Who’s really the “elite” here?

Indigo Jo Blogs - 9 December, 2018 - 18:45

 fake news, fake views".There was an anecdote I forgot to insert into my previous entry about the stereotype of the “liberal elite”. Back in the early 2000s I was working as a van driver for a major UK hire shop company (the sort that hires out electrical building equipment, generators, heavy lighting, that sort of stuff) and was delivering to a branch in leafy Surrey where there were two young people, a man and a woman, behind the counter. Also behind the counter was a copy of a tabloid, either the Sun or the Daily Star (but definitely not the Daily Mirror which, if I remember rightly, was in its black-top ‘serious’ phase then). The two people behind the counter expressed some anti-immigrant views which would have surprised nobody familiar with the attitudes commonly expressed in the paper. A few weeks later, I emailed Jon Gaunt, then the presenter of the morning show on BBC London (whose website for the show was headed “What’s got Gaunty’s goat today?”) and mentioned this incident and described the paper as “the Scum or some other low-rent rag”. He read this out, and a few minutes later some guy came on the phone and said that I must be someone who really looks down on van drivers. The stereotype that anyone with opinions that differ from those of commercial tabloids, or who despises such papers, cannot possibly be in a working-class occupation is not new.

The story sprang to mind as I read a tweet that warned the so-called élite of the riots in Paris, the populists being in charge of Italy and a few other signs we are supposedly missing, as if to warn us of the dire consequences of back-pedalling on Brexit. Meanwhile, “Tommy Robinson”, the far-right rabble-rousing football hooligan (former leader of the English Defence League, mortgage fraudster etc) held a demonstration in London (at which the noose in the attached picture was displayed) which was as ‘massive’ as a number of other EDL or related demonstrations. It seems only about 600 people turned up to this according to social media reports and was outnumbered by the counter-demonstration, as has been the case at many previous such demonstrations such as in Liverpool. They conveniently ignore that the cause of the demonstrations and now riots in Paris are local — principally fuel tax rises — and although one list of demands by a group claiming to represent the ‘movement’ mentions leaving the EU and NATO, it was not the cause of the demonstration.

Threatening ‘warnings’ about the ‘dangers’ of not respecting the “people’s will” on Brexit are legion; there was one in the Sun newspaper only last week. That one reminded us that a Labour MP was murdered in the run-up to the 2016 referendum, as if the same could happen again. However, she was killed by a lone Nazi who shouted “Britain first”, the slogan of a small group of bigots who made a big splash on social media but never were a mass movement. There simply is no movement in this country with the resources to mobilise to generate major unrest in this country over something like Brexit, for the simple reason that the country will still be a democracy whether it happens or not, that the economy will improve if there is no Brexit because companies will know that our links with our major trading partners remain intact, and because the only groups with a tendency to violence are those rooted in football hooliganism and the average middle-class Brexiteer wants nothing to do with them, and the Northern Irish paramilitaries, and there, the ones with a history of attacking the UK mainland oppose Brexit. Maintaining the current border arrangements to avoid a return to violence is the reason for the backstop arrangements, and a major argument not to leave the EU at all.

That leaves the British political élite and the media barons and their editors who have had the prospect of untrammelled power, of a return to the days when power meant power and nobody could tell Britain’s parliament that its laws had to be revised or struck down because they were incompatible with fundamental rights, dangled in front of them. They are the people with the most to lose from a withdrawal from Brexit. That situation was unlike what happens in any other representative democracy, of course, but was the case here until very recently — a Parliament dominated by a House of Commons itself dominated by one party could change the ‘constitution’ or abolish ancient rights. The European Court of Justice is not the court that oversees the human rights charter, which is part of the Council of Europe, not the EU, but the right-wing media and both main parties have blamed the HRA and the European Convention on Human Rights (or just ‘Europe’) for everything they cannot do and usually the claims are exaggerated. The right-wing media want a government unchecked by any charter of rights so that they can do their bidding and freely serve the interests of their corporate backers and anyone they identify as deserving to be thumped, the government can do it.

The political and media élite assume that “the people”, meaning the average white person, does not mind losing these protections because they assume that the government is on its side rather than that of illegal immigrants or whoever. People must understand that they really are not; they care only about keeping themselves rich and powerful and their long-term plan is to chip away at protections for workers’ rights, environmental standards, welfare protection for the unemployed and disabled and so on until all the progress made since the 19th century is washed away and they own the land we walk on and the air we breathe. So the exposure of the Tory Brexiteers’ vested interests, and their double dealing and hypocrisy, must be exposed so that people know who will lose from Brexit the most and who will lose the least, or gain. We must not be cowed by the empty threats made by gas-bags in the commercial press, and if anyone knows of real threats to the rule of law following Brexit or its cancellation, it is their responsibility to say so and it is the duty of any journalist confronted with such threats to challenge them, to demand evidence, to ask for names to be named. The political and media élite are not “the people”, they do not represent “the people” and do not have the people’s interests at heart but only their own. Their claims to all of this must be challenged so that nobody is afraid to stand up and say that the madness of Brexit must be stopped for the good of the country, and of everyone.

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Nothing ‘Priti’ about Patel’s ignorance

Indigo Jo Blogs - 7 December, 2018 - 22:16

 "A modest proposal for preventing the children of poor people from becoming a burthen (sic) to their parents or country, and for making them beneficial to the Publick (sic)".In an interview for today’s Times, the Brexiteer Tory MP for Witham in Essex said that a government report, leaked to the Times, which said that the economic impact of a no-deal Brexit could be worse for the Irish republic than for the UK and could lead to food shortages there should have been used in negotiations to get the Irish government to drop the demands for a ‘backstop’ (a customs arrangement that avoids a physical border between the Irish republic, which is and will remain in the EU, and Northern Ireland, which for now is part of the UK and thus would not remain in the EU). The suggestion has been widely criticised because under British rule, Ireland suffered a famine in the mid 19th century, during which the potato crop that the Irish relied on failed because of a fungal blight but other crops, which were unaffected, were shipped out. Like most famines, it was man-made.

What is less well-known in Britain, however, but surely should be known among British people of Indian origin, is that under British rule, India suffered numerous devastating famines, the most recent of which was the Bengal famine of 1943-4. Most of these were exacerbated if not caused by British policies; the Bengal famine, for example, was largely caused by British “denial policies” intended to impede any Japanese invasion after the occupation of neighbouring Burma, but in fact resulted in the seizure of grain and means of transport from local people who as a result had no means of feeding themselves. Another famine, at the end of the 19th century, took place against a backdrop of farmers being forced off their land in huge numbers after falling into debt to usurers who lent small amounts in relief to peasants in distress but charged exorbitant interest rates; the same class exported grain out of areas where there was scarcity. As in Ireland, the British did not intervene because they were under the sway of free-market thinkers such as Adam Smith — to do so would have been to go against the “invisible hand”. As a result, the usurer class had a free hand to hoard grain and charge whatever interest they liked.

There are, of course, debates about how much of the blame for the Indian famines lies with the British or indeed to what extent they were man-made, but there has been no famine in India, despite all its problems, in the post-independence era. Perhaps the class Patel came from was not badly affected by any of the famines, but like the Irish famine they were important in inspiring the independence movement; Gandhi’s “Quit India” movement was founded during the Bengal famine. That she is willing to use food as a weapon against Ireland shows how ignorant Priti Patel about her own history.

