Sunday, May 31, 2009

Get Off The Stage: Morrissey - Brixton Academy 28 May 2009

You're not a true fan of Morrissey unless you've had a cancellation”. Mark Reed reports.

With the steam of his stunning 2004 comeback spent, it's the usual album-tour-album treadmill from Morrissey. Despite working at near enough full speed for the past six years, releasing three albums, two live sets and a best of (not actually that far off the prolificity of his former band The Smiths six year life), Morrissey can't seem to do any right.

With five of the last eleven gigs cancelled at short notice, Morrissey meanwhile is someone who simply seems to take a somewhat relaxed approach to touring. Even in the days of The Smiths, the notoriously impulsive man often failed to show up at airports and video shoots and recording sessions : as if the vocation he had been gifted was simply too much hassle. Truculent, devious, unreliable. I know a man with time on his hands.

Whilst there's no denying Moz is probably seriously ill and unable to perform, has anyone considered that perhaps he needs to have a less vigourous touring schedule and more days off?

Because there's hundreds of people in London with expensive hotel rooms, booked flights and trains, and time off, staring at an empty stage in Brixton, doing something they'd rather not be doing because a 50 year old man seems to make a career out of not turning up to work. And whilst the adage is Morrissey Does Not Work For You, it also seems to be that Morrissey is an entity who is keen to find excuses not to sing his life. Work Is A Four Letter Word.

It's not as if Morrissey is an amazing concert proposition these days : his svelte and tight band of the nineties has slowly evolved into cheaper, more pliable, and somewhat lumpen musicians who do exactly what they are told, when they are told, dress how they are ordered, and act as 'ambassadors' for the Morrissey brand. One could argue that this life-as-art ethic is an extension of Morrissey's vision. Or one could say that The Nation Of Morrissey is a bit of a dictatorship. The band may be effective, but simply put, with the absence of the genius foil of Alain Whyte and the Gary Day / Spencer Cobrin rhythm section, Morrissey's band has become a bunch of jobbing salary men. Watching Morrissey these days reminds me of Iggy Pop and Bowie videos from the late Eighties – bands made of too many musicians and bloated egos of singer to whom no-one ever says “No”. These musical Alan Michael Sugars yelp “YOU'RE FIRED!” at brilliant musicians with personality and replace with cheaper, and more obidient replacement parts. A musician is not a piece of moulded steel, an axle or a new gear, but an artist.

So, whilst we could be watching Morrissey bludgeon 'This Charming Man' with ex-members of The Red Hot Chilli Pumpkins (in confidentiality contracts) as his backing band, 15,000 people in London will find themselves doing Something Else. For those for whom the Morrissey pilgrimage is of no small concern or expense, those who travel long distances to see Moz in his capital city – and there are many who book precious holiday and spend the little money they have doing this – find themselves loafing oafs in all night chemists whilst precious Morrissey consistently and persistently cancels at the last minute day after day after day.

It's too late for people to cancel hotels, or flights, or time off work. I don't mind if you forget me, Morrissey. But you've become Papa Jack, and you're losing friends and allies faster than the government. You silly old man, get off the stage.

UPDATE : Since publication, a few people have suggested I am a "low life 3rd rate writer".. I thought I'd clarify a thing or two. I'm fed up of the large number of last minute cancellations Moz seems to commit with increasing regularity. If he's not as young as he used to be, don't have such a frantic touring schedule and rest more.

Morrissey has performed a few hundred concerts in his life. He's also cancelled a rather large proportion of those. Of the last nine scheduled concerts in London, he's cancelled or postponed eight of them. On his 2009 US Tour, he cancelled seven out of 33 dates. On his 2009 UK tour, he's cancelled eight out of 15 shows. On his 2008 UK Tour he cancelled 2 and a half shows out of 11. On his 2007 US tour, he cancelled 9 shows. Let us not forget that he cancelled / abandoned two and a half dates in 1992, a US tour in 1994, abandoned a UK tour in late 1995, and cancelled proposed European shows in 1996. He was also known to 'go missing' at airports, TV shows, and other venues, as well as cancelled dates in Europe and America from the days of The Smiths onwards.

Ultimately the issue here is whilst Morrissey may be genuinely ill, he has consistently made a habit of treating his fans with little respect, cancelling concerts profusely and at short notice, and showing contempt for those who make considerable sacrifices to see him perform. Maybe his fans should simply 'cancel' a show and no one turn up at all? How could anybody possibly know how he feels?

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Hip-oh-krits and perverts

The Daily Mail: quite happy to publish risqué photos of 13-year-old girls while feigning outrage.

The word 'parody' doesn't begin to explain it. And yet this is a trick the Daily Mail has tried before: howling shock, disgust and outrage at anything raunchy or erotic while dedicating entire photo galleries to the very same stuff they bash.

Their coverage of Sachsgate last October was typical: they slated Georgina Baille as unedifying, vulgar, degrading and part of a "tawdry, exploitative business" while sporting a whole visual feast of "Meet Voluptua" (incidentally: the link still works, but it's interesting that, last January, the Mail was forced to remove the raunchy photo gallery and edited out certain words).

If you thought that was pathetic, then you haven't seen this one. Today Dacre's paper comes up with the following roaring headline:

"What ARE their mothers thinking? Girls as young as 13 parade themselves for a disturbing new beauty contest".

Disturbing, eh? So what does the 'repulsed' Mail do? They publicise it to anything between two and three million people (the paper's circulation in 2009 has been regularly in excess of 2 million) with an endless article accompanied by a series of disturbing and risqué photos of pre-pubescent girls posing as beauty queens.

So here's the big question. What's more disturbing: a) the Daily Mail making the photos effectively available to thousands of perverts, or b) the paper's incapability of grasping the sick irony of their own behaviour?

Friday, May 29, 2009

It makes you a man

A woman will be in care for the rest of her life because two manly pricks had to express their 'addiction to speed' on an urban road.

The two nutters who were playing Fast and the Furious in Rochdale, in the real world, were obviously too self-absorbed to realise their behaviour is the equivalent of walking down the street machine-gunning the air at random. Sure enough, biker Lee Unwin and Joel Wharmby, who were driving a turbo-charged 170mph sports car, crashed into a Renault Clio.

The racers, unfortunately, emerged with minor bruises only. The three women inside the Clio, however, ended up severely injured. One of them was left brain-damaged and will need care for the rest of her life.

