Livingstone, the Far Left and the Rage of Mann

Having heard Ken Livingstone’s comments it reminded me of something that Primo Levi had written to a German correspondent who had attempted to argue, that in 1933 the German’s had been betrayed by Hitler and that they didn’t realise what they were getting involved with – In short that early Hitler was somehow different to what he would become. Levi responded at length but it included

That above all, on my shelf next to Dante and Boccaccio I keep Mein Kampf, ‘My Struggle’, written by Adolf Hitler many years before coming to power. That dread man was not a traitor [to the German People], he was a coherent fanatic whose ideas where extremely clear; he never changed them and never concealed them. Those who voted for them certainly voted for his ideas. Nothing is lacking in that book: the blood and the land, the living space, the Jew as the eternal enemy.

Livingstone’s description of Hitler as a supporter of Zionism “before he went mad” isn’t just wrong it is something far more insidious, its an attempt to associate the emergence of the State of Israel with the atrocities of the Nazis. Israel must be evil because the Nazi’s were supporters of its creation. It betrays a logic that is delusional and deeply anti-Semitic in a way that the Nazi’s themselves would have been comfortable with – namely the blurring of the distinction between the murderer and the victim. Something that was to become one of the defining characteristics of the Holocaust. Levi wrote in the Drowned and the Saved:

I know that the murderers existed, not only in Germany, and still exist, retired or on active duty, and that to confuse them with their victims is a moral disease or an aesthetic affection or a sinister sign of complicity; above all it is a precious service rendered (intentionally or not) to the negators of truth.

Livingstone is guilty of that complicity as are others on the extremes of politics and whilst the anti-Semitism of the right is explicit, that of the left is far more subtly crafted and nuanced.

The anti-Semitism of today’s far right can be traced directly through the Nazi’s to forms of racially based eugenic anti-Semitism. Not only can it be seen in that pseudo-science of the 19th and 20th  Centuries, it can be seen in beliefs that have been deeply entrenched within European society for well over a thousand years. The myths of ritual sacrifice, for which Jews were still being tried as late as 1930; The Blood Libel, the Protocols of Zion and the associated myth of a Global Capitalist Zionist Conspiracy.  Traces of all of these explicit forms of anti-Semitism can be seen in the ramblings of the far right and in many ways are now perhaps less dangerous because of their transparency and absurdity.

But for me anti-Semitism is now at its most dangerous when it has been interwoven into the culturally accepted norms of our everyday society. When it seems common sense, when it has become an accepted part of the way in which we perceive and understand people or make sense of our world. And today the most dangerous expression of anti-Semitism comes from the far left.

Whilst for most the claim, that Capitalism is an essentially Jewish phenomena is treated with significant reservations, for some on both the left and the right the association of Judaism with Capitalism and in particular the Capitalism of The West has remained. And whilst it is now far more nuanced than the association once expressed by Marx:

Once society has succeeded in abolishing the empirical essence of Judaism – huckstering and its preconditions – the Jew will have become impossible, because his consciousness no longer has an object, because the subjective basis of Judaism, practical need, has been humanized, and because the conflict between man’s individual-sensuous existence and his species-existence has been abolished.

The social emancipation of the Jew is the emancipation of society from Judaism 

The tendency to associate Capitalism and Judaism remains a significant theme. But even if it exists that relationship is complex and contested. For example despite Marx’s critique of Judaism, Marxism and Socialism would become integral to the struggle against anti-Semitism, especially in Eastern Europe where the pogroms were a way of life. After the failed revolution of 1905 Trotsky would write about how the revolutionaries protected their Jewish comrades:

Meanwhile rumors of a pogrom were growing. All plants and workshops having any access to iron or steel began, on their own initiative, to manufacture side-arms. Several thousand hammers were forging daggers, pikes, wire whips and knuckledusters. In the evening, at a meeting of the Soviet, one deputy after another mounted the rostrum, raising their weapons high above their heads and transmitting their electors’ solemn undertaking to suppress the pogrom as soon as it flared up. That demonstration alone was bound to paralyze all initiative among rank-and-file pogromists. But the workers did not stop there. In the factory areas, beyond the Nevsky Gate, they organized a real militia with regular night watches. 

