Want to hire talented individuals? Then stop treating them like criminals.

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I’ve just registered a formal complaint with my agency about the intrusive nature of the background checks for a contract position at a major investment bank.

Having had two years out of work, I have been asked to provide personal bank statements to prove that I was not, in fact, working and am not now attempting to hide a period of employment that may have ended in me being fired.

Any other contractors out there, reading this, will be familiar with this practice. Most large corporations use the same agencies and resource providers, all of whom carry out the same stringent background checks.  And periods of unemployment greater than a few months in length always require evidence.

But the fact that it’s standard practice, doesn’t make it right.  And having spent the best part of the last 20 years working in IT and business change environments, I find it impossible to simply shrug it off and accept that “it’s just the way it is”.  This is a process that is crying out to be changed – because it is intrusive, stressful, dehumanising and, ultimately, likely to deter some candidates from pursuing jobs for which they may otherwise be perfectly suited.  It is certainly making me seriously question how much I actually want this job, and I am on the verge of walking away.

I did not intend to be out of work for two years.  I intended to take a few months off, to spend time with my uncle, who was dying.  But his eventual death, and dealing with the probate of his estate, kept me occupied way beyond the few months I had originally envisaged.  My subsequent decision to relocate to the Lake District, to be closer to my mother and to manage the renovation of my late uncle’s house, which I now own, brought me to this point where, two years later, I am now looking for work and being asked to account for my actions over the intervening period.

But having worked for this particular bank previously, as well as for numerous other banks where plenty of former colleagues and managers would be able to vouch for my character and experience, it is deeply insulting to be treated from the outset with a degree of suspicion that assumes I must be lying about my activities.

And so what if I was?  So what if I had briefly been employed, in a job which had no relevance whatsoever to the job for which I am now applying?  Why shouldn’t I be allowed to simply not mention that job?  We all know recruiters and clients often don’t look beyond the most recent job on a CV – if a contractor wishes to draw the client’s attention to the job prior to that, if that is the job that is most relevant to the role they are applying for, why shouldn’t they be allowed to do so, by simply leaving off the most recent role?

Similarly, if a contractor has left a previous role due to a clash of personalities with a manager, or issues of harassment that may not have been dealt with properly by the company in question, or simply because the role turned out to be completely different from what was advertised – how is that any business of a future client?

There could be myriad personal reasons why a job doesn’t work out, and no candidate should be forced to disclose, or talk about, such matters if they do not wish to do so.  This desire to discover details about a candidate’s personal or professional history that they may prefer to keep private and that have no bearing on the job in question, borders on a type of voyeurism that I find quite distasteful.

Recruitment should be about finding the person most suited to perform a role.  It should be about assessing the candidate’s experience and personality, and deciding whether they will be a good fit for the company and the team.    It should never be about digging into every detail of the candidate’s personal life – particularly when the person doing the digging is invariably somebody who has never even met the candidate.   I am not, by nature, a secretive person – the very fact that I write this blog is a pretty clear indication of my willingness to make my thoughts and experiences public – but the thought of somebody I have never met, trawling through my bank statements in the hopes of catching me in a lie, makes me deeply uncomfortable.

I can understand the need to get as detailed a picture as possible of a candidate’s character prior to hiring them.  Particularly when the job involved is a permanent position, or places the candidate in a position of seniority.   But when the job involved is a six month contract, with the client having the option to terminate that contract at any time during the six month period – and when the candidate is already known to the client, having worked for them previously – there is no justification whatsoever for such intrusive checks.  Criminal records and credit checks should suffice.

Why is it that the word “human” so often gets forgotten in the term “human resources”? A one-size-fits-all approach to background screening, that ignores the candidate’s experience, history, personal circumstances and existing or prior relationship with the client, completely fails to take into account any human element whatsoever.  Companies wishing to attract bright, talented individuals who are capable of free thought and who have the necessary drive to effect change within the organisation, would do well to think about what impression they are making on candidates when they submit them to such rigidly-enforced processes.   When “do you want this job or not?” is the standard response to any complaint about violation of privacy, there does come a point at which the answer is “not”.







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ISIS ‘Beatles’ deserve not one second of our consideration

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I might have known that within hours of the media reporting that Sajid Javid has dropped his objection to the death penalty for the two captured ISIS terrorists from the “Beatles” terror cell, we would be hearing about the fierce criticism his decision has attracted from other government ministers.

Of course it was too much to ask that just this once, we could all just celebrate the fact that these two men, responsible for the beheading of British and American aid workers and journalists, will never again set foot on British soil, and leave our American friends to deal with them in whichever way they see fit.

Instead we’re expected to be outraged at the idea that our Home Secretary is abandoning Britain’s traditional policy of not allowing prisoners to be extradited to countries where they will face the death penalty.  We’re expected to remember that we have a higher moral code than those who feel death is a suitable form of retribution.   “An eye for an eye makes the world blind” – so the saying goes.

Well, I for one am not outraged.  To those who loudly proclaim on social media, “Not in my name”, my response is “Okay, do it in mine”.

I see no reason why the British taxpayer should pay for these men to try to defend their actions in court.  Nor why we should pay for them to be kept in prison for the rest of their miserable lives. Nor why we should fund their inevitable appeals against such life sentences.  In particular, I see no reason why these men should be given any chance to be put into contact with other violent offenders in prison, and to pass on their murderous ideology.

These men chose to leave the United Kingdom, to go over to Syria and to murder people in the name of an ideology.  They were adults when they made that choice, and nobody forced them into it.  And in making that choice, they turned their backs on Great Britain and its values, and renounced any claim to protection under British laws.

For the avoidance of doubt, I am not calling for the death penalty to be reintroduced to the United Kingdom.  Nor am I arguing against Britain’s usual policy of not extraditing criminals to countries that would seek to impose the death penalty.  But for too long, we in the United Kingdom have allowed our determination to hold ourselves to a higher moral standard, to be exploited by those whose morals are on a completely different spectrum.  There is no victory to be found in smugly congratulating ourselves on our high moral code, while these animals slaughter our journalists and our aid workers abroad, and our citizens, our tourists and our children at home.

This is not bloodlust.  I do not take grim pleasure in the thought of these men facing a firing squad, or a noose, or a needle.  I wish, above all, never to think of these men again.  I would like their names to be erased from history, and for no further time to be wasted on arguing about their fate.  And I wish for any would-be jihadi reading about this case, to understand that anyone who holds our values and our way of life in such contempt, deserves not one second of our consideration.

Let them rot in a cell or let them die.  Just don’t let them anywhere near the United Kingdom.




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Divisions over strategy risk derailing Brexit

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A disheartening argument yesterday on Twitter, with a fellow Brexiteer.

