The Trojan Horse Affair

I’ve recently listened to The Trojan Horse Affair, an unbelievable investigative podcast by two journalists with the New York Times.

It’s a really riveting account of basic questions going unasked in service of an Islamophobic narrative; malicious and willfully dense officials from petty local government up to the Cabinet; and two dogged, likeable men grappling with the nature of their own profession.

A strange letter appears on a city councillor’s desk in Birmingham, England, laying out an elaborate plot by Islamic extremists to infiltrate the city’s schools. The plot has a code name: Operation Trojan Horse. The story soon explodes in the news and kicks off a national panic. By the time it all dies down, the government has launched multiple investigations, beefed up the country’s counterterrorism policy, revamped schools and banned people from education for the rest of their lives.

To Hamza Syed, who is watching the scandal unfold in his city, the whole thing seemed … off. Because through all the official inquiries and heated speeches in Parliament, no one has ever bothered to answer a basic question: Who wrote the letter? And why? The night before Hamza is to start journalism school, he has a chance meeting in Birmingham with the reporter Brian Reed, the host of the hit podcast S-Town. Together they team up to investigate: Who wrote the Trojan Horse letter? They quickly discover that it’s a question people in power do not want them asking.

From Serial Productions and The New York Times comes The Trojan Horse Affair: a mystery in eight parts.

It’s telling that as much as Hamza and Brian uncovered had to come from a Muslim and from a US journalist. British media easily swallowed a moral panic, and largely refuses to rethink it today. It’s not the first or the last time – but it’s unique to have the Kafkaesque twists laid out so well.

Democracy When Convenient

I saw this article in the (sigh) Daily Mail from yesterday:

The House of Lords voted to give Parliament the power to force ministers to reopen talks if MPs reject Mrs May’s deal with Brussels. […]

Yesterday’s amendment to the Government’s flagship Brexit legislation gives MPs the power to decide what ministers should do – including ordering them to hold fresh negotiations with the EU – if the Commons votes against the final Brexit deal.

Judging from the slant of the article and many of the comments underneath, it’s apparent that the right, at least as represented by this ‘newspaper’, doesn’t have a consistent, serious opposition to the existence of an unelected upper chamber, as I do. Or a consistent support for parliamentary sovereignty. Far from it.

They only seem to kick up a fuss about the Lords when the vote is inconvenient for them. In fact, when I look back on the last few years, every time the government has wanted to act without checks and someone has tried to make it so Parliament gets a vote on the matter, the Daily-Mail-right has, ironically, branded that intervention undemocratic. It’s apparently fine for the Prime Minister to not have to consult anyone else on anything, so long as she wants to enact the ‘will of the people’.

Gina Miller? Enemy of the people! Why? She wanted parliamentary approval to be required to implement Brexit. For the great crime of wanting the representatives we elected to do what we pay them (too much) for, and represent us in accord with the way this country’s political structure works, she was savagely slated in national media, and in August 2017 it was revealed she ‘has been receiving threats of acid attacks for months and is afraid to leave her home.’

Defending herself in the Mail, she wrote:

These experienced, senior politicians do not appear to know what any first-year law student knows: only Parliament can grant people rights, and only Parliament can take them away.

They talked airily of using the Royal Prerogative – an ancient self-serving right that Kings and Queens once used to rid themselves of their enemies – as a way of circumventing Parliament.[…]

So, to be clear, it is not the idea of Brexit that filled me with dread. It was the idea of an unchallenged, unanswerable Government taking us back to 1610 and ripping a hole through our democratic structures.

Theresa May bombing Damascus without asking anyone? Fine, apparently. She had to hurry after the coattails of her mates Donald and Macron. Stop winging about MP’s having a vote, lefty snowflakes. Sometimes we need a strong and stable leader to do whatever they think is best (so long as it matches what we think is best, of course…) with as little oversight as possible.

The point of representative democracy is that, in theory, everyone who can be bothered to vote gets a representative, and all the representatives argue, vote, hash out some sort of compromise. Obviously it doesn’t work quite that neatly in practice, but it’s better than just letting the government implement policy unopposed. That results in, at best, a tyranny of the majority – where 51% get everything they want implemented, and the rest get nothing. There’s a reason we have a government and an opposition. Were Daily Mail readers not taught to share their toys?

If this was a matter of good-faith concern about democracy, they’d oppose having Lords all the time – not just when the Lords are being inconvenient for them. If they were serious about democracy, they would have been outraged to see Amber Rudd outright censor a candidate in this video at a hustings in Rye last year.

If they were really serious about democracy, they would oppose things like the Royal Prerogative, no matter what it’s used for. Maybe, if they were truly serious, they’d even oppose the monarchy itself – a literal unelected elite, in their position only because their ancestors were handy with a sword – instead of ridiculously fawning over them.

They certainly prefer democracy to the alternative. But it’s also abundantly clear that they don’t want too much of it, and only when convenient.