Human Rights

Adopt our culture or leave

“Adopt our culture or leave” — my challenge to the BNP.
Nick Griffin would be hugely funny if he were a character created by Sacha Baron Cohen, rather like Borat or Bruno. But his wilfully inconsistent line is a planned and calculated programme to court ‘the plain man’. I’m not really sure how dangerous the BNP is. Their support is, after all, tiny. But I am sure that they are a slap in the face to our democratic society.

Today, the Equality and Human Rights Commission has begun a legal challenge to the BNP for its constitution and membership criteria. Speaking on Radio 4’s PM programme, the BNP’s Griffin claimed that his party was exempt under sections 26 and 27 of the Equality Act 2006. However, the Commission has pointed out in its letter the BNP does not satisfy the criteria for a membership organisation which exists for the benefit of its members.

Griffin, I think, failed to register the irony of his remarks. He declared unequivocally that the British National Party existed for the benefit of the ethnic minority English people, who were discriminated against by society. First off, English people are not an ethnic minority. According to the 2001 census, 85.7% of the population are the native ethnicity referred to as ‘White British’, while the CIA Factbook suggests that 77% of the UK population are English. But, rather more ironically, does Griffin’s party purport to represent the interests of English people, or, as the name suggests, British people? If British, then it should surely include all those with British citizenship. Or else he should be required to change its name to the ‘White British Ethnic Party’, since he can scarcely claim that his party is a ‘national’ party, if its aim is to exclude a part of the nation. If he really means only the white English, he should change the name to ‘White English Ethnic Party’.

During his Euro-election night speeches, Griffin suggested that people coming from other cultures to Britain should be required to adopt our culture, or should be required to leave.

Let me therefore replay this challenge to the BNP. Britain is a multi-racial, multi-cultural society with laws protecting all for the benefit of all.

If the BNP is unwilling to adopt our culture and obey our laws, its leaders and members should simply leave the country. I am not strictly sure which countries would welcome them.

But, there’s always Rockall.

Responding to the BNP

Many of us reacted with dismay to the news that the BNP had won not one but two seats in the Euro elections. The irony of this happening on D-Day escaped no-one. Yet, the sun rose the next morning, and we are still here. It is time to wake up, collectively, see what has really happened, and work to set it right.

First, we must put the BNP success into context. If they were a worthwhile party with a positive contribution to make, we would no doubt be congratulating them on two seats. But they are two seats out of 69, and the BNP managed to attract just 6.2% of the national vote — less than the total of other minor parties. Even if you add the BNP vote to the UKIP vote (something which UKIP would strongly protest), 75% of the population still voted for pro-European, not anti-European parties. Looked at on its own, 93.8% of people voted against the BNP.

Second, we must understand that the BNP result is an artefact of our particular form of Euro-election system. When given the choice of systems, Britain opted for the D’Hondt system — the least proportional of all the ‘proportional’ systems on offer, and the closest available choice to the UK’s standard museum-piece first past the post system. Critics of proportional representation are bound to be saying that the BNP would not have got seats under a true first-past-the-post system. But, equally, they would have gained no seats under the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system which most believe to be the fairest and most obvious — at least to the voter. Under STV, each voter ranks the proposed candidates in order, until they have no further preference. Given the make up of the vote last week, it is fairly clear that the BNP would have picked up almost no second or third preference votes. Far from allowing the extremists in, STV would have kept them out.

Third, we must recognise that we have only ourselves to blame for this debacle. British politics has functioned on a constant diet of back-biting and sneering, both from the media, and by politicians themselves. We have lambasted each other as incompetent, destructive, and sometimes even as ‘evil’. Now that we are facing electoral success by a party that is neither democratic nor, in any ordinary sense of the word, benevolent, we need to re-calibrate our language.

I grew up in the Thatcher years, when we were inclined to refer to her party as ‘fascist’. But they were not fascist, and never would become it. The Conservative Home website has a long blog & comments denigrating the Lib-Dems, and accusing us of being ‘liars’. Lib-Dems are not liars. We tell the truth the way we see it—as we should do in a free democracy. Tories may not agree. But that does not make us liars. Everyone has been lambasting Gordon Brown. I was on a TV show on Sunday with a Conservative candidate who, before the show, accused Brown of destroying the British economy. Brown did not destroy the British economy. And, no matter how expedient it might be for us to suggest that he did, to do so plays into the hands of the real fascists.

