Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Tag: Brexit

Goose Is Cooked

This article was published in Ceylon Today on January 1 2021

https://ceylontoday.lk/news/goose-is-cooked

There has been much bluster from Boris Johnson about an ‘oven-ready deal’ for the UK to leave the EU. There was much anxiety that there would be no deal at all or that it would be a Christmas turkey. In the end, a deal was struck on Christmas Eve and there was much relief and a fatigued kind of feeling that it might have been worse. Repent at leisure. It could be that the UK’s goose is well and truly cooked not just oven-ready.

Carry on trading

A positive aspect of the deal is that there will be no tariffs on goods exported and imported between the UK and the EU. This should allow the UK and the EU to carry on trading much as they do now. This should limit price increases and prevent stocks of goods in shops from running out. Tariff-free and quota-free access to one of the world’s biggest markets goes beyond the EU’s deals with Canada or Japan. Chris Johns in the Irish Times explains what a Canada-style deal means: “The relationship between the US and Canada offers a template for what will happen next: A dominant power that periodically delivers an economic kicking to its smaller neighbour. “

There will be mutual recognition of trusted trader programmes. This means UK producers will have to comply with both UK and EU standards. However, there will be more red tape, which is bound to mean delays and extra costs. According to the Cold Chain Federation, The UK’s food chain could well be “slower, more complex and more expensive for months if not years”. 

It will make it much harder for Britain to sell services to EU countries, where they once had an advantage. The financial industry, lawyers, architects, consultants and others – was largely left out of the 1,246-page deal, despite the sector accounting for 80 per cent of British economic activity. Britain sells $40 billion of financial services to the European Union each year, profiting from an integrated market that makes it easier in some cases to sell services from one member country to another than it is to sell services from one American State to another. That will end.

Restricted freedom of movement

UK nationals no longer have the freedom to work, study, start a business or live in the EU. Visas will be required for stays over 90 days. Coordination of some social security benefits such as old-age pensions and healthcare will make it easier to work abroad and not lose any pre-existing buildup of contributions to national insurance. UK citizens wishing to travel to Europe should have at least six months left on their passport before they travel. From 2022, they will have to pay for a visa-waiver scheme to visit many EU countries. The European Commission says the choice to end free movement “inevitably means that business travel between the EU and the UK will no longer be as easy as it currently is”. People are advised to check with the member state they are travelling to.

There will be no more automatic recognition for doctors, nurses, architects, dentists, pharmacists, vets, engineers. 

They will now have to seek recognition in each member state in which they wish to practise. A framework is being drawn up to facilitate some form of mutual recognition in the future. It may well be that each UK qualification body will have to negotiate a bilateral agreement with its counterpart in each respective EU member state.

Britain’s thriving TV and video-on-demand service providers will no longer be able to offer pan-European services to European viewers unless they relocate part of their business to an EU member state.

Exile from useful institutions

Britain will no longer be a member of the European Investment Bank, which lent billions to depressed regions of the UK. Inward investment, which boomed under EU membership, and which has already fallen by four fifths since the referendum, will remain depressed. The UK will also be out of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, crucial to the fight against climate change and essential to the economics of wind farms and new nuclear power stations. The UK loses all automatic access to EU databases.

The UK will no longer be part of the European Arrest Warrant system. Nor will the UK be a full member of Europol or Eurojust. There will be “continued cooperation between the UK, Europol and Eurojust” with “strong cooperation between national Police and judicial authorities”.

Cost of chaos

I used to write regular monthly columns on Europe for two Sri Lankan business magazines. Reading those articles now, I can see that most of them were critical of aspects of the EU. A rational case could have been made for the UK leaving the EU, although it would have made more sense to stay in and reform it, while having a say on the rules.

Chris Johns again: “The British voted for Brexit but whatever they thought they were asking for, this was not it… Before the referendum, few people in the UK had strong views about Europe. Most now just want Brexit to disappear.” Get Brexit done. It will never be done. I doubt if anyone voted in the 2016 referendum for the years of expensive chaos that ensued from the decision to leave or for the deal that will surely bring more years of expensive chaos. According to the think tank the Institute for Government (IfG) the UK Government committed to spend £6.3 billion on Brexit preparations up to April 2020. That is the equivalent of buying two brand new Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers, or the money being spent on extending the Thameslink railway in the south-east of England.

Bloomberg Economics analysed how much the decision to leave the EU cost the economy. Bloomberg economist Dan Hanson said, “As the UK comes to terms with its new trading relationship with the EU and grapples with the productivity challenge that has hindered growth since the financial crisis, the annual cost of Brexit is likely to keep increasing,” Economists believe that, as a result of this, the British economy is still three per cent smaller than it would have been if the UK had voted to remain in the EU in 2016 – even with the slowdown of the global rate of growth taken into account. 

Meanwhile, business investments have been held back by Brexit uncertainty, they said, with the annual rate of economic growth halving to one per cent. 

An analysis by UK in a Changing Europe, a research organisation funded by the UK Government, estimated that Brexit’s ultimate economic cost to the UK would be larger than that of COVID-19. The UK economy contracted 20 per cent between April and June because of COVID-19. Some forecasters expect the UK economy to recover rapidly now that a vaccine is available, but they predict that less trade and immigration because of Brexit will have deep and prolonged effects. The UK Government’s own estimate suggests a trade deal like the one agreed to this week would leave the country’s output five per cent lower in 15 years than if Brexit hadn’t happened.

The money spent on Brexit would have helped the NHS to cope better with the pandemic. The UK goes into 2021 suffering from the incompetence of its government’s handling of COVID-19. The economy is shattered because of the virus and now there is Brexit to cope with as well. Martin Kettle commented in the Guardian about the circus leading up to the deal: “For probably the first time in human history, these have been trade negotiations that aim to take the trading partners further apart, not closer together.”

Who voted for this?

The breakup of the United Kingdom gets closer. SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford described the deal as a “disaster for Scotland”. He said the agreement was an “unforgiveable act of economic vandalism and gross stupidity”.

Did anyone vote to make their lives worse? As Tom Kibasi, founder of The Institute for Public Policy Research, wrote: “People voted not to terminate our economic cooperation but to put it on a new and different political basis, with sovereignty more explicitly and firmly rooted in Westminster rather than pooled in Brussels. Instead, Britain will have the same trading arrangements as far and distant countries.”

Many people have expressed relief that the annus horribilis of 2020 is over. It is doubtful if 2021 will be an annus mirabilis. 

Dirty Britain

Many detached observers have asked what the point of Brexit is. Who benefits?

