Justice and equality in a great city: Book Review `Dear Birmingham` by Karamat Iqbal

Robin Richardson 

Image©JimmyGuano

‘Dear Birmingham,’ writes Karamat Iqbal, ‘thank you for being my home for the past forty plus years. Thank you also for welcoming my father and others in our family and community during the fifties. You as a city welcomed them, us, because you needed their labour and they came willingly because they needed jobs. As we have learnt, it has benefited the city in many ways. It has certainly benefited our community, both here and back in Pakistan. I grew up in a brick house, the first in our village, thanks to the money earned in Birmingham.’

Iqbal’s book is an extended thank-you letter, almost an extended love letter. It is not, however, just one long outpouring of gratitude and affection. The city which he holds dear can be disappointing and deplorable, a hell-hole as well as a haven, a place of negligence and neglect as well as a nest, woeful as well as wonderful. Iqbal loves his fellow citizens of all backgrounds. But also he wants change, and wants it radically, deeply, urgently. He wants and seeks justice and equality, and wants them for all communities in Birmingham – not only the newer communities which have settled there in the last sixty years but also those whose ancestors settledin the city rather earlier. Read more of this post

The UK is hungry for change…

Legal Eagle  

Image© Derek Harper

You will eat by and by, in the glorious land in the sky, way up high, work and pray and live on hay, you`ll get pie in the sky when you die…

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of EP Thompson`s The Making of The English Working Class, which Phillip Dodd recently described as a formidable account of class development. This is rather ironic, given that in 2013 we are witnessing the pauperisation of this very same, once proud class. Last Saturday, the Guardian ran an excellent piece on `The human cost of recession` by Chris Menon and Sophie Robinson-Tillett. The article dealt with the seemingly paradoxical situation of comparatively low UK unemployment levels coinciding with a drastic drop in the standard of living for many in work. People it seems are in employment, though frequently engaged on temporary contracts, usually part-time with sporadic adjustments in hours. Workers are increasingly denied a contract of employment. If an individual is paid an income which barely meets their needs, what are they expected to do if they are denied further support? Read more of this post

Storyville: The Road, a story of life and death

Nora Connolly 

Image©Ewan Munro

You see how people treat their dog, their cats and you wish you were a dog. At least someone gives you some kindness, some friendship…People ignore you and no-one accepts you… Storyville

This quote encapsulates what Robin Richardson has called the unkindness of strangers, the comment above uttered by a migrant worker and participant in this outstanding film, made by Marc Isaacs. The documentary tells the story of a diverse group of immigrants living on the A5 – one of Britain`s longest and oldest roads – focussing on the inhabitants of London. The individual quoted (country of origin not specified), is speaking while waiting on the streets of London, in the hope that he might be selected by a contractor for a day`s work. A scenario familiar to Irish workers from the 1950s, the documentary peppered with archive film of Irish men waiting for employment, just as these new migrants wait today.   Read more of this post

Robert Kee: History of Ireland` – No Surrender` (Episode 2)

Nora Connolly 

copyright Kyz`s photostream

In episode two Robert Kee adroitly negotiates his way through a myriad of propaganda while separating myth from reality. This episode explains why modern Ireland became such a troubled and polarised nation. He does not pull his punches; atrocities are graphically outlined, making for uncomfortable viewing. Kee begins with the `Flight of the Earls` September 1607, when Hugh O`Neill and his entourage went into self imposed exile. O`Neill the last Gaelic/Catholic leader in Ireland, had after his rebellion with England, lost all authority in his own country. We are reminded that O`Neill was made an Earl by the English Crown, an example of what eminent Irish historian RF Foster calls “the Janus-face of Ireland”. When O`Neill departs, the enormous area of land under his possession in Ulster (hitherto the most Gaelic/Catholic region) was grabbed and forfeited to the English Crown. Donegal, Tyrone, Fermanagh, Cavan and Armagh colonised or planted with largely Scottish settlers. Plantations had occurred in other parts of Ireland but this was the most successful because of its geographical proximity to Britain. Read more of this post

Question Time – Democracy Lite?

