A letter to my MP on the humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean

We’ve all seen it on the news and in the papers over the last couple of days; we’ve seen the harrowing pictures of a children lying face down in the surf. We’ve signed petitions asking the government to take in more refugees and we’ve shared the Facebook posts and retweeted images, quotes and links to newspaper stories and opinions. We’ve donated items to be sent to refugee camps and maybe too we’ve slapped down a bigoted comment on one of the above but what else can we do?

I always wonder what my government is really thinking and as with other issues I want them to know what I think. I want them to know what I and other likeminded people think and what we want them to do and so again, I’m writing to my MP. Have you? Why not? It only takes a minute so go and do it now over at writetothem.com

Here’s my letter, let me know what you think in the comments section


Dear Mel Stride,

hello again, I wasn’t expecting to write so often during the summer recess but the crisis in the Med which has been growing over the last year and has now escalated into such a huge humanitarian disaster has made me think hard about what we should be doing as a country.

Today your colleague George Osborne said we must tackle Islamic State and the criminal gangs trafficking refugees across the Med and through Europe as though they are the real causes but this would seem to be missing the point in so many ways. The trafficking gangs are surely but a symptom of a problem. Yes, they’re criminal but if there wasn’t a huge number of displaced people fleeing their homes looking for a safer life then these gangs wouldn’t need to exist? Forgive my flippancy but it’s a case of supply and demand. We must tackle IS/Isis but we should also hold our hands up and admit that if we blame IS then we must also blame ourselves as Western nations strengthened the insurgents in the rush to overthrow the Syrian President al-Assad with no real plans as to what to fill the void with; similar to the situation in Iraq after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein where IS first surfaced in fact.

While we must assist in tackling the gangs and the insurgents we cannot stand by while people die fleeing the desperate situations they found themselves in following those western interventions. As one of the world’s strongest economies we have to participate more globally and act more responsibly but right now we should be doing everything we can as a nation to help every last man, woman and child by immediately providing shelter, food and aid alongside Germany and our other European neighbours. We should be investing in rebuilding the infrastructures we helped destroy in order to create safe environments to which those displaced people might wish to return.

The Prime Minister asserts that we are at the forefront of efforts to tackle the crisis but this isn’t supported by recently published figures on the numbers welcomed by various EU countries. Was this a reference to our overseas aid budget maybe which is indeed large? I felt a little ashamed at the attitude shown by our government when compared to Germany’s stance on this. David Cameron said today that Britain would fulfil its moral responsibilities towards refugees and that we would take in thousands more but there are no specifics, no timescales and no definite figures. Is this merely a response to the outcry following the photographs of the poor child lying in the surf in Turkey? Our opt-out of the EU burden-sharing arrangements means we don’t have to stand alongside Germany and others in dealing with this but are we stepping up to the plate when needed? I hope that this really is a decision based on our actually ‘doing the right thing’ rather than simply looking to be doing it.

It looks likely that the issue of the UK taking in more refugees will at least be discussed in parliament due to a petition or two gathering the necessary signatures for such discussion. Will that lead to a vote on the matter? Too early to say and the situation (and our stance) may change again before that but maybe writing to you and making my feelings known is useful for you in gauging the opinions of the electorate if a vote of some kind is to take place. I presume I’m not the only constituent doing so.

Earlier in the year at the hustings in Moretonhampstead just a couple of weeks before the General Election, the final question of a lively evening was, “we’re a small island, when should we consider it full?” While you were heckled by some elements of the crowd I noted that you referred to the crisis in the Mediterranean, that we should be helping those that needed help and not standing by, stressing the need for more international aid rather than cutting it. I of course understand your position as a whip and that occasionally you might be required to vote and mandate other MPs’ voting on matters which might not necessarily be in line your own personal beliefs but maybe this is something where simple humanity trumps party politics and rhetoric. We can only hope.

I believe that with unified cross-party statement of intent and positive positioning of the issue in the media and the public eye we can stand as an example to other countries and emerge a stronger, healthier nation because of it.

All the best Mel, a couple more days and then back to Westminster next week!

Yours sincerely,

Rich Mills


A letter to my MP on the DWP fabricating benefit claimants’ stories

It’s a quiet time for politics during the summer with MPs still on their holidays and therefore with no debates or votes being reported on I’ve found less to write to my MP about. Until this week.

You’ve probably read about Sarah and Zac’s stories in a DWP leaflet intending to explain why having one’s benefits sanctioned can be a positive experience. These all turned out to be false and the DWP has now pulled the leaflet but you know what? It’s just not good enough is it? I mean, this is our government; these people are running the country and affecting people’s lives! If this sort of thing can be signed off as acceptable then does it not make you question the decision making process behind the actual sanctions and cuts? It’s all about people and our government and our MPs might need reminding about that occasionally so drop them a line (I use the writetothem.com website). Remember – they work for you!