Many people have asked the simple question: why is the UK going through the ghastly and costly process of leaving the EU?  Remainers are fighting to keep jobs and save businesses, are fearful about their livelihoods. The government’s own research has clearly shown that there will be major disruption to the economy and to the daily lives of ordinary people. Did anyone vote in the referendum to be worse off? Who benefits from this chaos?

The prime minister’s more attractive and brighter sister, Rachel, has some ideas on the subject, “People who have invested billions in shorting the pound or shorting the country in the expectation of a no deal Brexit”. Ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, explored the same theme, alleging that Johnson “is backed by speculators who have bet billions on a hard Brexit – and there is only one outcome that works for them: a crash-out no-deal Brexit that sends the currency tumbling and inflation soaring.” Nick Macpherson, former permanent secretary to the Treasury, said Hammond was right to question the political connections of some of the hedge funds with a financial interest in no deal.

Peter Jukes wrote in Byline Times on 23 September 2019: “according to City insiders, Boris Johnson’s push towards a ‘no deal’ Brexit is a ‘free lunch’ for hedge funds and currency traders.” Sir Jim O’Neill, the former Chairman of Goldman Sachs’ Asset Management, said “A lot of them are saying thank goodness for Boris, he’s giving us a chance to make some money”.

Byline Times determined how many donations to Johnson’s Conservative Party leadership campaign came from hedge funds, City traders or wealthy investors. This revealed that, between 24 May and 23 July 2019, £357,500 of the £552,500 came from such donors. They made up 65% of the value of the donations, and 30 out of 40 (75%) of the number of donors. “Boris Johnson remains heavily reliant on one of the few sectors hedge funds, foreign exchange and derivative trading which could actually profit from a sudden decline in share prices or the fall of sterling.”

Molly Scott Cato is a current Member of the European Parliament. She writes: “Lives may be lost and our economy destroyed, but for many of the key Brexit players a No Deal scenario and the chaos this would cause is simply an opportunity to maximise their returns.” Jacob Rees-Mogg was a thorn in the flesh of Theresa May with his clique of radicals within the Conservative Party, the ERG (Economic Research Group). Although he was strongly in favour of Brexit, he was canny enough to move his own hedge fund to Dublin to retain the advantages of being in the EU. He is no longer a rebel, but is in the government as Leader of the House of Commons. His Somerset Capital Management was managed via subsidiaries in tax havens like the Cayman Islands and Singapore. Many of those who strongly support Brexit have reason to fear new EU regulations on tax havens. The EU recently tripled its list of tax havens to include fifteen countries.

Crispin Odey was a major contributor to the Leave campaign. He told the BBC on the morning of the referendum result that he had made £220m speculating that the markets would fall, saying “‘Il mattino ha l’oro in bocca’ – the morning has gold in its mouth”. He has now bet £300m against British businesses, so that he will profit when they collapse as a result of No Deal Brexit. Odey Asset Management – friend to Boris Johnson– has been actively shorting UK high street retail chains.  High street retailers are doing badly because of online shopping.  Odey is shorting their shares wholesale, which only makes matters worse.

Richard Tice co-founded the Leave campaign with Arron Banks, whose finances in relation to the Leave campaign are far from transparent. Tice is the chairman of the Brexit Party, a Eurosceptic political party which participated in the 2019 European parliamentary election. Tice has listed his property business offshore on a stock exchange in Guernsey. In 2019, Tice was elected as a Brexit Party Member of the European Parliament for the East of England. Molly Scott Cato writes that Tice describes his economic activity as “expertise in ‘distressed debt’. Others would call this vulture capitalism, and sharks like Tice are circling as the Brexit they have campaigned for destroys genuine businesses and makes their assets available for snapping up at low prices.” Tice is the lover of Isabel Oakeshott whose book on David Cameron included an allegation that Cameron, during his university days, performed a sex act involving a dead pig. The unsubstantiated story was dependent on hearsay and Oakeshott subsequently conceded her source could have been “deranged”.

Five candidates for the Brexit Party were businessmen and millionaires with links to tax havens. Nigel Farage admitted setting up a tax haven trust fund on the Isle of Man for “inheritance purposes”. Yorkshire candidate John Longworth advised the Hottinger Group, which is owned by an offshore firm named in the Panama Papers. South West candidate James Glancy is chief executive and part-owner of a security consultancy whose largest shareholder is based offshore on the Isle of Man. South East candidate Chris Ellis was chairman for a diamond mine business operating through a company in the British Virgin Islands and named in the Paradise Papers. London candidate Graham Shore is co-owner of Shore Capital Group which says it will “take advantage of Brexit uncertainty” and whose ultimate parent company is based in Guernsey. Among the City hedge fund operators backing Boris Johnson are David Lilley of RK Capital, Jon Wood of SRM Global, and Johan Christofferson of Christofferson, Robb and Co. These patriotic Brexiteers are seeking financial gain from undermining their country and its institutions.

Some people have rubbished claims of dirty dealings and told us we do not understand how hedge funds work. That may be true because they are specifically designed for us not to understand. Hedge funds are risk-takers. They invest in risky stocks or projects, in the hope of making above-average returns. George Kerevan writes: “Brexit is not a cry for help from the English underclass.  It is a carefully stage-managed campaign by global finance capital in the form of the hedge funds.  It is being orchestrated out of hedge fund self-interest and the greed of billionaires.  Boris Johnson is their front man.”

Guto Bebb, a former Conservative minister ejected from the party for opposing a no-deal Brexit, said: “The dubious financiers who supported the ‘leave’ campaign and the prime minister’s leadership campaign are betting against Britain. The PM should put the interests of the country first rather than facilitating a financial bonanza for a few.”

This Septic Isle

This article was published in Ceylon Today on October 7 2019

 

https://ceylontoday.lk/print-more/42031

I am planning a trip to the UK and am somewhat trepidatious about what I might encounter there considering the increasingly tense situation arising out of the uncertainties surrounding Brexit. When I was there last year, I was pleasantly surprised by a number of things.  I was staying in a very ethnically mixed area.  One rarely saw a white face and when one did, it spoke Polish. Despite the heterogeneous nature of the population, what used to be considered as British values generally prevailed. People queued in an orderly fashion at the post office and held doors open for other people. If one held a door open one would be thanked. If one hesitated at a pedestrian crossing indicating one might be thinking of crossing, vehicles would immediately stop. They would even stop if one was not on an official crossing. People thanked bus drivers when alighting and the drivers reciprocated.

I only saw the native English in central Croydon. They were generally elderly, frail, wheelchair-bound. I was astounded at the number of grotesquely obese people – of all ethnicities. Health is a major anxiety. I have just finished reading John Bew’s excellent biography of Clement Attlee, a mild-mannered, quiet man who transformed Britain (for the better) when he was prime minister for the first years of my life. The chancers who run Britain today have destroyed the welfare state, driving poor sick people to suicide.

