Nadine Dorries. Those two words make me want to tear my hair out. I know I’ve harped on about her quite a lot but if she shut her vile, hypocritical, Bible-bashing gob, maybe I could stop wanting to break things every time I hear her name.
Now Dorries is claiming that she has never met a gay couple that wants to get married, and because of this, the equal marriage policy should be ditched. So, can we then assume that she has met every gay couple in the country? And how about gay singles: do they not want to get married eventually either? Apparently only heterosexual people want to get married.
According to Dorries, “Gay marriage is a policy which has been pursued by the metro elite gay activists and needs to be put into the same bin […] Gay couples are no different from heterosexual couples and yet this policy transforms them into political agitators who have set themselves against the church and community.” She is essentially blaming gay activists who are campaigning for equal marriage for attacks on the gay community, both verbal and physical. She is blaming every gay person who has been rejected by adoption panels – they’re unhappy because they are gay. Every gay person who has been abused in the street by small-minded, pig-ignorant, small-c conservatives, every gay person who has ended up in a hospital bed or, worse, a mortuary, having been beaten or knifed; it’s their fault because they’re gay. Gays are too vocal and that is why bad things happen to them. She is, essentially, blaming every minority out there for the extreme inequality which is propelled by the press and religious institutions in this country.
Gay people who are campaigning for equal marriage are setting themselves up against the Church. Does it matter? The state and the church are SEPARATE in this country!
And who is Dorries to claim to promote and protect Christianity and the “institution of marriage” when she divorced in 2007 and then had an affair with a married man?!
After all, correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t adultery verboten? I’m pretty sure God would be less than pleased that she has torn families apart.
So, I’ve chuntered on about gay campaigners quite a bit. But what about straight people who are campaigning for equal marriage? Me, for instance. I’m a straight girl, campaigning for gay people’s right to get married. Am I setting myself up against the church and the state? Am I inviting homophobic thugs to attack me? I have thought about what it would be like to get married, where it would happen, what I would wear. I’ve thought about the perfect man who I will spend the rest of my life with and have a family with. I’m pretty sure every person in this country – gay, straight, bisexual, undecided – has thought about it at least once. Everyone should have the right to turn those dreams into a reality. Equal marriage would have no impact on the church whatsoever. A gay, married couple will not have an impact on “the wider community”. A marriage is between two people, not the world and its mistress (and yes, Mad Nad, the mistress is you.)
But according to Dorries, everyone should just shut up, stop moaning, and conform to a white, heterosexual, middle-class image because complaining about problems is bad and we should all look like we live in a happy, fuzzy, old England world, untainted by sex, drugs and rock’n’roll, so that the rest of the world can continue to think of Great Britain as a postcard. So that we look like a bunch of God-fearing, unemotional, stiff-upper-lipped drones. Well. Tell you what, Dorries, why don’t you fuck off to an abandoned island somewhere far away and set up your Brave New World of indoctrinated, drugged up, “happy” drones? This is no longer a case of “Should Dorries be disciplined?” it’s a case of “Should a mute button be implanted on her so that we no longer have to listen to the cascade of nonsense that drips out of this batshit crazy woman’s mouth?”
And in case you’re wondering, the answer is “yes. Of course. Has that not happened yet? Why has that not happened yet?”
One of my favourite pastimes is finding reasons to dislike Nadine Dorries. Luckily for me, the woman never fails to give me ammunition: so you can imagine my glee this morning at finding out she has been slagging Cameron and Osborne off to the Beeb. Now, don’t get me wrong, I find both of them to be despicable, slimy creatures and almost agree with what Dorries said (SHOCK! HORROR!) but let’s be real, Nadine, should you really be taking jabs at your party leader like that in such a public way?
Let’s take a step back and look at the situation and what it really means. Forget that we are talking about the Conservatives, forget that the topic of this interview was Cameron and Osborne; hell, forget that the interviewee is an insane, right-wing, anti-feminist, anti-abortionist who would like to see women’s rights controlled by the state. For the sake of objectivity, let’s call the governing party the Nutters, and refer to Cameron, Osborne, and Dorries as X, Y, and Z, respectively.
