How (not) to argue with Brexiteers

A picture of Nigel Farage, a white man in a black suit jacket with a white shirt and dark grey, pink and light purple striped tie, against the blue and pink backdrop of the BBC's weekly Question Time panel show.Last Friday Nick Cohen posted a series of tweets about what he described as the tendency of Labour Remainers to “snuggle down in the soft warm bed of conspiracy theory” in explaining why the Leave vote won the 2016 referendum; he accuses Andrew Adonis and Alastair Campbell of attributing it to BBC bias rather than “examining his [Adonis’s] own faults, and acknowledging where he went wrong”. Cohen concluded “Despite stiff competition, the Brexit vote is the stupidest thing Britain has done in my lifetime. But it won’t be reversed unless my side argues with leave voters respectfully.”

He’s right in that we cannot reverse the vote by arguing with leave voters and calling them dumb bigots. But not for the reasons he thinks.

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Why are service stations a rip-off?

An overhead view of the Cobham service area on the M25 motorway. A junction has been built to allow traffic from both sides of the motorway to access the services.Today the transport secretary, Chris Grayling, called for an investigation into what he called “exploitative” fuel prices at motorway service stations, which are typically 20p per litre above prices elsewhere (and the gap between service stations and supermarkets is even bigger). This has been the case for years; most products available at motorway service stations (and stations run by the same companies off motorways) are priced considerably higher than they are elsewhere, except for a few categories of items which are fixed, such as newspapers. Service station operators blame the ‘complexities’ of motorway trading, such as the need for 24-hour staffing. I am surprised, though, that this needs any investigation as the causes of overpricing at service stations are obvious.

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When racists rage against racism

A Facebook post showing a mural, the centrepiece of which is an image of a number of old, grey-beareded, stiff-collared men playing a Monopoly game where the board rests on the naked bodies of men. Above the image of the mural it says "It's happening again! Get the full story on davidicke.com where I defend against the false accusations and gross misinterpretations of my mural by self-interested British politicians and the mainstream media. #FreedomforHumaniy".The controversy that started last week when someone dug up a five-year-old Facebook comment by Jeremy Corbyn on a picture of an anti-Semitic mural by an obscure London artist has not gone away. What is surprising is that he is still leader. The number of MPs who have spoken out is small; they have not threatened to defect to any other party or resign as of the next general election, or made a challenge to Corbyn’s leadership. There are a lot of supporters who have criticised his stance and called on him to take a stronger stand, but others who remain convinced that he can do no wrong and that this is all a conspiracy to undermine his leadership and others who believe it is quite consistent with his previous behaviour, that he may not be an anti-Semite as such but he does not mind rubbing shoulders with people who are. I have a couple of theories as to why the response to this has been so limited compared to even previous rows about the same issue.

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‘Sloven Health’ fined £2m

A black and white picture of a white teenage boy wearing an open-necked white shirt with a dark coloured jacket over it, standing in front of some railings behind which a man is walking; there are trees (presumably those of Hyde Park) in the background.Today, the Hampshire based NHS trust Southern Health was fined nearly £2,000,000 for health and safety breaches in regard to the preventable deaths of two patients: Connor Sparrowhawk, the “Laughing Boy” of the Justice for LB campaign who died in the bath as a result of an epileptic seizure in 2013 in the now-closed Slade House unit in Oxfordshire, and Teresa “TJ” Colvin, who killed herself in a Southampton mental health unit where she was receiving treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder following childhood abuse. The case was the result of several years of campaigning by the families of the two victims in which Connor’s family in particular were vilified in internal memos in the trust and subjected to whispering campaigns and personal abuse by both Trust and county council employees, but the campaign resulted in being vindicated in court on multiple occasions, notably at Connor’s inquest in 2005 which found that his death was preventable and contributed to by neglect. (Today’s sentencing remarks can be found here in PDF form.)

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Thinking of becoming a Tory?

