Trump’s visit signals a dangerous shift in UK politics: we must protest

“That’s what these protests against Trump’s visit are for; they’re to make sure we do not forget that there is something deeply troubling about how these administrations are treating the people they are meant to protect.” On the eve of widespread protests against Donald Trump’s UK visit, Sulamaan Rahim, OULC member and BAME Officer, explains why we should join the protests.

As a queer, brown person, Trump hates everything about me. So does Theresa May. She doesn’t tweet about it at 3am or express it so coarsely, but it’s there nonetheless. In allowing Trump to visit the UK, May has shown us, concretely and unsurprisingly, that this government is unfit to protect the most vulnerable in our society. From Trump’s distressing comments regarding ‘shithole countries’ and his Muslim ban to Theresa May’s ‘hostile environment’ and callous handling of the Windrush scandal, both Trump and the Tories have distressing records when it comes to rights of people of colour (POC) and LGBT rights. On Friday 13th July, we must take to the streets and protest to let the government know that we do not agree with their tacit approval of Trump’s administration and what it represents.

A quick glance at those highest up in Trump’s administration speaks volumes. Mike Pence, his Vice President, is a notorious homophobe who has at various points in his career supported conversion therapy, implied that gay couples are an indicator of ‘societal collapse’, and opposed allowing trans individuals to use their preferred bathrooms. Such appointments, as well as policies like banning trans individuals from serving in the military, shows that Trump has never cared about the LGBT community. In particular, they highlight the Right’s disturbing crusade to vilify trans people; they portray the granting of basic human rights to trans people as a threat to all that we hold dear. Spoiler alert: it’s not. Such policies create a hysterical climate of fear around people who are simply trying to live their lives and contributes to an increasingly negative discourse around the LGBT community.

It’s not, however, just the LGBT community that Trump revels in vilifying. Trump, like the UK Home Office, has also endeavoured to create as ‘hostile’ an environment (shout out to big T May) for POC as he can. Take his claims that many of those attending the white-supremacist Charlottesville rally were ‘very fine people’ and that there was ‘violence on many sides’. Let’s be very clear: Trump here was defending people at a rally who flew Confederate and Nazi flags and chanted racist and anti-Semitic slogans. What this does is normalise extreme white-supremacist views; in the context of a ‘Unite the Right’ rally, it allows individuals to think of such behaviour as an acceptable part of right-wing politics. This serves to shift the whole political discourse rightwards and give credibility to what were once rightfully derided racist views.

His equivocation of the violence committed at the rally serves to reinforce a narrative of the oppressed oppressor. What this means is that anti-racist activism which may inconvenience oppressors (either materially, such as in clashes with racist organisations, or mentally, such as calling out racism when you see it) is somehow as bad as the racist oppression they are fighting against. This allows those in power to maintain the status quo; pushes for equality are seen as violent agitations equivalent to oppression and so are equally illegitimate and unworthy. This makes it much harder for these movements to reach critical mass in terms of public support and massively hinders progress. It also inflames racial tensions and creates a fear of communities of colour by characterising their struggle for equality as one of violence – something compounded by racist media tropes of violent POC (particularly black men).

We may think of Trump as an anomaly – someone whose actions would be deemed unacceptable in the UK. However, not only is this not the case, it can be shown that the Tories are creating a similar climate. It is more insidious, though – the methods are surreptitious and the change gradual. Our discourse and the norms of acceptability are shifting. This is exacerbated by the fact that the US sets a precedent for what is acceptable discourse in other, supposedly liberal, Western nations. As someone who is not a US citizen, I cannot use the democratic process to express my disdain at Trump’s policies, but I can highlight their absurdity and bigotry. It is imperative we do not normalise Trump’s views or allow him to shift the standards of acceptability. We cannot allow the UK to slide into similar patterns of ideology; something we can only do by continually scrutinising the government.

