Why did I just lose 25 followers?

A male linnet, a small brown bird with a patch of red on its breast, sitting on a twig.The other day I logged onto an unfollower tracker and discovered that I’d lost 19 followers, which is rather unusual (I often lose a few over the average week, often suspended accounts — which are not named — or people who had followed me expecting me to follow back, then unfollowed when I did not, and sometimes people who had unfollowed because of a disagreement or blocked me). I checked who the unfollowers were and many of them were names I recognised from years ago: two in particular belonged to one person who has used various accounts and blogs over the years to blog particular aspects of her experience of spinal cord injury; others were just people who had fallen off Twitter and not bothered to close their accounts. I posted to both Twitter and Facebook asking why this had all happened and got a reply to the effect that people had just found better things to do with their lives than tweet or had pruned their social circle to get rid of the dead wood. But judging by which accounts these were, this could not have been the case.

A lot of people lost a large number of followers at the same time and a lot of people are asking why — some obviously think they annoyed someone or that a whole bunch of people have decided they don’t want them in their lives anymore. No. Twitter, for some reason, removed a whole bunch of moribund accounts from your followers list but for some reason did not just suspend them, which is what you might expect them to do. They really need to inform their users when they do something like this, as it may coincide with an argument, relationship break-up or some other event and some people have mental health problems that make them sensitive to these sorts of things. A lot of people think it’s ‘sad’ to use an unfollower tracker but in this case knowing who unfollowed me and being able to tell others is quite useful.

(And this would be a good place to announce that I am trying to get off Twitter and migrate to the open-source social media platform Mastodon. This is because, apart from the well-documented problems of Twitter suspending people for no real reason while allowing Nazis to prosper unchecked, they have also decided to cripple third-party Twitter clients such as Tweetbot and Tweetings which offered a straightforward chronological timeline rather than Twitter’s ‘curated’ one with numerous interpolations. I can be found as ij@knzk.me and you can join any Mastodon server and follow me. My Twitter account is, however, going to remain active for the foreseeable future.)

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Who wears the burqa?

A woman walking along a mud road wearing a blue full-length burqa which covers the whole of her body from head to foot. There are bushes behind her and mountains in the background.In an earlier entry I discussed the unhelpful ‘defence’ of niqaab that only a few thousand women wear the garment. However, a side argument is that only a few hundred wear the burqa, the garment best known from Afghanistan which covers the whole body including the eyes and face. I saw Miqdaad Versi of the Muslim Council of Britain make this argument on Twitter this morning. I find this a very dubious claim. I would imagine that the number wearing the Afghan burqa in the UK is closer to zero, if not actually zero. The burqa is a garment specific to rural Pashtuns in Afghanistan and Pakistan; only a minority of British Asian Muslims are Pashtun. The garment is not widely available here, it is not the Sunnah, and it is not practical. The niqaab is widely available both in shops and online and is practical in the sense that it can easily be flipped up when the wearer needs to show her face (there is also a layer that can cover the eyes which can also be flipped up or down; if you see a woman with her whole face covered, this is probably also a niqaab).

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Rex Bob Lowenstein would make a bad politician

Boris Johnson, a middle-aged white man with scruffy white hair wearing a blue sweat-shirt with the name "Xchanging" on the front, approaching journalists from his house along a cobbled path with a tray of cups of tea in his hands.As I mentioned two posts back about the niqaab controversy, Boris Johnson found an ally in the former (and possibly future) UKIP leader Nigel Farage, who made a comment on BBC London radio to the effect that the people in “the country” were behind Johnson and that it would increase rather than decrease his popularity. This notion that the “real England” consists of its small towns and villages is a common trope of Brexiteers because it its strongest support is in some (though actually not all) of these places: while a lot of urban areas outside London (Birmingham for one) voted by a majority for leaving the EU, the strongest support was in areas surrounding the Wash on the east coast, Boston in Lincolnshire in particular. A few weeks ago a Twitter acquaintance pointed me towards this article by Matthew Goodwin on Quillette, which describes itself as “a platform for free thought” and whose associate editor is Toby Young. The article traces British “scepticism” towards Europe back to traditional English anti-Catholicism, citing Linda Colley’s Britons: Forging the Nation (which I studied at university).

