Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Student apathy is good for business

Crackdowns on a resurgence in activism highlight universities' transformation into businesses selling employable students
Comments (129)

Hicham Yezza
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 19 February 2009 19.30 GMT
Article history
Over the past four weeks, the UK student community has been witnessing an unprecedented political awakening not seen since the anti-apartheid protests of the 80s, and yet you would be forgiven for being completely oblivious to it. Coverage in the media has been sporadic and muted at best, mostly confined to a few orphan stories in local outlets and a couple of notices in the broadsheets. Since mid-January, students in more than 20 universities across the UK have been taking part in a series of sit-ins or soft "occupations" of university spaces. These have for the most part consisted of dozens of students peacefully remaining in lecture theatres and using the act as a gesture of protest against what they perceived to be the shameful silence and collusion of many British universities in the horrific ongoing suffering in Gaza. The movement has even spread to US campuses.
Many issued lists of demands that included requests for educational equipment to be donated to Gazan schools as well as scholarships for Palestinian students. Crucially, no lectures were to be disrupted and indeed, when covering the Nottingham University protests for Ceasefire Magazine, most lecturers and students I spoke to were happy to continue studying in the occupied spaces.
For anyone interested in the health of our political system, these events are highly instructive. For a start, they would have been unthinkable a decade ago: everyone remembers the quasi-proverbial, and not wholly undeserved, reputation students have cultivated over the years for extreme political apathy. Indeed, the extent of the indifference to the political process among the youth was a source of national despair, wistfully and routinely bemoaned by politicians across the spectrum. More importantly, these protests have also been very indicative of some larger truths: not only have they highlighted a rise in political awareness among a new generation raised in the shadow of the Iraq war debate, they have also exposed what has for long been a suspected but unspoken reality: rather than being the centres of learning, debate and intellectual engagement of yore, British universities are now little more than businesses purveying a product, employable students. The message is unambiguous: political engagement might be good for the mind but it is very, very bad for business. The last four weeks have given us ample evidence to that effect. Take Nottingham University, where senior management responded to a peaceful sit-in by sending in private security agents to drag the students out of the building and into the snow (injuring some in the process according to media reports). To their credit, the students responded by launching a "books not bombs" campaign aimed at initiating a campus-wide debate about the university's links to the arms trade. Things were not much better at Sheffield Hallam where students had agreed to end their sit-in when threatened with police action but were suspended from their course anyway, a lesson to everyone else.
Thankfully, not everyone was this draconian: many of the universities, including King's College, Oxford University and the London School of Economics, engaged in reasonable dialogue and several sit-ins ended in amicable agreements (after negotiations) where some or all of the demands were satisfied: Edinburgh University granted scholarships for Palestinian students. Glasgow University offered to send equipment to Gazan educational institutions. Unfortunately, these have been the exception rather than the rule.
How is it that a peaceful movement (both in its aims and actions) that has received support from members of both houses of parliament – not to mention a long list of academics, politicians and public figures (including Tony Benn, Noam Chomsky, Desmond Tutu and MPs such as Alan Simpson) has come to be seen as such a grave threat to the public image of a university? Since when has a group of peaceful protesters organising lectures, film screenings, open discussions and live acoustic gigs been deemed worthy of heavy-handed tactics and deployment of considerable university security resources and police time?
The answer is rather simple. Many universities have now grown to see their task as that of churning out generic, malleable clones for the consumption of ever more regimental recruiters. Students now spend their university years being bombarded with instructions on how to turn themselves into perfect job interview candidates. Countless career tutorials, taster sessions, seminars, workshops and presentations drum into students the notion that any semblance of political consciousness will damage employability – and that employability is everything. What is being lost on many is that such a shift is draining this young generation of bright, capable graduates of their essential critical instincts. The unquestioning deference to authority and the blind adherence to the party line are now seen not as impediments, but as the pre-requisites for anyone serious about getting a job with a top recruiter.
Let us be clear: this is obviously not about the political merits of the protests per se. The problem is not that university managers disagree with their students' demands (which they are perfectly entitled to do), but that they view the very act of students engaging with the wider reality of their world as a subversive phenomenon to be nipped in the bud before it infects the rest of the student population. In an attempt to discredit the protests, some university authorities simply resorted to calling them "disruptive" despite incontrovertible evidence to the contrary. This PR-obsessed mindset now prevalent amongst university managers perceives any discussion of controversial topics to be a nuisance they can ill afford and an unacceptable threat to the image of Stepford-like stability, homogeneity and conformity that is at the very heart of their international recruitment efforts.
We can dismiss these sit-ins as simple-minded tantrums by soixante-huitards manqués all we like but, ultimately, if British universities are serious about remaining a competitive presence in the international market of ideas, whether in the natural or social sciences, it is essential the ongoing rot is brought to a halt as a matter of urgency. It is simply not enough to pay lip service to an esoteric, non-existent "right to protest". Students must be encouraged, not quelled and intimidated, in their efforts to engage with the complex realities of the world. Sure, some of the demands might be unrealistic and arguably naive in their assumptions, but that is beside the point: whether they're right or wrong in their political positions, students need to be heard and respected, not patronised and infantilised for their dissent.

