Public interest?

Indigo Jo Blogs - 14 July, 2019 - 22:46
 as tensions mount in the Gulf, what the British ambassador told London about the President's act of 'diplomatic vandalism'". At the top, in white on a small red patch, are the words "Fighting for free speech") with quotes from Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson defending the right of the paper to publish the material.

So, last week the British ambassador to the USA resigned after Donald Trump wrote tweets denouncing him after his emails were leaked, thought to have been done by a Brexiteer mole who is out to destroy senior civil servants he sees as standing in the way of Brexit. Yesterday (Saturday) morning, the police were threatening to prosecute editors who published any new leaked material and they urged them to send it all back. This led to an outcry, with both MPs and various editors denouncing the threat as an attack on a “free society” and proclaiming such things as “this isn’t Russia”. The Mail on Sunday today (under a banner “Fighting for free speech”) published more material from the leaks, among them the opinion of Kim Darroch, the ambassador at the centre of the leaks, expressed in the leaked emails that Donald Trump only scrapped the nuclear deal with Iran to spite former president Barack Obama.

I was surprised to hear Tories pontificate about the importance of a “free society” when the matter at hand was the leaking of confidential material which is covered under the Official Secrets Act. In the past, Tory governments have prosecuted civil servants who leaked papers that proved that what the government had been telling the Commons was false (e.g. about the direction of the Belgrano, the Argentinian warship sank during the Falklands war), and passed tougher legislation to remove defences, such as “public interest”, used by whistle-blowers. We are even seeing Tory politicians threaten to suspend Parliament itself if it gets in the way of leaving the EU this coming October, and politicians and the media defend this in the name of “the people’s will” as expressed more than three years ago now — so much for their love of democracy; we regularly see people have to hide under blankets to avoid press photographers who decide they have a ‘right’ to a story; so much for their love of freedom. In this case, it is alleged that the leaks were not motivated by any desire to hold the powerful to account or expose malpractice but simply to further Brexit by intimidating other civil servants and possibly politicians who are not committed to Brexit. The newspapers or websites which might be motivated to publish such material are the ones committed to Brexit themselves. This material might be of interest to the public but there is no pretence of it being in the public interest; it is malicious.

As for the material published today (which was also linked to the demand to “hand back papers”), this is of lesser importance as the damage had already been done in terms of forcing the former ambassador’s resignation. But publishing confidential material is illegal, and it is illegal for a reason, and whatever the rights and wrongs of doing so to expose wrongdoing, to do this to further your own political agenda, in collaboration with powerful factions in society that share that agenda, is simply dishonest and treacherous and is not supported by free speech laws anywhere. It is only right that any new leaks be met with the full force of the law, and the same for anyone publishing them.

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Anti-Semitism in context

Indigo Jo Blogs - 12 July, 2019 - 22:30
 for the many not the Jew".A demonstration in London against anti-Semitism in the Labour party.

There was a piece by Gordon Brown, the former chancellor of the Exchequer and prime minister, in the Guardian last Saturday demanding a “more radical” approach to the issue of anti-Semitism in the Labour party. His suggestion was that there should be automatic expulsion in any case where there is “irrefutable evidence of antisemitism or any kind of racism”, that appeals should be heard by a body “independent of the Labour party’s hierarchy, with members chosen for their standing and integrity among the public – and after consultation with the Jewish and other communities” and that a future Labour government should appoint a dedicated minister, “backed up by an ambassador”, to “combat antisemitism – by monitoring and reporting on its evil presence and pressurising governments everywhere to eradicate it”. The piece was unusual in that, in places, it put anti-Semitism in the context of other forms of racism, but the solution was really not all that radical, precisely because it detaches anti-Semitism from racism in general and treats it as a hate apart, deserving of special condemnation or energy in fighting it, while all other forms of racism are lumped together.

There has been a resistance to see anti-Semitism as one form of racism among many; it is sometimes called the “oldest hatred”, dating back to the dawn of Christianity, a claim often repeated but rarely subjected to scrutiny. It is no coincidence that Jews are western and central Europe’s oldest minority; mediaeval Europe did not tolerate the presence of Muslims or indeed Christians of mildly differing beliefs for very long, while Jews were allowed to live here, albeit in separate communities, while Gypsies were persecuted anywhere they lived. There is a hypothesis that anti-Semitism is primal and regardless of the rationale, never rational, while other prejudices are often the product of circumstance (e.g. a new inflow of workers seen as “taking jobs”). That the prejudice morphed in the 19th century from Jews being vilified as “Christ-killers” or just not Christian to being viewed as economic saboteurs or conspirators in various things proves this hypothesis, to many people: it’s part of Europe’s DNA. Christopher Hitchens once observed that, while other minorities are despised as inferiors, anti-Semites often seem to admire Jews as being clever. This is not unique, however; some conservative Islamophobes profess admiration for Muslims in some regards. Mark Steyn has been heard praising Muslims for having strong families and family values. This cohesion is what he believes makes Muslims a threat, especially to a Europe he sees as losing its sense of itself.

Sometimes this doctrine veers into an open declaration that other minorities deserve the prejudice they suffer while Jews do not. Melanie Phillips, on Saturday Politics in May 2018, declared that there was never any excuse for anti-Semitism, which was not like other forms of racism but is “a unique derangement which is based entirely on lies and demonisation”; Islamophobia, meanwhile, was a means of “shutting down legitimate criticism of the Muslim community”. Many dismiss Phillips as an unrepresentative crank, but she gets an awful lot of access to the mainstream media. Much as with terrorism, there is a demand for unconditional condemnation without any equivalence made to anything else; anything less is denounced as equivocation, “whataboutery” and proof of guilt. It is obvious to many of us that other prejudices are not taken anything like as seriously, even within the Labour party, let alone in regard to the Tory party in which serial, open racist Boris Johnson is still the front-runner for the leadership; Sarah Champion in 2017 wrote the below for an article in The Sun and, although relieved of a shadow cabinet position (not immediately but after public protest), remains a Labour MP:

BRITAIN has a problem with British Pakistani men raping and exploiting white girls.

There. I said it. Does that make me a racist? Or am I just prepared to call out this horrifying problem for what it is?

For too long we have ignored the race of these abusers and, worse, tried to cover it up.

No more. These people are predators and the common denominator is their ethnic heritage.

