Kitchen Table Extremism

December 19, 2015

Imagine yourself as a Muslim child growing up in the east end of London. Your immigrant parents are hard working and your home is warm. Everything in your life is normal and safe except for one strange thing. Each day your dad tells you that the western world is conspiring against Islam. That America and Britain are attempting to destroy your religion, your community, your identity. He then tells you that Islam is a peaceful religion.

Your childhood is happy. You do well at school. By the time you reach your teens, you are expected to go to university and achieve far more than your parents ever could. Again, each day, your dad tells you that the west wants to destroy Islam. It’s hurtful to know that the white people around you pretend to be friendly but in fact are duplicitous.

At the age of 15 you discover ISIS videos on the internet. They also tell you that the west wants to destroy Islam, but they tell you that your father is wrong. Islam knows how to fight back. You are inspired. You steal your brothers passport and credit card and you go to Syria with the intention of joining them. When your parents discover this, they are furious that the police did nothing to stop it. They blame the local mosque for radicalising their child. Read the rest of this entry »

What do the British really think?

April 14, 2014

British attitudes

According to a study by Ipsos Mori, the British people seem to believe themselves to be surrounded by foreigners and scroungers. People perceive that there are five times as many Muslims as there are in reality. They believe that there are three times as many unemployed. They think that Christians are only a third of the population, when in fact they are almost double that figure. What to make of it? Read the rest of this entry »

Labour’s response to the BBC license debate

March 10, 2014

The Tories have gotton so excited about the idea of decriminalising the BBC license fee, that it’s difficult to avoid the suspicion that they see this as an opportunity to do down the national broadcaster. Labour needs to have a response, or else the debate will be guided by those who wish to see television controlled by press barons and oligarchs.

Apparently 10% of cases before the magistrates’ courts are for evasion of the license fee. On the face of it this sounds extraordinary, but before we accept this figure on face value, we should first recognise that it came from the Magistrates Association, a body with a history empire building.

In recent years they have campaigned for fewer cases to be sent up to the crown court for sentencing, for themselves and not the police to give cautions to offenders, and for the abolition of fixed penalty notices, in order that they can have a monopoly over fines.
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C’mon Ed, fight!

August 5, 2013

In case the reader needs reassurance that Osborne is a failed Chancellor, you only have to look at what the financial services people are saying. A couple of weeks ago, Citywire ran with this headline, “Hooray for the (debt-fuelled) UK recovery!”

How about this funny analysis from the stockbroker Hargreaves Lansdowne: “Former US president Abraham Lincoln has been credited with saying the problem with politics is you can never please all of the people all of the time. In a more contemporary setting and with the UK yet to regain ground lost during the 2008-09 recession chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne has struggled to please anyone at any time since stepping into 11 Downing Street three years ago.”

However, the one thing that the Tories do massively better than Labour is this: When they are down, they come out fighting. Even when the world took note that Keynes had won and austerity lost, they carried on fighting. The question is, what does Labour do? Has Ed Miliband and Ed balls given up? Do we only have an opposition on a Wednesday lunchtime?
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Tackling racism is important but we can’t just see minorities as eternal victims

January 27, 2013

When I was a child, a lad in our street threw a stone through the window of the first Bangladeshi family to move into our street. We were rounded up by the local vicar and taken around to the family, and they gave us biscuits and lemonade, and made friends with us. Other Bangladeshi families arrived over the next few years, but they didn’t get their windows smashed.

More recently, I did some community work on the Boundary estate, near Brick Lane. One of the issues was the relations between the new middle-class white residents and the existing Bangladeshi community. Leila’s cafe and shop, which sold organic food, had her windows smashed by the local Bangladeshi teenagers. Her response was to make friends with them, and these days they treat Leila with great respect, because they all want jobs in the cafe.
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Miliband needs practical policies on integration

December 28, 2012

Today, Ed Miliband promised that in 2013 we will see some concrete policies that define what being a one nation party means. Good. We need them. There are many areas the detail is necessary, not least on integration.

Before Christmas, Ed made a good speech on the subject. He struck the right notes in a measured manner, acknowledging the benefits migrant communities have brought to Britain while stressing the importance of the basics such as everyone speaking English. So far, so good.

Now we need to explain what this means in practice. For those that can’t speak English, what will we do?

A practical example. In my experience, if I can’t understand my Bangladeshi client, when I’m filling out the legal aid form, then I just pass them the pen and ask them to fill in their own details. In the box marked “place of birth”, quite often, they will write, “London hospital, Whitechapel”.
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Making Immigration Policy Tangible

June 25, 2012

A couple of years ago, following a spate of gang violence, I chaired a youth crime task force, where we strove to create workable ideas for providing employment and occupation to young white and black lads who were hanging about on the street corner, getting bored and getting into trouble. We found ourselves discussing the fact that east-end families used to go fruit picking in the summer, but the tradition seems to have been lost.
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Landshare – Promises to Clean Up the Estates

February 8, 2012

There’s a problem that’s been bugging me for as long as I’ve been involved in local politics, and I think I’ve finally found the answer.

