David Cameron’s Big Lie about Syria

The following blog was published as a letter in the Guardian and Independent of 1st December 2015:

Tony Blair’s big lie, before the war in Iraq, was that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. David Cameron’s big lie is that there are 70,000 ‘moderate’ Syrian ground troops, ready to sustain ‘democracy’.

In fact, the majority of anti-Assad forces fighting alongside ISIS are violent Islamists – such as the Al Quaeda-affiliated Nusra Front. The Front is known to pose a serious threat here in Britain, yet we are expected to maintain the fiction that its fighters are moderates or de facto allies. If the government gets its way, we will bomb only ISIS – and civilians of course.

Cameron’s long term aim continues to be illegal regime change. He is intent on removing Assad by force, even if it means allying himself with people far worse than the Syrian President. The consequences for the people of Syria, especially for women, the Shia, Kurds and other minorities are likely to be truly terrible.
Jean Calder.

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Electoral Fraud and How to Stop It by Jean Calder


I hate electoral fraud, not just because it undermines democracy, but because it insults the memory  of those who have fought and died for the right to vote. 

When I first came to this country, almost all voting took place on polling day, in privacy and in the polling booth. Registration was determined by where you lived on a particular date – 10th October – and though that was overly restrictive, it had the benefit of not allowing people to ‘multi-register’.  Voters needed proof of illness (or a need to travel) to obtain a postal vote, the police guarded the  polling booths and it was unheard of for anyone to ‘assist’ someone to make their cross on a ballot paper. The only exception would be if someone was severely disabled and needed physical assistance, in which case it would be provided by a council official, observed by colleagues. These council officials strictly enforced rules preventing candidates or their supporters from harassing, or even approaching, people on the way in to the polling station. Even large posters could be removed.

Since then, the Electoral Commission’s obsession with widening the register and making it easier to vote, especially by post, has made the system wide open to abuse. Many regulations have been swept away while others are simply not enforced. It has made it far easier to ‘personate’ individuals; to pressurise people into voting in a particular way; and to commandeer or steal postal voting papers.

Over the past few years, evidence of fraud has been mounting. The Tower Hamlets case is only the most recent.  

I’ve seen nothing to convince me that former Mayor of Tower Hamlets Lutfur Rahman is any thing other than what Judge Richard Mawrey QC, the Election Commissioner, said he was, a corrupt, ambitious man who blatantly broke electoral law for his own interests, using a section of the local community to do it.  If he appeals and presents evidence that the original allegations were wrong, I’ll be the first to acknowledge it, but I don’t think for a moment that will happen. I hope the police will finally act on the information they have held for so long.

I would suggest that the four individuals who put their careers and finances on the line by bringing the case against Rahman, whatever their politics, have in them far more of the Poplar Council spirit, than Rahman and his cohorts. It must have taken real courage to persevere in the face of allegations of racism and islamophobia. There has been a cowardly conspiracy of silence around electoral fraud and a shameful lack of action by most politicians, the police and Crown Prosecution Service. It needs to stop.

I hope that Parliament will:

  • return to the system of registering people according to where they live on a particular date
  • prosecute fraudulent registration and other breaches of electoral law
  • stop postal voting on demand and actively encourage people (especially women) to attend the polling station
  • stop the mobbing of polling station entrances
  • stop interference with voting inside polling stations, including by family members,
  • require voters to produce ID when receiving a ballot paper.

Tighter regulation in Northern Ireland has gone a long way to making elections fairer. Similar changes in Britain are long overdue. 

Jean Calder, electoral fraud, personation, postal voting, Electoral Commission, Election Commissioner, Poplar Council, Judge Richard Mawrey, mobbing of polling stations, Lutfur Rahman, Tower Hamlets


Immigration and British Citizens by Jean Calder


I’ve been interested to read responses to one of my recent blogs, Labour Fails to Listen. 

