The lessons from Hillsborough for politics today

04/05/2016, 11:19:43 PM

by Samuel Dale

My dad stood in the Leppings Lane end at Hillsborough to watch Manchester United play Leeds United in the 1977 FA Cup semi-final.

As soon as he heard about the deadly crush during the Liverpool v Forest game in 1989, he knew what had happened.

He remembered the push coming from the back of the stand as fans rushed forward. He struggled to breath and was lifted off his feet for minutes at a time. And that was when the police supposedly had control of the crowds. It was not uncommon at matches during that are but Leppings Lane was particularly bad.

And his first thought was that most natural of human emotions: it could have been me.

It could have been 96 Man United fans. My dad, my uncle and all their mates. It could have been anyone who went to a football match before 1989.

The standing areas at football matches in the 1970s and 1980s were a national disgrace. Tens of thousands of young men penned in by high fences and crushed so they couldn’t breathe.

Hillsborough was not the first football tragedy. There was the Valley Parade fire in 1985 that killed 56. The Ibrox disaster that killed 25 when a stand collapsed in 1971.

Police, politicians and club owners did not consider match-going supporters as individuals but as a mass of dehumanized, working-class drunken louts with no rights.

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Corbyn and Livingstone cannot now both survive within the Labour party

03/05/2016, 07:03:57 PM

by Rob Marchant

Political historians will one day chronicle last week. In their texts, Thursday will surely turn out to have been a watershed day for Labour. It was the day that the party could no longer ignore the fact that some of its senior people not only tolerate anti-Semites in their ranks, but can even slide into making similarly ignorant statements themselves. That it truly had a problem.

Jeremy Corbyn, though apparently unfazed by associating with Holocaust deniers such as Paul Eisen and extremist preachers such as Raed Salah (check out his “hilarious” swastika joke here), is not thought by most commentators to be remotely anti-Semitic. But his willingness to embrace all-comers in the name of “dialogue” between communities, especially on the question of Palestine, has made him used to mentally blocking out the offensive things that others may say about Jews, to the point where he appears not even to see the problem.

For example, when hosting a talk show on Iran’s notorious propaganda channel Press TV (whose UK broadcasting licence was revoked by the present government): witness here how he pulls up a caller over US involvement in Palestine, but responds merely with the answer “okay” when the caller calls Israel a “disease”. Nice.

But he – or his office, at least – took an enormous step yesterday in suspending one of his party’s most famous figures and one of his own strongest supporters, Ken Livingstone.

While the reasons for Livingstone’s suspension seem fairly straightforward, Corbyn as leader has been extremely slow to act on the issue of anti-Semitism in general. Only the day before, he had been content with Naz Shah’s “fulsome apology”; until later that same day, when the media clamour became too much and she was suspended in a humiliating U-turn.

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Ed Miliband knew Livingstone was an anti-Semitic conspiracy nutter FOUR YEARS ago but STILL backed him for London Mayor

01/05/2016, 09:21:31 AM

by Atul Hatwal

Revelations on Ken Livingstone’s anti-Semitic views might have led the news in recent days, but Ed Miliband was fully aware of them in 2012.

Despite this, he still gave Livingstone his full backing at the last London Mayoral election.

The evidence that Labour’s leadership understood the detail of Livingstone’s opinions came yesterday in two devastating tweets from Miliband’s top spinner and consigliere, Tom Baldwin.

The purpose behind Tom Baldwin’s tweets was to highlight the anti-racist bona fides of his old boss but inadvertently he made the classic PR’s mistake: to confuse presentation and substance.

Before the 2012 Mayoral election, when Ed Miliband was on the stump for Livingstone, he knew exactly what Livingstone thought about Hitler, Zionism and the Jewish people.

He knew enough to force Livingstone to excise the relevant passages from his memoirs but did not feel sufficiently strongly to take action against the candidate for the substance of his anti-Semitic views.

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Of course we need to support those 3,000 Syrian children looking for a home. We helped put them there

27/04/2016, 06:05:27 PM

by Rob Marchant

There are some times when Labour and the Tories divide on party lines, not because merely they are whipped differently – or that they have dark and evil hearts, see Uncuts passim – but simply because they have fundamentally different ways of looking at the world.

What might seem a no-brainer to ordinary folk – the desperate plight of children alone in the world and bearing no responsibility whatsoever for their fate – becomes a point of immovable principle to a pig-headed Tory party caught in a moment of blind, anti-immigration frenzy. And it is sadly difficult to think this is unconnected to the current turbulence within the party over its perennial, navel-gazing obsession, the EU. Along with Labour MPs, a few noble souls defied the Tory whip, but mostly the vote was a shabby affair on the part of the governing party; the parliamentary equivalent of a mumbled excuse.

No, if you need an example of why this country needs a Labour government, it was given to you on Monday night without too much fuss.

The Parliamentary Labour Party, having suffered a rather difficult few months, largely paralysed over how to respond to its politically disastrous new leadership, finally showed what it was made of and supported Lord Alf Dubs’* amendment. An amendment requiring the government to accept the 3,000 homeless, stateless and unaccompanied Syrian children into the country.