There were stories on the news every day of knife attacks. Children were being stabbed to death for no reason. A pregnant woman was stabbed to death in her own home near to where I was staying. Adults were attacked for the sole reason of being Muslim or for speaking a language not English. An Indian customer in Lidl (a German-based supermarket chain offering a cornucopia of culinary delights at reasonable prices – how will Brexit affect that?) was berating a rather alarming tattooed assistant possibly of Baltic origin. Soren rarely smiles but is always polite and competent. When we were walking to Lidl we passed a severely burnt-out car which made one think of downtown Damascus. I was vaguely aware of a small, middle-aged, white-haired Afro-Caribbean man veering over to our side of the pavement. He shoulder-barged my wife and then complained that we had attacked him and demanded an apology. This was humbly given but did not stop him shouting filth at us.

Encounters with homeless beggars can be problematic. Some appreciate what they are given and understand when one is unable to donate.  Some can be aggressive and abusive. There were so many hapless people shivering in the bitter cold, it was difficult to keep enough cash about one’s person to help all of them. Many of them have mental health problems and austerity policies have meant cuts in services. We are now told that austerity is over and Boris Johnson is promising jam for everyone from the Magic Money Tree. All that suffering was for nothing. It is very difficult to earn enough money to buy or rent a home in London. Not all those sleeping rough are unemployed. Many people who are not actually homeless are living in squalid conditions.

Successive governments have continued Margaret Thatcher’s 1980 policy of selling off social housing. While there may have been some merit in council tenants being able to buy their own homes, the policy has caused severe social problems. An analysis of Freedom of Information data showed that that more than 40% of council houses sold in London are now privately rented. Around 466 individuals or companies have the leasehold for at least five former council homes each. Councils have spent £22m a year on renting back properties they once owned to use as temporary accommodation.

The Leave vote in the EU referendum was, to a great extent an expression of disgruntlement. People were unhappy about many things caused by the policies of the UK government but they saw fit to blame the EU, which was pouring millions in subsidies into deprived areas like South Wales and Sunderland. A post-Brexit UK will not replace these subsidies.

Disgruntlement is exacerbated now by uncertainty and the poison encouraged by the current government. Political analyst Ian Dunt writes: “There is a genuine concern about the country, a fear for its future, and a sense that their understanding of themselves as Brits is going through an upheaval. It is political and personal. And then there is the background thrum of abuse, like a distant drumbeat, forming an awful soundtrack to a horrible process…We’re all sick of hating one another. People yearn to go back to a country that wasn’t severed in half in this way. But they can’t get back there. The map is lost.”

Former attorney general Dominic Grieve was ejected from the Conservative Party for opposing a No-Deal Brexit. He writes in the Daily Mail: “I have been astonished to hear ministers talking up the possibility of civil disorder if we do not leave the EU on October 31… The message coming from Downing Street is we have to leave by October 31 or there will be riots.”

The party of law and order is using the incitement to violence as a cynical strategy. Brexiteers seem determined now to stir up hatred and to incite violence. Nigel Farage said the civil service will be looked at: “Once Brexit’s done, we’ll take a knife to them”. Apologists for Farage claimed that he merely wanted to cut civil service numbers. However, Dominic Hornberger, from Birmingham, was charged with grievous bodily harm and possession of a knife in a public place at Westminster Magistrates’ Court after he stabbed a civil servant outside the Home Office. The 29-year-old accused was also carrying a banned CS spray and a ferret. Professional contrarian Brendan O’Neill of the Spiked organisation (funded by the Koch brothers) said there “should be riots on the streets” to get the UK out of the EU. Boris Johnson said we must not give in to the “betrayal” of the “surrender bill” which blocks No Deal.

MP Jo Cox was shot and stabbed to death while campaigning against Brexit by a right-wing fanatic shouting “Britain First”.

 

In the Commons last week, many female MPs talked about the death threats they were still receiving from Leave supporters. Johnson was asked to apologise for the immoderate language he was using. Far from saying sorry, he said it was “humbug” for a Labour MP to request he temper his language, to try to protect MPs’ safety. He said the best way to honour Jo Cox, was to “get Brexit done”. MPs left the chamber in tears.

 

 

 

 

Democracy – Lame Duck or Dead Duck?

This article was published in Ceylon Today on September 26 2019

https://ceylontoday.lk/print-more/41193

I have been reading a very depressing book called How Democracies Die by Harvard professors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt. They go back as far as Peron’s populist subversion of Argentinian democracy beginning in the 1940s which eventually led to the horrors of rule by a military junta in which dissenters were dropped out of helicopters. In between, they cover the overthrow of Chile’s democratically-elected president in a military coup sponsored by the USA. They analyse more recent examples such as Erdoğan in Turkey and Trump in the USA.

The book was published in 2018, so they do not cover the ongoing farce that is Brexit. In the UK, as I write, there is fierce contention over the meaning of “the will of the people”. This is a dispute that could lead to civil unrest and has already resulted in violent clashes and an upsurge in hate crime.

Some  contend that it would be a denial of the people’s will if the UK does not leave the EU on October 31 2019. They argue that the views of 17,410,742 people will be disrespected if the UK does not leave the EU. On the other hand, the views of 16,141,241 citizens will be disrespected if the UK does leave the EU.

The philosopher AC Grayling writes: “The ‘Eurosceptics’ in the Tory Party, soon and unexpectedly to be aided and abetted by the little rump of far-left Eurosceptics in the Labour Party, had been giving their own party leaders a great deal of trouble ever since the UK joined the then-EEC in 1973. Their power varied inversely with the number of Tory seats in the House of Commons. They succeeded in getting a Tory prime minister, David Cameron, leading a minority Tory party in the House of Commons and therefore in coalition, to commit to a referendum on continued EU membership.There was no other reason for having such a referendum; it was purely an internal Tory party affair.”

The vote in the referendum of June 2016 was a close one – 51.89% to 48.11% – too close to warrant such a major constitutional change as leaving the EU, Referendums are usually advisory rather than legally binding and should require a two-thirds majority rather than a simple 50% plus one majority. Scotland, Northern Ireland, Greater London, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Leeds, Birmingham, Bristol, Manchester, Cardiff, Greater Belfast, Brighton and Hove, Leicester, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, York and Gibraltar all voted to Remain.The referendum result was simply a mandate for the principle of leaving the EU, not for the manner of doing so. The legislative branch passed legislation to stop the prime minister forcing through no-deal a few weeks ago. The judiciary has done the same.

Tony Grayling again: “One of the major scandals of the 2016 referendum is that its outcome has never been debated in parliament. The question, ‘Shall we take the advice of 37% of the electorate to take an enormous, uncosted, unplanned and unpredictable step?’ has never been debated and voted upon in our sovereign state body.”

