There is no other minority group in the UK like Muslims that you can make crass and bigoted generalisations about, and get away with it. Perhaps Roma people, but they are rarely written about as much. Not even Poles get the treatment like they used to.
I want to illustrate this point through a recent article by the Telegraph’s Andrew Gillian, which screamed: Islamic ‘radicals’ at the heart of Whitehall.
Here’s what happened: the government set up a group to advise them on tackling anti-Muslim prejudice, in parallel to the one tackling anti-semitism. It includes representatives from most major departments.
It is a very inclusive like few others, including Ahmadis, Ismailis, Sunnis and Shia Muslims together, plus other campaigners like Nick Lowles (Hope Not Hate). This is worth keeping in mind, especially since its conveniently ignored by Andrew Gilligan, because any “extreme” views would very likely be challenged by others.
The central allegation of the article is against Mudassar Ahmad, a case which is so flimsy you have to wonder whether a different agenda was being served.
Among its most prominent non-government members is Muddassar Ahmed, a former senior activist in the Muslim Public Affairs Committee (MPAC), an extremist and anti-Semitic militant body which is banned from many universities as a hate group
In fact Mudassar left MPAC years ago and was never involved in any of the main activities it was criticised for (and I was a frequent critics of MPAC). The article admits that later on too.
The main quotes come from Fiyaz Mughal from Tell MAMA, who is said to have left the group over “concerns”. But Fiyaz actually left earlier last year. He is referred to by Gilligan as a “senior Muslim leader” even though he earlier undermined and attacked Tell MAMA’s work (which led to a complaint to the PCC from Tell MAMA). One minute Gilligan thinks TM is dodgy and then he’s a senior leader? What does that say about Gilligan’s journalism?
When the article came out, I said maybe Fiyaz was justified if any in the group had made inflammatory statements.
But Hope Not Hate’s Nick Lowles said to me in response: “This is the first time the antisemtic charge has been levelled on the group or its members. It is a complete red herring and an insult to everyone on the group.” I trust his judgement.
And yet, by implication, people in the group are being smeared as ‘entryists’ (Fiyaz Mughal has conspicuously declined to fully justify his claims).
These kind of generalisations about Muslims are rare now, but still remain despicable. The Telegraph would never (any more) run headlines like ‘secret plan by gays to take over Whitehall‘ – so why is this kind of language acceptable regarding Muslims?
Amnesty International UK say they no longer consider it appropriate to share a platform with CAGE after their recent comments. About time.
Last week, Cage director Asim Qureshi was invited on to the BBC to justify his comments on Mohammed Emwazi and debate other stances the group have taken.
He went from bad to worse. Qureshi was asked about a claim on the Cage website that British individuals are “killed on the whim of British security agencies” – he couldn’t think of a single example. Later asked if he agreed with Haitham al-Haddad’s views on FGM, stoning of women, domestic violence and more – Qureshi said: “I’m not a scholar”.
To summarise, the leader of Cage, a self-described ‘human rights organisation’ can’t even be clear on his own stance on several human rights issues. This is a joke, right?
A decade ago, when Asim Qureshi was speaking at a Hizb ut-Tahrir rally, he had no problems acting as a theologian and telling Muslims it was “incumbent upon all of us to support the Jihad [in Iraq, Chechnya, Afghanistan, Israel]”. Has he become less informed about Islam since?
Supporters of Cage say this is about context, that he wasn’t actually encouraging anyone to commit terrorism. Of course, jihad can also be non-violent according to the official definition, but its ridiculous to pretend that the wider context, where some Muslims think jihad implies violent extremism, is irrelevant. When Tommy Robinson said Muslims would pay if there was another 7/7 style attack - we know what he meant, he wasn’t talking about financial compensation. At least he apologised; Qureshi hasn’t.
I have two questions for Cage:
1) We agree that people should have access to justice and due process, and Cage keep referring to the latter re: the Mohammed Emwazi affair. So I asked: Did they think MI5 broke the law in any way in dealing with Emwazi?