Monday, 23 February 2009

Abu Qatada has rights too

Casual racism underlies the decision to deport a man who has never been charged with a crime on the basis of secret evidence
Comments (321)

Victoria Brittain
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 18 February 2009 11.30 GMT
Article history
The law lords' decision to uphold the Home Office appeal to deport Mohamed Othman, also known as Abu Qatada, to face a military trial on terrorism charges in Jordan marks a low moment in British justice. The meaningless George Bush phrase "war on terror" may have now been expunged from the official discourse, but, in their different ways, figures as distinguished as the former head of MI5, Stella Rimington, and the former senior law lord Lord Bingham have pointed out this very week, the erosion of civil liberties in Britain under the justification of combating terrorism continues apace.
Othman's civil liberties, and the right to respect for private and family life embodied in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, are no different from anyone else's. The Othman family came here as refugees. Othman has never been charged or tried for any crime in this country. The evidence on which the law lords made their decision was heard in secret, and neither Othman nor his lawyers have the right to know what it is so that it could be challenged. This system of secret evidence against Muslims accused of terrorism is manifestly unjust, and should be denounced by parliament, along with torture, Guantánamo, secret prisons around the world and renditions.
The law lords' judgment joined Othman's case with that of two Algerian men known as Mr U and Mr RB, whom the Home Office wants to deport to Algeria, and who, like him, have spent most of the last seven years in Belmarsh or Long Lartin prisons, or under the effective house arrest regime of control orders. (The two Algerians still have an appeal pending in the court of appeal, unlike Othman, whose lawyers immediately lodged in the European court in Strasbourg an appeal for a stay on his 72 hours for deportation as a result of today's judgment.)
The British security services and the media have successfully demonised these men, and in particular mythologised Othman as posing a super-danger to our society. No proof of any of the damning things repeatedly said and written about him has ever been produced. The fact that he condemned both 9/11 and the London 7/7 bombings has been conveniently forgotten.
Since Othman's bail was revoked in December after a November hearing with secret evidence, he has been in Long Lartin prison in Worcestershire. The day he returned, access to gym and education facilities were withdrawn without explanation from those in the special security wing for Muslim prisoners. Othman's family visits were made in a special secure room where his conversations with his wife and children were taped.
The three men were referred to as "aliens" in the judgment, underlining the attitude that led to the law lords deciding that the issue of torture in the countries where these people are being deported is not the business of the court, and that diplomatic assurances that they will not be tortured are satisfactory. Human rights organisations have repeatedly named both Algeria and Jordan as countries where torture is routine.
The casual racism that allows our society to treat these men's human rights as different from our own is an old cancer in Britain that we prefer to forget. We cannot afford to.