But Socialism’s long  and documented history of struggle against ant-Semitism always has to be set against the context of the dominant struggle of the day. A hundred years ago Jews were amongst the pre-eminent victims of the ravages of Imperialism and Capitalism and as such were natural allies in the struggle against oppression. Today the hardening of attitudes towards the Jews of Israel has been exacerbated by the hard-line of the Netanyahu government and by Israel’s perceived association with the West’s recent military interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya and the growth of Islamic terrorism.

In the minds of many on the Left, the War on Terror has always been seen as an exercise in post-colonial imperialism and an expression of a war against Islam rather than terror. In their minds the West’s conduct of the conflict has been about resources and the protection of Israel’s strategic importance in the region. Which has increased in recent years as the situation in the region deteriorates.

Today for the far left, Jews are no longer perceived to be the world’s most oppressed people. They are no longer comrades in the struggle against Despotism, Imperialism and Capitalism. They have become the occupiers of a post-Imperial outpost and the name of that outpost is Israel. Of course you will not hear anybody on the left criticising Jews for the actions of the Israeli state – such a thing would be transparently anti-Semitic.  But anti-Semitism is not an ideology that has remained static over the centuries. It has adapted and evolved and whilst the more racially based forms of anti-Semitism have faded the association of Judaism with Capitalism and Imperialism has morphed into a hatred of Zionism.

Politicians like Livingstone and others on the far left have been instrumental in the process of de-constructing anti-Semitism and re-articulating it into an anti-Zionist narrative. It is no-longer the Jew who is the object of the world’s hatred it is the Zionist. The stealer of babies has become the stealer of land and the oppressor of the Palestinian people.

But it is a delusion – stating that you hate the State of Israel but you don’t have a problem with Jews is like saying that you hate Britain as a Christian nation with an established Church but don’t have a problem with the British. Or that you hate Italy but not the Italians, Iran but not the Iranians, Saudi Arabia but not the Saudis – the differentiation between the nation and the people who share an established faith is arbitrary. All nations have been guilty of crimes against our global citizenry but nowhere is this met with the same outrage that confronts us when the left examines the wrong doings of the Israeli government.

And it’s in this light that the rage of John Mann’s response to comments of Ken Livingstone needs to be seen. Some are arguing that his confrontation with Livingstone was self-seeking and a veiled attack on Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. It may have been, but to me it looked like the rage of somebody who fully understood the appalling nature of what Livingstone had done and the consequences of associating the victims with their murderers and the sinister complicity of denying the truth and as John Stuart Mill once said:

Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing





#7daysofaction …and a Ninja Project?

This one is for the people who have made #7daysofaction happen – awesome. It starts with some quotes from early in the week.

Monday 18th April 2016 sees the start of a campaign to raise awareness of the thousands of learning disabled people currently being held against their wishes in assessment and treatment units. Often, these units are hundreds of miles from the person’s home. The average time spent in an ATU (assessment and treatment unit) is 5.5 years. The average cost per week for treatment in an ATU is £3500. Mark Neary March 2016

What kind of therapeutic environments prescribe antipsychotics to 72% of people in them, when 6% of people have a psychotic disorder severe enough to require treatment? Or have administered rapid tranquilising medication to 11% of people in the last 28 days, used seclusion on 13% of people in the last 3 months, or used hands-on restraint with 34% of people in the last 3 months?..

…all the apparent scientific expertise of professional groups, the professional logic for inpatient services is sealed and impervious to argument. People in inpatient services are complex and dangerous, therefore antipsychotics, seclusion and restraint are required. If people show signs of being intensely distressed in the unit, this isn’t a sign that the unit is failing or actively making things worse, but a sign that they need to stay in the unit and get more antipsychotics, seclusion and restraint, or to be transferred somewhere further up the ‘security’ hierarchy. The notion that an inpatient service is making people distressed, and the alternative is freedom rather than more restraint, doesn’t seem to occur. Chris Hatton 18th April 2016

‘I don’t want to live here, I would give it one out of ten. I like looking after animals best. I want to live in London near my mum’. Eden Norris in Mark Neary 18th April 2016

So in this week of action, we all need to think about how the lives of people with learning disabilities people might become less precarious. The peeling wallpaper, un-cleaned rooms and the defibrillator with no battery in the ATU that warehoused LB stand as powerful symbols of the low expectations and a poverty of aspiration that linger, like a stubborn stain, in the very systems and services designed to support people with learning disabilities. This week we need to imagine things otherwise and to do this we need to keep tight hold of the belief that this ‘disability issue’ is, above all, a human rights issue and that 1.5 million people with learning disabilities have the same rights to live happily in their communities as everyone else.”  Katherine Runswick-Cole April 2016

Everything starts & ends with communities, not commissioners & people not professionals.