For any large party which is in and out of power, to look (and actually be) united is vital. You cannot expect the electorate to want to vote for you if you can’t keep your party, your MPs and your supporters together. For a leader to make it to Number 10, he or she needs support, first and foremost, from his or her party. For an MP to criticise the leader of their party whilst out of government is bad. For an MP to do so while said leader is also the leader of the country, the representative of the UK on an international platform, the face of this country during tough economic or political climes, is disastrous. Yet Z has criticised the leader of the Nutters as well as its economic mastermind (remember, I am not referring to Osborne here, obviously; just any potential Chancellor of the Exchequer). However, this isn’t what made me laugh/cringe the most.
So what exactly did Dorries say about Cameron and Osborne? When prompted by the interviewer (who asked if she thought Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Idiot were just two posh boys who didn’t know the price of milk) she declared:
“Not only are they two posh boys who don’t know the price of milk, they are two arrogant posh boys who show no remorse, no contrition and no passion to want to understand the lives of others.”
Nadine, you have absolutely no arguments from me on this one. David and George have indeed shown themselves to be selfish, arrogant and uncaring. I do not believe they understand how a family of six living in a two-bed council flat scrapes by week to week, how a severely disabled man who lost the movement from his neck down in a motorcycle crash and is facing having his benefits slashed feels or how civil servants so scared of losing their jobs and working full-time hours on part-time pay feel. Nor do I believe they can really care unless they’ve experienced any of this for themselves.
HOWEVER, while she was speaking, I found myself screaming “POT! KETTLE! BLACK!!!” This is the ARROGANT woman who wrote an article saying that Cameron had texted her to apologise for “humiliating” her in the House of Common; the politician who showed NO REMORSE in declaring that girls (and only girls) should receive abstinence lessons; the idiot who has NO PASSION TO UNDERSTAND THE LIVES OF OTHERS, who felt it was fine to strip abortion centres of their rights to provide counselling to women.
In September of last year, I wrote an article entitled “Should Dorries Be Disciplined?”. The answer to that question, in my opinion, is still a definite and resounding “YES, PLEASE GOD, JUST GET RID OF THE WOMAN!”
I almost feel sorry for Cameron. To quote the great Malcolm Tucker, the woman is an absolute clusterfuck.
Last night, Twitter was in uproar after an advert posted on an East Midlands jobseekers’ website offered a permanent position working nights at Tesco. Everything was great, but for one little catch: the position was unpaid.
In fact, to be precise, it offered ‘JSA + Expenses’. Job Seeker’s Allowance, in other words, and a few measly travel expenses.
This is wrong, isn’t it? Working for no money is bad enough, but to be asked to actively compete for the chance to do so…it sends shivers down the spine. It’s as if Tesco backed over, pulled down its trousers and demanded that the poorest and most desperate compete for the chance to kiss its arse.
And the sad thing is that people will. Because we are desperate. We’re living in a climate where there are no jobs and, it’s looking increasingly likely, no chance of any. Yet at the same time we’re living in a climate where to be unemployed is to be a ‘scrounger’, to be somehow fraudulent, to be taking state money from people who really need it. The reality of our collective situation hasn’t set in for many of us yet.
In The Road to Wigan Pier, George Orwell makes a point which was not only fairly accurate of attitudes at his time, but also scarily prescient of current attitudes, which really haven’t changed that much at all. ‘The middle classes were still talking about “lazy idle loafers on the dole”,’ he writes of the mid-Thirties, ‘and saying that “these men could all find work if they wanted to”, and naturally these opinions percolated to the working class themselves… That was the attitude towards unemployment in those days: it was a disaster which happened to you as an individual and for which you were to blame.’
Sound familiar? It should, because it’s an attitude surprisingly prevalent today. And it’s an attitude actively encouraged by the government. To quote one example of many: in October, Chris Grayling, Minister for Employment, was quoted cheerfully advising people that ‘it’s a great time to apply for one of the tens of thousands of Christmas jobs which are being advertised’ with all the gumption of a high school careers adviser. This news came shortly after the revelation that 80,000 people had applied for just 18,000 temporary Christmas jobs with Royal Mail.
Grayling seems to be implying that the main problem people have with finding employment is a stubborn refusal to get out there and look for jobs. Whilst this might be true of a small minority, it certainly isn’t true of the vast majority of people who are currently on benefits. Just look at the fact that Tesco very nearly got away with advertising a position for ‘JSA + Expenses’. People are desperate enough to work for nothing.