In recent days I have seen much discussion on Twitter as to whether Jews are white or not. There is a doctrine that Jews should be excluded from this category and in Israel, the majority of Jews are of Middle Eastern origin (Sephardim and Mizrahim) and some are Black, from Ethiopia. But that is Israel and this is the UK, where the vast majority are of eastern European origin and, apart from the minority of strictly religious Jews who live in a few small areas such as Stanford Hill in north London, look like any other white people. Both the definition of whiteness and its importance in a minority being accepted by the majority changes over time; when Irish and Italian people first arrived in the USA, for example, they were not regarded as white, and were impoverished. Irish people were discriminated against both in employment and housing until well after the Second World War, with houses and flats to rent being advertised with the rider “no Irish, no Blacks, no dogs”. That has since changed, as it has with the Jews who mostly arrived in the UK in the early 20th century mostly from what is now Poland, fleeing persecution under the Russian Tsars. From the late 1940s onwards, the ‘face’ of immigration was a black or brown one; to this day, those immigrants and their descendants are still associated with their countries of origin while British Jews are called just that.

British Jews are accepted in a way non-white minorities are not. I have never heard of British Jews being subjected to disproportionate stops and searches by police, for example. I have not heard of British Jews being shot dead or choked to death by the police. This is what “white privilege” means in a society like ours: that you look like you belong to the majority, that you do not look foreign, you are not seen as a threat just for being in a public place and your place in this country is accepted: you are not told to “go home”. Media coverage of Jewish issues amplifies the voices of ‘mainstream’ representatives and often vilifies dissenters (or censors them, as we saw with a letter to the Guardian that was published this week and then removed from the website after a complaint from the Board of Deputies), while trusted and mainstream Muslim voices are dismissed as unrepresentative or politically biased (usually as Islamist sympathisers) and fringe voices, often hostile to the majority, amplified. When Jews try to police the boundaries of their community by pointing out that many anti-Zionist Jewish figures are really not all that Jewish, they are believed; when Muslims do the same, they may be accused of using the “True Scotsman fallacy” at best or of calling for someone’s murder at worst.

It does not matter if Jews were not regarded as white, or white enough, in the distant past in Europe. What matters is where they stand, and where the majority stands in regards to them, now. In Europe, cultural or religious sameness has been important to be accepted in society in the long run; in Britain and the USA now, white skin is the most important factor followed by native dress and speech. Anyone who proclaims, as I have seen on Twitter in the last few weeks, that there is “no such thing as a white Jew” is being wilfully blind to obvious facts. A dark-skinned person spouting the nonsense Melanie Phillips does would not get anything like as much media coverage, and a dark-skinned minority would have to fight to get racism they were experiencing recognised by a whole swath of the media. Look at the university racism scandal reported on the front page of the Guardian last Saturday; this is something that has been bubbling on social media for years and only just got into a mainstream publication, yet the Guardian and other mainstream publications have covered the “Labour anti-Semitism crisis” in huge detail with regular front-page stories and sanctimonious opinion pieces, like Gordon Brown’s, since it began.

So, let’s not pretend that the past is still with us, the past where the Jews were a persecuted minority and suffered outright discrimination and worse. The past doesn’t “go anywhere”, to use the title of a popular pamphlet on this topic, but it is still past; it is not still here. It is not anti-Semitic to claim that this is no longer the case; it is fact. It is not anti-Semitic to say that a white Jew who can walk down the street and not fear the police is no less white for being a Jew, much as is the case with white Muslims (and Black Muslims both here and in the USA never let us forget it). While it is not true that all Jews are rich or that they control capitalism or the media, it is true that they are not a community associated with poverty nowadays and it is true that they are better represented in the mainstream media and get a more favourable treatment from it than most visible minorities. It is not ‘radical’ to foster hypervigilance to what may (or in fact may not) be mild expressions of prejudice towards a minority which is relatively privileged nowadays, while glossing over very overt hostility, even hatred, towards other minorities. It’s not radical to use a superficial “anti-racist” stance to shore up an oppressive regime perceived as a western ally. No, “anti-Semitism versus Islamophobia” is not and should not be an either-or, but as long as people openly display the latter while denying it exists, while reminding us of the “oldest hatred”, any warning about anti-Semitism which pointedly omits mention of other racism must be answered with “what about?”, because history proves that all racism can have the same result, i.e. violence.

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Of mice, men, mockingbirds and caged birds

Indigo Jo Blogs - 11 July, 2019 - 18:30
A picture of three stacks of three different editions of "To Kill a Mockingbird", of which one has a sticker advertising Harper Lee's other book, "Go Set a Watchman", to be released July 2015.Various editions of To Kill a Mockingbird

Today I saw a piece in the Globe and Mail, a Toronto-based newspaper, in which a professor at York University (the one in Toronto) called for schools to change the way they teach the novel To Kill a Mockingbird or to stop teaching it. This is because the novel uses the ‘N-word’ very liberally, which according to Professor Carl James “lends legitimacy to the word particularly in the absence of critical analysis in terms of the historical context, who is using the word and its effect on learners”. The article also quotes Poleen Grewal, the associate director of instruction and equity support services at Peel school board, which serves a district west of Toronto, as saying that the frequent use of the word was “hurting and harming black kids” and that the book’s sole major Black character, Tom Robinson, was “one-dimensional”. The board has started to recommend other texts which discuss issues of race and are more relevant, including books by Rohinton Mistry, Malorie Blackman, Richard Wagamese and Lawrence Hill. (The Star, another Canadian newspaper, published this article last November, arguing that it was time to “move on” from To Kill A Mockingbird. Hat tip to sis. Taqwa who tweeted both these articles.)

I grew up and live in England and have never read Mockingbird, but as a teenager I did English at A-level and studied Maya Angelou’s I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings and Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, which was about a brutal quadruple murder in 1950s rural Kansas whose perpetrators were ultimately hanged. My sister studied Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men at school and my mother studied a selection of American literature which included Zora Neale Hurston, Toni Morrison and Alice Walker. In Cold Blood is not really about race but about American justice, and demonstrated that judges and politicians were willing to sacrifice human life for power, using legal doctrines to discount evidence of a defendant’s insanity, for example. But the others were set in mid-20th century southern America and used racial slurs, especially the N-word, very liberally. Some of the authors were Black and some were White, but we all got to read out passages of it.

The overuse of the N-word is only one criticism of these books; another is that Mockingbird in particular focusses on a “white hero” who saves a Black person from injustice rather than on the lives of Black people themselves. The problem of one-dimensional characters is not confined to Mockingbird; it is noticeable that all the characters in The Color Purple other than the Black women are either vicious or stupid, or both. However, their biggest weakness as set texts for our time is that they teach racism through the prism of another place and time and a specific regime — segregation — which is no longer in place. It’s possible to grow up white in a diverse city nowadays and not realise racism exists, especially if you do not live in a diverse area yourself, so reading a book about small-town Arkansas in the 1940s where there was segregation and obvious, violent racism backed by officialdom, where a dentist will openly racially abuse a little girl to her grandmother, will not teach you anything about your own time. Young people in London need to know about the experiences of different people in their own city or one a lot like it, but in practice will not be expected to read a book set in their own country in modern times. (I also studied Jane Eyre, Hamlet, The Knight’s Tale and the Post-Romantic poets such as Tennyson and Browning; for GCSE, at an all-boys boarding school, I did not study a single whole novel by a woman.)

