History repeats itself for a reason, and we ignore it at our peril

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History also tells us that governments like nothing better, when their backs are to the wall economically or politically to divert attention away from the mistakes of their own making, and to focus instead on the problem of the others. And history also tells us when Government think “the others” are a problem they also find solutions, sometimes final ones

 

Back in the day, I can remember a parade of eloquent and committed teachers, urging us to consider history as a subject for advanced study and maybe even a post school discipline. Among the many arguments the one that stuck with me, and which continues to have currency, is that a proper and thoughtful study of the past not only can help us make sense of the present (on the assumption that in most things there is very little new under the sun) but that with a critical and questioning eye it can help us avoid the mistakes of our forbears (if that is our bent) or indeed repeat their folly with alarming regularity (should we so choose). In either scenario knowing how certain courses of action have played out in the past, we can make a decent stab at how actions today will play out in the future. And like a hall of reflecting mirrors we can see that pattern repeat and repeat into infinity.

You don’t have to be a genius of physics or quantum mechanics to understand  that doing the same thing over and over again in the same fashion and expecting a different outcome, may indeed be madness, but is also just incredibly stupid and arrogant. Which is why Politicians and governments are the biggest culprits of this infantile belief in their power (or indeed god given right)  to do something truly original and different.

And so we  have seen in the last week or so a series of stories relating to the treatment and singling out of refugees and migrants that has chilling resonance back to  1930’s Germany. First asylum seekers in Middlesborough, it transpired, were being housed in accommodation with distinctive red doors, ostensibly so that their landlords the government contracted private security company G4S could find them! One might have assumed they had a list (and maybe some maps). But of course at the same time as their housing officers could find them so could other people in the city with an agenda of harassment and intimidation. And they did find them with alarming regularity, with the asylum seekers reporting graffiti sprayed on their houses and dog shit and used condoms pushed through their letter boxes. While G4S have agreed to replace the doors with a more neutral colour akin with their neighbours, their attitude in conducting this little social experiment in the first place is telling. Despite being paid to deliver a contract to provide safe and secure housing for people going through the  asylum process, they put the convenience and needs of their staff beyond that of those in their care. It shouldn’t have taken the media and concerned citizens and a directive from Her Majesty’s finest to make them stop the process, they should have just known it  was a bad idea. Stars of David on windows anyone?

No sooner had the red door debacle died down when Cardiff announced it was their intention to force asylum seekers to wear red wrist bands in order to get fed. When it was pointed out that the wearing of said bands was opening the men and women to racial abuse and hate crime, the answer was pretty much, tough. No band, no dinner! A similar outcry of the lily livered liberals amongst us (I’m getting in that slur before the Daily Mail does!) has resulted in that policy being “re-thought” and overturned. But the real question is who in heavens name thought it up in the first place. Pink triangles ring any bells people? Once again the interest of the asylum seekers and the duty of care the local authority have for them is way down the list of priorities

And we wake to today’s news that in a Denmark very very far away from the land of Borgen, Danish asylum seekers will have to part with cash or personal effects that they have brought with them be they family heirlooms or treasured possessions, before they get support, in order to “pay” for that support, although those good hearted Danes are allowing people to keep their wedding rings….for now. So far there doesn’t seem to have been a directive on gold fillings. Anyone who has visited Auschwitz  and Birkenau and heard the stories of the warehouses  called “Canada” (because it was a place of abundance) where personal effects were removed, sorted and distributed, might be feeling a little queazy at the moment. And there is absolutely no justification for this brutal action other than to humiliate, demonise, and punish people taking up their legal right to seek protection in a country nominally signed  up to the UN Convention of Refugees. Of course  EU member states the UNHCR are up in arms about this, but then the UK, Ireland and Denmark have an automatic exemption for ALL EU wide asylum policy guidelines and directives so frankly the EU can go on about it as much as they like, the UK, Ireland and Denmark will continue in their own sweet way thank you very much.

And  it’s not so long ago that the shadow of the transit trains fell across Glasgow. When the housing contract for asylum seekers was moving from the Glasgow Housing Association  – into which Glasgow Council’s owned social housing had morphed – to yet another private contractor, it looked like many asylum seekers across the city would have to undergo forced removals from one badly insulated, run down council house on a sink estate to another. They were told in a letter from the private profit driven accommodation provider – in a chilling parallel to  instructions given to Jews across Europe from 1939-44 that they could take “only up to two suitcases each” despite the fact many had lived here for years and had accumulated the same detritus of their lives that we all do. In the event the housing swap didn’t mean a move for most people, but all the same the callousness in which the instructions were given and the tone and content of the letter made  this refugee support worker and others write stiffly to the Home Office and the accommodation provider. We are still waiting on an apology for the insensitivity. But then where does sensitive handing of vulnerable people stand against the profit driven self interest of the people at the top of the procurement tree?

And we continue, in the UK, to ignore the recent history of refugee settlement (less than 40 years ago) in the most amazing way with the forced dispersal of the Syrians coming in from camps, to the far flung corners of the UK (over half the local authorities in Scotland for example) to places that in many cases have no specialist services, history of supporting or understanding of the issues facing traumatised vulnerable people. The numbers in each area are tiny, so people get lost in a system that wasn’t designed for them in the first place. The isolation they are feeling, the confusion and ineptitude of some local authorities is exactly what happened in 1979 when a then newly elected Tory Government in its first few months  of power (a co-incidence…I don’t think so) had to deal with the Vietnamese boat people. Instead of housing people near to areas of the country that have the services, expertise and support that is needed , people are being spread to ease in he Home Offices words the “burden”. (I’ve seen the poweRpoint!)

The outpouring of sympathy across the Europe for the plight of the asylum seekers coming across the Med and overland was extraordinary, and at that point people didn’t see “them” as a burden, But I said at the time  that this humanitarian response would  fade, and that in its place would develop self interested harsher regimes dolling out tougher measures all geared, not to support the vulnerable huddled masses, but the governments and local authorities  where they settled. even if only temporarily. And I said that, because history tells us that this is always the case. But history also tells us that the mass movement of people is a historical phenomena, that borders shift, and that some are no more than recent drawings in the sand. History tells us that  it has happened before and that it will happen again, so we need to get smarter, better and more humane in dealing with it. History also tells us that governments like nothing better, when their backs are to the wall economically or politically to divert attention away from the mistakes of their own making, and to focus instead on the problem of the others. And history also tells us when Government think “the others” are a problem they also find solutions, sometimes final ones.

And for those of you that think this doesn’t affect me. I’m not an asylum seeker or  a refugee. Well lucky you, but you might be old, vulnerable, poor, unemployed,  weak, sick or have people in your life that are. History tells us when governments want to demonise the other they start with the people that look different, sound different, dress different; then they move onto those that pass amongst us as one of us. A voice from the crematorium years of the last century should not be ignored

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Martin Niemoller

Maggie Lennon is founder and Director of the Bridges Programmes working to promote the social and economic integration and inclusion of asylum seekers refuges and migrants in Scotland

 

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Aylan Kurdi’s very public death must not be forgotten when the social media feeds move on

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Seven years ago in July, and before social media was quite at the heights we “enjoy” today, several broadsheets in the UK ran the story of two teenage Roma girls washed up drowned on an Italian beach. The story wasn’t so much that once again people from a disadvantaged and persecuted race had been left to rot like so much rubbish; but that the bodies lay decomposing and lightly covered in full view of Italian families enjoying a family day out.

The picture (opposite) wasn’t widely romareproduced, whether out of a sense of decency or a collective editorial view  that the “victims” didn’t merit it, wasn’t clear; but the story had some coverage, but very little reaction outside of Italy. And nothing like the global outrage to the mass reproduction of the images of Aylan Kurdi. The girls it appears had been selling trinkets on the beach when they decided to enter the water, though it was unsure if either knew how to swim.

