A blog for the socially and politically conscious, written by a young, gay activist who strongly believes in equality and justice.

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Shut down the peddlers of hate

Searchlight is calling on the authorities to investigate whether the BNP’s Racism Cuts Both Ways campaign is an incitement to racial hatred. The BNP initiative, revealed in last month’s Searchlight, has a special section on the party’s website, a glossy 12-page brochure and was launched with its own limited tour of the country. The BNP campaign claims to highlight examples of anti-white racism. In an introduction on the website, party leader Nick Griffin calls it the “silent epidemic of racist targeting of indigenous Britons”. Griffin goes further in his opening message to the campaign’s glossy 12-page pamphlet. “The vast majority of the real racism that scars Britain involves white victims from the indigenous community. Whether you are English, Scots, Welsh, Irish or from Ulster, being white makes you a target, being white means you are guilty.” To back up his claim the BNP has released the names of 167 people who it alleges are the victims of anti-white racism. In addition, it has published 200,000 copies of the pamphlet, which it has distributed to every councillor and MP in the country. The party also claims that copies are being sent to all 18-year-olds in 50 key parliamentary constituencies.

The pamphlet includes a page entitled, “Racist Murder – The Shocking Truth”, which states: “The result was truly shocking – 142 white victims of racist homicide”. It concludes: “The average racist murderer in Britain is 40 times more likely to be a member of an ethnic minority than a native Brit”. However, and probably unsurprisingly, the research is deeply flawed. Searchlight has analysed the 167 cases highlighted by the BNP and found a racial motive in only a handful. In over 90% there was no evidence presented by the BNP, or in any media reports at the time, to show that racism played any role in the murder at all. The BNP research is so wrong that the list includes several cases where the perpetrators are white. In one case, that of John Ward, the BNP only reports an initial description of the killers as Asian or Turkish but fails to admit that three white men were later convicted and imprisoned for life. In other cases the perpetrators were part of mixed race groups, including whites, but the BNP only focuses on the white victims and black attackers. There are also several supposed racial murders where the alleged killer has not actually been convicted. In fact, an Old Bailey murder trail was only just beginning when the BNP named the alleged murderer and asserted a racist motive, a clear breach of legal restrictions on reporting. And in a number of cases the BNP merely reports arrests or people being charged, but its sloppy research fails to investigate what happened to them.

Of course, none of this should be a surprise. The BNP clearly sets out to whip up racial tensions and prejudice with this “research”. Its aim is to make young people in particular angry and resentful. To this end the BNP has simply made up assertions to fit its wider cause. It may hope to channel the fury of readers and supporters into joining the BNP but it could just as easily be unleashing vengeful racist violence. The BNP campaign is quite simply dangerous and should be held to account. It seems that we are not alone in having concerns over the RCBW material. Thirteen BNP members were arrested in Liverpool for distributing the pamphlet after Merseyside Police concluded it incited racial hatred. Several councillors have reported the pamphlet to the police in other parts of the country. A number of families have been appalled to hear that the deaths of their loved ones are being used by the BNP for their own racist ends. West Yorkshire Police were outraged to find the BNP trying to claim that the murder of Sharon Beshenivsky was a racist attack. 

Jon Cruddas, the MP for Dagenham, has put down an Early Day Motion in the House of Commons calling the pamphlet and accompanying website material a clear attempt to whip up racial tension. “The BNP has set out to stir up a racist reaction and this could have serious consequences,” Cruddas told Searchlight. “The fact that they have lied and claimed over one hundred murders to have had a racial motive when they quite clearly have not is reprehensible and they should be called to account.” He has also written to the Metropolitan Police demanding that they investigate the document. Searchlight is urging its supporters to complain about the BNP campaign. The BNP must not be allowed to whip up racial tensions through lies and innuendo.

From Searchlight magazine's December 2008 edition - http://www.searchlightmagazine.com/index.php?link=template&story=255

Don’t be fooled by the Lib Dems’ fluffy facade

The newspapers were quick to declare victory for the Liberal Democrats’ Vince Cable in last week’s “Ask the Chancellors” TV debate. “The consensus tonight … is that ‘King Vince’ was the runaway winner of the first major televised debate,” said the Guardian. The Independent newspaper gave him four stars, a clear winner. Even the Sun had a “readers’ panel” fawning over Cable, with a cabbie praising his “radical ideas”. Vince Cable is widely hailed as “the man who predicted the recession” and a wise economic head who can guide Britain out of it. There is even wistful talk of him becoming chancellor—that is if some Guardian-reading woolly liberals achieve their dream of a “hung parliament”, handing the Lib Dems the balance of power. But what the television debate really showed is how little difference there is between the parties on the issue of cuts. They may disagree about when the cuts should fall, but all three agree that harsh cuts are needed. The truth about Vince Cable—and the Lib Dems in general—is very different to the fluffy, friendly public image it tries to portray. Cable was the chief economist for oil company Shell for two years. He is firmly on the ultra free market wing of the party—represented by the “Orange Book” faction.

In the debate he even equated the Unite union’s funding for Labour with the Tories’ Lord Ashcroft, saying, “We are not beholden to either the super rich or militant unions. ”The reality is that the Lib Dems have no ties to, or interest in, the working class. It is an opportunist party that will veer wildly left and right depending on what it thinks will bring the greatest electoral advantage. So yes, it did oppose the Iraq war—until it began—and student top-up fees back in 2003. But today it is pushing for “savage cuts” which are even harsher than those planned by the Tories.The party’s record in local councils shows it will often form coalitions with the Conservatives to push through cuts. Cable wrote in a flagship pamphlet, “If the pendulum swings, it may swing to a combination of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.” And Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg has refused to rule out a coalition with the Tories. He recently praised Margaret Thatcher’s “immensely significant” defeat of the miners. The Lib Dems offer nothing for people looking for an alternative to the betrayals of the Labour Party and the vicious nastiness of the Tories. They are a rum bunch of Thatcherite wolves in sheep’s clothing who don’t deserve a single working class vote.

The sinister doublespeak beneath Obama's smile

In Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell described a superstate, Oceania, whose language of war inverted lies that "passed into history and became truth. "'Who controls the past,' ran the Party slogan, 'controls the future: who controls the present controls the past'." Barack Obama is the leader of a contemporary Oceania. In two speeches at the close of the decade, the Nobel Peace Prize-winner affirmed that peace was no longer peace, but rather a permanent war that "extends well beyond Afghanistan and Pakistan" to "disorderly regions, failed states, diffuse enemies." He called this "global security" and invited our gratitude. To the people of Afghanistan, which the US has invaded and occupied, he said wittily: "We have no interest in occupying your country." In Oceania, truth and lies are indivisible. According to Obama, the US attack on Afghanistan in 2001 was authorised by the United Nations security council. There was no UN authority. He said that "the world" supported the invasion in the wake of the September 11 2001 attacks. In truth, all but three of 37 countries surveyed by Gallup expressed overwhelming opposition. He said that the US invaded Afghanistan "only after the Taliban refused to turn over Osama bin Laden." In 2001, the Taliban tried three times to hand over bin Laden for trial, Pakistan's military regime reported, and they were ignored.

Even Obama's mystification of the September 11 attacks as justification for his war is false. More than two months before the twin towers were attacked, the former Pakistani diplomat Niaz Naik was told by the Bush administration that a US military assault would take place by mid-October. The Taliban regime in Kabul, which the Clinton administration had secretly supported, was no longer regarded as "stable" enough to ensure US control over oil and gas pipelines to the Caspian Sea. It had to go. Obama's most audacious lie is that Afghanistan today is a "safe haven" for al-Qaida's attacks on the west. His own national security adviser James Jones said in October that there were "fewer than 100" al-Qaida operatives in Afghanistan. According to US intelligence, 90 per cent of the Taliban are hardly Taliban at all, but "a tribal localised insurgency [who] see themselves as opposing the US because it is an occupying power." The war is a fraud; only the terminally gormless remain true to the Obama brand of "world peace." Beneath the surface, however, there is serious purpose. Under the disturbing General Stanley McChrystal, who gained distinction for his assassination squads in Iraq, the occupation of Afghanistan is a model for those "disorderly regions" of the world still beyond Oceania's reach. This is known as Coin (counter- insurgency), and draws together the military, aid organisations, psychologists, anthropologists, the media and public relations hirelings.

Covered in jargon about winning hearts and minds, it aims to incite civil war: Tajiks and Uzbeks against Pashtuns. The US did this in Iraq and destroyed a multi-ethnic society. They built walls between communities which had once intermarried, ethnically cleansing the Sunnis and driving millions out of the country. Embedded media reported this as "peace;" US academics bought by Washington and "security experts" briefed by the Pentagon appeared on the BBC to spread the good news. As in Nineteen Eighty-Four, the opposite was true. Something similar is planned for Afghanistan - people are to be forced into "target areas" controlled by warlords, bankrolled by the CIA and the opium trade. That these warlords are barbaric is irrelevant. "We can live with that," a Clinton-era diplomat once said of the return of oppressive sharia law in a "stable," Taliban-run Afghanistan. Favoured Western relief agencies, engineers and agricultural specialists will attend to the "humanitarian crisis" and so "secure" the subjugated tribal lands. That is the theory. It worked after a fashion in Yugoslavia, where ethnic-sectarian partition wiped out a once-peaceful society, but it failed in Vietnam, where the CIA's "Strategic Hamlet Program" was designed to corral and divide the southern population and so defeat the Vietcong - the US's catch-all term for the resistance, similar to "Taliban."

Behind much of this are the Israelis, who have long advised the US in both the Iraq and the Afghanistan adventures. Ethnic cleansing, wall-building, checkpoints, collective punishment and constant surveillance - these are claimed as Israeli innovations that have succeeded in stealing most of Palestine from its native people. And yet, for all their suffering, the Palestinians have not been divided irrevocably and they endure as a nation against all odds. The most telling forerunners of the Obama plan, which the Nobel Peace Prize-winner and his general and his PR men prefer we forget, are those that failed in Afghanistan itself. The British in the 19th century and the Soviets in the 20th century attempted to conquer that wild country by ethnic cleansing and were seen off, though after terrible bloodshed. Imperial cemeteries are their memorials. People power, sometimes baffling, often heroic, remains the seed beneath the snow, and invaders fear it. "It was curious," wrote Orwell in Nineteen Eighty-Four, "to think that the sky was the same for everybody, in Eurasia or Eastasia as well as here. "And the people under the sky were also very much the same - everywhere, all over the world ...people ignorant of one another's existence, held apart by walls of hatred and lies, and yet almost exactly the same - people who ...were storing up in their hearts and bellies and muscles the power that would one day overturn the world."

