Samira Shackle has an article on the Rationalist Association website, asking what risk British fighters in Syria pose on their return to Britain. It is a rather bland assessment, although not as irritating as attempts to portray such fighters as a latter day version of the International Brigades. Here is my reply to such sentiments:
It really is embarrassing seeing people compare British fighters in groups like ISIS or the al-Nusrah Front to those who fought fascism in Spain (a better comparison for the GB jihadis, in terms of both politics and perhaps competence, may be to the Irish Blueshirts who joined Franco).
Britons in jihadist organisations in Syria, like their predecessors who went to Somalia, Pakistan, Yemen, Afghanistan and Bosnia, are not just fighting against something, but for something. And the 'for' bit of the equation is where any positive sides to this adventure collapse. The Britons reported in Syria are not to be found in nationalist or broadly secular groups, but in those fighting to establish the type of state established most recently by the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Do these fighters pose a problem when they return? In security terms - yes. Prisons across the world are littered with veterans of similar jihads. We have just seen one veteran of the Bosnia Mujahideen, Londoner Babar Ahmad, plead guilty to terrorist offences in the US. There are plenty of others.
In broader social terms, the best outcome for community relations, women's rights and democracy in the UK is that most of these combatants do not come back. Sadly that is unrealistic, just as it is wishful thinking to hope all our fascists will one day ship themselves off to some of the Aryan dream lands trailed in the north western states of the US.
We are now in the third decade of a small number of Britons travelling to fight in Mujahideen type organisations, and it is indicative of the timid approach traditionally taken that this is in some way being portrayed as a new problem - it is not. The 7/7 bombings were arguably only possible because of the training two of the suicide bombers - Khan and Tanweer - received at the camps of 'freedom fighters' in Kashmir.
The gloves really should have come off then - with both Britons joining such camps, and those in this country who finance them. Now that seems to be changing - witness the arrests across the country of those returning from, or trying to travel to Syria, in recent months. We are going to see a lot more arrests, a lot more complaints of 'Islamophobia' and further desperate attempts (from useful idiots on the left as much as from Islamists) to portray jihadists as freedom fighters. Whenever you hear such claims, remember that these individuals are not just fighting against Assad, they are fighting for something. And unless you want to live in the seventh century, what they are for is as bad, or worse, as Assad's Syria.
We recently had Tree-Fu-Tom visit our local shopping centre.
I don't really get his appeal myself, Hong Kong Phooey was a lot better, but in the world of CBeebies and children's television, he is quite a big name. Being the dutiful dad I thought it a good idea to take son number one and son mumber two to see Tom and have their pictures taken with him.
Big mistake. Firstly, son number two protested the whole way, as he wanted to....... stay in and watch CBeebies. A clear victory for those who believe in the power of television - at just three years old he has established that the box is more powerful than a single character from it. The next problem came when they saw Tree-Fu-Tom in the flesh, or as close as we can get to it with an animated character. Both hid behind me, even when other children were settling down for hugs and photographs. Son number one then made a burst for it - directly into a nearby jeweller's.
Twins are difficult to deal with when both run in opposite directions, and by the time we emerged Tree-Fu-Tom was a figure in the distance, heading off for what I was told was a fifteen minute tea break. I don't suppose I can begrudge a rather punily built young man paid to dress up in a silly outfit a cup of tea, but those were not exactly my sentiments at the time.
Fifteen minutes later, we were all back at home, watching, of course, CBeebies.
In the 1970s, if the National Front had applied to affilate to the National Council for Civil Liberties, would you have opposed them?
If so, why did you not oppose the affiliation of the Paedophile Information Exchange?
As pressure mounts on Harriet Harman, there is one way of noting when the pressure is really telling on Patricia Hewitt. When she was struggling as Health Secretary, New Labour windmill Andrew Marr took to refering to this most haughty of politicians as 'Pat' Hewitt, in a vain attempt to make her seem just like the rest of us.