Seven years on and the public reaction to human tragedy of the loss of a young life in appalling circumstances on a beach in Turkey, that most of us couldn’t contemplate, has quite rightly caused horror and outrage; and appears to be having an impact on our political leaders in the UK, though by how much and with what strings attached, is way too early to say. The image of a child lying dead face down in the surf on a beach that many other 3 year olds were playing on, only weeks before, is imbued with such tragic irony that few could remain unmoved. For those of us with children, no matter how grown, it sears into us the primal fear of having a child die before us. And for people everywhere it’s the image that is the antithesis of hope, a life ended too young.

But Aylan isn’t the only child to die too young this week. In fact he wasn’t the only child to die on that beach. Aylan’s brother Galip perished too along with his mother and nine others including other kids. The thousands of children who have died this week across the globe, through hunger, poverty, disease, war and crime; won’t be the last. We know this and we know we know this, but in our busy lives it’s as if we need to know this, at a distance, removed from view, and not over the cornflakes thank you very much. With every capsized boat during this summer’s sailing season, with every group of a hundred or so refugees dying on our beaches, still the politicians turned a blind eye, still the right wing press perpetrated the myths, still most people turned away uncomfortable, uneasy maybe, but still unsure about “these” people.

Then came the picture. I said to someone yesterday that I thought the image was exploitative. The look of distaste on the face of this person who has, to be frank, come late to the party of humanity and concern was almost comic. How could I, of all people, say that? Didn’t I understand what was happening? Look at the impact it has had. And it is precisely because of the impact it has had that I stand by my claim. Exploitative in a general sense as no family member back home, I believe was consulted or asked about a having this image splashed across the world and exploitative because it was published with only one aim in mind, precisely to get the reaction it did. But saying that it is exploitative is not to condemn its use or to criticise the decision firstly to take it or publish it. Far from it. Though I would prefer that reason and argument and evidence of the needs of refugees and migrants were what shaped policy, I’ll take what I can get. The fact that our and other European governments, are immune to reason, argument and evidence is shocking and ultimately very worrying. So if it takes the image of a dead child to galvanise public opinion and make a difference then the use of it is justified but it doesn’t change the fact that it was a calculated decision. For those of us who believe that generally the end justifies the means, remember that that’s fine just so long as the ends are the ones we want. And remember of something is exploitative someone else is being exploited.

The fact that the media shapes public opinion rather than reflect it is something I have written and spoken about many many times. The fact that it is often in cahoots with government is something responsible citizens not only have to wake up to but to challenge at every turn. Yet on the issues of refugees and migrants fleeing impossible conditions for the last 15-20 years, both the media and many responsible citizens have not only been silent on, but deliberately misleading. The case of the Roma girls 7 years ago (not markedly different) proves that.

So let’s be thankful for the light that has been shone on the misery of our fellow human beings but let’s be wary too. The people in the boats, behind the razor wire in Hungary, in the camps in Calais and those yet to flee Syria or where ever will still be there when the papers carrying the pictures have  been thrown out, and when the social media chatter has slipped down our page feeds. One they are settled in communities they will continue to need support. They might become your neighbours, your workmates, use your health services, attend your schools, hell they might even get a job you apply for. And when that happens or when people think that will happen or the media tell us it will happen, how supportive will you be then?

I’m pleased and relived that hundreds of thousands of people are discussing the issues that every day as Director of the Bridges Programmes me and my team deal with. Let’s hope it makes our job of promoting economic and social inclusion and integration of asylum seekers and refugees in Scotland easier. Let’s hope more doors are open, less hostility is evident. Send your dry goods, warm clothes, toys, but also send you hope, compassion and humanity. But can I also ask you when the pastas been cooked the clothes distributed that you keep your hope, compassion and humanity flowing. That’s the only way to make sure politicians listen, to make sure that things will change. That is the proper legacy for the Kurdi brothers.

Maggie Lennon is director of the Bridges Programmes, based in Glasgow working with asylum seekers refugees and migrants http://www.bridgesprogrammes.org.uk

More Camels and less Comics

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There was a time in my life,  in the mid to late 1990s that I would spend about a week every early December in Nice, in the South of France. The climate was mild, the prices reasonable, the bar and restaurants quiet. Good for Christmas shopping and for several years host to an eclectic European Theatre Festival, that gathered experimental thought provoking and physical theatre and presented it with something of a flourish to discerning audiences.

One particular year a piece from the National Theatre of Slovenia, loosely based on some of the absurdities in Shakespeare, and challenging our relationship to the printed and spoken word through exquisite physical theatre, stood out. At the end of the performance a live camel was led onto stage where it sat down and surveyed the (largely jaw dropping) audience with an absurdist non-challence that was as eloquent as it was relevant to the piece that had preceded it. Half the audience absolutely “got the Camel” the other half didn’t. And since then I tend to divide the world into people who get, and are excited by, challenging concepts, philosophies, and art forms. People who are happy to look at the world differently, who are not content with being spoon fed their theatrical or life experiences. As you might imagine, I got, and continue to get, The Camel.

I’m just back from another long weekend at the Edinburgh Fringe, seeing work from artists I know and much from people and groups that are new to me. I have seen outstanding work and some that is OK. I haven’t seen anything dire, but then I like to think I have a pretty good radar. Some of the stuff that was OK had large audiences, some of the stuff that was outstanding had small (let’s say intimate) audiences. Some of the performers faced with that intimacy are theatre makers of such experience, sensitivity and confidence in their theatre making, that they can adapt the tone to develop a conversation with a smaller audience, one that leaves you feeling special and privileged that only a few people have had such an experience. These  are the theatre makers that deserve the larger audiences. But while that’s nifty for the punter, it’s less rewarding for the artist: it doesn’t put pounds in their pockets or beer on the table. And as the Fringe runs on and money runs out, a prodigious amount of beer is drunk

It’s fair to say that this year, I think more than ever, intelligent theatre is being squeezed out of the Fringe. I have friends who are openly saying they may not bring back challenging, well made, pieces to try out in Edinburgh, but instead go for the more popular option: a spoof, a parody, a ripping yarn, something guaranteed not to scare the horses. Or worse not come back at all. With even a modest show requiring a budget of between £15,000 – £20,000 to mount, including accommodation and living costs, you can begin to see why. But that would be a huge tragedy. Not only is the Fringe, when it’s working properly, a chance for writers, artists, actors, directors and producers to showcase their work to venues which might lead to a tour (to offset the inevitable losses incurred by a month in Edinburgh), it also means that  if that work is being developed outside of Scotland (and the vast majority of shows of course are conceived furth of these borders) then those of us who don’t have easy and regular access to other parts of the UK, Europe or even the States are denied seeing new and innovative work.

So what is to be done? Once again I find myself (against my natural instincts) thinking the Fringe is too big, with not enough quality control and with too much of an emphasis on the popular and the comedic. While it is absolutely not true to say that there is no quality control; some venues are after-all very sniffy about whom and what they will allow in. The general “come one, come all” approach benefits no-one except the venues. Looking in the giant fringe programme for an idea of what to see is the artistic equivalent of going to  Niagra Falls to get a drink of water. And the absurd star review system so meaningless to be almost laughable or even a turn off. Audiences are short changed with more bad shows than good and at an average of £10-£12  a show that’s a lot of change. Performers stand to make substantial losses, have their confidence kicked out of them and decide the whole thing is just not for them. Venues that say they don’t make a profit on the shows  – but only on the bars and food – are just fibbing. The split house percentage deals means the house always wins.

The ridiculous quick get ins and get outs, to maximise the number of shows for each venue, and the fact that shows often use house technicians, mean that many shows present with the minimum of set or soundscape. I yearn to see a well dressed, well set designed fringe show. After all there’s only so many black boxes a girl can take in a weekend. And ALL the main venues have to stop this crazy and self defeating curfew on theatre after 6.00pm. Who decrees that only comedy should rule the evening? It means local people and by local I mean people within a 60 minute commute of Edinburgh, can’t see much, if any, theatre, on the Fringe, during the week if they are working.

