Saturday, 8 October 2011

Blog Archive: Review of John Major – The Autobiography - originally published on Young Political Bloggers 17/09/2011

In an age of 24 hour news coverage, where ministers and shadow ministers are always on the frenetic attack to seize the political opportunity of the day, it’s always necessary to dip back into the annals of parliamentary and political discourse that has shaped our politics and contributed to our ever-changing political life. One such piece of history is the John Major government of 1990 to 1997. Although due in part to his lack of charisma and sense of mission that had him uncomfortably squashed in between the premierships of Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair, John Major tends to be eschewed from history save when a work HAS to mention him for the sake of historical continuity – for example Simon Jenkins’ Thatcher and Sons and Michael Portillo’s Margaret Thatcher: The Lady’s Not for Spurning. However, John Major is arguably one of the nation’s most important Prime Ministers in the sense of achievement and culmination of social progress in the UK.

The thing that strikes one most about Major’s memoirs is his sense of honesty and earnest will to make better the lives of the fellow man in his country. The son of an elderly former trapeze artist who spent much of his early life in a council estate in Brixton, leaving school with only 3 O’ Levels, John Major’s story is one of triumph over adversity spurned by a genuine will to leave a better settlement for future generations to have better chances in life than that afforded to him.

His explanation for joining the Conservative Party is emblematic of why the Conservatives were so successful at courting the so-called lower and lower-middle income voter – they treated people as individuals with dreams and aspirations rather than people who owed others loyalty to their struggling fraternal ‘class’. It was this aspirational, compassionate Conservatism that he shared with Iain Macleod and Ted Heath that drove his ambition through working as a bank clerk through to local government in Lambeth council to being elected in the crucial 1979 election (one which symbolised swathes of former solid Labour voters voting Conservative for the first time), rising through the ranks of the Conservative Departments of Social Security and the Treasury, ultimately becoming Prime Minister in 1990. His becoming Prime Minister was the very sign of the everyman from a modest background with no baggage interest poking at him from behind, a self-reliant constituent who wants a better life for his offspring and access to bounds of opportunity, while maintaining a compassion for his fellow man.

His achievements during his premiership included the Maastricht Treaty that consolidated the European Community into a stronger Union (and crucially gained an opt out for Britain for economic and monetary union), the National Lottery (always a good source of revenue for the arts and good will competition amongst the nation’s participants), Grant Maintained Schools (a forerunner to Voluntary Aided schools, Academies and Free Schools) and taking decisive steps in secret negotiations with Sinn Fein, leaving a good foundation for Tony Blair to eventually complete peace talks in Northern Ireland. All these measures were forebears to the political developments which would characterise the Blair, Brown and now Cameron years, changing the debating ground over the politics of public service reform, Britain’s place in the world and maintaining the Union. However, in spite of all this, the reader feels the weariness with which Major was tainted by, amongst other things, assorted Eurosceptic ‘Bastards’ attempting to wreck his premiership, scandals over false morality and sleaze and a feeling of inevitable end after nearly two decades in office. It’s a shame that something as arbitrary and superficial as charisma and ego, which is often a driving part of the success of many politicians in the public eye was not blessed on Major, disallowing him a firm place in the annals of modern political history.

Major’s memoirs are very well written and shall be of great interest to anyone seeking to understand a crucial period of development in our modern political structure. In eschewing strong notions of the ‘ideal Conservative’, John Major the politician represents an embodiment of the everyman who the British politician strives to court into their political party or seeks the vote of at election time. He just happened to become a Conservative due to time and circumstance.

Blog Archive: The Social Democratic Moderniser takes hold of the Political Agenda - Originally Published on Young Political Bloggers 16/09/2011

The Social Democratic Moderniser takes hold of the Political Agenda: Ed Miliband at the TUC by James Gill

Is Ed Miliband in a mess following heckling at the TUC conference? While certainly being served a volatile start, I believe that Ed Miliband has emerged a stronger man after delivering his speech to the TUC. Out of the door went Red Ed, in came the genesis of a social-democratic leader of Great Britain. It was a speech which set the pace for a renovation of the trade union relationship with Labour and how Labour approaches its politics for the future generations and presented the British public the full circle of the cunningness of Ed Miliband, matched with a will to rebuild the Labour Party. A choice between being a one nation social-democratic party or one stuck in the romantic myth of persistent union and ‘working-class’ struggle.

