All the horror of the fair

September every other year sees the Defence Security International (DSEI) arms fair, one of the world’s most obscene, returning to the Excel Centre. Our Government seems to make a point of celebrating and promoting some unspeakable companies, such as BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon. And all delegations are welcome between 12th and 15th September, especially if they represent regimes where human rights are regularly abused. UK military officials will escort groups from countries such as Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain around the show. While hundreds of thousands of civilians have died in Yemen, we are making billions of pounds worth of weapons sales to the Saudis. £12.9 billion worth of arms has been sold to Riyadh since Washington post journalist Jamal Khashoggi was strangled and dismembered in 2018. Indeed the day after Khashoggi was murdered, the UK licensed £3 billion worth of ML4-category arms – bombs, missiles, and their components and counter measures to Saudi Arabia. And who benefits? The brutal regimes, our Government of course, the arms companies themselves, the shareholders, and all countries, particularly in the west, who continue to involve themselves in proxy wars in various parts of the globe.

Thankfully many people all over the world still have a conscience, and there will be protests from numerous groups who will come together as part of Stop the Arms Fair. Action will be taken from 4th September and from 11th September “a series of creative and disruptive protests are planned, aimed at telling the gathering arms dealers that they are not welcome in East London”.

All the fun of the freebies – immoral Starmer makes up for the Covid years

Sir Keir Starmer knows how to take advantage of freebies and he has been making up for lost time. He has happily received more free tickets than than the total received by every other Labour leader since 1997 when records began. His indulgences include parties, concerts and sports matches. He has accepted gifts from, among others, gambling giants and multimillionaires, has watched Spurs and Chelsea play and enjoyed concerts by Coldplay and Adele. He was treated, with three others, to a night at a luxury Manchester hotel, the King Street Townhouse in June. So is Sir Keir increasingly in the pocket of corporate interests?

Jeremy Corbyn, in complete contrast, accepted only one gift, and that was to Glastonbury in 2017 when he spoke on the pyramid stage.

Instead of taking advantage of all these extravagant gifts, Sir Keir should have been advised to turn his attention to policies. But he is clearly confident that the Tories are so inept that he’s going to be swept into power, whether or not he has ideas or plans. The results of a recent opinion poll carried out by the i newspaper led to the following comment: “It seems that millions of voters are prepared to hand Labour power without having much of an idea what the party would do with it.”

There are additional issues which Sir Keir should have been taking time to consider and which also make us question his morality. Sponsors of events at this year’s Labour Party conference in Liverpool include weapons manufacturers, fossil fuel companies and a spy-tech firm. There are others who are paying to be present at the conference. These include the International Airlines Group, which owns British Airways, banks, fossil fuel companies and private health firms. This should not surprise us. Socialist values have long been discarded by Sir Keir and his cronies.

Pay up or lose out – healthcare, education, child welfare

We have seen more and more people turn to private health insurance as the Tories, backed by the opposition, have created havoc with our NHS. Furthermore, people who support the NHS to the hilt have been driven to booking private appointments such as scans and x-rays, seeking a diagnosis when they have worrying symptoms or are in pain. Those who can manage have been paying for cataract operations, knee and hip replacements, sometimes having to take out massive loans to do so. Those who cannot pay can wait months for an initial consultation and an interminable time for treatment and operations. NHS dentistry is virtually non-existent and those who cannot afford private dentistry have been enduring excruciating pain or resorting to pulling out their own teeth.

When it comes to education, many parents are concerned about the dramatically reduced funding for schools and the numerous vacancies in the teaching profession. Private tuition is flourishing for those who can afford it, further widening the gap in achievement between the comfortably off and the poor.

At least one in six children of school age has a diagnosable mental health condition. Many of these would benefit from treatment but do not manage to be referred to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), and those who are referred experience intolerable waits before they receive treatment. Many parents who are concerned for their children are seeking private forms of therapy, but these can be prohibitively and sometimes outrageously expensive. I heard recently of a private therapist who charges £395 an hour to treat children and is recommending a course of eight sessions. Meanwhile there are parents who could not afford the bus fare to reach a private therapist, let alone find the money to pay for help which is so often urgently needed. 

Federal lawmakers vote to perpetuate the injustice of Guantanamo

The indefinite detention of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay without charge or trials costs $500 million a year. It is 21 years since the US Office of Legal Counsel drafted and signed torture memos which in effect sanctioned the use of torture and war crimes by the US.

In 2009, when Barack Obama made an attempt to close Guantanamo and transfer detainees to facilities in the United States, the Senate voted 90-6 to keep it open. Donald Trump signed an executive order keeping the facility open indefinitely. Every year, most recently this summer, the US Senate debates on the annual military spending bill, the National Defense Authorisation Act, or NDAA, which includes the prohibition to use funds to close Guantanamo.

Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms while Countering Terrorism, visited with her team in January this year. Her report covers a range of features at the prison and, in her conclusion, she comments: “The totality of these factors, without doubt, amounts to ongoing cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, and may also meet the legal threshold for torture.”

Meanwhile, in London on the first Wednesday of each month, there is a vigil organised by Close Guantanamo for the remaining detainees. This will continue until they are all free.

Democratic Republic of Congo: a neglected refugee crisis and one of the world’s greatest humanitarian catastrophes

In many countries of the world, especially the richer ones, it is convenient to ignore the disasters that lead to millions of people becoming displaced. The world’s most neglected refugee crises are in various parts of Africa. The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) pointed out recently that the world continues to pay little attention to those suffering all over Africa who are in danger of starvation as a result of long-term conflicts. The countries most often overlooked are the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, South Sudan, Chad, Mali, Sudan, Nigeria, Burundi and Ethiopia.

It is almost impossible to comprehend the numbers involved in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DCR). One third of the population, 27 million people, went hungry last year. The UN Refugee Agency has reported that at least 6.3 million people are internally displaced, 65% of them being in Ituri and North Kivu provinces in the east. One million people have fled from the DCR.

The problems are, at present, particularly acute in the east of the country, where for more than 30 years there have been attacks by armed groups and recurrent violence, perpetrated by more than 120 militias and other groups. There have been many reports of extreme violence and abuse amounting to crimes against humanity and war crimes. The police and the Government’s armed forces, the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic (FARDC), have also been implicated in sexual violence, arbitrary killings and war crimes, which have violated international humanitarian and human rights law.

Looking back in time: The day Lewisham saw off the National Front

There are many examples of times when Londoners have stood up to fascists and racists. In 1936 the people of the East End despatched Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists at the Battle of Cable Street. Forty one years later, in August 1977, the people of Lewisham were witnessing fascist activity and racist policing. By the 1970s, the National Front (NF) had gained ground, promoting hatred against ethnic minorities. In Lewisham there was a large Black British and Asian British population. It was also apparent that the police in Lewisham were harassing minority ethnic groups. The police arrested a number of young Black people and claimed that they were responsible for a large proportion of the crime in South London. The NF organised a march from New Cross to Lewisham with a banner proclaiming “Stop the Muggers”. On 13th August, 500 NF protestors faced more than 5,000 counter-demonstrators. The police originally defended the NF demonstrators but in the end they had to divert the protest, and the NF supporters slipped away. They were no match for the Londoners who had opposed their vile agenda. For a short time a People’s Republic was announced around the clocktower. There was a sense of triumph that the NF had been seen off in the same way as Moseley’s thugs had been seen off in the Battle of Cable Street 41 years before.

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