Category Archives: Conservative family values
Two ways into this:
- I’ve not a regular with The Guardian‘s Long Read. It’s there. I’m glad it’s there. I’m delighted that at least one British quality daily has a commitment to serving its readers with more than pap. It’s just that — well, err — there’s only so much worthy fretting one can do in one short day. But today is the exception …
My grandfather, my great-grandparents, and even their parents originated from Wisbech, deep in the Fens. For two generations they are “AgLabs”, the staple agricultural labourers in many family trees. Then Great Grandad Matthew, who was an apprentice blacksmith, lost an arm, became a “letter-carrier”, and rose to Post Master.
- Furthermore, I grew up in North Norfolk — the contrived town motto (even Latinised) was “between land and sea”. That was a statement of fact: the economy of Wells came from whelking and farming, with a bit of bunce from a few short weeks of summer visitors. In the 1950s the farm workers’ strikes of the previous generation were still painfully remembered.
So I’ve just spent the length of three cups of tea, reading with fascinated horror Felicity Lawrence’s dissection of The gangsters on England’s doorstep, a recital of how Wisbech (and other small towns in the profound depths, well away from the metropolitan consciousness) have become infested with crookery and thuggery imported from eastern Europe:
A web of several competing eastern European gangmaster operations hiring out migrant labourers seemed to be connected to an increase in crime — although it was politically charged to say so. There had been a spate of apparent suicides among young eastern European men who had come in search of work — five within a year between 2012 and 2013. Three of the dead had been found hanging in public places around the town; one of them had been recovered from a small park near the BP garage next to graffiti that translated as: “The dead can’t testify”.
These were not the only disturbing deaths: a 17-year-old Latvian girl had disappeared from Wisbech in the summer of 2011, and her partially clothed, decomposed body was only discovered five months later, on the Queen’s Sandringham estate. A Lithuanian courier was killed in an arson attack on the van in which he was sleeping. There had also been reports of knife attacks by migrants on migrants but victims would disappear or turn out to have been using false identities.
The “locals” have felt their only way to fight back was to make grumbling noises and vote UKIP:
Most of us do not see the brutal parallel universe at the heart of the mainstream economy. But in the Fens, it has been highly visible – along with the transnational organised crime running a part of it. This has made people very angry. Now they want out of Europe – more than two–thirds of voters in Wisbech’s parliamentary constituency said in a 2014 survey that they would favour the UK leaving the EU.
Lawrence, though, sees beyond the cleavage in Fenland society, to look to fundamental causes:
From the late 1980s on, new technology allowed employers to eliminate much of the financial risk from their end of the chain. Supermarkets, for example, only reorder stock when a customer buys an item and its barcode is scanned, generating an instruction to their suppliers to replace it by the next day. Orders can double or halve within 24 hours, so workers to process and pack the goods are called in at short notice. This reduces costs and increases profits, since businesses no longer have to keep inventory or pay for full employment. Instead they have outsourced labour provision to agents or gangmasters. Agriculture and food processing pioneered this lean approach to business, but its zero-hours practices have spread to other sectors – to care homes, catering and food service, hotel work, cleaning, construction, and personal services such as nail bars and car washes.
Earlier waves of migration brought foreign workers to other East Anglian towns, but the availability of cheap housing has drawn gangmasters more recently to the Wisbech area. The last census of Wisbech in 2011 put the population at around 25,000 but officials accept that it is now probably nearer 30,000, with about 10,000 of those people recently arrived foreigners. The size of the private rental market doubled in a decade to more than 2,000 properties in 2015. Houses of multiple occupancy (HMOs) – the gang-run houses where new migrants mostly live – now account for a substantial percentage of housing stock. Government agencies trying to reach vulnerable migrant groups visited around 500 homes in the year from January 2014. By then, three of Wisbech’s wards had become some of the most deprived areas of the country.
Her article painstakingly traces the central villains’ progress from running labour gangs, to slum-landlording, to money-laundering, to exploitation, to theft, to prostitution and fake marriages, to … what else? When the nasties came to court:
The trials conjured up a nightmare of Fenland life, where there were no rules where you expected them to be, and when rules did exist, there was no one to enforce them.
