Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Tony Woodley earns a million points

What does it say about the country that Britain's political oracle is a rag based on bullying, tits and peeping into people's bedrooms?

Every paper and news bulletin today are making a massive deal out of the Sun switching sides again. Just like in 1997 they backed the obvious winner, with every opinion poll now predicting an election rout Murdoch's paper are shamelessly jumping ship again.

There are only two things to say about it. One came from Harriet Harman (and for the first time ever I find myself in agreement with her): "The nearest their political analysis gets to women's rights is 'Page 3 News in Brief'".

The second came from Unite general secretary Tony Woodley when he said: "We don't need any Australian-American coming to our country, with a paper that's never supported one progressive policy from our party, including the minimum wage, telling us how our politics should be run".

What he did to that copy of The Scum was a truly memorable moment (watch it here).

Monday, September 28, 2009

"BBC attacks Brown for quizzing Marr over gangliness drugs"

Are we becoming desensitised to bullying and general unkindness? Yesterday's exchange between Andrew Marr and the Prime Minister was a case in point.

You've heard all about it. Further proof of the ongoing yobbification of society at all levels was aired yesterday on the BBC.

Interviewed by Prime Minister Gordon Brown, BBC journalist and political broadcaster Andrew Marr was unceremoniously asked:
  • "A lot of people in this country use prescription medication and pills to help them get through excessive gangliness and rangy limbs. Are you one of them?"
Taken aback and obviously shaken, Mr Marr retorted that "this is the sort of questioning which is all too often entering the lexicon of British politics".

"This type of bullying is becoming all too common in all areas of life in this country. You get the Daily Mail picking on fat people, skinny people, bald people, whoever. It's all turning so unkind. From school playgrounds to Guido Fawkes, from Russell Brand to Jonathan Ross", Marr continued. "I mean, if you want to criticise me for the way I do journalism, or want to question my professional conduct, then fine. But to go on with smears about the personal area of my life is low stuff".

He added: "This is particularly insensitive as I've had serious problems in my life what with being called tall sorts of names. 'Stretch', 'twin tower', 'pylon', 'street-lamp'. Once I ran home in tears when some kids where shouting 'inflatable advertising waver' at me from across the street".

Later in the day, the BBC issued a statement expressing fury at Gordon Brown's treatment of Andrew Marr. The corporation said that the allegations, which had been circulating on the internet, had been categorically denied in advance by the journalist and described them as "outrageous and disgraceful smear".

[Also see "BBC's Andrew Marr legitimises right-wing smears"]

"Have asylum seekers had sex with your house?"

"Have the French given the Royal Family cancer?"..."Could the Poles impregnate house prices?"..."Could Alistair Darling give your mortgage diabetes?"..."Could Facebook have sex with your pets?"..."Have gypsies stolen the identity of England?"

These and others can be found at the genius Daily Mail-o-matic, an automatic generator of Daily Mail headlines.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

"Middle class and jobless"

The Channel 4 programme on the practical realities of trying to find work, even when armed with a degree or a glowing CV.

Last week's Dispatches focused on one of the apparent surprises of the credit crunch: middle-class unemployment.

Cue a striking parade of marketing and human resources managers who grew accustomed to a life of £80k a year (or more) and who now have to re-adjust their standards of living: second homes in France, fancy BMWs, kids at public schools. Some of that will have to give.

The recession is hitting those former high-fliers in the face, along with the ugly discovery that you can send off hundreds of application forms in six months and still end up empty handed. The loss of self-confidence gradually takes over and insecurity grows.

Dispatches revealed that an estimated 750,000 middle-class victims of the crisis are not registered unemployed. Whether it's fear of stigma or initial reliance on decent redundancy payments, the fact is the government's unemployment figures don't take into account what is a massive (and growing) contingent - a theme that will crop up again in the programme.

Which begs to the most depressing part. Watching this episode of Dispatches reminded me in fact of a book that came out two years ago called Fantasy Island. Written by Larry Elliott and Dan Atkinson, it explained why most of Tony Blair's rhetoric while in power was based purely on cloud-cuckoo land.

For instance, New Labour's glaze-eyed obsession with cajoling 50 per cent of school leavers to go to university was part of Tony Blair's ability to sell weaknesses as strenghts. Remember those proclaims that top-up fees were worth trebling because a degree was "a passport to a brighter future"?

Well, like most things based on illusion and denial, sooner or later the chickens come home to roost and, with the crisis, along came the time to mop up the mess.

Forget the above mentioned "high fliers". There's ordinary people like Adam, with a Business degree who left him £17,000 in the red, whose lack of success in finding work results in a commission-only door-to-door sales job for Dogs Trust. "At this rate, he won't even make the money to cover his fare home" says the narrator.

There's a guy with an MA whose only chance is to sell pizzas at Domino's. And with over-qualified people taking up low skilled jobs, those without qualifications are sidelined even further.

Dispatches revealed how the class of 2009 is now facing the worst job prospects ever. The number of people with a piece of paper that says "degree" has doubled in the last fifteen years. The last two years alone have seen an extra 50,000 graduates coming out of university while vacancies dropped by 20 per cent.

300,000 people graduated in July and the number is set to increase to 320,000 in 2010, a huge blow to an already mangled job market. As Martin Birchall, a researcher interviewed by Dispatches, put it: "This is a tidal wave of graduate talent coming out of university all hungry for jobs and opportunities".

A few months ago the government announced it was on top of things and paraded a new internship scheme called "Graduate Talent Pool". They announced an initial 7,500 internship positions available, aiming at a total of 15,000. As Dispatches shows, however, only 2,000 have been advertised so far and half of them are unpaid internships.

Most striking, however, is that whoever takes up an offer, even an unpaid one, is removed from the official unemployment figures. Paired with the above mentioned unregistered jobseekers, it means that the 7,9% unemployment rate announced by the Office for National Statistics in September is a very conservative estimate.