Political commentator Ian Dunt writes: “Brexit is presented as some sort of triumph of popular will. But in actuality it has involved a relentless attempt to massively strengthen the executive and dismiss other forms of democratic legitimacy, to an extent not seen in this country since the days of absolute monarchy.”

It is now clear that the public was given false information by the Leave campaign and that there was foreign interference and electoral fraud relating to campaign contributions. The main organizer of the Leave campaign, Dominic Cummings, was found guilty of contempt of Parliament but is nevertheless calling the shots as Boris Johnson’s unelected special advisor.

When David Cameron, a Remainer, resigned as prime minister, he was replaced by Theresa May, also a Remainer. Despite her personal view, she felt it her duty to respect the referendum result, to trigger Article 50 and leave the EU as soon as possible. She did not have to act in haste; she did not have to set a departure date for 29 March 2019. Nevertheless, the House of Commons supported May and backed the government’s European Union Bill, supported by the Labour leadership, by 498 votes to 114. Subsequently, May’s serial misjudgments, including her refusal to reach out to Remainers and the loss of her majority in an ill-advised general election in 2017, meant that the deadline was not met.

Things have changed a great deal since then. Supporting the principle of leaving was easier than agreeing the practical means to leave. The UK hammered out a withdrawal agreement with the EU. May annoyed everyone by postponing a Commons vote on the deal because she knew she was going to lose. On January 15 2019, May sustained the heaviest parliamentary defeat of any British prime minister in the democratic era after MPs rejected her Brexit deal by a resounding majority of 230. In all she suffered three defeats and was willing to go for a fourth but the Speaker, John Bercow, would not allow it.

She was replaced as prime minister by Boris Johnson, one of the main purveyors of lies for the Leave side in the referendum campaign. Fintan O’Toole wrote in his New York Review of Books article ‘The Ham of Fate’: “he has quite literally made a career of mendacity”. Former attorney general Dominic Grieve recently called him a “pathological  liar”. Johnson once boasted that his only conviction was one for speeding. He was not a conviction Leaver. He wrote two articles for his Daily Telegraph column (£275,000 a year, considerably more than this columnist receives), one arguing in favour of Remain, one in favour of Leave. At the last minute he told the editors to spike the article in favour of Remain. Harry Mount, one of his editors at the Telegraph, described him as a “greased albino piglet” and a “blond onion, however may layers you peeled off, you never got to the bottom of him”.

Once in power, the former possible Remainer Johnson said that he would rather die in a ditch rather than fail to get the UK out of the EU by 31 October, whether he has a deal or not. Any sensible person can see that a no-deal departure would be a disaster for the UK and the island of Ireland and also damaging to the rest of Europe. Johnson has no mandate for a no-deal departure. Nobody voted for that. Nobody voted to be worse off (although one Leaver said he would be happy to die of his diabetes if he was unable to get insulin after Brexit).

Johnson became prime minister after being voted leader of the Conservative Party by 92,153 Conservative members, a group that collectively accounts for 0.13 % of the British population – roughly the size of a decent football crowd.  On September 3, the government had a working majority of one. As Johnson addressed the House, Phillip Lee stood up and crossed the floor to defect from the Conservative Party to the Liberal Democrats. A total of 21 Conservative MPs rebelled against their newly installed leader.  Johnson immediately moved to throw them out of the party and banned them from standing as Tory candidates at the next election. The party is now deprived of the experience and wisdom of long-serving and well-respected figures, including former ministers, such as Kenneth Clarke, Alistair Burt, and Nicholas Soames, grandson of Johnson’s supposed hero, Winston Churchill.

In giving the unanimous verdict of the eleven Supreme Court judges who decided that the Executive had acted illegally in proroguing parliament, Lady Hale said. “The House of Commons exists because the people have elected its members. The government exists because it has the confidence of the House of Commons. It has no democratic legitimacy other than that.”

If every opposition and independent member of Parliament in the 650-strong House of Commons were to oppose Johnson on any legislation, he would be defeated by 43 votes. He has already sustained seven defeats in the Commons. When Ranil Wickremesinghe became prime minister of Sri Lanka the UNF only had 60 seats. Look what happened to the country since. In the 2000 US presidential election, Gore had won the popular vote by more than half a million but the Supreme Court gave the job to Bush and after that Afghanistan and Iraq were invaded and the world economy crashed. In 2016, Hillary Clinton got three million more votes than Trump but Trump became president and went on to mess up the world order and looks as though he plans war with Iran. Johnson with a mandate of 0.13 % of the British population and a majority in the House of Commons of minus 43 might be allowed to wreck the economy of the UK, cause untold hardship to countless people and to bring violence back to Ireland. Funny old game, Democracy!

Ian Dunt writes: “Brexit is presented as some sort of triumph of popular will. But in actuality it has involved a relentless attempt to massively strengthen the executive and dismiss other forms of democratic legitimacy, to an extent not seen in this country since the days of absolute monarchy.”

 

Millionaire AG for England and Wales

This article was published in Ceylon Today on August 10 2018

Another one  in my occasional series about some of the bizarre individuals, who manage to get elected as MPs in the UK. Some of them are even rewarded and trusted with high office.

Her Majesty’s Attorney General, for England and Wales, serves as the chief legal adviser of the Crown and its Government in England and Wales. The Attorney General’s job is a demanding one. He or she superintends the Crown Prosecution Service (and the CPS Inspectorate), the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), and other Government lawyers with the authority to prosecute cases. The Attorney advises the Government, individual Government departments and individual Government ministers on legal matters, answering questions in Parliament and bringing ‘unduly lenient’ sentences and points of law to the Court of Appeal of England and Wales.

One would expect the holder of this office to be a person of high moral standing with a history of ethical conduct. Theresa May appointed Geoffrey Cox as her new Attorney General on 9 July, 2018. Cox is not short of a bob or two. He was called to the Bar at the Middle Temple in 1982, Cox started practice as a barrister; in 1992, he co-founded Thomas More (that’s the lawyer who was made a saint for burning heretics at the stake) Chambers, serving as its Head of Chambers. He was appointed a Queen’s Counsel in 2003. In 2016, he earned almost £670,000 on top of his £74,962 Parliamentary income. One of his jobs providing legal advice netted him nearly £147,000 for around 80 hours of work.

In 2003, he represented the property tycoon Nicholas van Hoogstraten, who had been found guilty of and sentenced to ten years for the manslaughter of his business associate, Mohammad Raja. Mr. Raja was shot in the head and stabbed six times at his home in Sutton, South London, in 1999. Thanks to Cox, the verdict was overturned on appeal and van Hoogstraten was released, but in 2005 he was ordered to pay the victim’s family £6 million in a civil case.