We will know this issue is really squeezing Patricia Hewitt's neck when she starts to become 'Pat' again.....
If you fail to pay your subscription to Virgin or Sky, Richard Branson or Rupert Murdoch will cut you off. Fail to pay your subscription to the BBC, and you can be fined up to £1000, and ultimately go to prison.
107 people have been jailed in the past two years for this 'offence', and non-payment of the TV licence amounts to an astonishing one in ten court cases. When laws are so routinely broken, it is evidence, not of bad behaviour, but bad law. And the TV licence is a bad law. It is certainly a regressive tax, but is also one levied regardless of whether you watch the BBC or not - it is assumed everyone does, even in this age of a thousand and one specialist channels covering everything from motor sport to Hinduism.
If organisations may be called 'institutionally racist' it is fair to argue that the BBC is institutionally profligate, middle class, London centric and elitist - one only has to consider the problems relocating parts of its coverage from west London to Salford to see how the little people are viewed by those in their ivory towers.
There is of course nothing wrong with the BBC existing, and those who want to use its services doing so - I would be happy to pay for the advert free CBeebies programming for example - but that hardly seems worth the £145.50 levied on virtually every household from Land's End to John O'Groats.
What to do about all this? One small step is to stand with those already opposing the licence fee. Follow @ ScrapLicence Fee on Twitter. Sign their petition on the government website, to try and get the matter debated in parliament. And the next time you see something which annoys you greatly on the BBC - just remember - you are the one who is paying for it........
Mark Williams-Thomas is a former Surrey Police officer who specialised in child protection issues, and was responsible for the October 2012 ITV documentary Exposure: The Other Side of Jimmy Savile.
On 16 February 2014 he gave an interview to the Sunday Times (hidden behind their paywall I'm afraid) for the regular 'Fame and Fortune' column in the Money supplement. Amongst the usual questions about shares versus property or best and worse investments, was this fascinating indication into how the influential ITV documentary came about:
"I was doing some work for Newsnight and somebody working in television came up to me and said, "Have you ever heard that Savile was a paedophile?" He told me to have a look online and it really started then. When the BBC decided not to run the Newsnight programme about him, I picked it up and carried on."
That is a very curious line.
Firstly because we know that Newsnight and the BBC had been investigating Savile's crimes and that even though they eventually pulled a programme about him, they had amassed a significant amount of evidence. Secondly because Mark Williams-Thomas' alma mater, Surrey Police, had the opportunity in 2009 to address offences Jimmy Savile committed in their jurisdiction, but did not progress. Other police forces, and indeed other media outlets also held information on Savile, which they had not deployed.
And yet a former specialist investigator into paedophiles had to go online to see if there was anything to the Savile story? That is bizarre, especially as much of what was online before Savile's death was dominated by the hardly reliable David Icke, posts on Icke's forum, or related websites. You would hardly hang a man on that evidence. It is surely more likely that Williams-Thomas had a better 'nod' than being told to go and google Jimmy Savile's name?
If so, was that 'nod' from within the police, Newsnight, another department in the BBC or elsewhere in the media?
Thanks to Heidi Svenson and TC for the original cutting and background information for this post.
The business section of today's Daily Telegraph has a small piece which sees BP pitching for tax breaks to encourage further investment in oil and gas resources.
Of more long term significance is arguably the penultimate paragraph of Andrew Critchlow's article, which reminds us that:
"According to the International Energy Agency, the US will overtake both Russia and Saudi Arabia by 2015 in oil production and will achieve energy self-sufficient over the next 20 years".
This refers to an IEA announcement last November, based on the Americans succesful use of shale. If we take all this at face value (and it presupposes the environmentalists critique of shale comes to naught) the day when the USA has no strategic interest at all in the Middle East moves a step closer.
A decade ago, the 9/11 Commission, in its report into the Al Qaeda attacks on the US, stated that the United States and Saudi Arabia needed to forge a new relationship, one that was about more than oil. Nothing much appears to have followed that call, save for America's retreat from Iraq, and its distancing from Egypt, where the Russians and Saudis are jostling to be best friends to the new military regime.