Here’s my letter:

Dear Mel Stride,

I hope you’re well and the summer recess is allowing you a chance to recharge your batteries before Parliament sits again in September.

I wasn’t sure who to write to about this but I knew that I should write to someone in order to at least register my disappointment and therefore as my MP it has to be you, sorry!

Earlier in the week as my family stopped for a coffee while travelling to London for a wedding (in Chingford ironically given the minister responsible), I read with dismay about the Department of Work and Pensions inventing people and stories to illustrate a leaflet on benefits sanctions. These “testaments” to the success of said sanctions were just shocking; patronising and to some extent threatening too.

Do I expect the people in these leaflets to be real? Maybe not but I would expect the case studies to be real, even if the photos were stock. How could these ever be sanctioned and make it to circulation?

My point is that I expect my government and its representatives to behave better than this; to BE better than this. Now, more than ever I believe the country needs an engaged electorate but of course in order to achieve this, the electorate needs a government that it can trust. I don’t mean this on a party-political level, I would write this same letter regardless of which party was in government. A fair, trusting and trustworthy society and government should not treat people like this.

Yours sincerely,

Rich Mills

The Migrant Crisis: The UK Is Trying To Have Its Cake And Eat It Too

Yesterday I wrote about the use of the word “swarm” in relation to the situation at Calais.

Here’s a great piece on the cynical hand the UK is playing

Michael Ingle - Interesting Times

The migrant crisis in Calais has assumed tragic proportions, with several of the people trying to enter the UK having lost their lives in the process.  Attempts by politicians in the UK and France to solve the crisis have so far been fruitless, and David Cameron’s increasing frustration has led him to describe migrants camped in Calais as a ‘swarm’.  Appropriate terminology for a zoo, but far from appropriate for thousands of migrants who are so desperate to reach the UK that many of them are prepared to risk their lives.

The irony of the UK’s position

The position of the UK in this crisis is very ironic.  Calais is by far the most important sea crossing between the UK and the continent.  Our economy depends on it for the transport of huge quantities of exports and imports.  Millions of British residents use it to travel to France and other…

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We need to talk about the word “swarm,” Dave

Earlier today, the Prime Minister used the word “swarm” when describing the many men, women and children trying to gain entry to Europe and ultimately the UK from Northern Africa. 

Dave has been criticised by many for dehumanising the plight of these people; people desperate to escape regimes and conditions far worse than we can imagine, conditions bad enough to risk death crossing the Mediterranean in a dinghy or being crushed beneath a goods lorry at Calais. 

Dave was even criticised by little-Englander Nigel Farage although this was somewhat ironic given that Nigel had used the same word himself earlier this morning in an interview. Nige also gave good anecdote as he told of a migrant trying the back door of his car on a return trip which illustrates just how bad things have got. I mean, we have royally fucked up some countries with our gung-ho foreign policy but to see a car journey with Enoch Farage as a means to a better life? Brutal.

Anyway, I’m not focusing on our “blow it up without consequences” approach to international intervention, what I’d like to look at is quite simple and aimed at those who have come out in support of Cameron and his choice of language. My point is this:

If it is okay to describe this group of people in need as a “swarm” then would it also be okay to use it to describe disabled folk  wanting support from the government? Would it have been okay to describe the tourists waiting to return from Tunisia following the recent attrocity as a “swarm”? What about people demanding access to routine procedures which are now being withheld because of austerity related cuts? Are there enough of them to refer to them as a “swarm”?

No, of course not, that’s ridiculous and so is this language being used to describe anything other than a huge number of insects or perhaps birds or fish. “Large numbers of people” is fine; a term which dehumanises the situation, which stops us thinking of the families and children as individual people needing real help is not. 

Cameron knew what he was saying too. His exact phrase was, “You have got a swarm of people coming across the Mediterranean, seeking a better life, wanting to come to Britain because Britain has got jobs, it’s got a growing economy, it’s an incredible place to live.” He dressed his comments in the rhetoric of UKIP & the far right, the xenophobic and the inward facing, little better than “bloody foreigners coming over here to take your jobs, wives and benefits.”

The word “swarm” to describe people is not okay. To defend it, to shout about “leftie” sensibilities or to quote a dictionary definition as justification is simply inexcusable.

Could this be the beginning of my brilliant book?

@richmariner is going to write a book – or we’re going to write it for him – donate a sentence or two

Will someone start this for me?Like many people who enjoy writing, I’ve always wanted to write a book. I’ve written countless articles for blogs, magazines, programmes, papers and websites, but as of yet I haven’t got round to writing that elusive book. That big, bold, brilliant book that I can call mine, forever – even when I’m dead.