Gathering storm over Vatican’s cover-up

It is sometimes said that politicians think in terms of weeks, statesmen in terms of decades and the pope in terms of centuries. Yet even by these standards of longevity, the Vatican’s response to an avalanche of sexual abuse claims is outrageous. Not only did the church fail to protect thousands of children from sexual abuse, it facilitated that abuse by moving the offenders from parish to parish where they continued to abuse and then cover-up their crimes. Indeed, the extent of the cover-up is beginning to read like a plot from a Dan Brown novel. Earlier this month the pope was forced to issue a letter of apology to Irish Catholics for the long history of sexual abuse by priests, nuns and Catholic orders. Unsurprisingly, the letter failed to address the systematic concealment of this abuse by Irish bishops. A scandal emerged just last week around the current head of Irish Catholic church, Cardinal Sean Brady. In 1975 he forced two boys to swear an oath of secrecy and concealed the abuse inflicted upon them by paedophile priest, Brendan Smyth. A 2009 public inquiry into church sexual abuse, found that the church’s motivation was: “The maintenance of secrecy, the avoidance of scandal, the protection of the reputation of the Church, and the preservation of its assets. “All other considerations, including the welfare of children and justice for victims, were subordinated to these priorities.”

But as Eamonn McCann recently commented, “That’s the point. There was no decision involved. They will have acted naturally, instinctively. “It is not that they rejected the idea of reporting the abuse to the secular authorities. The thought will not have occurred to them.” However, the cover‑up by the Irish church is simply a microcosm of a wider campaign of deliberate concealment that stretches across the globe and into the highest levels of the Vatican. Benedict is deeply implicated in this suppression, despite protestations to the contrary by Vatican officials. Indeed, it would be astonishing if he were not. Between 1982 and 2005, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, as he was then, was head of the powerful orthodoxy watchdog, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, formerly the Inquisition. This body is the discipliner of clerics who violate the church’s moral and theological doctrine. The Vatican’s policy under his leadership was one of orchestrated concealment. He himself is directly implicated in two cover-ups. But it is not just Benedict who was involved. Pope John Paul II, who is being fast-tracked for sainthood by Benedict, declined to investigate a priest called Father Marcial Maciel. Maciel founded a cult-like order known as the Legion of Christ and systematically engaged in sexual abuse of minors for 40 years. But John Paul claimed that he had “discerned” that Maciel was innocent.

Right from the beginning the church has failed to address the scale and magnitude of sexual abuse that occurred. John Paul II, pope for much of this period, took an entirely mystical view of the paedophile crisis. He called it a mysterium iniquitatis or “mystery of iniquity”, an apocalyptic reference to the influence of satanic powers. And worse, he tried to equate the sexual abuse of children with homosexuality, claiming that the abuse was restricted to a small number of gay priests. Benedict has continued with the view that the phenomenon is a matter of sinfulness rather than criminality, and he cites secularism and even the influence of liberals within the church for causing the abuse. There is no indication that larger, structural causes are even contemplated, much less in line to be addressed. Even now, despite almost daily revelations of horrific child sexual abuse, the church continues to deny its role in concealing and perpetuating it. Indeed, the Vatican is now claiming that the church itself is the victim in all this. Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, an aide to the pope, set the tone, telling reporters on Thursday: “This is a pretext for attacking the church… There is a well organised plan with a very clear aim.” It is becoming increasingly clear that this is an institution that is rotten to its core and whose only priorities are to defend itself and, of course, the Vatican’s assets.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Labour's dead man walking returns

It is, one supposes, the first time that a multimillionaire has ever graced Trimdon Labour Club with his presence as a visiting speaker. And it is a mark of the desperation and political bankruptcy of new Labour that it has pulled ex-prime minister and war criminal Tony Blair out of storage and is using him in its election campaign. There must have been many peace and political activists in the country who experienced an uncomfortable sense of deja vu when the oily face of Blair appeared once more on the television screens yesterday, hurrying into the Trimdon club under police escort. It's one of the few good things to say about politics in the Brown era that, somehow, the world seemed rather cleaner without the arch-opportunist and apologist for capitalism anywhere in evidence. But returned he is, and with the ascendance of Peter Mandelson in Cabinet and the creeping back into the public eye of Alastair Campbell, the set's complete.

Complete, that is, if you ignore the vanished coterie of disgraced new Labourites who have bitten, or are about to bite, the dust in various scandals involving influence-peddling and MPs' expenses. That's quite a substantial number, incidentally. But what does the political resurrection of Mr Blair tell us about the Labour Party in this election? In short, it tells us that the party hasn't learned a damn thing from the events of the last few years. It hasn't learned that the Blairite love-affair with the City led inexorably to the abuses that precipitated the banking crisis. The sense of invulnerability that came from having a capitalism-friendly Labour administration and a complaisant Tory opposition gave the banks and their tame speculators a licence to fiddle, free rein to invent ever-more ludicrous financial "products" to enable them to extract yet more paper "profit" from dodgy transactions and a society so based on greed and the acquisition of personal wealth that their behaviour could be passed off as acceptable. Capitalism, never exactly savoury, became casino capitalism, in which gambling was passed off as trading and skimming was considered legitimate. So difficult has new Labour found it to establish any real difference from the Tories that they are now reduced to arguments not about what, but about when. Not about attacking or defending the welfare state, but about how soon and how often to attack it. This unsurprisingly makes election campaigns difficult.

The electorate may be misguided at times, but it certainly isn't blind and anyone to the left of centre is finding it increasingly difficult to support a party which has demonstrably lost its way along with its progressive principles. Thus, the recourse to Tony Blair. It's back to the politics of spin over substance, back to a sales technique rather than a political manifesto and a return to the fight to command the centre rather than drive politics in a progressive direction. Not that there was ever much chance of a Brown administration being vastly progressive, but it has shown an increasing tendency to revisit the recent past, to try to recapture the "glory days" of the new Labour project that everyone except Labour's leaders realises is stone dead, even though as yet unburied. Mr Darling had a chance to become the defender of public services. He was driven into fighting to avoid an instant bloodbath of cuts. But he has wasted that opportunity and with it, rejected Labour's best chance of a principled victory in a general election. A vote for Labour is, in most cases, still necessary to defend against the wild excesses of a Tory Britain, but the retreat into spin represented by Mr Blair's resurrection hugely diminishes Labour's chances of electoral success. The Blairite dream of a Labour middle class is dead, but they still won't let it rest.

Monday, 29 March 2010

We can't rely on others to beat the BNP

In June, the British National Party won the first ever seats for a fascist party at a British national election. Those who have tried to downplay the significance of its breakthrough in getting MEPs elected in the North West and Yorkshire regions do a disservice to everyone threatened by the rise of the extreme right. It was wrong to promote complacency about BNP prospects before those elections and it is even more dangerous to underestimate the significance of these results. In fact, the BNP has been steadily building electoral support over recent years, first gaining seats on local councils, then a seat last year on the London Assembly and now its first ever seats in a national election. That reality has to be faced up to and understood if the trend is to be reversed. As we have already seen on television, radio and in the press, these results have enormously magnified the ability of the fascists to preach their doctrine of hate. There will be more racist attacks, more homophobic violence and more attacks on Muslims, Jews and other minorities as a result. This has been borne out by the recent hate crime statistics, which show that racist attacks have increased up to 27-fold in areas with an increased BNP presence. Not only that, but MEPs receive massive financial resources which will now be used by the BNP to target key seats in the next parliamentary and local elections. And mainstream parties will bend to BNP politics in the mistaken belief that this will stop its growth when it will only legitimise its ideology of division and hate. The anti-fascist movement must review its strategy to deal with the increased fascist threat. There have been many debates in recent years and reality has now put them to the test.

First, we must understand what fascism is. It stands for the destruction of the trade unions, the left, democratic freedoms and rabid racism and homophobia, posing a mortal threat to those it targets. At any particular time its targets are selected to take advantage of the prejudices that exist in society and are promoted by the media and mainstream parties. In the 1930s, for example, a cutting edge of the nazis was anti-semitism. Today's fascists are as anti-semitic as ever, but the main prejudices they feed upon and promote are racism and Islamophobia. Any strategy which does not confront racism and Islamophobia head on will fail to defeat the fascists. Equally, anyone who thinks you can have an anti-fascist movement in Britain today without black, Asian and Muslim communities playing a central role alongside trade unions, the left and the lesbian and gay communities is simply splitting the forces that need to unite to defeat the fascists. A united strategy which brings together all these social forces and challenges the racist myths which are the cutting edge of the BNP is the key to success. It successfully stopped the BNP in Oldham when it was on course to make a breakthrough in 2001 and removed it from Tower Hamlets council in 1994.

The anti-fascist movement's strategy must be based on what works, not wasting hundreds of thousands of pounds of trade union funds on a strategy that divides and weakens the anti-fascist majority. The BNP vote was based on real racist hatred, as shown in a Yougov poll for Channel 4 on the European elections. The results indicated that a third of BNP voters thought there was a difference in intelligence between black and white people. Ninety-four per cent thought that all further immigration should be halted. Forty-four peer cent disagreed with gay and lesbian couples having civil partnerships equal to marriage. Seventy-nine per cent thought Islam was a serious danger to western civilisation. The BNP courted these voters in the run-up to the election, stating that black and Asian people in this country should be classified as "racial foreigners" to be "repatriated" - something which would only be possible through violence and destroying democracy. Its website also targeted three MPs on a list of "liars, buggers and thieves," including Chris Bryant and Ron Davies, as part of a list of criminals that was designed to whip up homophobia. Even with the option of voting UKIP, the BNP used the fears and prejudices fanned by the economic crisis to consolidate a racist vote.

The anti-fascist majority has received a wake-up call. We don't need puffed-up claims of BNP crisis. We need an accurate assessment of what the BNP is and an effective strategy to unite the core forces who can lead the majority to defeat them.