And the sentence? A maximum of two years - but they could be out in less than one.

It's also quite a picture to see the Sun pouring disgust over the 'drag racers'' behaviour. Last time I checked Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson, the champions of cars that "accelerate so hard 'your eyeballs are fastened to the back of your skull'", was one of their regular columnists.

These people really believe that speed makes you a man or, more, that it's a human right.

Every day, 8 people die on British roads. According to road safety charity Brake, in 2007 (the latest year for which statistics are available), 2,946 people were killed on Britain's roads and a further 27,774 people were seriously injured in road crashes. "If the same number of people were killed in air crashes - a jumbo jet every fortnight - there would be a national outcry".

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Tits in their brain

The Sun breaks its new record on the number of boob-centred 'stories' in one day.

The Sun has always harboured a creepy obsession with mammary glands. From Page 3, to four and five, it's quite an achievement when you manage more than three Sun stories in a row that don't involve a woman's breasts. It's as if they assumed that their average reader's attention span is incapable to stay focused without the aid of a pair of bacon bitts shoved in his face every two seconds.

Today, however, we can safely say that Britain's best-selling rag have surpassed themselves. All those who purchase their Sun to jack off may like to know that, usual page 3 aside, their favourite paper also features:

- a 17-year-old tennis player who wants a boob job because what the Sun calls "her net assets" could end up costing her "vital points" (including video of her playing - just in case);
- 'Bra-vellous': pictures of Girls Aloud wearing bras;
- Katie Green going topless in Turkey;
- Nurses to get free boob jobs complete with picture of plastic woman posing as sexy nurse holding the stethoscope where her nipple is. The quote is...quelle surprise...'Busty';
- a 'picture special' with Katy Perry "busting out";
- Lewis Hamilton's girlfriend Nicole naked in the shower with a cartoon bubble that reads "Mmm...fancy soaping me all over Lewikins";
- Page 3 Idol, the finalists;
- Cameron Diaz pictured in her "tiny bikini";

And that's just what you can spot from the Masturbation Gazette's Home Page.

And don't forget: the Sun does not, I repeat not, objectify pieces of meat. If you think otherwise then you're an elitist. And a snob.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Cristiano Ronaldo & pricks

This video is worth watching, an excellent opportunity to commemorate Man Utd's defeat in the Champions League final at the hands of Barcelona. Look at Cristiano Ronaldo's look of surprise.

How to further alienate people in three steps

"If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change"

Picture an imaginary politician that tells it like it is: "Watch it cos I'm a nasty piece of work. I'm going to take power away from you and ignore you even if there's millions protesting in the street. I'll plough ahead and take any residual bit of power away from yous. I know better than you little people."

It would sound awful, but at least it'd be honest. If only Tony Blair had done that in 1997. We would have been spared the humiliation of illegal wars waged against the people's will and u-turns on practically every single thing he'd promised.

Today Britain's political leaders penned "their visions for the future" in the Independent, while yesterday David Cameron published a massive two-page feature in the Guardian where he set out his "ideas for change".

Predictably, theirs was a spectacular succession of clichés, banalities and hollow soundbites that could be recycled into a textbook titled "How to further alienate an already uninterested population in three easy steps". The most engaging bit was to check how three people can write exactly the same stuff by simply swapping words round.

So here's what we'll do. To make it more interesting, as well as to highlight the sheer triteness and hypocrisy of each, we'll take the best of their grand statements and look at them in reverse. At least it would sound more like our imaginary nasty piece of work.

Gordon Brown
"I will tolerate behaviour that is against everything I believe in. A thorough investigation of all expenses claims will not be conducted. Local people cannot have more influence on local budgets and local decisions, from policing to schooling. Everyone must know that they are not being heard. Our proposals will put more power where it belongs – away from people's hands. There is no option I will consider if it redistributes power".

David Cameron:
"We're going to replace democratic accountability with bureaucratic accountability. If we're serious about redistributing power from the powerless to the powerful, it's time to weaken parliament so it can't properly hold the government into account. We need to encourage a culture of sofa government where unaccountable spin doctors make up policies to fit the news cycles. We won't publish any parliamentary information online. We're going to take power away from councils and back interference from the state".

Nick Clegg:
"Once elected, government should not be subject to proper control by the people's representatives in Parliament. We must restore democracy by taking power away from people".

So, remember. Stick a 'not' in front of whichever verb they use and you'll get their true policy manifesto.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Alan Johnson calls for electoral reform

The Health Secretary breaks the conspiracy of silence over a new voting system.

Alan Johnson becomes the first senior Labour figure to call for a referendum on electoral reform. In a piece published by the Times today, 'There is an alternative to our damaged system', the Health Secretary backs the recommendations of the Jenkins commission - shelved by the Blair government back in 1998.

A choice between the current First Past the Post (that handed Labour a massive majority with less of a quarter of the popular vote) and the Alternative Vote Plus system is Johnson's proposal. "On the date of the next general election", he writes, "we should have a national referendum and let the people decide. This is a genuinely radical alternative that only Labour in government can facilitate".

At government level, the subject has been considered taboo for years. Following the ridiculously distorted results of the 2005 general elections, the Independent started a campaign for electoral reform. Barely did some support come in from Labour MPs that party whips went on-message and nipped enthusiasm in the bud. As the Independent reported, "MPs were ordered not to speak in favour of electoral reform".

Alan Johnson's renewed interest may signal the beginning of a new approach.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Telegraph: more of the same

The Telegraph insist that a system that keeps producing one-party feuds that swap power every ten to twenty years is alright.

If you believe the Telegraph's relentless campaign to expose the MPs' expenses abuse is aimed at bringing about serious change, then you may be in for some disappointment.

Matthew D'Ancona, editor of the Spectator, writes in today's Sunday Telegraph that calls for constitutional reforms are just "the panic button of the political class" as well as "politics in the A&E department". It is true that Labour has had over twelve years to bring about serious constitutional change and the notion that they would suddenly plough ahead with electoral reforms, a slimmed down House of Commons and fully elected Lords is, in two simple words, absolute bollocks.

But the Telegraph's robotic belief that a general election now is the only thing that matters is also quite suspicious: after all, we are 11 months away from voting anyway.

D'Ancona writes that Proportional Representation "weakens the constituency link and depends upon party lists making MPs more corrupt in the process", but he's conveniently massaging the truth. There is no such thing as a "PR system". There are various systems out there more or less based on PR and some of them (the STV, for instance) are explicitly aimed at individual candidates and not party lists.