Bravo, PLP. Bravo. It was a good thing you did on Monday night, even if it ended in honourable defeat. We should, however, just remember one, painfully ironic thing.

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“The match shouldn’t go ahead” Former MP Joe Ashton recalls the horror of Hillsborough

26/04/2016, 10:00:35 PM

Former Labour MP for Bassetlaw Joe Ashton was at the Hillsborough Disaster and saw the tragedy unfold. He later became a director of Sheffield Wednesday and lives a few miles from the ground. Here, in an interview with his daughter Lucy Ashton, he recounts the horror of the day.

After a historic inquest lasting two years, jurors today returned a number of verdicts on the Hillsborough Disaster. The most damning was that the 96 fans had been unlawfully killed.

The human crush killed 96 people and injured 766 others at the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest on 15 April 1989.

Bassetlaw Labour MP Joe Ashton, who had campaigned in Parliament for improvements to football stadiums, was a lifelong Sheffield Wednesday supporter. He had been invited to the match by the Football Association and was sitting with England manager Bobby Robson.

He remembers: “Around 15 minutes before kick-off, we started to see the crowd. I said to Bobby ‘there’s going to be trouble’ because part of the stand was empty but the other part was full and you could see the crowd getting pushed.”

“We went downstairs into the changing room where all the players were ready to go and we started telling people that the match shouldn’t go ahead.”

“The referee didn’t know what to do as people were telling him different things so finally he sent the players out.”

The match started but Joe says it quickly became obvious something catastrophic was unfolding in the stand.

“People were getting terribly crushed,” he said. “You could see people jumping on the pitch to save themselves, quite rightly. I told Bobby Robson ‘this is trouble mate’ and the ref stopped the match.”

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Both left and right seek a moral purity that is illusive and destructive

25/04/2016, 10:17:07 PM

by Jonathan Todd

“Football, and the Premier League’s integrity, needs Leicester to win the title,” writes Louise Taylor in the Guardian. If, therefore, you want anyone other than Leicester to win the league, you want a football sans integrity. Spurs fans must be morally debased to want their club to win the league.

Similarly, in a wonderfully detailed critique of Bernie Sanders, Robin Alperstein notes that his rhetoric seeks to convince that, “anyone who supports her (Hillary Clinton) is part of the problem. And then it becomes an act of immorality to vote for her, and a symbol of one’s own moral purity, indeed a rejection of corruption itself, to vote for Sanders”.

As Spurs fans, according to Taylor, cannot in good conscience want their club to win the league, it takes a special depravity, Sanders implies, to vote Clinton. This is tiresome and corrosive.

It has been argued that the indiscretions of Jamie Vardy make Leicester City less virtuous than other Premier League Clubs. I wouldn’t go that far. All clubs, like all collections of human beings, contain good and bad eggs. And the good eggs aren’t always good. Nor are the bad eggs always bad.

The Taylor contention, of course, is the opposite: that Leicester are more virtuous. Given the association between Vardy and racism, it is tempting to see this as the Guardian looking past this scourge. You’d think a left-wing paper would be vigilant to racism. But the paper’s readers’ editor acknowledged in 2011 that they needed to be “more vigilant” to language that might be construed as anti-Semitic.

The lines between criticism of Israeli policy and anti-Semitism feel ever more sharply contested. The Palestinian plight is undeniable. Sympathy for them, however, can lead to attacks on Israel that go beyond the legitimate and into the anti-Semitic. As support for Sanders can be built on an unjustified equivalence between Clinton and immorality. Or desire for Leicester to win the Premier League can rest atop dubious claims about their unsurpassed integrity.

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Stronger In or Vote Leave: The view from an expat

20/04/2016, 10:39:35 PM

In the sixth in a series looking at the views of people from outside of the political bubble, on the EU referendum, Lucy Ashton gets an expat’s perspective

Retiring to a place in the sun is a dream for many people and former West Yorkshireman Brian Cartledge has never looked back since moving to rural France a decade ago.

Brian, who worked for the Probation Service for 30 years, says he was burnt-out and needed to find some “peace, far from the madding crowd” with his wife Brenda.

“France, particularly rural France, offered a tranquility that was becoming much harder to find in Britain,” explains Brian, 69. “South West France offered health benefits both physical and psychological.”

Having experienced the European Union as both a Brit and an ex-pat, he firmly believes Britain should remain a part of it.

“I did vote back in the 1970s and I was one of the 67 per cent that voted to stay in the Common Market as it then was.

“I actually went along to hear Ted Heath speak on the matter, and remember Len Murray and the TUC trying to persuade us to get out.”

Brian will be eligible to vote in June’s referendum and says he will give a “resounding yes” to remaining in the EU, which he compares to a big family.

“Personally, life will become scarily difficult for Brenda and I, particularly from a financial perspective. For Britain, marginalisation will undoubtedly follow.

“We need to compete, be in the game. If you ain’t at the table, you don’t get your share and you can’t argue for more. We need to stay at the table and perhaps realise that ‘family’ is important, even though we don’t always get on. No man is an island.”

