CategoriesInternational AffairsPolitics

Ukraine

Like many people, these last few weeks, I have been glued to the news regarding Russia’s appalling invasion of Ukraine. I have read and watched vast amounts about the conflict in the hope that I could form a sensible view. My experience as a Burma campaigner taught me to be sceptical of popular opinion – opinion usually based on scant knowledge of the subject.

On Twitter, I have seen hundreds of smashed and deserted Russian tanks, armoured personnel carriers, artillery pieces, land rovers and logistics vehicles. I have seen circa one hundred captured Russians, mostly conscripts, and, sadly, seen dozens of dead Russian soldiers and slain civilians. I have watched Russian planes and helicopters be shot down. I have seen Russian cruise missiles fly overhead and watched Russian cluster munitions land in residential zones. The “pornography of war” available for those who seek it, all consumed on my phone.

Furthermore, I have watched some right-wing US pundits applaud Putin – reminding their audience that Biden’s son was caught up in some sort of scandal in Ukraine. I have listened to Democrats remind us that Trump’s impeachment centred on a call to the Ukrainian president.

Like many caring British people, I have been appalled by our Government’s shameful attitude to refugees. Our European friends have taken 2.6m, whereas we have taken – reluctantly – a few thousand. Even Ireland has taken 5,000.

I have watched most news channels show their audience how the Ukrainians are creating stockpiles of Molotov cocktails, and I have seen some be thrown on Russian vehicles to deadly effect. I think of how most media outlets treat the wars in Yemen and between Israel and Palestine, and note the double standards.

Today, our family signed up to offer our spare room to a Ukrainian family. We would have signed up yesterday, but the website crashed. Sadly, I have little confidence that the Government will accept our offer, or the offers of the other thousands of people.

My personal analysis of these last few weeks:

  1. The background to the conflict goes back decades and is complex. The West, NATO, EU and Ukrainians have all contributed to the state of affairs: however, as complex as it is, I believe that this is a conflict that demands that sides are taken. And I side with Ukraine. In my lifetime, this is a resistance which satisfies all the criteria of the Just War doctrine. I see parallels with why George Orwell fought fascism in Spain in the 1930s (and nearly died).
  2. The response from the West, including the reportage, makes it clear just how racist most of us are, and that how – we humans – are content with the mental contortions of double standards. I ask myself: would our family have signed up to host an Afghan family, in the way that we have volunteered to house a Ukrainian family? The question was never asked, but I don’t know that we would have done. I am ashamed to write that sentence. I need to interrogate this thought.
  3. It can come as no surprise to watchers of this Government that they did not foresee the risk of a humanitarian disaster, even though they had been predicting an invasion for some months. And it comes as no surprise that the Government’s instincts towards Ukrainian refugees was inhuman, bureaucratic and at times patently dishonest. Their instincts and ability to govern – the two key areas of competency for any government – are not fit for office.
  4. The Russian armed forces, though numerous and though fighting in their backyard, are largely clueless, lacking in professionalism and leadership; devoid of ethics; ill-equipped, with poorly maintained equipment; lacking in logistical support, air support and modern communications; and their soldiers lack the will to fight, given that they have been misled.
  5. We, in the UK, are at war, just not a kinetic one. These days, war is fought through economic policy, cyber attacks and good, old-fashioned supplying your enemy’s enemy with weaponry. I doubt that most British people are aware that we are waging war. We are, so expect a Russian response.
  6. The Russians offered settlement last week, yet few outlets properly reported it and its terms are not being discussed. Very simply, Russia demanded recognition of Crimea as Russian; recognition that Donbas and Luhansk are independent states; and amendments to the Ukrainian constitution to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO and the EU. From where I am sitting, this offer ought to be accepted. The lack of attention on this settlement proposal should give us all pause for thought: who benefits from the continuation of this war?
  7. Putin has gravely miscalculated the response from the West and over-estimated the capabilities of his forces. It is doubtful that he is receiving accurate information. I suspect that his health is in serious decline.

I have no idea what come next.

CategoriesPoliticsHarrogate

Harrogate District Consensus launches

It has taken me a lifetime to come to the point where I have this week (though I feel dreadful) launched www.HarrogateDistrictConsensus.org.

