There is an episode in the caustic satire Veep where Selina Meyer, the presidential candidate, is grateful for the distraction of a mass shooting from her woeful campaign.
“Muslim or white guy?” she asks her spin doctor. “Which is better for me?”
“White guy,” replies her adviser.
“Fingers crossed,” Selina says.
It’s easy to imagine a very similar conversation between Boris Johnson and an adviser following the Streatham terrorist attack.
In a Tory Party that is institutionally Islamophobic, another terrorist attack by a Muslim will be viewed through the cynical through the prism of political gain.
Had the attacker been a white supremacist, it wouldn’t have fared well for Johnson, whose party has been a warm bosom where the far right can nestle comfortably.
It would have provoked a less clamourous reaction but debate would have focused on how populist leaders like Johnson have stoked the fires of right-wing extremism… and then nothing.
The Streatham attack happened on Johnson’s watch.
Attacker Sudesh Amman was out under an automatic early release policy the Conservatives have left untouched for a decade in government.
Now Johnson is scapegoating “lefties” and lawyers, who apparently have influenced sentences by, heaven forfend, defending their clients too well.
Not one for nuance, the Prime Minister is now advocating locking up Muslim extremists and throwing away the key, because it
makes for an easy soundbite and appeases the slow of thinking, despite lacking efficacy.
Amman was further radicalised in prison in the same way as most inmates’ criminal behaviour is hardened – and they can’t all be locked up for life, in which case it’s just delaying the timer that triggers the bomb.
There were 90 people killed in stabbings in London last year and a further eight last month.
A number of the perpetrators will have been in jail before – but only the terrorist attacks are terrifying enough to be valuable political currency.
After the London Bridge attack last year, when two people were stabbed to death by former inmate Usman Khan, the UK Government moved to end early release for serious offenders.
But Amman would not have been covered by the proposals due to the short length of his sentence.
The father of London Bridge victim Jack Merritt, who was running a prisoner reform project, condemned Johnson’s attempts to exploit that attack as “crude”.
The real issue is tackling the causes of violent crime – extremism or otherwise – and the failure of rehabilitation and deradicalisation programmes in prisons.
The solution lies in lateral, not regressive, thinking.
Reflection, rather than reflex, is needed but politicians of all hues prefer a binary narrative of good versus evil, which ignores the complexity of criminal behaviour.
Knee-jerk reactions from the Government compound the problem by inciting racism which is an effective recruiting sergeant for both right-wing and Islamic extremism, as both sides become more alienated and entrenched.
The hang ’em high approach achieves nothing other than pleasing the lynch mob who ignore the inconvenient truth that it doesn’t work.
The victims of the Streatham and London Bridge attacks deserve more than to have been used as political pawns in a game where only Johnson and populism win.
A big step in the rights directions
The Scottish Trades Union Congress this week appointed a female leader for the first time in its 123-year history.
That it took more than a century to put a woman in charge speaks volumes about the lack of equality there has been in our union movement.
Roz Foyer is taking the helm at one of the most challenging periods for unions since Thatcher. For too long, unions have been a boys’ club and been culpable in scandals like the equal pay outrage.
Working women like dinner ladies and carers were stitched up by unions, who negotiated bonuses for the male employees while their female counterparts were excluded.
In this time of austerity and exploitative working conditions, when women have again been hit hardest, unions are needed more than ever.
Having an accomplished and respected woman like Foyer at the top is part of modernising and galvanising a movement which younger generations deem irrelevant at their peril.
Women in low-paid jobs, too overwhelmed to feel politically engaged, are often reluctant to join unions they feel will do nothing for them.
Foyer, who was a telephonist at a Glasgow benefit centre, could be the key to empowering women who need unions more than most.
As she has said: “If you don’t go and access your rights, then they may as well not exist.”