I am not suggesting that school pupils never study texts set in 20th century America; it’s an important body of literature by a diverse group of authors in terms of race and gender. They cover other important subjects besides race (sexual abuse and trauma in the case of Caged Bird). But race in modern Britain and Canada is not Black and White and the books our children study at school should reflect the realities of the world they grow up in, not a bygone era.

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Most UK news coverage of Muslims is negative, major study finds

The Guardian World news: Islam - 9 July, 2019 - 07:00

Mail on Sunday named worst offender amid growing scrutiny of Tory Islamophobia

Most coverage of Muslims in British news outlets has a negative slant, according to a major analysis by the Muslim Council of Britain, which concludes that news stories in the mainstream media are contributing to Islamophobia.

The study found the Mail on Sunday had the most negative coverage of Islam, with 78% of its stories featuring Muslims having negative themes – above an already-high industry average of 59%.

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The Guardian view on religious liberty: the freedom to be wrong | Editorial

The Guardian World news: Islam - 8 July, 2019 - 18:43
You can believe what you like if you do not act to harm others

Conservative religious believers, of whom there are perhaps 4 billion in the world today, mostly Christians and Muslims, still suppose that homosexuality is sinful. Sometimes their belief is an expression of genuine hatred; sometimes it is an unconsidered expression of belonging in a prejudiced society. In countries where this is a generally accepted prejudice, they probably don’t think about it much. In countries where gay people are accepted and affirmed as equals, fundamentalists have to think more carefully. Some retain their beliefs but place them in a context where homosexuality becomes merely one sin among many others – most of which the believer shares – and nothing to get worked up about. Others turn homophobia into a central point of doctrine, and fight against equality for gay people.

In Britain, Christian Concern is a pressure group which has brought numerous lawsuits in an attempt to establish a right for its members to discriminate against gay people. Almost all of these have been lost. Last week, though, it won a partial victory in an important case at the court of appeal, even though the judgment dismissed most of the argument that the organisation had brought. The case concerned a trainee social worker originally from Cameroon, Felix Ngole, who was thrown off his course by Sheffield University in 2017 after some posts he had made in an argument in the comment section of an American news site two years before were drawn anonymously to the university’s attention. There is no suggestion that Mr Ngole had discriminated against gay people in practice, but the university took the view that “any expression of disapproval of same-sex relations (however mildly expressed) on a public social media or other platform which could be traced back to the person making it, was a breach of the professional guidelines” as the court summarised it.

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Restorative justice is no substitute for prison

Indigo Jo Blogs - 4 July, 2019 - 22:26
A photograph of the bronze sculpture of "Lady Justice" on top of the Old Bailey criminal court in London, England. The statue has a sword in her right hand and the scales of justice in her left hand.Lady Justice, the Old Bailey, London. (Source: Andrew Middleton.)

Recently I came across a long thread (starting here) arguing against ‘carceral’ (prison-based) responses to serious crimes and, in particular, rape. The argument is that the justice system serves the state’s purpose, which is incarceration, that trials re-traumatise victims (which is certainly true), that victims often sink into depression after trials “primarily because they expected to gain some measure of healing through the criminal justice system that they just didn’t get”, that prisons cause PTSD which increases re-offending (as does having a criminal record), and that a better way of dealing with the crime, assuming the rapist (as it is mostly about rape) admits responsibility, is to require both to undergo a year of intensive therapy and then to allow the victim to place conditions on the attacker’s life. Most of the premises and solutions I find, to say the least, dubious.

Really? I’m sure some survivors would find great comfort in knowing that the person who assaulted them is behind bars and no longer has access to them and cannot attack anyone else. This is particularly the case if the rapist was a man and the victim a woman; of course, a man who attacks boys and men and is sent to prison may well have access to vulnerable men.

This is where we start to see the US-centricity of this whole thread. The American legal system has particular problems; you have elected prosecutors and judges who are looking to score points with the public and media in expectation of re-election, for example. There have been cases where judges have adjudicated young people as delinquent because they had been receiving bribes from the prison industry; in other cases, there is covert lobbying by the prison industry to impose harsher sentences which make them more money. However valid the claim that the state’s goal is incarceration is in the USA, it is not the case in every country where there is a criminal justice system where the default punishment for serious crimes is prison. Historically, societies dealt with serious crimes that posed threats to public safety with either imprisonment or physical punishment, such as flogging, amputation and the death penalty; in many western societies, these have been abolished, either because they were seen as barbaric or because they were irrevocable and innocent people were known to be being killed. To do away with prison will mean society will have no means of keeping the public safe from repetitively violent offenders.

As for victims being forced into testifying: sometimes this is necessary to protect the public, or to avoid the collapse of the trial where there are other offences or defendants, or because large amounts of money have been spent on the trial, a jury dragged away from their lives and sworn in and so on. To make a point I will come back to: the purpose of prison is not just to punish, but to protect.

There are a few tweets following this about the traumatic effect of rape trials themselves: that victims’ accounts are scrutinised to make sure that the incident fits the legal definition of rape, that victims are questioned about what they were wearing at the time, and so on. These are not arguments against having rape trials or a ‘carceral’ justice system to deal with rape but in favour of reforming the way rape trials are conducted and eliminating irrelevant questions that are calculated to simply discredit the victim as a witness. As it is a fact that the victim’s dress makes no contribution to any rape that starts with an attack in the street, such questions should not be asked. Some progress has been made in this area in the UK; maybe not in the USA, or at least in many jurisdictions as laws on rape differ from state to state.

A rape victim experiencing mental illness after the conclusion of a rape trial may not be because she is dissatisfied with the outcome or the penalty; it could well be because this is the hurdle of the trial is past and this is the first time in months that she has time to think about the situation. Some feel intense guilt at having been responsible for someone else’s suffering (see, for example, Maya Angelou in her autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, after the man who raped her as a child was murdered after she reported it; also, the 1992 interview in the Guardian with the victim of the 1988 London rape known as the “Babes in the wood” rape, whose attacker was jailed for 12 years, who said that this “seemed like too much power for a 15-year-old to have” but also that “when everyone else stopped caring, [she] started caring”). It shows the importance of counselling being available in the aftermath of a trial, whichever way the verdict goes.

