If the events of June and July 2016 prove anything – with Nigel and Boris and David resigning, and George suddenly announcing a 15% rate of corporation tax – it is that we don’t employ politicians with ideas, we employ politicians eager for power and attention and influence who are willing to say or do anything to get it. We need to change our entire society and our entire system so that we promote and give platforms to politicians with long-term thinking, who have ideas and manifestos and philosophies, rather than short-term elastoplasts and knee-jerk reactions.
In a perfect State there is no need for charity. All the monies that private individuals and companies donate to charity and spend in philanthropy would be effectively collected through proportional taxes and thereafter efficiently divided and put to their proper uses so that charities are not needed to fill the gaps. This depends on a perfect State not burdened by bureaucracy or corruption. When there are enough resources on the planet to feed and house and power every single human being, then there is only one question to ask: How do we formulate a global economic system and a nation State in which those resources can be fairly distributed through government structures while still retaining the opportunity and impetus for people to work and utilise their talents in order to capitalise upon their labours and gain and improve their situation? And how do we retain the right amount of inequality so that there is something to aspire to?
The concentric circles of society go outwards, more or less, as follows: the individual at the centre, who then hopefully forms part of a family (not necessarily nuclear), the cornerstone of society, multiple of which come together to form first the tribe, then later the city or region or province, which collectivise under one administration in the nation state and, after the nation state, the intra-national super-state – a cohesive collection of individual countries under one administration. Eventually, it seems logical to conclude, the one world government follows, notwithstanding the logistical practicality of such an undertaking.
Since 1973, we in Britain have been wrestling with the transition from independent nation state to being part of a collection of countries that together increasingly form something with some of the trappings of the intra-national super-state. And now, 43 years after our tried accession into the EU, we the British people are being given the say on whether or not we remain a part of this intra-national bureaucratic-commercial collective, or whether we pull out and hope there are no nasty consequences 9 months down the line.
For something that represents such a fundamental turning point, not only in the British trajectory, but in that of the world – for if we reject political globalisation in this manner, what does it mean for everyone else? – the debate has been thoroughly mediocre.
‘Britain stronger in Europe’ say on their website that “almost half of everything we sell to the rest of the world we sell to Europe – and we get an average of £24 billion of investment in Britain per year from Europe”. In retort ‘Get Britain out’, on their website, state firmly in rebuttal that “less than 5% of UK businesses trade directly with the EU” and that “EU Regulations cost the UK economy a staggering £33.3 billion per year”. The IN campaign note that the Confederation of British Industry estimates that “3 million jobs in Britain are linked to trade with the rest of Europe” while the Outies say these jobs aren’t reliant on EU membership and “not 1 job is at risk from Brexit”. And back and forth and back forth it goes ad infinitum.
So how can the suits at either side of this tug of war both be so assured of facts in direct contradiction to each other? Well, it’s because either side uses different figures from different sources using different methods of arriving at their figures. Each side will quote the CBI, for instance, until it doesn’t suit them, in which case they’ll ignore what the CBI says and go with another source. Both the Office of National Statistics and the Treasury publish figures for the same things, and both of them differ.
The debate is mediocre at best, and insulting at worst. When the opposing campaigners trot out their tired slogans on leaflets and website front pages – “Protect out heritage, control our borders, believe in Britain” versus the admittedly less catchy “The government believes that voting to remain in the European Union is the best decision for the UK” – they are banking on you looking no further. They are banking on you taking their and only their numerical milk and honey or dark numerical water of the River Styx, depending on the strategy.
The integrationists and isolationists are just as grasping when it comes to celebrity endorsements. In October 2015 the Innies opened their campaign by wheeling out June Sarpong, some TV head with an adorable gap in her front teeth but who has no qualifications to be waxing lyrical about the EU aside from chatting inane shite on Loose Women. Similarly, Nigel Farage was delighted when national treasure Michael Cain came out in favour of coming out. Yeah, he’s really good at telling you how many people know his name in a cockney accent but what relevance is it what he thinks?
For every figure on one side, there is a different figure on the other. For every claim a counter-claim. And why? Because neither side knows what’ll happen. There is no truth in this debate, there is no right and there is no wrong. Neither side can tell you what money we’ll lose and what we’ll win, who’ll get fired and who won’t, which countries will desert us and which won’t should we leave or not leave. All we can know for certain is the amount of money the EU costs us and how much it makes us right now.
But even that we don’t really know. For instance, ‘Full Fact’ state that our membership of the EU isn’t “nearly £20 billion” a year as ‘Vote Leave’ like to regurgitate. This is because we get a £5 billion rebate immediately on our payment, as well as £4 billion being spent by the EU on British farmers and poorer regions in the UK, and upwards of £1 billion to the private sector for things like research grants. And this needs to be added to the money we get back in trade, investments and jobs, for which it’s “far harder to be sure about how much comes back in benefits”.
The House of Common Library has said in a briefing paper of February 2016 “there is no definitive study of the economic impact of the UK’s EU membership or the costs and benefits of withdrawal. Many of the costs and benefits are subjective or intangible and a host of assumptions must be made to reach an estimate. If the UK were to remain in a reformed EU, assumptions would need to be made about what the reforms might be. Any estimate of the effects of withdrawal will be highly sensitive to such assumptions.” So don’t listen to that bellend at your dinner party when he pipes up with a figure he’s learned by rote from either some liberal think piece or the lungs of Farage, because he doesn’t have a clue. He’s regurgitating what seems plausible to reinforce an opinion he probably held anyway but was insecure about because he had no factual way of validating or justifying it.