There needs to be something of a revolution, either a new venue with new rules and a new model of collaboration between artist and venue needs to emerge, (It’s been done before in Edinburgh) or stalwarts who every year see their returns diminish need to boycott or demand change.

But one thing is certain the Edinburgh Fringe needs too see more Camels on its stages than comedians and cabarets.

If not Edinburgh might find that  there are other places in Scotland which will grab the mantle of intelligent theatre and give the Fringe a run for its money.

So if you are looking for decent challenging and thought provoking shows with performers of high calibre then amongst the shows I have seen and can highly recommend are:

Venue  Zoo Sanctuary: Nicholas Collett, Nelson a Sailor’s Story; Gavin Robertson, Crusoe

Venue Assembly: Guy Masterson, Under Milk Wood (semi skimmed); Rebecca Vaughan, I Elizabeth; Le Gateau Chocolat: Black

Venue Traverse Theatre: The Christians

Venue Summerhall: Key Change (part of Northern Stage collection); Moon Fool, Titania

Venue Gilded Baloon: Sex Rated G

What price humanity? Ours is more fragile than you think

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Fleeing in fear of your life, fleeing towards a better life is NOT a criminal act

Tomorrow it will be seventy years since the end of the Second World War with the surrender of Japan. Not only is that important because it saw the end of the largest loss of life both military and civilian in a conflict, whose combatants encircled the globe; But because it was a war that witnessed the obscenity of the attacks on Nagasaki and Hiroshima; And a war that let powerful men play powerful games and start the cold war and the even larger loss of life in the pogroms throughout the former Eastern Bloc.

But it is important because it was a war that showed that it was actually possible to wipe out almost an entire race of people without much resistance if the fear of the other could be stoked and fanned. And partly because of that, it is also important for giving birth to the United Nations Convention on Refugees and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Yet 70 years on this same Europe at the epicentre of the conflagration, is facing the biggest migrant crisis in our combined and separate historie

And I use migrant crisis – not as our politicians do as an inconvenient chorus to their seemingly unstoppable capitalist neo-liberal drum beating dream. I use it in the sense that it is meant, a time of intense difficulty or danger, for the people going through it not for us standing at the sidelines.

From the Med crossings to the build up of human misery in Calais, to the unrelenting onslaught on people’s human rights during the journey and once they have arrived. The crisis of the migrants is also the crisis of our own humanity. For when we can speak of desperate people in terms of insects, when we can erode basic human rights just to get at them, then our humanity in Europe, that so many died for 70-76 years ago is in peril itself.

Yet this link between the founding of mechanisms to protect people fleeing from the aftermaths of conflict and what we are facing in the summer of 2015 is hardly being made. But it was today in a packed seminar in Glasgow arranged by Caledonian University and the Glasgow Refugee Asylum and Migrant Network (GRAMNET) called Responding the Migration.

No talk of dogs and how high the fence in this room, except to condemn them both. The discussions were led by one of the most compassionate voices I have heard in a long time, Lilja Gretarsdottir from The Council Of Europe. Not unaware of the mountain to climb to change government and public opinion, her message was clear, it’s down to us as citizens of Europe and citizens of our own states, to challenge the seemingly pervasive myth that we are under attack from the barbarians at the gate.

And while that might not seem like much of way to initiate change, it is, in all honesty, I believe all we have. When I speak about refugees and migrants, which I do a lot, I always start a speech by asking who in the room does not wish for a better life, an improvement in salary or prospects, or place to live, or more money in their pockets, better holidays, happy less stressed lives, children who thrive? It’s an odd group that doesn’t universally admit to that. So why is it that so many believe the better life is fine for us but not for them, the others? While we in Europe benefit from democratic (mostly) governments, an abundance of resources we control, or can afford to acquire (legally or otherwise) and a level of unprecedented social mobility in Europe since 1945; we forget with dangerous carelessness that the world is ill divided and most of the world’s peoples do not share in that good fortune. And so for them those goals are harder to reach.

Never mind that actions by European and American government since 1945 (and before in the case of the Middle East) have combined to ensure that countries are invaded, bled of resources, left with corrupt governments propped up in the name of trade “national interests” and that once stable states – and especially those not to our taste – have become failed states, with all the human misery that entails.

We cannot deny what is happening in North Africa, Syria, Iran and still in Iraq and Afghanistan. We know deep in our hearts that if it were us on those boats and in those lorries, that we would break laws, defy dogs, smash fences and risk our lives to save ourselves and our children. Because the need to survive is what makes us human. And we forget at our peril that every outstretched arm through a roll of razor wire, that every scream of a hungry child belongs to a member of our human race. Whether refugee or economic migrant whose own personal economy has been destroyed by things over which they have no control, fleeing in fear of your life, fleeing towards a better life is NOT a criminal act. Punishing sanctioning, vilifying detaining those who do however, is criminal.

In breach of so many parts of the European Human Rights Act, our governments’ joint and several actions trample their – and ultimately your – human rights in the dust. It is time to realise and acknowledge that the dialogue of then and us is empty. That how we in Europe and other developed countries deal with this and other migrant crisis, speaks directly to our own humanity and asks questions, serious questions, about the basic principles by which we live and bring up future generations.

Calais and the deaths in the Med are holding up a mirror to us and the image reflected back is ugly.

The detention of hundreds of thousands in conditions which would breach EU law on the keeping of animals goes unquestioned. The question from government isn’t how do we make conditions behind the fences better, but how high should we build them? It doesn’t really matter where this is happening but 146 people being detained for over 4 weeks in a cage 112 square metres, men and women and children mixed in with no access to clean clothing is medieval.

That 70% of global migrant deaths are happening in the Mediterranean, some within sight of beeches where as Europeans we go to distress, goes unremarked. The suspension of the Mare Nostrum project was on the dubious logic that if you rescued them, more would come. Yet there has been no let up in the numbers coming, so knowing that and doing nothing is tantamount to murder, surely?

By depriving people of their rights when they do make land, giving them leave to remain yet not leave to work what are we driving people to?

A woman at the seminar, a migrant herself asked quite simply why Migrants were now regarded by the UK government as the third biggest problem behind the economy and the NHS. And why such a ridiculous scapegoating was being promoted by the media.

That at least is an easier question to answer. One of the greatest myths of all is that governments respond to public opinion and the media merely reflects that; as if Pubic Opinion drops from the heavens above. The truth is far simpler and all the more chilling. Governments faced with the inability or the unwillingness to solve problems, create instead a problem that doesn’t exist and then helpfully suggest a solution – maybe the final one- and the media merely manipulates public opinion into that acceptance. Those would be the listening governments we are so sick of listening to. Scapegoats! Yet Europe from Nazi Germany to Stalinist Europe at least knows what scapegoating is, and what results, doesn’t it? Yet we seem not to have learned. The very reason so many people flee is that they are the scapegoats of their own governments and now become that when they arrive looking for safety. The irony is strong enough for even the most irony averse American to get.

But you, reading this are one of the public, you have an opinion. The wide outrage to Cameron’s inhuman labelling of the migrants in Calais, from many sources, was a cause of some hope. And if you don’t know how to answer those who are unmoved by the plight of wretched people in desperate straits. Try this. Tell them, “they are people, humans just like you, with children just like you, with bodies that break and spirits that can be crushed, just like you, and one day it just might BE you that becomes the other. the outsider”.

Compassion, mercy, they cost nothing yet are the richest gifts we can give our fellow men and women and the only way of showing that we too, are human.

Maggie Lennon is the Director of the Bridges Programmes an organisation in Glasgow that promotes the social economic integration and inclusion of Refugees Asylum seekers and Migrants.