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What is and what isn’t ‘gaslighting’?

Indigo Jo Blogs - 6 December, 2018 - 18:25

 Gaslight".‘Gaslighting’ is a term coined fairly recently to refer to a kind of behaviour displayed by abusive individuals (particularly domestic and intimate-partner abusers) in which they use tricks to cast doubt on their victim’s mental health or grip on reality; they will commonly accuse them of imagining things when confronted about the behaviour or when they point out the signs of it. Its origin is the 1938 play Gaslight by Patrick Hamilton, adapted into a film in 1944 which starred Ingrid Bergman as opera singer Alice Alquist, in which her husband ‘Gregory’ (who was really Sergius Bauer, her aunt’s murderer) isolates her, plays tricks on her, moves things from the house and pretended it was her, and uses the house’s gas lights to search the attic for the aunt’s jewels. His aim was to have her certified insane in order to continue his search for the jewels unimpeded. He is eventually foiled when his wife is brought into contact with a police inspector who noticed her resemblance to her murdered aunt which rekindled his interest in the unsolved murder, and eventually visited the house when the husband was using the gaslights to rummage around in the loft, confirming what Alice had been seeing all along. However, the term has come to be used more loosely to mean any kind of manipulative behaviour or simply disagreeing with someone with strong emotions or who feels wronged.

The other day I saw a tweet thread which protested against the use of the term ‘gaslighting’ to mean any kind of manipulation or misrepresentation of the facts, when in fact “a single comment from a total stranger cannot gaslight you”. I have personal friends who have been in violent or abusive relationships in which gaslighting was used and some of them find it offensive to see it used trivially, or to mean other frustrating behaviours such as minimising, disbelief, or simple misunderstandings. As one of them said in a 2013 blog entry, “I don’t think it’s too big a step to suggest that it’s also hurtful to suggest the experience of being acutely mentally tortured is equivalent to someone having gotten the wrong end of the stick and run with it”. Yet we see articles on ‘gaslighting’ being circulated on social media all the time, often on feminist websites, often claiming that gaslighting can be unintentional — that it is characterised by how the person on the receiving end feels, not what the supposed perpetrator intended or even actually did.

I’ve been on the receiving end of ridiculous accusations of gaslighting twice. Once was when a former friend was tweeting that her friend’s content, which had been published by agreement with an Australian publisher, had been rewritten by the Daily Mail and published on its own website. I suggested that her friend’s publisher might actually have sold it themselves, and my ex-friend told me “please do not gaslight her”. I had not actually met her friend or in any way communicated with her. (I later found that I was mistaken and that Mail Online do this on a grand scale.) Said ex-friend once told me that she had never experienced sexism, but since coming into contact with Australia’s community of media feminists, delights in throwing around the neologisms feminists have coined to shut down disagreements from men. In the other case, an American feminist writer who writes a lot on domestic violence and abuse and who I don’t doubt knows what gaslighting actually means accused me of it when she lost a number of followers, attributing it to white women not being able to stomach her views on race. I suggested that it was down to Twitter purging inactive accounts, which had lost me a number of followers that same week. In both cases this was someone who presumed herself to be my intellectual superior — an actual published writer rather than a self-published blogging oik who dared to question her — used it inappropriately as a put-down. As a commenter on the above entry noted, it was the equivalent of telling someone “You’re wrong in a way you’re not even clever enough to understand!” when actually, I do know what it means and it did not mean what they were suggesting.

In other cases, the claim has been made of people in the media disputing widely-held perceptions; we heard it during the Labour anti-Semitism dispute in which someone called Victoria Freeman posted a widely-retweeted thread calling an article by Jeremy Corbyn “the most obvious example of gaslighting I’ve ever seen” when in fact gaslighting is often done in private and is rarely obvious to the untrained eye and besides, telling a community that they or their friends do not have a right to oppress others is nobody’s definition of abuse. We also see feminists opposed to the recognition of trans women as women accuse their opponents of ‘gaslighting’ them. Sometimes the similarity to the original definition is so obscure as to be unfathomable, but generally it is used as if it means telling people they are wrong, or that what they think they are seeing is actually something else, which can actually be true of something large numbers of people believe they are seeing or experiencing, such as immigrants taking their jobs or “their women”. The essence of gaslighting is that you are telling someone they are imagining something you are doing, or you know your friend is doing. Deliberate lying is inherent to it.

Gaslighting is a coinage that is used widely by the same community as ‘mansplaining’, originally intended to mean a man patronisingly explaining something to a woman with the assumption that she does not know, or that he knows better, because she is a woman; the most egregious examples involve women who are experts in a field while the man has only a passing knowledge and things women know about by definition better than men (e.g. periods, childbirth, and especially the experience of them rather than the technicalities). However, it is often misused to mean “a man telling a woman something she does not want to hear”, essentially as an ad-hominem argument. However, while mansplaining is annoying (as is having one’s views, or attempt to engage in conversation, contemptuously dismissed), gaslighting is abusive behaviour and if you accuse someone of it inappropriately who knows what it means, you will cause offence and you cannot expect a polite or deferential response and it is not only that person you offend but anyone who has experienced the real thing.

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Why the Daily Mail’s “volunteer army” should be resisted

Indigo Jo Blogs - 1 December, 2018 - 22:20

 Mail calls for volunteer army to transform NHS".Today, the Daily Mail launched a campaign to recruit a “volunteer army” to “help” the NHS starting next Spring, in conjunction with a “new social movement called Helpforce”. The roles that volunteers are expected to do include running hospital libraries, fetching medicines from pharmacies for patients, talking to and comforting patients (including children) when their families cannot or do not visit, delivering blood on motorbike, assisting cardiovascular patients in the gym and providing speech therapy for people who have had strokes. Hospitals have always had volunteers doing some of the above roles, running libraries and cafes and acting as porters (although the latter is also a paid role), but while it’s assured that this scheme will not amount to running the NHS on unpaid staff, some of these roles do cut into what should be paid jobs.

Let us understand that there are clear disadvantages to relying on voluntary workers. Voluntary work is not actually free; the NHS will need to provide training and get criminal record checks for all volunteers, to prevent another Jimmy Savile using voluntary work to find vulnerable people to abuse. Only someone who has a lot of time on their hands on a regular and reliable basis can volunteer regularly; most jobs people do to make ends meet leave barely enough time to take care of household necessities such as cooking, cleaning, laundry etc. This includes a small number of young people or people who have been made redundant who seek to build up their work skills but mainly means retirees. Furthermore, by nature, a volunteer can choose to continue or discontinue his or her work because, for example, they may have family duties or have just found a more fulfilling use of their time; they do not need to do the work and the people they are serving do not have any right to demand that they continue, unlike with a paid worker who is contracted to work for a set number of hours. When I left some voluntary work early a few years ago for family reasons, the administrator thanked me for my time when he could probably done with a few more hours of it.

Some of the roles mentioned in the Mail’s article and in their interviews with some volunteers, should be (and usually are) paid. This includes the man delivering blood supplies on his (or a NHS-supplied) motorcycle, for example. Any job involving a motorcycle is hazardous; however well-trained, and however much they enjoy the job, the rider is at risk from other road users, oil or ice in the road and so on, to a greater extent than almost anyone else on the road. (Ideally, a blood bike should have blue lights and be allowed to break speed limits and so on as the delivery may well be urgent.) Support for people undergoing treatment for cancer or for cardiovascular patients are specialised roles and while someone who has been through this treatment (chemotherapy, mastectomy or whatever) may be able to talk to someone just about to about what it involves, better support can be provided by full-time, paid staff than a volunteer who is only there one day a month.

