Seven Days of Action: poor excuses for poor care

Stephanie Bincliffe, a young, white, very overweight woman wearing a green T-shirt and shorts with what appear to be a cartoon-based design. She is sitting on the floor of a room with some soft toys next to her and various drawings on the wall behind her.This week sees the third Seven Days of Action event to raise awareness of the people with learning disabilities who are trapped in psychiatric units, usually so-called Assessment and Treatment Units, sometimes for lack of more suitable provision and sometimes because the units’ management refuses to accept that release is possible. Yesterday and today, the BBC featured the issue (though not the campaign, by name) on their Breakfast programme; yesterday the story of one man and one young boy being held in units a long way from home; today they featured the case of Stephanie Bincliffe, a young woman with autism who died in a unit run by the Huntercombe group after seven years living in a windowless cell; for 18 months of that, she ate and toileted in that room and was ‘washed’ only with wet wipes. This appalling excuse for ‘care’ cost the public purse roughly £4.5m, or £1,761 per day. (The profiteering of these companies — Priory Group being the other major party involved — is found in more general adolescent mental health care, and the same problems exist there: extended stays, being forced a long way from home, punitive and degrading treatment especially of girls, lack of understanding on the part of professionals, leading to people being ill over very long periods, requiring repeat admissions, and some serious self-harm and even suicides.)

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In defence of the friends of Nabra Hassanen

Picture of Nabra Hassanen, a young woman with light brown skin, wearing thick, dark-rimmed glasses, a beige headscarf, a long, loose white over shirt with sleeves rolled up, and blue jeans with a tear at the right knee.Early last Sunday morning in a northern Virginia town, a young lady was kidnapped off the street during or after the taraweeh prayer (the night-time prayers held during Ramadan) having gone to get food to eat before beginning her daily fast. Nabra Hassanen, aged 17, was later found dead and police are awaiting results of tests as to whether she was raped before being murdered. The killer, an illegal Salvadorean immigrant named Darwin Martinez Torres, who had been involved in a confrontation with the group of friends Nabra was walking with, one of whom had allegedly thrown a drink at his car. The youths, ten boys and five girls, ran from their attacker; Nabra tripped over her abaya, was struck by Martinez with a baseball bat and taken off in his car. In the days since, some accusations have appeared on social media that the boys in the group displayed cowardice by running away and failing to protect Nabra. They are misplaced.

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Jail for poor taste, and May and ‘autism’

The lobby of a building with a tiled floor with puddles of water on it, with a tiled wall at the back with a cream, light orange and light blue pattern. A stairway with a red guard rail rises on the right.Somebody has already been imprisoned for offences relating to the Grenfell Tower fire in west London, and it’s not someone who signed off on the dodgy cladding; no, it’s a local who had been helping fire-fighters and who then saw a dead body on the ground, likely someone who had jumped out of the burning building, and posted pictures of it on Facebook, asking if anyone knew who the body was which had been lying outside his flat for two hours. He was jailed for three months on Friday for two offences under the Communications Act, “sending by a public communications network an offending, indecent or obscene matter”. The prosecutor said the offences were of ‘high culpability’ because the family of the deceased had yet to be told of their relative’s death:

“What you have done by uploading those photos shows absolutely no respect to this poor victim. To show his face as he lies there is beyond words. That view is shared in the horror and disgust that is shown by those people that have uploaded messages on your profile. It is an aggravating feature that when people said to you ‘This is really sick, just call the police’ and ‘call the cops rather than post photos’, you didn’t. You didn’t remove the photos. These offences are so serious that a community order or financial penalty would not mark the seriousness of the offence.”

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Tory press is Tory, and on packing bags

A front page of the Daily Mail with the headline "Three lethal questions", namely, "Were green targets to blame for fire tragedy? Why were the families told to stay in their flats? How many more tinder-box towers are there?".So, after the intial flurry of sympathy and devastation for the people affected by the Grenfell Tower fire last Wednesday, by Friday evening the Tory press had started to show their true colours: as early as Thursday morning the Daily Mail had printed a front page, “Three Lethal Questions”, the first being whether environmental regulations were to blame for the flammable cladding being applied to the tower; last night and this morning the Mail and Telegraph were branding the protesters at Kensington Town Hall as thugs, anarchists, a ‘mob’ and the like — true, there were some SWP there and a few men with faces covered, but the majority were friends and relatives of those trapped in the tower or people made homeless who were angry at the total lack of any official response and lack of information as to where their injured relatives and friends were. The Telegraph saw fit to reveal that Mustafa al-Mansur, who helped to organise yesterday’s town hall protest, was “a Jeremy Corbyn-supporting political activist who was once arrested on suspicion of terrorism offences” although he was released without charge, that he used to be a spokesman for Finsbury Park mosque, and that he lived in Haringey borough, not the estate affected (though his friend Rania Ibrahim and her children died in the blaze).