On a positive shout out for the Sisterhood at least it’s good to know that excessive cellulite is no barrier to a career on stage…though I wish it were

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It’s not easy being a feminist. And I’m not talking about the big stuff, the right of women to have equal representation in public and political life; the right for a woman to dress any damn well way she likes and it never to be thrown in her face that it contributed to her attack, rape or abuse. The right to choose, reclaim the night, be awarded equal pay. No the big stuff is fine, we seasoned sisters can come out punching at the bell, arguments at the ready, soap boxes to hand. No the difficulty arises in the “off duty” moments, when you let the guard slip. That’s when the non-believers (and sometimes the zealots) come at you, all the time trying to trip you up. Someone says they went to the doctor and you ask with concern “what did he say?” And they are right on top of you. “Oh call yourself a feminist? Why wouldn’t you assume the doctor was a man?” “Because statistically” you say wearily, “that’s the most likely scenario”. Say someone throws like a girl and the hounds of hell are loosed. It can be exhausting; any veggie who’s ever snaffled a bacon sandwich to cure a hangover couldn’t be less despised from her meat free chums than a feminist who is ever less than on message 24/7.

Well I confess last night I may have slipped up, oh and big time. I may be asked to hand back my membership card; I may be stripped of my original and pre Elle “This is What a Feminist Looks Like” T shirt, my “What Have Women Ever Done for Us – Plenty” backpack may have to be handed back.

Knowing my love for all things Berlin and all things cabaret, my penchant for a spectacle and a bit of a torch song a chum took me along to Burlesque at the Theatre Royal. Neither of us had checked it out, weren’t really sure what to expect, but it was on at the Theatre Royal so maybe some parody, satire, mockery, extravaganza, bit of drama, bit of music; in other words sticking to its origins of “burlesco”. Sure we knew that in recent times it had become in seedy clubs a byword for strip joints so much so that a couple of years back a borough in North London insisted that places advertising burlesque needed adult entertainment licences; and burlesque lessons have become a bit of a hen night staple for the kinds of women who think pink rhinestone studded cowboy hats the go-to fashion accessory for every overweight bridesmaid. BUT we wouldn’t go to a striptease show, no, this was on at the Theatre Royal, not the Kings or even the Pavilion, Scotland’s National Theatre of Variety. Surely it would have a bit of class a bit of pazzaz

Early signs proved worrying. A number of the female audience, who ought to have known better, were wearing flowers and sequined headbands, there was a denier of fish net tights, and people with over 35 BMIs were tottering around in stiletto boots the downforce from which risked them sinking into the pavement. But we pressed on.

The theatre was far from full and our seats were worryingly near the front, and there were distinct signs of “girl’s night’s outs”. Parody and satirical commentary I felt were not to be on the menu. Instead a tawdry show with a small cast of women and a male “comedium” (comic come psychic medium – get it) proceeded to fill the first hour with dubious singing, and a succession of the dreaded and feared striptease turns that had all the charm and sensuality of a kiss me quick hat from Largs. It was like being stuck in a Benny Hill meets Dick Emery show with that scene from Carry on Camping when Barbara Windsor’s bra “accidentally” pings off during her morning calisthenics playing on a continuous loop. It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t slick, it was cheap in every sense of the word! It was simply difficult to believe that this badly lit, hopelessly technical incompetent (long pauses while they got their tapes to play with whispering from the wings) touring rag-bag of tits and bums could actually be pulling in the paying customer in 2014.

Now I’m no body Nazi and I think women should confirm to no man’s or woman’s trimmed and airbrushed view of perfection dictated to by the advertising industry or popular culture. I’m with the Dove adverts let’s get a few more real women in our faces. So on a positive shout out for the Sisterhood at least it’s good to know that excessive cellulite is no barrier to a career on stage…though I wish it were. My ass has, I’m proud to say, not gone completely south but I know when to keep it myself. The same could not be said for our brave artistes. Think blancmange, think bag of fighting cats and you get the rather grotesque picture. Not so much Moulin Rouge more Milnathort or when Lesmahagow met Las Vegas! And not to be outdone showing themselves up, the show stooped to the cheapest and easiest version of entertainment, let’s get some hapless men on stage to make complete tits of themselves, and oh! how they loved it.

And perhaps this was the most worrying thing about the whole ghastly experience, apart from me and my chum EVERYONE seemed to be having a simply rip-roaring time, so much so that the woman sitting next to me positively glared at me when I didn’t clap, hoot, cat call or whistle when Tina von Titty or Betty la Booby teasingly (?) threatened to take off another layer.

I have no idea if men find striptease generally sexually arousing, or of they find looking at naked bottoms on stage a turn on. I can see, on the other hand, how a sensual removing of clothes in the privacy of one’s own bedroom might turn up the passion nicely. I also cannot imagine that straight women find the spectacle of women taking a mighty long time to take off their gloves, before taking off everything else, a titillation. So if it’s not for sexual gratification then they must be here for fun. But there was no charm in this, no tongue in cheek parody. This wasn’t some big spoof that we were all in on the joke of. This was just rather desperate, and if the audience weren’t laughing with them then they were laughing AT then and that’s what, as a feminist, I find so distressing: that the audience, who were mostly women, couldn’t see anything wrong or uncomfortable in what was happening in front of them in a provincial theatre. That women are still being paid to undress in front of men and that it is billed as entertainment, is not sending a positive role model to women and don’t give me all that crap about it being empowering. These women might indeed have had the choice but what about women trafficked into the sex trade who are required to perform this sort of act nightly not on the stage of a theatre but in the seedy back rooms of private clubs. When does one set of striptease become just a laugh out with the little woman for a night away from the kiddies and the dishes; and when does it cross over into something a bit more extreme a bit more controlling when just out with the lads on a stag night. Afterall the logic must go if a woman wearing a short skirt is gagging for it then a woman taking of her clothes and attaching tassles to her nipples is practically paying YOU for it, surely????

We can look back to the “Oh you are naughty but I like you” childish gender stereotypes of the 60s and 70s television shows that passed as popular culture, and watch with a sort of snooty grimace that how awful we used to think that funny. But no-one would ever dream of making shows like that again. On the Apprentice this week the team that designed a relationship game that re-enforced crass and demeaning stereotypes of women were quite rightly taken to task not least because the focus groups said that sort of presentation was no longer acceptable.

And yes we did leave at the interval so for all I know the second half were all about chaps getting their kit off. That wouldn’t have been any more appealing. Reducing anyone of us too a mere object of sexuality for profit IS a sort of prostitution. So before you tell me to “calm down dear” it’s only a bit of fun; just be aware that despite those that claim we live in a post-feminist world I can’t remember winning the war. If we don’t challenge sexual and gender stereotypes at every turn how the hell can we expect to be taken seriously. I wonder how many of the women their last night egging on their partners and the strippers complain about low wages, shit part-time conditions, having to do most of the housework and the kid raising. Well ladies I got news for you if you don’t respect yourself or your gender don’t expect anyone else to.

And before you accuse me of having no sense of humour I was secretly hoping to be hauled up on stage so I could say “My name is Esmeralda and I sew shrouds for a living” and watching the suckers lap it up.

Loneliness isn’t just for Christmas and for some the social disconnect is damaging to us all

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It’s that time of year again, and we are being bombarded by images of the perfect Christmas, lots of happy people, in groups, usually large groups all positively bursting with seasonal joy. Or if it’s not that it’s the saccharine sweet nonsense of CGI’d residents of the Antarctic looking for love! What upsets me most about John Lewis’ offering this year, isn’t the bad acting (the kid obviously, NOT the penguin… it’s not real!) or the perfect middle classness of it all, or even the shameful promotion of the stuffed Emperor penguin which can be yours for only £129 from a John Lewis near you , along with another 177 penguin inspired gifts! It’s the underlying message of the advert that you (and more importantly those around you)  can’t possibly have a happy Christmas, or be fulfilled if one beggar at the feast is loveless and without a significant other to pull their cracker. Now I suppose it could be the penguins long lost brother or sister popping out of the hat box, maybe it’s a  subtle plea to the Home Office about the importance of the right to family re-union; but giving all the shots of snogging (elder snogging too!) we have to assume that the visitor is definitely the love interest.