In 2005, Cox’s work on the Jubilee Line trial brought him to national attention. Cox represented Anthony Wootton, a contracts manager who denied conspiracy to defraud. Six defendants accused of serious fraud were acquitted before any of them had completed their evidence at the Old Bailey. Cox was one of ten barristers who billed a total of £4.6 million in legal aid for work on the £60 million case, the costliest in British legal history. The men’s barristers were paid nearly £5 million out of the public purse for the 18-month trial. Five firms of solicitors shared fees of almost £9 million; Cox was paid £300,000 more than any of the other publicly-paid barristers.

In 2007, Cox successfully defended Kingsman Darren Fallon of the Queen’s Lancashire Regiment, who had been accused of war crimes related to the brutal killing of Baha Mousa in Iraq. In 2014, Cox successfully defended the former Premier of the Cayman Islands, McKeeva Bush, on charges of corruption and misuse of office.

Cox recently spoke against proposed measure to curb tax avoidance through havens such as the Cayman Islands. He only revealed at the end of the debate that he had practised in the Caribbean for 20 years. Mr. Cox’s entry in the register of financial interests shows he was paid £35,000 ‘for legal services provided between 1 January, 2016 and 28 July, 2016’ by Grand Cayman-based Messrs. Travers, Thorp, Alberga. He also registered a £4,994 payment from the Caymans firm Messrs. Maples and Calder. In September 2014, it was reported that Cox was one of a number of individuals investing in the Phoenix Film Partners LLC scheme which HM Revenue and Customs had alleged to be a tax avoidance scheme.

Cox is very familiar already with the Serious Fraud Office for which he now has responsibility. Cox was paid £64,400 of public money for defending fraudster Virendra Rastogi in 2008 when he was prosecuted by the SFO. Also, in 2008, Cox spent eight months in Court defending a man prosecuted by the SFO for an extensive Ponzi scheme. Janes Solicitors boasted that the case ‘helped many defendants secure a reduction in their default sentences’.

In 2015, Cox was asked to make an apology to the House, by the Standards Committee, for a ‘serious’ breach of rules after failing to declare £400,000 of legal earnings.

The committee decided that Cox had not meant to be naughty but the “number of payments and the sums involved in the late registration are significant and Mr. Cox was in a position which should have ensured that he was more familiar with the rules and the relevant principles of public life in this area than other Members might be.” This might be decoded to say that as Cox was himself a member of the Standards Committee he did not have much excuse. Cox reigned from the Committee.

Cox claimed almost £16,500 in expenses in 2016, including £94.74 for a fridge in his constituency office. He previously had a 49 pence expenses claim for milk rejected.

Failing Grayling Part One

This article was published in Ceylon Today on February 4 2019

http://www.ceylontoday.lk/news-search/padraig%20colman/print-more/23455

What Me Worry?

In many fields of endeavour and employment, incompetence seems to be rewarded. Bankers who contributed to the 2008 crash were not thrown into gaol but carried on receiving their ill-gotten bonuses. There are many incompetents in the current (as of time of writing) UK government but one who has never ceased to astound is the Secretary of State for Transport, Christopher Grayling. Whenever he appears on TV his smiling vacuous moon-face makes one just want to hug him. He calls to mind many other characters real and mythical.

His calmly reassuring aura while all turns to shit around him reminds me of Alfred E Neumann, the fictitious mascot and cover boy of the American humour magazine Mad of the 1950s and 60s. There was once available a rubber mask in Neumann’s  likeness with “idiot” written underneath along with his signature phrase “What, me worry!” Neuman has from time-to-time been presented as a candidate for President with the slogan, “You could do worse… and always have!” His face has often appeared in political cartoons as a shorthand for unquestioning stupidity.

Prospering in an Insane World

Another character Grayling brings to my mind is Aarfy in Catch 22. Captain “Aarfy” Aardvark is the plump navigator in Yossarian’s B-52, noted for being oblivious to incoming flak, getting lost on missions, and getting in Yossarian’s way when he is trying to get back to the escape hatch. No matter how loud Yossarian shouts, Aarfy never can hear him. He nearly gets himself and his comrades killed several times while getting lost on mission. Aarfy is so heedless of his own personal safety and the well-being of others that it always astounds him when others become angry with him. Aarfy’s character exemplifies the perversity of a society and culture governed by Catch-22s that ultimately serve to protect the powerful. No matter how hard Yossarian punches him, his fat absorbs the blows and he never personally suffers any negative consequences for his lack of awareness and, indeed, his own insanity helps him to survive and prosper in an insane world.

Cheshire Cat

Grayling is more inane than insane, and he is a member of the inane asylum that is Theresa May’s Conservative Party which rewards incompetence. Grayling’s smile hovers like the Cheshire Cat’s above all the madness.

Commuters shivering on railway platforms contemplating the latest hike in rail fares and wondering if a train is ever going to materialize were cheered up immensely by the tale of no-tendering relating to Seaborne Freight. It was quietly announced on Christmas Eve that a new ferry service would operate out of Ramsgate to relieve pressure on the port of Dover in the event of a no-deal Brexit. The government would pay Seaborne Freight to operate freight ferries from Ramsgate to Ostend, beginning with two ships in late March and increasing to four by the end of the summer. A spokesman for the company said: “It was intended to start the service in mid-February but this has now been delayed until late March for operational reasons.” “Operational reasons” is one of those cant phrases that people often hear when their train does not turn up.

No Deal No Boats Pizzas

Ramsgate Councillor Paul Messenger brought a discomforting message about Seaborne Freight. It had never been seaborne, it had never carried freight and it had no ships: “It has no ships and no trading history so how can due diligence be done? Why choose a company that never moved a single truck in their entire history”. Further hilarity ensued when someone got hold of Seaborne Freight’s terms and conditions. It seemed that the firm had cut and pasted from the website of a pizza delivery company: customers were advised to check goods before “agreeing to pay for any meal/order”. “Delivery charges are calculated per order and based on [delivery details here]. Any delivery charges will be displayed clearly in your order summary,”

No Need to Answer

Hilarity gave way to anger when the matter of awarding the contract came before a Commons select committee. SNP MP Joanna Berry wanted to know why the contract was awarded under emergency provisions citing “unforeseeable events” when plans were supposed to have been made long ago. As he was himself exhausted after failing to answer questions in the House, Grayling sent a minion robot along to the committee. The robot was Christopher Heaton-Harris (one of Jacob Rees-Mogg’s chums). A simple question was put to him countless times and he robotically refused to answer. “A range of operators were invited to tender and the correct due diligence was done to fulfill the plans that we require.” It seems that Seaborne was the only bidder. Its chief executive previously ran a ship chartering business that was forced into liquidation following court petitions from HM Revenue and Customs. The former company had a total of £1.78 million in unpaid debts.

