I know I should not take the 'Home' supplement of The Sunday Times too seriously, but Charlotte Vowden needs to be flayed through every high street in the country for this nonsense in a feature "Turning up the heat" on the economic prospects in Birmingham:
"Unemployment has blighted Birmingham - despite its four universities - so giving its young folk the best start in life is high on the agenda here. To tackle the problem, some schools such as Perry Beeches the Academy, in Great Barr, have added balti cooking lessons to the curriculum."
So there you have it. What was once one of our great industrial cities is addressing the problem of economic decline and unemployment by .............. doing cookery classes in some of its schools.
On this evidence, the emerging economic powerhouses of the east have little to fear from the UK.
Apologies to anyone who tried to visit this blog in recent days, and found it off line.
My provider, Typepad, has suffered a series of denial of service attacks, for motivations that are unclear (although there is no reason to think they were aimed at this site).
Things seem to be back to normal now, but it does serve as a reminder of my current, favourite aphorism:
"The problem with technology is that a lot of the time it does not work, or does not work in the way that its proponents tell others it should"
The Evening Standard's editorial on Ukraine of 16 April 2014 is a classic example of both British muddle, and the innate ability of journalists to call big issues, not by events, but their perception of the facts.
The advance of Ukrainian troops into the dissident eastern city of Kramatorsk marks a new phase in a conflict which, as President Putin unhelpfully remarked, brings Ukraine to “the verge of civil war”. It is however a necessary move; it would be quite intolerable for any government to see entire cities and regions fall under the control of dissident groups with absolutely no democratic mandate.
It is only a matter of weeks of course since the democratically elected government of Viktor Yanukovych was overthrown, with the eager connivance of the British government and the European Union. Central to that overthrow were the actions of dissident groups on the streets of the capital city Kiev, where there was vicious fighting.
To add insult to injury, the Evening Standard editorial continues:
Indeed, it may be the case that some of the thugs demonstrating against the Kiev government and in favour of Moscow are deployed by corrupt local oligarchs, anxious to preserve their preferential tax status.
For the record, the Standard (like the Independent and the i) is owned by the Russian businessman Evgeny Lebedev, son of Russian oligarch Alexander Lebedev. As with many oligarchs, Lebedev made his fortune in the years of Russia's post-Soviet decade of gangster capitalism. Like Putin, he is ex-KGB. The Evening Standard should not have to look too far if it wishes to investigate the relationship between oligarchs and the political process...........
Those with strong stomachs can find the full Evening Standard editorial here. Please beware, you do have to wade through an arslikan piece on Prince George before you get to it.
Amongst the acres of gushing news print about Liverpool FC and their supporters this week, as the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster was marked, there was also a very familar story.
A group of Manchester City fans were 'shocked' and 'shaken' after their minibus was attacked by Liverpool fans throwing bricks and stones before yesterday's Premiership match. Shaken I can understand (amongst those on the bus was a 70 year old woman) but if anyone on that minibus had attended a game at Anfield in the 1970s or 1980s, they surely cannot have been shocked. Such actions were the norm. Colin Ward's classic book on football hooliganism 'Steaming In' probably sets out the best written account of the experiences of visiting fans to Merseyside in those years. It was a grim fight for survival - in an era where all the media wanted to write about was the sporting nature of the Kop, Scouse humour, the wisdom of the boot room and the stylish play of the team on the pitch.
The crimes of Kelvin Mackenzie and The Sun after Hillsborough, and the principled campaigning by Liverpudlians since, has had the positive effect of reversing a great historical wrong. But it also means that for most sports journalists Liverpool's fans again occupy a space next to Mother Theresa, Princess Diana and Douglas Bader. But reality has a horrible way of intruding into even the most naive of mindsets.
The same violence will almost certainly happen when Chelsea play at Anfield on April 27th in the likely Premiership decider. Whether it is addressed in the national media, or by the authorities, is another matter entirely.
Clearly the Daily Star Sunday's magazine, TV Extra, is printed some time ahead of the rest of the newspaper. Page 3 of todays edition has a picture of the late Peaches Geldof, with the sub-heading "25 - Drop in for a cuppa with Peaches". Turn to p.25 a full page spread tells us about the countryside of North Kent. Under the title "What Stars Might I See" and a picture of Peaches, we are informed:
"Peaches Geldof and her young family have a house nearby and often spend time at Trosley Country Park, a ramblers' paradise close to Wrotham, while Cheryl Baker lives in nearby Igtham."
On Tuesday 8 April the Hellenic Centre in London is playing host to Dr George Kassimeris of Wolverhampton University, who is talking on "Terrorism in Greece: Will It Ever End?"
