openDemocracy https://www.opendemocracy.net/ en David Cameron is a bigger threat to “British Values” than ISIS https://www.opendemocracy.net/alastair-sloan/david-cameron-is-bigger-threat-to-%E2%80%9Cbritish-values%E2%80%9D-than-isis <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The British government's clampdown on civil liberties is an assault on our way of life.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p>Just a week in government and Cameron reprised his favoured rhetorical inanity: “British Values.”<br /><br />His plot; to protect vaguely defined British Values by eroding British Civil Liberties. It was telling that Home Secretary Theresa May failed to exactly define what British Values might be when quizzed on BBC Radio 4's Today Programme, on the morning her newly elected government announced they would be toughening policies aimed at stamping out “domestic extremism.”<br /><br />For “domestic” - you can probably read “terrorist-sympathising,” “conservative or orthodox Muslim,” as well as “moderate Islamist,”; for all will likely fall foul of these new policies. Not to mention, at a possible future date, trade unionists, environmental activists or anti-austerity protesters. Who knows? The legislation is being left, perhaps deliberately, wide open.<br /><br />Justice Potter Stuart's rational technique, in the 1964 American legal case Jacobellis v. Ohio, is useful in understanding “British Values.” He was praised at the time as “realistic and gallant” for judging simply “<a href="http://blogs.wsj.com/law/2007/09/27/the-origins-of-justice-stewarts-i-know-it-when-i-see-it/">I know it when I see it</a>.” He was ruling on whether a film was “obscene” or not.<br /><br />Fast forward half a century - “For too long, we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens, as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone,” says Prime Minsiter David Cameron on his new anti-extremism legislation.<br /><br />As long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone. That sounds deeply ominous, by the “I Know It When I See It” indicator.<br /><br />The Twitter hive mind thought so too. On the same day Cameron announced <a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/britain-is-too-tolerant-and-should-interfere-more-in-peoples-lives-says-david-cameron-10246517.html">this highly concerning</a> tilt to Orwell-ism, thousands tweeted a sarky meme. </p><blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p dir="ltr" lang="en">What David Cameron said actually seems perfectly reasonable if you're a comic book supervillain. <a href="http://t.co/EHWIDq7k5F">pic.twitter.com/EHWIDq7k5F</a></p>— Brigonos Chomhgaill (@BrigonChomhgail) <a href="https://twitter.com/BrigonChomhgail/status/598828273452326912">May 14, 2015</a></blockquote> <script charset="utf-8"></script><p>Scrapping the Human Right Act, as the Conservatives just proposed, is another “I Know It When I See It” breach of “British Values.”<br /><br />The Conservatives put this in their party manifesto, and as the majority party in theory have a democratic mandate to implement it under our current voting system.<br /><br />Yet, as The Independent shows in this <a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/human-rights-act-the-myths-and-conjecture-surrounding-the-law-the-tories-hate-the-most-10253555.html">recommended video explainer</a>, the policy to scrap was built on a web of lies, misinformation and media manipulation.<br /><br />As the well-informed blog of law firm <a href="http://ukhumanrightsblog.com/2012/01/12/uk-loses-3-out-of-4-european-human-rights-cases-more-like-1-in-50-actually/">One Crown Office Row</a> additionally points out, since 1966, 97% of British cases taken to Strasbourg were deemed inadmissible, owing to exceptionally strict admissions criteria. Overall, Strasbourg takes on just thirty British cases per year. As the lawyers assessed it; “hardly a court which is mounting a “relentless attack” on British laws.”<br /><br />Newly appointed Justice Secretary Michael Gove will be responsible for pushing the Bill through Parliament. He is already facing <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/law/2015/may/15/eurosceptic-david-davis-could-oppose-government-on-human-rights-reform">a minor party rebellion</a> over the issue, led by righteous trouble-maker David Davis MP. Given Gove's doubtful rallying abilities as Chief Whip during his pre-election and post-Education Secretary purgatory – it remains to be seen whether he can, as Justice Secretary, summon the influence to push the Bill through. Already, Cameron has announced that the Bill will now be preceded by a public "consultation."<br /><br />If the Bill does it make to the vote - Gove can at least count on the the bull-in-a-china-shop boors of the Eurosceptic Tory Right to throw their support behind him. They will ignore that the European Convention on Human Rights is entirely unrelated to the European Union, pre-dating it by decades. They will mislead swing UKIP-ers and outlying Conservative voters who think the two are related.<br /><br />Particularly vocal and eloquent Eurosceptic MPs might even hit the jackpot. Well spoken advocacy of scrapping the Human Rights Act could net them folk hero status within the cultish Right – a phenomenon proven by the rousing anti-European speeches of personalities Nigel Farage, Daniel Hannan and Douglas Carswell.<br /><br />Their YouTube rhetoric netted them huge political capital within their core vote. All this potential provides a significant personal incentive for alienated Tory MPs to bark loudly about how the ECHR protects terrorists and paedophiles – the standard dog whistles of the anti-civil liberties crowd.<br /><br />The government has no intention to substantively change the contents of the human rights protections British citizens have enjoyed since the Second World War. Don't expect the state-controlled media of repressive regimes around the world to report this nuance though. Britain's withdrawal from the ECHR will be used to justify the actions of horrible dictators, oppressive monarchies and terrorising political systems who tell their publics that human rights are now a discredited concept of the West, and that their citizens should stop appealing for them.<br /><br />Scrapping the Human Rights Act would also represent a fundamental change to the legal landscape of Europe, by rejecting a court which has played an important role in making the Continent peaceful for over half a century. It will send a mixed message to those European Union neighbours who may be tempted to join, but need to work on their own human rights records first.<br /><br />Michael Gove and Employment Minister Priti Patel's appointment to the government's first Cabinet also presents a worrying expression of “British Values.” While a Times columnist and admittedly nearly two decades ago, Gove argued that hanging should be re-introduced to the British legal system. This is expressively forbidden in the ECHR. Priti Patel presented her own thoughts on capital punishment on BBC Question Time in 2011 – arguing like Gove that killing people who kill people could act as a “deterrent.”<br /><br />(American states which don't enforce the death penalty are <a href="http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/deterrence-states-without-death-penalty-have-had-consistently-lower-murder-rates">just as dangerous</a> as states which do. Nine in ten American <a href="http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/study-88-criminologists-do-not-believe-death-penalty-effective-deterrent">criminologists surveyed</a> believe scrapping the death penalty would have no impact on state homicide rates, nor does, in their experience of speaking to criminals on a frequent basis for most of their professional lives – it act as any sort of actual deterrent.)<br /><br />Neither <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Gove">Michael Gove</a> nor <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Priti_Patel">Priti Patel</a> have worked a day in the justice sector or a day outside of the Westminster bubble, so perhaps we can forgive them for their ideological, rather than practical, views on crime reduction. Perhaps Patel's previous work as a <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/may/03/tory-cigarette-packaging-rebel-tobacco-lobbyist?commentpage=1">tobacco lobbyist</a> has accustomed her to dealing out death sentences en masse. Shortly after her new Ministerial appointment, Patel appeared on Sky News and <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2015/05/13/employment-minister-priti-patel-refuse-to-say-if-she-supports-the-death-penalty_n_7272566.html">cack-handedly</a>, suspiciously and dismissively refused to disclose whether her views on the death penalty had changed.<br /><br />Meanwhile re-appointed Home Secretary Theresa May ecstatically rushed to write a press release after the polls closed, proclaiming that; unshackled by the balancing forces of a Lib-Con Coalition, she would be resurrecting the “Snoopers Charter.” This was one of the Liberal Democrats finer moments in government; undermining a vote on a highly invasive and very un-British Values piece of legislation, which would bring millions of citizens' personal communications within grasp of unaccountable security and intelligence services. The Snoopers Charter could be enacted by the new government as the evidence remains <a href="http://motherboard.vice.com/blog/youll-never-guess-how-many-terrorist-plots-the-nsas-domestic-spy-program-has-foiled">patchy</a> on whether such mass surveillance techniques even stop terrorist attacks.<br /><br />&nbsp;May has since been called out for proposing major changes to OFCOM's role. Added to their remit – May <a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/tv/news/theresa-may-accused-of-seeking-to-introduce-state-censorship-of-the-media-by-cabinet-colleague-10268697.html">proposes</a> the regulator be given pre-broadcast powers to prevent “extremist content” being put on air in the first place. According even to <a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/tv/news/theresa-may-accused-of-seeking-to-introduce-state-censorship-of-the-media-by-cabinet-colleague-10268697.html">Conservative Cabinet Minister Sajid Javid</a>, this introduces a state-controlled “censor” more commonly associated with extremist “regimes.”<br /><br />Why do the Conservatives want to “get tough”? A mixture of ideological and self-serving political reasons, probably. The public reason is the Islamic State – a timely reminder that people across the world are threatened, to lesser and greater degrees, by state and sub-state actors disdainful of human rights for ordinary people.<br /><br />The new “anti-extremism” measures in particular, which are tacitly targeted at the long-suffering British Muslim community - have been hyperbolically presented as a preventative measure for the radical Islamists taking over the UK.<br /><br />To prevent what? The only ISIS flag I've seen flying above a Western capital is a puerile fantasy cooked up in the imagination of an ISIS follower. There aren't heavily armed ISIS militants in the street fighting it out to take over Whitehall. Cameron says we must fight to stop ISIS “undermining democracy” and “disrupting the democratic process.”<br />&nbsp;<br />Having just been elected as part of a democratic process around which political violence was conspicuously absent, instead of ISIS death squads we are enjoying a genteel post-election debate about whether something other than the first-past-the-post system would be more appropriate – a debate so technical and boring that half the electorate aren't listening. Try going to the post-election riots in Kenya in 2007-2008. That was what democracy under threat looks like.<br /> <br /><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="https://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/sm5GR34-Xx0v9PaUpuYg11HG01zjhnsKaMHMvtqOc_M/mtime:1432726169/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/maxresdefault_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="https://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/QdZglo5fRvScNYhog1tmWG8k1BpHJ0Tr9_bW8rrN3-c/mtime:1432726041/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/maxresdefault_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span><br /><br />That said, a small crowd of anti-austerity protesters did recently riot <a href="http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3074951/Socialist-siege-Downing-Street-Hard-left-activists-clash-police-following-David-Cameron-s-triumphant-return-Number-10.html">outside Number Ten</a>, at least in the eyes of the enthusiastically arresting police officers. More large scale marches are planned. Perhaps when Cameron, May, Gove and others are thinking up this extremism legislation, it isn't just the Islamic State they are worried about, but balaclaved British activists.<br /><br /><a href="http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/mar/25/police-spied-on-labour-mps-whistleblower">It wouldn't be the first time</a> the British state had spied on and restricted political dissidents, even assigning undercover cops to <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2012/jan/20/undercover-police-children-activists">infiltrate their ranks</a>.<br /><br />Obviously – most of these radicals and annoyed people aren't in the business of deposing democracies though, like ISIS. Instead - they're in the business of deposing people like Cameron.<br /><br />The Conservative Party has also shown itself happy to sacrifice the British Muslim vote – the same British Muslims who will feel the brunt of Cameron's new “counter-extremism” policies. David Cameron personally attended Conservative campaign events at Hindu, Sikh, Jewish and Christian places of worship – but not a mosque.<br /><br />The Muslim-dodging <a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/the-4-charts-that-show-labour-may-be-losing-the-ethnic-minority-vote-10274051.html">strategy</a> was born out in the election results. 49% of both Hindus and Sikhs voted Conservative, compared with 41% who voted Labour. Before Election Day, The Jewish Chronicle released a poll showing nearly three quarters of British Jews would vote Conservative. Meanwhile 64% of British Muslims voted Labour, with just 25% voting Tory. In strategic terms - Cameron knows that continuing to pressure Muslim communities won't make much difference to his Party's electability next time round.<br /><br />ISIS chief Baku Bakr al-Baghdadi has just been confirmed alive, avoiding once again death-by-drone. But he's still having to dodge other equally capable drones, Iraqi and Western special forces, the Iraqi army, and President Bashar al-Assad. He has to deal with restless Sunni tribes, and manage his relationship with the Baathists, who according to a scoop <a href="http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/islamic-state-files-show-structure-of-islamist-terror-group-a-1029274.html">from Der Spiegel magazine</a>, are actually running the show.<br /><br />Al-Baghdadi has neither the time, the military or political resources, or the geographic proximity to co-ordinate and mount a sustained attack on Britain's democracy.<br /><br />Meanwhile Prime Minister David Cameron has a team of political advisers, a team of chauffeurs, a team of lawyers, a team of bodyguards, a team of cooks, a team of dry cleaners and the full legislative abilities of a majority government to implement his attacks on British Values.<br /><br />He can attack British Values almost at will - by scrapping the Human Rights Act, leaving the European Convention on Human Rights, appointing supporters of the death penalty to Cabinet, re-introducing the Snoopers Charter, introducing broadcasting censorship and persecuting British conservative Muslims, in a relaxed and assured manner.<br /><br />Yet given his government's collective inability to fully define British Values, he has left himself very open to criticism. The next few weeks are bound to see some controversial views aired by both sides, about whether the state should play Big Brother, hang people or leave the highly successful ECHR. Both sides in the debate have a probable chance of winning over the British people. The result will be brash political noise which will encourage opponents to be extremely vocal and increasingly combative in the media. <iframe src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/ppFgc-Hobw0?rel=0" frameborder="0" height="236" width="420"></iframe> </p><p><br /><br />Of course there remains the horrifying possibility of lone wolf attacks. But these are, tragically, to be expected – so long as Britain maintains its barbarically unjust relationship with the Middle East.<br /><br />It is inevitable given the current state of Islamism that some young men and women will continue to believe the propaganda of groups like Al Qaeda and the Islamic State; that the only way to fight back is to set up a medieval authoritarian state. I fail to follow the logic of beating back post-colonial over-reach with pseudo-Islamic totalitarianism, but sadly hundreds of Britons do. This narrative has been so successful that it has caused hundreds of young Britons to leave a genuine democracy, to live in a ridiculous caricature of a religious dictatorship, rife with danger, an unstable economy and with a violent war along every single one of its borders.<br /><br />Some of these self-proclaimed jihadists are the product of poor education, some are Arabs, Pakistanis, Yemenis or Afghans who have seen family members killed, and some are nasty criminals who are simply selling their thuggish services to ISIS, or looking for redemption. Few are truly religious – if they were they would know what they are doing is wrong. Some are vulnerable and have been psychologically exploited, some are truly evil people.<br /><br />But the fact that they travel to fight in another country in such numbers, the first time this has happened in Britain since the Thirties, is seriously concerning. Perhaps – underneath it all, the scale of the phenomenon may be because the jihadists have a point. They have entirely the wrong attitude about making that point – but their underlying grievance has some semblance of sense to it.