We must remember that paid work is a social good, and this includes low-skilled paid work; even if it is not a career or even a living, it means that people gain at least a bit of self-reliance and have money to spend that is theirs and not a loan or a hand-out. It is unfair on these people if their paid work is abolished so that people can “gain experience” or do something for the buzz or the feelgood factor. Some of these voluntary roles pose the danger of usurping skilled paid roles; much as advice from a Citizen’s Advice volunteer is not always a substitute for qualified legal advice, no unqualified volunteer can possibly be as effective as, say, a trained speech therapist for a stroke victim and if enough of these volunteers are available, there will be the temptation to simply do away with the paid specialist or combine their role with other work. The suggestion that the wave of volunteers might “transform the NHS” rather does suggest that they will be doing a lot more than volunteers do right now.

And nobody will have missed the ‘coincidence’ that the voluntary roles are due to start in the Spring, at just the time when Britain is due to leave the European Union and there is a risk of economic collapse — perhaps there is the suspicion that a lot of people will have free time on their hands — as well a large number of paid NHS staff from the EU, particularly eastern Europeans who will have been made particularly unwelcome, leaving as a result of uncertainty about their residency. One commentator on Twitter compared it to an arsonist offering a thimble-full of water to put out a fire he started. It also clearly harks back to David Cameron’s rhetoric of a “big society” which put a heavy emphasis on volunteering, and proved to be a cover for public service cuts (and some of the promises made, such as a “national care service”, remain unfulfilled). If we were not about to inflict a major disaster on ourselves, we would not be talking about recruiting huge numbers of volunteers but investing in more paid staff.

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Why do we house refugees in hostile areas?

Indigo Jo Blogs - 30 November, 2018 - 23:15

Two police officers, one male and one female, stand against green railings, behind which is a purple sign with "Almondbury Community School, Fernside Centre" in white and yellow writing.This week a video was circulated on social media of a Syrian refugee boy, named Jamal, with his arm in a cast being attacked in a park in Huddersfield by a group of boys and having water poured over him. It has transpired that the boy and his sister have been bullied by teenagers at the same school in Huddersfield; the sister is reported to have attempted to kill herself in the school toilets and another video shows a girl tearing her hijab off her head. The boy, whose Facebook profile was allegedly full of posts supporting “Tommy Robinson” and Britain First (the posts have since been removed), was supposed to have been charged with assault but media reports say he has fled the country, but the Far Right, including “Tommy Robinson”, have circulated rumours that Jamal was himself a bully, but the picture used to ‘prove’ this was in fact extracted from a Daily Mirror story about a boy in Surrey. This morning’s Victoria Derbyshire show on BBC2 covered the story an interviewed two men who work for the Syrian refugee community, one of whom mentioned that after he was settled in Sunderland, his home was vandalised repeatedly by local racists.

The UK has a policy, since 1999, of dispersing asylum seekers away from London and the South East so as to relieve pressure on local authorities, since this is where the majority of asylum seekers made their claims as this is where people landed when they entered the UK (and the main Home Office centre for processing visa applications is in Croydon). It is no secret that in much of the north there is a lot of empty housing stock, the main reason being that there are no longer the jobs to employ local people. Ever since then there have been periodic complaints that asylum seekers are being housed on “sink estates” and other areas where there is a lot of crime, vandalism and racism; even where dispersal was not an issue, a person with obvious differences such as race or disability can become an easy target for local criminals and bigots, as with the case of Bijan Ebrahimi, who was targeted by locals with false accusations, vandalism and violence, ending, in 2013, in murder, by neighbours in Bristol while the police and local council treated him as an attention seeker.

In most big towns in Yorkshire and the north-west of England, there are areas with a high Asian Muslim population, with schools that reflect that. The media are fond of calling them ghettoes and blaming them for ‘radicalisation’, but any area where an asylum seeker or refugee’s religion or culture are well catered for is preferable to an area where it is not, let alone where people of that culture or religion who already live locally will not set foot, and indeed where the people making these policies — mostly white and middle class — will not set foot either, even if the latter is cheaper, for the reasons already mentioned. The school the victims in this case attended (Almondbury Community School) is majority white although it does have a large minority of minority-ethnic pupils; in its last Ofsted report (2017), pupils were reporting that bullying was rare, but it also mentioned that behaviour “requires improvement” and that disruption was often linked to unchallenging lessons; the behaviour went unchallenged by teachers. Apart from its nursery, the school’s rating was “requires improvement”, as it was in 2015. While pictures of the school do show diversity, Muslims do not seem to be well-represented.

The whole point of asylum is to provide refuge to people fleeing war or persecution. It defeats the object of that if they are forced to live in areas where they are liable to be attacked because of their origin or religion, or their houses damaged, or their children forced into schools in the same attitudes prevail. As with other kinds of bigotry (e.g. myths about rape such as that victims were asking for it), children pick their attitudes up from their parents and if they hear parents or other adults talking about foreigners, immigrants or others who are different in derogatory ways or repeating falsehoods they have gleaned from tabloids, talk radio or social media, then they will pick these attitudes up themselves. People who have suffered persecution or torture or experienced the violence of war must not be forced to live in areas where they will be subject to further violence. It is not much better than sending them home, which itself is against international law.

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Is new FGM legislation really needed?

Indigo Jo Blogs - 25 November, 2018 - 17:17

Picture of Christopher Chope, a white man in late middle age wearing glasses with thin metal rims, a white shirt, a blue tie and a dark grey jacket.Last Friday a bill sponsored by Lord Berkeley, a Labour life peer (who was formerly a hereditary peer) to extend family law protection to girls deemed at risk of FGM, was derailed by Christopher Chope, the Tory MP for Christchurch in Dorset who shouted “object” when it was read on a Friday afternoon, a method he has used to scupper a number of other private members’ bills (most famously the “upskirting” bill) on the grounds that they might have been passed onto the statute book without proper debate or scrutiny. The government supported the bill, and might well include its provisions in a future government bill if this bill fails. The reaction to Chope’s action was, as might be expected, furious and often included comparisons with the upskirting bill incident; Rachael Swindon tweeted “there is seriously something wrong with this guy” while others called for a bill to stop the use of “object”. (More: Shifting Sands.)

The issue of whether Parliamentary rules should allow a single MP to stop a bill proceeding has been raised before; we have too many of these rules but really, private members’ bills should be shown more respect and debated at a time when MPs are more likely to be in the chamber rather than on a Friday afternoon when, it seems, few of them will be there. Rather than relying on one MP to shout “object”, holding the debate another time seems more logical and more democratic. What also needs debating, however, is the complete lack of scepticism in the reaction to this incident about the prevalence of FGM in this country. It is naturally assumed that all girls whose parents or grandparents come from countries where FGM goes on are at risk, an assumption for which there is little evidence.

