“Calm down, dear”

There was a great documentary by Kirsty Wark on the BBC last week called “Blurred Lines: The New Battle of the Sexes”. (Still on iPlayer if you want to watch it.) The title is from the hugely popular online video last year, with teh naked ladies dancing. (I point this out because I’m so clued up I hadn’t even heard (of) it when it came up in last year’s Christmas Quiz. Finger on the pulse, me.)

The focus of the programme was the culture of abuse, insults, sexual threats and misogynistic remarks commonly faced by women online, including high profile recipients like Mary Beard and Caroline Criado-Perez. [EDIT : Perez has just posted examples of the abusive tweets.] Coincidentally my wife was just telling me the other day about the constant unwelcome ‘approaches’ she faces when online gaming as a female character (“Are you really a girl?” “How old are you?” etc.) and there are examples of precisely that behaviour in the documentary too. Equally there are some in the programme who deny that this is a female-specific problem, and say that rape jokes and abuse faced by women are just one facet of the jokes and abuse targeting men, and that the only difference is women’s (hyper)sensitivity. I don’t buy that. Sure, abuse is faced by everyone. Men get online death threats, and that’s reprehensible too. But to say that women should simply “man up”, as one commentator puts it, is to ignore the wider society in which we live, and the sheer amount and extremely misogynistic overtones of the abuse against women versus the generic nature of the trolling against men. The playing field is not level.

I look at society and it seems staggeringly obvious that women are the subject of systematic objectification, exclusion and lack of respect. I know it’s not all women, and not all the time. I know it’s better in our society than in some parts of the world. I know it’s talked about more openly than it used to be. But it’s in the way TV shows and films are written and cast. In the age, looks and number of female vs male presenters. In comics. In music. In who gets book deals and recording contracts. In who wins awards. In the fact that the Best Actor Oscar gets announced after the Best Actress one (because, why exactly?) In advertising. In magazines. In who gets to participate in debates. In business. In politics. In the lack of respect for older women, or any women who don’t pander to male ideals of beauty. In dismissive attitudes to rape and domestic violence. In David Cameron ‘joking’ “Calm down dear” to diminish a female MP’s opinion. Even in which members of the crowd the TV camera lingers on. In a thousand thoughtless moments of chauvinism by men who should know better. Including me, quite probably. You get the idea. I’m not going to brainstorm the world’s first comprehensive list of all sexism ever.

This may all sound a bit born-again feminist. I know it’s a bit rich, me saying women are oppressed like it’s a revelation. I’m not trying to come off as more-feminist-than-thou. But it’s hard to ignore the fact that, commonly and insidiously, many women face much more of an uphill struggle than many men. In ways so ingrained that often people don’t see them at all, or choose not to. Sometimes it takes real effort for men in particular to step back from the blithe assumptions they’ve benefitted from all their lives.

It’s why it drives me mad when blowhard sideshow-acts like Jeremy Clarkson or Godfrey Bloom poo poo the very idea that sexism still exists. Or, God forbid, claim that men are the disadvantaged ones. These are the high profile crackpots. Almost reassuringly barmy. Obligingly self-satirising. The high profile UKIP donor who says he doesn’t think women should wear trousers. But for every crackpot there’s an army of men who’ve never been near the ‘Have I Got News For You’ studio but who’ll nod along. Why should women even *want* to wear trousers when men prefer to see women in skirts? (Yeah, women. Explain THAT.)

In employment law, the classic feature of unfair discrimination is that you only see the stereotype, not the individual. Someone will decide that women can’t work in construction because they’re physically weak. Never mind that some women could beat me in a fair fight. (Okay, most women). Or they’re too emotionally fragile, or it’s improper, or it’s too dangerous. Leave that nasty stuff to The Mens. Recognising and challenging those preconceptions, treating people as individuals, recognising all the ways in which society is constructed to favour and pander to the desires of (straight, white) men, should not be controversial things.

At the risk of making this all about me, I sometimes feel paralysed in talking about feminism online because, although it’s a subject that I feel a passionate affinity with, it seems presumptuous of me to imagine that I can really understand. I worry that I’ll simplify, offend or patronise. I fear that even though I may imagine I’m a feminist, I’m wearing my own unchallenged sexist assumptions on my sleeve. (Memo to self: donate sexist arm-band to charity shop). I read powerful, illuminating articles on sexism like this or this and I feel that I have nothing to add. So I tend not to say anything at all.