Front cover of the Spectator from November 2005, headlined 'Eurabian nightmare', with a crescent linking various cities and a star at LondonThis week someone dug up a Facebook post from October 2012 by a muralist called “Mear One” which shows a mural of a bunch of bearded figures (which he explains as representing Jewish bankers) playing monopoly over a group of huddled human bodies, underneath a pyramid-and-eye symbol (the one that appears on the American Great Seal and on the one-dollar bill). The Facebook post with a picture of the mural has approving comments from Yvonne Ridley and Jeremy Corbyn (who was not considered by anyone a potential party leader at the time); the latter said “you are in good company; Rockerfeller (sic) destroyed Diego Viera’s mural because it includes a picture of Lenin”. Corbyn has claimed, through a spokesperson, that he “was responding to concerns about the removal of public art on the grounds of freedom of speech” but that the mural “was offensive, used antisemitic imagery which has no place in our society, and it is right it was removed”. This does not really chime with the sentiments he expressed in the comment — his first sentence was “why?”, as in “why would they want to remove it?”. I’d not be surprised if his leadership does not survive this, but anyone thinking of defecting to the Tories over this needs to look at their record of supporting and promoting bigotry.

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Why I’m not closing my Facebook account (yet)

A red billboard with the claim "Turkey (population 76 million) is joining the EU. Vote leave". The poster has an image of a British passport with footsteps leading to it.Since the scandal broke about Facebook data being leaked to Cambridge Analytica, a New York-based political consultancy which served the Trump and Brexit campaigns and used the data to channel propaganda to susceptible voters, I’ve seen at least two people I follow on social media suggest that it’s time to close our Facebook accounts and it’s become fashionable to ask the question as a matter of when I’ll delete my account, not if. Yet I’ve not seen many people close their accounts (although, if they were not on chat, I would not notice it immediately) and my feed is as lively as it was before. I’m not planning to close my account just yet and this is why. (More: Philippa Willitts, Dean Burnett.)

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Why disrupt a picket line?

A white woman wearing a black puffy jacket with orange trimmings, with her finger pointing in the direction of the cameraFootage has emerged of a group of trans activists, all women, one of them perhaps trans, protesting at a Bectu union picket line outside a cinema in Brixton (where there is a long-running pay dispute) on the grounds that one of the women on the picket line is a TERF (trans exclusionary radical feminist) who attended the same meeting I went to last month organised by Woman’s Place UK. The women chanted “TERF, TERF” and shouted that she was not there in solidarity with anyone. The incident took place on International Women’s Day (8th March) and the focus of the protest has been named in the Morning Star as Paula Lamont, an elected member of the union’s Sector Executive Committee (SEC) who was visiting as an elected official. The accusation that she was “not in solidarity with anyone” is curious; she was there in solidarity with workers who were striking for a living wage, an issue not directly connected to the matter they were protesting about. (Note: ‘sector’ refers to BECTU itself, a media and entertainment workers’ union, within the wider Prospect union.)

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Enough of the naivety about Putin

A picture of an English cathedral with a tall spire, with a large two-storey red-brick house in front, across a large lawn.Last week the British prime minister, Theresa May, took most of the action she had promised to do after the Russian government did not answer for the attempted murder of a former spy and his daughter in Salisbury two weeks earlier. The attack used a nerve agent developed in Soviet Russia, an organophosphate compound of military grade (that is, much stronger and purer than the organophosphates that are notorious for making sheep farmers very ill), which it is thought no state other than Russia still has stocks of, and the victim is someone it is thought nobody other than his former homeland would want to harm. The action consisted of expelling 23 diplomats on the grounds that they were undeclared ‘security’ personnel. There was a suggestion that the Kremlin-backed TV channel RT (originally Russia Today) may have its licence to operate in the UK revoked and that England may not send a squad to next year’s World Cup in Moscow, but there is absolutely no talk of military reprisals.

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Silent liberals?