People – most people – want to work, in my experience. It beats sitting around watching Jeremy Kyle repeats and crying into your Weetabix, which can get a bit tedious around about the seventieth consecutive day. It beats the constant drum of worry in the back of your mind and the pit of your stomach about where this week’s money will come from and if you’ll have enough to pay for food. What’s wrong isn’t that people aren’t taking jobs; it’s that there aren’t jobs for people to take. And companies like Tesco are actively exploiting the most vulnerable by encouraging them to apply for jobs like the one that’s caused this outrage.
We need proper regulation to prevent this ever happening again. We need the minimum wage – a desperately important legislation, and one we’ve got for a reason – to be rigorously applied in all cases. We need the government to think about the poorest in society, their desperate daily struggle, rather than the profits of multi-millionaire corporations like Tesco.
We need change.
Amidst the ongoing distortion of the way in which the Human Rights Act is used, a commission has been established to ‘investigate the development of a UK Bill of Rights which incorporates and strengthens the European Human Rights Act’.
Why? Because everyone, it seems, from the Tory Party to Tony Blair, has decided that the Human Rights Act has “gone too far”. It interferes where it shouldn’t. It makes good governance impossible.
Now, I don’t know what the general understanding is of the Human Rights Act. I don’t know what people think it does in practice and why it is that way. But I think these questions are all too often over looked and are all too important.
Before 1999 we had the European Convention of Human Rights alone. This meant that if there was a human rights infringement which couldn’t be resolved under UK law, the case would have to be taken to Strasbourg, where a lengthy and costly court procedure was needed in order to receive the benefits of ECHR rights.
This resulted in massive delays and – more importantly – the Government did not abide by the ECHR without having a case brought against them. The problem was systemic: before the latest additions to the Council of Europe, the UK was the only country to have violated all the convention rights (right to life, right to torture, right to privacy) except the right not to be enslaved. The system couldn’t enforce the rights because the UK courts could not use them.
You see, in Britain we have a principle called Parliamentary Sovereignty, which means that Parliament can pass any law it wants to. This is in order to give maximum power to the present-day elected government. If we were to implement the ECHR directly into the laws of the UK, then, if Parliament passed an Act which contradicted the ECHR, that part of the Act would be invalid. That would contradict a fundamental principle of UK constitutional law. So a balancing act had to be made. Enforcing rights on the one hand; on the other, Parliament being able to pass any law it liked.
The Human Rights Act was an ideal solution: it forced state bodies, including the courts, to act within the confines of the ECHR. The effect of this would be that, should someone’s convention rights be infringed, the courts would have to uphold their complaint: if they did not do so they would not be complying with the ECHR. However, it did not strike down legislation passed by Parliament as void if it did not comply. It would merely be declared incompatible with the ECHR. This would create political – but not legal – pressure to change the law. Moreover, fast track procedures were put in place so that if a law was in conflict with human rights, it could be quickly altered.
The HRA is astonishing piece of legislation that, against a backdrop of dissent and ridicule, has become an essential part of many areas of law. It protects everybody, from the elderly who are mistreated in care homes, to victims of phone-tapping. It allows for these rights to be enforced in courts which are easily accessible and reasonably cheap; it means that you are far more likely to be able to uphold your claim in front of a court. This means that fewer abuses of human rights occur: people are protected. This is a piece of legislation of which we should be proud.
Which brings us to the modern day. In short, there has been a commission set up to investigate the possibility of a UK Bill of Rights based on the ECHR – and we need to engage with the commission, as well as being extremely wary of it. We should engage with the debate because we must sing the praises of the HRA 1999 – it brought rights to Britain which are concrete and enforceable. It provides real protection, not just to those accused of criminal offences, but to our elderly and vulnerable. In an ideal world, we could engage in the discussion and resolve to extend the HRA to include environmental rights and socio-economic rights.
But we must be wary of becoming complicit in a process which is going to destroy the principle of the HRA. A British Bill of Rights might be British in name, but it could not be British in nature. The commission’s terms of reference make no reference to the HRA but only to the ECHR. A real possibility is that the implementation of a Bill of Rights might mean that the courts lose the power to enforce ECHR rights in our own courts. Or it could mean that they lose the right to question statute on the grounds of conflict with our rights.