2) Why didn’t they release the full tapes of their conversations with Emwazi?
I’ve repeatedly put these two questions to Cage over Twitter. They’ve not answered, despite responding to attacks on me by others.
* * * * *
Its worth saying that Amnesty UK has never had a formal relationship with Cage. In an interview with Radio 4 they say their joint work involved hosting a few events for Moazzam Begg, and lending their name to some publications and letters. Recently they both signed a letter to Cameron calling for a judge-led inquiry into Britain’s alleged involvement in the rendition and torture of terrorist suspects.
5 years ago, when Amnesty UK’s work with Mozazzam Begg was questioned by former employee Gita Sahgal, I came to Amnesty’s defence (though I actually wrote the issue was more complicated than many pretended it was). Recent events show that Gita called it right and I called it wrong, as did Amnesty. I’m happy to admit that, and I regret some of the intemperate language I used.
At the time I was defending Amnesty (not Cage) against people (excluding Gita) who wanted to undermine the organisation for other reasons, i.e. its focus on Guantanamo Bay and Israeli war crimes. I continue to think Amnesty is a great organisation but it should have refused to work with Cage then. I made lots of calls which turned out to be right (unlike many of Amnesty’s critics) but in this case I was wrong. Gita Sahgal’s instincts have been vindicated.
Imagine this scenario. A white atheist kills a Muslim couple in cold blood. The media speculates endlessly about the “factors” that drove him to kill them: apparently he had a parking dispute with them; they dressed and talked funny; he was lonely and maybe they did something to provoke him? When this actually happened a few weeks ago, called the Chapel Hill shootings, Muslims were rightly horrified at the coverage looked like it was justifying the murders of several innocent people. So what if he liked cats and was polite to people? Why was his wife given so much time on air to defend her husband?
Or take another example. Imagine you’re a white working class kid who lives in a town like Luton. You’ve heard stories of Pakistani-gangs grooming young white girls and that the police is barely doing anything about it. The gangs make your life hell and, on top of that, they go around harassing gays and soldiers and saying they hate this country. They want to shariah law in town, the gangs say. So you join the English Defence League because you see them as the only people standing up against them. Is he a racist? Or is he a boy driven to join extreme groups in response to events around him?
By now you’ll know what I’m getting at, though some people will no doubt claim these are false comparisons. They’re not.
I’m sick of people who try and “contextualise” terrorism on the basis that someone else is to blame for what that person did. But yesterday, CAGE, which calls itself a human rights organisation (yes and Putin is a human rights activist), said the blame for the radicalisation of Mohammed Emwazi (aka Jihadi John) lay solely with the intelligence services.
Of course it did. Because saying anything else would require admitting that he was actually taught by other Muslims to hate non-Sunnis, be ok with the enslaving of Yazidi women, and behead aid workers. CAGE would never admit that. In their world, radicalisation only happens when the police or intelligence services question Muslims. As a caller to BBC radio yesterday put it: “I’m a black man. I’ve been stopped and searched by the Police on numerous occasions for no reason. That doesn’t give me an excuse to murder people.”
There is no doubt in my mind that CAGE were making excuses for a terrorist. Trying to paint him as a victim who was driven to his heinous crimes by security services (who, by the way, only half-heartedly tried to recruit him). And yet, many people who are normally outraged when the national media make excuses for white terrorists or EDL members, were silent yesterday or supporting CAGE, with a few honourable exceptions
Being so angry about foreign policy that you take it out on some innocent aid workers, journalists, local people — makes zero sense.
— Murtaza Hussain (@MazMHussain) February 27, 2015
Let’s be clear about a few things. The security services are not going to stop questioning Muslims who they think are involved in terrorism-related activities. I only wonder why they didn’t have Mohammed Emwazi under heavier surveillance earlier.
