Is Britain really the most tolerant country in Europe?

Indigo Jo Blogs - 7 October, 2018 - 22:00

A young white man wearing an open-collared black shirt, with hands moving as he talks, sitting in a TV studio audience. A South Asian man is sitting in front of him.Last Thursday, on the BBC’s Question Time programme (a weekly late-night political panel show in which a panel of politicians and an academic, writer or other lay ‘expert’), there was a contribution from an audience member who claimed that Britain is “one of the least racist societies across Europe” and that one of the supposed benefits of Brexit would be that it would end preferential treatment for (white) European immigrants and allow more people to come from places like Malaysia and Singapore. One panel member (who was Black) countered that he had been stopped by police while just sitting on his mother’s front porch while a Muslim woman (wearing a headscarf) argued that he was a white man and that he wasn’t the person experiencing racism, such as being screamed at while in hijab or being stopped by police while walking across the street. I saw a Twitter thread explaining various measures by which Britain could be considered the least racist or most tolerant country in Europe, in terms of things like positive attitudes to Muslims or other minorities as expressed in opinion polls. But that does not tell the whole story.

As a Muslim, I’m well aware that none of the laws which restrict the observance of Islam by ordinary people in some European countries apply here. We have no bans on hijab in school (although individual schools can ban them or impose “hijab uniforms” which many Muslims consider not to constitute hijab), no bans on wearing niqaab in the street or anywhere else, no ban or restriction on halal slaughter and no requirement to register religious observance. There are enough of us that businesses will take our needs into account in designing things like staff uniforms, which is not the case in some places in Europe where no legal discrimination exists. Unlike in some Muslim countries, mosques can remain open all day and night and you will not face arrest or intimidation for growing your beard or praying the dawn prayer in the mosque. That’s the good news.

A young South Asian woman wearing a black headscarf and black glasses, sitting in a TV studio audience.The bad news is that there is a commercial press which regularly demonises minorities, in some cases explicitly (e.g. Muslims) and sometimes implicitly; we have politicians who make threatening noises at Muslims and send vans into areas with a high non-White population with “GO HOME” printed on them in big letters; we have police who stop and search Black men for no real reason, and immigration officers who accost anyone who “looks foreign” demanding papers that they are not obliged to carry; we have ordinary members of the public who harass and abuse Muslim women in the street because all they know about Muslims is stories about terrorism (mostly by men); we have many stories from people working in the NHS and elsewhere of being told they do not want to be served or treated by them, or that they should go home. It does not matter if the situation is better or worse in France or anywhere else; Britain is the only home most of us have and we cannot up sticks and move to France where we know nobody and do not speak the language. Black and Asian people moved here in the 50s and 60s because their countries were or had been part of the British empire, not the French or Portuguese one.

And as a white man who has no relatives in any of the groups that regularly suffer harassment, even though as a Muslim I find the media coverage and political noises threatening, I am not in the “front line” as it were. The young man in the Question Time audience clearly has no idea; frankly he sounds like he comes from a posh background and went to a “nice school” and probably thinks Britain is a country where success is based on merit, not privilege, and that if you get into trouble it is your fault. I wonder if he actually works for a political party or a think-tank. But whether he does or not, it’s offensive to counter stories of real racism with claims of how tolerant we as a country are, because laws and opinion poll results do not always reflect people’s everyday experiences, and comparisons with other countries are irrelevant.

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High-tech barbarism

Indigo Jo Blogs - 7 October, 2018 - 18:00

A picture of a very wide Victorian building, with a central three-storey block with two-storey extensions to the side. In the foreground is an extensive green. The sky is cloudy and grey in parts.

Last Tuesday evening there was a 45-minute programme on Radio 4 (part of its File on 4 slot) exposing the abusive treatment of an autistic teenage girl at the St Andrew’s hospital in Northampton, an institution which has been the focus of at least one other documentary exposing its treatment of adolescents, particularly those with autism, and adults as well as a number of inadequate CQC reports. My last entry was a commentary on the programme (which also exposed the failure of councils to protect people in care homes from abuse or to bring negligent management to book, which is why I recommend listening to it in full), but since then I have heard from Bethany’s father Jeremy on Twitter who answered some of the questions about her treatment the documentary raised.

