It’s been nearly four months now

Before we start: this may strike some of you as whiny, self indulgent crap – others have been through worse etc – and if that is the case, then that is fine with me. But hopefully venting might help me to get over it. So here goes.

On sunday 31st October, at about 10:30pm I was on my way home from a High Society shift at Bluewater Shopping Centre. While walking along the road I live on, 2 guys pulled their bikes over (one behind me, one in front), pulled me to the ground and stole my phone and wallet. Doesn’t sound like a lot, and didn’t cost me anything of value (phone was going to be upgraded anyway, all stuff in wallet was replaced within couple of weeks). Apart from a bump on the head, a couple of scrapes and a bleeding mouth, I was physically unharmed and was able to scramble home and Sayem was able to get hold of my sister, who called the police and an ambulance. They checked me out, took a statement, all the standard procedure. Nothing has come of it, but they went and investigated anyway. In terms of what the police have to deal with, not a major issue, not a major crime.

The thing is – and this is the part that is more personal so if that’s not something you want to read, stop here – that I have not forgotten what happened, and I know that it is still affecting me. I am still afraid to go outside anywhere near my neighborhood any time after about 3:30. I still look suspiciously at anyone wearing a hoodie or tracksuit bottoms (that is what the two guys were wearing). Even though it has been almost four months, I still don’t feel comfortable being alone, outside, in pretty much any part of south London. I weigh up the fastest way to get around, whether it be to the gym, to Emma’s place, to the station – including which station to use, which one will have more people so I am less likely to be targeted, that kind of thing. It has been nearly four months now, and while I am relatively confident when in central London of walking around on my own after dark, quite simply I am too scared to do the same thing in my own part of town. I am frightened of a part of London that I have been either visiting regularly or living in for the better part of the last six years.

What really bites, beyond the financial strain of paying for taxis from the station when on my way home after dark, is that I do not know how to stop it. I don’t know what I can do to make it better, to feel comfortable and safe in my environment, and to not shake with adrenaline every time I make it to my own front door. There are more important things that I want to be able to do. There are more fun things I want to get involved in. Hell, there are really mundane things that I wish I could do like I did before without panicking or running away from some imagined attacker.

I don’t know if it is a weakness, an overactive imagination or just part of the process, but I know that people have been through much worse things than my experience. There are people who live with much worse pressures, fears and problems every day, who are able to function, grit their teeth and push through it. I desperately want to be one of those people. I need to get over this. I need to move on with my life, and stop one minor event from destroying my already anemic social life, stop it from preventing me from finding a job that will allow me to actually pay my bills, and above all, I just don’t want to be scared of everyone anymore. It makes it very hard to enjoy all the pieces of good fortune I have.

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A view on the anti-cuts movement