Secondly, CAGE did incalculable harm to the cause of people (like me) who think the security services do sometimes overstep the mark and harass people wrongly. If CAGE is their spokesperson then those people are fucked because they won’t elicit any sympathy whatsoever.
The media is inconsistent in how it covers murders by Muslims and non-Muslims – I agree with this. But Muslims can’t complain of bias in the national media and then fail to criticise a group like CAGE who want to “contextualise” how a man like him is driven to extremism (there were exceptions of course)
@sunny_hundal not all Muslims deny it. Some try to stand against the leftists-Islamists camp!
— Nervana Mahmoud (@Nervana_1) February 27, 2015
In fact I asked several times yesterday of the “context” that makes a man want to kill innocent aid workers (who were helping Syrians), and I got no reply. Funny that.
There are usually two kinds of people who like to commentate on foreign policy matters: those who oppose any military ‘intervention’ in the affairs of other countries; and those who have no problems advocating military intervention and will always defend such action.
I happen to be in a third, less media-friendly category of people who thinks military intervention in the affairs of other countries is a possible last resort providing:
– it is carefully judged and isn’t rushed into
– has a clear purpose and exit plan
– the public is adequately explained why such action is necessary and support it in significant numbers
– the plan isn’t to leave the country in a worse state than it was
I accept that this is too nuanced for many people, especially on Twitter… but ¯\_(?)_/¯
Anyway. I also believe it really helps foreign policy debates if politicians admitted when they fucked up. I’m actually still astounded that Tony Blair – and Nick Cohen, by the way – aren’t embarrassed to continue opining on foreign policy affairs and defending the invasion of Iraq. Living in a bubble makes you oblivious, clearly.
Like Iraq, we fucked up in Libya. We should say this so we can learn from it.
I mean, here we have Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair’s former chief of staff who was then appointed by Cameron as the UK envoy, saying: “Libya could, if it goes down this spiral, end up as a failed state.”
WTAF? There is no mention whatsoever of the UK’s hand in deposing Gaddafi (which I supported at the time), and yet doing nothing whatsoever to ensure a transition to democracy. We have screwed up and yet we’re pretending it’s the Libyan people’s fault their country has collapsed into violence. It beggars belief.
This has now become a pattern: we get involved in foreign conflicts and then we absolve ourselves of responsibility if the country collapses without proper institutions being put in place. Libya is in trouble because of us. We should have helped put institutions in place but we were too busy leaving to declare victory.
Aside from the lives lost in Libya, these kind of screw-ups also dampen public enthusiasm for genuinely necessary interventions in places like Syria*. Our own short-sightedness in foreign affairs is costing lives – of others and eventually ours, through blowback.
* PS – I don’t accept Cameron passed the above tests when rushing into Syria over chemical weapons, which is I supported Miliband’s brakes on the process.
If you watch ISIS’s videos you are complicit in its terrorism, says Nesrine Malik at the Guardian.
Sorry, but this is ludicrous for various reasons. I have watched a fair amount of ISIS videos, unapologetically, and here are several reasons to do so.
1) To study what ISIS are doing and understand symbolism of what they’re saying. ISIS videos are carefully constructed pieces of propaganda. If you want to defeat your enemy then you have to know them. This isn’t just a military war but one of ideology, which makes it even more important to understand that ideology and its weaknesses. It also helps when you’re debating with ‘at risk‘ people to counter ISIS propaganda.
2) For work. Someone has to accurately report this shit, no? Someone has to study the video to see what else it reveals, and whether its actually a fake or not. The fact that ISIS have burnt alive a Jordanian pilot is news, whether people like it or not. So someone has to accurately report it, and others will use to build a better picture of ISIS capabilities and people.
3) Most importantly, I don’t want sanitised and tightly controlled images from national news, I want to see gory details and make up my own mind. I want others to have that opportunity to do so too. War is awful and people need to know this.