But it’s worth saying something, no? I try to be aware of my stupid assumptions, sexist and otherwise. I try to be conscious that the playing field is not level. At least it’s a start.

(“Join us tomorrow, when our topic will be: Religion, which is the one true faith” – Kent Brockman)

“That makes you the racist.”

I just posted on Twitter the perhaps depressing truth that “At this stage I assume that any party with the word “English” or “UK” in the title is racist until proven otherwise.” And received from a random human being the, I hope you’ll agree, amazing reply: “So you are not pro England or Britain, but favour the rest of the world? That makes you the racist.” Even more amazingly, their twitter profile unironically includes the words “I’m not racist but…” Marvellous.

I know such sentiments are not new. But it feels as if the prevailing political narrative has now shifted pretty far to the right when it comes to immigration. It’s the normalisation of such transparently xenophobic, if not outright racist, sentiments that leaves me feeling frustrated, exasperated, powerless. The major political parties are queuing up, not to argue the value of diversity, not to remind us that we have nothing to fear from change, but to compete for how tough they can look on ‘controlling our borders’.

The UK is not alone in this by any means, with parts of Europe and Australia cheerfully demonising anyone who has the gall to think their country is lovely. It starts of course with ‘dastardly foreigners’ but then, even more perplexingly, travels back along the family tree to second or third generation immigrants like a racist genealogy show: “Who Do You Think You Are and Why Don’t You Go Back Where You Came From?”

It would be instructional to trawl back through the political debates of the last decade(s) to see how we got here. How worries about immigration came to be blandly accepted rather than challenged. I feel like I can glimpse a vicious circle where someone lands a punch with some statistically rare horror story about a sponging terrorist asylum seeker, that gets picked up by the right-wing media, that connects with the public, that the other parties have to respond to. (I say ‘have to’ on the unspoken assumption that they’re spineless and desperate enough for power to compromise their principles, just to lay my biases out there on the table.) And that begets further scare stories of the made-up or cherry-picked variety. And then mainstream news outlets like the BBC decide that the ‘public’ are worried about immigration. Immigration is an issue. It’s going to decide elections. So they start reporting the cherry-picked the stories too, which leaves those picking the cherries in the driving seat (…of their cherry-picking vehicle. Bear with me here.) And then a party like UKIP, that trades in … racist cherries… has a small victory, and that seems important because now the public are worried enough about immigration to vote for complete twats. So it must be bad. And naturally you need to report the complete twats, because in some sense they’ve come to represent the whole issue. And that party winds up looking like a serious contender, one of the Big Four, and somehow you’ve made the extremists look electable. And cherries look bigoted.

All of which still leaves me sitting here in my cosy little liberal democracy looking in blank incomprehension at the popular rise of the far right.

Free associating

There’s a very thoughtful opinion piece on the BBC website entitled “Is Barack Obama black?”. It’s a response to comments about Obama that frankly I hadn’t even been aware of. I think the article makes some very wise points about artificially absolute definitions of race, and also the societal nature of the labels we apply to people. And indeed even if Obama is regarded as mixed-race that makes his accomplishment no less great, albeit less symbolic.

Rumours continue to circle around Paterson Joseph as a contender for the next Doctor Who, and he certainly seems interested. I know I was cheerleading for him earlier on the basis of his role in Neverwhere, but I’ve been reminded that he can be a little broad in his performances so I’d be interested to see a recent performance to make up my mind. He’s in the BBC’s new remake of Survivors, along with the increasingly ubiquitous Freema Agyeman and Julie “Bonekickers” Graham. It looks potentially okay, potentially terrible. I may summon up the energy to find out. Or not.

On a related note I’d seen others refer to the recently released BBC Archive material relating to the genesis of Doctor Who. What I hadn’t realised is that the first two documents released, and particularly the first, are essentially internal BBC briefing papers trying to work out ‘what is this thing called Science Fiction?’ with a view to determining whether it could be adapted for TV. They propose to use Arthur C Clarke and John Wyndham as consultants, and even met with Brian Aldiss. As such these documents represent brief but fascinating “as others see us” thoughts about written SF in the early 1960s; at once insightful, pragmatic and patronising.

