Category Archives: London

Why I don’t take part in LGBT Pride

As has been my policy since coming out four years ago, I have sought against attending any of this year’s Pride marches or associated events. This, I do, as a bisexual man and as a person who believes that grandstanding of this kind is not good for those who identify as sexual minorities.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I do not say this out of personal umbrage to those who take part in such events. I understand exactly why Pride retains massive support. I am very happy, too, that my LGBT brothers and sisters can find ways to enjoy themselves and their exuberances each year.

Many of them will be relieved to take a trip to London, Brighton or other metropolitan cities, coming from regimented, old-fashioned homes that do not espouse healthy attitudes towards those of the rainbow persuasion.

And nor is it because I am reluctant to ‘express myself’ or feel in any way embarrassed to take part (though I do have a dislike for crowded places, especially in blazing heat). I am content with who I am as a person, my surroundings and what I want and need from my life. The problem lies not with me, but with the messages sent out by Pride events.

The first issue is, of course the name itself. ‘Pride’ is a rather peculiar way of denoting the way individuals feel about a part of themselves that they have no direct control over.

Should those of us who are LGBT be proud of who we are? Yes and no. I take pride in accomplishments, not in things which are out of my control. I think others should do the same.

There is nothing heroic about belonging to a sexual minority. Much debate rages about the influence of nature and nurture, and whether or not we can help who we are, but that is not an argument that I particularly want to get into.

This is not, of course, to say that I believe sexual minorities should hide who they are or feel ashamed of it. For me, coming out at 17, despite not being homosexual, was both challenging and rewarding. We come out and are honest about who we are not because we need attention or to fight against non-existent subjugation; rather we do it because we want those around us to know who we truly are.

I believe that this is a very important principle. Those who ask why there is no ‘Straight Pride’ are very ignorant to the internal pressures that sexual minorities face. Notice that I describe these pressures as internal, which I believe they predominantly are. Homophobia undoubtedly lingers at an individual level, but that does not constitute external oppression.

If we must discuss the oppressing forces that are restricting Britain’s sexual minorities, we need examples. We need to be able to identify institutional biases, their causes and policies to overcome them. If we cannot do that, which I believe we can’t, then I do not think the LGBT community can designate itself as an oppressed class. Rather, they are merely a selection of people coming to terms (often in understandably difficult circumstances) with who they are.

Then there is the second issue. ‘Pride’ implies a counter-force; something from which anti-LGBT prejudices grew. That force was stigma, which derived from popular misunderstanding and more prevalent religious belief. Back in the 1960s, for instance, homosexuality was still considered a mental illness in large parts of the west. Then in the 1980s, an AIDS epidemic contributed to social stigmatisation and forged misleading stereotypes about gay people.

Thirty to forty years ago, it would seem, a force like Pride was ideal for combating these problems. LGBT folk needed a place to say: ‘this is who we are and we are proud of it’. It was a useful barrier against shame.

But, as religion has crumbled, legislation changed and biological understanding strengthened, the need for grandstanding movements has withered and these events have instead been exploited by corporations, who use the Pride movement to market their goods and boost public relations.

I use the word ‘grandstanding’, by the way, because I believe there can be made an important point about the way in which we treat those who do come out. And indeed about ensuing celebration. One of the problems with Pride is that it overhypes and glorifies the significance of coming out. It creates solitude for LGBTQ people that may not necessarily be conducive to acceptance or assimilation.

The extravagance of Pride, unmistaken throughout the world, gives the impression that those who take part belong to a different strand of society. In other words, notable differences are laid bare. It reinforces the idea that those who are LGBT  must behave this way, dress this way or look this way. It suggests that they must demarcate themselves as being separate and ‘odd-looking’, when in reality, LGBT people look, behave and dress just as heterosexuals do.

Pride culture has attached to the LGBT community, whether they adhere to it or not, a certain strata of expectations and traits. They must wear outrageous clothing, talk a certain way and exercise different, perhaps more feminine, mannerisms and gesticulations.

It is my belief that, instead of this approach, the more casually we treat coming out, the more effectively we will be able to normalise the process for sexual minorities.

Pride, like with all social justice movements, has a goal: to overcome prejudices. But, in taking part, many of its members subscribe to the very narratives and stereotypical behaviours that become magnets for bullying and misunderstanding.