It started when I pointed out to her that I don’t think Mrs May’s Chequers plan is quite the disaster that many are portraying it as, to which she responded, with an air of condescension, that I clearly wasn’t aware that David Davis had put forward an “alternate” white paper, sending me the first section of it, to read.

I duly responded that I had already read it, explaining that I had also read many of the remaining 23 sections, as well as the official white paper and various analyses.  I then – because, of course, what self-publicising blogger worth her salt can resist the opportunity – sent her a copy of the blog that I had written giving my thoughts on all of them.

Her response?  “Your blog doesn’t say much, it just whinges a lot”

With the greatest of difficulty, I resisted the mental urge to reach into the computer monitor, through the ether separating us, and throttle her.  I erased the angry response I had started to type out, and forced myself to consider the fact that maybe – just maybe – I need to be a bit more open to criticism.  Just because I believe my blogs are wonderfully written, well-researched and well-argued, it doesn’t necessarily follow that everybody else agrees.

So my eventual response was simply “Wow.  Okay.  Well, it wasn’t intended as a whinge; it was a serious attempt to get to the bottom of what is being proposed”.  I then pointed out that I voted for Brexit, still want it to go ahead and so was disappointed that she, as a fellow Brexiteer, was so keen to just dismiss my opinion.  Especially as – get this! – her Twitter bio states “If you want to debate Brexit, fine, but engage – don’t just dismiss what you don’t like”.

I politely suggested she may want to follow her own advice.

Somewhat surprisingly, the discussion then continued in fairly civilised tones, with a bit of back-and-forth about the relative difference between Davis’ proposals and those put forward by Mrs May.  Unsurprisingly, we were actually in agreement on many points but small areas of disagreement and misunderstanding kept cropping up.

And then came the big reveal.  Suddenly she admitted that she’d assumed I was a Remainer.  That she read my blog with that assumption in mind, and couldn’t really recall what it said that confirmed her suspicion but she remembered it talked about no economic benefits of leaving!

I pointed out that I hadn’t written anything about there not being any economic benefits of leaving – that I actually believe there are huge economic benefits to leaving.  What I had expressed in the blog, was my frustration at the fact that the various white papers had made no attempt to quantify those benefits!

And at that point – whether out of embarrassment or just the usual rudeness that Twitter somehow provokes in people – she declared that much though my blog may be of great interest to me, she had only skim-read it and had better things to do with her time than to continue arguing with me, bidding me a curt “Bye” at the end of her tweet.

Now, I’m no Twitter snowflake.  I can handle robust debate and I am certainly just as guilty as the next person, of making incorrect assumptions about the person I’m debating with and then trying to cover up my embarrassment at getting the wrong end of the stick.  We all do it.  All the time.

But the reason I found the whole thing a bit disheartening was because that little petulant exchange, sadly, is a pretty accurate representation of the deeper divisions at the heart of the Brexit vote.  And a very poor indictment of the state of our public debate.

I’ve written about this topic before – not specifically in the context of Brexit, but the wider context of political discussion, and the tribalism that lately seems to overtake every debate, and every analysis.

No longer do we listen to, or read, a point of view with an open mind – hearing, or reading, every part of it before making up our minds about how to respond. Nowadays, it seems, too often, the first thing we ask ourselves is “Who is putting forward this opinion?  To what political tribe do they belong? “   And we use the answer to those questions, to decide whether or not to give the opinion any credence.

My Twitter opponent had come to the incorrect conclusion, right from the start, that I am a Remainer.  Her responses to me were therefore hostile from the start.  Once she realised I had voted for Brexit, she calmed down and discussed the matter a bit more rationally – but then went off the boil again when I pulled her up on her incorrect assumptions.

The problem is, it’s no longer even a binary divide.  It’s not just Remainers vs Leavers.  It’s hard-core Remainers who will stop at nothing in their attempts to reverse Brexit, to moderate Remainers who really don’t want Brexit to happen but accept that actively trying to stop it is anti-democratic, to fence-sitters who voted for Remain because they were convinced by Project Fear, but are now starting to wonder if they should have voted Leave, to those teetering on the other side of the fence who voted Leave but can no longer really remember why and are wondering if they made a mistake, to moderate Leavers who just want the government to get on with negotiating our exit on the most favourable terms possible, to die-hard Leavers who are fed-up with having to try to negotiate anything, think the 48% of the country who didn’t vote to leave are just cowards and sore losers, and think we should just walk away right now without a deal, and damn the consequences.   And various other camps in between.

And is it any wonder we’re so divided?  Those still fighting for us to remain in the EU, love to point out the fact that not everybody who voted to leave, voted for the same thing.  There was no clear manifesto that set out what a leave vote would mean.  Yes, we were constantly told by the Remain campaign that a vote to leave would mean leaving the single market, and leaving the customs union – but we were also told by almost everybody on the Leave side, that leaving the EU would not mean losing our access to the single market, that it is just as much in the interests of the EU to give us a free trade deal as it is in our interests to want one.

Except, of course, as we are discovering, allowing us to leave its institutions while granting us a free trade deal, is not in the EU’s interests.  Perversely, politics trumps economics as far as the EU Commission are concerned – we are not dealing with reasoned negotiators, but with ideologically-driven careerists who would sooner bankrupt their member countries than give away any concessions that could be seen to damage their overall political project.   The great irony is that the very reason many of us voted to leave the EU, is the exact thing that is making it so hard for us to do so.

Theresa May, as we all know, has never been a great believer in Brexit.  And maybe, had David Davis been given free reign in negotiations, we would be in a better position than we are now.  But I’m not convinced about that.  Given the divisions within her own cabinet, with many MPs actively fighting to block any of her efforts, and an EU that is completely intractable in negotiations, I quite frankly find it fairly incredible that she has managed to make any progress whatsoever.  And while it’s tempting to agree with hard-core Brexiteers who say that we should simply walk away without a deal, do we really want to push such a strategy when we know that not only the 48% who voted Remain, but also a significant proportion of those who voted Leave, would not support doing so?

Calls for a second referendum on the final deal are, understandably, mounting.  It’s all very well David Davis and Steve Baker talking about the “alternate” white paper that they had been working on, with its focus on “mutual recognition” of standards rather than a “common rulebook”. But unless they are prepared to force a vote of no confidence in Theresa May – and win – and put their proposals to the EU – and expect them to be accepted by the EU – then all they are doing is creating unnecessary noise and division.  Divisions which the Remainers will be more than happy to exploit.

If we have any hope of Brexit going ahead, we need a unified strategy from those who are – and have been – its most high-profile cheerleaders.  That means Boris Johnson, David Davis, Michael Gove, Andrea Leadsom, Gisela Stuart, Daniel Hannan, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Nigel Farage and Arron Banks all need to get their heads together and start singing from the same hymn sheet.  Sadly I fear that for too many of them, individual ambition will continue to outweigh any chances for collaboration.   And the divisions within Parliament – and the country at large – will simply deepen.