For too long we’ve had coverage of news events and war from the perspective of news organisations that are are OK with showing sanitised videos released by governments, but don’t want to show pics or videos of atrocities from their own side. YouTube has changed all that and I welcome it. I don’t want to be told by others what I should or should not be watching re: war or conflict. And I certainly do not want the government stepping in and criminalising people for watching videos of external conflicts.
The New York Times has published an extraordinary account of how the two terrorists who burst into Charlie Hebdo’s office became radicalised.
Here are a few thoughts from the article, and more generally, that I think have the potential to change how western security services deal with al-Qaeda inspired terrorism.
1) Al-Qaeda’s methods have changed to Mumbai style attacks.
If more such attacks take place across Western Europe, which seems likely, then I suspect they will be more in the style of Paris and Mumbai than the 7/7 bombings. Smuggling, building and learning about detonating explosives takes time and effort. It can also be a hit and miss. But a terrorist attack using an assault rifle is easier for al-Qaeda inspired jihadists to put together. The weapons are easier to get hold off and the practice required is minimal. Seems obvious to say, but I suspect the security services are worrying less about guys carrying backpacks and more about guys looking at acquiring AK-47s.
2) The security services are over-whelmed
The French secret service have a pretty good reputation but even they didn’t see this coming, though the two perpetrators had previously been under surveillance.
After at least one of the Kouachis traveled to Yemen in 2011, the United States alerted French authorities. But three years of tailing the brothers yielded nothing, and an oversight commission ruled that the surveillance was no longer productive, said Louis Caprioli, the deputy head of France’s domestic antiterrorism unit from 1998 to 2004.
The brothers appeared so nonthreatening that surveillance was dropped in the middle of last year, he said, as hundreds of young Muslims cycled back and forth to Syria for jihad and French authorities shifted priorities.
In other words, the job of tracking Muslims thinking about joining ISIS, or those who already have, or have already returned from Syria (estimated at 250 by ICSR), is over-whelming western security services. That means they’re likely to demand more funding and more spying powers. It also means the rise of ISIS has created a lot more targets and problems.
3) Jailing jihadists doesn’t help
One of the Paris attackers was earlier jailed in 2005 to 20 months in prison for attempting an attack. He was just an inexperienced and scared boy then. But, like numerous other cases, it was in prison that he met his future mentor and one of al-Qaeda’s top operatives.
This presents a dilemma. We can’t lock people up in prison forever, and yet that may be the place they become even more radicalised. We can’t track them easily forever either, since it costs a lot of money and the rise of ISIS has made that much harder. So what do we do?
We need good de-radicalisation programmes, but there hasn’t been a serious push across Europe or the USA to embrace them either. That, I think, is short-sighted. Prisons aren’t helping.
Prison authorities quickly recruited a handful of Muslim chaplains, but jihadist hecklers disrupted their prayers.
“They would ask a religious question, and whatever answer he gave, they would contest it,” the Muslim activist said. They would mockingly toss out questions: What did the imam think about jihad? What about the situation in Palestine? Why wasn’t halal meat served in the prison?
These guys need aggressive de-radicalisation, not some half-hearted attempts.
4) More Muslims will be arrested merely for reading ‘extremist’ material
Also striking in the NYT report is that the French police had been tracking the terrorists, even to the point that they broke up another plot in 2010 involving one of the brothers. But it was thought there wasn’t enough evidence to convict him despite this:
Among the texts recovered on the laptop — which were included in the court documents — was one titled “Operation Sacrifice.” It described a plan of attack that eerily augured the actions he would later take.
“A mujahideen forces his way into the enemy’s base or else a zone where there is a group and fires at point-blank range without having prepared an escape plan,” it said. “The goal is to kill as many of the enemy as possible. The author will very likely die himself.”
And here is the security service chief’s nightmare – the guy they had been tracking and caught would later commit a major attack like the one he had read about. Fingers will be pointed at the French services, and I suspect MI5 here and the FBI will think its better to be safe than sorry from now on.