Lincoln Green 

BBC Question Time

Copyright UK Parliaments photostream

I was an audience member in the BBC Question Time broadcast from Lincoln on 17 January 2013, when David Dimbleby chaired a panel which included Mary Beard (Professor of Classics, Cambridge University), Nigel Farage MEP (Leader of UKIP), Caroline Flint MP (Shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change), Roland Rudd (Chairman, Business for New Europe) and Grant Shapps MP (Conservative Party Chairman).

Whilst the aim of the programme is to entertain and to provoke, attendance prompted thoughts about broader issues and about the underscoring attitudes which inform opinion and which programmes such as Question Time by their very nature fail to address.

Perhaps the most well debated issue was not actually broadcast but took place earlier, chaired by the floor manager to warm up the audience and to check the broadcasting systems.  The theme of responsibility for diet was discussed for almost an hour, raising issues such as personal responsibility, education for change, busy working parents and child care, and most pertinently the nature of the food industry.  Even with the luxury of extra time allotted only hints of the real issue were addressed – that the function of the food industry is to make a profit, and the easiest way to do this is to create something on which people will spend plenty of money (junk food) which is very cheap to produce and highly addictive (fat, sugar and salt).  Read more of this post

Save St. Heliers

Georgia Lewis 

Image © lydia_shiningbrightly

I feel like a parent with two incessantly fighting children. I just want to yell at them both: “I don’t care who started it, I just want you to work it all out, get along and stop blaming each other!”

Except I am not yelling at kids. I am yelling at the Conservative and Labour parties in my London borough of Merton. And the wrangling is not over a toy or who pulled whose hair first. It is about the now-very-likely closure of the accident and emergency and maternity units at St Helier’s Hospital in south-west London.

The curiously named “Better Service, Better Value” (BSBV) team has been brought in to find ways to improve health services in south-west London. This is a team of doctors from clinics and hospitals in the area as well as “patient representatives”. People started to sit up
and take notice when it came to everyone’s attention that they were looking to close a maternity and A&E unit in either St Heliers,
Kingston, Tooting or Croydon University hospital. And now the recommendation has come out – St Heliers should lose these services.
This is in an area where A&E admissions are up 3% and 6% more babies were born there last year and this figure is not dropping any time soon. There might be a “planned care centre” for either St Heliers or Croydon University hospital.

Never mind that the maternity unit has just spent £3 million on an upgrade or that St Heliers has a further £219 million of ringfenced
funding introduced under Labour and maintained under the Conservatives, it looks like that money may now be spent on
downgrading services. Although given the vagueness of the information provided by BSV, we can’t be sure how much that will cost. Or whether there will be job losses. And if so, how many?  Read more of this post

Blue Labour’s Dilemma is the SNP’s Opportunity

John Curran 

Imagine © Scottish Labour

The failure to end the cycle of “boom and bust” brought Labour electoral defeat and Ed Milliband the leadership crown. The subsequent leadership battle (or soap opera which focussed on the two Milliband brothers) led to a re-examination of policy but no in-depth review instead a re-branding occurred as Blue Labour was born, an idea associated with Jon Cruddas, James Purnell and Maurice Glasman.

But what is Blue Labour? Richard Seymour writing in the Guardian 9 June describes it as a mechanism to reclaim themes excluded from the lexicon of the left. Seymour places it within the historical context of the `popular front’ of the 1930s when a clarion call was made by Stafford Crisps for left unification in opposition to appeasement.

The contemporary left must reframe the right wing artefacts of the past and by  doing so develop what Billy Bragg called the `Progressive Patriot`. English patriotism is no longer the refuge of the scoundrel it is the Labour Party`s big idea. As Milliband stated in his June speech:

”Something was holding us back from celebrating England too. We have been too nervous to talk of English pride and English character. For some it was connected to the kind of nationalism that left us ill at ease. In the 1970s and 1980s, the Union flag was reclaimed from the National Front”. 