Ironically, the Ed Miliband who won the Labour leadership a year ago was a man who, rhetorically at least, painted himself as a man of resurging ‘true Labour’ values who wanted to save the party from their ‘New Labour’ comfort zone, then personalised by his older brother David. At the TUC 2011 Conference, however, stood a man who praised the impact that academy schools had in his Doncaster constituency amidst boos and yells of “rubbish!!” from the shop steward floor.

Given the successes of New Labour had in terms of reaching new ground for the Labour Party after 18 years of opposition, I was sceptical of Ed Miliband when he claimed a year ago that what was needed was a return to those Labour values that had guided the party through the twentieth century. Instead, what I saw at this year’s TUC Conference was a man with a plan to build upon the successes in the modernising tradition of the Labour Party. Instead of sidestepping the unions, Ed Miliband made the bold decision to invite the unions to join him on this modernising journey.

After the best part of a year of simply reacting to the news happening around him, Ed Miliband made the news this time by boldly reinforcing the uncomfortable truth that the unions have for the best part of 20 years been increasingly seen as an irrelevance in this country, representing only three million workers of the entire thirty million employed workforce within the United Kingdom. At a time when all members of the public are feeling the squeeze on living standards from rising prices to inert living wages to slow, stagnant economic growth, the public, whilst acknowledging and sympathising with public sector squeezes are unlikely to support industrial action which will only harm the fragile conditions in which people are now living.

The unions will most likely strike come November, provoking the largest piece of industrial action since the 1926 General Strike, but I don’t think it will it harm the Labour Party or Ed Miliband. Ed Miliband in his speech reiterated his pride in the union link and the 3 million levy paying members, but acknowledge that there will be times for inevitable disagreement – such as these proposed strikes. As far as influence in political parties is concerned, the unions, who are thoroughly hostile to the Coalition government, have nowhere else to go except Ed Miliband’s Labour Party. Bob Crow’s earlier suggestion for an alternative party of labour if Labour and Ed Miliband did not come down on the side of the unions would receive hardly any support from the wider public, a majority of whom are not union members; and would hardly be sustainable as the tight squeeze on union members living standards would prevent them from sustaining such a project.

The biggest question that Ed will face now is if this will hamper his attempt to eliminate the 50% union vote share over conference votes in favour of a more democratic one member-one vote policy for conference mandates. Judging by the traditional loyalty that is often shown to a Labour leader, such as to Tony Blair over the rewording of Clause 4 in 1995, and the fact that a large portion of the MPs and ordinary party members voted for the more clear cut moderniser, David Miliband last year, alongside the growth of the modernising group Progress and the Movement for Change community organising group (set up by brother David), suggests a party willing to accept the future is appealing to the wider British public than engaging in the insular maintenance of union vested interest in a party adapting to the changing face of the United Kingdom. The modern Labour party seems to be sharing Ed Miliband’s position that he showed at the TUC conference, cherishing union association, but willing to push through hard messages to make sure unions maintain their relevance in the contemporary Labour party and contemporary British society.

Ed Miliband’s body language at the TUC conference indicated that he understands how large a fight this could be. When he praised the Hutton report and encouraged cooperation of free schools and academies with other state schools, it was clear that he anticipated a volatile reaction from his audience, improvising quips such as ‘I knew you wouldn’t like this’ as he sought to open up a healthy debate with unions. In opening up a debate with the true nature of the future of trade unionism and the Labour party, he has avoided leading both organisations down a road to blind opposition to all coalition reforms, which would lead to inevitable disappointment at the behest of the British public.

Far from finding himself in a mess, Ed Miliband has set the foundations for real renewal for the Labour party.

Blog Archive: Manhunter (1986) Classic Review - Originaly published in 25/05/2010

Director: Michael Mann
Starring: William Petersen, Brian Cox, Tom Noonan
Runtime: 119 Mins
Rating: * * * * *

Manhunter is a real rough diamond of a film, one which feels like the decade it was produced in, with a cheesy soundtrack and some not-so-famous actors; but it’s also a real masterpiece of suspense and psychological horror. It may also surprise some readers to learn that Manhunter is the first Hannibal Lecter film, made five years before The Silence of the Lambs. It lives on with a cult following, thanks to Brian Cox’s understated, brilliant Lecter.

