Home Secretary Suella Braverman had every right to be aggrieved. She was caught off guard by fellow Tory Tim Loughton at the home affairs select committee on November 24. Not only had she been stabbed in the back, but the six-figure-earning senior civil servants who were supposed to help her did nothing at all. Loughton’s question was simple: how does a 16-year-old from an African country suffering persecution find a legal route to Britain to claim asylum?
The real answer, unspoken by the Home Secretary, is that there is no such route. Braverman said they could legally apply for asylum if and when they reached Britain, but they cannot legally do that. Catch-22!
This is part of the “hostile environment” that the government has meted out to refugees and asylum seekers, and it leads straight to dangerous dinghies in the Channel. And huge sums (by the standards of people from poor countries) are paid to the criminal gangs that run the dinghies and small boats. If that wasn’t horrific enough, asylum seekers, including children, then find themselves locked up for an indefinite period of time while their asylum claims are processed.
The Guardian’s revelation that Tory Peer Michelle Mone had profited to the tune of £29 million from the sale of personal protection equipment (PPE) at the height of the pandemic was the next disaster for the government. But this is part of a wider scandal than the £30 billion paid out for PPE, testing kits, and consulting services by the Boris Johnson government, probably the biggest heist of all time, at least in Britain.
The third scandal was that the Minister for Levelling Up, Michael Gove, dragged all the way up to downtrodden and impoverished Rochdale for meetings about the death of two-year-old Awaab Ishak from prolonged exposure to mould in a housing association (Rochdale Boroughwide Housing)-provided flat. Gove looked shocked and serious, but the death of Awaab was the outcome of Britain’s chronic housing crisis, the roots of which were laid when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister in the 1970s. The “right to buy” in council housing has resulted in a crushing lack of social housing, resulting in slums and slum landlords.
On Friday, November 24, thousands of UCU university lecturers and other staff staged a one-day walkout over pay and conditions. On Saturday, ASLEF train drivers went on strike, disrupting much of the network. On the same day, the Royal College of Nursing announced two days of strike action over pay and conditions. Postal workers and others are engaged in a series of rolling strikes, not just over pay and conditions but to prevent more than 10,000 redundancies wanted by management.
The immediate backstory of the government’s hostile environment is the disaster at the asylum applicants’ holding centre in Manston, Kent. It was massively overcrowded and unsanitary, and it was the place where at least 39 people caught diphtheria, which probably caused the death of one asylum seeker. Some of the Manston asylum seekers have now been dispersed to local authorities, but local councils don’t want to take them, often because local people don’t want them but always because local authorities are strapped for cash. The persistent “dumping” of refugees and asylum seekers on local authorities, with insufficient extra cash to house them in decent accommodation, is one of the back stories of this crisis.
Think families with children stuck for ages in dreadful “hotels.” Catch 22!
The backstory of the Michelle Mone affair is that her husband, Douglas Barrowman, disbursed profits of £65 million from his company, PPE MedPro, of which £29 million went to his wife and her children. Much of this cash found its way into “offshore” accounts, i.e., those outside the remit of the tax authorities. For tax purposes, Barrowman lives on the Isle of Man and pays only a small amount of taxes there.
The key thing about the PPE MedPro scandal is that this was a company that enjoyed “VIP” status and was fast-tracked because of a recommendation from Mone. Other companies were recommended by Tory insiders.
The COVID PPE scandal exemplifies how the British state is being used as a milch cow, leaking vast sums of tax payer cash into the hands of billionaires and millionaires while Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Chancellor Jeremy Hunt claim that the cupboard is bare and painful cuts “must” be endured – by the poor.
The Rochdale scandal is hardly limited to this downtrodden town or the houses and flats leased by Rochdale Boroughwide Housing (RBHH). Britain has a housing disaster: hugely expensive houses with very high rents that stretch people to the limit of their financial resources. There are also very few places to live, even though the number of people has grown by almost 8 million since 1980. The housing stock in Britain is in a state of decay. Go to the back streets of Wigan, Oldham, or Rochdale—any of the dreary brick satellite towns around Manchester.
Poverty has created new slum areas where people thought the slums had been eliminated. The root cause is the privatisation of much of the social housing stock and the lack of money for councils to build replacements. New builds in Britain are often jerry-built, with major long-term defects, where owners and renters have little recourse against the builders. Poor people in Britain just have no money for the repairs and upkeep of their accommodations.
A new and radical plan for the renovation of Britain’s housing stock, which includes a crusade to insulate homes and decrease energy consumption as part of a carbon footprint reduction crusade, will include many more solar panels, which at the moment poor people cannot afford.
Any Tory tears over the death of baby Awaab are of the crocodile variety. They are as sincere and meaningful as the phrase “levelling up.”
Another dreadful thing about the Rochdale tragedy was the hapless performance of local Labour MP Tony Lloyd on Channel 4 News. It’s all a tragedy, blah blah, lessons haven’t been learned, blah blah, I have raised this issue several times before, and then more meaningless platitudes, blah blah. This is a reflection of the almost complete lack of radicalism in the Parliamentary Labour Party in the era of Keir Starmer and the complete lack of serious answers to society’s issues. Starmerism has relied on criticising the Tories while not putting forward clear alternatives on decisive issues.
In Britain, the left has been battered as the working-class movement as a whole has experienced defeat after defeat. While many socialists believe that their community has a vibrant leftist movement, the constituency parties in other areas are effectively closed to the left as the wave of expulsions and resignations continues. In this situation, Marxists need to open a discussion on strategy and build the maximum unity possible while recognising that the varied local circumstances may result in different tactics in the immediate period. The socialist left has been badly divided over Brexit and the Ukraine war. Differences on these issues cannot be allowed to stand in the way of the practical unity in struggle that will be the essential backdrop to winning over young people to a radical view of the planet-wide environmental catastrophe now unfolding.
On November 25, the steel plant in Redcar (on the northeast coast) was demolished. The old economy based on coal and steel is over. A new working class has emerged, which includes women, people from ethnic minorities, and young people. These groups will carry much more weight in the future and will be an important cohort of organising power.
All the issues mentioned in the article above will I’m sure be discussed at the ACR weekend forum on December 4 and 5 which is advertised below. Please book your place for the event in person or online. We look forward to seeing you.
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There are half a million second homes in the UK. Stopping that would be a big help in solving the housing crisis. So also would be ending private renting. There is probably more inequality in housing than in most areas of public life. This is not really addressed, even by building more local authority houses and flats.