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Another lesson in diplomacy

A black-and-white image of three members of the Ku Klux Klan, two women and one man, in white sheets and masks, standing by a burning cross.As Muslims face the consequences of Britain’s one-time “top diplomat” insulting an ethnic minority (and, by extension, the women of a number of the countries where Britain could do with having friendly relations) and provoking a ‘debate’ on Muslim women’s dress which served to distract from the cliff-edge Boris Johnson and his fellow Brexiteer wingnuts are dragging us towards, I came across a tweet this morning from Christine Hamilton, media ‘butterfly’ and wife of UKIP Welsh assembly member Neil “cash in brown envelopes” Hamilton, comparing the niqaab to the white hoods and sheets worn by members of the Ku Klux Klan. Hamilton is “ambassador” for the Muscular Dystrophy campaign and Balls to Cancer (though she has removed references both from her profile to avoid embarrassment to them) and has posted pictures of her trekking through the Andes in Peru in aid of the former. “If the #burka is acceptable then presumably this is too?” the tweet asked, accompanied by a picture of some Klansmen in full pointy-hat and white sheet regalia (not the image accompanying this entry). For their part, the MD campaign has been tweeting the same statement all day to those who complained: “Christine Hamilton’s tweet was made in a personal capacity and does not reflect the views of Muscular Dystrophy UK. We believe in a diverse and equal society, and are firmly against any form of discrimination.” (Update: MDUK have now severed ties with Hamilton.)

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Niqaab row brings out the ‘Muslimanders’

A woman in niqaab standing next to a red British postboxTwo days after the controversy over Boris Johnson comparing Muslim women who wear the niqaab to letterboxes and bank-robbers became big news, the party is facing calls to demand an apology from him (which he has refused) and to withdraw the whip from him (which the party currently shows no signs of doing). The former attorney general, Dominic Grieve, has said he will leave the party altogether if he becomes leader; it has been suggested that this announcement from a Remainer will increase his popularity among the pro-Leave base. The issue of Brexit is not really related to this; a lot of the districts outside London where there is a strong Muslim population voted to leave the EU, but a lot of white Leave voters are also white provincials and this includes a lot of racists, as well as those who get their views about Islam and Muslims from tabloids rather than from actually knowing any. On BBC London last night, it was Nigel Farage they turned to for a quote, who said that Johnson’s stance would increase his popularity and that “the country” agreed with him — meaning, of course, small-town provincial England. But there’s more to England, let alone Britain, than small-town provincial England. (More: Masked Avenger with reference to Rowan Atkinson’s defence of Johnson.)

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Boris Johnson’s latest insult (and the Muslims who unwittingly side with him)

Two women wearing the niqaab or Muslim face-covering walking in the streets of The Hague; one is wearing a dark blue scarf and veil, the other a purple scarf and veil and a lighter purple jacket, and both are wearing long black skirts or dresses. A woman is pointing a large video camera at them.Yesterday, in one of Boris Johnson’s new columns for the Telegraph (which you may recall the paper made a big announcement of after he resigned as foreign secretary), he registered his half-hearted opposition to Denmark’s ban on the face-covering worn by some Muslim women, but then spent more time informing us of how much he disliked it, comparing the women’s appearance to those of letter-boxes and bank-robbers. The article was immediately condemned by Muslims and the Labour party; the condemnation from the Tories has taken rather longer to start appearing; Alistair Burt criticised it on Radio 4’s Today programme this morning and party chairman Brandon Lewis has now said he asked Johnson to apologise in a tweet posted after midday today. His comments have naturally received support from other Tories, including the bane of the posh boys Nadine Dorries, who tweeted that “any clothing a woman is forced to wear that hides both her beauty and her bruises should be banned and have no place in our liberal, progressive country”, joining between illiberalism and racism with the assumption that it generally hides bruises. Presumably she also thinks a stab victim should go topless and a rape victim should go naked.