Yesterday evening I was invited by the Guardian to debate the attacks on Charlie Hebdo and where we go from here. I wanted to make a series of coherent points in a mini-speech but it never happened, so I’m writing them out here… Each point is in a separate mini blog-post.
Let’s start from the proposition that the principles of freedom of speech, freedom of religion and secularism are inherently a good thing. I always do. I think our stance on them should be unquestionable, like against racism or homophobia.
When I explain or justify any of these principles in front of sceptical Muslims, I generally get a good response. I’ve done it a few times so I’m confident of this. The other day I posted my speech to a group of Muslim students on why they should want to live in a society where people have the right to insult their prophet, and they got it.
There’s a minority who don’t agree but I would say that generally it is not that hard to convince British Muslims about the importance of free speech and having a secular government. Once you sit down and have a debate with them at least.
But there are two problems, I find.
Firstly, it’s not that they dislike the argument, it’s sometimes more that they don’t believe others are interested in free speech in the first place.
And they have a point, there are loads of inconsistencies in the government and media industry’s behaviour when it comes to free speech. The Sun’s editorial post-Hebdo was a classic case of demanding more freedom while attacking people who stand up for civil liberties.
Many Muslims say – hold on, if you don’t always believe in free speech, why should I? How to answer that? I always say that at least we are agreed that there should be more free speech but it always sounds a bit hollow to me.
Secondly, the problem is that many liberals aren’t interested in convincing others who are sceptical, but merely interested in stating that they are right and Muslims should lump it.
This isn’t good enough.
We have to make the case for free speech in a way that says Muslims also benefit from free speech. In fact they benefit more than you white folks because they are far more likely to be spied on or locked up for saying inflammatory things than you.
So lets make that case without playing into a them v us narrative.
And let’s also stand up for free speech when Muslims are being threatened. Some of the voices I hear piping up about free speech only do so when Muslims are the perpetrators not victims.
That isn’t just inconsistent, it also makes me think you don’t really care for the principles at stake. And that also makes it much harder for all of us to convince Muslims about why they should embrace more free speech and the right to insult their religion.
Late last year I was invited to speak at the LSE Islamic Society on Islamophobia and the media. Rather than preach to the converted, I decide to challenge my audience by making the case for more free speech, even if included insults to their Prophet.
In light of the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo today that has killed over 10 people, I think posting this would be relevant.
Thanks for inviting me. I want to start with this picture. What I find funny is that Muslims and Sikhs are conflated so easily. They all look brown!
The other interesting point to note is how much things have changed. This was acceptable then [in the 1970s] in a way it isn’t now. At least, not about Asians so broadly…maybe Roma.
I found many more such drawings, and to me they do illustrate that Britain has changed a lot since the 70s when the National Front marched unafraid on the streets, and cartoons like these were printed without an eyebrow being raised.
The challenges now are different than the ones our parents faced.
One of those is around free speech – the issue I want to raise today. After all, it was LSE where the recent controversy around the cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed was sparked off.
In 2005 I was invited to a debate on Channel 4 after a theatre in Birmingham had to abandon a play because a large mob of angry Sikhs had gathered in protest outside, and some had broken the windows. All this because they said it insulted their religion.
The play – Behzti (‘shame’) – didn’t insult Sikhism, it had a scene where a woman was rapes in a Gurdwara (temple) on stage. Community leaders said the writer, a Sikh woman, was an attention seeker. They said she wrote it deliberately to inflame tensions. They wanted it stopped. I wrote and argued that it should stay open, not only because she was trying to raise an important topic, but because they had no right to close it down. But it was shut down because they were worried about threats and broken property.
I believe we should cherish the right to free speech. We should even understand the importance of the right to criticise, and even insult, religion.
Do I believe in insulting religious people just because they’re religious? No. Do I go around insulting or denigrating religions. No. My mother goes to the temple every day!
What I want is for us to be tolerant of people who insult religion.
Why, you ask. After all, many see the Prophet Mohammed as their family. Why should you tolerate someone who insults your family? Good question.
