From David Maughan Brown in York: ‘Every country has the government it deserves.’

Who could be nasty enough to deserve this government?

July 8th

Ruth Davidson, the admirable former leader of the Tories in Scotland, went on record this week to warn Boris Johnson that the Tories will be seen as the “nasty party” if they persist with the 0.2% reduction in the UK’s Financial Aid budget.[1]   It seems reasonable enough to consider that being responsible for the unnecessary deaths of a few hundred thousand children around the globe, who would not have died had the £4 billion cut not been made, might be regarded as a symptom of nastiness.  But it isn’t as if it is the only indicator pointing in that direction.  Nor is it just a question of possibly being regarded as nasty at some hypothetical time in the future.   Johnson’s government exudes nastiness from every pore, as exemplified by three of his four senior cabinet ministers.  Dominic Raab merely exudes complacency.

Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, comes across as the sanest and most level-headed of all those in the cabinet, but it is he who insisted on the cut to the Financial Aid budget, despite the clear commitment to maintaining the legally mandated 0.7% of GDP which was promised in the in the Tory election manifesto,  and it is he who is insisting on cutting £20 a week from universal credit payments in the near future.  Rob Merrick tells us in an article in Monday’s Independent that the cut will affect six million households and push an estimated 200,000 more children ‘below the breadline’.[2]

This comes on top of the quaintly termed ‘Covid catch-up tsar’, Sir Kevan Collins, having felt obliged to resign his role because Sunak’s Treasury had only agreed to fund £1.4 billion of the £15 billion required for the schools’ catch-up programme. An utterly derisory £22 for each primary school child in England is going to compensate for an average of 115 days of school missed as a result of the pandemic?   One could be forgiven for concluding that nasty parties don’t much like children, even the children from their own country.  Perhaps that is because it is pensioners, rather than people who still have their lives to live, who tend to vote for the Tories.

Our bright-eyed and bushy-tailed new Secretary for Health and Social Care, Sajid Javid, can’t be held responsible for what happened in that department before his over-promoted predecessor, Matt Hancock, was caught on camera following his Prime Minister’s example by having a steamy extra-marital affair, but the sickening cynicism and ingratitude of the award to the NHS of a George Cross for bravery in lieu of a pay-rise greater than an insulting 1% that was announced soon after his take-over of the portfolio is quintessentially Tory and indisputably nasty.   It also requires a certain nastiness to be able blithely to announce that abandoning all Covid restrictions could result in 100,000 new infections every day and (you don’t have long to wait for the inevitable adverb) ‘sadly’ a number of deaths.  But, sadly, ‘We will just have to learn to live with it.’

And then, of course, we have our Home Secretary, Priti Patel, the distilled essence of Tory nastiness.   Further to her exploration variously of Ascension Island, Gibraltar and Rwanda as suitable – i.e. far-away and out of sight – places to transport asylum-seekers to for ‘processing’, Patel has now hit on the wizard wheeze of forcibly turning back the small boats that asylum-seekers, denied access to more conventional routes, have been using to try to cross the English Channel. This practice is known as ‘pushback’ and is, according to the UNHCR (the UN’s Refugee Agency), ‘simply illegal.’  The title of May Bulman’s report on this in Wednesday’s Independent says it all: ‘Illegal, dangerous, morally wrong – campaigners decry Home Office asylum plans.’[3]  Bulman quotes Steve Valdez-Symonds of Amnesty International who says that pushbacks ‘are disdainful of international law and dangerous for the people subjected to them.’  Moreover, contrary to Patel’s misconception, he asserts that: ‘It is people’s right to seek asylum and there is no requirement [in international law] for them to do that in any one country.’  Not that this is likely to cut much ice with Johnson and his obsequious cabinet who have already demonstrated their contempt for international law via their disdain for the terms of the Northern Ireland protocol.

A Local Government Association analysis has concluded that: ‘Significant government funding cuts, soaring demand for child protection services and increasing costs to give children the support they need mean that budgets cannot keep up.’[4]It calculates that there is currently a £1.4 billion budget shortfall if Councils are going to be funded adequately to keep even the present reduced level of children’s services going.  The government argues that this expenditure is not affordable, given the hit our economy has taken from the pandemic.  But that simply doesn’t wash from a government prepared to spaff tens of billions up the wall, to use Johnson’s elegant terminology, on a hopelessly ineffectual Track and Trace system, on PPE and other Covid-related contracts for its chums, and on transporting asylum-seekers to Rwanda.

Joseph de Maistre is credited with the saying that ‘Every country has the government it deserves.’   The only representatives of the UK that come to mind right now who are deserving of a government as irredeemably nasty as this one are those mindless sections of our football crowds xenophobic enough to boo the opposition’s national anthem and to shine laser pointers in the eyes of opposing goal-keepers as they get ready to save penalties.