Therapy is not a replacement for a criminal-justice response to a serious crime. It should not be linked to it at all. In the UK, rape counselling centres have been closing because of funding cuts linked to austerity policies; in some cases, abuse victims have been told not to access therapy before a trial as it could result in their evidence being deemed unreliable. There are other ways to “tell your story to an empathetic other” and other “empathetic others” besides therapists; they could be a relative or friend who believes you rather than instinctively doubting you or telling you all the ways you brought the situation on yourself. But none of these things are alternatives to punishment of the offender or getting them off the streets.

And the problem with using restorative justice as a substitute for a criminal-law penalty is that it assumes that the rapist is a first-time offender or is amenable to being taught the error of his ways or that learning to empathise with the suffering of his victim will necessarily ensure he never offends again. The truth is that many rapists are recidivists and that even if the victim that comes forward is his first, she might not be his last. There is more at stake than the feelings or ongoing mental health of this particular victim; everyone in society who might be a future victim has to be protected from him. There are two ways of doing this: imprison him, or kill him. And I am sceptical about empathy-based approaches to serious crime for the same reason as I am about its usefulness in tackling bullying; the offender knows that his behaviour hurts his victim; it is often the reason he does it. The traumatising effect of any of these things, of any element in a street rape, for example, is obvious. They often enjoy the power it gives them; to a torturer, like the torturer in Orwell’s 1984, ‘real’ power comes not only from making someone do what you want, but from making them suffer.

As for the effect of prison on the offender, of course prisons should be safe and sanitary and free of needless infringements of prisoners’ dignity; of course, they should be free of bullying and abuse. These aren’t arguments for abolishing prisons because society as a whole should be free of these things as well. As for it being difficult for ex-offenders to get jobs, many countries have a set time during which they may be required to disclose a conviction but if they are going into certain professions, this is for life, for the protection of whomever they may be working with (e.g. children, disabled people, sick people). Some US jurisdictions have particularly harsh rules on this, or allow employers to require any applicant to declare any conviction up-front (hence the recent “ban the box” campaigns in some states), but they can be reformed in such a way as to protect the public from the most serious offenders while leaving open the possibility of rehabilitation for the less serious ones.

There are cases where restorative justice can work in rape, but they are at the lowest end of the severity scale, where the rapist may not have intended rape as such or realised that this is what he was doing, or with disturbed juvenile offenders. Any case involving premeditation has to be dealt with through the criminal justice system for the protection of the public. If there is only one victim and no realistic prospect of conviction for some reason, it needs to be kept on file because of the very likely prospect of their being more. Prison abolitionism seems to be popular among a certain type of American idealist, largely because their criminal justice system is racist, corrupt and riddled with political interference, but we must not generalise from the American particular to every criminal justice system everywhere. The aim of the state should not be to incarcerate people for its own sake, but to ensure both justice and public safety and this sometimes involves imprisonment.

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999 (is no joke)

Indigo Jo Blogs - 1 July, 2019 - 18:33
An iPhone screenshot of What3Words, showing a stretch of the M1 running north to south outside the grounds of Hardwick Hall. There is a dark blue dot with a square showing three slashes, and near the top is a box showing the words "neater, begun, reporting".What3Words’ three words for roughly where I saw the pick-up truck. Though “outside Hardwick Hall” would have been more useful.

Last Saturday I was driving an articulated lorry down the M1 in Derbyshire, on the way back from delivering a trailer load of Mars bars to a depot outside Chesterfield, and I saw a broken down pick-up truck partly obstructing the inside lane (as it was a “smart motorway”, which was installed in two to three years of roadworks a few years ago, there was no hard shoulder he could have pulled over onto). About a hundred yards further on was an overhead matrix sign showing a reduced speed limit because of a “report of obstruction”. I immediately called 999, as this is what you are supposed to do to report a hazard to life and limb (not just an ongoing crime or accident just happened). I got through straight away and when I asked for the police, I got through to them without delay. I then told the operator the issue and he asked me exactly where. I told him the number of the mile post it was nearest to; he told me that “Highways [England] use those; we don’t” and wanted an approximate distance between one junction and another, which I could not give him. Before ending the call, he wanted to know my full address and date of birth.

I must say, it was very surprising to me that the police did not have any way of identifying a location on a motorway from a mile post, as these are found along every British motorway and a fair proportion of A-roads, and in the early 2000s, when mobile phones started to be used routinely to report accidents, larger signs were installed every 500m so that drivers could see them more easily. If the police do not know where a given mile point is, they should — it should be easy enough for a computer to pinpoint a location from a milepost on any given motorway (and there is actually only one motorway in Derbyshire) and they should have a list of which point each junction is at. While I was trying to explain where the broken-down vehicle was, any number of cars and trucks were passing it, quite possibly narrowly avoiding it because the driver will have seen the matrix sign above before they saw the vehicle itself. And why the need for my address and date of birth? He could have just asked my name; he had my phone number as I have been called back by the police after reporting things in the past. 999 is for reporting emergencies, and time is of the essence; it is not for carrying out surveys.

When I mentioned this on Twitter, someone suggested I use the app What3Words on my phone. I was unaware of this at the time; it assigns a unique set of three words to every location in the UK which you can relay to the call handler in any participating emergency service so as to identify the location. Derbyshire police indicated on Twitter last September that they do use the app. However, reading out three random words on what might be a bad phone line (especially on a hands-free in a noisy truck cab) is not the most reliable way of doing this as there is a danger of the word being misheard or the operator misspelling it, even if they have taken trouble to eliminate homophones from the database. I have installed it; it works, and you can use Siri on an iPhone to bring the app up, but it does take a couple of seconds, and if you are doing 56mph (let alone 70mph), your location will have changed by the time it starts looking for the three words; Siri will not open it if you just say “hey Siri, which three words?” and if the environment is noisy, it might not understand you anyway. Quite apart from that, why should I have to install a third-party app when there are marker posts by the side of the road? Why is the police not availing itself of readily-available information?