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I have attended several of the anti-cuts marches, demonstrations and events, from the protests against tuition fee increases to the march through London on January 29th.  At these events I have seen people from a variety of social groups, ages, races, but all united in their passion to defend themselves and their friends from the swinging axe of Tory ideology. However, the march at the end of last month was nowhere near as large as those in November and December. I do not think that there is a loss of opposition to what the government are doing, but I do fear that there might be a lack of direction, which is damaging the effectiveness of the movement
My approach to what is happening to this country is well served by this statement, attributed to either Harry S. Truman or Woody Allen: “Decisions are made by those who show up”. That is what we must now do. Show up. Show up by pressuring those in power, those who are cutting vital services with no consideration for the damage, pain and suffering that the loss of those services will cause, for example cutting benefits so that benefit cheats can no longer choose it as a “lifestyle”. Never mind all those who need those benefits because they cannot find a job, and have families to feed. Never mind hacking into public services, citing inefficiency, then setting unrealistic targets of expenditure reduction, when those most likely to be made redundant are not high-paid managers, but their subordinates. These ideological attacks on the public sector, on education, healthcare and the welfare state must be opposed. Here I will try to explain my personal opinion on how best we can go about doing so.
Every protest, march and event needs to have a clearly articulated message. Make sure that, as much as possible, everyone who is at the event is able to explain to passers by and observers what it is that they are fighting for. The tax avoidance protests by UKUncut is an example of how well this can work. People who see a protest are not always aware what it is about, and a number of them are shocked by what they find out, after we tell them about it. This needs to be spread to every event that is targeted at a government cut, or tax avoiders, or at a policy that will threaten the futures of a generation.
If people think that we are just there because we are young and want to make noise or cause them problems, we are failing to articulate our message – that these cuts affect more than just us. We need to get everyday people on the street to feel like they can get involved. Wanting to stand up against these cuts is not a feeling restricted only to those under 25. There are people of all ages who agree with what we are saying, and should not be ostracised because of their age. If they do not want to march with us, urge them to contact their MP, or to talk to their friends. We need to be seen to be standing up for everyone. The student protests against tuition fee rises was dismissed by far too many people as just being students annoyed at having to pay more. We need to spread the message that we are not just looking out for ourselves but looking out for others.
In terms of how to do this, when I went to the rally points for the marches I was handed several leaflets by various groups, SWP, Militant Student, Socialist Resistance among others. Often this is latched onto by the media as a reason to ignore us, or to say that it is just the radical left who are opposing what is happening. I think that we need to be able to produce leaflets that we can hand out to people who are watching us. This may require more expenditure, which I know will be tough, but it must be more than just different groups within the movement, looking inwards to those already on the streets. If we can get more information out to people, then they can form their own opinions. They may not agree with the action we take, but they might agree with why we are doing it. This is not a bad thing. There is not one way of protesting, and the variety of types of protests will keep up interest, and allow people to express themselves in a way that they are comfortable with. Not everyone wants to stand outside in the cold shouting for seven hours – and if they have an alternative way to get their opinion heard, then that is no bad thing.
Specificity must also come into play. At these events it must be clear what we are there for. It must not just be “we are anti-cuts”, it must be “we are anti THESE cuts, and here is why it affects YOU”. This will help us to demonstrate that we are not just looking for ourselves, and also mean that one of the politicians’ arguments will not be effective. During the protests against tuition fee increase, Nick Clegg said repeatedly that the protesters ‘did not understand’ what the government is doing. If we can demonstrate to people on the street, as well as whatever media we can talk to, that we do understand what the government is doing, and why we are opposing it, then that will be a good step towards gaining some level of respect.
We can also put pressure on the police to stop their violent attempts at suppressing our opinions. We have already had some highly negative experiences at their hands, from kettling people on Westminster Bridge to using CS spray on a peaceful protest. These are problems that we must address and make noise about in their own right. Where we must take a step forward is in engagement with the rank and file police. They will be losing over 10,000 front line officers when the cuts hit them. If they strike, march or protest we ought to be there with them. This may be hard to stomach, especially if you have been through the experience of being kettled before, but it is part of the message that we are looking out for more than just ourselves, and the police spend the majority of their time doing good work. Many of the rank and file police, including one British Transport Police officer I talked with at London Bridge station after the march on the 29th, support us, and what we are doing. They have more in common with us than with the likes of Sir Hugh Orde. If we can get them as onside as possible I believe it will help us.
That being said, we need to keep up pressure on the upper levels of police command to stop kettling at the larger events, as we all know that it will make the situation worse – it derives from the German word ‘kessel’, meaning ‘cauldron’. With the potential of ‘more extreme’ tactics being used against us, it is vital that we keep the pressure on the police to avoid brutality. It is also hugely important that as many people as possible at every event are able to record, film or photograph what is going on, especially police actions. They have their F.I.T. groups, so why can’t we have our own? They are much less confident of being able to push us around when they are on camera. Maintain, or even better, increase the level of evidence we have against what they are doing, and we will be able to show that we are not the aggressors, as it is often suggested in the media. We also have the support of some excellent legal people, and if they are involved in helping one of us, the more evidence the better. We can make it too hard for the police to bully us into submission, and too hard for the ‘small group intent on violence’ narrative from being trotted out by the government yet again. Yes there are small groups whose intention is to cause problems, but we need to make it clear that they are not part of our movement, and we do not support their actions.
It is also important that there are not only large-scale marches through London, but also small, targeted events focussed on local issues, local cuts and local problems. An example of this was the sit-ins in libraries all over the country to show how valuable they are to their communities. While the loss of libraries will affect people all over the country, the protest was at a local level, showing not just a general opposition to library cuts, but giving a human face to those who will be affected by the cut in their own community. The big society is meant to be about local communities taking responsibility, and this is where I think the movement needs to look next, at local community related actions, which will not only show how widespread the problems are, but also show that opposition does not just come from those holding banners and shouting their way through Parliament Square, but also those in towns and city councils across the country who will lose out on vital services, all in the name of budgeting.
If there are more local actions then it will also be possible to put more pressure on local councillors and local MPs, as they will have to see the faces of the people they are affecting, and not just watch a mass crowd outside Parliament via their televisions. They will have to justify to real people why they are hacking into the communities that they themselves are a part of, and why they are cutting services that people they know might use. Give a face to those affected by local cuts, give a voice to the opposition to local cuts and make councillors and MPs have to respond to real people who are really affected, and not just comfort themselves by thinking in abstracts and financial figures – and it is much tougher to vilify someone who wants to read a book than it is a student spray-painting a statue.
The final reason that we must embrace local protest is that they make it much more possible for the disabled to make their voice heard. The DLA cuts did not receive anywhere near as much press and publicity as other government actions, and part of this, I believe, is down to it being harder for those affected to make as much noise as those who are able to stand, sing and shout for hours on end. Many of the disabled, and those who provide them with care and assistance, will be hit hard by this government’s plans, and yet there is nowhere near the appropriate level of representation from that group. We must ensure that our actions are as accessible as possible for everyone, and local, closer to home events can help, since it will cut down on the effort and expense of travelling into a city centre, which can be exhausting before you even get there.
It is vital to ensure the government are made aware how wide-ranging the opposition their cuts are. Therefore it is important that we make sure our actions are as varied, informative and inclusive as possible. We can make our voices heard, and the voices of everyone who will be punished by this governments attack on the public sector, charities, communities, and everyone who is not as wealthy and privileged as them.