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Labour, Tories and fire regulations

A picture of Grenfell Tower, a 24-storey block of flats, after the fire; half of one visible side and most of the other is charred and windows are missing. Grenfell Tower: Tory minister declined to include sprinklers in fire safety rules as it could discourage house building | The Independent

This pretty much sums up why I’ll be supporting Labour in any repeat general election, whatever my reservations about Jeremy Corbyn.

The Tories are a coalition of privileged interests; their power and money base consists of big landowners and big business. The logic of the market was more important to them than the safety of residents of large buildings, as seen in the response to the former Tory housing minister Brandon Lewis, recently promoted to immigration minister, when the issue of making sprinklers mandatory was raised in Parliament:

A sprinkler system would have “undoubtedly” saved lives at the Grenfell Tower blaze, the managing director of the Fire Protection Association told The Independent.

“Whether they’d have stopped that fire spreading at the speed it did up the outside of that building is another matter,” Jon O’Neill said.

“But to have had sprinklers in that building would have created an environment where it would have been easier to rescue people and increase survivability.”

[Brandon] Lewis declined to bring in regulation forcing developers to fit sprinklers because he said it was not the Government’s responsibility.

He told MPs: “We believe that it is the responsibility of the fire industry, rather than the Government, to market fire sprinkler systems effectively and to encourage their wider installation.”

Because the Tories were too concerned with satisfying the desire of big business to make as much money as they can and not to have pesky regulations get in the way, a vital safety feature was omitted from numerous buildings which could have saved lives — if not the building itself — in yesterday’s conflagration. Sprinklers are standard in American tower blocks (which are much higher than any of ours), so actually, the marketing must have already been done and they are no barrier to building there. They just care more about business than people.

Labour are not paralysed by such vested interests. This is not to say their record on fire safety in council blocks is impeccable (again, Lakanal was in Labour Southwark), but they are in a better position to make sure that commercial builders do their job than the Tories are. When Tories talk of bonfires of quangos or regulations, we know they find “red tape” and impediments to profit more aggravating than people getting burned.

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Grenfell Tower fire: not terrorism

A picture of Grenfell Tower, a 24-storey housing block, on fire. The outside is charred and there are flames behind many windows. Water is being sprayed at the tower from multiple directions from below.This shouldn’t need to be said, but …

In the wake of the fire in the Grenfell Tower, a 24-storey public housing block in west London, in which at least six people have died (the number is expected to rise as those trapped in the tower are unaccounted for), some people have been posting on social media with the assumption that the blaze must have been started by terrorists. For example, I saw someone claim that local Muslims were trying to “lure victims into mosques” as well as this tweet by someone in Canada whose Twitter bio reads “Grassroots must unite to save #Canada #TrudeauMustGo No #M103 #MCGA #ProLife #Patriot #ISupportIsrael #JesusIsLord Professional” which asked:

R the owners Muslims? Had the fire been planned since this time? London is @ war! Everyone, everywhere is a target 4 these hateful killers

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Election 2017: Hope, but not victory

A blue van showing a Tory slogan overturned on a motorway. A truck has stopped to its left and there are police cars with lights flashing.So, the election results are in ([1], [2]), with only one seat remaining at the time of writing. The Tories have lost their majority, coming 8 seats short of the 326 needed to form a majority government. The Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn has performed spectacularly well, taking a number of large-town and small-city seats which had been Tory since 2010 (places like Ipswich and Peterborough), lost fewer seats in the North than had been predicted and won some places which have been Conservative for decades (e.g. Canterbury in Kent). The turnout was higher than usual because of a higher participation among the youth, and there was a well-directed student vote which may well explain why they polled well in small university cities like Norwich and Cambridge. Labour secured 40% of the vote compared to the Tories’ 42.4%, which is remarkable considering that earlier on in Corbyn’s leadership, figures on the Right of the party had been suggesting that Corbynites would be content to retreat to a rump of 30 seats. At the time of writing only Kensington in London remains still to declare, with the result on a knife edge after a fourth recount was demanded.