Of course, I would likely not have had to make the call and distract myself from driving if there had been a hard shoulder and the pick-up truck driver had had somewhere to pull in rather than park halfway onto the inside running lane of a motorway with traffic doing 70mph. Yes, these motorways allow the ‘management’ to put lanes out of action and reduce speed limits when there’s a “report of an obstruction” but if they do not know where you are talking about when you give a specific milepost reference then they cannot do it very accurately, though it may well explain why speed limits are reduced over whole sections rather than the mile or so before the obstruction. It only takes a driver to be distracted for a second to hit a stationary vehicle and if you’re reading a sign that’s just above and beyond a hazard, you might not see the hazard until it’s too late. This is why I’m not convinced by ‘studies’ that show that hard shoulders do not in fact increase safety and removing them is quite safe; it’s very convenient that this discovery was only made when they needed to increase road capacity and did not have the money to actually widen the road. (If they are not necessary, why is the hard shoulder not used as a running lane all the time in places where it can be, such as Luton?) There should be no more of these; road safety should not be sacrificed for the sake of cheap extra capacity and if traffic is flowing at 60 or 70mph most of the time, there must be a hard shoulder or, as on most A-road dual carriageways, frequent stopping places.

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Prevent is stopping free speech on campus and demonising Muslims | Nadine El-Enany

The Guardian World news: Islam - 1 July, 2019 - 12:51
New figures confirm that the government’s McCarthyistic counter-terrorism strategy is curtailing progressive dissent

Many staff and students at universities across Britain will have welcomed Liberty’s condemnation of the chilling effect the government’s counter-terrorism strategy is having on free speech on campuses. Recently published figures from the Office for Students showed that more than 2,000 events across Britain’s 300 or so higher education institutions have been affected by Prevent.

While some events were allowed to take place with conditions attached, 53 events or speaker requests on campuses were rejected altogether by university authorities. The demonisation of Muslims through the Prevent strategy has led to progressive dissent more broadly being curtailed.

Related: UK's Prevent strategy 'biggest threat to free speech on campus'

Related: An Islamophobic security agenda shouldn't mix with arts funding | Naz Shah

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Just 22 mosques given funding for hate crime security last year

The Guardian World news: Islam - 30 June, 2019 - 17:51

Distrust of Prevent scheme among reasons cited for lack of uptake of government scheme

Widespread distrust of the Home Office’s counter-extremism strategy by British Muslims has been cited as one of the obstacles to mosques using a government scheme to protect places of worship from hate crime, after figures showed just 22 received funding last year.

The £375,413 awarded to the mosques under the scheme is a tiny fraction of the £14m provided by a separate government fund for assisting the Jewish community. Applications by 24 mosques failed.

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It’s in the Times.

Indigo Jo Blogs - 29 June, 2019 - 20:11

Last week a detailed report into three stories ‘researched’ and written by Andrew Norfolk, the Times’ chief investigative reporter, was published, all of which involved Islam or Muslims, painted them in the worst possible light and demonstrated negligence about making sure of basic facts. One was the notorious Muslim foster care case from August 2017, about which the report reveals that Norfolk was advised by an expert not to touch the story as the details “didn’t ring true” but published it anyway; the others involve a Muslim-run charity in Yorkshire called Just Yorkshire which closed as a result of an inaccurate story by Norfolk in the Times, and the rapist (of Pakistani origin) supposedly given visitation rights to the child he fathered with his victim, which was not true, but what was done was in keeping with official guidelines (right or wrong as these may be). The report, by journalists Brian Cathcart (also a professor at Kingston University in London) and Paddy French, can be found in PDF form here at the Hacking Inquiry website.

A front page from The Times, with the headline "Corbyn too frail to be PM, fears civil service".Today’s Times front page

Talking of stuff that doesn’t ring true … the same paper had a story in today’s edition in which unnamed civil servants are alleged to speculate that Jeremy Corbyn is likely to have to step down before very long for health reasons, that he is too frail to be Labour leader, let alone prime minister, and that he is being “propped up” by his inner circle. People who actually know him say he runs every day and cycles regularly. Corbyn is 70 years old and while that is certainly not young, it is not extremely old by today’s standards, it is a good 15 years short of average male life expectancy, and lots of people that age are not frail nowadays. The idea of his being a ‘stooge’ and that the real power will lie with advisors or other shadowy figures is a classic trope of fear-mongering about the Left; think of the suggestions that “union bosses” (really elected leaders) will enter 10 Downing Street by the back door and call the shots, as was routinely alleged during Neil Kinnock’s time as Labour leader. Civil servants are not allowed to openly make commentary about politics; they are supposed to be neutral and to serve whoever is in government.

I’ve made no secret of my reservations about Corbyn. But this is classic right-wing fear mongering from the Murdoch press. The biggest cause to doubt this story is the masthead it appears under. It’s in the Times, a paper notorious for shoddy or malicious reporting which uses its past reputation as a cover.

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My Jewish friend, your Asian friend

Indigo Jo Blogs - 28 June, 2019 - 18:00
A front page of the Spectator with the headline "Boris wants you! The former mayor talks to James Forsyth about Brexit, sovereignty and aubergines". It features a cartoon of Johnson pointing at the reader and wearing a "Vote Leave" cap. Other articles referred to include "The War on Trump by Jacob Heilbrunn" and "The death of Internet Freedom by Brendan O'Neill".“Boris wants you”: a previous adulatory front page from the Spectator about Boris Johnson and Brexit.

Yesterday I came across the outgoing edition of the Spectator at Smith’s and there were about four articles hymning Boris Johnson in anticipation of his crowning as prime minister, as was expected when it went to press. I thought it was the new edition, but that was on the shelves today and so I realised that those articles went to press before his row with his girlfriend became headline news. Today there was a little more of the same, including one from Conrad Black, former proprietor of the Telegraph group and the Spectator calling Max Hastings a ‘flake’ (despite his having employed him as editor of the Telegraph for nine years) and claiming he has more confidence in Boris Johnson than in Hastings, who is not running to be Tory leader or prime minister. But one of the articles, by James Forsyth, claimed that Johnson’s Britain would be a more liberal place than Theresa May’s and he airily dismissed fears about his racism and prejudice towards Muslims in a few short sentences. The piece does not seem to be on the website, so perhaps they thought better of it after last weekend’s news. But I’m sure the attitude is widespread.

The article referred to the incidences of racism as a few isolated sentences from his back catalogue and dismissed the idea that he is Islamophobic by mentioning Sajid Javid’s support for him. This last is a classic example of the “Black friend defence”, in which a person accused of racism falls back on having Black friends or on the support of one or two Black (or in this case Asian) supporters. Sajid Javid is in no way representative of Muslims, having risen to prominence in a party most British Muslims do not support, having a spouse who is not Muslim, having said that only one religion is practised in his household and it is not Islam. His right-wing White friends will of course never forget his origins, as we witnessed when others in the leadership race were invited to meet Donald Trump during his state visit and he was not; as an Asian friend of mine said, “they will never allow a P**i, even a ‘house’ one, to become leader”. We have to understand that anti-Asian racism is not the same as Islamophobia, which is prejudice against Islam itself or people understood to be Muslims, and Boris Johnson’s hostility was clearly in the latter category as clearly demonstrated during his editorship. As for the racist language, there were multiple incidents of it; it was not an isolated case of inappropriate language where the person responsible apologised. He was writing for a sympathetic audience which is more than willing to overlook the racism.