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Corbyn and Anti-Semitism versus Brexit

A front page from the Sun newspaper in 2015, showing Ed Miliband eating a bacon roll with the slogan: "This is the pig's ear Ed made of a bacon sarnie. In 48 hours he could be doing the same to Britain. SAVE OUR BACON. Don't swallow his porkies and keep him OUT."The Labour anti-Semitism crisis has not disappeared from the headlines after yet another week. It is noticeable now that the issue has moved on from any specific incident of anti-Semitism by any Labour politician or activist to the mere refusal of Jeremy Corbyn to accept the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism to the letter, including the problematic examples, despite the problems with it being clearly spelled out. On Friday evening the Guardian published a piece attributed to Corbyn, which some are suggesting he did not in fact write, that tried to reassure Jewish voters that anti-Semitism had no place in the party, but it was condemned for being released on the eve of the Sabbath on which observant Jews are not allowed to use electricity or buy or carry things (which would rule out reading it online or buying the paper until Saturday evening, at which point it is likely to have sold out). In today’s Observer, the deputy leader Tom Watson is interviewed and calls for the unaltered IHRA definition to be adopted without delay and to drop investigations of abuse or bullying into two MPs, Margaret Hodge and Ian Austin, who the article claims both lost family members in the Holocaust (Austin, in fact, was born in 1965; his father was a Jewish refugee as a result of the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia), or it might “disappear into a vortex of eternal shame and embarrassment”.

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Why don’t they call it rape?

A front page from a report by Save the Children, with an African girl or woman's head facing to the left and almost silhouetted. There is a red circle around the image and underneath it reads "Piccoli Schiavi Invisibili: Rapporto 2018 sui minori vittime di tratta e sfruttamento in Italia" (Little Invisible Slaves: 2018 report on child victims of trafficking and exploitation in Italy).Yesterday some of the papers reported that, according to a report by the charity Save the Children, child migrants mostly from sub-Saharan Africa were “being sexually exploited” or in earlier versions “selling sex” in order to finance their passage from Italy to France. According to the report (in Italian), titled Little Invisible Slaves: 2018 report on child victims of trafficking and exploitation in Italy, the minors were being asked to perform sex acts if they could not afford to pay drivers between €50 and €150 for a lift across the border. It also mentions that French police have been abusive to some of the children who cross the border, citing such acts as “detaining children as young as 12 in cells without food or water, cutting the soles off their shoes so they did not try to attempt the journey again, and stealing Sim cards from their mobile phones”. A lot of the Twitter responses consisted of complaints that the word ‘rape’ should have been used because the victims were children and thus should not be said to have “sold sex”. There are, in fact, good reasons why they do not, and should not.

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Does polygamy cause violence?

A still from a video produced by the Economist, showing African child soldiers, one of them (a boy aged about 10 or 11) holding an assault rifle, with the words "Polygamy is practiced in all of the 20 most unstable countries in the world" in capital letters at the bottom, and the Economist's logo in the top left hand cornerA few months ago The Economist put out a video on its Facebook page which tried to make the case that polygamy made a society more violent and prone to civil war. I noticed at the time that the video was very weak in its arguments and relied on presenting correlation (and a dubious correlation at that) as causation and making generalisations about the cultures where polygamy occurs. Last week they reposted the video, titled What’s Wrong with Having More Than One Wife?, and have not changed it at all; there is no link to any article which would flesh out some of the claims made in the video, though the Economist did actually publish one last November, which hilariously claims:

This is one of the reasons why the Arab Spring erupted, why the jihadists of Boko Haram and Islamic State were able to conquer swathes of Nigeria, Iraq and Syria, and why the polygamous parts of Indonesia and Haiti are so turbulent. Polygamous societies are bloodier, more likely to invade their neighbours and more prone to collapse than others are. The taking of multiple wives is a feature of life in all of the 20 most unstable countries on the Fragile States Index compiled by the Fund for Peace, an NGO.

(Note: the Arab Spring started in Tunisia, where polygamy had been illegal since the 1950s, and was motivated by political corruption, tyranny and impoverishment in all the countries affected.)

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Existential threat? What?