Rob Mitchell on twitter April 2018

Most of this was posted on or before the first day of #7daysofaction and I don’t know about you but I found it disturbing, moving, impressive and inspirational all at the same time. And then I got into a twitter conversation with the mum of one of the dudes who encouraged me to do what I could to support #7daysofaction and I told her I was working on something – well I have been but I’m not sure if it’s a good idea or not so I guess the best thing to do is to ask people – so here goes.

A Ninja Project?


After Winterbourne View and The Confidential Inquiry into the Lives of People with Learning Disabilities the government launched a tranche of investigations, reports and initiatives to help to ensure that the care of people with learning disabilities would be transformed – imaginatively their principal initiative was called Transforming Care. One of the objectives of Transforming Care was to ensure that people who were stuck in Assessment and Treatment Units (ATUs) should and could be returned to their communities and able to live near their families, and hopefully in homes of their own. Other objectives included establishing a list of reasonable adjustments and priority interventions and setting targets that would help to improve the care that people received in NHS funded organisations, with the hope that this would improve the life expectancy of people with learning difficulties.

If we are being kind I guess you could say that #7DaysofAction came about because Transforming Care hasn’t been as successful as might have been hoped and because there is an imbalance in power between the people who are in ATUs and the people who keep them there.Or if you are being less you could say that it came about because of the appalling injustices that people with learning disabilities are still having to endure. As the week has gone on the sheer horror of what we have been told has mounted and profound questions have been raised about the ways in which some leading practitioners wield the huge amounts of power over the people that they have in their care.

From what I have seen the general response to #7DaysofAction and the brilliant work of Mark Neary and the other families has been great.  However, as we all know most of the trust’s and local authorities that need to respond to this with action, will just try and keep their heads down and hope that all the attention goes away. Whilst the government, would appear to be hoping that the 48 Transforming Care Partnerships that it has set up and who will be publishing their plans in the summer will distract the media from the current poor rate of progress. But before anybody invests too much hope in the government’s plans; it’s a good time to remember that these would be the same trusts that are currently in the middle of a funding crisis, are short staffed and have the worst industrial relations that I can remember.

So whilst I have every sympathy for people working at every level within the trusts. The purpose of this Ninja Project would be to make it impossible for reluctant providers and commissioners to deal with this problem by hoping it will go away. It would continue the focus on individual campaigns to get people back in their communities started by #7daysofaction and through those stories and publicly available strategic data (of the kind that Chris Hatton has been churning out at an awesome rate this week) it would challenge progress that is being made in individual cases and the progress that is being made in delivering the Transforming Care Partnership Plans. In this way we will be able to challenge practice at the level of the individual, then set that against the actions and current performance of providers, trusts and local authorities and then where possible and necessary identify where the human rights of individuals are being breached.

With that overall aim in mind I would imagine that this Ninja Project could have the following specific objectives.


  1. To create a web application and content management system that will:
    1. Allow people with learning disabilities, their families and practitioners to co-ordinate their efforts to get people with learning disabilities back to their communities. With the following suggested functionality:
      1. A sub-domain for each person providing a short bio and an update able summary of their current status.
      2. The sub-domain would be person centered allowing the young person, their families and practitioners to add approved content to the sub-domain.
    2. Create an audit trail that will allow the young person, their families and practitioners to track what steps had been taken and thereby identify roadblocks to progress.
    3. Be supported by an ethics and good practice agreement developed in accordance with the requirements of the Mental Capacity Act that would ensure that the best interests of all involved in the project are protected. This agreement would be incorporated into the development and design of the site;
    4. Provide a searchable knowledge resource for families and practitioners. Including Human Rights and due process checklists;
    5. Have a blog through which people with learning disabilities, families, practitioners can share their experiences and ideas.