Referring to Britain's bizarre approach to Higher Education, Martin Birchall said on the programme: "We're raising people's expectations unrealistically. We're asking them to make a huge financial commitment to go to university and yet we don't have the right number of jobs in place in the end to sustain this enormous graduate workforce".

[Also see "Help the Graduates" and
"CBI: Science not a real subject"]

Friday, September 25, 2009


Have 'Express Newspapers' decided to be the official mouthpiece for the far-right?

First on Wednesday the Daily Express reproduced a tried and tested BNP slogan as a massive front page headline (see Tabloid Watch for details).

Now its sister paper the Daily Star (aka 'the Tits Gazette') is engaging in PR work for the English Defence League.

One thing is to interview EDL members to find out more about their motives and perhaps challenge their views. In the past two weeks both the BBC and the Guardian did something similar.

Yesterday, however, a whole article in the Daily Star was offered as a platform for the EDL to parade its press statements to the wider public.

The piece, signed by Ross Kaniuk, opens like this: "The English Defence League last night claimed it had been swamped with messages of support from all races" and is a textbook collection of pro-EDL PR soundbites without a single statement, question, or remark, to challenge their inflammatory views or balaclava-laced photo ops. Nothing, for instance, like a simple question about this EDL demonstrator (see photo below) as spotted on their Birmingham rally three weeks ago .

Even the rickety UAF statement they pasted at the bottom is worded so that it turns out to be yet another positive: "The EDL is looking for an excuse, which they say is silencing extremists and stopping terrorists".

As if that wasn't enough, on their home page, the EDL are now parading this: "the Daily Star had a poll asking readers if the EDL had got it right. The results? 99% YES, 1% NO!" without, of course, the slightest hint of irony in quoting a porn rag -whose polls normally consist of "Are curvy babes sexier than skinny beauties?"- as their showpiece advocates.

What is clear, however, is that pornographer, multi-millionaire and king-of-lost-libel-cases Richard Desmond is playing with fire. Some suspect that, with over £1,570,000 (a national record) paid in damages in 2008 alone, Dirty Des (as he's known by Private Eye) is thinking that satiating the masturbating contingent may not be enough and that becoming the country's far-right mouthpiece is the way to boost core readership.

In which case, expect journalistic gems like BB Noirin Kelly topless or Amanda Whipping Her Kit Off to frequently sit next to BNP or EDL-borrowed headlines. Porno-fascism has gone mainstream.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The tedious party conference season is back

Will it ever be possible to hear a political debate other than the one about "the immigrants" that isn't shrouded in hollow Westminster-jargon?

With the soporific party conference season under way, it is clearer than ever that Britain's mainstream political debate is moribund.

Aside from the tiny elite of MPs, think tank people, Nick Robinson and Polly Toynbee, most people are not going to be remotely interested in the hollow language of Labour, Conservatives and, I'm afraid, the Lib Dems too.

I've lost count of self-referential newspaper articles trying to dissect the subliminal significance of Nick Clegg not wearing a tie or speculating over whether David Cameron will use an autocue or not. People are not interested. Especially because, at the risk of sounding overly cynical, the three parties really are regurgitating the same things with the only difference consisting in touches and tones.

The litany of this season is the word "cuts".

Nick Clegg spelt it out at the beginning of his speech. "Oh my god. What will that imply?", gawped the newspapers. "That's what David Cameron did too! But he sounded more confident", argued others. "And will Gordon Brown cut a submarine only or two?", is the big concern.

This is why people are falling pray to the far-right. It's not because Labour doesn't ape disgraceful headlines like this one. It's because people can't even remember the last time they heard a mainstream politician discuss something relevant to their day-to-day problems.

And when proposals are made, they are literally drowned in that exasperatingly hollow Westminster-jargon of "tough messages", "difficult choices", and "progressive austerity".

No wonder that when some populistic peddlers appear and mouth off hysterical xenophobic slogans, they strike a chord with people. All they need to do is rant about the most tribal of issues and the easiest of punchbags and half the job's done- especially with the direct help of million-selling tabloids doing the groundwork.

What's most striking is that, on the left, there is the biggest gap in history awaiting to be filled. Forget the broken record about immigrants, for a second. There's a list of concerns that would strike a chord with ordinary people -and with good reason. Except that nobody's out there to articulate them. People need to hear tangible solutions to low salaries, wage differentials, repossessed homes (65,000 this year alone), the cost of living, the cost of transport, job insecurity or raging unemployment.

The Lib-Dems could cash in on it, but instead they're eager to join in with the decrepit tediumfeast of Labour and Tory.

Nick Clegg's been repeating that "the party must make though decisions to be taken seriously by the voters", yet it's unclear how aping the others at a time of unprecedented unpopularity for the political establishment would help him break through that stubborn 18 per cent barrier.

The only time the Lib Dems looked like they were going to overcome political wilderness was when they were stating loud and clear that they disagreed with the other two. Iraq and top-up fees were their best moments. On both, the majority of the country was deeply at odds with the parliamentary majority and the Lib Dems were the only alternative on offer.

However, that was five years ago. Until they decide to bite and show some jaffas, you'll have to put up with more Nick Robinson reporting about the underlying implications of open neck shirts and gurning jaws.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Sugababes spark philosophical dilemma

Someone else to shake their botty instead of Keisha.

Today's announcement that Sugababes got rid of Keisha Buchanan, their last founding member, triggered discussions over whether it is appropriate for a band to carry on while members keep coming and going like a revolving door.

The Guardian online has just started a comment thread titled: "When is a band not a band?", asking whether a group can "really carry on regardless with a completely new line-up".