Given the media, the political rhetoric and the economic background surrounding this debate, we need to be very careful what we wish for. Sing the praises of the HRA; but if the question is whether we need a new bill of rights, I suggest we stick with what we have, not twist it into something far more open to abuse.
Student leaders in South Wales will urge activists, students and local residents to join a demonstration in exposing a fascist meeting held at Samlet Social Club this Thursday evening.
In an interview today, Zahid Raja, NUS Wales Black Students Officer and UAF Wales steering committee member, told us that ‘choosing Brian, a well-known proponent of fascism, to speak on faux-issues that underpin Islamaphobic propaganda suggests to me that this is a political attempt to inject divisive politics into the local community.’
Brian Gerrish, a known fascist sympathiser, will be speaking on “Are Our Children Safe? – An Investigation of Politics and Suicide Risks” at Samlet Social Club in Swansea Enterprise Park this Thursday at 7pm.
Zahid Raja went on to say, ‘Students should resist this attempt to mainstream racism and join us outside the Samlet Social Club at 6:30pm to show that local communities in Swansea reject this kind of baseless politics that fuels racism.’
Last year in March, the Student Activist Diary reported on the successful demonstration against Nick Griffin, who was invited to speak at The Globe pub in Swansea. Keeping in that spirit, we encourage you to register a polite complaint with the Samlet Social Club by writing to them here:
Samlet Social Club
Swansea Enterprise Park
or by ringing them on 01792 516239.
+++UPDATE: From the reactions to this post, our team would like to clarify some points. This demonstration was organised by UAF Wales and was supported by NUS Wales Black Students’ Campaign who made a decision to act on the information supplied by UAF Wales, most notably the nature of the subject matter for this event. The subject matter for this event was verified from Kevin Edwards blog (a former BNP member) – click here for the screen grab.+++
Usman Ali is the Vice President (Higher Education) of the National Union of Students (NUS) UK. Having previously being elected on the NUS National Executive Committee, Block of 15 in 2009, Usman is now serving his second term as VP HE. You can follow him on twitter here.
“The future belongs to those who see the possibilities before they become obvious” – John Sculley.
Our lives are built up of the choices, experiences and decisions we make. It is our learning experiences that define us as people and it’s those experiences – those opportunities – that should be open and accessible to all.
The education you receive outside the classroom is just as vital as what you receive in it. The informal learning from the friends you make from different cultures and different backgrounds; the people you meet and the impact that has on your life choices, experiences and decisions. Remove these opportunities and you take away a person’s chances.
For example, you might take away the chance for someone to join the debate society – and therefore, perhaps, to eventually become a respected politician, holding on to their values and where they have come from, whilst at the same time learning new things about the world.
The role of students’ unions in delivering on this is now more important than it has ever been before. To give back to the community – to raise the ambitions and aspirations of those around us – is a responsibility for us all. Your elected officers’ journey has been driven by their educational and social experiences. But many have not even reached the doors of university, or come close to getting any form of an education. And they are missing out on huge life-changing moments, moments that could define them as a person.
The government’s strategies, on paper, place considerable weight on the role of higher education institutions in getting working-class students into higher education. But whilst widening participation may be the avenue to upward social mobility it does not automatically create it. Simply put, the student movement now needs to deliver to the communities that have been hit the hardest by the changes in the higher education landscape.
We need to question our role as students’ unions in the context of the time we are in and the challenges we face. Aimhigher research shows us that what potential students remember the most is not the campus visit, or the buildings. It’s the interaction with real students. I honestly believe that we all have positive stories to tell, stories that might inspire people to go to university or a college. Our sports teams, our societies, our volunteers should all be out in the local community, displaying through our actions the value of higher education.
But it’s not just about our outreach work; it’s also about our in-reach work. One of the key reasons why extra-curricular activities are so important is that they develop and enhance people’s cultural capital. Someone’s lifestyle choices develop through experiences as I mentioned earlier. Getting involved in the students’ union and its activities is not background-neutral. In fact, as well as economic and social factors, a large part of why students get involved is their previous cultural experiences.