Deportations will not infringe human rights

House of Lords
Published February 19, 2009
RB (Algeria) v Secretary of State for the Home DepartmentU (Algeria) v SameOthman (Jordan) v SameBefore Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, Lord Hoffmann, Lord Hope of Craighead, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood and Lord ManceSpeeches February 18, 2009
Appeals from decisions of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission were restricted to questions of law or irrationality.
The commission had been entitled to conclude, having regard to assurances given by the respective governments and to closed material, that the appellants would not, if deported, face a real risk of inhuman treatment contrary to article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights or of violation of the article 6 right to a fair trial.
The House of Lords (i) dismissed appeals by RB and U, Algerians, from the Court of Appeal (Sir Anthony Clarke, Master of the Rolls, Lord Justice Buxton and Lady Justice Smith) (The Times August 3, 2007; [2008] QB 533) which had allowed their appeals from the commission and remitted their cases to it for reconsideration and (ii) allowed an appeal by the Secretary of State for the Home Department from the Court of Appeal (Sir Anthony Clarke, Master of the Rolls, Lord Justice Buxton and Lady Justice Smith) (The Times April 15, 2008; [2008] 3 WLR 798) which had allowed Omar Othman's appeal that his expulsion would contravene article 6.
Mr Rabinder Singh, QC and Mr Hugh Southey for RB; Mr Richard Drabble, QC, Mr Hugh Southey and Mr Raza Husain for U; Mr Ian MacDonald, QC, Mr Mark Henderson and Ms Michelle Butler for Liberty, intervening; Mr Robin Tam, QC and Mr Robert Palmer for the Home Secretary; Mr Martin Chamberlain as special advocate for RB and U. Mr Michael Beloff, QC, Mr Robin Tam, QC, Mr Tim Eicke and Mr Alan Payne for the Home Secretary; Mr Edward Fitzgerald, QC, Mr Guy Goodwin-Gill, Mr Raza Husain and Mr Danny Friedman for Mr Othman; Mr Angus McCullough and Mr Martin Chamberlain as special advocates for Mr Othman. Lord Pannick, QC, Miss Helen Mountfield and Mr Tom Hickman for Justice and Human Rights Watch, intervening in all cases.
LORD PHILLIPS said that the Home Secretary wished to deport the appellants on the ground that each was a danger to the national security of the United Kingdom. Each contended that she could not do so because that would infringe his Convention rights.
RB and U contended that deportation to Algeria would infringe their rights under article 3 in that it would expose them to a real risk of torture or inhuman or degrading treatment. Mr Othman made a similar contention and also contended that he would face a real risk of a flagrant breach of his right to liberty under article 5 and of his right to a fair trial under article 6.
Each had unsuccessfully appealed against the order for his deportation to the commission and successfully appealed to the Court of Appeal. In each case, closed material had been put before the commission, which had given open and closed judgments, as had the Court of Appeal.
Closed material was defined by rule 37(1) of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Procedure) Rules (SI 2003 No 1034) as material on which the secretary of state wished to rely but which she objected to disclosing to the appellant or his representative.
The right to appeal to the Court of Appeal from a final determination of the commission was stated by section 7 of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission Act 1997 to be "on any question of law material to that determination".
By restricting appeals to questions of law, Parliament had deliberately circumscribed the review of commission decisions that the Court of Appeal was permitted to undertake, so that it fell well short of the review that would be carried out if a case reached the European Court of Human Rights at Strasbourg.
The commission's conclusions could only be attacked on the ground that it had failed to pay due regard to some rule of law, had regard to irrelevant matters, failed to have regard to relevant matters or been otherwise irrational. Its decisions could also be attacked on the ground that its procedures, such as the use of closed material, had failed to meet requirements imposed by law.
The wording of subsections (3) and (6) of section 5 of the 1997 Act was clear and contained no hint that rules providing for closed hearings could only be made in so far as that was necessary in the interests of national security and not in relation to the issue of safety on return, as the appellants contended. Rule 4 of the 2003 Rules fell fairly and squarely within the rule-making power in section 5.
The commission's procedures struck a fair balance between the public interest, to which it was required to have regard, and the need to ensure that the hearing was fair. The appellants had not been denied a fair trial by reason of the use of the closed material.
In RB and U's cases, the commission had held that, having regard to assurances given by the Algerian Government as to the way in which they would be treated on return, they would not face a real risk of inhuman treatment under article 3 if returned. The Jordanian Government had given similar assurances in Mr Othman's case.
Decisions of the Strasbourg Court did not establish a principle that assurances had to eliminate all risk of inhuman treatment before they could be relied on, although they should be treated with scepticism if given by a country where inhuman treatment by state agents was endemic. The contention that the assurances did not, on their true construction, protect against inhuman treatment was not well founded.
Mr Othman contended that, if deported, he faced a retrial in respect of charges on which he had been convicted in his absence, that he would be tried by the State Security Court, which was not an independent and impartial tribunal, and that he would be at real risk of being convicted on the basis of confessions made by others that had been obtained by torture.
Before the deportation of an alien would be capable of violating article 6, there had to be substantial grounds for believing that there was a real risk that there would be a fundamental breach of the principles of a fair trial guaranteed by it and that that failure would lead to a miscarriage of justice that itself constituted a flagrant violation of the victim's fundamental rights. The focus had to be not simply on the unfairness of the trial process but on its potential consequences.
The potential consequences in Mr Othman's case were sufficiently severe to satisfy the second limb of the test. The question was thus whether there were substantial grounds for believing that he faced a real risk of a fundamental breach of the principles of a fair trial as recognised in Strasbourg.
While in a domestic case, the composition of the State Security Court would violate article 6, it did not follow that that would, of itself, constitute a flagrant breach of article 6 sufficient to prevent deportation in a foreign case.
The United Kingdom was not required to retain in this country to the detriment of national security a terrorist suspect unless it had a high degree of assurance that evidence obtained by torture would not be adduced against him. What was relevant in the appeal was the degree of risk that Mr Othman would suffer a flagrant denial of justice if deported to Jordan.
The commission had concluded that there were no reasonable grounds for believing that, if deported, the criminal trial that he would face would have defects of such significance as fundamentally to destroy its fairness. The Court of Appeal had held that in so concluding it had erred in law. In his Lordship's view it had not done so, and the secretary of state's appeal should be allowed.
Lord Hoffmann, Lord Hope, Lord Brown and Lord Mance delivered concurring opinions.
Solicitors: Fisher Meredith; Birnberg Peirce & Partners; Ms Corinna Ferguson, Southwark; Treasury Solicitor; Special Advocates Support Office, Treasury Solicitor. Treasury Solicitor; Birnberg Peirce & Partners; Special Advocates Support Office, Treasury Solicitor. Herbert Smith LLP.