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Protect your rights — vote the Tories out

Thomas Rawnsley, a young white man with Down's syndrome, sitting on a red sofa with his mother facing him from his left, and holding a baby girl in his right arm, supported by his mother.This will be the last blog post I make before the election starts tomorrow (Thursday) morning. The front pages of the two biggest-selling newspapers are full of propaganda against the Labour leadership, branding them friends of ‘jihadis’ and enemies of the state. It would also have been the 23rd birthday of Thomas Rawnsley, a young man from Bradford who died a miserable death in February 2015. He had been forced to live in a care home against his and his family’s wishes and had unexplained carpet burns on his body and died of heart failure. His inquest is yet to be held.

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What’s wrong with telling people you’re safe?

A front page from the Sunday Telegraph with the headline "Carnage across Londn as 'terrorists strike again'". There is a large picture of a policeman walking across London Bridge at night, with stationary vehicles in the background.Last Saturday night there was a terrorist attack in London, and as often happens in these situations, Facebook activated its “safety check” or “I’m safe” feature, by which people identified as living in London or who have recently checked in at locations in London are invited to mark themselves as safe so their friends know. I and several of my friends and relatives did so, even though some of us were nowhere near London Bridge or Borough Market at the time. I saw some people criticising the feature and the trend for people to do this, such as this article at the Independent, on the grounds that it “makes us feel like danger is our default setting when something like last night’s terror attack occurs nearby”:

From what I understood about last night’s event, my assumption was that my friends were probably OK. I hope that they would also assume that I was safe unless they heard otherwise. For events on the scale of last night, the Facebook Safety Check reverses this assumption. It creates an implicit supposition that we are not safe until we let people know that we are. It creates a culture of hyper-vigilance that undermines our capacity to feel relatively secure about our environment.

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Nefarious Tories?

A front page from the New Statesman, showing a fireball hurtling from space towards three men

One of the enduring weaknesses of the liberal left is a sense of moral piety: we assume that our values are superior, that we care about the weak and the vulnerable more than the other side does. Indeed, many people on the left believe that the Conservatives are nefarious, which, in effect, condemns the millions who vote for them.

The above appeared in New Statesman’s long pre-election leader column in the current issue which does not endorse any party (tells Labour voters to remember that they are voting for an MP, not a party, and leaves it at that) and repeats a lot of Blairite criticism of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. The quote sums up my frustrations with the “Labour right” in the period since Labour’s fall from power in 2010: their lack of any sense of mission, of moral clarity, of any goal other than getting back to power.

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No, the mosques don’t know

A man and woman running from the scene of one of the attacks in the London Bridge area on the night of 3rd June 2017. The young white man is wearing a red T-shirt and blue jeans and holding a half-full pint glass of beer in his hand. The woman is wearing a black T-shirt and trousers and is also holding a drink.Following the van/knife attacks on and near London Bridge last night in which seven people were killed (plus the three attackers who were shot dead by the police) which have been declared a terrorist attack by the police although the origin and motives of the attackers have yet to be revealed, I’ve seen tweets proclaiming that someone at the mosque must have known the terrorists’ intentions and are hiding something. I also saw tweets calling for an end to “no go areas” which have been a favourite right-wing media trope for several years. The first of these is a misconception, perhaps appealing because of frustration but no less wrong for that, and the second is an outright lie.

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Corbyn’s dreadful interview

Jeremy CorbynI didn’t see Jeremy Paxman’s interview with Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May last night which social media was agog over, but I did hear his interview with Emma Barnett on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour this morning. As one might expect, the programme focuses on issues of particular concern to women, and making child-care available so that women can work, particularly when they live in areas where the cost of living easily outstrips a single wage, is one of them. Barnett asked him how much his policy of non-means-tested childcare for all 2 and 4-year-olds (not 3-year-olds?) would cost, given his and his party’s repeated insistence that their manifesto is fully costed, and he didn’t know. He claimed that it would be funded mostly out of corporation taxes, but after much umming and ahh-ing, Barnett had to furnish him with the figure herself, sourced from his own shadow education secretary. When Barnett reminded him that this sort of thing reinforced the perception that “we can’t trust [Labour] with our money”, which she said went back to the time of Gordon Brown, he did not defend this point either.