The film focuses on the mental turmoil facing former FBI agent Will Graham as he returns to his job from early retirement to help authorities catch a brutal serial killer, The Tooth Fairy/Great Red Dragon, before he kills again. However, in order to regain his edge in profiling murderers, Graham has to confront and seek the assistance of the very man he captured (and who provoked his retirement), Hannibal Lecter. The film showcases the exploits of its other serial killer as he chooses his next victim, while an unexpected romance throws him into a struggle between his passionate and murderous impulses.

Unlike The Silence of the Lambs, where a supernatural, all-knowing Lecter is on equal footing with Clarice Starling, Manhunter focuses on the fragile minds of the pursued and the pursuer, albeit with another cruel psychopath thrown in to manipulate them for his own enjoyment. Brian Cox’s Lecter is a risky, sinister chess player with pawns at his mercy as he shoves the pieces into play from the confines of his cage. His calm, unassuming manner masks an unquenchable evil, rivalling Anthony Hopkins’ flamboyant, hammer horror Hannibal.

Blog Archive: Do the Right Thing Classic Review - Originally Published in 10/11/2009

Film: Do the Right Thing (1989)
Director: Spike Lee
Starring: Danny Aiello, Spike Lee
Rating: *****

2009 has been a year of constant anniversaries and commemorations. However, one anniversary overlooked is the 20th anniversary of the release of Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing.

Do The Right Thing is Spike Lee’s magnum opus on the topic of futile racism, bigotry and communal discontent which can so easily infest society from the smallest, trivial gnat of a matter, growing into a monster that invariably wrecks people’s lives.

Set on the hottest day of the summer in the melting racial pot of Bedford-Stuyvesant, New York, the day starts off pretty ordinarily for the local community centred around the spot of Sal’s Famous Pizzeria. However, when a rowdy, pseudo-black power activist starts to organise a ‘boycott’ of the pizzeria over a lack of black faces on the restaurants wall gallery, it sets into motion a string of encounters between the multi-ethnic community that ultimately ends in tragedy.

The film follows a multi-racial community featuring Afro-Americans, Asians, Hispanics and Italians, who seem superficially at ease with each other, but with deep underlying tensions simmering under everyone’s skin that come to boiling point over the most ridiculous and unlikely of spats. Here no one is immune from the grasp of bigotry as it spills out left, right and centre, whether it be in protest over pictures on a wall, the hardships of being part of a minority or moaning about immigrants running a local shop.

As one watches the movie from its unassuming beginning right to its explosive ending, it’s sure to leave an alarming yet thoughtful taste in the viewer’s mouth.

Blog Archive: The need to avoid a new ‘Iron Curtain’ - Originally published in 10/03/2009

THE EU, once an economic haven of safe and principled private enterprise with workers rights, has come under renewed pressure in the recession. The most alarming casualties appear to be the Eastern European economies, previously seen as the bright stars of Europe. This in turn, could lead the rest of the EU on a slippery slope to financial purgatory.

While EU leaders commit to free trade values, segments of the European population riot, believing that those governments are still for the big business free traders who landed them in this mess. The latest episode in this quagmire is the consensus amongst EU leaders that bank bailouts and national industries should not hurt other EU members’ economies.

Ferenc Gyurcsany, Hungarian Prime Minister affirmed that “We should not allow a new ‘Iron Curtain’ to divide Europe. At the beginning of the Nineties we reunified Europe. Now it is another challenge – whether we can reunify in terms of finance.”

This statement, while well-meaning, begins to look increasingly bleak as the Eastern European countries, who received plentiful investment in their resources in their accession to the EU five years ago, including billions of loans from Western European banks, are now looking like continental basket cases.

In light of the recession, the IMF has had to bail out Hungary, Latvia and Ukraine. This economic struggle threatens to move westward with Austria, Greece, Italy and Ireland in the way, notably in the way due to their weakening public finances. Ireland, in common with countries like Bulgaria, has had its fair share of anti-government protests perceived towards the government’s role in the mismanagement of the economy – rage being about the government’s 3.5 billion euro injection into the Bank of Ireland and Allied Irish Banks.

