I am and always have been for re-organising Britain as a federal republic. However, I am not for an English parliament. England seems to me far too big to be a sensible unit for regional government. Calls for an English parliament are nothing to do with democracy and everything to do with:
a) nationalist rubbish about “a voice for England,” and
b) the Tories getting one over on Labour.
I support regional government in England, including a much bigger and much stronger London Assembly … and the abolition of the office of mayor.
Amongst the many good and decent people who’ve been demonstrating against what Israel is doing in Gaza, are a significant number of anti-Semites, like this character:
It is probably the case that such undesirable elements will inevitably attach themselves to pro-Palestinian events. What is more worrying is the willingness (both at the events themselves, and then subsequently on social media) of leftists who claim to oppose anti-Semitism, to defend, explain away, minimise and generally turn a blind eye to, this sort of filth. Neither is there any evidence (that I’m aware of) of the PSC or other organisers of recent demos in London and elsewhere, doing anything to remove or challenge anti-Semites. Even this guy:
We’ve been asked by Ukrainian Socialist Solidarity, to publicise this meeting to be held at the House of Commons tomorrow; we’re happy to oblige, especially in view of the appalling, thoroughly one-sided campaign of misinformation/disinformation and pro-Putin propaganda being spread on the British left by the likes of the Morning Star and the so-called ‘Stop The War Coalition.’ Apologies for the short notice:
Ukraine is suffering from war and a deep social crisis that has implications for all of Europe. Many are asking what has happened in Ukraine. What is the role of Russia and the West? How should we respond? This forum is a unique opportunity to hear an alternative, first-hand analysis from leading socialists and trade unionists from Ukraine and Russia.
Nina Potarskaya of the Left-Opposition, director of the Centre for Social and Labour Research, socialist candidate in the Kyiv elections
Kirill Buketov of the Praxis centre Moscow, and the Global Labour Institute
Hosted by John McDonnell MP.
Wednesday 9th July 7pm
Committee Room CR10, House of Commons, London
Via the main St Stephens entrance
Keeping Your Head Above Water In London
James Bloodworth’s rather moving valediction to the capital, written in 2011, on the sixth anniversary of 7/7. James’s personal circumstances have changed quite considerably (he now has a job back in London) since he wrote this and we first posted it here at Shiraz.
Dedicated to those who lost their lives to religious fascism on this day six (now nine) years ago
Yesterday I moved from London to a place called Burnham-on-sea, a banal coastal town in the South West of England where they still sell Donald McGill-style postcards in the summertime. I moved because my family live here; and with family comes a degree of financial security. I still intend to spend much of my time in London, but I cannot afford to live there any longer. Not that is, until I find gainful, paid employment. Getting a job is notoriously difficult for the unemployed at present. A man I recently sat next to at a recruitment fair told me and others he had applied for 10,000 jobs in the past two years. He was almost certainly exaggerating – overdoing one’s own misfortune seems to be a particularly British characteristic – or perhaps disastrous at writing job applications, but nonetheless, the fact that many present were prepared to believe him speaks volumes about the state of the job market.
As it happened, I was able to land a job with my previous employer, Royal Mail. Getting the job proved to be the easy part. More difficult was getting sufficient hours to pay the rent as well as buy enough to eat. Being a Postman today is a very different job to what it used to be. Almost all new contracts are temporary and based on 25-30 hour weeks; and the amount of junk a postman is required to carry around on his back in the form of advertising is rising exponentially year-on-year. That was my impression at least. Unable to eke out anything other than an extremely meagre existence in London on £200 a week, I left the position after only two weeks in the job.
The part of London life that is perhaps the biggest burden is the cost of rent. Being shown around dingy, mould-infested bedsits only to be told you must pay £100 a week for the pleasure of living there is soul destroying; especially when it comes with the prospect of giving half your weekly pay to someone whose “portfolio” ensures they will never have to sleep in mould infested dwellings, nor break their back for £200 a week. With very little chance of ever owning a house, those with inadequate living quarters must instead navigate the rental free-market, where at the end of every tenancy getting your deposit back can be like trying to extract teeth from a bad tempered dog. Life in London can be hugely enjoyable, but it can also leave you feeling a little like Gordon Comstock, the character in George Orwell’s novel Keep the Aspidistra Flying, his living conditions grim, his job boring, and his impecuniousness a frequent source of humiliation. The difference in my case is that I am not actively trying to sink to the lowest levels of society.
