Guest Blog – A Refugee Just Like You or Me by Angela Gorman

Labour Party

 

 

Angela Gorman sings in a choir in South London. One of her fellow choir members talked to Angela about the work they were doing in Greece to help migrants. Inspired by her friends’ work with Kos Solidarity http://www.kos-solidarity.com/ Angela took a week’s annual leave to go and help. I am proud to have the opportunity to publish Angela’s observations on her life changing week. Here is her blog:

 

I felt that I needed to write about my recent life changing experience. I spent one week ( that felt like a month) volunteering for Kos Solidarity on the Greek island of Kos, very close to the Turkish coast.

I will never forget seeing people of all ages, arriving at our volunteer station near the harbour at night, shivering and in shock, with only the street lights to help us to see them and let them breathe out when they realised we were there to help. We gave them dry clothes, blankets, water and biscuits. There were children to help change to dry clothes, because the parents hands were too cold to work properly. There was wet hair to dry, cuts to tend to and little by way of rest places, only the concrete curb on which we would lay a blanket, if we had them to spare.

Because of another charitable effort, we were able to place most families in a local hotel, and if they were without means, that would be free of charge with free meals for a couple of days. So I got to meet several families and help them in different ways.

The Syrian father Hassan, travelling only with his 3yr old daughter. I noticed that she was very shy, and unlike the other children, she would not make eye contact for long, and would not smile. I’m not trained in counselling anyone, let alone children that have come from a warzone. It was so sad to see her like that. Hassan told me she missed her mother and brothers who were back in Syria, and that she couldn’t sleep well. Thankfully, the next day when I led a walking convoy of around 20 adults and 10 children from the hotel to the old town square for a clown show, they both came along. During the show, we both saw his daughter smile, a big genuine smile. And in his broken English, Hassan told me that was her first smile in 8 weeks.

An Iranian couple and their daughter were so grateful for my help, they invited me to join them for a bit of food. We ‘talked’ using google translate, about their lives. He an Electrician and she a Beautician with a degree in architecture! They had to leave their home, car, jobs because the husband was a Christian, and was at risk of being hung. How odd that the enormity of this knowledge was then contrasted by playing some Michael Jackson videos on YouTube and seeing their faces light up as they’d never seen these and rarely heard the music. The wife danced with me….there was joy in the room ! I’ll be keeping in touch with them.

I helped another couple by taking their sickly baby to the local hospital one evening, when the tent with MSF Doctors was no longer open. The hospital of an evening in Kos town was severely understaffed, with one Doctor seeing her way through the crowed corridor of patients. Eventually, with some insistence, I got them to assess the baby and all ended up fine. Again, a very polite and unassuming family, just wanting safety and a better future for themselves.

There was a young man from Syria, staring out over the sea one day. I asked if he was ok to discover he spoke English well. He had left Syria to live in Lebanon 5 years earlier and told me all his family were in Syria but he could not return. I knew this meant he would be killed if he did. Perhaps he had been active in opposition to Assad ? He missed his family terribly. I found myself trying to give him reassurance that he could build a good life and that his family would be proud of him.

Every refugee I met had the same human emotions as you and me, hopes and fears, joy and pain. But they had seen and felt so much horror and pain, and were grateful to be alive and safe.

How long can this continue where heartless people smugglers are profiting from this desperation to leave war zones and oppression ? How many people like you and me should die or suffer unnecessarily?

Boats

Discarded dinghies in Kos harbour which have up to 60 people crammed into them by smugglers.

 

Children

Refugee children have some moments of joy watching volunteer clowns from Sweden.

Tents Donated tents line the edge of Kos Harbour to house refugees.

 

Angela Gorman blogs at https://gormanangela1.wordpress.com/ where you can find more photographs

Details of the charity Angela worked with Kos Solidarity can be found here http://www.kos-solidarity.com/

 

The cost of the Euro breaking up is too high to contemplate

Labour Party

If Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain were to leave the Euro it would have a massive effect on the UK. Credit Suisse has recently estimated that were the peripheral countries to exit, Barclays would face losses of €37 billion and Royal Bank of Scotland €26 billion.

And that’s just what will happen here. If the Euro crisis results in the single currency breaking apart few large Eurozone banks would be left standing and the banking sector could face a €370 billion loss. Reported in the Guardian yesterday, Credit Suisse has conducted one of the first in-depth analyses if the Eurozone disintegrates.

The Credit Suisse report makes grim reading indeed, more so in the light of Spain’s debt rising to seven per cent and the election in Greece over the weekend.