To give an example, David Alton, a former Liberal Democrat MP and now a cross-bench peer, gave a speech in the House of Lords supporting the bill which used a lot of the familiar emotive arguments (the text starts with a library picture of rusty and bloodied instruments) and quoted a number of the statistics commonly used to raise alarm about FGM in this country but in themselves do not prove that it is happening. For example, he quotes the familiar statistic of “5,391 newly recorded cases” in England during 2016-7 and “9,179 total attendances in the same period where FGM was identified or a medical procedure for FGM was undertaken”. He also claims that “according to the NHS”, there were 112 cases where the woman was born in the UK and in 57 cases, the procedure was ‘known’ to have taken place in the UK. Yet, he does not state how it is known, or how long ago the procedures took place, or indeed whether they were FGM at all or in fact non-traditional genital piercings.

Alton also quotes the World Health Organisation as saying that FGM’s immediate complications include “severe pain … excessive bleeding … swelling … fever … infections … urinary problems … wound healing problems … shock” and “death”, yet if it were taking place on any scale in the UK, we would not need to rely on “new cases” recorded in adult women giving birth or having smear tests or other gynaecological work years after the event; these things would have been recorded. No large community which has been in this country for 30 years or more could have kept something like this a secret, skilfully avoiding prosecution, for this long. If someone was piercing ears, let alone performing genital alterations, without observing proper hygiene, ultimately they would cause an infection that would result in someone needing medical treatment.

If you were wondering what the bill actually does, the Family Law Journal has this information, which is missing from much of the emotive commentary (including any of the mainstream media coverage):

The purpose of the proposed amendment is to enable the courts to make interim care orders under the Children Act 1989 in child cases relating to FGM, in addition to FGM protection orders. If a court was satisfied that there were reasonable grounds for believing that the child is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm, an interim care order could be made. The interim care order would mean that a local authority would have shared parental responsibility for the child concerned until a final hearing.

At present, provisions under the Children Act 1989 enable interim care orders to be made only in certain ‘family proceedings’ as defined by the Act. These ‘family proceedings’ do not currently include proceedings under the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003—which Lord Berkeley’s Bill seeks to change.

However, making care orders on the basis of alleged risk of FGM raises the possibility of children being taken into foster care or even children’s homes, and if this is the case, one has to ask if any extra money is going to be made available for the care of a whole new category of looked-after children. The care system is already overstretched looking after children who are at risk of neglect or ongoing abuse as well as those whose parents are unable to care for them for one reason or another; foster homes, if available, could be miles away from their home and school and not necessarily culturally suitable. On top of this, the outcomes in terms of exam results, employment, homelessness and so on for care leavers are not great; to add a group of young people to this to prevent a single harmful thing (particularly if it is not one of the severe forms that involves removing parts of the labia, for example) when they are being well-cared for and not otherwise abused (or worse, when the suspicion is influenced by prejudice or based on rumour or hearsay) could prove worse than simply leaving them alone.

It is my belief that FGM is a minor issue in the UK which is being exaggerated for a mixture of racist reasons and the need for a coterie of professional activists to maintain their reputations and careers. If it were taking place on a significant scale, we would have more reliable indicators such as girls and young women presenting with complications of recently-performed FGM, or dying. Much of the non-academic literature includes appeals to emotion and prejudice, including the shared assumption that “of course” FGM is happening here, in the absence of serious evidence. This gives a green light to those who seek to impose intrusive surveillance on some of the minorities concerned, particularly Muslims of African origin. Before we cheer on further legislation, we must have more reliable evidence that it is needed.

Image source: Chris McAndrew, via Wikipedia. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 licence.

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Care homes and revenge evictions

Indigo Jo Blogs - 24 November, 2018 - 22:55

A picture of Meadbank care home, a red-brick building on a corner with the name 'Meadbank' in large white letters on the rounded corner, with a brick wall topped by a black metal railing in front of it.In this morning’s Guardian, there’s an investigation into abuse in British care homes and the homes involved care for the three main groups of care home residents — the elderly, those with learning disabilities and those with physical impairments — and the abuses are all those we are familiar with, such as call buttons not being answered, residents being left in soiled clothing and bedding, people not being kept safe — as well as rodent infestations, all while their owners earned a tidy profit and paid handsome dividends and executive salaries. However, there is one issue which the two articles do not mention and one which does not often get discussed when it comes to care homes: the ease with which the management can evict a resident for minor infractions of rules, irrespective of whether there is anywhere else nearby which is suitable for them. It is not only landlords but also care home owners that indulge in “revenge evictions”.

A couple of posts back I mentioned a lady, in her early 20s and living in the north of England, who earlier this year became an amputee and a paraplegic. I won’t go into the specifics of how that happened; the amputation was planned but her paralysis was the result of a mistake made following it. Initially she went back home and lived with her mother, but the house was unsuitable and the care burden enormous for her mother, so the decision was made that she had to go into residential care and she was placed in hospital. Social services searched for a care home for her and found one; she moved in in July. The home’s residents are mostly those with learning disabilities, including autism. She has the sort of autism that used to be called Asperger’s syndrome, but that is not why she was in the home. She was there because she needed a suitably adapted home for her physical needs, and this was the nearest that could be found. While not ideal — she could not leave without asking a member of staff to let her out because other residents needed to be kept in, and she found that the TV was mostly used to watch children’s programmes — it was not terrible, she had friends outside and they took her out often.

However, she admitted a member of the management to the private Facebook group she used to share her ‘journey’ with her online friends and one day complained on that group that her morning care call was not made until noon. As a result, the management held a meeting and gave her (and social services) six weeks’ notice that she had to leave the home. Eventually it was decided that she would live in a bungalow which had previously been occupied by a disabled woman who had died, so it was partially adapted and needed some improvements; in the meanwhile, she is living in a supported living environment which usually deals with elderly people, and where the care arrangements are very limited and ill-suited to her needs.

Revenge eviction is normally used to refer to a landlord evicting a tenant because they complain that the property is inadequate and needs repair or improvement; a bill to ban such evictions was voted down in the Commons in 2014, much to the delight of private landlords, and a law was finally introduced in 2015 although it only covered tenancies signed since October 2015. However, a care home, including one owned by a large chain, can still evict someone for complaining about the care they receive on social media, including a private Facebook group, and take no responsibility for where they might live afterwards. Care home living for young people who have physical impairments has become unpopular for good reason, but a result is that for people with very substantial needs, places are thin on the ground and someone might have to move a long way from friends and family. If someone is evicted, they might have to travel even further. If someone mounts a sustained campaign of repeated and often exaggerated public complaints because a member of staff rubbed them up the wrong way or some other petty reason, evicting them might be justified but evicting for the reasons given here is not.

This lady did not want to live in a care home all her life; she wanted an adapted property where she could live, I believe, with her mother and have care provided rather than her mother having to do it all. However, some people need the care a care home can provide and may not want to live on their own; they have a right to security in where they live and that means not being evicted for trivial reasons. The law must be changed to stop this practice.

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So, you don’t want to call “Tommy Robinson” a thug…

Indigo Jo Blogs - 23 November, 2018 - 14:47

This morning the Today programme on Radio 4 covered the story of Gerard Batten, the new leader of UKIP, hiring Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, the former leader of the English Defence League, anti-Muslim agitator and self-styled independent journalist, as an advisor on prison reform and “rape gangs”. The programme featured an interview with Nigel Farage, the former leader who has opposed this appointment and Batten’s more general “drift to the far right” and preoccupation with Islam, and to their credit it was fairly robust; he was accused of moving the party in that direction himself with advertising campaigns which stirred hostility to immigration. However, they went rather soft on Robinson himself.