We can build this anti-cuts movement. The feelings are there, we must make sure that people do not become disillusioned with what is happening. It is vital to encourage people to get involved, and build momentum towards March 26th.

“It is not the function of our government to keep the citizen from falling into error; it is the function of the citizen to keep the government from falling into error.” – Robert H. Jackson

Multiculturalism and Liberalism

Today (Saturday 5th February 2011) we have seem a member of the social, political and cultural mainstream decide that multiculturalism is a failure in Britain. It must be easy to define how multiculturalism has failed us as a wealthy, Oxford educated white man. The “doctrine of state multiculturalism” has been dismissed as being soft on extremists, so a new direction will be taken to combat terrorism: a Blair-esque “muscular liberalism”.
“The doctrine of state multiculturalism” has not encouraged people to live away from the mainstream. They may have chosen to do so, but encouraging multiculturalism is not about the minorities, it is about the mainstream. It is about encouraging people to realise that there are different cultures being followed by people living in this country. It is about realising that, while those cultures may be different, we can celebrate those differences, rather than talking about tolerating them. When we accept and welcome other cultures, there will be integration. Of course there will be fringe groups on the edges who decide not to integrate, but that should not mean that all those from a similar culture must be blamed or accused. As we would not expect to be judged on the sins of our fathers, we cannot judge people based on the sins of those on the fringes of their communities.
Since it is a lack of British identity that is being blamed for young, disillusioned people embracing extremist, potentially violent, views, it is important to define what is the British Identity that everyone is meant to fit in to? I do not think that defining that culture so that we can decide who is in it and who is not is possible or fair. Through the late 20th century the British identity involved becoming more multicultural, having West Indians, Asians, Arabs, Jews and others moving to Britain and becoming part of the culture. The notion that everyone in Britain will conform to ‘British culture’ is laughable. Those who felt that everyone must conform to the pre-war ‘British’ identity were the likes of Enoch Powell. No culture, British, American, Indian or otherwise is a finite, unchangeable quantity. Cultures are defined by those living in them, experiencing them and contributing to them, not by what part of the map they are in at the time. Vilifying one group, deciding that they need to change or lose part of their home culture will not help them to conform to your culture, it will simply cause them to resent you.
If multiculturalism is such a failure, then why are there so many kebab shops, curry houses, Chinese restaurants? Why do so many Brits drink beers brewed by Dutch, Belgian or German companies? There are different cultures here in the UK, and many of us enjoy interacting with them, even if we are not part of them. Knowing the difference between Sag Paneer and Aloo Gobi doesn’t make you Indian, but if you did not interact with Indian culture (even if it is just for the food) then you wouldn’t. It is a simple example, but the point remains. Or here is another example; if multiculturalism has failed, how is it that the Chair of the Conservative party is a Muslim woman? While I disagree with Baroness Warsi over a great many things, the fact that a Muslim woman could chair the Tory party would have been unthinkable without multiculturalism.
How can people be integrated when phrases like “muscular liberalism” are used to describe how he would like everyone to integrate? Is the idea that everyone will be integrated, by force if necessary? It is not possible to force someone to believe in what you believe. That has been tried before; The empire, the invasion of Iraq, American Cold War support for any dictator who promised to crack down on communism (even if that meant deposing a democratically elected head of state in the process). It is not about saying ‘you will agree with us’. Integration should come from a sharing of ideas, a sharing of ideals, and the realisation that we are not as different as we may superficially appear to be.
“Strengthening … security aspects” has also been proposed. Is this more of the muscular liberalism that is being proposed? Gathering intelligence on religious groups – I would imagine almost entirely Muslim groups – purely because they are religious groups is incredibly illiberal. We are already one of the most watched, scrutinised and observed populations in the world, and in order to make us feel more at liberty and safer the government would like to strengthen security again? National security will be used as a justification, as it always is, but at what point does the state intervention into our lives become too much. The government wants to scale down state involvement in our lives, shifting power “from the state and to the people”. Then how do they, and their Liberal Democrat partners, equate this with even more state monitoring of everything we do, say or believe. There are so many peaceful devout Muslim groups, are they to be spied on and then shunned because of the actions of a few extremists who even Mr Cameron acknowledges are “not the same” as devout Muslims?