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Will Tommy Robinson Supporters Denounce This?

A video has been circulated on Twitter, showing a Tommy Robinson supporter verbally abusing a journalist from Al Jazeera, at last weekend’s “Free Tommy” march in London.

The video, filmed by Sonia Gallego and posted by her on Twitter, shows only the face of the supporter, who is looking straight into her camera as he addresses her.  The beginning of the interaction is clearly missing but the clip shows the following exchange:

Gallego’s colleague, off-camera: “We’re doing a job, innit… nothing else”

Supporter: “Yeah, I know… I’m asking a question, and if you don’t…. you’re not answering the question.”

Gallego: “You came very aggressively at me…”

Supporter: “No, I asked who you were with”.

Gallego: Yes….

Supporter: Yeah, well you ain’t got it on camera … I’m asking you who you’re with, are you with Tommy Robinson or against him?”

Gallego: “I…we’re not… we’re journalists”

Supporter: “So I’m asking you who you’re with?  What is your organization?”

Gallego: “We’re journalists.  We’re with Al Jazeera…”

Supporter: “Oh okay…

Gallego: “..and we do not have any sides of anything”

Supporter: “Oh right… so you’re Muslim-backed then, ain’t ya. Muslim-backed”

Gallego: “What does that mean?”

Supporter: “Are you fucking stupid?  Are you thick?”

Gallego: “No, well explain to me, ‘cos you’re so intelligent apparently…”

Other supporter, off-camera: “She’s sucking you in, I’d walk away.  She’s sucking you in….”

Supporter (to his friend): “Yeah I know.”  (Turning back to Gallego): “You know what – you’re a slag!”  He then, sensibly, walks away.

Now, despite the eager calling of many people on Twitter for the man’s details to be passed to the police – his face is, after all, absolutely clear in the video – I sincerely hope the police do not see this as a matter for their attention. Besides an aggressive tone and a couple of insults, the man does not appear to have physically threatened or come close to assaulting her in any way.  As a journalist, I would expect she has a fairly tough skin and has probably been called worse things in the past.   And I expect our police have better things to do with their time than arrest anybody who is a bit unpleasant towards another person.

But the video does warrant comment from the organisers of the march.  Were he not in prison, it would warrant comment from Robinson himself.

The supporter’s implication is clear.  In his mind, anybody attending the march must be either with Tommy Robinson, or against him. And in his mind, the fact that she is working for a “Muslim-backed” organization gives a clear indication of which side she is on.

Robinson, and his supporters, constantly complain that they are mischaracterized by the press as “far-right” and “racist”.  They constantly argue that their marches are not about a hatred of Muslims but about wanting to challenge an ideology that they feel is responsible for the recent terrorist incidents in London and Manchester, as well as the overly politically correct mindset that saw police and social services turn a blind eye to the mass rape of underage girls in towns across the country.

They constantly, and quite justifiably, express outrage when our politicians churn out lines about the latest terrorist atrocity being “nothing to do with Islam” despite the terrorist using the words “Allah-u-Akhbar”.  And they constantly point out that when the terrorists themselves are claiming to be acting in the name of Islam, then it is up to followers of Islam to denounce those acts.

They should understand, then, that when a supporter goes to a “Free Tommy” march and makes it clear, on camera, that in his mind, anybody working for a Muslim-backed organization must be “against Tommy”, that sends a clear message that the supporter, at least, believes the march to be an anti-Muslim event.  It is not sufficient for Tommy or the organisers of the march to simply churn out the same old arguments about not being able to control who attends their marches, and the press always showing only the badly-behaved protesters, rather than the tens of thousands of peaceful ones.

If Tommy Robinson’s supporters wish not to be branded as racist, and wish their grievances to be taken seriously, they have to publicly denounce the man’s words – to publicly state that their marches are not anti-Muslim, that they don’t endorse such attitudes, and that anyone turning up to their marches with a grievance against Muslims, or any other group, is not welcome.   If Muslim leaders are expected to denounce every crackpot jihadi who purports to commit atrocities in the name of Islam, then it’s only right and fair that Tommy Robinson and the organisers of events in his name, should denounce every crackpot idiot who claims to be “with Tommy” while misrepresenting his cause.  Unless, of course, the man’s interpretation was entirely accurate.

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Chequers Proposal: Time for Brexiteers to face reality

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I’ve spent the last few days trawling through endless reports and analyses of Theresa May’s Chequers proposal for leaving the EU, and it’s fair to say my brain is fried.

From the initial newspaper reports and tweets shouting “Betrayal!” to reading the government’s 3-page summary and thinking “Hmm, that actually looks like quite a good deal that appears to deliver most of what I voted for while reassuring the fears of most Remain voters”, to reading Martin Howe QC’s analysis of the 3-page summary and thinking, “Oh no, maybe not such a good deal after all”, to hearing Jacob Rees-Mogg dismiss the proposal as “the greatest vassalage since King John paid homage to Phillip II at Le Goulet in 1200”, to David Davis and Boris Johnson resigning, to Donald Trump declaring that it would wreck the chances of a trade deal with the United States, the reporting has gone from bad to worse.

But is it really such a bad deal?  The government certainly hasn’t helped itself by releasing a white paper that runs to 98 pages of mostly waffle about a “deep and special” relationship with the EU that will enable us to take back control of our borders, our laws and our finances, but with very little clarity over exactly how much control we will actually have over any of those areas.

Most people won’t bother to read a 98-page document, so will rely on media reports to tell them what it contains.  And the media reports have been almost exclusively negative. Attempts by the government to sell the benefits of the plan, have fallen on deaf ears.

As if that isn’t bad enough, Steve Baker, David Davis’ deputy in the DexEU department, who resigned at the same time as did Davis, subsequently went on national television and made it clear that he was extremely unhappy about the way his team’s proposals had been sidelined by the Prime Minister and her aide, Olly Robbins.  The Conservative Home website has now published a series of excerpts from Davis and Baker’s “alternative” Brexit white paper, with accompanying commentary about how these “almost finalised” proposals show the deep divisions between Davis’ vision and that of Mrs May.

The problem is, having read a few of the “alternative” white paper extracts, all I can think is “almost finalised?  Are you kidding?”   Littered as it is with typographical errors such as “Trade prays a highly visible role…”, “EU induitries”, “resolve disputes as the arise”, “as frictionless ass possible” (all of the above examples found within four paragraphs alone) and square brackets around virtually every numerical estimate, indicating these need to be checked, it doesn’t appear to have ever been proof-read, let alone almost finalised.