The presenter noted that Robinson had some personal experience of one of those areas, namely prison, where he spent several months earlier this year on a contempt of court charge which has since been quashed, and noted that many people would object because they regard him as a thug. Stephen Yaxley-Lennon in fact has multiple criminal convictions which have not been quashed; these include an assault for which he was sentenced to 12 months, numerous convictions for assaults during his time as EDL leader, as well as breaking court orders that had been issued as a result of these convictions. He has also served time for using a false passport and mortgage fraud. This information is all quite readily available online.

The tone of these remarks, that his being a thug is just some people’s view, reflects the BBC’s preoccupation with ‘balance’, the idea that there are two sides to every story, especially where an individual has a degree of popularity; if Yaxley-Lennon was just a football hooligan rather than one who is also a political agitator with a few hundred fans, they might not have been so hesitant about stating facts. They are too fearful of being accused of ‘bias’ which might include being the focus of an orchestrated letter- writing campaign. They have acknowledged the dangers of false balance on scientific matters such as man-made climate change but the dogma that you can’t be brazenly biased against a political figure (as opposed to implicitly, which we see fairly commonly in their coverage of anything to do with the Labour party) still holds.

Perhaps it would have been unacceptable to just call him a thug. But it’s not a sign of political bias to give details of his criminal convictions and to at least raise the issue of his lack of any expertise in prison reform (there are many better qualified individuals, including ex-convicts) and the rape gang issue - his contribution there was to endanger a trial, which is why he was imprisoned as it could have cost the public a lot of money, delayed other trials and resulted in victims having to testify and be cross-examined again. If UKIP are to be treated as a respectable political party, decisions such as these deserve as much scrutiny as they would in the Labour or Conservative party.

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Mawlid 2018: Praise Songs from Around the World

altmuslim - 20 November, 2018 - 03:44
“For he is a human being, but not like human beings, as a ruby is a stone, but not like other stones”* To mark the occasion of the Mawlid, Muslims worldwide celebrate the birth of Prophet Muhammad, PBUH. People come together to not only sing his praises, but to know his character, learn from his […]

Trucking, toilets and wheelchairs (a World Toilet Day post)

Indigo Jo Blogs - 19 November, 2018 - 22:30

Three people standing in front of a washbasin in a communal toilet, holding certificates saying "Loo of the Year 2016"Earlier today I came across an article announcing some research that had been done about British workers and their access to toilet breaks, or lack thereof, published by the trade union Unite. Thousands of workers do not have access to basic toilet facilities in their workplace, it says, with evidence of staff at high-street banks having to urinate in buckets and construction sites failing to provide toilets for female staff, assuming there are none. Bus drivers were sometimes denied toilet breaks for up to five hours and call centre staff told to log out (which, it appears, means they will not get paid) if they get up to use the toilet. The worst practices, the report says, are in “bus and lorry driving, construction, warehousing, agriculture and the banking and finance sector”. This is an incredibly varied group of occupations; agriculture is rather to be expected as workers are often out in the country where there are few buildings; others are micro-managed menial work, but truck drivers are among the less well-supervised of those, so why is it on the list?

Well, I work as a truck driver, and if you spend most of your driving life on the road, you are less likely to be unable to find a toilet for very long; motorways all have multiple service stations (except for those that are very short, which usually have one) and main roads have filling stations which are often more frequent, though they have fewer cubicles than a toilet block in a big service station. An urban delivery driver usually drives a vehicle which can easily fit into the average petrol station, many of which have toilets (not all, and some have closed due to vandalism or because the owners decide they do not want the expense, or want the extra space for shop use). However, if you spend a lot of time at depots, the situation varies. The worst offenders are bonded warehouses which store goods which are due to be put on an aeroplane or are subject to duties (e.g. alcohol); many of these have only recently stopped allowing drivers to use the warehouse toilets because it is supposedly not secure to escort drivers to them. This is a somewhat unconvincing explanation; often they also have offices which could be made available to drivers. Apparently, recently the Health and Safety Executive has issued guidelines that these warehouses must, in fact, allow drivers the use of their toilets. Many airport cargo stations do not have toilets available either, despite having plenty of space.

In the last 10 years or so, trucks have increasingly been fitted with trackers so that bosses know where a driver is at any given time, which allows them to nag a driver who has stopped unexpectedly or too long. While I have avoided these sorts of jobs like the plague, I must say I have never seen a supermarket delivery van or a waste collection truck in a filling station forecourt, and these are the only places outside their depots that have parking and toilets. In one job I was asked why I had stopped for 10 minutes at a particular junction outside Woodford in Essex, and when I told the fifty-something lady the reason (and not in excessive detail, just “I was in the loo”), she told me I should not tell such a thing to a lady. On another occasion I was trunking for a major parcel company which had a policy that drivers should not stop en route, ostensibly for security reasons, which I did, as I was unaware of what the toilets and refreshment facilities were like at their depot (it turned out to be quite satisfactory); when working for the Royal Mail last December, I had a manager interrogate me as to why I had stopped at Warwick Services on the way back from a trip to Coventry, and the reason was that the drivers’ toilets at Coventry were crowded and, if I remember rightly, not very clean. I had to give this guy lengthy explanations as to why a loo break might take longer than expected (e.g. having to clean up the loo before using it).

In the work I’m doing now, the boss doesn’t mind if I stop as long as I get there on time, and if I’m not going to, I’m expected to call ahead. Toilets at depots vary; in some places there are two toilets for all the drivers, though we are not expected to stop for long, while at others (typically the older ones) there are plenty. They are usually well-kept and it’s not that common to find one that stinks or where the seat is covered in urine. The job itself is stressful, with two or three middle-men between me and the company I’m ultimately working for and jobs not coming in until two or three hours before it starts, but not having to worry too much about finding decent loos takes some of the stress out of it.

Some of my disabled friends have far worse stress about using the toilet, of course. Most people know what a “disabled toilet” is, but don’t know that only certain types of disabled people can use one — those with good upper body strength who can transfer out of a wheelchair onto the loo and back again. They have those red cords so that, if they fall when transferring, they can get help, so if you ever see one tied up so that it doesn’t reach the floor, you should untie it and tell the management. People with other impairments, such as muscular dystrophy, often don’t have the strength to transfer themselves and require a hoist to lift them, and most public places don’t have them. There is a network of special toilets with hoists and adult-size changing tables, known as Changing Places, but currently there are only 1,203 in the whole of the UK. The upshot is that some people, particularly women, are having surgery to fit catheters (often at some risk to their own health), despite not being incontinent, so that they can relieve themselves without requiring a hoist and not have to take such as dehydrating themselves so they will not have to use the toilet when they are out for a few hours.

One of the worst tendencies in the treatment of disabled people in this country right now is the withholding of the care necessary to get from their wheelchair to the toilet and back, expecting them to use nappies although, as with those having the medical unnecessary surgery to fit catheters, they are not incontinent. The best known case involved Elaine McDonald, a former ballerina who challenged Westminster City Council’s decision to withdraw her overnight care visit and issue incontinence pads instead, but more recently a woman I know, who is both a paraplegic and an amputee and was forced out of a care home a few weeks ago after criticising the care she was receiving in Facebook (a story in its own right: care home managements indulging in revenge evictions), was told that when she moves into a home of her own in a few weeks’ time, she also will not be supplied with a hoist she can use herself (which exist; she has done her research) nor sufficient care time, but be expected to use nappies. She is in her 20s.