But none of the people who were asked to perform under the Sugababes banner ever penned a single song, did the artwork, or wrote the lyrics, therefore the question is absolutely irrelevant. It's like Huw Edwards taking over from Peter Sissons to read the Ten O'Clock News on the BBC.

This is no Johnny Marr quitting The Smiths. Simply, someone else will shake their botty instead of Keisha.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Yet more Daily Mail bollocks

Main headline in the right-wing rag today: 'Next stop Britain? The Afghan boys groomed as Taliban suicide bombers who are fleeing Calais' Jungle to head to UK'.

Check out that bit in the middle again: "The Afghan boys groomed as Taliban suicide bombers", which to most people reads like some Afghan asylum seekers who are trying to access the UK are suicide bombers trained by none other than the ruthless Taliban.

But if you read the article*, a totally different story emerges. It turns out the Afghan boys in question are two 12-year-old kids who are in fact fleeing the Taliban. One of them said: "'It was not safe in my country because the Taliban were always trying to kidnap me and give me training for suicide attacks", adding that "[the Taliban] tried so many times to kidnap me. Luckily I escaped."

Too late, however, for your average dull-witted Daily Mail reader. No doubt 'Johnny expat', 'Steve_supportRboys', 'Cathy British-N-Proud' and 'FedUp' have all already interiorised the notion that Taliban suicide bombers are trying to invade Britain.

The next time a Daily Mail columnist write about social cohesion, or about Labour's lies and spin, they should be slapped in the face with a wet mullet.

[*UPDATE 22 SEP 2009: The "story" has been completely removed from the Mail's online edition. As if it had never been there. Details here.]

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Labour's best legacy

Whatever you make of Labour's twelve years in office, at least it managed to rid Britain of legislative homophobia.

If you were around in 1996-97 the sense of deja-vu is palpable. Swap round the words Labour and Tory and oogle at the easy ride David Cameron is being given: from clearing away cereal boxes in front of BBC cameras to hugging huskies, there are plenty of clues that P45 forms for the current ministers are ready for collection.

But while many are dreading a shift of the pendulum on a number of issues such as public spending, social policy or the EU, one change that took place during New Labour's tenure is here to stay: Britain's approach towards sexuality.

Some may argue that the dark days of anti-gay tabloid crusades would have ended anyway. For all the crap that the current celebrity obsession entails, it also brought about widespread acceptance of sexual minorities. Think Will Young, Mat Lucas, Alan Carr, Brian Dowling - all the way to Pete Burns and Big Brother's Nadia, there are now countless household names who don't share the same sexual tastes as the majority and no-one but far-right members or Islamist leaders seems to mind.

And yet, it's difficult to think that Labour's involvement didn't play a positive part here.

Just go back fifteen or twenty years when, egged on (as per usual) by the tabloid press, the Tories implemented the most homophobic legislation in Western Europe. Worse than the policies (like Section 28 and the persisting Age of Consent discrimination) was the rhetoric.

It may feel like a million years ago, but it was only 1985 when Conservative conference speakers were allowed to openly say "if you want a queer for a neighbour vote Labour" and 1987 when Margaret Thatcher explicitly attacked "the right to be gay". And that was the political party young David Cameron felt compelled to join.

Labour came into power in 1997 while the Sun was still shouting that Britain was being run by a "gay mafia". And yet, in a rare concession that they'd got it wrong, the red top announced it was changing tack.

The tide had turned. In spite of bitter media hostility, first the devolved Scottish government and then Westminster repealed Section 28. Then, in 2000, the government used the Parliament Act 1911 to overrun the House of Lords's obstructionism and equalise the Age of Consent at 16. In December 2005 the new Civil Partnership Act was implemented, allowing same-sex unions to be legally recognised and to be granted equitable treatment for financial matters and next-of-kin assistance. Finally, the last few years have seen a series of steps aimed at tackling homophobic bullying at school.

Barring some unexpected turn, those changes appear now firmly entrenched within British society and no-one but the most hardcore of Tories could dream of publicly campaigning in favour of sexual discrimination. If anything, most politicians are aware that endorsing something like Section 28 or the unfortunate "gay plague" rhetoric today would probably herald electoral suicide.

So, nine months from now, when Britain wakes up with the first Tory Prime Minister since John Major and you find yourself cursing Labour for all its crap and wasted chances (see this and this for a reminder), just think that twelve years didn't go exactly in vain and that sexual equality will go down in history as one of Labour's proudest moments.

Ken Livingstone on Labour's future

Tomorrow's issue of the New Statesman features the former London mayor as guest editor. His leader Labour must change to survive offers some interesting ideas. Here's an extract:

"Public spending that benefits the population and aids economic recovery must be sustained through more progressive taxation and cuts to spending of no public benefit: cancelling ID cards and the Trident replacement, and reducing military spending to the same share of our economy as Germany. This last step would cover the cost of servicing the debt from the bailout.

Areas of the economy in near-total collapse, notably housebuilding, need direct state intervention to restore investment. Labour should never have maintained Thatcher's ban on local authorities building houses. And the government needs a courageous approach to climate change and the environment.

We need taxes and incentives to cut traffic pollution and congestion, tough targets to cut emissions by the whole country and the vigorous promotion of energy saving (such as home insulation)".

Saturday, September 19, 2009

More Daily Mail bollocks on immigration

Caught in the act (again): tabloids recycle false statistics to make immigration sound more dramatic.

There are people out there who still refuse to accept the poisonous role played by Britain's tabloids when it comes to race and immigration.

Many blogs have, better than this one, repeatedly pointed at the most blatant examples of inflammatory red top churnalism. When a concoction of outright falsehoods and half-baked myths is regurgitated and interiorised by millions of readers everyday, it's not surprising that social cohesion is going out of the window and right-wing extremism is on the rise.

Today comes another spectacular example. The Daily Mail features a long piece by Harriet Sargeant titled 'Feral youths: How a generation of violent, illiterate young men are living outside the boundaries of civilised society'.