Just to add a further layer of gloom, Credit Suisse also considered what would happen if three of the worst case scenarios – Greek exit, exit of the peripheral countries and a situation where banks retrench domestically – all happen at once. The upshot would be that the banking sector would need capital injections of up to €470 billion.

As has been said many times on this blog, the UK is deeply involved in these dire predictions. We are an island only geographically, not in any other sense. The only thing on which I have ever agreed with David Cameron is that what happens in the Eurozone will deeply affect us in Britain.

The Credit Suisse analysis of the consequences of the Eurozone breaking up follows closely on the heels of a report from the right-wing think tank Open Europe warning of the consequences of Britain leaving the European Union. The Open Europe paper says: “While acknowledging that the cost of EU membership remains far too high, the EU continues, on a purely trade basis, to be the most beneficial arrangement for Britain. The alternatives often suggested – the Norwegian, Swiss and Turkish models – would all come with major economic drawbacks, not least for key UK industries such as car manufacturing and financial services, with the Norwegian model being particularly ill-suited for Britain.”

There is, of course, only one overarching conclusion to be drawn from the Credit Suisse and the Open Europe research, neither of which can be charged with being either left-wing or Euro-fanatic. It is that Britain is profoundly affected by what happens in the Eurozone and is so completely tied up with the European Union that coming out is not a realistic option.

Meanwhile, back to the banks. It was banks rather than sovereign countries which precipitated the current economic crisis. Fanny May and Freddie Mac started it all with toxic mortgages to people who could not repay their debts. This was, however, just the tip of the iceberg. Banks were deemed too big to fail. Tragically, though, people were thought fair game, hence the austerity measures which are causing so much suffering across Europe.

Britian would be a political pygmy without the EU

Labour Party

Britain is at present sleep walking into political pygmy land without even realising where the country is heading. The euro crisis has provoked the ultimate challenge not only to the future of the European Union but also to that of the United Kingdom. As the EU possibly gears itself up to take hard decisions about further fiscal integration, with the inevitable consequence of further political co-operation, the UK would do well to consider its long-term future.

Britain’s decision not to join the euro in the late 1990s was undoubtedly based on sound economic criteria. Unfortunately most UK commentators on both economics and politics remain smugly sure that the current sovereign debt crisis in the euro zone vindicates the decision not to join the single currency. Few, including David Cameron’s coalition government, are, however, giving any thought to the future political realities of Britain’s current position.

The euro zone’s only realistic response to the Greek crisis and the looming chasm in Spain is to think beyond monetary union. In an incredible leader on 20 May, the Sunday Timescame out in favour of a united states of Europe, referring to Robert Mundell, a Nobel prize-winning economist, who set out the conditions under which a single European currency could function – fiscal union, wage flexibility and the ability of people to move between states to find work.

While the Mundell scenario is, I am sure, too much for Europe’s present leaders, the Economist this week came up with a far more acceptable proposal for greater financial and fiscal control at EU level. Although the end result of such moves would not be political integration as it is generally understood, it would inevitably give the EU more power and more political clout.  

It is my firm belief that moves towards further political integration, at least for the 17 EU member states in the euro will be the long-term outcome of the euro zone crisis. The 17 may increase to 22, 23 or even 24 since joining the euro was a condition of EU accession in 2004. Were this to happen, the two-speed EU model, often touted as the answer to Britain’s semi-detached position towards the European Union, simply will not work.

The British people, our government and our media need to be made aware of the consequences of Britain being outside a further integrated European Union.

The world is currently, and always has been, divided into power blocks, generally based on some recognised common interest. Once the euro zone crisis metamorphoses into a stronger European Union there will be four such blocks – the United States of America, China, India and, of course, the European Union. (I have excluded Russia as its future remains unpredictable).

Britain needs to take on board what it will mean for us if we were to position ourselves outside a European Union which is politically stronger with more integrated fiscal and financial arrangements. The only possible conclusion is that further European integration without the UK will isolate us in the wider world. If Britain wants to get anywhere near the position we held in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when Britannia really did rule the waves, we have to be a real leader in the European Union. There is quite simply no other way.

Therefore, in order to remain at the global top table, Britain needs to take some very tough decisions. If we remain detached from the EU and let the European political project develop without us, we will no longer be one of the world’s leading political powers. We will not have that crucial “x” factor, the sense of being a world leader with the pride that goes with it. Our only hope of achieving something resembling our old imperial confidence is to be at the heart of Europe both politically as well as economically.

The European Union, the bold phoenix to emerge from the ashes of the Second World War, is one of the most visionary political projects in modern times. The EU’s success has been to unite a continent fractured and constantly at war since the fall of the Roman Empire. Remarkably, this twentieth century coming together was voluntary rather than enforced by brutal power. It is now time to move the EU forward with Britain playing a vital role at the heart of Europe.

