Quick Politics Roundup (warning: may include a terrible analogy)

Hello, here are a few thoughts on Australian and UK politics for the weekend. In the tradition of political commentators who spill their thoughts in the Sunday papers, I probably won’t proof read or edit this, and I certainly won’t think about it too hard.

Jeremy Corbyn

I’m not a member of the Labour party. I generally like Jeremy Corbyn’s policies, but my goodness not right now. He’s come out as a Brexitmeansbrexiteer, which is actually a smart move considering he needs support from working class Brexiteers, but it’s really not helpful for anyone apart from himself.

To use a tired old ‘burning building’ analogy, Corbyn’s anti-austerity message was very good last year before anyone was even thinking about the EU Referendum, and was rather like demanding some fire doors and some sprinklers in a building at risk of catching fire. Now the building’s on fire with everyone trapped inside; Theresa May’s running a “let it burn and see what happens” line; David Davis and crew are turning up with a demolition ball to knock the whole thing down as quickly as possible, and all the while Jeremy – Leader of the Opposition – Corbyn’s response is still “we should put some fire doors in”. Meanwhile there do seem to be some (Owen Smith, crucially, as well as the Lib Dems) who are saying, you know what, we could try putting the fire out, and they’re being demonised by Corbyn supporters as haters of the poor.

Clearly fire doors are a good idea. Anti-austerity is a very very good position to hold. But right now, Brexit is more dangerous than imaginable. The result of the EU Referendum has caused more damage in a month than Cameron and Osborne’s austerity package could have caused in a decade. And even though Cameron and Osborne are out of the picture now, Jeremy Corbyn is still focusing all his efforts on them and their policies, seemingly unaware of what is going on around him.

(And much though I hate to take a “fuck the poor” position, large numbers of certain sections of the British population voted to leave the EU, and my sympathy for the resulting self-inflicted hardship is very limited indeed.)

The Australian Senate & 1st preference votes

Apparently Malcolm Roberts only got 77 first preference votes and is now a senator. Apparently we have four One Nation senators (up from zero) even though the party got a lower share of the vote than last time. Apparently nobody knows how preferential voting works. 77 first preference votes for a not-even-first candidate for a minor party is quite impressive, and quite worrying. We should probably be more concerned about a society that allows bigotry to flourish rather than an electoral system that allows people to vote for it.

No, your concerns about immigration are not about immigration

I wasn’t going to write this. I didn’t think I needed to write something parading my many privileges. But it’s been on my mind for weeks. Since Brexit, since Trump and now since Pauline Hanson, Sonia Kruger, since people all across the developed world are claiming they have concerns about immigration. For all sorts of reasons. But it’s doublespeak. It’s a cover for nasty prejudices that people would rather pretend they didn’t hold. But people are not really concerned about immigration. And I know.

know.

I know because I am an immigrant. But the nice kind. The kind that people don’t have a problem with. The white, middle class, childless kind. The kind who is steeped in privilege.

But going deeper, and removing the many layers of privilege, I have been a very bad immigrant. I have done many, if not all, the things that people who have concerns about immigration cite as reasons for their concerns. And none of the people who have these concerns have objected to me.

I moved from one country to another

In 2012 I moved from the UK to Australia. It’s glaringly obvious that I’m a migrant, but it still needs saying. None of the people I know who have concerns about immigration objected to my migration. Most thought it was a good thing. Some attended a party I had to celebrate my migration (and, ironically, discussed their objections to immigration with me at the party). But not a single person has ever objected to me – and specifically me – moving from one country to another. That’s how I know you do not object to the concept of migration – you didn’t object when I did it.

I arrived in Australia with no money

Many people who have concerns about immigration suggest that immigrants are a drain on the economy. It’s okay for wealthy people to migrate because they are able to support themselves, but people who do not have healthy bank balances should not migrate. They don’t have concerns about immigration per se; just about people who have little money migrating.