<br /><br />Perhaps there should be a recalibration on our unconditional friendships with the Gulf states and Israel, the patronising curtailment of Iran's nuclear programme through punitive sanctions, the rash of Western invasions of Middle Eastern countries, the prolonged existence of Guantanamo Bay, perhaps we shouldn't have backed the murderous Shah in Iran from 1953 to 1979, or Assad, or Qaddafi, or Hussein, or Mubarak, or Ben Ali. Perhaps Tony Blair and George Bush should be put in front of a war crimes court.<br /><br />You also can't credibly blame terrorist aggression against the Western world as a product of an ideology - “Islamism.” This is the fetid logic of the Conservative Party – saying that “No, the terrorist threat can't possibly come from our own actions, it must come from outside!”<br /><br />Where did “Islamism” come from? It arose from decades of <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Muslim_Brotherhood_in_Egypt_%281928%E2%80%9338%29">Western colonialism</a> imposed by Western powers on people who weren't Western, and had probably never even visited the West, and probably never would. Yet they endured Western rule. If the European Court of Human Rights is apparently such a great threat to Britain's sovereignty – try living in a colony.<br /><br />In the West of today, with the colonial era disappearing from memory, David Cameron remains a bigger threat to British Values than ISIS is. That noisy debate I mentioned is about to happen – I hope you all join in.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourkingdom/adam-wagner/human-rights-why-should-i-care">Human rights, why should I care? Real life stories</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> OurKingdom Alastair Sloan Wed, 27 May 2015 12:50:28 +0000 Alastair Sloan 93134 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Kyrgyz LBGT attacked on International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia https://www.opendemocracy.net/georgina-rannard/kyrgyz-lbgt-attacked-on-international-day-against-homophobia-and-transphobia <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img style="line-height: 17.7272720336914px;" src="https://opendemocracy.net/files/u554750/Kalys%20image%20Bishkek.jpg" alt="Kalys image Bishkek.jpg" hspace="5" width="160" align="right" /></p><p>Ahead of elections this autumn, the political drama around LGBT rights in Kyrgyzstan hots up.</p><p>&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span>On Sunday 17 May, people across the world celebrated International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT). In Santiago, Chile 50,000 people marched in support of gay rights. In Bangkok, the city hall was lit up in rainbow colours. In the United States, activists celebrated a good year – one that included a Supreme Court case likely to strike down the States’ gay marriage bans – with awareness that progress is still to be made.</span></p><p><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tanya-cooper/making-may-17-count-in-russia">However, some celebrations did not go as planned</a>. In Bishkek, Kyrgyz activists for LGBT equality (including the organisations Kyrgyz Indigo and Labrys) began their day with a dinner and a mock gay wedding. By Sunday evening, activists were sitting in cells, having been detained after an attack by homophobic members of the ultra-conservative nationalist movements Kalys and Kyrk Choro. Their attackers walked freely around the police station.</p><h2>Biased justice</h2><p>The attacks appear to have been designed to target Kyrgyz LGBT groups for celebrating International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. Homosexuality is not illegal in the fledgling democracy, but social prejudice and state-sponsored violence against the LGBT community is endemic. </p><p>On the Saturday night, members of the radical movement Kalys, spurred by leader Zhenish Moldokmatov, gathered outside a restaurant in central Bishkek, hosting a dinner to raise money for a Kyrgyz Indigo safe house. In an effort to intimidate and forcibly ‘out’ LGBT activists, Kalys are believed to have photographed people leaving the building. </p><p>In the socially conservative country, being forcibly outed to family, friend and employers not only humiliates victims, but can also place them in serious danger. On the afternoon of 17 May, members of Kalys and another organization Kyrk Choro, broke into a mock gay wedding in Bishkek attended by about 30 Labrys activists.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="https://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/E7KoPgr2Pd_m0hcGaGfakVg8aHznt5MFN3HxmjC7Ir4/mtime:1432719901/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/554750/Kalys%20image%20Bishkek.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="339" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>May 17: Kalys and Kyrk Choro broke into LGBT organisations. Image via Labrys website.</span></span></span></p><p>Nurbek Qaibideen attended the wedding and he described what happened when the attackers broke in: ‘I got scared, I was hoping everything would end without violence. They managed to break the door and I went in the building and sat down in the chair just observing.<span>’</span></p><p><span>‘</span>They were aggressive, filming us. They were screaming, calling for hatred and killings, they were filming everybody.’ One woman was beaten during the confrontation. On Sunday evening, videos of the activists appeared on YouTube account ‘Azamat A’, with titles ‘Dispersal of the gays’ and ‘Kalys crushes the fags’.</p><p>Labrys organisers called the police, and both wedding guests and members of Kalys were taken to Pervomaiskoe police station. Labrys reported on their website that they were questioned and detained for more than five hours without access to water, food or medicine. </p><p>Amir, an activist, said via email: ‘When we were taken to the police station as witnesses, we were refused legal representation, suffered verbal and physical abuse, and some of us were instructed to reveal our genitalia to make sure exactly whether we are man or woman.’ The attackers were reportedly allowed to walk around the police station, and, unlike the activists, had access to food and water. </p><p>Nurbek Qaibideen was detained and described his experience: ‘The police were very homophobic. They were friendly with the members of the radical movement, but were totally aggressive with us. When we were released, I was glad that everything went with minimum injury, but was also demotivated realising that my state does not really protect me as a gay person. We were called names, the police officers were cussing at us, I had never been humiliated like that before just because of my identity.’ </p><p>Since the attacks, there are rumours that personal details of activists have been released to the homophobic attackers. True or not, rumours like this fuel feelings of isolation, marginalisation and fear that public attacks on LGBT people are intended to create.</p><p>Following the attacks, charges of hooliganism under Article 234 of the Criminal Code have been filed against members of Kalys, including the leader Zhenish Moldokmatov. Local media report that the police department is stating that it cannot comment on the incident and that the head of the police department is ‘on vacation’. </p><p>Although the sentence of hooliganism can carry a 5-year prison term, there is widespread scepticism that the charge is anything more than symbolic.</p><h2>LGBT rights in Kyrgyzstan</h2><p><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/arman-beisinbinov/%E2%80%98kiss-of-titans%E2%80%99-in-kazakhstan">The human rights situation for LGBT people living in Kyrgyzstan</a> has been deteriorating since a brief democratic opening in 2013. Legislation to ban expressions of ‘non-traditional’ sexual relations is currently making its way through the Kyrgyz Parliament, and public celebrations like IDAHOT will become criminal if the bill passes. </p><p>Ty Cobb, Director of Human Rights Campaign Global, commented on the attacks: ‘It's horrific to see this type of violence, but not surprising given the current political movement to marginalize the LGBT community in Kyrgyzstan with Russian-influenced legislation that silences advocates for equality. This should be a warning of what's to come if that legislation moves forward.’ </p><p>A post-Soviet Republic, Kyrgyzstan has been slower to build a strong state structure or diverse economy than neighbouring Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Ethnic tensions between the Kyrgyz majority and Uzbek minority led to a revolution in 2010 and the deaths of an estimated 2,000 people. Since 2010, the government has made commitments to protect human rights and build civil society, bolstered by international support and financing. </p><p>However, the Kyrgyz government and public remain strongly bound to Russia, both politically and economically. According to ICCO Cooperation Central Asia, remittances from migrant labourers in Russia constitute 32% of Kyrgyz GDP. As Russia’s human rights record deteriorates and political isolation increases, Kyrgyzstan has followed suit. It appears to be a matter of pride to not only mimic Russian developments, but to take them one step further.</p><p>In addition to geopolitical pressures on political and social development, the growth of conservative nationalist sentiment, dedicated to preserving ‘traditional’ Kyrgyz values and identity, has made being LGBTQ in Kyrgyzstan more dangerous. </p><p>The IDAHOT attacks were the latest in a series. In April 2015, Labrys offices were firebombed, and Member of Parliament Narynbek Malobaev said in an interview with MSNBC that, if he could, he would round up gay people to execute them in the public square in Bishkek. Cai Wilkinson, Senior Lecturer in International Relations at Deakin University, Australia told me that whilst not representative, Malobaev’s voice is not alone in a government increasingly concerned about the impact on national stability of a resurgence of virulent nationalism seeking to defend Kyrgyz identity from foreign influence. </p><p>Wilkinson sees this anti-Western nationalism as equally important to the persecution of minorities as the geo-political architecture of the region. A key goal of the movement to defend Kyrgyz values is to create public moral panic, and the mock gay wedding was a perfect opportunity for Kalys to make LGBT people appear threatening to traditional values. </p><p>The greater fear that nationalist movements generate, the more public and political support they can build for persecution.</p><h2>Political theatre</h2><p>The proposed law to ban ‘gay propaganda’ is the latest development at the nexus of Russian influence and Kyrgyz nationalism.&nbsp;<span>First proposed in 2014, the legislation is a more extreme version of the Russian discriminatory law passed in 2013. </span></p><p><span>If passed, the law will criminalise or sanction dissemination of information ‘aimed at forming positive attitudes toward non-traditional sexual relations’, including in print media, radio, television, public assemblies, and on the internet. The bill passed a first reading in parliament in February 2015. Kalys are now calling for an accelerated second and third reading of the bill.</span></p><p>Human Rights promoters and governments around the world have condemned the legislation, describing it as in direct contravention of the Kyrgyz Constitution and Geneva Conventions, of which Kyrgyzstan is a signatory. In May, members of the United States Congress wrote to the Speaker of the Kyrgyz Parliament asking him to prevent further advancement of the law. </p><p>Whether this type of pressure from Western defenders of human rights adds fuel to the fire of resentment of foreign intervention and corruption of Kyrgyz identity is a debated issue. Some argue that every foreign comment further cements Kyrgyz nationlist’s resolve to protect their identity and persecute threats to their norms, while others identify a difference between public statements by politicians and private beliefs. Kyrgyzstan is after all highly dependent on foreign aid, and Central Asian regimes crave legitimacy from foreign governments.</p><p>The question on everybody’s lips in Bishkek now is: what will happen in a second and third reading of the bill? National elections take place in Autumn, which could overshadow the bill or propel it as political theatre intensifies. </p><p>This week, Kyrgyz President Almabek Atmbaev signed treaties ratifying the nation’s accession to the Eurasian Economic Union, a currency union currently linking Russian, Kazakhstan and Belarus, further signaling Russia’s deepening regional hegemony. Cai Wilkinson believes that the mood is there to enable the law to pass, but that it will face a series of revisions. It is also unclear how it would be enforced and what the impact would be on the LGBTQ community.</p><p> One thing is clear: if the bill becomes law, attacks like those on Sunday will become more frequent, except it will be the activists who are the criminals.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/cristina-maza/challenging-patriarchy-in-kyrgyzstan">Challenging patriarchy in Kyrgyzstan</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/balihar-sanghera/economic-dystopia-in-kyrgyzstan">Economic dystopia in Kyrgyzstan</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/devil-is-in-details-seizing-press-in-kyrgyzstan">The devil is in the details: seizing Kyrgyzstan&#039;s press</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 3.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Georgina Rannard NGOs Kyrgyzstan Central Asia Wed, 27 May 2015 09:42:27 +0000 Georgina Rannard 93131 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Out of the Middle East https://www.opendemocracy.net/arab-awakening/amal-hamidallah/out-of-middle-east <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>It’s time for Arab Gulf countries to no longer be on the defensive and to accept their responsibility in what is happening in the region.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="https://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/LXvFKHSYIdbtSiEnpJFJmL-jpcPLwuthHecd3uyqqiY/mtime:1432673597/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553378/1636431.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="https://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/pv6LAvbNroxpBs4qG9HfXXs4C3LnbIOj9Ti2oLDFp6E/mtime:1432673297/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553378/1636431.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="267" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span><span class="image-caption">Opposition graffiti in Bahrain. Ahmed Al-Fardan/Demotix. All rights reserved.</span></p><p>Yemen is lost, probably the same way the Arab world lost several other countries&nbsp;<span>in the Middle East&nbsp;</span><span>such as Iraq, Lebanon&nbsp;and Syria.</span></p> <p>Yemen may return one day, but not in the next decade, and it will be as disfigured as Lebanon was after the civil war, after it had once been famously referred to as the pearl of the Mediterranean.</p> <p>The devastation to Yemen, due to the current war, is irremediable.&nbsp;Societal rupture, the collapse of local communities, an abrupt end to centuries of ethnic and inter-religious coexistence—this has all&nbsp;happened in the blink of an eye.</p> <p>Brutal ruptures with the past and new paradigms are the latest shifts in the Middle East. Local communities are collapsing as inevitable collateral damage of the ongoing regional conflicts in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, even Egypt. Lebanon was the first country to go through such a dramatic process decades ago.</p> <p>The disfiguration, as a result of these raging conflicts, will shape a new Middle East that is not necessarily one we wish to see.</p> <p>To avoid the nightmare scenario we—a&nbsp;group of human rights advocates and intellectuals<span>—</span>are watching with our eyes wide open, in the hopes of supporting regional&nbsp;reforms. 'The Gulf Foundation' was established to spread a culture of human rights.</p> <p>Shia, Sunni,&nbsp;Ebadi, men and women, all participated, which made it a very unique experience. Local communities, mainly youth, were enthusiastic and very open to working beyond ethnic,&nbsp;sectarian and gender divides.</p> <p>The work was not exclusive; it was a&nbsp;home grown process from the region for the region.&nbsp;Even conservative groups, quite surprisingly, were keen on learning more about the concept of human rights values and norms.</p> <p>However, this all ended abruptly with the harsh crackdown in Egypt in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, when the words 'human rights' became taboo.</p> <p>Many professors, even ones preaching peaceful coexistence&nbsp;and conflict resolution, were banned from entering countries in the region. Prominent human rights lawyers and university professors were placed behind bars, websites were banned, and other individuals became persona non grata&nbsp;in the Gulf region for reasons nuclear, except suspicions for spreading the “culture of human rights”. The concept of the rule of law, similarly to the concept of civil society, became taboo. The Foundations’ educational endeavours and shared learning experiences&nbsp;ended, out of fear of the unknown.</p> <p>This zero tolerance campaign that was, and still is, being promoted will not resolve the region’s most dramatic nightmare: the rise of fanaticism, sectarianism and conflict. It is also a reason for the fragility of local regimes and communities.</p> <p>Disenfranchising&nbsp;local communities,&nbsp;intellectuals and thinkers created a vacuum for the raise of sectarianism, intolerance, fanatic ideologies,&nbsp;terrorism, internal unrest, and the regional conflicts that led to state failure and collapse.</p> <p>The targeting of local civil society leaders and communities has weakened the region dramatically.&nbsp;The Arab world has lost Syria, Iraq, Libya and now Yemen as a result of its incapacity to embrace the natural process of change.