Note that: no one to enforce them:
There were also only three housing officers for the whole Fenland district council to carry out inspections at the time – the council had suffered a 37% cut in its budget since 2010. […]
HMRC had just 142 national minimum wage inspectors for the whole country. According to the government’s migration advisory committee, this means that the average business, statistically, should expect a visit from an inspector once every 250 years. Unions that might have overseen conditions in fields and factories in the past are in decline. The Gangmasters Licensing Authority has lost staff, having had its budget slashed over the course of the last parliament by 20%.
I’ve written about the causes of all this before. It’s not just the “cuts” (though they are bad enough). It is more, much more to do with the savage assault on workers’ protection over the years. I was making these points eight years ago, and tracing the causes back to a root. Allow me to dig up that oldie (slightly updated):
Norfolk-born, Norfolk-bred ..
Malcolm’s alter ego originated in Wells-next-the-Sea, which in those distant days enjoyed the privilege of a Labour MP.
In 1945 Eddie Gooch, of the National Union of Agricultural Workers, displaced the squirarchical Tommy Cook, though the radical tradition had been there even before Noel Buxton took the seat for Labour back in 1929.
The North Norfolk seat later, in 1964, was inherited by Bert Hazell, then President of the NUAW. Bertie survived into his 102nd year, to die in 2009 the longest-living former MP of recent times.
It was always, sneeringly, implied that Eddie Gooch’s and Bert Hazell’s tenures of the constituency were helped by the local farmers who voted to keep them at Westminster, rather than causing them problems through the NUAW. That canard ignores the local tradition of radicalism.
The years the locust ate
Après Bertie, le déluge.
The complexion of the constituency changed. Employment on the land fell rapidly. That also drained much of the bitterness that had persisted since the agricultural depression of inter-war years, and the farm-workers’ strikes of 1923 and 1926. Moreover, the second-homers started to arrive. Added to which, North Norfolk is now home to the largest “retired” percentage of the national population.
All conspired so that for the next two decades, the ’70s and the ’80s, the North Norfolk constituency was the fiefdom of Ralph Howell.
Howell, like Peter Mandelson, was one to whom taking an instant dislike saved a deal of time.
He was xenophobic, rabid, a Thatcherite before the Lady, an apologist for white racist régimes in Africa, and a supporter of the Turks in Cyprus.
He was instigator of the “Right to Work”, which sounds well but (in his terms) amounted to a curious, even Stalinist notion that the unemployed should be conscripted, either into national service or be otherwise deployed by the state. Howell had come close to defining “Workfare”.
Yet, he had saving graces: a good war-record, served his constituents conscientiously, was afraid of nobody (even his own Whips): a self-made (and proudly so) agri-businessman.
Reaping what the Thatcherities sowed
Wisbech didn’t get into this situation willingly. But this situation has been willed.
As Lawrence reminds us:
The Agricultural Wages Board, which set out employment terms for field workers, was abolished in 2013. The EU working time directive aims to prevent workers doing dangerously long hours, but the UK allows an opt-out, seeing it as a burden on business. The pressure on large producers to cut costs – one of the key drivers of labour exploitation – is often blamed on supermarkets squeezing their margins. A recommendation by the competition authorities in 2000 that this excessive buying power be countered by a groceries adjudicator took 13 years to be implemented. The adjudicator only acquired the power to impose penalties in 2015, and has yet to do so.
Liberalising trade rules and financial flows has enabled the free movement of goods and capital across Europe – and, with them, people. But while World Trade Organisation rules prescribe global hygiene standards in minute detail, they are largely silent on the social and labour conditions in which the goods are produced.
A complex web of small rules widely obeyed – from paying your tax to insuring your car, to giving workers proper breaks – are the threads that weave a democratic social contract and a protective state. Many people in Wisbech have become more rightwing, in protest at what they see. The collapse of totalitarian structures of state control in former-Soviet eastern Europe has combined with a shrinking of state in the west. This shrinking of the state has created the vacuum into which organised crime has rushed.
I’m sure “Sir” Ralph Howell would approve of much of all that. So, ironically for the folk of Wisbech, would UKIP (but can’t and won’t say so locally).