When I moved to Australia, I arrived with little more than enough money for a flight back to the UK in case some emergency meant I needed it. That’s all I had. And from people I know who have concerns about immigration I received words of encouragement and offers of support. That’s how I know you do not object to the concept of a person migrating with no money – you didn’t object when I did it.

When I arrived, welfare supported my family

When I moved to Australia I was unemployed and my partner was studying and receiving Austudy – a welfare benefit. For the time that I was unemployed, this was the majority of the money our family of two had coming in. People I told about this – people who have concerns about immigration – didn’t voice any objection to this. Some told me how it was good that we had some money coming in. That’s how I know you don’t object to the concept of immigrants relying on welfare – you didn’t object when I did it.

Shortly after arriving, I took a low-skilled job

Quite a lot of people who have concerns about immigration base this concern on unemployment. There aren’t enough jobs, and immigrants are taking those jobs. Immigrants are the cause of unemployment. Especially when immigrants are taking low-skilled jobs. It’s okay for highly-skilled immigrants: nurses, sports players, scientists – we need those kind of people, but low-skilled immigrants just contribute to unemployment.

When I arrived, after a couple of weeks of unemployment, I took a job cleaning ashtrays in a leagues club. A low-paid, low-skilled job that anyone could do. The response I got when I told people I know who have concerns about immigration was, strangely, a positive one. “That’s great!”; “Good on you!”; “It’s good that you’re earning money”. Nobody told me that I was stuffing up the economy and contributing to unemployment amongst Australian citizens. Nobody suggested I resign for moral reasons. That’s how I know you don’t object to immigrants taking jobs – you didn’t object when I did it.

There are probably a myriad other reasons people cite for having concerns about immigration – things that the faceless hypothetical immigrant does that cause untold damage to society and to the economy. I’ve probably done most of them. I arrived with no money but I had a mobile phone (I can’t have been that poor if I had a mobile phone!); I spend money outside of the Australian economy, sending gifts to my family overseas; I hang on to my culture and traditions, doing things I did in England; I haven’t adopted Christianity; I eat English food; not applicable here, but wherever I moved, I would have continued to speak my mother language; I watch English TV; I lived rent-free with adopted family for a while when I moved here; I’ve been a burden on the health service. Nobody has ever objected to any of it. Nobody.

So I know your concerns about immigration are really concerns about something else. Because you only have concerns about things that I have done when you strip away my privilege. When you take away my whiteness, you start having concerns. When you take away my middle-class upbringing, you start having concerns. When you take away my native speaker level of English, my childlessness, now my income, my abled body, my lack of religion, all of it. That’s when you start having concerns.

So let’s be honest – what are you really concerned about? And are you quite comfortable holding those concerns?

I wrote to my MP about Brexit

Last week I wrote a letter to my MP, David Davis, about the outcome of the EU Referendum. He responded yesterday. His response was entirely predictable – he was a vocal Leave supporter, and clearly has a fetish for whatever he thinks is left of the British Empire – but I was glad he responded. Here is our correspondence:

Dear David Davis,

I write concerning the recent referendum on the UK’s membership of the
European Union. The results made it clear that this time last week, the
majority of voters – including you – in the UK as well as in
Haltemprice and Howden supported leaving the European Union. I’m sure
you agree that the result of the referendum has been disastrous for the
UK in less than a week. Claims and promises made by the Leave campaign
have turned out to have been false – we won’t see any extra money spent
on the NHS, we won’t have access to the single market on any terms the
UK would agree to, and the restrictions on immigration that many voters
(though not including me) wished to see will not be possible.

Already we have seen a tremendous downturn in the UK economy, the
effects of which will surely be felt particularly harshly in our
region, especially as we face losing funding from the European Regional
Development Fund.

My family faces hardship as a direct result of this referendum – family
members are small business owners, and other family members rely on
welfare benefits to support their income from work, which George
Osborne confirmed will be at real risk.