Now this is not the “poor me whining” of someone who is not expecting (or seeking) much misteltoe action this year. I have enough experience to tell me that I don’t need to rub noses with someone to make my Christmas special, or any holiday or any special occasion more special. But what concerns me slightly is the subliminal message that if you are alone, or on your own at this time of year (or possibly any time of year) somehow you  are seen as a bit odd, a bit sad, that you are not keeping your end up, not playing the game, you are spoiling it for everyone else.  Popular culture, advertisers and retailers are singing from the  same carol sheet and that carol simply says that Christmas is about being happy, and being happy requires you to be a surrounded by large groups of people and above all Christmas means love and romance. Whereas we all know the horrific reality of Christmas with large groups of relatives, we know that Christmas is about over indulgence of the wallet, senses and stomach and that the divorce rate soars post-holiday season.

But aside from all of that it completely ignores and diminishes those people who ARE lonely, on their own, sometimes by choice but not often. We are urged to chap up elderly neighbours and bring them a cup of festive cheer, invite them to lunch. We are coerced into giving to charity, brought face to face with people “less fortunate than our selves” and in the 6 week run up to the big day (with Children in Need as the official starting pistol)  we are expected to find a compassion for others that most of us find completely absent the other 46 weeks of the year. And all of it to make us feel less guilty about those people who don’t fit the happy norm and whose presence amongst us and whose plight might make us feel a bit bad about the extremes we go to.

But like the puppies, Loneliness isn’t just for Christmas.

And bang on cue a journalist chum emails me to say her magazine is doing a feature on loneliness at this time of year. No, she’s not asking me to write about the emotional desert of being partnerless that I navigate every day (!) or the horrors of having to go to Christmas parties on my tod. She, to be fair, works for the Church of Scotland magazine Life and Work and she wants to know about the impact of loneliness on asylum seekers and refugees. That it’s “this time of year” I’m pretty sure is the hook but it does show some understanding that sometimes people who are lonely are not being lonely just to spoil the party for everyone else.

It’s surely one thing being lonely in a city you recognise in a culture that you connect with and in a language you speak, imagine then, the crushing sense of aloneness you might feel if these things missing are as they are for asylum seekers and refugees. The latest dispersal cohort of asylum seekers to Glasgow (the only city in Scotland to house them) are mostly men, single men. Without families and with no realistic chance for re-union any time soon, they are housed in some of the poorest areas of the city, where markers of social deprivation are off the scale, and amongst the indigenous population, weighed down by poverty and illness, there’s not much energy for welcoming the stranger.

A subject of research just now, into the impacts of these lack of social bonds and bridges, this community paint a bleak picture. Unable to communicate well, they fall between the cracks of service provision; their health, physical and mental, is poor, their motivation to engage with support – which might lift them out of poverty-  once they are granted leave to remain, is low. With contact to family and a previous life restricted to emails and skype on the rare occasions they can access a computer, when their stories are generally not believed by the authorities, and they are living with a dread of the “knock on the door”,  being alone is tinged not just with sadness but with fear and anxiety.

A growing trend in Glasgow is to see these young men, forced to spend time with others in a similar position, but in no way people with whom they have formed friendships necessarily, congregating on street corners. There’s no money for coffee and going for a pint is out. But in gathering like this,  being mostly from the Middle East, and  in this political climate, they become the subject of fear and suspicion, further removing them from the chances to make connections which might tum them from social pariah into contributing citizens. For this group loneliness is more than a poignant tug on the heartstrings at Christmas, it’s a dangerous and debilitating disconnect which needs to be addressed, because not to do so risks affecting social cohesion in Glasgow and in other cities in the country where the same sad scenes are played out. And it is, in turn, this break down of social cohesion which ramps up racial tensions which can spill over into violence, this becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy, Fill British cities with disconnected and un-engaged migrants and see what happens cants the Daily Mail. And I’m not seeing too many calls for people to pop round and bring an asylum seeker a cup of festive cheer.

Elsewhere in the migrant community with, punishing immigration rules on family re-union and temporary leave to remain becoming the norm rather than let people settle permanently when they might put down roots, get an education, work and contribute, loneliness abounds. I stopped long ago asking clients if they had any children, when one African woman looked me in the eye and said “Maybe”. The chilling realisation that for many of the people we work with, the reality of family life is the not knowing where they are and if they are still alive. How much would they revel in a typically fractious, argumentative, tired and emotional relative filled Christmas day?

We have all experienced at some point how you can feel lonely in a room full of people, so take a moment and think about people you know who might not be surrounded by loved ones, or  who are a significant other, light, but who will be doing their best to survive the lovebombing onslaught that is December in Britain. They aren’t worth less than you, they are not flawed, they are not trying to spoil the party, they are not to be feared, they are not to be pitied, they are to be accepted and celebrated for the people they are, for the lives that they lead, however difficult they may be at times. Diversity is a wonderful thing!

Whether we sing in tune or not, after the Revolution, Scottish Labour are facing the music.

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There is an iconic scene in David Lean’s  Dr Zhivago, where the rich and privileged are dining in glittering splendour  and the huddled masses marching for bread, stop their march and sing outside.  In an effort to remove the tension  Viktor Komarovsky  quips “No doubt they’ll sing in tune AFTER the revolution” to laughter and a standing ovation.  Thus demonstrating how unassailable the privileged in Czarist Russia believed their positions to be, and how small a threat revolution posed, but ultimately how out of touch their instincts were.

Later the same scene is described from the point of view of the hungry, Pasha Antipov claims “There’ll be no more peaceful demonstrations. There were women and children, Lara, and they rode them down. Starving women asking for bread. And up on Tamskaya Avenue the pigs were eating and drinking and dancing.”

On October 30th in Glasgow, Gordon Street became Tamskaya Avenue for a few hours, as hundreds of protesters, many homeless, many representing the 34 food banks in Glasgow, demonstrated outside the Grand Central Hotel where Scottish Labour held their £100 a plate dinner, and  eye witness reports claim that diners looked down on the crowd while sipping their champagne. Many of the diners, perhaps their consciences pricked, or vaguely aware of the grotesque juxtapositions of the positions of those inside to those outside, or for fear of reprisals eschewed the main entrance opting instead for the back door. Jim Murphy, Westminster’s leader in waiting for Scotland, brazened it out at the front, dropping off a food parcel at the food bank collection as he went in, though whether it matched the value of his dinner in contents hasn’t been revealed

And all of this carried on against a back drop of resignations within the party leadership in Scotland and a poll suggesting Labour could lose 36 seats in Scotland, all but destroying Miliband’s  chance of a majority in Westminster in a tight General Election race. The placards said it all “Labour the Judas Party, Enjoy Your Last Supper”. All the while Miliband, with  Komarovsky like dismissal of the reality facing him, deludingly claimed “We will do what the SNP has not done and will never do: deliver an agenda that meets the needs of working people in Scotland.” All of this, despite the reality of Labour voters in their heartlands deserted them over independence and the SNP now being the second largest political party,  by membership, in the UK  from a population smaller (as were always being told) that the city state of London

Labour talk of the “revolution” that Scotland demand, of the extraordinary events which unfolded in this small country, of the profound difference the debate has and will generate, while the media claim that  post “indy”  UK politics will never be the same, that moulds have been broken. No-one living here could disagree. Meanwhile those that campaigned for independence continue to grow in numbers  and say there is no going back, and a further momentous political ground shift may occur at the General Election if even half of the expected number of SNP seats are won. Yet Miliband continues to think that an £8 an hour minimum wage, a 50p tax rise for those earning over £150,000 and a promise to tax bankers bonuses are so revolutionary and are so breaking of the mould that they will turn the tide up here back in their favour. Where as in fact they are the very least a so called just society could demand. The only thing the Johann Lamont has said in recent weeks that was accurate and heartfelt, is that Labour have no idea what’s happening in Scotland to their vote.