A Tory at school, then in Labour, with a one-year stint with the Lib Dems, with a dalliance with Change UK, I feel unusually placed to launch this political tool. Other than fascists, I admire all people who engage in politics, particularly those who stand for election, of all stripes. Giving your time and experience to matters political is an altruistic pursuit: to want to help people you will never meet – who will never thank you – is humanity at its finest.

Inevitably, technology will begin to play a role in our democracy. We must test the available technology. The Harrogate District Consensus uses Polis: I didn’t create this awesome technology. Polis was created by the wonderful people at the Computational Democracy Project in Seattle. Polis will improve and perhaps other technology will supplant it.

The granular polling data which Polis produces will assist all decision-makers, officers and candidates in advance of May’s important elections.

For posterity, here are some of the news reports written about HDC by the local democracy reporter, Jacob Webster:

https://www.harrogateadvertiser.co.uk/news/politics/the-new-anonymous-voting-tool-to-find-harrogates-consensus-on-key-issues-3590895

The new anonymous voting tool to find Harrogate’s consensus on key issues

CategoriesEnvironmentPoliticsBusiness

The Crowd Wisdom Project

Welcome to the world: The Crowd Wisdom Project!

 

Spawned from my passion for, and frustration with, standard party politics, particularly local party politics, 2022 sees me launch the CWP. Founded as a birthday present to myself in 2020, had my health not been so topsy-turvy in 2021, CWP would have launched six months ago.

 

CWP springs from my prediction (which must be a borderline future fact) that the way we vote today – with a pencil and paper in a voting booth – will modernise. With bank branches closing, so that most people – regardless of age – now do their banking online, voting – the last vestiges of a bygone era – will – must! – change.

 

The recent election for the Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner in North Yorkshire witnessed a shameful 13.5% turnout. The victor – who remains a councillor twice over AS WELL AS BEING the Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner – secured circa 3.5% of the possible votes. This is not a mandate: this is a stain on our democracy.

 

My hope for the CWP is that, in a small way, CWP nudges us towards a fairer, more consensual system of decision-making.

 

So, what is the Crowd Wisdom Project?

 

CWP – run through the not-for-profit company, Consensus Politics Limited (by guarantee, not by shares), uses open source, copylefted machine-learning technology – Polis – to run online conversations. These facilitated conversations are living, breathing, thinking affairs, unlike all other survey tools before it. Polis has been used to seismic effect in Taiwan, revolutionising their decision-making, whilst quelling antagonism. (Taiwan certainly has much to teach us about responding to a pandemic.)

 

Polis was created by some altruistic geniuses at the Computational Democracy Project in Seattle, led by Colin Megill. My hope is that I contribute to the development of, and awareness of, Polis – a tool of enormous potential.

 

Polis allows all voters to anonymously suggest statements and for all voters to vote on all statements. Polis then finds the consensus points and the cohorts within a group of people. Polis allows shy people (like me, believe it or not) to ventilate their thoughts. Social media works by pouring petrol onto disputes: whereas Polis is interested in the best ideas, not the ideas most shouted about.

 

When a Polis conversation is over, transparent organisations send the detailed reports to the voters. Of course, organisations don’t need to adhere to the discovered consensus points, but if they do, they know that the issue has been fully explored and that the best ideas have come to the fore.

 

With CWP, I offer my time, expertise and resources to environmental groups – at zero cost to them – to help them to find the best ideas and help build consensus, and compromises, around these positions. With New Year’s Day being the hottest on record, I fear that this limited effort is too little, too late. To save the planet we all need to make dramatic compromises in how we live: Polis could help us to find those compromises.

 

CWP will also help community groups at the half the cost we charge businesses (business being charged £150 per Polis). For business, as I have found with my law firm, anonymous Polis conversations work very well for navigating tricky issues such as Covid risks, as well as for planning for future business strategy. I also believe that Polis’ anonymous modus operandi could work well for improving the mental health of a workplace.

 

I have always been obsessed with the power of good ideas: what CWP does best is to unearth the finest ideas. Humans have it within us to solve all human-caused problems. With my health uncertain (and isn’t this so for us all?), I want to be as potent as I can be in 2022. Wish me luck!

And if you know of any business, environmental group, community group or political group who are brave enough to try the very best of technology, please give them my details.

 

CategoriesHealthPoliticsHarrogate

Tory Contenders and Covid Deaths

Reflecting on the shameful vote this week by the majority of Tory MPs to support disgraced Tory MP Owen Paterson, and then for the Government’s immediate volte-face, my sense is that a potential challenger to Reckless Boris will soon break cover.