A battle still to be won

It is estimated that, at the present rate, it will take 40 general elections before women are equally represented in Parliament. Perhaps it was this, along with statistics showing women's pay falling far behind that of men, which prompted Harriet Harman to announce a new equality law to end discrimination in June. The stark inequality between women and men in wages, work and conditions has been highlighted, not eradicated, by the "quiet revolution" which now sees more than 12 million women in the workforce. Meanwhile, sexual freedom is all too often misrepresented by lap-dancing clubs or scenes of binge drinking women than it is by confident, strong and independent women. It wasn't meant to be like this. The women's movement, which took off 40 years ago, promised a new world for women. Women's biology would no longer be their destiny and women fought for the right to be equal at work, at home and in society. Women's liberation began in the US against a background of mass movements for black civil rights and later black power, against the Vietnam war and the student movement. The term "women's liberation" was consciously adopted in identification with the national liberation movements against colonialism taking place around the world.

So, from the start, the women's movement identified with radical change. Many of the students who came from the northern states to campaign for black equality in Mississippi and elsewhere in the south were women. They endured often very dangerous conditions and were part of a brave and idealistic generation. The feminist academic Lise Vogel was probably typical. She came from a middle-class Jewish communist family. Her parents' worries when she was growing up were "money and McCarthyism." This is how she describes her experiences in the south in the early 1960s. "I got far more out of being in Mississippi than I ever was able to give back. In the end, I knew that I had participated in history, that what we did made a difference and that I had been tried and not found wanting." Yet Vogel and many women like her had become disillusioned with the movements by the late 1960's because they felt that women were sidelined or ignored and that issues of what came to be called women's oppression were either not recognised or were ridiculed. At one conference in 1967, where women tried to raise issues of women's liberation, the future feminist writer Shulamith Firestone was told by one man: "Move on, little girl, we have more important issues to talk about here than women's liberation." A popular slogan of the US movement against the draft to Vietnam was "girls say Yes to guys who say No."

Little wonder that a movement for women's liberation emerged and, by 1968, was holding meetings, publishing papers, organising activities all aimed at full equality for women and prepared to adopt militant tactics to get it. The movement spread to Britain where the first conference was held in Oxford in 1970. Here, the movement developed in a different way. It was more influenced by the left and the trade unions and took up strikes from its inception. The fight for equal pay by the Ford women machinists in 1969 and the night cleaners campaign led by May Hobbs were the two best known. In Britain, the 1960s and early '70s also saw major legislative changes which liberalised society and benefited women. There were laws on abortion, divorce, gays, equal pay and sex discrimination. More women were going out to work, a layer of young women was going into higher education and women were more in control of their bodies with major changes in contraception. Attitudes also changed. It became more acceptable for married women to work, for children to be born outside marriage and for couples to dispense with marriage altogether. Heterosexuality began to be challenged as the norm. The women's movement highlighted and campaigned around diverse issues including abortion, equal pay, domestic violence, rape and images of women. But the advances made by the left and working people in those years didn't last.

The second half of the 1970s saw a series of defeats and the decade ended with the historic election of a woman prime minister, but one committed to policies which would attack working people in general and working-class women particularly hard. The late '70s also saw the splintering and often disintegration of the women's movement, most spectacularly in Italy but also in Britain where the 1978 conference broke up in disarray. Many of the changes in women's lives which began in the '60s have turned out to be permanent. Women are present in the workforce in unprecedented numbers and there is much greater openness about sexuality and relationships. But women at work are also differentiated by class, with an important and successful layer of women employers, managers and higher professionals who have benefited from a limited opening in a man's world, but who have shown little sisterhood with their working-class counterparts. Working mothers' conditions are under attack as women are expected to compete with men in a workforce characterised by flexibility, long hours and low wages. Alan Sugar once asked a woman on the Apprentice about her plans for having children and the US feminist, now Democratic Party senator, Dianne Feinstein supported the overturning of a law reinstating women after maternity leave on the grounds that "we want to be treated equally … now we have to put our money where our mouth is."

At the same time, a number of gains are under attack, with attempts to reduce the abortion time limit, a shamefully low level of conviction for rape, the acceptance of lap-dancing clubs. Women's liberation has been turned on its head, so that anything goes as long as women are prepared to accept some of the worst conditions. The ideology of women's equality has been traduced by right-wing politicians such as Sarkozy or Berlusconi who accept women cabinet ministers so long as they conform to sexual stereotypes. Benefit cuts are sold by the new Labour government in the name of doing something for women and families. The bombing of Afghanistan is justified in the name of liberating oppressed Muslim women. Women's liberation led to a challenging of ideas and assumptions, which changed much about society. Yet, the limits of liberation are clear today. Women's liberation did not sufficiently confront the structures of oppression and, especially, the roots of women's oppression that lie in class society. So, feminism became an ideology that spoke to and for the women who could make it in a man's world. Meanwhile, millions of working women around the world have seen their lives worsen in the past two decades as they try to juggle increasingly stressful work with the demands of children, home and family.

This basic contradiction has never been resolved and cannot be until the wealth of society is used not for wars, Trident or luxury lifestyles of the super-rich but for creating resources which allow decent child care and an end to the double burden which women face. That means challenging the way that our society is organised and the class basis on which it is organised, not just arguing for more women in certain areas, welcome though that is. Today, women are a key part of the unions and are prominent in movements such as the anti-war movement. They play much greater roles in public life and have achieved many things that previous generations would have thought impossible. But, if we want real equality, then this time around we have to see socialism as central to women's liberation. And the division won't just be about gender but about class.

Tories become more hate-filled by the day

It appears there's an election on. It's easy to tell because the Tories have started getting back to their ABCs, like attacking immigrants. After spending all that time and money trying to convince us that they had changed, that they were modern, that they were no longer the nasty party, David Cameron has suddenly remembered that his supporters actually are nasty little racists. In a time when a Tory victory is looking far less assured, Cameron thinks he needs to move to shore up his core vote against the likes of UKIP; that means reaching for the dog whistles. Once upon a time Cameron bent over backwards to shift the public image of his party towards a new fluffy, friendly style. He even changed the logo to a piece of broccoli - what more could we ask of him? However, the general election campaign is beginning to look more and more like it will mirror the despicable 2005 "Are you thinking what we're thinking..." campaign by the day. At the weekend Cameron announced a flagship policy that if he were elected prime minister he would slash net immigration. The Tories have backed up this launch with a national roll-out of posters attacking Gordon Brown personally for letting in too many immigrants. Cameron plans to cut immigration by imposing a strict "cap" on numbers, a policy as reprehensible as it is unworkable.

Of course Cameron can say he is in favour of drastically reducing net immigration but he happens to be pushing buttons that he has little control over. Most British immigration is from the EU and there is no mechanism to restrict this. More than that, when it comes to Tory immigration policy, as with all their other policies, money will trump any other consideration. Left-of-centre think tank the Institute for Public Policy Research asked: "Would the government be happy to tell KPMG that it could not bring over an analyst from its New York office? Or to tell Arsenal that it could not sign a promising young player from Cote d'Ivoire?" The answer is, of course, no. Immigration controls are about keeping the poor out. If you have wealth behind you, your free passage will always be assured. The flip side of this is that immigration laws are frequently used against union organisation. While we allow these laws to force part of the workforce to live in fear of being deported, we hand the employers a union-busting tool on a plate. While we have a situation where there are tight restrictions on the movement of labour while capital is free to travel as it pleases, those who exploit us are being dealt all the trump cards. Our solidarity, sympathy and friendship has to be with those who work alongside us no matter where they are from - because the alternative is to allow their presence to divide us. For the left we have to have the basic understanding that the lines on a map are not some objective standard of worth and if you were born on one side of an abstraction your rights as a citizen should not be quite different from if you come from the other side of that conceptual marker.

The right is quite wrong to cite pressure on our public services as a reason to curtail immigration. Without migrant workers the NHS, for example, would collapse. Whether it's cleaners, nurses, doctors or specialists the health service is propped up at every level by workers who have come from overseas. Far from being a burden on public services, immigrants are responsible for keeping them functioning, yet we treat them like we are doing them a favour. It is not just the Tories, though would that it were. Cameron's announcement came just a day after Defence Minister Kevan Jones attacked the idea that Gurkhas should be allowed to settle in Britain. He explicitly denounced Joanna Lumley, who has been a high-profile campaigner in favour of Gurkhas' rights, saying that she was guilty of "raising expectations" and that she should be making it clear that Gurkhas have no rights. Amid allegations that Gurkhas bound for Britain were being forced to pay hundreds of pounds in legal advice in Nepal, Jones said of Lumley: "Her deathly silence, frankly, irritates me." It's interesting that the Labour minister is more irritated by someone who campaigns for extending people's rights than he is by the laws of his own government that perpetuate the injustice in the first place. In particular Labour's record on asylum has been a disgrace.

There was a grim reminder of this in Glasgow two weeks ago when a family whose application had been turned down committed suicide together. The three Russians jumped from a tower block on the day they were to be evicted from the hostel in which they were staying, having lost their appeal to stay in Britain. These deaths are just the most visible reminder of the horrors that our government inflicts upon people whom it has decided cannot have even the basic rights that we regard as normal. Recent events in Yarl's Wood, with protests and hunger strikes, show that people will stand up for their rights. But without our support they are left in a very vulnerable position. Locking up children is an abomination at the best of times, but locking them up just because they are foreign is a disgrace that no Labour government should ever be associated with. Yet this is not just commonplace, the government takes pride in its harsh attitude towards those from other countries. If the political parties hope to fight this election on the idea of "fairness" then let them start with the way we treat guests to this country. Imprisoning those fleeing torture, impoverishing those seeking shelter and treating as a "problem" those who have come here to make a contribution to society is not fair. It should not be a criminal offence to have the wrong colour passport. It should be regarded as a universal human right to travel from one place to another freely without one state or another treating you with contempt because you don't seem to know your place.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Griffin's twisted history is a threat to our future

BNP leader Nick Griffin's appearance on Question Time confirmed what quite a few of us knew already - that he's an extremist buffoon who is embarrassed by his once-open nazi sympathies. Invited to renounce his history of Holocaust denial and his criminal conviction for it, Griffin claimed that he could not do the former because explaining his past views and how they had changed could land him before the courts in France, if not in Britain. There is no law that threatens to prosecute Holocaust deniers who wish to repent, as he well knows. As for his conviction at Harrow Crown Court on May 1 1998, Griffin flatly denied that he had a conviction for Holocaust denial. He's correct insofar that the charge against him was brought under Section 19 of the 1986 Public Order Act. This makes it illegal to "publish or distribute written material which is threatening, abusive or insulting and intends thereby to incite racial hatred, or, having regard to all the circumstances, racial hatred is likely to be stirred up thereby." At the time, Griffin was the editor of The Rune, issue 12 of which was the basis for the prosecution. Its cover featured a large drawing of a rope formed in a noose, together with the words "What has a rope got to do with WHITE UNITY?" Inside the magazine, an editorial explained that once Britain's "white nationalist" bodies had united and achieved "final victory over those who wish to destroy us so that they can rule forever over a mass of mongrel slaves," it would be "payback time." They could "put the rope to capital use."