The remaining documents are more about Doctor Who itself: ‘concept notes for new SF drama’ and ‘background notes for Doctor Who’ are fascinating glimpses into the origins of the TV show, with the latter representing a recognisable yet strangely different vision of the series. It goes some way to explaining just how unlikeable Hartnell’s Doctor would occasionally be in the early episodes.

Be excellent to each other…

I don’t normally embed videos, but I was emailed this today by Avaaz.org, and I’m sure this will be doing the rounds.

It’s a quite nice, positive video underlining America’s place in the world (rather than apart from it). The email claims “The ad doesn’t tell people who to vote for” (I assume they had difficulty saying this with a straight face since it’s explicitly anti-Bush) “but its overriding message of tolerance, diplomacy, human rights and equality is unmistakable”. And that part is tough to disagree with. It’s pro- things that, to me at least, sound like common sense. So I guess that makes it a pro-Obama advert. 🙂

Of course I don’t live in the US and can’t vote in the US election for quite sensible reasons relating to electoral fraud, but as the BBC like to remind us the election will affect the rest of the world. That’s clearly the point of this campaign.

The official blurb:

In just over a week, America will head to the polls. So much depends on this election — the fight against climate change, the war in Iraq, global efforts on human rights and many other issues.

But right now, US conservatives are employing the most divisive and deceptive tactics in the US election, portraying those who call for change as “anti-American” and even terrorist sympathizers. Check out this new response ad from the global online organisation Avaaz.org, calling for hope, unity, and change as Americans head to the polls.

If enough people watch the ad and sign its message to the American people and presidential candidates, it will be picked up by the US talk shows — who are looking for what is hot online. You can watch the ad and sign on here.

Hey, you never know…

EDIT: While I’m at it, here’s Joss Whedon praising a number of things including The Sarah Connor Chronicles and Hard Day’s Night, but Obama makes it into the list.


I’m sure this rumour about Paterson Joseph being cast as the new Doctor is utter bollocks, like 99.99% of all Doctor casting rumours, but I’d love it to be true. Ever since he played the flamboyantly Doctor-like Marquis de Carabas in the BBC’s Neverwhere I’ve thought he’d be fantastic in the role. Along with Peter Capaldi he was the best thing about that series. In fact Neverwhere was explicitly Neil Gaiman’s attempt to fill the old Who niche of scary genre television for adults. Ironically it was just as severely hamstrung by its production values as Classic Who ever was.

That news story also states that “many Doctor Who purists are already resisting the notion of a black actor taking on the role”, which if true just pisses me off immensely. I don’t hang around Who forums so I’ve no idea how widespread this sentiment is or if it’s just confined to one troll and a few hardcore Whovians, but it’s nearly impossible for me to imagine what arguments could possibly be advanced for the Doctor not changing his skin colour. This is an alien being who transforms every conceivable aspect of himself, including his hair colour, features, height, weight and, er, accent. Are we supposed to believe that melanin is one step too far?


This is a fantastic dissection of a particularly odious anti-Muslim story in the generally extremely odious Daily Express.

What perhaps shouldn’t surprise me quite as much as it does is that the story has only the slightest resemblance to the truth. The headline (“Sniffer dogs offend Muslims so now bomb search police face restrictions”) is in fact not just a distortion but literally untrue and is disproven by the fine print later in the story.

This stuff really annoys me. Most days I wander past the news stand and see the headlines on the Daily Mail and the Daily Express and feel vaguely amused at how biased they seem to be. All tabloids pander mercilessly to their perceived demographic, after all, whether left wing or right wing.

Sometimes though I do get disheartened by how relentlessly the more right wing publications are brazenly trying to stir up xenophobia and make their reader (some hypothetical middle class, middle aged white person) feel that their way of life is under attack from all sides. For example, during the recent petrol strike (that only minimally disrupted the country) the Express chose big headlines stating “Government says not to panic but FUEL COULD RUN OUT!” To be fair, most of the media became obsessed with seeking out areas where there had been at least some disruption. Most didn’t actively set out to cause panic, however. The Express is particularly fond of headlines that sound like they’ve been screamed by someone experiencing a nervous breakdown. Starting the headline with the word “NOW…” is their preferred means of indicating that this latest indignity is the final straw.