Now, this is a peculiar one because, although the whole piece is peppered with pathetic photos of models posing as 'hoodies', Sargeant's article starts with laudable intent, seeking to explain a massively serious issue - notably the world of youth crime, teenage gangs, school drop-outs and so forth.

And yet, two paragraphs in, Harriet Sargeant gets mired in the usual, tiresome, scattergun Daily Mail-speak, a 'Best Of' of "welfare dependancy", "benefits", "single mothers" and "Labour's schools".

You'd have thought, however, that at least on the subject of "teenage crime", the Daily Mail would give immigration a rest. Not quite. Even that is the foreigners' fault.

According to Sargeant, "the arrival of large numbers of skilled immigrants" is what "sidelined disadvantaged working class boys". Quoting a 22-year-old man called Dave, she even writes that "[T]he local job agencies warned him he had no chance because he was English".

Then the 'churno' cuts to the quick: "According to the [now defunct] Statistics Commission, of the 1.7 million new jobs created since 1997, a whopping 81 per cent have gone to foreign workers".

Now, no doubt most readers would find such figures shocking. Many would start paying heed to rumours that "Britain is being swamped" or that "we need our country back". How many, however, are going to check whether Sargeant's "whopping 81 per cent" is real?

If they did, they'd discover that the claim is made-up and would probably conclude that this type of journalism is a disgrace. Because Sargeant may be free to believe whatever she wants. What is vile, however, is how she feeds wrong statistics to the public in order to back up her views. But either Sargeant can't read and interpret figures, or she deliberately misrepresented them.

At the end of 2007 the Statistics Commission did indeed publish a paper called "Foreign workers in the UK- briefing notes".

It showed that 2.1m jobs were created between 1997 and 2007. Of those, "about 1.0 million has been accounted for by UK nationals and about 1.1 million has been accounted for by foreign nationals". And while my maths skills may have gone to crap, that is nowhere near the 81 per cent Sargeant was writing about. The percentage of jobs that went to foreign nationals is between 52 and 53 per cent.

Not only that. The same document (page 17) states that (in 2007), the employment rate of UK nationals was "higher than it was in 1997, an increase from 73.2% to 74.8%", which means that more UK nationals were able to find jobs in the period mentioned by Sargeant.

So where does her "81 per cent come from"? Why did she pick that particular number?

Scouring through the same document, it turns out that the only "81 per cent" that can be spotted is the "net increase" of "foreign workers in employment". From 7.5% in 1997, up to 12.0% in 2007, it amounts to an increase of "81 per cent" (see page 6 and page 9).

A few questions are in order:
1) did Sargeant pick the biggest number that was placed next to the word "foreign nationals" to add extra drama and effect?
2) do you call that type of conduct ignorant, dishonest or both?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Choudary: the best gift to the fascists

Both fascists and Islamofascists share the same goal, that is racial tension and social instability. By Stan.

The activities of the English Defence League have cause a bit of a stir as of late. Some commentators noted how the mess that kicked off in Harrow in response last weekend is going to "do no one any good".

It's quite obvious that the current climate is an extremist's wet dream. On one side, it's increasingly clear that the EDL are not the innocent lillies they'd like to come across as. Unless you're hearing-impaired, you may have heard "we hate the Muslims" and other assorted inflammatory insults at their demos. Their repeated pleas that they're "neither racist nor far-right" are as convincing as Michael Jackson's statement that he most definitely only had plastic surgery twice.

However, here's the big however. Some on the left are also getting carried away. Whether denial, delusion, or both, they insist on envisaging a kind of "tremendously militant" grand anti-fascist alliance with Muslim groups that doesn't exist.

The simple truth is that the type of violence and anger that erupted at Harrow is only going to play into the hands of the right-wing tabloids and right-wing groups that have made a political mission out of victimhood and paranoia.

If that wasn't enough, three days ago, Islamofascist and terrorist-supporter Anjem Choudary issued a video. Defined as "a special address to members of the English Defence League", it reiterated his firm aim to impose shari'ah law all over Britain and to have the Islamic flag fly over Downing Street (watch the disgraceful video peppered with usual talks of 'infidels' here).

More, Choudary lashed out at "socialists" and leftists stating, amongst other things, that they're only sticking up for the British Muslims out of political capital and that they should basically piss off.

The left and the vast majority of anti-fascists can't go on ignoring this.

Sure, Choudary represents a tiny little fraction of the Muslim population of Britain, but in the same way, the EDL and/or the BNP are not representative of the country's public opinion. However, the tireless way both fascists and Islamofascists are working towards the same goal, that is racial tension and social instability, is quite shocking.

Each time Choudary and pals open their gob that's extra votes for the BNP. Similarly, each time the skinhead oiks are heard singing anti-Muslim slogans dressed up as pissed-up football chants that's more Muslim people closing ranks, playing the game of the "us and them" peddlers.

Someone needs to take a step back, have a cup of tea and focus on real problems.

Also read: "Hooligans, racists, bigots: we don't want your help".

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Obama: Kanye West "a jackass"

And he's right!

Just before Barack Obama went on camera to do an interview with CNBC, he started chatting about Kanye West’s antics at the MTV Video Music Awards. The President nailed it right on the head when he said: "I thought that was really inappropriate" adding, "He's a jackass". [Click here to hear the audio clip].

It's not the first time that the egomaniacal rapper gets all the attention he craves for. In 2006 he made a complete arse of himself at another MTV award (see it here). Another outburst a year later grabbed some more headlines and, only the other day, he made people laugh as he comically stormed onstage when country singer Taylor Swift accepted her Best Female Video award.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Pay freeze? Not for the wealthy!

In real terms, both minimum wage and dole money are taking a cut. Executive pay, in the meantime, is up by 10 per cent. By Stan.

