Friday, 20 February 2015

Times letter: government showed Putin & others our weakness in Syria

Sir, Instead of chest-thumping for Nato about how Russia is a clear danger to the Baltic states, Michael Fallon and the government ought to reflect on just why it is that President Putin appears impervious to the West and Nato’s opposition to his activities. Terrorist groups were not alone in watching gleefully as the West chose inaction (in Syria) or limited action (in Libya and Iraq) — despite the use of weapons of mass destruction against civilians, the world’s worst humanitarian crisis and the occupation of large swathes of territory by extremists. 

John Slinger

Friday, 13 February 2015

My Times letter on rape sentencing

Sir, You report that “Britain leads Europe on sending rapists to jail” (Feb 12), with 5,408 prisoners serving sentences for rape in England and Wales in 2013. What is truly startling is that this number, despite appearing large in comparison to our neighbours, is only a tiny fraction of the number of rapists in our midst. There were 24,043 rapes recorded by the police in the year to September 2014, and the Office for National Statistics estimated that 85,000 women were victims of rape or sexual assault by penetration in 2012. 

If all rapists were actually caught and convicted, our prison population would mushroom overnight.

John Slinger

Online at The Times here

Sunday, 8 February 2015

The government has presided over our military & diplomatic decline

There can be no better or more tragic metaphor for Britain's decline as a global military and diplomatic power under this government than our minuscule contribution towards the anti-Isis coalition. The MPs on the defence select committee have done a great service by describing Britain's military intervention as a "strikingly modest" response to a grave threat. The Prime Minister must be held to the solemn, statesmanlike pledge he gave last year in Parliament when he argued that our intervention was designed to "see ISIL degraded and then destroyed as a serious terrorist force". 
Defence reviews, spin and blandishments cannot mask the reality that the government is following, rather than leading the public in this vital matter of international affairs.

View my writing on foreign policy here

Sunday, 4 January 2015

July 2014 BBC radio interview with Immigration Services Union re Ebola screening: let's hope plans are better advanced now

I hope that nurse Pauline Cafferkey recovers swiftly from Ebola. Her case has highlighted once more the systems that the Government has put in place to protect Britain from Ebola and to ensure that people who may be carrying the virus get the care they need as quickly as possible.

Below is the transcription I made of what I thought at the time was a very revealing interview in July 2014 about the way the UK was preparing for handling cases of Ebola. I am clearly no expert, but the interview with Lucy Morton of the Immigration Services Union suggested to me that the Border Force had not been given sufficiently robust advice, resources or training by the relevant authorities. In fact, I would suggest that the preparation appeared almost as farcical as a scene from Yes Minister, or The Think Of It.


BBC Radio 4, The World Tonight, 30 July 2014

Intro: The UK's health services have the ability to deal with the experience to deal with the threat posed by the Ebola virus - that's the message from the Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond...

Earlier is month Public Health England issued an alert to UK doctors...this evening Border Agency staff were provided with information. A statement from Public Health England said it and the Border Agency remain in close contact to monitor the situation and agree any additional activity as needed. The statement goes on: "it's important to note that the UK has robust systems in place already for infectious disease control, including those in airports and ports, and that the risk of Ebola in England remains very low".

What's the view from the Border Staff themselves, who police the points of entry. I asked Lucy Morton from the Immigration Services Union.

LM: The concern is what do they do if they are confronted with someone that appear unwell at the border. There is no health facility at the border, there is no containment facility and until extremely recently, within the last hour, there has been no guidance issued to staff at all as to what it was they should do.

Q: Would you be able to spot the symptoms of Ebola yourself?

LM: Absolutely not, and no more would any other Border Force officer. We are not medical professionals. The best we could do possibly would be if someone appeared to have a fever, but no, nothing more direct than that.

Q: So what advice advice are you being offered then?

LM: There is a risk algorithm which has been offered to staff very recently.

Q: A risk algorithm? [sounds bemused]

LM: It amounts to a very brief series of questions and ends with "if worried, call an ambulance".

Q: And what, are you supposed to put those questions to somebody if you think that they may have the symptoms but if you don't know the symptoms how do you know who to stop?