Could there be anything better for the US than waving goodbye to the Middle East, waving goodbye to its corrupt rulers, religious extremists, violence and wars? We may be a few years away from that reality, but when it comes, it would be nice to think that the UK, on this issue at least, is prepared to copy the United States.
I have just finised Morrissey's marvellous autobiography, and the politics blog of the University of East Anglia, Eastminster, was good enough to publish my review. For some reason they left out my line that it is only £3.87 in Tesco, which must be the bargain of the year. Anyway, here are my thoughts............
In autobiographical terms, 2013 belonged to Manchester. Barely had Sir Alex Ferguson passed a burning torch to David Moyes, than his second (!) autobiography was topping the sales charts. Not far behind, in the immodestly titled Penguin Classics series, was Morrissey’s memoir, of his home city, The Smiths, family, popular culture and a fair amount of score settling.
Morrissey’s Manchester receives a Joycean stream of consciousness introduction, including the highlight of “Mother Peter, a bearded nun who beats children from dawn to dusk” (p.9) After an overlong summary of an adolescence which serves as an attempt to put ‘The Headmaster Ritual’ to words again, things pick up. The real skills here are observation, detail and evocation – a whole cast of Mancunian characters are introduced then packed off, usually via early deaths from illness or accidents.
The shifting music scene of the mid-1970s has rarely been better evoked than it is here. “Iggy defined the new manhood that the world so badly needed, lest we die beneath the wheels of Emerson, Lake and Palmer” (p.113) or of the Sex Pistols first Manchester gig (p.115).gig “They are not the saviours of culture, but the destruction of it – which suits me quite perfectly, and I manage to see them two more times that year".
One constant are the sketches of heroes and influences. Star struck at the sight of American author James Baldwin, Morrissey backs away, fearing the totality of rejection. Breakfast with David Bowie sees the great man announce he has had so much sex and drugs in his life, he can’t believe he’s still alive – to which Morrissey naturally responds “I have had so little sex and drugs I can’t believe I’m still alive” (p.245) That Morrissey met and knew Ian Curtis is something I had never considered, and brings a tear to the eye.
It is p. 147 before The Smiths get a mention, and the humour submerges into cattiness. It is made crystal clear from the start that The Smiths was Morrissey and Marr, with Joyce and Rourke mere accoutrements. Record label Rough Trade’s management is caricatured as congenitally out of touch, succeeding in little but holding the band back. Sandie Shaw is portrayed as a little madam, Tony Wilson a touch too keen to be ‘Mr Manchester’. Not that the author claims infallibility. This is after all a man who wanted to drop ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’ as he doubted it was good enough for ‘The Queen is Dead’. At times the sense of grievance does become tiresome – a frustration at world domination denied only by the incompetence of others is inherent. This tune (also played to death by Peter Hook of New Order) arguably reflects the dichotomy between critical and commercial success, financial eminence or artistic credibility. Few end up with both.
Morrissey’s solo career is a curious beast – there is much more of it than his time in The Smiths, and it has tended to swing from extreme peaks to extreme trough. Yet few have had careers of his longevity and managed to maintain such a cutting edge - a track as political as ‘Irish Blood, English Heart’ was released a full 22 years after The Smiths formed. When ‘Margaret on the Guillotine’ appears Morrissey even receives a visit from the secret police, Special Branch requiring assurance that he did not pose a mortal threat to Mrs Thatcher. Amongst the score settling is clear anger that the NME could accuse him of flirting with fascism for posing with the national flag, yet a few years later make the union jack a virtual logo as the music press embraced ‘Brit-Pop’ with relish. How easily times change.
