Thursday, 19 July 2007

Taking the dip

I attended a small and intimate dinner with Charles Clarke, MP for Norwich South and former Home Secretary last night. To be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to it that much given his recent negative portrayal in the media. But I felt he deserved a chance to air his views. Personable, and quite frank, and was reassured that he’s not a whingeing backbencher.

As a moderniser, it seems that Clarke thinks reform is nowhere near a high enough priority for the Brown government. He spoke of the need to get NHS stakeholders on side for example in reforming the health service, and whether we need to introduce some sort of health insurance to co-exist alongside free at the point of use healthcare. I found myself nodding in agreement at views on healthcare needing to be more pro-active – people taking responsibility to look after themselves (!).

Clarke was also fully in favour of a fully-elected House of Lords, and passionate about finding ways to get young people on the property ladder. He asked each and every one of us what our living situations were – nearly all private rented.

Charles’ table manners leave a lot to be desired – he’s clearly a man who enjoys his food. So much so, in fact, that he took the Turkish dip from the middle of the table and started eating it with a teaspoon. Perhaps I was the only one who notices such things, but in any case this slightly eccentric, misinterpreted former Cabinet Minister probably has a lot to offer progressive politics.

NB. Charles Clarke was a councillor in Queensbridge Ward, Hackney - the VERY SAME ward I lived in when I got my first permanent flat in London. I wonder if my own residency of Dalston will bring me such political luck?

Friday, 29 June 2007

Brown's first day and security scare

Two days into the new Brown administration, and we have a Cabinet of fresh, and some not so fresh, faces. I’m particularly pleased at the promotion of David Milliband and Hilary Benn to important and influential roles, namely Foreign and Environment Secretary respectively. There seems to be a clear break with the past, but retaining the best bits of Blairism. For example, one of the so-called ‘Primrose Hill set’, James Purnell, has made Culture Secretary. He’s young, sharp, and very clever. And there’s been a few interesting departmental renamings and general shifting about. Education and Skills gets chopped in half with the schools bit and the universities bit split from each other.

Jacqui Smith seems to have her work cut out though – a potentially catastrophic terrorist scare this morning in Haymarket, central London saw her chair her first meeting of the crisis committee Cobra after less than a day in the job. Talk about in at the deep end. As I write this much of the West End is cordoned off – we don’t really know what’s going to happen.

Thursday, 28 June 2007

Gordy gets the top job at last

I feel proud again to be a member of the Labour Party today.

Good luck Gordon, in everything you do to demolish David Cameron. I'll be supporting you all the way!

Farewell Tony...long live Gordon!

Tuesday, 26 June 2007

Harman it is…and the laziness of rolling news

There are few certainties in politics, and Harriet Harman’s elevation to the Deputy Leadership of the Labour Party certainly wasn't one of them. My head went into my hands on Sunday afternoon, when, no sooner had Sky News declared Alan Johnson the new incumbent, the BBC flashed something completely different across their tickertapes, announcing Harriet Harman instead. Now, I really don’t see the point in broadcasting, or suggesting, an unconfirmed story when the official result has not been announced! It bugs me somewhat that the competition between the two major news broadcasters means they have to pip each other to the post even if something is blatantly wrong!

I suspect Harman will grow on me but having witnessed her performance at four official hustings events, she just didn’t offer me anything different. Some encouraging posturing on calling for the government to apologise for Iraq (by agreeing with Jon Cruddas) seemed to play well for her, but Monday morning came and she had already found herself at the centre of a gaffe, claiming she had never wanted the government to apologise. She really needs to sort her story out, and remain consistent if she’s going to have any credibility with the Labour movement at large.

I’m glad it’s a woman too. We needed a female deputy to counter-balance Cameron’s supposed embracing of women and diversity and we have a strong idelogiocally feminist candidate to do that. I wish she’d been stronger on this in the hustings, instead of using the ‘I’m a woman and I’m from the South’ (no shit, Sherlock!) argument to constantly re-inforce her campaign. We don’t like to be patronised in the Labour Party, and we know why it is important to have gender representation. You just need to tell us why it’s important.

So, here we go, on the eve of Blair’s final departure from Downing Street we have a balanced new team in place. And hopefully some positive and interesting Cabinet appointments by the end of the week. Watch this space.

Saturday, 16 June 2007

Time to make a choice...the Labour Party deputy leadership campaign

My two ballot papers for the Labour party deputy leadership contest arrived in the post exactly a week ago. I still haven't sent them off. But, after a week more of reflection, hustings and televised debates I'm going to make the following choices.