In his comment, Jim Grozier disagreed with what I’d said about immigration. He wrote: “I have a major problem with one paragraph, and one phrase in particular – “the rights of British people” – sent a shiver down my spine.” He added “Surely the only rights British people have are *human* rights – the same rights that the immigrants have – so why should British people be favoured over non-British people?”

I find these ideas fascinating. I am an immigrant. I remain immensely grateful to the UK for taking me in in 1972 and for providing me with a better and safer life than I would have had in South Africa. I’ve worked hard since I’ve been here and, like most immigrants,  have tried to give something back. However, back in the 1970s I never for one moment thought I had a right to the same services and benefits as British-born people. It simply would never have occurred to me, given that neither my parents nor I had contributed, by our work or our taxes.  

I worked for three years in order to gain what was then called ‘resident status’ and then went to Sussex University as a mature student on a full grant. I will always be grateful for this. However, if the government of the time had decided that immigrants like me needed to work for  five or seven years rather than three, because British born people needed the places or because the country couldn’t afford it, I would have accepted it. I wouldn’t have liked it, but it would have seemed to me fair and completely reasonable that the country should look after its own young people first. I’ve never had any difficulty with this notion, though I would expect that after a certain period of legal residence and contribution, rights would equalise.

It seems strange to suggest that British citizenship should bring with it no rights other than basic human rights. As Britons, we don’t live in a supranational European state or a world without borders. The nation state still exists and so long as it does, continues to confer particular rights and responsibilities on its citizens. This is true in all countries, not just our own. It seems to me absurd to suggest that national governments should, in all circumstances, give equal weight to the well being of visitors or settlers, whatever the hardship this may cause to the people of the host nation. 

Tony Greenstein commented that apparent concern about immigrants’ undercutting wages “has been the staple argument of racists for over 120 years.” He is right, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t in some cases true. My point is that, over several years, an unscrupulous political elite in the UK developed a deliberate strategy of bringing in workers for the purpose of undercutting wages and conditions and undermining unionised labour. Unskilled jobs which could have been carried out by British people were, quite legally, advertised abroad rather than in the UK. Skill shortages were not addressed by a state education and training establishment, which, over decades, failed to prepare indigenous workers for key trades and professions, for example in building, nursing and medicine. One result is an NHS staffed by low-paid agency workers with poor English – and well-paid doctors from abroad, who could perhaps have better served their countries by working at home.  

Jim ended his comment by recalling MP Dennis Skinner’s Commons speech in which he attacked UKIP MPs and referred to what he called his “United Nations heart bypass” operation. He said: “..it was done by a Syrian cardiologist, a Malaysian surgeon, a Dutch doctor, a Nigerian registrar, and these two people here talk about sending them back from whence they came. And if they did that in the hospitals in London, half of London would be dead in six months.”

It was a moving and amusing speech and a wonderful piece of polemic, but Skinner should surely also have asked why our very wealthy country fails to train enough people to staff its NHS. After all, tiny cash-strapped Cuba manages to produce enough doctors and nurses to meet its own needs and has for decades been able to export them, as required, to war zones and disaster areas around the world. I have to ask, if they can do it, why can’t we?

I’ll respond to Tony’s comments about Lutfur Rahman and islamophobia, Ireland and feminism at a later date.

Social Care is Nursing Care  By Jean Calder

All major political parties seem to agree that the NHS is a ‘treasure’ and must remain free at the point of use. Politicians differ as to the extent the private sector should be involved in delivering services, but it’s taken for granted that the care of the sick is currently free and that charging applies only to dentistry and prescriptions. In fact, this is an outrageous lie – a political con trick played on the British people. 

When I first came to England in 1972, most general hospitals had what were then called ‘geriatric wards’ for elderly patients with long term needs. There were also psycho-geriatric wards for those with dementia, where the assumption was that patients would almost certainly remain until death. Until the government closed them, every county had a large psychiatric hospital and there were large numbers of specialist hospitals for people with learning disabilities or dementia. These institutions were run by the NHS and most had the capacity to accommodate people until death.

