Consider the demolition of the ‘Calais Jungle’ and the dispersal across France of some of the most vulnerable and traumatised people on the planet. Many of these are children, some unaccompanied by adults and at risk of child exploitation and human trafficking. Now reflect on the response of British politicians and media outlets to the suggestion that the United Kingdom, one of the countries responsible in no small part for this humanitarian crisis, should take in around thirty of these poor and desperate souls.
In the last week I have heard one MP suggest that those fleeing violence, torture and war should be subjected to forced dental examinations, before being allowed safe haven. Why? Because he feared some of those being allowed into the country may actually be adults fleeing the same privations. Why should their age matter at all? Surely people in desperate need deserve help and support irrespective of how old they are. Are we really saying that we are only prepared to help children and the adults can fend for themselves?
Of course this position is defended in terms of ensuring that there is ‘no abuse of our hospitality’. Frankly I don’t believe the hysteria that greeted images of refugees, apparently ‘too old’ to deserve safety, has anything to do with ensuring due process is observed. Instead it is my belief that this reflects the increasing divisiveness and cruelty of the political elite; who are now completely at ease with inciting bigotry and appealing to the basest fears of the population, in order to advance their political aims.
There has of course been opposition to this drift towards intolerance and xenophobia. The most notable of which came from a musician, Lilly Allen and a football pundit, Gary Lineker. The latter was branded a “Left Wing Luvvie” for questioning the humanity of a country that would deny help to those in need because of their age. One particular newspaper, infamous for peddling lies and distortions, actually called for him to be sacked for “telling lies about refugees.” You couldn’t write it, but apparently they could.
The same accusations of left-wing bias have been aimed at film maker Ken Loach, for his moving depiction of the plight of those facing humiliating health assessments in order to deny them benefits. ‘I Daniel Blake’ has been decried, by Conservative politicians and journalists on the right, as “Poverty Safari.”
Let’s reflect on that phrase for just a moment. “Poverty Safari”. How utterly offensive and abhorrent. Only the industry that dreamt up “Benefits Street” and other exploitative television could come up with such a phrase. It frankly says more about them than it does the poor. Do they really see those living below the poverty line as animals? Mere sport for the wealthy and privileged to enjoy and entertainment for the masses? It appears they do.
It has also been suggested that Loach is a “revolutionary socialist” and that the film is an attempt to ferment unrest. Of course their protestations are absurd and there is ample evidence, published in the same media outlets who are now seemingly perplexed by the reality depicted in Loach’s film, to support the assertions made by him.
If we were to be kind, we would say that such outrage stems from the fact that many of these critics live a sheltered existence and are rarely exposed to the horror of 21st century poverty. Another interpretation is that such denials are calculated to distract and prop up a system from which they are all beneficiaries. I’ll leave the reader to decide which it is.
It is claimed that Mohandas Gandhi, on a visit to the United States, was once asked by a journalist what he thought of western civilisation. He is alleged to have replied “I think it would be a good idea.” The western world Gandhi observed was far from civilised. Fear, starvation and war were endemic, and it was beset with intolerance, cruelty and oppression. Sound familiar?
I am frequently struck by the arrogance of the permanent political class and their fellow travellers in the media. They sit atop a corrupt and bankrupt economic model, that is incapable of providing education, health, employment and housing to all of its citizens, while passing judgement on the rest of the world. They turn a blind eye to the squalor many of their fellow citizens endure and question the morality and worth of those at the bottom of the pile. Worse still they propagate the lie that there is no alternative.
As a socialist, I am sometimes lectured about how mine is an ideology that can never work. “The world just doesn’t turn that way,” I am told. Of course there is also the old standby “Look at Russia, socialism has totally failed.” As if people like me are advocating the imposition of the sort of political oppression run by a bureaucratic elite that became a characteristic of the former Soviet Union.
Of course I am equally within my rights to point out that Capitalism has failed and continues to do so, not just in one country, but all over the western world. The fact that people living in capitalist economies suffer poverty and deprivation of liberty is undeniable. It is an economic system that holds back the ‘Third World’ and maintains its status through the imposition of debt, while advancing its claim over natural resources through military adventures and the tactics of regime change.
So called ‘Western civilisation’ knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing. Nothing moves in those economies, unless there is a profit margin associated with it. And charity is seen in terms of the generosity of the rich and not as the abject failure, of a system to provide for its own, that it truly is.
This so called great ‘civilisation’ is destroying habitats, pushing species to the brink of extinction and beyond and tipping the temperature of the planet beyond the point of no return. At the same time some political leaders actually deny this is happening, seemingly content to leave the problem to future generations.
These are all global problems, that humanity is attempting to solve on the basis of the ‘nation state’. It is a strategy that is hopelessly doomed to failure. It is surely time for those movements, that have developed in opposition to this mess, to embrace an internationalist perspective.
It is very encouraging to see the UK Labour Party attempting to bring together European Socialist Parties, in order to address the issues associated with Brexit in recent weeks. This surely must become a template for socialists across the western world.
For the west to refer to its self as civilised is delusional. In the face of mounting social, political and economic crises its basic humanity is missing in action. If our governments won’t work together across borders to solve our problems, maybe it’s time our people did.