This endorsement is ambiguous for good reason. Nationalism in England is de facto a right wing preserve symbolised by the emergence of the English Defence League a pernicious group with a growing support base. Its existence illustrates the difficulties in reconciling progressive politics with English nationalist themes.

Mr Milliband illustrated UK diversity by speaking movingly about his Jewish ethnicity and family:

”They did not have to hide their past. They did not have to pretend they were someone else.  Jewish but not religious”.

But, Britain does not have a perfect record regarding Anti-Semitism. After all Houston Stewart Chamberlain, Herbert Spencer and Oswald Mosley were all British. It was representatives of the working class left such as Joe Jacobs who made Britain safe for Jewish refugees when they took to the streets in 1936 in the battle of Cable Street.  Read more of this post

Why did the Labour Party indulge Ken?

Frederick Cowell

Image © Amplified2010

If you are a Labour party member and disappointed at Ken Livingstone’s second defeat, go to a mirror, look at yourself – you are looking at one of the people responsible for his defeat.  Now, this article comes out before the official result; the Sack Boris campaign and the get out the vote drives undertaken by many local Labour parties could have helped turn the tide. But it is unlikely. So go and look at yourself in a mirror. If you are Labour you should use this as an opportunity to learn how to find a credible winning candidate – but then if you were part of the delegation that booed the mere mention of Tony Blair’s name last year you are a lost cause.

 In the primary election to be mayor two thirds of all London Labour members voted for Livingston over Oona King. Deep structural reasons and problems that go to the heart of the Labour party explain why this happened. King started her primary campaign late in mid- May 2010 when all the political action was focusing on the novelty of coalition government, whereas Ken had been unofficially campaigning the day after he was ejected from office in 2008. The primary also fell in the middle of the most contested Labour leadership contest for 30 years. Blame acting Labour leader Harriet Harman for that one – it is difficult to accept that someone of her political experience could not have foreseen that this would effectively make it a one horse race. King also had voted for the Iraq war in 2003 although, like many other Labour MPs, it was a decision she thought was wrong in hindsight and may have been less pertinent had she not lost her seat to George Galloway in the 2005 General Election. This gave a sense of permanence to her pro-war vote back in March 2003 so much so that seven years later it stuck with her as she tried to reach party members in the mayoral primary. Blame Tony Blair for that one – Blairites who bemoan the current state of the Labour party often have an attack of amnesia about the toxicity of the Iraq war and don’t seem to understand how much harm it did to an entire generation of centrist Labour MP’s. For example it did David Miliband’s leadership campaign no favours when he penned an article effectively asking people to ‘get over the Iraq war’.

As even the Economist noted at the time King was a good choice; her background reflected London’s nature as modern dynamic city, her policies were centre leftish and she was unencumbered by Livingstone’s foot-in-mouth tendency. Yet canvassing in the primary some workers for King noticed that a large numbers of Labour party members seemed to have a rose-tinted view of the race; a Tory PM promising cuts was in Number 10, wasn’t it time to get Red Ken back in city hall so he could fight them just like he fought Thatcher? Except this wasn’t 1981 it was 2012, and Ken lost to Maggie the first time round and is set to lose to Boris second time around. This is the answer to Dan Hodges, a Labour journo who took pride at voting Boris, but did quite sensibly ask the question – why does the Labour party indulge Ken? The new leadership aren’t really to blame; Ed Miliband was lumbered with him and as consequence had to defend him.  Instead party members decided to ignore the fact that in spite of a very strong first term record as mayor there were several features about his last two years in office, in particular his proximity with extremists, and the 2008 campaign that made him basically unelectable. This was known in 2010 yet members backed him – if you did that in 2010 look in the mirror today; you are responsible for giving the Conservative party a boost nationally in what should have been their worst election in a decade.