A front page from the Jewish Chronicle, with the paper's logo ('The JC' in white on a blue background) in the top left corner, and underneath it the words "United We Stand", with the mastheads of the JC, Jewish Telegraph and Jewish News and the text of an article which is blurred, on the background of a black and white picture of a demonstration against Labour anti-Semitism in London.In the latest chapter of the Labour anti-Semitism row, three British Jewish newspapers have published a similar front page and editorial condemning the Labour leadership for refusing their demand to adopt an international definition of anti-Semitism that includes a clause that could be used to label any impolite criticism of Israel as anti-Semitism. The three papers are the Jewish Chronicle, the Jewish News (whose website is part of the Times of Israel) and the Jewish Telegraph, and the leader threatens that if they do not adopt the IHRA definition in full at an emergency conference on 5th September they will “be seen by all decent people as an institutionally racist, antisemitic party”. The editorial in the JC claims that the papers have done this “because of the existential threat to Jewish life in this country that would be posed by a Jeremy Corbyn-led government”.

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Labour and the IHRA: Listening does not mean submitting

A front page from the Jewish News, with a headline that reads "You are an anti-Semite: Furious Jewish MP confronts Corbyn amid hate code outrage".This past week, the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee adopted a modified version of a definition of anti-Semitism proposed by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, modified in the sense that four ‘specific’ examples of anti-Semitism were excluded, including calling Israel a racist state, comparing its policies to those of the Nazis and “requiring higher standards of behaviour from Israel than other nations”. This has led to condemnation from a whole lot of the usual suspects (i.e. right-wing Labour MPs who hate Jeremy Corbyn), including Margaret Hodge who called Corbyn a “f**king racist and an anti-Semite” in the Commons, about which Labour says it will “take action”, as well as a letter published in the Guardian earlier this week by a group of rabbis who accused the Labour party of having “chosen to act in the most insulting and arrogant way” and claiming that it was “not the Labour party’s place” to amend the IHRA’s definition when it was accepted by many other public bodies and other large organisations as well as “the vast majority of Jewish people in Britain and globally”. I wrote a letter to the Observer following a whinge from Nick Cohen, printed 8th July, and (needless to say) it wasn’t printed. I will expand on that letter here, in sha Allah.

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No “vive la France” from me, sorry

Didier Deschamps, a clean-shaven white man wearing a navy blue suit with a white shirt underneath, is raised into the air by a group of football players of mostly African and Arab appearance. The names Areola and Dembele are visible on the backs of two of the players in the foreground. Blurred, the crowd can be seen in the background.Yesterday, France won the World Cup and the day before, England lost the third-place play-off match to Belgium after losing a semi-final to Croatia last Wednesday. I had not been following the matches all that closely — I’m not that interested in football, and haven’t been since I was a child — although I listened to the last half-hour or so of the semi-final, but it was the first time England had reached the semi-final since 1990 (when we also lost the third-place match to Italy) and the improved quality of England’s game has been widely noted. I noticed a lot of Muslims, including many in Britain, cheering on any team but England and, once we had been knocked out, cheering on France, pointing out that the majority of its players are either immigrants or descended from immigrants, usually from Africa. I am not sure there was much to choose between them and Croatia in this regard (the latter being the country which, at times during the Bosnian war, helped to suppress the Muslims who were fighting the genocidal Serb army) but why on earth would Muslims support a country where people of immigrant descent are ghettoised in the suburbs and Muslim women are being harassed as a matter of state policy?

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Racism, not fascism

A front page of the Daily Mail, with the headline "The pomp ... and the pygmy". There is a large picture showing Donald Trump and his wife, with the queen (much shorter and dressed in a bright blue dress) between them; at the bottom is a picture of Jeremy Corbyn with a crowd behind him in a London street, with a few banners with slogans such as "Dump Trump, fight bigotry".As the depredations of Donald Trump’s immigration forces continue in the USA and his visit to the UK is supported by nakedly mendacious propaganda in the Daily Mail (see right), it is fashionable to make dire warnings of the rise of fascism both here and there. There is a quote from George Orwell’s Road to Wigan Pier which I saw posted on Twitter yesterday:

When I speak of Fascism in England, I am not necessarily thinking of Mosley and his pimpled followers. English Fascism, when it arrives, is likely to be of a sedate and subtle kind (presumably, at any rate, it won’t be called Fascism), and it is doubtful whether a Gilbert and Sullivan heavy dragoon of Mosley’s stamp would ever be more than a joke to the majority of English.