Likewise, spurred on by the media, the public has been educated to accuse all politicians of being liars, cheats and free-loaders. Journalists may write tongue-in-cheek, but the man in the street believes it to be true. But even politicians who have been found to have cheated on expenses are only part-dishonest. I should certainly not like to see them returned to the House of Commons, and I believe that they should have cleared the air by resigning. But that does not mean that Mrs Kirkbride and Ms Blears have not been working hard for their constituents for a very long time.

Contrast this with the BNP. Just scratch a BNP leaflet or website, and you find deceit right beneath the surface. Dig deeper, and lies and violence, as well as the arbitrary suspension of the human rights of those of whom they disapprove, are written right through their rotten hearts. As a committed Christian, I find the way in which Nick Griffin profaned the name of Jesus Christ in his speech on Sunday night to be an abomination. He claims to be speaking for Christian values and a Christian country, but everything he stands for diametrically opposed to the teaching of the carpenter from Nazareth.

So where should we go from here? The BNP know exactly where they are going. They will use every opportunity to milk the European system for funds, publicity and credibility. They will demand air-time as their democratic right, even though what they will be advocating is the dismantling of democracy. Their strategy has been building up to this for years. Why else would they contest European elections, when their whole ethos is anti-European and anti-internationalist? Their smug victory was bitter enough, but the aftermath will be far worse.

Our response, then, must be equally coherent and consistent. Otherwise, they will build on this to put them in a position of even more appalling strength at the next election.
First, the forces for good in politics must reinvent and reinvigorate themselves. No matter how much they are depending on the income, Members and Ministers who have been irretrievably tarnished by the expenses scandal should go. Parliament should vote soon to create a mechanism for them to resign immediately without loss of their resettlement grants — no matter how much that might irk the public — in return for their swift exit. If this is genuinely impossible, and I do not really understand why it should be, then they should announce now that they will be standing down. We do not need public humiliation and hand wringing — that would only serve the BNP and other extremists — but we do need action.

For us, the candidates and voters for the new parliament, we must bind ourselves not only to a code of conduct in regard to our expenses, but also in regard to our use of language and our conduct of business. The bickering, jeering atmosphere of the House of Commons, since it was first put on radio and subsequently television, has done a great deal to undermine public trust. We must simply stop backbiting, stop running negative, personal campaigns, not digging up any possible piece of dirt (proven or otherwise) to vilify another individual whose only genuine crime is daring to stand for a party not our own.

Second, we need a new, albeit unwritten, contract between the media, the public, and the politicians. Newspapers are, of course, under tremendous pressure, since their means of revenue generation has been dramatically eroded with the rise of the internet. It is unsurprising that they have leapt to whatever means of pumping up sales and increasing publicity that they can find. But politics is not the same as reality TV, and the house under Big Ben is not the same as the house of Big Brother. The constant caustic attacks on everyone who dares to put their head above the parapet are burning away our national life.

I am not suggesting that our papers and broadcasters should become anodyne, saccharine, mouthing platitudes for the sake of the ill-educated. But the duty to hold government to account must be balanced with a duty to contextualise, to explain, and, above all, to propose workable alternatives.

Third, we need to redefine our national project. Since the 1980s, the direction of Great Britain has been — almost without a voice of dissent — maximised prosperity, at the expense of all other things. Anybody speaking out against greater prosperity would have been seen as a lunatic.

I am not, of course, extolling the virtues of poverty. I’ve been poor, and I’ve been rich, and I know which one I would pick any day of the week. But prosperity at all costs has placed an intolerable burden on government to deliver what is not in its gift. We relentlessly relaxed rules on lending, reduced supervision of the financial sector, made it ever easier for people to borrow and enter bankruptcy, and we made every possible arrangement to encourage people in the belief that you are what you own, and your only worth is financial worth.

The personal tragedy of Gordon Brown is that he was remarkably adept at stoking up the prosperity when the world was in boom, so that Britain was one of the greatest long term beneficiaries of the decade of plenty. And he has been — at least as far as international commentators are concerned — remarkably good at stitching together coalitions to limit the damage of the recession. But the public have no patience for this. The public want ongoing, endless prosperity, of the kind they have got used to. Even if the rest of the world was collapsing while Britain endured a mild slump, the public would still be calling for Brown’s blood, because we as a nation, and he, while chancellor, have programmed ourselves to see the success of a government solely in economic terms.