He also writes that "[S]ometimes, looking at the wood can distract you from the trees". And he's not kidding. Certainly when it comes to his own views. For how can you still fail to spot the structural rot of a system that keeps producing one-party feuds for a period of 10 to 20 years (and more in the case of individual constituencies)? How can it be good for democracy?

By the time it reached the 1997 elections, the Tory government was considered terminally sleazy and corrupt, the result of 18 years of uninterrupted power. A fed-up country reacted by handing Blair power by a landslide but, again, after twelve years of dominating Westminster, it looks like Labour too has run into the same problems associated with "entrenched power".

Which is why now everyone agrees Cameron is also going to win by a landslide, which means he'll be at the helm for another generation. And then probably the same old stuff again in 2021, with the papers shouting Britain's had enough and all the rest. What will the Telegraph do then? Lead the same futile calls for change?

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Bullring fume alert

Although the authorities are working to reopen it later today, it looks like the Bullring, Birmingham's showcase shopping centre, is going to remain shut for the bank holiday weekend.

The problem began on Thursday when a "mystery incident" involving a possible chemical contamination of the ventilation system led to over thirty complaints of nausea and dizziness. According to BBC News, "Police said any contamination remained 'unexplained' and it was not known if it was from an accident or malicious act".

The Birmingham Post instead reports a more recent version of the events with the police describing the chemical leak as "an accident". "The incident is not being treated as suspicious and appears to be due to fumes from a cleaning product", said a spokesman for the Community Safety Bureau at Steelhouse Lane.

The Bullring shopping centre, which was rebuilt from scratch and re-opened in 2003, features over 140 shops. It has an average of 36.5 million visitors a year, making it the most visited shopping centre outside London.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Happy Birthday, Morrissey

His music may be past its prime, but I won't forget what this cantakerous old genius always meant to me.

And so, believe it or not, today Morrissey turns 50. I was too young to discover The Smiths while they were around, so when someone passed me a tape of Strangeways Here We Come the band had already split. But as soon as the first notes of A Rush And A Push And The Land Is Ours kicked in I knew I had fallen in love. It was around 1991 and Morrissey was to remain a regular feature of my life and my favourite singer for at least fifteen years.

Before I knew it I started a quest to get hold of every single Smiths or Morrissey release that my pocket money would allow. As I flicked through their sleeves I was fascinated by the perpetual theme of 50s and early 60s imagery that each them evoked. I loved the fact that Morrissey seemed to make a stand about a lot of things. Meat Is Murder, The Queen Is Dead, Panic, November Spawned A Monster, Margaret On The Guillotine. I couldn't think of any other artist exploring such a wide variety of social themes and with such a generous dose of irony, wit and black humour. Try and disagree that 'Charles don't you ever crave to appear in the front of the Daily Mail dressed in your mother's bridal veil' is one of the best lines in British pop ever.

But social observations aside, Morrissey became who he is because of his unique capacity to articulate feelings - most of his fans would tell you that his lyrics are almost like a mirror to their most intimate thoughts. The way I saw it was that Morrissey was the potential best friend of anyone unable to fit in with the crowd.

Late Night Maudlin Street from Viva Hate is the one that holds a special place for me. A song about the emotional turmoil of moving from the house you grew up in, "it's as if he boiled down all the bruises and the fucked up dreams you've let go and tipped the essence down into a pretty scent-jar and sealed it off. And when he starts to sing he takes the seal out and you can smell it. You're pinned into your seat as if it's a wall of noise but it's not, it's subdued and quiet, and you can't breathe in case you frighten it away". And that's a quote from Nick Hornby's A Long Way Down I just nicked, because I don't think there's a better way to define it.

A special mention should also go to the wonderful Vauxhall and I that gently ferried me through my A-Levels or the underrated Southpaw Grammar and Maladjusted - back from the wilderness years when the country had dumbly turned in awe of Oasis and being a Morrissey fan was almost considered the equivalent of being a freak.

When Morrissey made his grand comeback in 2004 I couldn't believe the long overdue attention he was finally getting. For the first time ever though, his new album didn't quite cut it for me and nor did Ringleader of the Tormentors in 2006.

And yet for all his u-turns, tantrums and moments he pissed his fans off, his impressive body of work over two decades has made the history books and is here to stay. For whenever I think of what it's going to be like in a few decades' time when I'm old, I guess I'll look back at the best years of my life and Morrissey and The Smiths will be, without a doubt, amongst my most special memories.

Happy 50th birthday, Morrissey.

I'm so jealous!

A 'Sir' who scrounged and dodged the system calls people 'jealous' the moment he's caught. Ladies and gentlemen, the Modernised Tories.

I too wish to have a 'duck island', especially one worth £1645 and one that I can get the little people to pay for. As Conservative MP Sir Anthony Steen said in a vintage display of class arrogance, we are all jealous. Jealous of his "very, very large house", jealous of his "500 trees" surrounding the property, jealous of how he thinks his behaviour was "impeccable" in the face of expense claims worth £30,000 for his garden.

We are jealous, above all, of the way Steen's own master, David Cameron, ordered him to backtrack within a few hours. "I was so deeply upset with the situation, which resulted in me overreacting. I am sorry that in the heat of the moment I said inappropriate things... about the Freedom of Information Act, which I entirely support." How pathetic does he sound?

Don't speak

Each time Labour ministers open their mouth to parade their bureauspeak in an interview it turns into a massive advert to have them booted out of office.

Who are these people? Do they talk like that to their partner before going to bed? Are they actually human?

These days the scale of sorting out the Labour party is possibly more complicated than shovelling three tons of dung from A to B on your own. And if you think that's harsh, then take a look at today's interview with deputy PM Harriet Harman or last month's encounter with senior Minister Hazel Blears.

These people are not human. They don't function like normal citizens. They wake up in the morning and someone programs them for the day, with a binary set of hollow-sounding words and technocratic expressions that they will recite by heart.

I was trying to watch Polly Toynbee's interview with Harriet Harman and within a minute I felt as if I'd downed a whole bottle of JD. Utterly impossible to follow. Aside from the atonal voice and the uncharismatic demeanour, she would just not answer a single question without tangling up the listener in the Land of the Bamboozled. "The straightforward issue", "the scale of the challenges", "as far as blah blah is concerned", "an important job to do", "simply a matter for the Prime Minister", "need for change".