Last month the Irish commentator Fintan O’Toole wrote in the Irish Times of the treatment of child detainees in American immigration detention as a “trial run” for fascism as, in an established democracy, “it is not easy to get people to give up their ideas of freedom and civility”; people’s moral scruples need to be worn down and their boundaries pushed back again and again.

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One big no, many small yeses

A front page from the Sun newspaper, with the headline "Donald Trump, world exclusive Sun interview: May has wrecked Brexit: US deal is off!". Below that are the sub-headings "Boris would be a great PM, migration is killing Europe, terror is [Sadiq] Khan's fault".This week two cabinet ministers (David Davis, for Brexit, and Boris Johnson, foreign secretary) resigned, and a handful of junior ministers and parliamentary private secretaries also resigned over the government’s “Chequers” Brexit plan formulated last week at the prime minister’s country retreat in Buckinghamshire which the “hard Brexiteers” say is a proposal for a half-Brexit which still leaves us subject to a number of EU rules without a say in making them, or as Johnson says, with the status of a ‘colony’. There has been talk, according to the BBC’s Robert Peston, of a split in the Tory party over the issue (with some responding that it cannot come too soon, or words to that effect), while a number of right-wing Labour MPs have talked of supporting the prime minister, Theresa May, to achieve a ‘good’ Brexit deal (as if there could be such a thing) and even talk of some sort of government of national unity. This has angered a lot of Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters, which account for the bulk of Labour members but of only a minority of MPs, and amplified calls for the introduction of mandatory re-selection of parliamentary candidates.

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Who says the Left hates the white working class?

A front page from the "Sun" newspaper, showing a terraced house with a white Ford Transit van parked outside it with three England flags prominently displayed outside, with the headline "Only here for the sneers: Snob Labour MP's Twitter dig at White Van Man's England flags"I saw a post on Medium last weekend, “Burning Down the House: Identity Politics and its Discontents”, which posited that white working-class voters who had voted for politicians like Donald Trump had faced “a double-bind”, a choice between a left-wing party that believes that they are ‘privileged’ for having white skin and which sometimes appears to love everyone but them, or a right-wing party that holds that they are poor because they deserve to be. It also gives a few examples of progressive hostility to expressions of white working-class culture or whiteness itself (e.g. ‘snobbish’ bans or sneers about displays of British or English flags, reference to whiteness as a pathology or ‘psychosis’ or to white people as evil) as if to demonstrate why white people might not choose to vote for the party which was historically based on their vote. The article, however, fails to acknowledge the reason for why white working-class voters may perceive the progressive left as despising them: there is simply no mention of the words ‘media’, ‘press’ or ‘tabloid’ anywhere in the article and I believe more people in that demographic read tabloid newspapers and listen to radio phone-ins than have any exposure to the sort of activism that portrays white people or whiteness as evil, other than what the media chooses to tell them.

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NHS deaths and “blame culture”

A picture of Nico Reed, a young white boy with ginger hair, sitting in a swing designed for a disabled user, with straps and a full seat, holding on to the support ropes with both hands. He is smiling. The swing is in a back garden with white plastic garden chairs on a patio behind, and a rear door to a house behind them.Last week a report was published by the Health and Social Care Advisory Service (HASCAS), commissioned by the NHS Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group, about the death of Nico Reed (right), a young man who died at a residential home run by Southern Health, the same NHS trust whose negligence led to the the deaths of Connor Sparrowhawk and others in its learning disability and mental health units (report in PDF format here). An inquest into Nico’s death found that he had not been observed as often as he should have been, but the family have said that after he was forced to move for financial reasons from the school where he had lived since he was six, the physiotherapy he depended on ceased and the staff ceased trying to communicate with him, which both his family and the school staff had done mainly through a communication book, which they lost. This comes on the heels of revelations about the deaths of hundreds of mostly elderly patients at a hospital in Gosport after they were prescribed doses of diamorphine (heroin) that they did not need through syringe drivers; it has been alleged that the patients given this treatment were the noisy or disruptive ones, not those in most pain. In reaction to this, health secretary Jeremy Hunt called to an end to the “blame culture” within the NHS, which he claimed prevented whistle-blowers from coming forward, as this could have prevented further deaths during this period in Gosport. (More: Alison Cameron.)