The key difference being trumpeted by Conservative Home, is that the “alternative” white paper makes provision for “mutual recognition” of standards as opposed to the “common rulebook” proposed by the government white paper.  And as Martin Howe QC explained in his initial analysis of the government proposal, “common rulebook” amounts to the UK having to unquestioningly follow the EU’s rules and standards, whereas “mutual recognition”, as the name suggests, implies both parties mutually agree on standards.

But let’s think about this for a moment.  “Mutual recognition”, in the case of a deal between the UK and Australia, each negotiating as independent countries, makes perfect sense. But “mutual recognition” between the UK – a single nation – and the EU – a large bloc made up of 27 nations – will invariably mean the UK will end up having to acquiesce to whichever standards the EU wishes to impose.  So Davis and co can call it “mutual recognition” if it makes them feel better – and it may convince a number of Leave voters that it’s a better prospect – but essentially it’s no different from the “common rulebook” to which the Chequers proposal commits.

Worse still, the “alternative” proposal provides no more clarity than does the official white paper, on what the likely impact leaving the single market would have on the UK’s service sector.  Given services make up nearly 80% of UK GDP, it beggars belief that both proposals can be so thin on detail as to what the likely costs of coming out of the single market will be, and what benefits will derive from no longer being tied to it.  What has the government been doing for the last two years, if not analysing such questions?

In fact, that brings me to my biggest issue with both proposals. Nowhere, in either proposal, is there any tangible analysis of the economic benefits – or costs – of leaving the EU.  At no time in the past two years, it appears, has anybody in government made any attempt to set down in writing, what economic benefits we hope to achieve by leaving the customs union and the single market, and striking out into the world as an independent trading nation.  The DexEU proposal, in particular, has an extremely long and detailed section on the digital services sector, the huge role it plays in our economy and our existing relationship with the EU, but absolutely no detail on what, if anything, in our existing relationship is preventing us from selling services to the rest of the world, what we wish to change about our relationship with the EU going forward, and what the likely impact will be of no longer being a member of the EU.

The very first thing the government should have done, before even triggering Article 50, was to put together a ‘no deal’ scenario that set out exactly what the impact would be if we had to trade with the EU on WTO terms. That assessment, as far as I’m aware, has never been done.  If it has, it has not been made public.  All we have had, have been high-level Treasury estimates based on apocalyptic assumptions that we would no longer be able to trade with the EU at all.

It’s clear from the Chequers proposal – and the ‘alternative’ proposal – that the government has never seriously considered the possibility of a ‘no deal’ exit that would see us trading with the EU on WTO terms.  Just as, it seems, the government never considered the very real issue of the Northern Ireland border, prior to offering a referendum in the first place.

The reality is, much though many Brexiteers refuse to admit it, we can’t simply leave the EU without a deal.  Not unless we’re prepared to accept a physical border between Northern Ireland and Ireland – and there simply is no parliamentary or public support for such a proposal.

So yes, the proposal is a sell-out.  Yes, we Leavers have been lied to, and betrayed – but we have been lied to, and betrayed, as much by the Leave campaign as by the government.  Where is Johnson and Davis’ grand plan for Brexit? Now that they are no longer in the government, there is nothing to prevent them from showing their hands. The truth is they don’t have a plan – they never did.  The ‘alternative’ proposal is no more a plan for a clean Brexit, than the official document.   Jacob Rees-Mogg, for all his bluster, similarly has not put forward any credible alternative to the “vassal state” plans he has been so willing to condemn.

Yet I’m not convinced that all is lost.  Mrs May, despite her obvious misgivings about Brexit, does appear to have taken the referendum result to heart.  The Chequers proposal does return a number of powers to the UK Parliament.  Mrs May insists that it will allow us to control immigration to a greater extent than we can do currently.  And the amount of money we will be contributing to the EU budget will be vastly reduced as a result of no longer being a member. Crucially, it will put paid to any fears about the UK being drawn into the EU’s plans for Ever Closer Union – the EU’s grand strategic plan for a United States of Europe, solely designed to prop up the euro.

As to the claim that we will still have to follow all of the EU’s rules and regulations, while no longer having a say in those rules – seriously, how much of a say do we have currently?  A key argument of the Leave campaign was that we had been outvoted on every single occasion that we had raised any objections to EU regulations.  It is a bit rich for them to suddenly claim that we have a great deal of influence in the EU Parliament.  And besides, neither Norway nor Switzerland seem to suffer too greatly from being “rule takers” within the EEA – so why should we?

And finally – let’s look at the claim that the “common rulebook” will prevent us from being able to do a free trade deal with the USA.  The Brexiteer dream of a big, beautiful trade deal with the USA – that will make up for any lost trade with the EU – is just that: a dream.  The USA, particularly under Donald Trump with his “America First” promise, is no less protectionist than the EU.  The notion that any trade deal we will be able to negotiate with the USA will be on mutually beneficial terms, is a fantasy. Leaving the EU without a deal because we don’t want to be a “rule-taker”, only to negotiate a trade deal that sees us as a “rule-taker” to the USA, is a ridiculous notion.

So much though I’m uneasy about the Chequers deal, and deeply unhappy with the government’s pitiful approach to negotiation, I’m reluctant to fall for what is clearly a great deal of political manoeuvring going on at present.  Johnson, Davis and Rees-Mogg all have their own political interests at heart when they seek to stick the knife into Mrs May, and lay the blame for this poor deal solely at her door.  Yet not one of them, in the two years since the Leave vote, has come up with a better proposal.

Many ardent Remainers, such as Nick Clegg, who may appear to be showing sympathy for Brexiteers when they announce that even they don’t think it’s a good deal, have questionable motives.  What better way to try to convince Brexiteers to change their minds about leaving, and possibly to win support for a People’s Vote, than to peddle the idea that we would be better off remaining in the EU than accepting such a poor deal?

Time for Brexiteers to face reality.  This is not the strong, clean exit from the EU that we all hoped we would get.  But the reality is that our trade, our economy, our laws and our entire way of life are so deeply interlinked with, and dependent on, the EU, that we were incredibly naïve to believe in the first place, that we could simply walk away.  If the last two years have taught us anything, it should be that the EU simply does not compromise.  If they actually accept this deal – which is, absolutely, a compromise – it will be an extraordinary achievement for Mrs May.

I suspect this won’t end up being the final deal.  I will be surprised if the EU accepts it in its current form, and equally I expect the political manoeuvring will continue and we may yet see a leadership challenge within the Conservative Party.  But the attempts to blame the current situation on Mrs May alone, are dishonest and cowardly.  It’s time for the hardline Brexiteers to put up their best alternative proposal – or shut up and admit they never had a plan in the first place.



Posted in Brexit, politics | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

Good writing deserves to be read

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A few months ago, I had a blazing row on Facebook with a friend who took exception to something I hadn’t written in my blog.