The problem with social justice movements is that invariably they fight what they perceive to be oppression by adopting methods which are counter-productive to their cause. Racism and sexism are tackled by university students with counter racism and counter sexism. Just as any lasting homophobia is addressed through means which serve only to give life to bigotry.

I think, instead, we should find more appropriate ways of reintegrating the LGBT community into society. We should scale back the attention, the outlandishness and the self-aggrandising policies and go back to basics.

Like the self-fulfilling prophecy, if we want something to be normal we ought to treat it as such. If we don’t, then there is something slightly selfish and sinister about what we’re actually trying to achieve.

 

 


Terror is not a reason to suspend political campaigning

It is especially disheartening that Paul Nuttall’s most worthwhile contribution to this General Election campaign has been to refuse to cease political campaigning in the wake of Saturday’s London Bridge attack. Though occasions in which I find him even mildly impressive are rare.

But he is right that the country should not have to routinely disrupt its democratic procedure all thanks to the unfortunate and unsurprising persistence of jihadism in our society. Especially when polling day is just days away (perhaps it is me, but the whole thing seems to have gone very quickly indeed).

It is of course important that, for the sake of rebuilding broken spirits and reminding ourselves of the good in humanity, efforts to commemorate and remember those who have lost their lives are made. Sometimes, a period of reflection and deep thought is useful.

But these things can be achieved independently of the campaigning of political parties. Most of us do not leave our charity at the door even in times of intense political contestation. Politicisation of tragedies, I have noticed especially amongst my generation, tends to be met with the scorn that it deserves.

What interests me far more, however, is the modern obsession with suspending our daily activities in response to mindless terrorism. This is particularly apparent in the midst of political campaigning, arguably an innately more vulnerable time for the country as it is a more politically-sensitive and reactive period.

This, the country that dealt with the menacing embrace of the Luftwaffe, now appears to want to scurry about in useless panic, desperately cleaving to whichever platitude it can offer in order to make us feel better about ourselves. Well, without meaning to sound crass, I don’t think platitudes are helping anybody. Especially not those most affected.

So, why do we suspend political campaigning? Is it a mark of respect? I don’t see how. All we do is afford jihadists and those waiting to follow in their footsteps more airtime than they perhaps warrant. Candles, prayers, bouquets and momentary unity are more than enough. The democratic process need not suffer too.

Terrorism is, if we remember, politically motivated. It feeds off the cameras, the alarm and the inevitable changes to public policy that serve only to further slice away at British liberty. I am trying carefully not to pen the very slogans that we have all become so tired of hearing over the last couple of years.

Indeed, there is something to be said for preserving most what the terrorists crave to bring down. Even more so when it is as precious and as (often) irrecoverable as freedom itself. This is why I am suspicious of renewed support for internment of our enemies in Britain.

It was tried in Northern Ireland not too long ago and proved a powerful recruiting agent for the Irish Republican Army. It is also a fundamental violation of Habeas Corpus, perhaps the most profound symbol of freedom ever marked by the country. I think there are better responses at our disposal (I will be exploring internment at this blog soon).

And shutting down the British election certainly oughtn’t to be one either. If anything, the magnitude of the terror threat we face demands an intensifying of political campaigning, not an easing of it. The country deserves to know what our potential leaders plan to do to help the situation, especially before such a time that they have been elected.

As I sit here and think about Thursday’s election, of Manchester Arena and of London’s blood-stained streets, I find it unfathomable that combating terror has not played a more significant role along the campaign trail.

Issues like police cuts have rightly been raised, and Jeremy Corbyn has been quizzed on his opposition to renewing Trident, but that has been the extent of security discussion. I am appalled by this. It is as if our leaders have no answers or are frightened to voice them. How has such an issue escaped political discourse? I fear the country will regret the relative silence of its leaders at this General Election.

And the more we suspend party politics, presumably to appease victims who are in no way enamoured by our doing so, the louder the silence grows.

 


First impressions of soldiers on our capital’s streets

I knew that at some point I would be referring to this blog to talk about the deployment of British soldiers in London. I wanted to wait until I had spent a reasonable amount of time in the capital in order to appropriately communicate my thoughts on their presence and what it means for public policy.

Yesterday (Sunday 28th May), I got my chance. I spent what was quite a lovely, if not rain-soaked, afternoon with a female friend in and around Westminster. Originally, we had planned to go on the London Eye, but since the weather made this a little implausible, we headed for the National Gallery and dinner instead.