Studies show that students from working-class backgrounds choose a university based on the knowledge or cultural and social capital they have. I have always argued that if twenty percent of the students at a given institution are from “widening participation” backgrounds, but only two to three percent of those students are involved in the union, is that not more socially exclusive than the institution itself?
I would argue that, unfortunately, it is. When we discuss institutional bursaries, should we not also discuss our own bursary packages, to enable a student from a disadvantaged background to participate? Maybe a fee waiver would actually work in this instance.
These experiences will impact not only on students’ time at university, but into the work place and wider society.
For too long the debate on widening participation has been towards getting ‘them’ in, going to a certain type of uni, grades and so on. But this is only part of the story. Ensuring that the students who get in, regardless of social class, have the same opportunities is where we now have to deliver.
To finish, let me return to the quote with which I began. I genuinely, deeply believe that students’ unions can help people. People who have never engaged with us – as we have not engaged with them – can see the possibilities before they become obvious. That is where the unions’ future belongs.
The future belongs to those who see the possibilities before they become obvious.
|Notes from the Editor | Our Opinion:
This is an important piece regarding Widening Participation (WP). It outlines how important Student Unions are in shaping student interaction and the lives of WP students for the better. However, we also shouldn’t expect WP just to happen, magically, in all aspects of student life. We need to be at the forefront on the delivery of this agenda.
Usman quite rightly asks ‘if twenty percent of the students at a given institution are from “widening participation” backgrounds, but only two to three percent of those students are involved in the union, is that not more socially exclusive than the institution itself?’ Looking at the people who get involved with activities in your students’ union, how many are from Widening Participation backgrounds? Does the percentage of WP students involved in your SU match the percentage of WP students at your institution? – StudentActivistDiary.co.uk
After the motion to disaffiliate had been passed at a General Meeting, a statement was released, saying that ‘we could no longer remain within an institution whose democratic failings we feel increasingly threaten to undermine its positive work’. The statement raised several specific issues, including the way in which ‘one of Labour Students’ worst kept secrets is the prominent role of the outgoing Exec in choosing and encouraging a chosen group of candidates to run for positions, with little to no attention focused on encouraging others to enter the race’, as well as the ‘undemocratic culture’ of having a Constitution which is not available online or at the request of members.
OULC continued, ‘We remain committed to fighting for the values that brought us into Labour Students in Oxford and elsewhere, but these wouldn’t be in keeping with our continued presence in an organisation whose democratic deficit increasingly stifles efforts at meaningful reform and improvement.’
But just under twelve months later, it appears that little has improved. In a recent blog post by Jon Chambers, Chair of Hull University Labour Club, Labour Students is criticised again for its democratic failings. Chambers explains how – with one month to go – a venue is yet to be announced for the Conference at which the Chair, Secretary and Campaigns and Membership Officer – the three paid officers of the organisations – are elected. This, he says, means that ‘Labour Clubs will have to spend over the odds to get there – or worse, won’t go at all’. He goes on to criticise the lack of information that is available to members regarding the elections and poor communication from Labour Students. He also states that ‘uncontested elections every year are no coincidence.’
Those who have spoken out have themselves been attacked. The day after OULC made their decision to disaffiliate, Wes Streeting – a former NUS President – tweeted about his hopes that ‘no Labour MPs will now speak at the club’. Mr Chambers also came under fire, via Twitter, from the Treasurer of Swansea Labour Students, John Bayliss. Bayliss tweeted ‘@jonwillchambers For bringing Labour Students into disrepute through unsubstantiated accusations you should resign as chair! #ShameOnYo’.
Others, however, were more supportive of Chambers’ blog. In an exclusive interview, Kevin Feeney (Co-Chair elect of OULC), yesterday said that ‘Jon makes some good points which echo much of what caused OULC to disaffiliate initially. Clearly there are still issues with Labour Students, and the more widely these are recognised and accepted, the more likely it is that they can be properly addressed’. He went on to say that ‘there needs to be a recognition of past failings on both parts (from Labour Students and Labour Clubs), and then Labour Students should take real, concrete action to rectify the democratic deficit at their heart.’
After reading this, many may begin to ask themselves why. ‘Why should I care about this? I’m not even a member of the Labour Party.’ However, Labour Students’ strong links to the National Union of Students mean the democratic failings spelled out above should concern us all.