One positive outcome of the programme was that the bits of a ballpoint pen which had become embedded in Bethany’s arm as a result of self-harm have been removed (this was after they had left it in for two weeks because it was supposedly too dangerous to take her out of her isolation room to do it). However, Walsall council — the same council who vetoed a community placement earlier this year — have also attempted to take out an injunction against Jeremy for displaying a picture of Bethany as the cover photo on his Twitter account. It seems they believe they are a better judge of her best interests than her own father, despite having nothing to offer her themselves. (Naming a living victim of rape or sexual abuse without their crime, or at all if they are under 18, is a crime, but parents of children in care, whether the care is the result of a question over the parents’ adequacy as parents or, as in this case, the child’s special needs often face demands not to identify their children; supposedly this is to protect their privacy but the presumption should be that the parents know best, as there is normally no prohibition on sharing information about one’s children’s lives and some parents overshare.)

Jeremy also filled us in as to why he is forced to talk to her through a hole in a door rather than being allowed in the same room as his daughter. The answer is that when he has the opportunity to visit, at weekends and in the evenings, regular staff are off duty and agency staff cover, and they are under strict instructions not to open the door no matter how calm Bethany has been during the day or whether it has been open all day or not. In other words, it is a case of cost-cutting and staff convenience taking precedence over the needs and rights of the patients; it is just easier for the institution to hire agency staff to cover periods where there are fewer activities such as education and therapy and the wards are winding down for the night or most people are asleep. The fact that this is the only time when some people’s parents can visit doesn’t get in the way of this institution-centred thinking or behaviour.

Jeremy also reported in a tweet earlier today (Sunday) that, shortly before Beth was transferred to St Andrew’s (when she was in a unit in Preston), the two of them had spent time on a nearby beach together without any staff present; yet now, they are not even allowed to be in the same room together? It does not make sense.

These people are not trying, and should not be in any kind of healthcare.

On many occasions I have seen media exposés of primitive mental health care abroad; one that got a large amount of media coverage was the spectacle of mentally ill people in Indonesia being chained to beds for extended periods (Human Rights Watch did a 75-page report on this [PDF] in 2016, complete with numerous pictures of people shackled to wooden platforms or metal bars, often in a state of undress); another was a girl in the Palestinian territories being kept in a cage in her parents’ back garden. These stories often have somewhat racist overtones, particularly when they are about peoples who have been campaigning for freedom but who, so goes the stories, keep intellectually disabled or mentally ill people locked up in cages. However, the abuses in some western psychiatric institutions often has a calculated cruelty to them and it is backed up with security that money and technological advancement can buy — high walls and fences, multiple locked doors, air-locks, cameras everywhere. In fact, keeping a mentally ill relative locked up at home (with a hired nurse to guard and look after them) used to be regarded as a more humane way of caring for them than submitting them to an asylum, which in the era of ‘Bedlam’ was likely to be a hellhole full of restraining devices and crackpot ‘treatments’, all for public spectacle. The story of Bertha and Grace Poole in the book Jane Eyre is based on this practice, which was common amongst the well-off (poorer people did not have the money or space). This is nowadays in theory illegal, although I have heard of some families doing this, but I do not see how it is any more cruel than keeping someone in a high-security institution hundreds of miles from home for years and not even letting them hug their visiting relatives or talk to them without it being listened in on.

Our system is as barbaric as anyone’s. It’s just that it’s high-tech barbarism.

There is now a fundraising appeal for a new placement for Bethany. The goal is only £1,000 which will not fund a whole new placement on its own but might, for example, contribute towards legal action to improve her situation. You can find it here.

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Deconstructing the Muslim Male Gaze

altmuslim - 5 October, 2018 - 23:33
Islam is not sexist, but sometimes, Muslim men are. Islam is not misogynistic, but sometimes, Muslim men are. My words may be alarming, but they are not meant to be accusatory. Muslim men: You are privileged to live in a world that has largely been shaped by male paradigms, one that has been written in […]

The 40th Anniversary of Attenborough’s Life On Earth

Inayat's Corner - 4 October, 2018 - 22:30

Today sees the publication of an updated 40th anniversary edition of David Attenborough’s classic book which accompanied his major BBC TV series, Life on Earth (though I think the publication of this anniversary edition has been brought forward a couple of months because I believe the original was published early in 1979. See below).