The underwhelming nature of the debate is compounded by the fact that all parties involved are trying their hardest to reduce a quandary of major constitutional and politico-philosophical significance down to paltry numbers and un-nourishing sound bites.
Gideon has said that leaving the EU will effectively leave every British household £4,300 per year worse off. But do you really think it would? Do you really think leaving the EU will mean you have £4,300 less coming into your bank account? Inversely similarly, Leave.EU say we would be £933 better off if we left. Again, do you think you’ll see a grand more pop up on your statement each year once we leave? Do you think these figures that get tossed around mean anything? They don’t. Each side is trying to tell the future and the fact is they can’t. The only purpose these figures serve is for people to quote in an effort to sound like they’ve put some thought into the question of Brexit.
But ‘Brexit question-mark’ is a question far more meaningful than ghostly numbers. And the majority of people know this, really. The basic impetus for leaving seems to be lust for sovereignty lost. UKIP and the right promise control of our borders, an end to “open door” immigration – the benefits and costs of which are hotly debated, as is whether or not leaving the EU will do anything to it. They also promise that no more will 75% of our laws be made in Brussels. It should be noted that this statistic is another illusory number that is by no means true. Business for Britain created a “definitive” study in which they found that “EU rules account for 65% of UK law” (I guess they don’t realise that there is no such thing as UK law). While they do admit that “not every EU regulation will impact Britain[,] such as rules on olive and tobacco growing”, the number is still misleading. Some measures take into account legislation with only a passing reference to the EU. However, a large chunk – anywhere between 15% and 50% – of laws around the UK have Brussels’ fingerprints on them, but the majority of those laws are regulations that you never even notice anyway, or they are Directives that force our government to create legislation, such as the Employment Rights Act 1996, which codifies a minimum period of maternity leave and notice, and the Employment Relations Act 1999, which covers things like collective bargaining: legislation that wholly protects you, the worker.
But the right’s appeal to sovereignty is muddied and confused. We are the descendants of warring barbarians and proud Saxons; the British are brawlers, imperialists. We are the sons and daughters of an Empire over which the sun never set. We are the saviours of Europe – the scrappy, innovative fighters. We are the moneymen of the world, the bankers and shopkeepers and the stoic council estate tenants. It is hard to reconcile such a proud heritage and such a powerful personality with horror stories of a Britain now the cowed Bulldog under the shadow of the mighty Alsatian’s dripping fangs.
If you define individual sovereignty as pertaining to your self-determination, your power over your reality, with the minimum of interference from third parties, then leaving the EU won’t grant you the individual sovereignty you think it will. It is Theresa May seeking greater powers to watch your social media activity and your phone calls through her Draft Investigatory Powers Bill. It is the Tories cutting disability benefits, not only robbing the wheelchair-bound of their right to self-determination through a lack of means, but so too, perhaps, the right to any meaningful life at all. As for national sovereignty – the independence and self-determination of the nation as a whole, not subject to “Brussels’ bureaucrats” – this vision is out-dated. It forgets one thing – the world has changed. Sovereignty is not sovereignty in the way it used to be. Not being part of a political trading bloc does not automatically render Britain an independent, sovereign nation again. In this age of globalisation, one cannot equate sovereignty with isolationism. In the age of lobbying and massive multinational corporate interests, of Facebook getting away with paying £4,327 in corporation tax and Google striking a ‘deal’ and paying £130 million settlement to HMRC, the concept of self-governance is wobbly.
Meanwhile, those on the left of an outward persuasion charge the EU with being an undemocratic institution run by unelected bureaucrats. It is a charge hard to deny. According to Europa.eu, it is the European Commission (composed of 28 nominated commissioners) that proposes and enforces legislation “in the general interest of the EU”. Albeit, said legislation has to be passed by the European Parliament, which is composed of directly elected MEPs, but they can only vote “yes” or “no” or to “amend” legislation. The Council of the European Union is the second chamber of the European Parliament, made up of ministers sent from the member states depending on the area of policy who we haven’t elected to act in such a capacity (but… y’know… we didn’t elect the House of Lords either). As well, the Council of Europe – I guess the guy in charge of naming things took a day off when it came to those two bodies – is made up of heads of state of each member state and decides the EU’s overall policy and direction, and negotiates on difficult and sensitive areas of EU policy.
So the EU might be relatively undemocratic, but it would be hard to have an international organisation, governing aspects of the lives of around 508 million people, be entirely democratic. Thus far, the EU acts in the best interests of its population. The problem comes, one supposes, when it begins not to, since if there is one solid lesson history has taught us, it is that we can never ever rely on the openness, truthfulness and perennial honesty of those governing us.
At home, if the machinations of Parliament become far too audaciously mendacious and corrupt for us merely to stand on the sidelines watching them on the BBC, we can take to the streets. Although 60 million people is a lot, they can still unite within the bounds of one nation state rather effectively against their Government should the need arise. The suffragette movement shows this, as do the Police Strikes of 1918-1919. Can we guarantee that we can retain such self-representation and self-determination through direct action on such a grand scale as that spanning 28 countries? Well, the current massive protests against the Transatlantic Trade Investment Partnership are putting that issue to the test.
The furore surrounding the utter bastardry that is TTIP is something that should figure into your Brexit calculations. Although it is ostensibly an EU-driven trade agreement, leaving the EU doesn’t guarantee its stymying. In fact, it might speed it up. Yannis Varoufakis, the unfortunate but immensely qualified and immensely intelligent economist and previous Greek Finance Minister said in an interview with Owen Jones that it is only as a collusive, entire whole united across the countries of Europe that we can stop TTIP. Add to this that it was Cameron’s government that actually demanded one of the most controversial and destructive aspects of TTIP – the inclusion of investor-state arbitration dispute clauses in trade agreements. These basically give private corporations the power to sue countries if they find their local laws – laws that are there for the protection of the people – to get in the way of their profit margins. This isn’t some far off nightmare, it’s already happening – look to Australia, Canada and Argentina.
