All posts tagged politics

  • Riots and retribution

    It’s been a painful week, both politically and personally. The riots and looting that spread accross England started in my home place of Tottenham. Watching Haringey burn was stomach churning, and the consequential authoritarian style political backlash towards those who participated in rioting has been populist in the extreme. The riots were such a big issue that I don’t really need to add any more words to the ocean that have poured out in all kinds of media over the past week and a half. Instead, I’ll be linking to a couple of BBC interviews I did in the midst of it all.  There’s been talk of a long overdue national conversation that frankly needs to happen if English society is to heal. Tottenham’s deprivation was allowed to continue under successive governments.  Things need to change. And we must never stop pushing for answers about Mark Duggan. 

     

    BBC Radio London

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    BBC Radio Sussex & Surrey

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  • Thoughts on the London riots

    A new post for The Guardian’s comment is free on the London riots:

     

    Although I was 200 miles away at the time, I found out my local community was being burned, looted and decimated when I sawTottenham trending on Twitter. I wasn’t the only one. Tottenham resident Charlotte Haynes told me she’d been “following the #Tottenham hash tag” for up-to-date news since violence broke out in the streets.

     

    Once again social media reporting overtook the news as residents of Tottenham took to the streets alongside journalists to document the damage. An alternative narrative emerged on Twitter and Facebook as rioting spread, and it proved starkly different to what official representatives were saying on our television screens.

     

    One strong rumour that gained ground is that of a 16-year-old girl being beaten by police soon after the peaceful protest ended at Tottenham police station. An eyewitness told BBC News that “a young female had approached the police standing line and she was set upon by police and their batons”. Videos uploaded on YouTube from in and around the area further reinforce this rumour, documenting people caught up in the fray, shouting in disgust. The incident has been dismissed as unsubstantiated and consequently downplayed in media coverage. However, video footage – though unclear – has been uploaded, making such claims credible.

     

    This social media explosion isn’t just manifesting itself on the internet, with BlackBerry’s free Messenger service (BBM) appearing to serve as a powerful tool. The Daily Mail pinpointed Twitter as fanning the flames, but its journalists couldn’t be more mistaken.

     

    Read the rest here 

  • Navigating tragedy: some thoughts

    It’s been a weekend full of horror and tragedy. First reports from Norway of almost 100 dead, mostly young people, in two politically motivated terrorist attacks. Then one of my favourite soul singers and arguably one of the best women to influence popular music in a long time, Amy Winehouse, was found dead in her London flat. Not to mention the on going child famine in Somalia, the awful lack of funding and aid, and dozens dead in China after a train collision.

    All are horrifying, all sickening, and I don’t agree that they should exist in a scale of tragedy. However, this blog post isn’t about my condolences (though they certainly exist) but more about how we as citizens received this news, and how we reacted to it.

    The first thing that struck me (a point magnified after the phone hacking scandal) was to what extent the media really does dictate to us, the public, what is considered important at any one time. During the phone hacking scandal, not even children dying in Somalia could bump the crumbling of Murdoch’s empire off the top spot. The ultimate irony of the situation came to a head on Radio 4’s Today programme, with the news outlet reporting that spokespeople in Somalia & the UK were incredibly concerned that the news was eclipsing the crisis. Nevertheless, hacking was still leading the programme in every news bulletin, with Somalia’s desperate pleas for aid and funding coming second or third. Disturbing.

    Yes, the decimation of power structures in the UK is really fascinating. Many of us who hated Murdoch before it was cool suspected these power collusions all along. Phone hacking is the news story that keeps on giving, but the fact that child famine was side lined as a consequence was very worrying. I’m convinced (based on no evidence other than my own opinion) that news dictates what we think and talk to each other about, current affairs-wise. The news tells us what to consider important.

    Amy Winehouse’s death provoked a very scary divide between social media commentators (read= any Janine and Joe Bloggs within typing distance of a laptop or phone with internet access). This divide cut through those who understand that addiction is an illness and that Amy didn’t deserve to die because of it, and those who deemed her drug and drink use as a condemning factor in her short life.