The problem is the way that the estates in east London look so scruffy, due to the gardens on the ground floor of blocks being untended and often overgrown with weeds. When I first became involved with labour campaigning I thought this indicated that the demand model of social housing was a failure. People who buy their homes or pay private rent wouldn’t pay for a garden if they didn’t want it, but in social housing they just get given a garden when they have no interest in tending it. However, I was corrected by the fact that people with mobility issues are housed on the ground floor. It’s not the allocation that causes the problem, but the aging population.
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Tommy Robinson – a Psychological Profile

February 2, 2011

I’ve been surrounded by racism all my life. I’ve never seen it for what it claims to be. It’s always been more complex, deep rather than simple. The first time I came across racism in a big way was when I was about 12, when I had a moment like the scene in Huckleberry Finn, where he says, “What’s a feud?”

In my case I asked “What’s Paki bashing?” to the group of lads who were getting tooled up on the Mile End Road. I was told, “It’s great. You should come. You see a Paki, and all shout , ‘Paki, paki, paki!’ He legs it and you all chase after him and then you catch him up and everyone steams in. And you smash his head, and you kick him in the back and you batter his face and you…” I asked, “But don’t you feel sorry for him?”

Watching Newsnight last night, I saw the same joy of hate in the new leader of the far right, Tommy Robinson. In a similar vein to Nick Griffin, Robinson wishes to make the EDL respectable. He claims his organisation is not racist, and burned a Nazi flag to prove his point.

Unlike Griffin, who ruined the reputation of the BNP by his inconsistent appearance on Question Time, Robinson held his own against Jeremy Paxman. He achieved this by keeping his message simple, rather than creating a wide manifesto like Griffin did.
He claims to be defending the white working class against the terror of militant Islam. There were many references to the white working class. This is another significant departure from the middle class pretensions of Nick Griffin. Robinson clearly knows his niche and plays well to it.

He made several references to his lack of education. “I didn’t even know what right and left were before this. I’d never even switched a computer on.” This was not so much an effort to be sympathetic, but seemed like a pitch to gain the empathy of those who didn’t do well at school.

Hope Not Hate tell us that he lives in a leafy suburb of Bedford, although we see him in his business in Luton, ironically, a tanning salon. It’s often important for those with racist feelings to be close to the source of their fascination and the focus of their spite.

I once had a racist workmate, who used to be doubly charming to black customers, and then when they left the shop, he’d refer to them as “Sooty”. He emigrated to St Lucia. London wasn’t multicultural enough for his racism.

Robinson revels in his role and in the apparent danger he has placed himself in by his politics. He wears a bullet proof jacket to walk along the high street in Luton. Perhaps it appeals to his heroic self-image, but I’ve seen that siege mentality before, quite recently.

I was canvassing with a Sikh councillor from Newham, Amarjit Singh, in a Bethnal Green block, when we knocked on a steel door, decorated with union jacks, and was surrounded by a highly inappropriate wall (we were on the first floor landing). The man who answered the door gave us some venomous abuse, and we walked on. Amarjit pointed out that the wall around his flat seemed like a defensive wall. And I thought he was quite right. It was if this man was in fear of an invasion.

Robinson claims that black people and Sikhs are welcome in the EDL. But if there is no racism in his politics, then there is only hate for the sake of it. But maybe that’s the point. More often than not, there is no politics in racism, or at least the politics are a smokescreen. Racism is just an outlet for anger, hate and spite. If it’s not the colour of their skin, it’s their sexuality. If it’s not their sexuality, it’s their religion. And if it wasn’t their religion, it would be something else. Robinson picks and chooses, and right now, he chooses Muslims.

On Twitter last night, there was much anger over the BBC decision to give this man the legitimacy of their coverage. I disagree. The more you drive this man underground, the greater the victim mentality and consequent self-justification of him and his followers.

Let him have his say and we’ll have ours. He’s the new Nick Griffin. There’s nothing to be achieved by lionising him. The best we can is do is keep them small and irrelevant. There will always be a racist leader. Griffin begat Robinson begat the next one. We’ll carry on the fight, and in the same way that we saw Griffin off, we’ll see this man off, and whoever follows him, we’ll see them off also.

Shouting Fascist!

February 9, 2009

When I was a kid growing up in the east-end on London, there was only one Bangladeshi boy in my class in the first year at school, but by the time I was in the sixth form there was only one white boy in the whole first year. The east-enders feared this immigration and some residents on the Exmouth estate signed a petition calling for no Asian families to be housed in their block. The GLC accused them of racism and threatened to have them evicted, even though some of the petitioners were black.
Shortly after this scandal, I was around my mate’s house on the Loxley estate when I overheard a conversation between his parents and the residents of the block, who had gathered to discuss what to do about the Asian family that the council were bringing around to view a flat. I’d never known my mate’s parents to be racist before or since, but what they were saying seemed pretty nasty to me. They wanted to put the Asian family off by giving the impression that the block was filled with racists, but they were frightened of getting evicted by Ken Livingstone. So they decided to have people on the landings shouting “Smelly Paki” and throwing things at the family then ducking before the council officer could identify them. It was a nasty idea and one of the residents dissented saying it was wrong to treat a family this way, but his someone else shouted, “We have to do this. If we don’t we could lose everything!” They feared their community and identity was being swept away from under them. I thought at the time that they were like the Red Indians.
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