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Archive for May, 2011

5
May

Keep British Voting: vote No to AV.

Today’s the day. The polls have opened. Get out and vote…

4
May

Ken’s criticism of Obama smacks of extremism.

You’d have thought we could agree that the death of the world’s most dangerous terrorist is generally a pretty good thing. Apparently not. Ken Livingstone has today sparked controversy by criticising Barack Obama for the killing of Osama bin Laden. He suggests the Americans are “gangsters” and says Obama looks like “some sort of mobster” for having the terrorist killed rather than making him stand trial.

They really are absurd and frankly thoughtless comments. Of course, in normal circumstances, we treat people as innocent until proven guilty, we give them trials and we let them defend themselves. But these weren’t normal circumstances. There was no doubt of guilt. A trial of bin Laden would have lasted months, providing him with one almighty final platform from which to speak to the world on a daily basis, declaring martyrdom and encouraging others to continue his cause. How such circumstances would have reduced the risk of further terrorism, as Ken suggests, is truly beyond comprehension. I suggest that Ken tries telling those that lost friends and family members in the September 11th attacks that poor old bin Laden has been poorly treated. Closer to home, perhaps he should see how upset Londoners are that a man who was directly linked to the 7/7 suicide bombings has taken a bullet through the head. I doubt sympathy or compassion were many people’s first emotions when they heard the news on Monday morning.

Even those on Ken’s own side have fiercely criticised his comments. Over at the Left Foot Forward blog, they’ve said:

“The ill-judged attack on Obama, whose leadership over the operation has been praised round the world, risks hardening public perception of Livingstone as being in league with Islamists, and soft on Islamist extremism.”

They refer, of course, to his infamous relationships with the likes of Yusuf al-Qaradawi. The Muslim cleric preaches anti-semitism, misogyny and homphobia, and defends suicide bombings, yet Ken welcomed him to City Hall as an “honoured guest” and said that his critics were guilty of “lies and Islamophobia”. Then there’s Lutfur Rahman, a man Ken likes so much he was willing to campaign against Labour in last year’s Tower Hamlets mayoral election, to the particular chagrin of the very Labour supporters he will be relying on in the lead-up to next year’s mayoral election. Rahman, you’ll remember, was accused of siphoning money from Tower Hamlets Borough Council to the Islamic Forum of Europe, who promptly spent the cash on publishing and distributing extremist literature.

Despite many on his own side urging him to renounce some of his dodgy mates, and to temper some of his controversial and extermist views, Ken stubbornly refuses. In a funny way, he should be praised for refusing to hide the ‘real Ken’ from Londoners. The big question is whether Londoners really want the ‘real Ken’ leading their city again.

3
May

Boris v Ken: one year to go.

In exactly one year’s time, polling stations across London will have just closed. Londoners will have spent the day choosing which man – Boris or Ken – they want to lead their great city for the following four years.

I have no doubt that the contest will be tight; perhaps even closer than in 2008. Whilst I believe that Boris has a truly strong record to defend – more police, less crime, safer transport, more green spaces, greater transparency, frozen taxes, Boris bikes and transport investment, to name just a few achievements – I think the instinct of many Londoners by this time next year will be to give the Tories a kicking. No Boris backer should be in the slightest bit complacent.

I also have no doubt that the battle between now and the election will be brutal, but when it does occasionally overboil, perhaps we should remember some words of Tony Blair. No, really. I’m rarely inclined to quote him, but I still think his sagest words were – perhaps ironically – his final public words as Prime Minister, when he spoke in defence of Parliament:

“And if it is on occasions the place of low skulduggery, it is more often the place for the pursuit of noble causes.”

The same can be said for most political battles. Whatever we might say about our opponent – and I have much to say about Ken in the next twelve months – Londoners have a choice between two men who love the city, and who want the best for the city. Whilst their views diverge, and their policies differ, they share a largely similar goal. It is the job of Londoners to choose who they feel is most capable of pursuing that goal.

3
May

A love letter to TfL.

I’m not in the habit of re-posting entire articles, but I’m happy to make an exception for this brilliant love letter to Transport for London:

There’s a lot I miss about London. Since I left three months ago I haven’t had a decent curry or watched a game of football. I miss free museums and the little off-licence down the road. I miss Boris Johnson’s hair. But most of all I miss Transport for London.

In the rushed and often insular world of London, you were like a mother to me TFL. An annoying, monotonous, nagging mother at times, sure. Occasionally bordering on OCD; a little passive aggressive perhaps. But a mother none the less – caring and well meaning, loving and respectful. You soothed me when I was lonely, you held my hand when I was lost, you reassured me when the thought of catching the tube across London in peak hour seemed all too hard.

I swore at you sometimes. I often used your name in vain. Once, when you cancelled the Circle Line at 5:30pm on a Friday, I may have used the letters T, F and L to come up with more colourful acronyms. In fact, I think I Totally F***ing Lost-it. But, like a teenager who has moved out of home only to find that Mum actually did quite a lot, I realise now how much I miss you.

I miss your constant chatter, your caring reminders, your statements of the bleeding obvious. I miss being told, incessantly, to let passengers off the train before boarding. I miss being made aware, again and again, of the gap between the train and the platform. I miss being advised to bring a water bottle in hot weather. I miss being told to check for my belongings at the end of the line (but strangely not at any other stop).

I miss the advance notice of station closures. I was in New York recently and arrived at a station to find a tiny A4 print out Sellotaped to a pole advising that the station was closed. In London you would have given me six week’s warning, posted messages on industrial sized whiteboards, sent me text messages and emails and employed a man on a megaphone to shout in my ear about it for weeks, even if the station was in Zone 9 on the other side of the city.

I miss your well-mannered posters apologising for the morning’s delays and begging for forgiveness. I miss the TFL guy at my local station who told me not only which train was approaching but also all of the subsequent stops, even though they were written in big block letters on the poster across the track.

I miss hearing that, apart from planned engineering works on the Central, Circle, District, Piccadilly, Hammersmith & City, Bakerloo, Victoria and Jubilee lines, there is a good service on all London Underground lines. I miss being told to alight here for Buckingham Palace. I miss the word alight. I miss standing on the right of escalators and smugly watching tourists who don’t. I miss the accepted code of conduct on your trains. In New York there was a guy who loudly and confidently said “excuse me” and “God bless” as he walked down the train. How awkward.

I miss hearing that Blackfriers will be closed until late 2011. I miss knowing exactly how many steps there are to the platform. I miss the tube map, not least because it gives tourists the impression its worth changing trains to get from Leicester Square to Covent Garden, even though it’s only 300 m away.

I miss the rude old hag on the PA system in lifts who shouts “Do NOT obstruct the doors, please”. It brings back memories of my school days. I miss the word Cockfosters.

Now, living in Melbourne, I’m lost and lonely. The public transport system here has none of the chatter, not a bit of the personality, none of the comforting reminders and the signage is rubbish. I don’t know when to get on, I don’t know which side to stand on and I don’t know what to do with the gap between the platform and the train. God knows what I’ll do in hot weather.

TFL, we’ve had our difficult moments. There was that time when I snuck out of work in my lunch hour to go to the bank only to get stuck between Edgware Road and Baker Street for a full 45 minutes. Or those days when you went on strike for no apparent reason. But I’m willing to gloss over all of that. TFL, my friend, come and visit me in Melbourne. Please. I miss you.

I found myself nodding throughout!

3
May

Quote of the day: George Osborne.

“This is the Cabinet, not some sub-Jeremy Paxman interview.”

(George Osborne to Chris Huhne, when the latter thought that a moaning session about the AV referendum was a better use of cabinet time than discussions on Libya, Syria, Pakistan…)

2
May

Was the royal wedding the final nail in the AV coffin?

I’ve copied some extracts below from Boris’ Telegraph article ‘Will you take AV as your lawful system? After all this, I think not.’ He suggests, as I’ve been wondering for a couple of days, that the royal wedding might just have been the final nail in the AV coffin. The wedding reminded us that our traditions, and systems that we’ve long tried and tested, generally serve us pretty well. The monarchy and first-past-the-post are both imperfect, and both have flaws, but neither are broken and neither require fixing.

“As everyone has said over the last few days, the Prince and his bride have somehow rejuvenated things. They are felt to have renewed the monarchy. After a long period of relative economic gloom, they have given a sense of hope and confidence and to many an indefinable happiness.”

“The pro-AV camp has had to contend with the zeitgeist, the public mood of the last few weeks, when we have all been focused in loving, lingering and intensifying detail on a part of our constitution that may have its flaws, but that has served this country well for hundreds of years.”

“We have seen admiring pro-monarchy cover stories in Left-leaning French weeklies, and in the face of all that global affirmation of our constitutional peculiarities, it is no wonder that even my Lefty friends have concluded that the monarchy will endure. If it ain’t broke – and it patently ain’t – then don’t fix it. Or as we conservatives put it, if it is not necessary to change, then it is necessary not to change.”

“I would not be at all surprised if that thinking has contaminated the AV debate, where we see that the case for abandoning what is tried and tested has frankly failed to catch the spirit of the moment.”

2
May

Saint Boris’ Day.

It gives me much pleasure to wish readers a happy Saint Boris’ Day. Whilst there is no absolute agreement on the date of the feast day, it is most commonly marked on 2nd May – the day that Boris I of Bulgaria died in 907 AD. Not having our Boris’s knowledge of classics, I hand straight over to Wikipedia

Boris I, or sometimes Boris-Mihail (Michael), also known as Bogoris, was the ruler of the First Bulgarian Empire between 852–889. At the time of his baptism in 864, Boris was named Michael after his godfather, Emperor Michael III. The historian Steven Runciman called him one of the greatest people in history.

Despite a number of military setbacks, the reign of Boris I was marked with significant events that shaped the Bulgarian and Slavic history. With the Christianisation of Bulgaria the country abolished the traditional state religion Tengriism. A skilful diplomat, Boris I successfully exploited the conflict between the Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Papacy to secure an autocephalous Bulgarian Church, thus dealing with the concerns among the nobility for strong Byzantine interference in the internal matters of the country.

When in 885 the disciples of Saints Cyril and Methodius were banished from Great Moravia, Boris I gave them refuge and provided assistance to develop the Slavic alphabet and literature. After he abdicated in 889, his eldest son and successor tried to restore the old pagan religion but was deposed by Boris I. During the Council of Preslav which followed that event, the Byzantine clergy was replaced with Bulgarian and the Greek language was replaced with Old Bulgarian as an official language of the Church and the state.

Never let it be said that this blog doesn’t educate…

2
May

Bin Laden killed but fears and questions remain.

Osama Bin Laden has been shot dead by US ground forces in Pakistan. It’s not a common feeling, but this morning I celebrated the news of another man’s death. Nearly ten years after he orchestrated one of the most horrendous terrorist atrocities, in the form of the September 11th attacks, justice has finally been done. Some will argue that he should have been captured and tried in court, but such proceedings would merely have provided him with one final platform from which to declare martyrdom and encourage others to continue his cause. Those of us who believe in such things are confident that he will meet his maker down the line, and truly be punished for his despicable evil. Hell hath every fury.

Celebrations, however, are mitigated by two secondary thoughts. Firstly, Bin Laden’s death won’t result in the collapse of Al Qaeda. Whereas seven or eight years ago, his demise might have toppled the entire regime, the organisation is now bigger, more scattered and more diffuse. The world – tragically – awaits the inevitable bloody retaliatory acts. Secondly, one can’t help questioning Pakistan’s commitment to the fight against global terrorism. Bin Laden was living in a huge purpose-built compound, less than 35 miles from Islamabad, in the same town as the country’s main military training institution. Imagine, as a tenuous analogy, the world’s most wanted man living happily for years in a massive mansion in Sandhurst. It simply can not be the case that no-one in Pakistan’s government or security service knew of his whereabouts. David Cameron was criticised last year for saying that Pakistan has ‘looked both ways’ on terrorism. It seems that he had a point.