Alice Mahon quits Labour

A former MP and Labour Party member for half a century, she just couldn’t take it anymore:

Alice Mahon, a Halifax MP for 18 years and a party member for more than 50 years, has resigned her membership of the party saying she can no longer stomach how it operates.

In her letter to the Halifax Constituency Labour Party she criticises the Prime Minister saying he has shown zero contrition over privatising public services and failed to tackle the excesses of the bankers.

And she heaps scorn on the Welfare Reform Bill saying: “This Labour Government should hang its head in shame for inflicting this on the British public just as we face the most severe recession any of us have experienced in a lifetime.”

Mrs Mahon, 71, a trenchant critic of Tony Blair’s government, says she had hoped that under Mr Brown’s stewardship “we might go back to being a really progressive and caring party” but “in the event I could not have been more wrong”.

And she says the recent scandal over emails sent by Mr Brown’s special adviser, Damian McBride, proposing a blogging site smearing top Tories left her feeling “sickened”.

She told the Yorkshire Post: “My stepdaughter Rachel said to me: ‘How could they do that to people like David Cameron and his wife Samantha when they had recently lost their son Ivan? What kind of people think it would be a good idea to smear them?’

“I was sickened by that – that is not the Labour Party that I joined all those years ago.”

In the letter she said: “This has been a difficult decision to take as I feel I was almost born into the Labour Party. However, I can no longer be a member of a party that at the leadership level has betrayed many of the values and principles that inspired me as a teenager to join.”

Other targets include the Government’s alleged co-operation with the George Bush regime.

And she adds: “Our ministers shame us in front of the world when they give their support to the Israeli Government as they commit war crimes in Palestine and Lebanon.

“Brown has just announced plans to send another 900 troops to Afghanistan, billions to be spent on an unwinnable war and pensioners dare not turn on their heating because this Government will not tackle the energy fat cats.”

She also fulminates against the “despicable” treatment of Janet Oosthuysen, a mother-of-three who won a close contest to stand as a prospective Parliamentary candidate in Calder Valley last year only to be deselected by the National Executive Committee, over a police caution after her former partner’s car was damaged. She contrasted the NEC’s actions with its silence over the Home Secretary’s expenses row.

She said: “My final reason for leaving the party is because it is no longer democratic. The personally vindictive, dishonest, campaign played out on the pages of the tabloids by certain Labour Party members to deselect Janet Oosthuysen was despicable…

“Quite simply I have had it with New Labour.”

The threat of good deeds: why did the police arrest aid convoy men?

The state broadcaster bans a charitable appeal on behalf of charities raising funds to help Gaza residents rebuild after Israel’s attack – for fear of being associated with criticism of the “good terrorism” carried out by the UK’s ally.

Now those travelling to Gaza to deliver aid to people who have been bombed are targeted by police as though they were about to bomb people! (If only there was the same readiness to seize weapons destined for Israel!)

All of the men arrested have been released without charge. The action taken by police looks suspiciously like an Islamophobic media stunt designed to smear the Viva Palestina convoy and feed into the hysteria about Muslims that the corporate media are drumming up.

Preston’s socialist councillor Michael Lavalette wants answers:

The three Burnley men arrested on Friday night under anti-terror legislation were today (Thursday) released without charge. The men had been held for six days in a secure detention centre in Manchester. The men were arrested on Friday as they drove to join the ‘Viva Palestina’ convoy taking humanitarian aid to Gaza.

Also arrested, as part of the same operation, were six men from Blackburn. They were kept isolated in police vans for 7 hours before being released without charge. Some of those from Blackburn were religious scholars.

The arrests and the treatment of the men in question raise serious questions about policing in Lancashire and about the ‘targeting’ of both the Gaza Convoy and Muslim men in the region. There are serious questions that now need to be answered from Lancashire constabulary. Questions like:

1. Who ordered the stop and arrest of the 9 men?

2. What evidence of ‘wrong-doing’ did the police have?

3. Why (given the fact that the convoy organisers submitted all the names, passport and visa details of those on the convoy) did the police not act sooner if they had ‘real’ or ’significant’ concerns?

4. Who provided the police with the (now obviously flawed) ‘evidence’ that suggested the men were involved in wrong-doing?

5. This was clearly a national police operation. Who led the operation? Did it have Government clearance?

The suspicion is that this was a politically motivated operation to disrupt the convoy. Where are the Labour Ministers on television or in the press defending their operation and explaining the actions that were taken?

The Gaza Convoy is a humanitarian mission and the men travelling from Lancashire had vehicles that were laden with gifts from children in our area for the children of Gaza. The disruption of this trip is nothing short of a disgrace.