It is noteworthy that 109 Tory MPs didn’t vote for the Andrea Leadsom’s Putin-esque amendment (including Harrogate’s Andrew Jones and Ripon’s Julian Smith), with six Tory MPs voting against. Of the six, my analysis is that only Mark Harper MP is a potential challenger to Reckless Boris.

Harper previously stood for leader and has been critical of lockdowns. Candidly, I have not heard any chatter of Harper standing, but in most parties there is usually someone waiting in the wings for their moment to usurp their leader and this is such a potential moment. Thatcher had Heseltine, Major had Redwood, Blair had Brown, Cameron and May had Reckless Boris. But who challenges Boris?

If not Mark Harper, then Skipton and Ripon’s, Julian Smith MP – who took the unusual decision to demand the resignation of Phil Allott – is an unlikely, but potential, contender. He may trigger a leadership race so that others break cover.

My reading of him is that he is an honourable MP who is embarrassed by the Tories – yet again – descent into sleaze. By most accounts, Smith is meant to be a safe pair of hands, as judged by his time as Northern Ireland Secretary. In addition, Smith is unassailable in his constituency. By attacking Reckless Boris, with Brexit done, Smith is unlikely to suffer censure by his local Conservative Association, for the people in this area – particularly in Skipton, home to Skipton Building Society – abhor financial impropriety.

Watch this space.

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Out of the 830,000 people estimated to be living in North Yorkshire, according to figures collated by the North Yorkshire Outbreak Management Advisory Board, since Covid arrived in February 2020 there have been 559 excess deaths. According to Public Health England, in the same period, there have been 1,227 deaths where Covid was mentioned on the death certificate. Most deaths occurred during the first and second peaks.

Working on the assumption that dozens of deaths would have occurred indirectly because of Covid – for example, because people didn’t summon an ambulance for fear of catching Covid in hospital, and then dying at home; or because cancers went undetected – my educated guess is that around 400 residents of North Yorkshire sadly perished directly due to Covid.

There are 634 days between 1 February 2020 and 31 October 2021. Circa 400 deaths, in 634 days, for an above average-aged population, in a fairly prosperous and spaced-out population. Dreadful, but if you ask residents of this area, as I have done, what their own estimates of deaths in this area is, most likely you will get estimates into the thousands. In my social circle, the highest estimate I have heard was 10,000. Now that, if correct, would be rightly terrifying.

Each death, each Long Covid survivor, is tragic. But the figures, dispassionately analysed, are a cause for optimism. With our vaccines and boosters, armed with our knowledge and experience of this virus, though we must be cautious, though we must crush all new variants, we must enjoy life again.

CategoriesInternational AffairsPoliticsThought of The Day

Voices For Burma (Wikipedia entry)

(What follows is my Wikipedia entry for the organisation which I co-founded in 2003: Voices For Burma (VFB). Wikipedia removed the entry, so I add it here for posterity. Hopefully historians of that period will locate this page, and perhaps my kids will be proud of their father. After all, Aung San Suu Kyi was regarded as a saint until 2017, but we campaigned against her 14 years before that).

Voices for Burma

Voices for Burma (VFB) was a Non-Governmental Organisation founded in 2003, closing in 2009. Founded in the UK, Voices for Burma campaigned on two fronts. First, to examine the complexities of the tourist boycott of Myanmar promoted by Aung San Suu Kyi and secondly to educate visitors to Myanmar on the need to travel in the country ethically.

Original Founders

Voices for Burma was founded by Andrew Gray, Anna Laycock and Zishaan Arshad, following Andrew Gray’s visits to Burma/Myanmar in 2002 and 2003.

Change of Leadership of Voices for Burma

As Cherie McCosker and Emily Pelter joined Voices for Burma, Zishaan Arshad and thereafter Anna Laycock stepped aside. Andrew Gray remained throughout.

Campaigning

Voices for Burma was supported by Dr Zarni of the Free Burma Coalition and several British former diplomats and Myanmar scholars. On their key message that ethical tourism to Myanmar could be undertaken ethically, Voices for Burma took the counter position to The Burma Campaign UK which had maintained strict adherence to Aung San Suu Syi call for a total tourism boycott.

Primarily, Voices for Burma educated potential visitors to Myanmar through its website (now defunct) and through Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree online travel forum. The website was created and managed by Burmese refugees living in India.