It is hard to overstate the landmark undertaking that the BBC’s series represented. It was filmed over a period of three years and the result was one of the world’s most informative, beautifully filmed and best loved nature series telling the spectacular story of the evolution of life on earth according to our latest knowledge.

The book version of Life on Earth was divided into thirteen chapters – one for each episode in the TV series. It became a rapid and huge best-seller. My copy was published in November 1979 and it shows that it was reprinted no less than eleven times in the very first year of publication due to its immense popularity.

At a time when the Director of the UK’s Natural History Museum, Michael Dixon, feels compelled to write in a national newspaper this week about his concerns about how Darwin’s powerful theory of evolution by natural selection is being attacked in Turkey, Israel and India by those who have allowed themselves to be blinkered rather than enlightened by religion, this week’s 40th anniversary publication should be seen as an opportunity to share Attenborough’s work with others around us.  Dixon writes:

Darwin’s theory of evolution not only underpins all biological science, it has an immense predictive power. From understanding the emergence of antibiotic-resistant organisms, to the ways in which different species might respond to global warming – emerging as new pests or sustainable sources of food – human health and prosperity will depend on decisions informed by evolutionary evidence.

For those of you who like me cannot get enough of David Attenborough – you can now purchase the Audible version of the updated 40th anniversary edition of Life on Earth which is narrated by Sir David Attenborough himself.

Below is a short clip about the original series.


Tory deputy chairman admits concerns about Shaun Bailey remarks

The Guardian World news: Islam - 4 October, 2018 - 18:50

London mayoral candidate ‘should have been clearer’ in paper about multiculturalism

The Conservatives’ deputy chairman has conceded the party’s newly selected London mayoral candidate “could and should” have made clear he was not singling out Muslims or Hindus when he wrote about the impact of multiculturalism.

James Cleverly insisted Shaun Bailey had been misunderstood, and that he was trying to say that because black boys were learning more about faiths other than “their own Christian culture”, they were more likely to drift into crime.

Related: Tory London mayoral pick under fire for remarks about Muslims and Hindus

Do the Tories not have any other strategy apart from trying to divide our communities and attack multiculturalism?

It didn't work against @SadiqKhan in 2016 and won't work in 2020.

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Ukip has become too vile even for its own extremists | David Lawrence

The Guardian World news: Islam - 4 October, 2018 - 09:24
MEP Bill Etheridge is the latest to desert the party as it ramps up the ugly anti-Muslim rhetoric

Ukip’s controversial and gaffe-prone West Midlands MEP, Bill Etheridge, has dramatically quit the party, claiming that its character has been “permanently changed” and is now viewed by voters as “a vehicle of hate towards Muslims and the gay community”.

The move is yet another blow to the Eurosceptic party, which has driven hard into far-right territory under leader Gerard Batten, who has actively courted anti-Muslim figurehead Tommy Robinson in an obsessional quest against Islam (which he calls “Mohammedanism”).

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Muslim Council of Britain to train women to run mosques

The Guardian World news: Islam - 4 October, 2018 - 07:39

Six-month programme aims to increase diversity and follows calls for greater involvement

Britain’s leading Muslim organisation has launched a scheme to train women for leadership positions in mosques and community bodies.

Twenty women have embarked on the six-month intensive programme run by the Muslim Council of Britain, aimed at equipping them for leadership positions. As well as one-to-one mentoring, the women will visit “best-practice mosques” and be given media and public speaking training.

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Book Review: The Fight (Ali vs Foreman) by Norman Mailer

Inayat's Corner - 3 October, 2018 - 21:27

For years I had been meaning to get round to reading Norman Mailer’s The Fight but somehow other books kept diverting me away. Finally, a couple of months ago I bought it to read on my Kindle on my commute to work in London. I had watched the October 1974 boxing bout between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, the legendary Rumble in the Jungle, many times on YouTube and had been impressed with Mailer’s commentary on the fight in the Academy Award winning 1997 documentary When We Were Kings, so it was with much excitement and anticipation that I began to read his book length take on the fight.