Turning our attention to the Tories, we can see some distressing ideological parallels with the Trump administration. It seems clear to me that there has been a significant rightward shift in the Party. In navigating the implementation of Brexit and having to secure a parliamentary majority via an alliance with the DUP, formerly minor backbenchers now have far more clout and power in decision-making, with backbenchers forcing Theresa May to shift rightwards lest they revolt. Such an instance of this is that the Victorian figure of Jacob Rees-Mogg, who has said that he opposes same-sex marriage, is now a cult figure amongst many Conservative Party members and is even touted to become the party leader at some point in the future. His popularity and cultural influence highlight how, in trying to implement Brexit without a parliamentary majority, Theresa May has allowed such far-right backbenchers to weasel their way into the political narrative.

We are thus seeing such ultra-conservative positions deemed non-extreme – something which has the compounding effect of portraying progressive views as the ones that are extreme and leading to their being delegitimised. This is strikingly similar to the narrative created by Trump through his Charlottesville comments and has clear material consequences for LGBT individuals. The clearest instances of these consequences are in Northern Ireland, where nothing in the government’s LGBT Action Plan aims to introduce same-sex marriage there or to change the discriminatory blood donation deferral period for men who have sex with men to be in line with the rest of the UK.

The Tories are no stranger to delegitimising the concerns of minority groups; we simply need to observe the callousness with which complaints by the residents of Grenfell were handled in the time leading up to the tragic fire (please continue to support #Justice4Grenfell) or look at their coldness when dealing with the wrongful deportation and detainment of Windrush migrants. If that’s not enough evidence, former chairwoman Lady Warsi has called for an inquiry into Islamophobia in the Tory party. Warsi has claimed that the party has previously had the attitude ‘fuck the Muslims’ – something perhaps indicative of the Tories’ wider attitude towards minority groups. It’s unsurprising therefore that Ipsos MORI found that, in the 2017 General Election, 73% of BME voters voted Labour compared to only 19% for the Tories.

The problem runs deeper than simple carelessness and ignorance, though. It is not often I will quote a Lib Dem, but Vince Cable put it brilliantly when he said, referring to Brexit, that “too many were driven by a nostalgia for a world where passports were blue, faces were white, and the map was coloured imperial pink.” The Tories now embody this harkening to the past and this safeguarding of ‘traditional’ values, values which stratify society and place vulnerable minorities like POC and LGBT individuals at the bottom of the heap. This problem is becoming embedded in the country’s psyche and being normalised by the continual shift rightwards of political discourse.

There are many ideological similarities between the Tories and Trump’s administration which are worrying; we cannot allow this to go unnoticed and unchecked. We must make some noise. That’s what these protests against Trump’s visit are for; they’re to make sure we do not forget that there is something deeply troubling about how these administrations are treating the people they are meant to protect. And that is why I urge you all to get out there and protest. We cannot stand by and allow this insidious rightwards shift of our political landscape; it can only worsen the material conditions for those most vulnerable in our society.


A Labour Government Is The Only Cure

‘Illness is neither an indulgence for which people have to pay, nor an offence for which they should be penalised, but a misfortune, the cost of which should be shared by the community.’ Lottie Sellers, OULC member, assesses where Nye Bevan’s vision for the NHS stands 70 years on.

This July, our NHS and its accompanying social care system turn 70 years old. Personified as the average British citizen at the approximate time of its foundation in 1948, chances are they would have died around a year ago at the not-so-grand old age of 69. Today, thanks in no small part to their own provisions, they could expect to celebrate their 80th birthdays. However, health and social care are not humans, they are public services – and they are ailing.

Under our current government, spending on health and social care is at the lowest it has ever been since the modern system’s foundation. Annual spending increases on the NHS of just 1.4 percent are a poor relation to New Labour’s 5.8 percent, and the effects are clear. The last two winters have seen ‘humanitarian crises’, as the percentage of patients seen by A&E staff within 4 hours of arrival – this being the official standard set out in the 2009 NHS Constitution – dived to just 85 percent in both January 2017 and 2018. In fact, even outside the notoriously difficult winter months, the 95 percent standard was last achieved in July 2015. As our emergency care services are stretched to breaking point, further burdens are placed on the wider health service. For example, the cancellation of thousands of scheduled operations this winter, in an attempt to divert resources and staff to A&E, demonstrate the hand-to-mouth state our health service is being pushed into by the government. The NHS is being forced to scramble for survival in the short term rather than focusing on longer term plans.