Supporters of pay freeze have been getting cockier for a while. A few months ago, while attacking the UK's "onerous employment legislation" (with not an ounce of irony), Luke Johnson in the Telegraph argued that:

"An employer-organisation can go to hell in a hand basket, but God forbid a single employee has to take even a small reduction in salary! Yet in a deflationary environment, the value of constant money is rising – and with unemployment soaring and firms struggling to survive – why shouldn't workers share the pain?"

The Torygraph's target? Well, like the Daily Mail, nurses, teachers and ordinary workers, guilty of asking for a 2 per cent rise during a recession.

And yet, little is said about the fresh news that executive pay has risen by a whopping 10% in the last year. Just to keep into perspective, remember that in the meantime, the National Minimum Wage is going up by 1.1% -below the inflation rate for the second year running.

Also, the new Inflation Report for 2009 indicates that people on lower wages are feeling the inflation disproportionately: essential goods, in fact, have suffered the highest rates of inflation in the last year. As the Left Economics Advisory Panel remarked: "With the Government and private sector employers calling for pay freezes for low paid workers, this should be a wake-up call to trade unions and workers who once again are being forced to pay for a recession not of their making".

But this is not all yet. If you were amongst the 750,000 people who lost their job in the last twelve months, you may have discovered that unemployment benefits in the UK are impossible to live on: they amount to 10 per cent of average earnings, according to a new TUC study.

Not only that: in real terms, benefits have been getting thinner. In 1979, dole handouts were 18% of real earnings. In 1994, the proportion was 14%. Now, 10%.

The Institute of Directors confirmed last month that "almost a million people were working part-time because they could not find a full-time job, meaning the impact of the recession on employment was "even greater" than unemployment figures suggest.

In the words of TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber: "The view that we need low benefits to encourage people into work makes no sense in a recession. The vast majority of the unemployed are desperate for jobs, and need no encouragement."

"Things aren't the same..."

You've got to read this excellent piece by Jamie Sport. It is posted on the genius Daily Quail website. Here's a small extract:

"I remember with a melancholy fondness the days when you could call a spade a spade without fear of the PC brigade jumping down your throat, telling you not to use such words for fear of offending all the other garden tools (of course, when I say spade I mean paki), or those dizzy summer afternoons spent hunting down the queers and playfully bashing their little heads in with pebbles from the village pond.

It was the only way to keep the gene pool healthy.
Those magical times existed before silly, bureaucratic words like 'hate crime' and 'bigotry' were even invented"... (click here to read it all)

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Guilty of naming your kid 'Mohammed'!

Max Hastings in the Daily Mail shows the tabloids' true colours on race and social cohesion.

Now, picture the scene. Imagine you're one of the 760,000 Britons who invaded Spain in the last ten years (and that's a lot of people in ten years, especially when you think they're mostly concentrated in the same two or three areas of Spain).

Imagine that every single day, relentlessly, the three best-selling Spanish dailies are ramming the point home that the British, as a whole, don't integrate, they can't pick up a word of Spanish, they put a massive strain on public services, they open their own shops, pubs and "British supermarkets".

Then opinion columns start popping up that accuse "the British" of building unlicensed villas that spoil the landscape. That, because of them, entire areas are "losing their identity".

Then, each time a Brit is caught doing something naughty, from street-vomiting to drunken brawls, from gang rapes to drug-dealing, they hand it the front page, perhaps with the headline "Costa del Crime", like the website dedicated to the several British gangsters resettling in Spain.

Like, imagine the public outcry that would follow a story like this ('Briton arrested after trying to shoot Spanish guard who caught him urinating in public') being given the tabloid treatment in the Spanish press, along with regular stories of promiscuous clap-prone British youths swamping nightclubs.

In the meantime, local far-right parties based on a platform of "send' em home" and "show them the door if they don't integrate" start making unprecedented electoral gains.

As tension keeps going up, imagine one day you open the paper and you read that a "respected historian" goes off on one on the fact that Brits keep giving their Spanish-born kids English names. And that, if you don't count the spelling difference between Jon and John or Stephen and Steven, "as surely seems logical", then English names are "right up there, near the top of the list", a sure sign that "a British tide will not merely transform [Spain's] traditional culture but, frankly, bury it".

And yet you're a law-abiding citizen. You love your adoptive country. You get on with everyone here. You've been working and paying tax like clockwork. Perhaps you've even lent a hand at the local Community Centre. How would you like it if you were constantly made to feel that "your lot" are doing something wrong?

Now, reverse the situation and look at Britain's deteriorating race relations.

Look at what "respected historian" Max Hastings scribbled in the Daily Mail last Friday. In a remarkable rant, Hastings bewailed the fact that the 'Mohammed' is now one of the most popular first names in Britain. If it wasn't for different spelling "variants" "as in Mohammed, Muhammed and so on", he writes, "then Mohammed is right up there, near the top of the list".

And yet, in these days of BNP/EDL-centred headlines and racial tension showing its ugly rear on Britain's streets, it is often advocated that 'the Muslims' are the one religion/ethnic group that should be blamed for stoking tension and giving gangs of racist thugs a new lease of life.

That an ugly brand of fundamentalist Islam exists is undisputed. Soaked in misogyny, homophobia and deep intolerance, ironically it has quite a lot in common with the doctor-murdering right-wing Christian nuts who are so prominent in the US.

What is baffling, however, is that ten years of tabloid-based obsession with non-white immigration (including the consistent finger-pointing at 'the Muslims') can be so superficially by-passed when the resurfacing racial tensions are analysed.