</p> <p>Yemen, similarly to Iraq, is a showcase for such blatant failure. The Arab Gulf states, with their geographical location, cultural heritage and wealth, could have paved the way to reforms in the Arab world. They could have played a leading role for the other countries: conciliating antagonists in cases of conflict and assisting in times of crisis.</p> <p>This could have benefitted the region as a whole, including the GCC as a group of new nations with very young populations. Such a shift would have been strategically, politically and&nbsp;historically wise, as well as the best security strategy with Iran as a neighbour.&nbsp;</p> <p>In Syria, Iraq, Yemen, it was never only an internal matter that could have been resolved nationally. These conflicts were broader, even though they were instigated by internal unrest. Regional powers, such as KSA and Iran, share great responsibility in these conflicts, even if it is by their unwillingness to agree on a peace and security settlement.</p> <p>Why did the Arab world not take the unique opportunity to pave the road to reform?</p> <p>Arab countries are reluctant to change. Dire human rights situations led to calls for regime change and revolution, but Arab states buried their heads in the sand.</p> <p>Iran, on the other hand, has taken this opportunity to assert itself regionally, even if that means being on the wrong side of history; Iran’s stance has not done itself or its neighbours any good.</p> <p>Iran did not extend arms to Yemen Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon for the love of the region; it has strategic interest in the region, and a long term goal of becoming the key player, if not a leading power. This is the main reason why the collapse of its neighbours is believed to be in its favour.</p> <p>Since Iran’s interference and meddling in Lebanon, Iraq,&nbsp;Syria and Yemen, alarm bells have started to sound amongst the neighbouring states. The Arab world suddenly&nbsp;woke up&nbsp;and realised that they badly&nbsp;ignored Iraq in the aftermath of Saddam’s removal.&nbsp;Iraq desperately needed support, particularly form its GCC neighbours, but the call was not heard,&nbsp;similar to the calls coming from Syrian revolutionaries that are falling on deaf ears. All the Arab street could do is take its revolution to Twitter and Facebook.</p> <p>Some GCC countries actively participated in aborting the birth of a democracy&nbsp;in one of the leading Arab countries: Egypt. Their interference in Libya exasperated the already dire situation leading to the failure to build a state<span>—</span>Libya is now a country facing a civil war and may become the second Somalia of Africa.&nbsp;</p> <p>Divisions and conflicting approaches are behind the collapse of the transitional justice&nbsp;<span>process</span><span>&nbsp;in Yemen.&nbsp;The popular uprising had toppled the regime of Ali Abdullah Saleh, whilst Arab Gulf countries were generously and unconditionally supporting it with funds. The same regime supposedly fighting Al Qaeda and securing the southern borders of the GCC.</span></p><p>Magically and suddenly after his removal,&nbsp;Saleh turned to Iran seeking support and assistance; a clear sign that he had never left the Yemeni political spectrum. Fuelling a sectarian divide in his own country; bringing&nbsp;Houthi Shi'a and Sunni tribes in conflict; both groups became victims and&nbsp;perpetrators caught&nbsp;in a trap leading to the collapse of Yemen and the strengthening of Al Qaeda as well as other terror groups in the Arabian peninsula. The GCC’s worst case scenario is now closer to its borders than ever before.</p> <p>We can discuss at length all the missed chances for reforms and the unfolding dramas; the GCC (with&nbsp;KSA having the largest border with Iraq and Yemen) now has ISIL threatening the northern border, Al Qaeda and its affiliates in the south and several&nbsp;neighbouring countries falling. One does not need to be a visionary to realise that it is a matter of time before this engulfs the whole GCC.</p> <p>War will not achieve any tangible good for regional powers. Iran will never rule the Arab world, as history shows. Iran’s neighbours, without stability,&nbsp;democracy, strong civil society and rule of law will remain fragile states.</p> <p>The military interventions in Yemen and elsewhere by Arab Gulf countries&nbsp;will not limit disasters or prevent threats of divisions and wars from reaching their lands.</p> <p>Arab countries will be better off resolving regional conflicts through negotiations and peace building with neighbouring powers, such as Iran. Their wealth should also be used more efficiently and effectively regionally.</p> <p>Buying arms and manpower will not prevent conflict, but investing in people, building strong nations through democratic systems, enshrined in and ruled by the law, human rights values and norms, justice and equity will.</p> <p>Economically and politically supporting countries as Iraq and Yemen, and taking a joint stand on Libya and Syria, will also be a step in the right direction.</p> <p>The countries that will succeed in gaining stability, peace and security are the ones&nbsp;that will embrace sectarian diversity, engage with legitimate political demands, open up to dissident groups (even if they are the so-called Islamists).</p> <p>It is important to note that in the majority of Arab countries, and particularly in the Arab Gulf countries, political parties are banned. The only space to seek legitimacy to build popular momentum is and remains religious ideology. We should not blame local groups for using religious political affiliation and discourse to achieve political goals. We should rather blame the ones who decided to ban political parties.</p> <p>Planting a garden of a thousand and one roses lies in the hands of local leadership. Local communities have had their hands tied for decades now. We can’t continue lying to ourselves and waiting for Al Khudr (Merlin the Magician) to plant full grown roses in our gardens. As days go by, we only see plagues and untamed swords&nbsp;demolishing the region.</p> <p>What is next after decades of lamentation and tears, waiting in anticipation for the next monstrous plague, worse than Al Qaeda or ISIL? </p> <p>These experiences are not only disfiguring the region but an important religion in today’s world: Islam.</p> <p>It’s time for Arab Gulf countries to no longer be on the defensive and to accept their responsibility for what is happening in the region. The GCC needs to take a lead in the future they want to see: a future without conflict, where freedom is a right for all, where equality and human rights are not a luxury, where the rule of law, accountability, transparency and equity are the norm. This is what Islam is about.</p> <p>Islam is about justice, equity, peace and harmony within and between Muslim communities and the world. Why have Islam’s core values been disfigured? We are all responsible for what has happened and we, as Arab and Muslim communities, are the first ones to blame for this damage.</p> <p>Life is hope and without hope there is no future. We will need to continue educating our communities, and addressing local leadership and policy makers in a constructive way, in hope for a miracle of awareness.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/arab-awakening/helen-lackner/war-in-yemen">The war in Yemen</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/arab-awakening/fabio-merone/further-notes-on-evolution-of-jihadi-international-movement">Further notes on the evolution of the jihadi international movement</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ranj-alaaldin/shia-crescent-selffulfilling-prophecy">Shia crescent: self-fulfilling prophecy</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/arab-awakening/eckart-woertz/spilling-beans-riyadh-style">Spilling the beans, Riyadh style</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/arab-awakening/maged-mandour/arab-world-towards-bipolarity">The Arab World: towards bi-polarity?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> United Arab Emirates </div> <div class="field-item even"> Saudi Arabia </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Egypt </div> <div class="field-item even"> Yemen </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Libya </div> <div class="field-item even"> Syria </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Lebanon </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item even"> International politics </div> </div> </div> Arab Awakening Arab Awakening Lebanon Syria Libya Yemen Egypt Saudi Arabia United Arab Emirates Civil society Conflict Democracy and government International politics Geopolitics Revolution The future: Islam and democracy Violent transitions Amal Hamidallah Wed, 27 May 2015 07:00:54 +0000 Amal Hamidallah 93082 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The UK: the far shore for torture survivors https://www.opendemocracy.net/beyondslavery/rhian-beynon/uk-far-shore-for-torture-survivors <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The relatively small number of torture survivors who make it to the UK face disbelief, the threat of detention and removal, and barriers of access to vital services.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p>The world is currently seeing <a href="http://www.unhcr.org.uk/news-and-views/news-list/news-detail/article/war-stokes-further-growth-in-forced-displacement-in-first-half-2014.html">one of the biggest displacements of people of all time</a>, driven by conflict, humanitarian crises and human rights violations, particularly in the Middle East and Africa. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the <a href="http://www.unhcr.org.uk/news-and-views/news-list/news-detail/article/world-refugee-day-global-forced-displacement-tops-50-million-for-first-time-in-post-world-war-ii-er.html">top refugee-producing countries</a> are Syria and Afghanistan, followed by Somalia, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Myanmar.</p> <p>It is safe to assume that a significant proportion of the <a href="http://www.unhcr.org.uk/news-and-views/news-list/news-detail/article/world-refugee-day-global-forced-displacement-tops-50-million-for-first-time-in-post-world-war-ii-er.html">estimated 16.7 million refugees in the world today</a> have suffered torture, given the well-documented violence of state and non-state actors operating within top refugee-producing states. Indeed, the DRC, South Sudan, Afghanistan and other top refugee-producing states are the countries of origin for many of the more than 1,000 torture survivors <a href="http://www.freedomfromtorture.org/news-blogs/8319">referred to Freedom from Torture</a> in the UK each year. </p> <p>The survivors of torture who are referred to Freedom from Torture originate from some 80 countries around the world. Not all of these countries suffer from the intense humanitarian crises that would bring them within the mandate of the UNHCR, such as Iran. Regardless, most arrive at Freedom from Torture traumatised, vulnerable because of their experiences, and fearing further persecution. They have a right to rehabilitation under the UN Convention Against Torture. </p> <p>Most survivors of torture, however, do not make it to the UK. They remain within their geographic region, hosted by countries such as Pakistan, Lebanon, Jordan, Chad, Ethiopia and Kenya. These are, by and large, less wealthy countries with little to offer in the way of security and specialist support to individuals traumatised and made vulnerable by torture. Survivors of torture in these countries have little hope of fleeing to Europe in order to access the support of a charity like Freedom from Torture. This is because formal schemes for proactively assisting refugees to enter the UK—be they torture survivors or not—help shockingly low numbers relative to the scale of the international displacement. </p> <h2>Resettlement programmes in the UK</h2> <p>The <a href="http://www.ind.homeoffice.gov.uk/asylum/gateway/">Gateway Protection Programme</a> and the <a href="http://www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk/sitecontent/documents/policyandlaw/asylumpolicyinstructions/apis/manadaterefugees.pdf?view=Binary">Mandate Refugee Programme</a> are the UK’s official programmes for resettling refugees covered by the UNHCR mandate. Palestine refugees are the most notable group outside this mandate. In January 2014 the UK announced a new vulnerable person relocation scheme (VPRS) in response to the Syrian crisis. </p> <p>Resettlement programmes like Gateway and VPRS offer important routes to protection in the UK It is not possible to make an application for asylum from outside the UK, and those fleeing torture often lack the documents, visas and monies needed to travel to and enter the UK. Humanitarian crises also inhibit travel to a functioning British Embassy so as to make a visa application. Even if one finds a way to apply, there is no guarantee that a visa will be forthcoming.</p> <p>Despite resettlement’s importance as a safe and legal access route for refugees, <a href="http://www.unhcr.org.uk/news-and-views/news-list/news-detail/article/unhcr-hails-10-years-of-uks-refugee-resettlement-programme-warns-of-growing-global-needs.html">Gateway has brought just 5,500 refugees to the UK</a> over the past decade. VPRS, <a href="http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/regional.php">despite the nearly 4 million Syrians currently registered with UNHCR in Syria’s neighbouring countries</a>, has resettled only 187 people in the UK since it began. The UK’s response has instead focused on financing refugee response programmes in the region itself. It has <a href="http://fts.unocha.org/pageloader.aspx?page=search-reporting_display&amp;CQ=cq260115191009dOLEaWyOry">spent more than £800 million ($1.2 billion)</a> on the crisis since 2011 and is among the top three donors. </p> <p>The upshot of all this was that in 2014, the year UNHCR declared the global population of displaced people to be above 50 million people for the first time since World War II, the UK resettled just 787 refugees. The general picture is that resettlement programmes cannot be relied on for most of those who come within the UNHCR mandate. They are not an option for those torture survivors who fall outside the mandate, because they are in countries that are repressive rather than in outright humanitarian crisis.</p> <p>If their family has financial resources, local circumstances permit, and a visa application succeeds, a torture survivor may just be able to travel in an immigration category, for example as a student to the UK. But many, many others with no documentation will <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/opensecurity/heaven-crawley/europe%27s-war-on-migrants">run the gauntlet</a> of the Mediterranean crossing and European port officials to claim asylum.</p> <h2>Asylum in the UK</h2> <p>The UK saw just <a href="https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/immigration-statistics-october-to-december-2014/immigration-statistics-october-to-december-2014#asylum-1">24,914 applicants for asylum in 2014, and 59 percent of these were refused on the first decision</a>, (although some 28 per cent of appeals against asylum decisions succeeded). Eurostat figures suggest asylum applications in the UK constitute a mere 5.5 percent of the total number of applications lodged in the EU28 (Eurostat).</p> <p>The majority of those in immigration detention in Britain today are asylum seekers. A significant number of individuals are placed into detention as soon as they file for asylum, their application ‘fast tracked’ to remove those deemed ineligible as soon as possible. It is a system notorious for hampering asylum claimants’ access to careful legal advice and for making it difficult for survivors to disclose upsetting case histories, for example torture and other forms of intimate violence. </p> <p>Home Office policy states that survivors of torture and certain other vulnerable groups should not be held in immigration detention. If they are assessed to be a victim of torture while in detention they should be released under Rule 35 of the Detention Centre Rules. Rule 35 also requires medical practitioners in immigration removal centres to report all individuals they consider to be victims of torture, who may then be eligible for release. However, Freedom from Torture has known many torture survivors who have been detained, and once individuals are detained Rule 35 reports <a href="http://www.emcouncils.gov.uk/write/669secondtorturereport.pdf">are extremely ineffective in ensuring their release</a>. </p> <p>For torture survivors who find a way to live within the UK community—either as refugees, as asylum seekers with ongoing applications, or as refused asylum seekers—life is a continuing challenge. The constant threats of detention and removal hang over many. Work is generally prohibited for those with an asylum seeker status, and welfare support keeps survivors in poverty, <a href="http://www.freedomfromtorture.org/feature/the_poverty_barrier/7412">impeding their rehabilitation from trauma</a>. NHS services, while theoretically available to torture survivors, are in practice often denied or are not, in most circumstances, sufficient to meet the needs of their recovery. </p> <p>The 1951 Refugee Convention and much of our modern international human rights framework were the result of learning from the human rights atrocities and their impact on European victims during World War II. It is a dreadful irony that while a massive displacement of people is taking place today for similar reasons elsewhere in the world, European countries like the UK are making it so difficult for the victims to obtain the protection and support to which they have a right. </p> <p>Despite the UK’s opposition to any mandatory EU quota system in response to the humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean Sea, there is nothing to stop the prime minister from making a voluntary pledge to increase the pitiful numbers of refugees offered sanctuary under the UK’s settlement programmes. Ahead of the European Council meeting on 25 June, such a move would help the prime minister to head off criticisms that his government is torpedoing EU cooperation without offering alternatives.