The reality of the EU referendum is that where it matters, it is largely meaningless. Neoliberalism is still our serenading song, the same multi-national corporations hold the power, the same bankers rip us off, the same Governments trade the will of the people for the will of the financial sector and the same lands get fracked. Really, reformation of our institutions of power is what’s needed, not deciding whether they break apart or not.
If you want to cease our immigration obligations under the Schengen agreement and bring all legislative power back to Parliament and the parties in control, and you don’t want undemocratic, out of sight, multi-national institutions making decisions that could affect your small business, then I suggest you vote out. But if you want to be sure your Easyjet flight to Benidorm will stay cheap and passport control simple, and you want to ensure Vodafone don’t up their charges when you’re in Crete, and you reject isolationism, then I suggest you vote to stay in. At the end of the day, the choice is yours, but remember, the result of this referendum is piss in the wind without anything to follow it.
It is an oft-cited maxim that one should judge a man by how he treats his inferiors.
Expanding the premise out, supposing that criminals are the inferiors of society – simply by dint of not having acted in a manner conducive to the public good – then one may say that a country can be judged by how it treats its prisoners. The humane and rehabilitative treatment of prisoners is a reflection of the state of our society. Not only is it beneficial for the prisoners themselves and for the public wallet that we adopt a primarily rehabilitative approach towards incarceration, based on understanding rather than prejudice, but the manner of thinking required for such a prison system is applicable to all areas of policy and reflects a progressive attitude toward running our society.
It may be slightly jarring, perhaps, to think in such a way – criminals have had their chance, they did something repugnant to society and they are being punished for it, they are the last people worthy of kind treatment, which is not hard to sympathise with. But apparently it is not a viewpoint shared by David Cameron. Our Prime Minister has decided to beam his shiny forehead of benevolence upon the incarcerated, it seems.
In February of this year he outlined a series of prison reforms to the Policy Exchange, which after Grayling’s book banning, seem veritably humanitarian. Broadly, his reforms are encompassed in the following:
- Greater operational and financial autonomy for prison governors; they will be given a budget and complete control over how to spend it. As well, they can opt out of national contracts and choose their own suppliers, and they can set their own regimes.
- Developing better metrics to track the performance of prisons, including reoffending rates per prison, employment outcomes, accommodation outcomes and educational progress. A Prison League Table will also be introduced.
- The construction of 9 new prisons, 5 within the current Parliament, as well as changes to prison education, such as allowing governors to bring in new providers and getting graduates in to teach prisoners. In addition, renewed efforts in tackling mental illness and drug addiction in prisons.
As well, the great reformer is introducing ‘ban the box’ to the civil service – moving the part of job applications where one has to put one’s previous convictions to a later stage in the process when the applicant has a chance to defend themselves – and greater measures for tracking prisoners after being released, so that they may be released earlier.
All of these reforms seem positively liberal. They are a far cry from the barbarous stupidity of Grayling’s tenure, and from the brutality of other parts of the anatomy of Cameron’s government – his Hunt, for example.
Before we look at what Cameron and puppy dog panting, cheeky little red-cheeked Gove are seeking to do, it is beneficial to look at the grounding philosophy behind our prison system and work out what we want achieved. It is beneficial always to look at the base reasons for a thing, the base philosophy behind an idea, because then one can contextualise all arguments revolving around it, and better delineate truth from lies and intelligent arguments from misleading ones.
So, there are five reasons for punishment: deterrence, incapacitation, rehabilitation, retribution and restitution. Prison covers all but ‘restitution’, which is usually achieved through the payment of money.
Thus far in our societal development, we seem to have had a preoccupation with ‘retribution’. We are animals, after all, prone to our primeval lusts, and influenced by Old Testament yearnings to seek revenge for wrongs done to us, stirred up by moronic tabloid block-font headlines deeming criminals A DISGRACE and persuading us to be outraged that a criminal doesn’t get what we may deem to be their ‘comeuppance’.
It was seen quite clearly – this animalistic desire for vengeance over understanding – in the tabloid media’s treatment of the recent Supreme Court decision changing the doctrine of joint enterprise, where two people can be convicted of murder even though one person did not ‘pull the trigger’. Previously, the test to convict the ‘innocent’ person was one to establish foreseeability of a murder being committed, whereas the Supreme Court has changed it to the much less lax test of intention on the part of the ‘innocent’ person that murder will be committed, with foreseeability being an indicator of such intention, as oppose to the test itself. The Mirror, as you would expect, decided to treat such a nuanced area of law with the delicacy necessary, by declaring on their front page that those convicted under the original doctrine were ‘GETTING AWAY WITH MURDER’. This, of course, is not true. For one, those convicted under the previous law will either be re-tried or have their sentences reduced to reflect a conviction for manslaughter. They won’t just be set free. Secondly, the original test was a broad and indiscriminate net that did not serve its purpose. It is sensible to have a rule that reflects the difference in hopes for rehabilitation between the convicted, and to do that, we need to look at the minutiae of an event.
This penchant for outrage and insistence that anyone in any way involved with criminality be thrown to the dogs belies people’s humanity. There are any number of circumstances in which someone could be involved in a murder and not be inherently criminal. Retribution should not trump rehabilitation.