London famously attracts its fair share of those attempting to “make it” in one sense or another. As someone who has recently completed a course in journalism at City University, I am fairly sure I fit into this category of person myself. Although fully aware that moving to London would not open some golden path into the journalistic profession, I did view it as the correct place to be, which it undeniably is, most of all perhaps because of the opportunities to meet people you only get in the capital.
One thing you soon start to notice in London is the extraordinary extent to which everything is about “connections”, not least in journalism. The major newspaper titles no longer advertise positions, instead preferring to find employees who are in the loop, so to speak. Most graduates instead pursue internship placements, working anything up to a year for free on a major title, performing menial tasks such as tea-making in the almost millenarian hope that one day they may get the chance to contribute something worthwhile to the paper.
Professional journalism has always been something of a middle and upper class pursuit of course. The term “BBC accent” was coined during the 20th century to describe a recognisable Home Counties diction the corporation now likes to pretend most of its employees do not in fact possess. What certainly has changed is that most of those successfully entering the profession today have postgraduate qualifications and lengthy internships under their belts, affordable only to the relatively affluent; and unlike a Home Counties accent, something which cannot be faked. The resulting journalism that
invades my own cramped bedroom every night via the television could perhaps most aptly be described as the political establishment talking to itself.
If you can handle all of this and come out of it with your sanity you may be rewarded with a job, or you may not be. What will almost certainly be the case is there will be less in the boss’s pot with which to pay you, the worker, whether in the newspaper business or elsewhere. In hard times employee’s wages inevitably take the hit before chief executive final salary pension schemes; and if that means newsrooms becoming increasingly stuffed with wealthy individuals who can partake in journalism as a leisure activity, then so be it.
The days always seemed to go by at a faster pace in London. What I mean to say is that the time actually feels like it is moving faster. I think because so much of each day is spent under the ground scuttling along, I would say at great speed, but often at a crawl, on an overcrowded tube train. The conditions often bring out the worst in people, myself included. Just the other day I got into a quarrel with a man over some trivial thing (he bumped into me as I was walking round a corner), resulting in a situation that could quite easily have resulted in a physical confrontation, foolish on my part though that would have been.
It was of course in Keep the Aspidistra Flying that Gordon Comstock declared his own personal war on affluence. Riding on the Docklands Light Railway first thing in the morning having practically embalmed my liver the night before, sat next to the businessmen with calculators working out their cash flows on the way to Canary Wharf, I have gotten, I like to think, a small insight into Gordon Comstock’s disdain for the capitalist vulgarities he sees around him, oscillating between self-admiration and self-loathing.
Six years ago today a group of deranged fanatics declared not a war on affluence, but a war on London. Without dragging up tired clichés about “never forgetting” (although you shouldn’t) and lionising the “spirit of the blitz”, remembering that 52 innocent people were murdered for a fascistic ideology puts my own London-induced neuroticism into perspective. Despite his (to me anyway) disagreeable political views, Samuel Johnson was right to say that “by seeing London, [he had] seen as much of life as the world can show”, and it was this that so disgusted the murderers of 7/7 – the sheer diversity of life in the capital, whether represented by “those slags dancing around” (as some other would-be murderers called them), or the insufficiently pious Muslims who practiced at their local Mosques.
Returning to Orwell, Gordon Comstock always had to share his room with aspidistras which continued to thrive despite his mistreatment of them. Despite what happened on that day in July 2005, London continues to thrive, and is a place I will return to live soon, I hope.
Above: © Martin Rowson, Guardian, 2014
Mark Ellison QC’s report into the Met’s handling of the Stephen Lawrence case, confirms what the family and most informed people suspected: that police corruption (as well as institutional racism) played a major part in the apparent shambles that followed the murder. As Mark Daly, who investigated the case for the 2006 BBC film The Boys Who Killed Stephen Lawrence, writes in today’s Independent:
It seemed to me that there were too many mistakes, too many irregularities to be attributed to incompetence or casual racism. We strongly suspected corruption. And Detective Sergeant John Davidson had been singled out by the Macpherson inquiry in 1998 as a critical figure. What Macpherson didn’t know — and he didn’t know because the Metropolitan police failed to fully tell him — is that Davidson was a suspected corrupt officer. Macpherson was effectively working with one hand tied behind his back.
And it’s beginning to look as though Met corruption may account for another failure to properly investigate a killing: the 1987 axe murder of private detective Alastair Morgan (which Shiraz reported on in 2011). The Ellison report has found a direct link between the Lawrence and the Morgan cases. Crucially, it seems, DS John Davidson can be linked to the inadequate and inconclusive Met inquiries into both killings.