Those of us who cut our teeth on Labour politics could never really understand why Scottish Labour didn’t back independence fully, assuring them the real possibility of lasting power up here, against the real chance of never having power in the UK again.

Within the Scottish parliamentary Labour Party there were several shaking heads too. The ONLY way Labour in Scotland will ever be the force it once was will be to cut ties with London and be what they say on the tin:  a Labour Party for Scotland. The only trouble is while they hum and haw, and dine and sup, about this and that, they will, on looking over their shoulders, find that others have taken up their mantle of social justice and equality, others are wearing their clothes and others are singing their songs.

We might sing in tune after the Revolution Mr Miliband, but even if we do not; Scottish Labour and Labour UK are sure set to face the music.

And so it begins…..Entente Cordiale at the expense of the vulnerable

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And so it begins

On 27th October, an event in Glasgow celebrated and rewarded the successes of asylum seekers and refugees in their efforts to integrate- and for those who are allowed to work- to recognise their contribution to their new society. The employers who play such a part in this were also rewarded and applauded by the 120 or so people who attended. In my speech I robustly and passionately defended the record of my company The Bridges Programmes in this work but warned the audience that with just over 6 months to go to the General Election that we knew that race, and in particular, immigration would be one of the main battlegrounds for votes, and with the main UK parties outdoing each other with tough talk, that while we may not know who is going to win the election we know that migrants both forced and voluntary will be the losers.

Expect lazy journalism, I warned, where the difference between those that flea from persecution are confused with, and lumped in with, those that come voluntary looking for a better life. Because wanting a better life is NOT the sole desire of people in the wealthy West.

It started the weekend before with the Defence Minister Fallon’s ill-chosen use of words talking about being swamped and under siege by foreigners. While he apologised later the damage is done the papers and media reported and revelled in it. Like the barrister who in court makes outrageous statements which a judge tells a jury to ignore, these things cannot be unsaid and Fallon and the government know it.

But even Nigel Farage couldn’t have predicted the gift that would be given to the anti-migrant cohorts with the intervention of the centre right self-serving mayor of Calais Madame Bouchart who crossed the channel – in more comfort we have to assume that many migrants- to lecture the UK Parliament no less on its benefits and asylum system. Bit of a turn up that, given that we certainly don’t want Johnny Foreigner to import their brand of trade unionism and activism and we don’t want to know that they think about the UKs involvement in illegal foreign wars, but suddenly it’s fine to have their views on our asylum system and its effect on asylum seekers based in France.

But before we begin to count the holes in Bouchart’s arguments let’s just for the sake of clarity understand what we are talking about.
Migrants as opposed to asylum seeks from outside the EU are not entitled to benefits until they can turn their entry visa into indefinite leave to remain which can be between 5-10 years. Migrants from outside the EU get entry visas to support a work permit for a job they are coming to, for study with restrictions on that too regarding benefits and ability to work, or as family members who have no recourse to public funds.

Migrants from inside the EU have to wait 3 months to be eligible for benefits but those are not the people the Mayor was talking about.
Migrants without entry visas are illegal and not entitled to benefits at all.

So the only people waiting to cross ,by her own admission, and evidence are people coming to claim asylum and just to be clear about this there is no such thing as an illegal asylum seeker and asylum seekers are not migrants.

Got that?

Good. Then let’s get on with the blog.

The simplistic message from Madame Le Mayor was this: stop being so bloody generous to asylum seekers in the UK and they will stop coming to France and especially my back yard of Calais trying to gain admittance to “Eldarado” as she ironically referred to it. The UK government and the right wing press rubbed their little white hands in glee and will clearly stop at nothing, even colluding with the French, to promote the misinformation and vilification to little Englanders.

Now I don’t expect a reasoned and accurate review of the facts in the UK media anytime soon but here’s a small attempt to set the record straight.

Calais
Mary Tudor on losing England’s last foothold in France said when she died Calais would be carved on her heart. David Cameron might be thinking the same thing. The shortest crossing to the UK it’s been a place where migrants and asylum seekers have gathered for decades. In 2002 the official refugee camp run by the French and the Red Cross at Sangatte was closed down by Nicolas Sarkozy when he was Minister for the Interior, as much at the demands of the UK government as the French. In 2009 when President he went further demanded the destruction of the informal camps that sprung up when the formal camp was taken down. He called for the destruction of the Jungle as he saw it. When President Hollande got his hands on the Elysee Palace however, in a humanitarian gesture he said that a series of small camps with basic shelter and cooking facilities should be re-established in the North of France to support migrants living there, run by officially recognised NGOs to provide a vestige of humanitarian support, and more crucially to countermand the rise of violence, mafia like activities and people trafficking which had increased in the feral atmosphere of the informal and irregular camps. These small camps have now been set up around , though not in, Calais and surprise surprise but Mayor Bouchart has gone on the record to say she SUPPORTS this humanitarian move if it means that these people are no longer living in poor conditions or in her back yard in the suburbs of Calais. She is concerned she says not so much by the plight of the tragic individuals living there as the very same rise in violence, mafia like activities and people trafficking that she has seen develop in the last ten years. So perhaps this is the real reason Madame Le Mayor is exercised. With a view to her own political future and re-election she wants to be seeing tough on asylum seekers and in an example of NIMBYism that is quite breath-taking is blaming an asylum sysstem in another member state for being too generous. That’s a bit like blaming the rise of heart failure and alcohol abuse amongst the middle classes on a surfeit of Camembert and French wine. Ridiculous.
Eldorado it’s not
So let us examine this fabled generosity of the UK system. Asylum seekers are housed in community housing in a number of local authorities across Britain through a contract between private housing companies and the UK government to utilise poor quality housing stock that otherwise could not be rented. As they are living in the community they are in receipt of a single person’s weekly allowance of £36 from which they must feed and clothe themselves and use public transport. It equates to about 50% of income support levels and has remained static for over 5 years. They must live where they are put and report weekly (sometime more regularly) to a reporting centre to prove they are still around. For some in Glasgow the cost of that reporting trip is equivalent to a day’s worth of their allowance. They have limited access to health care, full access to schools for their children and no right to work. Initial decisions (80% are no) are normally granted within 6 months so they have no right to appeal to be given the right to work under EU rules that say if there is no initial decision within 12 months limited access to work can be applied for. Over half of the right to remain granted are as a result of appeal proving that the initial decision system is not robust. In England asylum seekers can access no support, help or training that might promote their speedy integration and entry into the labour market should they being granted Leave to Remain. In Scotland integration is deemed to be from day one so access to wider integration services is allowed including English lessons. So it’s not living in a cardboard box on the French north coast but it’s not exactly easy street.
The French system
Now compare this to the French system. Asylum seekers are housed in reception centres and fully provided with food, clothing, heating and other essential services such as French lessons and integration programmes, so there is no need to grant most of them additional funds though asylum seekers with families are able to access other French social service payments. They have access to Universal Health Care and education for their children. So its arguable that though asylum seekers in France like many other parts of Europe have restrictions on their movements thy are not materially worse off than those in the UK.

French politicians accuse their system of sending out a message that THEY are the soft touch, not the UK. So suddenly the UK system doesn’t look quite so much like Candy Mountain. So maybe the further motivation for Bouchart’s claims is less to do with people striving to get to the UK and more to do with what is widely recognised as a French asylum system in in crisis, at least that’s what a French Parliamentary report in April of this year thinks.  So is the rise of Mme Bouchart a cynical attempt by the French trying to blame someone else for their own mess, sacre bleue!!

