2 MINUTE RANT: Immigration turns me into an honorary Marxist

I am not a Marxist, but…

There is a myth that groups like the EDL and the BNP have ‘left-wing’ concerns. But as far as terms like ‘left’ and ‘right’ can be applied with any accuracy nowadays, the difference is not in the groups of people they claim to represent or the issues they choose to care about, but rather, what they identify as the cause of those problems, and what they identify as the solution.

It’s easy to see how the EDL are portraying themselves as defenders of liberalism, with their gay rights wing, and other Muslim-hating individuals popping up from various other minorities. And it’s easy to see how the BNP could be confused with a left-wing party, given their love of nationalisation and constant talk of things like housing, and supporting British workers.

But caring about gay rights, homelessness, or lack of jobs isn’t necessarily left-wing in itself (no matter how many times conservative-minded folk who don’t care about those things insist that me caring about them makes me a left-winger) any more than making the link between those problems and immigration automatically makes someone a racist. Of course it’s true, for example, that if illegal immigrants can and will work without basic rights for £3 an hour, they have an unfair advantage in the labour market. Of course legal British citizens can’t and won’t compete with that. Anyone with any sense can see that. It doesn’t make you left-wing (or racist) to acknowledge it, and see it as a problem.

However, the difference is that a left-winger would surely identify the problem as two workers being exploited. And although I don’t agree with the government redistributing wealth as being a viable solution, whenever I see workers being paid £5.93 an hour, or workers stuck in a benefits trap, getting violently angry with workers who have the audacity to be paid £3 an hour and not bother with any rights, while all groups of workers get blamed for their own situation by groups who get rich whatever happens, I can’t help but feel that whatever they say, an awful lot of right-wingers must love immigration, especially the illegal kind. It provides both an ever-compliant, ever-expanding workforce, and a perfect scapegoat for any social problems. And I can’t help but feel that Karl Marx was actually right about this one: people really do seem to be divided by social class more than anything else, including nationality or race. And an awful lot of energy seems to go into making sure we never realise it, too.

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The Welfare Reform Bill and the employability gap

Being classed as ‘able’ or ‘unable’ to work is almost irrelevant if you’re still seen as a potential liability to employers.

Campaigning on getting people ‘off benefits and into work’ is not radical, and it’s certainly not a ‘tough decision.’ It’s the ultimate political safeground. Who could argue with it? The idea of anyone being trapped in a cycle of dependency on the state is grim and depressing; for the dependents themselves as well as everybody else, surely? I’m not sure if even the most rabid socialists I know like to see people dependent on the state. (And I know some extremely rabid socialists.) Tightening up the criteria which qualifies a citizen for an out of work benefit, or even a benefit like Disability Living Allowance, which just helps cover the inevitable cost of living with a disability, is not something to be automatically dismissed as a cruel policy – although it certainly deserves much heavier, more expert, more medical-based scrutiny than it’s getting at present.

But just saying that people should ‘support themselves’ and be ‘self-sufficient’, and that ‘work should pay’ is about as meaningful as saying ‘it would be nice if there were no wars or murders.’ Well, it would be. But there are quite a few problems with getting there.

And the biggest problem with moving more people off state support in the hope of driving them into work faster, based on the (largely correct) assumption that most claimants do actually want to work, is this: it is a solution which considers the desires of state, and of the claimant. The potential employer, a pretty important part of the triangle, is completely absent from the equation.

The job market is an uphill ice slope right now, even for people who’ve consistently stayed in long-term employment, have great qualifications, and who generally have no particular hindrances to a normal working life.

According to the Office for National Statistics, there are 2.49million unemployed in Britain. There are 466,000 vacancies. Assuming that all of these jobs are suitable for all of the candidates, which of course they’re not, that still leaves employers with rather a lot of applicants for each position.

Employers are not just going to pick the ‘best’ candidate for every job. They are usually going to pick the easiest, most cost efficient, most likeable, most experienced, most low maintenance person for every job – and rightly so. We shouldn’t force them to do otherwise (and let’s face it, the Conservatives are probably more likely to declare French as the national language than pass any laws to bind employers in terms of who they can and can’t hire or fire). But where does that leave the people who just can’t compete?