The Eurozone avoids recession after the UK has sunk into double dip

Labour Party

The first meeting between President Hollande and Chancellor Merkel ended with a show of unity, at least on the surface, and a joint view that Greece should stay in the Euro. Meanwhile, as IMF head Christine Lagarde adds her voice to those who think Greece may have to leave the single currency, the Eurozone remains in crisis. The result of the next round of elections in Greece will be crucial for both that country and the Euro itself.

It is important at what may turn out to be the crossroads for the Eurozone that those who make these decisions do not get caught up in the general air of panic. There is no doubt the atmosphere in Europe is febrile, while the Merkel/Hollande meeting is being described as sober.

Yesterday I argued that Europe’s leaders must take on board the results of a recent poll in Germany as well as the national elections in France and Greece which produced winning results for candidates opposing austerity. Fortunately it looks as if this may be sinking in. Horst Seehofer, head of Germany’s CSU Party, sister party to Merkel’s CDU, is now calling for some element of growth.

Yet the Eurozone crisis and the problems in Greece are taking place at the same time as the Eurozone is keeping its head above water as far as recession is concerned. It was announced yesterday that the Eurozone had avoided recession thanks, interestingly, to stronger than expected German growth. Even France, sometimes seen as a problem due to its 35 hour week and generous pensions, recorded neither growth nor contraction.

This is not, of course, the case in the UK. At the end of April we were informed that the British economy had again sunk into recession putting us into the unenviable double-dip category. David Cameron, of course, blamed the Eurozone crisis. This claim looks less than tenable in the light of the Eurozone’s ability to avoid recession itself. In fact, according to a recent Sunday Times/YouGov poll 32% of people blame the return of recession on the Tory-led coalition.

Cameron and Osborne have, in fact, been fortunate that the Eurozone crisis has taken attention away from the British economy. Our economy is not doing at all well, as those who have lost their jobs and the young people who cannot find employment will tell you. In addition, the Bank of England has today revised its forecast for growth downwards. We are, in fact, seeing a re-run of the decimation of our society last seen under Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s.

The British people are, however, cottoning on to this. The local elections on 3 May showed beyond a shadow of doubt that they preferred Labour under Ed Miliband to this Tory-led coalition. Labour is on the way up, the Tories are going down and the beleaguered Liberal-Democrats seem headed for electoral wipe-out.

Austerity must go hand in hand with growth

Labour Party

It would be a grave error to allow the excitement of Francois Hollande’s historic victory on Sunday to overshadow the results of the Greek general election. It was, of course, Greece’s sovereign debt crisis which sparked the ensuing crisis in the Eurozone. Moreover, the Greek people never accepted the consequent austerity measures. Whatever your view of those who demonstrated on the streets of Athens, it was always clear they had widespread support.

The short premiership of Eurozone appointee Lucas Papademos did nothing to assuage the opposition to austerity. Now, given the chance to once again elect their government, the Greeks have said no to austerity. Having come second in the inconclusive poll on Sunday, the far-left Syriza Party are incredibly in talks to form a coalition. If they are not successful the baton will pass to the leader of Greece’s socialist party, PASOK, former Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos.

Both the Greek and French result aptly demonstrate that austerity on its own without plans for growth, while never popular, is now losing whatever credibility it had for solving Europe’s economic problems. Put simply, the people will no longer put up with recession, unemployment and public expenditure cuts seemingly for no gain.

Now that two general election results have delivered this verdict along with local elections in Italy, another country under a Eurozone appointee, it is surely time to re-evaluate the austerity strategy. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Monday it was of “utmost importance” that the programmes of austerity and economic reform as a condition of the €174 billion Greek bail-out package “continue to be implemented”. She also made clear that “The process is a difficult one, but, despite that, it should go on.”

Likewise the European Commission would do well to think again as they seem to be taking a pro-Merkel line. A spokeswoman said it was up to the Greek political parties to “work in an atmosphere of responsibility” and continue implementing structural and economic reforms.

The only realistic way out the austerity deadlock with the people on one side and powerful financial vested interests, not to mention the leading lights of the Eurozone, on the other is to seek a middle way. Just as Labour Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls has always said, austerity must go hand in hand with measures for growth. Austerity alone causes huge suffering – unemployment and poverty coupled with the absence of hope. The people of Europe need to believe there is a future and a relatively strong one at that. Angela Merkel’s regime is providing the exact opposite and the people are making their views known.