I urge you to do all you can to now ensure the future prosperity of the
UK, our region and my family. I believe the best way to do this will be
to work to ensure the UK remains a member of the EU – applying the
advice obtained from this advisory referendum when it has already
proved to be disastrously damaging to the UK simply cannot be an
option. I hope, having seen the fallout from last week’s poll, you
agree with me. Please help.

Yours sincerely,
John Avocado

His response came in a week, which is actually pretty good I’m led to believe.

Dear Mr Avocado

Thank you for your email regarding the outcome of the EU Referendum.

I am afraid I do not at all agree with your statement that the “result of the referendum has been disastrous for the UK”.

We have not seen a “tremendous” downturn in the economy, what we have seen is the predictable hysteric reaction from the establishment. This hysteria was always to be expected in the event of a Leave vote.  And it is just that – hysteria.

In reality there is much cause for confidence. The Germans have swiftly indicated their desire for minimum disruption to trade. The Americans reaffirmed their belief in the special relationship, with senators calling for a fast-track trade deal with the UK. And Australia and New Zealand lead the calls for Britain to rediscover our Commonwealth links.

It is now the job of the Government to implement the instructions of the UK people in a way which enhances democracy, improves our economy and maintains the tradition of liberal open minded and generous views of the rest of the World, including remaining friends with our European partners.

Thank you for writing to me in this way.

Yours sincerely

 

David Davis
Rt Hon David Davis MP

I hope he’s right, but I don’t think he is.

Migrant is not a dirty word

Images of drowned children are horrible to look at. Images of people fleeing war, desperate, scared. It’s painful to look at. And ever more of us want to do something about it. We want to help, and we want to welcome these people – to offer safety.

But on the condition that they are refugees.

It’s certainly not a condition I would impose. I’ve seen countless Facebook posts and tweets reminding us that these people fleeing Syria are refugees and not migrants. And while it’s true that these people are refugees (and really we should use that term – certainly from a legal perspective refugees are entitled to protections that are not offered to migrants), we’re talking as though migrant is a dirty word, as though migration is a shameful thing.

But migration is not a shameful thing. Migration is a good thing, and migration is a human thing. People move about, across all areas and for so many different reasons. Nomadic tribes, family migration, study abroad – and, of course, fleeing war and political persecution. People cross borders, and there is no “invalid” reason.

During the last few weeks, the people who I have seen correcting “migrant” to “refugee” have left me wondering – what if they weren’t refugees? Would we support letting them drown? Would their dead children not matter? Could we justify the cruel and inhumane treatment we are seeing? It saddens me to think how some of us would answer.

Seeking a better life is not a crime. Seeking a better life should not be punishable. We’re not the gatekeepers of The Good Life, and it’s not for us to decide who deserves a better life, and whose life isn’t quite bad enough already. Most of us live where we do by coincidence and circumstance, and that’s no basis to deny others the privileges we enjoy.

I support all forms of migration, and all reasons for migration. Right now there is a crisis in the Mediterranean, with people fleeing war. We urgently need to help them. But because they need help; not because they’re “not migrants”.


Note: for the sake of full clarity, those who seek to smear refugees, and use the term migrant as a slur disgust me. There are people who need our help urgently, and we must help them, urgently. It’s clear that the Syrian refugees in the news right now are not economic migrants, but really – so what if they were.

Prepaid Welfare Cards, Drugs, Alcohol, and Fish & Chips

Talk of paying welfare benefits via pre-paid cards comes up again and again. The idea is to ensure that welfare recipients spend their money on “essentials” rather than drugs, alcohol and gambling. I hate the idea.

I think back to when I was claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) in the UK, maybe ten years ago. Money was very, very tight, but I still liked to have fish and chips on a Friday night and a couple of pints in the pub. To me, that was essential: some enjoyment in life, rather than simply meaninglessly existing was essential – essential to my sanity. So for some people it’s fish and chips and a pint in the pub. For some it’s a joint at the weekend, or perhaps playing the pokies, or going out to a nightclub every now and then and doing tequila shots and maybe a couple of pills. For some it’s scraping together whatever money they can to buy some low-quality heroin because it’s a fucking mammoth addiction that the fucking health service is too underfunded to help them with in any way. But whatever, different people have different essentials, but for everyone it is essential for their life to mean something, and not simply to exist.