For example if an individual suffers from clinical depression, and is able to get through the day without killing themselves, is physically able and can talk, type, stack or carry, their assessor may well deduce – accurately – that such a candidate could reasonably manage a job in, say, a bookshop, a warehouse, or an office. But how much chance will they have of excelling in an interview against outgoing, confident, super-happy candidates with no unexplained breaks in their CV, explanatory notes from the doctor, scars on their wrists, or blue bags around their eyes? The system of assessing ability to work, in short, is not taking into account the realities of the job market, and whether it is practical , in the real world, that you be expected to find work.

With so much emphasis on getting people back into work – a great idea that we pretty much all applaud – perhaps there should be just a little bit more of a conversation about how to help and incentivise employers in accommodating varying states of disability? Could there not be greater discussion about the stigmatisation of mental health in the workplace, and during the recruitment process, for example? Could employers, sometimes shamefully ignorant in their assumptions about who and who isn’t employable, perhaps be asked to take some small share in the responsibility for why so many people who ‘could’ work are stuck on JSA?

Yes, it would be great if no-one had to be dependent on the state, just like yes, it would be great if there were no wars or murders. It would be great if we could get that to happen without asking employers to ever compromise on their own independent selection processes, or without hurting anyone vulnerable, or without spending any money. But we can’t. Dogmatic removal of government because we don’t like the size of the state, without taking any responsibility for replacing its nobler and more necessary activities – like supporting the sick and the vulnerable – is just as naive as being a left-wing hippy who thinks it would be nice if there were no wars (and surely far more damaging). I believe in giving people a ‘hand up instead of a hand out’ (to quote the last of the annoying platitudes). But when you give someone a hand up, it’s only fair to make sure there’s actually somewhere for them to land at the top once you let go, isn’t it?

Feminists are not sure what to make of Rihanna – but who are we to judge anyway?

When women suffer violence they are supposed to become angry feminists, or timid little victims. They are not supposed to carry on letting themselves be sexualised, and sing songs about S&M. Why? Because it makes people like Hannah Pool feel like “bad feminists,” apparently.

Don’t get me wrong, there is definitely something unnerving about the way Rihanna is being marketed. Sexualised hurt sells records, and sexualised hurt from someone we know has suffered from domestic violence sells records in multitudes. As much as it gets on my nerves when media cuts and pastes women into tits and bum cheeks for the cameras, do I really have the right to assert that because one of those women in particular has been beaten by her partner, it somehow obligates them to behave in a particular way, just to make everybody else less uncomfortable?

Anyone who worries about marketing pros parading Rihanna around on a leash as part of a broader, slightly sickening narrative, where the media sexualises violence against women until no-one can quite remember what is supposed to entertain and what is supposed to disgust, may have a point. But feminists like Hannah Pool, who are fine with a video of Rihanna dancing in the rain in spandex, fine with Rihanna becoming famous largely by being talked up as a romantic threat to Beyonce, but want her to suddenly behave differently after finding out she has been violently abused, are surely a tiny bit patronising?

If we want women to be more than just sex symbols, surely by the same logic, women who have been unfortunate enough to be victims of domestic violence deserve to be more than just victims of domestic violence? Hannah Pool writes in the Guardian that she’s uncomfortable with seeing “a woman who became the overnight face of domestic violence” singing lyrics about S&M. Apart from the fact that consensual S&M play is clearly different to non-consensual violence, far too many survivors of all kinds of abuse are shamed into modifying their behaviour afterwards. Rape victims who feel guilty about enjoying sex or dressing provocatively again, for example, are not uncommon. Far too many women let these nasty experiences dictate their lives and desires afterwards – and all too often, it is actually expected of them that they do so. Not so Rihanna. Hannah Pool no doubt means well, and makes some good points in her article. But there is a cultural assumption that victims of domestic or sexual violence are supposed to fall to pieces, and it’s somehow either audacious or a sign of exploitation somewhere if they don’t. The idea that we might all have those expectations to a certain extent actually makes me an awful lot more nervous than the sight of Rihanna eating a banana.

If Andrew Lansley had the courage of Justin Bieber…

Abortion is the political football that no adult wants to touch. In America, a fifteen year old pop singer has polarised himself with his predominantly female fan base over it, yet our Secretary of State for Health is ducking the whole conversation by ignoring the fact that he has the power to change the laws – or else a responsibility to justify them.