Also this week, the Derby North MP, Chris Williamson, was reinstated to the party (though this has now been overturned) having been suspended over numerous accusations of anti-Semitism; this action has led to widespread protests from Labour MPs, staff members and from people outside the party as well as sanctimonious condemnations from Tories whose party does much less than Labour does to keep much worse racists out. One of the more common accusations that has been made is that Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters rely too heavily on the support of left-wing, often secular Jews (though there are a minority of ultra-religious Jews who loudly oppose Zionism as well), and ignore the ‘mainstream’ religious Jews who are sympathetic to Zionism. These people will cast aspersions on the Jewishness of members of Jewish Voice for Labour and Jewdas (claiming that they have one Jewish ancestor generations ago, for example) and have made it clear that their approval is no defence against any charge of anti-Semitism when it comes from the ‘official’ voices of “real Jews”, even when these groups are either self-appointed or not fully elected (e.g. elected from synagogues that do not allow women to vote).

I’m well aware that Boris Johnson is not in the Labour party, but there are many who are willing to do whatever it takes to stop Jeremy Corbyn becoming prime minister even if it means getting Boris Johnson instead (or another Tory who will give him a cabinet post, until Johnson stabs him, the country or some hapless Brit abroad in the back again). There is a sense, rarely expressed openly, that anti-Semitism is a prejudice apart that does not bear comparison to any other form of racism; the reality is that, despite some differences in how anti-Semitism has manifested itself over the generations, any prejudice can lead to violence, oppression, mass murder and genocide. There does not even have to be any visible racial or religious difference. Displays of revulsion at anti-Semitism (and willingness to accept the dictates of the Jewish ‘mainstream’ as to what is anti-Semitism, which they will not when a mainstream Muslim group alleges, or tries to define, Islamophobia) are simply how white middle-class people who will often tolerate racism against visible minorities or policies with a racist effect persuade each other that they are not the worst kind of racist. The real reason is that Jews are an acceptable minority: white, Anglicised and not associated with poverty.

So, let’s be clear: if you will not let Jeremy Corbyn or his supporters fall back on their numerous Jewish friends or the years of service some of them have shown to their communities, including Jewish members, don’t insult us by reminding us that Boris Johnson has a Pakistani friend or that, say, Zac Goldsmith’s former brother-in-law is Imran Khan. If you don’t mind shaking hands with Narendra Modi, on whose watch Hindu fascists staged a re-run of Kristallnacht in Gujarat when he was state governor, resulting in thousands of Muslims being killed and on whose watch as Indian prime minister Indian Muslims have been lynched on the pretext of slaughtering cows, please don’t be pointing fingers at anyone dubiously accused of anti-Semitism. Many a racist has Black friends. Many a racist has had sex with a person not of their race, or produced children with them. A racist politician is not the same as an ordinary racist; it does not depend on personal prejudice but on a tendency to use prejudice for political advantage. Boris Johnson has amply demonstrated both, over pages and pages in the Telegraph and Spectator. If Jeremy Corbyn as PM turns your stomach but Johnson does not, it does not make you less of a racist, just a different type of racist.

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French city shuts down public pools after two women wear burkinis

The Guardian World news: Islam - 27 June, 2019 - 17:00

Grenoble authorities say shutdown was requested by lifeguards at the pool

Despite the unprecedented heatwave sweeping across western Europe, lifeguards in Grenoble have shut down the city’s two municipal swimming pools after Muslim women went swimming in burkinis.

The women went to the pools twice at the initiative of the Alliance Citoyenne rights group to challenge a city ban on the full-body swimwear.

Related: Why we wear the burkini: five women on dressing modestly at the beach

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An Islamophobic security agenda shouldn't mix with arts funding | Naz Shah

The Guardian World news: Islam - 26 June, 2019 - 17:02

Bradford literature festival speakers are right to withdraw in protest at Home Office funds. Muslims want meaningful engagement

  • Naz Shah is the MP for Bradford West

The last few days have seen a furore over the Bradford literature festival’s decision to accept funding from the Home Office. Some 12 speakers have pulled out of the event so far, in protest at the source of the money, the government’s “Building a Stronger Britain Together” fund, a scheme that supports projects that supposedly counter extremism. As a result of the row, reputational damage has been done to this award-winning festival.

Let’s be clear why this has happened: the government refuses to engage with Muslim communities in a meaningful way – unless it is under the auspices of counter- extremism or counter-terrorism. Why does funding offered to Muslim communities so often appear under this guise? We’ve also seen this in the form of the goverment’s terrible Prevent counter terror strategy, which is a toxic presence and is already under review.

Had this government cared, it would not continuously brush Tory Islamophobia under the carpet

Related: Does Bradford festival's counter-extremism funding warrant a boycott? | Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan and Saima Mir

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Pakistan plays down accusations of Christian persecution

The Guardian World news: Islam - 25 June, 2019 - 14:02

Foreign minister says there are ‘individual incidents’ that can be compared to UK knife crime

Pakistan’s foreign minister has sought to dismiss accusations of Christian persecution, claiming there were “individual incidents” comparable to knife crime in the UK.

Shah Mahmood Qureshi, speaking during a visit to Brussels, said reports of religious minorities being targeted in Pakistan did not constitute a trend and the recent claims of Christian persecution were an example of “western interests” that “want to paint Pakistan in a particular way”.

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Boris Johnson and the Stasi

Indigo Jo Blogs - 24 June, 2019 - 23:01
A front page of the Evening Standard, with the headline "Boris's show of unity" with a picture of Johnson and his girlfriend Carrie Symonds, sitting on wooden chairs in a garden looking at each other.Today’s Evening Standard, the London evening paper also known as the Evening Boris.