Voices for Burma was invited by Lonely Planet editors to advise on the 9th edition of the Burma/Myanmar guidebook, referenced in the 2005 edition.

Publications

In 2006, Voices for Burma submitted written evidence to the UK House of Lords on the efficacy of the tourism boycott here. Voices for Burma concluded:

“It is VFB’s stance that the UK Government’s policy on tourism to Burma is at best confused and at worst irreconcilable with its commitment under the Common Position to assist the poorest sections of Burmese society. It is not VFB’s argument that the Travel Boycott is fundamentally flawed, as VFB discourages some tourists to Burma, however the boycott policy has not been evaluated and has not engendered any positive societal shifts.”

In 2006, founder Andrew Gray appeared in the New York Times here.

“When I was in Burma, I’ve never met anyone who said that I shouldn’t be there,” said Andrew Gray, founder of Voices for Burma, another advocacy group. Mr. Gray argues that educated tourists can spend money on local businesses without government links and help average people in one of Asia’s poorest nations.”

In 2010, though now defunct, Voices for Burma appeared in The Guardian at here.

“While favouring engagement, Voices for Burma and the Free Burma Coalition urge tourists to do as much as possible to help private Burmese citizens and not put money in the government’s pocket, and in fact it is possible to do so now as a tourist.”

 

 

CategoriesPoliticsHarrogateThought of The Day

New dictionary word: “Phillip-Allott-ed” 

Verb (transitive)

To be “Phillip-Allott-ed” is a four-staged test.

First, during a stream of consciousness, you brain-dump your most bizarre, innermost thoughts, at the most insensitive of times, in full public gaze, crushing your ability to carry out your new job. Your action reveals something particularly unusual about you that only your closest friends and family might have known, and which made you precisely the wrong person to carry out your new duties.

Second, you attempt an apology, but only make matters worse, compounding your first gaffe, drawing additional ire, ensuring that the story continues to run in both the local and national news.

Third, you try to cling on to your job, in the face of universal bewilderment, during which time you are publicly humiliated, time and again, before falling on your sword. See Margaret Thatcher’s demise, dragged out kicking and screaming.

Fourth, your unforgivable opinion expressed in the first stage of the test, ensure that such viewpoints will be forcefully tackled by your successor, thereby providing a total annihilation of the position you so publicly espoused.

Example

“That new guy at work, didn’t last long. After his tirade and his protestations, he’s eventually been Phillip-Allott-ed.”

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

N.B. All MPs, mayors, PCFCs and councillors deserve our gratitude, including Mr Allott. I know many of them: all of them want to make their communities a better place. The politician has become a dangerous profession, too. RIP Sir David Amess MP and Jo Cox.

CategoriesLegalPoliticsHarrogate

Live on BBC Radio: Resigned to No Resignation

Here in North Yorkshire our Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner is Phillip Allott, a Conservative. Until the last few days, almost nobody in this area knew his name. That’s not a criticism of him, for the same is true for all Police, Fire and Crime Commissioners.

All that changed on Friday 1 October 2021. During a live interview on BBC Radio York, to discuss the heinous murder of York woman Sarah Everard by a serving police officer, Mr Allott said:

“So women, first of all, need to be streetwise about when they can be arrested and when they can’t be arrested. She should never have been arrested and submitted to that.

“Perhaps women need to consider in terms of the legal process, to just learn a bit about that legal process.”

Twitter went into meltdown. Keir Starmer, Piers Morgan together with thousands of others demanded his removal from office. Even Reckless Boris criticised him, describing the comments as “wrongheaded”. Mr Allott apologised.

Given that Reckless Boris has given senior Tories carte blanche to do as they please, free from the expectation of being fired or being compelled to resign, I knew that Mr Allott’s resignation was the very last thing Mr Allott would do. This culture is wrong.

Fondly, I remember the time when politicians of all stripes would tender their resignations when they messed up. Margaret Thatcher’s Foreign Secretary, Lord Carrington, resigned when Argentina invaded the Falklands and – more memorably, as resignations go, Estelle Morris, Education Secretary under Tony Blair, resigned because, in her own words, that she wasn’t up to it. Her resignation letter reads:

“I’m good at dealing with the issues and in communicating to the teaching profession. I am less good at strategic management of a huge department and I am not good at dealing with the modern media. All this has meant that with some of the recent situations I have been involved in, I have not felt I have been as effective as I should be, or as effective as you need me to be.”