The website linked to above notes some of the more extreme comments to this story, which appear to be made by people who only read the headline. Okay, even the BBC website tends to have comments threads filled with slighty deranged people ranting from their chosen soapbox, but I still find this a little depressing.

I know the Daily Express is an easy target. I know they pander to a readership who already believes these things. I just find them particularly shameless and manipulative, and the one thing that really does aggravate me in journalism is Making Stuff Up.

(Link courtesy of the ever entertaining badscience).

A rant about human rights

Brigadier: “Well naturally enough the only country that could be trusted with such a role was Great Britain.”
The Doctor: “Well, naturally. I mean, the rest were all foreigners.”
Doctor Who – “Robot”

Depressingly but unsurprisingly, “Britons believe too many people, especially immigrants and asylum seekers, take advantage of the Human Rights Act (HRA), a poll has suggested”.


Just astonishing

Predictable perhaps, but some the comments on this BBC news story about the entirely admirable move to vaccinate girls from 12 to 18 against cervical cancer really do betray both astonishing ignorance about medicine and neolithic head-in-the-sand attitudes to sexuality. The same levels of ignorance were equally in evidence in emails to BBC News 24. I should know better than to look, shouldn’t I?

And I quote:

“It cannott be right to inject cancer into patients”

(no really)

“The money would be better spent on Sex Education not vaccination.”

“Like myself, I will teach my daughter to wait for marriage before sex and this will eliminate problems like stds and pregnancy which also destroys unmarried womens lives and costs taxpayers millions taking care of illegimates. But, on the other hand, if it will save loose women from cancer then it will be ok for them.”

(pragmatism *and* generosity in one package)

“Why do women always get the vast majority of media attention, financial help and medical facilities when it comes to cancer treatment and prevention? The slightest news regarding breast or cervical cancer seems to hit the headlines.”

“It would be very interesting to know how much money was spent developing the vacine. Has an equivalent amount been spent attempting to do the same for prostate cancer – I very much doubt it. When will there be equality for men in health care?”

“one has to question the expenditure of “hundreds of millions” to save 1000 girls each year.”

“I DONT agree with this sexist vacination if males are’nt included”


“This is another great reason to teach your children at home.”

(say whut?)

“Total and utter propaganda to make more money for the pharmacutical companies. FACT is the immune system will stop all diseases”

(because, as we know, no-one ever dies from anything)

“I am against vaccination unless there is evidence showing the disease is contagious, air borne, spread by some sort of interaction. Personally, the idea of pumping children with all sorts of drugs/chemicals (vaccines), I find quite disturbing.”

(I’ve never heard it called “some sort of interaction” before)

…and so it goes on.

Janet is particularly annoyed at the sexism evident in many of the attitudes: women who have sex are ‘loose’ women who have done something wrong; money spent saving women would be better spent elsewhere (e.g. saving men!).

There are a great many rightheaded comments too, pointing out that this is not an issue about promiscuity. Sexually active does not mean promiscuous (and promiscuous does not mean immoral). Anyone who has sex, even once, is likely to be exposed to the virus. As Janet notes, all these concerned mothers must, presumably, have had sex at least once in their lives. That’s all it takes. Vaccinating young doesn’t mean we expect children to have sex young – but it does mean that the’re protected before they first have sex, which evidence suggests is most effective. I’m quite taken by one comment on the website: “The fact that I could get HPV did not make me not have sex, so I doubt the opposite will make people have sex.”

The idea, too that male diseases don’t get attention or funding seems to me to be ludicrous and inaccurate. Hardly surprising since those who are decrying this vaccine seem to be talking from sheer off-top-of-the-head prejudice. And the relative cost of this vaccination is hardly out of scale with other treatments / preventative measures.

Smart People Saying Stupid Things

It’s really depressing to see one of the pioneers of modern science spouting a load of racist nonsense. It’s rather like hearing Sir Patrick Moore blame women for falling standards at the BBC a few months back. Something in me wrongly assumes that people of science should be less prone to irrational prejudice, but of course we’re all flawed in the end, and we all carry with us assumptions that took root very early in our lives. Still you would think that an understanding of DNA would bring with it some sense of that fact that we are all fundamentally the same as a species. And you would think that a devotion to science would bring with it a spirit of challenging ingrained assumptions. I find it hard to excuse not only the sheer scale of his prejudice but also the need to shout about it as if it were something to be proud of.