A word of warning at the outset: in this nineteen chapter book, the actual description of the fight does not begin until chapter thirteen. Don’t let that put you off though. Mailer was a giant of twentieth century American literature and his observations on the build up to the fight and his encounters with the characters surrounding Ali and Foreman, including Bundini Brown, Don King and not least, President Mobuto of Zaire, are fascinating and add much colour to the background of the fight.

George Foreman is such a jolly and kindly fellow today that it is easy to forget just how terrifying his reputation was back in 1974. He had knocked down Joe Frazier six times before stopping him in the 2nd round in 1973 and had destroyed Ken Norton also in just the 2nd round at the beginning of 1974. And both Frazier and Norton had beaten Ali on points. As Mailer notes: “Each time Foreman knocked a man out, frustration showed on his face. Foreman looked like he still wanted to kill them.”

Ali at this time was thirty-two years of age and widely regarded as being past his prime. He had cruelly and unjustly had his championship taken away from him in 1967 after refusing to be drafted into the army for the Vietnam war and had been banned from boxing for three and half years – years when he should have been in the pinnacle of his boxing career. Now, seven years later, while he was clearly eager to regain the Championship, boxing commentators openly questioned whether he was still as quick with his hands and able to dance around the ring as he had so dazzlingly been able to do in his younger years. How would an older and slower Ali be able to avoid being hit by Foreman’s murderous punches?

Mailer was in Ali’s dressing room just before the fight and he paints a gloomy picture indeed. All those around Ali were clearly afraid of the imminent encounter and worried about Ali’s safety. Ali’s personal trainer, Ferdie Pacheco, had quietly booked a helicopter in case they needed to fly Ali out for emergency hospital treatment. The only person who seemed unafraid was Ali himself who said. “What’s there to be afraid about? This ain’t nothing but just another day in the dramatic life of Muhammad Ali. Why should I be afraid of Foreman? My God controls the universe.”

Ali certainly saw a bigger picture. Mailer notes that Ali saw himself as a tool in God’s plan. He would create history by beating Foreman against all the odds. He would then use his resulting fame and influence for the benefit of poorer black people. To this end Ali did not merely rely on his prayers, but trained appropriately. Mailer even went running with Ali late one night until he ran out of breath and had to walk back to Ali’s camp alone in the dark. He tells us that his heart started beating much louder and faster when he heard what was unmistakably the roar of a lion. Later that morning when Mailer shared this story with other colleagues from the press who were there to cover the fight, they laughed and pointed out that Ali’s camp was very close to the zoo.

And on to the fight itself. Mailer was sitting in the second row just behind the photographers and live radio and TV commentators. Just before the fight begins, he describes the posture of the two mighty warriors.

“Ali pressed his elbows to his side, closed his eyes and offered a prayer. Foreman turned his back. In the thirty seconds before the fight began, he grasped the ropes in his corner and bent over from the waist so that his big and powerful buttocks were presented to Ali. He flexed in this position so long it took on a kind of derision as though to declare: “My farts to you.” He was still in such a pose when the bell rang.”

It is a joy to read Mailer’s account of the fight. His round by round commentary is intelligent and vivid. Here is a taster from the beginning of the very first round:

“[Ali] drove a lightning-strong right straight as a pole into the stunned centre of Foreman’s head, the unmistakable thwomp of a high-powered punch. A cry went up. Whatever else happened, Foreman had been hit. No opponent had cracked George this hard in years and no sparring partner had dared to. Foreman charged in rage. Ali compounded the insult. He grabbed the Champion around the neck and pushed his head down, wrestled it down crudely and decisively to show Foreman he was considerably rougher than anybody warned, and relations had commenced.”

In the second round, Ali introduced the world to his Rope-a-Dope technique whereby he would lay on the ropes and seemingly allowed Foreman to come in and hit him. At the time, the commentators thought this showed that an older Ali was simply not able to keep up with George Foreman and was inevitably going to be worn down. Mailer writes that Joe Frazier – who was commentating on the fight for an American network, kept asking “For what reason is he on the ropes? Get off the ropes!”