No US rights' for Bagram inmates

Detainees being held at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan cannot use US courts to challenge their detention, the US says.
The justice department ruled that some 600 so-called enemy combatants at Bagram have no constitutional rights.
Most have been arrested in Afghanistan on suspicion of waging a terrorist war against the US.
The move has disappointed human rights lawyers who had hoped the Obama administration would take a different line to that of George W Bush.
Prof Barbara Olshansky, the lead counsel in a legal challenge on behalf of four Bagram detainees, told the BBC the justice department's decision not to reform the rules was both surprising and "enormously disappointing".
The BBC's Kevin Connolly in Washington says the move has angered human rights lawyers, with one saying the new White House was endorsing the view of the old one, that prisons could be created and run outside the law.
It is certainly evidence that having set the tone for his administration by announcing plans to close Guantanamo Bay, Mr Obama intends to adopt a much more cautious approach to the problem of detainees held elsewhere by the US military, our correspondent says.
'Homicides admitted'
Last year, the US Supreme Court gave suspects held at the US Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the right to challenge their detention.
Following that ruling, petitions were filed at a Washington district court on behalf of four detainees at Bagram.
The judge then gave the new administration an opportunity to refine the rules on appeals.
In a two-sentence filing, justice department lawyers said the new administration had decided not to change the government's position.
"Having considered the matter, the government adheres to its previously articulated position," said acting assistant Attorney General Michael Hertz in papers filed at the court.
The US justice department argues that Bagram differs from Guantanamo Bay because it is in an overseas war zone and prisoners there are being held as part of ongoing military action.
Prof Olshansky said the conditions at the Bagram facility, which is near the Afghan capital, Kabul, were worse than those at Guantanamo Bay, adding that there was a lack of due process available to detainees.
"The situation in Bagram is so far from anything like meeting the laws of war or the human rights treaties that we're bound to," she told the BBC.
"There are no military hearings where the detainees can present evidence," she added. "Torture has led to homicides there that have been admitted by the US."
"It's quite a severe situation, and yet the US is planning a $60m new prison to hold 1,100 more people there."
The US military considers Bagram detainees unlawful combatants who can be detained for as long as they are deemed a threat to Afghan national security.