Watson of course co-discovered the structure of DNA, but here he seems to be mouthing off about the intelligence of Africans based purely on his own opinion. He vaguely cites test scores but it’s often discussed that this kind of intelligence test is notorious for the difficulty in separating pure intelligence from in-built cultural and societal assumptions that influence how well people from different backgrounds and languages are able to perform. But the nail in the coffin is his entirely anecdotal and offensive suggestion that “people who have to deal with black employees” find that they are not as intelligent. Apparently he’s been even more offensive on the subject of homosexuality in the past so maybe this isn’t out of the blue. I’m not one for stifling debate but good on the Science Museum for taking a stand on this one.


Apparently, Warner Brothers are no longer doing movies with women in the lead. No, really. This is such a gobsmackingly stupid statement that it’s difficult to know where to start. You’d think it must be a misquote taken out of context, but apparently not. You see, some films with female leads haven’t done so well at the box office recently, and… well, that’s about it. Apparently that’s what passes for sophisticated analysis in the multi-billion dollar film industry.

I’m sure there’ll be some sort of retraction along in a minute, but it does make you despair.

I caught some of BBC News 24’s coverage of the Stardust red carpet premiere the other night, and was a bit bemused when the entertainment reporter asked Ricky Gervais “How would you describe the film? Sci-Fi?” I’m left wondering whether the reporter had even the vaguest idea what film she was covering or just heard the word “Star” in the title. (Gervais made some cracks about Sci-Fi nerds just to help things along.)

The world, hell and handbaskets

The world seems a particularly depressing place at the moment.

My opinion of George Bush could hardly get any lower, but I found this BBC News story fascinating and troubling: George W Bush refusing to enforce laws that he disagrees with. It’s a very high level summary but Bush’s note that he “would not necessarily enforce a ban on torture – the McCain amendment – or a ban on the censoring of government scientists’ findings” boggles the mind if accurate.

Likewise this is hardly encouraging for the cause of freedom: US court backs gay marriage ban. History will hardly look kindly on this aspect of US society, one which President Bush, naturally, supports.

Nor is this very heartening: UN body criticises US on rights, which includes the somewhat stunning statement that “earlier this month, the Bush administration announced that all detainees held by the US military, including those at Guantanamo, were to be treated in line with the minimum standards of the Geneva Conventions.” As if there should have been any question.

And if I can do so without coming across in any way as anti-Israeli (which I’m not) I’d like to state the obvious – that the current military action is resulting in many, many civilian deaths on both sides and it’s therefore only common moral decency – not a political statement – to condemn the conflict and call for a cease fire. There must be other, more proportionate, more targeted and ultimately more successful means of securing your long terms aims than bombing civilians, or bombing people whom you know are surrounded by civilians. That goes for both sides, and I can say without hesitation that I’d condemn anyone, including the UK, engaging in this kind of activity. In the past I’ve defended Tony Blair’s motives (if not his methods) over Iraq, but I’m hard pressed in this situation to see his stance as anything other than cynical and morally reprehensible, despite whatever gentle pressure towards the UN he may be exerting on Bush. Naive rant over.

Content vs Style

I think I’m starting to watch the news on a worryingly meta level, because while I think the government is wholly in the wrong in failing to consider deportation for convicted murderers and rapists from overseas, I still get bothered by the sensationalist and misleading way in which the story is reported. For example this BBC story entirely fails to mention that the prisoners had served their sentences in full, thereby giving the impression that convicted murderers and rapists had somehow been let out onto the streets without punishment. I assume this is because it sounds cooler and more exciting. I do worry that this kind of reporting, with the buzz-words “foreign criminals” all over the place, can only fuel the general anti-immigrant sentiments that seem to be on the rise. This close to a local election it’s potentially incendiary, and can only further the BNP’s ’cause’.

The BBC do redeem themselves with this Q&A, which is a great deal clearer. For example, while all 1023 prisoners should have been considered for deportation, ‘only’ 160 were specifically ordered to be deported. Still a large number, but far from clear on the TV news.