Deterrence is linked to retribution in that it is usually achieved in the same way: by making the conditions of prisoners uncomfortable to unbearable. Whereas with retribution this is mostly for shits and giggles, with deterrence it is in the hope that others will hear of the tribulations of criminals and be put off the same criminality.
Then there is incapacitation, a reason of simple pragmatism; we must remove the individual from society since they pose too much of a risk.
Finally, rehabilitation. Now, of course, some people are beyond rehabilitation; people like Charlie Bronson: the gleefully thuggish, round-headed mad man with a handlebar moustache and Natural Born Killers sunglasses who seems never to want to leave prison. Also, of course, unrepentant killers and rapists and general professional dickheads. We are not concerned with them, though. We are concerned with people capable of being rehabilitated, and when it comes to those people, rehabilitation should be the fundamental goal of our prison system. We must put aside petty primitive retribution and think unaffected and intelligently.
David, being a politician, cannot, of course, speak in such blunt terms; he has a populace to pander to. Indeed, he did so at the beginning of his speech, making sure to preface his reforms with this: “Some people – including, of course, rapists, murderers, child abusers, gang leaders – belong in prisons.” Let’s touch on the most repugnant of those criminals – child abusers, or pedophiles.
Is it not better to foster a society in which prevention is preferred above retributive notions of locking the bastards up and throwing away the key? This involves society viewing their inferiors, those repugnant criminals, as people with problems that can be understood and therefore tackled, rather than as detritus to discard. In Germany there is a programme called ‘Dunkelfeld’ to which pedophiles can report themselves and thereafter receive treatment to become safe to society. They cannot be cured, because contemporary science views pedophilia now as a sexual predilection rather than a mental imbalance. But they can be treated.
When we react to crime in this manner, and try to understand and treat its causes, rather than deal harshly with its potential effects, we can try and move to a place where the actual commission of child abuse is reduced because those with such tendencies feel more confident in coming forward to seek treatment before they act on their desires. And there is no lack of people so inclined – in the UK, a very diluted charitable version of Dunkelfeld – ‘Stop it Now!’ – missed 5,000 calls each month because of lack of funding.
When it comes to gang leaders, gangs and gang members, a different set of problems are posed. There is a correlation in city centres between areas with the highest youth unemployment and the highest levels of gang activity. It does not take much of a stretch to imagine that from this correlation, causation can be inferred. Where a job provides empowerment, independence, control of one’s destiny and an income, when jobs are scarce and opportunities are nil, a gang – or any gang-related crime: knives, drugs or theft – is a way of achieving this. After all, you never see polo shirt-clad, Jack Wills-tracksuited young ragamuffins from Cambridge rolling down the cobble-stone paths of their delightful little town 10 men deep blasting Skepta from their new i-Phones.
Well, you do, but those guys are soft twats playing at ironic cultural appropriation rather than gangbangers.
We live in a society in which respect is, by and large, dependent upon one’s success in the job market, and which looks upon those without jobs or in menial jobs with disdain. So, in that culture, when there is an employment vaccuum for whatever reason – the rise of more knowledge-based employment, a sick economy, government policies – it is not surprising that young people would seek respect and power through illegal means.
And with Greg Clarke having announced cuts to local government services of 6.7% – services young people in deprived areas would rely on – (following five years of austerity already) as well as an ability for local governments to raise taxes by 2% without a referendum – again, something that disadvantages poor communities, since that 2% won’t translate to an increase in public service funding in the way it will for more affluent areas, as well as youth unemployment – although going down – having been at its highest between 2010 and 2012 since 1992, coupled with constant news of massive tax breaks for mega-rich corporations like Amazon and Google, and after the recession, the bankers getting away with their devastating crimes, is it any wonder that people may turn from a society that seems not to value them, and instead turn to crime to take what they can?
Prison reform can only go so far in improving these people’s chances. Policy on the outside must be such that the opportunities for people to fall into crimes of desperation are stifled as much as possible.
This is not to absolve criminals of responsibility – those who commit heinous crimes hurt their victims badly, and, honestly? If a pedophile abused my son or daughter, I’d take their head. But we must separate policy from individual prejudice and understand that crime is not to be taken as a solitary act. It is the concomitant of a vast number of factors, all of which have to be addressed in order to build the kind of society I’m sure we all want to live in.
Nevertheless, depending on their involvement, personal inclinations, remorse and any other of the myriad mitigating circumstances, criminals should be incarcerated, if at the very least only to be incapacitated. And when they are, what will Cameron’s prisons do to and for them?
Dave is giving more powers to prison governors to have ultimate authority over their budgets and the ability to opt out of national contracts and choose their own suppliers – this assumes, I suppose, that such contracts will be open to the private sector. 6 prisons this year will be changed to be run as such. As well, Dave announced the building of 9 completely new prisons. Now, to give this news some context, it helps to turn to a speech he made in September 2015. In it he said that it would aid his goals of devolution of public services to “invite bids for new prisons from those charities and others who wish to work with specific types of offender.” Even though he makes them seem unimportant, I would suppose that it is those ‘others’ who will be making the majority of bids.
It is not without precedent, seeing as there are 14 privately run prisons in England and Wales, all overseen by the trifecta of Serco, G4S and Sodexo. You might recognise G4S as the same company that fucked up the Olympics by not being able to supply the manpower it said it could, so having to be subsidised by the government in having the army sent in to cover its ass. And you might remember all of these companies as the ones that run some of the UK’s immigration removal centres; the same immigration removal centres at which there are routinely accusations of abuse, sexual abuse, poor healthcare and hunger strikes.