Oh, to have that candour and introspection today! Those were the days.

As luck would have it, the PCFC’s team were due to be in Harrogate on the morning after his comments, in order to garner feedback during their planned roadshow – something which should be lauded. Knowing this, I messaged some people whom I thought would be interested in running a petition outside of their roadshow. With only a few hours to arrange it, with social media more use than harm, a “motley” group assembled in the cold and rain, with our sign and our petition.

Petition Phillip Allott

We secured 165 signatures, in less than an hour, despite the inclement weather. People of all ages attended. I’ve never seen members of the public more keen to sign a petition. Perhaps if we had set up the stall on the Sunday instead, when the story was better known, there would have been more signatures, as many of the people who walked by didn’t know about the story.

Pleasingly, random lawyers – many of whom I didn’t know – attended. Speaking to them, all of us would have accepted arrest – as Sarah did – knowledge of the law or not. (Lawyers who know me are bored of my complaint that lawyers exist as a profession: we exist because citizens do not have access to all the laws which govern them, so in that, I have some sympathy with Mr Allott).

My interview in the Yorkshire Post is here.

As I explained to the Yorkshire Post and as you may have seen in this essay, I was subjected to an assault/wrongful arrest on my first day as a lawyer in Manchester. A completely different set of circumstances to the heinous murder of Sarah of course, however, I did feel that this experience of being arrested/assaulted by an off-duty police officer (who was trying to do the right thing), gave me some insight to speak up.

Today, 4 October 2021, I was interviewed live on BBC Radio York about this situation. I followed on from an interview of a long-standing disability champion, as well as the leader of the Fire Brigade’s Union, in calling for the resignation. Being interviewed live wasn’t good for my heart!

During my career, I have represented police officers and have I also brought civil claims when there has been wrongdoing. In my experience, 99.9% of police officers are the very best of us, doing a job that, frankly, I’m not brave enough to do. As George Orwell noted, we sleep peacefully in our beds because we have an army and a police force. I would take our police force over any other that I have seen.

I don’t know Mr Allott. Until those comments, he might have been doing an excellent job. As 99% of politicians go into it for the right reason – to make their community better – and assuming good motives for Mr Allott, I should place on record my gratitude to him for his service. My preference is that politicians in specialist elected roles – such as in Defence, Health, Justice and Policing – have some knowledge of their spheres of influence before taking up such a role. Otherwise by the time the politician has spent a number of years in the role – just to understand the basics – they are then turfed out of office. What a waste!

Mr Allott’s comments came from another era. For a PR man before being elected, his comms couldn’t have been worse. Not only has he lost the support of the public and the victims’ groups, but he’s also managed to make the work of the police far more difficult. A triple whammy. The frequent accusation on this online petition (7,000 signatures at the time of writing) was that he was blaming the victim, Sarah.

Sadly, from the position as a male, the overwhelming majority of those who signed our petition and this one online, are women. Men should be just as appalled, equally keen to sign the petition. Although men are far more likely to be killed by a stranger, the murder of Sarah has shone a spotlight on the fact that a very high proportion of women feel unsafe alone on the streets, including the Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss. This is a sick culture.

Sadly, when the Tories introduced these commissioners, they didn’t include a power of recall for precisely this type of situation. So, unless Mr Allott does the right thing, then we are stuck with him for four years, probably eight. If Mr Allott remains in post, then although I believe his credibility is shot, perhaps on his cathartic quest to upgrade his thinking, we shall all benefit. I wish him well, whether he stays or goes.

Professionally and personally, I do wonder what will happen to me.

CategoriesInternational AffairsPoliticsThought of The Day

Buy a Generator, Just in Case

Political nerds like me are fascinated with Dominic Cummings. So interested, in fact, that I pay him a monthly fee to read his excellent newsletter. I know: I have just lost a chunk of my audience at that announcement. (You can sign up here. Previously, I blogged about Cummings here.)

In a recent lengthy post, Cummings writes:

“If you will live in the UK over the next 6 months take steps to ensure you and your family can cope with a 4 week major disruption — e.g a cascade of logistics and energy failures. The only safe assumption is that the true situation is much worse than the media are telling you. This was true in spring 2020 and autumn 2020. It’s true now. Making some basic preparations is extremely low downside and extremely high upside. Keep in mind, some of the people I know who were most right most early on covid and other things have bought generators they can plug into their homes…”

In a more sensible media landscape, the suggestion from someone as senior as Cummings that we should consider purchasing a generator would be a major headline. But the media landscape is warped, fixated on personalities and trivialities.