The social care situation appears to be even more dire. Average local authority spending has fallen by around eight percent in real terms since 2009 as central government has slashed funding, leading to the inability of an estimated 400 000 people to access care and, in a study published by BMJ Open last year, a direct correlation to an estimated 120 000 excess deaths since 2010. Social care, unlike the NHS, is means-tested and in 90 percent of authorities, it is currently available only to those with ‘substantial’ or ‘critical’ needs. Yet part of the government’s action on this issue has simply been to call on families of those in need of social care to step up their actions and take on more duties. This is irresponsible, unfair, and deeply insulting. Moreover, it ignores their existing dedication at a time when many home care workers can expect to be allocated just 15 minutes per visit. Patients who would ideally be provided for through social care, are ending up on hospital wards, intensifying the pressure on the NHS. However, thanks in a large part to the coalition’s structural changes to health and social care, the two services, whilst overlapping majorly in their provisions, are currently treated as if they are entirely different beasts, a situation damaging and confusing to patients and employees alike. Considering our ageing and increasingly chronically ill population, the bleak situation outlined here is likely only to worsen as long our government blames demographic change as an excuse for problems, all the meanwhile propagating the austerity programme that is causing so many of them.

So where to go from here? IPSOS Mori polling has placed healthcare second only to Brexit as the most frequently mentioned issue facing Britain as of November 2017, having risen fairly steadily since 2010. It would be in no way hyperbolic to suggest that the NHS is the most important service our country has; and despite the stellar efforts of its wonderful staff, its principle of good quality care free for all has been jeopardised under Conservative governance. The simple fact is that every single Labour government has paid more into the NHS than any Tory government ever has, and the simpler fact is that our health and social care services need money to survive. The possibility of long term funding for the NHS, and the government’s pledge of cash injections for local authorities to help fund social care, may offer some relief, but as an NHS Improvement Manager interviewed for this article points out: “It’s still not clear exactly what extra, and with what conditions attached, the government will provide [this funding]. The devil is in the detail; this is by no means a done deal.” This stands in contrast to Labour’s history of investment, correlating with record levels of satisfaction under its last government. Currently, it has pledged £30 billion to the NHS, and £8 billion plus a National Care Service to ensure popular affordability and availability of social care if elected, not to mention the crucial reintegration of the two services to ensure the coherence that is currently somewhat lost. Of course, these policies are as of yet theoretical. Labour needs to be elected to fulfil them. But looking back over the last 70 years, it was a Labour government that created the NHS and social care system; it is Labour governments that have given them their healthiest years; and it is a future Labour government that will now provide the best treatment to ensure these valuable services can be wished as many more ‘Happy Birthdays’ as they deserve.

A Critique of Labour’s Animal Welfare Plan

Former OULC Membership & Alumni Officer and President of the OU Animal Ethics Society, Isabel Barber, attacks Labour’s recent announcements on animal welfare for being insufficiently radical.

Labour is not and has never been the party for non-human animals. Other species may not be political beings, with the potential to obtain voting eligibility, but they can suffer. This Benthamite argument runs parallel to the ethical foundations of the Labour Party, which has always sought to minimise unnecessary harm to workers, marginalised groups and vulnerable individuals.

Jay Staker has outlined a convincing case for the Left to adopt a firm stance against eating meat, arguing that even if ethical grounds relating to animals are overlooked, then environmental implications alone still merit this conclusion. Despite my agreement with this position, I do not echo commensurate confidence in Labour’s past record or proposed intentions to decrease animal suffering.