The Chair of Labour Students holds a lot of sway within the NUS. Indeed, the job description states that ‘the Chair…works most closely with the NUS Group, holding meetings ahead of NEC meetings and assisting with matters related to HE Funding and other student relevant issues.’
This influence – from a person appointed by questionable means – is serious enough, but the Chair of Labour Students also has a role in selecting those that run the NUS. A significant number of NUS officers are themselves members of the Labour Party, and many of these seek to be official Labour Students’ candidates. The Chair of Labour Students is highly influential in this, as they are part of the three-person team that recommends potential Labour Students’ candidates. As recommendation almost certainly leads to being an official candidate, and being a Labour Students’ candidate leads almost certainly to election, the Chair of Labour Students has a significant role in choosing many of our national student representatives.
So it should concern us all that democracy within Labour Students has been found wanting; more so that, after the publicised disaffiliation of OULC, little seems to have improved. With the influence of those in the highest offices of the organisation so fareaching within the student movement as a whole, we should all be encouraging those we know within Labour to make a stand. The democratic changes needed in Labour Students have been long overdue.
The Ukrainian authorities must launch a fresh investigation into the death in custody of a student, Amnesty International said after two police officers suspected of responsibility for his death yesterday walked free following a court hearing in Kiev.
A 20th birthday celebration becomes sour.
Ihor Indilo was arrested on 16 May 2010 after a disagreement with a security guard at the dormitory where he lived about a missing ID card. He had been out celebrating on the eve of his 20th birthday.
Police said he was drunk and aggressive when detained, although the security guard has since testified that he was neither.
Off-duty officer Sergei Prihodko detained Ihor Indilo at about 8.15pm and drove him and a friend to Shevchenkivsky police station, where he was interrogated by Prihodko and another officer, Sergei Kovalenko, in the presence of the friend.
Minutes later, an ambulance was called to the interview room because Ihor Indilo was unconscious, although he was not thoroughly examined.
CCTV footage at 9.49pm shows Sergei Prihodko dragging Ihor Indilo into a cell and leaving him on the floor, the ambulance crew having left.
The footage shows the student’s condition deteriorating through the night; he staggers and falls in the prison cell, until he ceases moving at around 3am.
Autopsy points to alleged police brutality.
Police left him unattended in the cell until they discovered his body at 4.51am. Officers claim they checked his pulse and breathing and that he was still alive, but the CCTV footage shows an officer simply discovering his body, dragging him and then rolling him over.
The following morning Ihor Indilo’s parents were told that he had choked to death but when they saw his body they noticed numerous bruises. The autopsy also found blood in his stomach, which may have been caused by a blow to the abdomen.
Officers tried on ‘minor’ negligence charges over the death of a 19-year-old.
Police then claimed Ihor Indilo died as a result of falling from a 50 cm bench in the cell because he was drunk. Indilo does not appear drunk in CCTV footage of him entering the police station.
Sergei Prihodko was charged with “abuse of power that results in pain or denigrates a person’s dignity,” in relation to having dragged Indilo across the floor.
Sergei Kovalenko was charged with “neglect of official duty without grave consequences”, in relation to allowing Sergei Prihodko to carry out these actions.
Both officers were only tried on minor negligence charges over the death of 19-year-old Ihor Indilo. One of them, Sergei Prihodko, was given a five-year suspended sentence, while the other, Sergei Kovalenko, was granted amnesty by the court.
Ihor Indilo died from a fractured skull and internal bleeding in May 2010 after being arrested and interrogated by the two officers in Kyiv. His family suspect Sergei Prihodko inflicted the fatal injury.
Amnesty UK: this is a litmus test for the Ukrainian justice system.
John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia, said:
“Charging the two police officers with minor negligence when there is strong evidence to suggest that their behaviour resulted in Ihor Indilo’s death shows a shocking disregard for human life.
The Ukrainian authorities must conduct a thorough investigation and bring charges against the two men that would allow the court to consider whether the officers were, through their actions or failure to act, responsible for Indilo’s death.
If so, they must be sentenced appropriately.
This case has become a litmus test for the Ukrainian justice system’s ability to seriously deal with allegations of police abuse. Its failure to do so highlights the need for systemic reform.”