When, for instance, Toynbee asked Harman if the Party could "carry on with a leader quite as damaged as [Brown] is", Harman replied that "what the Party is thinking about at the moment is that every single voter in England, Scotland and Wales will have a vote on June the 4th and indeed the postal votes will be going out from this weekend. How can we make sure that we get as many people as possible to vote?". Relevance to the question? Zero.

Pretty much like when Toynbee asked her about electoral reform and the Labour automata answered that "we've given people constitutonal backing with the Human Rights Act".

It makes you think. When her husband asks her what she fancies for dinner does she answer in bureauspeak that "well, as far as we are concerned, it is absolutely essential that we open and close a window as part of the straighforward issue that is our challenge for the evening". Or if her neighbour asks her a simple "how are you", does she go "As I say, it is indeed in the best interest of our lawn that at this point we provide sufficient measures on a whole range of policies"?

Vote anyone but Labour on June the 4th.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

"Childless women are bad", the Mail says.

Yet another category to add to the multitudes despised by the Daily Mail. If you don't feel ready to have a child you're a crap human being, apparently.

Cheer up gays and lesbians, leftists and Muslims, immigrants and single mothers, benefit claimants and environmentalists, council estate dwellers and pacifists, Irish catholics and SNP-voters. You're not alone. The list of people despised by the Daily Mail can today celebrate a brand new addition to the already overcrowded club: childless women.

Carol Sarler, officially on course for the Most Ridiculous Piece of the Month Award, writes that childless women should be "distrusted". They are the ones "who run the office bitch-feast", "they turn up late and hungover after a night on the razz" and "[they are] regarded as cold and odd". Essentially, Sarler pontificates, they "lack essential humanity". And that's allegedly according to "a research conducted over six years".

But the most amazing thing is that, if they carry on at this rate, soon the Mail's own pseudo-journos won't have anyone else left to snipe at. They may even start insulting each other or their own readers. In a couple of years' time you may as well expect a piece that goes "You! Yes, you, reading this piece right now. You're a useless bag of shit. A study from University of Colorado just recently confirmed it. Fuck off. Now".

Or don't be surprised if you spot one that scoffs at fellow Mail colleagues. "This week researchers from the Bogroll Research Institute confirmed that the Mail's TV & Showbiz department is full of oddballs. Keep away from them, they smell very bad".

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Michael Martin resigns. Big deal

The papers are talking about it as if that's what mattered. Oh yeah.

"Who exactly is Michael Martin?" You could have asked people in the street til the other day and I guarantee very few would have been able to answer correctly. The baddie from Halloween? A new Aston Martin range? One of the new crop of players at Man Utd? A lad from Big Brother?

No. Michael Martin is the Speaker of the House of Commons. Historically (and theoretically) the third highest-ranking person in the UK. Surely it's a prestigious and well paid-job, too. But factually, Michael Martin's resignation doesn't mean a flying saucer- unless it's the beginning of a radical series of reforms, in which case dream on.

The Speaker enjoyed a series of priviliges which, in recent years, got close to the notion of taking the piss. A nice salary, a Westminster pad, a Medieval-style procession each time he's off to work. There's also a pension that nears £1.5 million, various more or less ridiculous perks and a series of costly expense claims, but few would disagree any of that is at odds with the recent behaviour of our MPs and Lords.

So the fact that newspapers and TV channels are hammering in that Michael Martin is to stand down from office is almost futile. Sunny Hundal on Liberal Conspiracy calls it a "convenient sideshow" and he's right. What about the deselection of about 100 MPs (and counting) who've been acting disgracefully with the tacit consent of their Party bosses? What about electoral reform? New rules on accountability?

And yet the detested gritty Scot is standing down and that's it. "Will the next Mr Speaker get the new era?" writes Daniel Finkelstein in the Times'. "The gentlemen's club has come to an end", is the Independent's headline (quoting Gordon Brown).

They've got another thing coming.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Safe seats and corruption: a link

A blogger compared the MPs involvement in the expenses scandal with how safe their seat is. The correlation is striking.

We always thought that the First Past the Post voting system is a recipe for political and parliamentary contempt. If yours is a safe seat, you could be the biggest donkey or automata in Westminster. As long as you stay disciplined, go along with what your master told you and you don't walk around hitting old people with a wet plimsoll, don't worry: you have zero chances of losing the elections. It becomes, in fact, your personal fiefdom. You'll represent your constituency until retirement - or beyond.

That may be one of the reasons, just by chance, to explain the correlation between the latest MPs expenses scandal and safe seats. If you look at the dozens of MPs (of all colours) exposed by the Telegraph, the safer their seat, the dodgier the beahviour.

This is what blogger Mark Reckons found out. "Has our electoral system contributed to the MPs expenses scandal?", he wrote. And, to his credit, he's backed his findings with some meticulous figures. Mark analysed the majority in each of the constituencies of the 74 MPs involved in the scandal so far and he discovered that "there is a clear increase in the likelihood of an MP being implicated in the expenses scandal the safer their seat". As the seats get safer, there is in fact "a fairly steady progression".

So David Cameron and Gordon Brown can apologise for all they like. The only thing that is going to represent a clean slate at Westminster is a radical voting reform.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Unite for Jobs march

Thousands took to the streets in Birmingham asking for the Government to join other European countries in their support for manufacturing.

7,000 people braved the rain yesterday to march from Hagley Road to Centenary Square in a bid to call on the government to "halt the job crisis". Demonstrators joined in from all over the country, including steel workers from the beleaguered Teesside Cast Products.

Workers are calling for a temporary short-time working subsidy to keep skilled people in work and halt a "tsunami of job losses" and the permanent disappearance of skilled jobs in manufacturing. "We need factories and plants open for when recovery comes because if they go they will be gone forever," noted Unite joint leader Tony Woodley in Centenary Square.

While the usual suspects in the financial sector keep announcing "signs of recovery", manufacturing in the UK has claimed 67,000 jobs in the first three months of 2009 alone (compared to 29,000 in January-March 2008) .

Birmingham was picked to host the event as the West Midlands is amongst the worst-hit region by the recession with almost one person out of ten now out of work. 88 per cent of the region's losses has come from manufacturing. In turn these are the people who start defaulting on their mortgages - with a dramatic knock-on effect.