There are challenges in being Morrissey. Meetings with parents of the Moors Murders victims must have been harder than he sketches (p.167) and being the soundtrack to adolescent misery and sexual frustration brings a peculiar responsibility which is not addressed herein (“Angel, Don’t Take Your Life” on his first solo LP is a very deliberate anti-suicide song, written to discourage fans from killing themselves). At particular times clumsy pronouncements on animal rights or animal welfare in China have rightly brought opprobrium.
Yes, the world could survive without his examination of the Smiths 1996 court case (mercilessly relayed on p. 302-351). But griping and the lack of an index aside, there is little else wrong with this book. What we have runs parallel to Morrissey’s best music - a genuine slice of thoughtful popular culture, and an insight into Britain and Britishness, that matters.
Why is Morrissey important? Arguably it is for the sense of loss that has always pervaded his – and The Smiths work. Whilst critics focused on the personal introspection and sexual failure in songs like “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out” or “Unloveable” watch the video to “Dagenham Dave” and see an England that has shifted irreparably in our lifetimes. As Dave’s intended dumps him in the underground car park, by a giant Ford motor logo, and he angrily smashes Morrissey’s gold disc, we seem to be left with nothing, except absence and anger.
Still, there is always X Factor, Britain’s Got Talent and Simon Cowell.............
Last nights Evening Standard had a letter on the British fighters in Syria, by Amandla Thomas-Johnson of Cage (formerly Cage Prisoners), which ended with the words "Listening to their views should be at the heart of forming policy".
I have no idea if the Evening Standard will print my reply, but this is what I sent them:
Amandla Thomas-Johnson of Cage takes an ahistorical approach to the question of British Muslims fighting in Syria (Letters, 4 February).
Combatants from earlier jihads litter high security prisons across the world, the most recent British example being Bosnian Mujahideen 'veteran' Babar Ahmad, who in December pleaded guilty to terrorism charges in the United States. The 7/7 bombings would arguably have been impossible but for the training two of the bombers had received at the camps of 'freedom fighters' in Kashmir.
By all means lets listen to the views of the Syrian fighters, but what we have heard so far sounds little different from those seeking Islamic utopias in earlier jihads. And those did not end well - for anyone.
Paul Stott, University of East Anglia.
The Observer of 2 February 2014 contained this letter in response to Tony Blair's recent concerns that religious extremism fuels conflict:
The fact that Tony Blair is using a faith-based institution to resolve problems caused by people motivated by faith rather than reason is ironic at best.
I had the post below published today on the blog Harry's Place:
A cross post by Paul Stott
Earlier this week Harry’s Place reported on the recent meeting between President Obama and the Speaker of the Iraqi Council of Representatives, which was attended by a leading Muslim Brotherhood figure in Britain - Anas al-Tikriti. One thing missing from the analysis was the extent to which the Muslim Brotherhood, via al-Tikiriti’s Cordoba Foundation, has been seeking to pursue its politico-religious objectives in the United Kingdom, developing support and influence on the political left.
One route for this has been via Public Interest Investigations (PII) an organisation with two elements, Spinwatch and Powerbase. Spinwatch is a well respected website, best known for its work on the dangers of corporate lobbying, and has had some profile on the British left, via figures such as Prof David Miller, Tom Griffin, Hilary Aked and also Tom Mills of the New Left Project. Spinwatch styles itself thus:
“Spinwatch investigates the way that the public relations (PR) industry and corporate and government propaganda distort public debate and undermine democracy. The PR and lobbying industry in the UK is the second biggest in the world, worth £7.5 billion. As the go-to organisation for information on this field, we routinely track PR and lobbying firms and corporate front groups, exposing their spin and deception”
This is reinforced by the bold statement that “Our core concern is in promoting equality and protecting fundamental human and democratic rights”
Since 2010, Spinwatch has received a total of £10,000 in funding from Anas al-Tikriti’s Cordoba Foundation. I shall leave it to others to judge the extent to which the Muslim Brotherhood believes in equality, democracy and human rights, although its record in and out of power, in Egypt speaks for itself, and that is before we even consider the record of Brotherhood influenced groups in areas such as Gaza. So – what does the Cordoba Foundation gain from Spinwatch?
