Monday, 23 April 2018

Index On Disgrace: A Hostile Environment For Yulia Skripal

Craig Murray writes:

An interesting facet of Theresa May’s “hostile environment” policy, aka institutionalised racism, is that Yulia Skripal will have to pay for her NHS emergency treatment because she was admitted to hospital.

When the government announced its clampdown on use of the NHS by foreigners, including migrants and overseas students, it ended the provision of free emergency treatment for non-citizens in the UK, at the point of hospital admission – which in a real emergency is often required.

I could see the argument for charging “aliens” for attending A & E with a broken thumb, but not charging them for a massive heart attack. But the Tories do it the other way round. It is worth noting that in Scotland the Scottish government, which controls the Scottish NHS, has not implemented this Tory policy.

This policy was instituted in April 2015 directly as a considered part of the “hostile environment” for migrants. Reciprocal public healthcare agreeements with Russia and 16 other countries were cancelled unilaterally by the Tory government in 2016. 

Of course, I do not doubt Yulia Skripal – whose whereabouts and freedom of action are unknown and who patently did not write the police statements issued in her name – will not be charged for her treatment, unlike others admitted in life-threatening situations. 

But think for a moment of the dreadful cases of heartache to other individuals and families that must have been caused by this cruel policy, all in the name of “discouraging” migrants. As with the case of the Windrush generation, I do not doubt there are scores of unheard stories of the effects of Tory callousness waiting to come to light. I am glad the Skripal case gave me the chance to highlight the issue.

Meanwhile in Salisbury we are going to have a great propaganda theatre of destruction, as places which people were allowed to frequent for weeks after the attack are demolished, to eradicate a strange liquid that is ten times more deadly than VX but at the same time ineffective, and is liquid but cannot be diluted, except its dilution was why it did not kill anybody, and which cannot be washed away, except if you got it on your clothes you are perfectly safe if you wash them, and which made hundreds of people sick except there were only three of them. 

All of those contradictory statements are from the official government narrative on Salisbury as delivered over the last couple of months through the state and corporate media. It is beyond me how they expect anyone to believe their utterly incoherent nonsense.

And:

The second half of my life has been a continual process of disillusionment with the institutions I used to respect.

I suppose it started with the FCO, where I went from being Britain’s youngest ambassador to being sacked for opposing the use of intelligence from torture, at the same time having an insider view of the knowing lies about Iraqi WMD being used as a pretext for invasion and resource grab.

I still had some residual respect for the BBC, which respect disappeared during the Scottish independence referendum where BBC propaganda and disregard for the truth were truly shameless. 

My love of the universities was severely tested during my period as Rector of Dundee University, when I saw how far the corporate model had turned them from academic communities developing people and pursuing knowledge, to relentless churners out of unconsidered graduates and financially profitable research, with nearly all sense of community gone. 

My respect for charities vanished when I discovered Save the Children was paying its chief executive £370,000 and had become a haven for New Labour politicos on huge salaries, which was why it was so involved in pushing a pro-war narrative in Syria.

When Justin Forsyth and Brendan Cox – both massively salaried employees who came into Save the Children from the revolving door of Gordon Brown’s office – were outed over sexual predation, that seemed a natural result of “charities” being headed by rich party hacks rather than by simple people trying to do good. 

As for respect for parliament, well the massive troughing expenses scandal and all those protected paedophiles… It has become difficult to hang on to respect for any institution, and that is unsettling. 

Which brings me to last week’s annual awards from Index on Censorship. The winners of the awards – from Cuba, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Honduras and Egypt – all seem worthy enough, and there is even some departure from the neo-con narrative in recognising a human rights problem in Egypt. 

But the Chairman of Index on Censorship is, incredibly, Rupert Murdoch lead hack David Aaronovitch, and he presided over the awards, in the very week in which the newspaper for which he writes produced this appalling attack on freedom of expression:

Inside there was a further two page attack on named academics who have the temerity to ask for evidence of government claims over Syria, including distinguished Professors Tim Hayward, Paul McKeigue and Piers Robinson. The Times also attacked named journalists and bloggers and, to top it off, finished with a column alleging collusion between Scottish nationalists and the Russian state. 

That the Chairman of “Index on Censorship” is associated with this kind of attack on freedom of speech, freedom of thought and freedom of research is sadly unsurprising. The guest list of the Index ceremony had a distinct right wing tinge including A C Grayling and Sara Khan, as well as a good smattering of the BBC, which was also represented on the judging panel. The irony of the state broadcaster being part of a panel on freedom of expression is plainly lost.

I realised something was very wrong with Index on Censorship when I contacted them over a decade ago, when Jack Straw attempted to ban the publication of my book Murder in Samarkand, after it had passed successfully through the exhaustive FCO clearance process over a time-consuming year. I tried to interest them again when my second book The Catholic Orangemen of Togo was dropped by my publisher following libel threats from mercenary commander Tim Spicer of Aegis/Executive Outcomes/Sandline.

On both occasions I was told that then Chief Executive of Index, John Kampfner, did not regard these attempted book bannings as incidents of censorship. Presumably because they weren’t somewhere like Cuba or Zimbabwe… 

The truly appalling Times attack on academics was part of a coordinated and government-led campaign to delegitimise anybody doubting the official narrative on Salisbury and Syria. The BBC weighed in with this horrible effort:

The government then issued a ridiculous press release branding decent people as “Russian bots” just for opposing British policy in Syria. In a piece of McCarthyism so macabre I cannot believe this is really happening, an apparently pleasant and normal man called Ian was grilled live on Murdoch’s Sky News, having been named by his own government as a Russian bot.
The Guardian uncritically published the government’s accusations in full, and astonishingly seemed proud that it had made no attempt to investigate their veracity but had merely published what the government wished them to publish:


The Guardian naturally was just as reliable as the BBC in driving home the message that anybody who doubted the government’s word on Syria was a flat-earth denier of the truth:

Mr Freedland is of course a perfect representation of an interesting fact. Those who are most active in telling us that we must attack Syria, and that anybody who questions the government’s pretexts is insane or evil, are precisely the same individuals who supported the war in Iraq and attacked those who doubted the existence of Iraqi WMD.

Indeed these people – Jonathan Freedland, David Aaronovitch, Oliver Kamm, Alan Mendoza, Andrew Rawnsley, John Rentoul, Nick Cohen – are the leaders of the tiny, insignificant number of people who still believe that the invasion of Iraq was both justified and beneficial in its result.

Yet these people of proven terrible judgement, they and others of their media class, are the arbiters who are allowed to dictate the terms of what is and what is not an acceptable public utterance on the situation in Syria.

When Jeremy Corbyn became leader of the opposition, one of two things had to happen. Either the Overton window had to shift to allow for the reflection of views held by the leader of the official opposition and his myriad supporters, or the leader of the opposition had to be castigated and humiliated as an unreasonable lunatic. 

Corbyn’s rational scepticism on British involvement in the conflict in Syria is a key moment in this process. Despite the fact Corbyn’s scepticism is supported by a wide swathe of diplomatic and military opinion within the UK, it has to be portrayed as fringe, extreme and irrational.

We thus have the extraordinary spectacle of a coordinated government and media onslaught on anybody who doubts their entirely fact free narratives. Those who were demonstrably completely wrong over Iraq are held up as infallible, and given full control of all state and corporate media platforms, where they deride those who were right over Iraq as crackpots and Russian bots. 

Meanwhile public trust in the state and corporate media hits new lows, which is the happy part of this story.

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