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Manchester: an attack on women and girls?

A 4x4 graphic with pictures of 16 of the 17 women and girls murdered in the terrorist attack in Manchester last Monday. They are white women and girls from age 8 to 51.In the aftermath of last Monday’s terrorist attack on the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, the British feminist writer Karen Ingala-Smith wrote a blog entry claiming that it is “essential that we view the attack as an attack on women”, not only in the light of the fact that 17 of the 22 victims were female, but also because:

Daesh [ISIS / so-called Islamic State] have claimed responsibility and so the attack is rightly framed in the context of religious extremism. The patriarchal oppression of women by men is at the heart of this ideology, and in that respect Daesh is not alone. Inequality between women and men and men’s violence against women go hand-in-hand the world over. It is estimated that across the globe 66,000 women and girls are killed violently every year. Generally those countries with the highest homicide rates are those with the highest rates of fatal violence against women and girls; but other factors are at play too, countries with higher levels of sex inequality also have high rates of men’s violence against women and girls. The UK is no exception, this year, even before the attack in Manchester, at least 37 UK women had been killed by men. Links between men who perpetrate violence against women and terrorism are now being identified; and mass killers, including school shooters, are almost always male.

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Good story 1, Facts 0

A front page from the Sun, with the headline "Labour exclusive: Blood on his hands: ex-IRA killer's Corbyn verdict". There is also an offer of free tickets to Legoland and stories headlined "Wine ups cancer 9%" and "Pirates Kaya is the new Keira".The other day I came across a story which a lot of people were sharing on my social media feeds since the appalling terrorist attack in Manchester on Monday night. The story, published on the pro-Corbyn ‘news’/’analysis’ site The Canary, claimed that Manchester was “set to become the second city to ban the Sun” after Liverpool, where a number of newsagents refuse to sell the paper after they published falsehoods about survivors of the Hillsborough stadium disaster. I don’t normally read links to the Canary because it’s a site notorious for not letting the facts get in the way of a good rant, and suspected when I read the headline that was was really happening was that a campaign had been launched to that end, and I was right. The story has since been withdrawn after the Sun told the Canary that the original front page had gone to press before the bombings (Google cached version here) and replaced with another, focussed on a different Sun front page, perhaps as it became obvious that the city wasn’t in fact “set to ban it” but rather, that a few people had just called for a boycott. The story that prompted this was a Sun front page which alleged that Corbyn had “blood on his hands” because of his past IRA sympathies on the basis of the word of a former IRA terrorist; the pretext now is that the paper gave the Manchester terrorist front-page news coverage by putting his picture alongside that of 8-year-old Saffie Roussos, the youngest victim of the bombing, with the headline “Pure Evil” (the words appearing under Saffie’s and the bomber’s faces, respectively).

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Lousy parenting advice

Last Sunday Mariella Frostrup answered a letter from a father whose son wanted to drop out of school and become a rock star. He complained:

Our son has given up on study. He has never really enjoyed school. He complains that teachers don’t know how to control classes, feels he learns very little in a day and questions the ritual humiliation he experiences through PE.

The son is described as “intelligent, but also sensitive with a passion for music”. He claims that various rock stars never needed “exam success”, notably Liam Gallagher who only gained 4 GCSEs. His dad complains that he “is rejecting everything about us”, but mostly his dad: “I am academically successful and value education”. Frostrup’s answer is padded out with an awful lot of empathy but the meat of it is that the dad should assert his authority:

Yet I can’t help feeling that asserting a degree of authority is half the battle, even if it’s uncomfortable and, worse, unfashionable. As we’ve edged ever closer to our children in lifestyle, it’s become increasingly difficult to take the authoritarian path, but sometimes “because I say so” really is the answer.

Teenagers who want to be pop stars are truly 10 a penny. I had a friend who was about to fund a rehearsal space for their scholastically errant but musically obsessed child. Despite their daughter’s assertions that she didn’t “have to listen to them” she was entirely reliant on them for a roof over her head and the occasional foray to Brandy Melville – which to my mind simplified the situation.

