A shorter version of this article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday May 10 2018.
For every horrific case of detention and the denial of rights there is a public policy decision that delivered the hostile environment in which such injustices thrive and become normal. David Lammy MP.
Motes and Beams
The British government, whether Conservative or Labour, never tires of criticizing Sri Lanka’s human rights record. Nearly ten years ago, David Miliband condoned horrible tortures while calling on Sri Lanka to let LTTE butchers off the hook. Today, Conservatives support calls for the release of Tamil political prisoners. I hesitate to engage in whataboutery, but the Windrush affair brings to light a lot of mote and beam stuff.
Former Labour Home Secretary John Reid famously said the Home Office as he found it was “not fit for purpose”. What is the purpose of the Home Office? The Home Office website says this: “The first duty of the government is to keep citizens safe and the country secure. The Home Office has been at the front line of this endeavour since 1782. As such, the Home Office plays a fundamental role in the security and economic prosperity of the United Kingdom.”
It has kept some of its citizens “safe” by detaining and deporting others without due process of law.
The Lies and Incompetence Continue
The Windrush issue is no longer hitting the headlines, but the lying liars are still lying. Immigration minister Caroline Nokes told the Home Affairs Committee on May 9 that she did not know of any wrongful deportations. Immigration Enforcement chief Hugh Ind said he knew of a ‘handful’ of cases. The truth is that the Home Office is now investigating 8,000 cases. The previous Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, was an embarrassment when up against the lethal forensic questioning of Yvette Cooper. On May 9, Nokes and two officials were not able to answer basic simple questions about the system. This is such an important issue and the people who are supposed to be in charge haven’t got a clue what’s going on.
Contempt for Rule of Law
As well as Yvette Cooper, David Lammy has been one of the most impressive of British politicians in recent months. The Labour MP for Tottenham has spoken with passion and reason about knife crime, the Grenfell disaster (he described the fire as corporate manslaughter and called for arrests to be made) and the Windrush scandal. The British government criticized IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camps in Sri Lanka but now hauls off innocent grannies in the middle of the night, puts them in detention centres and sends them off to the West Indies in handcuffs on secret charter flights. Lammy says “Each case is directly linked to a policy that ignores the principle of habeas corpus by imprisoning innocent people without reference to a judge, jury or evidence of guilt.“
Lammy voted against the 2014 Immigration Bill, the codifying of Theresa May’s “hostile environment”, and described it as “a stain on our democracy”. He was born in Britain and his parents were from Guyana. Despite great adversity (his father deserted the family when David was a child) he has been successful. He is a Lincoln’s Inn barrister and a graduate of Harvard Law School (the first black Briton to be accepted at Harvard). In the debate, he quoted from the Magna Carta: “No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled. Nor will we proceed with force against him except by the lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land.”
The “hostile environment” policy on immigration was devised during the time of the coalition when Cameron was prime minister. It caused a fierce battle in the cabinet room between Home Secretary May and Nicky Morgan, then Education Secretary. Morgan had, along with the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, raised concerns that May’s new policy for illegal immigrants would turn teachers and health workers into immigration officials. Morgan questioned the very principle behind the “hostile environment” and expressed fears that it would turn teachers, health workers, employers and landlords into immigration snitches. There is something Nazi about the idea.
Many Tories would love the government go beyond changing the name of the policy from “hostile environment” to “compliant environment” and would urge them to abandon the idea of deportation targets altogether. It is a hostage to failure – providing quarterly reminders that the government is not achieving its targets. However, what seemed to some as a virtue in May – her dogged determination to get a job done even if she did not much agree with it – is now seen as stubbornness where pragmatism might be more appropriate.
Is the deportation policy worth all the hassle? The NHS confederation said seven London trusts had reported that 53 doctors had been denied visas. More than 30 health trusts in the North-West have written to the Government demanding that around 100 junior doctors from India be allowed to work in their hospitals and health centres. There was a Financial Times story suggesting overseas students were wrongly deported over language tests. At time of writing, I had not been able to confirm this but there is a rumour going around that Home Office civil servants were paid cash bonuses to hit deportation targets.