It also helps to note that Dave’s speech comes three years after Reform – the right wing think tank – released ‘the Case for Private Prisons’ report in 2013, in which they suggested that private prisons have lower reoffending rates and are more cost-effective than publicly run prisons. Reform recommended removing any limitations on private companies to run prisons. Of course, value for money is more easily achieved when a company pays its staff 40% less than staff in state run prisons. As well, the privately run prisons we have now are purpose built, less crowded and don’t hold the most high-risk prisoners. When these facts are taken with the claims, in fact, private prisons are not performing markedly better.
And when Wolds prison – a G4S venture – was forcibly wrenched back into public hands in 2012 because of prisoners’ illegal drug use and overall idleness, it’s hard to believe Reform’s claims. But, guess what, chums? As you may have come to expect, three of Reform’s ‘corporate partners’ are… no go on, guess… Okay, I’ll tell you:
G4S, Sodexo and Serco.
As well, the think tank is inextricably linked to the Conservative party.
Suddenly it starts to look as though what first appeared to be intelligent, liberal, progressive reforms to the prison system are just measures to facilitate the never ending pursuit of the doctrinal and unrelenting privatisation of every single instrument of state we have to offer, like the government has gone mad, decided it doesn’t need material things any more (man) and wants to sell it all before running off into the forest to smoke hash and make love to squirrels. There are, of course, some little flourishes like ‘ban the box’ thrown in.
You may question whether it is intelligent to have a service such as that of prisons, run privately. Whether it is the best way to achieve the rehabilitation of prisoners and the broad, overarching social aims we want. Private companies seek to make a profit, obviously. And private companies in charge of prisons rely on prisoners to fill those prisons in order to make a profit. Whereas a state run prison would simply be shut down or repurposed were the crime rate to be drastically diminished, private companies running private prisons face a big loss if that is the case. It is not in their interests that prisons achieve the goals we want them to achieve. Companies like G4S and Serco feast off the decay of society, they are there to provide services that are only necessary if the collective good of the people isn’t being achieved as completely as it could be.
This is to say nothing of the fact that, despite what Reform claim, private prisons are worse than publicly run prisons. The Ministry of Justice itself has reported that private prisons do worse in terms of the number of assaults and escapes and in rehabilitating prisoners. And this is despite the fact that it is believed private prisons significantly under report the amount of attacks in private prisons.
Privately run prisons are not conducive to the goals of real, permanent rehabilitation of prisoners, nor are they conducive to viewing prisons as what they are – a last resort, the tail of the beast, only to be used if society faces too much of a danger from the criminal and, when they are used, to be used as rehabilitative or safe places of incapacitation. Prisons are not a profitable venture to be capitalised on.
The privatisation of prisons and the resultant failure of the system when it comes to prisoners may not be at the top of the list of your concerns. But they are a good example of this government’s self-imposed mandate to privatise and they serve as a warning of what may happen to public services you value more highly.
It is an oft-cited maxim that a man should be judged by how he treats his inferiors. And, perhaps, that a country should be judged by how it treats its prisoners. Well, if that is the case, and we treat our prisoners like cash cows, how can we expect to be judged? More importantly, how does that mean that we can expect to be treated?
In Calais, at the ass end of our sceptred isle, not a hop-skip over the channel from the White Cliffs of Dover, in the centre of Western Europe, is a floodplain upon which the huddled masses of North Africa and the Middle East have coalesced, and which has come to resemble a foreign country.
It is a vast expanse of sodden, soaking, gloopy, swampy land bristling with tents and shacks and caravans packed together like one of Brazil’s best favelas. Downtrodden men in torn jackets and ripped jeans from Eritrea, Syria, Iraq and a muddle of other countries slosh up and down the crude dirt paths, their sandaled feet mud-soaked. It is a pseudo-civilisation painted in graffiti: desperate English implorations to Cameron, quotations from the bottom of the Statue of Liberty, indiscernible Arabic, and a much-publicised picture of Steve Jobs in his iconic turtle neck, a bag of possessions flung over his shoulder. Within this microcosm of a foreign nation is an embryonic infrastructure: worried looking men and boys leaning on MDF counters, chickens rotating lazily on rotisserie spits behind them; smiling, kind looking women peering out from behind curtains further into the family section of the camp; fires burning in empty oil drums and hooded guys with smiles and rubbing hands huddled round damp planks that crackle and bubble black within; kids running out of the doorway of ‘Jungle Books’ – the library – with indomitable optimism in their eyes; and the plywood crucifix of the church standing erect, resolute over the tent points and the corrugated plastic roofs.
And although the people seem optimistic, insisting you needn’t pay for the tea they just made you, singing for you, sharing what pitiful shit they have; above, an oppressive grey lid of a sky bears down and a foreboding grey tsunami of clouds rolls by, and on the outskirts the silently flashing blue lights of riot vans are perennial. It is the people only that turn such a desolate wasteland, such a place of desperation and disgust, into something hopeful.
But enough has been written of the Jungle and its inhabitants, enough has been made of the poverty and enough journalistic voyeurism has been had.
A 10-minute drive from the camp is the warehouse of the charity, ‘Help Refugees’. It is a bustling bastion of solution and a testament to humanity within the drab, Soviet block housing of Calais and the endless roads speckled by lonely booze warehouses.
You walk in through the open double gates, and immediately the taste of a frenetic, joyful, furtive energy bombards one’s senses. Vans are backed up to the open mouth of the warehouse; high-vis guys and girls toss boxes out of them and trot them into the depths of the building, rotating round like a shimmering centipede, back and forth. A group of people stand off to the side sucking on roll ups and laughing and some girls run across the vista to the skip with a couple of black bin bags in their hands. There is purpose and meaning and drive in the air, but tinged with something you too rarely feel back in the City – friendliness, acceptance and collectivism.