This obviously is causing her some distress, but so far the law does not seem to be on her side despite the obvious disadvantages — it’s undignified, it’s unnatural to anyone who has learned to control themselves which is most people above age two, it brings the risk of skin inflammation and breakdown which is particularly hazardous to a full-time wheelchair user, there is the likelihood of leaks (especially as nappies and pads supplied by public bodies are rarely of the best quality and absorbency) which falls to the disabled person to clean up — not to mention the added damage to some people’s already fragile mental health. Really, the cost to the public purse of providing a care visit every few hours so that a severely disabled person can use the toilet cannot be that great. It’s a disgrace in a well-developed country to be penny-pinching at the expense of disabled people’s health and dignity.

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Brexit, ignorance and lies

Indigo Jo Blogs - 18 November, 2018 - 22:47

Nadine Dorries, a middle-aged white woman white grey and white hair wearing a light grey top under a light brown coloured jacket.Last week, a draft agreement for Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union (EU) was published; it was some 500 pages long and, as could have been predicted, really pleased nobody. It prompted two Cabinet resignations, a few other junior government resignations and a few threats and talk of a back-bench no-confidence motion in Teresa May’s leadership of the Conservative Party but, so far, this has stopped of the 48 letters required to trigger a ballot. Jeremy Corbyn has finally shown a bit of backbone and has said he would not support the deal in Parliament as it does not meet his “six tests” but also has not committed himself to a second referendum on either the deal or on Brexit itself. The main sticking point has been the status of Northern Ireland, where the Irish government and many in Northern Ireland seek to avoid a return to a hard border on the island, while many Tories and hardline Unionists insist there not be a “sea border” between two parts of the UK, or a different relationship with the EU for Northern Ireland or the rest of the UK. What has stuck out for me has been the sheer ignorance and dishonesty displayed by Brexiteers both in the country and in Parliament.

Pro-Brexit intellectuals such as Matthew Goodwin, whose piece on populism and Brexit I responded to a month ago, are fond of lecturing us that, contrary to the ‘myth’ that people voted for Brexit because they hankered for the old days when “faces were white”, many young and prosperous people and many people from ethnic minority backgrounds voted for it. But the old 50s and empire nostalgists are a significant proportion. The other day Eddie Nestor, the BBC Drivetime presenter on their London station, interviewed people in Romford, part of the borough of Havering where some 70% of people voted to leave (London as a whole supported Remain). The people interviewed sounded old, and talked about how Britain never used to have to be a member of the EU and we got on fine then, and we were an empire once so why do we have to be part of the EU now?

The Empire nostalgists conveniently forget that it was not a British empire but a collection of other people’s countries, and we “did without the EU” because other countries had empires or their own (France, Portugal) or were vying for bits of other people’s countries so they could have one of their own (Germany, Austria, Italy). Part of the idea behind the founding of the EEC was to make sure that European nations traded with each other rather than preferring their respective empires at each other’s expense. By the time we joined the EEC, most of our empire had become independent (not only because native peoples wanted to rule themselves but also because maintaining it cost money) and Commonwealth countries often had more convenient local trading partners than us. Britain has not always stood on its own. That is a myth.

On the subject of lies, Teresa May proclaimed that the draft deal was a good one because it ended freedom of movement and gave us back control of our money and borders. Last I checked, we still had our own currency because successive Labour and Conservative governments refused to join the Euro. We still have control of our borders because successive Labour and Conservative governments refused to join the Schengen accord. True, people from anywhere in the EU can come and work in the UK but we can do the same in other countries as well, which is why there are no visa issues when we holiday in Greece, Spain or Portugal. The deal does not, of course, end “freedom of movement”; it ends it for us. EU citizens will still be allowed to live and work in the remaining 27 member states, none of which now retain the restrictions on eastern European nationals which they had in the few years following the 2004 accession. Those who are already here, and even those who arrive during the transition period, will be allowed to remain (and these, quite possibly, are whom a lot of people who voted to leave the EU wanted to see go).

In the last couple of weeks it has become apparent that not only were some prominent Brexiteers lying (that was obvious in 2016) and that the official campaigns were taking funding from overseas, but also that some of them did not know what leaving the EU would entail themselves. First we hear Dominic Raab, the MP for Esher (a wealthy constituency in the Surrey commuter land), telling us how he was just now discovering the importance of the Dover-Calais ferry connection to British trade with Europe, something that has been obvious to the rest of us for years (perhaps he only flies) and only today, the MP for Mid-Bedfordshire, Nadine Dorries, complained that the deal was worse than the present situation because we would have no MEPs or commissioners, which is exactly what leaving the EU always did mean, and even when the “Norway option” was discussed both before and after the referendum, this drawback was made quite clear.

I’ve always been a Remainer, and perhaps in 2016, just after the referendum when the first shocks were being felt as the Pound lost a chunk of its value, which it has not recovered, it was premature to say that there was no need to respect the result, although I was saying it then (and the impediments, such as the narrow result, the difficulties with the Northern Ireland border and the status of Scotland and Gibraltar, were well-known then as well). In 2018, when the politicians have shown that they never knew what they were talking about, when their incompetence and duplicity has been revealed time and again and when we are only on a draft proposal more than two years after the referendum and four months before we automatically leave, we know that leaving the EU with this lot in charge will be disastrous and most people have not much more faith in Jeremy Corbyn, who presides over an equally riven party, either. There needs to be a second referendum so this country can save itself from disaster next Spring.

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Holby City: the Gaskill saga’s denouement

Indigo Jo Blogs - 16 November, 2018 - 18:30

Still from Holby City of Jac Naylor, a middle-aged white woman wearing no make-up and with blonde hair tied behind her head, wearing a hospital gown, standing in a darkened laboratory in front of a table with a desk lamp shining down and some test tubes in a rack.I’ve been a fan of the BBC dramas Casualty and Holby City since the 1980s, although I only started watching them on a regular basis again more recently (Casualty was a fixture when I was a child, although it’s less watched now and always gets dropped whenever something ‘important’ needs the BBC1 slot, such as a sporting or remembrance event). The premise was that Casualty was set in Holby City hospital, and Holby was understood to be Bristol until BBC Wales took over the making of Casualty, though not Holby City, and Welsh accents and locations started to appear in it and Holby City characters, some of whom appeared in both, started appearing only occasionally despite the premise of them being set in the same hospital. Recently, Holby City has been dominated by a storyline involving a ‘brilliant’ consultant named John Gaskell who had developed a device allowing people who are paralysed to walk again. However, he was also an extremely manipulative individual and anyone who questioned his judgement (usually someone junior with ‘na&idia;ve’ ethical principles) was dropped from the project and often driven off the ward. It then turned out that patients were dying and that the device was supported by stem cells that were contaminated, and when more senior doctors started to raise concerns, he started killing them.