Before meeting, I walked to Whitechapel via Buckingham Palace Road and The Mall, having been re-routed to London Victoria by limits on Southeastern train services. I got to examine our ‘Paras’ stationed in strategic locations, most notably either side of the front face of Buckingham Palace, at gated side entrances and exits, outside Downing Street and around Westminster Palace.

I was interested in taking a look at this intriguing new development because I wanted to gauge, firstly, whether the introduction of the British Armed Forces to the streets of London would make me, a Londoner, feel safer in the city that I love, and secondly, what kind of impression it would give of Britain’s security and counter-terrorism efforts.

The answer to my first question came very quickly. It did not make me feel safer (and that is not to say that I felt particularly unsafe to begin with). Terrorism is a distant, muted fear in the back of my mind when going about my business in busy commuter and tourist hotspots, but I am usually able to effectively repress any needless overthinking or stress.

I spent some time watching every soldier I spotted. Most appeared utterly bored by the whole ordeal, as I would imagine is the overriding emotion after standing in the same spot watching people for hours on end. Others were entertaining themselves through mild conversation with accompanying police officers (it might be worth asking why we didn’t just reverse cuts and invest in more officers to begin with).

Please don’t think I am attacking individual Paras, but what struck me most was how static and distracted they seemed. They are exceptionally well trained and will, I’m sure, give their utmost to protect citizens in the likely event of more jihadism. But they certainly didn’t make me feel any safer.

If anything, the presence of troops stands as evidence of the now blatant failure of deep cuts to police budgets. This has been made exponentially worse by a sizeable increase in the UK’s population and alterations to the national terror threat level.

French troops were deployed on the streets of Paris many moons ago and we can hardly assert that incidents of terrorism are less likely to take place, if we have been paying attention to anything over the last two years. Any reasonable betting man will also conclude that more attacks are on their way, whether London is cluttered with British Army regiments or not.

Furthermore, what of Manchester? Or Birmingham? Or other major British cities otherwise excluded from the nation’s Westminster-dominated political consensus? Will they be supplemented with soldiers that make them look as vulnerable, violent and incapable of civil defence as the more corrupt corners of Africa and Eastern Europe? I hope not. There are better solutions available to us.

I do think that most of the support their mobilisation this week received was down either to tribal, instinctive support for the country’s foremost line of defence, or to the fact that most people consider soldiers to be exotic and a rare spectacle, which I think explains the craving that many have to take pictures with them and attend various community events and displays.

As a patriot, I admit to sharing in the glamorous appeal that the British Armed Forces retain. I have huge admiration for their skill and bravery. Just not for the decision to station them in predictable and already robustly defended parts of the capital.

Military presence, despite the talent and authority of the individuals on guard, has the ironic effect of making the country look a little weak; frightened into action by jihadists the government isn’t strong enough to take care of by itself.

It violates the country’s most profound value: liberty. Historical accounts tell me that we were once a free, calm country and one not easily panicked at home, but increasingly we seem troubled and unfree. I think this is worth pondering.

Deportations are in order where legally possible, prisons and mosques are in need of thorough combings in the search for radicalising forces and the long, slow path back from the perils of multiculturalism must too be forged. Soldiers, though, could well prove to be a non-answer to a very complicated problem.

And when terrorism once again meets the streets of London, perhaps even Westminster, you’ll see what I mean.


Don’t arm Britain’s police in the name of terror

After a terror atrocity, it usually takes at least a few days for rational thought to creep back into political discourse. Sometimes it can be much longer than that.

It was for this reason that I waited a little while before commenting on the horrific incident in Westminster on Wednesday afternoon. I wanted to distance myself from some of the hysteria that I feel unhelpfully attaches itself to events of this kind, especially on social media.

One of the most common post-attack and counter-terrorism suggestions from the public and members of the intelligentsia has been to arm all British police officers.

This is a policy that has been advocated for years, it doesn’t just come from the screams of statists after March 22nd. As the UK’s terror threat has heightened (somehow, a terror threat can be measured), so too have the calls for arming all officers intensified.

The trouble is that the proposal is a gimmick and not a silver bullet, is opposed by most British police officers and radically transforms the nature of the relationship between police and the public.

In 1829, Sir Robert Peel, who introduced the Metropolitan Police as Home Secretary, wrote his ‘9 principles of law enforcement’. Principle number seven will interest readers:

“The police at all times should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police are the only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the intent of the community welfare.”

Officers are citizens in uniform, not a militia that, in effect, provides the state with a monopoly of force. Policing must be carried out at the consent of the public, which it is, and not at the barrel of a gun.