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Beware: Anti-politics

Frederick Cowell

Image © John Kirriemuir

With two days to local elections and four days to the anniversary of an unloved event, anti-politics is everywhere. The surprise from-behind victory of George Galloway in Bradford west and UKIP’s sudden surge in the polls are both symptomatic of a rise in anti-politics. The local election result are likely to result in the expected drubbing for the governing parties but also a boost for anti-politics candidates and well placed sources have detailed Labour’s panic at the thought of by-elections later this year, in particular in Birmingham Snow Hill which they fear could be lost to another Respect insurgency.

Anti-politics is becoming a feature of UK politics – Matthew Flinders of the University of Sheffield has identified a complex tendency among the public to dislike all political parties and politicians. To an extent voters should be healthily sceptical of politics and for many years those who have cared about the environment have voted Green, those who have cared about the national identity of regions have voted SNP or Plaid Cymru and those who have cared about immigration and race have voted BNP. Both UKIP and Respect make a different appeal to voters in that they deliberately stoke and then feed off the anger of anti-politics.

The ascent of UKIP in the late 1990’s was triggered by rage at the Maastricht generation of Tories and their 2010 election slogan “sod the rest – vote UKIP”, whilst a little to naked for many voters taste’s, basically described their electoral strategy for the previous decade. On the Left, the Iraq war provided the catalyst for the Respect Party to absorb those alienated by New Labour. To be clear, UKIP and Respect are single issue parties but the issues that both parties run on, Euroscepticism and anti-imperialism< are defined by the inability of the mainstream Left and Right blocs in British politics to fully absorb these issues. Both parties also mercilessly attack government as the great diluter of principles to create a betrayal narrative out of every decision that governments make, whether they be foolhardy (invading Iraq) or pragmatic (not pulling out of the EU).  This can poison political debates during local and city elections as the supposed betrayal of the former supporters of Labour and the Tories drowns out other concerns and scrutiny of local issues. Previously the Lib Dems benefited from this but after entry into government they are no longer able to take advantage of this phenomenon. A key part of the upsurge in both UKIP’s and Respect’s support in the last year is that they, like many other anti-politics parties across Europe, offer a rhetorically appealing account of how to fix the economic woes currently facing western economies. As appealing as these messages may be many of them are ultimately unworkable, socially divisive or both, but the fury many voters feel as living standards fall generates a lucrative gig for the Nigel Farages and George Galloways of this world.

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The UK needs another airport, London doesn’t

Andrew Calderwood

Image © Curt Smith

The 3rd of May 2012 marks the culmination of the London mayoral elections. Amid the announcement that seven candidates have joined the fight to become the next mayor, campaigning for the position is building up a head of steam.[1] Each contender is currently being put to the test and their aims for the next four years are being scrutinised as their suitability for the role is examined. The current incumbent, Boris Johnson, is aiming to secure re-election, arguably with the aspiration of securing a legacy. In an effort to advance his reputation and to gain the support of his peers, it looks as if he is maintaining his ambition to eventually succeed David Cameron as the leader of the Conservative party.

Although Boris Johnson may currently be concerned with more pressing matters such as issues with the economy, policing and transport within London, an issue that has not gone unnoticed is that of the proposed construction of a new hub airport in the Thames Estuary. Boris Johnson has made it clear that while he is the Mayor of London, he will not sanction the construction of a third runway at Heathrow. A host of negative implications that it would mean for much of West London has seen him confirm that a new hub airport situated on the Thames Estuary is his preferred choice. In contrast, the Labour mayoral candidate Ken Livingstone, arguably the strongest rival to Boris Johnson in his quest for re-election, has aligned his support to the proposed expansion of Heathrow airport and the formation of a third runway.[2]

Each of the aforementioned options are deemed, by virtue of various supporters, to be effective ways of dealing with the increasing capacity demands currently afflicting UK aviation. David Cameron has stated that the UK must ‘retain its status as a key global hub for air travel.’[3] In recognition of the need to increase airport size in the Southeast, further expansion in the region would allow the UK to remain competitive against its European rivals within the business and tourism sectors, while creating a boost to the economy.

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