In 2008, while he was Shadow Health Secretary, Andrew Lanlsey pledged that as Health Secretary in a Conservative government, he would make it easier for women to obtain abortions earlier. By amending the ‘two doctor’ rule as well as reducing the time limit to 22 weeks, Lansley wanted to help more women terminate their pregnancies in a way that was “earlier and medical” instead of “later and surgical.” Despite the British Pregnancy Advisory Service arguing at the time that such a law wouldn’t actually achieve this aim anyway, since late term abortions usually occur as a result of other factors rather than the ‘two doctor’ rule, this was still Lansley’s officially stated position whilst campaigning for the office he now holds, and – it seems – he has never retracted it.

This week, the high court ruled (against the BPAS and in favour of Lansley) that the 1967 Abortion Act couldn’t be reinterpreted to allow ‘home abortion’ without elected representatives of the public indicating that it should be so. Justice Supperstone did, however, make a point of clarifying that Lansley could definitely amend the law to this end, if he wanted to.

Before Lansley gets into a catfight about whether he was lying back in 2008 when he said he wanted to make it easier for women to get early abortions (pro-choice groups are already starting to talk of lobbying him), he needs to explain, properly, why he is opposed to the specific procedure of abortion at home.

Perhaps ironically, the high court ruling comes the same week that teenybopper Justin Bieber caused a small storm when he told Rolling Stone magazine that he “doesn’t really agree with abortion,” and that he thinks people should save sex for someone they love. When you consider some of the messages, both blatant and subliminal, being sent out to kids every time they turn on MTV, it’s almost worrying to think how much controversy Bieber’s comments, which were surely naive at worst, have caused. The only potentially offensive part of his interview is when he is asked if his view of abortion alters for rape victims; he says such situations are “sad” but that “everything happens for a reason.” If Bieber actually meant that he believes rape happens for a “reason,” rather than every life is conceived for a reason, which is how some people are interpreting it, he obviously warrants a shoe or other similar object chucking at his head next time he’s on stage. But that’s probably not what he meant.

Either way, is there not room for some small sense of admiration for the kid, whether you agree with him or not? He said something unfashionable and polarising, which will almost certainly narrow his fan base, because he felt it to be morally true (although in America being ardently pro-life is no doubt a rather less unconventional opinion than it is here in Britain).

Meanwhile, Andrew Lansley can barely muster the courage to admit that the medical process of abortion is even something that falls under his job description, relying on the courts to state what the law is, rather than take responsibility for amending or defending it. And since it seems Lansley doesn’t actually want the law to be interpreted differently, even if it could be, he should say why, loud and clear, he thinks so. Justice Supperstone left the decision in his hands because he is a democratic representative of the public: the public have a right to know what he really thinks about abortion, and why he thinks it.

After all, despite the many problems with the current system, abortion at home is not necessarily the only, or even the best, solution to all of them. One alternative to the undoubtedly awful scenario where a woman ends up miscarrying her child during her journey home, for example – which is said to be the main reason why home abortions are being considered as preferable – would be for her to remain in the clinic after taking the second pill, and receive proper care until the whole ordeal is over. After all, going through a miscarriage – whether deliberately induced or otherwise – doesn’t sound like something women should feel pressured into doing at home, possibly alone, when they could be receiving expert care and advice.

Some critics have also warned there could be a danger of pills being taken away and sold or used for underhand purposes – such as being given to someone other than the intended recipient. So perhaps the 1967 Abortion Act just needs some better safeguards against such dangers – unlikely though they are – before being amended to better fit modern medical flexibilities.

Or perhaps none of this would matter; perhaps it’s all been worked out already. Justice Supperstone did say, after all, that from a medical perspective, no-one could identify any problems with home abortions. The stumbling block was always one of legality – and democracy.

In any case, whatever Andrew Lansley’s reasoning is, and whatever the specific nuances of his actual views turn out to be, he should either seek to amend the law, or else he should clearly explain why he hasn’t done so. Just proving what the law already says isn’t really what politicians are elected to do. We have judges (and teenage pop stars) for that.

Pupils ‘bullied to death’ like Natasha Macbryde deserve honesty, not damage control

All the people who knew Natasha Macbryde best – family, friends, classmates, and even parents of classmates – say Natasha Macbryde was ‘bullied to death.’ But no-one will be surprised to see that Royal Grammar School is reluctant to believe them. Ignoring the impossible problem staring everyone in the face seems to have become standard procedure for schools.