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Facebook, “fake news” and junk news

Since the 2016 election in particular, there has been a lot of discussion about how social media helps to disseminate “fake news”, often without really enumerating what that term means. Last week Facebook asked me to fill in a survey (and gave an audible signal to do so every time I opened the app) about what I knew about the news, featuring a series of multiple-choice questions about political events and celebrity gossip. I gave up about halfway, as I was late for work and I wasn’t sure what to do if I didn’t know — there was no “don’t know” option, so do I leave it blank or just take a wild guess? But it didn’t ask me what I thought of the stories Facebook continually allows to be spewed onto my news feed.

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On Ian Brady and the death penalty

The front page of the Daily Mirror the day after Brady and Hindley were jailed; its headline reads "Brady and Hindley go to jail for life" and includes mug-shots of both. A smaller story has the headline "Watery beer upsets an MP".Last week Ian Brady, a serial murderer of children from the 1960s, died in a “special hospital” (a high-security hospital which takes criminals who are mentally ill) aged 79. He had been convicted of three murders of children in 1966; he admitted to two more in 1985. His victims were of both sexes and between 10 and 17. He had been transferred from prison to the hospital in the 1980s after having been diagnosed as a psychopath; his accomplice, Myra Hindley, who helped lure and torture their victims although Brady did the actual killings, served out her time (she died in 2003) in prisons. According to Mark Easton on the BBC website, “Brady’s mug shot has become visual shorthand for psychopathic evil”; Martin Kettle in the Guardian the next day noted his and Hindley’s importance in the debate about abolishing the death penalty, which was abolished between the crimes and their being charged; Brady and Hindley “became the totemic faces of a Britain that they believed had ‘gone soft’ on crime”; he suggests that now that Brady is dead, “Britain can perhaps finally lay to rest the long and lingering possibility from the 1960s that hanging will ever return”. I’m not so sure.

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On Corbyn, trains and renationalisation

The front of a Networker train in red, white and blue Network SouthEast livery from the early 1990s, at a station.Earlier today I heard Owen Jones, the Labour-supporting Guardian columnist and author of Chavs and The Establishment, on Radio 4’s Today programme defending Jeremy Corbyn’s plans to “re-nationalise” the railways if he became prime minister. He explained that the action would not be costly as it would simply consist of waiting until each franchise came to its end and then not renew it; he also explained that the East Coast railway service had good levels of customer satisfaction when it was in public ownership.

This policy smacks of the timidity which has characterised Labour policy since the 90s. It also really sounds like an easy way of selling a policy without acknowledging that it will cost money to rebuild British Rail and its various business divisions (InterCity, Network SouthEast, the various Regional Railways divisions, ScotRail and so on) or new equivalents. This, however, has to happen if re-nationalisation is to ‘take’; if the franchise apparatus is still in place by the time of the general election following this one, a Tory government only has to reopen tendering for the re-nationalised regions. If the railways are fully re-nationalised, re-privatising them will be a headache for the next government; if they are not, it will be easy.

I support re-nationalising the railways. It needs to be done properly. Corbyn’s current plan won’t deliver that.

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Adult education versus university tuition fees

A Victorian stone building with two storeys, with a small round and larger octagonal tower in the foreground. Both towers have pointed spires and the larger tower have paintings of people set into them.Earlier this week Jeremy Corbyn announced that if Labour wins the election next month, they will abolish university tuition fees, which were brought in under Labour in 1998 and were increased dramatically by the Coalition. This is expected to shore up their vote among students who face massive debts; £76bn is owed in student loans in England, with some fees exceeding £10K per year from next year and interest also rising to 6.1%. The policy is estimated to cost between £7.5bn and £11bn, and the question is bound to be asked where that money is going to come from. When I heard it I said I agreed with reducing or even abolishing tuition fees in principle, but I believed investing in adult education was more important, and someone asked me why. So, here’s why.

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On hijab, ‘neutrality’ and threat

Last week I heard a conversation between Shelina Janmohammed, the author of Love in a Headscarf and Generation M and a columnist for The National, a Dubai-based newspaper, and the LBC presenter Sheila Fogerty, about hijab and others’ attitudes to it. This had been prompted by a call from a woman to the station the night before who claimed that the country was becoming ‘overwhelmed’ by Muslims. Some of the responses sent to the two women on Twitter claimed that Muslim women’s dress, the face-covering in particular, was considered ‘threatening’, a long-standing claim of people seeking to ban it. Fogerty suggested that the caller the previous night might be “just racist”, and although I didn’t hear the call (I very rarely listen to LBC), this is a reasonable assumption when someone calls a radio station and spouts bigotry about a minority.

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