Cummings is in good company, for Goldman Sachs has warned of a “non-negligible risk” of power outages, too.

With a number of energy providers having gone under in the last few weeks and with 12m people soon to get a whopping 12% hike to their energy bills, we should examine the reasons why, which, according to Deloitte, are:

  1. Natural gas prices have quadrupled over the past six months.
  2. Gas provides the UK with 40% of electricity production and 80% of the heating of homes.
  3. There is ongoing maintenance work in the North Sea.
  4. Wind speeds are low.
  5. Droughts have reduced hydropower.
  6. Unlike in Europe with their 20-30% storage facilities for gas, we stand at only 2%: there is no wriggle room.
  7. Fixed-rate tariffs and price caps don’t easily allow price increases to be passed onto consumers.

And we haven’t opened a nuclear power station since 1995. If Norway and Russia don’t increase supply, and if we have a cold winter with low wind speeds, we are in serious trouble, according to the experts.

Risk-assessing this situation, buying a generator – and the fuel if you can get any! – is a sensible course of action. If Reckless Boris says that there is nothing to worry about, then there is everything to worry about.

Think clearly, folks.

CategoriesEducationPoliticsThought of The Day

Comment Piece in The Yorkshire Post

With the children returning to school on 7 September, The Yorkshire Post published my blog, originally entitled “Carpe Diem, Gavin Williamson” in reference to the Government’s introduction of Latin. The article was trailed on page 2 (not page 3, as my friends have suggested!).

In it, I outline some obvious changes which ought to be implemented to education. If I was allowed more words, I could have gone on, for there is so much which is broken with the system. Because we are a rich country – due to historical reasons – it seems to me that we do not often question why it is that we do certain things. Why do children have ludicrously long school holidays? Because, historically, it allowed them to harvest. There are countless other examples of such poor thinking and poor governance.

The titles of the online and print versions vary. The online version can be found here.

Page 2 of Yorkshire Post on 7 September 2021

Andrew Gray

Page 15 Yorkshire Post 7.9.21
Article by Andrew Gray
CategoriesEnvironmentInternational AffairsPoliticsThought of The Day

Us and Them

Accompanying the scenes of the Kabul evacuation, Pink Floyd’s Us and Them plays on a continuous loop in my head.

“Us (us, us, us, us) and them (them, them, them, them)
And after all we’re only ordinary men.”

In recent weeks, this troubling issue – of ‘them’ and ‘us’ – has dominated my thoughts. Why do some people matter to us, but others do not? Imperilled people at Kabul airport who have had our help, are just as important as humans in, say, sub-Saharan Africa who have not, right? Former soldier and Tory MP, Patrick Mercer, wrote in The Yorkshire Post on 29 August 2021:

“If ever there was an unimpeachable reason for offering safety and sanctuary to our friends, this is it. We need to get those people out – all of them – and help them here in Britain just as they stood by our boys when the bullets were flying over there.”

Since the invasion of Afghanistan twenty years ago, I do not recall the British media suggesting that any Afghan was on our “side”. Deaths of Afghans – either in “collateral damage” or otherwise – didn’t seem to matter much. Only the deaths of our unfortunate soldiers ever made the news. Until now. Now, Afghans who worked on our side, or who benefitted from our presence, have quickly become ‘us’ in a matter of weeks.

Perhaps we now care for some Afghans because “our” people got to know some of them, fighting and dying together. Because those Afghans picked our tribe over “theirs”, they are now friends for life, as Mercer says. Our tribe owes their tribe, goes the logic. Difficult shared experiences develop strong bonds between people.

As I hope to treat all people equally, this rapid volte face in the media, though welcome, causes me concern. And if these Afghans can quickly change sides in our consciousness, are there any useful lessons for how we could shine a spotlight on other unfortunate people, equally deserving of our help? What methodology and logic should we use for determining who deserves our assistance?

