Don’t explain as incompetence what can be explained as disinterest

Philip Oltermann in the Grauniad talks about the failure of British diplomacy in Berlin:

The Netherlands, rather than Germany, should be the country for Britain to emulate in this respect. In Holland, as in the UK, eastern Europeans are usually not recruited directly by local employers, but often via rogue employment agencies who provide little security and support for workers when their contracts terminate. Since 2009, Dutch and Polish authorities have been cooperating closely to try to licence such agencies in order to stop Poles from getting stranded in unemployment.

In Berlin, I heard countless British diplomats moan about their government’s tendency to put all its eggs in one basket in order to win the big prize, while other countries were more willing to accept that EU diplomacy is a constant give and take. In fact, all Britain needs to do is to remind itself of a simple traditional British virtue: teamwork.

I’d say the UK’s problem of engagement with Europe is twofold. First, there’s still the inflated sense of self importance getting in the way. Unlike even France and Germany, Britain has never really had to had to deal with other countries as equal in Europe and so sucks at it. Second, and more importantly, there are the domestic political realities getting in the way of proper diplomacy. Even under Labour it was often politically inconvenient to genuinely engage with Europe, let alone under a coalition government at least half of which doesn’t believe in Europe.

The myth of rescuing sex workers

Molly Crabapple on how New York’s special prostitution courts still peddle the same tired myth of needing to “rescue” sex workers and hence put them more at risk:

Police are violent in general, and violent specifically to women they think are sex workers. According to a 2012 study by the Young Women’s Empowerment Project for young people who have sold sex, a third of all reported abuse came at the hands of the police. Sources told me officers had called women “sluts,” groped them during arrests, even made jerking-off motions with their batons in court. In the Brooklyn HTIC, RedUP saw a black woman who claimed to have been beaten so savagely by police that she landed in the hospital.


According to Kluger, the HTICs are decriminalizing prostitution in the court system, despite the arrests and incarcerations that underpin the courts. Her perception of sex workers comes from the women who have stood before her bench. To her, they seem “comatose,” emotionless, controlled by traffickers and pimps. To validate their emotions, Lee and Kluger both rely on long-discredited statistics that are mantras in the anti-trafficking world: “70 percent of trafficking is sex trafficking”; “the average age of entry into prostitution is 12 to 14 years old.”

And of course it’s mostly white middle class men and women who have the power to decide how to treat the largely black, latina, trans, working class women who the police pick up for their arrest quotas, their agency denied by those who seek to rescue them.

The police has always been a tool of repression

Sam Mitrani explains how the police from the start was created to control the working classes:

There was a never a time when the big city police neutrally enforced “the law,” or came anywhere close to that ideal (for that matter, the law itself has never been neutral). In the North, they mostly arrested people for the vaguely defined “crimes” of disorderly conduct and vagrancy throughout the nineteenth century. This meant that the police could arrest anyone they saw as a threat to “order.” In the post-bellum South, they enforced white supremacy and largely arrested black people on trumped-up charges in order to feed them into convict labor systems.

Poll Tax Riots

Ros Sare talks about the circumstances behind the famous photo of her arguing with a poll tax protestor:

A few years later, this image was used in a media textbook to illustrate how a picture can lie. I look like the typical conservative middle-England Tory voter (which I’m not), objecting to the protest. The truth is, I felt bloody angry that day.

The introduction fo the Poll Tax and the subsequent, largely police instigated riots against it was what finally brought down Margaret Thatcher. It also came at the end of a decade of increasingly violent state repression of protest in Britain: Miner Strike, Hillsborough, the cruise missile protests, etc. For some background on what became the Battle of Trafalgar, the following documentary is a good start:

Ferguson is not an incident

But something that happens on a twice weekly basis:

The statistics: White officers kill black suspects twice a week in the United States, or an average of 96 times a year.

Those are the findings of a USA Today analysis of seven years of FBI data, which claims around a quarter of the 400 annual deaths reported to federal authorities by local police departments were white-on-black shootings. What’s more, the analysis indicates that 18% of the black suspects were under the age of 21 when killed by the police, as opposed to just 8.7% of white suspects.

Last time Blair was humanitarian, a million Iraqis died

Tony Blair - save some of the children

Pseudocharity Save the Children presented Tony Blair with an humanitarian award. Their staff is not happy:

Amid widespread criticism on social media, many of the charity’s staff have complained that the presentation of the award has discredited Save the Children (STC). An internal letter, which gathered almost 200 signatures – including senior regional staff – in the first six hours of dissemination, said the award was not only “morally reprehensible, but also endangers our credibility globally”, and called for it to be withdrawn.

It said that staff wished to distance themselves from the award and demanded a review of the charity’s decision-making process.

“We consider this award inappropriate and a betrayal to Save the Children’s founding principles and values. Management staff in the region were not communicated with nor consulted about the award and were caught by surprise with this decision,” it said.

The move has also raised questions about Save the Children’s (STC) integrity and independence because of close links between the former British prime minister and key figures at the charity’s helm.

You do wonder about people still sucking up to Blair years after he left power, this sycopanthic pandering to the illusion of power that was also behind e.g. Obama’s Nobel Prize before he even was in office. It neatly shows how little organisations like this have to do with actual charity or wanting to make the world a better place and how much it is there to salve the egos of monsters wanting to think of themselves as “liberal”.

And they say Germans have no sense of humour

On November 15th, neo-Nazis walked through the streets of Wunsiedel. We could not stop them – but we could make them walk for something meaningful: and that is how for the first time a right-wing memorial march became a charity walk – without knowing of the participants. For every meter they walked, €10 went to EXIT-Deutschland – a Nazi opt-out programme. The result: €10.000 and lots of surprised right-wing extremists.

‘write it on a piece of paper and stick it through a letterbox’

A fascinating elections wonk article by mark Pack on the history of the LibDem approach to campaigning:

Central to this inheritance for the Liberal Democrats was the role of leaflets. If one image can sum up the approach to campaigning taken by the Liberal Democrats across twenty-five years, it would be a piece of paper on a doormat emblazoned with a bar chart and a headline screaming that ‘Only the local Liberal Democrat can beat Party X round here’

Then Liberal Party MP David Penhaligon coined the phrase that many activists have since quoted, ‘If you believe in something, write it on a piece of paper and stick it through a letterbox’. However, it was Chris Rennard, first as the Liberal Democrats’ Director of Campaigns and Elections, and then subsequently as Chief Executive, who turned it into an effective seat-winning tactic at general elections for the party.

What struck me about this is the similarities to the approach the Dutch Socialist Party used to have to elections. The SP started out as a typically sixties Maoist studenty party, then got a foot on the ground in some of the industrial cities of Brabant, especially Oss. There the people running the party took the same sort of pragmatic approach to campaigning, by focusing on local issues year round, not just during elections. It also had the same sort of centrally led election organisation that could throw money and manpower at areas where the party stood a chance of being elected.

Of course, with the Dutch system of proportional representation this was less necessary for parliamentary elections, but the SP always worked bottom up. First get the party established in a new town or district, then get it actively involved in local politics and hopefulyl elected to the council before focusing on national politics.

Mind, it took several decades for the party to grow big and established enough to get its first members of parliament, but since then it has steadily grown from fringe party to serious governmental candidate even if its fortunes have waned during more recent elections.

As with the LibDems, the biggest challenge for the SP has been to keep its ideological vision rather than becoming just an issues party. Said ideology has become much more mainstream over the decades but the core of it still is a proper socialist-democratic vision. What helps is that the party has always been keen for its local branches to be active on national and international issues too.