    The idea of a tragedy scale also seemed to emerge, with some social media types suggesting that we could only be sad about one thing at a time, or that one was more important than the other. I don’t subscribe to that view, but did find the fact that many on my facebook newsfeed expressed grief for Amy, but hadn’t uttered a peep about the acts of terrorism in Norway very very disturbing. The argument that both tragedies are equally awful doesn’t really work if only one is acknowledged.

    In the early reports of the Norwegian tragedy, some media outlets linked the terrorism to Al Qaeda without any evidence. That’s dangerous. When the man was exposed as fan of the far right, there appeared to be an element of surprise in reporting. And why wouldn’t there be? The rise of far right activism across Europe has been largely ignored in the broadcast media of late. Some of us had stopped being concerned about it. The news tells us what to consider important.

    There was the media’s reluctance to call a spade a spade and brand this man a terrorist. He was called crazy, and a madman, and an extremist. BBC news 24’s rolling coverage defined the man as a right wing Christian fundamentalist. It seems if a white bloke does it, he must be a crazed extremist, but if a Muslim man does it, it’s because he’s Muslim. In fact, as two acts of terrorism had happened on the same day, media outlets were bending over backwards to find any sort of relation to brown people. Queue interviewers asking Norwegian officials questions about multiculturalism, immigration, and (surprise surprise) Islam. It was like an epic exercise in victim blaming- a depressing attempt to incriminate multiculturalism for the horrific attacks, rather than one disgusting man and his gun.

    But really, who is ‘the news’, and why does he/she/they hold the monopoly one what leads as story, and what doesn’t? More often than not, this ghostly figure is just a select number of editors across the country. Leading stories depend on their discretion which is why it’s no coincidence that Rupert Murdoch and certain party leaders were lunching away together.

    Don’t passively consume this stuff. Cast a critical eye, and question everything.

  • Leave them kids alone: On sexualisation

    A shorter version of this post is available on Liberal Conspiracy

    My four year old sister has a pink pair of plastic high heeled shoes. They are not the type of too-big heels that little girls tottered about in years gone by. They fit her little feet perfectly, and she clops about the house in them. She also has a red scooter that she rides along the street, picking up and collecting the elastic bands that postmen drop on their rounds. I ask her why she does these things (wears the heels, collects the bands). Her answer was the same for both. It’s fun. When my sister wears her pink high heels she isn’t vying for the attention of men or boys. She isn’t sexualising herself. Yet when I first saw her teetering about the house in these heels I panicked.  In my grown up mind, a high heel is a shoe designed to make the leg look elongated and sexually appealing. My instinctive protectiveness towards my sister made me want to snatch away the shoes, to dispose of them, to have her running around in trainers again. I didn’t want anyone looking at my sister like a sex object. But upon more thought, I came to the conclusion that the only person sexualising her was me. By assuming she thinks the same about high heels as my adult brain does, I was thinking of her as a being with a comprehensive understanding of sexual consciousness. She isn’t.

    At a recent friend’s family get-together, music was playing, and one six year old got into the spirit by imitating the dance moves she had no doubt seen on TV. She was quickly reprimanded by a fellow party goer who told her not to dance like that, ‘because little girls who dance that way grow up to be whores’. She didn’t understand why she was being told off, and started to cry.

    And yesterday on Question Time, Germaine Greer saw fit to brand little girls in sequined Jordan-pink jeans ‘tarts’.

    Over the past week, lots of concerned adults have seen fit to speak on behalf of children, caught up in the grasping fear that they are all being sexualised beyond anyone’s control. Amidst all of the arm flailing, hand wringing concerns over the sexualisation of children, there has been some blind confusion about exactly who or what is sexualising them.  Reg Bailey, author of the Department for Education’s review into the issue entitled ‘Letting Children be Children‘, is baffled. In his analysis of this increasingly sexualised society, he finds it hard to pin down any cause, admitting ‘it is far from clear how we arrived at this point’.

    Predictably, his much anticipated report was ultimately meaningless, based on emotional unease instead of quantifiable evidence, without even a distinct definition of sexualisation in the first place.  It’s almost depressingly comical to watch commentators and journalists alike repeatedly stumble over and miss the root of this dilemma.