More recent episodes looked in depth at his early career and his period as a student, with the laconic Swedish consultant Henrik Hanssen and his partner Roxanna McMillen. McMillen remembered her mother who had become “locked in” and her ambition was to find a cure for this condition. After Gaskell realised that Macmillan was aware of the defects of his trial, he chased her through a car park resulting in her being run over by a member of staff; he then sabotages an operation on her brain, resulting in her becoming locked in, and when she starts to communicate with a nurse who holds a letter board in her hand, he ushers the nurse away and then poisons Macmillan. Meanwhile, another consultant in the hospital, Jac Naylor, who had suffered spinal injuries by being shot (by Hansen’s wayward son Fredrik, who had been carrying out unethical trials of his own) had demanded that she be fitted with the implant after her injuries had been causing her crippling pain; when she discovered that contaminated stem cells had been used on others fitted with it, resulting in them developing cancer, she demanded it be removed. Gaskell and Hansen did attempt to remove it, and removed some of the scar tissue that had developed, but could not get at the device itself; Gaskell also attempted to poison Jac, but it appears he failed, though Hansen also was exposed to the poison which Gaskell had developed.

At the end of last Tuesday’s episode, with his trial discredited, his kidnapping of a Portuguese patient (who had been kept in a coma for months) and subsequent attempts to operate on her himself revealed, he drowned himself in a lake where he had previously prevented Hansen from doing the same to himself. Hansen appeared to intend to try and rescue him, telling him he had to face the consequences, but kept collapsing from the effects of the poison. The rest of the staff had to attempt to save both Lana, the Portuguese patient (who died) and Jac Naylor after Gaskell had tried to poison her and then fled; she, it seems survived, although the impression I got — seeing her first open her eyes and then, finally, with her eyes closed and a blank expression and her colleagues standing around with sad expressions — was that she had died. I had been planning to write a retrospective on Naylor’s career and it was only from reading tweets and reviews that I worked out that she was in fact still alive (and her name is in the cast list for the next two episodes).

I found some aspects of this plot weak. One is that Jac would have been able to get this implant put into her on demand, and then get it removed as quickly as she did, also on demand. There are, of course, waiting lists for elective, non-emergency procedures in real NHS hospitals. Another was that she apparently trusted Gaskell to remove it himself. Although she did not know that he was a murderer, she was aware that he was negligent in sourcing the stem cells to support the device. A real consultant who suspected such things would, no doubt, have the money to have this done privately or at least get a private consultation with a neurologist who had no connections to or debt to Gaskell. Another weakness is that she attempted to get both Fletch (a nurse who had recently had a crush on her) and Sacha (a consultant) to look after Emma, her daughter, if she did not make it, saying that she did not trust “her father”. The father has a name, Jon Maconie, a nurse who was once a major character, who at one point Jac pretty much threw Emma at and of whom she previously said he was a good father and regretted having at one point cut him out of Emma’s life; he would have first priority if indeed Jac became unable to look after Emma. I also wonder how Gaskell could have kidnapped a comatose patient, on a hospital bed, from a hospital, let alone from one country to another.

Despite not being dead as she appeared at the end of Tuesday’s episode, she is not out of the woods and the synopsis mentions “when her condition worsens”. Whether she will still be able to work as a consultant cardio-thoracic surgeon with the effects of both her gunshot injury and Gaskell’s butchery and poisoning attempt remains to be seen. Like most watchers, I suspect, I have always found her remarkably dislikeable, right from when, as a registrar, she got a consultant’s job purely because another (female) applicant was tending to a patient when the interviews were held. Despite her competence, she was exceedingly arrogant, a bully to junior staff (who were somehow drawn to her all the same) and was obsessed with hierarchy; she had one relationship, with a male nurse (Maconie), resulting in Emma, whom she lived with for a while but he left, for reasons we never discovered, but Naylor subsequently said “me and a nurse? It was never going to work” and when Fletch showed his affections she shouted “you’re not good enough for me!”. However, for some reason male consultants did not find her attractive enough.

Occasionally, storylines featured Jac’s background as an explanation for why she behaved the way she did: her mother had abandoned her and she grew up in care, starved of affection — though others in the same home were abused, which she escaped, and one of those, Fran Reynolds, ended up working as a nurse at Holby and confronted Jac, revealing that Jac witnessed her abuse but said nothing. Her sister, whose mother had not abandoned her unlike with Jac, also came to work as a junior doctor at the hospital, but Jac froze her out; she ultimately died after being stabbed accidentally with a scalpel during a fight with Reynolds. Jac clearly was not particularly aggrieved at the loss of her sister.

Reading the gossip, it appears that some old faces, such as the much-loved Mo Effanga, are returning starting from the next episode. She’ll be a breath of fresh air as she has a passion for the job and has real human warmth rather than being a walking robot (like Hanssen, whose occasional displays of emotion don’t convince) or a scheming manipulator who rarely shows emotion other than anger (like Naylor) — I’d quite like to see a bit less of these two in particular. Many people on Twitter are complaining that the recent storyline is not typical, i.e. not what they want to see when they watch it; one person said “when I know the aliens are gone, I’ll be back” and another asked, “what happened to the hospital programme — this is like Frankenstein’s experimental castle FFS!!”. It may remind people of how Brookside, the Channel 4 soap of the 80s and 90s, declined from being entertaining, with the odd ‘issue’ based storyline (domestic violence, gambling addiction) to being obsessed with dramatic storylines such as the killer virus and a drug bust in Thailand. The Gaskell storyline may have some people gripped but it has put a lot of the old fans off and a few episodes of normal human beings getting on with each other and treating patients with varying degrees of success might win some of the old fans back.

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Gaslighting, Anti-Jewish and Anti-Muslim Rhetoric: What to Know

altmuslim - 16 November, 2018 - 17:03
A brief tour of gaslighting. A thing happens, something is said or done. A person is told it did not happen, or that it did not happen the way she thinks it did. This telling can come from individuals, as well as groups, and is a means of seizing and maintaining power. (One can indeed […]

How One Ottoman Reconciled Islamic Teachings with Darwin’s Theory of Evolution

altmuslim - 13 November, 2018 - 03:51
In 1913, Abdullah Cevdet, a prominent Ottoman materialist and science popularizer, wrote an essay in his controversial magazine İctihad, in response to the arrest of three teachers for teaching Darwinian evolution in a Turkish city. “Any country” Cevdet warned, “where commenting on the laws of evolution or speaking about Darwinism is perceived to be blasphemous […]

Will there ever be a London-Hull motorway?

Indigo Jo Blogs - 12 November, 2018 - 19:20

A map of the eastern UK showing a new motorway route running from the M11 in Essex to the north-east via HullThis morning on a truck drivers’ group on Facebook, I saw a link to a report on the Hull Daily Mail website (not linked to the national Daily Mail) which claimed that the proposal to extend the M11 from Cambridge to the Humber Bridge, thus linking London directly with Hull, will be decided on next year and that the Department for Transport had said last year that it was reviewing plans for that particular motorway project. This idea has been brought up every now and again since the 1980s but has never made it off the drawing board, partly because of pressure from farmers in Lincolnshire (although such objections never stopped any of the other motorways from being built; the government can make compulsory purchase orders) and partly because of the geography and population densities of the areas served.

Although Hull has a fast motorway link to the major northern cities via the M62 and the Midlands via the M18 and M1, there is no doubt that Hull is not well served with motorway links to the south; the most direct route is across the Humber Bridge, a toll bridge, to Scunthorpe, then along a single-carriageway road to Lincoln and then along mostly two-lane dual carriageways to London. The motorway route involves going westwards along the M62, then south-west to Doncaster, and then picking up the M1. This is quite a long detour and goes through a number of the most congested bits of motorway and through several sets of major roadworks; however, the M1 remains the recommended route for traffic from London to Yorkshire and the north-east rather than the more direct A1, which despite recent improvements is quite slow further south (the improvements stop at Huntingdon, where traffic heading for the Channel ports veers off onto the A14). Britain’s major population centres outside London are on the western side of the country and that has been where infrastructure investment has been focussed.