There are remedies, and obvious ones:
- ensure that agencies are properly resourced. In the Fenlands the “cuts” are not just financial: they are also human lives, and deaths. Lest we forget:
A police force that handed over the bulk of its back-office functions to the private sector now spends the lowest amount per head of population on policing in England and Wales, a report has said.
Lincolnshire Police has slashed its spending by nearly a fifth or £5 million per year, equal to the cost of 125 police officers.
The police force cut their budget through a deal with security firm G4S, transferring several administrative departments over to the private firm.
- with those resources, beef up the enforcements of housing conditions, “fair rents”, over-crowding and minimum wage.
- The “light-touch” regulation of gangmasters has clearly failed. In the light of what Lawrence’s article shows, read between the lines of this self-exculpation by (oh, the irony!):
The GLA [Gangmasters Licensing Authority] is an organisation which regulates the supply of labour to the farming, food processing and shellfish gathering sectors and protects workers in those sectors from exploitation. The GLA works to embed a framework through which workers are treated fairly and labour providers and labour users operate on a level playing field. The GLA also plays a significant role in enforcing the protection of workers and directly tackling those who choose to abuse the system.
- eliminate, make illegal, the gang-master system. We used to have efficient employment exchanges, through which workers [were] treated fairly and labour providers and labour users operate[d] on a level playing field. Would it be a gross affront to liberty to have all short-term agricultural employment channelled through them, rather than factored clandestinely, in the early hours, on the forecourt of a petrol station? And, if not, might wage-payment be made through the same channel — that proper amounts paid and deductions made?
- ensure that migrant workers have “champions”. These used to be called “trade unions”.
- make the “social market” work for decent people.
David Conn’s extended piece for today’s Guardian, on the Hillsborough cover-up, is journalism at its best, and the exemplar why some of us will support, buy and read that great newspaper until the end. Even at £2 a throw.
The on-line presentation is less cogent than what is in the printed version. For example, in the paper we find this:
Later that day, the prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, and her press secretary, Bernard Ingham, visited Hillsborough. [Chief Constable Peter] Wright briefed them. Ingham has always since said of Hillsborough that he “learned on the day” it was caused by a “tanked-up mob”. Ingham, later given a knighthood, has confirmed to there Guardian this was what police told Thatcher.
Good enough? That lets Thatcher off the hook?
Well, not for this blogger.
The culture of South Yorkshire police was “institutionally” corrupt. As Conn, also in the print edition, describes:
The evidence built into a startling indictment of the South Yorkshire police, their chain of command and conduct — a relentlessly detailed evisceration of a British police force. Responsible for an English county at the jeans-and-trainers end of the1980s, the police had brutally policed the miners’ strike, and was described by some of its own former officers as “regimented”. with morning parade and saluting of officers, ruled by an “iron fist” institutionally unable to admit mistakes. The dominance of Wright, a decorated police officer who died in 2011, loomed over the catastrophe. He was depicted as a frightening, authoritarian figure who treated the force “like his own personal territory” and whose orders nobody dared debate.
Those of us who had to drive down the A1 during the grim days of the miners’ dispute remember Check Point Charlie at the A1/A57/A614 roundabout, south of Ranby, where the A1 veers south-east. The lay-by (now by-passed by recent road-works) was where — day and night — a detachment of the Finest were posted, lest South Yorkshire miners escaped south to wreak havoc and mayhem.
Jim Coulter, Susan Miller and Martin Walker produced a damning report (November 1984): A State of Siege, Politics and Policing of the Coalfields: Miners Strike 1984. It was, but of course, just another loony lefty whinge — but it still stands up to scrutiny. The facts therein speak for themselves. The opinions have been proven by dint of experience;
It is important to understand the politics behind the policing because through the politics we can see what the Conservative government are pursuing is not the ‘rule of law’ but the ‘law of rule’; brute force and violence.
Rather than policing being an incidental spin off from the dispute it is at the very heart of it. [page 5]
Don’t believe me. Try ex-Deputy Chief Constable of Greater Manchester, John Stalker:
Britain has never been closer to becoming a police state than when Margaret Thatcher was in charge.