If Britain did leave the EU, Brian and Brenda would remain in France. “Nothing would persuade a return to live in the UK. If Brexit comes, we will throw ourselves on the mercy of the French, and hope for a reciprocal agreement to cover the ex-pats here, and the 600, 000 French said to be living in the UK.

“We are UK work and State pension dependant, so there are big concerns for us there. With 10 years here now, we may need to look at future citizenship. Who knows? Bloody Brexit,” he laughs.

For this couple, however their fellow Brits vote, they won’t be tempted back.

“We made the decision to sell-up quite easily, based on factors such as seriously high longevity in the area we have settled in, extremely low population density, and a pro-social ‘can-do’ attitude that abounds in most rural areas here.

“The weather was a big plus and we can both swear the French health service is the best we will ever wish to find.”

Lucy Ashton is a journalist and former Political Editor

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John McDonnell and George Osborne: Two faces of Gordon Brown

19/04/2016, 10:56:55 AM

by Jonathan Todd

John McDonnell is bringing to mind the Gordon Brown of the 1992 parliament, while George Osborne is coming to appear the Brown of the 2005 parliament. Where Brown had neo-endogenous growth theory, McDonnell has an entrepreneurial state; both have public investment at their core. Where the later Brown had 10p tax, Osborne has tax credits; too clever by half missteps by Stalins transfiguring into Mr Beans.

“Business investment is falling,” McDonnell noted in a speech last month. “Exports are falling. The productivity gap between Britain and the rest of the G7 is the widest it has been for a generation. Without productivity growth, we cannot hope, over the long term, to improve living standards for most people.”

It is a powerful critique, grounded not in the overthrow of capitalism but in making it work more efficiently. Notwithstanding their divergent accents, you can close your eyes and imagine Brown, as shadow chancellor, castigating the Major government. Or more recently, Ed Balls attacking the Cameron administration.

The fiscal rule that McDonnell espoused in his speech might be interpreted as a crisper version of that which Balls took Labour into the last election with. The practical consequences of the McDonnell and Balls fiscal rules may be little different but McDonnell more explicitly backs capital spending.

“We believe,” McDonnell declared, “that governments should not need to borrow to fund their day-to-day spending.” This hawkish position on current spending contrasts with a more dovish approach to capital spending. “Alongside this, we recognise the need for investment which raises the growth rate of our economy by increasing productivity as well as stimulating demand in the short term.”

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It is time for the UK to stop being the sulking teenager of Europe

18/04/2016, 09:47:44 PM

by Ranjit Sidhu

If we are really honest, the United Kingdom has never fully bought into the EU. Like the sulking teenager on a family holiday, we have been sitting there, slightly away from the others, looking in the opposite direction and when asked our opinion mumbled something unintelligible or shouted back You all do what you want, just leave me alone” (see any EU treaty since inception).

This position has led to the EU institutions being shaped by others so as to appear completely foreign to the eyes of the UK general public.

This refusal to get fully involved has also lead to the UK pursuing policies on Europe that have evolved into reasons for leaving.

It is often forgotten that the expansion of the EU to encompass the Eastern European states such as Bulgaria, Romania and Poland was a policy pushed hard by the Eurosceptics.

It was a policy that John Major used to provide some semblance of unity for his Government in making Europe wider rather than deeper”, i.e. enlarging the Union to prevent the great fear of the Eurosceptics in the 1990s: a Franco/German/Benelux political union.

That it was a Eurosceptic policy that has led inevitably to budget flows from the rich Western European countries to the development of the poorer Eastern European countries and the inevitable flow of workers in the opposite direction is ironic, but also instructive; if we do not fully get involved in the decision-making at the heart of the European project our policies will come back to haunt us.

Another forgotten detail of European history is that when Margaret Thatcher made her famous No, No, No” speech in Parliament, it was in part against the suggestion of the then European Commission president, Jacques Delores, of making the European Parliament more central to the decision-making process in Europe.

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Forget about Whittingdale’s women. He’s broken the Ministerial Code. That’s the story

17/04/2016, 12:03:09 PM

by David Ward

Three weeks ago Uncut wrote about the emerging story of John Whittingdale and press treatment of his relationship with a sex-worker. Since then the story has appeared in print and broadcast media with yet more revelations emerging this morning.

Much coverage, including David Aaronovitch’s Times column on Friday, has focussed on his right to a private life. As well as the dissonance of those such as Hacked Off appearing to oppose this. Aaronovitch dismisses Maria Eagle’s call for Whittingdale to recuse himself from press regulation over a mere “perception”.

This is understandable. Whittingdale appears to be a man guilty of little more than some embarrassing missteps. He has spent two years shadowing his brief and another ten years chairing the Select Committee that scrutinises his department. It is hard to think of another Conservative minister as qualified for his role, save perhaps Ed Vaizey.

But this misses the point. The lurid details and high handed rows about who should know what goes on in the minister’s boudoir are a distraction from the very serious question of the Ministerial code.

Section 7 of the Ministerial code is quite clear on minister’s private interests, in bold text at paragraph 7.1. “Ministers must ensure that no conflict arises, or could reasonably be perceived to arise, between their public duties and their private interests, financial or otherwise.”

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