For those who haven’t seen or heard about what then happens in the fight I won’t reveal any more…apart from saying that Ali triumphs! We are fortunate that the open mouthed and flabbergasted reaction of Norman Mailer and (on the left) boxing journalist George Plimpton to Ali’s knockdown of the mighty George Foreman has been captured in a wonderful photograph.

Over twenty years later, Ali – now debilitated by Parkinson’s and barely able to whisper – would be asked what the biggest thrill of his career was. His response: “Zaire. Got my title back. In Africa.”

Mailer’s book rises admirably to the occasion and is a splendid reminder of an encounter that will long be remembered fondly and with much love by all who have been fortunate enough to watch The Fight. Ali somehow lifted us all up.

Now is the time

Here is the mountaintop

When one man climbs

The rest are lifted up

(When We Were Kings, Brian McKnight and Diana King)


Transforming care? More like history repeating itself

Indigo Jo Blogs - 3 October, 2018 - 18:35

Stephanie BincliffeLast night BBC’s File on 4 programme was dedicated to how well the government’s declared intention to get people with learning disabilities out of short-term mental health care and into the community where they belong was progressing, seven years after it was announced following the Panorama expose of physical abuse at the privately-run (but NHS-contracted) unit near Bristol, Winterbourne View. Since then there have been a number of deaths in such care that were related to neglect, most famously that of Connor Sparrowhawk but also Nico Reed (in Oxfordshire like Connor), Stephanie Bincliffe (right) and Thomas Rawnsley (both in Yorkshire). Yesterday it featured an interview with the father of a teenage girl who was being held in the St Andrew’s hospital in Northampton, in conditions that sounded a lot like those that led to the death of Stephanie Bincliffe but are also somewhat reminiscent of how convicted criminals are treated in some American (though not British) prisons. It also touched on the excessive use of restraint, and finding out how prevalent that was took a lot of detective work on their part as it was not readily available under the Freedom of Information Act. (More: Mark Neary.)

The young lady in St Andrew’s is named Bethany, is 17 and from Walsall in the West Midlands. She has been held in ‘seclusion’ in that hospital for 21 months, so likely since she was 15. The room is bare and has only a chair and a bed, which itself consists of a mattress covered in plastic. She is fed through a hatch in the metal door, she talks to him over the phone through it while someone standing on the other side holds it, and when her father visits, he has to talk to her through it. They do not explain why they cannot let him into the same room as his daughter, but they did say that she had been outside it only a few times in the last year and three quarters, which indicates that she is not let out to wash on a regular basis. They mentioned that she is prone to self-harm and had embedded bits of a biro pen in her arm, which it was supposedly too dangerous to take her to hospital to get removed; she has also become clinically obese during her time locked up. Her father says that on the phone, they talk about what they could do if she was somewhere else, meaning a suitable placement in the community; she used to love going to the circus, but he has been unable to do that (or anything else) with her since she has been there. The hospital do not take her out for activities because they are short of staff.

Earlier this year, she was supposed to be moving to a community placement but at the last minute, Walsall borough council pulled out, claiming that her needs were too specialised for it to be suitable. Her father, Jeremy, says that every three months he attends meetings at which institution staff say that it’s all terrible but nothing changes. As she is detained under the Mental Health Act (or ‘sectioned’), he is powerless to remove her from this situation; it is in the power of the responsible clinician.

The programme exposed a number of conflicts, one of them being that local authorities are resistant to funding bespoke support arrangements because they cost money; they prefer to keep people with complex needs in the mental health system because the NHS pays for that. Local authorities have been a prime target for government cutbacks since the 2010-15 coalition came to power, because the ‘glamorous’ state services have been taken over by bureaucracies which answer to central government — in particular, health and the academy school system. Local authorities run non-academy schools (which are unfavoured), social services (which have been cut to the bone) and services such as bin collection which can be privatised.