I think part of the problem is people who have never claimed benefits making decisions on – and passing comment on – welfare policy without consideration of the experiences of the people it affects. For all people, leisure and entertainment are essentials. Yes, not needed for basic survival, but essential nonetheless. To suggest that the poorest in society deserve nothing but survival is unfair and extremely misguided. It’s cruel and unjust. For many, a period claiming welfare benefits comes either after or before a long period in work, paying tax and contributing in a full way to society. If it’s taxpayers’ money it is then by definition their money. They are, were, or will be taxpayers. There are a small minority – a tiny minority – who are chronic welfare recipients (and it really is a tiny minority, despite perceptions caused by media focus). Some consider that to be problematic (I don’t) and something that should be punished. I disagree even there, but either way we have to let that go – otherwise we are punishing the majority simply out of spite.

When I was claiming JSA, the money I received was mine. I didn’t need permission for how to spend it. I needed serious and meticulous budgeting skills, but the money was mine, and mine to spend as I pleased. Often I spent the money on alcohol. Sometimes on drugs. Sometimes existence was painfully hard, and balls to anyone who would have denied me a little pleasure and a little entertainment.

Welfare is not a “lifeline to survive” – it’s a package to ensure that people who find themselves in financially impossible situations are able to maintain a decent and dignified quality of life. By denying those people all but the bare minimum to survive as living organisms, you would deny them dignity and the freedom to exist as humans and valued members of a functioning society. Welfare is there to prevent that – not cause it.

Five Reasons I’m voting Green on May 7th

originally posted on my tumblr in 2015. Sadly the Greens candidate wasn’t elected and he lost his deposit, but I still felt great that I didn’t contribute the awful outcome.

 

I’m a lifelong Labour voter, but I’ve decided to vote for the Green Party this election, and I have five good reasons for doing so:

Diverse and powerful opposition is important

It’s fair to say that on May 8th, the government will be either be the Tories or Labour, perhaps with a majority, perhaps in a minority government, perhaps in coalition. But either way, one party will be in government, and the other in opposition. And that isn’t good enough. For a government to be truly held accountable, the opposition needs to be diverse, full of novel and often competing ideas. With the traditional Lab-Con dichotomy that doesn’t happen, and we end up with a parliament with two sides, but where each side is broadly the same.

This year, in terms of government, the best we can hope for is a Labour win. But even that will be a dreary outcome. Labour’s policies on immigration, welfare, the economy, unions, just about everything are just disgusting. The Tories are worse. So this year I’m using my vote to try to secure an opposition worthy of the people the government will no-doubt screw over. Because of course I don’t expect to see the Greens in government, but if they can secure enough MPs to have a decent and powerful voice in opposition, maybe they can be a force for good.

The Greens will be able to form a government… one day

Changing times are not on the side of traditional politics. The Conservative party is losing relevance, Labour continue to self-harm, the Liberal Democrats pretty much signed their own death warrant in 2010, and the parties of the far right, despite a so-called surge in popularity, are failing to build enough momentum to really change things. But the Greens are emerging as the next party of the left, or the next progressive party, if you prefer. Over the next decade or two, they have the potential to become a major party, and I have no doubt that in the future, they will be a party of government. But to get there, they need support now. And they need enough of us to say “I support them”. Support can be infectious, and the more popular they are perceived to be be, the moe popular they will become.

Perhaps this year we can turn one MP into two or three. And in 2020 turn three into 10 or twelve. And in 2025 into fifty, a hundred. It sounds fantastical, but the potential is there. But it has to start now.

I actually like a lot of their policies

As I said before I am disgusted by Labour’s awful policies, by the Tories’ attacks on the British public, by the Lib Dems’ shady behavior in this parliament, by UKIP’s blatant racism and fascism. While I can’t say I agree with the Greens on every policy, there is nothing that makes me shudder with worry, and many, many of their ideas fill me with joy.