George Galloway condemned the timing of the arrests, the arrests themselves and the deliberate efforts of the police to create a story in the press the purposes of which appears to have been to discredit the aid convoy to Gaza. Viva Palestina reports that there was a drop of 80% in donations following the broadcast of the arrests and the police allegations on the BBC on Saturday afternoon.

“Nine innocent people were prevented by the police from joining our convoy with vital aid to meet the humanitarian crisis in Gaza,” said George Galloway this afternoon.

“The follow up action by the police, which has apparently included the strip-searching of an Imam and his wife in their own home in Blackburn, has gravely damaged their relations with the community whose trust they need to win.

“Anyone with any sense can see that it is in everyone’s interest to encourage Britain’s Muslim community to engage themselves in democratic politics. That is precisely what this convoy – and the huge political, and humanitarian effort throughout Britain’s often alienated Muslim communities which lies behind it – is about.

“To arrest innocent men in such a provocative and hyped operation will achieve precisely the opposite of that engagement. The timing of the operation is seen locally as an attempt to smear and intimidate the
Muslim community and I must say they seem to be right.

“The arrests were clearly deliberately timed for the eve of the departure of the convoy. Photographs of the high-profile snatch on the M65 were immediately fed to the press to maximise the newsworthiness
of the smear that was being perpetrated on the convoy” said Galloway.

“I am writing to the Chief Constable of Lancashire to demand an explanation and will consult Viva Palestina’s lawyers with a view to seeking compensation for the real financial and public relations damage we have suffered as a result. I will also be writing to the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, to demand action against those who seem to have abused their power and authority as a police officers to produce this really damaging outcome.”

But the events of the last week also raises another significant issue. For the last two years the Government has attempted to divide the Muslim community in this country by launching a programme called Preventing Violent Extremism (PVE). PVE has come with substantial sums of money that can be directed towards projects aimed at stopping ‘extremism’. The funded projects have been varied (and its certainly the case that there is a need for ‘good projects’ in our city and amongst the poorest communities). But PVE isn’t about providing services. Its about obtaining surveillance and criminalising sections of the Muslim community.

For example, how is an potential extremist defined? People who fall under suspicion include those who have an interest in global politics (so opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or opposition to the murderous regime in Israel could lead to someone being identified as a potential ’extremist’.) Of course that could include someone like me – but I’m not subject to PVE surveillance because I’m not Muslim, and this is the crux – its the combination of the political interest with the religious beliefs and style of dress of the individual that marks them out as ’suspicious’; and its one reason why converts to Islam are particularly targetted. Here is the Government’s own document PVE – A Strategy for Delivery (May 2008), which states that:

“The most severe terrorist threat currently comes from individuals and groups who distort Islam. … It is
not the role of Government to seek to change a religion. However, where theology is being distorted to justify violent extremist rhetoric or activity and threaten both Muslims and non-Muslims, Government should reinforce faith understanding and thereby build resilience.”

PVE is actually an extension of the ‘war on terror’. Its intention is to isolate the ‘enemy within’. In this form it is no different to other historic strategies of ‘divide and rule’ that the British state has used to isolate and intimidate minorities such as the Irish community in the 1970s or Communist Party members at the hieght of the Cold War.

PVE was piloted in a number of places across Britain – including Preston and Reading. Both these areas were included because police sources argued they were ‘hotbeds’ of extremism – though there is no evidence of this being the case in Preston at all (there have been no high profile ‘terror’ arrests in Preston and there is no network of ‘political islamists’ in the city.)

In Preston one of the major PVE interventions is called the Channel Project. Here is what the police have to say about it:

“The Channel Project is all about supporting vulnerable individuals. It is a local and community-based initiative between the police, local authority and the local community. The project takes referrals from a number of sources on individuals that may be vulnerable to becoming involved in violent extremism. A joint risk assessment of each individual case is then made by project members and any issues of concern are identified. A programme of intervention tailored to the needs of the individual is then developed and implemented. Involvement of community partners is key. They will have expertise and insight into the process of assessment, referral and intervention. This process will make the vulnerable person confident
in their rejection and condemnation of violence. If you would like to know more about this initiative.”

The language used makes it seem almost ’social workesque’! The ‘needs’ of ‘vulnerable individuals’; a ‘programme of intervention’ etc. You have to stop for a minute to realise that all of this is being done without the knowledge, input or consent of the ‘vulnerable individual’! (Their ‘vulnerability’ remember is opposition or hostility to the imperial policies of the British state combined with the fact that they are Muslim!)

But of greater concern is their claim that they take ‘referrals from a range of people’ (people with a grudge? spies in the community? the security services? who?) and that ‘involved community partners’ are key.

