is middle aged and makes his assertion with an innocence that is at once genuine and incongruous.

There are four candidates contesting the seat, Jack Brereton (Conservative), Rob Flello (Labour), Ian Wilkes (Liberal Democrat) and Jan Zablocki (Green Party). Rob Flello is the sitting MP and judging by the crowd he’s going to have home advantage tonight.

Almost everyone seems to know everyone else, most are middle aged or older, there are a few younger people, possibly Labour students from nearby Keele University and one man with a fussily trimmed beard wearing a t-shirt with Corbyn written on it in the style of an old fashioned Coca-Cola advert. I’m not sure he gets the irony implicit in the least spun politician in recent British political history having his name turned into a nifty piece of branding.

A broadly ‘old Labour’ crowd then, salt of the earth for sure, but inclined maybe to accepting the familiar because it does what they expect it to, a reasonable approach if experience has taught you that change is seldom kind, but it can and dose stifle originality.

In their opening statements the four candidates lay out their ‘vision’ for the next four years.

Jack Brereton trades on his record as a local councilor, particularly in bringing jobs to a city that has lost many of its traditional industries. He also takes a dig at Labour over the costly Smithfield development in the city centre, old news by now and rather a cheap shot. His vocal style is dull and he favours piling up the facts to turning on the passion tap, anyone playing b******t bingo would have been disappointed because the used the phrase ‘strong and stable’ in almost his first sentence.

Rob Flello, also plays on his track record, in parliament this time highlighting his work to defend Trentham High School from closure and in improving the city’s roads. He says that he is a campaigner who ‘never gives in’ and praises Jeremy Corbyn’s little red book as being ‘brilliant’. This gets him a round of applause from a home crowd who have, it seems, forgotten that his loyalty to the leadership hasn’t always been so clear, some might say there’s a touch of expediency about it now.

“How do you follow that”, says Lib Dem Ian Wilkes when the applause dies down. Not all that well it seems. Wilkes is the only candidate to admit he hasn’t got a chance of winning, but however slender his chances he makes a sensible point about the need to regenerate all six towns.

Jan Zablocki also recognizes the uphill task his party faces in shifting votes away from Labour, but says he represents ‘change’ and that that is something badly needed in local and national politics. He speaks of the Green’s opposition to the privatization by stealth of the NHS, cuts to school budgets and the need to talk openly about the direction our society is taking. This wins him some applause that is genuine rather than merely polite.

Given the events of the weekend just gone security issues are the main feature of questions from the floor. All four candidates give variations on the theme that terrorism can never be allowed to win, all well and good. It is when we get down to specifics that things get interesting.

Brereton promises more spooks for MI5 and MI6 to tackle terrorism, useful no doubt but what about the extra police on the streets needed to make the public feel safe. Labour and the Lib Dems back spending more on community policing, as do the Greens. Asked about how we tackle homegrown terrorism Jan Zablocki calls for the government’s flawed Prevent program to be replaced with something that builds community cohesion and that addresses the social divisions driving radicalization.

Asked about arms sales to Saudi Arabia and other repressive regimes Brereton talks about the need to preserve jobs in the arms industry, seemingly at any cost, losing the crows at a stroke. He then finds a way to jam the other foot into his mouth too by attacking Jeremy’s Corbyn’s, allegedly friendly approach to terrorists in general, letting Flello get the biggest round of applause of the night by countering with the claim that he’s ‘a man of peace.’ Quite so, but not always one who picks his friends wisely.

Asked about the benefits system both Flello and Zablocki spoke with real passion about the work they had done to help people unfairly hit by sanctions as, respectively, an MP and a lifelong trade’s unionist. Brereton mumbled something rehearsed about more people being in work and the need to improve skills, before being taken to task by a heckler for not answering the question.

Judging the evening as a whole Rob Flello played well to a friendly crowd, speaking at times with real passion about helping local people. Jan Zablocki also spoke with real passion and making a connection with the audience that may not win him the seat but certainly raised the profile of his party. Ian Wilkes came across as a nice enough chap, I wouldn’t necessarily want him as my MP, but if I sat next to him on the bus I wouldn’t move or get off at the next stop however far away from home I was, and there aren’t many politicians about whom you can say that. Jack Brereton had a shocker of an evening, his contributions producing either awkward silences of howls of derision. In the space of a couple of hours he went from party golden boy to disappointing also ran; politics can be cruel like that.

My friend from the start of the meeting was right, Stoke South has always been Labour, they might have to count rather than weigh the votes these days, but on tonight’s showing that is still true. With the Greens making a strong showing and Labour, for all the sham loyalty of the parliamentary party to a surprisingly popular Jeremy Corbyn, still riven by divisions that might not always the case.

Monday, 5 June 2017

The public must challenge prospective MPs over their view on the hunting ban.

Tonight, like many people across the country as the general election enters its final furlong, I will be attending a local hustings. Unlike most I am in the position of also having over the past few weeks taken part as a candidate in similar events.

Sadly on no occasion was I asked about one of the most important issues, the promise made by Prime Minister Theresa May to hold a free vote on the repeal of the ban on fox hunting.

Since the introduction of the Hunting Act (2004) it has saved the lives of 10000 animals, had the act been properly enforced the figure since would be closer to 2.8 million. Sadly since the act came into force in 2005 there have been only 378 convictions, out of these just 24 were of people associated with official hunts, most of the others were for offences such as poaching.

Even more worrying the police have shown a marked reluctance to investigate possible hunting related offences, something they have been criticized for by animal rights charities including the League Against Cruel Sports on a number of occasions.

The Tories have form when it comes to trying to overturn the hunting ban, it was included as a promise in their 2010 and 2015 manifestos, only having to enter into coalition with the Liberal Democrats and winning with a small majority respectively stayed their hands.

In 2015 then Prime Minister David Cameron was reported by the Daily Mail as saying he believed in people having the ‘freedom to hunt’ and that the ban had ‘done nothing for animal welfare.’ Hardly the sort of sentiments you’d associate with someone who hugs huskies and had a windmill on the roof of his London home.

The current incumbent of Downing Street hasn’t been backward in coming forward about her support for hunting either, in a speech given in Leeds and reported by the Daily Telegraph she said she had ‘always been in favour of fox hunting’.

Figures produced by the League Against Cruel Sports show that repealing the ban on fox hunting isn’t a populist vote winner, 84% of the people polled said they opposed fox hunting and would support candidates who felt the same way.

So why have the Tories decided that repealing the ban is a priority? Two reasons spring to mind.

The first is overwhelming arrogance, they believe that the concerns, founded on fact and compassion about the place of such a barbaric practice in a modern society to be irrelevant. Secondly they are making a naked play for the support of an establishment that still holds a disproportionate amount of power and wealth.

If asked the question I can state clearly that if elected I would vote against any attempt to repeal the ban on fox hunting and will support any lawful campaign to keep it in place.

The reason why was expressed in a quote from a spokesperson for the RSPCA, also used by the Daily Telegraph in the article where Mrs. May spoke of her support for hunting. He said ‘repealing the hunting act would not only mean a return to cruelty but it would fly in the face of the opinion of the majority of the general public.’

As a candidate I respect the opinions of the voting public on this important issue and expect others who seek election to do likewise.

Adam Colclough is the Green Party candidate for Stoke-on-Trent Central