Srebrenica and Coming of Age – Speech to Bradford College

Today I gave a speech at Bradford College to mark Holocaust Memorial Day, at an event looking at a different genocide much closer to present day – Srebrenica.

The event was put together by the College and students to highlight the excellent work that has been done by students who visited Bosnia on a delegation last year with The Frizinghall Partnership and have since been busy making a documentary about their trip. We were lucky enough to have some of them speak at our memorial event last year at City Hall during Remembering Srebrenica Memorial Week. Not only do they speak movingly and thoughtfully about their experiences but they are fantastic advocates for Bradford’s future.

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I was kindly asked to speak as a local Champion for the UK charity, Remembering Srebrenica, on the commitment we have made here in Bradford to raising awareness of the genocide and fighting intolerance and hatred in all its forms. I started my speech by discussing Remembering Srebrenica’s chosen theme for this year, ‘coming of age’, to reflect the fact it is the 21st anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide.

The text of my speech can be read below:

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This year marks the 21st anniversary of Srebrenica genocide and the theme this year for the charity, Remembering Srebrenica, which is dedicated to raising awareness of the genocide, is ‘coming of age’.

Thousands of young people died in Srebrenica, denied the chance to come of age.

The youngest victim of the genocide was a newborn baby who died before she was even officially named. If she had survived, her mother would have called her Fatima. When her body was identified and buried in 2013, she would have been 18 years old.

One of the worst attacks was at a playground, shelled even after the arrival of UN peacekeeping troops. More than 100 people, mostly children, died.

A quote from the New York Times, October 1995, a few months after the genocide – “schools…were used as holding pens for the doomed Muslims”.

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The Beagle Has Landed

NB I started writing this in the aftermath of Angela Eagles debut performance at Prime Minister’s Questions. Life took over and by the time I finished it the article wasn’t really timely enough to be published anywhere but this blog. In the light of continuing speculation about a Shadow Cabinet reshuffle parts of it still seem salient, so I’m publishing it here on my blog.

All hail the rise of Labour’s forgotten moderates

So the ‘Beagle’ has landed. Benn and Eagle, Hilary and Angela, have provided the first real cheers for moderates in the Labour Party in what feels like an age. Putting in parliamentary performances that outshone both the Prime Minister and the Chancellor respectively, they have justified their decision to serve in Jeremy Corbyn’s Shadow Cabinet and can now lay claim to being the new Big Beasts of the moderates in the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP).

With the vast majority of Labour’s established figures now lurking on the back benches (Andy Burnham being pretty much the only exception), Benn and Eagle, or ‘Beagle’ as they shall be known for the purposes of squeezing a tortured pun into the headline, have stepped up and provided some much-needed cheer.

In the debate around whether non-Corbynites should serve in his Shadow Cabinet, they’ve shown the good they can do working inside the tent rather than out.

However, Beagle’s success does raise questions about Labour’s inability to get the most out of its full cadre of capable MPs over the past ten years. It’s not just the war of attrition between Blair and Brown that stymied development but also the general attitude of successive leaders. During the 2010 election, Yvette Cooper and Liam Byrne shared a note (not THAT note) complaining about the lack of frontline responsibility shared during the campaign, with Cooper writing of being ‘second division’ and Byrne likening it to being allowed to play in a sand pit.

By 2015 such was the paucity of our leadership offer the candidate who most successfully seized the mantle of change had been an MP for longer than many of his supporters had been alive.

Nonetheless, credit must go to Corbyn for building a Shadow Cabinet where all wings of the party are represented. He should resist the siren calls of those around him for a ‘revenge reshuffle’, which would only make it harder for the party to focus its and the media’s attention on what the Tories are doing to this country. To build a winning coalition at the next election it will be necessary for the public to see a plurality of voices representing the Labour Party at the highest level.

The landing of the Beagle in the past couple of weeks should provide some cheer to moderates that there is still strength in depth among the PLP, and that the case for a moderate Labour party can still be made. It also represents a reminder that failure to bring on talent within the party leads to the sort of shrunken pool of potential leaders that led to the events of the past year in the first place.

If any of the new groups bring anything to the Labour Party, from Momentum to Labour for the Common Good, hopefully it will be a platform for more Labour voices to develop and help the party rebuild for the future.

Shipley MP, Philip Davies’ behaviour is nothing new, he’s been doing it for years

This article originally appeared on http://www.shipleylabour.org.uk/filiblustering. 

As a Labour Councillor in Shipley, I’m all too familiar with the rather ‘interesting’ views of our increasingly infamous local Conservative MP, Philip Davies. In fact, over the past few years he’s been our single, best recruiting tool to the Labour Party. It’s not uncommon for a new member to attend a meeting and share their personal ‘Davies moment’, the instant they realised they were so repelled by Davies’ views they felt obliged to join the Labour Party.

Daviesturbance

Periodically, this localised ‘Daviesturbance’ manages to go national. With the increasing ubiquity of social media this is happening more often, but it is frustrating that his greatest hits don’t get more of a play. As with so many artists, I prefer his earlier work.