One more thing:
In Egypt over the last 2 weeks we have seen many things: protests, a dictator desperately clinging to power and also a great example of multiculturalism in action:
In this picture, there are many Muslims praying. In the foreground there are Egyptian Christians linking arms to protect those praying from any attacks while they are observing the rituals of their faith. This is an example of multiculturalism at its best. Christian and Muslim communities in Egypt have their differences, but here they are united in their desire to rid Egypt of Mubarak. Being from different social and religious groups or cultures has not stopped them from joining each other in action.
(credit picture: http://twitter.com/#!/nevinezaki)

Being a lefty Chelsea fan

I’ve always found there to be something of a contradiction between my political beliefs and my support of Chelsea – especially since it was bought by Roman Abramovich.
On one hand I think that there are much better uses to which £160,000 a week can be put than paying John Terry’s wages, and yet I have a season ticket so that I can go and watch a group of hugely overpaid people play a game. It is hyped, discussed, built up, dramatised and promoted more than almost any other occupation, but it is still a game.
These incredibly well paid people are professionals, and despite the behaviour of many of them off the field (this includes several of the current squad) they are skilled at what they do – though I am still at a loss to explain the 3-0 home defeat to Sunderland. The contracts football players at the top levels are on are a fairly solid proof of the most solid foundation of capitalism – people earn what the market will tolerate them earning, for the skills they have. But just because you can pay someone £10million a year (before bonuses), doesn’t mean that you should.
From a political, and moral, point of view, there is something wrong when you have a Russian oligarch, who is not entirely free of controversy, hands over £50 million to a group of Americans, so that one Spanish player can move from Liverpool to London, and sign a contract rumoured to be worth £175,000 a week – surely there are better uses to which all this money can be put? I do not know what kind of tax avoidance is undertaken by footballers, but I am certain that, though many clubs like Chelsea are involved with a variety of charities, there is certainly more that could be done to help those not fortunate enough to be on multi-million pound deals.
The conflict between politics and football arises here, since despite everything written above, I am delighted that my team has signed Torres and David Luiz, because I love watching Chelsea play, especially when they are winning. Signing one of the worlds best strikers and one of the best defensive prospects in the game will help us do that.
I think that the contradiction is causes by how I think about Chelsea. When I use my brain, applying logic and reason to how I feel about the club, then I agree that there are better ways to spend all that money, and certainly no one person is worth handing over that much cash, no matter how skilled at his job he may be.
But when I think about how being at Stamford Bridge at the end of last season to watch us lift the Premier League trophy, all the other stuff goes out the window. I remember the elation, the joy of myself and everyone else who stayed in the ground singing, chanting, clapping and dancing as the trophy was paraded before us. I remember it being one of the best moments I have shared with my dad in years, both of us jumping up and down, clapping, cheering and generally making fools of ourselves. I remember the guy sitting in front of me, who must have been approaching retirement, who had tears running down his face. Those feelings make all the valid points about the excesses go out the window. For a fan, watching your team succeed is an incredible thing. It manages to make all the worries you have about your future, your job, finances or relationships disappear for a little while, so that you and 41,000 other people inside that small part of west London can go absolutely mental.
When I am asked by people who are not football fans how I can be happy that we have signed someone on a huge contract, making more money in a week than I might see in a decade, I don’t really have an answer. That is what they have been paid. I don’t think it is right that footballers earn the insane amounts of money that they do. But I still want my team to win.