An image of Maajid Nawaz, a middle-aged South Asian man with greying hair, moustache and (short) beard, wearing a white, open-necked shirt, sitting in front of an LBC microphone and against the backdrop of a backlit LBC logo. Above the caption reads, "The uncomfortable truth about UK grooming gangs".Last week a half-hour feature by Nick Cohen of the Observer on the supposed “silence of the liberals” on the ‘plight’ of liberal Muslims in the UK who are, he alleges, facing death threats and being called unbelievers (which he claims is effectively a death warrant) for supporting women’s rights and advocating the same liberal vision they themselves do. He accuses them of a colonial attitude, preferring to speak to ‘leaders’, and accuses left-wing politicians of relying on those leaders to procure Asian votes through the ‘biraderi’ block-vote system. He interviews Amina Lone, Fiyaz Mughal of Tell MAMA/Faith Matters, Maajid Nawaz of Quilliam and the LBC radio station, and Maryam Namazie, an Iranian communist exile who runs “One Law for All” which opposes religious tribunals for settling personal and marital disputes. He makes much of the fact that no Labour MP would appear on the programme and claims he asked a wide section of the parliamentary party, including people for and against Corbyn’s leadership.

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The myth of the “conference of 72 sects”

The other day on Twitter someone retweeted a Qadiani (a member of the so-called Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam) repeating a much-rehearsed claim: that according to a newspaper report at the time, 72 sects of Muslims had a conference so as to denounce the 73rd, namely them. They claim that this was foretold by the Prophet Muhammad (sall’ Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) in a hadith and thus the conference was the fulfilment of a prophecy and proof of the authenticity of their so-called prophet, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who lived in then British India in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

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Who’s more culpable for the M1 truck crash?

A picture of a tractor unit with the Fedex logo being picked up by a winch attached to a blue mechanical arm with the word "COW" printed on it in white. The truck's front is very badly damaged, although the driver door is intact.Last August there was a three-vehicle crash on the M1 outside Milton Keynes in which eight people were killed, all of them in a minibus which was crushed when a moving truck from behind crashed into a stationary truck in front. Today, the British driver of the truck from behind, David Wagstaff, was cleared of eight counts of causing death by careless driving, having already pled guilty to the lesser charge of causing death by careless driving. The driver of the stationary truck, Ryszard Masierak from Evesham, was this week convicted of the more serious charge. He stopped his truck in the inside lane of the motorway when a hard shoulder was available, was drunk behind the wheel and his professional driving licence had been revoked (something his boss should be answering questions about, as they have a duty to make sure their drivers are legal). What the media was reporting today was just that Wagstaff had been ‘cleared’, but he has already admitted eight counts of a less serious offence which could easily mean he goes to prison. The question is: is Masierak really more culpable for this accident than the other two drivers?

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Corbyn stands no chance without a second referendum

Two lines of cars approaching a border post with three lanes visible. Signs say "keep right / garder la droite", a Canadian flag hangs from a pole to the left and there is an orange, diamond-shaped sign with an up arrow and the word "Construction" on it.With every week that passes, new disadvantages to this country from Brexit become clear: yesterday it was revealed that Theresa May had confirmed that the UK would not be part of the EU’s Digital Single Market, which means that roaming charges — abolished last year — would start to apply to British travellers again, while she also claimed to have been looking into the US/Canada border as a model for the border on the island of Ireland, a border which is very much a hard border with full passport controls (passports have been a requirement for US and Canadian citizens since 2005) and it is looking increasingly likely that the border will require a much greater physical presence and, probably, far fewer crossing points than there are now. Meanwhile, Labour have also caved in to the noise from the tabloids and some Labour MPs whose constituents voted for Brexit and increasingly advocates a hard Brexit, the end to free movement and so on. It talks of a “jobs-first Brexit” but cannot answer for how ‘jobs’ will be delivered in a Britain cut off from its neighbours, other than that fewer eastern Europeans will be able to take them.

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Unite, but follow me

The back of a red coach with the slogan "Brexit: Is It Worth It?" and the URL www.isitworthit.org.uk below, making its way down a narrow London street with cars either sideAs a Muslim I have much experience of being lectured about ‘unity’ by certain people and most of it has come from people primarily responsible for causing the division. For example, almost every Ramadan and every Eid-ul-Fitr (the festival after the end of Ramadan) we are told by people following misguided opinions (sometimes plainly contradicting the relevant facts) from Saudi Arabia that it’s Ramadan when it’s not, or (worse) that it’s Eid when it’s not. So I was not particularly receptive to the sentiment Theresa May was expressing, reported on the front page of today’s Guardian, claiming “we must bring our country back together, taking into account the views of everyone who cares about this issue, from both sides of the debate”. I presume ‘we’ refers to the government, but her speech is not about bringing anyone together but about reaffirming the supremacy of the extremist tendency that has gained the upper hand since the 2016 referendum. (The full speech can be found here.)