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/beyondslavery/twisting-%E2%80%9Clessons-of-history%E2%80%9D-to-excuse-unjustifiable-violence-mediterranean-refugee-c">Twisting the &#039;lessons of history&#039; to authorise unjustifiable violence: the Mediterranean crisis</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/beyondslavery/sverre-molland/safe-migration-as-emerging-antitrafficking-agenda">Safe migration as an emerging anti-trafficking agenda?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/beyondslavery/julia-o%E2%80%99connell-davidson-neil-howard/on-freedom-and-immobility-how-states-create-vulne">On freedom and (im)mobility: how states create vulnerability by controlling human movement</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> BeyondSlavery BeyondSlavery Rhian Beynon Migration and mobility Wed, 27 May 2015 04:00:00 +0000 Rhian Beynon 93079 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The transformative visions of William Blake https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/christopher-rowland/transformative-visions-of-william-blake <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The ‘poetic genius’ inside of everyone creates a springboard for self-inquiry and social struggle.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="image-caption"><img src="https://opendemocracy.net/files/Christopher Rowland.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Illustration to Dante's Divine Comedy, Hell, by William Blake.</p> <p><a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Blake">William Blake</a><span> (1757-1827) lived most of his life in London, with a short spell on the Sussex coast, during which he was charged with sedition because of what he said to a soldier and for which he was put on trial. His life spanned the turbulent years that saw the independence of the American colonies and the French Revolution, both of which inform his prophetic understanding of history.&nbsp;</span></p><p><span>Blake’s two prophecies, </span><em><a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/America_a_Prophecy">America</a></em><span> and </span><em><a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Europe_a_Prophecy">Europe</a>,</em><span> were ‘prophetic’ not because Blake sought to predict what was going on—indeed they were written following these events. Rather, he sought to plumb the depths of the historical and social dynamics which were at work in them. He was part of a tradition of radical non-conformity in English religion, with different ways of reading the Bible.</span></p> <p><span>In many ways Blake is an obvious choice of someone whose life’s work was to link ‘the personal and the political,’ but his work for justice and equality in the world was less through political activism or a practice which seeks to bring about societal transformation, and more about the intellectual task of changing hearts and minds. His </span><em><a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Descriptive_Catalogue_(1809)">Descriptive Catalogue</a></em><span> of 1809 indicates that he wanted to make a pitch for a role as a public artist. But his exhibition met with the derision of the only reviewer of the exhibition (Robert Hunt), who </span><a href="https://books.google.com/books/about/Blake_Records.html?id=yVWcQgAACAAJ&amp;hl=en">disdainfully dismissed it</a><span> as a “farrago of nonsense ... the wild effusions of a distempered brain,” and Blake as “an unfortunate lunatic.”</span></p> <p><span>This initiative on Blake’s part not only shows his sense of vocation but also the difficulties which attended the reception of his work. His illuminated books are as challenging today for the reader or viewer as they were when they were first published, and there will be many who continue to react like Hunt. But this complexity only underlines the difficulty of the interpretative tasks Blake undertook as he explored relationships to the past, and the cul-de-sacs which can so easily attend the journey of personal and political transformation.</span></p> <p><span>Throughout his work he remained committed to the following task as expressed in the </span><em><a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Marriage_of_Heaven_and_Hell">Marriage of Heaven and Hell</a></em><span>: “If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is: infinite.” Arguably, all of Blake’s works are designed to facilitate the process of change in the individual and in society. Transformation is key to everything he undertook.</span></p> <p><span>This takes many forms. In his early works Blake sought to prioritise the “Poetic Genius, the Spirit of Prophecy,” in order to ensure that people don’t end up repeating the “</span><a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/There_is_No_Natural_Religion">same dull round over again.”</a><span> He challenged the pervasiveness of ways of thinking in culture and society which separate and condemn. As far as Blake was concerned, “</span><a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Marriage_of_Heaven_and_Hell">Without Contraries is no progression.”</a><span> Any neat separation into sacred and secular, for example, is questioned, as is the perennial tendency to negate difference rather than accept it.</span></p> <p><span>“I pretend not to holiness! yet I pretend to love,” Blake wrote in </span><em><a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerusalem_The_Emanation_of_the_Giant_Albion">Jerusalem</a></em><span>. It comes as no surprise therefore that he came to see the forgiveness of sins as fundamental to a life in which difference and ‘the Other’ are sources of creativity rather than reasons for rejection, aloofness or suppression. In Blake’s later work, the complex effects of the “</span><a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Songs_of_Innocence_and_of_Experience#Songs_of_Innocence">two contrary states of the human soul</a><span>” are teased out in a quest for personal and social integration.</span></p> <p><span>This quest reaches its climax in </span><em><a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerusalem_The_Emanation_of_the_Giant_Albion">Jerusalem</a></em><span>. Blake believed that he wasn’t writing “Poetry Fetter'd” in this masterwork. Instead he offered words and images which addressed the national torpor, thereby initiating a necessary and long drawn out process of awakening, with all its false starts and attendant difficulties—an arduous journey towards the fulfilment of the hope that “</span><a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerusalem_The_Emanation_of_the_Giant_Albion">Heaven, Earth &amp; Hell, henceforth shall live in harmony</a><span>.” &nbsp;</span></p> <p><span>If the balance in </span><em>Jerusalem</em><span> tilts more towards text rather than images, the later </span><em><a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Blake%27s_Illustrations_of_the_Book_of_Job">Illustrations of the Book of Job</a></em><span> prioritise images over text. Blake reads this biblical book in terms of the transformation of an individual who is locked into the habits of received wisdom by the disturbing experiences of life and vision. These experiences enable people to see the divine within, and to demonstrate their redemption through the practice of love for their enemies.</span></p> <p><span>According to Blake, that meant the “</span><a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milton:_A_Poem_in_Two_Books">annihilation of Selfhood</a><span>”—by &nbsp;which he didn’t mean self-</span><em>denial </em><span>but recognising that true human flourishing is possible when we realise that “</span><a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerusalem_The_Emanation_of_the_Giant_Albion">every kindness to another is a little death In the Divine Image nor can Man exist but by Brotherhood</a><span>.” It also means allowing “the Poetic Genius, the Spirit of Prophecy,” full rein to do its work, rather than co-opting it into promoting a self-centred ego trip. The promotion of a cause, however worthy, can lead to its betrayal when the ego attaches itself and becomes the very opposite of poverty of spirit, fuelled by self-righteousness and self-promotion.</span></p> <p><span>Blake stressed the importance of the imaginative engagement of the reader or viewer—meaning </span><em>anyone</em><span>, not just the academic elite. All could allow the “Poetic Genius” within to stir them into an imaginative engagement with life through human relationships as well as self-understanding. His attempts to expedite human transformation in this way anticipate many modern movements such as </span><a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liberation_theology">Latin American liberation theology</a><span>.</span></p> <p><span>This movement was a central part of the resistance to military dictatorship in Latin America in the 1960s and 1970s, especially in Brazil. It played a key role in preparing a wide-ranging pastoral programme of support and accompaniment to those living in </span><em>favelas</em><span> on the margins of large conurbations like São Paulo. The starting point of liberation theology was the centrality of human experience: the reality of life was key to the interpretation of the Bible and church tradition. Popular education materials embraced the importance of images as well as texts, and formed important components of pastoral programmes in many Brazilian dioceses.</span></p> <p><span>Liberation theology was inspired in part by the work of the distinguished educator </span><a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paulo_Freire">Paulo Freire</a><span> (1921-1997), who stressed the links between learning and action, experience and reflection. He criticised a view of education in which students become mere accumulators of information or depositories of knowledge. Ordinary people were encouraged to allow their experience to inform their reading of the Bible, and to draw on their insights and experiences.</span></p><p><span>As </span><a href="http://pt.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carlos_Mesters">Carlos Mesters</a><span> </span><a href="http://www.amazon.com/Bible-Liberation-Political-Hermeneutics-Revised/dp/0883448491/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1432218665&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=the+bible+and+liberation">puts it</a><span> (a theologian based in Brazil), </span><strong>“</strong><span>the emphasis is placed not on the text itself but rather on the meaning the text has for the people reading it...Life takes first place!…ordinary people are showing us the enormous importance of the Bible; and at the same time its relative value—relative to life.”</span></p> <p><span>Similarly, Blake’s concern throughout his work was the interaction of all aspects of human experience, exploring how they were connected and showing that working with one required working with all the others. To this end he drew on many resources, including the Bible, though he was very much aware of its weaknesses as well as its strengths.</span></p> <p><span>In words that lead up to what has become England’s unofficial national anthem, the so-called </span><em><a href="http://www.poetry-archive.com/b/jerusalem.html">Jerusalem</a></em><span> (in fact the Preface</span><em> </em><span>of </span><em><a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milton:_A_Poem_in_Two_Books">Milton: A Poem</a></em><span>), Blake advocates the “proper rank” of “the Sublime of the Bible,” where “Inspiration” gains priority over “Memory.” His aim was to restore the balance of power, whether in society or in one’s personal life.</span></p> <p><span>Justice and love, the personal and the political, need to be in a dialectical relationship if they are to ensure transformation rather than stagnation or oppression.&nbsp;</span></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/article/william_blake_a_visionary_for_our_time">William Blake: a visionary for our time </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/james-page/does-phenomenology-herald-new-era-for-religion">Does phenomenology herald a new era for religion?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/ralph-singh/religion-from-inside-out">Religion from the inside out</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Culture </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Culture William Blake spirituality religion and social transformation Christopher Rowland Love and Spirituality Wed, 27 May 2015 00:00:00 +0000 Christopher Rowland 93123 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Ayotzinapa: the events that shook the Mexican youth https://www.opendemocracy.net/ilan-bizberg/ayotzinapa-events-that-shook-mexican-youth <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>These protests did not oust the government of Peña Nieto, although they demanded the resignation of the president, but they did force the government to react and try to explain what had happened.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/breno-bringel-geoffrey-pleyers/openmovements-social-movements-global-outlooks-and-public-sociologist"><img src="https://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/O85Ogfjhg5yzs7fM33p3IombLfDuMBD3pHGR5vqdVQI/mtime:1426508017/files/openmovements-banner.jpg" alt="open Movements" width="460px" /></a><br /><strong>The <em><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/breno-bringel-geoffrey-pleyers/openmovements-social-movements-global-outlooks-and-public-sociologist">openMovements</a></em> series invites leading social scientists to share their research results and perspectives on contemporary social struggles.</strong></p><p><em><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="https://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/3NfNh3KVq1m6LuqgLxb5OKen-rniUYGzyV1UHzJwn6Q/mtime:1432682407/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/6009462-2.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="https://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/lI_ODYaZMrCMODOi9B0SSjjsCFW7RoLI3-SMis-5-r8/mtime:1432682393/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/6009462-2.jpg" alt="Posters with the faces of the 43 students disappeared in Ayotzinapa." title="" width="460" height="305" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Posters with the faces of the 43 students disappeared in Ayotzinapa. Demotix/Alberto-Sibaja Ramirez. All rights reserved. </span></span></span>Eight months ago, on September 26, 2014, six young peoples were assassinated and 43 disappeared after having being arrested by the police of the Mexican City Iguala and given over to drug cartels. Eight months later, the 43 students of the Escuela Normal Rural of Ayotzinapa are still missing. Their story has shown the extension of violence and collusion between the drug cartels and politics in Mexico.</em></p> <p>On the eve of September 24, 2014, Mexico, a country that has experienced terrible events in the last eight years since the government of Felipe Calderón launched a direct “war against drugs”, lived through an event that went far beyond anything previous, one that has been compared to the atrocities of the Islamic State or Boko Haram for the sheer cruelty and cold blood of the perpetrators. </p> <p>The police of the third largest city of the State of Guerrero, Iguala (around 120,000 inhabitants), one of the poorest, most violent, most polarized, <em>terroir</em> of radical movements, scenario of guerrilla warfare and a “dirty war” led by military forces in the sixties and seventies, attacked a group of around 100 students in a teacher training college in Ayotzinapa (one of the poorest regions of the State) that had come to confiscate (as they regularly do) a couple of buses in order to go to Mexico city to participate in the celebrations of the October 2, 1968 manifestations. The police killed 6 students and abducted 43 others, delivering them to a local drug gang, led by the mayor’s wife, who (according to the official version) killed them in cold blood and burned their corpses in a garbage dump outside the city.</p> <p>This terrible event aroused a wave of indignation against the government, both local and national, and a flood of sympathy for the students and their families, as well as a demand that the government investigate and discover the truth of the events and prosecute and punish all those involved. </p> <p>The governor had to resign after two months of prevarication, the mayor of Iguala and his wife are accused of complicity, dozens of policemen are in jail awaiting trial, and the strategy of the federal government to stop setting violence and the war against drugs as its priority, unlike that of the previous government, collapsed in the face of this tragic event and its incapacity to respond seriously to such an unprecedented trauma. </p> <p>Having described the facts and some of their political consequences, in this short piece I intend firstly to set side by side the different interpretations of the causes of this event and then to discuss what the reaction of the population predicts for the future of Mexican society and politics.</p> <h2><strong>What happened in Iguala?</strong></h2> <p>There are two distinct interpretations of what happened in Iguala. On the one hand, there is the interpretation of those who have tried to understand the relationship between the local authorities, population and drug cartels that arose after the “war against drugs”. According to this interpretation, this event, like others occurring in many other regions of Mexico: Chihuahua, Veracruz, Tamaulipas, Sinaloa, is part of the drug lords’ advance plan to control a territory rather than, as in the past, controlling the routes to the United States. </p> <p>In this strategy, the drug cartels attack other criminal gangs, the army and the police forces they do not command and terrorize the population by the use of these types of massacres. They command local police forces and political authorities, through fear or corruption, and impose their absolute dominance over a territory in order to be free to plant and transport drugs without any opposition or risk of denunciation. The feudalization of the political system in Mexico, as one of the consequences of electoral reform within a weak civil society, has led to this situation whereby sovereignty does not depend on elected officials, but on criminal gangs.