Today’s Times carries the following article:
Detective who rode into the sunset
Detective Sergeant John Davidson retired from the Met in 1998 on health grounds to a life in the sun on a full police pension. He and his wife , Evelyn, moved to the Mediterranean island of Menorca, where they run the Smugglers bar and restaurant.
Yet for Mr Davidson, 68, allegations of corruption and a relationship with Clifford Norris, father of one of Stephen Lawrence’s killers, refuse to go away.
Mt Davidson joined the police in Glasgow in 1968 and transferred to the Met two years later. From the early 1990s his name was linked in intelligence reports with corrupt officers in southeast London nd by 1996 he was facing a disciplinary hearing over alleged links with a businessman.
In August that year a medical report stated that he should be considered for medical retirement on grounds of tinnitus. Documents uncovered by the Ellison review reveal that his boss, commander Roy Clarke, was angry at the proposal. He wrote: Davidson is, in my opinion, attempting to avoid a Discipline Board and to obtain an enhanced pension in the process.”
However, in 1998 he was allowed to step down. He gave evidence for three days at the Macpherson inquiry and was described in its final report as an “abrasive” witness.
The Ellison review found that he was often referred to in intelligence files as corrupt. In 2000, a report concluded that “Davidson’s history as portrayed by intelligence available suggests that he had no integrity as a police officer and would always have been open to offers from any source if financially viable.”
Yesterday Mr Davidson was not at his home in Menorca. In correspondence with Mr Ellison’s team, he has denied any involvement in corruption. The restaurant is up for sale, for £290,000.
At least one other senior policeman had a direct involvement with both the Lawrence and the Morgan cases: former Met Commissioner Lord Stephens, who was found by the Ellison team to have withheld key evidence of police corruption from the Scotland Yard legal department, which was in charge of disclosure of information to the Macpherson inquiry. He also played an important role in the fruitless investigations into the Morgan murder. While he was commissioner, nearly all the material gathered by Operation Othona, a top-secret anti-corruption operation set up by the Met in 1993, was shredded.
No politics here, but it’s a fascinating, newly-discovered glimpse of London between the wars. I found it strangely eerie and moving, looking at all those now-dead faces (the little girl at the Peter Pan statue may possibly now be a very old lady, but is probably long gone). At least England had a “brilliant victory” over the Aussies at the Oval in 1927:
H/t The BFI (British Film Institute) and Laurie Coombs
Readers are urged to support this petition against Hunt’s outrageous “hospital closure clause.” However, I feel obliged to say that 38 Degrees have a bit of a cheek in seemingly claiming all the credit for the brilliant Lewisham Hospital campaign, which has been conducted on the ground by local activists and rank-and-file trade unionists, many of whom have not even heard of 38 Degrees…
From 38 Degrees: This is a message from Louise Irvine, a 38 Degrees member and hospital campaigner. Read her message below, or sign her petition here: https://secure.38degrees.org.uk/hospital-closure-clause
I’m a doctor and part of the Save The Lewisham Hospital campaign. Along with thousands of 38 Degrees members, we stopped health minister Jeremy Hunt from closing services at Lewisham Hospital. Thousands of us chipped in to take him to court, and we won. 
Jeremy Hunt appealed the decision – but he lost again. So now, having been told twice that he acted illegally, he’s trying to change the law!  He wants to bring in a “hospital closure clause” to give him new legal powers to shut A&Es like Lewisham. If he gets this through, none of our hospitals will be safe from his meddling or closure. 
The hospital closure clause will soon be voted on by MPs. We need to persuade enough of them to vote against it. A huge petition will show MPs that the public don’t want them to give Jeremy Hunt new powers to shut hospitals.
I’ve started a petition on the 38 Degrees website. Please can you sign it today, before MPs vote?
It’s a pretty cynical way to respond to our campaign, isn’t it? After losing in court, Jeremy Hunt’s trying to sneak a change into a law to allow him “to dismantle hospital services arbitrarily.”  Even the very best hospitals wouldn’t be safe. This sinister clause is hidden within a much bigger piece of law – presumably he’s hoping that it will go through unnoticed.
A big petition can help stop this happening. When the bill is next debated, we can prove that thousands of us are coming together against these plans. Every signature helps sound the alarm. Every signature is a blow to Jeremy Hunt’s reputation, an extra voice against him getting new powers to shut hospitals.
Jeremy Hunt saw the public outcry the last time the government changed the law to damage the NHS. He saw his predecessor, Andrew Lansley, lose his job. The last thing Jeremy Hunt will want to see is 38 Degrees members coming together again to stand up for NHS.