In 2011 Spinwatch published the hardly understated “Cold War on Britain’s Muslim’s: An Examination of Policy Exchange and The Centre for Social Cohesion” – two organisations who had long warned against Muslim Brotherhood influence in the United Kingdom. The extent to which the piper called the tune is unknown, but the advantages of getting others to defend the MB (and by implication the Cordoba Foundation) from domestic critics, and to have non-Muslims place such criticism in the ever widening category of Islamophobia, appear obvious. The document was sponsored by the Cordoba Foundation, and funded by them to the tune of £5000, with Anas al-Tikriti thanked for his generosity (p.53). The praise lavished on former Metropolitan Police Special Branch manager Bob Lambert, on the same page, has not stood the test of time well.
Last year Spinwatch stepped up to the plate again, publishing a report entitled “The British Israel Communications and Research Centre: Giving Peace a Chance?” This time the Cordoba Foundation and al-Tikriti went unmentioned, with Memo Middle East Monitor sharing the billing with Spinwatch, and providing the now standard £5000 in cash. Here the Muslim Brotherhood connection is however maintained – MEMO is led by Muslim Brotherhood supporter Daud Abdullah, and the man himself joined the report’s authors for one its launch meetings.
Spinwatch’s staff also seem to be revving up in another direction – taking on the alcohol industry. For this, David Miller has obtained funding from the European Commission, (as the declaration of interest at the bottom of this article reveals) although one can’t help thinking on this issue at least, if our masters in Brussels had not coughed up, the Muslim Brotherhood would.
In evidence to the House of Commons Public Administration Committee on 6 March 2012, Prof Miller stated of corporations:
“when corporations want to pursue changes in laws or pursue particular contracts, they adopt a whole panoply of measures, including party funding, yes, including lobbying and also including buying up ex-Ministers or civil servants as part of their strategy.”
He is 100% correct. All we need now is an organisation, some activists or even academics willing to look in the same way at the lobbying of international politico-religious organisations such as the Muslim Brotherhood.
As the old saying goes I’m free. My concern is that Spinwatch has already been paid for.
It has been bothering me for a while who Lib Dem pervy peer Lord Rennard reminded me of. And now it comes to me - Herr Flick of the Gestapo, played by Richard Gibson in the 1980s sitcom 'Allo 'Allo.
And the two pictures below prove it:
Given their respective tendencies to exhibit extreme sexual frustration, an illiberal disposition and to try to take advantage of female colleagues, could they by any chance be related?
If there is one thing our politicians do not lack, it is inventive ways to spend taxpayers money.
The Daily Telegraph reveals that £250,000 has been spent on portraits of MPs. How? Why? Who makes such decisions, and where do they justify them? The Telegraph illustrates its article with a picture of the paintings of Ken Clarke and Diane Abbott, the Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington:
Is that really Diane Abbott? It looks more like the great US rapper KRSOne to me:
Perhaps the most curious aspect of Michael Gove's attack on a 'left-wing bias' in portrayals of the First World War is that he appears not to have understood the experiences of one of Britain's foremost historians.
The second volume of Alan Clark's superb diaries find him ruminating, on 24 July 1989, as to where he may end up in the pending government re-shuffle. Clark writes:
I think Defence is more likely. So many people have said that I am to go there first as M of S (Minister of State) in order to be poised to slither upstairs if George (Younger) inherits, or goes somewhere grander. And it would be bound to be Procurement. Partly because I know all the weapons system specs off the top of my head, partly because the Army brass won't have me in AF (Armed Forces) because of The Donkeys.
It is worth reading that sentence again and fully digesting it. Seventy years after the end of the First World War, senior figures in the British Army could black ball a Conservative politician from becoming Minister for the Armed Forces, because in 1961, during his earlier career as a historian, he had criticised their predecessors leadership of that conflict.
