Archive for June, 2018

Freedom of religious practice….respecting the rights of others

Wednesday, June 27th, 2018

I once gave a talk on ‘the permissive society’ at a Day Centre for the elderly, having completed my unusually erudite and intermittently witty spiel,  I was at a total loss to respond to a woman who – without a hint of irony – complained about permissiveness on television: ‘I think it’s terrible,’ she said ‘the way young girls have sex stuffed down their throats!’

With the polarisation of society, it might have been more apt if she’d expressed concern about religion being stuffed down throats. Of course, that was not the topic, but it might have been – and there is a connection to permissiveness – or more properly, greater openness and tolerance in society. There has been a backlash from some with strong religious views – and others who have suddenly developed such views.

Whether this entails wearing a burka or niquab, a sheitel or headscarf, there has been greater polarisation between those with strong religious beliefs – and those without. Sometimes, I feel religion is used as a crutch to seduce the vulnerable and those at a low ebb; in the 1970’s in the USA I saw young people befriended on the streets of New York by followers of Sun Myung Moon and Scientologists, later, at a ‘Christ is the Answer’ presentation in a huge marquee in Washington DC, we were emotionally blackmailed by adherents, who asked us to stand up and give ourselves to Christ, whilst dramatic music was played over loudspeakers, anyone not standing at the end was made to feel like the devil incarnate.

Recent problems in the UK relate to Ofsted inspections of Muslim and Orthodox Jewish schools, where inspectors complained of historical texts being redacted and a failure to include in lessons details of gay and transsexual lives. Concerns were also expressed about safeguarding issues. Secular inspectors versus religious schools, an inevitable recipe for conflict. As with all things, common sense should prevail, schools should be allowed to follow their religious beliefs whilst ensuring pupils are safe and receive an excellent general education, with sensitive issues taught in a sensitive way.

A clearer example of religious intolerance arose recently, an El Al plane was delayed for an hour when two Orthodox Jewish men refused to sit next to women. Maybe they needed a lesson in the overriding requirement for mutual respect and good manners.

Many religious communities and groupings reject the liberal values of the West; yet they enjoy the lifestyle, healthcare, ability to travel and comforts of 21st Century living.

We must protect religious freedom and the right to worship – but we also have a duty to regulate society in order for all groups and individuals to live freely, as long as they obey the law and respect the rights of others. Freedom of religious practice should not be at the expense of others, it should be a role model for a pious, respectful life, not a recipe for conflict with non-believers.

The great patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob made a unique contribution to civilisation – the 10 Commandments, received by Moses – still form the backbone of the Judeo-Christian hegemony of Western society. But, let’s be honest, if any of those great prophets were able to return and see our world, they would have a great deal more to learn from us, than we, from them. That’s not to denigrate the vast contribution made by them – just imagine the very first thing that Moses would google: The Exodus? A hundred tasty recipes for manner from Heaven? Maybe, he would get hooked on Facebook or other social media, one of the things that binds us with our forebears is communication.

Religion is a roadmap that can point us in the direction of happiness and fulfilment, but reaching the destination is the objective, not obsessing with the way to get there.

Those unduly concerned with the minutiae of religious dogma, may smell the sweet aroma of what’s cooking, but are unlikely to actually get to taste it.

Michael Desmond

Thursday, June 14th, 2018

This is the verbal equivalent of a quick selfie; in a society where fame feeds on itself – and not necessarily talent – it’s sometimes useful to be anonymous. But we need to stand up to be counted, where necessary, which, quite frankly, is most of the time.

I live in Clapton, North East London, represent Hackney Downs on Hackney Council and was Labour candidate for Faversham and Mid Kent in 2015 and 2017.

I’m not a fan of Brexit and put together Society Syndrome’s little anti-Brexit ditty ‘Little Englanders’, which can be found on You Tube. My general views are left of centre, but fairly moderate – apart from when it comes to Arsenal supporters – but we won’t go into that, we can be a little tribal in North London. I believe in the greatest good for the greatest many, as long as it is not at the expense of the few.

In any pluralistic democracy, everyone should seek to play a part, each grain of sand, together, comprises a beach.

Feel free to join us in building a useful sandcastle, seeking to protect the vulnerable and creating a more peaceful, tolerant society. Each year, we arrange a Have Your Say event for 16-19 year olds, whatever your age, if you want to help us achieve our goals, please contact me.

Donald Trump need not apply.


Averting the Brexit Disaster – A People’s Referendum when Terms of Departure are Known

Sunday, June 10th, 2018

Brexit, if it happens, will be a disaster – the only question is just how much of a disaster. The siren voices of the Bank of England, every living ex-Prime Minister, “experts” and the vast majority of MP’s have been forgotten, dubbed fearmongers, or worse.

The process of extrication with its’ inexplicable twists and turns has been less of a rollercoaster, more a downward spiral – pity the farmers of Kent trying to bring in their harvest of strawberries with no Bulgarian pickers to help them, or their long-suffering neighbours towards Dover, who may face congestion caused by trading restraints and problems collecting duties, the likes of which they’ve never experienced before – a recurring nightmare which should, at least, keep psycho-analysts in business for a while.

The biggest problem will not be shortages of doctors and nurses for the NHS, we can recruit them from outside the EU, which might not please every former UKIP voter with an ingrown toenail; the major risk is not even the border in Ireland – it’s quite possible a fudged solution can be found  – though to risk the Good Friday Agreement in any way is so irrational, future historians will have to grapple with it, should any universities have the funds to employ them. The biggest risk is to the economy; it could, literally, collapse. We have an enormous national debt and public sector borrowing requirement, our economic insulation is about as good as a tarpaulin during a hurricane.