    The perspective of this sexualisation is almost philosophical. Many news reports cite worried parents lamenting the loss of their children’s innocence, but I think it’s worth asking- lost innocence in who’s eyes?

    Children are not sexualising themselves. Adults are sexualising them by projecting adult morality on to them. More often than not, that adult sexual morality is entrenched in sexist ideals. The sexist ideals floated to the surface when that six year old girl was warned she would grow up into a whore if she continued to dance provocatively. Sexist ideals dictate to us that the way a woman or girl dances must reflect how much sex she has had, or wants. Sexism tells us that women don’t just dance for dancing’s sake- like every other female action and endeavour; it’s orchestrated for the benefit of men. Because after all, isn’t that why we function?

    What happens when you project your patriarchal adult moral ideals on to pre-pubescent bodies? The judging starts.  Suddenly little girls are called whores, tarts, sluts.

    This sexualisation doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and is indicative of the wider problem of objectification of women’s bodies.  Is it any wonder that these toxic gender roles are filtering down to kids?

    They imitate their idols and we shame and punish them for it. The female idols in question are often regarded with disgust for balancing on the knife edge between daring to announce publicly that they have sexual feelings, and exploiting their sexual imagery. Morality crusaders are quick to let us know that sex is all around us, and that sex sells. But that’s a lie. It’s not sex all around us, but the objectification and consequent marginalisation of women’s bodies, commodified into accessory status. But for some strange reason, nobody wants to talk about that. It’s too much of a stretch of the imagination to challenge patriarchy. It’s easier to wail about this sexualisation of our children, all the while colluding in the myth that all of these sexualising factors are immediately permissible once the girl in question turns eighteen.

    Regulation and legislation will not fix this. Equality will. Free women from these narrow, suffocating gender-fascist ideals of appearance and behaviour, and the girls will follow.

  • Student movement or stagnant movement? My problems with the NUS Black Student’s campaign

    Politics aside, I was really looking forward to getting involved in the black student’s campaign this year.  However, after attending the campaign’s annual summer conference, I have some serious reservations.

    My suspicions began when I looked at the conference’s final motions and amendments document. I thought the steering committee were supposed to be impartial, but any motions submitted that criticised the structure of the campaign had been scrapped altogether or had been warped beyond recognition. I can only imagine this happened at compositing- a meeting at NUS HQ that motion proposers had to attend to put forward the case for keeping their proposals. The problem was, not everyone could go, thanks to money or travel issues.

    One motion in particular that stood out was entitled ‘winter conference is too cold’. The motion resolved to do away with the campaigns annual winter conference and replace it with regional activist training days. In the final motions and amendments this had been merged into a motion named ‘winter conference is amazing’. Training days were only mentioned in the final resolution, cleverly phrased so that no delegate could take parts and attempt to scrap winter conference at all.

    Clearly, there are political elements to the black students campaign’s steering committee. Members of the committee were clearly politically affiliated to candidates running in the election. I later discovered that Pav Ahktar, chair of steering, was black student’s officer from 2004 to 2006, and had graduated a very long time ago.

    Pav’s political affiliations were confirmed in the election for next year’s steering committee, in which he recommded that delegates should also vote for Bellavia Riberio-Addy, who incidentally, is also a former black students officer . Personally, I object to two former black students’ officers running to be elected on to the steering committee as I don’t believe they can be impartial after being involved in the campaign for such a long time .

    I believe the student movement is transient by nature, and for that reason, should always be kept regenerated, fresh and new. I didn’t see that in this campaign. I saw students and graduates who had been involved for 5 to 10 years moving from post to post. I think this suspicious, and indicative of a select few who  obviously do not want to let go.  It is a phenomenon that strangling progress and putting off new delegates.

    My dissatisfaction came to a head when I decided to run for women’s representative on the black student’s committe. Standing orders (the same standing orders I had read on NUS Connect and in my delegate pack) dictated that there were two open places available. This is why I ran.

    When we entered the room we had to wait 45 minutes because one candidate (who has been on the black student’s committee for 7 years) insisted that one place should be reserved for further education candidates only.