1. Hilary Benn
2. Jon Cruddas
3. Harriet Harman
4. Alan Johnson
5. Peter Hain
6. Hazel Blears.

Benn really made an impression on me at a conference in February, and I feel swayed enough to give him my support. There's a lot of passion there, some great ideas to change the party and a real sense of optimism. He really seems to believe in politics, and the ability of the Labour party to change the world through its ideology and values. I hint a touch of Blair in the way he addresses people in his speeches, never a bad thing as far as the media are concerned.

He doesn't try to make any secret of the way he's voted in the past for example. I'm not happy with the fact he voted for the war, but at least unlike Harman, who will get my third choice, he is honest about his beliefs and doesn't try to make political capital about the situation there now.

Cruddas is doing very well, and has brought so much to the debate. As an orator, he's gained confidence in public. He voted for the war too, but he's now making welcome contributions to the housing debate and really excellent ideas on how to re-invigorate our party. He recognises that the fact the party has lost 200,000 members we've lost since 1997 is a real issue. I don't think any of the other candidates have really understood this. I'd trust Cruddas as our campaigner in chief.

Harriet Harman comes across as patronising, too middle-class and ideologically inconsistent. Supposedly courting the 'soft' left, she's also proud to have sent her children to a grant-maintained school - never the policy of this government. Irritatingly, she never quite reveals why standing as a female candidate is so important - she just takes it for granted that the general membership will default to a female deputy leader if Brown is PM. If she's really a feminist, she needs to put forward a better case as to why it's important to have men and women at the top in politics. Oh, and saying 'I'm the southern candidate' is just so ridiculous. She does however get my third preference for being an experienced Minister, who has admirably campaigned on human rights and equalities issues. She also has an excellent, well organised constituency party.

I initially thought I'd plump for Alan Johnson in this contest, but he just hasn't tried to win my vote. He came to a London Young Labour reception in February and stayed all of five minutes, barely attempting to convince the assembled yoof that this cheeky working class ex-postman who was brought up by his sister as a teenager would be someone to lead the party's activists into the next general election. I felt he had nothing to offer the youth movement of the party, but he's no. 4 on my ballot because of his Cabinet experience and the fact he comes across well in the media.

Peter Hain has nothing to contribute to the campaign apart from the fact that he was Secretary of State in Northern Ireland when power sharing was restored. He never fails to mention this in debates. Oh, and apartheid in South Africa. Don't forget that. I actually feel sorry for him, but want him nowhere near that Deputy Leader's office. I think, that despite his achievements, he'd be the wrong man for this job.

Hazel Blears is the Marmite candidate. I've met her personally, and she's lovely, but she has been far too close to the Blair regime. I just couldn't trust her to stand up to Gordon. She's got great working class credentials - 'My brother drives a Manchester bus' - but she's also quite divisive. When I was helping out Hilary Benn in ringing councillors to ask if they'd vote for him, all I got was 'anyone but Blears'.

So, there you have it, I'm off the postbox now!

Tuesday, 1 May 2007

I've made it

One of my favourite websites at the moment is the hilarious 'Red Watch', a fascist site supported up by some neo-Nazi groups including Aryan Unity and the British People's Party. Some of them make even the BNP look respectable.

Anyway, they've found some pictures of some Labour colleagues of mine, at a recent Anti-BNP campaign day in Barking which I attended, as well as some others taken off Omar's Blog.

They haven't even worked out that one of these people none other than Jon Cruddas MP, (Dagenham East) and Labour Deputy Leadership candidate....proof that the tiny minds of these animalistic fascists will take some time to decipher the rest of the photos!

Red Watch

Wednesday, 18 April 2007

Wake up, America

My reaction to the Virginia shootings was entirely predictable, yet how can the US government be so slow to act after the regularly occurring tragedies of recent years there which now seem to be almost accepted as a way of life?

The US government will no doubt make moves to increase the amount of security on campuses, schools and other educational institutions, at great public cost and increasing the fear factor in what’s already a very jittery country. Getting to the heart of the problem will be another matter altogether There’s a lot to be said against ‘knee-jerk’ government – see under the Dangerous Dogs Act and Sarah’s Law. But in the aftermath of Dunblane – 10 years ago now, the British government acted quickly and properly to ban unnecessary ownership of handguns. I know how important the Second Amendment seems to be to some Americans. Or is it just the National Rifle Association who are particularly noisy about this? But why can’t a government do the right thing by its citizens and protect them from these tragic, violent outrages?