While I would never claim the British local election results were wholly based on opposition to austerity measures, they clearly showed that our electorate prefer Labour to the current coalition. On the basis of those results Labour would form a government. We are seeing the Tory-led coalition sinking deeper into the mire as Cameron and Clegg try to revive their flagging fortunes. We should, perhaps, add the UK to the list of those countries who have had enough of austerity and want to feel hope for their future.

European Commission convinced Greece will be in Euro in five years’ time

Labour Party

The Head of the European Commission task force on Greece, Horst Reisenbach, stated in no uncertain terms yesterday that he believes Greece will still be a member of the Eurozone in 2017.

Speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Reisenbach said that now Greece had reduced its primary debt, the challenge was to strengthen growth and employment. Recognising that many people in Greece had made huge sacrifices and suffered as a result of the austerity measures, he was nonetheless certain that Greece’s governing coalition led by Loukas Papedemos had set Greece on the path to recovery.

Mr Reisenbach’s comments should be seen against the fact that March 20 had previously been viewed as a potential day for debt-ridden Athens to default. The manager of currency trading at Mitsubishi UFJ Trust and Banking commented in relation to the Eurozone sovereign debt difficulties that although concerns over Europe’s sovereign debt are bot completely gone, investors now have more c9onfidence. 

The new-found optimism regarding Greece is, of course, in part due to the approval by the Greek parliament of a new international bailout deal which will provide Greece with an additional 172 billion Euros. Coupled with massive debt restructuring, this latest bail-out is accompanied by a government pledge to abolish 15,000 public sector jobs this year, while salaries, pensions and other benefits have also suffered a new dramatic round of cuts.

So Greece, it would appear, is on the road to recovery. The Communist Party nationwide protest against this deal, which included a rally outside the parliament building, appears to have had limited impact. Meanwhile, the international financial community seems relatively calm about Greece’s future prospects.

It’s unfortunate, to put it mildly, that what is hopefully the beginning of the resolution of Greece’s sovereign debt problems has received so little coverage in the UK. A crisis, particularly a crisis in Europe, will always provoke anxiety and frenzy in the British media and in our political circles. It’s a real shame that solutions do not merit the same level of attention.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

It was a busy time for the EU this week, after talks to resolve the financial crisis in Greece broke down and then President Sarkozy suffered humiliation when France was downgraded by the credit ratings agency from its gold plated AAA rating. It was a crushing blow for the President ahead of his bid for re-election this spring.

Vincent Moss has a succinct view of last week’s euro politics here.

The first ever opera to focus entirely on sex trafficking will be premiered in the North West this spring in Liverpool. As regular readers of this blog will be aware, raising awareness of human trafficking has always been an important part of the work I do precisely because it is such a hidden crime, yet it has such devastating effects.

There has not even been a performance yet and it has been nominated for the Human Trafficking Foundation media award at the House of Lords last October. It will be premièred in Liverpool on Wednesday 7 March 2012. The venue is to be confirmed. As soon as I find out I will endeavour to let you know. You can read about the opera in full here.

There is some evidence that the pay gap between men and women is beginning to close. Marketing Week has the full story here. If the results are true this is an exciting time of change that we must celebrate. One set of figures, for example indicate male entrants earn an average of £20,864 but women start on £21,900. This is a reversal of last year’s trend, when male graduates were earning £22,800 in contrast to women earning £21,400.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round Up

Labour Party

It hardly surprising that women are the hardest hit following the coalition cuts. But perhaps our attention to this will be confirmed by the Fawcett Society which summed up the situation so perfectly when it said the Primeminister David Cameron is ‘grinding down women.’

The organisation claimed that women were being treated disproportionately.

If anyone was in doubt then the figures speak for themselves: More than two thirds of the £16billion the chancellor is making is by slashing the welfare budget.

Within the last 18 months ministers have axed the health in pregnancy grant, Sure Start centres have closed, housing benefit has been cut and tax credits slashed, so it’s hardly surprising that women should desert them in their droves.

Shadow minister for women, Yvette Cooper summed it up well when she highlighted that it was the Labour Party which warned that women would be hit far more significantly by the cuts than their male counterparts.

She said: “This shows what we’ve been warning since the emergency Budget – women are being much harder hit by the Tory-led Government’s decisions.

You can read more on the report here.

And the situation is worse still in Greece.

As rumours abound that the Greek Prime Minister will quit within the next few hours it is a fractious time.

And the coalition Government in Britain similarly remain in turmoil as they get over last week’s vote concerning whether the UK should hold a referendum on its relationship with the EU.

Meanwhile the Chancellor continues to make grand statements of questionable use speaking as world leaders debated the crisis amid continuing turmoil in Greece.