The problem is we cannot live in a relatively free society without the freedom of speech and freedom to insult each other’s beliefs. In fact, WE – people who are in the minority when it comes to our race or religion – should appreciate and cherish this freedom even more.
Freedom to criticise religion is the same as freedom to practice religion. One cannot exist without the other.
Think about the people who are on the streets spreading Dawah. Think about your right to say that you choose your faith over others because they are false. I want YOU to have the right the right to reject other religions. What if there was no freedom to criticise religion? Well, you couldn’t reject other religions. You couldn’t have people on the streets practicising Dawah.
If the mainstream clamp down on free speech or freedom to criticise religion – its always the minorities who lose out first. If Britain had a law against blasphemy – the first people in jail would be half the imams in the country.
If you appreciate the fact that Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims broadly have the same right as Christians, then you should embrace freedom of speech. If you think people shouldn’t be locked up for expressing fringe and perhaps unpopular opinions, then you should embrace free speech.
And let’s be clear about what I’m referring to here. What about anti-semitism? What about anti-zionism? Be as anti-zionist as you want – you should cherish that right.
Freedom to incite violence against a group of people because of their background – no. Not against Jews, Muslims or Sikhs. But demonising a group of people because of their backgrounds? Well, if we allow that for Jews, it will happen to Muslims too.
Freedom to reject or criticise Islam, Judaism or Sikhism? Yes.
The right to be offended? Yes. You have that right. The right to protest or boycott someone if they insult your religion? Yes. That’s democracy. But the right to censorship? No. Threats of violence against people who do? No. A law against insulting religion. DEFINITELY NOT.
People don’t automatically have the right to shut down a play, close down an exhibition, stop a book being sold, or stop someone from speaking peacefully just because they don’t like it.
Why should you defend this freedom? Because you want… in fact you NEED the right to protest against the government… to speak out and say things the mainstream might find unpopular. The right to expose wrong-doing, even if others don’t like it. When freedom of speech is curtailed, it is always used against minorities first.
I leave you with this. I was talking to a friend yesterday and she said the Prophet Mohammed was the first leader to introduce a pluralist constitution where Jews had the right to their own religion and did not have to believe in Islam. She added, by extension, they were rejecting Islam and rejecting the teachings of the Prophet. It was blasphemy. Yet the Prophet understood the importance of that right.
To my relief the audience clapped after, and many students came up to me after to say they agreed with me.
Tuesday was a hard day to absorb the news. All year I’ve seen some really horrible videos, mostly by ISIS, showing men being shot in the back of their heads, throats slit or being buried in mass graves. But that day… maybe it was the pictures that came out of Peshawar, the Facebook updates from friends or just the nature of the massacre… I was nearly in tears. You can try but you can’t always remain emotionless in the face of such news.
I wanted to wait at least a couple of days to collect my thoughts and write something about the politics surrounding this issue.
I can’t even imagine the horrors that Pakistanis are going through. The Taliban have attacked over 1000 schools in the last five years and they become more vicious every year. How can you even live a normal life when you’re not sure if your kids will come back alive from school?
I suspect this is a tipping point. The Taliban’s desperation is being driven by infighting, defections and losing more support from the public. In June the Pakistani army launched a military operation against the Taliban and other jihadi groups – Operation Zarb-e-Azb – which also seriously degraded their capabilities. Most Pakistanis will always support their army against others. From here on, the Taliban in Pakistan (also called the TTP) is headed for a downward spiral: less people will join them, help them, donate to them and defend them in public. They may successfully mutate into something else, but its certainly likely that the TTP is now headed for doom.
And then there is the international politics. I’ve seen several people since yesterday blame American drone attacks for the Taliban’s actions, or claim that this was all America’s fault anyway since Pakistan was relatively peaceful before 9/11. I want to knock these two fallacies on their heads.