LM: I can't answer that one because, how do they know? If someone is symptom free, and of course they may well be, or if the symptoms are relatively mild - people don't get off long-haul air flights looking their best - then no, they've got no way of spotting it.

Q: If you suspect somebody is suffering from Ebola, where do you put them? What do you do with them?

LM: There are small interview rooms. We could remove them from the immediate public, but they are not cleaned, or sterilised, or sealed in any way, above and beyond normal cleaning. There is nowhere to put them. The instructions to staff at the moment amount to "if you're worried, call an ambulance". I very much hope the NHS has an answer to what those poor ambulance staff are supposed to do.

Q: So when we are given assurances that the risk of Ebola in the UK remains very low, because, obviously of the procedures that are on place here, what do you say to that?

LM: Nothing has changed in the procedures that are in place, from this week, to last week, to last year. There is nothing specific in place to control the risk of Ebola arriving. I'm not a public health official, I can't answer to the medical diagnosis, but for my members on the border, they have seen no change and they have no specific information.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

LabourList blog: Labour can change the false narrative with a realitycheck

Online at LabourList here.

A false narrative has developed about Labour that must be rejected comprehensively by a party aiming to govern in six months. It claims that Labour has become alienated from virtually the entire electorate. Our response to date has been ineffective. Here are some suggestions for how we may succeed in future.

Franklin D. Roosevelt said: “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”. We should take heed and refuse to be cowed by something as illusory as a false narrative, even when we have sometimes fed it. When a narrative gets you down, the only thing to do is change it.

Step one: remind ourselves and the country that our values are not antithetical to those of the majority of voters. This doesn’t require a new New Labour, rather we must recast our core beliefs, and then personify them in our actions, so that they resonate at this particular moment in politics.

Remind voters that the clue is in our name: Labour. We are the work party, not the welfare party. Our founding father, Keir Hardie, who from age eight supported a large family single-handedly, did not fight all his life for the right to claim benefits, but for the right to enjoy the dignity of well-paid, unexploited work. We founded the modern welfare state and will always believe it to be a defining feature of our civilised society, but we must now communicate more effectively that Ed Miliband, Ed Balls and colleagues are focused on founding a new economy defined by labour not benefits.

Step two: set out policies that provide clear examples of how our values work in modern Britain. These should ideally be counter-intuitive to grab the attention of voters, activists and the media. Think how Labour reclaimed the law and order issue from the Tories in the late 1990s. Chuka Umunna’s heartfelt belief in “the British dream” of entrepreneurialism and small business shows how this can be done. Merely denying that we are anti-business is not sufficient. We must show, practically, that we are pro-business and pro-fair and dynamic markets. Rachel Reeves has similarly shown that our compassion need not mean we lack credibility on reforming benefits.

We’ve had new, blue, purple and “in the black” Labour. Perhaps now it’s time for a “tough love Labour” showing that we’ve moved beyond a reflexive opposition to Tory reforms onto an agenda of contribution and responsibility over entitlement and rights. We represent places where there is growing concern about immigration, so we must be at the forefront of the debate about the worry many have about rapid changes to their communities and a fear that parts of the country are becoming little more than vessels of economic activity. By avoiding the debate, we have helped create a vacuum of rich pickings for UKIP. Yvette Cooper’s recent speech is a welcome contribution to the debate.

Step three: place all ego and internal politics to one side and choose spokespeople who are particularly able to reach the parts that we haven’t been able to reach of late. We must field people who can connect with voters from across the political divide. Our ranks are full of them, with a small but not exhaustive list including Gloria de Piero, Rachel Reeves, Stewart Wood, Dan Jarvis, Liz Kendall, Sadiq Khan and Luciana Berger. Jim Murphy shows how it’s done and Scotland’s gain is our loss at Westminster.

Step four: in order to counter the narrative that the Labour leadership is a detached metropolitan elite, all candidates, current MPs, shadow ministers and key advisers should spend a day a week from now until the election shadowing ordinary people in their paid or unpaid jobs (i.e. including childcare, or caring). The panopticon prison of a party’s back office and the entire Westminster and media bubble, cannot be escaped by some timely focus groups or street surgeries. Labour’s politics would benefit from a large dose of the reality that becomes apparent when we look outwards not inwards.