Gun control is such an important issue – and I thought the streets of South London were unsafe. The US really needs to wake up and get a grip on this.

Friday, 13 April 2007

Drama at Kennington Park

There really is never a dull moment round these parts. My unlucky, and newest housemate, was mugged last week and lost both his iPod and mobile phone, between the tube station and the entrance to the estate we live on. He was a bit shaken up, but seemed ok. I'm just continuing to keep my wits about me and certainly keeping my valuables well concealed.
Thankfully my two landlords were on hand to call the police (I was out at the time) and seemed to lighten the situation with their lusting over the particularly dishy officer who apparently arrived to take a statement. Let's not hope this happens too often :-)

Welcome to Kennington, Gary.

In the wee small hours of this morning, a companion and I awoke to what sounded like gunshots. Knowing that game shooting wasn't very common in South London, I feared the very worst, living not a million miles away from Peckham. Being half asleep anyway I thought I would investigate in the morning. It turns out that the gunshots were in fact explosives used by the police as a distraction as they raided a Rastafarian temple at Kennington Park. It is said that this was one of Bob Marley's hangouts in the 1970s. However, it looks like it won't be a temple for much longer, as Lambeth are about to demolish it.

After all this 'excitement', today (the sirens are forever blaring past my flat, so I have no idea what is 'back to normal'), I've been experiencing the delights of rural Kent, and had a little wander around Greenwich.

I've also managed to change my Labour Party membership to Vauxhall, at last. Talking of the Party, two Kent University students (in the Labour Club I helped to set up) are standing in the Blean ward close to the campus. Good luck, Arjun and Matthew - let's hope you do a bit better than I did!

Kent County Council Elections - Canterbury Results 2005

Monday, 2 April 2007

Finding the way with Tony Giddens

"What's the difference between Tony Blair and God?"

"God doesn't think he's Tony Blair".

I went to meet Anthony Giddens, Blair guru author of The Third Way last week. I had been invited by the London School of Economics' events people to the launch of his new book, Over to you, Mr Brown. It was a really enjoyable evening, which kicked off with a debate on the future of Labour under a presumed Brown government. Giddens was on fine form, a respected public academic whose common touch is so rare in these circles. He's funny, quite charming and down to earth. He also peppers his new book with jokes like the one above. Peter Riddell from The Times gave a fascinating psephologist's view of how Brown is, and might be perceived by the wider electorate. Polly Toynbee, with whom I once had dinner with in Brighton, gave a staunch supporter's view of the Brown record. And, to provide the token Tory, David 'Two-Brains' Willetts added his weighty, albeit right-wing contribution.

After having the customary scribble in my book from Giddens, I got talking to a fascinating bloke afterwards who, a few years older than me, was a mature student and had spent eighteen months in prison for drug dealing. He was quite an inspiration, having enrolled on a Politics BA at Sussex and we nattered for some time. A bottle of university standard red wine later, Tessa Jowell arrived , the errant speaker from the earlier debate, - hot on the heels of the Casinos Bill in the Commons.

The Secretary of State comes across as your favourite auntie and a slightly fearsome Deputy Headmistress all rolled into one. 'Now, what would you say was the most exciting bit of the evening' she asked. I blabbered something about each of the speakers. We both agreed that David Willetts was our favourite Tory - 'he gets better as goes on'. I even managed to give her my card to interest her in attending a London Young Labour debate. Those of you who know me will know that I'm quite involved with them at the moment. I then promptly walked off into the darkness of Holborn and misdirected my new found friend, John, to the tube station. Oops!

But, all in all, a successful evening!

A frightening story from Israel

An academic friend of mine, Mazher, was invited to speak at an EU-organised conference in Bethlehem last week. However, he wasn't to reckon on the traumatic turn of events which occurred no sooner than he had arrived on Israeli soil. I don't know quite what to make of the way the Israeli security services treated him, or even of the underlying political climate. But what I do know is that this incident seems to be symptomatic of a wider disregard for justice and jus ad bellum. Just look at the treatment of Tom Hurndall.

"I went to Israel on Monday but unfortunately, the Israeli authorities refused me entry; I was interrogated for 12 hours and was racially abused, Islamphobic comments were made, they strip searched me and, they refused to give me any food to eat while I was detained, they threatened to charge me with terrorism charges, but eventually they put me on a BA flight back home".

