From David Maughan Brown in York: ‘Rage, rage against the dying of the light’

Blow winds and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!

February 6th

So our inimitable Home Secretary, Pretti Patel, the darling of the political dinosaurs of the Conservative Party, has finally found her ideal solution to the irritating problems posed by pesky foreigners misguided enough to seek asylum in the UK.  If you can’t create giant waves along the length of the English Channel to swamp their overcrowded dinghies and drown them, and you can’t pack them off to St Helena in the South Atlantic as soon as they arrive, the best thing to do is to make the lives of those who don’t die of disease so unutterably miserable and dangerous at the Covid-19 plagued Napier Barracks in Kent that they will be desperate enough to risk those lives once again by crossing the channel to get back to France.  

Yesterday’s Independent carried an article by May Bulman whose title says it all:  ‘”Inhumane” conditions are forcing asylum seekers to risk their lives to leave UK.’[1]   As one Kurdish asylum seeker intent of making the return journey put it: ‘I am not being treated like a human being here.  The Home Office is making an effort to make people hate asylum seekers…. The journey back is totally dangerous.… But in the UK I am losing my dignity.’   A Syrian man who managed to reach UK after five years of trying, but who is now also intent on leaving, said: ‘I want to feel that I am a human being.  I want dignity and freedom.  I am looking for safety.  I came here because I thought there was no racism in the UK and that it was a country that protects people’s human rights.’  This is obviously deeply shameful, a desperately depressing indictment of this country as represented by its 2021 Conservative government, but what on earth is the point, one might well ask, of writing a blog entry on Covid2020diary about it? 

One normally thinks of a diary as a daily record of the events of the day, which makes the writing of diary entries somewhat problematic when day follows day follows day, with very few of those indistinguishable days being able to boast anything resembling an event.  One can go out for an occasional bike ride when the weather permits, but usually around the same traffic-avoiding circuit, now keeping well clear of the Ouse which is still in flood.  One has the very occasional fleeting non-contact with family, friends or neighbours, and the very welcome but very distanced ‘contact’ via FaceTime, Zoom or Whattsapp chats.  But there is an overriding sense of stasis. The result being that much of what a diary or blog entry is left to record in the absence of noteworthy events in one’s own life is the thoughts, emotions and reactions stirred by external events.  

In our present context this can all too often feel like raging against the dying of the light.  Dylan Thomas’s ‘Do not go gentle into that good night’ is, of course, about old age, which should in his view ‘burn and rave at close of day.’  That may well be applicable in my case, although it is probably fair to say that ‘old age’ isn’t quite what it used to be, even as relatively recently as 1947 when Thomas wrote the poem.   But I recall having a very strong sense of raging against the dying of the light, to broaden the scope of the metaphor, when lecturing, speaking on public platforms and at funerals, and writing articles for, and letters to, the newspapers raging against apartheid in South African between 1970 and 1990.   In those years, unpleasant as it was, 3am death threats, loads of chicken manure being sent to be dumped on our lawn, workers arriving to cut down all the trees in our garden (both of the last two fortunately being intercepted) and so on, at least made it clear that, if nothing else, what I was doing and saying was getting under the skin of the apartheid Security Branch.  It won’t have contributed to the demise of the National Party and the formal ending of apartheid, but it was clearly making an impression on somebody.

Here the light is not, at least not yet, dying as comprehensively as it was in South Africa under apartheid, but one just has to look across the Atlantic to see how Biden’s arrival in the Oval Office has dispelled so much of the darkness of the Trump era to recognize the extent to which, by contrast, the light is still dying in the darker corners of our own polity.   By way of illustration one could point to Biden’s immediate executive order to reunite the children of asylum seeking immigrants with their parents, by way of contrast to our government’s illegal detention of immigrant children, which is reported in today’s Independent to have been condemned by Anne Longfield, the children’s commissioner for England, as ‘wilfully ignoring the plight of vulnerable children’.  But is there much point in the UK of 2021 in raging against the dying of the light by writing letters to newspapers; making blog entries; signing petitions organized by Avaaz, 38 Degrees, Change.org etc.; responding to surveys, publishing human rights themed novels, and making whatever peripheral contribution I can, to the excellent work of the Centre for Applied Human Rights?