Watch Heaton-Harris’s performance on YouTube and you will see the British government’s utter contempt for Parliament and the British people. We don’t care what you think and we don’t need to answer to you. Eddie Mair has a show on LBC radio. The show has a pot called the Chris Grayling Jar of Truth. Mair puts a pound in the pot every day that Grayling doesn’t answer his question about Seaborne Freight.

High Speed to Nowhere

Grayling has had too many failures to mention in relation to the high-speed train project, HS2. One that is particularly inexplicable on the same level as the NoBoatyMcNoBoaty Face farrago is that when everyone knew that the outsourcing firm Carillion had overreached and was in deep trouble, he still handed the company taxpayers’ money. Their profit warning should have given him a clue. What kind of half-wit gives £1.4 billion of taxpayers’ money to a company days AFTER it has issued a profit warning? Carillion shares slumped by 70% in a month as it was forced into the profit warning following an £845m write-down. There were calls for Grayling to resign but he continued bobbing along, smiling serenely in an Aarfy manner.

Space has not been available here to cover Grayling’s triumphs in other ministerial jobs. Particularly egregious is the way that he has, in association with private outsourcing firms, ruined the probation service and put the British public at risk of harm.

 

 

 

 

 

Musil Part Two

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on January 22 2019

http://www.ceylontoday.lk/news-search/padraig%20colman/print-more/22453

There is now a quite definite nobody-knows-what in the air. Robert Musil

Corrupted Ideas

 

In my previous article, I wondered what the author of The Man without Qualities, Robert Musil, who called himself Le Vivisecteur, would have made of the Brexit farrago (the word has no etymological connection with one of the architects of Brexit, Nigel Farage). Translating the “will of the people” for the UK to leave the EU into practical action is proving problematic. Musil wrote: “Ideas can never maintain themselves in the state in which they are most powerful; they’re like the kind of substance that, exposed to the air, instantly changes into some other, more lasting, but corrupted form.”

 

Confusion Reigns

 

People are confused and their elected representatives are compounding that confusion. I cannot help but feel that the UK electorate must feel that they are regarded in the same way as Musil’s Count Leinsdorf regarded people: “His Grace was far from thinking that other people were stupid, even if he did think himself more intelligent than they were, and he could not comprehend why all these intelligent people taken together made such a poor impression on him. Indeed, life as a whole made this impression on him”. Musil wrote: “In the old days, people felt as it were deductively, starting from certain assumptions. Those days are gone. Today, we live without a guiding principle, but also without any method of conscious, inductive thinking; we simply go on trying this and that like a band of monkeys.” He also wrote: “man’s deepest social instinct is his antisocial instinct.”

 

Confidence

 

On January 16 2019, the UK government survived a vote of no confidence in the House of Commons. They won by a margin of only ten votes. There are ten MPs from the Northern Ireland Democratic Unionist Party who support the government (when it suits them) after being bribed to do so by Theresa May. It was interesting to see that friend of Sri Lanka, Ian Paisley Jr smirking smugly among his Neanderthal colleagues. He has finished his stint on the naughty step after being caught out taking bribes from the Rajapaksa government.

The DUP, whose ten MPs supported May on January 16 as required by their confidence and supply agreement, boasted afterwards that DUP backing was the difference between victory and defeat for the Tories. The DUP’s Nigel Dodds reminded May that she had only survived because of his party’s votes and that the price of his continued support was a hard Brexit plus more from that money tree that she said does not exist.

Triumphant Failure

May and her supporters seemed to regard this as a great triumph, even though just a day earlier, her Brexit agreement was rejected by the biggest margin in parliamentary history. The DUP MPs all voted against the government on this occasion. I watched most of the debate as it happened and it was quite a surreal experience. One MP quoted Fintan O’Toole’s book on Brexit, Heroic Failure. In my column last week, I was smug about the fact that I had finished reading The Man without Qualities when Fintan had heroically failed to do so. It took me fifty years, but hey. I noticed that The London Guardian’s political sketch writer, John Crace also refenced Musil: “Those who had spent the morning working on decommissioning her (May’s) memory had done a decent job. She had already blanked out just how crap she was. She was proud to be the woman without qualities.”

Unreality

 

Musil would have been interested in the way outside reality did not impinge on the debate. “For vagueness has an elevating and magnifying power”. Labour and Scottish Nationalist MPs had a go at criticizing the parlous condition of ordinary people and I am sure their compassion was sincere. Conservatives painted a mythical picture of the huge improvements the government had wrought in everyone’s lives. They probably believed it. Every so often, all parties lapsed back into the clubbish banter of an institution alien to those watching from the outside. Musil: “The general obsession with turning every viewpoint into a standpoint and regarding every standpoint as a viewpoint”

 

Cheesy Process

 

There was lot about stale, arcane procedures. When faced with direct questions from journalists, politicians from all sides reverted to meaningless formulae and cant phrases. Musil: “This fearful activity stems from the single fact that people have nothing to do. Inwardly, I mean. But even outwardly, in the last analysis, everyone spends his whole life repeating the same thing over and over: he gets into some occupation and then goes on with it”. No one really seemed to be connecting with the awful disaster looming ever closer. Musil had words for this phenomenon: “We’re left floating around on relationships, processes, on the dirty dishwater of processes and formulas, on something we can’t even recognize as a thing, a process, a ghost of an idea, of a God-knows-what. Under such a crust the living soul itself hardens.”

 

Thriving on Humiliation

 

May has suffered a number of humiliating defeats and pyrrhic victories but she is still bright-eyed and optimistic. The EU has said there will be no more negotiation. May’s agreement with the EU was rejected by 432 votes to 202. Nearly 120 Conservative MPs voted against their leader in that vote.  In the vote of no confidence in her as leader of the Conservative Party 117 of her MPs voted against her but she saw that as a victory.

 

Musil: “When something is happening every minute, it is easy to imagine that one is actually getting real things done… even on those days when one wasn’t doing anything in particular, there were so many things one had to guard against doing that one had the sense of being kept frantically busy at all times…everything depends on only a few simple principles, but above all on a firm will and well-planned activity.”

 

Unraveling

 

I am in London and see that people are getting on with their normal lives – what else can they do? Musil: “There is always something ghostly about living constantly in a well-ordered state. You cannot step into the street or drink a glass of water or get on a streetcar without touching the balanced levers of a gigantic apparatus of laws and interrelations, setting them in motion or letting them maintain you in your peaceful existence; one knows hardly any of these levers, which reach deep into the inner workings and, coming out the other side, lose themselves in a network whose structure has never yet been unraveled by anyone.” Will there be an unraveling?

