Tuesday, April 17, 2007

More illegals for lucky old Britain

A planned welfare centre offering showers and soup to migrants near Calais threatens to encourage illegal immigration into Britain, the Conservatives claimed yesterday. The new centre will provide information on how to claim asylum to the hundreds of migrants sleeping in makeshift camps in an area known as "the jungle".

John Reid, the Home Secretary, will raise the issue when he holds long-arranged talks with Francois Baroin, the new French Interior Minister, in London on Tuesday. But the Home Office made clear that the primary item for discussion was counter-terrorism rather than the threat of illegal immigration.

Opponents of the Calais plan have already described the facilities as "Sangatte II" after the refugee camp shut down in 2002, but the new centre will not provide anywhere for migrants to sleep. It will offer food, showers and information and advice to the hundreds who are now sleeping rough.

Damian Green, the Tory immigration spokesman, said that the proposed centre would act as a magnet by encouraging people to congregate and attempt to enter Britain illegally. "It's clearly Sangatte II. I think it's hugely disappointing that the French Government is allowing this to happen," he said. "They made an agreement with the British Government a few years ago that they weren't going to have facilities in Calais which just encourage people to arrive there to try to come to this country illegally. "It's disappointing that our own Home Office doesn't seem to be doing anything about this. As I understand it, they are saying, `It's no Sangatte II, we shouldn't worry about it'."

Mr Green said that most of the refugees were being transported by commercial people-traffickers, whom he described as "some of the most evil people in the world". He accused the Home Office of being "appallingly complacent" over the issue.

No minister from the Home Office commented on the planned welfare centre yesterday. Instead Lin Homer, the director general of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate, and Brodie Clark, the head of UK border control, were put forward for media broadcasts.

David Davis, the Shadow Home Secretary, said: "This is a serious situation. It speaks volumes about Dr Reid's attitude to dealing with this situation that there is not a minister in sight. "Any Home Secretary should take responsibility for his or her brief and not hide behind officials."

Officers from Kent County Council have visited Calais on a fact-finding mission during which they discussed the plans with local officials. They hope that it will not become a "pull factor" encouraging other migrants to head towards Calais and then to try to enter Britain. But the officers admit that this will depend on how the French authorities police the centre.

Richard Ashworth, the Conservative MEP for the South East, said that the new centre had the "right intentions, but ultimately they are creating another hub for people wanting to enter the UK unlawfully".

A Home Office spokesperson said: "There have always been humanitarian services for migrants in the Calais area. We have had assurances from the French that they are opposed to any centre which will attract illegal immigrants and traffickers."

Official figures show that the number of illegal immigrants detected entering Kent from Calais fell 88 per cent from more than 10,000 in 2002 to 1,500 in 2006. The Red Cross-run Sangatte refugee camp in northern France closed in December 2002 after an agreement between Britain and France.


Scotland: Don't stare at Muslims

PUPILS and teachers have been told by an official body not to stare at Muslims for fear of causing offence. A document intended to educate against religious intolerance and sectarianism urges teachers to "make pupils aware of the various forms of Islamophobia, ie stares, verbal abuse, physical abuse". But Learning Teaching Scotland (LTS), which issued the advice to schools north of the border, has been criticised by politicians and Muslim leaders for going "over the top".

The document states: "Some Muslims may choose to wear clothing or display their faith in a way that makes them visible. For example, women may be wearing a headscarf, and men might be wearing a skullcap. Staring or looking is a form of discrimination as it makes the other person feel uncomfortable, or as though they are not normal."

Osama Saeed, a spokesman for the Muslim Association of Britain, accused officials of going too far. "There are far more serious elements of Islamophobia. People look at all sorts of things - that can just be a glance. A glance and a stare are two different things - glances happen naturally when all sorts of things catch your eye whereas a stare is probably gawking at something. "Personally I have not encountered much of a problem with people staring. I don't know how you legislate for that."

Murdo Fraser, deputy leader of the Scottish Conservatives, said: "In a multicultural society like ours there are people with all different forms of dress and I don't think it's unreasonable to expect children in particular to look at those who are differently dressed from them. To describe this as a form of discrimination seems to go completely over the top."


Non-teachers teach in Britain

Unqualified school helpers are being used as cheap labour to teach A-level and GCSE classes in subjects about which they know nothing when specialist subject teachers are on leave, a union claims. In the very worst cases, an untrained assistant was required to teach A-level English for an entire term, while another was put in charge of a GCSE maths group. Other instances include former dinner ladies and prison officers replacing qualified supply teachers.

The practice was condemned as an "absolute scandal" yesterday by members of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT), who likened it to putting an enthusiastic member of the ground staff in charge of flying a plane because the pilot and co-pilot had not turned up. The likely result was a reduction in quality of education, a decline in classroom discipline and a danger that work will dry up for fully qualified supply teachers, the union's annual conference in Belfast heard.