 38 Degrees blog, Jeremy Hunt beaten in court… again!
 Parliament website, Early Day Motion 656
 The Telegraph, Government wants free rein to close hospitals, claims
H/t: Trudy S
On our streets taxi, bus and lorry drivers and cyclists have an uncomfortable relationship. In Edinburgh a piece of dangerously inept road design united taxi drivers and cyclists in protest, and this union of shared interest was presented as a kind of Ribbentrop pact.
Bella Bathurst’s The Bicycle Book had one chapter where cabbies spilled their dislike of cyclists. – for getting in the way, bending their wing mirrors and scratching their doors as they do that cyclist’s slither along the roofless tunnel that motorised vehicles create.
In London “around 50% of all cyclist deaths involve lorries, which comprise only about 5% of traffic, with a high proportion happening when left-turning trucks crush cyclists.” Construction lorries are the main culprit.
The London Cycle Campaign has an arm that attempts to improve co-existence between lorries and cyclists. One simple method is for cyclists and lorry drivers to change seats. Cyclists sit in the cab and note the restricted view of a lorry driver. A friend of mine. a London cycling commuter, tried this, and said it was an eye-opener, seeing where the blind spots are. London councils offer their drivers a day on a bicycle to widen their understanding of what a road is like for a cyclist.
This kind of thing is obviously better than professional drivers’ and cyclists’ relationship being that of giving each other the finger and swearing.
The London Cycle Campaign also gives advice on how cyclists should drive near lorries. Their advice confirmed my instincts – when I see one of those big bastards I don’t go near them. I give them all the road in the world to get away from my space.
At the moment street design in the United Kingdom means cyclists and motorised vehicles having to share busy, fast streets. Cyclists and the professional drivers are together in wanting to be apart. There have been six deaths of cyclists in London in a fortnight, about which Unite put out a statement:-
Unite, Britain’s biggest union, which represents London’s bus and taxi drivers, is calling on Boris Johnson to take urgent action to stop the tragic loss of life on the streets of the capital.
The union is urging the Mayor to invest, as a matter of urgency, in safe and effective cycle routes, separated from other road users to reduce the practice of cyclists using the capital’s congested bus lanes.
The number of cyclists on London’s streets has trebled in recent years, but the Mayor’s infrastructure strategy and spending policy is nowhere near enough to cope with the influx and is wholly inadequate.
“Our bus driver members have been deeply affected by the tragic loss of life on our roads, and recognise the vulnerability of cyclists vying for space on London’s increasingly busy roads.
“Boris Johnson’s spending policy for cyclists is lagging behind reality. The Mayor and his cycling commissioner Andrew Gilligan have a lot to answer for, following their deeply inappropriate and insensitive comments. Their blasé remarks show utter contempt for the health and safety of all road users.
Jim Kelly, Unite taxi representative, said: “Unite’s bus and taxi driver members report that in many places the Mayor’s blue Cycle Super Highways are not fit for purpose – a bit of blue paint is simply not enough to keep cyclists safe.
“Urgent action is needed to develop a safe cycling network that takes cyclists away from the capital’s busiest and most congested thoroughfares. An example of good practice can be found in Cable Street East London, where cyclists have a route segregated from traffic – a safe alternative to the busy Commercial Road.”
Meanwhile the London Cycling Campaign is “calling on the Mayor to redesign every major junction in Greater London to make cycling a safe, comfortable and convenient experience for everyone, and is demanding he take immediate action to address Cycle Superhighway 2 from Aldgate to Bow. “
More than a 1,000 cyclists blocked traffic as they lay in the road outside the Transport for London (TfL) headquarters tonight to protest recent road deaths.
Here’s the vision of an infrastructure presented by Boris Johnson and Andrew Gilligan, his cycling commissioner:-
The present blue painted lines are presumably supposed to be a step towards that urban paradise, but they contain shocking sections at present. Follow this link to a video which shows how bad a place it is at the moment, and looking at it, with the segregated paths being in short chunks that disappear at junctions, I wouldn’t cycle that for £1000.
Another video shows how the Dutch, who are the cycling gods, manage their infrastructure. There are different light phases for cyclists. There are rights on uncontrolled crossings for pedestrians and cycles, and clear sightlines for lorries. What makes me really envious are the safe busy roundabouts, which are my greatest fear. Oh, note that the red-light jumper is a British lorry!(2:29).