Royal Grammar School in Tything has questioned the truth of the bullying claims (claims which are all over Facebook, claims which are coming from the dead girl’s father, and even claims from parents of other pupils at the school) on the basis that Royal Grammar School have a ‘strong anti-bullying policy.’ They are naive at best if they don’t know that in practice there no such thing.

No-one is saying schools like Royal Grammar School should be held totally accountable, legally or even morally, for what happens to children on their property, and under their care – although in most other situations where an adult is entirely responsible for a child, it probably wouldn’t be considered as ridiculous an idea as it somehow sounds when we talk about schools. After all, in the workplace, adults are expected to take legal responsibility for the safety of their employees (other adults) to an extent. The reason it becomes impractical with schools, of course, is that most people know the impossible, uncomfortable truth: that there isn’t much that any school can do about bullying.

So no, of course they can’t seriously be expected to actually stop it happening. But the least schools could do is be honest about that impossible, uncomfortable truth. When 13 year old Kelly Yeoman killed herself because of bullying in 1997, her sister Sarah claimed that “the teachers would just say ‘Sit down Kelly, don’t be a tittle-tattle’” if her sister tried to report any abuse. After Thomas Thompson, aged 11, killed himself because of bullying, his headmaster Martin Pope argued that there were “no reports” of any bullying in his school. Holly Stuckey killed herself this year, and despite writing a suicide note which stated that bullying was the reason she committed suicide, and despite other parents at the school coming forward since her death to claim their own kids were also experiencing abuse, the school simply insisted: “We employ a zero-tolerance approach to bullying.” Perhaps Kelly Yeoman, Thomas Thompson, Holly Stuckey, and the seemingly endless list of similar cases were all mistaken or lying about what was happening to them. Or perhaps all our schools are in denial about what is and isn’t within their control – and what happens on their property, under their control, on under their noses.

Is it fair to treat deaths like these as if they were caused by some kind of negligence on the part of the school? No. Should schools like Royal Grammar School in Tything be more concerned with preventing assault and harassment (and isn’t it funny how calling things what they actually are can suddenly change how seriously we take them?) than they are with their own immediate reputation? Yes, of course they should. If they won’t be honest about the scale of the problem in order to actually try and start addressing it, then perhaps they could just do it out of respect for kids like Natasha Macbryde and their families.

Lies, damn lies, and more damn lies: ‘Curveball’ admits he lied about Iraqi weapons

Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi (Curveball) has officially told the Guardian that he ‘fabricated’ his claims that Iraq had biological weapons. His own motivation was surely honourable, and his actions brave. Not so those who chose to believe him.

After escaping Saddam Hussein’s regime in 1995, Janabi explains that he decided to give information about Saddam to foreign governments because he realised that he “had the chance to fabricate something to topple the regime.” He also says that he is “proud” of himself for taking that chance. He told the Guardian: “I tell you something when I hear anybody – not just in Iraq but in any war – [is] killed, I am very sad. But give me another solution. Can you give me another solution?

“Believe me, there was no other way to bring about freedom to Iraq. There were no other possibilities.”

It’s extremely difficult to pass judgement on someone who has fled persecution; someone who knows the horrors a dictatorship like Saddam Hussein’s can bring. That someone who actually lived under the regime would go to such lengths as lying to the German secret service, with the deliberate hope of prompting military action against their home country, shouldn’t be entirely forgotten next time we think about whether there was a moral case for war, with or without WMD. (Although neither should it be forgotten that Tony Blair doesn’t get to claim any prizes for making that moral case, seeing as how he said Saddam could stay in power if he got rid of his WMD.)

No, Janabi’s decision to lie about Saddam’s weapons capability was an understandable, human reaction to living under a dictatorship. Much more alarming is the way those lies were used – and to what end.

According to the Guardian, Colin Powell’s speech eight years ago “relied heavily” on Janabi’s lies. Colin Powell, being a very clever man indeed, would surely (even had there been no particular cause for suspicion) have thought to question whether a source as obviously biased as Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi might be lying when he gave information about a dictator he’d previously lived under. That’s before considering that in this case, there actually was cause for suspicion: previous claims made by Janabi, such as his claims that the son of Dr Bassil Latif, the former boss of the Military Industries Commission in Iraq, was helping Saddam obtain certain weapons in violation of sanctions, are said to have been proved false as early as 2000.