And yet Max Hastings' gem about first names is only the pinnacle. For all the talks that "the liberal elite is calling the shots", here we have the best-selling dailies (The Sun, Daily Mail and Express tallying a circulation of around 5 million everyday), constantly frothing at the mouth and tearing Muslims apart with a daily bombardment of half-baked myths, half-truths and outright lies. One of the inevitable results is that a lot of law-abiding British citizens identified as 'Muslims' are increasingly feeling like aliens in their own country. If it isn't their religion, then it's the benefits. If not those, then it's the clothes. Now, apparently, they are guilty of calling their kids "Mohammed".

Finally, a word on the suspicion that Islam is being used as a 'fig leaf' to hide issues related to skin colour.

Max Hastings gives the game away when he writes that, in places like "Birmingham and Leicester [...] Muslims are soon expected to outnumber whites". There you have it. That's what's bugging him.

Rip it up and start again

The recession has had some good effects after all. This may be of little comfort if you've lost your job or home, or are being harried by bailiffs, but the economic calamity has finally opened up some real difference between New Labour and the Conservatives. By Ceri.

OK, not much to cheer about, but at least it points to the beginning of a way forward for the left that moves away from the desperate New labour 'project'.
Last year I considered writing about the difference in policy between New Labour and Cameron's Conservatives. I didn't, because there wasn't any. Striking though this was in its own way, it really didn't stretch beyond a couple of sentences.

Over the last few years, the already similar polices of New Labour and Tory had evolved into almost identical manifestoes. A slight difference in tone, a Tory commitment to apprenticeships, rather than training (apprentice playing on Tory nostalgia, rather like the perpetual calls to 'bring back matron') and a rather vague commitment to limit immigration by a points system (which made no mention of the EU or asylum, the two great evils of tabloid immigration scare-mongering), but there really was very little substantial difference.

But now the issue of public spending cuts a deep channel of clear water between Labour and Conservative. The Tories have played on the issue of government debt; highly successfully, as it is now orthodoxy amongst most of the media that cuts are necessary and inevitable. Labour itself agrees, but only when the economic growth is restored, seeing public spending as the only thing keeping the economy vaguely afloat.

This may seem little more than a tactical disagreement, but it reflects deeper differences. While hardly a return to some social democratic heyday, Labour's approach, in opposing the Tories and the media's view, does represent a break with New Labour; first, by moving from New Labour's neo-liberal tinted economic approach; and second, by publicly forcing Labour to defend this move, something it refused to do in other circumstances. For example, it refused to make the case for public ownership of RailTrack and Northern Rock, when both offered the opportunity to demonstrate the private sector as something less than the paragon of efficiency that it occupied in New Labour ideology.

The Conservatives show themselves to be fully in agreement with New Labour's scepticism on state intervention in economic matters. Cameron's Tories are, at present, little more than New New Labour, and any move will be to the right. A lot of the government's current inertia and confusion stems from the gradual, dim realisation that New Labour failed, but without any idea of where to go next.This point of divergence offers Labour the chance to drop the New and work out something better.

It may also, if Labour can capitalise on this point, offer the chance, if not to save the next general election, then at least to lessen the Conservative victory. Up to now, the prospect of a Tory government was hardly worrying to the average Labour voter; after all, what exactly was that different? But now, the prospect that the Tories could have a tangible negative effect could start to cast doubt in the minds of ex-Labour voters. Combined with the odd careless remark revealing the real views of many younger Tories, and the Conservatives seem less reassuring than before. For all of the criticism of Labour, Cameron with a large majority could be a lot worse.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Melanie Phillips openly endorsed by BNP

Mail columnist book now officially on sale on far-right online shop as 'recommended reading'.

This should come as no surprise. For years now, at least twice a week, Daily Mail columnist Melanie Phillips has been banging on about immigration and what some people refer to as the "Islamification of Britain".

So here we are. For all the Daily Mail's disclaimers that they're anti-BNP (often recited as foreword to some virulently anti-immigration "opinion column"), the consonance is so striking that the BNP website is now selling Melanie Phillips' own book Londonistan: How Britain is Creating a Terror State Within, along with right-wing nut classics such as Vienna 1683: Christian Europe Repels the Ottomans.

Quoting several paragraphs from her book, the BNP site refers to it as "recommended reading" as well as "a revealing insight into the Islamist threat facing Britain".

So, as some citizens begin to connect years of tabloid headlines lashing out at the same target and the recent surge in far-right demonstrations across Britain (for a small but representative selection, please see this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this and this), here comes the BNP's official endorsement of one of the Daily Mail's star columnists.

Melanie Phillips can now be proud: a bunch of white supremacists, sexists, homophobes and holocaust deniers are now officially amongst her biggest fans.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Goodbye to the old Birmingham Academy...

...welcome to the new one.

Another piece of Birmingham's recent history is about to vanish. The 70s site of the former Hummingbird, more recently known as the Birmingham Academy (or Carling Academy, like the Worthingtons Cup's poor brother) is now being cleared out and awaiting demolition.

Nostalgics may remember the dozens of gigs they watched there, and -as a live music venue- it was actually alright. It provided the city with a mid-sized venue for those bands that could not fill up places like the NEC and the NIA. Until it re-opened in 2000, our only option was the Wolverhampton Civic and Wulfrun.

At the Academy, I watched Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros (an amazing gig, in a half-empty venue, a year before he died, god bless him), an out-of-steam Pulp on their final We Love Life tour, Morrissey on his 2002 comeback thingy (when he introduced Hand In Glove he said "this song is older than you, and you", pointing at the crowd), Suede just before they split at the end of 2003 (with Razorlight as support!) and the unbelievable Bauhaus reunion in 2006.

As a club, however, the Academy sucked, plain and simple, especially the main room which -unlike other legendary hangouts like Snobs, XLs and Edwards no.8 (the latter two now defunct) -was too big and impersonal. The bouncers were spectacularly hostile too. Still, god knows how many times I went and the amount of money I spent!