Anyone who has looked into the sewer of the nazi mind by reading neonazi publications and websites would know that they hold Jews primarily responsible for encouraging non-white immigration in order to destroy the so-called 'purity' of the white race. The Rune contained the usual reports of serious crime involving black criminals, in Britain and South Africa, with pictures of the culprits whenever possible. An article under the title Inconvenient facts attacked what it regarded as disproportionate and malign "Jewish influence" in the British mass media and Hollywood. This is a favourite theme of Griffin. The previous year he had produced a 24-page pamphlet Who are the Mindbenders? - The people (jews) who rule Britain through control of the mass media. It claimed that Jews run the press, broadcasting and advertising mass media in Britain - which might come as a surprise to Rupert Murdoch and family. "Jewish influence" uses the mass media, the pamphlet claimed, to "weaken the national spirit and racial pride of the British people." Throughout the remainder of the rag, the names of Jews - or, rather, anyone with what Griffin believed to be a Jewish-sounding name - were printed in bold type. The BBC received special treatment of this kind. Every agent of "Jewish influence" who worked for the organisation at every level in every region was named, including the East Midlands head of network television and the head of local programmes at BBC North. Entertainers who have appeared on the BBC such as Ben Elton and Gaby Roslin were also listed as part of the "mindbending" conspiracy.

But back to The Rune. It contained routine references to the "Holohaox," denying that the nazis had carried out a programme of mass extermination of European Jewry during the second world war. To try to prove his point and to misrepresent neonazis as the victims of an oppressive liberal elite, Griffin even called the world's leading Holocaust denier Robert Faurisson as a defence witness. Faurisson joked about his criminal convictions in France for race hatred and argued that the nazis did not have gas chambers - these were erected after the war to win sympathy for the Jews and Israel. Griffin himself whined that he had been singled out unfairly for prosecution. He displayed propaganda from Combat 18, a neonazi terrorist organisation which openly advocated the murder of ethnic minority citizens and political opponents, complaining that the Crown Prosecution Service had taken longer to prosecute C18 than The Rune. Why, C18 had even threatened to stab him, Nick Griffin, because of his "moderating influence" within the British white nationalist movement. He also claimed that C18 was largely a creation of the police Special Branch to entrap white nationalists and that its leader Charlie Sargent had been a paid informer until being jailed for the murder of a C18 rival. What Griffin did not reveal was how he obtained the C18 materials presented with such a flourish to Harrow Crown Court. In preparation for the trial he had contacted Steve Cartwright, a leading figure in the Blood and Honour neonazi music movement.

At Griffin's farm near Welshpool, the immigrant pig farmer explained that one plank in his legal defence would be the failure of the CPS to prosecute Combat 18 for publishing far more inflammatory material than The Rune. "Our meeting with Griffin went well," Cartwright later remarked. "He pushed all the right buttons, emphasising militancy as well as paying due respect to the Nationalists and National Socialists of the past. He also spoke of the need to repackage and modernise our beliefs in the hope of reaching the British public." Griffin asked Cartwright to contact Sargent's chief rival for the leadership of Combat 18, Will Browning, for materials to use as court exhibits. He also asked Cartwright to assure Browning and C18 that he (Griffin) and they were all "on the same side." Griffin later asked Cartwight to thank Browning for the materials received.
In court, Griffin made the same shambles of his case as he did on Question Time. His talents clearly do not lie in the field of presentation. He insisted that his magazine's obsession with ropes and hanging was no more than vigorous support for capital punishment for the murder of children and police officers. The vicious cartoons representing Jews as hook-nosed hens were aimed at "zionist politicians," although the accompanying captions about "greedy, pushy power-mad" and "chosen" hens dealt in the stereotypes so beloved of fascists. In fact, the whole magazine had more than a whiff of Julius Streicher's Jew-hating daily Der Sturmer paper in nazi Germany about it. As for Griffin's remark in front of police officers searching his home before charge and trial that they were "very civilised, not like the Met all - no Pakis or Jews," this was merely a factual observation, not a bigoted outburst. Such is the way Griffin lies and dissembles when faced with his past words and actions.

Another extraordinary example of this occurred on Question Time, when he was confronted with the pro-Hitler, pro-nazi sentiments expressed by BNP head of publicity Mark Collett. Unfortunately for Griffin and Collett, those comments were made to an undercover television reporter and are recorded for posterity. The Dispatches programme Young, Nazi And Proud can be found easily on Google. When a panellist quoted Collett and asked Griffin to disown him, Old Nick replied that young Mark was not BNP head of publicity. This must have come as a shock to the boy Collett - "Hitler will live forever ... and so will I" - but I suspect he was reappointed the moment Question Time went off air. The Harrow jury had no trouble seeing through Griffin's facade - he was found guilty and sentenced to nine months imprisonment, suspended for two years.
There can be little doubt that many viewers saw through Griffin on Question Time too. But that benefit is likely to be outweighed by the sympathy he has gained as the "underdog," ganged up on by a panel of Establishment figures. Given the format of the programme, this was perhaps inevitable if the other panellists were to attack him as necessary - and with a great deal of hypocrisy given the new Labour and Tory records on immigration and asylum. That is why the invitation to Griffin set up a "no win" situation for the cause of anti-racism and anti-fascism despite the magnificent demonstration of mass opposition outside the BBC.

In the studio, had he not faced a well-deserved lynch mob, metaphorically speaking of course, he would have been treated with a politeness and tolerance that his views should never be accorded. There is no responsibility on the BBC to provide a platform from which fascists and racists can peddle their views, however craftily or clumsily they present them. Nor does Griffin need to appear so that he and his outfit can be exposed as racists and fascists. Sufficient film and documentation already exists for television to do that already. Let Griffin and Collett speak on the television by all means - but let it be when they are saying what they really believe, whether to their own supporters or to those they imagine to be sympathetic reporters. Their myths and lies can then be exposed at the same time.

A chronicle of injustices

The European Convention on Human Rights gives us certain rights if we are arrested or detained. These rights are also deep-seated principles of English common law. How then can a government apparently committed to the Human Rights Act keep people locked up on the basis of evidence that can't be shown to the detainees or their lawyers? The use of secret evidence was rare before September 11 2001. In December that year Parliament consciously broke the Human Rights Act when it decided that foreign nationals could be indefinitely detained without charge or trial; as a result eleven men were imprisoned in Belmarsh until December 2004, when the House of Lords ruled that indefinite detention was unlawful. Before that decision, the men had tried to obtain bail or release from the Special Immigration Appeals Commission, only to find that they were turned down because of evidence kept secret from them and their lawyers. In February 2009, after a series of conflicting and confusing decisions by the British courts, the European Court of Human Rights considered the use of secret evidence. The government argued that revealing the evidence would jeopardise national security and that using "special advocates" made secret evidence acceptable.

Special advocates are lawyers approved by the Home Office to consider the secret evidence and to make what arguments might be available in the detainee's favour about that evidence. As soon as the special advocate receives the evidence, he or she must not speak to anyone about it and in particular must have no contact with the detainee and his or her lawyers. In the absence of being able to ask the detainee about the evidence, how does the special advocate know where any holes might be, whether a particular informant has a motive to lie or whether the detainee has an alibi? The European Court of Human Rights disapproved. It said: "The special advocate could not perform this function (of testing the evidence) in any useful way unless the detainee was provided with sufficient information about the allegations against him to enable him to give effective instructions to the special advocate." At the very least, the evidence disclosed to the detainee should be "sufficiently specific ... for the applicant to provide his representatives and the special advocate with information with which to refute them, if such information existed." So surely that should have been an end to the matter.

But the problem has been that the European Court of Human Rights was considering secret evidence used to justify indefinite detention which had officially ended in 2005. How did this ruling apply to the labyrinthine system of detention without charge or trial that has sprung up since 2005? Indefinite detention still exists, just in new forms. In 2005 the government proposed that house arrest should replace the by then unlawful system of indefinite detention - Parliament refused but did back the more neutrally termed "control orders." The men who had been detained were released and immediately subject to control orders. Control orders are not a soft option. They involve 16-hour curfews, restrictions on where the person can go during those hours when he or she is allowed out, visitors restricted to an approved list of people, bans on using the phone or internet and electronic tagging. One South African judge has said: "We had measures like that in South Africa. We called them house arrest." When the Belmarsh detainees and others went to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission, they again found that the government was relying on secret evidence - yet again they could not be told why they were being held in these conditions. In June the House of Lords decided that the European Court of Human Rights decision on secret evidence applied to control order cases too. Anyone subject to a control order should be told at least the gist of the evidence used against them. But by that time there were more people indefinitely detained on the basis of secret evidence, this time by the use of "immigration detention."

These are people who have been served with deportation notices by the Home Office on the grounds that they are a threat to national security and who are then refused bail while they challenge the decisions to deport them through the courts. And while the court battle is fought out over years, the people themselves are either imprisoned or released on bail on even more stringent conditions than those used in control orders - 22-hour curfews, advance approval of the routes of walks during the remaining two hours and so on. Yet again they don't know why the government thinks that they are such a risk. On December 1, the Court of Appeal decided that the refusal of bail in these cases, and any draconian bail conditions, was so close to control orders that the same rules should apply and at least the gist of the secret evidence should be disclosed. All well and good. But not for Mr U, who was imprisoned first in Belmarsh and now for immigration reasons for all but eight months of the last eight years. He has been refused bail despite the new rulings for reasons that still haven't been given to him or to his lawyers. The government claims that revealing the secret evidence would jeopardise the work of the security services and put informants at risk. But who knows how reliable this information is without the person it is used against knowing what is said? And who knows whether any of this information was obtained by foreign governments using torture, making the information unreliable?