To the right of the gates is a ramshackle MDF hut held together with nails and masking tape and topped with tarpaulin, and from within it a friendly looking hippie greets you. “Hey maaan; you guys new?” he asks; his tone pleasant, light and full of friendship. You say you are, and he gives you some forms to fill in. The hippies do bureaucracy apparently.
Once you’ve filled in your forms, the dude palms you off to someone else in an orange high-vis. There’s a hierarchy, you see: orange is a boss, yellow is a grunt.
She leads you into the cavernous warehouse. Past the vans ticking over are cages full to the brim with duvets and pillows and bed sheets – a few guys are sorting through them, removing whatever is stained or torn or generally useless. To the left is the break area, a couple tables where lunch is served, and beyond that the food: piles of tins and bags of beans and granola bars. But straight through forward is where prime time is. Below a cardboard sign demanding you wear a high-vis before going in (again, hippies do health and safety, apparently) is the entrance to a yawning chamber sectioned up by lines of massive metal shelving stacked with clothes and tents and sleeping bags and roll-mats and, down the far end, boxes of toothpaste and shower gel and shampoo and bandages and disinfectant.
The place is an ant colony: people stand over tables measuring the width of jeans and throwing them in the appropriate boxes, someone finds a pair of lacy women’s underwear in the pile and stuffs it in the charity shop crate; cages and trolleys are wheeled noisily up and down the corridors with bags of goods being taken to wherever they need to go; music blares from the speakers as a couple of guys throw bin bags full of clothes to the top of an Everest pile and, over in the corner, shoes get duct-taped together before being put in one of many size-labelled bins. “Mind your backs” is the echo and “where does this go?” the mantra.
At lunch a girl with a voice far too booming for her petite frame calls through the reverberating warehouse and a queue is formed as rice and beans and cabbage and coffee is dolled out into waiting bowls and mugs held aloft. People sit about, mill around, eating and chatting and discussing politics or TV or their plans.
The place is a maelstrom of diversity. Some of them are there for the weekend, professionals in PR jobs or the banking sector who felt it no skin off their nose to help out for a few days. Some are pure, unadulterated, unfiltered hippies with unwashed hair and who actually, thoroughly believe there should be no borders – because economics and the path of national development and international relations and resource disparity and cultural diversity can all be washed away with a hashtag. Some of them are just principled people who feel a connection to humanity and want to help, solely because they want to. Some were like me, there out of a mixture of curiosity and a feeling that our Governments are fucking up a long term plan and in the short term, were it not for the heroes that are those volunteers, those people in the camp, in disgusting limbo, would be fucked.
You see, whatever your politics – unless you’re a white-pride, Britain First troglodyte – you cannot deny that it is impossible to fault the people sacrificing their time and their jobs and, at least for the foreseeable future, their lives, to try and improve, at least fractionally, the situations of the desperate and the weary and the beaten.
When I sat in the local bar in the evening getting wasted, which was heaving with volunteers, I felt something I hadn’t expected to feel: an overwhelming sense of pride. To look around and hear so many British voices, as well as those of a multitude of other countries, and to know my compatriots had seen the undefended and come to defend them. To hear the passion and the urgency in their voices and to see them in the knowledge they were there to do a job, that they weren’t proving a point; they were there to try and dredge humans out of the shit and they were fucking well going to do it.
There is a dire situation in Calais. It is bearing witness to the fallout of man’s arrogance, it is suffering under the strain of human consequence, and the refugees there have felt the full force of governmental haymakers. But within it all, bursting through the gloom, there are the volunteers, and they are heroes with an utterly impressive organisation, and they need to be recognised.
I’m not sure why, but it seems in the British media recently self-flagellation because of Britain’s colonial past, and paltry atonement for its once earth-straddling empire, are at a fever pitch.
Reports noting that 43% of Britons thought Britain’s Imperial roots are a “good thing” were branded in headlines followed by critical think pieces listing the atrocities committed by our forefathers, and urging us to, just at the very least, feel a tad ashamed as we sip our tea.
The tone is insidious. One that evokes angered, judgmental eyes and an aggressive, exasperated “phhhah!” before it asks “how dare you?! How dare you walk in British streets as a British person and not feel ashamed for the oppression and exploitation your countrymen wrought upon colonials all those years ago?! How dare you? THINK ABOUT IT ALL THE FUCKING TIME YOU WORTHLESS PIECE OF SHIT!”
Now, I’m not going to try and argue that abominable acts weren’t carried out by mustachioed, explorer-hatted, pip-pipping gentlemen who liked to carry canes and wear trousers that puff out at the thighs, all in the name of the British Empire. They most certainly were. Concentration camps in Boer at the turn of the century in which nearly 30,000 Boers died, the massacre in Amritsar in 1919 in which 1,000 Indians were killed by British soldiers, and the Mau Mau concentration camps in the ’50s in which at least 20,000 Kenyans died are all a testament to this.
Neither am I going to argue that the Empire was good for the lands it colonised and the people over whom it ruled. Although, one cannot deny that the British Empire vastly improved and sometimes even built from scratch the infrastructures of many of the countries it ruled over, it imported medicines and modern science, and it provided a blueprint to countries like India and the US for their democracies.
No, rather, I’ll only say this: for all the bad that happened, and the wealth of good, it is irrelevant, for if we hadn’t done it – any of it – someone else would have.
If it hadn’t been the British empire, it would have been another one. Because that was the age of Empires, the age of competition and world domination, and it was either win or lose.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not living in some swirling UKIPian dream, pining for Empire, masturbating over the Queen and plotting my revenge on the yanks. It would be far better had humans realised immediately, rather than slowly as we are now doing, that we are all equal and better off working together and that fairness and the success of each individual leads to the betterment of the whole.