Long after revolutionary left terrorism peaked, and broadly died off in France, Italy and Germany, armed struggle groups flourish in Greece, a trend continuing even after the sudden dismantling of the N17 organisation in 2002. Contrary to popular understanding, specific types of terrorism do tend to come to a close, which raises the interesting question of why such violence appears to have become a permanent fixture of Greek life.
George Kassimeris is best known for his excellent 2000 book on N17 "Europe's Last Red Terrorists" - which places the militants in a specifically Greek context, and outlines with some skill their political positions and overtly domestic focus. His reseaerch in other fields is perhaps less impressive (a 2008 Critical Terrorism Studies interview with long term British Islamist Moazzam Begg fails to ask a single critical question!) and it will be interesting to hear where, for example, Kassimeris places the emerging violence of Greek fascists.
Entrance is free, and the talk starts at 7.15pm at 16-18 Paddington Street, London W1U 5AS.
Just ahead of Saturday's selection process, some interesting issues have emerged concerning the candour of Ruth Smeeth, one of three candidates seeking selection for Labour in the parliamentary constituency of Stoke North and Kidsgrove.
These questions, raised on the Notes From the Borderland website, include the revelation (via Wikileaks) that she is considered a protected source by the American Embassy in London. Combined with what appears to be a very selective CV set out on her campaign website, real concerns emerge about where she would actually stand if elected to Parliament.
The NFB letter to Labour Party members in Stoke is set out below. An historical overview of Ms Smeeth's career, taken from issue 10 of Notes From the borderland magazine, may be also be downloaded as a pdf Download NFB 10 SMEETH 001.
STOKE NORTH LABOUR PARTY: CHOOSE AN MP WITH TEETH, ANYONE BUT SMEETH! 31/3/14
In a month that has seen both Bob Crow and Tony Benn laid to rest, the importance of principles in politics has been underlined. Which brings us neatly to Ruth Smeeth. As you know, having been nominated by 8 out of 10 wards, she hopes to be selected as PPC for the above constituency on April 5th. We respectfully suggest that before you vote for her, the following ‘economies with the truth’ uttered by Ms Smeeth be considered, along with all of her political CV. If you do then vote for her, it cannot be said you did not know what you were getting. Either overleaf or (in the case of email) as an attachment we have enclosed two pages extracted from a far longer article analysing the political agenda/machinations of Hope Not Hate, the organisation she works for.
While we do not doubt her personal anti-racism, if you thought this a Left-field genuinely ‘radical’ campaign, the full article will come as a shock. It can be ordered online via www.borderlandmagazine.co.uk or via our main web-site (www.borderland.co.uk). As the first reflex of the scoundrel is shoot the messenger, we recommend a quick glance to see we are indeed Left/Green anti-fascist investigative researchers who publish a magazine when we can. Anyway, forget us, what about Ruth, (hereafter RS)? Various points of interest are as follows >>
“I’ve lived in Staffordshire for the last seven years” (Stoke Sentinel on-line 12/2/14) declared RS. While she has an address in Uttoxeter, she has not lived there “for the last seven years” as a primary residence, the clear implication of the quote. Without going into too much detail, her actual home is in London SE23, bought for £145,000 in 2002 and now valued at over £350,000. It was recently still her main residence, shown by RS renewing her personal web-site domain ruthsmeeth.com in early 2013 from that address. RS is ‘local’ in the same way the Queen is a ‘local’ of Balmoral. Still, at least RS can commiserate with electors about house prices in Stoke. Or maybe not…
About that web-site: now here’s a thing. While the defunct ruthsmeeth.com is still owned and paid for by RS, her current campaign site ruthsmeeth.org.uk, set up in February 2014, traces back to Labour HQ nationally. RS wouldn’t be using a nationally-run site to cover up very non-local tracks would she? Perish the thought.
“I very much come from a trade union background” (Stoke Sentinel 12/2/14). True, and she has even worked for UNITE the union. However, RS omits to mention her work as head of PR for Sodexho, involved in the privatisation of school catering services roundly criticised by Jamie Oliver. Even worse, she subsequently became head of UK PR for Nestle, a company boycotted since 1988 for obscene practices including discouraging breast-feeding among African women in order to sell milk-powder. These two jobs put her supposed ‘trade union’ background in perspective. It’s not where you come from that matters, but where you end up and how you get there, as Tony Benn’s career showed.