</p> <p>This may well describe the situation of certain regions in the north of the country, such as parts of Chihuahua, Tamaulipas, Veracruz, and it is in effect one of the situations Mexico is living through at the present time, but it is not exclusive. There is another situation, currently characterizing a region such as Guerrero, where this territorial war between drug lords merges with a more “traditional” situation, best analyzed by anthropologists. And the story they describe is rather of a “continuum” of violence exerted by local government forces, the ever-present army (since the guerrilla wars), the local “caciques” and the paramilitary forces, to which we currently have to add the drug cartels. Violence in Guerrero has been always exerted against social activists, journalists, and opposition politicians. A student interviewed by Margarita Mora considers that in the present round of repression, the drug cartels have merely substituted the paramilitary forces financed and controlled by the landlords. His idea is that what exists in Guerrero is a Drug-State: “They take away our lands, destroy what we own, then try to hire us as low wage labor for the sowing of poppy, to then accuse us of being criminals. We are squeezed between those two choices, with no honorable options”<a href="#_ftn1">[1]</a>. </p> <p>We could add to this picture not only that the peasants are being robbed of their land but that, more recently, since the neoliberal turn taken by the Mexican economy and the latest educational reform, most rural schools have closed down and the rural teachers’colleges, such as the one of Ayotzinapa, are doomed to disappear. </p> <p>The reasons are partly economic. As rural schools are decreasing, so is the need for teachers. Nonetheless, we cannot exclude a more political rationale connected to the fact that as a consequence of the extreme poverty, exclusion, and violence in which the rural teachers’ schools are located, they have traditionally been a source of radical thought, and a cradle nurturing extremist organizations. In fact, according to some of the students who fled the massacre of September 24, some soldiers were approached by others they knew at the hospital when they arrived there wounded. Instead of offering protection, they told them “…you asked for it, this is happening to you because of what you are doing”<a href="#_ftn2">[2]</a> </p> <h2><strong>Protests and the future of Mexican society and politics</strong></h2> <p>These terrible events caused a tremor in Mexico’s conscience and provoked an ethical awakening, at least among the young. They provoked an outcry from that part of Mexican society that is deeply moved by the fate of some of the poorest inhabitants of this country, young people who had elected to take the decent route in life, that of a school teacher, instead of becoming guerrillas or drug hit-men. This was bound to strike the younger generation more forcefully. Thus, it was the young who organized active strikes, discussion groups, and sit-ins in dozens of universities all over the country and in other parts of the world, where the situation of the country was clearly depicted, especially concerning violence, the perspectives for up and coming generations, the future for political parties. It was also the young that organized the three massive manifestations in Mexico City and other capitals of the country that followed hotfoot one from the other, from September to December 2014; a mobilization that the country had not experienced since the manifestations of 1968, which ended tragically.&nbsp; </p> <p>These protests did not oust the government of Peña Nieto, although they demanded the resignation of the president, but they did force the government to react and try to explain what had happened. </p> <p>They also eventually led to the resignation of the governor of Guerrero and of the prosecutor of the Republic. Apart from the demand that the government find the students alive, the other most frequent slogan that was heard on these marches was the cry that the culprit “was the State”. This meant that the perpetrators were not only the drug cartels and the local government as the Government pretended, but the federal State that had allowed the situation of impunity that permeates the whole country, where deaths are counted but never investigated, the disappeared are never found, where there is nobody accused or found guilty, where a handful of criminals end up on trial and even fewer in jail. A government that had sent the military to fight the drug cartels with the resulting rapid increase in human rights violations. It was also the State that was responsible because it has been eliminating the rural schools and its teachers – people who had turned out to be just too radical.</p> <p>Most marked of all were the young Mexicans that organized the movement #YoSoy132 in 2014 against the manipulation of the media in favor of the return of the PRI<a href="#_ftn3">[3]</a> to the presidency. Like other youngsters in other parts of the world, they were struck by the realization that they would inherit a world that is increasingly unequal, polluted and unsustainable. </p> <p>Mexican youth went to the streets to denounce the fact that Ayotzinapa only another of those acts of violence, albeit one of the cruelest, which the Mexican State, directly or indirectly, perpetrates against its young. Since the sixties, the government has made it clear just how much it fears its own youthful population. It killed hundreds of students in 1968, an unknown number in 1971. It prohibited festive manifestations such as the Mexican Woodstock (Avandaro) once it realized that these gave birth to an energy the authoritarian PRI government of the time could not control. </p> <p>Although nothing seems to have changed with the manifestations for Ayotzinapa, many youngsters protested in public for the first time in their lives, and gained an awareness of the terrible situation in which the country finds itself, so different from the official picture. This is why one can affirm that the Massacre of Ayotzinapa has marked a date in the modern history of Mexico. There is a clear sense, shared by many young people, that Ayotzinapa draws a line that creates a before and an after in Mexican modern history. And that although the capacity for action has receded for now, something remains in the consciousness of those hundreds of thousands who participated. Even if they were not able to change the government or the country as they would have wished, they have transformed themselves. &nbsp;Their tolerance of injustice has been irreversibly diminished.</p> <hr size="1" /> <p><a href="#_ftnref1">[1]</a> Interview in Mora, Mariana, “Ayotzinapa, violencia y el sentido del agravio colectivo: reflexiones para el trabajo antropológico”, <em>Ichan Tecolotl</em>, no. 293, january 2015.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref2">[2]</a> Hernández Castillo, R.A.,&nbsp; “Violencia y militarización en Guerrero: antecedentes de Ayotzinapa”, <em>Ichan Tecolotl</em>, no. 293, january 2015.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref3">[3]</a> The Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) created on the wake of the Mexican revolution, that governed under different names from 1929 to the year 2000.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/opensecurity/alejandro-garcia-de-la-garza/mexico-student-disappearances-focus-anger-at-abuse-and-imp">Mexico: student disappearances focus anger at abuse and impunity</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/opensecurity/alejandro-garcia-de-la-garza/mexico-active-civil-society-key-to-ending-culture-of-impun">Mexico: active civil society key to ending culture of impunity</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Mexico </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Economics </div> <div class="field-item even"> International politics </div> </div> </div> openMovements Mexico Civil society Conflict Culture Democracy and government Economics International politics openMovements Ilan Bizberg Tue, 26 May 2015 23:13:51 +0000 Ilan Bizberg 93127 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Re-imagining England https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/john-denham/reimagining-england <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Originally delivered as a public lecture at the University of Winchester on Thursday 9th October, 2014, John Denham reflects on the future of England and "Englishness."</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="Body"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><img src="https://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/s3Gr51N4S8ZYJWuE4-7OQu95KrKJtloGWrM7Gz_EWHY/mtime:1432070584/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555395/2475770445_9468b36589_z.jpg" alt="English flag, EU flag and UK flag" title="England, Britain, EU" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>How do we define "England"? Flickr/Matt Buck. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p class="Body"><span>Tonight I will talk about England.&nbsp;My home; my country.&nbsp;England is troubled, England is uncertain.&nbsp;And now, after the referendum, England isn’t even sure how we should be governed, where decisions should be made, or who should take them.</span></p><p class="Body">We don’t know where England is going; but England isn’t going away.&nbsp;And that’s a very strange thing.&nbsp;A dozen years ago a mini-industry declared England to be dead.&nbsp;Peter Hitchen’s ‘The abolition of Britain’ (which was really about England) was published in 1999,&nbsp;Roger Scruton’s ‘England an Elegy’ in 2000, and&nbsp;Geoffrey Wheatcroft’s ‘The strange death of Tory England’ in 2005 all&nbsp;said England was dead.&nbsp;They didn’t mean, of course, that England had disappeared, but a particular idea of England had died.&nbsp;One embodied perhaps in this man:</p><p class="Body"><em><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><img src="https://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/R1IMuqGwa1EYZKYHwSIcUJiyY6PiFXtLEOAaTHpMgVQ/mtime:1432069921/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555395/Percy%20Spence.jpg" alt="Percy Spence on a horse" title="Percy Spence" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></em></p><p class="Body">This man is&nbsp;Percy Spence, my maternal grandfather, in the uniform of the volunteer East Surrey Yeomanry in 1908.&nbsp;You won’t need much persuading that Percy was conservative large c and small. He was upright in character as well as bearing. He believed in order and deference, responsibility and service.&nbsp;But we have two grandfathers, of course:</p><p class="Body"><em>&nbsp;<span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><img src="https://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/qXaC06CWwPvrpJSosrW3Q8X2r-ZwyWvuAn8rITSoqkI/mtime:1432069871/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555395/Albert%20Denham.png" alt="Image of Albert Denham" title="Albert Denham" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></em></p><p class="Body">This is not such an evocative photograph but you may not need too much persuading that Albert Denham drove the steam express from Kings Cross to Edinburgh. He was a gifted musician and self-educated union man, a member of the Independent Labour Party. He was a friend of the radical Yorkshire miners’ leader Tom Williams, throughout what my father always called the Great Strike, not the General Strike.</p><p class="Body">In popular political writing – like Simon Heffer on the right or Bill Bragg on the left – we are often asked to see the true history of England as either conservative or radical, but&nbsp;I have a problem with that.&nbsp;Asking me whether England’s real story is radical or conservative is liking asking me which of my grandfathers is most English.&nbsp;Culturally, personally and politically, I’m the product of the daughter of the Surrey conservative and the son of the Yorkshire radical; the sort of marriage that might never had happened if it had not been for the Second World War when both were in the RAF.&nbsp;That war, like other wars, conflicts and disasters, changed England.</p><p class="Body">Events change us as a nation - these events change how we think about ourselves - they give us new stories about ourselves – Waterloo, Empire, Blitz.&nbsp;But when we change, we then insist that England has always been like this.&nbsp;Despite what I just said about my grandfathers, though we are the product of all our history, we choose which history we want to tell.</p><p class="Body">England doesn’t have a founding myth of who we are.&nbsp;The French cut off their king’s head and, overnight, became citizens.&nbsp;When we did the same we decided, on balance, we would rather remain subjects.&nbsp;We had no defining moment of national unification. Even if Scotland had voted Yes, England would still begin and end where it has for hundreds of years.</p><p class="Body">We’ve never been invaded, so when we were occupied by the Dutch we called it a glorious revolution.&nbsp;We broke with Rome after hundreds of years and said the Church of England embodied an unbroken tradition of English Christianity.</p><p class="Body">We don’t mind that the Magna Carta was not, as its authors claimed, a restatement of ancient liberties. It is what Magna Carta came to mean, in law and in the popular imagination that matters.&nbsp;Nothing could be more English than David Cameron telling us how important it is while admitting he didn’t know what Magna Carta meant.</p><p class="Body">That’s the English gift.&nbsp;We don’t discover our England in the history books; we create England, again and again, from the parts of our history which make most sense to us today.&nbsp;Events happen, things change, we change, our view of the world changes, the stories we tell about ourselves change.&nbsp;And then we declare, ‘<em>this is what England always was and always will be’</em>.</p><p class="Body">&nbsp;At the very time those obituaries to a particular conservative England were being published, we seem to have started to feel more English:</p><p class="Body">&nbsp;<span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><img src="https://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/1AWc2C509SzXPOprZHOUy0zNLEHqRz3vd-y-uQfrkP0/mtime:1432069862/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555395/British%20Future.png" alt="Pie graph indicating views on England's future" title="English Future" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></p><p><em>Source:&nbsp;<a href="http://www.britishfuture.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/State-of-the-Nation-2013.pdf" target="_blank">British Future 2013</a></em></p><p class="Body">We can ask people whether they are English only, English and British or just British. Over the past ten years or so, the English only group has expanded, the British only group has shrunk. More say they are more English than British: over 70% have English either as their prefered or shared identity.</p><p class="Body">These figures – and some polls show those with an England preference at nearly 50% - have risen sharply.&nbsp;We are not about to become only English but our sense of Being English matters more and more; our&nbsp;rising sense of Englishness matters to us.&nbsp;The days when England didn’t need to be English because it was good enough to be British are gone.</p><h2><strong>What will England be?</strong></h2><p class="Body">England is my home. England is our history. But England is changing. What will our English story be?&nbsp;We don’t know what these newly English imagine England to be.&nbsp;The researchers who ask about national identities don’t ask enough questions about what it means.</p><p class="Body">We do know the new English are more likely to be worried about immigration and to be anti-the EU.&nbsp;They are more likely to vote to the right.&nbsp;It is true that a majority of Labour voters also prefer an English identity, but this doesn’t feel like a radical socialist England replacing the older conservatism.</p><p class="Body">On the other hand, take time talk to those who say they are English and they’ll often tell you they feel powerless, that they are losing out, that no one listens to them.&nbsp;Unfairness, exclusion, powerlessness; these have always been the drivers of radical England.&nbsp;And, of course, part of England’s radical tradition always responded to change by trying to stop change happening.&nbsp;The agricultural rioters who gathered under the banner of Captain Swing riots in Hampshire and Dorset, the machine smashing Luddites in northern England, in some of the restrictive practices and craft demarcation of the older trades’ union movement.&nbsp;All people threatened by change who Just &nbsp;wanted to make it stop.&nbsp;</p><p class="Body">The pollster Peter Kellner tell us that UKIP voters are united in one belief; that everything was better 50 years ago.&nbsp;But that doesn’t mean that Australian academic Ben Wellings was right to equate UKIP’s rise with English nationalism. UKIP draws on some of these sentiments but the sheer numbers emphasising their English identity is far greater than have ever expressed support for that party.&nbsp;In any case, it’s only politicians and political scientists who leap straight from identity to party allegiance.</p><p class="Body">People, like me, who have spent too much time in politics, have all too easily missed what is happening outside.&nbsp;As Mike Kenny has recently documented, the modern exploration of Englishness actually began well outside politics with plays like Jerusalem, Elmina’s Kitchen, and Playing with Fire.&nbsp;Novels like White Teeth and England, England.&nbsp;The poet laureate Andrew Motion and other poets creating a new liturgy for St George,&nbsp;Damon Albarn’s opera Doctor Dee. Films like This is&nbsp;England.</p><p>The revival of the English folk tradition reflects the swirl of ideas around. It can hark back to an idealised, rural idyllic past. But it can also the basis for new music that mixes the traditional with new influences and cultures.&nbsp;The St George’s Cross no longer belongs to the extreme right.&nbsp;There are more and more St George Day celebrations, as diverse as Englishness itself.