But we have to realise we inhabit the world we inhabit, and history happened as it happened, not as we wish it did. And the age of Empires happened, and Britain won, and a great many countries lost. Britain didn’t invent the idea of the Empire, it didn’t commence conquest and plundering and colonisation; but I suppose, in the simplest of senses, it realised that that was the game, and that to win it had to play.
I therefore will not feel ashamed for my country’s Imperial legacy.
In fact, I am glad it happened.
And if you live in Britain and enjoy a good quality of life, access to vast opportunity, the fruits of London being the most competitive financial centre in the world and Britain being the sixth best country in the world to do business, the protection and access granted you by your passport – the most powerful passport in the world, the fact that everyone everywhere in the world speaks your language and you needn’t learn their’s, the international clout of your qualifications taken as they were at great British educational institutions, and the great diversity in this country – to name but a few advantages of being British – then you, my friend, are glad the Empire happened as well.
Because make no mistake; you would have none of that had your forefathers not conquered and plundered the world.
There is no superiority in outrage, only in intelligence and intellectual honesty. We must be honest with ourselves, and we can be satisfied with neither celebrating, nor constantly chiding ourselves for the Empire. Though we need, of course, to make reparations where they are due – so long, of course, as those reparations don’t adversely affect us. Indeed one may argue that our foreign aid budget – nearly £12,000,000,000 – and the fact that we were the first G7 country to ring fence 0.7% of our gross national income for foreign aid, goes someway towards reparations. For otherwise we owe nothing to other countries. We are using our prosperity, prosperity that it is no small part a hangover of the Empire, to benefit other countries.
One flash point for Imperial regret and the scorn of the perpetually pissed-off is the statue of Rhodes at Oxford University. Rhodes was by all accounts a bastard – he obtained mining concessions in South Africa for the British government and seized control of, what he named – in the pattern of all great tyrants – Rhodesia; thereafter he stole land from the black population and effectively disenfranchised them.
A young, highly intelligent boy called Ntokozo Qwabe has decided to aim his intelligence toward taking up the flag of a meaningless cause in trying to get the statue of Rhodes felled. Because like an atheist who constantly seeks religious debate, he wants an easy target, I suppose.
To accusations of hypocrisy on his part through being at Oxford in the first place thanks to the scholarship set up in Rhodes’ name, he has responded that “I’m no beneficiary of Rhodes, I’m a beneficiary of the resources and labor of my people which Rhodes pillaged and slaved.” And I would be inclined to agree with that line of thinking; that he is merely accepting reparations in the form of opportunity denied his relatives because of the Empire.
However, while that is fair and right and must be our aim as a country that has benefited from the sufferance of other countries, erasing our history at the behest of a vocal minority is unjustified.
One strain of argument may be that if you don’t like Oxford’s colonial roots, don’t go there. Of course, one may well opine in response that that is reductive, childish reasoning. People should have the freedom to be educated wherever they want, dependent on their merit and their work ethic, and should not be put off by what they deem to be exclusionary symbolism. But then, one must ask the question, why do you want to be educated at Oxford? Because, of course, it is one of the best universities in the world, with a global reputation. And how did it get to be that? Why, of course, through the fruits of the Empire, through things such as the money bequeathed by Cecil Rhodes.
Either you want to reap the benefits of this great country, attributable as they are to our dark Imperial past, or you want to overturn everything, to destroy everything you see as a vestige of the Empire – in the interests of intellectual consistency, of course. In which case, the whole of Britain must burn. Because, I’m afraid, you cannot have those benefits and not acknowledge where they came from.
The rampant and blinkered hyper-morality of the #RhodesMustFall crew was best exemplified in their reaction to the reason for Oriel College deciding not to take the statue down. Through reports leaked by the Telegraph, it came to light that if they were to, they would lose more than £100,000,000. To this the campaigners charged the University with ‘selling out’. For which there is but one reasonable response. Are you fucking stupid? Do they think that education is free? That world class lecturers and expertly written text books and wonderful, ornate libraries are free?
This need to try to constantly censor the parts of history that are undesirable because certain groups feel they were robbed of something as a result of it, is one that can never be satisfied. It is an endless spiral, an ouroboros. Because to condemn the Empire so fervently assumes that things would have turned out differently had it not happened, it is to act retrospectively to right a perceived wrong, to ‘correct’ our timeline’s trajectory, or indeed try to recreate a parallel timeline that was never allowed to come to fruition; it is to second guess chaos theory.
The need is for more information, not less of it. Teach the Empire’s holocausts in school, shout them from the rooftops. But stop trying to cover up the bits of its legacy you don’t like.
Be glad the Empire happened, because it allowed us to learn our lessons and to begin to develop into a better humanity. Humans have a penchant for learning lessons the hard way. We didn’t decide nuclear weapons were a bad thing without first using them, that slavery was awful without first giving it a go or that Jedward need culling without first letting them sing.
The Empire happened, and spending all your time on trying to fell Rhodes or inspire guilt in it won’t bring about renewable energy reliance or stop needless wars in the Middle East or tackle real and contemporary systemic and institutionalised racism and sexism.
We are at war.
After ten hours of rushed and harried debate, in which John Bercow was forced to hold his piss and wound up MPs were caught swearing at each other, our tired and exhausted, and no doubt impatient and frustrated politicians were forced to make a decision as to whether to commit young men, young British men, to fight and possibly die in a war on their behalf. They say you shouldn’t drive if you’re tired, which you probably would be after ten hours of non-stop debate, but taking a decision to start a war is fine I suppose.