Yes, you read that correctly.  In response to my blog, “All Hail the Mogg!” this friend chose to publicly challenge me as to whether, given my obvious admiration for Jacob Rees-Mogg’s views on gay sex and abortion, I would also endorse the views of a priest who had said that, in the event he discovered a fellow priest was abusing children, he would not speak out as he believed it is up to God alone to judge.

In fact, at no point had I expressed admiration for, or agreement with, Rees-Mogg’s views.  The admiration I had attempted to convey in the blog – which appeared to be understood by all who read it apart from this one particular friend – was for Rees-Mogg’s willingness to give a straight answer to a difficult question about his religious views, in marked contrast to Tim Farron who had been completely unable to do the same a few months previously.

My friend insisted that he had fully read the blog, but also kept insisting that as the blog was clearly written in admiration of Rees-Mogg’s religious views, I must also agree with the priest who refuses to report paedophilia.  It was hard to know where to start in responding to his accusations.

On the one hand I struggled to believe that a friend who I have always considered intelligent and highly literate, could so fail to grasp the key point of my blog and continue to insist on it containing arguments that simply were not there.  But I was also horrified and offended at his dogged attempts to discredit my blog – and, by extension, me – by comparing what I had written to a willingness to turn a blind eye to paedophilia.  I pointed this out to him, but he simply ignored my obvious consternation.   His mind was made up, and he kept repeating the same accusation – if I could express admiration for a man who states that due to the teachings of his church, he cannot condone gay marriage or abortion, then I must similarly defend the right of a priest to keep quiet about child abuse.

I am usually very reluctant to end friendships over politics but this went beyond a political disagreement.  This was somebody I had known for a couple of years, and while we regularly disagreed over politics, I felt we knew each other well enough to have gained a broad understanding of our common ground and shared moral codes.  In this instance, either he was willfully misrepresenting my views for the sake of an argument, or worse, he truly believed me to hold the completely abhorrent views he was attributing to me, and was therefore simply ignoring what I had actually written in favour of his own pre-conceived ideas about my beliefs.   Either way, I found myself wondering how this person could consider me a friend, while believing me to hold utterly contemptible views.

I mention this incident now because I find myself in good company, as the author Lionel Shriver has penned a remarkable response to those who have spent the past few weeks attacking her for views she never expressed in the first place.

Her original article, which caused all the fuss, took aim at the new diversity quotas introduced by Penguin Random House.   Pointing out the absurdity of a quota system that sees “bi” and “bisexual” as two completely different sexual persuasions, while blanketing citizens of a multitude of geographically and culturally diverse nations under the ethnic grouping of ‘White:Other’, the key point of her article is that publishers should concern themselves simply with good writing, regardless of who or where it comes from.

At no point did she express any opposition to diversity in publishing.  But this didn’t stop her critics from immediately representing her as a white supremacist wholly opposed to any efforts to increase diversity.  She was promptly removed from the judging panel of a writing competition organised by the magazine Mslexia, as the organisers sniffily announced that her views were “not consistent with Mslexia’s ethos and mission”.

In an effort to calm down the row, the Spectator, in which the article was originally published, removed the article from its paywall, allowing it to be read in full by those who, it had to be assumed, had not actually read it and were just relying on second-hand reports of what had actually been written.  To no avail.  For those who had already made up their minds, the opportunity to read the piece in its entirety did nothing to sway opinion.

Shriver is a far more eloquent and gifted writer than I, and her response to a small group of her critics, also published in the Spectator, and also free of the paywall, masterfully captures her frustration at what she sees as willful misreading and ‘malicious misinterpretation’ of her writing.  Bemoaning the fact that she finds herself in the position of having to explain her original article to those who seem to have misunderstood it, she writes,

 “Perhaps in future it will prove necessary to write every column twice, the original with wit, playfulness and brio. Then I’ll draft a pedantic, leadenly prosaic rendition without any jokes.”

She goes on to explain in great detail, exactly why she is opposed to diversity quotas – not because she opposes diversity in and of itself, but because of the way in which quotas and affirmative action policies tend to pit minority communities against each other, while often alienating the very communities they are meant to help.   She provides examples of how affirmative action policies in America have simply shifted the target of discrimination from one ethnic group to another, as college admissions boards, scrabbling around for an excuse to turn down bright, hardworking East Asian students in favour of those who match the required quotas, declare them to be low on “personality”.   There’s nothing quite like insulting hard-working students as a way of covering up the inherent racism of your quotas.

After a great deal of back-and-forth over what I had and hadn’t written in my blog, my friend eventually let slip that he was completely unaware of Tim Farron having been previously asked about his views on gay sex, and mused as to what Farron’s views may be.  When I pointed out that understanding this point was key to understanding the entire blog, and suggested that maybe he should have at least done me the courtesy of asking me about this point, or even Googling it himself, before attacking the blog itself, he responded that it was “so incredibly rude” of me to expect him to read and understand every single sentence of the blog before responding.

Shriver deals masterfully with this objection.  She writes,

“No writer can defend against wilful misreading. On the contrary, a text entails a contract between authors and readers: authors will endeavour to deliver their message as clearly as possible; in exchange, readers will meet writers halfway, and make an effort — for reading is an effort, which is why it’s a decreasingly popular medium in an impatient age — to correctly digest this message, even if in the end some of that audience may still disagree with it.

My “friend” had made no effort to understand the point of my blog – just as Shriver’s critics made no effort to understand her original article.   She continues,

 “Outrage being the left’s contemporary drug of choice, addiction levels seem to have got so high that it’s not enough to get indignant about what’s actually out there; it’s now necessary to make enraging stories up. But I have a hard enough time sticking up for what I actually believe, and actually put in print, without defending against all the things I don’t believe, and didn’t put in print..… But a world in which you have said, not what you said, but what other people say you said, is a world in which savvy people stop writing and shut up. After all, this column — it won’t make any difference, will it? The verdict is in.”

Sadly, she’s right.  Her column likely will make very little difference.  It will be read, and greatly appreciated, by those who appreciated and understood her original column and who are almost as outraged as she is by the response to it.  But it will be largely ignored by those who will insist that despite her protestations, she truly is a white supremacist who clearly despises any efforts at tackling diversity.

For this is the world in which we now live.  Take the current state of political debate, already polarised by events such as the Brexit vote and Donald Trump’s presidency.  Add in a small but very vocal minority, already obsessed with identity politics, determined to pigeon-hole their opponents and write them off simply as “evil Tories”, “deplorables”, “racists”, “white supremacists” or, lately, “gammons” – and your chance of putting across any kind of nuanced argument goes straight out of the window.  To these people, the idea that somebody could dislike diversity quotas while still being in favour of diversity, is as incomprehensible as the idea that one can admire a politician for giving a straight answer to a question, while still disagreeing with his overall beliefs.