[1] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/tories-overseas-aid-nasty-party-davidson-b1877895.html

[2] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/tory-revolt-universal-credit-sunak-b1877929.html

[3] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/channel-pushbacks-asylum-seekers-home-office-priti-patel-b1878961.html

[4] https://www.local.gov.uk/about/news/childrens-care-crisis-councils-forced-overspend-almost-ps800m-childrens-social-care

From David Maughan Brown in York: Kindred spirits?

Rwanda Genocide

27th June

So our quintessentially awful Home Secretary, Priti Patel, has abandoned her bright ideas of using first St Helena and then Gibraltar as suitable places to transport asylum-seekers to for ‘processing’, and has now hit on the even brighter idea of trying Rwanda for size.  As a proven bully whose sacking was cravenly ducked by our inimitable prime minister, resulting in the resignation of his independent standards adviser, Patel could hardly have chosen a country better suited to her temperament, and worse suited to the business of welcoming traumatised and desperate asylum-seekers.   There’s nothing like choosing a country best known for genocide as a suitable place for ‘processing’ people a Home Secretary would love to get rid of.

As someone whose treatment of asylum seekers who have managed to reach our shores, notably at the notorious Napier Barracks, demonstrates an open contempt for human rights, Patel will, at best, not have been remotely interested in Human Rights Watch’s views on Rwanda, and, at worst, have felt the attraction of kindred spirits. It isn’t difficult to see why Patel might have felt that attraction:

‘The ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front continues to target those perceived as a threat to the government.  Several high-profile critics have been arrested or threatened and authorities regularly fail to conduct credible investigations into cases of enforced disappearances and suspicious deaths of government opponents.  Arbitrary detention, ill-treatment, and torture in official and unofficial detention facilities is commonplace, and fair trial standards are routinely flouted in many sensitive political cases, in which security-related charges are often used to prosecute prominent government critics. Arbitrary detention and mistreatment of street children,sex workers and petty vendors occurs widely.’[1]

A Human Rights Watch report on press freedom tells us that ‘In a country where the president coolly gives speeches gloating about the assassination of political opponents, his 2019 warning to online critics that “they are close to the fire” and that one day “the fire will burn them” will likely be taken very seriously.  It is not unusual for Rwandan journalists to go missing or end up dead in mysterious circumstances.’[2]  And those who end up ‘dead in mysterious circumstances’ are not confined within the borders of Rwanda: taking a leaf out of apartheid South Africa’s playbook, Rwandan dissidents and critics, not just in in neighbouring Uganda and Kenya but further afield in South Africa and Europe, have been attacked and murdered.  Neighbouring Uganda is, of course, the country from which Priti Patel’s own family had to flee to seek asylum from Idi Amin in the UK.  They were welcomed; they weren’t immediately sent to Rwanda for ‘processing’.

The almost unbelievable callousness of wanting to send asylum seekers for ‘processing’ all the way to Rwanda, of all places, wasting tax-payers’ money in the process, is sickening.  And it is deeply disheartening to know that we have a government and electorate that might take this insane idea seriously.  But it is even more sickening to hear Patel hypocritically pretending that what this is all about is stopping asylum-seekers from drowning in the English Channel.  It isn’t. Judging by her bullying treatment of asylum-seekers, there is no reason whatever to think that she would give a damn about that.  What this is all too obviously about is a base pandering to the xenophobia of traditional, mainly elderly, Conservative Party supporters in the shires and new Tory converts behind the former ‘red wall’.  

If you don’t want people to die, don’t force desperate asylum-seekers into small boats at the mercy of people-traffickers.  Instead, provide safe routes for them to arrive in the way that Patel’s own family arrived. A report in today’s Independent quotes a Home Office spokesperson going through the necessarily mindless process of defending everything Patel says or does: ‘Our asylum system is broken and we cannot sit idly by while people die attempting to cross the Channel…. We will not rule out any option that could help reduce the illegal migration and relieve the pressure on the broken asylum system.’ [3] ‘Broken’ because brave and desperate people are actually managing to get to the UK to seek asylum despite the Home Office’s best attempts to thwart them.   ‘Any option’ now clearly includes looking for help in ‘processing’ asylum-seekers from a country made notorious by genocide.  What has our country come to?


[1] https://www.hrw.org/africa/rwanda

[2] https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/05/03/what-press-freedom-looks-rwanda

[3] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/priti-patel-johnson-immigration-offshore-b1873903.html

From David Maughan Brown in York: Dehumanising the victims

Napier barracks in Folkestone

January 28th

January 27th being Holocaust Memorial Day, we attended the annual civic commemoration of the day, this year via Zoom.  York has more cause that most UK cities to be highly sensitive to Holocaust Memorial Day, having been the site of anti-Semitic riots which culminated on 16th March 1190 in the murders or suicides of the entire one hundred and fifty or so Jewish community of York when they sought refuge in the wooden keep of what later became Clifford’s Tower, which was then burnt to the ground.