The UK secondary sector employs just short of 3 million people and the automotive industry alone makes for the third biggest market in Europe. Yet, the current hemorraging of jobs we are witnessing doesn't seem to be regarded as a top priority.

The Government rustled up massive amounts at the blink of an eye to bail out the banks. But, in the words of Tony Woodley, "It's no good putting £900bn into bailing out the banks if the banks are not releasing funds to keep cashload available. The Government has to show Mr and Mrs Ordinary in the streets here that [it] cares about their jobs [and] cares about people losing their homes".

The Birmingham demo netted the unexpected support of former CBI boss Lord Digby Jones. "I'm losing my marching virginity today", he said on joining the rally. "We've got to get the skills of this country in manufacturing kept, maintained, ready for the upturn. This government aren't putting anything into making sure that happens".

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today, Jones, himself a Brummie, said: "It is the duty of a government to invest in the short term in the skills of the country to make sure that, when the upturn comes, the flexibility can return because you've got skilled people in work. You can have all the flexible labour market in the world but, if you haven't got anybody in work, what's the point? I don't want the investors in manufacturing in a year's time to say: 'Well, we haven't got any skilled people in manufacturing in Britain we'll go somewhere else'".

"On this issue Unite are absolutely right", he added.

The Telegraph in 2006: 'GREED IS GOOD'

The queue of journalists, bosses and Chancellors who until the other day were defending "excessive City bonuses".

Not long ago you couldn't utter a single word against excessive City bonuses. Those who did were envious moaners clueless as to how financial markets work.

Take the same pious Telegraph that today is ranting against the "scandalous greed" of MPs. As recent as October 2006 they sported this proud headline: "Greed is good".

"Who benefits [from excessive wages and bonuses within the Square Mile]? All of us", the Telegraph's leader roared, along with the trite "It makes sense for banks to spend vast sums in order to secure the best available talent" and the oily assertion that "the country would be considerably worse off [if it wasn't for the City workers'] enterprise, ambition and, yes, their greed".

However, to be fair to the Telegraph, they weren't alone.

Back in December 2006, the Independent's Hamish McRae wrote that "like or loathe them, big City bonuses keep London at the top of its game" while Lord Mayor of the City of London John Stuttard argued in the Financial Times that the banks' colossal profits "provide the high octane fuel for the global financial services engine". For deputy CBI chief John Cridland, "in a world where UK companies face global competition it is vital they can recruit and retain talented executives to keep ahead of the game". And, let's not forget Gordon Brown's words of June 2004: “[i]n budget after budget I want us to do even more to encourage the risk takers”.

This was the consensus until early 2008. A world where thousands of crumbs-seeking earthlings were keen to act as the official mouthpiece of billionaire bosses, insisting that Britain without the talent of Fred Goodwin, Adam Applegarth and their likes would have meant economic devastation.

Fast forward to last Friday and the Treasury Commitee investigating the credit crisis came to the shocking conclusion that "bonus-driven remuneration structures led to a lethal combination of reckless and excessive risk-taking", slamming the Financial Service Authority for "not taking [and] tackling this issue seriously enough".

Similarly, tomorrow Channel 4's Dispatches will screen a report called Britain's Bankers: still cashing in, shedding some light on the way leading bankers are still making millions in spite of what they've inflicted upon the economy - along with evidence of how much Britain's best talent kept inflating their pay packets (take for instance Fred Goodwin's entitlement to take a year off sick on his full £1.3m salary) even as it was obvious their knack for financial dexterity had plunged the country into a massive recession.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Repossessions: the quiet National Emergency

At best this is the ugly footnote of Britain's news reports: 13,000 families had their homes repossessed in the first three months of 2009. But you won't hear about it.

Some people are of the opinion that the recent MPs' expenses scandal is a nice distraction from real problems. It isn't. It's a belated public acknowledgement of Westminster's sheer arrogance and contempt for the public - and that applies to all mainstream parties.

And though the scandal also meant official validation for the they're-all-the-same doctrine which defined political apathy in the last decade, it was refreshing to see that it fended off competition from Jordan and Peter Andre's split to seize the front pages.

There is, however, one serious scandal that is being kept conveniently quiet. About 13,000 families had their homes repossessed in the first three months of 2009, 50% more than in the first quarter of last year. That is tens of thousands of people - without counting the rising hordes of tenants who face homelessness because their landlord has defaulted on mortgage payments.

According to the coalition formed by Shelter, Citizens Advice, Crisis and the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH), there is "a steep increase" in the number of tenants are being thrown out onto the street without notice. Literally. You can hardly imagine how appalling this would feel if it happened to you. Losing your dwelling before your eyes is one of the things that scar people for life, yet this dramatic worsening of the situation is largely being ignored.

Look at BBC News website, for instance. The report is there and it's quite detailed, but it's tucked away in the Business section.

Ask around. How many people are aware of this emergency? Compare it with the numbers who will be able to tell you the name of the guy presenting this year's Eurovision.

Nobody likes to switch the telly on and hear about depressing stories, but the fact that - in 2009's Britain - thousands of extra families each month are forced to look for a hostel needs to become part of the national consciousness and quick. Then, and only then, the Parliament may become aware that it's not just the banks that need bailing out.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A curious case of double standards

Is the life of Afghani teenagers disfigured by the Taliban worth less than the life of Afghani teenagers disfigured by US missiles?

There was always a fundamental difference between Iraq and Afghanistan. In the former, the unprovoked attack waged by Bush's government opened the mother of all cans of worms. The sectarian violence and hostility towards Western troops that followed is well documented, the inevitable consequence of dodgy dossiers, doctored evidence and deceitful statements. However bad Saddam's grip on power may have been, the level of violence pre-dating the invasion cannot be compared to what followed in the years 2003-2008.

Prior to 2001, instead, Afghanistan was a country already being torn to pieces by the Taliban. If genocide is defined as the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, religious, or national group, then the Taliban regime was obsessively aiming their ethnic cleansing towards more than 50% of the country's population -women, that is. And let's not even get started on ethnic minorities and the "infidels".

We all know that the US and the CIA have loads to answer for regarding their active fostering of the Taliban and a certain bloke called Bin Laden. Significant sections of the Left will be quite happy to remind you of that at every turn - and rightly so. Similarly, Muslim commentators and associations will waste no time in condemning the US-led invasion, shouting "GENOCIDE!" each time a US missile hits the wrong target.