So, last weekend the story broke of a row between Boris Johnson, the man who looked until then as if he was certain to become the leader of the Tory party and Prime Minister, and his girlfriend at her house in south London, which was reported to the police and then taped by the neighbours and the recording sent to the Guardian. As I was on a delivery run to Kettering and Dartford last Saturday, I spent much of the day glued to Radio 4 which ran an interview with the author of a critical biography of Johnson, who had worked with him in Brussels and told us that he was notorious for his temper, and Allison Pearson of the Daily Telegraph who compared the neighbours to the Stasi, the former East German secret police. Over the weekend, Twitter was abuzz with two different narratives: one saying that many women have died because neighbours heard fights and other signs of abuse and did not call the police or otherwise intervene and that women have been saved because they did, and the other making Johnson out to be the victim of a politically-motivated action by nosy neighbours acting like self-appointed secret police and to take one example, from a pro-Brexit radio presenter:

I found the reference to the Stasi grotesquely inappropriate. The Stasi, like other secret police forces in other dictatorships, did not principally spy on their communist bosses but on ordinary people and particularly for any signs of dissent; it was an organ of the state and consisted of people employed by the state. Although it did use information sourced from ordinary people, it also relied on paid spies and informants and on people tempted by inducements and blackmail. What was reported in this case was not Boris Johnson using crass racial slurs, printing inflammatory nonsense about a minority community or expounding ridiculous theories about Britain’s place outside the EU; he does that in public, often in the same newspapers that have been backing him. It was a domestic argument that disturbed his neighbours and gave them concern for the welfare of his girlfriend, who (despite being of similar political mind to him) said things that ring true with many people: that he is selfish, spoiled, and unconcerned enough with money (because he’s never been short of it) that he thinks red wine on the sofa is no big deal.

Let’s not forget, the Tory press (and the smaller liberal tabloid press) have themselves behaved in a manner reminiscent of a secret police force over the years, relying on malicious stories, employing people to search people’s bins, using material from people who illegally access others’ voicemails, and using outright harassment with packs of reporters waiting outside people’s doors and following them down the street, such that people have sometimes had to be bundled into a car with a blanket over their head to avoid their demands. They ruin lives and end careers. Only a few weeks ago the Daily Mail ran a front-page story (and several pages inside) to an “expose” of Jeremy Corbyn filled with tittle-tattle about petty details of his private behaviour from so-called friends and maybe one of his ex-wives. If this is appropriate treatment for Corbyn, an incident of actual inconsiderate and possibly abusive behaviour from Johnson, who unlike Corbyn is likely to be appointed prime minister within a few weeks without a public vote, is just as much in the public interest. Come to think of it, another common feature of a dictatorship is a cowed or sycophantic press which is full of propaganda and this is exactly what the Daily Telegraph in particular looks like right now: one front page after another praising Boris Johnson, who has a high-profile weekly column, and attacking his critics.

I don’t think this incident would have become public knowledge if it were not for the fact that Johnson is likely to become prime minister without a public vote, and were not so obviously unfit for the job; if he had not displayed racism so repeatedly, if he had not sowed the seeds of discontent about the EU by fabricating stories while employed at the Telegraph, if he had not embarrassed this country repeatedly with his ridiculous remarks and exposed British citizens abroad to danger. His supporters seem at best absolutely blind to his faults and at worst they regard them as strengths, or as a sign of how powerful they are that they do not need to worry about pesky minorities that he has offended or, worse, endangered. The prevailing attitude among them seems to be: never mind the snowflakes. I even heard Vanessa Feltz today suggest that Johnson is the opposite of what Theresa May was accused of being, the “Maybot” always reading from the script and reciting stock phrases again and again; it was suggested that his “colourful” character inspires people rather than boring them. The Tories’ attitude to ordinary people was also prevalent in the assault by Mark Field on a Greenpeace activist who protested at a bankers’ and politicians’ banquet last Friday, which prompted a stream of Tory politicians to excuse an obviously unnecessary act of violence.

I don’t think that, politically, there is much to choose between Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson; they are both Brexiteers, open to a no-deal exit from the EU, and both slavishly devoted to the US president and willing to follow Trump into war with Iran. Johnson is just more openly racist, a proven liar, a philanderer and a man with zero diplomatic ability. After seeing the disaster with Trump I do not believe anyone should be taking chances by calling for people with a vote to vote for him in the hope that he will lose a general election, or his seat; we cannot guarantee that there are not enough Labour members with an “anyone but Corbyn” attitude or Labour Brexiteers fearful for their seats to keep him in office. This man is simply unfit for any position of public responsibility whatsoever; he should not even be an MP, let alone prime minister, and it sickens me that he has got away with so much while people have been expelled from the Labour party for things interpreted as anti-Semitism which are much milder than the things Johnson has come out with in mainstream journals again and again. So, well done to the people who leaked this to the Guardian. If the Tory party had not been about to foist this wretch on all of us, it would not have been necessary. As it is, the disaster may have been averted.

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Nearly half of Tory members would not want Muslim PM – poll

The Guardian World news: Islam - 24 June, 2019 - 15:14

Islamophobia survey finds just 8% believe it is a problem within the Conservative party

Nearly half of Conservative party members would prefer not to have a Muslim prime minister, a survey into the scale of Islamophobia in the party has suggested.

The poll, carried out by YouGov for the anti-racism group Hope Not Hate, also found that more than two-thirds of Tory members believe the myth that parts of the UK are under Sharia law, and 45% think some areas are not safe for non-Muslims.

Related: Javid says new migration salary rules could vary region by region as May's £30k threshold shelved – live news

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Home Office thwarted return home of Isis suspect Jack Letts

The Guardian World news: Islam - 23 June, 2019 - 09:02

Letts was disillusioned in Syria but his case officer was told to ‘back off’ by the government

British Islamic State fighter Jack Letts, whose parents were convicted of funding terrorism, wanted to return to the UK, but the Home Office pulled the plug on attempts to rehabilitate him.

The 23-year-old – known as “Jihadi Jack” – who joined Isis as a teenager, had discussed leaving Syria in 2016 with a counter-radicalisation expert until the UK government took him off the Letts case, the Observer has learned.

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Is Greater London really London?

Indigo Jo Blogs - 20 June, 2019 - 15:49

Yesterday I saw an article on Medium from Bob Pitt, a socialist writer who used to run Islamophobia Watch, on why Boris Johnson was able to twice win the mayoralty of a city often regarded as left-leaning or at least liberal. It was, he says, because the electoral region of Greater London includes large tracts which are not really London but were included in an expansion of London in the 1960s by a Tory government which wanted to weaken the Labour party’s hold on London local government after it dominated the London County Council from the 1930s until the 60s. In some of the areas included in Greater London, most people are right-wing, provincial, Tory voters who do not see themselves as Londoners:

In order to overcome the fact that London is indeed “a city that leans firmly towards Labour” the Tories included large swathes of suburbia in this new electoral region. Bexley, Bromley, Havering — places like that.

The people living in these areas don’t regard themselves as Londoners. They talk about going into London, or up to London. They don’t think of themselves as living in London. That’s because they don’t. These suburban boroughs don’t even have London postcodes.