As Deputy Chief Constable of Greater Manchester I saw at first hand how her authoritarian policies could have permanently shattered the bond of trust between the police and the people.
She turned the police into a paramilitary force and put us on to a war footing.
I met her several times during my time as a senior police officer.
She took an uncommon interest in law and order, and always acted as if she was the Home Secretary as well as the PM.
That was never more clear than during the miner’s strike in 1984 when I believe Margaret Thatcher took Britain to the brink of becoming a police state.
She decided that “her” police force was going to keep the miners and pickets under control. It was all about showing who was boss…
We got streams of instructions from the Home Office on how the strike should be handled, cleverly covered with legal fig leaves saying things such as, “of course the Chief Constable has complete control over operational matters, but this is our advice”.
The “morgue” (the libraries of newspaper clippings, from before the days of the internet and electronic documentation) of any proper media operation will thrown up evidence that it was Thatcher’s wish and intention to create an “officer corps” to run “her” police service.
The ethos of the Thatcher era was an unremitting war against the “enemy within“.
At Hillsborough the enemy were the “animals” (yes: you will find that term used, and quoted in the subsequent Commons debate) who had to be caged. Five years earlier it had been the miners and their families whose liberties were revoked, whose homes invaded, who were strip-searched and violated.
When Thatcher and Ingham dropped in on the South Yorkshire Chief Constable, after Hillsborough, it wasn’t just a convivial visit. Whatever impression Wright foisted on Thatcher, she was more than a willing dupe.
The guilt doesn’t stop, conveniently, with Wright and his subordinates.
Finally caught up with Matthew Parris in Saturday’s Times. No; not neglect. Simply because the Lady in my Life purloins Murdoch’s neoCon rag, and leaves me with my preferred Guardian.
Today, then, we browse on Parris’s New-look Ukip threatens Cameron’s legacy.
Before we proceed: muse on whatever “Cameron’s legacy” might be. Apart from the constant lay-offs of steel-workers, retail-workers, and the ever-constant national divisiveness (e.g.#IndyRef; #EURef), we might nod at the lousy productivity, a decade of “austerity” (which, like taxes, is only for the “little people”), and the constant war on public services.
Then to the conceit of the Kippers changing their wardrobes. Apart from their penchant for serial silly neckwear, this is another distraction. It gets even more lunatic when the proposal is:
Ukip’s blue-sky thinkers covet the huge penumbra of soft support that the Corbynite wing of the Labour party finds among its £3 non-member “supporters” club.
Ukip and “thinkers” in the same phrase! Now, that‘s original.
Paris properly coughs, ahems, but resists the opportunity to mock, merely continuing:
My guess is that fishing in cyber waters, you net an (on average) younger, cooler and more generally switched-on crowd. Corbynite Labour has done so, but is there the same untapped support for the populist right out there on the internet, for @nukip to tap?
Where the whole thing, even the normally-sane Parris, completely leaves the tracks is here:
The most vigorous and successful Britain-wide party today is the Conservative party, but it is haunted by a philosophical divide between progressives and reactionaries.
Note the quibble: “Britain-wide”. The notion that the Tory Party is vigorous and successful ignores the ever-decreasing geriatric membership, the hollowed-out non-functioning Associations. Any success, local or nationally, is based on statistical freaky. Consider:
That, folks, is “success”: a downward general decline, a lower hike than Labour in the annus mirabilis of 2015 — and even that achieved by two bits of nasty:
- First there was dirty-work at the Roadtrip crossroads against LibDems.
- second, the tartan dead-cat on the table.
No: the most vigorous and successful party, even Britain-wide party, is the SNP.
After all, it was the SNP steam-roller that denied Labour dozens of seats in Scotland, and Lynton Crosby’s Jockophobics that impacted on Labour in the rest of the UK. Remember this:
Put together what little there is in all that, and I end up with Macbeth:
… in these cases
We still have judgment here; that we but teach
Bloody instructions, which, being taught, return
To plague the inventor: this even-handed justice
Commends the ingredients of our poison’d chalice
To our own lips.
Chesterton, that old demi-semi-fascist (don’t the fascists love to claim him) and overt anti-semite, warned:
we are the people of England; and we have not spoken yet.