In his 2013 speech about reforming Labour after the Falkirk scandal, Ed Miliband said “we need to reach out to others outside our Party too” and suggested primaries for Parliamentary selections where the incumbent is retiring and membership has dwindled. Many of us encouraged him to push forward with this. Primaries would be another way of showing that we reach out beyond the sometimes dwindling and moribund local party structures.

Step five: do not seek plaudits or medals for the above. Simply do it without fear or favour and let the experiences influence speeches, press releases, policy reviews and then enthuse the broader Labour movement.

It’s not too late. Ed Miliband has shown that he can change the narrative, seize the initiative, challenge vested interests and be a visionary leader. Each member of the Labour Party must have faith in our individual and collective ability to change the narrative. Together, we can and must show the country that we are far better than the fabrication our detractors are portraying. If we do this effectively, the narrative will change.

John Slinger is a strategic communications consultant.

Friday, 17 October 2014

The small things enable the big things...

Both professionally and while running Pragmatic Radicalism, I've concluded that it really is the little things that count. I sum up my views in this aphorism:

"The small things are the hardest to get right, but once you get them right, the big things are easier to achieve."

PS I don't claim to have invented the above, as it's clearly not rocket science. But it did occur to me independently.

My blog for Progress: Their rights, our responsibility

Online here.

Their rights, our responsibility

Syria. Bombed out building. Assad. Homs.
It says a lot about humanity, international institutions and individuals that despite our facade of civilisation and modernity, the last three years saw weapons of mass destruction used against civilians and violations of human rights on an industrial scale, both in Syria. It was reported this week that photos smuggled out of Syria in 2011 of industrial-scale torture by the Assad regime are to appear in the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC. The scenes they depict, as with those from the Ghoutta WMD attack last year, evoke bygone eras of man-made tragedy. It is entirely appropriate therefore that they appear in such a museum, their ghosts reminding us of the human cost of inaction.
In these isolationist times, to have maximum impact, the photos should be displayed next to those showing other recent examples of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, which the international community did little or nothing to prevent: Bosnia, the Anfal campaign against the Kurds in Iraq, Rwanda, Darfur, the Democratic Republic of Congo and, of course, present day Iraq and Syria.
I have visited the Washington DC Holocaust Museum, Yad Vashem in Israel, and the Halabja memorial in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. As with all people of good conscience, I say ‘never again’. Yet it keeps happening again and again – a perpetual cycle in which those with evil intent fill the vacuum left where good people choose to do either nothing, or the bare minimum.
Perhaps this is a tragic reflection of illogical, irrational, contradictory urges within us all. We demand lower taxes yet simultaneously expect public spending increases. We refuse to vote, yet criticise politicians for not listening. It is human nature, yet when it comes to human rights, this wishful thinking, this perpetual hoping for the best, this conflicted logic is deadly.
To put it crudely, we say we believe in human rights but we do nothing to uphold them. Almost as if it would be enough to write down the criminal law, but be content with no criminal justice system. When other people’s ‘right to life, liberty and security of person’ (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 3), is being snuffed out we offer words of outrage, words of sympathy or words from noble legal texts. Yet when our own lives are threatened we demand action.
Politicians are far from solely to blame, for we the people have a responsibility to take the defence of human rights more seriously. We who are fortunate to live in democracies, enjoy but often do not value the rights won by and defended by our forebears in armed conflict. Yet from our gilded citadels, the delicate balance our politicians walk between leading and following is at present tilting in favour of the public’s abhorrence for military intervention to protect civilians from terrorists or dictators. We must accept our individual and collective responsibility to our fellow humans by urging our politicians to uphold human rights.
Large-scale human rights abuses should not be merely contained, they must be confronted. Politicians the world over have a responsibility to improve the mechanisms by which ‘never again’, ‘the Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ and ‘the responsibility to protect’ become more than words. At present, people of good conscience are gifting the field to those for whom human rights are anathema. Unprotected principles perish. Rights will rot away if not respected. One day we may ask others to protect our human rights. We had better hope that they value our rights more than we value theirs today.