First, the drones. Yes there have been drones strikes in Pakistan but the vast majority have actually been in Afghanistan. The two countries are not the same. Afghanistan has its own Taliban that is different to the TTP and the former does not attack civilian or government targets in Pakistan (unlike the TTP). There are complicated reasons for this, but the point is that drones strikes in Pakistan are rare. It is not unusual for the TTP to kill more Pakistanis in a month than the US government has killed in 10 years of drone strikes. And most of those strikes have been with Pakistani government approval. See more on that here.
Why does the TTP kill innocent Pakistanis when it opposes the killing of civilians via US drones? Because their stated aim is to take over the country, rip up the constitution and install a system of sharia of their hardline interpretation. I’m not making this up – this was in their list of demands. They are waging a war against the Pakistani government and won’t give up until their demands are met. The drones are a sideshow.
Then, the War on Terror. There’s no denying that it has created instability in Pakistan (although Afghanistan was going through a quiet civil war before as the Taliban forcibly took over territory like ISIS have done).
But the seeds of Pakistan’s instability were sown long before 9/11, when Pakistan was funding hardline groups in a proxy war against India. What frustrates me about the ‘war on terror’ argument is how western-centric and ignorant of South Asian history it is. The jihadi groups aren’t new to Pakistan – what’s new is their focus on creating chaos in Pakistan rather than India. (You may argue that the TTP is different to the likes of LeT and others that were focused on India, but the same infrastructure of hardline madrassahs, preachers and support in the Urdu media created the monsters).
I want Pakistan to be a safe, secure and prosperous country. I was also pleased, as someone of Indian origin, that India was the only country yesterday to mark the Peshawar massacre with silence, while not a single Middle Eastern country did the same.
But that safety and security will only come after enough Pakistanis realise that the Taliban itself is the problem, because they want to destroy the country as it exists and remodel it to their own twisted, hardline version of Islam. The United States isn’t helping but blaming them is like focusing on a gash while your body is being destroyed by cancer. The Taliban is the cancer and its about time it was rooted out before it destroys the body of the Pakistani state.
If the general election in May 2015 is fought on who is best placed to deal with the deficit, then the Labour party will lose. Both Labour and the Tories know this. Miliband will focus on living standards, the NHS and inequality. So why a major speech on the deficit today, six months before an election? And why a pledge to cut spending and the debt?
Both the politics of what’s going on, and the numbers that underline it, are important.
The Labour leadership feel, quite rightly, that George Osborne wants to push public services off a cliff with unprecedented cuts. They lost the first fight on austerity, for reasons I outline here. But they recognise that if they don’t fight Osborne back this time, he will once away get away with having the media debate on his own terms.
Which is why Miliband’s speech is important today. He wants to hammer that the extent of Osborne’s cuts will “return Britain to the 1930s” if he is allowed to hoodwink people into accepting them.
A few things to remember.
1) Labour has not signed up to the extent or the way Tories plan to cut the deficit. Ignore the hype, read this piece.
2) Miliband will say quite emphatically, as one of his key principles: Britain will only be able to deal with the deficit by tackling the cost-of-living crisis. That means a focus on raising wages, and cutting spending like housing benefit by building more housing.
3) Labour will “ensure that those with the broadest shoulders bear the greatest burden” – will be another key principle. That means a much bigger emphasis on tax rises than the Conservatives, to close the deficit.
And this is the key paragraph:
This is now a fight for the soul of our country. It is a fight about who we want to be and how we want to live together. The Tory vision is clear: the wealthiest being looked after, everybody else on their own, public services not there when you need them. Our vision is different: a country that works for everyday people, with public services your family can rely on, a government that prioritises working people so that we can earn our way out of the cost of living crisis, a Britain built on strong economic foundations.
I’m pleased that Miliband is seeking to expose Osborne’s horrendous plans and set up a clear dividing line.
Rather than complain that this is another speech about the deficit than something important like the NHS, we need to see it for what it is: an attempt to expose Osborne’s ideological agenda to permanently slash Britain’s public services.
NEWS ARTICLES ARCHIVE