Normally when you do this kind of thing – the person or team with the idea writes a fairly detailed plan and then gets approval or funding and then (after ages) gets on with it. But if it is going to work this project has to belong to all of us;  people with learning disabilities, families, practitioners, researchers, campaigners and experts of any kind who want to get involved. NHS England has been talking a lot about empowering patients recently and has been promoting the idea of the NHS as a social movement providing funding to ideas that it thinks are appropriate. Well I don’t know or care if they think that the movement to get people out of ATU is appropriate – but we do.

But as I said this idea will only work if it changes and becomes everybody’s. So rather than me writing a detailed plan at this stage, the first of the next steps would be for you to let me know what you think of the idea and if you think it’s a good idea what you think we would need to do to make it work for you. And if enough people think it’s a good idea we get together and work out how we are going to make it happen.

At this stage it’s probably important to let you know that I can do most of the technical stuff (for free) although if there are other people who want to help with that that would be great. However, the biggest challenge will be developing the project plan, researching and writing the content, creating the Ethics Agreement, Helping to compile checklists, working out how we do the governance and quality assurance, the minor issue of long term funding etc etc.

Anyway that’s my idea and as Rob Mitchell said “everything starts and ends with communities” and as far as I can see this community has had enough – but I could be wrong so let me know what you think.


Immigration and the fading liberalism of our common sense.

The sociologist and cultural theorist Stuart Hall once wrote that “Liberalism has indeed acquired something of a common sense status in English social thought”. And just to be clear by common sense he meant the ideas and beliefs that we hold and that shape our decisions without us really being aware of them. We simply believe that they are true because they are part of our everyday consciousness.

It’s an interesting, maybe even an obvious notion and I used to believe it. I used to believe that the common sense of the British people was something that was fundamentally based on principles of liberalism or liberal democracy if you like – fairness, decency and above all a sense that as individuals we are all equal before the law. It was probably never really true – but over recent years there has undoubtedly been a shift and now even the illusion of it is under threat.

I read an article in the Guardian recently by Aida Edemariam. It was on the work of an immigration solicitor called Tom Giles and it struck me for a number of reasons. The first was the sheer enormity of the challenge that immigration lawyers and solicitors face in fighting for the rights of immigrants in our increasingly oppressive immigration system – which by the way is likely to become even more oppressive when the current bill becomes law. The second was the behaviour of the Home Office who appear to be pushing the law and its processes to the limit in a relentless drive to detain and deport as many people as possible from the country. All the time justifying their actions as being in the interests of the British people. Secure in the knowledge that a majority of the British people would likely support such a stance and secure in the knowledge that they have the full backing of their Secretary of State.

Theresa May’s long tenure at the Home Office has enabled her to develop the kind of control over the department that few of her predecessors have been able to achieve. It has allowed her to make over 45,000 changes to the immigration rules and allowed her department to exercise its authority at the margins of what is legal and beyond the margins of what is humane.  The nett impact of those changes is an increase in the number of people detained (up 7% in 2014), coupled with increased numbers of people attempting suicide whilst in detention (up 11% in 2015). At the time that I wrote this there had been 26 deaths of people in detention awaiting deportation. Including a number for which the UK Border Agency has refused to give a cause of death.

But the brutality of the deportation system is matched by the tightening of controls on the number of people trying to get into the country. The severity of this is reflected in the desperate conditions that migrants face in the camps at Calais and now elsewhere; the number of lives that are being lost in the attempt to cross the Channel and the large numbers of unaccompanied children waiting to reach their families in the UK. These have become symbols of a new kind of Britain yet remarkably these issues are seen as a French problem with few people realising that the French would be perfectly entitled to move the border to Dover.

The struggle that immigrants face when they do get into the country is no less severe. They are not able to work and they are expected to live off £5 a day. They will often be living rough and have limited access to healthcare and destitution is a real and significant problem.