&nbsp;That’s a lot of people wondering about being English. There’s nothing here to suggest that exploring Englishness must, inevitably, be reactionary, zenophobic or inward looking.</p><p class="Body">I don’t think it is hard to understand why we are asking these questions now.&nbsp;A globalising world is not leading to a globalised citizenship. Everywhere people are responding by looking to the local for a sense of identity and we are no different.&nbsp;Over time, confidence in the core concepts of Britishness: of Empire, a dominant global economy, the provider of a comprehensive welfare state, has faded. As the notion of Britain has beome less distinct, so we become more interested in what it means to be English.&nbsp;</p><p class="Body">Wales and Scotland have asserted themselves. If we can’t lazily assume that English and British are pretty much the same any longer, then who on earth are we?&nbsp;We are troubled by the European Union, torn between the common sense of cooperation and stories of standing alone.With the closing of Portsmouth’s warship yard – as work transfers to Scotland – goes&nbsp; the last of the great manufacturing and engineering work places that once dominated our local economy; and with them went the status, security and social institutions they provided.&nbsp;Our villages and countryside have changed.&nbsp;Our communities have changed, not least with immigration, the most dramatic demographic change in our history.&nbsp; Parts of England look, feel and sound different.</p><h2><strong>Re-imagining England</strong></h2><p class="Body">England has changed, so England must be made again..</p><p class="Body">But, in truth, England seems fearful today.&nbsp;Never in hundreds of years have we seemed as fearful of the world, fearful of Europe, fearful of our engagement with other countries, fearful of foreigners.&nbsp;Can we imagine – re-imagine – an England without that fear?&nbsp;Is there an English story, true to our history and traditions that can meet the needs of the 21st&nbsp;century? Is there an England that can give a voice to the voiceless? Can we find an England that has the confidence to face the world?</p><p class="Body">Let me reinforce why this should matter, even to those who are not much taken with national identity. I am a patriot by birth but by career a progressive politician. What I have learned is the importance of the stories we tell about ourselves.&nbsp;A common story has shared values, and the values we share shape the society we can build.</p><p class="Body">Why is the National Health Service so popular, even at times when it doesn’t perform well? Because it has a fundamental value&nbsp;<em>‘we all pay in and it’s there when we need it</em>’. That’s not a funding policy; it speaks to a deep notion of the sort of people we want to be as a nation.</p><p class="Body">Why is our current welfare system so unpopular? It’s because our deeply held values are of contribution and reciprocity, not just rights. We think you should pay in, not just take out. A system that seems to reward need alone and not contribution is out of kilter with our common values.</p><p class="Body">Our national story, our shared values, determine what type of practical policies will get public support.&nbsp;So what we imagine England to be will determine what sort of society England can become. What ideas might be lurking in our collective memory and traditions, which can underpin the future as surely as our shared values underpin the NHS?&nbsp;I will not be offended if you tell me this is bad history. The one thing that is clear about English history is that it is not the best history that matters but the history that is best believed.</p><p class="Body">&nbsp;What I am sketching out is not a study but a project.&nbsp;Our challenge is not to wait and see what happens, but to help shape England.&nbsp;One of the reasons I took up the offer of joining Winchester was the hope that here, in England’s ancient capital, we could develop a centre, a place of debate, discussion and research that might play some part of shaping England’s future.</p><h2><strong>Understanding the radical tradition</strong></h2><p class="Body">The radical tradition is not&nbsp;<em>the</em>&nbsp;history of England, but it is part of it.</p><p class="Body">Ordinary people struggled together for justice; for the bare necessities to live, for basic civil and political rights, for a better life. We all know the high points: the peasants’ revolt, the levellers and the diggers, non-conformist dissent, the campaigns against slavery, the chartists, the trades union movement, the suffrage movement, and into modern times the peace movement, the women’s movement, gay rights and environmentalism.&nbsp;Win or lose they changed our country because they changed our view of what is possible.</p><p class="Body">After 40 years in politics I can tell you a secret: the great challenges are almost never first defined inside a political party; and the great answers aren’t first found in political parties either.&nbsp;They come from the movements outside. Sometimes they enter the mainstream of politics slowly; sometimes quickly.&nbsp; It took a hundred years for the demand for a minimum wage to become law but just ten years for the Living Wage to be at the centre of public debate.</p><p class="Body">The radical tradition is of collective action; of giving a voice to the voiceless, but the great statements of English radicalism never say that the nation, the people, the folk or the class is more important than the individual. &nbsp;Instead change was needed in order to enjoy the rights of the freeborn Englishman.&nbsp;Gendered language aside, these radicals both advanced common interests and treasured long held views of individual rights, of individual conscience and dissent.</p><p class="Body">English radicalism is special in another way.&nbsp;The movements did not just demand change, they created change.&nbsp;They created new institutions – workers’ libraries, cooperatives, friendly societies. They celebrated culture in choirs, bands, and banners. They organised for fun and recreation into a myriad of sports and social activities.&nbsp;English radicalism challenged power and injustice, but it often had much in common with a much broader English tradition: the creation of institutions, essentially private in nature, but which fulfil a clear public and social function.</p><p class="Body">Our universities are amongst them – very different to the state directed institutions of continental tradition. The trade union movement itself. Occupational pension schemes. Friendly societies. The National Trust. Charities and voluntary organisations.&nbsp;These make up a tradition of independent, collective, self-organisation. While they sometimes need a legal framework and funding, their effectiveness depends on their freedom and autonomy.</p><p class="Body">The richness of this civic life and enterprise is distinctively English. Few other countries enjoy the richness of our voluntary movements or the autonomy of our key institutions. But we have been careless with it. We killed occupational pension schemes. We’ve made charities sub-contractors to private monopolies. We need to protect and revive that radical tradition.</p><h2><strong>The common good</strong></h2><p class="Body">We are not, by temperament, an anarchistic nation. We want government, but we want it to be good, fair and competent; and we have a strong notion of the common good.</p><p class="Body">When Wat Tyler addressed the young King Richard II in 1381 he didn’t threaten to overthrow the monarchy. He set out the responsibilities of rulers.&nbsp;Rulers should not use the law arbitrarily:</p><p class="Body"><em>‘There shall be no law but the law of Winchester’</em></p><p class="Body">Other powerful people must use power responsibly:</p><p class="Body"><em>‘No lord should have lordship save civilly’</em></p><p class="Body">Institutions that had accumulated wealth unjustly should have it redistributed:</p><p class="Body"><em>‘Clergy already in possession should have a sufficient sustenance from the endowments and the rest of the goods should be divided among the people of the parish’</em></p><p class="Body">And in rights and in dignity we are all equal:</p><p class="Body"><em>‘No serfdom or villeinage, but that all men should be free and of one condition’</em></p><p class="Body">Time and time again the English have said the same.&nbsp;We will have government, but the legitimacy of government derives from its ability to deliver for the common good.&nbsp;There will be powerful people, but our measure of them is whether they meet their responsibilities to wider society.</p><p class="Body">However, our society today is wildly unequal in wealth but also in power.&nbsp;Everyone knows in their bones that the rules are different for those at the top.&nbsp;For decades we have been told that the accumulation of great wealth is the right and just outcome of a market economy. We have been told that this is a natural law in which morality has no role to play. On the other hand, the historic notion of the common good challenges that self-serving ideology. The common good demands that we judge a society, its government, its powerful, by whether they deliver their obligations to the many.&nbsp;If, once again,&nbsp; we could make the common good the measure of England it would change what we think we can do.</p><p class="Body">The common good can give us a new sense of national economic purpose. The loss of major companies, the dominance of the global banks in London, the relative neglect of innovation and manufacturing, the skill shortages and under-utilisation of talent in poorly paid and unproductive jobs – these are all symptoms of an economy run in the interests of a few. The common good can give us the rules for reshaping the economy.&nbsp;The common good can provide the values that can be shared in the boardroom, call centre, hospital and shopfloor. The common good tells us what behaviours we value and those that we don’t.</p><h2><strong>Migration</strong></h2><p class="Body">England is always changing, but&nbsp;few changes have been as rapid, and as visible as the immigration of recent years.&nbsp;In 30 years or so, around a third of our population will have ethnic minority backgrounds:</p><p class="Body"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><img src="https://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/F03-MtVg1rZf7xDne6N6GPnCa4bI-BQfH9ZixgMIKxc/mtime:1432069762/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555395/Migration%20stats.png" alt="Pie graph of migration statistics into Britain" title="Migration statistics" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></p><p class="Body"><em>Source:&nbsp;<a href="http://www.runnymedetrust.org/uploads/publications/pdfs/TheFutureAgeingOfTheEthnicMinorityPopulation-ForWebJuly2010.pdf" target="_blank">Runnymede Trust 2010</a></em></p><p class="Body">Around 30% will not be white. Many parts of England will look, perhaps sound, very different.&nbsp;Minority communities today are much less likely to say English than British. Younger generations are changing but the disparity is marked.&nbsp;We can all have multiple identities. But a nation cannot work if we can’t agree what nation we are, and if that disagreement is on ethnic or racial lines.</p><p class="Body">English has to be an identity we can all share, or England itself will fail.&nbsp;Even though the history of our island has been absorbing the impact of newcomers, nothing quite like this has happened before. Still,&nbsp;there is enough in our past to guide us today.&nbsp;The English have never been defined by our genes, but by our institutions, our customs, the way we do things.</p><p class="Body">There is, of course, a limit to how fast any nation can be expected to change. And our deeply held values cannot be negotiated:</p><ul><li>- Everyone should play by the same rules,</li><li>- You have to pay in, not just take out,</li><li>- The radical demand for freedom from exploitation in the workplace,</li><li>- The popular tolerance of live and let live.</li></ul><p class="Body">Migrants have come from many places but most have some historic link. When I told a young Southampton councillor that my uncle was on Southampton’s war memorial having been torpedoed on the way to the Far East, she told me her Sikh grandfather had been in the same army in the same conflict. In sharing two stories the south Asian presence becomes not an accident of history, but a shared history of sacrifice and service.&nbsp;When we share our stories we can understand how we all came to be here.</p><p class="Body">No one will come to a party to which they’ve not been invited; I believe that being English belongs to everyone making their home and life here. Racists will deny this. But, let’s be honest, well meaning liberals who say ‘we can’t really talk about England because of minorities’ are in their own way, suggesting that Englishness is not for all.&nbsp;We need to understand that place matters.Everyone said how calmly the English responded to the 7/7 bombings. Yet 40% of those Londoners weren’t born here. Our local identities communicate values and belonging.</p><p class="Body">Above all, it’s time to recognise that, while multi-culturalism rightly taught us to respect our differences, it did too little to develop the values and ideas that must bind us together. The challenge for today is nothing less than nation-building – building a nation anew.&nbsp;Consciously developing those common stories, common values, that explain who we are, how we came to be here, and where we are going.</p><p class="Body">In 50 years time our grandchildren may well look back and say this was the moment that England rediscovered the confidence to face the world, to be a global player.&nbsp;</p><p class="Body">We will explain much of our power and influence in the world by the extraordinary advantages of the English people. Drawn together by England’s greatest gift the world, the English language, we became, almost unique in the world, a nation that not only speaks the global language but has family, culture and historical links to every part of the globe.&nbsp;We will remember the thousands of black people in Elizabethan London, the contribution of the Huguenots to our woollen industry, the enterprise of the Jewish refugees, the contribution of generations of new migrants to our science, innovation and enterprise.&nbsp;And then we will say, not that England was always like this; but that England has always been built by all the people who lived here.</p><h2><strong>A sense of place</strong></h2><p class="Body">In every telling of English history, place has mattered.&nbsp;Our island status has governed our relationship with the rest of the world. Our weather has shaped our relationship with our environment. Countryside has retained an iconic importance long after most people ceased to living or work there. Access to land – for livelihood and leisure - shaped our radical traditions.&nbsp;And, with all due respect to Basingstoke, we prefer to live in places that have grown organically not been dropped down by planners.</p><p class="Body">And where we live is part of our identity.&nbsp;We are Geordies, Westcountry, Cornish, Brummies, Londoners; our sense of place is deep. Perhaps surprisingly, its about to come back into its own.&nbsp;England is highly centralised, and has become more so in my political lifetime: when I was a Hampshire county councillor 64% of local finance was raised locally, now it is 40%.&nbsp;</p><p class="Body">The development of the modern state replaced not just the historic units of local government but the places and institutions that drove our great cities and industrial development.&nbsp;Before the Second World War, Douglas Jay said ‘the man in Whitehall genuinely does know best’.&nbsp;Nye Bevan wanted the sound of a falling bed pan in the new NHS to be heard in Whitehall. Yet today the civil servant Whitehall doesn’t even know what is going on. A cacophony of falling bed pans and other data overwhelms their ability to make sense of it, let alone manage it.</p><p class="Body">The thrust of technocratic reports from Michael Heseltine and Andrew Adonis is that England’s governance must be decentralised.&nbsp;This is grasping the future, not a retreat into an idealised past when giants like Joseph Chamberlain in Birmingham (and our own Sir Sidney Kimber in Southampton) shaped our cities.&nbsp;We can do stuff now we couldn’t do 30 years ago. The connectivity of the web means that today we can be both more local, and more aware of what is happening globally than ever before. Open Data means everyone will know how well their services are performing.&nbsp;But this will only fly if it’s linked to our historic sense of place.</p><p class="Body">Whitehall’s instinct will be for neatness. To impose constitutional change like the Roman’s built towns that disappeared as soon as the legions left were gone.&nbsp;England’s internal constitution must evolve more like an Anglo-Saxon market town; it should be messy, proud not to be the same everywhere. That’s more in keeping with our history and our English eccentricity.</p><h2><strong>England must get what England wants</strong></h2><p class="Body">So what about England itself?&nbsp;David Cameron has called for English Votes for English Laws.&nbsp;Ed Miliband called for a constitutional convention and proposed replacing the Lords with the Senate of the nations of the UK.</p><p class="Body">Change is coming and&nbsp;I start from a simple proposition:&nbsp;England must get what England wants.&nbsp;We must take our decisions in a manner which England determines, just as the Scots and Welsh have been able to do.</p><p class="Body">It is self-evident that as more powers are devolved to Scotland and Wales and indeed Northern Ireland, the less acceptable it can be for MPs not elected by English voters to determine what happens in English schools, hospitals and universities.&nbsp;Change is perhaps more complicated than has been suggested, if we want both stable government and to keep the Union together.&nbsp;But this isn’t a debate than can be silenced. And nor can it be determined in a Whitehall committee.