Well, he was wrong. The people of England speak at elections, and every few decades they turn vicious: then it’s heave-ho for the established order: 1906, 1945, 1964-66, 1979, 1997. We are coming due for another such upset.
We are about to witness the electors of London spitting on the mayoral grave of Boris Johnson. Already the wannabe Lynton Crosbys of Tory Central are briefing their clients in the national press that what matters — really, really matters — is how Labour does or doesn’t do in Eatanswill:
[The extra irony being that Tories recruit their canvassers with promises of eating and swilling.]
In fact, by 6th May, Sadiq Khan will be the most significant person in Labour Party and local government politics.
Paris concluded his piece:
So I’ll end by repeating what Mr [Arron] Banks said: “I’ve got a weird feeling that British politics will be realigned after the referendum.” So have I.
Agreed. But, two things more:
- the #Brexit thing has proved that UKIP existed more as a threat to Tory peace-of-mind than in any wider dimension;
- we won’t need to wait till the end of June for a cloud no smaller than a bus-driver’s son’s hand.
How Jonathan Swift well understood right-wing bloggers.
The vermin only teaze and pinch
Their foes superior by an inch.
So, naturalists observe, a flea
Has smaller fleas that on him prey;
And these have smaller still to bite ’em,
And so proceed ad infinitum.
Somehow, some when, that was contracted down to:
Great fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite ’em,
And little fleas have lesser fleas, and so ad infinitum.
In truth, the slim-line version was courtesy of Augustus de Morgan, the twice-coined professor of mathematics at the newly-minted London University: a great man who was ineligible for Oxbridge tenure because of his atheism — though he went the same way as Willie Yeats, seduced into spiritualism by the love for a good woman. Correction there: since the Yeatsian seduction was via that Surrey minx, Edith Maud Gonne, and de Morgan married Sophia Frend, that should read “the love for a better woman”
Critics may observe I entitled that post “Syphonaptera”. Homer nodded. However, it allows me to use the correct spelling above. And I cannot bring myself to forgo the dig at WB Yeats.
Today the Department for Education has “updated” (a late twentieth-century expressed in British English — so much more efficient and concise than “brought up-to-date” or “modified” or “changed” ) an important document:
Work-load is going to be reduced — wait for it! it’s a good’un! — by setting up three review groups, to consider the “workload challenge”. As a further result there will be:
- tracking teacher workload by running a large-scale survey every 2 years – in February 2016, we invited a representative sample of schools to take part in the first survey, which will run from 29 February 2016
So, dear Ms Bloggs, we know you’re already frazzled by the burdens our bureaucracy imposes on you, but we ask you to postpone any relaxation while we go through a check-list with you. Will 4 p.m. on Friday do?
It all reminds me that I once complained at a senior staff meeting of the proliferation of hateful meetings. All seemed to require an extended Powerpoint presentation (much more trendy and ego-inflating than circulating a memo), breaking up into groups to discuss it, and then reassembling for a “plenary”.
The result was:
- a meeting to discuss whether we were having too many meetings;
- a further meeting to schedule further meetings …
I guess my early retirement intervened around then, so the process may yet be replicating itself.
Here’s a question for Mrs Morgan, the Secretary of State for Education, one of her six under-strapper ministers, her three SpAds, or her fourteen “board members”, her 45 “communications staff” (i.e. PR types) and 3840 other staff:
How many review groups are needed to change a light-bulb?
This was all kicked off by Steve Baker accusing Europe Minister, David Lidlington (who always strikes me as a bit herbivorous):
Mr Steve Baker (Wycombe) (Con): This in-at-all-costs deal looks and smells funny. It might be superficially shiny on the outside, but poke it and it is soft in the middle. Will my right hon. Friend admit to the House that he has been reduced to polishing poo?
Mr Lidington: No, and I rather suspect that, whatever kind of statement or response to a question that I or any of my colleagues delivered from the Dispatch Box, my hon. Friend was polishing that particular question many days ago.
Baker must have refined his cloacal knowledge in the RAF training scheme, in Lehman Brothers, or in the St Cross College for unattached mature students. One suspects, though, the expression was sweated to fly as close to Erskine May as possible.