Shriver, in her original article, didn’t expressly state that she is in favour of diversity – she shouldn’t have had to, as the article was purely about quotas. Just as I, in my blog, never expressly stated whether or not I agreed with Rees-Mogg’s views – because I shouldn’t have had to; the blog was not about the rights or wrongs of his views.  But in these virtue-signalling times, sadly it seems one is not allowed to take a position on any minor event or circumstance, without first declaring, loudly and clearly, where one stands on the overall rights or wrongs of the wider issue itself.

Don’t even dream of giving an opinion on Brexit without first declaring whether you voted to Remain or to Leave – and similarly, unless you wish to be declared a deplorable, don’t dare write anything even vaguely supportive of anything Donald Trump says or does unless you first declare, loudly, that the man is, of course, a fool and a disgrace and that you didn’t vote for him.   Without these key pointers as to which box you belong in, and therefore whether or not they need to give your opinion any credence, the keyboard warriors will more than likely skim-read your article and make their own assumptions, before firing off an angry response to something you never wrote in the first place.  When challenged, they will, as my “friend” did, re-read what you wrote and selectively quote any passage or section that appears to support their interpretation, while conveniently leaving out the crucial context that, had they read and understood it properly the first time, would have led them to a completely different understanding.

Anyone who has ever tried crafting an argument and putting it down in writing will know how difficult it is.  Finding the right balance between providing enough detail to explain your position, but not so much detail that your audience gets bored and gives up on reading; sticking to the topic at hand and not getting diverted into detailed analysis of every related point – and all while trying to make full use of language, tone and style to fully engage your readers  – all takes time and a great deal of effort.   I don’t know how much time Shriver’s original article took to write, but I’m guessing it took far longer than the couple of minutes it took her critics to skim-read it and launch their blistering attacks against it.

As a society, we get the writers we deserve.  If talented writers such as Shriver can see her words twisted in this way, by a readership too lazy to take the time to understand them, then how long will it be before we reach a time when political debate falls away completely, to be replaced by politicians and pundits doing nothing more than trading insults and catch-phrases?    Sadly I fear we’re not too far off that point already.




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Fired for a racist tweet. But was it really racist?

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Roseanne Barr has had her show cancelled because of a tweet suggesting former Obama aide Valerie Jarrett is the product of a union between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Planet of the Apes.

ABC Network, in cancelling the show, issued a statement calling Barr’s tweet “abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values”.

But what was so abhorrent or repugnant about the tweet?   Some have argued that it is deeply insulting to all Muslims, which is obviously nonsense given the Muslim Brotherhood is a small group of mainly Sunni Muslims, with fairly fundamentalist Islamist beliefs, and as such Roseanne’s tweet was a comment on Jarrett’s political beliefs rather than any comparison to Muslims as a whole.

Popular consensus, though, is that it was deeply racist, due to the fact that Valerie Jarrett is African-American, with brown skin, and comparing a brown person to an ape is about the most racist statement one can make.

But why? Why, given we are all evolved from apes, is it only racist when comparing a black or brown person to one, but not when making the same comparison in relation to somebody who is white or yellow?

Calling somebody an ape – or, in the example of the recent blog-post by the Secret Barrister, referring to a group of people as “knuckle-dragging cheerleaders” – is certainly an insult.  It is a way of saying that the person, or group of people, to whom one is referring, is primitive, unevolved, backward, or uncivilised.

Yet we don’t see anyone calling for the Secret Barrister’s book to be removed from bookshelves as a result of his / her recent use of the term “knuckle-dragging cheerleaders”.   Presumably because it is understood that the majority – if not all – of the people he was referring to, are white.  So that’s perfectly acceptable, then.

By saying that it is racist to refer to a black or brown person as an ape, but not a white or yellow person, are we not, in fact, simply reinforcing the notion that a different set of rules and norms needs to be followed when dealing with black and brown people, than with white and yellow people?  Is that not deeply racist?

I understand the argument that the reason it is racist to refer to a black or brown person as an ape, is because for years, racists have used that very insult to refer to people of colour, implying that they are less evolved than white people.

But this is where context matters.  A statement that refers to ALL black people as apes is, of course, racist – because the insult in this case is directed specifically at their race.  But a statement such as Roseanne’s, directed at one particular person, has to be viewed as a comment on that person alone. In which case it shouldn’t matter what colour skin the person has.

Roseanne, of course, made matters ten times worse by apologising for the tweet and seeking to blame tiredness and sleep deprivation for her error of judgement.  What she should have done, was to demand to know why it is that ABC – or anyone else for that matter – feels that Valerie Jarrett’s skin colour is relevant.

We saw the same confected offence-taking a few months ago, over the H&M poster campaign which showed a young black boy wearing a jumper with the words “Coolest monkey in the jungle”.  Cue outrage at the decision to use a black child rather than a white child.  Never mind the fact that parents of all colours and races have for decades referred fondly to their children as “cheeky monkeys”. Or that the mother of the child in question saw no issue with the slogan.

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If we truly want to have racial equality, surely one of the first steps we must take is to acknowledge our common evolutionary origins?  That must include the right to insult and offend each other equally.   Roseanne’s tweet was offensive – which it clearly was intended to be.  But it takes a pretty racist mindset to actually see it as racist.

Posted in identity politics, politics | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

A lesson for the Secret Barrister – from Jane Austen

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“Oh thank God!” I thought, when the reporting ban was finally lifted on Tommy Robinson’s case, and the Secret Barrister published a blog post explaining all the legal ins and outs of his arrest and imprisonment.

And then I saw the words “knuckle-dragging cheerleaders”, “racists-in-arms” and “Nazi-themed march on Downing Street” and my heart sank.

Because what’s the point of putting together a 10-point explanation of the situation, if you’re going to use your opening paragraphs to insult the very people who would most benefit from reading it?  How many of them will have reached that point and shut it down in disgust, not reading any further?

The Secret Barrister, for those who haven’t heard of him / her, is a blogger who describes him / herself as “a junior barrister specialising in criminal law”. It is rumoured that the Secret Barrister is, in fact, not just one but a handful of junior barristers – but whether one or multiple is neither here nor there.

Either way, this particular blog was written by somebody clearly exasperated at having to explain what they see as a number of self-evident points of law to lesser-brained mortals asking stupid questions on social media.  Despite the overall clear, concise explanations of the various points covered, comments such as “No, ye of little brain”, while possibly meant to be read as fairly harmless, denote a contempt for the ordinary masses who clearly don’t find the various points of law quite as self-evident as the barristers who have spent years studying and practising them.