Students took to the streets after yesterday’s verdict to protest against police abuse and the Ukrainian authorities’ continued reluctance to deal with it.
In October, President Viktor Yanukovych called on the Prosecutor General to personally review the case after extensive media coverage of the case.
The Prosecutor General publicly criticised the Kiev prosecutor’s office’s handling of the case but did not intervene to ensure the officers were tried under the appropriate charges.
Source: Amnesty International UK.
Lawrence, born in September of 1974, was brutally killed – in a racially-motivated murder – while waiting for a bus in south-east London, in April of 1993. He was just eighteen years old.
He was killed by a gang of young, white, racist men who stabbed him in a wholly unprovoked attack. The last word he heard before dying was “nigger”.
The murder sparked a national outcry; even right-wing newspaper the Daily Mail published a picture of four of the alleged gang, claiming that they were Lawrence’s murderers. If they were wrong, they invited the aforementioned men to sue them.
The men never sued.
Eighteen years on, two of those men – Gary Dobson and David Norris – were convicted of murder. This means that Stephen Lawrence’s parents had to lobby and raise awareness of his case for longer than he was alive.
The first case failed owing to problems within the Metropolitan Police, which was deemed “institutionally racist” by an inquiry. Institutional racism isn’t a new term; it was coined by a Black Power activist, Stokley Carmichael, in the 1970s.
The man who led the inquiry after Lawrence’s murder was called Lord Macpherson, and his explanation of the institutional racism to which Stephen Lawrence’s case was subjected is more or less identical to Carmichael’s interpretation of institutional racism. The similarities are uncanny; it’s testament to how little things have changed.
It doesn’t stop there. We’ve had our own experiences of racism within the police force rearing their ugly head in Wales. Think of the Lynette White case.
Lynette White was a white woman who was brutally stabbed. She died in her flat. Those interviewed for statements were seen to be “vulnerable” members of society; one man named Stephen Miller, White’s boyfriend and pimp, would eventually confess – after being worn down by nineteen hours of questioning. He had a mental age of an eleven year old. He was denied access to a lawyer during this time.
His confession wasn’t taken seriously. When it was presented at the appeal, the overseeing lord, Lord Taylor, said that the police had ‘bullied and hectored’ Miller. No DNA evidence from him was found on the scene which might have tied him to the murder.
Mark Grommek, a man who went on record to make a statement, said he knew nothing of the murder. Yet later that afternoon, he gave a detailed statement. His friend, Paul Atkins, told the police that Grommek killed White, but later changed it to say that he himself was the killer. His statement contained four different accounts of the murder, and, again, was subsequently not taken seriously. No DNA from these men was found at the scene, despite their falsified confessions.
A statement was taken from a woman who was put under hypnotherapy and later used in evidence. Another statement taken and used was from a different woman, deemed to have mild mental retardation, with an IQ of fifty-five. She too was considered to have been ‘bullied’ into making a statement.
The police were given a clear description of a man apparently observed leaving the scene by witnesses – a white man. But they decided to arrest nine men, all of whom were black. Then it was whittled down to five, and then three men – who were still all black.
Despite no physical evidence tying these three men of colour to the scene, in 1989 they were jailed for life. Three years later, the appeal headed by Lord Taylor declared their convictions ‘unsafe and unsatisfactory’, and they were released. The real killer was eventually brought to justice through DNA evidence.
This resulted in four of the witnesses going on trial a few years later. All – apart from Paul Atkins, who was deemed unfit to stand trial – were found guilty of perjury. Two further witnesses were also found guilty of perjury during a later case.
When all of these things came to light the police were put on trial for the framing of three men (known as the Cardiff Three) in 2009. It was called the biggest police anti-corruption trial in British history, and the biggest police trial in British history.
It fell through.
The police never gave an apology for ruining the lives of the Cardiff Three, for falsifying evidence, or for bullying vulnerable people into making false statements which later helped to convict them.
But this was not the first time the police framed black men for a murder they did not commit. In the 1920s, a Somali sailor named Hussein Mattan was framed for murder. He was hanged. The police issued an apology to his wife and revoked the conviction – in 1998.