Perhaps Michael Gove ought to sit down and read a copy of The Donkeys, to see what so rattled our Generals. He could also ponder the hatred Clark's analysis appears to have engendered. If so he may find that explaining such events within the easy context of left and right does not easily fit.
I came across the quote below in an article about the inauguration of the new Mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio.
I know little about him, but recognised immediately who Roger L Simon was talking about in his final paragraph. I will let my readers add some British names to the concept of 'Soros Socialists'......
"They are the “Soros Socialists,” successful people who want to stay rich and powerful. They do this by espousing social programs and making pronouncements, few of which affect them even minimally. But they have the image of being generous egalitarians and the image is all. It prevents them (their power and greed) from being scrutinized by others — and even more importantly it can prevent them from scrutinizing themselves."
Below is my review of Mark Curtis' book Secret Affairs: Britain's Collusion With Radical Islam, which appeared in Vol 21 No:1 of Anarchist Studies, 2013.
Spend any time at an anti-war demonstration in England, and the view that there is a global war on Islam, or against Muslims, will be articulated. The protagonists are seen as the United States, Israel or the UK (or any combination thereof). Mark Curtis turns these conventions upside down, with a withering expose of how Britain has historically looked to work with and alongside Islam, and in particular its most conservative adherents. The settings for this approach vary – Empire, Iran under Mossadegh, Soviet-dominated Afghanistan, much of the Arab world in post-colonial years – but the aims and practice of British foreign policy have been surprisingly consistent. These have been to develop working relationships with those in power or likely to obtain it, and to promote British and international business interests against domestic populations.
When King Abdullah of Transjordan called for a pan-Islamic movement after World War Two, the Foreign Office was supportive, on the grounds it would be a bulwark against Communism. Within a decade a clear division existed in the region between the Islamic monarchies supported by Britain (to ensure access to their oil) and nationalist regimes whose orientation was frequently leftist. Curtis makes great use of the national archives to show that British plotting with radical Shia in Iran and funding of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt bore mixed results. Eventually it was to be Saudi oil money that ensured an Islamic bloc emerged to counter the nationalists (p.92).
In 1973 the world’s economic axis shifted, as the oil price quadrupled. Saudi Arabia used that wealth in two ways: the global propagation of its brand of Islam, and making serious financial investments in Western countries. By 1975 the Saudis had invested $9.3 billion here. Curtis argues ‘The upshot was that Britain was now economically reliant on the Saudi regime and would be in effect tied to aligning its foreign policy to the regime’ (p.119).
The US support for the Mujahideen in Soviet-occupied Afghanistan is a matter of record, but this book sheds new light on Britain’s role in that ill-considered escapade. The MI6 officer co-ordinating British support to the holy warriors was Alastair Crooke, based in Islamabad (p.144), and ex-SAS men were employed to train Mujahideen in Oman, Saudi Arabia and even Britain itself. Indeed, as it is Saudi Arabia and Pakistan who have been the primary sponsors of radical Sunni Islam, Curtis concludes: ‘Whitehall thus made a British contribution to the imminent emergence of global Islamist terrorism’ (p.149). Whilst the question of where this militancy would end was ignored, the Saudis made sure they kept the money flowing: from 1985 to 1988, the UK signed military contracts worth £15 billion with the Kingdom.
In the 1990s London began to become an important centre for both Arab exiles and, in time, the Arab media. Foreign Office advice was that fundamentalism was unlikely to have much appeal in the UK; something Curtis argues led to the toleration and protection of radical emigres for many years (p.174). With hindsight, this protection was astonishing: Osama Bin Laden’s two core fatwas declaring war against the West, were faxed from London in 1996 and 1998 (p.185).
And so it continues. Kosovo, Libya, Iraq – in each country Islamist actors were embraced against nationalist regimes (p.224). At times the perfidy is genuinely shocking. In 1978 the Shah of Iran was sold CS gas to put down riots, whilst talks were opened with the opposition. In 1982 a KGB defector gave MI6 details of Soviet assets inside the new Islamic Republic. MI6 and the CIA gave their names to the Ayatollahs, leading to the crushing of the left wing Tudeh party.