Yesterday’s very well put together commemoration was Zoomed from the University of York and introduced by the Vice Chancellor, the Archbishop of York and the Lord Mayor.  The major part of the ceremony featured a very moving talk by Ariana Neumann who told the story behind her memoir When Time Stopped, which recounts  her gradual uncovering, as she grew up in Venezuela, of the past her German-speaking Jewish father would never ever talk about.  Ariana discovered that 25 of the 29 members of her father’s extended family had perished in the Nazi concentration camps and that, although he had managed to escape being sent to the camps himself, her father’s experience had left him so traumatised that he was never able to speak about it.   As is the case every year, if the appalling horror of the murder of the Jews, travellers and others in the concentration camps was the one very striking aspect of the import one took away from the commemoration, the other was the recognition that it took years of incremental dehumanization of the victims to enable their mass murder in the gas-chambers to take place.

All facile analogies or comparisons of other circumstances and events with the Holocaust itself are rightly regarded with suspicion as potentially anti-Semitic tropes, but it is clear that all genocides such as those in Rwanda, in Cambodia, in Bosnia and in Darfur begin with the dehumanization of the victims that characterized Nazi Germany in the years leading up to World War II.   So it is greatly heartening to see that President Biden recognizes the importance of an immediate reversal of his predecessor’s insistence on demonising and dehumanising asylum-seekers and other immigrants.  Putting a stop to the building of Trump’s wall, and decreeing that government documents cease using the term ‘alien’ and speak of ‘non-citizens’ instead, may be largely symbolic, but reuniting immigrant children with their parents, and calling a 100-day halt to deportations, are much more than symbolic.  ‘Non-citizen’ is, of course, only halfway to being acceptable terminology, given the ‘non-White’ term beloved of apartheid functionaries and still used with such casual thoughtlessness in contemporary political and media discourse in the UK.

All the more reason then for dismay when, on the eve of Holocaust Memorial Day, firstly, our Trumpian Home Office, in this instance fronted by Chris Philip, the immigration Minister, announces that unaccompanied child refugees will no longer be given sanctuary in the UK, in spite of the fact that the Home Office takes ‘responsibility for the welfare of children very seriously.’   So seriously that their welfare can happily be left to the people-traffickers.  Secondly, an article by May Bulman in The Independent[1]exposes the extent of the Covid19 outbreak at the Napier Barracks in Folkstone, one of the “camps” being used to house asylum seekers in the UK.  Bulman reports that by Tuesday over 100 positive cases had been recorded with at least one asylum seeker having resorted to rough sleeping in the camp to avoid having to sleep in a dormitory with up to 27 others, any of whom might be infected.   On 11th January Chris Philip responded to a parliamentary written question saying that the Home office was reviewing the recommendations of a ‘rapid review’ of asylum accommodation.  Ten days later the Home Office was still reviewing the recommendations.

Given the Windrush scandal, the ‘hostile environment’, and the callous indifference to the fate of asylum seekers exhibited by the Home Office and its current figurehead, Priti Patel, it is not stretching too much of a point to wonder whether confining asylum-seekers under such conditions in the first place, and the unconscionable delay in reviewing the findings of the ‘rapid review’ of their accommodation and doing something about it, is not deliberate, rather than just yet another manifestation of our government’s inveterate incompetence.   If we can’t generate waves in the English Channel to swamp the asylum-seekers’ dinghies, and we can’t send them all to St Helena, by way of deterrents, let’s just not worry too much about whether some of them die of Covid.   That might put an extra burden on the NHS, but it could stop them wanting to come here.  If that sounds unduly cynical I would, once again, cite in my defence the striking similarity of attitude and mode of operation of our Home Office to that of apartheid South Africa’s Department of the Interior.   

The relatively good news is that even the most cursory research will show that it isn’t only the Guardian and The Independent that have carried this story sympathetically. Even the Sun and the Daily Mail have done soboth of which have reported on a petition to shut down the site, along with a similar facility at a barracks in Wales, which had already by last Tuesday amassed more than 10,000 signatures.  So, much as the behaviour of the Home Office would suggest that it sees its role as being to take the lead in the incremental dehumanization of the victims of an inherently xenophobic government, it would seem that it still has some way to go if even the populist mouthpieces and opinion leaders of the tabloid press are still able to view the victims of the Home Office’s bullying sympathetically.


[1] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/asylum-camps-home-office-covid-b1792422.html