The bottom line is that none of these people has ever been charged with a criminal offence. Yet they have all been detained or subjected to effective house arrest because of information that they aren't allowed to know about and can't challenge. The decision to refuse bail to Mr U may be an aberration and it may be that the courts will implement the higher courts' decisions properly. But the government will still twist and turn to retain as much secrecy as possible.

The march of progress

With the centenary of the Parliamentary Labour Party in 2006, the Labour Campaign for Lesbian and Gay Rights decided to publish an account of the part played by labour in the transformation of legal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. Although there is a large range of literature dealing with most other aspects of modern LGBT life and culture, Sodom, Gomorrah and the New Jerusalem: Labour and Lesbian and Gay Rights from Edward Carpenter to Today is the first publication to explore the connection between the labour movement and the campaign for LGBT rights. This was a serious gap, because the labour movement has played the single most important role in winning equality law. Lobby groups like Stonewall - even though they have been unrepresentative of the community which they claim to speak for - have been key players. But the hard work to make possible the reforms won since the election of Labour in 1997 was all done in the 20 years prior to that date and it was done through the trade unions and from inside the Labour Party. Tony Blair didn't suddenly wake up to realise the discrimination faced by an oppressed section of society and, indeed, as many activists are all too aware, he had to be reminded of it continually, up to and including the attempts to gain exemptions for Catholic adoption agencies from the sexual orientation goods and services regulations this January. The book is about that history, events which I am proud to have been a part of.

The connection with the labour movement is not accidental. Hence the link with Edward Carpenter (1844-1929), a socialist who lived openly with his male partner and who promoted a vision of socialism that included liberation both for women and for people of different sexual orientations. For many years, the socially conservative leaders of trade unions and the new-born Labour Party would not touch the question or even think about it, even though Carpenter was widely appreciated for his writings on every other subject. But, although there was wider public debate on homosexuality across Europe and although, during the 1920s and 1930s, some homosexual and transgender men and women were able to inhabit a subculture in some European cities, there was no sign that legal discrimination was going to be challenged by governments or that leaders of the labour movement would champion such a step. Fascism and war quickly ended the glimmerings of greater openness, while post-war austerity and the cold war were scarcely more congenial climates for so drastic a step as reforming laws on sex. In Britain, the first steps came when liberal-minded MPs proposed an investigation of the law following a spate of arrests of high-profile men for homosexual "offences." The resulting Wolfenden commission recommended partial decriminalisation in 1957. But it was not until 1964 under Harold Wilson's Labour government that anything was done about it.

That had a lot to do with the creation of the first campaigning organisation on the issue in Britain, the Homosexual Law Reform Society, in 1960. Pressed by Labour and Liberal MPs and aware that the current law encouraged blackmailers, Wilson gave practical support to legislate the Sexual Offences Act 1967, enacting the Wolfenden recommendations. Two years later, the birth of the Gay Liberation Front in New York following the riot provoked by a police raid on the Stonewall bar quickly created a radical international movement for liberation; the first Gay Pride march in London was held in 1972. Between then and now, the British labour movement has been transformed into a dynamic champion of the cause of equality. Other have written on how gender and race issues came to be seen as integral to the concerns of the trade unions and these struggles led the way for others, among whom were lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender workers demanding recognition. That recognition was won because, initially, unions saw the unfair treatment dealt out to their members, such as NUPE member Susan Shell, who was sacked for being a lesbian in 1981. Unions saw the need to defend all their members and realised that LGBT members had no legal protection. In 1984, NUPE became the first major union to affiliate to the then Labour Campaign for Gay Rights. In 1984-5, Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners groups, which were set up to back the famous NUM strike, also had a big impact within the trade union movement.

Basic union principles of equality and solidarity were at stake and, although there was resistance from some, the majority of unions had soon adopted an inclusive policy. Alongside, LGBT members organised themselves in an increasing number of unions and demanded recognition. The 1985 TUC Congress carried the first lesbian and gay rights motion, although the creation of a dedicated TUC structure had to wait until 1998, when it was set up following significant pressure from unions. That 1985 TUC Congress motion was carried just a few weeks before Labour conference debated the subject for the first time and the first of, so far, six conference victories on LGB equality - the T was not included - was secured. Union votes were crucial. Since then the support, which was restricted to the left and progressive forces for many years, has reached all corners of the party. The consequence is clear for all to see. Equalisation of criminal law, repeal of section 28, civil partnerships, employment and now goods and services protection. All of this has been won under Labour - sometimes, only because of a sharp reminder, such as the unions going to the High Court to challenge the exclusion of pensions from the employment regulations. They were instead covered in the Civil Partnership Act. All of this has been won because of the increasingly strong voice of the unions. We still have to win full equality for transgender people. Then, we face an even harder struggle - to defeat underlying prejudices, bullying and exclusion. For this, though, the labour movement will be engaged from the start.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Many faces of Mr Darling

Daft neophyte influence-pedlar Geoff Hoon has just realised that his antics merit an apology to his constituents and the public in general. They certainly do, not that it makes a blind bit of difference whether he apologises or not. There's nothing which can excuse his mendacious attempt to trade on his parliamentary experience, apology or no apology. But, while we're at it, let's have an apology from Tony Blair for being a hypocritical God-bothering war criminal who seems to have found God simultaneously with organising the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis. Let's have an apology from Gordon Brown for financing it. Let's have a bit of abject grovelling from Peter Mandelson for having had to have three tries at being a responsible minister before he finally established a secure and unelected position from which to betray the working class. And let's have an apology from the bankers for profiting from their own corruption, from Justice Secretary Jack Straw for presiding over a historic erosion of civil liberties in this country and from David Cameron for, well, simply being David Cameron. Lord knows, that's probably a crime against humanity in itself. But let's have the biggest apology of all from Alistair Darling for having more faces than Cerberus; there's the face that purports to defend the economy of the country from excessive and over-hasty cutbacks proposed by the Tories.

There's the face that bungs billions at the bankers to help them survive the consequences of their own excesses and then turns to the taxpayer to fund the measure while still tolerating a frivolous and greedy banking bonus culture. There's the Labour face that decried Thatcherism and all its works all through the extreme right-wing government of the not-so-blessed Margaret. And there's the face that, when asked whether the Treasury figures suggested deeper, tougher cuts than those of Thatcher's government, replied: "They will be deeper and tougher." Now, they could be deeper and tougher that those of the Thatcher government and still be totally acceptable to anyone on the left. But the track record of this government suggests that this is unlikely. There could be, for example, a realistic assessment of the Trident weapons system. Not the replacement cost which is being debated at the moment with estimates between £20 billion and £35 billion, but the whole useless article itself, running costs, replacement costs and all, with Greenpeace suggesting a total of £130 billion for that. Then there're the two new aircraft carriers that are projected by the Ministry of Defence - there's about £15 billion sitting there. And then, of course, there's the war in Afghanistan and the continuing cost of the Iraq occupation. Mr Darling, wearing his hawk face this time, announced yet another £4 billion for the little adventure in Afghanistan in this week's Budget. That's on top of the existing costs, of course, estimated as £4.5 billion last year over the two theatres. All of these projects are dubious politically, and should be considered so by any Labour politician. And Trident is considered dubious operationally by some very highly respected military Establishment figures. In and around those figures is a sum far in excess of what the Chancellor feels he needs to save. Even leaving taxation of bank bonuses and bank profits, ignoring levies on the banks to force repayment of sums owed and a transaction tax on speculations, there's enough to sort out the debt problem. So how about another face, Mr Darling? Why don't you try the face of plain common sense? Or is it going to be just another useless po-faced apology some time in the future?

Friday, 26 March 2010

Is football ready for another gay player?

It is the prejudice that dares not speak its name. Homophobia exists in football, just as surely as it does in all other areas of society, but just how severe is the problem? Who is to blame for the climate of fear that keeps, as publicist Max Clifford claimed last December, at least three bisexual and gay footballers in the closet and arguably many more? Clifford advised the players to keep their sexuality secret, telling them that football "remains in the dark ages, steeped in homophobia." Indeed, to date there has been just one openly gay footballer in Britain - former Norwich City striker Justin Fashanu, who tragically committed suicide in 1998.
But the question remains - is football mature enough for another Fashanu? The sport may have made huge strides in tackling racism over the last 15 years - today it is highly unlikely that fans, especially in the top flight, could racially abuse a footballer en masse without fear of reprisal. But how would an openly gay player be received? Opinion on this is split. First there is the issue of reaction from fellow players. On this front, the director of anti-racism initiative Kick It Out believes Clifford is "scaremongering." Piara Power argues that while players may suffer abuse from fellow professionals, it would not go unpunished because, since 2007, homophobia is penalised heavily in the Players' Code.

Rules E3(2) and E4 penalise homophobic abuse as heavily as that of a racist nature. Players who use homophobic abuse towards a fellow professional, as Robbie Fowler infamously did against Graeme Le Saux in 1999, would now receive an immediate red card. In short, the hope is that a player who came out today would not be going it alone, as was the case with Fashanu, who was bullied in the dressing room, particularly at Nottingham Forest where manager Brian Clough ostracised him from the rest of the squad. However, preventing similar abuse from taking place in the ultra-macho world of the changing room would be the job of the football clubs and unsurprisingly evidence of how severe the problem is behind the closed doors of the locker room is anecdotal at best; and yet the picture of the situation on the terraces is also unclear.

Home Office statistics of football-related arrests and banning orders for last season lists a range of offences, including missile throwing, racist chanting and ticket touting, but a section entitled homophobic abuse is conspicuous by its absence. Incidents of homophobic abuse are recorded under the banner of "indecent chanting," so statistics specifying which of these incidents involved homophobia are not released to the public.
However, a call to the Home Office revealed that there were four arrests for homophobic behaviour last season and one in the 2007-8 season. Darren Ollerton, director of anti-homophobia initiative The Justin Campaign which takes its name from the late footballer, is convinced that any player who came out in the current climate would be letting themselves in for a baptism of fire. The Justin Campaign was founded in Brighton, whose football club's fans are regularly targeted with chants of "Does your boyfriend know you're here?" and "You're queer and you know you are. "Homophobia is still considered acceptable amongst a number of football fans," says Ollerton, whose campaign launched Football v Homophobia Day, an international day opposing homophobia in the amateur and professional game, last Friday on what would have been Fashanu's 49th birthday. "It's the last socially acceptable prejudice and I imagine in a hyper-macho environment, which some areas of the terraces can be, homophobic comments aren't only common but are in some senses expected. The use of words like poof, queer, gay boy, faggot are part of football language for a number of fans and the longer it remains consistently unchallenged the more it becomes an acceptable form of expression amongst the next generation of football fans. "I think it's a very serious problem, but the longer the authorities debate over what's acceptable and what's not, as though certain homophobic words are 'less' offensive, the more entrenched this problem will become."