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Mental health campaigner Claire Greaves dies in Cygnet unit

Picture of a young white woman with dark hair tied up with a large clip at the back of her head, wearing a white T-shirt with the logo "Beat eating disorders", a rainbow-striped pair of long socks and a pair of black leggings with a white flower pattern on them.I learned this morning that Claire Greaves, a mental health blogger and campaigner who has worked with Mind, Fixers and eating disorder charity Beat until she was moved to a secure unit in 2016, and who tweeted under the handle @mentalbattle, has died in an eating disorders unit run by the private company Cygnet, owned by Pennsylvania-based Universal Health Services, in Coventry. Although she suffered from anorexia which nearly killed her in early 2017, sources on Twitter say she took her own life. She had been moved to that unit in May 2017 after five months in a mainstream hospital receiving tube-feeding after the crisis brought on by the anorexia in the Partnerships in ‘Care’/Priory-run secure unit, Ty Catrin, in south Wales, the conditions of which were the subject of this interview and which she wrote about on her blog here.

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Woman’s Place: Is the tail wagging the dog?

Last night I went to a public meeting organised by a group called A Woman’s Place UK (@WomansPlaceUK on Twitter), ostensibly to discuss the potential impact on proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act on women’s safety. There were three speakers: Lucy Masoud, a woman fire-fighter and FBU regional officer, Steph Pike who is a co-founder of AWP and Pilgrim Tucker, a community organiser who became well-known after the Grenfell Tower fire last year. The chair was Megan Dobney, who is or has been regional secretary of SERTUC (Southern & Eastern Regional Council of the Trades Union Congress) but is simply called a “union organiser” in the programme. All of them claim to be “of the left” and a major bone of contention was the Labour party allowing a person in the early stages of transition, known as Lily Madigan, to become women’s officer, but there have been a number of women leaving or threatening to leave the party over this (as well as more general discontent over Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and policies). For avoidance of doubt, I tweeted the organisers beforehand to ask if it was an all-women meeting; I was told all were welcome. I did not need to sneak in and there were a number of other men present, although mostly accompanying women.

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Bawa-Garba supporters must stop attacking parents

A picture of a Black woman wearing a long grey overcoat and a white headscarf walking along a street next to a Black man of similar age wearing an orange shirt with a beige jacket and trousers.In a previous post I expressed the opinion that the erasure of Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba (right) from the medical register was a miscarriage of justice and that a medical practitioners’ tribunal should not be expected to bow to a jury’s verdict when juries are prone to mistakes and prejudice and are not formed of experts. I joined a group of Dr Bawa-Garba’s supporters and have also witnessed some of the attitudes on Twitter of some of them. I must say at first that most of it is perfectly civil and I don’t blame them for concentrating on their colleague’s situation rather than the family’s grief or the fact that a boy died, any more than you can blame people who are opposed to the death penalty or in favour of prison reform or who seek to get an offender released after a certain time rather than throwing the key away for not always thinking about the victim or their family. However, I have come across some of them attacking the Adcock family themselves as well as other parent campaigners. This has to stop.

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Another FGM wild goose chase

A picture of a youngish South Asian man with a short beard and moustache wearing a blue shirt with no tie and a dark jacket over it, sitting at an outdoor table under a black umbrella holding a small cup of an identifiable drink in his hand, with a saucer underneath it.Yesterday a Somali man living with his family in Bristol was cleared on the judge’s direction of a child cruelty charge, brought as a result of his supposedly telling a passenger in his taxi that he had allowed his daughter to undergo a form of female genital mutilation (FGM). The passenger, Sami Ullah (right), was an activist with Integrate UK, formerly known as Integrate Bristol, and as a result of his information, two separate examinations were carried out on the girl in question (aged 6) and one on her two younger sisters, the first suggesting that some injury might have been inflicted on her but the second finding nothing. The man swore his accuser was lying and that he would not discuss his private life with strangers, and also that he did not want his daughter to suffer the health problems associated with FGM. This is only the third prosecution of anyone for FGM-related offences in this country and the third acquittal. A detailed report of the case can be found here.