Government reforms to teachers' working conditions in 2003, supported by the NASUWT, brought about a reduction in teachers' hours and specified that teachers would not have to cover each others' classes for longer than 38 hours a year - or an hour a week. Instead, classroom assistants and cover supervisors, who are not teachers and who are paid about 13,000 pounds a year, would be given a far greater role.

But Peter Wathan, a delegate from Bedfordshire, told the conference that unscrupulous head teachers were exploiting them as "cheap labour" by assigning them their own lessons. He cited the case of a popular school in his area that was using an unqualified cover supervisor to teach a GCSE maths group. "It happens to be a lower stream group - perhaps they don't deserve a qualified teacher in the head's opinion," he said.

Austin Murphy, a supply teacher from Leeds, said that the scale of the problem was far greater than people realised. "I do know of a school in south Leeds where a cover supervisor was asked to take on this role for maternity leave," he said. "They did GCSE and A-level classes. This person has no experience whatsoever in that subject. "Clearly this is an absolute scandal. It should be known that this is happening," he said.

Pat Lerew, the union's former president, who is now a supply teacher, said that putting cover supervisors or teaching assistants in charge of children while they complete worksheets prepared by an absent teacher could lead to a breakdown in discipline. "Pupils churning out reams of work with no feedback will rightly lose motivation and ask what is the point of this," she said.

John McCarthy, a fully qualified supply teacher from the union's Cannock and mid-Staffordshire branch, said that he was being deprived of work because lessons are covered by assistants, including, at one school, a former dinner lady and a former prison officer. Delegates backed a motion that replacing qualified teachers with cover supervisors will "lower the quality of children's education".

A spokesman for the Department for Education and Skills said that official guidance made it absolutely clear that cover supervisors do not teach. "We have record numbers of teachers in our schools with over 35,000 more than in 1997. We have also removed many administrative tasks from teachers and overseen a doubling in the number of support staff to help free up teachers' time to do what they do best - teach," he said.


What's worse than Big Brother? Little Brother

The British government is recruiting children to spy on and `re-educate' the adult population

The revelation that Britain's New Labour government plans to install talking CCTV cameras across the land has rightly been greeted with shock and indignation. These new cameras will not only watch and record our movements, as Britain's already-existing five million CCTV cameras (that's one for every 12 citizens) currently do; they will also tell us off. Faceless operators in the CCTV bunkers will use microphones to tell the great unwashed to stop loitering, gathering in crowds, littering, spitting, vandalising and graffiting.

However, one aspect of the new talking CCTV regime went virtually uncommented on: the fact that the government is planning to recruit well-behaved and right-minded children to become the voice of the cameras in certain towns and cities. That's right - you can now look forward to the prospect of some self-righteous 12-year-old barking orders at you as you walk down the street.

John Reid, the home secretary, announced last week that the government will spend o500,000 on fitting loudspeakers on to CCTV cameras in 20 areas around Britain, including Southwark, Barking and Dagenham in London, and also Reading, Harlow, Norwich, Ipswich, Plymouth, Gloucester, Derby, Northampton, Mansfield, Nottingham, Coventry, Sandwell, Wirral, Blackpool, Salford, South Tyneside and Darlington.

Speaking cams were trialled in Middlesbrough, England, last year - and according to Reid they were a great success. `[The cameras] help counter things like litter and drunk or disorderly behaviour, gangs congregating', he told the morning news show GMTV last week. `They are the sorts of things that make people's lives a misery. Anything that tackles that is better.'

The number of CCTV cameras in Britain has risen exponentially over the past 10 to 15 years. Someone going about his or her daily business in London should expect to be picked up on around 300 cameras over the course of one day. New software breakthroughs mean there are now cameras that have `suspicious behaviour recognition' (they monitor the movement of clusters in the images recorded by CCTV) and even `gait recognition' (cams that judge whether someone is walking too fast, oddly or in some other suspicious fashion).

The rise of the cams speaks to a suspicious and fearful streak in New Labour's New Britain. And much of the `anti-social behaviour' they are designed to record looks to me less like seriously anti-social behaviour and more just a product of modern living. For example, we all consume more fast food than ever before, yet the decline in street bins (previous governments got rid of them in response to the IRA bombing campaign and the current government never bothered to replace them) means we don't have anywhere to put our cartons, McDonald's bags, cups and so on - hence littering. There are also a poverty of public benches, which have been removed by local authorities who feared that they would encourage drunks and gangs of young people to group together in city centres - and not surprisingly drunks and young people have tended to group together elsewhere, in parks, at bus stops, etc.

It is the government that is becoming increasingly anti-social by littering public space with spycams and now noisy megaphones that will embarrass people into changing their behaviour. Instead of providing us with enough bins, street cleaners and park benches, or creating public spaces that encourage free and easy interaction, the killjoy authorities plonk ugly cameras everywhere to monitor our antics.