There are some areas Curtis does not address. Policy within the UK is broadly outside his terms of reference, yet in recent years we have seen an interesting domestic variant of the foreign policy he sketches. Here the New Labour government simultaneously gave huge sums of public money to the Quilliam Foundation (critical of many aspects of radical and conservative British Islam, and headed by several reformed Muslim ‘extremists’), whilst at the same time the Metropolitan Police’s Muslim Contact Unit purposefully worked with and empowered Salafi and Muslim Brotherhood groups in an attempt to diminish Al Qaeda’s influence in London’s mosques. As ever, our ruling class likes to have money on both horses in the race.
What they are not however, is ‘at war’ with Islam per se, and we have Curtis’ superb historiography to thank for explaining this.
Paul Stott, University of East Anglia
The Report, on BBC Radio 4 at 8pm this evening, devotes thirty minutes to an issue which is long overdue - the falsification of evidence by police officers against pickets during the 1984-5 Miners Strike.
This issue has been given impetus by understanding of the scale of the misconduct by South Yorkshire police at Hillsborough in 1989. I have to say the cynic in me wonders if this issue is old enough that it can now be safely addressed by the establishment - 30 years on it is likely virtually all of the police officers involved will be safely retired, and a cordon sanitaire placed around them.
More generally, the time is long overdue for a proper investigation into the police, the security services and the BBC's conduct during the miners strike. We know that it was gloves off for Mrs Thatcher, and that for the Conservative Party defeating the miners was a matter of life and death. The extent to which this corrupted institutions of the state - MI5, regional police Special Branches, the criminal justice system, the Department of Social Security, the BBC and a series of police forces is known, in bits and pieces, to the miners, but it has not been collated together into a single narrative.
Perhaps the closest we have is Seamus Milne's book "The Enemy Within: Thatcher's Secret War Against the Miners". Unfortunately Milne has proved himself so potty elsewhere, his can hardly be the final word. It is to be hoped that this evening's documentary is a step forward to addressing a significant, and shameful, part of Britain's history.
A Happy New Year to all readers of this blog.
A quiet Christmas gave me some time to read - I have just finished Ken Livingstone's "You Can't Say That", and managed to get through an impressive pile of newspapers over the last week. Two articles struck me in the press - one because it was so poor, the other because of its weight and implications.
In the rubbish bag must go Liz Hull's Daily Mail article of 27 December, which considers a curious spin-off from the case of missing Lancashire teenager Charlene Downes. "Stalker terror of mum whose girl was 'killed by paedophiles'" tells us that Karen Downes, the mother of Charlene, has been plagued by a stalker.
Mark Bailey, a New Zealander who travelled to Blackpool after reading Mrs Downes' website, has been fined and received a restraining order after pestering Mrs Downes to leave her husband. The article then gives a general overview of the Charlene Downes case, and that those tried with her murder received a six figure sum in compensation when the jury failed to reach a verdict.
For some reason the Mail's online article has a different heading to the print version, the rather more lurid "New Zealand man stalks mother of girl who was 'murdered and turned into kebab meat' after becoming obsessed with the case" is deployed. Perhaps that was considered a little too strong for the Daily Mail's print readership!
More seriously, Liz Hull manages to tell a very partial rendition of the Downes case. There is nothing on perceived police botching or indifference, Mr and Mrs Downes' subsequent involvement with the British National Party is ignored, as is the recent Times analysis (clearly based on a Lancashire Constabulary intelligence file) of the behaviour of Robert Downes, and the suggestion he frequently introduced men he met in local pubs to his daughter, leading to sexual activity. Such an important case deserves better.
The second article which I pored over was The Times interview with Michael Palin of 28 December by Rachel Sylvester and Alice thomson (safely hidden, I fear, behind their paywall). Palin's suspicion of modern technological developments is welcome:
"I feel a little bit alarmed by the whole depersonalisation of the internet. People are friends with people they've never seen, people are walking down the street and never look up because they're on the phone. What's happening to real life in all this?"