Death threat to Greek media

The explosion at Citibank in Athens came without warning. Now a guerrilla splinter group is targeting police and journalists
Helena Smith in Athens
The Observer, Sunday 22 February 2009
Article history
Amid growing fears that Greece could become a centre of terrorism in Europe, political extremists yesterday issued a warning to journalists, saying it had them within its sights because they represented a corrupt establishment.
In a statement claiming responsibility for an assault on a private television station four days earlier, the Sect of Revolutionaries guerrilla group vowed to step up their campaign of terror.
"By attacking the channel, we are sending an ultimatum to all journalists," the militants said in the declaration, originally made on a CD and published in the daily newspaper Ta Nea
The warning, unprecedented in a country that thought it had eradicated guerrilla warfare, came as counter-terrorism experts intensified the search for another group of militants whose attempt to carry out carnage in the centre of Athens was only narrowly thwarted last week.
The manhunt, launched after a string of attacks in the Greek capital, followed a rare police appeal for information that might unmask the young men and women believed to be behind the new urban guerrilla movement.
Greece has been hit by a series of attacks since the beginning of the year.
Modelling themselves on the far-left groups that wrought havoc in Europe in the Seventies, extremists have used guns, hand grenades and explosive devices to target police, media outlets and perceived symbols of capitalism.
The assaults culminated on Wednesday with an attempt to detonate a car bomb outside the headquarters of Citibank in Athens. The 60 kilogram device, assembled with ammonium nitrate fuel oil - the explosive used in the Oklahoma City bombing - could have destroyed the four-storey building and killed hundreds.
Less than 24 hours earlier, two gunmen on a motorbike fired shots at the private television station and threw an explosive device at the premises that failed to detonate.
Bullet casings found at the scene matched those used in an attack on a police station two weeks earlier for which the Sect of Revolutionaries also claimed responsibility. The gang first appeared with a proclamation in another CD that was left on the grave of a teenaged boy whose death at the hands of a policeman plunged Greece into the worse civil unrest it had seen in decades in December.
"This new generation [of guerrillas] is very dangerous and very serious," said Michalis Chrysohoides, a former public order minister in charge of counter-terrorism in the run-up to the 2004 Athens Olympics. "In terms of violence, they make 17 November [the notorious terror organization that operated in Greece for nearly 30 years] look like little angels."
The resurgence of terrorism has sent tremors through the country's security forces. Widely thought to be linked to the last December's "uprising", its reappearance has also shocked the public at large. Policemen noticeably appear terrified on patrol and as they guard public buildings, all too aware that it could be them next.
Most of the attacks have been against policemen whose reputation as a hated symbol of authority was reinforced when 15-year-old Alexis Grigoropoulos was shot dead, as he enjoyed a night out in Athens, by special police guard Epaminondas Korkoreas. The shooting prompted thousands to take to the streets, unleashing a wave of anger that saw the country erupt in riots for the next three weeks.
"From now on, the life of every cop is worth as much as a bullet, while their bodies are the ideal target practice," the Sect of Revolutionaries declared in its maiden proclamation. "They, like the doughnuts that they eat, are no good without a hole in the middle."
Ominously, the group also pledged to expand its targets to "prominent Greeks" including politicians, media stars, capitalists and state officials. "Today's statement shows that they mean business," said one police official speaking on condition of anonymity. "The time may soon come when journalists need bodyguards in this county."
A blight on Greece for decades, domestic terrorism was thought to have been eradicated with the dismantlement of the 17 November group. The organisation, whose targets included the British embassy's military attaché in Athens, Brigadier Stephen Saunders, was disbanded in 2002.
Unlike the Marxist 17 November, which emerged after the collapse of US-backed military rule, the new generation of urban guerrillas has tried neither to garner popular support nor explain its actions.
Instead, the Sect of Revolutionaries, believed by experts to be a branch of Revolutionary Struggle - a group that made its debut with a rocket attack on the US embassy in 2007, and also thought to be behind the attack on Citibank - has stood out for its cold cynicism and marked lack of ideology. "We don't do politics, we do guerrilla warfare," it declared.
Mounting social unrest is believed to have goaded the militants into armed action. Youths radicalised by record levels of unemployment and deep-seated economic disaffection are thought to have augmented the ranks of anti-establishment groups, many of which emerged emboldened from the December "uprising". Last week, authorities announced that crime rates had also soared.
But the frequency of the attacks and their sheer brazenness - the assailants have often struck in broad daylight - has surprised Greeks. In a break with the tradition of careful targeting by Greek extremists, authorities were not alerted to the planned attack against Citibank, raising the spectre of mass casualties.
"I am very afraid that the situation will get a lot worse," said Chrysohoides, the former public order minister. "This is like nothing we have dealt with before. These people care not for human life. What we are seeing doesn't happen elsewhere in Europe. It happens in Kabul."