He warned a Greek exit from the euro would be “pretty traumatic” and called on the countries which use the single currency to “face up to their responsibilities” and ensure a solution was found.

However, it is his party which is confused over its European policy, uneasy about the level of integration and many are seeking a way out, so his words are unsurprisingly hollow.

You can read more on the crisis here.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

The daughter in law of Lord Kinnock has won the Danish general election and will become the country’s first female Prime Minister.

The centre-left coalition has ended the far rights 10 year grip on Denmark’s government.

Her victory was narrower than many had predicted, though, and it could produce a weaker than expected coalition.

It was predicated that the party would emerge with a five seat lead in the 179 chamber but she received only a three sear majority. The Social Democrats are now expected to form a government with the other two Liberal and left wing parties.

The new Prime Minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, leader of the left-wing Social Democrats, secured the victory over the ruling minority government of liberals and conservatives which had been kept in power by parliamentary support from the europhobic, Muslim-baiting Danish People’s party.

It was nevertheless a particularly tough campaign with both Thoring-Schmidt and her husband, Stephen Kinnock (son of Lord Kinnock) receiving personal attacks.

You can read the full story here.

Another week and the precarious nature of the Greek bailout continue to hang in the balance.

In Germany, Anglea Merkel’s coalition continued to debate over whether or not Greece should be allowed to fail.

Meanwhile an Austrian committee delayed a vote to ratify plans for a stronger bailout fund and Slovakia’s Eurosceptic parliamentary speaker demanded that Greece be allowed to go bust, and made it clear her would undermine the plan devised at a conference in July.

Amid the chaos is a voice of calm in the shape of José Manuel Barroso who said he was shocked at national leaders within the EU failing to keep their promises on the Eurozone. You can read the full article here.

British journalist, Will Hutton, has written a piece for today’s Comment is Free section in the Guardian about the euro zone crisis and carefully lays out a convincing argument as to why collective action is the only solution.

He makes a powerful argument.

His final words of advice are:’ Trying to pretend the interdependencies do not exist or that the collapse of the euro is the answer can only make matters worse. It is a straight choice: we do all we can to help each other or risk going down in what could be the worst economic contraction for a century.’ You can read the article in full here.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

Once again the headlines were dominated by the News International scandal. First Rebekah Brooks, former News of the World editor and CEO of News International stood down from her post as the chief executive and then earlier today she was arrested, over the phone hacking scandal.

We could be forgiven for believing there was no other news worthy of headlines for the way in which this story has dominated both print and broadcast coverage.

One point worth mentioning is how Ed Miliband seemed to capture the mood of the nation so effectively. During Prime Ministers Questions earlier in the week he used sound bites to great effect, telling the PM ‘he just doesn’t get it’ and calling upon him to apologise for what Miliband labelled ‘a serious error of judgement’. You can watch Michael White’s Guardian podcast here for full analysis.

To confirm this, today’s Sunday Mirror carries a poll by polling firm ComRes which states Miliband has received a ‘big bounce’ following the scandal. You can read the analysis of the ComRes poll here.

Perhaps now Murdoch’s media empire has been shaken we can once again have a proper debate about media plurality. Indeed the Independent raised such a point in its leading article: ‘Our democracy is stronger for the dropping of BSkyB bid: We now know that the integrity of our public institutions is not for sale to the highest bidder’. You can read the article in full here.

Media plurality and the demise of the Murdoch empire will, I’m sure be a big moment in British history, but there was other news. Greece is dangerously close to defaulting on its debts and if it does so the consequences threaten to spread far across Europe and will be a complete disaster for the euro.

An article in last week’s Guardian claims that the euro is run according to Germany’s monetary interests and in order for the euro to survive Germany must reconsider its position. If European monetary policy is run according to German interests, the article states, then huge structural imbalances will accumulate. It goes on to argue that Germany will then either have to pay to correct those imbalances, or agree that the euro should not be run primarily according to German interests. If they are unwilling to do either of those things, the euro can’t survive. You can read the full article here.

I was also saddened to learn that there has been a dramatic rise in the number of older workers who are staying in employment simply because they can’t afford to retire.

The report by the TUC shows a significant increase in the number of over-50s and people over the retirement age in work over the past two decades.

Brendan Barber the TUC general secretary was right when he said ‘the increasing number of over 65s in work shows that older workers are highly valued and that the government is absolutely right to scrap the default retirement age.

‘But there is a darker side to people to working beyond their retirement. Low wages and poor pension provision, particularly in the private sector, mean that many people simply cannot afford to retire at 65.’ You can read the article in full here.