    Upon consulting steering, the room was informed that a place should be reserved for further education, that this had been forgotten on the standing orders, and that we had the opportunity to take it to a vote.

    Now, I agree with this proposal in principle, but in the context of the women’s caucus I thought it was an absolute farce. The candidate who ran for further education women’s place was Rebecca Sawbridge, who has comfortably sat on various positions on black student’s committee for seven years. Conveniently she was the only further education candidate in this election. In this election, I saw a committee member (who had already enjoyed too much time sitting at the table) reserving herself a place on the committee for another year. I was outraged.

    With the same people maxing their term limits and moving from post to post to post, year after year after year, I believe that the black student’s campaign is stagnant. This is a case of the same people, with the same ideas, same politics, and ultimately, the same cliques. First time delegates who are keen to get involved are shafted by old timers using their political persuasion to fix things and create certain wins for themselves. When we are welcoming delegates to their eight year on committee, something is seriously wrong. In all honestly, I think some campaign and steering committee members think they are the black student’s campaign, as if it could not survive without them.  The democracy is warped, and the movement is going nowhere.

    I also object to the way the motions are set out in the black students campaign. Delegates must vote on four main motions with a series of amendments after each one- forcing delegates to accept the a main motion whether they like its content or not.

    I think committee members should accept criticism gracefully. The campaign needs progress and reform.  When new delegates are unsatisfied,  it’s not helpful to brand us ‘right wing’ just because you don’t like constructive criticism. I do believe the black students campaign is in the stranglehold of a select few individuals who are hanging on to the campaign like a comfort blanket. Ultimately, this results black activists who are being shunned, and black students who are being failed.

  • The English Defence League in Preston- a personal account

    ‘Apathy and evil. The two work hand in hand. They are the same, really…. Evil wills it. Apathy allows it. Evil hates the innocent and the defenceless most of all. Apathy doesn’t care as long as it’s not personally inconvenienced.’ – JAKE THOENE

    What do you do when an organisation of racists turn up on your doorstep, arguing for their ‘democratic right to protest’?

    If you’re one of the people who didn’t turn up to counter protest the racist EDL in Preston city centre today, then not much. The English Defence League are an organisation who routinely band together to spew race hate on the streets of England .  They hijack the St George’s flag and the Union Jack to make their point, in turn subverting the symbolism, giving the flags a whole new meaning.  In my opinion, when they turn up to your city, strong anti-fascist opposition is needed. For want of a better phrase- when racists are involved, you’re either for or against them.  I and other UCLan students turned out to counter protest this morning because we felt that we had to take a stand.

    When I woke up this morning, I had a quick glance over the regular social networking websites. Some planning to attend the counter demo were angry and excited, ready to vent. Some statuses were those of keen journalism students, anticipating a significant news story in their university town. Others were just plain scared. I on the other hand, felt none of those things. It was an overwhelming sadness that settled itself around my shoulders early this morning. Sad at the fact that we even have to oppose racism in this day and age. Sad at the fact that these people felt the need to stir up tension in a city with a good race relations record. Sad at the fact that I had to warn my brown friends to be careful on the streets. These people seek to oppress and divide, and it almost felt like the liberation movements I eagerly learnt about all those years ago amounted to absolutely nothing.

    Of course, in the face of far right extremism, a defeatist attitude amounts to nothing. So it was with a heavy heart that I trudged onto campus with a few friends to our designated meeting point, incredibly grateful for those who turned out to take a stand against such virulent, racist views. There were roughly 20 of us from UCLan altogether, and I was proud of those of us who were there.

    On reaching Preston city centre, we were greeted with live music, but that didn’t hide the fact that we were pretty much penned in by barriers for our own safety. Thanks to police restrictions, the anti-fascist side of the demonstration had exactly one hour to speak and play live music in the hope of celebrating multiculturalism, before we were asked to disperse.