Kick It Out, which turned their attentions to tackling anti-gay abuse five years ago, keep some records of incidents of homophobia at English football matches but do not turn them into statistics. Measuring homophobia - and the successes or failures of campaigns against it - is therefore difficult. However, the Home Office confirmed on Wednesday that their statistics of football-related arrests and banning orders for next season will specify homophobic abuse in a separate column. However, the government department believe that there is currently no evidence that homophobic incidents at football matches are increasing or a significant phenomenon, but say that the matter is under review. Even so, statistics would only paint a partial picture of the problem, as, without any openly gay footballers currently playing, we can only guess at how fans would react to them. There could be a sudden explosion of homophobia in the stands. Conversely, football may have grown more tolerant since Fashanu's playing days. Either way, his demise must surely loom large in the mind of any player considering coming out. With the media obsession with players' private lives showing no sign of abating, a gay or bi player would have to be a sado-masochist to want to be a guinea pig in an experiment into the moral state of British society.

Yet this is the end goal of the Justin Campaign - for gay footballers to feel that they can be open about sexuality without being targeted for abuse, as well as being treated as equals in the changing room. The campaign's Football v Homophobia Day, which was held in Norwich, received support from the city's football club, local MPs Charles Clarke and Chloe Smith, as well as Justin Fashanu's niece Amal, who expressed pride that her uncle's memory was being used as a force to fight one of football's last bastions of prejudice. "It's just amazing that people who were strangers to Justin, who didn't actually know Justin, feel so greatly for him," said Amal. "If the campaign does expand, if it does become bigger, then it's an opportunity for many other players to come into it. It's a sign that people can just be who they want to be." Support for the Justin Campaign is growing, but it is has struggled to gain significant support from clubs. All 92 Premier and Football League clubs were contacted about the launch of Football v Homophobia, but only four - Blackburn, Burnley, Morecambe and Gillingham - agreed to include information about the campaign in their match day programmes. Two clubs, Crystal Palace and Norwich, hosted information about the campaign on the website, while Brighton & Hove Albion endorsed the event and maintain close ties with the campaign.

Overall, though, the sense is that most clubs are fearful of going it alone when it comes to tackling homophobia without strong leadership from the FA, whose decision to pull a recent anti-homophobia video has been interpreted in many quarters that they have no identifiable strategy on how to tackle the issue. For the time being, however, the biggest battle may be convincing the authorities that homophobia is actually a problem at all.

Charity begins at home for the elite

It is hard to remember a time when politicians did not complain about all these layabouts on benefits scrounging off the state. It was shocking when new Labour's first home secretary Jack Straw denounced single mums, the disabled and the homeless, but he didn't invent mean-spirited attacks on the poorest in society. He simply gave those attacks a new, more vindictive twist. Ever since we've had a welfare state we've had members of the elite complaining about the cushy lives that are generously granted to the sick, the unemployed or the old. The workhouses were introduced at a time when the rich were complaining loudly that if they were to prevent children from starving, the least that society could do was lock them up and make them earn their keep. Workhouses were not known as the New Bastilles for nothing. The current economic climate might have given ministers an added incentive to cut the benefit bill, but they need to be careful not to believe their own rhetoric. With a slurry of unnamed ministers sending out quotes on the end of universal pension provision and reducing housing benefits, they have managed the neat trick of looking vile and incompetent at the same.

They need to remember that welfare provision has never been simply about generosity to the unfortunate. Just like the sewage system and other public works, the dole was introduced because the well-to-do cannot live in their own little bubble no matter how hard they try; they could catch cholera or TB just like everyone else if diseases were allowed to spread. Bins are collected for free not because there is any general principle about the right to have your rubbish removed, but because if someone on a street couldn't or wouldn't pay then the public health hazard that this would create would be everyone's problem. Over time, the rich decided that having their throats cut by the destitute was less appealing than ensuring the poor did not get too desperate. The safety net was also a shield to prevent murder, robbery and anarchy. The trick has always been to pay out enough to prevent rioting while making the process of claiming benefits unpleasant enough to prevent having to pay decent wages or make workplaces good places to be. With rising unemployment, there's no point in the government wasting resources trying to bully claimants who have no job to go to. But it is possible to ensure that the whole process is soul-destroying, leaving the recipients of benefits feeling like atomised outsiders. The government has learned lessons from the '30s, just as we should.
The unemployed used to have to sign on every day as a method to ensure they were instantly available for whatever dangerous, ill-paid work might be going that day.

The downside was that by collecting all the out-of-work people in an area in the same place day after day, organising a movement of the unemployed became a good deal easier. The National Unemployed Workers Movement (NUWM) became a real force for change last century not simply because it protested against genuine social injustice but because the state assisted it by drawing its potential audience into one place and forcing them to stay there day after day with nothing to do but talk about their problems.
These days claimants sign on every two weeks and they are often corralled as quickly as possible through open-plan offices under the watchful gaze of security guards. The need for a new NUWM is still there, but this time the government has chosen not to do socialists any favours when it comes to reaching our audience. The benefit cheats hotline also plays a part in the process. It was a clever sleight of hand by the government which has never paid for itself. The few people who do ring up to grass on someone are actually reporting totally legitimate recipients of benefits - or people who don't receive benefits anyway. It remains in place not because it's an effective way to prevent benefit fraud - it isn't - but because it helps to embed in people's minds guilt by association.

Somehow, because some people defraud the system, everyone who claims benefits without being totally miserable is somehow slurred as dishonest. The insipid message is that claiming benefits is itself an immoral act similar to fraud. During the Thatcher years, not a day went by when the unemployed were not harangued, scorned or despised from the Cabinet pulpit, but welfare spending always rose. But if she hated the dole so much, why did Thatcher keep paying it? Not from the goodness of her heart - that would have required possessing one. The truth is that the bullying and the payouts are two sides of the same coin. It's cheaper to pay housing benefit than it is to imprison the destitute and you don't get any awkward rebellions either. However, you still need to make sure that it sounds like you are doing the poor a favour rather than keeping the lid on Pandora's box. The moment the poor realise why the powerful are handing over money, what appears to be charity could well be seen as something very similar to demanding money with menaces. And who knows what society's poorest might demand next if they started getting ideas.

We need new green economics

Whatever connects the controversy about how fast the glaciers are melting with the results of the latest British Social Attitudes Survey, it certainly isn't the latest Tory campaign poster "We can't go on like this" that links all three in confusion and insecurity. The British public have - rightly - become far more accepting of homosexuality and co-habitation rather than marriage. Caricatures that once presented these as a threat to the very fabric of society have largely melted away. We are beginning to see that what undermines society and relationships is a more complex set of social and economic forces. At the same time, however, more people in Britain identify themselves today as Conservative supporters rather than Labour. It is the first time this has happened in 20 years. Many Labour supporters will say that this is always where new Labour was going to take us - that by constantly putting itself close to Tory policy positions new Labour created the conditions in which the public would eventually feel safer identifying themselves with "the real thing." It is a tempting, but insufficient explanation. The greatest damage over the last 20 years is to be found in the destruction of our sense of common security.

Labour's great social transformations, post-1945, came out of the life and death interdependencies of wartime. The NHS, state pensions, universal education and the national insurance system all arose from this sense of social - and intergenerational - solidarity. The last 20 years have been obsessed with the individual and the immediate. Throw this into the middle of an economic crisis and no wonder we are confused. Society has lost faith in the notion that we can rely on each other or that the collective safety nets, constructed over decades, remain in place and are strong enough. If workers' pensions can be stolen, the state pension eroded, the NHS handed over to private finance and essential utilities delivering gas, electricity and water security all privatised, no wonder a "you're on your own" belief predominates. An obsession with means-tested welfare only accentuates this. New Labour's assertion that it was comfortable with the filthy rich sent damaging messages through the whole political system. Taxing the filthy rich has become taboo. As a result, middle England sees itself as carrying the costs of the welfare state. Britain now has a wider gap between rich and poor than at any time over the past 40 years.

It is the middle class that sees itself as taking the strain. This is what comes across in the Social Attitudes Survey. How does this connect to the glaciers? The answer is in a fear of the future and a predictable retreat into individual bunker mentalities. Those of us who campaign about the urgency of facing up to climate change should welcome the IPCC controversy. It is a really good example of the scientific community working as it should. Data was checked. Sources were chased up. An error of some magnitude was identified and the data corrected. It is how science should work. The comments by the head of the IPCC Rajendra Pachauri were, of course, unfortunate. But then we all have the ability to look daft on occasions. The key point is that the recalculation of figures changes nothing of the central IPCC case. Climate sceptics can never subject their claims to the same scrutiny, because the claims fall apart. This is a triumph of critical thinking, not a failure. So how do we apply this to what we do now? As Britain stumbles over questions about whether it is finally coming out of recession - and how anyone would know - the most significant piece of analysis has been quietly pushed to one side.

It is to be found in the New Economics Foundation report Growth Isn't Possible: Why Rich Nations Need A New Economic Direction. NEF discreetly points out that Britain and other industrial nations cannot come out of the current crisis chasing the same "growth" economics that took us into it. This has nothing to do with the world having been turned into a financial casino. Instead it takes climate stability as the central determinant of our survival. It is the point at which we have to treat the public as grown-ups. If the science is right, and climate stability can only be secured within a 2°C increase in global temperatures, tomorrow's economics cannot simply shop its way out of a crisis. We have to find an economics that is rooted in low-carbon living. This isn't a hair-shirt existence but one that combines better living with treading more lightly on the planet. Some of the most radical changes just come from thinking differently. When Britain used to be choked up with smog we introduced the Clean Air Acts. No-one talked of "tradable breathing permits" or a market price for soot. We simply gave industry notice that it had to meet new air quality standards. Some screamed that it would be the end of British industry - but it never was; these new rules simply took us into another era.