</p><p class="Body">If England is going to get what England wants, this debate must be taken up by the people of England. In our communities, in local councils, in faith groups, business associations and voluntary organisations. We have the chance to demand decisions be taken closer to where we live, and we have the chance to decide how we want England to be governed. That’s too important to be left to the politicians in Westminster and it needs to start now.</p><p class="Body">I am a Unionist and I was pleased there was a No vote. But if I am honest, you have to be quite an optimist to believe the Union will survive as it is now evolving.&nbsp;The once great Conservative and Unionist Party is now to all intents and purposes the English National Conservative Party, while&nbsp;<span>Labour has, as yet, no distinctive English voice of its own.</span><span>&nbsp;Also, in my view, only when England is confident in itself will we be able to determine our relationship with Europe.</span></p><h2>Re-imagining England</h2><p class="Body">For large periods of time, being English seemed to look after itself; we didn’t talk about who we were because we knew who we were.&nbsp;But at other times of great upheaval; it has mattered greatly, and this is one of those moments.</p><p class="Body">For all the reasons I have touched on tonight; economic change; the powerful failing their obligations; government systems that cannot work; our fears of the world outside and the strangers within; this is a time for nation building.&nbsp;England is making itself anew. For those who love our country, this is no time to stand and watch, but time to be part of that process.</p><p class="Body">I have only covered part of the canvass here.&nbsp;The church has been crucial in defining England in the past; faith – many faiths – must help define us now.&nbsp;This is above all for the rising generation.</p><p class="Body">At Winchester the University is working with college students in Southampton to ask what sort of England they want to create.&nbsp;That work has grown out of our St George’s Festival, and next year we will bring together many of those who organise popular festivals of England around St George and Shakespeare’s birthday as we begin this work of exploring our new and old nation.</p><p class="Body">National identities are created, not discovered. We draw on our histories, but we can choose the parts that are of most value to us today. In this text I have&nbsp;re-imagined my country:</p><p class="Body">An England of the common good.&nbsp;Where the quality of government, the status of the rich, the morality of the powerful is judged not by what they take for themselves but how they deliver for the common good.</p><p class="Body">A well governed England where public policy sits easily with the values of the English people.</p><p class="Body">A radical England, where we are prepared to struggle together to fight injustice but also to defend individual liberty; where we create new institutions together, making demands on the state but not dependent on it or subject to it.&nbsp;</p><p class="Body">An England at ease with its diversity, forged together in one nation and confident to face the world.&nbsp;</p><p class="Body">An England where decisions are taken as close to the people as they can be, where we value our local traditions and identities.&nbsp;</p><p class="Body">An England governed in the way the English decide we want to be governed, supporting the Union but not carrying it.</p><p class="Body">That’s what I have imagined, so think what we could imagine together.</p><p class="Body"><strong><em>This post was cross-posted with permission from John Denham's </em></strong><strong><em><a href="http://www.theoptimisticpatriot.co.uk/post/99896790218/re-imagining-england">blog</a>.</em></strong></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourkingdom/maggie-scull-naomi-lloydjones/four-nations-and-devolution-question">Four nations and the devolution question</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/ourkingdom/arianna-giovannini-and-andrew-mycock/all-for-english-devolution-but-what-about-english-de">All for English devolution - but what about English democracy? </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourkingdom/james-dennison/english-parliament-best-way-to-save-uk">An English Parliament: The best way to save the UK?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> England </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> </div> </div> OurKingdom OurKingdom England Civil society Democracy and government Nationalism History John Denham Tue, 26 May 2015 23:11:11 +0000 John Denham 92924 at https://www.opendemocracy.net A free election, but not a fair one https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/peter-evans/free-election-but-not-fair-one <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The 2015 election result shows just how absurdly unfair our voting system is. To change it we need&nbsp;political pressure from a movement for democratic renewal outside of Parliament. &nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span> </span></p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><img src="https://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/du8VN5ezYgbDT6f2Gez6jZWg0wj-ATqmpYW520iFzvg/mtime:1432298495/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555395/4502027805_19b321dfec_z.jpg" alt="Blackboard showing Ladbrokes election odds" title="Election odds" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The numbers aren't adding up. Flickr/Cellanr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p><span>So, the results are in, and an unexpected outcome in some ways. Slim as it is, I don’t think many would have predicted the Tories getting an overall majority! However, in other ways the results of this election were entirely predictable, and one of the most predictable elements was that the distribution of seats would in no way match the distribution of the national share of votes. The SNP, with 1.45 million votes, has received 56 seats. That’s 8.6% of the seats with 4.8% of the votes. The Liberal Democrats meanwhile got 2.41 million votes and 8 seats – 1.23% of the seats with 7.9% of the votes.</span></p><p><span> </span></p><p><span>UKIP: 3.88 million votes – well over double the SNP vote, 12.6% of the national vote – 1 seat. Greens: 1.15 million votes, 3.8% of the total cast, also 1 seat. That’s 0.15% of seats in the Commons for UKIP, and 0.15% of them for the Greens. The smaller parties, Plaid Cymru and the Northern Irish parties, show similar deviations. The SDLP for example has as many seats as Sinn Fein, despite having only 99,800 votes to Sinn Fein’s 176,200.</span></p><p><span> </span><span><span>But what about the big two? Labour, with 30.4% of the vote (9.34 million), got 35.7% of the seats; whilst the Tories – obviously the big winners this time – have 50.09% of the seats with 36.9% of the vote (11.33 million votes). That means the Conservative party has 15% more clout in Parliament compared to the amount of people who wanted to empower them. This gives them just enough power in Parliament for the choice of one third of the voters to dominate the rest. Turnout at this election was 66%, which means that a party which gained the active approval of only around 25% of registered voters dominates Parliament</span><span><span>.</span></span></span></p><p><span> </span></p><p><span><span>To be fair, the 33% who didn’t vote could be argued to have acquiesced to whatever the system gave them. However, this has to be viewed in the context that many don’t bother voting not because they are content</span><span><span>&nbsp; </span></span><span>with whatever happens, but because they are aware that their vote is most likely not to count under our system. At least as far as this election is concerned we do not yet know what exactly the ratio is between those who are simply lazy; are happy with whatever the outcome may be; who don’t vote because they believe the system is broken; and who don’t because know they are in too safe a seat for it to matter.</span></span></p><p><span> </span></p><p><span>Likewise, for this election at least we do not yet know: how many people voted for the party of their first choice; how many voted tactically to try and keep another party out; how many voted as a protest in order to cut the national share of a party; or how many voted simply to bump the national share of a party they favour.</span></p><p><span> </span></p><p><span><span>What our vote even represents is a mess, and there is no consistency of approach when it comes to voting strategies. We cannot therefore even view the figures of national share in a straightforward manner. The Tories may have won 11.33 million votes, yes, but how many of these were votes made against another party? That under a different system might have gone to another party? And the same question applies to </span><em><span>every </span></em><span>party. To get some idea of this we can look at who comes second in each seat, but again it’s a total stab in the dark. How far the national vote aligns with people’s actual preferences is therefore unclear.</span></span></p><p><span> </span></p><p><span>I do not mean to argue here that Labour or the Conservatives do not have substantial support in the country. I am arguing however that they do not enjoy the levels of support that should confer an absolute ability to govern. I am also arguing that it is farcical to call a system democratic that works on the basis that every vote which didn’t go to a winning candidate in a given seat counts for absolutely nothing. The mean average share of the local constituency vote on which an MP was elected to this Parliament was 46.4%. This means that a mean average of 53.6% of people’s votes have not counted towards the composition of this Parliament, regardless of how they voted. This means that 53.6% of the electorate have been effectively disenfranchised. With this context in mind, and bearing in mind the prevalence of safe seats – seats where the vote can essentially be declared before the vote is even held – is it any wonder that so many don’t bother to vote?</span></p><p><span> </span></p><p><span>Frankly, the First Past the Post system is perverse. With the way it corrupts the national vote – by forcing us to vote with who might win seats in mind rather than just go with our personal first choice; by rewarding geographically compact support and punishing that which is diffused throughout the country; and, most importantly, by disenfranchising the losing votes in every single seat (about two-thirds of us) – it is a joke to call it truly democratic. And this is no new development associated with the rise of new parties such as UKIP and the Greens – in 1983 for example, Labour won 209 seats on 27.6% of the popular vote, whilst the SDP-Liberal Alliance were left with 23 seats from 25.4% of the vote!</span></p><p><span> </span></p><p><span><span>With today’s electorate the system does not even reflect people’s choices within the system. The basis of our democracy is representation, but we are left with merely a virtual representation. The votes of </span><span><span>24.3% of us – 36.9% </span></span><span>those who actually turned out to vote – are supposedly good enough for the rest of us. Apparently, their choice of candidates will govern in the interests of us all, simply because they are Parliamentarians and their job is to pursue the common good. According to this argument, MPs truly are “right honourable”. Not only will they supposedly adhere to the promises they made to their supporters; they are supposed to simultaneously uphold the common interests of the nation – and that’s before we even add self-interest, lobbying, and outright corruption like cash-for-influence to the equation.</span></span></p><p><span> </span></p><p><span>Democracy requires elections to be free and fair. Ours may be free, but they certainly aren’t fair. The current system asks us to entertain a utopian dream about a broken system. The only proper response to this election for those who really care about democracy, and who don’t simply want to ensure the continuation of the status quo, is to support electoral reform towards creating a situation where every voters’ choice really matters. A system where what people want can actually be translated into power in Parliament.</span></p><p><span> </span></p><p><span>We need to end this system that delivers majority power to the largest minority at the cost of the rest, and replace it with a system that gives every citizen true power to shape the government. The two major parties cannot be trusted to push this much-needed change through off their own backs. Therefore initiatives outside of Parliament, such as </span><a href="http://assembliesfordemocracy.org/"><span><span>Assemblies for Democracy</span></span></a><span>, will be vital in creating the political pressure needed for power to be put back into the vote.</span></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/collections/great-charter-convention"><img src="https://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/UxkhO5tOHtbMIfwPz8mea4EAt46o4R-cTNYSTqrHfMM/mtime:1432110640/files/Great%20Charter%20Convention%20%281%29.jpg" alt="" width="140" /></a> </p><p><a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/collections/great-charter-convention">The Great Charter Convention</a> – an open, public debate on where arbitrary power lies in the UK today and how we should contest and contain it.</p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourkingdom/jeremy-fox/our-electoral-system-is-failing-us">Our electoral system is failing us</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/ourkingdom/liam-anderson/voters-per-mp-why-first-past-post-failed">Voters per MP: why First Past The Post failed </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 3.0 </div> </div> </div> OurKingdom OurKingdom Great Charter Convention Building it: campaigns and movements Rethinking representation Peter Evans Tue, 26 May 2015 23:11:11 +0000 Peter Evans 92941 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Why the British elite loves Waterloo https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/harry-blain/why-british-elite-loves-waterloo <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>For the British ruling class, June 18, 1815 was a high point: most battles since have been disastrous.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><img src="https://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/DwSkP_MTVefUT1aF7ZdHjSV2MmCY534B-1dV-Bkp45s/mtime:1432544678/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555395/6277783500_366569c886_z.jpg" alt="A painting of the Battle of Waterloo" title="Waterloo painting" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>"Gentlemanly" warfare. Flickr/Frans de Wit. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>Last year’s commemorations of the First World War were largely predictable. Politicians “coming together” to honour the sacrifices of those who fought; misrepresentation of the war’s causes; dissenting voices disgusted by the sanitisation of history; even <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/aug/04/ed-miliband-criticised-impersonal-wreath-first-world-war">a petty dispute</a> over which party leaders could add a personal message to their wreaths.&nbsp; </p> <p>There is scarcely anything more political than a nation remembering war. For those in power, commemoration is an opportunity to obscure divisions like class and gender beneath a narrative of unity, to valorise history’s “Great (white) Men”, and to remind citizens of the need to remain vigilant and fearful in the face of lingering threats to their democracy and liberty. The pageantry and mythology also distracts us from the very real and current links between weapons manufacturers, elected representatives and public institutions – which have <a href="http://armingallsides.on-the-record.org.uk/">long historical lineages</a>. As Paul Rogers <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/paul-rogers/red-poppies-and-arms-trade">powerfully wrote</a>, we see the spectacular poppy display, but not the war-makers who stand behind it. </p> <h2><strong>“Won on the playing-fields of Eton”…</strong></h2> <p>In this sense, it is not surprising that many of us feel uncomfortable seeing our Prime Minister in one breath solemnly declare “Lest We Forget” and in the <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/defence/9655254/David-Cameron-defends-legitimate-arms-deals-during-Gulf-states-tour.html">next defend “legitimate” arms sales</a> to our autocratic “allies.” To a large extent we’re used to such moral hypocrisy, and well-acquainted with the cynical use of phrases like “honour” and “sacrifice” to describe mechanised and impersonal killing. It takes a great deal of imagination and distortion to make the First World War “honourable”, and we often see right through it.&nbsp; </p> <p>Waterloo, however, was very different from the wars of the 20th Century. The battlefield was decorated with bayonets, linear formations and <a href="https://www.waterloo2015.org/en/history/battlefield/prince-william-orange">Crown Princes</a> (unfortunately, if you want a fuller picture, the bicentenary re-enactment is <a href="https://www.waterloo2015.org/en/node/249">sold out</a>). &nbsp;It was a decisive battle – not an inch-by-inch struggle – fought in line with old aristocratic codes: Wellington even had a chance to kill Napoleon but <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/timelines/zwtf34j">ordered his men to hold fire</a>. </p> <p>“Total War” had not arrived in Europe. Young men were not conscripted <em>en masse </em>to fight Napoleon – though <a href="http://www.newstatesman.com/2014/01/banking-victory-three-tomes-britains-war-napoleon">many were “press-ganged” into the navy</a> – and multilingual, “gentlemanly” officers in the King’s German Legion led <a href="http://www.newstatesman.com/uk-politics/2014/10/what-battle-waterloo-teaches-us-about-europe-today">a professional and efficient campaign.