All that is fair enough. What isn't, however, is that each time the Taliban slaughter civilians as if they were ants you don't hear a single word in condemnation - unless we have a tendency to blink, that is. Today's reports of the Taliban's umpteenth attack on a girls' school, with 90 (ninety) of them gassed in one go, quite clearly failed to tickle the fancy of UK commentators and blogs alike of every political allegiance. Similar levels of apathy as last November, when Taliban attackers on motorbikes used water pistols to squirt acid in girls' faces as they walked to school on the outskirts of Kandahar.

And yet, if a bomb from an US airplane inflicted similar injuries on similarly helpless victims, doubtless Stop the War coalition and other friends would be demonstrating against such evil. Muslim associations too. Where is their outrage? Why don't they stand up to it? Is the life of Afghani teenagers disfigured by the Taliban worth less than the life of Afghani teenagers disfigured by US missiles?

Manic Street Preachers,
Journal For Plague Lovers

Review by Mark Reed

It seems so long ago, 19 years ago, half my life ago, I held a copy of Motown Junk in my hand. In the days when vinyl held rackspace and CD's were new and shiny wonders, no internet, and four television channels. A lifetime ago, and yet, still clearly in my mind. I had no idea what the Manics were singing then, but it felt true : the inarticulate rage of the heart and the literate fury of the soul in three minutes, raging against the placebo of dumb love songs to keep a population unquestioningly servile. The sound of a literate, questioning yoof in the wreckage of Fatcha's Britain.

Fourteen years after the Manics Year Zero – the disappearance of their guitarist and barometer Richey Edwards – their latest album Journal For Plague Lovers is an odd, strange beast. Taking the final batch of prose penned by Edwards in the final moments of his public life, the Manics have created a sort-of sequel to their epochal Holy Bible. Where this differs from that is simple: The Holy Bible was a record of furious discipline in the face of imminent collapse, a project seemingly created to focus the mind away from the cliff edge. Journal For Plague Lovers is altogether less compelling, more the sound of a psyche unravelling in dense words that are some kind of jigsaw, a puzzle, an enigma that operates on so many levels it's more a mass musical literary achievement than anything as simple as an album.

All this relies on the music being stunning. And it is... and it isn't. There's nothing here that grabs the listener by the scruff of the neck and demands attention NOW. Not in the way that Faster or even A Design For Life commanded the listener to stop whatever they were doing and experience the roar of the sound.

But Journal For Plague Lovers is something more than that. It's a virus, an infection : a slow burner, a record that, like The Holy Bible uncurls its full depth and intricacy with repeated exposure. The first few listens it is a hard, uneasy listen, a maze, a complex, and then slowly, after a short while, the record – and it is just that a record, a document, an artifact – gels in the mind, like some kind of difficult philosophical concept. But ultimately, it rewards the dense artistry. The opening Peeled Apples is a tension wire, and the beyond-parody title of Jackie Collins Existential Question Time and Me And Stephen Hawking are, in many ways, clear precursors or foreshadows of our current age: a time of celebrity scrutiny, useless information overload, and morality lost in trivia. The death of a moron garners more column inches than a pandemic apocalypse, we focus on nothings whilst civilisation crumbles.

It's not “The Holy Bible 2”, nor is it an instant classic. Nor is it that mythical lost 'fourth' Manics album. It is, instead, some kind of appendix. The songs are solid, strong, shorn of the instant killer hit single that birthed every Manics album before: and therefore lacking overall the sense of narrative a great album has. In one way it feels like a bunch of songs lacking a central musical theme, and in another way the theme is clear that of absence. The band are whipping up a storm around the eye of it, the calm, the missing Edwards. (As they always did, Edwards barely played on a Manics album, instead being a presence without a sound, a minister without portfolio).

The record rampages on, with occasional interegnums (breathers such as Facing Page:Top Left and the title track recall other, superior songs from a decade past), lacking the claustrophobic discipline of the past yet also some kind of apathetical, habitual state of war. Guitars growl, not bite. Bass sweeps but not strike. Drums seem curiously restrained. And, the central tenements of the obvious echo of The Holy Bible, the well chosen soundbite from history, are repeated here, but here, they seem more repetition than pointed comment. The album builds slowly to some kind of exhausted crescendo, the sound of a hand letting go of a sword after a lifetime of struggle, soundtracked by semi-PiL tones and seemingly meaningless/meaningful repetitions: It's a fact of life sunshine, Mummy, what's a Sex Pistol?, Only God forgives.

And then, the coup de grace, the hammer blow. Williams Last Words. Sung atonally by Nicky Wire, this song is a massively condensed version of Edwards final piece of prose, the reflections of a man at the end of his life, looking hopefully and fondly on those who will out ive him, jealous in a way of their continued adventures and also at peace with the path that brough him here. The words cannot help but read like an epitaph, a farewell, and whether they were Edwards intentions to exit on those notes or not, these words are an abdication. It is hard to listen to for any fan with any memory of Edwards himself.

A success, a failure, all in the end the same. Journal For Plague Lovers exists, a statement in itself, a closure, and a new beginning. Whilst The Manics will never reclaim their brief few years as stadium-fillers, what matters is not how many records you sell, but how much each record means to people who listen to it. Art is great not by numbers, but by the ability to communicate. And this is nothing other than a success on those terms.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Depeche Mode, Sounds of the Universe

A review

Maybe they can't help it. As bands start getting on a bit, they enter a pattern of releasing albums every four years, like a reflex mechanism. Depeche Mode are a case in point. Since 1993's Songs of Faith and Devotion, they've been getting together every four years on the dot for a CD and a world tour.

The good news is that, unlike many of their peers, money and fame have hardly tarnished their inspiration. Quite the opposite, in fact. 1997's Ultra and 2005's Playing the Angel, in particular, are amongst some of the strongest albums of their career.

Sounds of the Universe starts as promisingly. Kicking off with an almost pipelike high pitched analog sound, opening track In Chains soon morphs into vintage mid-tempo Depeche Mode, straight from the school of Walking In My Shoes, and with Dave Gahan at his most soulful and impassionate: I know what you're doing to me/ I know my hands will never be free/ I know what it's like to be/ in chains.