Of course, their policies don’t make a lot of sense as a combined package right now, and if by some miracle they did hold a majority in parliament after this election, they would fall flat. But that doesn’t matter. What we need from an opposition is ideas and ideals, principles, intentions. We shouldn’t expect a party that will have fewer than five MPs to have a complete and cohesive plan for running the country. But we should expect them to have a complete and cohesive set of ideas that define who they are as a party. And that is exactly what they have.

I hope I can save their deposit

Because of the way the electoral system works, as an overseas voter I am destined to forever be on the electoral roll in the Tory heartland that is Haltemprice and Howden, an unusually affluent part of East Yorkshire that generally thinks it benefits from Tory logic. Wherever the new Green MPs come from, I know for certain that my vote will not have directly elected one of them. What my vote can do, however, is go a long way to ensuring they don’t lose their deposit in Haltemprice and Howden. And that, I believe, is a worthy use of a single vote. I’m voting for a candidate who I know cannot win, but I know too that my vote is not wasted.

I feel good about it

I’ve voted Labour my whole life. In 1997 when I was barely a teenager at school I had a vague understanding of politics and I felt an affiliation to the Labour party. But as time has gone on, I have felt progressively less good about voting Labour. And this year, I had no intention of voting Labour. But the thought of voting for the Green Party brings me a sense of happiness and contentment. I feel it is right. It feels good. So I’m doing it.

a thing what i wrote about the maggie ding dong song

note: this was originally posted on my tumblr in 2013

Content note: this piece discusses – and contains – homophobic and racist slurs, as well as discussing Thatcherite policies.

In December 2007 there was a national outrage when the BBC decided not to broadcast the word “faggot” being used as an insult on daytime radio. The reasoning was that it was offensive to a minority group, and causing offence is not what daytime radio is for: the audience is wide and unpredictable, and although some, if not most, people are not offended by homophobic slurs being broadcast on national radio, some people are. And in the same way the word “n*gger” was not broadcast when Radio 1 played Kanye West’s ‘Golddigger’ song, and racist jokes are removed from repeats of ‘Only Fools and Horses’, refusing to broadcast this word was deemed to be appropriate.

It may be clear from my tone that I supported the BBC’s decision in that matter. It’s not censorship or removal of free speech, because the song was freely available in its unedited form, well, almost everywhere else (including on Radio 2).

Fast-forward five-and-a-half years, and we have a similar situation. Radio 1 is refusing to broadcast in full a song which will cause offence and insult to a group of people. And in this case, a rather larger group of people than in 2007. The song itself is not offensive, but the emotional reaction it will cause, if broadcast, to a large number of people is not the sort of emotional reaction the BBC is supposed to bring about. (And to those who argue that refusal to broadcast the song is equally offensive and “censorship”, I say this: go and buy the song on iTunes, or wherever you like, or download it illegally and listen to it.)

I want to be clear: I hated Margaret Thatcher and everything she stood for. I am glad she is dead. When I first heard the news, I tweeted “SHE IS DEAD! REJOICE!”. Many of her policies and ideologies remain in Britain today, and I hate her and her memory and her followers for that.

I hope Thatcher fans are offended and hurt by so-called death parties. I hope there are protesters at her funeral and that her family and her supporters are offended and insulted.

We have the right, and I say the duty, to offend supporters of this woman who did untold damage to us. The poll tax hurt us. Right to Buy hurt us. Deregulation of school meals – of everything – hurt us. We have the right to hurt them in return, symbolically, by mocking their great hero on the occasion of her death.

The BBC doesn’t have that right.

Notes:

  1. The song I refer to in the first paragraph is ‘Fairytale of New York’ by Kirsty MacColl and the Pogues.
  2. The song I refer to in the third paragraph is ‘Ding! Dong!’ from ‘The Wizard of Oz’.