</a> War is never clean, and Waterloo was undoubtedly brutal. But it did not engulf society in the same way as from 1914 to 1945. Eric Hobsbawm <a href="http://www.amazon.co.uk/Age-Extremes-Twentieth-Century-1914-1991/dp/0349106711">captured the contrast</a> well (see page 15):</p> <blockquote><p><em>Jane Austen wrote her novels during the Napoleonic wars, but no reader who did not know this already would guess it, for the wars do not appear in her pages, even though a number of the young gentlemen who pass through them undoubtedly took part in them. It is inconceivable that any novelist could write about Britain in the twentieth-century wars in this manner.</em></p></blockquote> <p>Waterloo, which led to the “Concert of Europe” and cemented British hegemony, was not only an elite affair, but an elite triumph. No wonder so many have believed the phrase (<a href="http://www.newstatesman.com/2014/01/banking-victory-three-tomes-britains-war-napoleon">probably falsely</a>) attributed to the Duke of Wellington claiming that “the Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton.” </p> <p>No wonder, also, that our aristocratic Chancellor (who, for the sake of accuracy is not actually an Etonian) was <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/history/10145985/What-price-the-Battle-of-Waterloo.html">so keen to</a> “make sure the site of the Battle of Waterloo is restored in time for the 200th anniversary” in order to “celebrate a great victory of coalition forces over a discredited former regime that had impoverished millions.”</p> <h2><strong>…“But the opening battles of all subsequent wars have been lost there”</strong></h2> <p>George Orwell’s 1941 essay, <a href="http://orwell.ru/library/essays/lion/english/e_eye"><em>England Your England</em></a>, began with the famous line: “As I write, highly civilised human beings are flying overhead, trying to kill me.” In his lifetime, he had seen Europe’s self-destruction and the unravelling of its great confidence in peace and progress after the Napoleonic Wars. He – and so many others – had seen <em>modern</em> warfare: machine guns, tanks, carpet bombing, mass conscription, poison gas. He also saw – and indeed <a href="http://www.amazon.co.uk/Homage-Catalonia-George-Orwell/dp/0141393025">physically fought against</a> – the rise of Fascism; while his fellow socialists saw (or, in many cases, denied and apologised for) the extraordinary brutality of Stalinism. </p> <p>Above all, what Orwell documented was the remarkable incapacity of Britain’s “ruling class” to grasp the changing nature of war and society. “The higher commanders”, he noted, “drawn from the aristocracy, could never prepare for modern war, because in order to do so they would have had to admit to themselves that the world was changing.” Not to mention how the Chamberlains, Hoares, and Simons “dealt with Fascism as the cavalry generals of 1914 dealt with the machine-guns – by ignoring it.”</p> <p>The disasters are well-known: “appeasement,” Gallipoli, the Somme. We may justifiably regard Churchill – an aristocrat who did not go to university – as a great wartime leader, but he too had his share of embarrassments: Gallipoli, of course, but also the <a href="http://www.marxist.com/britain-1926-general-strike-revolution.htm">terrible decision</a> to put Britain back on the Gold Standard in 1925 and his <a href="http://stopwar.org.uk/news/what-they-don-t-tell-us-about-winston-churchill-antisemitic-war-criminal-and-racial-supremicist">praise</a> for Mussolini’s “victorious struggle” against Bolshevism in 1927.</p> <p>Looking at this record, Orwell quipped: “Probably the battle of Waterloo was won on the playing-fields of Eton, but the opening battles of all subsequent wars have been lost there.”</p> <h2><strong>“An act of statesmanship”</strong></h2> <p>It is undoubtedly impressive that Britain emerged from the <a href="http://www.amazon.co.uk/Age-Extremes-Twentieth-Century-1914-1991/dp/0349106711">“Age of Catastrophe”</a> intact, thanks in no small part to the masses of poor men and women deceived and manipulated by their “superiors.” But if our political leaders of the 1920s and 1930s were unable to understand the currents of change spreading through Europe, they have since, if anything, shown an even more dangerous level of incompetence. </p> <p>Those involved in the break-up of empire have illustrated this clearly: from the 8000 Malayan guerrillas who <a href="http://www.amazon.co.uk/Revolutionaries-Eric-Hobsbawm/dp/0349120560">immobilised 140 000 British soldiers and policemen from 1948-1960</a>; to the ill-armed Mau Mau fighters in Kenya who were only suppressed through a <a href="http://www.amazon.co.uk/Britains-Gulag-Brutal-Empire-Kenya-x/dp/1844135489">“gulag”</a> of concentration camps; to the Irish Republicans who <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wcS2LBx3nZ4">terrorised the SAS</a> in South Armagh.</p> <p>The lessons from these “counter-insurgency campaigns” were then applied to Iraq, where the <a href="https://www.rusi.org/events/ref:E466804A9E83DD/#.VVpSyPlVikp">“British model”</a> (which is supposedly based on “minimum force” and “winning hearts and minds”) was constantly discussed by generals, academics and policymakers. In fact, the real “lessons” could have been learned from Britain’s <a href="https://www.globalpolicy.org/iraq-conflict-the-historical-background-/36413.html">1917 occupation of Iraq</a>: a quick military victory followed by a protracted insurgency; a promise that “we come as liberators, not conquerors”; and a horribly naïve expectation that “we shall be received with cordiality.”</p> <p>As we look at the continuing calamity in Iraq, it is difficult not to see our current crop of rulers in the same way Orwell did 74 years ago: delusional, archaic, inept.</p> <p>Now, we’re also having to face up to a devastating humanitarian crisis on the edge of “Fortress Europe”, one which has forced our current Etonian Prime Minister to <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-31513595">defend “regime change” in militia-ridden Libya</a>. As the <em>Daily Mash</em> – satirical news that is often scarily close to reality –<em> </em><a href="http://www.thedailymash.co.uk/news/war/bombing-libya-then-fking-off-was-the-responsible-thing-to-do-says-cameron-2015042497731">put it:</a> “David Cameron has insisted bombing Libya and then forgetting about it was an act of statesmanship.” </p> <p>Waterloo, then, might have been, <a href="http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Arthur_Wellesley,_1st_Duke_of_Wellington">in Wellington’s words,</a> the<strong> </strong>“nearest run thing you ever saw in your life,” but it’s no surprise that the Camerons and Osbornes are so desperate to remember it. For Britain’s ruling elite, it was a rare success to be followed by a long record of bloody and costly failure.&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourkingdom/adam-ramsay/hiding-behind-cenotaph-cameron-will-seek-to-re-write-history">Hiding behind the Cenotaph, Cameron will seek to re-write history </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/ourkingdom/anthony-barnett/ten-years-ago-today-in-baghdad">Ten years ago today in Baghdad </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourkingdom/anthony-barnett/occupy-runnymede-six-reasons-why-british-establishment-hates-magna-carta">Occupy Runnymede: Six reasons why the British Establishment hates the Magna Carta</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> </div> </div> OurKingdom OurKingdom Conflict Democracy and government Identity History Harry Blain Tue, 26 May 2015 23:11:11 +0000 Harry Blain 93053 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The BBC has little to fear from Britain’s new government https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourbeeb/michael-underhill/bbc-has-little-to-fear-from-britain%E2%80%99s-new-government <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Britain’s new Culture Secretary will be rational and measured in his approach to the BBC's Charter Renewal. &nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left 0'><a href="https://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/NrrJJmsScYsw6_3Yj1RlBXv32ei7Z982LmXmiESCnGw/mtime:1432545281/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/537086/2374748634_f455c95f69_b.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="https://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/QA4y0kIfJfuoBafxijHnaLkNkJUpppsZFuD1VIbOkqE/mtime:1432545316/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/537086/2374748634_f455c95f69_b.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>iPlayer - small, medium, large. Image: Flickr / Dan Taylor</span></span></span>As both the BBC’s Royal Charter and licence fee settlement expire within the next two years, a Conservative victory in May’s general election was likely not the outcome many at the Beeb would have been hoping for. The Conservative manifesto promised to deliver a “comprehensive review of the BBC Royal Charter, ensuring it delivers value for money for the licence fee payer”. They proposed to keep the licence fee frozen and introduce further top-slicing to help fund the roll-out of superfast broadband, further reducing income to an organisation already halfway through an extensive cost-cutting programme. The appointment of John Whittingdale as Culture Secretary has fuelled concerns that the Conservative government will pursue a tough line on the BBC.</span></p> <p>Given his previous role as chair of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee (CMSC), we know a fair amount about Whittingdale’s thoughts on the BBC as the CMSC published a document titled <em><a href="http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/culture-media-and-sport-committee/inquiries/parliament-2010/future-of-the-bbc/" target="_blank">The Future of the BBC</a> </em>in February this year. This report was the first step in examining the role and position of the BBC in the run up to Charter renewal and gives us a good insight into how discussions may unfold over the next 18 months or so. These discussions will need to conclude well before the current Charter expires on 31 December 2016, and will focus on three main and distinct, albeit inter-related, areas:</p><p><span>1. Public service role and functions of the BBC</span></p><p><span>2. Role of the BBC Trust and related governance issues&nbsp;</span></p><p><span></span><span>3. Future funding, with special emphasis on the licence fee</span></p><p>Due to its relevance for both Charter renewal and the licence fee settlement - which expires in March 2017 - this article focuses on the third of these.&nbsp;</p><h2><strong>The licence fee mechanism</strong></h2><p>The BBC is, and has been since its inception, largely funded by the licence fee, which must be paid by any home watching live TV on any device (including recordings on a PVR and live streaming online). However it funds much more than just TV, including the BBC’s radio output and online activities. Combined these three activities give the BBC a 96% weekly reach among UK citizens. But users of the BBC website, radio listeners and iPlayer catch-up viewers who don’t also watch television do not pay for the BBC content they consume. As viewing moves away from the linear schedule (and the TV set) and live TV’s role diminishes, critics claim that the licence fee is no longer fit for purpose and in need of updating. </p><p>While acknowledging the licence fee remains the best way to fund the BBC in the near term, the CMSC largely agrees with these claims and suggests that the licence fee cannot survive in its current form much into the 2020s. So, what are the facts behind these claims? And what are the alternatives?</p><p>First, the facts. Despite the general fanfare around online viewing, actual time spent watching online is far lower than public discourse would suggest. To take the BBC’s iPlayer as one example, while it handled over 2.5 billion TV requests in 2014 it only accounted for 3.6% of total time with BBC TV content. Viewing covered by the licence fee still accounts for the majority of TV consumption, though an increasing amount is taking place outside the linear schedule.&nbsp;</p><p>However, online viewing has led to an increase in the number of homes without a TV set. The BARB Establishment Survey puts this at around 1.6 million TV-less homes, up from 900,000 three years ago. While these homes should pay the licence fee if they are watching live TV on any device, it is our understanding that people associate the licence with TV set ownership rather than live viewing. As the number of homes without a TV set continues to grow, it makes sense that the mechanism by which it is paid changes to accommodate the growing numbers of BBC consumers not paying for their consumption. Interestingly, the last major change to the licence fee took place in 1971 with the abolition of the radio-only licence. At the time TV set penetration was 93% and growing; it seems apt that the next major licence fee change could happen when TV set penetration passes 93% in the other direction.</p><p>Now the alternatives. While a number have been mooted, the CMSC favours a household levy, as currently used in Germany, while also highlighting the personal-tax system used in Finland. On the surface the German model is not hugely different from the current licence fee model other than requiring payment from non-TV homes, a step towards capturing the 1.6 million mentioned above. On the other hand the Finnish system is rather different – individuals pay 0.68% of their income tax to YLE, the state broadcaster. Upper and lower limits exist to ensure that low-income groups do not have to pay and total receipts do not get too high. </p> <p>The CMSC is also keen on the introduction of a subscription fee to capture viewers who solely watch television content via catch-up (such as the iPlayer), or the introduction of some sort of mechanism to ensure that only licence fee payers could access the service, as soon as possible. This would require the Secretary of State to submit updated regulations to Parliament, for approval by negative resolution. Introduction may be fairly simple, but encouraging uptake and enforcement among a generation of viewers who do not associate a TV licence with online video may prove more problematic.</p><h2><strong>Decriminalisation of non-payment of the licence fee</strong></h2><p>Currently non-payment of the licence fee in England and Wales is a criminal offence which can incur fines of up to £1,000, though the average fine is £170 (only £24.50 more than the licence fee). Those found guilty do not receive a centrally recorded criminal record, though a magistrates’ court record is maintained. In 2013 over 150,000 people in England and Wales were found guilty in such a court. </p> <p>Following concerns raised in parliament that the criminal nature of non-payment of the licence fee is too severe, and that it disproportionately affects those on low incomes, the then Secretary of State Sajid Javid announced a review into the TV licence enforcement regime in September 2014. This would consider whether the sanctions were appropriate and whether the regime represented value for money for both licence fee payers and taxpayers. The consultation closed on 1 May and the report setting out the key findings and conclusions will be submitted to government by the end of June. </p> <p>The main BBC defence is that the prospect of a court appearance acts as an effective deterrent, and without this then the rate of evasion could double. According to the BBC in 2013/14 licence fee evasion was 5.5% of licensable households which amounted to £214 million in lost revenues, while the cost of licence fee collection was £102 million. One further advantage of the criminal regime is that it enables detection and search. Enquiry officers can apply for authorisation to use detection equipment if refused entry onto premises, which is much harder if it is a civil matter. This will not only make it harder to successfully prosecute those offenders, but it may well encourage many households not to apply for the licence fee as they believe they are much less likely to get caught if there is no “detector van”.</p><p>The CMSC report, which has been running in parallel with the government’s review, has come out firmly in favour of making non-payment a civil matter pursued through the civil courts, as is the case with parking fines or Council Tax. It also acknowledged that this might lead to higher evasion rates and therefore a reduction in BBC income. The suggestion was that this could be prevented through alternative funding models or conditional access technologies.</p><h2><strong>Further top-slicing of licence fee revenues</strong></h2><p>While the Conservative manifesto suggested further top-slicing of the licence fee to pay for rural broadband, the CMSC report found the case for this to be “unconvincing” and recommended that licence fee income be used only for broadcasting or for producing “public service content on television, radio and online.” It even went so far as to say that the government should remedy any 2010 spending commitments, so “those not deemed appropriate for funding through the licence fee are met by other means.” So while the CMSC report did suggest a small proportion of the licence fee should be top-sliced for public service content priorities it opposed monies be used to fund broadband.</p><h2><strong>Conclusions&nbsp;</strong></h2><p>Despite press headlines proclaiming a tough few years for the BBC, we do not believe this to be the case. &nbsp;Thanks to his extensive knowledge of the broadcasting industry Whittingdale is much more nuanced in his approach to the BBC and is well aware of its importance to the broader UK creative industries.&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourbeeb/david-elstein/john-whittingdale-is-not-%27antibbc%27">John Whittingdale is not &#039;anti-BBC&#039;</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/ourbeeb/justin-lewis/newspapers-not-bbc-led-way-in-biased-election-coverage">Newspapers, not the BBC, led the way in biased election coverage</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourbeeb/david-elstein/lose-licence-fee-abolish-trust">Lose the licence fee, abolish the Trust </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> OurBeeb OurBeeb OurKingdom Gill Hind Michael Underhill Tue, 26 May 2015 23:11:11 +0000 Gill Hind and Michael Underhill 93054 at https://www.opendemocracy.net