I’ve lived in London for just over 7 months now, and as outlined in my last post, I have relished in the opportunities my internship has provided so far. However, to satisfy my passion for politics, I’ve had to look further afield…
Roundabout this time last year, I was lucky enough to be invited to shadow Jason McCartney MP in Parliament, and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
I learned a great deal from Mr McCartney, and thought it to be only fitting that I contacted my local MP for Hammersmith, the Rt Hon Andrew Slaughter MP.
Mr Slaughter is also the Shadow Justice Minister (I know, slightly ironic name given his position), and he kindly agreed to be interviewed.
Israel & Palestine
Do you think that a peaceful two state solution in Gaza can ever be achieved?
Well, that is the policy that everybody, including Israel, is signed up too. The issue for the last 5-10 years has not been ‘is that the solution?’ The issue is that the facts on the ground have changed to such an extent that it is practically impossible right now.
If there is continued colonisation of those parts of Palestine that would constitute the Palestinian state, then it becomes practically impossible unless those settlers move back to Israel.
Given the catastrophic mishandling of British involvement in that region in recent history, is foreign interventionism really helping the Palestinians’ struggle?
It is a political problem, and it is not one that can be resolved exclusively by Britain because there is such a disparity in power between the two factions.
Israel has nuclear arms, which render it the regional superpower and the Palestinians do not have sufficient resources of their own. Unless Israel is willing to compromise, then yes – foreign intervention is absolutely essential.
The problem is that it is not being delivered in the right now. Although the UN and EU certainly have an influence, it’s ultimately America that holds all of the cards in terms of if and when the negotiations take place.
If I were to say to you that ultimately, the fundamental barrier to a two state solution is religion, would you agree?
No I wouldn’t. Religion does play a part depending on what’s happening on the ground. However the Palestinian authority and the party of president Mahmoud Abbas for example is a secular party.
There was a surprise in the Israeli election insofar as some of the secular parties did much better at the polls than some of the more religious parties. A lot of the extremism, certainly on the Israeli side, stems from secularism.
Religious fundamentalism is undoubtedly one of the factors in the mix, but I wouldn’t say it was necessarily the main factor.
It can legitimise illegitimate aims, such as the idea of an Israel that consumes the whole of Palestine. But the geo-politics of the region plays a larger role in terms of barriers to a two state solution.
Religion in Secular Politics
On the broader issue of religion in secular politics, I wanted to ask you whether you think it’s just that religious institutions are exempt from tax in the UK?
There’s been quite a lot of interesting debate on the issue of charitable status –some commentators criticise the charitable status of public schools for example.
There are some Zionist organisations that have charitable status here in the UK, and some have suggested that that may tacitly imply that the UK supports illegal settlements on the West Bank.
You’re very right to question this issue, and we, as MPs, must keep this constantly under review.
Although charity law has been modernised to a degree, it dates back to several centuries ago and is predicated on a lot of issues that are not very contemporary, such as the relief of poverty.
Charity law is strongly biased to religion, because religion played a much larger role in people’s lives when these laws were originally drawn up.
However religious communities would argue that they do a great deal of good and deserve such a status, if you look just over the road you can see the wonderful community centre that Hammersmith Parish Church have recently opened, which is open to everyone.
It’s difficult to disassociate the history of an organization from the work that they actually do.
There was a great deal of pressure on the last Labour government to revoke the charitable statuses of public schools, however what we did instead was to make those schools prove they did actually have a charitable purpose. We don’t look at the origins of the organization – we look at the work they do.
Staying on religion and justice, religious freedom is seen as an integral part of any modern democracy, particularly here in the UK, I know that’s something you’re a strong advocate for, however I wanted to ask you a rather paradoxical question: to what extent should we tolerate the acts of intolerance by the religious such as honour killings, segregation and humiliation of women, arranged marriages and so forth?
We live in a liberal democracy, however all of the things you just mentioned would affront any modern society.
Brutal acts that are more to do with power, racism, sexism etc. often hijack the ‘cloak of religion.’ You can find examples of liberal, generous practice in all of the major religions.
I think it’s often people cloaking what are personal or political aims with a guise of some false religious mandate.
All of things you just mentioned should not be tolerated by any society, and all parties should, and do seek to stamp them out.
What do you make of preachers of hate, such as Abu Qatada, who some would argue exploit our liberal way of life whilst also simultaneously trying to destroy it?
Well, that’s one of the great dilemmas of liberalism isn’t it? Governments have to balance the protection of freedom of speech and other essential liberties against protecting its citizens’ safety and security.
Labour brought in quite a lot of legislation against racial hatred and incitement pre-2010. I do not think that’s incompatible with having a free and tolerant society. This is not a new issue, John Stuart Mill wrote quite a lot about this very issue in the 19th century. There’s a long tradition of analyzing what is acceptable and what’s not acceptable in a liberal society.
I noted on your website, you’re a member of a pressure group called ‘Labour Friends of Poland,’ which I found quite interesting. As I’m sure you’re aware, Polish is now the second most spoken language in the UK. I wanted to know what you think the long term implications of unbridled immigration from EU countries such as Poland are for the UK?
It’s an issue that is taxing the government at the moment, with the restrictions on Bulgarian and Romanian immigrants being lifted at the end of 2013.
We have an established Polish community here in Hammersmith, with Polish community centres and so forth, which I believe are great assets. This demographic dates back to at least before the Second World War.
We had an influx of Polish immigrants following Poland’s acceptance in the EU and many came to Hammersmith and other areas, because of that established community.