You see, Davies has been doing this stuff for years. He’s made the headlines this month for a string of controversial comments – and you suspect he secretly gets off on it – but it’s nothing he hasn’t said before.

When he makes headline news for saying that gay marriage discriminates against straight people, it is only the latest in a long line of slightly odd comments about homosexuality, including opposing an anti-homophobic bullying play called Romeo and Julian, because he felt that children should be learning proper Shakespeare instead (they have been mandated to since at least 1993). Or the time he said that homosexuality isn’t as ‘widespread’ as people think.

If you’re getting wound up about this – calm down, dear! Philip thinks we’re all way too uptight about this sort of thing anyway. If rugby fans chant homophobic insults at a player who has had the bravery to come out, let’s all remember that ‘in general’ there’s a serious ‘sense of humour failure’ in this country and we should learn to laugh at ourselves more. After all, he bravely confessed to BBC Radio Leeds that he doesn’t mind when people make jokes about him being from Yorkshire.

True Equality

When he called for a debate on International Men’s Day, claiming that he believes in ‘true’ equality, it is only the latest salvo in a long line of attacks on the equality agenda. According to Davies, Parliament, which has more men in it today than all the women ever elected to it, is totally biased towards women.

This is all part of what Davies sees as the damaging culture of political correctness in this country, which is promoting the rights of women and minorities over everyone else. So effective is this continual discrimination that a mere 90% of Executive Directors on the FTSE 100 are men. Rumour has it that out of more than 50 Prime Ministers in Britain’s history,one of them wasn’t even a man. So entrenched is this bias towards women in Parliament that since 2010only 85% of the government’s spending cuts have been borne by women. They do say women have a higher pain threshold because they can give birth, right?

Therefore Davies used his platform on International Men’s Day to claim that there werenever any problems between men and women until feminists came along and politically correct men ‘pandered’ to them. This historic harmony between the sexes must be why rape within marriage was legal until 1991, because it obviously never happened until the PC brigade made it all up.

Of all the legitimate issues men face I’m not sure feminism is one of them, not least because feminism empowers men as well as women. Improved universal childcare, freeing up women to return to the workplace, benefits the wider economy and also helps men take a fuller role in bringing up their own children. More women in positions of power benefits us all because a society that utilises the talents of only 50% of its population can never reach its full potential.

Davies’ campaign for ‘real’ equality naturally extends to racial matters, as typified when he sent at least 19 letters to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission. The letters asked about the pressing issues of the day, like why the term ‘Black Man’s Wheels’ when referring to a BMW is racist (because the joke is based on the premise that black men steal rich people’s cars and wouldn’t own one legitimately), why Golliwogs are now considered racist (because it’s white people pretending to be infantilised black people performing for the amusement of other white people), and why it was legal to have a Metropolitan Black Police Association (because the police have historically been blighted by institutional racism towards minorities partly due to a culture dominated by white men) but illegal for the British National Party to ban non-whites (because wanting to ‘foster the creation of an indigenous British race‘ is massively racist).

Interestingly, and I’m not suggesting for a minute Davies himself had anything to do with it, the BNP stood a candidate in every West Yorkshire seat bar Shipley for the 2010 General Election.

Daviesworld

According to Davies however, the ‘real’ racists and sexists are the people who ‘see everything’ in terms of race and gender. In ‘Daviesworld’, the world’s least amusing theme park where the Golliwog Flume remains it’s most inexplicably popular attraction, it’s the members of the Metropolitan Black Police Association who are the institutional racists, not the police force itself as described by the Macpherson report in 1999.

On a weekly basis we now see Davies filibustering various Bills from his perspective as a fili-blustering anti-PC libertarian, from carers having free parking at hospital (after beingphotographed pledging to stand up for them in parliament), updating regulation to ensureprivate landlords keep properties fit for human habitation (as a private landlord himself he movingly spoke of his difficulty in ‘keeping tabs on all the things that are expected of you’. His failure to understand what’s expected of him explains a lot about his behaviour as an MP) to most recently talking out a Bill that would oblige school children to be taught first aid. It’s nothing new, he was behind the filibustering to stop a bill that would outlaw wild circus animals last year.

Davies has said his inspiration for filibustering comes from his ‘hero’, the apartheid sympathiser Eric Forth. It’s unclear what else Davies has in common with the man who described himself as representing the ‘white, Anglo-Saxon and bigoted majority’ except a total cluelessness about what the white, Anglo-Saxon majority actually think.

Good Governance

No other governance system, in the private sector for instance, would allow members of an organisation to filibuster a proposal so rather than get rejected or passed, it merely gets delayed indefinitely. Only the political class seems to think this is an appropriate way of doing things. Thankfully even some of Davies’ colleagues in the Tory Party are fed up of his behaviour. As far back as 2009, then Tory backbencher (now Speaker of the House), John Bercow referred to him as a troglodyte for his views on equality.

So while we rightly criticise Davies for his boorish behaviour, let’s also recognise that it’s Parliament that allows him to spend his time, paid for by us taxpayers, behaving this way in the first place and hope his more enlightened colleagues are successful in changing the way Parliament works.

Alex Ross-Shaw

This article originally appeared on http://www.shipleylabour.org.uk/filiblustering.