No one would mourn the loss of the old geriatric wards and long stay hospitals. They were horribly institutional and though some were well run, providing good care and genuine ‘asylum’, others fostered abuses of power as bad as anything we’ve seen more recently in some care homes. However, the one thing you could say for all of them is that they were there, free at the point of delivery and were part of a genuinely national NHS which had not yet been divided into competing trusts.

These wards and hospitals were ripe for reform, but in the 1980s and 1990s, instead of being improved or replaced, were nearly all closed, while inadequate housing and community services were provided for future need. Patients were denied nursing care by the simple expedient of pretending they didn’t need it. Instead, elderly people requiring 24 hour care for complex illnesses, such as dementia and Parkinson’s, were told that the care required was ‘personal care’ rather than nursing care and thus not the responsibility of the NHS. 

It can hardly be co-incidence that around the same time, the State Enrolled Nursing qualification, which had trained practical nurses to provide basic and essential nursing services (services which would certainly have been recognised as nursing by Florence Nightingale), was phased out. SENs were offered the chance of upgrading their qualifications and required to undertake duties which were previously the responsibility of more highly trained Registered Nurses. Basic nursing care for patients – including essential tasks such as maintaining personal cleanliness, providing bedpans and ensuring patients eat and drink – was devolved to under-trained, poorly paid and badly supervised care assistants, with disastrous results.

The policy of so called ‘community care’ decimated services for vulnerable adults, replacing much of it with inadequate privatised housing and support services. Older people, in particular, were forced to make do with limited access to means-tested council care services or private ‘care packages’, paid for by the local authority (or by themselves if they had assets of their own). Private companies made a killing from services which were at best inadequate and at worst life-threateningly bad.

In theory, those at the end of life or with complex needs, have a right to NHS funding for appropriate residential care in the community (known as NHS Continuing Care funding). In reality, few receive it. The NHS does all it can to prevent widespread access to these funds by the simple means of: failing to publicise the existence of the funds; turning down most applications, forcing families to appeal; making the application process extraordinarily time-consuming, opaque and complex so that legal advice is often required; failing to properly educate health professionals and care home managers, whose notes are crucially important in progressing these applications; and, when applications fail, relying on local authorities and families to take up the financial slack.

Lawyers who work in this field say they quite often have to advise patients with a clear right to funded nursing care, that the financial risks of pursuing an unsuccessful application and then having to appeal would be too great – especially if means-tested funding is available from the local authority. In this way, cash strapped local councils are forced unwittingly to subsidise both the NHS and private care companies – while patients are often denied the skilled nursing care they need. 

The situation is a scandal – but not one I heard addressed in the General Election campaign. I fear that, under cover of reorganisation and recent cross-party talk about integration of nursing and care services, NHS Continuing Care funding may, by sleight of hand, quietly be abolished. 

After all, how can we defend a service most of us never knew we had?


Labour needs to do more than find a new leader: it must again become a movement. by Andy Winter

A concept I used to refer to regularly in the earlier incarnation of this blog was borrowed from the West Wing, the Big Mo – Momentum. Political parties in the ascendency enjoy momentum, and with it can come political success. Up to the 2011 council elections the Green Party locally had the Big Mo. Labour enjoyed the Big Mo in 1997.

In 2015, the old Big Mo, as in momentum, has given way to a new Big Mo – Movement. A political movement transcends party politics, it is a positive force routed in aspiration for change. Such aspiration should not be confused with the shallow use of the word when applied to ‘hard working families’ or ‘strivers’. 

The independence referendum in Scotland, although unsuccessful, unleashed something that proved to be the death knell of the major parties in Scotland on 7th May.  The support the SNP enjoyed came from across the political spectrum. People were not necessarily voting for the SNP as a party, but for what the SNP symbolised. There was a sense amongst the people that things could be different, could be better. It overcame the politics of austerity of the Conservatives and austerity-lite of Labour. And with it Labour, the Conservatives and the Lib Dems were all but wiped out north of the border.