These are specifically Welsh cases; they happened here. Just because the Metropolitan Police have been called out on their racism doesn’t mean that other police forces walk free. There are dozens of other cases involving miscarriages of justice, but they just aren’t reported. It’s simply testament to the tireless campaigning of Stephen Lawrence’s family that the Metropolitan Police did not manage to get away with their racism.
People of colour in the UK are more likely to be stopped and searched under the Stop and Search law; in fact, it’s over 70% more likely that they will be stopped than their white counterparts. They’re over-policed as perpetrators and under-policed as victims. According to statistics, they are also more likely to be jailed for offences where Caucasian people would be let off.
Of course the UK police system is institutionally racist. In fact, it’s just one of a number of racist institutions. You’re more than three times more likely to be expelled from school if you’re black. You’re also much less likely to be put in the top streams for your GCSEs – resulting in ethnic minorities being less likely to achieve 5 A*-Cs at GCSE level.
The bringing to justice of Stephen Lawrence’s killers was a victory for us all. But there are many victories in every sector of society yet to be won when it comes to the insidious institutionalisation of racism.
‘@bimadew White people love playing “divide & rule” We should not play their game #tacticasoldascolonialism’
This is the entire text of the tweet that, this morning, threatened to ruin Diane Abbott’s career. It’s not much, really, is it? A reply to someone else, containing what’s really a pretty minor generalisation, all things considered. Yet the Twitter mob have been out in force for Ms Abbott today. Unconditional hatred has mingled with unconditional support. Cries of racism have been matched only by cries of “this is absolutely ridiculous!”
And it is, isn’t it? I mean, really? Let’s all put away our Twitter-fuelled Outrage Goggles for a moment and really look at what Ms Abbott actually said. “White people love playing ‘divide & rule’. We should not play their game”. In response to a comment about the use of the phrase ‘black community’ when reporting the Stephen Lawrence murder. A bit of a generalisation, sure. But is it worth a resignation?
Conservative MP Nadhim Zahawi certainly thought so, tweeting that ‘DAbbott should apologise and resign or EdM must sack her’. Later, speaking to BBC Radio 5 Live, he said: ‘This is racism. If this was a white member of Parliament saying that all black people want to do bad things to us he would have resigned within the hour or been sacked’. His comments have been echoed by others on Twitter. ‘On the morning after the Lawrence verdict, [Abbott] reminds us that racism goes both ways’, one spiteful tweet read.
But the leaders of this unpleasant little witch-hunt are missing the point. The point is that racism is about power, and power can only go one way. That’s the nature of power. One group being in a position of power logically means that other groups cannot be in that position. That’s what it means. So just pretending that Abbott is white, just swapping ‘white’ for ‘black’ in that tweet – that doesn’t work. It’s not a direct opposite; it’s skewed by context, by the culture we live in.
In some ways, though, the actual rights and wrongs of the affair are beside the point. Because if Diane Abbott is really guilty of anything today, it’s of falling for a political trick as new as the media it uses: the Social Media Slip Up. You see, Abbott’s twenty-nine thousand followers used to be nice to her. They’d comment agreeing when she made a point. They’d send her links to things she might be interested in. She’d chat to them. In a way, they were like the big community of friends that Twitter likes to pretend it really is.
But then she said something a bit silly, and they pounced.
It’s a lesson more politicians need to learn – an unhappy lesson, sure, like learning that Santa isn’t real or that Rover didn’t go to live on the farm. Twitter isn’t your friend. It tells you it is. It puts its greasy little arm around you and pats you on the back and tells you how great you are, and look at all these people who agree with everything you say! Real people, not spambots or anything! But all this time, it’s waiting. It’s waiting for you to say something wrong. Something you could take out of context, perhaps, or something that doesn’t quite work online the way you thought it would.
It’s no wonder, really, that people complain politicians are removed from the real world. As this morning’s scandal shows, they have to be. They can’t risk anything else. And that’s a terrible shame.
So, next time you see a public figure make a “gaffe” on Twitter – the next time the news is full of calls for the resignation of some backbench politician who said SOMETHING VERY OFFENSIVE AND HORRIBLE, MY GOD! – take it with a pinch of salt. Take off your Twitter Outrage Goggles and think about what they’ve really done, and nine times out of ten you’ll find that it isn’t worth a resignation. It isn’t even necessarily worth an apology.