Wednesday, 25 May 2016

The EU Referendum - A Lesson in White Middle-Aged Male Campaigning

As we approach the final straight of the EU Referendum campaigns, many people are still unsure about which way to vote. IN or OUT? Brexit or Remain? 

Let's be honest, neither side of the argument has exactly showered itself in glory, with scaremongering, the creation of myths and use of blatant lies being employed to try and win. For once, this has been an election that has less to do with party politics and bizarrely, it seems to have been even more nasty and vitriolic than usual!

What has been so desperately needed, and thus far has been missing from the dominant media coverage, is a clear explanation of WHY each side believes their way is the right way. Instead, what we've had is alarmism, with the public spokesmen for each campaign seemingly trying to outdo one another with warnings of pestilence and terror.

I used the word "spokesmen" on purpose, because I don't think I have ever seen a more white, middle-aged-male campaign.

Just think of the those who have been put forward to lead the public campaigns for each side of the campaign. We've heard from Boris Johnson, David Cameron, Nigel Farage, Michael Gove, Ian Duncan-Smith, George Osborne, Alan Johnson... but...

WHERE ARE THE WOMEN? 

A recent report into media coverage of the EU Referendum from the University of Loughborough, has found that men take 84% of TV coverage on the EU Referendum and in the press, men take an astonishing 91% of coverage.

The facts around Britain and the EU affect women enormously, yet there are no clear women's voices anywhere to be heard on either side of the campaign! I actually began writing this a couple of days ago and have since seen that Harriet Harman has written to OFCOM to complain about this very issue. It's an important one - I thought the days of women having politics explained to them by men were long gone. This campaign has demonstrated that is certainly not the case.

Friday, 20 May 2016

Why an Inquiry into Orgreave isn't Enough

                                          Photo: BBC
Calls for an inquiry into Orgreave were always going to follow the verdicts of the jury in the Hillsborough inquests, but the question is, is it enough?

Over twenty-seven years, the Hillsborough families campaigned for ‘Justice for the 96’ and finally they made a tangible step towards it, with the announcement of the long-awaited inquest verdicts. Since 1984, families affected by the Battle of Orgreave have also been campaigning for justice. That one event has become the defining moment for many when looking back at a conflict that lasted a year and became one of the most significant political and social disputes in history. The impact of it lives on for families and communities where the scars still run deep.

From the beginning, it was contentious, with the miners, pitted against the Government. Ian McGregor, Head of the National Coal Board, announced the intention to close 20 collieries, with the loss of 20,000 jobs; Arthur Scargill, head of the NUM was adamant the real plan was to close 70. This was strenuously denied to the point where McGregor wrote to each NUM member to assure them that the accusations were false.  The subsequent release of cabinet papers demonstrated that in truth, McGregor had a plan to close more than 70 pits. 

Over the years, there have been accusations of media manipulation and the deliberate creation of propaganda to support the Government’s tactics and police actions. Allegations of aggressive enforcement against pickets came from miners and activists from across the country and included suggestions that the military had been covertly deployed to enforce the response at picket lines. The human cost was huge, with hundreds of families in poverty and forced to go to soup kitchens, communities were split and there were deaths. The NUM still marks the deaths of David Jones and Joe Green, two striking miners at its annual lecture, but there were others too, including taxi driver David Wilkie and teenagers Darren and Paul Holmes and Paul Womersley, who died while scavenging coal from a slag heap to heat their families’ homes. Suicides rose, as families became embroiled in debt and communities were left in devastation.

An inquiry into what happened that day at Orgreave is absolutely necessary; questions must be answered about the events of that day, but it must be broader than that. To maintain a narrow focus on just that one event ignores the wider-reaching impact of the miners’ strike and the actions that were taken from the highest levels of government, down to those enforcing the picket lines. 

It was not one event, one police force, nor was it one geographical area. Police officers from forces across the country were transported from one coalfield to another; miners joined their colleagues to keep picket lines strengthened at other collieries – it was a national issue. 

Investment has helped to plaster over some of the socio-economic damage, but for those still living with the human legacy of the strike, it remains an open wound. This is why Orgreave is just one part of it and why a broader inquiry is absolutely essential.

Justice will only be achieved if an inquiry is based on achieving truth and reconciliation; this must be an open and honest process that helps to rebuild trust in the institutions that are there to serve the public. 

Following the strike, trust in the police, especially in the South Yorkshire coalfield communities, was almost non-existent. Today, many of the officers patrolling those streets around areas where running battles once took place were not even born during the strike and yet they too live with the legacy of what has gone before.

The Battle of Orgreave was one element of a yearlong conflict that was indicative of the state’s relationship with its people at that time. The only way to move forward is for the state to acknowledge that and allow an inquiry into the entirety of the miners’ strike. Actual truth and reconciliation, not a restricted review into one day of a conflict that changed and reshaped communities, created a legacy of mistrust and still impacts on the economic and social outcomes for so many people today.