I estimate there’s a 30% chance of catastrophe – house prices in London and the South East collapsing by about 50%, parity between the pound and dollar, food prices doubling, car manufacturers moving to more fertile shores and interest rates rocketing. Of course, that is the worst-case scenario, but what major company fails to carry out a risk assessment, before taking the risk? The best-case scenario would be if our invisible earnings hold up, tourism flourishes, or we find a niche market as an offshore tax haven, something that’s anathema to most of us, but could appeal to a few Russian oligarchs.

When the referendum was held in 2016, there was little talk of the customs union, European Free Trade Association, even the Irish border was hardly mentioned; all we saw was that famous battle bus with its’ promise of a huge NHS dividend if we left, like going into a restaurant without looking at the menu, we then discovered as we sat down, there was nothing palatable, in fact, the menu was blank and hadn’t even been written.

We all have a much better idea now, we understand some of the options more clearly. The vitriolic anti-immigrant vote has crumbled, UKIP has been through so many new leaders, they’re starting to advertise the position at the local Job Centre as a regular vacancy. Sadly, those being made redundant by the swathe of high street redundancies as numerous retailers go bust, may not think it’s much of a job.

Moderate Tories who supported Remain must show some backbone, standing up to their whips office, making clear their concerns,  rather than quibbling over trifles. Donald Trump is hardly angling for custom from us should we leave, rather, he’s put up barriers and promoted protectionism. So much for our great hope of more world trade outside the EU. When circumstances change, politicians should take note and learn from them, rather than burying their heads in the sand.

Once the terms of our potential departure are known, we need a People’s Referendum to make a final decision, let those who were too young to vote before, but whose lives will be more affected than anyone’s, have their say, even those 16 plus should have a vote – they did in the Scottish Referendum.

Its not too late to make our voices known, now we have an idea of the song we’re singing, nothing in a democracy is set in stone – apart from the perceptions of those Little Englanders David Cameron kowtowed to, that got us in this mess in the first place.

Surely, with apologies to Laurel and Hardy, it’s one fine mess we need a chance to get out of: the clock is ticking; we need another vote soon.

We Must Reduce Knife Crime and the Carnage It Causes…

Tuesday, June 5th, 2018

I was recently asked by Anti-knife UK to speak at their demonstration outside Downing Street; meeting relatives of victims, seeing the training shoes of some laid out in front, made a profound impact on me – and all of the others attending. We cannot allow hatred, violence, bitterness and revenge to tear us apart: here are the main points from my speech:


  • The Nightingale Estate, Clapton which I represent on Hackney Council recently experienced a terrible incident; a gang of youths fighting with knives and machetes, one was so seriously injured, he stumbled into a doctor’s practice adjacent, dripping blood, which understandably frightened the staff and other patients.
  • Such scenes have become almost common place this year, gang fights, tit for tat reprisal stabbings, drug dealers’ feuds, issues of “respect” – or just, for some, being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
  • In April, the murder rate in London overtook New York! That’s one record we do not want to hold.
  • We held a meeting on the estate where there’d been the gang fight and stabbing, some parents said their children were too frightened to go out to play, the GP surgery dealt with the injured boy, but there was blood all over the place – on the floor, on the counter. What a sight for waiting patients to see!
  • There are answers to the current problems, we don’t need to wring our hands and put up with this.

Firstly:  Theresa May must reverse the police cuts she made as Home Secretary. In 2010 she agreed to Treasury demands to reduce the police budget by 18%; police numbers fell from 144,353 in 2009 to 122,859 in 2016. That is not acceptable. The first duty of government is to defend and protect its citizens.

Secondly, we must take a stronger line on drill music and incitement to violence. Inevitably, as young people’s attention span reduces, catchy, sassy lyrics with jokes about revenge and stabbing can get their attention. They are sick and evil. They need to be stopped.

Thirdly, Councils have hundreds of civil enforcement officers who issue millions of parking tickets – around 3.5 million a year in London alone. The Community Protection Scheme incorporated in the Police Reform ACT 2002 enables them to deal with a range of environmental offences – they should work with the police and protect the community. It’s appalling that the millions earned by Councils punishing motorists for parking on a yellow line or outstaying a permit are prioritised over the safety and needs of the community. Public safety must come first.

  • There is insufficient research into the causes by academic institutions – although I agree with a professor from Birmingham University who reflected that Benjamin Franklyn’s axiom: “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” should be a guiding principle of 21st Century crime policy.
  • We need to look at all related issues – group dynamics, parental control – and, yes, punishments: I saw a gang of youths jogging down the street last month having – presumably – been looking for someone they wanted to attack, apparently holding weapons, nonchalantly getting into their cars and driving away, when they couldn’t find him.
  • Let those who use knives fear the consequences. But let them also understand and perceive the implications: mothers losing sons, sisters losing brothers, a knife is a personal form of weapon, a gun – however bad – is a mechanism which can be used to kill. To stab someone, is a horrendous act which shows a contempt for life and humanity – not just the victim’s; their family, YOUR family and society.
  • Those here today who’s families have suffered bereavements or who have children who’ve been seriously injured know the pain. We must counteract hatred by instilling values of decency, respect – and also the notion of proportionality.
  • It’s fine to argue with someone, not to stab, maim or kill them. Life is precious.
  • We need to encourage all communities to take responsibility for their young people – but equally – for young people to take responsibility for their own actions.
  • They do know the difference between right and wrong. Let’s stop all the hatred, violence and bitterness and move towards a more peaceful, civilised society