Once upon a time – and it seems very long ago indeed now – I have to admit that I actually had some degree of faith in the moral case for the war in Iraq. It doesn’t look, now, as if the American government ever had that faith. If the moral case for war needed weapons of mass destruction to be convincing; if it needed to use evidence from a clearly biased source allegedly proven already to be untrustworthy; if our recent memories need to be so obviously fiddled with every time a new revelation comes out, how can anyone – even the most passionate anti-Saddam campaigners around the world – have faith in the reasoning of Blair and Bush, or indeed, in the legality behind that reasoning, which led up to the war?

Here is the Guardian article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/feb/15/defector-admits-wmd-lies-iraq-war

Michael Gove should get more credit from the unions for protecting teachers

Sue Caldwell has been suspended from her teaching job at Friern Barnet School for allegedly encouraging pupils to skip class and join the anti-cuts protests. Even though she denies the allegation, and the investigation is ongoing, she’s been suspended and her name is all over the papers. The unions are understandably rather miffed – yet the very Education Bill they are protesting against would have prevented this whole mess.

Don’t mistake this for an argument condoning what she’s accused of. If it is found that Ms Caldwell did actually encourage pupils to skip school, then of course she should be held to account. Teachers are responsible, both legally and morally, while pupils are in their care, and if they encourage kids to break the law by truanting, without parental consent, in order to go to a protest where they may or may not be kettled by the police and/or hit by flying fire extinguishers, they are failing badly in that responsibility. Parents of a child in such circumstances have every right to be annoyed. The law cannot be that you are required to be in school unless your teacher happens to agree with your reasons for skiving off. It would be random and inconsistent, with different kids being allowed to skip school for different reasons, and, perhaps more importantly, with parents being completely unable to guess where their kids might be during the day.

So if the accusation is correct, Ms Caldwell definitely has a case to answer. But until then, her name shouldn’t be in the paper. Michael Gove is, perhaps ironically, seeing to it that in future, teachers like Sue Caldwell would be better protected by the system. His Education Bill, on this occasion, is doing exactly what the teaching unions have been campaigning for: it will speed up investigations (the NUT and Unison are complaining that the investigation has gone on too long), and stop teachers being automatically suspended when an accusation is made (they are complaining that a suspension is an overreaction, and disproportionate to the accusation). Both of these authoritarian measures are relics from the last Labour government.

Like Hannah McIntye, Teresa Mackenzie, Judi Sunderland, Robert King, Rebecca Poole, Bridgette Tarwala, Jane Watts and any of the other two-in-three teachers who are cleared of all charges when an accusation has been made, Sue Caldwell would have benefited from reforms like this particular one of Gove’s being implemented a long time ago.

Hands off the ECHR, Cameron. It’s our Constitution.

After questioning why Britain does not allow prisoners to vote, the European Convention on Human Rights is, once again, being vilified as undemocratic. But, like the Constitution and the Bill of Rights in America, it isn’t supposed to be democratic. In fact, it would defeat the point if it was.

Howls of outrage against the ECHR are common. Usually they happen when someone the howler doesn’t much like or approve of gets granted the same human rights as everyone else. A case in point would be the unsuccessful asylum applicant who committed a hit-and-run offence and was not deported from the country. That is not special treatment for the criminal. That is punishing him for the crime he committed the same way as they would punish anyone else. But there is popular sentiment against the ECHR, because cases like these get a lot of press, and they can indeed seem like frustrating stories. The verdicts seem to overlook common sense.

Well, I have news for you. They do overlook common sense. The law is not the place for common sense. In fact, I don’t want common sense within fifty square feet of the courts. Why? Because, I hate to break it to you, but there is actually no such thing as common sense. There are only collectively held assumptions. Sometimes they are right – in fact, usually they are right, or they wouldn’t become collectively held – but not always. The law cannot afford that margin of error.