The illiberal nature of the government’s generic response to immigrants has also been reflected in its response to the Syrian Refugee Crisis, which has meant that last year the UK only accepted 1000 refugees. And whilst they are undoubtedly disguising their actions with funding support for refugees in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey and with rhetorical moral support for the struggle of the Syrian people, our national response to the plight of the Syrian Refugees reflects the change in the nature of our national consciousness. Whilst immigration has always been a problematic issue, the balance has shifted and it is no longer seen as part of our collective common sense to offer shelter to people in crisis in the way that we did during the Bosnian War or the Uganda Asian’s crisis.

Our current response to people in need is not compassion. It is no longer based on a sense of our universal humanity, it is based on distrust and resentment. It is based upon the notion that what we have, we must be protect and that the best way keep what we have, is to build fences and recruit guards. Our common sense is no longer liberal as Stuart Hall once argued but has begun to articulate other values that are nationalist, protectionist, narrow, intolerant and on occasion racist. Whilst in other countries nationalism and intolerance has found expression in a rise in the popularity of far right. Here in the UK something far more insidious is happening – it is claiming the things we take for granted, the values of our everyday lives, our human decency and the liberalism of our common sense.

An Awareness of Autism  

The media has been awash with stuff about Autism this week and I have been slightly surprised by my gut response to it. In so many ways raising awareness about Autism has to be a good thing. So many of the challenges that people face happen because of lack of awareness, so why am I just a little uncomfortable about some of what I am seeing?

I remember that my initial response to my son’s diagnosis focused very much on raising my own personal understanding or awareness of Autism. I joined the local Autistic Society, read the usual works by Kanner, Wing, Frith, Schopler, Baron-Cohen, Howlin even Lovaas. I did some ABA training, PECS training and some very good training in Structured Teaching run by Gary Mesibov and I  subscribed to the journal Autism for about five years. And during these early years I guess there was also the growing practical awareness of autism. We experienced the looks, the stares, the comments. Being asked to leave places because of challenging behaviour, not being able to go to places because of challenging behaviour. We became autism aware. So from that perspective ,“Autism Awareness”  has got to be a good thing.

But somewhere along the line it stopped being about “Autism”. Although it was useful, the solutions were never really going to be found in a text book or a course, or some kind of specialist therapy. The solutions (and compromises) were always going to be found in him, in the quality of his relationships and in the inclusiveness of our everyday world. It stopped being about Autism and became about the rights of a disabled person. About the right to be able to walk down a road without getting stared at. About the right to be able to take an increasing amount of control of his own life and to be free from compulsion and coercion. It became about the ordinary things and the right to aspire to them regardless of the extent and nature of his impairment

Whilst Autism Awareness is undoubtedly a useful thing, it’s not an end in itself. Ultimately it’s a label. As families it allows us to grapple with the practical and emotional challenges of a diagnosis that seems bewildering. It allows a society to develop some measure of understanding about Autism and what it means for the lives of people who are affected by it. But it also does other things. It sustains an enormous infrastructure. It also sustains the idea that only specialist interventions and therapies can make a difference and in doing so it also creates and maintains an industry. In the US a single year of ABA can cost as much as $47k.

In truth the best kind of therapies are probably our time, responsiveness, a willingness to learn from the person themselves and nothing that good teachers haven’t learnt from Vygotsky. And anyway in the end most of the families that I’ve ever met, get that they become their child’s best expert.

But it isn’t just about the industry that has grown up around Autism. Like all labels “Autism” is a shorthand, it saves time but in doing so it reduces people to medicalised caricatures: “The Savant”, “The Obsessive” and “The Challenging”; or a series of ticks on a diagnostic checklist. A person with autism may be all or none of these things but they are above everything people, and like every single one of us they are unique. The problem is, that there is no shorthand for people that doesn’t discriminate.

So I guess at the end of the day the unease I have with Autism Awareness is that it isn’t just about our children. It’s also sometimes about a conception of them as broken and in need of fixing. A conception of them that contrasts and is distinct from Disability Awareness and that is ultimately dependent upon the medical model and the industry that has grown up around it. I’m not saying that being aware of Autism isn’t important but we need to recognise that the meaning of the term carries with it a range of associations and that it isn’t just the impairment that we need to be aware of but also the infrastructure, the industry and the empty rhetoric that it sustains.