Meanwhile, other EU countries are heading in different policy directions: France is acting in an increasingly protectionist manner by saving its domestic car making factories and closing ones based in the Czech Republic; and the British, Spanish and Italians are stuck in government deficits.

The EU has got a big economic bill on its table and someone will have to pay up soon.

Blog Archive: Malcolm X – Classic Review - Originally published on 03/03/2009

Film: Malcolm X
Year: 1992
Director: Spike Lee
Starring: Denzel Washington
Runtime: 195 minutes
Stars: *****

From the first residence of a home built on the labour of African slaves by George Washington to the present glass-ceiling breaking incumbency of Barack Obama, Afro-American history has been a trough of violence, struggle, despair, solidarity and, ultimately, victory. No film embodies the epoch-making point of this struggle more than Spike Lee’s Malcolm X.

Released in 1992, the film begins by juxtaposing one of Brother Malcolm’s fiery speeches against white racism, a burning American flag and footage of the devastating Rodney King beatings. Although Malcolm X was murdered 27 years before, his message still rings with resonance in a country paralysed by pockets of racism.

During the three hour epic, Denzel Washington packs in a powerhouse performance as the principled, if initially slightly misguided, civil rights activist, bearing an uncanny resemblance to the icon himself. The film catalogues his turbulent childhood, years as a sleazy street hustler, subsequent incarceration, conversion into the Nation of Islam, continuing activism and ultimate assassination at the hands of the sect which nurtured him, and Washington acts with style, grace and honesty – although it doesn’t match Malcolm X’s own autobiography for graphic detail and emotional shockwaves.

Watching this film in the light of President Obama’s accession to office reminds us of how far America has come since those dark days of civil rights activism. Denzel’s Malcolm X is an emblem of African-American destitution, waywardness, rage, dissent and ultimate reconciliation. Eulogised by the late Ossie Davies’ narrative in the films final scenes, Malcolm has reconciled his faith, race and civil rights struggle with a sense of being not just African, but African-American. One cannot help but feel that Obama is carrying on this great legacy of the ‘Change-a-comin’ with breaking the boundaries to accept the keys to the White House.

Overall, Spike Lee’s picture is a pleasure to watch with compelling performances given by all involved. It adequately serves its purpose in demonstrating the relevance of history to our contemporary lives. See it by any means necessary.

Blog Archive: Raucous Refinery - Origianlly published in 10/02/2009

In a sharp turn reflecting the turbulence of the 1970s, the UK has been engulfed in illegal strikes in the past weeks which could have brought the country to an energy standstill and deepened Britain’s recession, as well as shadowing doubt over whether the workers have been prepared for this new international era of work.

Across the country, protesters are holding strikes against companies’ continued use of foreign labour from our neighbouring EU countries, namely at the Lindsey Oil Refinery, which hired 300 Italian workers with apparently overlooking the British demand for employment. Strikers are claiming that British labour is being systematically bypassed for continental alternatives.

In recent days, the strikes and protests have spread out across the UK ranging from 400 demonstrators protesting outside a former ICI complex at Wilton, Teeside, 1000 workers staging a walkout at South Hook Liquified Natural Gas terminal in Milford Haven, Pembrokeshire and 140 contract workers (employed by Siemans) downing their tools at Marchwood Power Station. And just as snow pelted down on the UK, nuclear workers joined the strike efforts.

Eager to resolve the strikers’ ailments, Business Secretary Lord Mandelson assured the workers that they have the right to go to work in mainland Europe just as much as European workers have a right to enter employment over here.

In a complementary statement, TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber says ‘Unions have fought hard for decent conditions for migrant workers and back the free movement of labour within the EU’. He went on to emphasise, however, that the anger should be directed at the employers, not the foreign workers, who have apparently attempted to ‘undercut the wages, conditions and union representation of existing staff’.

With the economy in such a fragile state and unemployment almost reaching the 2 million mark, the strikes, although the source of anger can be understood, could deepen the recession into a potential depression and create an energy shortage crisis. Union leaders went on to say while sympathising with the workers, because the strikes are unofficial, they cannot support the stoppages.