Examining the recent history of legislation in animal welfare, brought into force under the Blair government, undeniably certain commendable measures have been taken: the 2000 Fur Farming (Prohibition) Act; the 2004 Hunting Act; and 2006 Animal Welfare Act.

However, these laws only affect certain species and do not predominantly have the best interest of the animal at heart. The Fur Farming Act does not amount to a ban on imports and an efficient system of policing labelling regulations has instead proved nebulous. Humane Society International investigators have exposed a multitude of high street shops selling rabbit, cat and minx under the label of ‘faux’.

As for the Hunting Act, it is as much about class divisions as it is saving foxes. The worry is the rhetoric of animal suffering is being used for political means, whilst the key advantage is removed from the subject whose life is at stake.

Labour’s current Animal Welfare Plan likewise makes proposals which are deficient in their understanding of and commitment to creating tangible change for non-human animals. Other than helping to police the worst cases of animal abuse, supporting mandatory CCTV in slaughterhouses does not eliminate the pain and fear of millions of animals each year facing their death. Labour must insist on their plan to grant subsidies away from intensive factory farming and see this as a step in a process that will eventually lead to the abolition of the slaughterhouse and all means of animal agriculture.

Unfortunately, avoiding widespread and meaningful change, recognising animal sentience in law will not, as Labour claim, “prevent practices that expose animals to cruel and degrading treatment”. Sue Hayman, Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, appears moronic when pledging “to make sure the UK has equal and better animal rights across the world”. To speak of rights, whilst under EU legislation non-human animals are classified as property, is absurd. Until a breakthrough by the Non-Human Rights Project begins granting animals personhood in common law courts, they will never hold such a capacity. Nevertheless, the recognition of animal sentience is culturally important to acknowledge because it forces us to re-evaluate our duties towards other species.

In terms of policy improvement, each section of the Animal Welfare Plan needs developing further. A wavering ambivalence on issues that may be conceived as controversial in undermining cultural norms fools no one; the subsequent loss of urgency to debate such matters, further induced by a submission to a libertarian approach, which instead uses external regulating bodies, is simply disguising a non-parliamentary human authority with vested interests in the continuation of animal exploitation.

For instance, information on ‘Animals in Sport’ is bereft of detail and there appears an obvious absence of any stance on horse racing. Last weekend, the gun at Aintree sent the field out of the stalls, whilst another was pointed at the head of Lilbitluso, after falling at a fence. In which other ‘sport’ is at least one participating animal all but guaranteed to be destroyed during the course of the event? The punishing endurance test of the steeplechase, partnered with the last century’s selective breeding of light, agile and fragile boned thoroughbreds, means horses are susceptible to fractures and vulnerable to falls. When this occurs, they are extirpated on site.

Since 2007, Animal Aid’s ‘Race Horse Death Watch’ has documented over 1 600 on-course fatalities in Britain. This figure does not account for elective euthanasia, or, as is common with greyhound racing, those sent to their deaths or sold for dog meat upon the expiration of their economic value. Retirement sanctuaries and adoption schemes are overstretched and cannot support the volume of redundant animals produced by the ‘sports’ each year.

Although I believe Labour must join the League Against Cruel Sports in their desire to abolish the Grand National, the references to horse racing in UK politics has been emblazoned with a trivial quality that, as with fox hunting, links back to attacks on class privilege.

Dennis Skinner’s much anticipated quips at the state opening of parliament rarely go amiss. Last year, he reprimanded the Queen, who was later that day set to attend the Royal Ascot: “get your skates on, first race is half past two.” Witty in its delivery and reception, the Queen was reduced to her elite interests, distinct from the common people being represented in parliament. All the same, this illustrates the ease at which the PLP accepts humour relating to an event that we may also argue epitomises our society’s often nonchalant attitudes towards the callous treatment of animals at the expense of human pursuit.