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Swype dies unnoticed

Swype, for a long time my favourite keypad to use on Android phones which I first encountered on my Samsung Galaxy S back in 2011, has been killed off after years of slow development by Nuance, who bought it out in 2012. The announcement was made at the start of this month but has only just been picked up by the tech media which some might say demonstrates why its owner felt the need to discontinue it. Swype was the original keypad that let you trace words by moving your finger from letter to letter without removing it from the screen; other keypads just predicted words as you tapped on letters (you might recall that iOS lacked even this until version 8). Nuance is best-known for its Dragon dictation and voice-control software (widely used by quadriplegics who cannot use their hands to control their computers) and a version of this was included with Swype which for a while was branded “Swype + Dragon”. However, Nuance was a relative minnow once SwiftKey, its major competition among ‘independent’ Android keypads, was acquired by Microsoft, Google improved its own keypad and both were offered for free on the app stores.

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Review: Dispatches, “Inside the Priory”

Picture of Amy el-Keria, a young white girl with dark hair brushed across her forehead, wearing a maroon T-shirt with a dark blue apron over it, holding a plate of unidentifable food in both hands.This documentary on Channel 4 last night (19th Feb) exposed abusive practices, short staff, over-reliance on temporary staff (including the undercover reporter for this programme) and poor safety at a hospital unit, The Dene near Burgess Hill, Sussex, run by a company called Partnerships in Care which was taken over by the Priory Group in 2014. As it happens, many of us know of abusive practices in both pre-merger Priory and PIC units going back years, and had been waiting for a programme like this to be shown; it was a bitter disappointment, as it only focussed on one unit rather than a selection, and was too short at 25 minutes — when it finished, my thought was “is that it?” because Dispatches was always an hour-long investigative programme and there was so much more to expose than what was shown, which was bad enough but not the most egregious abuse I have heard of from both former patients and their families over the past few years. (Available on the Channel 4 website in the UK for the next 29 days.)

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Let’s investigate “death threats”

A small bottle of a red ink-like substance with a skull symbol on the side of the bottle. In the background is an old-style fountain pen and an inkwell.So, in the wake of Mary Beard’s ill-considered (patrician, soft-racist) tweet last week about how she wouldn’t go out to a disaster zone and do what those brave Oxfam staff (accused of sexually exploiting local girls) did, the usual accusations have been made by various journalists, political and media groupies and various other well-placed individuals, that Prof Beard has been “bullied” off Twitter by mobs of one sort of another. Beard may well have taken her Twitter account offline for a while, but I witnessed a lot of the reaction to her original tweet and it was roundly critical of her and much of it linked her attitude to her race and class, but a lot of that aimed at a public figure hardly counts as bullying. Ava Vidal, the comedian who has also carried out disaster relief work in Dominica after last year’s hurricane, suggested that “if someone uses their huge platform to make unsubstantiated claims of bullying, and this leads to someone being attacked, that person should be prosecuted”.

I would go a stage further: all accusations of “death threats” or other threats of violence should be investigated by the police. If you go public with such claims, you should have a duty to provide evidence to the authorities; if they are genuine, it is in everyone’s interest for the perpetrators to be found, and if they are not, it is in everyone’s interest for the falsehood to be exposed. In my experience every time there is a campaign of any kind and there is a lot at stake for some people and feelings run high (because there are people with a lot at stake, such as their health or independence, rather than small change), someone makes an accusation of “death threats” and this is used to discredit the whole campaign. I saw it with ME five or six years ago and I’ve seen it with almost every political campaign since the Tories came to power in 2010. It’s always the establishment, and people taking a pro-establishment line, that make these accusations, particularly Tories and the right-wing of the Labour party, and very often a little examination will reveal the claims to be, at the very least, exaggerated. It deflects from the fact that they are the powerful ones and encourages the audience to regard them as people who are being brave in the face of hostility, persecution or threatened violence. It is about time perfectly valid and necessary campaigns stopped being derailed or discredited by claims about what it at most a tiny minority of clowns and often, I suspect, outright fabrications.

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