 

 

 

The Quality of Musil

This article was published in Ceylon Today on January 14 2019.

http://www.ceylontoday.lk/news-search/padraig%20colman/print-more/21911

 

During 2018, I often quoted the words of Fintan O’Toole, the Irish journalist and literary critic. He made many trenchant and perceptive comments on Britain’s folly over Brexit. He has published a book on Brexit (Heroic Failure: Brexit and the Politics of Pain) which swiftly became a best-seller. In an interview with the London Observer on Sunday December 30 he was asked “Which classic novel are you most ashamed not to have read?” His reply gave me some encouragement. He saidRobert Musil’s The Man Without Qualities. I’ve tried about five times. The problem is with me. It’s obviously a great book, but I just get bogged down.” I bought a three-volume Panther paperback edition of an English translation of Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften in 1969 and started reading it in February 1970 in a freezing bed and breakfast in Rusholme Manchester. I have just finished it and it only took me 50 years. It was worth it.

I think that what I then held in my chilblained fingers was the first English translation by Eithne Wilkins and Ernst Kaiser published in 1953. I am now reading a Kindle version which is in more modern (sometimes anachronistic) English. The translation is by Sophie Wilkins and Burton Pike. The work is well over a thousand pages long in its unfinished form. Some have asserted that the intended length of the work was twice as long as the text that survives. Musil never decided how to end the novel and left a large section of drafts, notes, false-starts. In the German edition, there is even a CD-ROM that holds thousands of pages of alternative versions and drafts. Musil started writing the book in 1921, spent more than twenty years on it and died before he finished writing the book. I am happy to report that I have finished reading it before I die. Musil died in Switzerland on April 15 1942 and his remains lie in an unmarked grave in Geneva.

Kakaesque Futility

The novel is set in 1913 in Vienna. Musil refers to Austro-Hungary as ‘Kakania’, a name derived from the German abbreviation K und K (pronounced “ka oond ka”) for kaiserlich und königlich or “Imperial and Royal”, but ‘kaka’ is also a child’s word for faeces.  Musil uses the adjective Kakanien to convey the lack of political, administrative and cultural coherence in Austria-Hungary. In the novel, a committee is established to prepare for the 70th anniversary of Franz Joseph becoming Emperor. The year of the anniversary, 1918, would also have marked 30 years of the rule of the German Emperor Wilhelm II. Many bright ideas are discussed, for example, The Austrian Year 1918, The World Year 1918, The Austrian Peace Year 1918 or The Austrian World Peace Year 1918. The novel provides an analysis of all the political and cultural processes that contributed to the outbreak of World War I. Musil’s cruel joke is that what was planned as a celebration of peace and imperial cohesion collapses into chauvinism, two world wars and the destruction of Austro-Hungary and Prussia.

Three Volumes

The main character, introduced in the first volume, A Sort of Introduction, is a 32-year-old mathematician named Ulrich. Although he is described as a man without qualities, he is intelligent and witty and successful with women. Musil said that Ulrich’s main principal characteristics were indifference and ambiguity towards life and society and a kind of passive analytical mind. Novelist Jane Smiley puts it nicely: “As an idle pastime, he gets to know the leading lights of the Austro-Hungarian empire, who, somewhat like their counterparts in the American south of the 1850s, have no idea they are passing into history.” Ulrich lacks hope as well as qualities. “He is always right, but never productive, never happy, and never, except momentarily, engaged. The reader may enjoy his talents and his state of mind, but Ulrich is building to something that may not be pleasant.” A man for today.

In the second book, Pseudoreality Prevails, (The earlier translation renders ““Seinesgleichen geschieht,” as “The Like of It Now Happens.”) Ulrich is persuaded to serve on a committee making preparations for a celebration in honour of 70 years of the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph’s reign. Ulrich’s participation in the committee introduces him to many interesting characters. The voluptuous Ermelinda Tuzzi, called Diotima, is Ulrich’s cousin as well as the wife of a senior civil servant. Arnheim, a Prussian business magnate and prolific, if superficial, writer whose character is based on the figure of Walter Rathenau (with perhaps a soupcon of Thomas Mann). Count Leinsdorf, an elderly conservative nobleman, chairs the committee and has been described as being “incapable of deciding or even of not-deciding”. General Stumm von Bordwehr of the Imperial and Royal Army, is initially tiresome but becomes more sympathetic to this reader at least and becomes friends with Ulrich. He makes himself unpopular by attempting to introduce a methodical approach to the mystical atmosphere.

The last volume, entitled Into the Millennium (The Criminals), focuses on Ulrich’s relationship with his sister Agathe. There is a hint of a mystically incestuous stirring and the twins become soulmates when they meet after their father’s death.

Now I feel a little superior to Fintan O’Toole. Like those other forbidding mammoths (Ulysses and À la recherche du temps perdu) this book is often funny. Musil called himself Monsieur le Vivisecteur” “that’s who I am! My life: the wanderings and adventures of a vivisectionist of souls at the beginning of the twentieth century!” and I am sure that he would have had some cutting things to write about 21st politicians.

Kindle is an excellent format in which to read The Man Without Qualities. Because the book is so long it is handy to have the thousand pages in one’s pocket, to dip into it while stuck in Colombo traffic. Kindle allows one to highlight passages and cut and paste. That facility allows me to bring to you examples of Musil’s wit and wisdom. I will do that next week.

Fighting Them on the Beaches

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on April 5 2018

http://www.ceylontoday.lk/news-search/padraig%20colman/print-more/2103

It is reasonable to argue that, in order to grow and prosper and to be secure, a nation needs to have control over its infrastructure. Who could argue against the view that British railways, roads, water, electricity, telecoms, airports, ports, broadcasting, financial institutions should be British-owned or UK Government owned.

In pursuit of the voodoo economics of privatization the great and the good who steer the good ship Britannica, Labour as well as Conservative, have contrived a situation in which British citizens depend on Russia to heat their homes while that nation’s leader is poisoning people in Salisbury and Russian oligarchs are making it impossible for ordinary Londoners to afford homes.

Energy

Many years after UK State energy market was privatized, much of the industry remains in State ownership. The thing is that it is owned by foreign States not Britain. EDF Energy one of the largest distribution network operators in the UK after taking control of the UK nuclear generator, British Energy. It is owned by the French State. Power is owned by Innogy SE, a subsidiary of the German company RWE. Scottish Power is a subsidiary of Spanish utility company Iberdrola. E.on (formerly Powergen) has its HQ in Dusseldorf.