Common sense is a very subjective concept. Melanie Phillips’s common sense, for example, says that an awareness of homosexuality being introduced into the classroom is will undermine traditional values like marriage. To me, it is common sense to make sure gay kids feel safe in the place they have to spend a pretty large portion of their time. To some people, it’s common sense that married people raise healthier, happier children than non-married people. To me, it is common sense that love, and being a good parent, is more important than marriage. You get the idea. But no matter: people who want common sense in the legal system still imagine everyone else shares the same common sense as they do. ‘There’s no common sense!’ they shout, if the judge disagrees with their interpretation of the case. Impossible, of course, that the judge simply applied his own common sense, and came to a different conclusion. But somehow, the ECHR gets the blame, and soaks up all the popular resentment whenever there is a verdict which can appear to go against ‘common sense.’ In fact, there is perceived to be so much popular sentiment against the ECHR that the Conservatives are planning to scrap it, and replace it with a ‘British Bill of Rights.’

What I want to know is this: which rights are they going to remove? Which rights on the list do they think I don’t deserve? It’s a serious question. They are either going to waste a fair bit of money, time, ink and energy redrafting a serious legal document just to give it a different title, or they are going to deliberately remove some of my rights.

So don’t be shy, Cameron. Which rights will you remove? I want them to list the Articles they will scrap. I hear, instead, a lot of talk a lot about the ‘rights of crime victims’ being restored, instead of a focus on the ‘rights of criminals.’ This is a complete logical fallacy. Every Article applies to everyone. No-one is giving criminals, or people accused of being criminals, any rights whatsoever that you, I, and the postman don’t have ourselves, too.

And that’s the reason, of course, that they don’t want to specify which Articles they will scrap. They want you to see certain rights being for one group of people, and other rights being for other groups of people, so that we all believe it will be someone else’s rights being taken away, not ours. If we were to think to ourselves, ‘Do I no longer want the right to be free from torture and inhumane treatment?’ or ‘Am I really happy to give up the right to freedom of expression?’ we might be less quick to cheer over the sound of them all being shredded.

There is a lot of talk, too, about this new Bill of Rights being drafted here, at home, with Britain’s best interests at heart, by our own politicians, in the name of democracy. But when the ECHR was first drafted, it wasn’t supposed to be democratic. It isn’t melodramatic (although it would make Godwin proud) to remember that, in the aftermath of Europe’s very recent, very ugly history, the aim of the convention wasn’t to ensure democracy. It was to make sure that whoever people elect in future, there are certain lines those elected leaders cannot cross; certain basic rights that people cannot have removed by the state, no matter why the state thinks they have a right to remove them. It was to make sure that there is a higher legal authority safeguarding those basic rights, which transcends the whims, tantrums, and paranoias of democracy.

Complaining that we never voted for the ECHR is like complaining that we never voted for Magna Carta, or that Americans didn’t vote for the Constitution. Our governments are bound by it just as Obama is bound by the Constitution, and having a set of self-evident truths, to borrow a nifty phrase, is the only way to make sure that our leaders are held accountable to the same laws that we, as citizens, all are.

To want all our rights decided by the elected government of the day is to assume that our government (and more importantly, the one after that, and the one after that, and the one after that…) will never need to be held to account in the way that not-so-distant European governments so badly needed to be in the last century.

And incidentally, whether our Parliament decides we want to allow prisoners the vote or not; whether it’s even within the ECHR’s remit to demand that we give it to them, there’s a very good reason why a system of safeguards designed when the ECHR was designed would have wanted that right enshrined. It’s not just so that politicians have to care about everybody, even those whom nobody else cares about – which it is surely part of their job to do. It isn’t just because people who’ve been driven to break the law might also have a vested interest in changing the law, either. It’s so that the state can’t pass and enforce laws based on who they do and don’t want deciding election results.

The politicisation of liberalism has corrupted it – and we’re all worse off without it

Sadiq Khan accused David Cameron of ‘writing propaganda for the EDL’ with his speech on multiculturalism this weekend. But the resurgence of racial hatred in Britain happened on Labour’s watch.

How is it that the Labour party, the party who tried to be “tough on crime, (yet) tough on the causes of crime,” the party who brought us the Macphearson Report, the minimum wage, and gay rights, managed to create such feelings of betrayal in their core voters, and the perfect conditions for rabid social unrest?

Take crime. Labour have, perhaps in an attempt to pacify both the Guardian and the Daily Mail at the same time – not unlike trying to tap your feet on the ground while standing on your head – managed to dig up policies on the extremes of each aisle. The result has been a country of resentful, frightened people, where minorities like Muslims are vilified and drawn attention to – even criminalised – by huge sections of the media, whilst at the same time having the appearance of getting, or at least wanting, special treatment.