I’ve been ‘free writing’ for over 10 years now. I do it at least two or three times a week, and as a result I have literally a million words to inspire me. But the start won’t come, because I can’t settle on an idea. I’ve written about too many subjects, and not enough about one.

A novel? A crime thriller? Short stories? One of those gimmicky books called How Not To Be A Twat On Trains, illustrated in a way that looks like it’s for children but is actually for adults? (I’ll be honest, that’s my strongest…

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Could the SNP be a viable political party for England and Wales?

Both during the run up to and in the months following the 2015 General Election I watched the progress of the SNP with a touch of envy. Here was a party which was saying what I wanted to hear; a modern take on socialism but along with that an understanding of the needs of businesses in their country, a party wanting to strike a balance between the needs of the people and economic stability.

Of course, I had a problem with their original raison d’etre – Scottish independence – as I want to see Scotland remain part of the UK and I think all the home nations are stronger for it, but aside from that this was a party which spoke to me and whose views were fairly representative of my own.

It wasn’t too long ago that Labour and the Conservatives campaigned together to maintain the Union but now the SNP are a strong party in Westminster, the establishment parties – and I include Labour in that – are calling to exclude Scottish MPs from voting on English matters! Why is that though? Can any matter be truly Scottish or English only given that we have a single currency and so many shared resources and infrastructures?

The Conservatives are obviously scared of a strong, confident party which speaks up for the people; a party which is big enough to influence voting but also one which can influence the thinking of the nation with its strong, clear position on issues such as benefit reform, fox hunting and our nuclear deterrent.

What of Labour? The SNP seem to be presenting a traditional labour viewpoint on many matters but why is the party of the traditional working class so reticent to partner with them? I believe that many in the Labour Party truly believe that their route back to power lies in attracting idle class, middle-England voters from the Conservative Party; A New “New Labour” if you will. After years of being accused of being Tory-lite under Tony Blair many Labour figures such as Liz Kendall, Tristram Hunt and Harriet Harman now seem to see this as their way forward rather than looking to their core party values and membership.

The rapid rise of Jeremy Corbyn demonstrates that party members new and old see him as being in touch with their core values, despite him being perhaps slightly too “left” for some.Party members recognise in him a sense of decency and a wish to do the right thing for those most in need. They see someone sharing some common ground with past Labour leading lights such as Tony Benn and John Smith and maybe even Dennis Skinner; someone willing to stand up and carry the fight across the floor of the commons without fearing a negative response from the right wing press.

Newly elected SNP MP Mhairi Black in her now famous maiden speech quite openly told the few Labour MPs present that the SNP was founded on the same strong socialist values of the Labour Party of old. The SNP were offering a hand to the Labour Party and many voters would have looked to them and said, “That’s it, that’s what we want!” but the Labour leadership are undecided, unsure of what they are, what they could be or even what they want to be.

So, is there a chance that the SNP could become a valid party for the other home nations? This article on a surge in SNP membership South of the border would seem to suggest it can.

The SNP message is attractive to voters from several parties – Green, Labour, Lib Dem and also Conservative. A party pushing for a more inclusive, fairer society. A welfare system which recognises that poverty and benefits might not be the lifestyle choice that the rhetoric of other politicians might seem to suggest. A party which sees a renewed, conventional nuclear deterrent as faintly ridiculous given the talk of a need to balance the books and wipe out the deficit.

In Nicola Sturgeon the SNP have a credible leader who refuses to be bullied, who doesn’t toe the establishment line and speaks out for those who need support. Is it a credible alternative though? Sturgeon performed incredibly well in televised debates in the lead up to the election and opinion pole ratings showed a party on a par with some established UK wide parties despite the fact that relatively few people could vote for them. I believe the SNP can build on May’s results and I also believe (and hope) that the quest for Scottish independence will be replaced by a party striving for a more Democratic UK, a more inclusive UK and an altogether more positive UK.

How long will it be before we see an SNP candidate South of the border? Only time will tell but many of us will be watching with interest.

A Letter to my MP on Changes to the Benefits System

Dear Mel Stride,

Just a quick note to say that as a constituent and citizen I am shocked
and disappointed that the way the chancellor has proposed to implement
cuts to the benefits system.

I pay tax and have paid tax for many years and am more than happy to do
so. I believe that a society has a duty to support those in need but I
strongly resent changes to taxation which benefit those who are wealthy
enough to not need additional help whilst those at the lower end of the
pay spectrum bear the brunt. The assertion that “we are all in it
together” and that we must all contribute in order to reduce the
deficit rings a little hollow while cuts to the incomes of working
families seem to offset changes to inheritance tax and the higher rate
of tax.