It brought to mind the scene in the film ‘Emma’, in which Emma, exasperated at Miss Bates’ annoying wittering, and attempting to show off to others present, cuts her down with a particularly cruel retort, and is afterwards firmly reprimanded by Mr Knightly.  “Badly done, Emma” he says to her, going on to point out that such remarks may be acceptable when directed towards an equal but in the case of Miss Bates “her situation being in every way below you should secure your compassion”.

I completely sympathise with, and understand, the frustration felt by whoever wrote that blog – as well as the irresistible urge to display their superior wit and intelligence in expressing it.  I’m not immune to such behaviour myself and have on a number of occasions over my years working in corporate environments, been told off by managers for being unnecessarily cutting in email exchanges with those who I felt were being unforgivably stupid.   It takes a very strong will to resist the urge to fire off a sharp retort to what is seen as a ridiculous question, particularly when posed by somebody for whom one already has little patience.

I also understand that the usual readership of the Secret Barrister is probably fairly well-educated, very few of them supporters of Tommy Robinson, and most of those regular readers would have well appreciated the barbs aimed at those still calling for his release.  It is these regular readers the blog is written for – and the majority of them will see no issue with it.

But what the whole debacle over Robinson’s arrest has highlighted, is the widening gulf between the ordinary British (and European, and American) public whose everyday experience of life is so very different from those occupying positions of relative power within the legal, political or media professions.  The reasons for Robinson’s arrest may have been immediately self-evident to those working in those professions, but far less so to those who have never had any experience of the law, or set foot inside a courtroom.   Yes, some of those calling for Tommy Robinson’s release probably are racists – but the large majority of them are ordinary citizens who simply can’t understand how somebody can be arrested, tried and imprisoned within a matter of hours simply for filming on the street outside a courtroom.

With everybody crying out for explanations, this could have been the perfect opportunity to narrow the gap in understanding between those in the legal profession and those outside.  For those such as myself, who already understood most of the points covered and simply needed a few minor misconceptions cleared up, it did the job perfectly.  But by talking down to, and insulting, those who most would have benefited from reading it in its entirety, the greater opportunity was lost.  Great, informative blog, Secret Barrister – but badly done.

Posted in grooming gangs, politics, social media | Tagged , , | 10 Comments

A Political Powder-Keg?

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Is there any more surreal a depiction of the strange times in which we are living, than the sight of the actress and comedian Roseanne Barr tweeting the actor James Woods to ask him to get involved in the case of Tommy Robinson, arrested and imprisoned two days ago for filming himself accosting defendants in a grooming gang case outside Leeds Crown Court?

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On the one hand, this sort of celebrity activism is to be applauded.  With their large social media followings, celebrities such as Roseanne and James Woods are able to direct public scrutiny to issues that maybe are not getting the media attention they deserve.

On the other hand, the recent case of Alfie Evans showed all too alarmingly how quickly an already fraught situation can escalate when celebrities in the United States start tweeting about political and social matters in the United Kingdom without first gaining a true understanding of the situation.   People whipped up into a frenzy by misinformation and wild accusations, turning up at Alder Hey hospital, threatening staff and intimidating other patients, were surely not what those celebrities had in mind when they first got involved.

The current Tommy Robinson situation is a political and social powder-keg on the brink of explosion.  UK media, constrained by reporting restrictions put in place by the judge, are unable to report on anything but the bare details of Mr Robinson’s arrest. Tens of thousands of people, though, have already watched his arrest on Twitter, as he was livestreaming it at the time it took place.  Mr Robinson’s fans are demanding to know what is going on, and thousands of them have already marched down Whitehall in protest, demanding his release.  At the time of writing, a petition calling for Theresa May to free Mr Robinson, had gathered over 207,000 signatures.

A few media outlets in the United States and Canada are more than happy to leap in and try to fill the gap in information by reporting the ‘facts’ as they know them to their hundreds of thousands of followers.   The problem being that most of the ‘facts’ being presented are nothing more than wild conjecture, based primarily on what appears to be complete lack of public knowledge about what reporting restrictions mean, and why they are imposed.

The basic facts, which are not in dispute, are that Tommy Robinson was outside Leeds Crown Court, livestreaming himself doorstepping defendants in a grooming gang case.  As there were reporting restrictions in place on the case in question, his actions were illegal.  He was arrested, bundled into a police van and taken away to an immediate hearing where it is being suggested that he was sentenced to 13 months in prison.  The reason for his immediate hearing and sentencing was because he was already serving a suspended 3 month sentence for a similar offence – the sentence had been suspended for 18 months on the basis that he did not repeat the offence, so by breaking the terms of that suspension he was liable to immediate imprisonment.

What seems to have really inflamed matters is that the judge who heard Mr Robinson’s case, subsequently imposed reporting restrictions on his case, to remain in place until the conclusion of the underlying cases on which he had been reporting.  An initial online newspaper report in the Mirror, about Mr Robinson’s arrest, was promptly taken down, prompting howls of outrage from those who had already watched the arrest on Twitter and who are now convinced that the establishment is trying to silence Mr Robinson.   The gloating of far-left activists, expressing the wish that he will be repeatedly raped or murdered while in prison, has only enraged and further alarmed his fans, with many of them tweeting that he has effectively been sentenced to death.

The facts that do not appear to be widely known, are these.  Firstly, where reporting restrictions are put in place, this is done so at the request of the prosecution – and the restrictions are usually in place only for the duration of the trial.  Once the verdicts are returned, the restrictions are lifted and the media are free to report on the case.   The issue with the case on which Mr Robinson was reporting, is that the verdicts have not yet been returned – hence the restrictions are still in place.

Nazir Afzal, the prosecutor in the Rochdale grooming gang trials, explained in a couple of hasty tweets that the Rochdale case almost collapsed because of a far-right communication during the trial, which the defendants claimed had prejudiced their jury.  The reason for reporting restrictions being in place is to prevent the defendants, if convicted, from having any recourse to a claim that their jury was unfairly prejudiced.  So by deliberately flouting the reporting restrictions, Mr Robinson, despite what may have been good intentions, was doing nothing other than harming the chances of a successful prosecution.

Secondly, for all those arguing that Mr Robinson wasn’t in breach of reporting restrictions because he wasn’t inside the court – the restrictions prevent the reporting of any information about the case, from either inside or outside.  The fact that Mr Robinson was outside the court is irrelevant – by livestreaming his report to the many thousands of followers of his website, he was breaking the law.

Thirdly, to all those peddling conspiracy theories that the mainstream media is trying to cover up reports of grooming gang trials and that Mr Robinson is the only ‘honest’ journalist prepared to report on such cases – it’s quite the opposite. The mainstream media are bound to follow the law and are simply respecting the reporting restrictions – Mr Robinson cannot call himself a journalist if he is not prepared to follow the same rule of law that binds other journalists.