The ongoing saga of the Olympic Stadium

We are still waiting to find out who is going to be moving into the Olympic Stadium after 2012. As someone who is a football fan (though not in any way supportive of any of the clubs involved in the bidding process) as well as an inhabitant of the Crystal Palace area, I have something of an interest in what is going on. Depending on what happens, it would very well be possible that the area where I live will be affected by the outcome in Stratford. As far as I can tell, the parties involved, and their proposals, seem to be:
1) West Ham: Their plan seems to involve keeping the Olympic Stadium much as it is, most importantly, keeping the running track so that the stadium can be used as a multi-event venue, in a similar way to how Wembley currently hosts football, concerts, rugby and NFL games. This option would seem to satisfy the criteria of the bid that won the Olympics, as it would allow UK Athletics to have a home venue, and would keep the promise about an athletics legacy post 2012.
For further reading:
2) Tottenham: The Spurs plan involves extensively rebuilding the Olympic Stadium, so that it is a football ground. This means that there will be no athletics track. This also means that there will not be a legacy of athletics at the venue. Given the issue of the legacy, and how athletics would be served by Spurs’ proposed move to the Olympic park, they have added as part of their plan a redevelopment of the National Sports Centre in Crystal Palace Park, so that there is somewhere for UK Athletics to be housed, allowing Spurs to do what they like with the Olympic site.
One question I would have of this plan is why Spurs would move to Stratford to build a new ground, on top of the essentially brand new Olympic Stadium. Surely they would be better served staying in North London with their fanbase, and building a new ground closer to their home? There was a proposal to build a new stadium closer to White Hart Lane floated last year, but it would appear that this plan has been shelved in preference of the Olympic site move.
3) Crystal Palace: As the club named after the area (despite being based in nearby Selhurst since 1924) it would make sense for the Eagles to return to their original home in the Park. They have submitted a proposal for a move from Selhurst Park to the National Sports Centre . This proposal does include a commitment to athletics, and would allow the NSC to retain its athletics heretige, as well as giving Palace a move away from Selhurst Park. This would seem to depend, however, on the outcome of the bids for who would take over the Olympic Stadium – if Spurs bid is the winner, then the NSC would be redeveloped for athletics only.
Those appear to be the three choices at this moment in time. If the West Ham bid is accepted then it is possible that the Crystal Palace move to the NSC would be possible as well. This would be my preferred option, as it would mean that the Olympic Stadium is retained as an athletic venue and not knocked down and rebuild for football. It would also mean that there would be redevelopment for the National Sports Centre, and hopefully it would mean a bit more activity in the Crystal Palace area, given the increased numbers of people using services in the area. It might make some weekends a bit more crowded, but I think that, overall, for the area having Palace move back to the park is the best option. The main benefit of the Spurs plan is that there will be redevelopment of the NSC, which, whoever wins, is desperately needed. If there is to be redevelopment it needs to take athletics into account, which both the Spurs and Palace plans do, but I think that overall the best result for both UK Althetics and the Crystal Palace area is to have West Ham move to the Olympic Park and have Crystal Palace move back to the park.