However, it really failed to ask why private institutions such as St Andrew’s and the private units run by companies such as Cygnet and Priory do not have the staff to offer a humanly dignified standard of care to people like Bethany. The likely reason is that the prices they charge do not allow them to hire enough staff for that purpose, and behind that lies a competitive tendering system that means there is a drive to bring costs down. There is also a history of ‘soft’ inquests that are reluctant to find neglect or wrongdoing where a disabled person has been killed as a result of doctors’ or commissioners’ decisions (e.g. Stephanie Bincliffe and, earlier this year, Oliver MacGowan); bosses know that the legal system will take their side even when, to any outsider, someone’s death appears to be an obvious result of arrogance, carelessness or incompetence. To combat this there must be some minimum standard of care; mental health patients who are detained for more than, say, a certain number of weeks must be taken out at least a certain number of times, have activities available, have access to a shower on a regular basis and so on. Bethany’s care is costing £12,000 per week; there is simply no excuse for someone’s care to cost that much and be so poor.

We do not know the full details of how Bethany came to be in the seclusion room; we were given a brief telling of her life story by her father. But she has been in this situation for 21 months and if it were possible for her to be in a community placement and go to the circus, it is possible for a hospital to provide decent care in the interim. We heard her speak and she is able to do so coherently; she sounded calm on the phone and likes to sing her favourite song (Three Little Birds by Bob Marley) to him. If the people running this hospital do not have the wit to work out how to accommodate her dignity and her need for fresh air, human contact and stimulation in all that time, they are in the wrong job, and if they cannot get the staff, their financial model is all wrong. There’s just no excuse.

To me, statistics only have so much impact and the finances are of less relevance than the human suffering involved, especially when the treatment in question killed someone a lot like Bethany only a couple of years ago. Clearly the standards are not tough enough and some of the people making decisions that affect people’s lives for years to come are in the wrong jobs.

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Multiculturalism 'robs Britain of its community' - Tory London mayor pick

The Guardian World news: Islam - 3 October, 2018 - 08:07

Accommodating Muslims and Hindus risks turning UK into ‘crime-riddled cesspool’, Shaun Bailey wrote in 2005

Accommodating Muslims and Hindus “robs Britain of its community” and risks turning the country into a “crime-riddled cesspool” as a result, the Conservative candidate for London mayor declared in a thinktank pamphlet he wrote a decade ago.

In it, Shaun Bailey voiced concern about the marking of Muslim and Hindu festivals, claimed that children were being taught more about Diwali than Christmas and argued Britain “removing the religion that British people generally take to” had allowed immigrants to bring their country’s cultural problems with them.

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A bridge to Ireland?

Indigo Jo Blogs - 30 September, 2018 - 18:41

A picture of some fields in undulating high ground with a white lighthouse at the back, with the sea at the back behind a cliff.In an interview with the Sunday Times, which is paywalled, Boris Johnson, the former British foreign secretary recently notorious for his derogatory remarks about Muslim women, attacked the prime minister’s plans for Brexit, boasting that unlike her, he campaigned for Brexit and believes it is best for Britain (by the way: we all know he actually wrote pro- and anti-Brexit opinion pieces in the run-up to the 2016 referendum and was undecided until almost the last minute). He called for a bridge to be built between Britain and Ireland and the HS2 rail project to be shelved in favour of a high-speed link across northern England. The latter is a fairly reasonable demand because east-west links in the north are notoriously bad, particularly Trans-Pennine links between Manchester and Yorkshire. The first, however, although possible, is preposterous.

If you look at any map of the British Isles, you will notice that the only place you could reasonably build a bridge between the two islands is between the north Antrim coast of Ireland and the Kintyre peninsula in Scotland. However, to get to any major population centre, you would then need to build several other bridges to link that peninsula to Glasgow. The shortest route would be from near Wemyss Bay on the mainland (west of Glasgow), across the Cowal peninsula and the Isle of Bute to Kintyre, then along a presumably upgraded A83 (or a newly-built dual carriageway) to the Mull of Kintyre (the southern end of that peninsula) then over to near Runabay Head, east of Ballycastle, on the Antrim Coast. This would require four or five new bridges or tunnels to do a round-about route between Glasgow and Belfast.