Hidden Agenda (1) Foreign Affairs: let it not be said RS is a mundane character. A US embassy cable obtained by Wikileaks and referred to in the Daily Telegraph 5/2/11 refers to her as a source to “strictly protect”, about which RS said when challenged “I would not consider myself to be a source for the US government”. Yet she patently is. Truth serum anyone? Her husband Michael Smeeth (involved in the privatised health care sector General Electric Corporate: a surprise, not) can certainly advise her on this matter. For he is an Executive Committee member of the ultra-shadowy British American Project, set up during the Reagan Presidency, and long thought to be a US Trojan horse designed to manipulate UK politics in US interests, and heavily spook (spy) connected at that. Almost as exotic, RS is a fanatical Zionist, and has worked for pro-Israel group BICOM. Now, Zionism is certainly a legitimate point of view, but the question has to be asked, if RS becomes your MP do you really think she will be genuinely open-minded on important foreign policy matters such as war and peace (sending squaddies from Stoke to die abroad), or subordinate to the whims of those making policy in Washington & Tel Aviv rather than Tunstall? Think about it: the answer’s obvious.
Hidden Agenda (2) Domestic Politics: In 2012 RS stood for Labour’s NEC Elections on the slate of right wing pressure group Progress, a faction committed to bringing back the glory days of Tony Blair (no, we don’t remember them either) and privatising even more public services/slashing social expenditure. As her web-site shows, she wasn’t going to tell you about this until after her selection, if at all. At least Militant had the guts to argue for their political programme explicitly. That is not the RS way.
“a real people person and able to relate to working class folk on the doorstep”: an endorsement from the vainglorious Councillor Kyle Robinson’s blog 7/2/14. If this means RS’s superficial charm (as long as you don’t mention Palestine) then certainly true. However her beliefs, job profile, and evasiveness about a second home even before she’s elected (most MP’s wait till afterwards before doing that) means you should think very long, and very hard, before selecting RS as a candidate. Please do so.
As for the two other candidates you have to choose from, we certainly, as a collective, have a preference, but declaring or campaigning for such is not our role. Rather, we have put before you various verifiable facts concerning Ruth Smeeth that indicate, in our view, either of the other two would make a better MP. Over to you………
Our politics appears to go through distinct periods of self-doubt, something particularly noticeable in concerns about low voter turnout, and especially low levels of participation in politics from young people.
Once the solution was to get younger politicians, more women, and more black people. Before that was the need to put Commons debates on television. More recently we have had the rise of postal voting and e-petitions. None have made a significant difference. Next it seems is e-voting, as promoted by the Speaker, John Bercow (as if we have not had enough fraud cases with postal voting).
This evening at 8pm Radio 4 devotes the first of four programmes to e-democracy in Estonia, a country of which I only seem to hear good things. One sentence however, deflates the concept before it even begins "The Estonian system relies on an ID card".............
I have only just spotted a piece by Natalie Zinets and Elizabeth Piper in the i of 28 March 2014 (it does not seem to be online).
"Kiev pulled closer to Europe by £16bn deal" discusses credits and loans being extended to the Ukraine by the European Union, United States and the International Monetary Fund:
"Kiev opened the way for the IMF deal by announcing on Wednesday a radical 50 per cent hike in the price of domestic gas from 1 May and promising to phase out energy subsidies by 2016".
Reports state that the BBC is to to remake the series 'Civilisation' on art, architecture and philosophy, first made made by Kenneth Clark (father of Alan) in 1969.
I can't help thinking such a programme will be a lot more challenging to make - and a lot more challenged - today. Here is Phillip Hensher in the Telegraph:
The moment when a series about Western art could be described as covering “civilisation” is long gone. Quite rightly, the successor, even if limited to the highest achievements of civilisation, is going to want to talk about Benin bronzes, Mughal culture, the pinnacles of Chinese arts. There will be talk of the art of minorities, perhaps “outsider” art, and women artists will occupy a much more central place than they did for Clark.
Scholars of oriental art existed in 1969, of course; one of the perverse developments since then has been that, with the denouncing of “Orientalism” by Edward Said’s 1979 book of the same name, we are both much more aware of the importance of non-European art, but rather pathetically nervous about discussing it at all. This will have to be addressed by the makers of the series.
It is not just that Kenneth Clark is a difficult attack to follow. The number of competing interests, and interest groups, standing ready to contest space make the programme fraught with potential banana skins. Don't expect Civilisation on your television screen any time soon.
"There is no compelling evidence that genetically modified crops are any more dangerous to humans or the environment than conventionally farmed food, and it is time for Europe to be stripped of its obstructive control of the technology, scientists have advised the Prime Minister".
Steve Connor, Science Editor, i, 14 March 2014.
Tucked away on page four of the Business supplement of today's Daily Telegraph:
"The Serious Fraud Office recovered just over one-tenth of the proceeds of white-collar crime it intended to in the last financial year, a fall on 15pc of intended assests it confiscated in the previous years.
According to data obtained by Pinsent Masons, the SFO recovered just £3.9 million against a £31.9m target in 2012-13. The agency, charged with deterring financial crime, has endured shrinking budgets."
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.