There is an old saying that ‘there is no such thing as a free lunch’. The ‘involvement of the key community players’ essentially means those that have taken funding for their projects – certainly that was the indication of what was happening in Derby and Reading (two PVE areas featured on Panorama on Monday evening): once the projects get their funding the police and security services come calling asking ’surveillance’ questions.

The PVE agenda brings a ‘dirty money’ reward to a few ‘community leaders’, but in the process it turns them into an outreach of the security services. The events of last week-end and the harassment faced by 9 innocent Muslim men in Lancashire should bring to an end this form of ‘engagement’.

Police state in the UK?

A former securocrat issues a warning:

Dame Stella Rimington, the former head of MI5, has warned that the fear of terrorism is being exploited by the Government to erode civil liberties and risks creating a police state.

Dame Stella accused ministers of interfering with people’s privacy and playing straight into the hands of terrorists.

“Since I have retired I feel more at liberty to be against certain decisions of the Government, especially the attempt to pass laws which interfere with people’s privacy,” Dame Stella said in an interview with a Spanish newspaper.

“It would be better that the Government recognised that there are risks, rather than frightening people in order to be able to pass laws which restrict civil liberties, precisely one of the objects of terrorism: that we live in fear and under a police state,” she said.

But wait – there’s more! International criticism now:

In a further blow to ministers, an international study by lawyers and judges accused countries such as Britain and America of “actively undermining” the law through the measures they have introduced to counter terrorism.

The report, by the International Commission of Jurists, said: “The failure of states to comply with their legal duties is creating a dangerous situation wherein terrorism, and the fear of terrorism, are undermining basic principles of international human rights law.”

The report claimed many measures introduced were illegal and counter-productive and that legal systems put in place after the Second World War were well equipped to handle current threats. Arthur Chaskelson, the chairman of the report panel, said: “In the course of this inquiry, we have been shocked by the damage done over the past seven years by excessive or abusive counter-terrorism measures in a wide range of countries around the world.

“Many governments, ignoring the lessons of history, have allowed themselves to be rushed into hasty responses to terrorism that have undermined cherished values and violated human rights.’’

These warnings aren’t being heeded. In fact the nebulous category of “extremist” is to be broadened:

The government is considering plans that would lead to thousands more British Muslims being branded as extremists, the Guardian has learned. The proposals are in a counterterrorism strategy which ministers and security officials are drawing up that is due to be unveiled next month.

Some say the plans would see views held by most Muslims in Britain being classed by the government as extreme.

According to a draft of the strategy, Contest 2 as it is known in Whitehall, people would be considered as extremists if:

• They advocate a caliphate, a pan-Islamic state encompassing many countries.

• They promote Sharia law.

• They believe in jihad, or armed resistance, anywhere in the world. This would include armed resistance by Palestinians against the Israeli military.

• They argue that Islam bans homosexuality and that it is a sin against Allah.

• They fail to condemn the killing of British soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Contest 2 would widen the definition of extremists to those who hold views that clash with what the government defines as shared British values. Those who advocate the wider definition say hardline Islamist interpretation of the Qur’an leads to views that are the root cause of the terrorism threat Britain faces. But opponents say the strategy would brand the vast majority of British Muslims as extremists and alienate them even further.

This counter-terrorism “mission creep” into the realm of politics is worrying. Not least because it will be counter-productive.

If the government truly wanted to tackle violent extremism it would pull our armed forces out of Iraq and Afghanistan.

This would also be a hugely popular move – most especially for military families who are seeing their loved ones killed and injured in conflicts that can only make us less safe.

Royal Mail sell-off could cost New Labour a fortune

I think it’s a given that privatising Royal Mail will be a disaster for its workers and customers.

Now it’s clear that it will cost New Labour financial and political support from the Communication Workers Union – who last disaffiliated from Labour in 1927 after the general strike!

No doubt, other unions would be minded to follow the CWU like those in dispute with employers – and the government! – over social dumping in the construction industry.

Leaked plans reveal that Royal Mail’s millionaire bosses want to sack 10% of the workforce.

The Morning Star comments:

Wrecking Royal Mail
(Friday 06 February 2009)

WHOEVER invented the word “modernisation” has some serious explaining to do.

For starters, isn’t progress supposed to make things better? If so, why does modernisation, an idea so beloved of new Labour drones and incompetent businessmen, always seem to involve taking something that works and smashing it to pieces?

Royal Mail is far from the only example of such modernisation – tried taking a train recently? – but it’s one of the worst.

A public service that was among the finest in the world has been reduced to a pale shadow of its former self by a stream of “modernising” cuts. Two reliable and punctual deliveries a day have become one deeply unreliable delivery. Some 2,500 post offices are closing and thousands more could follow, with devastating effects on communities across Britain.