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Encouraging obesity?

A shop front with the name "Evans" in white over a dark green background; there are some posters showing off the clothing in the window, which is dominated by a large sign saying "Evans card: 25% off". The shop is set against red brickwork.Yesterday I came across a report in the Daily Telegraph claiming that a study from the University of East Anglia (in England) had suggested that the normalisation of overweight models and “plus-size” clothes ranges were threatening to normalise obesity by encouraging people to underestimate their weight, and that this could undermine efforts to tackle the “obesity epidemic where more than three in five Britons are overweight or obese”. A more detailed summary is available at Science Today but it finds that the numbers misperceiving their weight increased between 1997 and 2015; of the overweight, it increased from 48.4% to 57.9% among men and from 24.5% to 30.6% among women; of obese men, the figure increased from 6.6% to 12% in the same period. As might be expected, the number of overweight people trying to lose weight was much less than the number of those in the obese category (about half, versus more than two thirds).

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Racist da’wah (and “crazy British Muslims”)

A still of Abu Ibraheem Hussnayn, a young South Asian man wearing a white cap and with a long beard wearing a long, dark-coloured robe, talking into a microphone he is holding in his hand, standing in front of an ice-cream van with the slogan "Mind that child" on it.Over the weekend a video surfaced of an Asian Muslim street preacher telling his fellow local Muslims (also mostly Asian) that as well-brought-up people who come from respectable families, they should not be talking as if they were Black or want to be Black. This obviously caused a stir with a number of Black Muslims from various parts of the world, not just the UK, saying it confirmed their belief that the Muslim community was rife with “anti-blackness” but it also seemed to reinforce prejudices among Muslims elsewhere (such as the US and Canada) that British Muslims were wild, extreme and out of ‘control’. The man later posted a video with a partial apology, although he also accused Black Muslims of having a “victim mentality”. The original video (“addressing the gangsters and drug dealers”) can be found here on YouTube and the ‘apology’ here on Facebook.

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Christopher Chope, upskirting and Parliamentary games

Picture of Gina Martin, a young white woman wearing a pink blouse with white dots and a pair of earrings with a large orange triangle and circle hanging from them.Yesterday a bill was expected to go through Parliament to ban ‘upskirting’ — the taking of pictures under someone’s clothing, usually a woman’s skirt, without their consent — and the bill, a private member’s bill, had the support of MPs from all the main parties and the support of the government, but was blocked by a single MP who shouted “object” before it could be debated. It was put back until July, when it could be debated again or could be blocked again using the same mechanism. Also yesterday, another Tory MP noted for using tricks to block PMBs, Phillip Davies, talked out a bill known as Seni’s Law after Olaseni Lewis, known as Seni, who died after he was restrained by 11 police officers at the Bethlem Royal Hospital in south-east London; the bill would have required police officers to wear body cameras when carrying out restraint and automatically trigger an independent investigation when somebody died after restraint. This bill will be debated again on 6th July, though more of the same trickery cannot be ruled out (if it runs out of parliamentary time, it will not be voted on and will not pass). Theresa May has said she wants to see the bill, or one like it, pass as soon as possible and Victoria Atkins, minister for women, has said the government will allocate time for the bill. (More: Paul Bernal (a guest post which explores the human rights angle of the upskirting issue), Labour MP Jess Phillips, Nina Childish from 2015.)

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The White People’s Party

A mailshot from Zac Goldsmith's campaign from 2016.Over the last few months there have been some low-profile media stories about Islamophobia at various levels of the Conservative party. Yesterday there was an interview on the Independent with a former Tory parliamentary candidate who defected to the Liberal Democrats over its treatment of Black and minority-ethnic candidates, Kishan Devani, who said that the party had lurched rightwards since the 2016 referendum and had attempted to become “UKIP-lite”. Former party chairman and minister without portfolio Sayeeda Warsi, who has been outspoken about Islamophobia in the party in the past, spoke to Business Insider saying that the ‘poison’ was very widespread and existed at all levels from the grassroots to the top levels of the party and that the party refused to deal with the problem because they saw it as a vote winner. She attributes it partly to the influence of Michael Gove and former campaign manager Lynton Crosby.

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