Very occasionally a way of telling a story comes into my head and I feel the need to write it down. In the past this would be stories of my adventures, told perhaps in Depth Through Thought or more recently on this site. Worryingly, the last two times I have been compelled to write, last October and this morning, it has not been about adventures, but about injustices.
Towards the end of last year I wrote about my creeping concerns as the government made crazy announcements about listing foreign workers. I said that this was
“just a small step away from marking out the Jews, from discriminating openly against the Palestinians, from mob rule, from gulags and concentration camps. Did our politicians and our journalist not do history at school? You might suggest I am over reacting here, but all the nasty things that happened in Europe in the 1930’s and 1940’s started in just this way with the kind of rhetoric we are hearing from UK (and also certain American) politicians now.“
Then last week on Holocaust Memorial Day I tweeted the following
Today is the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. Never have the lessons of the Holocaust been more pertinent for western politics.
— Fleur Loveridge (@SubterraFleur) January 27, 2017
Sadly two days later Trump issued his Executive Order banning travel from seven Muslim dominated countries. OK, this is not the same as sending people to gulags, but it is destroying lives of innocent people and in all likelihood will only make America at greater risk of future terrorism, including home grown radicals from minority communities affected.
This clip is unbearable. pic.twitter.com/F31SaXYuGu
— Barry Malone (@malonebarry) January 31, 2017
But we cannot afford to be complacent over here in the UK either. On Monday night I went to the emergency protest* against the Order and our own Prime Minister’s complicity in this. Afterwards I went to an open meeting hosted by my MP Rachael Maskell about the forthcoming EU Article 50 debate and votes in Westminster. Rachael gave a very thoughtful and reasoned speech about the situation including all the things she objected to in the Prime Minister’s strategy. Then the floor was opened to the audience for comments.
The first person to speak choked me up. It was hard not to be moved when the lady, on the brink of breaking down, struggled to get out her words and fight back her own tears. To summarise her story, she is a German citizen who had been living in the UK for 26 years. This is her home. Her British children are here. And she is very very worried about what the future holds for her. She worries she might be send back to Germany, where due to the length of her absence, she would have challenges accessing health care as her years advanced. Or maybe she could stay here, but then as a non-British resident she could be denied free NHS care here too in the current political climate. You can debate whether her visions of the future were plausible outcomes, but you cannot question the very real fear and distress she was experiencing as she looked out to an uncertain future. It seems that some EU nationals living in the UK have tried to counter this by applying for the right to remain and been told by the home office that instead they must prepare to leave, so you cannot say that this lady’s fears were totally without foundation either.
All of the above has one thing in common. Politicians dehumanising people because they are from another country (or religion) to proffer populism to a disenfranchised voter base. In the US, despite the chaos in the country, Trump’s supporter base is holding up. Over here politicians go on about the “will of the people”. We have to be very careful with this. The will of the people also means bringing back hanging. It also potentially means promising low to non-existent taxation AND the delivery of a world class health service free at the point of use . The former is a proven bad idea (to quote Ian Hislop, “it’s not a deterrent killing the wrong people”), the latter is only an exercise in wishful thinking. Or to use Ken Clarke’s analogy, more Alice in Wonderland.
And wishful thinking is where we are at the moment on both sides of the Atlantic. A mixture of real and justified grievances and outright racism have brought big changes in politics. However, those grievances are not going to be solved by the travel ban or by leaving the EU, however popular those measures might be in some sections of society. In fact there is every possibility that those actions will causes worsening of the original grievances. While I am concerned about the many potential economic, social and environmental impacts of leaving the EU (not to mention the coming disaster for universities), my biggest current fear is the Trump effect. Prime Minister May is pursuing a strategy of reducing immigration at all costs. In our rush to leave every institution associated with Europe as part of that strategy there is a big risk that we are forced to make a stronger alliance with the USA. At a time when we should be standing up to fascism we are instead hoping to strengthen the “special relationship” and jump into bed with someone looking increasingly like a dictator. Well, not in my name.
Whatever you think about the EU we must stand up to and resist the dehumanisation of people currently happening in British and American politics. This is about innocent people’s lives, about humanity and decency and the sort of society we want to live in.
“First they came…” by Martin Niemöller and all the lessons from the Holocaust are needed especially now.
*featured cover image of the York emergency demo by Joe Cocker. Thanks for permission to publish.