It also sheds light onto whether companies in the UK are playing by EU rules which dismiss any form of discrimination against workers of any nationality. The EU has a policy of free movement of labour allowing workers from all EU countries to work within any other European country. However with 1.1 million EU citizens from mainland Europe working in the UK compared to 290,000 Britons working in the EU, it gives cause to concern whether companies are abiding by the rules or whether the workers are willing, prepared and able to reap the benefits sown from EU membership.

The mediation service, ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Services), are continuing to mediate with both the managers and union leaders in order to resolve the potential crisis.

Blog Archive: The British Perspective – For Obama - Originally published in 04/11/2008

Later today, enthused Democrats and Republicans cast their votes to elect the most powerful man in the Western world; with repercussions not just for the USA, but for Britain too.

For America’s sake, I hope Barack Obama will win and become a triumphant Commander in Chief. ‘The Age of Audacity’, his personal testimony, is the stuff that political dreams are made of: A young, fresh faced politician offering vibrant, bi-partisan change in the face of a mighty yet brutally flawed country – a country torn apart by unchecked capitalist greed, wild religious fanaticism, and racial and social segregation. Obama’s narrative is mirrored in his pragmatic, positive campaign, emphasising the need for unity over division in overcoming the bigoted past. He offers to cut taxes to those struggling the most rather than to the Wall Street fat cats in the hope, as economic theory dictates, the wealth should trickle down. And, finally, what most Americans of all political persuasions desire; a form of state-subsidised universal healthcare reform.

As such, Obama is the personification of progressive change – a black man whose very presence in the White House would, in due time, dispel the sullen cynicism of ethnic minorities as well as rejuvenating progressive politics respectively here in the UK.

Speaking as a person of Afro-Caribbean descent; the televised moans and groans of the so-called disillusioned black underclass in Britain are painfully repetitive. Perhaps this is the time to end the mantra of ‘a lack of visible role models’. A black man as the most powerful in the world would surely shock many out of their wallowing self-pity and apathy.

Furthermore, the creaky politics of the UK can take a leaf directly out of Obama’s book. The Labour Party is on tight lines, in spite of recovered poll positions in the face of international financial turmoil. Large portions of the population are fed up with the sound bite style of debate; to the extent of anti-political sentiments and revivals of extremist minority movements, from Islamism to the BNP. After Obama’s brilliant absorption of many political colours of the USA, we in the UK need to find our own progressive consensus.

Obama can be an example to us all.

Blog Archive: Wall Street Film Review - Originally published in

Director: Oliver Stone
Starring: Charlie Sheen, Michael Douglas
Runtime: 110 mins
Rating: ****

“Greed is good” – the motif which has guided the financial habits of the Western World for years, has finally come back to haunt us in the current credit crunch. Only fitting that it came from Oliver Stone’s 1987 picture, Wall Street, which clearly captured the ravenous capitalism pervading the Reagan years and beyond.
It’s a moral fable about an ambitious young broker, Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen), attempting to move into the lucrative big leagues with a corporate raider, the aptly named Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas). Little does Bud know, the path into the financial world is dark and lawless. Gekko’s ruthless desire to maximize his profits and liquidate all obstacles in his way means that consequently he trades peace of mind for a piece of the action.

Oliver Stone’s polemic strikes at the heart of the illusory image of the ‘Free Market’. He presents us with a world where the international debt market holds opportunities, Fortune magazine is ‘the Bible’ and reading the Wall Street Journal is pecuniary sex. In his ‘Greed is Good’ speech, the lizard-like Gekko speaks of firm stockholders as the owners of the company and of himself as the ‘liberator of companies’; it’s hard to share this vision when he later attempts to carve up an independent airline and describes trading as ‘rolling the dice and playing Monopoly’.

Michael Douglas does a stellar job as the slick-haired Gordon Gekko, the corporate crook who subtly covers his illegal tracks with legal loopholes, describing his greed as a natural human evolutionary spirit. He cuts the ice as a financial Tony Montana, a big shot who doesn’t want to quit, constantly absorbing all that hits him. Charlie Sheen, Martin Sheen and Daryl Hannah provide fine support as the broker led astray along with his father and girlfriend.

Blog Archive: Swimming with sharks - Originally published on OBV Blog Site 09/10/2009

Labour relentlessly courted Rupert Murdoch to such an extent that we appeared to be living in a mediaocracy, not a democracy, says James Gill

On Wednesday 30th September, the UK’s biggest selling paper suddenly declared that “Labour Lost It” and in a turn of large font type theatricality, the paper subsequently announced that it was shifting its allegiance back to the Conservatives after 12 years of cautious support for Labour.