I was brought up in one of these boroughs (Croydon) and live in another today (Kingston). I have family living in the borough in between (Sutton). It’s true that parts of them are wealthy, mostly white, Tory-voting and have more in common with the neighbouring parts of their old counties (in our case, Surrey) than anywhere in the former London County but they also have more in common with those places than with the parts of their own borough that are closer to central London. This was particularly evident in Croydon where the northern parts, such as Broad Green, Thornton Heath and Norbury, had substantial minority-ethnic and working-class populations. When I was at sixth-form college, the students arrived on one bus or the other depending on which areas they came from: those from the north on the number 50, as was, and those from the central and eastern parts (like me) usually on the 409, still a green country bus, and the students on the number 50 were much more likely to be Black or Asian. North of the Thames, very much of what we now call inner-city London, such as Haringey (which includes Tottenham), Brent (which includes Wembley and Harlesden) and Ealing (which includes Acton), were in Middlesex county before 1965; East and West Ham (now Newham) and Walthamstow were in Essex; despite the core of London always having been north of the river, most of the LCC was on the south side. These areas also have strong Black and Asian populations as well as other minorities and strong white working-class populations. Ken Livingstone’s constituency in between his GLC and mayoral days, Brent East, was part of former Middlesex. The North Circular was north London’s M25; unlike the South Circular Road which passes very close to central London, no part of it was in London County.

It’s also true that the old postal counties remained in place and Croydon’s was Surrey. But the mayoralty was established in 2000 and postal counties were abolished in 1996. That they have their own postcodes is irrelevant: those postal areas, the RM code (which also includes Thurrock) aside, were mostly confined to those suburban areas and some of the London postal areas extended into the outer counties: the N, NW and W area into Middlesex, the E area into Essex (the E4 postcode still does), and the SW and SE areas into Surrey. But postal areas have always transgressed county and even country boundaries; the Guildford postcodes go well into Hampshire and my university town, Aberystwyth, had a Shrewsbury postcode (SY23). We may have talked of going into or up to London, but when talking to people from outside London altogether, we say we live in London or we’re from London, especially as many of us moved out from inner London or moved to those places because they were at least near London.

A picture of a 1970s poster showing a clock tower with lights shining from two sides, with the words in red underneath, "Croydon lunar research facility", in a covered walkway with shuttered shops on the right-hand side and two BT phone boxes in the background.St George’s Walk, Croydon, 2017. (Source: Duncan C)

Bob Pitt says it was the presence of these outer-suburban non-Londoners in Greater London that allowed Boris Johnson to take the mayoralty twice. But three of the five mayoral elections so far were won by either Labour or, as in 2000, an independent Left-wing candidate (Ken Livingstone). Livingstone won a very comfortable victory and, when second preferences were counted, won every district in London except Bromley-Bexley and the west central area; this includes all but one of those outer-suburban districts, although it should be noted that it is a one-voter, one-vote election and there are no block votes, so Labour votes from north Croydon, say, still counted. Subsequent elections have divided voters between the inner city and outer suburbs with Zac Goldsmith in 2016 accused of using a “doughnut strategy” under the influence of Lynton Crosby, and he may have won some votes in south-west London as a result of opposition to Heathrow expansion (which Boris Johnson also previously opposed), but he still lost.

The GLC, during its lifetime, had a pattern of being dominated by whichever party was in opposition in central government; by 2000, the demographics had changed somewhat, certainly compared to the 1960s, and the political scene had changed as well. Croydon North, for example, has been a safe Labour seat for many years and Croydon borough council changed to Labour domination in the 1990s despite having been Tory-dominated previously. Ken Livingstone was elected because he had a vision, the Congestion Charge for vehicles driven into central London during the daytime which was to be invested in public transport being a major plank of it. By 2008, after a second term, Livingstone was unpopular in large part because of the western extension of the Congestion Charge which took in a large tract of residential inner suburbia around Ladbroke Grove (the area now associated with Grenfell Tower) and he had antagonised an awful lot of people; the Evening Standard was, as it is now, heavily right-leaning and was critical of his association with people like Hugo Chavez and Yusuf al-Qaradawi (it became known as the “Evening Boris” while Johnson was mayor). Many people who had supported him previously believed he had become arrogant and that he had run out of ideas. After losing in 2008, he stood again in 2012 and lost again.

Yes, being a large urban area rather than a fairly small city-county which covers barely half, if that, of the metropolitan area does mean that Labour is no longer guaranteed control of the mayoralty. But London had grown by the mid-1960s and the LCC’s geography no longer made sense; the GLC was a weaker entity than the LCC was, with the enlarged boroughs taking on many of the functions performed by counties elsewhere, such as road management (public transport was a GLC function for much of its existence). The record of the London mayoralty proves that a strong Labour candidate can win comfortably; Boris Johnson may have used his charm and exploited the support of the popular press, but his main asset in 2008 was the incumbent’s rapidly decreasing popularity and, in 2012, the foolishness of the Labour party in letting him stand for a fourth time. Of course, London voted heavily to remain in the EU in 2016 and even though the mayor has no power over whether we stay or leave, a pro-Brexit mayoral candidate is unlikely to win now. But let’s not pretend it was just the demographics or the geography; a strong Labour candidate could have won at least 2012 if not 2008, and Ken Livingstone no longer fitted the bill.

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Six pull out of Bradford festival over counter-extremism funding

The Guardian World news: Islam - 20 June, 2019 - 15:36

Writers and activists quit literature festival over funding by Home Office programme

Six writers and activists have pulled out of the Bradford literature festival (BLF) in protest after it emerged it received funding from a government counter-extremism programme.

The group withdrew from planned appearances after learning that the 10-day event, which was founded in 2014, has accepted money provided as part of the Home Office’s counter-extremism strategy for the first time.

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Uighur author dies following detention in Chinese 're-education' camp

The Guardian World news: Islam - 19 June, 2019 - 13:42

PEN America condemns death of Nurmuhammad Tohti, who had been held in a Xinjiang internment camp, as a grave example of China’s violations of free expression

The death of the prominent Uighur writer Nurmuhammad Tohti after being held in one of Xinjiang’s internment camps has been condemned as a tragic loss by human rights organisations.

Radio Free Asia reported that Tohti, who was 70, had been detained in one of the controversial “re-education” camps from November 2018 to March 2019. His granddaughter, Zorigul, who is based in Canada, said he had been denied treatment for diabetes and heart disease, and was only released once his medical condition meant he had become incapacitated. She wrote on a Facebook page for the Uighur exile community that she had only learned of his death 11 days after it happened because her family in Xinjiang had been frightened that making the information public would make them a target for detention.

Related: Revealed: new evidence of China's mission to raze the mosques of Xinjiang

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