For example, we’ve seen the government singling out the ‘moderate Muslim community’ for not doing enough about extremism within the ‘Islamic community’ (as if every Muslim in Britain sits down to dinner together and discusses their plans to blow stuff up), only to be cushioned by patronising and irritating laws about inciting religious hatred. We’ve seen the government shrugging its shoulders over illegal immigration, whilst at the same time, leaving the children of asylum seekers to sleep in detention camps and using the (debatable) rise in legal immigration as a fig leaf excuse to hide their own failures on housing and jobs. We have seen the government bravely tackling the police on institutional racism, and the formation of groups like the Black Police Officers’ Association, along with recruitment drives amongst ethnic minorities, only to have any newfound trust shattered by incidents like the fatal shooting of Charles de Menezes (not to mention the smear campaign against his character afterwards in the press, where he was accused of being, among other things, an illegal immigrant, as if that is supposed to make his death less important to us, or make his the police error in believing him to be a terrorist any less catastrophic).

The Labour Party has not only helped frighten us out of our liberalism, they have confused us into not knowing what liberalism is anymore. We have no idea if Britain is a soap dish of political correctness gone mad, or an authoritarian and racist police state; whether crime is allowed to happen because the police can’t search minorities for fear of racism accusations (this is surely not true or a lot less minorities would be stopped and searched, although an amazing number of people seem to think it is), or whether the police have a licence to kill any suspect, without fear of prosecution should they get it wrong. Liberalism gets the blame for all of it, and all the while crime goes on, swallowing up the lives of the people who are hurt the most by it all; the people who should be voting Labour. These are the families whose children and partners are being sent to Iraq – to simultaneously kill and to liberate Muslims – the people who are trapped in an education system crying out for reform, with depressingly under-funded social services, and not nearly enough housing. No wonder people feel frustrated, ignored, and frightened. No wonder people are sick of what they think liberalism is.

Like our Prime Minister; like so many members of the previous government, liberalism has become confused in its meaning. Cameron doesn’t know what it means to be a liberal: he probably thinks he is one. People like Cameron believe ‘playing the race card’ actually works; that any anti-immigration liberals will accept, for example, that because one black man in Plymouth likes his general approach to immigration, no-one else will need, or want, or dare, to ask any further questions about the actual specifics of the policy. He thinks that by creating women’s only shortlists for parliamentary candidates that liberals won’t notice he hasn’t addressed the problem of why so many women don’t get taken seriously in politics in the first place.

Looking at each other and seeing groups, instead of individuals, is what the extremists (and that means the EDL, BNP, Islamicists, Zionists, everyone) want us to do. They want every Muslim to be responsible for the actions of every other Muslim; every black person to be a spokesperson for every other black person; every English person to feel represented by the EDL. It’s a mentality that works well for ministers, because it facilitates easy policy-making. They can, as the coalition has just done, introduce ‘gang injunctions’ against all individuals in any group that happens to call itself a gang, rather than work out – and pay for – better policing to actually handle the individuals committing criminal acts. They can pass immigration policies which cannot be considered xenophobic and don’t need to be analysed in any depth because a black man said – presumably aware he was speaking on behalf of every non-white person in the UK– that he wanted less immigration. They can pretend they have improved life opportunities for all women by handpicking a select bunch of women and parachuting them into safe seats. It’s not surprising they’ve allowed this to become what liberalism means. We’ve had a government which has let that mentality flourish for thirteen years, and now we have a government who actually base entire policies around it. But as we can already see, it leads to confusion, resentment, tribalism, fear, and violence, and ultimately a betrayal of liberalism itself.

So let’s stop this politicised vision of ‘liberalism’; something to be used as a divisive political tool. Let’s stop this being what liberalism means. Liberalism should be about seeing each other as individuals, with equal rights, so we have no need for special allowances; with each of us taking full responsibility for our own individual actions; with criminals being punished properly for their crimes, and innocent people being treated as innocent people until they are proved, by an impartial court, to be found otherwise.

David Cameron speaks of ‘muscular liberalism’: let us stop liberalism being a synonym for weakness. Liberalism is not the triumph of the heart over the head; it’s the triumph of logic over what those too lazy for logic like to call common sense. And, most importantly, let’s make sure the real liberals don’t get drowned out by those who pretend to adopt liberalism for political purposes. They are the ones who’ve made it into such a mess in the first place.