A fifth of May’s Cabinet have departed since the June 2017 general election. None of these resignations has been Brexit-related. It is hard to find quality replacements from lower down the ranks. Look at the poor quality of the personnel handling Brexit. The new man taking the poisoned chalice of the Home Office is Sajid Javid, described as the first BAME to be appointed to one of the great offices of state. Like David Lammy, Javid overcame many disadvantages to become very successful. His father arrived in Britain from Pakistan, so the story goes, with just a pound in his pocket. He became a bus driver in Rochdale but the family moved to Bristol to run a shop. Javid was educated at a comprehensive and borrowed money to begin investing in shares at the age of 14. He graduated in economics at Exeter University and then went into finance. His first job was with Chase Manhattan and he became a vice president at 25. By the time he left Deutsche Bank in 2009 to pursue a career in politics he was earning £3 million a year.
The Conservative party spins Javid’s ‘emerging markets’ experience as, ‘helping raise investment for developing countries.’ The reality is somewhat different. Bryan Appleyard wrote: “Mr Javid seems to have been one of those bankers who, in a just society, would now be languishing in a prison cell picking oakum and humming Emmylou Harris’s Broken Man’s Lament.”
He was at the heart of the credit trading business and was responsible for structuring an emerging-market synthetic CDO that incurred millions of dollars’ worth of losses for investors. A former Deutsche Bank colleague said Javid “is spinning his former career” to show himself as a sober investment banker. In reality, he was a structured credit trader at the heart of the business that precipitated the global financial crisis.
Javid defended his practice: “As long as investors understand the risk/rewards of an emerging-market CDO, they are very appropriate. Investors are getting a huge amount of leverage and they are comfortable taking the risk”. Moody’s downgraded the ratings when by May 2009, they discovered that losses on defaulted assets in the Craft EM CLO 2006-1 pool stood at $32 million. Arco Capital tried to take Deutsche Bank to court in September 2012 over the $37 million in losses it incurred by investing in the deal.
Javid left Deutsche Bank in 2009, just as the full extent of the firm’s credit-related losses were becoming apparent. In 2010, he ran for safe Conservative seat of Bromsgrove.
Javid’s Illiberal Record
Gary Younge (the veteran black Guardian journalist) thought it sloppy liberal thinking to hope that Javid’s appointment would make a difference. He described the new Home Secretary as: “a man who extols his own story as an example of what is possible, even as he actively seeks to ensure that this story should be denied to those who come after him.” Looking after number one and his like.
When the UK’s top tax rate was reduced, Javid spoke to Goldman Sachs bankers in person to ensure that bonuses at the firm in London weren’t delayed. In 2012, he urged Britons not to “slam the City,” saying it represented some of the best of capitalism. In Parliament he has voted for reducing the rate of corporation tax; for reducing capital gains tax.
He has voted consistently against raising welfare benefits at least in line with prices; consistently voted against paying higher benefits over longer periods for those unable to work due to illness or disability; consistently voted for a reduction in spending on welfare benefits; generally voted against laws to promote equality and human rights; consistently voted for mass surveillance of people’s communications and activities.
He has voted against a right to remain for EU nationals already in living in the UK; voted against UK membership of the EU; voted for stronger enforcement of immigration rules; consistently voted for a stricter asylum system.
Will this man make the Home Office fit for his purpose?
Compassion and the Cruelty of Robots
Gaby Hinsliffe wrote in the Guardian that “The common thread in so many of the crises now engulfing Theresa May’s government is policy that completely fails to recognise the complexity of people’s lives: a sort of rigid, soulless, unthinking bureaucracy that leads to casual cruelty.” She called it the “dogged pursuit of bad ideas”.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein has often had harsh things to say about Sri Lanka. In a recent speech he could have been thinking about what we are seeing in the UK. “The indifference of a large part of the business community worldwide, who would still pursue profit even at the cost of great suffering done to others. The indifference of a large segment of the intelligence and security community, for whom the pursuit of information eclipses all the rights held by others, and who describe challenges to terrible, discriminatory practices as treachery…. Our world is dangerously close to unmooring itself from a sense of compassion, slowly becoming not only a post-truth but also a post-empathetic world. “