Labour needs to pursue a vastly more expansive Animal Welfare Plan, which is both more intelligent in its interaction with the law and committed to meaningful and radical change to the lives of non-human animals. Debates on meat eating, industrial agriculture, and animals in sport are amongst a vast array of topics which should not be dismissed so lightly. It’s imperative that the Left appropriates the conventional discussions on animals we are accustomed to accept, and is willing to reconsider the necessity and normality of their exploitation and suffering. I hope to see OULC as a collective begin to embrace important questions on ethics, policy and our relationship and treatment of non-human animals. Although unlikely to avoid controversies in diverging opinions, internal opposition to change should be embraced as a challenge; the real injustice is if we leave animals off the debating table altogether.

Why Divestment is Key to Cleaning up Our Planet

Students must use their collective might to get institutions to divest from fossil fuels, writes Lizzy Diggins, former OULC Co-Chair. 

Michael Gove has received an unusual level of praise recently as Environment Secretary for his self-declared war on single use plastic. While he has also attracted some derision for his new, multi-coloured Keep Cup accessory, the policy has undoubtedly had some impact, with high street chains like Pret announcing that customers using reusable cups will incur a discount on their coffee. While the government is yet to announce support for schemes like this, Gove’s war on single use plastics has become popular and fashionable. Similarly, the recent NUS ‘last straw’ campaign has worked to put an end to plastic straws, replacing them instead with apparently more recyclable paper ones. This has garnered huge press uptake and dominated the national (Twitter) conversation.

However, both of these strategies have had responses disproportionate to their actual success. While it is undeniably a good thing to shift away from using single use plastics, the minute focus of these campaigns mean they are largely irrelevant in the wider battle to save our planet. In fact, the appearance of environmentalism that these campaigns assume is dangerous. It can foster complacency: the ‘do-goodness’ of remembering to take your plastic coffee cup allows you to forget about the wider troubles of climate change as you have done your bit for the day. The fact that Gove has as yet refused to go as far as the plastic straw campaign by outright banning disposable cups is worse still. The ‘latte levy’ puts the onus on the individual consumer to remember their reusable coffee cup. Indeed, for many, the 50p punishment is worth not having to carry around a mouldering coffee cup for much of the day. The fact that you then lose 50p feels like punishment enough in itself; you forget the wider punishment that the environment suffers, as a result of both the production and disposal of the object. Indeed, the emphasis on things like recycling campaigns is similar – the impetus remains on the individual to change their own habits, and even when they do, the impact is largely negligible.

If such individual-focused efforts do more damage than good, then what is the appropriate solution? Instead of punishing the consumer, we need to focus on efforts that dis-incentivise producers from using processes and materials that contribute to climate change. Taking away the onus on consumer choice means that the future of the planet is reliant not on the whims of many individuals, but actually built into how the economy functions. Yet it seems hard to imagine that the current government will introduce anything like the wide-ranging reform and legislation needed to transform how we produce and consume ecologically sound goods and switch away from fossil fuels.

So how can we combine individual activist energies and a government unwilling to even ban plastic coffee cups in order to work towards a more environmentally friendly economy? The answer is a simple one: divestment. We as individual students can work together as a collective to lobby our institutions to divest from fossil fuels. This essentially means convincing our universities and other investors to stop investing in the target industry. As more institutions and the wider market begin to divest, it becomes less financially prudent for other institutions and the market to continue their investment. It also works to force the hand of fossil fuel companies and pressure the government to stop collecting fossil fuels. Indeed, through such activism, grassroots campaigners can pool their energy to ensure that government legislation and activity is radically transformed. The success of such schemes has already been demonstrated in South Africa in the fight against apartheid. An October 2013 Oxford study (‘Stranded assets and the fossil fuel divestment campaign: what does divestment mean for the valuation of fossil fuel assets?’) has also outlined the possibility of success when applying such tactics and methods to fossil fuels.

So what can Oxford students do? You can participate in OULC’s ongoing lobby of the university to divest; you can push for change in your college through JCR motions; and you can also join the Oxford Climate Justice Campaign, which has already achieved considerable success in getting some colleges to divest.