Strangely, few of the news reports that covered the talking CCTV story mentioned the fact that the government plans to co-opt children to provide the stern voice of reason for some of the cams. This is odd considering that the government seems quite proud of this fact. The Home Office issued a press release headlined `Children Remind Adults To Act Responsibly On Our Streets'. It stated that: `Children from across the country will be very publicly calling upon the small minority of people who think it is acceptable to act anti-socially on our streets and in our towns to change their ways and take responsibility for their actions..'

The government's Respect Taskforce has launched a competition in schools around the country, where the top prize kids can win is to become the `voice' of certain CCTV cameras. In the 20 towns and cities that will soon install talking CCTV cameras, schoolchildren are being encouraged to design colourful posters that `challenge bad behaviour'. Explicitly, the government says it is `encouraging children to use their "pester power" in a positive way - reminding grown-ups how to behave'. Here, the government seems keen to harness the self-righteousness of some kids in an effort to shape and mould adults' behaviour. The winners of the poster competition will be `invited to become the voice of the Talking CCTV in their town or city's CCTV control room for one day - the day of the switch-on, later this year'. As Louise Casey, head of the Respect Taskforce, says, children will force adults to `face the shame of being publicly embarrassed'.

The introduction of talking CCTV cameras looks less like a case of `Big Brother gone mad' and more like `Little Brother gone mad'. The government is turning to children in an attempt to get its patronising good-behaviour message across to the adult population. According to Casey, `the vast majority (of children) know how to behave and recognise the bad behaviour of others, young and old alike'. The relationship between child and adult is reversed - instead of adults leading and guiding children, children are used to correct the `bad behaviour' of adults.

Worryingly this use of children to advance New Labour's moral message to adults is not a one-off initiative. The Respect Taskforce and the police have held numerous art competitions encouraging children to draw pictures that show the dangers of anti-social behaviour - the winners' pics have been used to illustrate safer community leaflets. A recent government report on energy proposed that schoolchildren be used to spread the word about eco-living. As James Woudhuysen pointed out on spiked, the report, titled Our Energy Challenge: Power from the People - Microgeneration Strategy, advances the view that: `Education of the next generations in a way that energy efficiency and the need for cleaner energy become an integral part of their mindset can help to influence their future behaviour (and maybe even that of their parents) and move us towards the desired cultural shift..With schools often being the focal point of communities, the installation of renewables could help to shape attitudes in the wider community.' In short, children can help to instil in adults the new `mindset' on green living. (See Windmills of the mind, by James Woudhuysen.)

Children have also been used in the Department of Health's adverts warning about the dangers of smoking and lung cancer. One ad featured a mother in the terminal stages of lung cancer. Her daughter was shown expressing her anger and grief at the fact that her mum will die shortly as a result of a disease caused by her own smoking. As spiked contributor Dr Michael Fitzpatrick argued, this was another case of the government using children to chastise adults: `This advert is clearly designed to make parents who smoke feel guilty - and to make children of parents who smoke feel angry. Its objective is to use children as an instrument of the campaign to deter adults from smoking.'

`At a time when a wide range of civil liberties are under threat it is alarming that the strategy of using children to police their parents' behaviour - reminiscent of totalitarian regimes - provokes so little public disquiet', wrote Dr Fitzpatrick (see The stigma of smoking, by Dr Michael Fitzpatrick).

And now, the recruitment of children to use their `pester power' in order to publicly `shame' adults has also provoked little controversy. The government seems to be turning to children because it cannot justify its petty moral and authoritarian campaigns on their own terms - instead it hopes that we will change our behaviour and become more green / responsible / better-behaved for the sake of the pleading kids. Also, children, as anyone who has come into contact with them will know, can be sanctimonious and self-righteous. Where adults disagree and argue over what counts as civilised behaviour, and what should be done about allegedly uncivilised behaviour, children tend to lap up fairly uncritically messages about what is right and wrong. The government seems keen to harness children's simplistic views of good and evil in order to whack the adult population over the head.

Using children as spies or educators is the mark of an authoritarian regime. In Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, children are co-opted by the authorities and tend to become the most vociferous promoters of the right way of thinking. In Chapter 9, Winston Smith finds himself surrounded by a huge crowd on the sixth day of `Hate Week': `It was night, and the white faces and the scarlet banners were luridly floodlit. The square was packed with several thousand people, including a block of about a thousand schoolchildren in the uniform of the spies.'