Such a change of thought today might mean keeping the car scrappage scheme but allowing it to be used only to acquire ultra-low-carbon vehicles. It would turn the boiler scrappage scheme into one that made CHP (combined heat and power) boilers the replacement of choice. We have to skip the generation of "what we already have in stock" in favour of where we want to be next. Cities in Germany are now considering alternatives to new power stations. One is a plan to install 100,000 CHP boilers in houses, offices, schools and factories in Hamburg and having them linked to a central control unit. This could deliver up to 2GW of electricity - enough to replace two power stations. The Germans describe this as an energy "swarm." As well as meeting individual energy needs, it would deliver energy security to the city as a whole. It is "power to the parlour," but on a collective rather than individual basis. Moreover, the city in question is looking to run the show on bio-methane, derived from processing its own domestic waste. It is an economics that joins up the dots of living holistically. People in Germany are no better than we are in understanding what a ton of carbon looks like. They just understand that you need a different set of ground rules if the market is to make less of a mess. Demand reduction will have to become the new economics of growth. We need markets that will sell non-consumption and job creation at the same time.

The obvious example is in how we could end fuel poverty. Half of Britain's current carbon emissions come from existing buildings. Over five million households live in fuel poverty. If we were to raise the energy efficiency of these properties, Britain could cut the carbon emission by 60 per cent in a period of six or seven years. It would, of course, create huge numbers of jobs in the process. This is the new mindset Britain needs to take us out of the era of insecurity and into one of low-carbon living. In doing so, it would reverse the rightward drift in social attitudes, re-instating a belief that common security rather than social fragmentation holds the key to our future. Grasp this and we may discover we can save something of the glaciers as well as ourselves.

Spain's crisis of faith

Spain's controversial abortion law has been passed by the lower house of parliament and is now making its way through the Senate. Beyond parliament, however, a bitter conflict on the "ley del aborto" has torn open old wounds between the Catholic church and the ruling socialist party. Under the law's provisions, abortions would be available on demand for women of 16 and over up to the 14th week of pregnancy - and up to 22 weeks if there was a risk to the mother's health or if the foetus was deformed. Women could also undergo the procedure after 22 weeks if the foetus had a serious or incurable illness. However what has most angered the Catholic community - and even some supporters of the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE) government - is a provision allowing girls of 16 to have an abortion without their parents' consent or knowledge. Opinion polls have shown that 56 per cent of socialists who support the liberal PSOE government are very unhappy at this clause, against 64 per cent opposition across Spain as a whole. The protests against the new abortion law have been led by Hazte Oir, a coalition of Catholic organisations. In October over a million people gathered in the Plaza de Independencia in Madrid to voice their opposition.

This highly motivated Catholic movement has been joined by the centre-right Partido Popular, which has pledged to ask the Constitutional Court to overturn the abortion legislation. PSOE policies have set Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero on a collision course with the Catholic church in Spain on numerous fronts, including divorce, gay rights and education. And the battle over the proposed abortion laws has become increasingly bitter since the church banned a leading PSOE member from taking communion. Staunch Catholic Jose Bono is president of the Spanish Congress and voted for the legislation. He argued in an interview that he supported the law because he understood it would reduce abortions and that, according to former pope John Paul II's guidance on the issue, "politicians can vote for laws governing abortion if they believe that they are reducing the evil it causes." But in a letter to daily newspaper El Mundo the Spanish Episcopal Conference stated that politicians were obliged to vote against any law which did not adequately protect the inviolable right to life of those who are yet to be born. This ongoing struggle has highlighted the suspicion with which many Spaniards view the Catholic church.

It was closely associated with the dictatorship of Franco, leading to deep distrust among generations of Spanish leftwingers. Students of the Spanish civil war well remember the role played by the Catholic caucus in the US to prevent president Franklin D Roosevelt from supporting the democratically elected government in Madrid. Catholic activists and writers also rubbished the press reports by Jay Allen on the nationalists' slaughter in Badajoz and George Steer's accounts of the destruction of Guernica, arguing they were communist inventions. Following the church's decision to bar Bono from receiving communion PSOE vice-secretary general Jose Blanco waded into the argument. Blanco accused the church of "hypocrisy," pointing out that it had taken no action against members of the former Partido Popular government of Jose Maria Aznar which introduced the present abortion law - "members of the government of the right under whom in our country there have been over 500,000 abortions."

And so the fight over the right to life of the unborn child has fired up old animosities, with socialists believing that the church favours its allies on the right above those on the left - even devout Catholics such as Bono. High-profile socialist Luis Solana, who was instrumental in establishing democracy after Franco, noted that socialists who are also practising Catholics have experienced "many bitter times." As far as the church is concerned the classic socialist is an agnostic, he said, hence those who follow both the Catholic and socialist creeds such as Bono are rejected by the hierarchy and should expect no charity. Back in October a local communist leader of the United Left (IU) Pedro Moreno Brenes explained his own relationship with Catholicism. Brenes, a lecturer in law at Malaga University and a Catholic, practises his faith openly alongside the political beliefs that he has held since adolescence. He said that his religion coexists with his political leanings and said that he felt no conflict whether he was invited to a religious or civil event, and was pleased to accept all invitations should they be from Muslim or Jewish communities or atheists. Asked about the antagonism between the IU and organised Catholicism, Brenes touched on another reason for the church's hostility towards the left. "The party, for example, proposes that there shouldn't be any tax privileges for religious entities. It is compatible in the respect of - and the separation of - public and religious life."

Brenes remained in no doubt that the Christian message of "love one another" is much the same as the communist belief in fraternity and equality. But while it may be compatible to be a Christian as well as a socialist or communist in Spain - where Catholicism is the only real Christian option - it seems that the Catholic church hierarchy views things very differently.

Darling fails to be a crowd-pleaser

Budget day started with PCS pickets outside the Houses of Parliament, the Treasury and almost every jobcentre around the country. Anyone observing MPs drive past the PCS protesters to hear Alistair Darling's words of wisdom would have been struck by the lack of public esteem for Parliament. In fact, it's at an all-time low. Ordinary men and women across the country, such as public-sector workers and BA cabin crew, are struggling against pay cuts, redundancies and attacks on their terms and conditions. Add to that a string of parliamentary scandals and it's no wonder people are so disillusioned. Expenses claims, the shady lobbying practices of Geoff Hoon, Stephen Byers and Patricia Hewitt, plus the Tory Ashcroft debacle have left MPs reeling. So this particular Budget comes at a key time for Labour. Key choices are to be made as the recession - according to some commentators - "draws to a close" and in the wake of the decisions taken in 2008 to bail out the banks. At one level Darling made some fairly encouraging Keynesian remarks about the "role of government," defending the role of the state and comparing current levels of unemployment and interest rates to the recessions of the 1980s and '90s. But he soon retreated into Great Britain PLC mode when he said all the bank shares would eventually be sold and that the age of interventionism was over.

If Darling really believes this, he should cast an eye to the media reporting of what is happening in Greece. Greece's budget deficit, coupled with pressure from the EU and international banks, has forced the hapless George Papandreou to make endless flights to European capitals to pledge even more cuts and attacks on the welfare state, only to return home to more strikes and even bigger demonstrations. Darling seemed like a man uncertain of what to say. What was obvious, though, was that above all he wanted to please the City commentators and be told he was being "responsible" and "cutting the deficit."  The Chancellor has allowed, even encouraged, praise from the City to be the gold standard of 21st century fiscal policy. The new national barometer by which government success is measured appears to be at what the level the deficit is. Emphasising the point is the international banking fraternity's decision to lower Portugal's credit rating, which demonstrates the power of big-business sophistry over the real needs of people. Darling did announce some welcome changes and improvements, but, as he trundled his way through his speech, he continued with the same theme he has adopted for so long - essentially that public employees must pay a wholly disproportionate share of the debt burden created by the banking crisis.

A 1% pay limit on public-sector pay for three years, the loss of many jobs and the relocation of one-third of Civil Service positions currently in London will mean hardship and depression for many who are already low paid. As one of the PCS pickets outside Parliament laconically put it, their struggle has an effect on everyone else in the public sector. If this dispute is lost then it can only be a matter of time before severance arrangements for the police and others are affected. Since the EU does not allow state subsidies or direct support for industry, government powers are limited to tax-raising and giving out benefits. In another nod towards Keynes, the Chancellor announced a cut in stamp duty for first-time buyers and an increase in the rate for £1 million-plus properties. However, he then went on to make a very curious reference to the way "welfare reform has restricted the rise in inactivity benefits." This indicates the real purpose of taking many people out of benefits altogether and making draconian demands on accepting low-paid jobs that the welfare trap of housing benefits penalises them from accepting - it's all about the deficit. Yet the huge housing benefit bill for tenants of private landlords who charge exorbitant rents is to be dealt with in absolutely the wrong way.

Instead of controlling rents and the obscene levels of profit made by renting to the poorest tenants, the plan is to prevent those on benefit being allowed to go into "expensive" homes. It looks as though an era of social cleansing could begin with restricting housing support to "low-cost" areas. In a continuation of the Great Britain PLC theme, Darling confirmed the sale of the Dartford river crossing and the Channel Tunnel rail link, putting pressure on government departments and local authorities to continue asset sales to meet infrastructure investment needs. New Labour and the Tories have always believed that government is essentially a business, not a public role and while Darling has changed the mood music, he has saddled himself and any future government with the millstone of debt reduction, whatever the circumstances.
The Tory response was as expected - more cuts more quickly and not raising tax and national insurance contributions for the wealthiest. David Cameron's strange obsession with marriage was dealt a neat blow with plans for tax credits to be paid to families irrespective of the status of the parental relationship.

One telling figure, hidden quietly in the midst of all this was the cost of the Afghanistan war - some £4 billion in the next year alone. Free market obsessions brought us the crisis and while the initial reaction to the crisis of partially taking the banks into public ownership was welcome, the price is being paid by tight spending, wage control and asset sales.  Public support for global regulation and the so-called Robin Hood tax show that for all the shallowness of the media presentation of the crisis, there are many who see the real causes of poverty and inequality in Britain and are prepared to do something about it. With election fever about to fully set in, perhaps the best way of defeating the Tories is to promise a period of redistribution of wealth or quite simply the end of new Labour.