Across the UK, the debate about the new leader of the Labour Party is focused on the ‘presidential’ characteristics of some rather bland individuals who appear to be more concerned about not offending anyone than putting forward a message of hope. Austerity-lite is neither one thing or another. The revolutionary slogans of the 1970s and ’80s have given way to ones mumbled by those unwilling or incapable of arguing an alternative economic plan:

“What do we want?”

“Cuts!”

“When do we want them?”

“Not as quickly as you!”

The debate demonstrates that Labour activists and commentators have learned nothing from the movement in Scotland that has thrust the SNP into the forefront of British politics. They have not grasped that the people of Scotland didn’t just vote for a party, they voted for a movement.

By comparison, Nichola Sturgeon embodies the hopes and aspirations of the majority, yes the majority, of voters in Scotland.  The Sturgeon / SNP Phenomenon has reached far beyond Scotland. I can’t remember how many times during the elections people in Brighton said to me:  “I wish I could vote for Nichola Sturgeon”.

But it wasn’t that Sturgeon presented herself in a presidential manner. The debate between the seven party leaders was a watershed in British politics, with three women party leaders showing that they offered more than four rather grey stale males. They spoke to ordinary people and, in particular, to ordinary women. They spoke ‘human’. Isabel Hardman from the Spectator said that if she had had a bad day, got caught in a down pour, and had lost her keys, she would want to pop in for a cup of tea with Lianne Wood. Lianne Wood is the next door neighbour we all wish we had.

I imagine many Labour activists and supporters regard Nichola Sturgeon as the leader they wished they had. 

But that is where they would be going wrong. A party is more than its leader. Electoral success has become much more than just the Big Mo.

Labour Fails to Listen by Jean Calder

Labour had a disastrous general election. Activists believed polls indicating they were neck and neck with the Conservatives. They are now reeling from the shock of failing to win target seats such as Brighton Kemptown and Hastings – and of losing leading politicians like Ed Balls

John Woodcock MP, chair of the influential Progress group said the party would need to examine what went wrong. I’d suggest the answer is simple. Leaving aside the wisdom or otherwise of pursuing an economic policy of ‘austerity lite’, Labour was arrogant, took the electorate for granted and failed either to explain or to listen. There were several examples of this. I’ll mention just a few.

Since Labour’s 2010 defeat, the Conservatives and their media supporters have repeatedly accused Labour of ‘trashing’ the economy by overspending. It would have been possible to provide simply-worded and honest replies to these accusations – and to have reproduced them on leaflets, in interviews and on websites – but, inexplicably, Labour’s leaders chose not to do this. As a result, the Government successfully persuaded the public that Balls and Brown ‘spent all the money’ – and a golden opportunity to educate the public was lost. Up until the 2015 election, David Cameron regularly reminded voters of arch-Blairite Liam Byrne’s mocking note, left for the Treasury team, that said no money was left. Instead of condemning Byrne’s letter and excluding him from the leadership team, Ed Miliband foolishly kept him on his front bench, appearing to endorse his view – and allowing Byrne’s colleagues, by association, to take the blame.

Labour focussed its election campaign on the NHS. It rightly attacked the Conservatives’ expensive re-organisation, but failed to acknowledge, or apologise for, the dreadful failures in care standards that happened on its watch, not least in Mid Staffs and in Wales, and the terrible breach of trust that this represented. It condemned the Coalition government for excessive NHS executive salaries and pursuit of private sector service delivery, but did not apologise for its own past complicity in both. Finally, fixated by it’s commitment to spending ‘responsibility’, Labour found itself trapped in the ludicrous position of offering less money for the NHS than the Conservatives and attacking them for promising too much.