The report highlighted long-drawn-out and ineffective procedures and spending way over budget. But, although the number of applicants has almost doubled in the last four years, it is still far from the record numbers reached in 1989 and 2003. And there is NO EVIDENCE what so ever that this doubling of numbers in the last 4 years has meant the numbers congregating at Calais have increased to the same extent. If anything the numbers have decreased, and interestingly the numbers of asylum seekers coming to the UK hasn’t doubled n the last 4 years but has been cut m by more than half!
And here’s another interesting fact about the inefficiency and failure of the French system: costs have soared 70 per cent since 2008 while the number of demands has risen just 55 per cent, so somebody somewhere is being a tad careless with the Euros yet French MPs say that relevant agencies are “chronically underfunded”. Interesting, non?
The report also targets long-drawn-out administrative procedures (sometimes 2 years before an initial decision against the UK’s 6 months, that frequently do not result in failed applicants leaving the country so it can’t be refused asylum seekers “dying” to get to the UK then as according to their own figures France says refused asylum seekers are staying put.

So maybe the reason for all the asylum seekers in Calais is less to do with the race for London and more to do are because of a poorly run French system but a system attractive enough and “generous enough” to mean people are quite happy to be in France. Oh and all those asylum seekers coming to France might just a have a little to do with that country’s colonial past and the fact they are happily bombing civilians in Syrian and Iraq.
Not convinced?
OK if you are still not convinced let’s look at what the people involved are saying about it all themselves. No-one yet interviewed by the BBC has admitted it’s the generosity of £36 a week that’s leading them to risk their lives. What they DO say is they believe that the UK respects and understands Human Right (ironically just as Cameron says we’ll ditch the Human Rights Act) and that British people are fair and kind. They also talk about wanting to work, and no they don’t mean on the grey market. I’ve never met a migrant or asylum seeker yet who gets up in the morning and says yippee I can’t wait to be hired by a gang master today and exploited and work for £1 an hour.
In 2002 the UK government commissioned a huge piece of research through University of Cardiff as to why people come to the UK as migrants and asylum seekers, with the aim of proving it’s all to do with the benefits. Unsurprisingly this research got buried because the results were NOT what was expected. Turns out it’s not the benefit system people are after (most didn’t know anything about the system before they got here) it’s because of our colonial past, the belief that UK does stand up for the underdog, that English is spoken, that we have a multi-cultural and diverse society and more recently, as we have sought to bring down dictators people suffering at the hands of these dictators expect, not unnaturally to my mind, the UK might help them get their lives back.

And every time since 2001 people have tried to prove that migrants and asylum seekers are here for what they can get rather than what they can contribute, the benefit system is never mentioned. And remember from way back up at the top of this blog no migrant as opposed to an asylum seekers has automatic right to benefits when they arrive. But Maybe Madame Bouchart knows something that we don’t.
When is a UK asylum seeker not a UK asylum seeker?
There is another element to this whole debacle that Bouchart surely is aware of but chooses to ignore. Thanks to an odd bit of EU legislation called Dublin II it states that if t can be proved that asylum seekers have entered the EU from any other member state other than that in which they have claimed asylum they must be sent back to that original state. So Mme Bouchart knows that even if lots of asylum seekers make it to the UK there is a very strong chance they will be sent back to France and that France will be required to process them, so the outcome might be that migrants/asylum seekers that the French system deem to be irregular, and not under their jurisdiction, might in fact be ruled to be, thus putting more strain on the system. Could this be a case of passing the buck?

It seems clear to me that while undoubtedly people are trying to cross form France to the UK it’s not in the numbers she claims and it’s not for the reasons she claims. If not a single person crossed to the UK in the next 12 months it would not educe the numbers moving to France though it might mean they don’t make a mess of her little part of France and she might stand a chance of being re-elected.

Colluding with this shameful piece of self-promotion by a minor French official by the UK government, to further add fuel to an incendiary issue, is stooping pretty lo even for them.
And let’s not forget while we get caught up in the finer points of asylum law and variations thereof, what we are dealing with groups of highly vulnerable people who have left their homelands under duress, whether war, famine, persecution or good old fashioned poverty and who are looking for a better safer life. Both countries are signatories to the UN Convention on Refugees and so have to step up to the plate. Playing political football with claimants is despicable, and diminishes both countries, especially when we have to accept that actions by both France and Britain since the second world war, in various parts of the world , has added to the sum total of displaced peoples.

The fact remains that both France and the UK play politics with all sorts of vulnerable people but this is the first time it’s been cross border! Perhaps we are seeing the start of a new Entente Cordiale.

And in a final and ironic twist there is an early day motion gathering momentum in the UK Parliament for the daily rate for UK asylum seekers to raise from the paltry sum of £5.23 a day to the princely sum of £7.17 a day. 80 MPs have signed it so far. Madame Bouchart and her new “compines” in the UK government must be hoping this doesn’t happen otherwise clearly France will empty and maybe not just of asylum seekers. But in the meantime the scaremongering can really get under way with her false claim screamed from headlines that migrants are
dying to get to Britain for our Benefits.
And so it begins

Bride of Frankenstein and moral outrage.. it’s all part of 24 hours on Facebook

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Fans of Facebook and other social media portals will be no stranger to the buss feed.com type of “quiz” that abounds and circulates in offices on Friday afternoons. Totally meaningless and devoid of any worth what so ever they seem a tad compelling. For the want of a few clicks on a series of randomly selected statements or pictures we can learn so much about ourselves, anything from our spirit animal; the colour of our aura, (I once had my aura read for real – for real who am I kidding – and was told it had slipped – a bit like my morals then) who’d play us in the movie of our lives; which Shakesperian character we are and all points in between and roundabout. I’m guessing it’s all to do with algorithms or maybe it’s just all complete and utter nonsense, right up there with the idea that everyone born on a certain day of the year shares the same fate. Or anyone born between certain dates is having the same sort of day. And algorithms that’s a thing too, most of us never heard about them until people started scaremongering about said social media’s use of them to dictate what we see on our pages; or how dating agencies help you meet the partner of your dreams. Currently Facebook’s algorithm assessment of me is foisting adverts for slippers, shirts, dating for over 50’s and funeral insurance. But maybe they do have the power of the oracle in which case I’d better get going on that dating for over 50’s thing, before I need the last one of the list.

But what if, what turned up on your FB feed in any given 24 hours, was to be taken as a guide to who you are and what your friends are like.  Not for me a gallery of cat pictures or snaps of what people are planning for lunch, instead I get a regular rant from a friend who abhors people who eat (hot and smelly) food on trains. I suspect it’s a class thing! And if the comments and the shared posts are a sign of anything it’s clear from that most of my friends are pretty depressed, grumpy and permanently angry about so many things.

So I have people getting hot under the collar about the appalling police treatment of the Protesters in London including and the fact that police arrested people bringing food and water to the protesters. The same people are very worried indeed at the plans for Hungary to start taxing internet usage as a challenge to free speech, and anything to do with the creeping privatisation of the NHS is widely decried, as is the suggestion that GPs in England and Wales should, get aid £55 every time they diagnose someone  with dementia.

Women’s issues pretty much go down gender lines with female chums posting and sharing widely the US video of kids using bad language to make a few feminist points about unfairness in the workplace and the fact that 1 in 5 women will be sexually assaulted or raped at some point. One male friend suggested that these were US figures only – as if somehow that was OK! On the issue of young prostitutes in Columbia, the Fox News’ suggestions that pretty young things shouldn’t get involved in politics when they are so many dating sites they could spend time checking out instead, the exploitation of au pairs and the fact that all flexible working means is that its making it “easier” for women to take the double burden of childcare and work, male chums are pretty silent. The hot issue of the EU maternity Directive’s lack of adoption by the Commission ( 4 years after its adoption by the EU Parliament) has caught the eye of only the most European chums, though the fact that post natal depression costs the UK 87 billion  a year is sighted as further proof that women are undervalued in the UK. Men chums on the whole are also quiet on the stories trending about football violence in Europe in the last 24 hours. Neither defending nor decrying it! However on the petition to stop Chad Evans being resigned to his club and the question of whether Oscar P’s sentence was just, those, with one exception, who have commented have shown that their cages have been rattled. Though confusingly they can’t decide if footballers are role models or not and they are more concerned with issues of the impact of the verdict on racism in South Africa than on the impact on the victim’s family.