So what can you do?

  1. Join in with OULC! Divestment is one of our crucial focuses this term, and we will be looking at how to campaign and lobby together as a club.
  2. Lobby your own college – through motions to your JCR, or if you are on your JCR committee talking to your college directly.
  3. Join in with the Oxford Climate Justice Campaign – which has already achieved considerable success getting some colleges to divest!

Boy Jobs and Girl Jobs?

Theresa May was right; there are boy jobs and girl jobs. And that’s a problem, writes Rosie Sourbut, Co-Women*s Officer for TT18. 

It was a weird moment from the 2017 General Election campaign. Theresa May, having declined to partake in a policy debate, sat on the One Show sofa with her husband. As he described his freedom to choose when to take out the bins, she interjected, nodding enthusiastically as she stated: “There are boy jobs and girl jobs, you see.”

We would be naive to see this as a spontaneous revelation of May’s own archaic views on the correct gendered division of domestic duties, or the outrage and accusations of sexism that followed as accidental and unforeseen by her and her advisers. Instead, the Prime Minister was keen to reassure voters that, despite the country having a female leader, the structures of gender are still very much in place. This line must have been calculated to be a vote winner, letting viewers and those who saw the media reports know that May is on the side of the status quo and signifying that she sees no need to tackle the social factors that push women and men towards different career and life choices and that specifically point women towards roles with less economic or social power.

If we look outside of the home at the workplace, it is true that there are “boy jobs and girl jobs” across the UK, with four out of five people working in an environment dominated by their own sex. The most female-dominated industries include nursing; primary school teaching; and social work. These are all jobs which are perceived to have a strong nurturing element, and all of them are relatively low-paid compared to the qualifications required. This seems bizarre when one considers the crucial nature of these jobs to society. The people who teach children during their earliest years, for example, have a massive impact on the next generation of citizens, and yet for some mysterious reason these jobs command less respect, financial reward and prestige than those in finance and technology.

This reason becomes less mysterious when we look at studies that investigate the ways in which wages change as an industry changes its gender composition. In the 1940s and 50s, software programming was a job performed predominantly by women. It was considered a role requiring a typically ‘feminine’ skill set, with one computer programmer, Grace Hopper, stating that “women are ‘naturals’ at computer programming” and describing it as “just like planning a dinner”. While the skills required and the job done has remained largely the same over the decades, today the industry is vastly male-dominated, and a ‘rational’ mindset and lack of social skills are associated with and rewarded within it. The perception of the job’s duties, and its pay rates, have adjusted to match its largely male practitioners, and this has created a self-perpetuating cycle where males with these ‘masculine’ characteristics are drawn to and sought out for roles.

Meanwhile, as teaching has shifted from being male-dominated to female-dominated, the understanding of the role of a teacher has changed from being principally one of imparting knowledge to being one of nurturing. The masculine is rewarded and the feminine is disregarded, and the gender wage gap within society is created in part by this process. Jobs done by a large number of men are viewed as requiring ‘masculine’ characteristics and skills and are therefore, viewed as difficult and important, necessitating high pay as compensation. Meanwhile, jobs done by a large number of women are viewed as requiring ‘feminine’ characteristics and skills; these jobs, as a consequence, are often unpaid and undervalued. Children, encouraged to develop ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ characteristics and skills in accordance with their genders, are pushed respectively towards male-dominated and female-dominated jobs, and gender segregation within industries continues.

As long as gendered segregation of work, “boy jobs and girl jobs”, continues, jobs done by men will continue to be falsely profiled as masculine and jobs done by women as feminine. This hurts everyone: both the industries which are recruiting according to skills associated with stereotypes and not the particular attributes required for their employees’ roles, and the individuals who develop a set of gendered characteristics rather than their own particular strengths. And it hurts women especially, because for as long as so-called ‘feminine’ work is undervalued, women, along with men in female-dominated industries, will suffer from wages that do not reflect the true value of their work.