As for the meat of the story, it clearly merits headline reporting, and is clearly a monumental cock-up on the part of the government – or at least an administrative and managerial cock-up on the part of the various departments. As to how serious it is beyond the political ramifications, it depends where you stand on criminals who have served their sentence. If a murderer has served their time, is it jeopardising the public safety to let them out onto the streets? In some cases yes, in some no, and it doesn’t really matter if they are a UK national or not. Someone who is not a citizen of the UK and abuses the country’s laws should probably be sent home on the principle of abuse of trust and hospitality, but they’re still no more or less of a threat than any other ex-offender.

I feel more strongly about cases where reoffending is more likely such as rape or paedophilia. Thankfully this is one of the factors considered as part of deportations. While I don’t feel that deportation is an automatic answer (otherwise: Hey! Let’s deport all criminals!), it’s common sense that any measures should be at least as stringent as those which would apply to a UK national. Releasing a sex offender without any attempt to monitor them is therefore rather stupid by any standards. (Although I’m unclear whether this is, in fact, what happened. Which is another problem with the reporting.)

There are of course other factors. Some of the criminals had not committed serious crimes (41 were burglars). Some may have family here. Some may face a threat to life and limb if returned to their home country. All this must be weighed against their having committed a crime in the UK, and deportation is not automatic for very sensible reasons.

Ultimately this is a serious issue which deserves serious, informed reporting – reporting which studiously avoids the implication that these dirty forriners just want to murder us in our beds. And they could be living among you right now.

Godless heathens

Hey, I’m part of a distrusted minority. Finally! It may even give other minority groups something to be pleased about, relatively speaking, since: ‘From a telephone sampling of more than 2,000 households, university researchers found that Americans rate atheists below Muslims, recent immigrants, gays and lesbians and other minority groups in “sharing their vision of American society.”‘

Perhaps it’s hardly surprising that strongly religious people distrust atheists. At some fundamental level you’d almost expect it, though it needn’t necessarily be the case. To be honest I’m perfectly happy with the notion that people with equally strong – if opposing – religious beliefs have more in common with each other than with atheists. It’s all about the way you view the world and your place within it, and religions do indeed have a great deal in common on that level.

I do wonder, though, whether this result isn’t influenced by other factors. Atheism is also one of those forgotten minority groups (and how sad that it’s a minority!) in that there’s no sense that denigrating atheists is discriminatory in any way; no sense of guilt at having transgressed a cultural boundary. People will tend to be honest about their feelings towards atheists where perhaps they would not towards Muslims.

But still – to distrust atheists on principle – as if they were a homogenous group defined solely by their scepticism about the Almighty – indicates some fundamental assumptions which go hand in hand with distrust of science. It’s that feeling that scepticism is the same as believing in nothing or having no moral values. The feeling that to demand scientific evidence for belief is to be contrary and closed-minded. That’s more worrying to me.

I’m also struck by those minority groups mentioned in the quote; particularly their incredible diversity. They are all regarded as “other” by some kind of majority definition, but they share almost nothing else in common. That implictly says a lot about the very limited definition of social normality used by the people participating in the poll (or possibly by those conducting it, depending on how the quotations were phrased.) It’s sad that there’s any question of whether minority groups share a vision of society in common with other people: after all, any group is composed of individuals with their own beliefs, people who are not solely or even mainly defined by some arbitrary notion of “minority”. And if there is any sense that those groups don’t agree with the mainstream vision of society, it’s almost certainly because that society treats them with suspicion and intolerance and seeks to disenfranchise them. So standing up for your rights leads you to be seen as a threatening outsider: talk about a vicious circle.

All of which is just the tip of the iceberg of a very complex issue, but there’s nothing like a ridiculous poll to get your brain working.

Shock and awe

From weyoun_one:

Not content with asserting that the bombers are all scrounging asylum seekers recently, the Daily Express has managed to plumb further depths with their front page assertion that the Human Rights Act should be scrapped in order to remove its unreasonable restriction on hurling prisoners down flights of stairs, or something along those lines.

You can only gaze in awe at a publication which makes Hitler look like a man who never quite decided where he stood on immigration. And devoting the remainder of their front page to a story about Diana pregnancy conspiracy theories displays an almost sublime lack of self awareness.