One character, Parsons, `proceeds to boast about the "achievements" of his horrible children': `They had tracked a man down and handed him over to the thought police as a traitor on the sole ground that he was wearing strange-looking shoes and had set fire to a woman's clothes because she wrapped a parcel in a poster of Big Brother. Finally, they had been eavesdropping at their parent's bedroom door with a listening device to see if any thoughtcrime remarks were made. All of these are presented by Parsons as exploits of which he is very proud!'. In Orwell's fictional world, adults become subservient to irresponsible, ill-informed, not-yet-developed, gullible and nasty children. Is New Labour in danger of creating similar kinds of kids in Britain 2007?

We need a more critical attitude to the government's installation of talking CCTV and its recruitment of children as part of its crackdowns on anti-social behaviour. Mike Fagan, community safety co-ordinator for Hastings Statutory Crime and Disorder Partnership, turned down the offer to have talking CCTVs. Why? `We didn't think that talking CCTVs would suit the context of Hastings, the environment here. It was perhaps more appropriate to a larger urban area. I personally don't think that talking CCTVs are a good thing and that they would achieve results in terms of regulating people's behaviour,' he told me.

We could all do with saying no to talking CCTV cameras - whether we live somewhere like Hastings or in `larger urban areas'. Yet while the children's talking CCTV initiative will last for one day only, the day of `switch on' later this year, the political philosophy behind it - that adults are untrustworthy and it is acceptable to get children to tell them off - looks set to stay in place for a lot longer.



Of Wooden Fuel Cell Cars...

I had no idea that people still built cars out of wood, but apparently Morgan in the UK does. It announced in Geneva that it would offer a hydrogen-fueled, zero-emission version that resembles the Aero 8, which features a wooden-framed body. To quote the Pocket-Lint web site, "It will be a very lightweight car with a fuel cell hybrid powerplant, which will give it a 200-mile range."

On reflection, the British have a heritage of doing some pretty remarkable things with wood, including one of my favorite aircraft of World War II, the all-plywood DeHavilland Mosquito, the fastest fighter-bomber of the war. So, it will be interesting to see how such a seemingly low-tech material performs in concert with such a high-tech propulsion system.


Green colonialists

THE Tory party donor and environmental philanthropist Johan Eliasch has been accused of "green colonialism" after allegedly consigning 1,000 people to poverty in his attempts to preserve the Amazon jungle. The allegations against Eliasch, who last week was touring South America with his friend the Duke of York, come from the inhabitants of a region of the Brazilian rainforest the size of Greater London.

In 2005 the Swedish-born tycoon, who runs the Head sports goods empire, spent a reported 13.7 million pounds of his estimated 361m fortune buying 400,000 acres - about 625 square miles - of jungle from an American-owned timber company with the aim of protecting it from loggers. Eliasch has described the move as "my little bit towards saving the world". As a result of the deal, a lumber mill that employed as many as 1,000 people closed in the town of Itacoatiara in northwest Brazil, increasing hardship in an already economically depressed region.

The closure has pitched Eliasch into a debate about how rich countries can help preserve tropical rainforests while considering the livelihoods of people who live and work in them. Some local environmentalists have accused him of dabbling in "green colonialism". "What he is doing is valid in terms of preservation but you cannot let people go hungry," said Lelio Moreira, who works at the local radio station, Panorama Itacoatiara. "There has to be some kind of help for locals hurt by this. Now, with the lack of jobs, violence is increasing and because fathers cannot afford to look after their families we also have a growing problem with child prostitution."

Joao Manuel Figueira, a municipal employee, added: "The impact of the plant's closure has been harsh. The local shops are feeling the knock-on effects with a drop in sales. We know the environment is important and deforestation is a problem. But knocking all the forest down is one thing. Taking out mature wood is another." Moreira said most residents had no idea who Eliasch was or what his plans were for his purchase. But Eliasch said relations with local government and the wider population since he bought into the region had been "generally positive". He said all the workers he laid off were fully compensated and he planned to re-hire many of them as guards to protect his new wilderness sanctuary. But he admitted that for him, preserving the jungle was "the only option" and took priority over those living there. "The rainforest is more important to me at the moment," said Eliasch, who is the Tories' deputy treasurer. He has also lent the party 2.6m.

He rejected arguments that first world countries, which chopped down their own forests in the drive for industrialisation, had no right to try to prevent Brazilians doing the same. "I'd like to say a move like my purchase is more learning from our mistakes," he said. "People have made mistakes in the western world and [I am] trying to prevent it happening elsewhere."

Eliasch is not the only one caught up in the paradox that by trying to save the rainforest he is harming the people who earn their living there. The Brazilian government says it is living up to its commitments to preserve the forest and points to a steep drop in the rate of deforestation since a peak in 2002. But that effort has hit the economy of many jungle towns hard. Last year Eliasch came up with the idea of buying the whole rainforest to preserve it. The result was a diplomatic incident between Brazil and Britain when the idea was taken up by David Miliband, the environment secretary, who suggested setting up an international trust as the best way to preserve the Amazon


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