    One hour of anti-fascist action on a day where racists rampaging through the city felt like a proverbial drop in the ocean. It was freezing cold, but I was glad I was there. Myself and a friend broke off from the crowd, darted through the back roads, and positioned ourselves in the middle of the waning English Defence League crowd. There were points when I couldn’t determine if I was shivering, or shaking in anger. The youth of some of those protestors was the most chilling factor of the day- predominantly white, predominantly male; some looked like early teens, some looked like children, whilst others were nearing their thirties. There were numerous reports of the EDL setting off smoke bombs, throwing fireworks and fighting each other. Clutching cans of alcohol; they wrapped themselves in St George’s flags and Union Jacks.

    There was a strange, uneasy atmosphere in Preston today. Since moving to the city to study, I can safely say the number of racist comments I’ve had to suffer has been minimal.  And I’m not even the EDL’s main target. But today, an invisible, suffocating feeling of fear blanketed the streets. It was easy to feel intimidated by groups of white men with black scarves covering their mouths and concealing their identities.

    Sometime I think we live in an upside down world- a world where a person holding a sign that proclaims ‘peace and love’ is asked if they’re ‘looking for trouble’ by the police. This happened to a friend of mine who was asked to drop the placard before walking past the pub that the EDL congregated in this morning. He was warned by a representative from the same police force that allowed an organisation spreading race hate to march in a diverse city in the first place. Of course, there’s the safety factor- you could argue that we were penned in for our own safety, that my friend had to drop his placard for his own safety, and that my university’s student union didn’t promote the counter protest for student safety. But I often think that if we keep ourselves paralysed in fear, our good intentions will be rendered inert. Doing anything you can to take a stand is infinitely better than doing nothing at all.

  • An open letter to BBC3

    I used to feel confident in trusting the BBC. I and many others my age enjoyed our late 90s childhood years. We were quite comfortably over saturated with CBBC’s after school entertainment- the eye catching, bright colours, the chirpy, spirited young presenters who seems to relate to us all so well. It suited our demographic well and I don’t think any of us, at 8 years old, had any complaints.

    However, we are not children anymore. The BBC’s mission statement maintains that they aim to ‘enrich people’s lives with programmes that inform, educate and entertain’. All very well. Considering the BBC’s diverse range of media outlets are aimed at an all inclusive modern day Britain, I can only assume that, in the case of BBC3, these programmes have been carefully designed for idiots. Let’s not beat about the bush here- it’s pretty much an ‘either/or’ situation.

    BBC3 seems to take the BBC’s mission statement and manipulate it ever so slightly; instead of these programmes being informative, educational and entertaining, they are educational or informative or entertaining. And, lets not forget, BBC3’s definition of entertaining is dubious at best. As students, we fit rather neatly into the channel’s suspiciously vague 15-34 year old target audience demographic.  Essentially, BBC3’s target audience age range may contribute heavily to the core of the problem. The rather loosely grouped ages 15-34 tends to span from under eighteens to those well established into adulthood, and all those tricky years in between. What do BBC3 choose to feed these fertile, tumultuous, rapidly expanding young minds?  Well it seems that if you’re aged 15 to 34 and you find yourself suddenly and urgently concerned about Danny Dyer’s opinions on the existence of aliens, BBC3 is your first point of call. To put it simply, almost all of their programmes are so incredulously cretinous that I often wonder, whilst watching, if BBC3 are actually just playing some kind of cruel joke on me. The informative ‘Don’t Get Screwed’ is a programme consisting of consumer law set to a Top Of The Pops soundtrack and fronted by vacant looking pretty people who appear to be suspiciously dead behind the eyes. Then there’s the relatively new ‘Hotter Than My Daughter’ series- a makeover show presented by a forgotten member of a forgotten girl band that pits mothers and daughters against each other in a bid to look the most attractive.

    Get your act together BBC3, because I am not informed, not educated and certainly not entertained by these poor excuses for television programmes. Of course, it’s important not to forget BBC3’s educational documentaries, but even then, they’re fronted by a presenter with celebrity credentials in order to drag in more ratings. As far as I can remember, BBC3’s origins were rooted in showcasing sharp, young British comedy and drama. Although these gems still sparkle on their listings, it’s now rare. There appears to be such a lack in quality British programming for young people- in turn giving way to vapid, soulless, condescending MTV style programming for the masses. Is this the way forward for youth television?