About 60 per cent of the UK energy supply comes from foreign countries including Russia, Norway, Qatar, Sweden and the Netherlands. Around 60 per cent of the UK’s natural gas imports come from Norway, and 30 per cent of it comes from Qatar. Around half of the UK’s crude oil imports come from Norway, and just over 30 per cent comes from OPEC.

Water

Few other EU States opened their vital services to foreign competition the way Britain did. Most of the water that Britons use to make their tea or flush away their excretions is controlled by foreign companies. After the UK water industry was privatized in 1989, several new companies were formed and many were sold off. There are now 12 water companies, out of the 23 in the UK, which have foreign owners. Thames Water was bought by a consortium which included the Australian investment group Macquarie and a Chinese wealth fund. Yorkshire Water was acquired by a consortium including Citigroup, HSBC, and the Singaporean sovereign wealth fund GIC. Northumbria Water was bought by the Hong Kong-based company Cheung Kong Infrastructure Holdings.

Transport

It would be impossible to take a rail journey anywhere in the UK without putting money into the pockets of foreign shareholders. Chiltern, Cross Country, Wales & Borders, London Overground and Grand Central services are run by Arriva, which is owned by the German company Deutsche Bahn. MTR shares the South West Trains franchise with a British company First Group plc. MTR will also run Crossrail. Hong Kong State owns MTR.Trenitalia, an Italian company, runs Essex Thameside. The French State firm SNCF owns Keolis, which runs numerous franchises in joint ventures. SNCF, as part of Govia, operates Thameslink, Great Northern, Southern, Southeastern and London Midland and with Amey it runs the Docklands Light Railway. Scot Rail and Greater Anglia, and Merseyrail are run by Abellio, which is owned by the Dutch State.

Ports

Transport Minister Chris Grayling visited Felixstowe and proudly boasted of Britain’s history as a “great global trading nation”. An empty boast because, as Private Eye pointed out, Britain’s ports are owned by “a medley of foreign governments, billionaires and tax-avoiding conglomerates”.

Felixstowe is owned and run by a Chinese conglomerate listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange and incorporated in the Cayman Islands. Southampton and London Gateway are run by a UAE Government conglomerate called Dubai World controlled by Dubai’s ruler. In 2013, a Judge ruled that the company had used “an elaborate trick” to avoid paying £14 million in UK income tax.

Liverpool, Glasgow and Great Yarmouth are run by Peel Ports which is jointly owned by Deutsche Bank. In 2013 the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee accused the company of tax-dodging. Associated British Ports is established in Jersey to avoid taxes and is owned by Singapore’s foreign reserve fund and Kuwait’s sovereign wealth fund.
The rhetoric of many Brexiteers was that the UK had to get out of the EU to restore national pride. A similar mindset persuaded Americans to vote for Trump to make America great again. Unfortunately, this is an untenable viewpoint in a globalized world. It is particularly ludicrous in the UK where the very people who called for the UK to be freed of the shackles of Brussels were selling off the nation’s assets for a mess of pottage – well, a mess of something and an expensive one at that.

Hate Crime in the UK

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on March 22 2018

http://www.ceylontoday.lk/news-search/padraig%20colman/print-more/1106

According to the Crown Prosecution Service, a hate crime is ‘any criminal offence which is perceived, by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by a hostility or prejudice’ based on one of five categories – religion, faith or belief; race, ethnicity or nationality; sexual orientation; disability; or gender identity.

According to Nottingham police there was no information to suggest the attack which led to the death of Mariam Moustafa was motivated by hate. Was it tough love? The 18-year-old Egyptian engineering student died on 15 March, 2018 following an attack that took place on 20 February. Nottinghamshire Police said Miss Moustafa was ‘punched several times’ by a group of women while waiting for a bus outside the Victoria Centre in Parliament Street.

Video footage is available showing the attack continuing on the bus. A 17-year-old girl was arrested on suspicion of assault occasioning grievous bodily harm. Mariam’s uncle, Amr El Hariry, said two of the girls had attacked Mariam and her sister Mallak, 16, four months prior to this assault. Mallak’s leg had been broken in the previous attack. He said the police had done nothing.

Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said that Miss Moustafa’s death ‘cannot go unpunished.’ Crimes committed in one country are often condemned by other countries. At the 37th Session of the Human Rights Council on 8 March, 2018, the UK condemned just about everybody. Honduras, Thailand, Philippines, DRC, Israel and Vietnam all got a good kicking.

“Finally, we share concerns about recent inter-communal violence in Sri Lanka. We support the government’s determination to end it swiftly, using measures that are proportionate and respect human rights, and urge it to hold the perpetrators to account.”

A report by The Home office, compiled by Aoife O’Neill and published in October 2017, shows that the number of hate crimes in England and Wales has increased by 29%, the largest percentage increase seen since the series began in 2011/12. In 2016/17, there were 80,393 offences recorded by the police in which one or more hate crime strands were deemed to be a motivating factor. 62,685 (78%) were race hate crimes.

‘Race hate crime can include any group defined by race, colour, nationality or ethnic or national origin, including countries within the UK, and Gypsy or Irish Travellers. It automatically includes a person who is targeted because they are an asylum seeker or refugee as this is intrinsically linked to their ethnicity and origins. Policy and legislation takes a ‘human rights’ approach and covers majority as well as minority groups.’

I got into an intense discussion on Facebook with a woman who described the story of Mariam’s death as ‘fake news.’ She asserted that there would not even be a charge of manslaughter. Indeed, a post-mortem was ‘inconclusive.’ Mallak, told the BBC that her sister was ‘born with half a heart.’

My interlocutor seemed to be saying that the girl deserved to die because she was foolish enough to be out and about in St Ann’s after dark, because that is a notoriously rough area. She hinted that Mariam was attacked because she was a ‘snitch.’ She found it odd that Mariam and her extended family seemed to be middle class but lived in an area that was ‘stereotypical inner city full of drug dealers and drug wars.’ She described the normal inhabitants of St Ann’s as an ‘underclass’ and as ‘scum.’ It would be difficult for Mariam to live in St Ann’s without going out.

I have spent a lot of time in Nottingham and first heard about St Ann’s 51 years ago when Ken Coates and Richard Silburn published a study of the area which was then inhabited by 30,000 people living in dire conditions. In his preface to the 2007 reissue of the book, Coates wrote, ‘Poverty has certainly changed its aspect since the 1960s, but since we were primarily concerned with its moral effects, our report remains depressingly familiar, and points up a whole constellation of attitudes and experiences which are all-too-familiar in modern times.’

According to my Facebook interlocutor, St Ann’s is more of a hellhole today than it was in the 1960s. Although she was vituperative in her comments, my interlocutor seemed to me to be agreeing on some basic points. It seems she is not a native of Britain and disapproves of much that is British, “your entire society is responsible for it. As well as Brexit.”

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