These aren’t mock ups. They’re pictures of actual people using safe infrastructure in actual cities
From the Dockland & East London Advertiser:
Artist ‘censored’ by Tower Hamlets Council at Bangladeshi exhibition
Above: Saif Osami with some of his work at the Brady Arts Centre
By Adam Barnett, Reporter
A Bangladeshi artist has criticised the Council after he was told some of his work was too controversial for public display
Above: one of the pieces deemed “too controversial” by Tower Hamlets Council
Saif Osmani, 32, who was born in Whitechapel, was invited to show his work at the Brady Arts Centre in Hanbury Street as part of a season of Bangladeshi drama and art.
But when Mr Osmani arrived on November 2 he says he was told by a council arts officer that four of his pieces, which combine the Pakistani and Bangladeshi flags, might anger “hardliners” and would not be shown.
Mr Osmani, who lives in Stratford, said: “I was told that due to the political situation in Bangladesh I was unaware of what this series of paintings could trigger with the ‘hardliners’.
“I can’t see why these events happening thousands of miles away have started dictating this exhibition here in the UK.”
Tower Hamlets Council declined to say who its arts officer meant by “hardliners”.
Mr Osmani said the rest of his work was moved to a corner of the room near the toilet and was later hidden by a pull-up banner.
Akhtar Hussain, of art group Avid Art Agency, said: “It is an absolute disgrace that this level of censoring is taking place in the name of political correctness at an event which was supposed to celebrated British and Bangladeshi arts, but instead curtails the content of the art on display.”
A spokesman for the council said: “We are clear that there has been no censorship in relation to this exhibition.
“As with any public space the council does have the right to decide what is exhibited and in this case the pictures chosen were fully discussed and agreed between the artist and a member of the council arts team.”
The exhibition runs until November 22 at the Brady Arts and Community Centre in Hanbury Street.
Assuming that the article is accurate, this would appear to be an outrageous act of censorship. But what exactly are the political motives that lie behind it? And who are these “hardliners” who might be angered by the paintings? Any information from readers would be most welcome.
“The bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvement of all instruments of production, by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws all, even the most barbarian, nations into civilisation. The cheap prices of its commodities are the heavy artillery with which it batters down all Chinese walls, with which it forces the barbarians’ intensely obstinate hatred of foreigners to capitulate. It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilization into their midst, i.e; to become bourgeois themselves. In one word, it creates a world after its own image” – Marx and Engels, Communist Manifesto, 1848.
Nothing must stand in the way of Osborne’s “personal mission” to make London a Chinese offshore banking centre and a global renminbi hub.
The Torygraph‘s Michael Deacon gives a pretty fair account of Osborne’s grovelling:
“Long gone, thankfully,” said George Osborne, “are the days when Western politicians turned up here and simply demanded that China open up its economy to Western economies.”
He’s right. Our politicians no longer demand.
The Chancellor’s speech at Peking University, on the first of his five days in China, was almost magnificently obsequious. Lavishly he praised “your great country”, “the depth and sophistication of the Chinese culture”, “the value you place on consistency and stability and on friendship”, and “your Vice Premier Ma Kai, whose reputation for economic reform and diligence impresses all”.
According to his script, available on the Government website, Mr Osborne is delighted that Britain and China have grown more “complimentary”. At first I thought he meant complementary, but on second thoughts I suspect not.
Normally when Mr Osborne encounters something he considers Left-wing – for example, Ed Miliband’s idea to freeze energy bills – he derides it. For some reason however his speech today contained no jokes at the expense of China’s ruling Communist Party. Perhaps he’s saving up those jokes for later in the trip. Although if he does tell them, he may find that the local authorities generously extend his visit. By, say, three or four decades.
Britain, gushed the Chancellor, would be only too delighted to welcome lots of lovely Chinese investment. We couldn’t get enough of the stuff. Not like those rotten Europeans, who “find all sorts of ways of making clear that Chinese investment is not welcome” – heavens, no, don’t invest in their snooty little countries! Invest in Britain! Do come in, sirs! May we take your coats, sirs? And may we recommend a bottle of the Chateau Margaux? On the house, sirs, of course!
His audience was largely made up of students. It was, he gurgled, “an honour” to be among them, “the students who are going to shape the future of the world”. Students who would make advances in technology, build new businesses, create jobs around the world – but more than that. “You,” said Mr Osborne, almost sighing with admiration, “are the students of today who will write the poems of tomorrow.”
And with any luck, they’ll come and open a vast new poem factory in Britain, employing thousands of British youths to mass-produce state-of-the-art villanelles at competitive prices…
Or, to put it another way:
“All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at least compelled to face with sober senses, his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.”
Above: from the Financial Times