Socialist Worker

Defend beggars from the bigots

Issue No. 1688

The Mail, the police and New Labour line up to hit the destitute

Defend beggars from the bigots

A FILTHY alliance has developed whose targets are innocent women and children. Metropolitan Police commissioner John Stevens, Labour minister Paul Boateng, AEEU union leader Ken Jackson and Guardian columnist Ros Coward are an unlikely grouping. What unites them is their contempt for women refugees and their children who are so poor they have to beg.

Met chief John Stevens has called for "zero tolerance" for beggars. He says he wants to tackle "quality of life" issues on the streets. What quality of life is there for refugees who face arrest, fines and imprisonment for begging coins on the streets? Stevens enjoys a fine life. He is paid 130,000 a year and is known as "Captain Beaujolais" because of his passion for fine wine. He part owns a jet fighter plane. One of his jaunts was to deliver aid to children in Romania. But he shows no sympathy when desperate Romanians arrive in Britain. Stevens is matched in his hypocrisy by New Labour's Paul Boateng.

He declared that begging "can't be accepted" and "we have to back the police and courts 100 percent when they make it clear this sort of conduct simply isn't tolerable". He does not find poverty unacceptable, just those who are the victims of it. Boateng himself comes from an immigrant background. He made his career as an anti - racist activist and councillor in the Greater London Council. But these days he is more concerned about parroting New Labour's attacks on refugees to keep his salary of 80,367 a year.

Ken Jackson, leader of the AEEU engineering union, accused refugees of "milking the system" in Tuesday's Sun. He declared, "We have to hunt down all the fleecers." This follows his attack on travellers last year when he called them "dossers, thieves and drug takers". He would clearly rather side with union buster and Sun owner Rupert Murdoch than with those fleeing persecution. Ken Jackson is also the man who refused to hold a ballot of his members before casting the union's vote against Ken Livingstone in Labour's mayoral selection. Guardian journalist Ros Coward debated fellow journalist Neal Ascherson in last week's Observer on the subject "Should We Give Money To Beggars?"

Coward's reply would not have been out of place in the Sun. "There is an influx of cultures for whom begging is part of a borderline criminal lifestyle," she moaned. "It's not hard to recognise that contemporary begging has almost nothing to do with destitution." Coward made her name as a feminist, arguing for women's rights. Now she attacks Romanian women.

Even a leading police officer admitted last week that refugees are not operating in organised criminal gangs. "In reality these people come to the UK in distress," said Chief Superintendent Hotston. "I don't believe there is a racket. It would be a reasonable assumption that they consider themselves to be short of money." None of those who are attacking beggars will feel the slightest twinge of guilt as they enjoy a trip to the theatre and an expensive meal before returning to their comfortable homes.

What clearly spoils their evening is the sight of a refugee or homeless person lying on the street who dares to ask them for spare change.

'Refugees are not criminals'

CAMPAIGNERS MARCHED through Cambridge last Saturday in defence of refugees. The demonstration was called to oppose the opening of Oakington Detention Centre which will imprison 400 refugees at a time, including children.


THERE ARE some people in areas like Kent who are scroungers, denying homes to the rest of us and living off the fat of the land. They are called the rich. A typical example is Baron Hollenden. He owns 4,000 acres in Tonbridge, Kent, and 6,000 acres in Buckinghamshire. The estates' combined wealth is 28 million. Yet Tories on Kent County Council cry that there is no room for refugees.

A horrible history of divide and rule

ANTI - REFUGEE hysteria is not new. It has been whipped up in the past to attack each new group of immigrants arriving in Britain. A bigoted report into "the state of the Irish poor in Britain" in 1836 said, "The Irish emigration into Britain is an example of a less civilised population spreading themselves beneath a more civilised community." Irish people were forced into dirty, overcrowded accommodation. The papers then labelled them disease - ridden criminals. Other immigrants have faced the same abuse.

For example, a Times newspaper article in 1957 accused Afro - Caribbeans of sexually corrupting "British women". These attacks are dragged right up to date by the rabid right wing columnist Paul Johnson in last Saturday's Daily Mail. He said, "The pool of potential beggar criminals is deep. A generation ago it was just the Republican Irish and the West Indians. They have been joined by the West Africans who operate highly sophisticated rackets to speed people from Freetown to London and then to work the welfare system. East Africans too are coming in growing numbers."

Johnson reels off a list of countries in Eastern Europe and the Indian subcontinent which he also believes are about to "invade" Britain. To bigots like Johnson the latest anti - refugee campaign is a chance to attack a vision of a multicultural Britain. They do not see anything positive in the skills or hard work immigrants have contributed to Britain. The anti - refugee brigade do not celebrate the riches that other people's cultures have brought to this country. Across Britain black and white people in workplaces and communities have to stand together and say, "Refugees are welcome here". We should not let the press and politicians get away with blaming these victims for the rotten system we live in.

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Sat 18 Mar 2000, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1688
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