There is no escape from the horrors of imperialism, at home or abroad, argues Lindsey German
As the scale and horror of the Manchester arena terrorist bombing sinks in, it is also clear that the response of the people of Manchester has been magnificent. The many, many stories of help and support given by homeless people, Muslim taxi drivers and hotel workers are a demonstration of the instinctive solidarity which is often present at times of great crisis and disaster, but have been clearly present in Manchester these last thirty-six hours. Tribute has rightly been paid to the public services, who again as usual work tirelessly and bravely in these situations, putting themselves in harm's way to save other people. They are exemplars of public service.
A friend who was at the vigil in Albert Square, Manchester, last night spoke of me about how moved she was by it. Not just that she couldn't get anywhere near the main bit of the square because of the crowds, but because she felt that there was a very strong sense from speakers but even more so from the crowd, that this should not become a means whereby people were divided. It had a sense of democracy and anti-racism. This was not put explicitly, but it was implicit. There was mention in speeches of support for Muslims, of the tradition of the suffragettes, and of the sense of solidarity and support in the city. The Bishop of Manchester, David Walker, made a unifying speech. I watched some interviews this morning from the vigil which were moving and totally reflected my friend's impressions.
This reaction is very telling. It expresses a deep and implacable opposition to these terrorist acts but also a determination that they will not be used divide communities. This is similar to the response to the London bombings but we should remember that this attack took place in a smaller city at a very large event attended by many children and young people, so here there will be more people who know someone who was somehow involved in what happened.
Political campaigning in the election has been suspended, but it should not be for long. The reasons are twofold: one is that we should not allow this horrific incident to prevent people from going through the democratic process; secondly, the events themselves have to be assessed and discussed politically.
The truth is that after sixteen years of a war on terror, terrorism is a greater threat now than it was at the beginning. Modern Islamic terrorism has its roots in war, firstly in Afghanistan then in Iraq. The suicide bomber grew up here but was from Libya, site of continued civil war and growing Islamic terrorism. Some reports say that he had only recently returned from Libya. There is a terrible vicious circle of war, terrorism and racism which has to be broken if we are to have a peaceful society.
Theresa May today has announced 5000 troops to go on the streets and has raised the terror alert to critical. Yet we heard last night on Newsnight from a terrorism expert that there is really little that can be done to protect against such suicide attacks. We saw this actually with the recent attack on the Palace of Westminster. The danger of deploying these troops is that it actually creates a sense of tension which can lead to erosion of civil liberties - as we saw in 2005 when police shot an innocent man in a London tube station. In 2003, Tony Blair stationed tanks at Heathrow just before the big anti-war demo, again to create an atmosphere of tension. These policies are in my opinion unnecessary and counterproductive in fighting terrorism, when it is precisely a feeling of tension which groups like ISIS are trying to create.
On Newsnight too it was apparently suggested that May might be milking this terrible attack to allow her to appear presidential and strong. If there is any hint of that I think it will rebound on her. There have already been some really low attacks from the Sun and from the vile Katie Hopkins. Both should be boycotted because they are only interested in creating division. But we also saw how low Lynton Crosby, May's election adviser, can stoop, when he orchestrated the Islamophobic campaign against Sadiq Khan for London mayor - suggesting that he, a Muslim, was a supporter of terrorism. We really don't want that sort of stuff again.
These are all election issues
Praise from May for the emergency services stands in strong contrast to her treatment of them. The fire service has been cut in Manchester in recent years. Doctors and nurses are both highly dissatisfied with government policy and the NHS is under constant pressure. Cuts are hitting the police. If the Tories are re-elected, they will want more of the same. We should not forget how weak and wobbly May appeared on Monday as her manifesto of chaos unravelled.
The regressive tax on people who need care for dementia, the threat to people's homes and the introduction of means testing over winter fuel allowances (at exactly the time when the energy companies are sending out letters announcing big price rises) have been the biggest own goal during an election campaign that I can remember. Let alone the partial U-turn on a manifesto policy, which is unprecedented. I thought her response to questions on this sounded particularly nervous, and outrageous in accusing Jeremy Corbyn of spreading fake news, as did her interview with Andrew Neill which was a bit of a car crash. Her argument that she will get money for the NHS through a strong economy is identical to the one put by Michael Fallon about defence spending the other week, before Emily Thornberry's attack on him sent him to the subs bench.
Labour is forced to give detailed costing for everything but they seem to think that vague promises about a strong economy are enough. When most predictions show inflation growing, a slow-down in spending and record government and personal debt it is particularly dishonest. Incidentally, a little remarked part of the manifesto of chaos is that the Tories have extended paying off the budget deficit till 2025. That is ten years after Osborne predicted it would be paid off. We have been paying for it with austerity, wage caps and attacks on public services. But the government just keeps on borrowing.
The reason I bring all this up is that we are still in an election campaign, and these are issues the Tories would like to put on the back burner. We cannot allow them to do so.
As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.
Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.
More articles from this author
- The trouble with terrorism – weekly briefing
- No Platform: Free speech for all?
- Now it’s neither heat nor eat – weekly briefing
- Sexual violence, economic violence: why women still need our rights – weekly briefing
- Discontents for all seasons – weekly briefing
- The Pandora’s Box of 9/11 – weekly briefing
- Did the crime of 9/11 justify 20 years of the War on Terror? - video