Hole to Feed, centred around an intriguing Nine Inch Nail-esque beat, is one of Dave Gahan's three songwriting contributions to the album. Wrong, the first single, is possibly the only song justifying the reviewers' comparisons with the Personal Jesus era. Gore's lyrics are half way between black comedy and self-therapy. Whichever the combination, it works a treat.

Things get even better with the dark mock-techno of Fragile Tension, rendered particularly endearing by Gore's slide guitar. The vocal melody may owe a credit or two to Babybird's You're Gorgeous (seriously), but four tracks on and Depeche Mode's new album is on course to be one of their best. Too good to be true?
Well, here's where the big slump kicks in. Little Soul has already been recorded before. The kind of epic filler that has populated every Depeche Mode album since Music for the Masses.

And while In Sympathy is simply unmemorable, Peace is almost ridiculous, bringing back memories of Alan Partridge singing Gaudete by Steeleye Span ("it'll blow your socks off!") to his receptionist Jill.

The insipid mid-tempo feast continues with Come Back and the instrumental Spacewalker until things pick up again with the excellent Perfect. Mooted as the next single, it unravels around a vintage 80s synth line which is stunningly enhanced by Gore's tasteful guitar and a Dave Gahan on top form. And it's Gahan who calls the shots again on his Miles Away, while the atmosphere turns distinctly darker on Martin Gore's own Jezebel, which contains the priceless quip "You're morally unwell".

The beat of closing track Corrupt could have leapt straight out of a Depeche album circa Some Great Reward-era, until Gore's distorted guitar kicks in with a more 90s feel, almost as if the band where masterfully playing cut and paste with their own back catalogue.

That Depeche Mode remain the masters of electropop is undisputed. That they're still capable of penning two or three fantastic tracks to add to their immense repertoire is also a fact. The risk however, is that they may have hit -at long last- a dead point in their career. Sounds of the Universe adds little to their legacy. By no means a bad album, but not worth a four-year wait.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Benefit frauds

The "reversal of welfare dependency" can start from the gravy train of MPs' expense claims.

These are the people who constantly lecture the nation on the importance of not abusing public money. These are the pious souls who are closing in on benefit thieves who "are picking the pockets of law-abiding taxpayers".

These are the politicians who claim that welfare provision treats people as perpetual children incapable of providing for themselves, the same politicians who "demand proper use of public money and accountability" and want to "reverse welfare dependency". These are the MPs who call for "standards and boundaries", adding that "people have got to the end of their patience with people having a free ride and not doing their bit".

Last year one of them went as far as saying that council tenants should sign "commitment contracts based around the principle of something for something" or face losing their home.

So imagine the beauty of catching the same self-righteous hypocrites red-handed. For years, it now turns out, they had the taxpayer forking out for their trips to Ikea, nappies and clothing, gardening equipment and cleaners' bills, videos and matresses, boilers and council tax, storage space and ice cube trays, light bulbs and dog food.

And that's the same for Labour and Tory MPs alike.

Call the benefit fraud hotline on 0800 854 440 (H/T The People's Republic of Birmingham) and grass them up.
UPDATE: Excellent take on the subject by Harpymarx.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

We must never forget the Taliban horror

Saying "troops out of Afghanistan now" is based on shocking levels of short memory. How is letting the Taliban death-cult in through the back door supposed to be progressive and left-wing?

This blog has always unequivocally opposed the Iraq war and its mismanagement. Afghanistan, however, offers a radically different picture.

The recent US air-strike and the controversy over the number of civilian casualties in the province of Farah have reminded the world that thousands of Western troops are still bogged down in that country and that no end is in sight.

However, it would be difficult to deny that if NATO troops left Afghanistan tomorrow, it would probably take five minutes for the whole country to be regained by the Taliban. For some people, this isn't our problem.

Sure, "liberated" Afghanistan is still struggling with deeply entrenched misogynism and a terrifying series of problems. But as much as each US air-strike going wrong may feel like a disgrace and more should be done to avoid civilian casualties, it is also impossible to feel any sympathy for the supporters of a regime who made "WE LOVE DEATH MORE THAN YOU DO LIFE" their call to arms.

The Taliban regime that held Afghanistan hostage between 1996 and 2001 is possibly one of the most disgusting ones in living memory. Drenched in ideology, its basic tenet was an utmost state of paranoia and obsession with vice and virtue that were used to justify a mind-boggling series of prohibitions. Life in Taliban Afghanistan must have felt like the Invasion of the Body Snatchers, a succession of people pointing the finger at other people the other side of the road, shouting that they were not "pure and virtuous" enough.

As part of their war on women, the Taliban decided that even the Iranian chador was to be banned as "stimulating" and "sexually attractive". Women were only allowed to wear the burqa. Kept in a state of apartheid that would make 1970's South Africa look liberal by comparison, women were banned from working and even from receiving any kind of education. Households were required to blacken their windows so that no woman could be seen from outside. They couldn't even speak loudly in public lest a stranger should hear a woman's voice. All Afghani females could do was to be used as reproductive machines. Nothing more.

The feast of prohibitions, however went further. Movies, television, videos, music, dancing, hanging pictures in homes, clapping during sports events, kite flying, and beard trimming. Satellite dishes, cinematography, stereos, pool tables, chess, masks, alcohol, tapes, computers, anything that propagates sex and is full of music, wine, lobster, nail polish, firecrackers, statues, sewing catalogs, pictures, Christmas cards. In 2001, the Taliban also issued a decree ordering non-Muslims to wear distinctive yellow patches.

It doesn't take much of a logical leap to conclude that implementing such a regime must have required industrial doses of violence, death, terror and brutality.

As recent as December 2008, the Taliban controlling the areas between Pakistan and Afghanistan issued official death threats towards any girl attending school. In the process over 100 schools were blown up and 17,000 students deprived of education.

Short memory is integral to human nature. And it must be this, and a nice set of blinkers no doubt, that is prompting some people on the left to cry that the Americans cannot and "should not bring Afghanistan into submission with bombs". The Stop the War coalition says that "only the Afghan people themselves can generate a political solution to their country’s problems".

Except that they don't explain how. So perhaps they mean the same way millions fled the Taliban regime throughout the 90s. Or a repeat of the Hazara Afghanis running for their lives. Or the way women weren't allowed to receive medical treatment.

Should we let them sort it out by themselves? Why doesn't John Pilger talk about it? Why doesn't George Galloway? Tony Benn? Lindsey German?