The flight left at 10.30pm from Heathrow; we arrived at Ben Guerin airport for 4.20am on Tuesday morning. Everything went fine until I reached passport control where the Israel authorities came and took me and Dr.M. Siddque aside; they started to question us both separately. They were asking me why I was coming to Israel and how long I would stay there. I informed them that I would be staying till the 15th of April and that I had been invited by the EU to come and speak at a conference that was arranged by them at Bethlehem .

After this they made me go back to a waiting room, where Dr. M. Siddque was waiting for me. They informed that they wanted to speak to me again, but they told Dr Siddque that he could go I was then taken to excluded room where after this they interrogated me, for 12 hours.

Initially the interrogation was carried out by passport officers who behaved professionally but after four hours approx the interrogation was taken over by M.O.D officials.(as I was informed by them)

They accused me of lying and being un-cooperative and subjected me to a humiliating and unnecessary strip search, whilst I felt naked and vulnerable the officers began psychologically abusing me by insulting my race and religion in general and specific ways. For example, one officer said “All Arabs are barbarians” and his colleague replies “wasn’t Mohammed an Arab?” They made further references to Islam and the Prophet Mohammed suggesting that his wives were prostitutes and he was a child molester.

I tried to remain calm and dignified and told them “I am British.’’ They responded by calling me a 'Paki Bastard'.

I was very frightened by this point because it seemed likely to turn physical and I felt very threatened and vulnerable. Although the officers never became violent the threat of violent was implicit and the psychological torment continued.

They threatened to charge me with terrorism offences and told me they had informed my parents I had been held in Israel on terrorist charges. I was really frightened by this because I did not know how to disprove such an unfounded accusation and it made me concerned for the well-being of my family at being presented with such a shocking lie.

The officials from the Ministry of Defence (MOD) then went through my luggage, this must have taken about an hour they copied numbers from my phone and took photo copies from the documents that I had, these documents were from Parliament and the universities and the organisations that had invited me out there, also I showed them evidence of were I would be staying.

By this time I had not been to sleep for longer then 24 hours and could barley keep my eye’s open and I was very disorientated. Throughout my entire interrogation they refused to give me any food to eat.

Once the officials from the M.O.D had finished interrogating me they informed me that they had refused my entry in to Israel . They then handed me over to Immigration who questioned me for an hour with the same questions, they had 5 officials standing around me and two of them were armed. Whoever was interrogating me they always had a few officials standing around me. All they ever telling me was that I was not telling the truth and that I was holding information from them, and that I was lying.

Once they had finished interrogating me they put me in a back of a van and took me to a heavily fortified building. Here they interrogated me again for a while and then locked me up in a cell, after about an hour they took me to another building, we had to travel by van again, were they interrogated me again for about an hour and they then escorted me on to the plane.

The officials from the M.O.D let me phone my Consult, but they informed me that my Consult can not help me as I had not been given a visa, which turned out to be true".

Mazher tells me he's in the process of taking this to the authorities as I speak. Let's hope he gets somewhere.

Welcome to my blog

Welcome to my blog, which proudly starts here today from my little corner of South East London on April 2 2007! It's going to be my place for opinion, some personal, some political, and some just downright irreverent. My aim to is to be honest, polemic, controversial, sensitive and literate. I hope that you, dear friends, both real and electronic, will want to contribute and feed into my debates.

There will be an element of serious journalism here when I have the energy and inspiration, as I attempt to interpret this crazy world around us. I hope you'll enjoy the journey with me.

I'm finishing this first posting with a quote from the greatest political orator of our time. I've disagreed with him on many things, but dare I say, he strikes a chord with me sometimes. And I couldn't help but feel an emotional twinge somewhere inside me when I heard this:

"So keep on winning. Do it with optimism. With hope in your hearts. Politics is not a chore.I t's the great adventure of progress. I don't want to be the Labour Leader who won 3 successive elections. I want to be the first Labour Leader to win 3 successive elections. So: it's up to you. You take my advice. You don't take it. Your choice. Whatever you do, I'm always with you. Head and heart. You've given me all I have ever achieved, and all that we've achieved, together, for the country. Next year I won't be making this speech. But, in the years to come, wherever I am, whatever I do.
I'm with you.

Wishing you well.

Wanting you to win.

You're the future now.

Make the most of it".

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