I think that to arm all of Britain’s police officers is a fundamental betrayal of their purpose and the values that Robert Peel had in mind when he introduced them 187 years ago (which included a period of mass public armament, lasting until 1920).

It is no surprise to me that in a recent Metropolitan Police Federation poll[1], most officers opposed the compulsory arming of all British police officers, similar to the system that currently operates in Northern Ireland.

Of the near 11,000 police officers polled, only 26% said that they believed all Metropolitan police officers ought to be routinely armed on duty, though most reported that there should be more authorized firearms officers on the streets.

Given the trials and tribulations that follow police shootings, it is not hard to see why the majority oppose forced armament. Months of stress and lengthy investigations will take their toll on any police officer.

Difficult, too, must media coverage be to deal with. Often, a person knowingly and deliberately shot by a police officer is painted as a sympathetic figure after such an incident. Those who remember the London riots of 2011 will be fully aware of this.

Police officers do not want to have to shoot people. That is the job of soldiers or specialised units with years of training and experience. Investigations on officers who do use their firearms, no matter the circumstances, will come under incessant questioning.

This poses a huge problem for forces that increasingly have to deal with policemen and women (rightly) taking time off to ease any psychological issues that they may be having. Having relatives in the job, I have seen the physical and mental impact policing can have on those who do it.

The reality is that some officers will be far too trigger-happy and others unable to deal with the guilt and burden of having to end another person’s life. We love and idolise our police officers during times of crisis and terror, but seldom do we think about them when normality resumes.

Robert Peel visualised police officers as being men and women whom we can approach at any time, place our trust in, feel comforted by, equal to and yet at the same time revere as both a source of reasonable authority and a rallying point for the frightened and vulnerable.

Like the officers surveyed, I oppose the obligatory arming of all British police officers, and indeed oppose additional armed units, whether in busy, metropolitan areas or not. We have plenty of authorised firearms officers in Britain already.

The problem created by continually expanding upon armed units is that police forces will inevitably be sucking resources away from ordinary policing. That is to say that the more money, time and manpower diverted to armed officers, the less there will be for patrolling constables and the public will feel abandoned by a force already accused of withdrawing from the streets.

As any daily commuter into London now knows (and I reference London because it is both fertile soil for these sorts of atrocities and the jurisdiction for the officers who took part in the Met’s poll), armed officers roam the capital’s busiest regions on a daily basis.

Major train stations are crawling with them, as are landmarks and buildings of significance. Even suburban shopping centres, such as Bluewater and Lakeside, and town high streets have seen a notable increase in armed police presence in recent months.

As I walk around these sorts of places, I feel a distinct unease. This is not just thanks to the sight of assault rifles, which are designed to frighten others into obedience and drill holes in human flesh, killing mercilessly.

It is also because the very visual of watching your local neighbourhood patrolled in such a sinister manner is a telling sign that we are gradually becoming a less free society.

Take a quick look outside of Britain, and focus on what is happening in mainland Europe. France, Germany and Turkey, current experiencing problems far worse than our own, all have very heavy armed police presences.

I might argue that increasing the visibility of armed officers has perhaps encouraged terrorists. It has sent out the signal that people are afraid and need protecting, and that by engaging in these dreadful acts of violence, terrorist actions are influencing public policy, leaving a legacy of their own and appealing to the vanity of other potential attackers.

Admittedly, there are structural differences between Britain and other European countries in response to terror. Strict gun laws and the English Channel make gun smuggling and possession much more difficult for criminals in the UK.

And so I think the current Islamist threat, which I believe exists but is not anywhere near as pertinent as is often suggested by politicians who will never let a good crisis go to waste, is not comparable to problems faced in, for instance, Northern Ireland prior to police being routinely armed.

For one, and unlike problems caused by the IRA, the Islamist threat can be largely countered online, through bans and monitoring, and secondly, the nature of the radical Islamic threat is changing rapidly. I also think that Islamism is more discreet and covert than the IRA-sponsored threat faced by the UK some time ago.

But when attacks do happen, increasingly we see that vehicles are the designated weapon of choice. Cars and lorries are not easily stopped by even the most highly skilled of armed police officers.

So the latest wave of support for Britain’s unarmed police to carry anything more than tasers, which I believe (as the incident at Leytonstone tube station showed) are effective enough tools for modern police, strikes me as yet another encroachment on our liberties.