Yet, “poo” is just so naff.
So I approved Paul Waugh, this morning:
Steve Baker caught the headlines with his ‘poo’ jibe yesterday. I’m not sure why is ‘poo’ was deemed Parliamentary language but ‘turd’ — the original line is ‘you can’t polish a turd but you can roll it in glitter’ — isn’t. No matter, the leading backbench Euroscep summed up the main case of many of the PM’s critics: that this not the great deal Cameron claims.
Waugh managed to pack “manure to be lobbed” and “the poo won’t stick” into proximity.
Where I differ is I’m not convinced “you can’t polish a turd but you can roll it in glitter” is “the original line”. It certainly appears here:
I reckon the conceit goes far further back, in the Glaswegian expression “a polished jobbie”.
This opinionated Mac predictive-spellcheck “corrected” to bobbie.
Which is instructive, in a way, because I was reckoning to find “polished jobbie” (did it again! and again!) in the works of Christopher Brookmyre. I thought I remembered it from the first chapter of his Quite Ugly One Morning, which I rate as one of the best, and funniest openers in any ‘teccie.
You’ll find it in Boiling a Frog (at least three times, including):
there was only so much that news management could achieve, and brainwashing wasn’t part of it. People had to be receptive to a certain point of view in the first place: otherwise you weren’t so much spinning as polishing a jobbie.
Your memory misled you from the back end of Chapter 1 of Quite Ugly One Morning.
Inspector McGregor has arrived at the puke-skating scene of the crime:
There was dried and drying sick all over the hot radiator and down the wall behind it, which went some way towards explaining the overpowering stench that filled the room. But as pyjama man was only a few hours cold, his decay couldn’t be responsible for the other eye-watering odour that permeated the atmosphere.
McGregor gripped the mantelpiece and was leaning over to offer Callaghan a hand up over the upturned chair when he saw it, just edging the outskirts of his peripheral vision. He turned his head very slowly until he found himself three inches away from it at eye level, and hoped his discovery was demonstrative enough to prevent anyone from remarking on it.
‘Heh, there’s a big keech on the mantelpiece, sir,’ announced Skinner joyfully, having wandered up to the doorway.
For Gow it was just one human waste-product too many. As the chaotic room swam dizzily before him, he fleetingly considered that he wouldn’t complain about policing the Huns’ next visit if this particular chalice could be taken from his hands. McGregor caught his appealing and slightly scared look and glanced irritably at the door by way of excusing him, the Inspector reckoning that an alimentary contribution from the constabulary was pretty far down the list of things this situation needed right now.
They watched their white-faced colleague make an unsteady but fleet-footed exit and returned their gazes to the fireplace.
The turd was enormous. An unhealthy, evil black colour like a huge rum truffle with too much cocoa powder in the mixture. It sat proudly in the middle of the mantelpiece like a favourite ornament, an appropriate monarch of what it surveyed. Now that they had seen it, it seemed incredible that they could all have missed it at first, but in mitigation there were a few distractions about the place.
‘Jesus, it’s some size of loaf right enough,’ remarked Callaghan, in tones that Dalziel found just the wrong side of admiring.
‘Aye, it must have been a wrench for the proud father to leave it behind,’ she said acidly.
‘I suppose we’ll need a sample,’ Callaghan observed. ‘There’s a lab up at the RVI that can tell all sorts of stuff from just a wee lump of shite.’
‘Maybe we should send Skinner there then,’ muttered Dalziel. ‘See what they can tell from him.’
‘I heard that.’
‘Naw, seriously,’ Callaghan went on. ‘They could even tell you what he had to eat.’
‘We can tell what he had to eat from your sleeve,’ Skinner observed.
‘But we don’t know which one’s sick this is,’ Callaghan retorted.
‘We don’t know which one’s keech it is either.’
‘Well I’d hardly imagine the deid bloke was in the habit of shiting on his own mantelpiece.’
‘That’s enough,’ said McGregor, holding a hand up. ‘We will need to get it examined. And the sick.’
‘Bags not breaking this one to forensics,’ said Dalziel.
‘It’ll be my pleasure,’ said the Inspector, delighted at the thought of seeing someone else’s day ruined as well.