The Tories' dubious chums

A Nazi, a homophobe and an old Etonian walk into a bar... not a joke, merely a likely scenario at October's Tory Party conference. Well, I was wondering how long it would take for them to revert to type and show their true colours, if not policies. All this cuddly "caring" conservatism must have really been sticking in the craw of the dyed-in-the-wool bigots and reactionaries who make up a large proportion of their voters. They probably dozed off at party conference a few years ago and woke up wiping drool from their palsied gobs to think they'd joined the Liberals. "Next they'll be saying we can't beat the servants! What do you mean we can't have servants any more? Hired help? I thought that was what Jeffrey Archer got in trouble for. Well I tell you I didn't fight and die in two world wars and have my buttocks used as a toast rack by my house master at Eton to put up with this kind of thing!" But this week the hang 'em and flog 'em brigade will have had cause to celebrate. Yes, the Tories have shrugged off their caring, sharing facade and reverted to the vindictive reactionaries we always knew they were, having sensed blood as a gravely wounded Labour Party limps towards defeat, having chewed its own leg off in a bid to survive.

And the most galling thing for the new Labour project is that the Tories are doing it with their policies, just with an added injection of malice like a schoolyard bully giving a Chinese burn to someone whose dinner money he's already stolen. This time the Tories brought pals from eastern Europe to make sure the message really got through. Michal Kaminski, who looks a bit like Alan Carr on steroids - but with fewer knob gags - was on hand to support his new best friend Dave. The right-wing MEP has publicly referred to gay people as "fags" and his party is rabidly opposed to same-sex marriages and has some rather dubious views on the Jewish race. So something for the Middle England voters there then. And if that wasn't endorsement enough, the Tories also wheeled out Roberts Zile of the uber right-wing Latvian party - there's a clue in the title here - Fatherland and Freedom. The FF, which appropriately sounds a bit like a Gestapo officer with a lisp, holds annual commemorations for the butchers of the Waffen SS. It tries to justify it by saying that the Latvian members of the murder gang were merely "following orders." Just like every defendant at the Nuremburg Trials. I can't wait to see who the Tories invite next year. The recently disinterred corpse of Adolf Eichmann perhaps? It takes something special to make David Miliband look like a principled defender of our nation's morals. This is the man who as Foreign Secretary is so up to his neck in human rights and torture litigation at the moment that he's probably been given a season ticket for the Courts of Justice. Yet, remarkably, this week the Tories made him look good.

It is perhaps then no coincidence with such dubious partners listening in that they wheeled out the race card, condemning Muslim extremism, but not the home-grown variety of Islamophobia, and pledging a "fortress Britain"-style immigration policy. But perhaps the most sickening aspect of the whole pantomime was when both Osborne and Cameron spoke about the pain which was necessary before the economic gain. Whose pain would that be then? Not theirs certainly, with their trust funds and multimillion-pound incomes. Its takes a real genius in hypocrisy to be lecturing us on realism and responsibility while quaffing £140-a-bottle bubbly and erecting a Potemkin village-style shopping mall in the conference centre so as not to have to slum it with the oiks outside. The Tories feel our pain all right - like a sadist tightening the thumb screws.

Torture won't halt terrorism

There's a single word in a recent Foreign Commonwealth Office report that underlines a central myth used to justify torture. Responding to recent revelations that the British security services had colluded with shocking abuses, the Annual Report on Human Rights 2009 says: "We must work with intelligence and security agencies overseas. Some of them share our standards and laws while others do not. "But we cannot afford the luxury of only dealing with those that do. The intelligence we get from others saves British lives." I'm struck by the word "luxury." It implies that human rights are like shopping at Waitrose - all very nice in good times but in tough times, Tescos will do. I thought the point about "rights" was that they are inviolable - while evidence has been seeping out about torture for some years, the case of Binyam Mohamed has clarified exactly how the US government treated its detainees. Mohamed was arrested in Pakistan where he was tortured by the Pakistan Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and then taken by US agents to Morocco where he was tortured for 18 months by the Moroccan authorities and simultaneously interrogated by the CIA. Then it was on to US detention centres in Bagram and Kabul where he was tortured by various means - sleep deprivation, continuous and literally maddeningly loud music, hooding - and finally to Guantanamo.

His account shows that the US practised torture directly and sub-contracted some of it out to other governments. Mohamed's account, accepted as true by British and US judges, has confirmed accounts from other detainees. The Bush government never denied that it practised "torture-lite" but was much more uncomfortable with the actual details being made public. The British security services knew that Mohamed was being tortured. Their agents questioned him in Karachi after having been formally told about his treatment by the CIA. When Mohamed was being tortured and interrogated in Morocco some of the questions referred to information from the British security services and his answers were passed back to Britain. British security services didn't themselves cut Mohamed's genitals with a scalpel but they knew of the torture and threatened him if he didn't "co-operate." They were happy to be involved in the interrogation process. British citizens Salahuddin Amin and Zeeshan Siddiqui each describe being tortured by Pakistan's ISI and then questioned by MI5. Human Rights Watch quotes ISI agents as saying that in both cases MI5 knew that the men were being "processed in the traditional way" and were "grateful.".

The FCO justification is therefore a surprisingly honest statement of actual practice. British security services are prepared to turn a blind eye to torture. The problem for the government is that the law is unequivocal - torture is absolutely prohibited both under long-standing common law and the European Convention on Human Rights. The government is caught in a cleft stick, which is no doubt why it is refusing to publish its guidelines on torture. For most of us, the moral case against torture is sufficient. The deliberate infliction of pain on an individual is absolutely and indisputably wrong. When private individuals torture another human being, it's illegal and horrifying. But for proponents of torture, the legal and moral arguments are mere luxuries and they constantly fall back on the "ticking time bomb" argument in which human rights "liberals" are condemned for not condoning the ill-treatment of one person when it will - or might - save the lives of thousands. They see themselves as the pragmatic ones and the life-savers. The ticking time bomb scenario is staple fare all the time in film and TV programmes such as 24 and Spooks and you're likely to come across at least one during any night's viewing. We are all very familiar with the scenario and it's that familiarity through fiction that allows the torture proponents to get away with telling us that the scenario is real.

But in the real world, no-one can point to an actual ticking time bomb scenario because presumptions underlying it are false. The security services don't usually know that a terrorist attack is about to happen or who might know about it. They didn't know about September 11, despite the US having Zacarias Moussaoui in detention for immigration offences at the time. Moussaoui was subsequently convicted of being part of that conspiracy. But since the CIA didn't know September 11 2001 was about to happen it had no reason to interrogate someone detained for other reasons. International terrorism like most serious criminal activities depends on hardly any of the players knowing the full story, especially not the actual perpetrators. Who knows what most of the September 11 2001 hijackers knew in advance? Or what the London bombers knew before the morning of July 7? What we do know is that torture produces unreliable evidence. This seems obvious - people being tortured tell their torturers what they want to hear. So the detainee eagerly assents when asked if there's a bomb in London and the spooks go haring off on a wild-goose chase. In fact the bomb was always in Paris.

Evidence obtained under torture is so inherently unreliable that its substantive value is always nothing. How could anyone identify scraps of truth - if there are any - among the fiction invented to please the torturer? Torture proponents will argue that each of those presumptions simply requires better security work. But the point is that each presumption is so unrealistic that the overall scenario is utterly far-fetched. Which is why it has never happened. Were the scenario to be realistic, then surely it would have happened at least once. But I have never heard a torture proponent able to point to one instance. I appreciate that security services can't talk about terrorist attacks that they have prevented, but surely some example would have leaked out given the current debate? There is simply no example of torture preventing a ticking time bomb. And while nobody can point to one instance of lives being saved as a result of torture, what is clear is that the US and British government's war on terror has made us less safe.

Guantanamo, torture, uncritical support for Israel and the invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq are all reasons why some people come to believe that terrorist attacks can be justified. Renouncing torture is a pragmatic position as well as a legal and moral one; it makes us safer. Withdrawing from Afghanistan, providing reparations for Iraq and supporting the rights of the Palestinians would also help. Practising torture - and colluding with it - doesn't just fail to detect terrorism. It also helps to make terrorism more likely. It's of some comfort that MPs and peers obviously feel just as worried about the issue, since they consistently revisit the issue in committee, even though they appear to lack the courage to do anything more direct within the various Houses of Parliament. And it's quite proper that they should feel worried, since the provisions of the anti-terror legislation consitute the biggest erosion of civil liberties in living memory, with the possible exception of the Tory - and now new Labour as well - anti-union laws. It's an unfortunate fact of political life in bourgeois democratic Britain that, when it comes to restricting human and civil rights, the temporary and short term seem to metamorphose effortlessly into the long term and the long term into the permanent.

Parliament's joint committee on human rights clearly recognises this and has called for a review of all such laws passed since September 11 2001. The committee rightly questions whether ministers can legitimately still argue that a "public emergency threatening the life of the nation" remains. And it further says that the government's "narrow" definition of complicity in torture is "worrying." Too right it is. And so is detention without charge, continual abortive attempts to extent the period of such detention, trials without publicly displayed evidence, trials without juries, derogation from aspects of the European Convention on Human Rights and all the rest of the panoply of repression which has become the norm of government over the last decade. The committee says that it is pleased to see that ministers claim that a commitment to human rights "underpinned" counter-terrorism work, but it said "all too often" it was "squeezed out by the imperatives of national security and public safety." Perhaps someone ought to warn these MPs that "all too often" is hardly a sufficient evaluation. Maybe it ought to be a building worker, because at least he or she would be able to remind them that, if just one part of underpinning is "squeezed out," the wall is likely to collapse and, if one wall falls down, the whole house is likely to collapse with it. The civil and human rights that used to be taken for granted in Britain are under extreme threat. Those rights, fought for by working people over hundreds of years, are not negotiable.

It was always obvious that the phoney "war on terror" would raise these dangers. Indeed, there are conspiracy theorists around who say that it is so convenient for a repressive government to have such an excuse that it may have been among the reasons for promoting the phoney war in the first place. While not going that far, simply because we're not in the habit of making assertions unsupported by concrete evidence, it needs to be remembered that many of the vicious repressions of nazi Germany were justified on the basis of allegations that an invisible enemy was eating away at society. Socialists have always been aware of this danger, which is one reason that the defence of civil rights is so high on any progressive agenda. And it is time that we reminded the MPs and peers in the two Houses of Parliament that it is not sufficient to merely sit on the sidelines and comment wryly on the erosion of liberty in the country. Nor is it enough to warn the government that it might have gone a teeny weeny bit too far. If the case is made, and the human rights committee has made it adequately, then it's the task of MPs to get off their behinds and do something concrete about it. Otherwise the committee system ceases to be of any democratic value and merely acts as an escape valve to let MPs air legitimate grievances and feel that they have done their duty, without actually changing anything.