In any case, Birmingham's not losing out, because a better and more effective Academy (now re-branded 'o2 Academy') is now opening at the site of the former Dome at the top of the Bristol Road. It will house three venues: the Academy 1, with a capacity of over 3,000 people, the Academy 2 (600) and the smaller Bar Academy for local bands and after-gig parties. Each of them has been fitted with dressing rooms and showers for the bands, which should make local acts feel particularly chuffed.

After a weekend of christening events, the 'opening ceremony' will climax on Sunday with a gig by Birmingham's own Ocean Colour Scene.

One thing will be missed however. The old Oasis market, part of the complex that housed the Hummingbird along with Argos and other shops, is yet to find a new home.

In the meantime, if you have any memories of the old Academy/Hummingbird, feel free to share in the comments section.

9/11: eight years on

Whatever you make of it, September 11 2001 was the day that altered the course of history.

On Sep 11, 2001 I was two weeks away from starting a new job, so I was still enjoying student-type parasitism at its worst.

I got up semi-comatose at around 1pm, staggered downstairs, put the kettle on and robotically got BBC News 24 in the background.

I was literally in the middle of making my cup of tea when some breaking news from New York came in: a plane had crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers. I immediately remembered that the same place had been targeted by Islamists back in 1993 so I sat down perplexed and started watching the shocking images of a burning skyscraper.

As my two housemates Dave and Antonis joined in from their bedrooms, I could not believe my senses when another plane crashed into the second tower. By then, dozens of camera crews had been placed, which meant that the impact and its aftermath were filmed practically from all angles.

And that's how the day that changed history began. We stayed glued to the telly, literally, as more news came in that several planes were unaccounted for, and -as further reports came in about the Pentagon and Pennsylvania- I still remember the shared sense of unease not knowing exactly when the attacks were going to end.

The catastrophic brand that stemmed from Hollywood in the late 1990s, Independence Day, Arlington Road and the like, was actually happening live on telly, heralding the end of one of the most stable decades in history (minus Rwanda and Yugoslavia, which aren't footnotes, so maybe not).

Then the first tower started collapsing. I vividly remember how we'd all remarked at how well the impact from both plane crashes had been withstood. Equally, it was shocking to see both towers collapsing on themselves, in very similar fashion, one 56 minutes after it was struck and the other after 75 minutes. I still remember the BBC correspondent running for his life as two of the most imposing buildings on earth were crumbling into a terrifying cloud of dust and toxic debris.

As time went, a staggering amount of unaswered questions gradually started to emerge. Conspiracy theories were being drawn aplenty, some quite factual (more of the kind of "the government knew and let it happen"), some completely loopy (and that's without counting David Icke's 'reptilian conspiracy') .

Either way, how did the towers collapse and why so quickly? More importantly, why did they collapse on themselves? Why did WTC7, not struck by any plane, collapse as well? Why did the BBC announced its collapse 26 minutes before it happened? Why are their non-explanations so lame? Why were the steel remains from WTC sold so speedily for recycling? What to make of those claims about secondary explosions heard in the wake of the crash? How could the hijackers' passports be spotted practically intact amidst the megatons of rubble?

We will never know. One thing that shouldn't be forgotten is that, for all the pondering that takes place in the aftermath, the events happened like a flash and in a random, uncontrolled and manic fashion. To expect a totally orderly and rational response as things go along is to forget the uniquely unpredictable nature of what went on.

Also, though certain governments have been involved in all kinds of murky stuff for years (from proxy wars to remote controlled coup d'etats), the main problem with the most bizarre conspiracy theories is that -to have all that artifically orchestrated- you'd have to involve thousands of people at all levels over a period of time and the chances of not a single one, not even someone's partner, letting a word slip in eight years are just impossible.

We all knew however, that the US government was going to lash out. I remember watching the scenes of Palestinians celebrating thinking that they'd just scored a PR own-goal of epic proportions.

Eight years on, and as we watch heartbreaking re-runs of the events, it's easy to forget that 9/11 meant primarily George W Bush's ratings going through the roof, allowing him to wage two wars in succession: Afghanistan and Iraq, both absolutely devastating.

In terms of our daily lives, things are no longer the same really. A creeping sense of insecurity has been with us since, further bolstered by the Islamist attacks in Madrid (2004) and London (2005). A man virtually unknown by many, a bearded jihadist called Osama bin Laden, became the 21st century bogeyman.

Flying as we'd known it is no longer with us. Controls became much stricter, at times draconian, the result of a world a hundred times more paranoid than before. Civil liberties, on both sides of the Atlantic, have been restricted on the back of the pervading sense of "us and them" and the "threat to our national security". Racists have been handed more knee-jerk material on a tray and the preconceptions and misconceptions about entire populations are thriving.

One can't help but think, however, that in curbing our freedoms and giving way to irrationality, we gave in exactly to the logic of terrorism.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Obama and "the health care speech"

"We are the only wealthy nation that allows such hardship for millions of its people".

The United States of America is the one country many know something about. You ask one of 'us Europeans' to list "something American" and they could go on forever, from Hollywood celebs to TV shows, from politicians to geography, from food to you name it- in a way no other country comes even remotely close.

But you ask most people and while they may look up to the US when it comes down to a lot of things, they would also invariably tell you about the one thing that's so scarily offputting: ruthlessness.

And, oversimplistic though it may be, this is how most view the US: the place where, if hardship falls on you, if one thing goes wrong or if fortune turns against you, then you're basically fucked and left to fend for yourself.

I don't know how many last night watched or read Barack Obama's "health care speech" in the Congress, but no-one can say he's not trying his hardest to put that right. No-one, but the most ideological Nader-voter perhaps, can accuse him of lacking bollocks or tiptoeing around. Because Obama's may not sound like the perfect plan, but for the first time there is something workable that, if passed, will not leave a single American citizen without healthcare coverage.

