Radical Roundup: 10 stories that got buried – Issue 2, August 2021

The news you didn't see this week...

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10. Government delays to bringing forward new guidance on firearms licensing have been criticised as ‘unforgivable’, following the fatal shooting in Plymouth last week that left five innocent people dead.

Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson for Home Affairs Brian Paddick said: “It shouldn’t have taken the tragic shootings in Plymouth for the Home Secretary to finally strengthen gun licensing checks.

“Experts have been calling for new statutory guidance for six years, and Parliament legislated for it more than four years ago. Priti Patel’s failure to introduce it until now is unforgivable.

“The first duty of the government is to keep people safe. That means acting quickly and decisively on expert advice, not waiting for the next tragedy to force it into action.”

9. The SNP has urged the Tory government to abandon its ‘regressive’ Nationality and Borders Bill in light of the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan.

The Bill – dubbed the “anti-Refugee bill” – would strip many refugees of crucial rights including the opportunity to settle in the UK permanently, to family reunion and to access public funds.  

The Bill would also criminalise many of those seeking protection in the UK because of their irregular arrival here, and signals a move to warehousing asylum applicants in conditions such as the disused Napier Barracks, or even offshoring them to detention centres.  All these measures would directly impact Afghans fleeing the Taliban who seek asylum in the UK.

The Bill has been widely criticised by MPs, the UN and refugee charities, including the Scottish Refugee Council who stated that it “does not offer the humane system we need”. 

The SNP has instead called on Boris Johnson to urgently introduce a generous offer of resettlement for Afghans fleeing persecution, as part of a global resettlement scheme to provide a safe passage for refugees to the UK – calling for at least 35,000 Afghan refugees to be offered asylum in the UK.

Commenting, the SNP’s Shadow Home Secretary Stuart McDonald MP said: “Not only does this Tory Bill breach the UK’s obligations under Human Rights law and the 1951 Refugee Convention, it has also been widely condemned by the UN and numerous refugee charities.

“Under this Bill, if a Uighur fleeing torture; or a Syrian fleeing war crime; or a Christian convert escaping death threats arrives in the UK seeking protection, but doesn’t have a visa, they could be guilty of an offence punishable by up to 4 years in prison. The same will be for those fleeing persecution from the Taliban in Afghanistan.”

8. Labour leader Keir Starmer has paid tribute to Austin Mitchell, the former MP for Great Grimsby, who passed away this week.

“Austin served his constituency of Great Grimsby with remarkable commitment for 38 years. There are few MPs whose dedication to their constituents would translate into changing their surname to ‘Haddock’ to promote local industry.

“His big sense of humour was matched by his deep Labour values. My thoughts are with his wife Linda and his children,” Starmer said.

7. Education unions, together with Liberal Democrat education spokesperson Daisy Cooper MP, have written to Gavin Williamson urging the government to take firm action to improve ventilation in schools to reduce further Covid disruption.

The unions – NEU, Unison, NASUWT, ASCL, NAHT, GMB and Unite – say proper measures to increase airflow in time for the start of the next academic year will make a difference to health and limit the damage to learning for pupils.

In their letter they say “the benefits of ventilation in the control of airborne diseases are already well understood and accepted”. They point to carbon dioxide monitors – to ensure air is flowing adequately – and micro filters for removing harmful particles as measures that will make a significant difference and should be properly funded.

Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “Government action on ventilation in schools and colleges amounts to little more than recommending that windows are kept open, which is not sustainable in providing a comfortable learning environment in the depths of a British winter. If the government is serious about bringing to an end the educational disruption of the past 18 months then it must provide funding for high-quality ventilation systems as a matter of urgency.”

Avril Chambers, GMB Senior Organiser, added: “This is simply more timewasting from a shambolic government. We know that ventilation is critical for reducing the covid risk in workplaces, and schools are no different. Rather than this token effort, the DfE should be working with unions to develop robust guidance on ventilation standards, and putting substantial funding into air filtration systems, and heating systems for when windows have to be opened in winter.”

6. Following the proscription of Socialist Appeal and three other organisations by the Labour Party NEC on July 20th, letters of automatic exclusion have begun to be sent out to Marxist activists and Labour members who have argued allegations of anti-Semitism were ‘politically motivated’.

Socialist Appeal Editorial Board member and activist Ben Gliniecki received a letter of automatic exclusion on Friday 13th August. The evidence provided for his expulsion includes holding a newspaper, attending a Socialist Appeal event, and retweeting a couple of Socialist Appeal tweets.

On Saturday 14th August, left-wing film director Ken Loach also reported being expelled from Labour, saying on Twitter: “Labour HQ finally decided I’m not fit to be a member of their party, as I will not disown those already expelled. Well … I am proud to stand with the good friends and comrades victimised by the purge. There is indeed a witch-hunt … Starmer and his clique will never lead a party of the people. We are many, they are few. Solidarity.”

Other figures from the Labour left also received automatic exclusion letters including Roger Silverman, who ran for the Labour Party NEC last year and is the son of 20th Century left-wing Labour MP Sydney Silverman, Graham Bash, Political Secretary of the Labour Representation Committee – of which John McDonnell MP is President – and Political Officer of Jewish Voice for Labour, and Leah Levane, Co-Chair of Jewish Voice For Labour.