Hilary Benn was hailed as a pro-bombing firebrand for his speech in which he proudly proclaimed: “Now is the time for us to fight this evil”. Oh it’s brilliant, it’s electrifying, it’s invigorating; memories of Churchill, of Empire, of British bulldoggian strength and beaches and landing grounds are flooding back, and in the fog of war I am filled with pride by his rhetoric. Yes! Yes! Send in the troops, drop the bombs, destroy the enemy, for we are Britain and WE are at war once more.
WE are at war.
Time was, long ago, when our leaders would march before our soldiers into battle. When we were at war, WE truly were at war. Now, though, a politician with a plum in his mouth can proselytise and proliferate and declare his dissertation, spittle flecks flying from his foam-frothed lips as he works himself up into a war-hungry frenzy, so passionate is he about the truth of his position. So ardent is he that security and justice will prevail on England’s lands, that he is willing to make the ultimate sacrifice; he is willing to commit your sons to war.
Truly, it should be a point of order that MPs be disallowed from semantic untruths. Instead of saying that it is time for us to fight this evil, they should be obliged to announce the truth: “It is time for us to send men to fight a war because we reckon it might help a bit.” When Cameron says we are at war, he should be obliged to say: “Young men are overseas this Christmas, away from their families, at war, while you and I are back at home in front of the hearth, safe and sound, because that’s what I wanted.”
Now, you may say that it is a matter of national security, and those men signed up to the military, while the politicians, and we, did not.
But is it really a matter of national security? Certainly there is an issue of national security – we face a dangerous and barbarous threat. But is the decision to drop bombs on Syria a matter of national security? For one, all it takes is one man with a bomb vest to slip through. All it takes is one radical with an AK47. That is how this war is fought. There are no battalions or nations or uniforms. It is a just-about-organised collective of mentals. Like 50,000 Columbine shooters. Are bombing runs really going to solve the issue? You cannot catch every nut.
But suppose you can; suppose you can destroy every single member of ISIS and not even a handful survive and none of them manage to slip through to Europe. They’re all dead. Meanwhile, the West has just lain waste to another middle-Eastern country and left a power vacuum. Have we not learnt our lessons? It is a point so over-hammered that I’m not going to make it, but you get where I’m going.
Anyway, if this really is a matter of national security, if our country is at threat like it was against Nazi Germany – and no, I don’t consider myself hyperbolic in making that comparison. If Hilary can do it in his pro-war speech, I think I should be able to use it, to see if it stands up. Because truth is, it fucking doesn’t. This isn’t a war of equals, two armies against each other. This is the West being poked by a stupid, ravenous, barbarous gang of lunatics. Nevertheless, if you, a civilian, a normal person with an iPad who likes going to the pub and wonders about the Autumn statement and has got a bit podgy living off the fat of the cosy 21st century, are truly for bombing because it is a matter of national security, then I implore you, before making your mind up, to ask yourself, are we so at risk that, as in the Second World War, there is an impetus for you to sign up to fight and defend, because the homeland is going to be irreversibly threatened imminently?
Not so keen anymore?
Think there might be other options?
Think we need to debate a bit more?
That’s because you’re a fucking hypocrite. You want to send men abroad to die because you feel a bit scared. And every person who sincerely and truthfully asks themselves that question and arrives at the same answer is too.
For if we were truly under threat, if your home was likely to be destroyed, your family killed; you would fight. At least one hopes you would. But, as we all know when we look inside ourselves, those things aren’t the case, so you have no need to fight. At the very least you’d think you’d have to make some sacrifices for war. Our grandparents had to go through rationing and blackouts and join the land army. What do you have to do? Be a bit worried at the news? Nope, this is not our war, we have to do nothing for it. WE are not at war and you are insulting and cowardly to suggest otherwise. In fact, since it is so in vogue at the moment, I would even go so far as to say it is appropriation on your part to say that WE’RE at war. You’re appropriating those soldiers’ experiences.
But you’re right, they are the army, that’s their job, not yours; you have no duty to go fight. The politicians on the other hand, what duty do they have? We take it as read that they don’t need to go to war with the men they have decided need to. But to what extent should that be true? Is it not a point of morality and honour that they should? Would it not make our war-mongering slightly less mongery? Decisions would certainly be taken with a bit more consideration wouldn’t they? It’s the same logic as applies to the argument for putting MPs on Osborne’s ‘living wage’. It strikes me as slightly surprising that we don’t find it at least a bit abhorrent that we are truly happy for our MPs not to have to face the consequences of their actions in the same ways we do. We allow them to dictate our fates, while theirs remain untouched.
Fear won yesterday. And now our pilots, and probably soon our soldiers – If Hague’s comments are anything to go by – are fighting our Government’s war, dropping bombs made my private arms manufacturers, firing privately made and sold Brimstone missiles, piloting privately made planes. Because war is good for the private arms manufacturers’ business, a business they were trying to flog just a couple months ago at their London fair. And their weapons, sold to politicians who will probably go and work for them, by lobbyists, are being thrown at an area of the world that so happens to be immensely oil rich. All of this is not to mention the power that can come from control of that region.
If this was about national security and justice and the preservation of Britain and its people, then why do the DWP allow suicides as a result of their policies to continue? Why are the poor and the hungry and the homeless allowed to continue as they are, dying and suffering? Because all that money we’re throwing at that war can be spent on other things you know. But austerity doesn’t apply to war.
Inevitably, you must ask yourselves, is the Government declaring this war in our interests? Really? Truly? Or do you think there might be other motivations? Because if so, is it really our war?