Secondly, and the section of the interview which gained most attention, Palin points to some of the effects of increased religiosity. Comparing today to 1969, when Monty Python began:
"Religion is more difficult to talk about. I don't think we could do Life of Brian any more", he says. A parody of Islam would be even harder. "We all saw what happened to Salman Rushdie and none of us want to get into all that. It's a pity but that's the way it is. There are people out there without a a sense of humour and they're heavily armed"
And that was when I realised what was missing from Ken Livingstone's memoir. Whilst Livingstone speaks with passion about the changes London in particular has seen via immigration and multi-culturalism during his life and his political career, he makes no attempt to recognise that there may be downsides to the same process.
Whilst the politicians of the three main parties are comfortable talking about the benefits of diversity, it is neccesary sometimes to articulate what these downsides are - in this instance, cultural. In a supposed liberal democracy, one of the country's best known media personalities and comedians believes it is now harder to discuss religion, and impossible to produce certain types of comedy. This is not due to reasoned debate or critique, but fear of physical violence and, indeed murder.
And that does require serious thought and debate in 2014 - it diminishes us all.
Readers may recall the controversy earlier this year concerning the islamic Education and Research Academy (iERA) who were banned from UCL after being found to be segregating men and women at a University debate.
iERA, and speakers such as Hamza Tsortsis, have been a high profile presence on many university campuses, despite being from the unreconstructed wing of British Islam. For example, visit their website and you will notice that whilst their male speakers are pictured, the female are not only listed at the end, but are faceless, existing only as blank hijabs. The perfect metaphor for the type of society iERA are seeking to create!
Following the furore at UCL, UK Universities appear to have gone away to ponder guidance on campus meetings. This has come down on allowing segregation, provided it is equal and does not disadvantage anyone. Those of us old enough to remember apartheid era South Africa may giggle at the concept of an approach which is 'seperate' but equal. You can find a link to the full guidance in this article on the UK Universities blog, where they also clarify their position.
This appears game, set and match to the Islamists, something iERA recognise. Of particular interest here is their argument that under the Equality Act 2010, UK Universities have no option but to comply with requests for seperate seating.
Some strong critical pieces have appeared about UK Universities stance, for example by Sara Khan, along (of course) with a determined silence from those on the left of the political spectrum, who once spoke so loudly against segregation on the grounds of race.
There is a petition asking Universities UK to reverse its decision. I have signed it, along with over 6000 others. You may wish to do so.
The concept of a scary primary school teacher is a difficult one to accept, but Lynn Small, Headmistress of Littleton Green Community School in Cannock, Staffordshire, certainly scares me.
Ahead of a proposed school trip to Staffordshire University as part of their religious eductation, Ms Hall wrote to the parents of the school children stating that:
"Refusal to allow your child to attend this trip will result in a Racial Discrimination note being attached to your child's education record, which will remain on this file throughout their school career."
I have no idea what a racial discrimation note is, how children as young as five may be given one, or who decides what effect such a note can have. Does it, for example, have a bearing on whether they can go to the secondary school of their choice? I do know I have read few things as scary, or as startling, since I last battled through one of the histories of Stalin's Soviet Union.
After complaints from parents, Ms Hall has withdrawn the letter and apologised. It would be nice to think Staffordshire County Council is also considering whether to withdraw her contract of employment - or do they keep a whole series of 'racial discrimination notes' against the names of young children as well?
There will be plenty of JFK articles and retrospectives today.
This is a track from many years back by Steinski and the Mass Media (I remember getting it free with the NME a good twenty five years ago) with a video that has been created, using contemporary footage in Dallas, by a man calling himself Ted Marzipan. I am not sure why Mr Marzipan credits the track to Coldcut as well as Steinski, but the video itself is a fascinating piece of work.