Labour said it planned to reduce immigration, but I doubt people believed it. Voters knew that, when in power, Tony Blair had enthusiastically pursued uncontrolled European immigration and that this undercut working class wages and put pressure on housing and services. Ed Miliband’s arrogant refusal to countenance a referendum on Europe flew in the face of his stated commitment to controlled immigration – and to democracy. He placed the free movement of cheap labour – and the profits of some businesses – before the rights of British people, particularly women, who were most likely to be low-paid or using public services.

There has for years been a whiff of corruption around Labour – ruthlessly exposed by newspapers such as The Times and Daily Mail – which Labour’s leaders have not addressed. They have ignored growing evidence that some Labour-dominated councils have tolerated instances of corruption, including electoral fraud, manipulation of school governing bodies and organised exploitation of teenage girls.

It’s true that no party has yet acted effectively against electoral fraud, especially in relation to misuse of postal votes by ‘community leaders’ and heads of households. However, there is a widespread view that, in some parts of the country, Labour has actively encouraged or at least turned a blind eye to this – partly because it feared accusations of racism, but mostly because Labour’s candidates have been the primary beneficiaries. This is despite the fact that such practices may have disempowered and effectively disenfranchised thousands of women. When, in late April, the Election Commissioner found that Lutfur Rahman, the independent former Mayor of Tower Hamlets, had been guilty of “corrupt and illegal practices” and ordered the 2014 mayoral election to be re-run, Christine Shawcroft, a long standing member of the Labour Party’s NEC, condemned the judge and addressed a public meeting in Rahman’s ‘defence’. This was just days before the General Election. Shawcroft’s action may have appealed to some voters in London, but sent a terrible message to the rest of the country.

Despite the Labour Party’s theoretical commitment to gender equality, there has been no coherent explanation why, under the Labour government, there was such reluctance to investigate either the organised abuse of teenage girls in northern and midlands cities (despite early warnings from former Labour MP Anne Cryer) or associated allegations of collusion by some Labour councillors. Similarly, the party has refused to acknowledge its apparent unwillingness, when in power, to confront harmful ‘cultural’ practices, such as FGM and forced marriage – or to challenge the blatant gender inequality inherent in the operation of sharia courts. In the days before the election, undecided female voters were hardly likely to be impressed by photographs on twitter and in newspapers of prominent Labour MPs addressing a gender-segregated political meeting – nor by the party’s deputy leader, Harriet Harman, who defended their actions. The fact that Conservative-supporting newspapers like the Daily Mail publicised these matters, did not make them any less true or significant.

While north of the border, a powerful charismatic female leader was seen to carry all before her, Labour leaders continued to patronise women and take them for granted – as they had for the previous five years. The party placed little emphasis on the fact that young women were more likely than young men to be unemployed and that women were the primary victims of austerity policies, experiencing increased poverty, exploitation, sexist discrimination and violence – while continuing to bear primary responsibility for child- and elder-care. Instead of empowering women and girls and setting out what a Labour government would do differently, the party’s male leadership largely ignored them. When occasional parliamentary debates on female equality or violence took place, Labour’s male leaders took themselves off on visits to factories, to be photographed in macho poses and hard hats. In debates about youth unemployment, education and training, females barely featured. And when the Labour party commissioned a report on ‘Older Women’ it took two years to publish and then failed to consider the needs of anyone over 70. I know I wasn’t the only one to laugh, at the start of the election campaign, to see the party send out female MPs in a bright pink bus to ‘listen to women’s concerns’ – when it was far too late to do anything about them.

The truth is that if Labour is to rebuild, its leaders and activists must learn to confront its failures and listen to the people, female and male, young or old, powerless or powerful – not because the party wishes to appear well, or to recruit, exploit or manipulate the individuals involved or solicit their votes – but because what they have to say is often true and usually of value.

Only when Labour learns to respect the people, will it be fit to govern them.

Jean Calder