Memories and lessons from 9/11

I don’t talk about this much but have been encouraged by others posting on social media to share my experience of 9/11, which like for many others resonates with me to this day.

I had flown into JFK the evening before, tagging along with my father on a work trip to UNICEF headquarters in New York. The experience of being in Manhattan on 9/11 was both terrifying and surreal. I have included a couple of photos I took on the day. One is of the scene looking down into southern Manhattan towards ground zero and the other shows of chalk writing and drawing on the Maine Monument fountain at the foot of Central Park.

The photos represent the abiding lessons that I have taken from 9/11. Firstly, that the world is more interconnected and interdependent than ever. We live in a global society where something or someone on one side of the world can, for good or ill, have a profound effect on the other side of the world. Secondly, while the human race has a great capacity for hate and cruelty, it has an even greater capacity for love, caring, enlightenment and generosity. So, bedsides the horror of the day, that is what I will most remember from 9/11.

Exploring how the civil justice system responds to mental health and learning disabilities

Photo by Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash

I am working with the Centre for Mental Health on a new project to explore how the civil justice system responds to mental health and learning disabilities.  The Royal Society of Arts, which I am a fellow of, has also published a news piece about the project.

The justice system has exceptional power to shape people’s lives. The criminal justice system can take away someone’s freedom through imprisonment; the civil justice system can decide whether an employee has been unfairly dismissed or whether a child should be taken into care.  

Often decisions by the justice system will involve people with mental health conditions or learning disabilities and, especially given the magnitude of the decisions being made, it is vital that they are treated fairly. This means that the justice system should seek to promote wellbeing and good mental health, should take decisions based on a thorough understanding of mental health and learning disabilities, and that people should not be unfairly discriminated against because of their mental health or learning disability. 

There has been some focus on the intersections between mental health and the criminal justice system, particularly through the Bradley Report, a review of people with mental health conditions or learning disabilities in the criminal justice system. This came up with important recommendations that have been acted upon, such as liaison and diversion. However, there are a number of areas in the civil justice system where there are concerns about the treatment of people living with mental health problems or learning disabilities. 

The project aims to encourage a discussion about how the justice system deals with mental health and learning disabilities. If you would like to help make this a reality or have ideas or views on this issue, please get in touch with me at omar@omarsalem.com. More information about the project is available on the Centre Health for Mental Health wesbite here .

7 steps Labour mayors and PCCs can take to improve policing and tackle racism

Photo by King’s Church International on Unsplash

Following the Open Labour event I organised on reforming the Police, I wrote an article for LabourList with practical ideas for how Labour mayors and PPCs could improve policing and tackle racism. You can read the article here. You can watch the video of the Open Labour event below.

Rebooting Labour

We deserve better than what we are getting from the Tories. But Labour needs to do better if we are to win a general election. The public does not know what Labour stands for and how we would be different from the Tories.

Labour needs a reboot and Open Labour can help provide it. I want to help Open Labour develop the policies and the campaigns that Labour needs.

Some of the areas where I want Open Labour to lead the debate include:

  • building a good jobs economy with high wages, not just a higher minimum wage
  • reforming the police so that the public can have trust in them
  • ensuring the NHS and social care get the funding that they need
  • developing a benefits system that treats people with dignity not stigma and
  • creating a Green New Deal to tackle climate change

I have been working on these issues over the last year on the Open Labour National Committee and am re-standing to keep working hard with the others on the committee.

I would be grateful for your support.

Thank you!

Re-standing for the Open Labour National Committee

Being a member of the Open Labour National Committee for the last year has been hugely fulfilling.

I have greatly enjoyed working with the brilliant Open Labour and National Committee members. 

Over the last year, I am proud that Open Labour has promoted transformative, Left, politics and shown that this can be done in an inclusive and pluralistic way.

I have enjoyed contributing to the work of Open Labour including:

  • Organising events on a progressive response to Covid, building a good jobs economy and reform of the police
  • Helping with the NEC campaigns which saw Ann Black and Alice Perry elected
  • Supporting the launch of climate change and justice member policy groups
  • Working to develop plans for an Open Labour organiser and for a Labour Party diversity charter
  • Developing and launching the Open Labour Activist AcadeI’m restanding for the Open Labour National Committee to keep working hard with others on the committee.

Open Labour has a vital role to play in the Labour Party. Labour needs a reboot with better policies and an improved culture to win a general election. Open Labour has a key role in developing the ideas Labour needs.