Western governments are renowned for offering us the fig leaf of security in exchange for our most prized personal freedoms. I am shocked they haven’t already started hiring the many thousands of instructors (which we don’t have and can’t afford) that will be needed in order to arm all of Britain’s police.

And as I write, I am reminded by an infamous Benjamin Franklin quote, as relevant as it has ever been.

 

 

 Notes

[1] http://metfed.org.uk/news?id=7185

 


Protests are admirable, but a looming Trump state visit is nothing to worry about

It is at least a promising sign for the future that so many people seem willing to engage with politics at present. Clearly 2016 was the kick in the teeth that large sections of the population needed. I am glad that, despite having my own disagreements with views and counter-views expressed in the public arena, people are organising themselves and allowing their voices to be heard. It is refreshing and suggests that history isn’t necessarily on an inevitable course.

Contrary to cynical dismissal, public protests are largely effective and represent two healthy signs in any democracy: firstly, that freedom of assembly is respected and people are free to campaign for causes they deem worthy, and secondly, that citizens care enough to fight for the change they feel should be enacted; a value in and of itself. History tells us that the brainwashing or brutalising of people into indifference can have awful consequences. 

Most democratisation, it is worth remembering, has nothing to do with government. Much of it is the collective attempts of passionate individuals to try to shape their surroundings, be it saving a local park or unionising at work. That is why I am appreciative of the very real efforts of individuals to fight back against both Donald Trump’s Executive Order on immigration and his looming state visit to Britain. It shows a willingness to respond to major political changes; a quality not easily found in the disenfranchised. I don’t necessarily approve of some of the reaction and hostility, but engagement is undoubtedly a positive thing. Protests are almost always admirable, and if I see them in the street I usually smile and aid efforts by posting a photo or two on social media.

Trump’s ‘Muslim ban’ (which wasn’t a ban on Muslim entry to the United States, but rather a 90-day suspension on immigrant and non-immigrant entry for nationals of seven countries earmarked as terrorism hotspots) provoked understandable backlash, but much of it came from ill-informed audiences, who clearly had not bothered to read the order in full. While “Muslim ban” makes for a provocative hashtag, it was deceiving and represents one of the ways in which mass media has a quite corrosive effect on democracy; in that it misleads and makes it difficult for people to inform themselves. 

As for the new president’s upcoming state visit to Britain, which more than a million people object to in a hilarious new petition which claims that he should be prevented from making the visit so as not to “cause embarrassment to Her Majesty the Queen”, there isn’t much to worry about. Touching though it is for the Left to spare a thought for royalty for a few moments. Far more reprehensible world figures have travelled to London amidst more muted public outrage, such as King Abdullah in 2007 or Xi Jinping a little more than a year ago. Now that I think properly about it, it is especially bewildering that more fuss meets the arrival of Donald Trump than did Saudi Arabia’s horrid monarch. Perhaps I’m giving Twitter a little more credit there than it deserves. 

Again, I try to give protestors (and I’m expecting quite the platoon upon his eventual arrival – the counter-event will no doubt take on a life of its own) the benefit of the doubt. They are making their voices heard and trying to influence things; a natural human response that helps to explain the popularity that democracy retains. So long as any exhibition doesn’t take the form of violence or riotous chaos, and showcases – as the best protests always do – some charming British wit, I applaud those who take part and respect their right to free assembly.

But the wave of anger that now confronts Mr Trump’s state visit to the UK isn’t justified. Yes, the President is himself thoroughly disagreeable in many aspects and cuts a controversial figure, but we should take a few important things into account. Lord Ricketts, a Foreign Office secretary during the days of the coalition government, said of May’s decision to invite President Trump so quickly: “It would have been far wiser to wait to see what sort of president he would turn out to be before advising the Queen to invite him. Now the Queen is put in a very difficult position.”

I do not think he is correct. I think precisely the opposite is true. It appears to me wiser to invite him at a moment in time in which world leaders are trepidatious and do not know how to react to him. I think this allows Britain to get ahead, establishing strong ties with Washington and a president getting a feel for the demands of his new job. State visits, no matter who sits next to Her Majesty in the golden carriage, are not about individual politicians. They are opportunities for strengthening bilateral relations, not personality tests.

Trump is not Hitler or Stalin. He is an entirely new entity that international diplomacy and world order are going to have to adjust to. Protests will not change these unalterable facts, but they might help to show America’s new president that not everybody appreciates his way of doing things.