I do not intend to dwell on wasted opportunities. We are where we are. But unless we define our national programme in other terms — call it social capital, if you are on the left, or call it community spirit, if you are on the right, or call it spiritual renewal, if you are from a faith background — then we will inevitably and periodically return in each economic cycle to a point where the electorate believe the government has entirely failed them, see no prospect of better from the other mainstream parties, and are willing to entertain the claims of those who are quick to point the finger at scapegoats, and quick to advocate a simple ‘make sense’ plan, which (in fact) will not result in the return of the prosperity that the public seeks, and will further destroy the threads that hold the fabric of society together.

It is time for those of us who believe in a radically different agenda from that put forward by the BNP to begin long term, effective and altruistic political action.

Time to stand up and be counted.

At last – action on behalf of trafficked women in the UK

The government has finally taken action on behalf of trafficked women. Under the plan, the Home Office is planning to criminalise paying for sex with a woman “controlled for another person’s gain”. However, the move has already been undermined by cuts to the budget for human trafficking investigations and the closure of the leading unit.

Jacqui Smith came under considerable pressure this morning on Radio 4’s Today Programme, but, effectively, the presenter missed the point. Whatever the views of libertarians (a position which should not be confused with liberalism), the most important action to reduce human trafficking into the UK is to reduce the demand, and the only method open to legislators is the law. Pimps and traffickers have many ways of concealing their linkage with trafficked women. In previous generations, the women themselves have been penalised, often with scant regard for the possibility that they are trafficked or otherwise coerced. Penalising clients who knowingly make use of coerced prostitutes is by far the most reasonable, effective and intelligent approach.

Radio 4 made much of the suggestion that a man might unwittingly make use of the services of a coerced woman, believing that this was not the case. However, this is not legally dissimilar to any case of people who recklessly purchase stolen goods or profit by other illegal activity without making reasonable enquiries. There is a strong body of case law and police practice to prevent the innocent from facing charges.

Objections from the English Collective of Prostitutes are similarly misguided: women who choose prostitution will not be affected by this. In fact, this is progressive legislation, because, in the past, almost all legislation regarding prostitution has focused on penalising prostitutes themselves. It is not very long ago that the same government was introducing ASBOs and CRASBOs which, frequently, resulted in prostitutes facing fines which they could only pay by returning to prostitution — a vicious cycle which could have been anticipated, but was not.

At its most simple, we have to face the question: does any man ever have the right to sex with a woman who is coerced into doing so? There are few questions where the result is so clear cut. No human being has this right. It is a fundamental violation of the very basis of human rights. In that case, we are left asking: why has this not been illegal for some time? This is a much more difficult question to answer, and a much more promising line of attack which Radio 4 might have considered pursuing. Given that there is widespread awareness of the problem of human trafficking, most men who use prostitutes must have some inkling that there is a possibility that the people they are dealing with are either traffickers or trafficked women. In that case, why have men not banded together before to drive the traffickers out of business? A lot of work was done on this question in Belgium in the 1980s and 1990s, culminating in the publication of the seminal ‘Ze zijn zo lief, menheer’, by Chris de Stoop. In Belgium, where prostitution is effectively legal in all its forms (and therefore a counter example to those who argue that legalising and regulating prostitution will end people trafficking), 1/3 of men are estimated to use prostitutes, and, as de Stoop demonstrated, high numbers were aware of the status of the women they were using. De Stoop explored the reasons for which men engaged in activity which, when considered in the coldest light of morning, was utterly brutal and degrading, and was not (as it is often put) ‘equivalent to a modern form of slavery’, but is, in fact, with no qualifications, slavery itself. The most commonly occurring ‘reason’ became the title for the book “because they’re so nice”.

After many, many years of campaigns, the government is finally doing something. They should be applauded. But there is much work still to do, and, if they are serious, they must now reinstate cut funds for trafficking investigation.

Whether or not the police are ever funded to enforce the new laws — a serious issue, given the recent cuts — the fact that sex with trafficked women will become illegal is a massive step forward in itself. Far too often, the most compelling argument put forward by people engaged in activities of this type is “if it was that bad, it would be against the law”. At last, it will be.

Royal Bank of Scotland’s treatment of employees makes no sense

The Royal Bank of Scotland Group (RBS) has warned its UK staff that they must have their primary bank account with the firm or face disciplinary action. BBC

One of the funnier jokes in Scott Adam’s Dilbert Books is the suggestion that employees (of particularly poor employers) be forced to only buy that company’s products. Of course, under the Truck Acts forcing emplyees to purchase from the company store has been illegal since 1725.

Royal Bank of Scotland’s decision, therefore, to force employees to have an RBS account to receive their salaries sails perilously close to the wind. Union Amicus is playing its cards close to its chest — which is probably the right thing to do — but a battle is certainly looming. More

Back to Top