We desperately need a Labour government that when dealing with issues like Covid puts people, not markets, first. Instead of the Tory approach, we need to prioritise people’s health and the vulnerable.  Open Labour needs to be at the forefront of arguing for a kinder and more inclusive society.

I am restanding to continue contributing to Open Labour’s important work.

I would be grateful for your support.

Latest writing

Here’s some of my latest writing. I hope you enjoy it!

Why the Covid vaccines alone are not enough (Left Foot Forward)

There’s another solution to the schools fiasco (Left Foot Forward)

I backed a People’s Vote, but Labour must accept the Brexit debate is over (Left Foot Forward)

Labour should not be afraid to be the party of the family (LabourList)

7 ways the government can be held to account over coronavirus (Left Foot Forward)

My pledges supporting free movement and migrants’ rights

The Labour Campaign for Free Movement contacted me to ask me to support their candidates’ pledges in support of free movement and migrants’ rights. I am a strong supporter for free movement and migrants rights. I am grateful for the work that the Labour Campaign for Free Movement has been doing to move Labour to a more prossive position on these issues, including getting this motion passed at the 2019 Labour Party Conference.

I have migrated myself seven times in my life, having lived in the UK, the United Arab Emirates, Sudan, Egypt and Belgium, as well as partially living in Bangladesh and Jordan, where my father was working for UNICEF when I was growing. Our imigration system is systematically racists and does not properly respect human rights. It needs a complete overhaul.

I campaigned against Brexit at the referendum and as part of Labour for a Socialist Europe for a public vote on the Brexit deal (which I opposed). You can read a piece I wrote for the Labour for a Socialist Europe blog here.

I support all of the Labour for a Socialist Europe pledges, with one qualification (I am on the soft left after all and so love a bit of nuance). However, I also think that there are a number of areas in which the pledges could be made more ambitious and strengthened. In particular, I think that the immigation system and the Home Office needs to operate more fairely and efficiently. I have set out my thoughts on this in more detail below.

I hope Labour Campaign for Free Movement members and supporters will give me their first preference for the Open Labour National Committee. You can find out more information about my campaign here.

Going further

In addition to the Labour Campaign for Free Movement pledges, I pledge to campaign for:

  1. Putting human rights at the centre of the immigration system to make sure people are treated with dignity and humanity.
  2. Defending the Human Rights Act, which provides important protections for migrants and is under attack from the Tories.
  3. Restoring legal aid for immigration and nationality cases, including for EU citizens seeking settled status.
  4. The UK Ratifying the UN International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families
  5. A review of the Home Office’s immigration function to consider whether it needs to be broken up or reformed to make sure cases are dealt with efficiently and fairly
  6. The creation of a regulator with tough powers and oversight over the the Home Office and other bodies dealing with immigration to make sure they they respect human rights, are faire and and operate efficiently.

Supporting free movement

I support retaining and extending free movement. I oppose any reduction of UK and EU citizens to live, work and access education in each others’ countries.

Immmigration system

I oppose any immigration system based on incomes numbers and targets. However, I would not want to close down immigration routes that would stop immigrants from coming to the UK for economic reasons, such as where they had a job, including jobs working for businesses. Many of the Windrush generation came to the UK to work in manufacturing, such as Bill Morris, who went on to become Secretary-General of the Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU).

I also think it is right that Labour MPs like Rupa Huq have been supporting the indian restaurant industry to be able to recruit chefs and other workers from overseas. Additionally, I am concerned about undermining the basis of current freedom of movement under EU law, which is based on freedom of movement for workers under Article 45 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.

Closing every detention centre

I support closing all detention centres. Detention centres are cruel and unnecessary.

We should move to a community based system for detention, using bail and electronic tagging where necessary instead. Detention Action has written this report on alternatives to detention.

We should change the approach for serious/violent offenders subject to immigration enforcement, so that immigration issues are dealt with while they are serving their sentences, rather than transferring them to detention centres as the end of their sentences, as is currently done.

In the absence of the closure of all detention centres, a statutory limit 28 days for detention would be a vast improvement on the current system. This has been recommended by the All Party Parliamentary Groups on Refugees and on Migration, the Joint Committee for Human Rights, is contained in a Parliamentary Bill introduced by Tulip Siddiq MP and is supported by Amnesty International, Detention Action, the Equality and Human Rights Commission and Liberty.

Ensuring unconditional rights to family reunion

I support unconditional rights to family reunion. Being able to be with your family is a fundamental human right and something we should embed to a greater extent in the immigration system.

Ending “no recourse to public funds policies”

I support ending no recource to public funds. The current system does not respect human rights, is wrong and should be scrapped.