Control Immigration?

The latest little spat about immigration in the UK is revealing - not just about the issue itself, but about the confusion of those who take a position on it. Especially, in my view, the increasingly vaguely-defined collection of people who nowadays call themselves 'the left' (or, if you read the Guardian or are American, the 'progressives' - sounds so much less threatening, don't you think?)Here's the news: new immigration minister Phil Woolas has, for the first time since Labour came to power, publicly declared that immigration levels are too high. He has linked this to the economic downturn - because there will be fewer jobs, he says, the government should make sure more of them go to British people. Also, and significantly in my view, he has linked immigration, again for the first time, to our rapidly rising population. The UK's population is currently almost 61 million. But it's predicted to rise to a staggering 77 million by 2051 if current levels of immigration continue. Immigration is the main cause of population increase in the UK; nearly two thirds of a million people arrived here last year alone.I don't know what's going on in the Labour party at the moment. It seems as if the financial crash has given them permission to excitedly start slaughtering all their sacred cows. Suddenly it's all bank nationalisation, 80% climate change targets, Keynesianism on the international stage and even - who'd a thunk it? - a public discussion about immigration.Not before time on any of these things, in my opinion. On immigration itself, whatever your view on the matter it is hard to deny that the way it has been handled over the last decade has been deeply undemocratic. The number of people expressing concern about immigration has shot up in the last decade; coinciding with the largest rise in immigration in British history. Call them all racists if you like (though it would be lazy, and wrong), but if you call yourself a democrat you have to question the right of any government to carry out, over such a long period, a policy which results in such significant social change, against the wishes of its people. Still, that's British 'democracy' for you.It's worth noting the stunning hypocrisy of Labour's volte-face on this one. For a decade they have engineered a situation in which public discussions about immigration are taboo, by hinting darkly at the motivations of anyone who tries to hold them. Not uncoincidentally, BNP support has shot up to record levels over the same period. You can blame the government directly for that. Over the same period, too, pressures on housing, schools, hospitals, roads and even entire towns have become in some places extremely significant as a result.Why is this happening? For the same reason that immigration always happens - people move to make a better life for themselves. Nobody can complain about this - we'd all do it if we had to, and some of us already have. But that doesn't mean its wider impacts are always harmless. The government has actively encouraged immigration into the UK, but not for humanitarian reasons. It has encouraged this because the logic of globalisation requires it. A corporate economy needs cheap labour. Where do we get it? From elsewhere, now that British workers are no longer willing to be exploited.Hence we have a Labour government - a Labour government - shipping in millions of cheap foreigners ripe for exploitation in order to keep the markets happy, at the same time leaving the indigenous working classes - who, remember, founded the bleedin' Labour party in the first place - high and dry and thinking of voting for the BNP. Nice one, New Labour. Very humanitarian. Very internationalist.But the wider left - and you'll excuse a few generalisations in pursuit of a deeper truth - seems equally confused in its response. For a long time now, the left's position on immigration has been one of the reasons it has become so cut off from popular sentiment, and largely irrelevant in what were once its heartlands: the working class areas of Britain, where immigration is extremely unpopular. That position has always been pretty simple: racists don't like immigration. Therefore, people who don't like immigration are racists. Therefore we are against them and in favour of all immigration, at all times.For a few decades this seemed to get them through. They didn't bother following the logic any further. But things are reaching a crunch point with the current crash, and we're going to have to do better than this. Particularly when many of the people most opposed to new immigration are, er, Britain's ethnic minorities.The predictable reactions to Woolas's statement have highlighted some of the contradictions. Let's have a look at what some of those reactions say about the politics of immigration:1. This is 'pandering to the right.' So says annoying former minister Denis McShane. 