There is a map of a “preferred corridor” for an M11 extension (a low-quality version of which can be found on the HDM article) but it seems to avoid all the major population centres between Cambridge and Hull. Rather than extending from the current northern terminus of the M11 north-west of Cambridge, it would leave the M11 towards Newmarket (along the present A11, it appears) before turning north across east Cambridgeshire and central Lincolnshire to approach the present Humber Bridge approach, the A15, from the south. This would be quite convenient for trucks going to the agricultural centres in east Lincolnshire such as Boston, but misses both the major population centres in that part of the country, such as Peterborough and Lincoln, as well as the ports of Immingham and Grimsby. Beyond Hull, it would continue past York and pick up the current A19 towards Tyne and Wear. It would, effectively, be a new corridor to the north-east coastal areas.

The biggest flaw in this is where in London it goes: the north-eastern side. This is convenient enough if you are going to the Docklands or to the industrial areas around Beckton or the Blackwall Tunnel approach or indeed the south-eastern Channel ports, but not if you are going to the Heathrow area or round the south side and want to avoid paying a toll. If you are going to those places, you will want to head for the M1 or at least the A1. Even people going to Cambridge and Norwich often use the A505 and A1 rather than the M11 and M25, particularly when the M25 is heavily congested (which is often). It also involves building a hundred miles or so of new motorway across sparsely-populated but productive farming country which will result in a very pronounced environmentalist outcry; it will be seen as a lot of environmental damage for very limited economic benefit.

A far better idea, much cheaper and with much less environmental damage, is to upgrade the corridor via Lincoln: remove the Humber Bridge toll, widen the A15 to Lincoln and the A46 Lincoln by-pass to dual carriageway and upgrade the junctions with the M180 and the A1 (the A1/A46 junction at Newark needs upgrading as it is: the slip roads on the A1 are way too short and are a cause of danger as vehicles slow down rapidly to access the slip roads at sharp angles). People would then have the choice of taking the A1 straight to London or the A46 to Leicester, where the M69 takes over to Coventry and the West Midlands. It will also require upgrades to the few remaining roundabouts on the A1 south of Huntingdon, which are a major cause of congestion and have been left in place simply because the government prefers people to use the M1 instead, and to the Newark by-pass on the A46.

I suspect that this scheme will not be seriously considered by government, whichever party is in power. The main source of support for it is Hull itself; the idea that the government intends to give it serious consideration next year is a bit of wishful thinking from the Hull local press. There is already a direct route to the south which could be upgraded at much less financial and environmental cost and with greater benefits, in terms of the area of the country whose links with Hull would be improved, than with a brand new motorway across the east of England, which is the A15 and A46 via Lincoln. This should be improved to stop people having to make a huge detour via Doncaster; a whole new motorway would be a pointless expense and an unwarranted act of environmental vandalism.

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On aesthetics and housing policy

Indigo Jo Blogs - 10 November, 2018 - 17:51

The Whistling Witch, a tower on a corner in Poundbury with a brick portico at street level and a four-sided spire at the top.Recently social media has been abuzz with comment on the new government housing ‘tsar’, Roger Scruton, previously best known as a philosopher and commentator for various magazines including the Spectator and New Statesman. His position is the chair of a government commission on building ‘beautiful’ homes, which apparently explains why a professor of philosophy is appointed to a position that has anything to do with housing given that he is not known as a writer or authority on that subject. Buzzfeed and others have reminded us of all the very bigoted things he has written over the years, most recently his links to the authoritarian and anti-intellectual Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orban, and his comments about the Hungarian intelligentsia, namely that many of them were Jewish “and form part of the extensive networks around the Soros Empire”. As Zoe Williams puts it in today’s Guardian, “every time they chuck a job at one of their mates, the most casual scrawl through their Twitter feed reveals that a lack of any meaningful qualification or transparent application process for the role is the very least of their problems”.

When I questioned what exactly Scruton’s qualifications were, I was reminded of his writings on aesthetics and when I pointed out that there was more to housing policy than aesthetics, someone told me “Well look at those ugly blocks built in the 60s and 70s. Ugly buildings affect the people living in it”. This sounds a lot like prejudice or snobbery wrapped up in pseudo-science to me. I grew up in a town that had many of these buildings; nobody who didn’t grow up in a very small town is unfamiliar with them. While they were rundown by the 1980s when I was a child, in the 60s and 70s when they were built, they were places people were glad to move into after living in slums, prefabs and bedsits; people took pride in keeping the insides clean and tidy while the councils took care of the landings and grounds. At the time, these developments were considered prestigious and futuristic and people quite willingly moved into them, and if you live in a cosy flat in one of these externally unattractive buildings then seeing the exterior will not have a bad effect on you, because you know that they are full of cosy flats like your own, each decorated to reflect the tenant’s tastes.

It was only in the 1980s when Thatcher forced councils to sell council houses and flats off while imposing rate caps that prevented councils from maintaining them properly that they started to become rundown. In cities where high-rise buildings are common, they are often seen as perfectly desirable places to live, and in this country one notices that the ugly council block stereotype is only applied to blocks that poor people live in. Even Grenfell Tower was regarded as a great place to live before and after it had been fitted with the infamous flammable and toxic cladding so that it would be less of an eyesore to its wealthy neighbours. Nobody would suggest that the architecture of the Barbican has a negative effect on the people who live there.

Of course, it is an advantage for housing, public or private, to be attractive on the outside as well as the inside, but it is noticeable that the more attractive public housing that existed at the beginning of the 1980s, the houses that can be found in every town and village, are the ones that got sold off while the grey concrete buildings are more likely to be still in public hands or ended up in the hands of private landlords who now rent to people on housing benefit. But there is more to a ‘beautiful’ housing development than just pretty buildings. If we look at what makes a new development such as Poundbury in Dorset successful, we see that it was planned to include public services such as doctors’ surgeries and shops as well as some light industry (including, appropriately, an organic cereals factory) while a lot of new development, despite including only private properties often on sale for six-figure sums, often contains no amenities and requires residents to drive off site to find them. Poundbury is owned by the Duchy of Cornwall (i.e. Prince Charles’s estate) which is one of the few landlords in the district (if not the only one) to accept Housing Benefit tenants; many other new developments make no attempt at social diversity.

I don’t suggest that Prince Charles should have been chosen to chair this commission — there may well not be the time left before he becomes king and will have to put aside such commitments — but perhaps one of the architects or planners behind Poundbury could have been chosen, or someone who has actually studied planned developments such as Saltaire or Bourneville that were commissioned by philanthropic industrialists with both beauty and diversity in mind. I’m sure the government could have found someone whose Tory credentials were as impeccable as Scruton’s who would not have been exposed as a bigot with a simple Google search within 24 hours. We mostly agree that brutalism is, and should remain, a thing of the past in this country but mere aesthetics do not guarantee a healthy community.

Image source: Zonda Grattis, AKA Luridiformis, via Wikimedia. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 licence.

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