For the first time the concepts of compassion and the "ability to stand in other people's shoes" were spelt out in a factual, practical manner, a far cry from the hollow, hypocritical, religious formulas that have characterised each American administration until 2008 (of the kind "as long as you recite may-God-be-with-you then it's none of my business").

Obama laid out his plan sounding at once passionate and resolute as well as calm and persuasive.

While the president repeated his readiness to listen to his opponents and compromise, he also announced: "I will not back down on the basic principle that, if Americans can't find affordable coverage, we will provide you with a choice" and "I won't stand by while the special interests use the same old tactics to keep things exactly the way they are."

Laying the spotlight on the plight of the uninsured, as well as the millions duped by insurance companies on the basis of "pre-existing conditions" like acne (he cited the case of an Illinois man who had his cancer treatment stopped because his insurer found that he hadn't reported gallstones he didn't even know about), President Obama said: "We are the only democracy, the only advanced democracy on Earth, the only wealthy nation that allows such hardship for millions of its people".

14,000 Americans lose their coverage everyday and millions go bankrupt as a consequence of a deeply fucked up health system - one where, Obama reminded us, "insurance companies are not only encouraged to find reasons to drop the seriously ill, they are rewarded for it".

"I am not the first president to take up this cause, but I am determined to be the last", Obama remarked. If he succeeds, America will have finally turned over a new leaf.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Swine flu and changing habits

Nanny state and ZaNuLabour in action, right?

Spain leads electric car revolution

An example of factual action against CO2 emissions comes from Madrid.

The Guardian reports today that disused phone boxes are being earmarked as "recharging points" for electric cars in some of Spain's biggest cities.

I decided to find out more about it and, by the look of it, it really appears the Spaniards are going to lead the way.

In a stark contrast with the tiptoing around paraded by other governments worldwide, next month Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero will unveil the Pacto por la Energía, so far the biggest electric vehicle production stimulus programme. According to the Spanish Government, if all of the country's cars were electric, oil bills would see savings of up to €11,000m a year and the country's oil dependency down twenty per cent.

According to El Pais, the mayor of Madrid, Alberto Gallardón, has announced that -as of 1 Jan 2010- electric cars will enjoy free parking across the city. "The electric car is the future", he said, "[it is] a revolution. One of the most momentous changes ever in urban mobility".

The joint scheme between local authorities and the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism will include financial incentives to all private companies contracted out by town halls who decide to switch to electric cars (for instance buses or road-cleaning vehicles).

The problem is trying to convince private citizens. Which is why, El Mundo reports, the government is announcing a combination of tax incentives, cash subsidies of up to 20% of retail cost, as well as the installation of 546 charging points countrywide.

have slammed the project as "overambitious". According to a group called Ecologistas en Accion (Environmentalists in Action), the plan "does not stand scientific scrutiny" as manufacturing electric cars will result in "brutal energetic costs", as each new vehicle produced is the equivalent of running a car for 60,000 kilometres.

Both CO2 emissions and noise, however, maybe in for a rough time.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Rejoice: EDL won't be back in Brum

An update on the Birmingham riots.

The good news is that the English Defence League finally announced that they "will not be coming back to Birmingham in the near future".

The bad news is that, for the time being, the shit-stirrers achieved what they wanted. No matter how much the national media plays it down, race relations in Brum took another blow as the city appears scarred by the second consecutive set of riots in four weeks.

In the meantime, local website The Stirrer features the two most informed pieces so far on last Saturday's riots.

'Business as usual' points out the idiocy of those EDL claims that "they're not a racist group", while at the same time frothing at the mouth as they chant against Islam as a whole.

The 'Riotous Brothers', instead, substantiates what we already mentioned as regards the August 8 clashes: the fact that a seemingly spontaneous group of Asian youths (with no affiliation to any anti-fascist group) turned up and was very aggressive towards a lot of people who had nothing to do whatsoever with the EDL oiks.

For the record, one of the most useless pieces on the whole affair bears the signature of Times columnist David Aaronovitch. In an article titled 'Birmingham riots: young men looking for the excitement of a fight', Aaronovitch puts it down to a load of kids up for a ruck. 650 words of nothingness.

Permanent Revolution has an interesting report on last Saturday's events.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Reasons to have a drink

Cold day. "Fuckin freezing, isn't it? I could do with sum booze".
Hot day. "Bloody hell, it's boiling hot out there! Could do with a nice cold lager".

Depressed. "Gowon, cheer up mate, I'll get you a drink!"
Happy. "Yay! Let's go to the pub. Drinks anyone?"

Football victory. "Here's to the final!"
Football defeat. "That was shite that was! I need a drink after all that".

New job. "Excellent news mate. What you havin?"
The Sack. "Sorry to hear about it, mate. Gowon, let me get you a beer".

Tired. "God, I'm knackered. Could do with a drink".
Relaxed. "Ahhh. Nice to enjoy this lovely pint in peace!".

New partner. "Congratulations mate! I'll get this one, what you havin?"
Dumped. "Sorry, about that mate. Gowon have a drink, you'll feel better".

Monday. "It's gonna be a long week mate, let's have a drink".
Wednesday. "Fuckin mid-week. Awful, mate. I deserve one".
Saturday. "Been working all bloody week! Let's get pissed now".

Worry. "Don't worry, mate. A nice pint will clear your mind".
Positive. "C'mon then, let's have a pint".

Shy. "A couple of shots will sort out my confidence"
Confident. "I'm alright. Just enjoying a nice little drink".

Pre-task. "Just a quick one before we start".
After-task. "Aaah, glad it's all done. C'mon then, your round".

Home. "Since we're not going out, shall we go through that bottle?"
Out. "What's the point in going out if we don't have a drink?"

Smoker. "Pint and a fag. Can't have one without the other".
Non-smoker. "I don't smoke, I'm at least entitled to a drink".