The question of what would happen if Western troops left tomorrow is obviously not part of their preoccupations. They've obviously forgotten that the whole country was already humiliated into submission, that the Talibani created - to quote Amnesty International - "the world's largest single refugee group", and that millions of women were treated worse than animals in a laboratory and that no American war blunder is worse than a genocidal death cult with absolutely zero respect for any human life.

To find out more about the oppression of women under the Taliban regime, visit the
Feminist Majority Foundation website.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Victory for the Fair Tips Campaign

The unbelievable scam of big corporations nicking the waiters' spare change may soon come to an end.

Remember last year's Fair Tips Campaign? Well, after a year of hearing the big restaurant chains arguing the toss, the Unions scored a massive victory.

The Government announced yesterday "that restaurants and cafés will be banned from using tips to pay basic wages from October". Chains such as Cafe' Rouge and Bella Italia were in fact routinely paying their staff below the minimum wage (as little as £3 an hour), using a portion of the tips to cover the difference while scrounging the remaining part.

Most pathetically, the British Hospitality Association, which represents the hotel and restaurant business, warned that ending the scam may result in "as many as 45,000 job losses".

Yet some of these scrounging freeloaders, just to give you an idea, belong to American private equity giant Blackstone - a company which "recorded a 56 per cent rise on its pre-tax profits last year to £44m on earnings of £248m".

And now the same owners of Porsches and Mercedeses, mansions and swimming pools, the makers of glossy 'Welcome Packs' that tell you how to smile (each costing ten times more than a waiter's daily wage), would really rather leave their Pizza Express branch understaffed than hand the tips back to their legitimate owners.

If the bloodsuckers really fear for their humongous dividends, maybe they could try and cut down on those managers' meetings at luxury hotels with free food, entertainment or even trips to exotic places.

Or perhaps, if it's true that 45,000 really may have to go, then the businessmen and women should try and wait on tables themselves and then see what it looks like when money handed over to you as a tip to a faultless service is snatched before you even find out.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

30 years of Thatcher

The many myths surrounding the Iron Lady.

Tons of ink are being deployed to dissect the legacy of Margaret Thatcher. Many are in the vein of Peter Oborne's piece in the Daily Mail, perpetuating the idea that Maggie was one of the "two truly great Prime Ministers in the last 100 years" - and that she was multiplying bread and fish.

But the way Oborne massages the facts to fit them into his discourse is simply ace. When he writes about "the facts of social corrosion", he points towards the number of children born out of wedlock. "Back in 1979, three-quarters of all women between 18 and 49 were married", he says. "Only 49 per cent are now - and the number is falling fast".

Except, Oborne forgets to mention, the same numbers started nosediving during the Thatcher years. In 1986 one in seven families were headed by a single parent. By 1991 it was one in five. But , in the Mail's world, it's all hail-the-Lady nonetheless.

Johann Hari in today's Independent challenges all the lazy myths about the Iron Lady one by one.

For instance, that of the alleged "champion of freedom" who was -at the same time- a great supporter of white-only South Africa and of the fascist regime headed by General Pinochet in Chile. And more: Hari reminds us of Thatcher's unashamed onslaught on the LGBT community.

Not to mention the pernicious effect she had on the economy. Aside from the dearth of council homes, the destruction of whole communities and the rest, "thanks to her policies", Hari writes, "a whole generation of poor and lower middle class children remained stuck, unable to achieve their potential", adding that "the tragedy of Margaret Thatcher is that she sincerely believed rolling back the state would create a generation like her father, a moral, self-reliant grocer. Instead, it created a wave of parasitic, amoral businessmen".

Saturday, May 02, 2009

"Flu death toll 'less than feared'"

Let's just say that if we had been wrong it'd have been terrifying. The other day we wrote of the power of collective panic.

Well, According to the BBC, "Mexico has revised down the suspected death toll from swine flu from 176 to 101", as "dozens of samples came back negative", indicating that the outbreak may not be as bad as was initially feared. Also, according to America's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), "the new virus lacked the traits that made the 1918 flu pandemic so deadly".

Like Philip Alcabes writes in the Independent, "the flu death rate Mexico in the past couple of weeks, fewer than one death per million people per week, is several times lower than the death rate the US typically sees from flu and its complications every year".

Let's just hope it stays that way.

The Soho bombing: 10 years on

On April 30, 1999 the Admiral Duncan pub was targeted by a fascist psychopath.

On two consecutive Saturdays ten years ago London was the theatre of unexplained explosions. The first injured fifty people on the corner of Electric Avenue in Brixton, while the second hit Brick Lane, a busy and picturesque district with a large Bangladeshi population.

Barely were Londoners beginning to make sense of those incidents that, in the evening of Friday, April 30, the crowded Admiral Duncan pub - at the heart of London's gay village- was blown up. The device turned out to be a nail bomb and the most lethal of the three explosions. From the wreckage, a pregnant mother and two friends were found dead while seventy-nine people where injured and some were to remain mutilated for the rest of their life.

Soho, until now a safe haven, was being targeted. No gay man was ever to feel safe from attack again.

However, that was the one episode when CCTV footage proved crucial. The images released prompted a man to alert the police with the news that one of his work colleagues resembled the person caught on camera. The suspect, David Copeland, a 24-year-old from Cove, Hampshire, admitted planting all three bombs as soon as the police paid him a visit.

Very quickly a grim picture came to light, that of a paranoid schizophrenic, a neo-Nazi obsessive on a one-man mission against the black, Asian and gay communities. Copeland claimed "he had been having sadistic dreams from the age of 12. He had thought about killing his classmates and had wanted to be reincarnated as an SS officer. In May 1997, he joined, who else, the British National Party and soon after the National Socialist Movement. In 1998, he was prescribed anti-depressants and told his GP he was 'losing his mind'.

At the trial, his counsel Michael Wolkind QC said that Copeland was suffering from "religious, grandiose, persecutory delusions", convinced that he had been "sent by God" to start a race war and pave the way for an extreme rightwing government. Copeland was sentenced to six life sentences with a High Court judge recommending that he serve a minimum of 50 years.

Ten years on, I remember how the whole affair left the country with a creeping sense of malaise. Some people said Copeland was the predictable, however involuntary, by-product of two decades of solid mainstream homophobia spurted out by successive Tory governments.

Mostly though, it was startling how one of the most vicious terrorist attacks ever to take place in central London was quickly turned into a footnote. After all, did any of the commemorations make the main news?