Alternatively, a major new tunnel could be bored between Portpatrick near Stranraer in south-western Scotland to near Black Head, south of Larne on the east Antrim coast. This tunnel would serve the needs of English travellers to Northern Ireland but not the south (ferries from Fishguard and Holyhead would still be more viable for accessing south and central Ireland from most of England), and would need to be about 40km long, which would be about the same length as the Channel Tunnel between England and France (this is 50.45km or just over 31 miles long) which connects London and Paris, both cities of about 10 million population, to say nothing of all the other major cities in northern Europe such as Brussels, Amsterdam, Cologne and so on. It would also require a major upgrade to roads linking Galloway to Glasgow and Carlisle, both of which are currently single carriageway.

Picture of hills sloping down towards a small bay, with trees near the sea in the background and rocks poking through the grass in the foreground.These things could be done. But Boris Johnson shows his ignorance of the geography by suggesting bridges. In the winter months, these stretches of water are exposed to Atlantic winds meaning that they would have to be closed very frequently; tunnels, although more expensive, would mean they could remain open in all weathers and not interfere with shipping. However, as experience at Dartford shows, tunnels would have to be closed regularly to escort tankers through (unless they are to be banned from it) which is a major cause of traffic congestion. Another option would be a rail tunnel with a shuttle train to take vehicles, but this would mean frequent queueing especially if the Cambelltown route were chosen, and Ireland uses a different gauge from the British mainland (and western Europe).

He also shows a marked ignorance of the political reasons why a link does not already exist. A set of bridges or tunnels from Glasgow via Campbelltown would lead to unprecedented development in those areas, but it would also destroy the attraction of the area to tourists (both from within Scotland and from further afield) as a place of solitude, tranquility and natural beauty. The landscape is rocky, and would need to be smoothed out with embankments and cuttings to build a fast highway, which would cut a scar through the landscape. Views, both on land and at the coast, enjoyed for generations would be no more if large bridges were built to carry traffic, and this traffic mostly would not stop on the islands or peninsulas they crossed and thus bring no economic benefit. Transport in Scotland is also devolved and all the tolls on road bridges in Scotland were removed soon after the Scottish Parliament started operating; a major new road link that involved tolls would be unlikely to be accepted in Scotland.

A picture of some cliffs with the sea behind, and a rock rising sharply from the sea.The “bridge to Ireland” idea is fairly typical of Boris Johnson’s fondness for vast infrastructure projects; while his opposition to Heathrow airport expansion is well-known, he actually favours a new airport on a new island in the Thames estuary, a concept which has been referred to as “Boris Island” but ridiculed because it takes no account of the geography of the area with planes very vulnerable to bird-strike. This is the sort of project which would be easy for a dictatorship to pull off — or perhaps a government which had no need to secure votes in the areas affected — but very difficult in a democracy where planning processes meant that local objections and concerns about tourism, the environment, the impact on local people and wildlife and so on, as well as the cost-benefit analysis, have to be taken into account.

So a bridge or tunnel across the strait between Scotland and Ireland is a physical possibility, but it would be the easy part — the onward transport links would be an enormous undertaking and politically very difficult. Ironically, it would be more viable in the event of both a united Ireland and an independent Scotland within the EU; as a means of cementing links between post-Brexit England and Northern Ireland, its intention would be seen through very easily and would meet considerable resistance on both sides of the water. Short of a separate act of Parliament to overrule the Scottish Parliament on this issue, or to scrap the Scottish Parliament altogether, it is difficult to see how it could be achieved politically.

Images: Mull of Kintyre lighthouse by Patrick Mackie; Loughan Bay by Willie Duffin; North Witch Rock by Dave Sands, all licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 (BY-SA 2.0) licence.

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Police investigate human bones dug up at London cemetery

The Guardian World news: Islam - 30 September, 2018 - 14:44

Fears that dead are being unearthed without permission and graves reused to free space

Police have opened an investigation after a broken skull, a shoulder blade and leg-bones were among suspected human remains discovered lying uncovered in a cemetery.

The bones include a partial skeleton and were found at the privately owned Tottenham Park cemetery in north London by a group of campaigners who fear that graves are being dug up and reused without consent amid a nationwide shortage of burial space.

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