Surely the way to implement this would be in a way which supports
rather than penalises families and workers – to drive changes to
employment and to raise the minimum wage to the point where as much
employment as possible pays a true living wage? As wages rise then the
demand on the benefits system would surely decrease as families would
need and claim less but instead we seem to be making cuts based on an
ideology and rhetoric rather than supporting those worst affected.

The token announcement of a living wage to be in place by 2020 but cuts
and changes being in place long before seems like a token offering to
soften the blow but one which few are falling for.

I know many people see those depending on the benefits as “scroungers”
and that it is a lifestyle choice, a life of “something for nothing”
while the rest of us work to support them but I believe that view is as
outdated as it is incorrect. The austerity of the last 5 years and
further measures coming our way despite warning by organisations such
as the IMF, has left many struggling to get by. I find myself donating
more to charity than ever before but to charities nearer to home, to
organisations plugging the gaps such as foodbanks rather than animal
welfare. The fact that we as a wealthy nation have so many living in
poverty, including children (and changing the way we classify poverty
does not change a thing!)  is surely a disgrace. We should be ashamed
and like with many things rise above party politics and aim for a
stronger, more inclusive society.

I know that you cannot influence this directly of course nor are there
are votes or debates imminent where this might be discussed but as per
previous correspondence if I do not write then my voice won’t be heard.

Yours sincerely,

Rich Mills

A Letter to my MP on Changes to the Hunting Act

There is a lot in the news right now about changes to the 2004 Hunting Act, specifically to allow hunters to use a full pack of hounds to flush out foxes for the purposes of pest control. Currently only a pair of dogs may be used.

Dr Brian May and many others are campaigning tirelessly on this as many, myself included see this as a way of returning to full hunting with dogs. A cynic might also think that this is a change being pushed through by a Conservative party looking to appease landowners, donors, friends and countryside voters still aggrieved since the act became law 10 years ago.

If the government wants to repeal the act then propose to do it in full rather than weaken and dilute it and then debate it and vote freely!

I’ve written to my MP to let him know my feelings, as below. Take the time to do the same if you feel strongly about it or they will never know what you think.

Dear Mel Stride,

I hope this finds you well. I am writing to you regarding the forthcoming vote on changes to the hunting act. As I understand it the amendment is to bring us in line with Scotland where a full pack of hounds can be used to flush out a fox before shooting it rather than a pair currently.

I agree with many campaigners that this will lead to a return to full hunting rather than aiding pest control; that hunts will quickly be able to return to the old ways of full, traditional meets chasing down a fox rather than a scent trail.

The argument seems to be framed as “the countryside” vs. “lefty” animal rights campaigners, that those in towns don’t understand the need to manage the countryside and its wildlife and that can often lead to it being a left vs. right argument or Labour vs. Conservative which i think is wrong and also a shame that either side might look to simplify it so.

As I remember, the vote on the hunting act in 2004 was complicated and the culmination of many years of proposals but now it is law I believe it would be a backward step to ease the law and potentially allow full hunting to resume.

I understand the need to control certain species but believe that this can be done humanely, with no element of “sport” and without a sense of enjoyment in the hunting to exhaustion and killing of a terrified animal with a pack of dogs. I also do not believe that any of the previous arguments about tradition, a country way of life or the economic impact of not hunting can apply any longer given that it is now 10 years since the act became law.

I obviously don’t know your thoughts on this, you were not an MP at the time of the original vote, but I do know that you like to know and will bear in mind your constituents feelings when voting or discussing with the Whips office.

Yours sincerely,

Rich Mills

My thoughts on my MEPs

I wrote a letter to my MEPs recently as I was concerned that as we approach a referendum our position in Europe was seen largely from a negative viewpoint, a drain on resources and something that the main parties used to score political points off each other.

I noted (in a comment) that I have 6 MEPs representing me in the South West:

Ashley Fox (Conservative)
Clare Moody (Labour)
William (The Earl of) Dartmouth (UKIP)
Julie Girling (Conservative)
Julia Reid (UKIP)
Molly Scott Cato (Green)

I also wrote to my MP, Mel Stride on the subject.

Since those letters I have received replies from Fox, Moody, Girling and Scott Cato as well as Mel Stride but I see the lack of response from either UKIP MEP as quite frankly disappointing. Whether or not one believes it’s hypocritical to stand as an MEP on an anti-EU ticket, surely if they are taking the salary and expenses they should fulfill their responsibilities and engage and represent their constituents.

To take a the salary and to not attend, to disparage, to undermine while smirking and passing it off as a political statement is dishonest and quite honestly I see them as taking money under false pretenses. UKIP MEP’s salaries are the biggest waste of EU money by far.

William (The Earl of) Dartmouth and Julia Reid, pull your bloody fingers out, do your jobs or stand down.