It’s difficult labeling it as immigration, as it’s more like the movement of people. You can’t generalise – you’ve got some Polish who come with their families and settle here, and you’ve got people who come here to work and then go back to Poland.
The overall effect, I think, has been very beneficial. The Polish community integrates very well, they almost all speak English, they are notorious for working hard.
The only criticism I’ve had over the years regarding the Polish community is employers undercutting wages. There have been many instances of employers paying Polish workers below minimum for relatively skilled jobs. Clearly, that has a negative effect on the economy.
Disgruntled workers blame the wrong people, you can’t blame immigrants for seeking a better quality of life. Those at fault are the gangs and traffickers who bring them here illegally.
The Labour government and some trade unions have done a great deal of campaigning to sign up Polish workers, so that they know their rights and know that they shouldn’t be working for exploitative wages. Overall, I think it’s a positive development.
Ed Miliband has been accused of copying the Lib Dem’s ‘mansion tax’ policy. Now devil’s advocate might say that generally people that reside in these alleged ‘mansions’ have very limited liquid wealth, with most of it tied up in their property, is this a fair policy?
There is a very good piece by Tim Montgomerie in The Times (and I don’t often say that!) which looks at exactly why a mansion tax is a good thing to do, as you’re still targeting people with very high levels of revenue.
Even in Hammersmith, £2 million+ is a lot of money. But even modest homes in some parts of London would have an extremely high value. What would be a definition of luxury is not the same across different parts of the country. I think the key is to set the threshold at £2 million, so you are targeting people with very high levels of assets, and therefore they probably do have that liquidity as well.
Where do you stand on gay marriage?
I voted for gay marriage, as did 421 to 175 of the vote. I think within Parliament, those figures speak for themselves.
For me, it was simply an issue of achieving equality, while at the same time not disadvantaging religions, which didn’t want to sign up to it. I think we’ve hit the right balance.
Some MPs have said this is an issue that has filled up their post bags, however I’ve had very little commentary from my constituents. However Hammersmith is a very liberal area.
Michael Gove’s U-turn on GCSEs has been a heated topic in the news recently, what’s your take on the education system and Gove’s failed reforms?
I think Gove is a very controversial character. I think he’s a good example of a little knowledge being a dangerous thing.
I suspect we’ve seen the first on a number of U-turns because he’s pressing on at break-neck speed without taking appropriate advice. I think some of his objectives are rather obnoxious.
He was talking last month about the possibility of free schools making a profit, which he initially said he wouldn’t allow them to do. And the bringing in of private companies and organisations, some of which have very close links with the Conservative Party to effectively marketise education, just like their notion of privatising healthcare. I think that’s something that shouldn’t, and won’t get any support.
Although everyone in government would sometimes like to see things move more quickly, on issues as important as education, you have to take advice and you have to tread carefully, and as we’ve seen he’s got his fingers burnt.
I think the damage has already been done by what he’s already said about GCSEs, and many students feel their qualifications have been publically devalued.
I think that’s absolutely right. And it’s disgraceful in a way. I speak to young people all the time in my constituency and I don’t find cynicism and laziness, I find people who want to succeed.
It’s very irresponsible of politicians to behave in that way. The only silver lining to what’s happened is he’s become effectively a cynical figure, and not many people will take what he says in future overly seriously.
Lastly, I wanted to ask you about the Leveson Inquiry: ‘independent self-regulation’ to me sounds like a bit of contradiction in terms. What’s your take on Leveson and the recommendations?
The press is very much in favour of the Defamation Bill because it weakens people’s ability to engage in court proceedings against newspapers that publish unsavory stories about them.
As you would expect, they are against Leveson’s recommendations because it gives powers to those abused by the press.
David Cameron and The Conservatives, just like all of the parties, have given into those vested interests in the past, because in a liberal democracy, the media play an extremely large role in the voting process.
I think all of the evidence from Leveson has outlined quite clearly you cannot trust the press to regulate itself, and you must have a formal system which the media cannot avoid. It doesn’t mean state censorship, it means an ability to enforce law on illegal activity.
January 29, 2011
Anna Wilson graduated from Leeds Met in 2009 with 1st honours. Having started on the HND Business & PR course, Anna excelled in her initial years, switching to the BA Public Relations course in year 3. Anna is now the Digital Junior Account Manager at Tangerine PR.
Having grown up Birmingham, Anna chose Leeds Met because of its great integration of practical work experience into the course, which she found to be invaluable throughout her degree.
“I had a great time working on these projects and I learned so much, met some wonderful people and the experience was invaluable. Winning the Trimedia prize was fantastic, the late nights and all the work that went into our pitch was well worth it!”
Anna relished work experience with Ptarmigan PR (know as Bell Pottinger today) where she worked on clients such as Yorkshire Bank, Lemsip and Diageo. She was also part of a team that ran the Northern Journalist Awards where she met some great contacts and even got to meet Greg Dyke! Keen to gain journalistic experience, Anna wrote regularly for the student newspaper ‘The Met.’
Anna’s advice to current students is if you’re going to do something and do it – don’t flake out when it gets hard. Ask for help, the lecturers aren’t just available during your lectures/seminar’s –e-mail them, book appointments and ask for help, advice and guidance. But most importantly don’t say no and don’t make excuses – If you get the chance to do work experience go for it, if you’re sat stuffing letters in envelopes or writing PO forms (as she did at her first day at Ptarmigan!) then do it and do it well – that way you’ll be invited back.