Staff are being burdened with ridiculous workloads as a result of 50,000 job losses in recent years.

And now Royal Mail bosses are planning another round of cutbacks, aiming to slash 10 per cent off costs despite the firm’s soaring profits.

The Communication Workers Union, whose members are working flat out to maintain standards at Royal Mail, calls the cuts “panic measures that will hit the quality of service.”

The union is right, but the cuts are not just about boosting profits in the current crisis.

They are part of plans to fatten up Royal Mail for private-sector consumption, doling out the profitable slices to big business while leaving the taxpayer to subsidise the loss-making parts such as the post office network.

This has long been a goal of new Labour and the privatisation-obsessed regulator Postcomm, starting when postal services were opened to private competition in 2006 – a measure which has benefited only big business at the expense of smaller firms and the public.

Lord Mandelson’s plan to privatise part of Royal Mail is a shove that will send the postal service tumbling down a very slippery slope.

Along that slope lies more and more cost-cutting and more and more “modernisation,” until Royal Mail lies in ruins at the bottom.

It’s an extreme threat that needs extreme measures to counter. So the CWU is right to take a bold stance in defence of this vital service by threatening to break its links with Labour if privatisation is pushed through. This is not a step that any union would take lightly. But what else is it to do, after so many betrayals by what is supposed to be the party of working people?

New Labour has allowed, even encouraged Royal Mail bosses to slash jobs and standards left, right and centre. It raised no objection when Postcomm ordered the “liberalisation” of mail delivery far quicker than required by the EU postal directive.

Now, ministers are backtracking on their 2005 manifesto commitment and defying their party’s own official policy by inviting the private sector to cash in on Royal Mail at everyone else’s expense.

New Labour has proved time and time again that it will not listen to the public, will not listen to its own members, will not listen to the unions which founded the party and which provide so much of its financial and campaigning muscle.

It will not listen to the overwhelming evidence that privatisation has been an utter failure across the public services and will be a disaster for Royal Mail.

We hope the CWU’s threat to disaffiliate is the shock therapy ministers need to jolt them back into reality.

Israel occupies BBC?

As everyone knows, the Disasters Emergency Committee is made up of the following extremist organisations:

Action Aid, British Red Cross, CAFOD, CARE International UK, Christian Aid, Concern Worldwide, Help the Aged, Islamic Relief, Merlin, Oxfam, Save the Children, Tearfund, and World Vision

Give these people a few minutes air-time to talk about the humanitarian situation in Gaza and they’ll be ranting and raving about Zionist imperialism, waving rocket-launchers in the air, and calling on us to send money to Hamas. So, it’s understandable that the BBC would want to avoid giving air time to such lunacy?

No, obviously this is ridiculous.

The DEC hasn’t been turned down in the past, even when aid was difficult to administer, even when the politics were iffy – the BBC aired their appeal for the public to donate towards providing aid to people in need of assistance. So it’s good to hear that there’s uproar about the BBC’s failure to give a few minutes to inform people of how they can help people in need.

ITV, Channel 4, and Five have all agreed to broadcast the appeal, after initially following the BBC’s lead. (As yet, Sky is unconfirmed – presumably waiting to see if the BBC holds the line.)

Tim Llewellyn, former Middle East correspondent for the BBC, sees the corporation’s decision as a betrayal of public service values:

Caroline Thomson, [...] said that one reason was that “the BBC’s impartiality was in danger of being damaged”. Could the BBC be sure, she added, that money raised for this cause would find its way to the right people?

How is the BBC’s impartiality to be prejudiced by asking others to raise money for the victims of an act of war by a recognised state, an ally of Britain, using the most lethal armaments it can against a defenceless population? What sly little trigger went off in her head when Thomson questioned whether the aid would reach the right people? What right people? Hamas, the elected representatives of the Palestinian people? The hospitals and clinics run by private charities and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency? The mosques? The citizens of Gaza, persecuted beyond measure not only by their Israeli enemies but by the western powers who arm and sustain Israel and defy the democratic vote of the Palestinian people?

Is Thomson more fussed about some imaginary “war on terror” that even the new White House is shying away from than she is about upholding the free speech and freedom of action of the corporation?

[...]

The big question that remains is this: what are the suits scared of? Why do BBC managers try to second-guess our government and even outreach it in grovelling to the United States and Israel?

BBC journalists, extant and retired, not the “usual suspects”, not disaffected radicals and high-octane lefties, are incandescent with rage over this extraordinary piece of institutional cowardice.

Should we be all that surprised? The Director General bravely met with Ariel Sharon for “peace talks” (no, really) in 2005.

Here’s Tony Benn, making an appeal at the Beeb:

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