5. Pressure is growing on the Conservatives to reject new oil production at the Cambo oilfield in Scotland.

Commenting on Sturgeon’s letter, Jamie Livingstone, Head of Oxfam Scotland, said: “This is a welcome call from the First Minister who is right to stress the urgent need to reassess existing fossil fuel licences, including the Cambo project. She should now go further and make clear her opposition to this project, and the Prime Minister should urgently review and reverse this drilling licence and accelerate plans for a just transition.

“Drilling for new oil as the climate emergency pushes millions of people deeper into hunger and poverty is clearly incompatible and wrong. Given the dire predictions in the UN report this week and the Secretary-General’s comment that this must mark the ‘death knell’ for fossil fuels, this is the time to wind down oil extraction in Scotland and beyond.

“With just 80 days left until crucial COP26 climate talks in Glasgow, the UK and Scottish governments should make a clear commitment to a speedy and just transition away from fossil fuels.”

The Cambo oilfield could produce up to 255 million barrels of oil over its lifetime, releasing an estimated 132 million tonnes of CO2 emissions into the atmosphere, according to Oxfam’s analysis.

Commenting on the new IPCC report, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said: “This report must sound a death knell for coal and fossil fuels, before they destroy our planet.” 

4. The Green Party has criticised the government for not doing enough after it promised to resettle up to 20,000 Afghan refugees, with only 5,000 to be welcomed in the first year.

Benali Hamdache, Green Party migration and refugee support spokesperson, said: “Offering refuge to those fleeing violence and persecution from the Taliban should be a fundamental part of who we are as a country, but unfortunately this is more empty PR from Boris Johnson.

 “While Canada is taking in 20,000 refugees immediately, the UK’s insistence that it can only accept 5,000 in the first year will leave thousands of people in extreme danger. Canada and the UK both had soldiers on the ground in Afghanistan. Both were part of the attempts to build a new government. But only one part of the coalition is living up to their responsibilities.

 “At the same time, the UK government should be providing local authorities with more funds to be able to support refugee children. The cost of resettlement should be fully borne by the national government, with the money transferred to councils so they can provide the services so desperately needed.”

3. The Crown Prosecution Service has dropped its objection to four appeals by Extinction Rebellion protesters being heard at the Old Bailey.

The move last Wednesday follows a further four appeals which were allowed the week before, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s landmark Ziegler ruling, which clarified the right to protest.

The Ziegler ruling in the Supreme Court in 2019 saw charges quashed for protesters who ‘obstructed the highway’, with the judge ruling that their actions were protected by the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

In a statement following the CPS’ decision to drop its objection to the appeal, a spokesperson for Extinction Rebellion said: “We are exercising our legal, democratic right to protest peacefully. Around 2,500 people have been prosecuted since the April Rebellion in 2019. Potentially hundreds if not thousands of the resulting convictions could be unsafe.

“It is the responsibility of the Crown Prosecution Service to reassess all past and ongoing prosecutions in the light of the Ziegler ruling and to correct any miscarriages of justice.”

Extinction Rebellion’s lawyers have now written to the Director of Public Prosecutions, Max Hill, requesting confirmation that this process is underway. They are also asking for clarification that the CPS will be applying the Ziegler ruling in all future decisions to prosecute. 

Extinction Rebellion suspects that the ‘costly, mass prosecution of thousands of protestors’ was driven by an overarching policy (rather than individual assessment on a case by case basis), which XR argues is unlawful.

2. The Unite union has produced a blueprint to protect homeworkers from attacks on their pay and conditions from unscrupulous employers.

The union has vowed to support its members who face attacks on their pay and conditions because they work from home.Unite has produced a framework homeworking agreement to assist Unite workplace representatives in their negotiations with employers.

An unnamed Tory Cabinet minister recently suggested that civil servants who won’t return to the office could have their pay cut. The suggestion threatens to open the floodgates for unscrupulous employers to attempt to cut workers’ pay despite evidence that homeworking can make workers happier and more productive if introduced fairly through negotiation not imposition.

Unite executive officer Sharon Graham said: “Covid 19 has changed the way we work but it is absolutely imperative that we stand up to bad bosses who try to attack workers’ pay and conditions.

“Unite has produced a framework homeworking agreement to assist Unite workplace representatives in their negotiations. The protection of pay and conditions is a cornerstone of the agreement. Homeworking can be good for some but agreements need to be in place to protect workers, for example the right to disconnect.”

It blueprint is available here

1. There are 2.5m shotguns in legal circulation in the UK, under what critics have described as a ‘lax’ licencing regime.

The Gun Control Network said in a statement this Monday that there ‘more guns there are in circulation the more they will be misused.’

The calls come after the devastating shooting in Plymouth last week. A spokesperson for the campaign group said: “Obtaining a gun licence is currently cheap [£88] and easy whereas it should be expensive and difficult.

“The licensing regime must be adequately resourced and the licence fees raised significantly so as to provide full cost recovery.”

In its manifesto for reform, the group called for licences should last for two years, rather than the current five, and for spouses, partners and household members to be consulted when there is an application for a gun licence. The organisation also called for other sources of relevant information, including social media postings, to be included as part of police background checks.

Gun licences are currently subsidised by the taxpayer. A 2014 report from Private Eye highlighted that it cost the police £170 to process each licence application – despite a licence costing less than half that for the gun owner.

Josiah Mortimer is co-editor of Left Foot Forward.

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