The one very valid question that is repeatedly being asked on Twitter is – why is it that when a celebrity such as Rolf Harris, Stuart Hall or Max Clifford faces charges of paedophilia, the media are encouraged to report widely on the matter “in order to encourage more victims to come forward”, yet when it’s a grooming gang case, there always seems to be a media blackout?   I do not have an answer to this – hopefully once the verdicts are returned in the Leeds cases and the  reporting restrictions are lifted, somebody in the media will address this question with the Crown Prosecution Service.

The timing of all of this could not be worse.  A bank holiday weekend when people have more than enough time on their hands to fire off angry tweets and to turn up at mass protests in London and Leeds, when the courts are closed so nothing can be done to expedite the verdicts in the grooming gang cases and so allow the lifting of the reporting restrictions.  A few limited reports of Mr Robinson’s arrest have now appeared in the UK press – presumably allowed on the basis that they don’t disclose any information that is not already publicly available, and published with the intention of calming down conspiracy theorists, but to very little effect.

Jack Posobiec – described by Wikipedia as an “alt-right internet troll and conspiracy theorist” has leapt on the situation and has been repeatedly tweeting support for Robinson to his 326,000 followers, even suggesting that Donald Trump should offer him asylum.  How long, I wonder, before Trump responds?

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It’s not just commentators in the United States and Canada who are watching, either.  Geert Wilders in the Netherlands has fired off multiple tweets about Mr Robinson’s arrest, and in Australia, senator Pauline Hanson, with 37,000 followers, has got in on the action with this tweet:

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I wonder – with the world’s media and celebrities watching, what state will this situation have reached by the time courts resume on Tuesday?  Is it too much to hope that everybody will just take a breath, calm down and spend the weekend with their families, trusting that many journalists in the UK are just as desperate to report on this story as everybody else is to read about it?

Posted in grooming gangs, politics | Tagged | Leave a comment

An Unequal Justice – and an Unequal Legacy

Two young men with their whole lives ahead of them.  One stabbed to death while waiting for a bus – for being black.  The other abducted, stabbed repeatedly, doused in petrol and set on fire – for being white.

We all know about Stephen Lawrence.  His murder, his parents’ long and tireless fight for justice, and the institutional racism within the Metropolitan Police that was uncovered by the two inquiries into the handling of his case, will never be forgotten. Especially now that Theresa May has announced that an annual memorial day has been established in his honour.  From 2019 onwards, 22 April each year will be “Stephen Lawrence Day” – a day dedicated specifically to the teenager’s life and legacy.

But how many others, I wonder – like me – had never heard of Kriss Donald? How is it that his brutal murder in 2004, at age 15, does not attract the same level of attention?  How is it that his name can be forgotten so easily? Why – as many people are demanding on social media – is there no annual day dedicated to his life and legacy?

The obvious answer, of course, is that his death, while horrific and deplorable, did not leave the same legacy because his killers were brought to justice relatively quickly.  His mother did not have to spend years fighting for her son’s death to be taken seriously by a police force that has since been found to have been institutionally racist.  Despite the fact that three of the men responsible for Kriss’s death tried to escape justice by fleeing to Pakistan, they were arrested, brought back to Britain, tried and convicted within 2 years of the murder.

Contrast that to the 18 years it took for any convictions to take place in the case of Stephen Lawrence – and even then, only two of the five alleged killers were found guilty.   It was the long and tireless fight for justice by Stephen’s parents – and the subsequent investigations into police corruption and institutional racism within the police force – that ensured Stephen’s case remained headline news for so long.   And who can forget the Daily Mail’s front-page accusation and invitation to the alleged killers to sue them?

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But if “Stephen Lawrence Day” is truly about the impact that his murder had on policing and society, then why do we not have a memorial day for other shocking murders that have similarly had a permanent impact on our laws and society?

Take the Dunblane massacre, for example.  In March 1996, 16 children and one teacher were killed by a single gunman, Thomas Hamilton, who then turned the gun on himself.  The massacre shocked the local community and the entire country, and led to a permanent change in British gun ownership laws.  In February 1997, Parliament passed a law banning private ownership of any gun over .22 calibre, and in November 1997 this was extended to all handguns.  There has not been a school shooting in the United Kingdom since.

Or the Soham murders in 2002, in which two 10 year-old schoolgirls, Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, were abducted and killed by the paedophile Ian Huntley. The discovery that Ian Huntley had previously been investigated for sexual offences, yet had still managed to get a job working as a caretaker at the school that Holly and Jessica attended, led to the introduction of a host of new child protection measures and a permanent change in the way data was shared between police forces via the national police database.

And what about Milly Dowler?  The manner of her death, and the time it took to identify and convict her killer, were distressing enough – but far worse was the revelation that an investigator for the News of the World had hacked her mobile phone voicemail messages during the time that she was missing, even deleting some of the messages, giving false hope to her parents that she may still be alive.  The revelations led to the Leveson Inquiry, which had permanent repercussions for press freedom.

So why is there no annual “Milly Dowler Day”?  No annual “Dunblane Massacre Day”?  No annual “Holly and Jessica Day”?

I suspect what it boils down to, is that nobody has thought to ask for such a day. Just as nobody has asked for a Lee Rigby Day, or a Damilola Taylor Day, or a day to commemorate any of the other shocking and senseless murders of young people that take place in Britain on what feels like an increasingly regular basis.

Ultimately, it comes down to the victims’ families to decide if they wish to be left alone to grieve and to try to move on with their lives, or if they wish to dedicate their lives to campaigning to ensure their children are never forgotten.

Most families – once their son’s or daughter’s killers have been brought to justice – choose the former route.  Doreen Lawrence – largely due to the fact that she had to fight for so long to even get any kind of justice for Stephen – has clearly chosen the latter.

It is inevitable that the singling out of Stephen Lawrence for a special day of commemoration has provoked mixed reactions.  I admit my initial reaction was disbelief – how, I wondered, could the government so blatantly single out one murder victim over and above all others? How could this not be a red rag to those who believe that we have a two-tier justice system that simply does not acknowledge racism against white people?   Or to those who believe that our media and justice system are too much focused on issues of race, and not sufficiently focused on tackling equally important issues such as knife crime, gang violence, terrorism and paedophilia, all of which account for far more murders than does racial violence.

Kriss Donald’s mother, to my knowledge, has never asked for a national day of commemoration for her son.  She has repeatedly refused to engage in any attempts to use her son’s murder as an excuse to stir up racial hatred – appealing for calm in the days following his murder and asking people not to target the Asian community in response to the actions of “five men, full of hate”.

If a national day of commemoration is what allows Stephen’s parents to finally move on with their lives, then I am all for it.  I just wish the announcement had been presented with a bit more thought as to how it would be received by those who do not automatically see why his death, above all others, should receive so much attention.

Posted in identity politics, politics | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments