Monday, 31 October 2011

Moneylenders throwing people out of the cathedral

It seems that the Church of England is joining the City bankers in their legal action to forcibly remove the Occupy London protestors camped outside St Paul's Cathedral.

Although a couple of radical clerics have resigned over the decision, let's not forget that the CofE is not only a large landowner - of shopping centres as well as cathedrals - but also has extensive interests in banking as well. It even charges people to visit cathedrals (people who pitch up at St Paul's claiming to be there for religious rather than touristy reasons are apparently diverted into a small side chapel to pray).

The Church of England isn't exactly awash with young people, especially those with a belief in social justice that is (as yet) as vague and unfocussed as its own.  You'd think the bishops would be throwing open the doors of the cathedral and welcoming the protestors with open arms.

"It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God."

Matthew ch 19, v 24

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Who benefits?

As part of its response to this summer's riots, the government has announced that it intends to give the courts powers to cut up to £25 from the benefits of those convicted of and fined for a criminal offence.

Recently published research has shown - not very surprisingly - that most people convicted of looting in the riots are from the poorest communities across Britain, about a third of whom receive social security benefits.  Who actually believes that making poor people poorer is the way to cut crime?  David Cameron for one does.  "The system as it stands at the moment is far too soft," he claims.  

Social security benefits are set at a level the laws says people need to live on.  If nearly half is deducted by judges as fines, what does the government think people will do to survive?  But then Cameron, Clegg and Osborne don't think like us.  To them £60 is what they pay for a cheap bottle of wine, not what has to last them all week.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Brother Tevez

Manchester City have reacted with anger to the decison by the Professional Footballers' Association to block them doubling the fine handed down to Carlos Tevez after he allegedy refused to play for the team in a Champions League match in Munich.

City claim the PFA has a conflict of interest because it represented Tevez at the disciplinary hearing and also negotiated the agreement with the FA and Premier League that limits clubs from fining players more than two weeks' wages.

Guess what guys, the PFA is a trade union. I know you don't have them in Abu Dhabi so here's a pointer: its job is to protect its members, whether by representing them in disciplinary hearings or negotiating agreements on how much their employers can fine them.

The PFA is an unusual trade union.  It has a flat rate annnual membership fee of £80 whether you play for Mansfield Town or Manchester United and most of its income comes from FA grants which it spends on educating current players and supporting retired ones (given they've just saved Tevez half a million quid, maybe he'd like to make a donation to that work).

It is also highly unusual in that its leader is not only easily the highest paid union official but also the only one whose wages bear any resemblance to those of his members.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Every sentence a lie

I was tempted not to read the article in today's Guardian about Libya by their Stalinist columnist Seumas Milne.  I knew a) exactly what it would say and b) it would be awful even by his low standards.

Reading it, I kept in mind Trotsky's remark that every sentence Stalin wrote contained a lie, and some of them two.  It works with this article too, try it for yourself.

The real puzzle is why the supposedly liberal, human rights promoting Guardian allows its coverage of international politics to be written by an unrepentant Stalinist.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

A pub with no beer

On Sunday afternoon, I walked to a nearby pub to watch the Manchester derby. 

The visit started badly (it would get a lot worse over the course of the next couple of hours) when the barman informed me that there was no cask beer as "the new barrel hasn't settled yet".  He offered me a pint of smoothflow bitter; I politely declined.

I then had the old conumdrum of what to drink in a keg-only pub, in this case one owned by a large cask brewery (who I won't name expect to say it's in Manchester, begins with H and isn't Holt's). The choices were the already declined Smooth, Guinness Extra Cold or Becks Vier.

In the end, I watched the nightmare unfold on the pitch with nothing to take the edge off the pain except a large glass of lemonade.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Roman governors?

According to today's Guardian, the Catholic Church is calling for a "world authority" to regulate the financial markets.

In a document snappily titled Towards Reforming the International Financial and Monetary Systems in the Context of a Global Public Authority, Vatican official Bishop Mario Toso argues that a "central world bank" would lead to "the primacy of the spiritual and of ethics" in international banking.

Who might be qualified to run this central bank, maintaining the strictest secrecy given its crucial but highly sensitive role in overseeing the world economy? Given the rivalry between the world's economic superpowers, where would its headquarters be sited? How to stop politicians interfering in its affairs for their own ends? If only there was a group of unelected politicians in a highly centralised State outside international institutions with centuries of experience in handling vast sums of money in complete secrecy...


Monday, 24 October 2011

A flying visit from the Glazer brothers

It was apt that the Glazer brothers, Manchester United's absentee directors, chose to arrive at Old Trafford by helicopter yesterday afternoon before heading off to Wembley to watch their other team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, lose a NFL game to the Chicago Bears. The Glazers have no connection, whether emotional, family or even financial, to the club they own. Their father Malcolm has never even been to the city, let alone the ground, and is happy to charge fans £75 a ticket to pay off the Wall St loans he used to buy the club in the first place. 

Say what you like about the last generation of English football club owners likes the Edwards, Doug Ellis and Peter Swales (and there is a lot you could say about them, much of it potentially libellous) but at least they were also fans of the clubs they owned as well as businessmen.  They were members of the wider community of which the club was a part with the pressure that brought to bear on their behaviour, for example on ticket prices, unlike people who swoop in by helicopter now and again only to disappear into the sky like Mary Poppins at the end of the match.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Shakespeare, snobbery and conspiracy theories

The upcoming film Anonymous starring Vanessa Redgrave as Elizabeth I is based on the hoary theory that someone else, in this case the Earl of Oxford, wrote William Shakespeare's plays.

I'm no expert on Shakespeare but it strikes me that the idea is essentially based on snobbery,  that a grammar school boy from Stratford couldn't possibly have the knowledge of the world the plays demonstrate. This ignores the fact that he had access to books - indeed many of the plays are based on classical sources like Plutarch - and that even those set in Ancient Italy or Greece have settings and characters straight out of the English countryside. Talking of which, there's a story that a Shakesperean actor was walking down a Warwickshire lane one day when he saw two men cutting a hedge. He asked them what they were doing and one of them said, "I rough-hew them and he shapes the ends", an echo of Hamlet's, "There's a divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will".

It's commonplace to say that while Vanessa Redgrave has nutty politics, she's a great actress. While I agree with the first assertion, I'm not convinced about the second - she always seems to me to belong to the Imelda Staunton "look at me" school of overacting.

Challenged about the lack of evidence for the Earl of Oxford theory on BBC breakfast TV this morning, Redgrave countered rather lamely that there wasn't much evidence for Shakespeare either. At one level, the argument about who wrote Shakespeare's plays is a harmless literary game. It's certainly a less poisonous conspiracy theory than others Redgrave was associated with when she was a leading member of Gerry Healy's Workers Revolutionary Party in the 70's and 80's.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Gadaffi: death of a tyrant

The circumstances in which Libyan dictator Colonel Gadaffi met his end yesterday may not be entirely clear yet but it seems safe to say that he was shot by rebels after being wounded and then captured.

You might think there would be pretty much universal rejoicing over the death of someone with some of the bloodiest hands in the Arab world, mainly the blood of the Libyan people themselves.

There are four groups who refused to join the jubilation of the Libyan people:

1. those on the left who supported Gadaffi as an anti-imperialist (a relatively small group of ex-Healyites, Maoists and others not of this planet) and for whom the Libyan revolutionaries are merely tools of NATO;

2. pacifists who oppose all wars and killing, often on sincere religious grounds;

3. those for whom anti-Americanism is the guiding light of their politics, from the Stalinists of the Morning Star to the ex-SWP leaders of Stop the War;

4. liberals like Amnesty International who wring their hands about the lack of "due process" in killing Gadaffi but who conversely would have opposed any trial as "victor's justice".

These currents overlap and influence each other but are all equally muddle-headed.  Meanwhile, all socialists, democrats and decent people can celebrate with those on the streets of Tripoli the demise of Gaddafi, just as we did that of Ceaucescu, Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Dale Farm: ten questions

1. do Basildon Council pursue all infringements of planning law as vigorously as ones involving Irish Travellers living in caravans on an old scrapyard they've bought?

2. do the police normally smash their way into properties bailiffs have a court order to repossess?

3. has Basildon Council made any provision for Travellers in the borough?

4. is Basildon Council planning to make any?

5. has anyone from Basildon Council indicated where Irish Travellers evicted from Dale Farm are expected to go?

6. has Basildon Council or the High Court taken into account the cultural needs of the Irish Travellers, a group supposedly protected by the Race Relations Act?

7. has Basildon Council plans to ensure Irish Traveller children attending schools in the borough continue to receive an education?

8. has Basildon Council or the High Court taken into account the health needs of elderly and sick people forced to take to the road in winter?

9. will the police react sympathetically to Travellers evicted from Dale Farm halting on parks, industrial estates etc?

10. have any of these people heard of the Porajmos?

The answer to all these questions I would suggest is No.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Crossing the river

Coming off the motorway at Sale the other day, I spotted this sign showing the River Mersey as the historic boundary between the counties of Lancashire and Cheshire.

I know people who argue for the restoration of the historic English counties are often Tories but even so I think they have a point.  The objection to the post-1974 metropolitan county of Greater Manchester is not just that it is artificial and has arbitrary boundaries but also that it ignores the Lancashire identity of towns like Bury and Wigan which continue to have their own distinctive accents, cuisine and culture.

I still feel I'm crossing a natural boundary when going over the Mersey.  It's not an accident that many borders around the world are marked by rivers. 

I was born in Manchester when it was still part of Lancashire, support Lancashire County Cricket Club who still play at Old Trafford and look forward to the day when Whitehall comes round to what locals have known all along.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Out of Africa

I'd been looking forward to Origins of Us, the BBC2 series on evolution presented by Dr Alice Roberts which started last night.

A number of things struck me, not least the extent to which humans' relationship with the environment has shaped evolution.  It is now thought that climate change and a thinning out of the forests of East Africa led to our hominid ancestors standing upright in order to reach food on higher tree branches about two million years ago.  The closeness of human and chimpanzee DNA, with a common ancestor about five million years ago, makes us near relatives and also underlines how ridiculous it is to divide humanity into separate races based on differences in skin colour, language or culture.

As the fossil evidence becomes ever more extensive, I look forward with amusement to how religious creationists will try to convince the rest of us that we appeared as we are now six thousand years ago.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Hillsborough twenty-two years on

I signed the e-petition that triggered tonight's House of Commons debate about the release of Government documents relating to events leading up to the loss of 96 lives before a FA Cup semi-final at Sheffield Wednesday's Hillsborough ground in 1989 and hope that the relatives of those who died are successful in their bid to have them published. I think it's unlikely however that the smoking gun they're looking for will be found in them, especially if the Cabinet Office blanks out sections.

The boycott of The Sun in Liverpool after it printed unfounded claims about the behaviour of fans at Hillsborough, based on anonymous "police sources", continues and rightly so: that article was just a small part of the damaging effect the Murdoch empire has had on British society. 

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Standing up for fans

I watched the last few minutes of the Bundesliga game between FC Köln and Hannover before.  There was an unfamiliar noise in the ground, that of the fans' singing and chanting rolling down the terraces and onto the pitch.  It is of course a sound long banished from English football, allegedly for safety and accessibility reasons but in reality as part of the drive by clubs to price younger and less well off fans out of watching games live at the ground.

Either standing is inherently dangerous or it's not. If it is, why hasn't it been banned in rugby (league and union), horseracing and lower league football? Those who hold Hillsborough up as the reason for maintaining the ban on standing have to answer the question of why no one ever died on much larger terraces like the Stretford End, North Bank and Holte End.  The truth is that the ban on standing suited both the clubs who wanted to hike up ticket prices and politicians who wanted to blame fans for the failings of the police at Sheffield Wednesday in 1989.

To show what the atmosphere's like at FC Köln's ground, here's a video of fans at the RheinEnergieStadion getting behind their team.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

RIP Betty

Betty Driver, the actress who played Rovers Return barmaid Betty in Coronation Street for forty-two years, died today aged 91.

The Rovers is a strange pub.  Everyone who lives on Coronation Street is obliged to drink there (and work opposite in the factory, garage or taxi office) and the only hot food available is Betty’s Lancashire hotpot.

The brewery which supplies the Rovers, Newton and Ridley, apparently stopped brewing cask beer in the late 60’s and started again in the early 90’s when handpumps reappeared on the bar.  In the first episode in 1960, Ken Barlow and Dennis Tanner are seen drinking halves of mild in the public bar.  The only two original cast members in the show, they both now seem to have switched to bitter although Norris Cole recently ordered half a mild, the first person to do so since I think.

Xmas beer

The tinsel and trees appearing in the shop windows of South Manchester have got me thinking about my Xmas beer box, the cardboard receptacle that I will spend the festive period working my way through.

Some beers just go with Xmas: strong, fruity beers like Fullers 1845, even stronger Belgian Trappist beers like Westmalle Dubbel and Aecht Schlenkerla smoked beer from Bamberg in Bavaria; all have a warming effect and go well with Xmas dinner.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Libraries, Labour councils and the Lansburys

The High Court yesterday ruled that Brent Council in North West London can close half its public libraries. It's been a busy few days for Mr Justice Ouseley, the judge in the case, who earlier this week airily dismissed the educational and health needs of Irish Travellers at Dale Farm in Essex and gave Basildon Council the go ahead to evict them.

One of the libraries set to shut is Kensal Rise (pictured left), opened in 1900 by Mark Twain, and the campaign to stop its closure has attracted support from local literary celebrities including Alan Bennett, Philip Pullman and Zadie Smith. The council closed all its libraries yesterday morning and then once they'd got their judgment reopened half of them and boarded up the ones set to close.  Labour leader of Brent Ann John - channelling the American general in Vietnam who said he'd had to destroy a town in order to save it - hailed the court's decision as meaning that "we can push ahead with our exciting plans to improve Brent's library service and offer a 21st-century service for the benefit of all our residents".

In 1985, then Labour leader Neil Kninnock used his speech at the party's annual conference to launch an attack on the Militant-led Liverpool City Council, famously declaring his contempt for "a Labour council, a Labour council, hiring taxis to scuttle round the city handing out redundancy notices to its own workers."  Not a peep from Kinnock's successor Ed Miliband yesterday, maybe handing out redundancy notices by taxi is what Labour leaders object to.

The standard defence of Labour councillors making cuts to jobs and services is to blame the Tories and Lib Dems (whose local MP Sarah Teather has hypocritically backed the Kensal Rise campaign) and claim that if they defied  the government over them worse cuts would be implemented by an appointed official. Leaving aside their spinelessness, it's hard to see in this case what an official could have done worse, apart from shutting all Brent's libraries.

That there has been a very different sort of Labour councillor was also highlighted yesterday, the ninetieth anniversary of the release from prison of future Labour leader George Lansbury, his daughter-in-law Minnie and their comrades on Poplar council in East London who had defied the Tory-Liberal coalition to defend wages and services in one of the poorest boroughs of the capital.

h/t to Janine Booth for alerting me to the anniversary; her book about the Poplar revolt, Guilty and Proud of It!, is available here.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Crisis, what crisis?

The media hoo-haa about the problems being experienced by Blackberry users continues with The Guardian today reprinting the tweets of celebrities caught up in the end of the world as they know it including Alan Sugar, cricketer Kevin Pietersen, Jemima Khan and Alastair Campbell who added the hashtag #getmybloodyblackberrybackon.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, the official unemployment figures topped two and a half million for the first time since 1994 - i.e. the last recession under a Tory government - with nearly a million of those signing on young people between 18 and 24.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

No balls sleaze


The trial of Pakistani cricketers Salman Butt and Mohammad Asif for conspiracy to accept corrupt payments currently being heard at Southwark Crown Court centres on allegations that they took money in exchange for bowling no balls.

According to the prosecution, the players were paid £140,000 for bowling no balls in the Fourth Test against England at Lord's last August.  Along with another, player, Mohammad Amir, they have since been banned from playing for between five and ten years by the International Cricket Council.

The question I keep asking myself is who the victim of this alleged crime might be.  If the allegation was that they had thrown the match for money, it would obviously be those who had paid for tickets for the Test match believing it was on the level.  But the no balls had no effect on the result.  The only potential victims I can see are bookmakers who took punters' money and then paid out when the no balls were bowled at exactly the points in the match they predicted.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Nazi thugs on TV

The thing that struck me most watching Panorama's expose of financial fraud by the British National Party last night - and indeed made me laugh out loud - was the shocked tones in which ex-members who had fallen out with the leadership described how they'd been dealt with.

They had been intimidated, targetted in their homes and communities with defamatory leaflets, even held hostage by heavies in the back of a van.  Who could have guessed that Nazis would deal with their opponents like this?  It reminded me of how the Irish Communist Party in the 1930's bought a printing press from the IRA and when they didn't keep up the repayments received a visit from some gentlemen with guns to repossess it rather than a court summons.

We shouldn't rely on the State - whether the Met Police or the Electoral Commission - to deal with the BNP but it's good news that their investigations into its financial shennanigans has led to yet more splits, infighting and bad blood amongst the fascists.

Monday, 10 October 2011

The two nations of rugby

Since the 1895 split in English rugby football,  rugby league has been the Northern, working-class and professional counterpart to the Southern, middle-class and until 1995 officially amateur (in reality, semi-professional) rugby union. This weekend's World Cup matches in rugby union and Super League Grand Final in rugby league highlighted the differences between the two codes.
One of the reasons I prefer rugby league to rugby union is something that fans of the 15-a-side code claim as a strength, namely that, unlike the 13-a-side game, it can be played by people of all sizes. That might have been OK when rugby union was still officially amateur and more of a game for players than spectators but I for one wouldn't pay to watch fat guys lumbering into each and lying on the ball compared to the athleticism and speed of rugby league.

Those qualities were on full view at Old Trafford on Saturday night in the rugby league Grand Final as Leeds beat St Helens with Robbie Burrow, probably the smallest guy on the pitch, scoring a try and setting up another with two dazzling runs.  Even in slow motion the rugby league players look faster than their union counterparts. No wonder the French nicknamed league "lightning rugby" after Salford played a promotional tour there in the 1930's.

It's not just on the field that rugby league stands out, its professional image standing in sharp contrast to the dwarf throwing, ball tampering and ferry diving antics of the England rugby union team whose World Cup, not surprisingly given the players' class background, increasingly began to resemble an inadequately disciplined public school trip.

It is not just in former mining areas and ports in Northern England or the east coast of Australia that working-class people play football with an oval ball.  There is at least one place where rugby union is  truly a mass sport: Wales.  As they're still in the World Cup, that's who I'll be rooting for.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

The anti-fascist hairdresser

I listened to today's episode of  Desert Island Discs not just to see which eight tracks celebrity hairdresser Vidal Sassoon had chosen but also to hear more about his anti-fascist activity.

As a seventeen year old, Sassoon was a member of the 43 Group, the organisation of Jewish ex-servicemen who in the mid to late 1940's broke up fascist street meetings in the East End of London. This inspiring example of militant working-class anti-fascism deserves to be more widely known.  You can read about it here.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Jobs worth the hype?

In the last few days, reams of newsprint and hours of broadcasting have been devoted to the death of Steve Jobs, co-founder and chief executive of the computer company Apple.

I've never used any of Apple's products but am willing to concede that he had an impact on computer technology, coming up with ideas that other companies were forced to copy in order to compete.  His death therefore warranted a obituary in the newspapers and a mention on TV and radio.  But not the over the top reaction there's been, from Barack Obama's "a visionary who changed the world" (move over Galileo, Darwin and Einstein) to The Guardian's "he rewrote the rules of capitalism" (hmm, wonder what the Chinese workers who actually produce Apple's stuff in slave-like conditions in a factory known for its high suicide rate would think about that, assuming they have time to think).

This seems to me another example of the Princess Diana phenomenon whereby the media manufacture a wave of public mourning around the death of a moderately interesting person to the extent that those who don't feel any grief (the majority) begin to feel like the odd ones out.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Russian icon

I'm in a bit of a Russian phase at the moment.  I'm just over half way through Life and Fate, Vasily Grossman's epic novel centred on the Battle of Stalingrad, which has prompted me to dig out my Russian Made Simple book which I last had a go at about twenty years ago.

Now the Russian hat trick is complete with the news that Wells and Young have brewed a new batch of Courage's Russian Imperial Stout, the strong bottle conditioned beer that was last brewed in 1993. Originally brewed at the Anchor Brewery in Southwark by Thrales and then Barclay Perkins for export by sea to the court of the Russian tsars in St Petersburg, it's a beer I've never drunk and I'm looking forward to its release next year.

Here's a description of Russian Imperial Stout by the journalist Cyril Ray who visited the cellars of the Anchor Brewery in the mid-1960's.

"The firm's visitors' bar stood me a bottle of the 1962 Russian Stout...A smooth, rich, velvety depth-charge of a drink - sweet, but with the sweetness only of the malt, for there is no added sugar, and yet with the bitter tang of hops...[and then] down to the Russian cellars to taste one or two that had been specially bottled and long matured. First the 1957, poured from a pint champagne bottle that had been corked and wired, exactly like champagne, and matured lying on its side...The cork came out with a pop, and the beer frothed creamily into the glass, dark and rich. Smoother than the 1962, I thought, but it was surpassed by the 1948 which came from a full-sized champagne bottle, smelled like burgundy and drank like liquid silk."

Let's hope Wells and Young can reach these standards.

h/t to Ron at Shut up about Barclay Perkins for reproducing the Cyril Ray piece which you can read in full here.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

The Sound of Young America

Last week's death of Marv Tarplin, the guitarist in Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, got me thinking about the criticism that the music coming out of Motown's Hitsville USA studio in Detroit in the late 50's and early 60's was as mass produced as the cars rolling off the Ford assembly line which gave the city and the label their names.

There is no denying that the Motown sound is more polished than the Southern soul exemplified by Stax in Memphis.  The label's founder Berry Gordy, a former assembly line worker at Ford who had previously run an unsuccessful jazz record store, consciously created a template for music that would appeal to young white as well as black people, labelled the Sound of Young America.

But the Motown sound was also rooted in African-American gospel and specifically its immaculate close harmony singing. Combined with sharp suits, some nifty dance steps and lyricists of the calibre of Smokey Robinson (who wasn't called "America's greatest living poet" by Bob Dylan but could have been), it produced a sound and a look that is as distinctive as it is timeless.

Another blow for Murdoch?

I was pleased that Karen Murphy, the landlady of a pub in Portsmouth who chose to show a Greek broadcaster's coverage of Premier League football rather than Sky's, won her case in the European Court of Justice yesterday.

I've watched live football in pubs broadcast from Greece, Scandinavia and North Africa.  With Sky charging pubs £700 a month and overseas broadcasters around £60 you can see why. And like me, a lot of the people watching live foreign broadcasts of a match at 3 o'clock on a Saturday afternoon - games which Sky itself can't show - are people who have been priced out of actually going to the ground by the Premier League clubs.

The idea that you should be able to buy stuff cheaper from elsewhere in the EU seems pretty fundamental to a free trade organisation and the judge hearing the case was quick to side with Ms Murphy on that point. Whether the Premier League manages to reassert its control by witholding copyright permissions and whether many domestic Sky customers switch to other channels remains to be seen but the mere possibilty of the Murdoch empire losing some more money as a result of her bringing the case should make any decent person raise a glass to her.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

With liberty and justice for all?

The news that Amanda Knox, the American student convicted of murdering her British flatmate in Perugia, Italy in 2007, has been freed on appeal has been met with popular acclaim across the Atlantic.  This is unsurprising as the US media assumed from the start that the Italian justice system was so flawed and the Italian police so incompetent that a fair trial was impossible.

Even if it's true that Italy's justice system is flawed, it does not follow that the US one is superior. Those who think so might want to consider the case of Troy Davis, the 42 year old African-American man executed last month in Georgia for the 1989 shooting of an off-duty police officer, who was convicted on similarly shaky evidence and protested his innocence up to the door of the execution chamber.

That the US media assumes an eduicated, middle-class white woman is innocent and a poor Southern black man is guilty says a lot about the racism that still runs through much of American society.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Thirty years ago today

The Tory party is meeting in Manchester this week, at the convention centre that was Manchester Central railway station until the late 60's.  The photograph shows it standing derelict in 1981, a couple of years after a Tory government had come to power proclaiming that there was "no alternative" to economic slash and burn policies that devastated large swathes of British industry and put millions on the dole.

With the Tories back in power, how long before it looks like this again?

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Peterloo and public school politicians

Along with about thirty thousand other people, I was in Manchester city centre this afternoon for the TUC demo outside the Tory party conference.

The conference is taking place at the Manchester Central Convention Centre (Manchester Central railway station until 1969), close to the site of Peter's Fields where in 1819 fifteen people demanding parliamentary reform were cut down by the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry Cavalry in what is now known as the Peterloo Massacre.

A lot has changed since 1819.  Working-class men and women got the vote in 1918. In 1819, the Tory Prime Minister was the Charterhouse and Oxford educated Lord Liverpool; now it's an old Etonian...

There have been only been three Prime Ministers not educated at a public school or Oxbridge, two Labour (Brown and Callaghan) and one Tory (Major). When will we see the next one?

The photo shows the RMT rail union's Manchester branch banner depicting the Peterloo Massacre, ending with a quote from Shelley's 1819 poem The Mask of Anarchy:

"Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number,
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you-
Ye are many — they are few"

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Trial on TV

I've watched bits of the trial of Conrad Murray, the doctor accused of the involuntary manslaughter of Michael Jackson, live from Los Angeles on the BBC and Sky News.  As Tony Hancock said in Twelve Angry Men, it's just like they do it on TV, although the way American lawyers question witnesses seems a bit laborious to English eyes. Sky News have got a English barrister who's also a member of the California Bar to give expert analysis which is useful but they do keep going to a commercial break every five minutes.

Inevitably, watching the trial you come to your own conclusions about the case. Even at this early stage of the trial, I think it's pretty clear Dr. Murray is guilty as charged.  Having said that, given Jackson himself got away with sexual offences against a child, I hope Murray gets away with his crime too, or failing that receives the shortest sentence possible.