Scrap all hostile environment measures

The hostile environment is a racist policy and should be scrapped. After hostile environment is scrapped we also need action to remove barriers to immigrants and people from BAME backgrounds to accessing public services (for example, registering for a GP). Doctors of the World has been doing important work in this area.

Extend equal rights to vote to all UK residents

Limitation of the franchise to British nationals (and certain others) is outdated and unfair. Many UK residents without British citizenship have lived in the UK for years and made a huge contribution, they have just as much of a stake in the country as British citizens and should have the right to vote in all elections.

Dominic Cummings broke the law and took Covid-19 into the heart of government

The media have not given it much coverage, but besides his trips to Durham and Barnard Castle, Dominic Cummings breached the lockdown rules by returning to No.10 Downing Street on 27 March when he should have been self-isolating. This was a breach of the lockdown regulations and brought Covid-19 into the heart of government, putting people at risk who were central to the government’s response to Covid-19.

According to Cummings, on the morning of 27 March, he went into work in Downing Street as normal but received a call from his wife later in the day saying that she felt badly ill. He says he left Downing Street shortly afterwards and returned home. After a couple of hours, Cummings said his wife felt better and “there were many critical things at work and she urged me to return in the afternoon and I did”.

Cummings says that his wife had vomited but she did not have a cough or a cold. Nonetheless, he and his wife thought that she might have Covid, so much so that they drove to Durham later that evening to ensure appropriate childcare was in place should they both succumb to Covid. Cummings wife, Mary Wakefield, is clear in the Spectator article she wrote about her illness that she thought she might have Covid-19, writing:

that evening, as I lay on the sofa, a happy thought occurred to me: if this was the virus, then my husband, who works 16-hour days as a rule, would have to come home“.

The guidance on this scenario that was in force at the time is clear:

If you live with others and you are the first in the household to have symptoms of coronavirus, then you must stay at home for 7 days, but all other household members who remain well must stay at home and not leave the house for 14 days.

By going into Downing Street on the afternoon of 27 March Dominic Cummings breached the guidance as well as the lockdown regulations, a criminal offence. The lockdown regulations at the time of Cummings’ return to Downing Street included an offence for anyone who during the lockdown period leaves the place where they are living without reasonable excuse.

There is a non-exhaustive list of reasonable excuses, including “to travel for the purposes of work or to provide voluntary or charitable services, where it is not reasonably possible for that person to work, or to provide those services, from the place where they are living”. I do not see how Cummings could have relied on this as a reasonable excuse given surely the No.10 policy at the time would have been that he should self-isolate at home and not travel to No.10 for work.

Not only were Cummings actions a breach of requirements that he himself was involved in telling others to comply with but his behaviour put at risk others who were working in one of the most strategically important buildings in the country, 10 Downing Street, where staff were working on the response to Coronavirus. The next day, Cummings had Covid-19 symptoms, meaning that he is likely to have had it when he went back into 10 Downing Street the previous day.

The Durham Constabulary stated that the considered Cummings’ trip to be a minor breach of the lockdown regulations as social distancing was maintained. This is not the case for his visit to 10 Downing Street on the afternoon of 27 March. It seems like this breach of the lockdown regulations is something that the Metropolitan police should be considering and investigating.

Omar Salem writes in a personal capacity.

My statement for the Open Labour elections

Open Labour has made a huge contribution to Labour and I want to help us do even more.

Open Labour should lead the argument that the Covid-19 response should put people’s wellbeing first before business. Covid-19 is disproportionately impacting BAME people and, as Open Labour London BAME Officer, I have been leading work on this issue.

After Covid-19 is over, we cannot just go back to business as usual. The right wants more austerity. We need to argue for building back better to a more equitable, closer-knit and green society.

I fully back Open Labour’s support for a more inclusive culture in Labour and to oppose antisemitism, racism, sexism, transphobia and other forms of discrimination.  

My experience includes being vice-chair of the Society of Labour Lawyers, defending human rights and legal aid. Before I became a lawyer, I co-founded the UpRising Leadership Programme for young leaders from diverse backgrounds. I also worked for Emily Thornberry MP, helping her retain her then marginal seat, campaign for more affordable housing and stop plans for 90 days detention for terrorist suspects.

More of my ideas are at www.omarsalem.com. If you have any questions, please email me: omar@omarsalem.com.  

Please give me your 1st vote.

Omar Salem is standing for an open position on the Open Labour National Committee. You can find out more about why he is standing and what he stands for here.