'At a time of economic downturn Britain should be a welcoming country for foreign investment', he says, ignoring the fact that this is precisely not about investment, it's about cheap labour for the investors. And 'pandering to the right'? A better way of doing that is to keep doing what Denis and his ilk have been doing for ten years - trying to shut down any discussion about the impacts of immigration. That way, the BNP, UKIP and even the Tories get the votes of frustrated people who are genuinely concerned about the impacts of immigration but keep being called fascists by McShane and his chums when they dare to mention it.2. This is basically racist. So says Labour MP Khalid Mahmood, who reckons this is really just code for preventing more South Asian immigration. This ignores Woolas's explicit statement that unlimited immigration, rather than immigration limits, is most likely to cause ethnic tension during a downturn (I suspect he's right about that). Others have claimed that Gordon Brown's famed 'British jobs for British workers' position is somehow an outrageously far-right sop. I can't see why. British workers employ (by voting for) the British government, and pay for it. What's outrageous about that government, in return, looking out for their economic interests before those of non-voters and non-taxpayers? If it doesn't do that, what's the point of the British government at all? On what foundation is our democracy based? Answers on a postcard, once you've actually thought about it.3. This is bad for the economy. According to the Immigration Advisory Service, we need immigrants because Britons are not prepared, or even allowed, to do the really shitty jobs. Note how almost everyone, from opponents to supporters of the government's position, frames the issue in terms of that mythical beast 'the economy.' Remember: 'the economy' runs us, not the other way round. Therefore if 'the economy' needs a million new migrants a year, it should get them. Never mind the wider consequences - of which the Immigration Advisory Service curiously has nothing to say at all. Listen to their chief executive arguing that immigrants are needed to debone our fish or pick our vegetables and ask yourself what kind of 'humanitarian' argument that is? Here is a prime example of the left using neoliberal arguments if they happen to suit its cause. Very principled.4. We can't stop the population growing. This is the one that really gets my goat - and it's a great example of where the left's cannibalising of the environmental movement is coming a cropper. Population growth is a disaster for Britain. We are already, in my view, overcrowded and overdeveloped - especially in southeast England. The idea of allowing, or encouraging, the population to grow by almost a million a year in the name of propping up global capitalism is a painful joke. If you are in favour of unlimited immigration you need to be able to explain where all the new houses and roads will go. And the new schools, hospitals, power plants, superstores and call centres. You need to be able to explain the impact on our climate change targets. And what the country will look like at 77 million and rising. Environmental arguments are always predicated on the existence of limits. What is the limit here? When should population growth - and thus immigration - stop? If you can't answer that, you are wasting our time.Personally, I think Woolas is onto something - as I thought Frank Field was earlier this year. I am in favour of immigration - I think it has certainly made the country a more interesting and more open place. Some critics are obviously right to point out that immigrants often get scapegoated during hard times - and we need to ensure they don't. But we also need to make sure that understandable caution about fanning the flames of xenophobia does not translate - as it has for too long - into a refusal to even discuss what has become a big issue; especially since refusing to discuss it tends to fan, rather than dampen, those flames in any case.But while I am in favour of both immigration and the judicious use of language, I am also in favour of preventing further population growth, and I'm in favour of moving away from an economic system predicated on endless growth and providing for corporate 'needs.' Thus, in my view, immigration and emigration should be pretty much balanced. This means a big cut in immigration from the present numbers - perhaps less hard than it sounds now that many Eastern Europeans are returning home, where their economies may end up doing better than ours (do we even have an economy? Discuss).We need to take things more slowly and - crucially - to understand that the current immigration debate is couched almost entirely in the terms of the demands of a rampant neoliberal economy; and that the wider left have fallen for it hook, line and sinker, because they haven't bothered to ask where their positions will ultimately take them.
Posted by Paul at 10:50 AM