Seen on a newsstand, today’s Daily Express front page headline is:


Although it’s somewhat difficult for me to believe that this isn’t a spoof, I suppose it’s better than what they probably would have liked to print:


Trouble is, of course, that since a few of the bombers *are* asylum seekers, now all asylum seekers will be tarred with the same very large brush. The fact that these particular asylum seekers arrived with their families at the ages of 12 and 14, and that those families have condemned their actions, appears to be neither here nor there as far as the press is concerned. (It’s tough to imagine the headline “Murderer was middle-class white man”. Because even where it’s true, it isn’t deemed to be a newsworthy distinction to make.)

In contrast, today’s Independent has this reassuringly sober account, in which a strangely small number of bombers appear to be spongeing asylum seekers:

“Three of the 7 July bombers were British-born, of Pakistani origin, and the fourth was a Jamaica-born Briton. None of the killers had committed serious criminal offences, although one had been investigated by MI5 for association with a terror suspect.

Details of the second cell shows they come from Somalia and Eritrea but have lived legally in the UK for more than 10 years. Links are emerging between the two groups, but it is far from certain that they knew of each other.”

Meanwhile the BBC summarises what’s known about them so far.


My jaw actually dropped when I saw this story about Michael Howard warning of race riots. Without blushing.

What he’s doing of course is trying to gain implicit acceptance for the idea there are no controls on immigration at present, which is plainly not the case. I’m sure there’s room for improvement, but that doesn’t mean there are no controls, and it doesn’t mean that a PR-friendly cap on numbers is the best way of achieving control. In fact, it’s about the bluntest instrument imaginable, since it tackles only the number of immigrants and makes no distinction between them in terms of the economic benefit they bring, their willingenss to contribute to society, or the moral imperative to help people living in fear of their lives.

The idea that race riots are fuelled by having too many immigrants is so simplistic and insulting as to defy belief. Race riots are not caused by having too many immigrants in our country, or indeed by having too many people from different ethnic backgrounds in our country (which is not the same thing). They’re caused by intolerance and fear. They’re caused by treating groups of people as caricatures instead of individual human beings.

The only way in which controlled immigration (i.e. *more* controlled immigration) can reduce race riots is if you assume that: a) that all immigrants are non white, b) Britain is a white mono-culture and other races are a disruptive outside influence, c) if people have an irrational fear you should pander to it instead of dispelling it, and d) the best way to stop people suffering racism is to keep them out of the racists’ country. Surely a case of blaming the victims rather than the criminals?

Reassuring people about strict immigration controls is not the way to tackle race riots or community relations. Implying that we can only take so many of these strange foreigners, you know, without sacrificing our way of life is not the way to tackle race riots. Implying that, by the way, immigrants might be murdering, lazy, lying opportunists who are here to take our jobs and kill us in our sleep is not the way to tackle race riots.

The way to tackle race riots is to encourage people to embrace the simple reality that Britain is multi-cultural. It also coudn’t hurt to encourage them to respect one another, to explain that immigration is a tiny issue compared to most that face our country, and to calmly reassure people that things are being done to keep criminals out of the country, but there are just as many criminals who were born here and we have to tackle them too.

I wish Labour and the Lib Dems were doing those things with more conviction, therefore.


So the Conservatives have managed to put themselves further to the Right on Immigration than New Labour; no mean feat. It’s now set to be a central issue of the Tories’ election campaign. While they preach reasonableness and practicality, I’m left feeling very uncomfortable about the idealogy that lies behind this. Michael Howard says “we cannot take them all“, which seems to me to be the epitome of a straw man argument. Who ever said we were going to “take them all”? But if we’re going to decide who to take and who not to take, shouldn’t it be on other grounds than an arbitrary quota designed to look appealing in an election manifesto?

Continue reading “Ranting”


Lest anyone doubt that the UK Independence Party is composed of strange, grumpy old men who want the country to be just like it was when they were growing up, one UKIP MEP has just decided that equal rights for women is bad and makes them unemployable.

Apparently, some small businessmen are so sexist that they won’t employ women just in case they get pregnant, and that means that we shouldn’t have any employment rights for women at all. Talk about your classic case of conclusions first, rationalisation second…

It’s apparently irrelevant that maternity rights have done far, far more good than bad. We don’t want any of this crazy sex discrimination law. And while we’re at it, let’s chuck out all of that downright, well, “european” race discrimination law, equal pay law, disability discrimination law, human rights law, and employment protection. That stuff that’s transformed our working lives for the better over the last 30 years. It’s all much too Belgian. UKIP said so.