‘Forensics can lift the sample then,’ said Callaghan.
‘No, no,’ said McGregor, smiling grimly to himself. ‘I think a specimen as magnificent as this one should be preserved intact. Skinner,’ he barked, turning round. ‘This jobbie is state evidence and is officially under the jurisdiction of Lothian and Borders Police. Remove it, bag it and tag it.’
Frans Boas is the source for the (arguable) belief that the Inuit have fifty words for snow. From my (excessive?) study of modern Scottish fiction, I begin to feel Glaswegians can manage similar for “taking a dump”.
Mr Steve Baker needs to up his game.
Nor can we ourselves pick and choose where and in what parts of the world we shall use this or that kind of standard. We cannot say, “We will have African standards in Africa, Asian standards in Asia and perhaps British standards here at home.” We have not that choice to make. We must be consistent with ourselves everywhere. All Government, all influence of man upon man, rests upon opinion. What we can do in Africa, where we still govern and where we no longer govern, depends upon the opinion which is entertained of the way in which this country acts and the way in which Englishmen act. We cannot, we dare not, in Africa of all places, fall below our own highest standards in the acceptance of responsibility.
An expert ear hears the classical, Ciceronian style and intuits the speaker. It’s Enoch Powell. Yes … him. 27th July 1959, and a late night debate on the Report of the Hola Camp massacre.
Hola Camp was a detention centre out in the wilds of Kenya. It was to hold the hard core of the Mau Mau, and brutal to the point where in a single incident eleven detainees were beaten to death, and a further two dozen were hospitalised.
I was entering the sixth-form, at Dublin’s High School, by that stage. The Irish press did not tread lightly on British susceptibilities. When the report came to debate, I also read the accounts of Powell’s speech (and those of others) in the Daily Telegraph — in those days a paper of clout, second only to “Bill” Haley‘s The Times. If there was a single event that sparked my commitment to politics, it was Hola.
First as horror, then as worse?
Our standards ought to be higher.
Near 350 pages addressing the national scandal that is “Immigration Removal Centres”. There are — to my bestaggerment —
11 designated Immigration Removal Centres (IRCs), four designated Residential and Short Term Holding Facilities and one Non Residential Short Term Holding Facility. Four of the IRCs are managed by the Prison Service and the others are outsourced to private companies including Mitie, GEO Group, G4S and Serco.
How convenient for the Home Office to delegate the immediate responsibility and “answerability” to “service-providers”.
I guess you didn’t come across too many media reports of the Shaw Report: The Guardian had Alan Travis on the case, but — hey! — what ya expect?
Full credit, then, to Ian Dunt at politics.co.uk. His conclusion is worth repeating:
The Home Office has been quietly putting the brakes on the expansion of the detention estate for months now. One centre was recently closed while another had its expansion cancelled. Campaigners suspect that the top of the department has become alarmed at the stories coming out the detention centres and the escalating costs of maintaining them. A series of internal reviews were commissioned. And then today’s report came out.
The government response is encouraging – which isn’t something you say very often when it comes to detention. It says it accepts “the broad thrust of [Shaw’s] recommendations”. It lists a series of reforms (the devil will be in the details) and then concludes:
“The government expects these reforms… to lead to a reduction in the number of those detained.”
It is a sentence anti-detention campaigners have waited a long time for. The government is now explicitly aiming to detain fewer people.
It’s not a total victory. There is nothing in the report – or the government response – about a time limit. And the managed decline of the detention estate will undoubtedly be done in the usual haphazard manner which the Home Office does everything. But the ship has started to turn.
Shaw may have spared the home secretary’s blushes, but his report could be a turning point in the secret world of Britain’s detention centres.
Leave the qualms about escalating costs aside: for the record, we are talking of 3,000 detainees at around £100 a day, each (so — allowing for departmental dissimulations, plus/minus £110 million a year, minimum).
More important, the moral dimension.
If the stories coming out the detention centres have alarmed the Home Office, then it needs public awareness, leading to public pressure to sort out these institutions.
Opposition MPs (more kudos to Catherine West) are on the case. What we need are more Tories to speak out, as potently as Enoch Powell did.