Britain faces summer of rage - police

Britain faces summer of rage - police
Middle-class anger at economic crisis could erupt into violence on streets
Paul Lewis
The Guardian, Monday 23 February 2009
Article history

Scenes such as those seen in London in January when protestors clashed with mounted riot police at a protest over Israel's action in Gaza could become more common sights in the UK. Photograph: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
Police are preparing for a "summer of rage" as victims of the economic downturn take to the streets to demonstrate against financial institutions, the Guardian has learned.
Britain's most senior police officer with responsibility for public order raised the spectre of a return of the riots of the 1980s, with people who have lost their jobs, homes or savings becoming "footsoldiers" in a wave of potentially violent mass protests.
Superintendent David Hartshorn, who heads the Metropolitan police's public order branch, told the Guardian that middle-class individuals who would never have considered joining demonstrations may now seek to vent their anger through protests this year.
He said that banks, particularly those that still pay large bonuses despite receiving billions in taxpayer money, had become "viable targets". So too had the headquarters of multinational companies and other financial institutions in the City which are being blamed for the financial crisis.
Hartshorn, who receives regular intelligence briefings on potential causes of civil unrest, said the mood at some demonstrations had changed recently, with activists increasingly "intent on coming on to the streets to create public disorder".
The warning comes in the wake of often violent protests against the handling of the economy across Europe. In recent weeks Greek farmers have blocked roads over falling agricultural prices, a million workers in France joined demonstrations to demand greater protection for jobs and wages and Icelandic demonstrators have clashed with police in Reykjavik.
In the UK hundreds of oil refinery workers mounted wildcat strikes last month over the use of foreign workers.
Intelligence reports suggest that "known activists" are also returning to the streets, and police claim they will foment unrest. "Those people would be good at motivating people, but they haven't had the 'footsoldiers' to actually carry out [protests]," Hartshorn said. "Obviously the downturn in the economy, unemployment, repossessions, changes that. Suddenly there is the opportunity for people to mass protest.
"It means that where we would possibly look at certain events and say, 'yes there'll be a lot of people there, there'll be a lot of banner waving, but generally it will be peaceful', [now] we have to make sure these elements don't come out and hijack that event and turn that into disorder."
Hartshorn identified April's G20 meeting of the group of leading and developing nations in London as an event that could kick-start a challenging summer. "We've got G20 coming and I think that is being advertised on some of the sites as the highlight of what they see as a 'summer of rage'," he said.
His comments are likely to be met with disappointment by protest groups, who in recent weeks have complained that police are adopting a more confrontational approach at demonstrations. Officers have been accused of exaggerating the threat posed by activists to justify the use of resources spent on them.
Police were said to have been heavy-handed at Greek solidarity marches in London in December and, last month, at protests against Israel's invasion of Gaza. In August 1,000 officers, helicopters and riot horses were drafted to Kent from 26 UK police forces to oversee the climate camp demonstration against the Kingsnorth power station. The massive operation to monitor the protesters cost £5.9m and resulted in 100 arrests. But in December the government was forced to apologise to parliament after the Guardian revealed that its claims that 70 officers had been hurt in violent clashes were wrong.
However, Hartshorn insisted: "Potentially there will be more industrial actions ... History shows that some of those disputes - Wapping, the miners' strike - have caused great tensions in the community and the police have had difficult times policing and maintaining law and order."
Both "extreme rightwing and extreme leftwing" elements are looking to "use the fact that people are out of jobs" to galvanise support, he said.
A particularly worrying development was the re-emergence of individuals involved in the violent fascist organisation Combat 18, he said. "They are using the fact that there's been lots of talk about eastern European people coming in and taking jobs on the Olympic sites," he said. "They're using those type of arguments to look at getting support."
Hartshorn said he also expected large-scale demonstrations this year on environmental issues, with hardcore green activists "joining forces" with middle-class campaigners over issues such as airport expansion at Heathrow and Stansted. With the prospect of angry demonstrations against the economy, that could open the door to powerful coalitions.
"All you've got to do then is link in with the environmentalists, and look at the oil companies. They're seen to be turning over billions of pounds profit in issues that are seen to be against the environment."