Those friends who have a healthy scepticism of the police and all things authority don’t just have their activities in Westminster square to howl abut but also the fact that  3  immigration officials have been caught lying on oath and a massive trial has collapsed into the bargain. Yet on the other hand I have friends whose shock at the axe-wielding thug who attacked police seems to be more shocking because the critical victim is a policeman and similarly the pending release of Harry Roberts who killed 3 policemen in 1966 and who has served 45 years for the crime is re-igniting the debate of whether somehow killing a policeman is worse than killing anyone else. I can’t find a link though if the people who claim  Ched Evans has served his time, think the same for Mr Roberts. This tendency to cherry pick moral outrage is a mystery and no mistake, and one fuelled by people’s use of  social media.

Occupy supporters are up on their hind legs too and I’m grateful for the friend who posted up  a list of issues from the 1956 Republican manifesto, it not being what we might expect:

1956 REPUBLICAN PLATFORM

1. Provide Federal assistance to low paid communities

2 Protect Social Security payments

3. Provide asylum for refugees

4. Extend the minimum wage to more people

5. Improve Unemployment Benefit

6. strengthen Labor Laws

7. assure Equal pay between the sexes

Though their disgust at Facebook not paying taxes in the UK for a  second year running is pretty unequivocal

The North South divide, flamed by the post indy lack of progress, is everywhere. From how London will benefit to the tunes of billions from fracking to obscene house prices in London to all things fracking in general and the impact on Scotland, to fury over the BBCs decision to exclude the SNP  from election leaders debates, to outright glee that all supporters of NO seem to be reaping what they sowed by YES consumers turning against them so Michelle Mone is going bust as is Tescos, BBC are losing licence  fee payers and several newspapers circulations are in terminal decline: and to think it was going to be a YES vote that buggered up the Scottish economy. And don’t get them started please on the “official” announcement that far from running out next Thursday oil revenues, due to “new” discoveries, are set to rise and continue for hundreds of year. And I think it’s fair to say that these same folk are dismissive of what the Smith Commission might deliver….. sweet FA being the general view. And there is not enough space in the blogosphere to capture the rabid hatred of the Scottish Labour Party amongst a certain cohort of friends.

But parochial they are not there is widespread shock and condemnation of the shootings in the Canadian parliament though I detect a touch of EBOLA fatigue. Chums aren’t terribly green either there being minimal interest in the selling off of public forests, and people are split between whether Lynnda Bellingham is a national treasure (there is even a post from a friend suggesting we all sign a petition to get her OXO ad back on the telly for Xmas which would serve OXO and their shareholders very well but not any-one else), or whether dying people really should keep it to themselves. And finally friends have posted about and shared links to articles that say we should all wear poppies and alternatively why we should not. Who says Facebook isn’t democratic.

I’m not criticising or applauding people for their choice of posts or shares, some I agree with others I don’t, it’s all just part of this “rich tapestry of life” and other clichés  and I would rather have my typical Facebook day  filled with issues and passion rather than insults and pussycats. Though I’m not entirely immune; interspersed with all this angst and outrage and moral high grounding are the posts about where people have eaten and what they have been to see at the movies or theatre (bit guilty of that myself if truth be told) and the usual first world problems of the horror of the school run, what’s been “Overhead in Waitrose and a smattering of baby photographs.

But for the record just two cats. Oh and in case you were wondering What Kind Of Friend I Am,  apparently I’m a dreamer who is also rather strangely an absurd over achiever and my  Horror Monster Soul Mate this Halloween is the Bride of Frankenstein. Maybe these quizzes aren’t so odd, they may have a point, I was a truly appalling wife back in the day!!

A song of such intensity

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The National Theatre of Scotland’s new adaptation of Joe Corrie’s “In Time of Strife” asks a lot of questions of its audience. Chiefly why is it that miners and striking miners in particular seem to threaten the establishment most and therefore need the harshest response. Written in 1926 to support, in its production, the soup kitchens that were feeding the starving miners and their families in Fife during a 7 month strike and lock out, it has been adapted and redesigned ostensibly because it is the 30th anniversary this year of the 1984-85 miners’ strike. A strike that effectively broke the powers of the Unions and heralded the Neo Liberalism that has shaped Britain through and after Thatcher. Profit and enterprise always and before community and the workforce.

While the seemingly prescient lines from the poem Women are Waiting, make it clear that the press will always pour their vile propaganda in the public’s ear about the miners’ strikes to come in the future; and the public will turn against them as a community as quickly as they mourn a pit disaster. The real point of the play doesn’t need the link to 1984 to make it speak volumes today.

The key messages and themes are ones which we are all too familiar with in 2014. The isolation within wider society, of a community bound by generational ties, ties of blood in every sense, is the same as we see in migrant communities in Britain. The fear of the other, at the same time of us, but apart from us. In 1926 as in 1984 the suspicion of those outside the mining communities of their motives and behaviour allowed the media and the politicians to paint them as pariahs deserving of little sympathy. In 1926 it meant that parish councils withdrew support and closed the soup kitchens six months into the strike to save the ratepayers, starving women and children so their men would go back to work. Shopkeepers and tradesmen refusing credit to the families of striking miners. People died of starvation in 1926. Children still go to bed hungry in 2014.

In 1984 I raised money for and donated food for foodbanks for the miners. 1n 2014 I am still donating food to foodbanks.

In 2014 this fear of the other is giving rise to a far right party now seen as mainstream and is seeing a rush to the tight by all the other Unionist parties to out scaremonger about the hated foreigner. A refugee in London has his belongings destroyed by bailiffs because he was £18 in debt with his rent. They do it because they can, just as they could in 1926.

In 1926 the value of the labour of the miners was cheap. With no control, mining companies could pay what they wanted and set the terms of the job. Returning to work after 7 months the miners were faced with longer hours for half the money.

In 2014, despite a minimum wage a government spokesman says that the disabled are no worth more than £2 an hour and that the unemployed must be prepared to work for their benefits, and pay differentials between men and women continue despite legislation to the contrary. Despite a move to create a living wage as a policy in the public sector there is no agreement to spread that to the third sector and crucially the private sector cannot be legislated to take up this humanitarian policy. No wonder Jock in the play says “ I will sell my muscle but not my soul”

In 1926 the miners felt betrayed by their political leaders and the unions and the companies would only take back men who denounced heir union and who would have no further allegiance to it. In 1984 Thatcher effectively emasculated the Union movement in the UK. In 2014 the trust in traditional politics has never been so low and we are seeing a backlash against Labour the traditional party of the “working man” in Scotland.

In 1926 the betrayal of blackleggers was no less fierce than it was for the scabs of the 1980’s. In some parts of Scotland in 2014 a similar sense of betrayal is felt for those that voted to put the Union ahead of the aspirations of an independent Scotland.

The videos of the police riding down the miners in 1984 and the disembodied voice of Thatcher denouncing the miners as the ones “killing democracy”, were chilling and made the link palpable for those of us who can remember 1984 but who have no living family members from 1926. But the real link that has to be made for generations to come whenever this play is revived is that despite the passing of the generations, despite the rise of the left, despite workers’ rights and legislation the truth is that we are moving back to a world private company ownership but ownership that is global and so much harder to beat. That we are moving back to a world where the gaps between those that have and those that will never have the means to have enough are growing again, that we are moving back to a world where people will take jobs on longer hours for less money and zero hours contracts. And we are moving back to a world where like the parish councils before them governments will remove benefits for those that don’t play the game and do what they are told. And we are moving back to a world where the now seemingly permanent tent for the “needy of Glasgow” almost Victorian in its nomenclature, seems almost normal.

It will take more than the singing of the Red Flag in theatres across the country to stem that tide but as Corrie eloquently put it in his final challenge to the audience

“Will no-one sing a song of such intensity to the men of all the nations?

That will shatter the system of things to its very foundations?”

Time to start singing loud and clear