Yuval Noah Harari’s magnum opus – Sapiens – which ought to be compulsory reading for all – traces the development of our species. Like many of his readers, I now understand myself better because I recognise my DNA code. Harari spends much time explaining the ‘them’ and ‘us’ phenomenon. He writes:

“Evolution has made homo sapiens, like other social mammals, a xenophobic creature. Sapiens instinctively divide humanity into two parts, ‘us’ and ‘them’. ‘Us’ is people like you and me, who share our language, religion and customs. We are all responsible for each other, but not responsible for ‘them’. We were always distinct from them, and owe them nothing. We don’t want to see any of them in our territory, and we don’t care an iota what happens in their territory. They are barely even human.”

A challenging read, because it is true for many people.

In 2016, at the suggestion of a Quaker friend, I travelled with him to the Calais refugee camp – The Jungle – together with some members of a Pentecostal church in Leeds. Our mission was to distribute food and other assorted items.

At that time, in the British gutter press, The Jungle had become notorious. If France was so civilised, why not stay there? – went the narrative. The gutter press’s answer: only because Britain was a soft-touch, ready to help others rather than “our own”. Charity begins at home, they intoned.

In The Jungle lived Afghans, Syrians and many other nationalities – mainly young men – who wanted a better life, escaping war and poverty. If, through fate, I had been in their position, I imagine I would have done likewise.

Here are some photos of that trip.

You might expect that such an experience would leave a lasting impression, but it did not. Rarely do I think about The Jungle, however, frequently I think about the people whom we travelled with: they became part of my tribe. Perhaps this is because I did not (frankly, because of fear), spend any meaningful time with any of the inhabitants of The Jungle: it was intense, overwhelming experience – one that I do not wish to have again. I cannot tell you any of their names of the people we helped. In my head, they didn’t enter my tribe.

Harari’s work helps humans to understand our still-primitive minds. If we are all encoded to really only care about ‘us’, if we want to break-free from such thinking, answers can be found in religion and ideology (taken as one) and philosophy.

Although religion unquestionably sows division, it is also a great unifer, by increasing the size of the ‘us’ pool, extending the size of our tribe. Don’t just care about Christians in your town in affluent Harrogate – goes the logic – care about the plight of Christians in Kurdistan, too. Furthermore, if an omnisicient creator gave all things life, assuming that humans are at the zenith of the importance hierarchy (which is quite an assumption), then religions are a helpful antidote to humans only caring about the people whom they know. For example, the Christians from Leeds, who led The Jungle odyssey, were inspired by their faith to help those in need. And for these Leeds Christians, upliftingly they did not care for the religion for those whom they helped.

Similarly, communism encouraged the working classes to care about the class struggle throughout the world, extending the working class tribe. Communism and the reaction to it certainly caused much bloodshed, but it also spawned human connection.

In philosophy, I draw great strength from Peter Singer – the inspiration behind the animal rights movement. Together with my instinctual predilection for utilitarianism, Singer’s Drowning Child Experiment has shaped how I see the world. His thought experiment goes as follows:

Imagine that you are walking through an empty village – empty except for a young child. That child is about to drown in the village pond. You are the only person who can save it. If you wade into the water, through the mud, to make a rescue, then you will permanently ruin your best clothes. The financial cost would be modest. Morally, should you wade in?

To which everyone answers – of course! Singer asks why it is, then, that most people in rich countries would not spend only a small sum of money to save the life of a child – or perhaps a few children – in a developing country, a country that we will in all likelihood never visit. Why does it matter that we cannot see, in the flesh, the child drowning in another land? Singer challenges us to ignore distance, to apply logic – a life is a life wherever it is – and to make that donation.

Inspired by Singer’s reasoning, the organisation – The Life That You Can Save – ranks charities who make the greatest contribution to saving lives. I encourage all readers to subscribe to their newsletter.

Drawing lessons from Harari, religion and philosophy, how should we, in rich countries, act? My personal recipe is to get to know one developing country – in my personal case, Myanmar – and give a fair proportion of your wealth (including your time) to achieving the maximum return. We cannot know all people, or we would exhaust ourselves. Alternatively, we could let the Life That You Can Save direct our giving, but you will never get the warm feeling of knowing the people your money helps, perhaps leading us to give to the local donkey sanctuary instead when we get bored.

Perhaps more intelligently and compassionately still, our money and time ought to be focussed on environmental matters: allowing us to be both local as well as global, acting in the knowledge that the people who will be hit worst by environmental collapse are always the most needy. This requires long-term thinking, something which does not come naturally to most of us.