Beyond the few reassuring ‘likes’ that indicate that a handful of people are reading the blogs, raging feels about as effective as King Lear’s raging against the storm.  The storm can’t hear King Lear and, even if it could, it is controlled by forces far stronger than even a Shakespearean king has the power to control.  I know, to refer back to Dylan Thomas’s villanelle, that my words are forking no lightning, but I also know that, unlike his ‘wise men’ who ‘at their end know dark is right’, I remain convinced that raging against the dying of the light is better than subsiding into frustrated silence.  Lightning is destructive, contributing to Covid2020diary, while not necessarily creative, has provided a necessary outlet for otherwise impotent frustration over the past year.   Readers who don’t want to read what they might well regard as yet another rant about Johnson, or Priti Patel, or the Home Office, don’t need to.  It is possible that I lived under apartheid for so long that I can’t shake off the now ingrained compulsion to rage against what I perceive to be the dying of the light.  I’m just grateful to those responsible for setting Covid2020diary up for providing a vehicle.


[1] https://www.pressreader.com/uk/the-independent-1029/20210205/281672552628016

From David Maughn Brown in York: ‘Unskilled workers’

May 18th

As the lockdown, with its social isolation and social distancing, wears on, I am finding my emotions rising to the surface more insistently than usual.   The broadcast media seem at times deliberately to set out to play on those emotions with their extensive and insistent interviews with the bereaved members of the families of those who have been killed by Covid-19.   The cameras linger just that little bit too long on the anguished faces of the partners and children of those who have died as their fortitude wears out and they break down in tears.   One expects families to be grieving after the deaths of loved ones, what I hadn’t anticipated and have found equally moving has been the manifest grief of the managers and staff of care-homes who have been interviewed after the deaths of residents whom they have cared for and clearly loved.  It doesn’t, however, take very long for sympathy to mutate into impotent fury that they should have lost residents they care for very deeply as a result of the extraordinary negligence and incompetence of those responsible for Health and Social Care in this country who allowed elderly residents of care homes to be discharged from hospitals back into those care homes without being tested for Covid-19.

The anger is compounded when those responsible have themselves filmed  ostentatiously ‘clapping for carers’ at 8.00pm on a Thursday evening by way, supposedly, of thanking them for the difficult and dangerous role they are playing during the pandemic, and then walz along to Parliament on Monday morning to support an Immigration Bill which makes it abundantly clear that those same care workers aren’t really wanted or needed in this country.   There are 122,000 vacancies in the care sector at present, not including the gaps left by the 150 or so care workers who have died of Covid-19.   But prohibitive, and wholly unjustified, visa charges are currently in place to deter non-EU foreign care workers from coming now, and as soon as the Brexit transition period comes to an end on December 31st a shiny new salary-threshold based imitation of the Australian points-based immigration system will be put in place to keep them out altogether.   Roughly 25% of care-workers in UK are currently not British and without them, as those directly responsible for managing the homes know all too well, the whole sector will collapse.   But our xenophobic Brexiteer government doesn’t like foreign ‘low-skilled workers’, and one can only presume that the fantasy-land they live in is populated by hundreds of thousands of UK citizens champing at the bit to fill all the existing and prospective vacancies that will ensue.

Michael O’Leary, the boss of Ryanair, interviewed by the BBC this morning, referred to the Government’s bizarre decision to start implementing a two-week quarantine on anyone flying into the UK at this juncture (there’s nothing like waking up to a good idea two months too late) as ‘idiotic and unimplementable’.   Any policy that aims to keep poorly paid health and care workers who aren’t British out of this country, and imagines that our NHS and care sector will survive, is equally idiotic and unimplementable.  The notion that poorly paid nurses and care-workers are ‘unskilled’ is, of course, as stupid as it is offensive.   The equation of salary-level with skill is the kind of stupidity one should probably expect of a government led by an Old Etonian who recently acknowledged that his life has just been saved by the skills of two foreign ‘unskilled workers’, but is apparently blind to the contradiction.  Anyone who wants an example of ‘unskilled workers’ has only to look at Boris (although ‘worker’ is an exaggeration in his case) and Priti Patel, his Home Secretary, who, in spite of their £140k plus salaries, are manifestly lacking the skills needed to do the jobs they have maneuvered themselves into. Of all the sickening features of the whole sorry post-Brexit immigration debate, perhaps the least edifying is having to watch the spectacle of Priti Patel, whose parents immigrated to UK after being expelled from Uganda by Idi Amin, frantically pulling the ladder up behind her.