The story gained national attention, with other papers rigorously scrutinising the reasons and factors for the swapped allegiance. From this show of excitement and foreboding at one paper’s opinion, it appears that Mr Murdoch and his editors have lost none of their ego.

An ego similar to the unscrupulous bankers and financiers who believed themselves at one time to be the ‘Masters of the Universe’…..

As an outside observer of politics, I find this showcase of a single tabloid paper being able to change the weather ludicrous and a downright pandering to political cynicism.

In a modern liberal democracy, it’s quite daft that so much political ground is surrendered to a single newspaper, especially one that shows as much cheap bias and populism as The Sun.

The notion that the largest selling paper decides elections and speaks for the great majority of British is not only nonsense, but buying into it is dangerous, creating a perception of an alternative world where cliques of media proprietors run rampant with uncompromising hunger.

The fact that Labour under the (virtually dual) leadership Tony Blair and Gordon Brown mercilessly courted Murdoch (the owner of The Sun, News of the World, Times and Sunday Times) to endorse the Labour Party for election.

So bitter and brutal had the Sun’s attitude been to Labour from 1979-1992 that for all concerned, it seemed the Sun’s endorsement was the only serious avenue into power, through appealing to the stereotypical likes of so-called Middle England and Essex Man.

This media-government relationship was so tight and valued that throughout the Blair period, advisers and insiders were quoted as constantly assuming that Rupert Murdoch was always the invisible member of Blair’s cabinet – particularly on EU matters.

Blair was said to have backed down on Euro entry when The Sun branded him “The Most Dangerous Man in Britain”, as well as securing The Sun’s support for the 2005 election by promising a referendum on the now-defunct European Constitution.

This isn’t the first time that a newspaper magnate has tried to wriggle his arms into the heart of an incumbent government, attempting to encourage or guide it’s direction.

Cecil King and Harold Harmsworth, 1st Viscount Rothermere were the moguls who dominated the pre-Murdoch era of populist journalism, the former using the Mirror to operate against the Wilson government of the 1960s, while Rothermere’s Daily Mail endorsed the appeasement of Nazi Germany and discrimination against Jewish refugees.

Cecil King was a massively ambitious newspaper proprietor who first held any form of significant power in a daily paper at the age of 23 and later translated this power into anti-Wilson sentiments after Wilson denied him a peerage for the House of Lords.

He shrugged his shoulders with MI5 agent, Peter Wright, coordinating a plot to bring down the democratically elected Wilson and replace his government with a coalition headed by Lord Mountbatten.

Harold Harmsworth was not only the owner of the Daily Mail, he was a member of Oswald Mosley’s Union of British Fascists (BUF) – the party of pre-World War Two racism and bigotry.

The Daily Mail was awash in rife anti-Semitism – Rothermere famously wrote a Daily Mail editorial entitled “Hurrah for the Blackshirts”, in January 1934, praising Mosley for his “sound, commonsense, Conservative doctrine”.

The Blair media age, with its association with Rupert Murdoch and the two examples above portray a picture of a country run by cliques rather than the ballot box, one can anticipate a sense of deep cynicism and disillusionment amongst voters barraged (even moreso now) by soundbite politics.

However, there is a glimmer of hope in the new globalised age of alternative forms of media rather than a consistent dependency on a few newspaper outlets for the current affairs and reviews.

Blogs from various mavericks from all across the political spectrum give a breath of fresh air for those who have no particular allegiance to a party or newspaper (most of the country!) to air their views in a much more direct and accomodating way, without having to sway to a particular editorial stance.

The largest selling paper The Sun (contrary to its own hype) does not represent the views of the large cross section of its estimated 9 million readers (and 3 million purchasers), merely the opinions of its editorial and Mr Murdoch himself.

In 1945, Clement Attlee’s Labour party won an election with an almost universally hostile media reception from the then contemporary outlets. His health minister, Nye Bevan, was endlessly decried as a dangerous, pro-Communist fellow traveller for his ambitions for a public healthcare service.

As Gordon Brown said, it is policies that win elections, not headlines. Of course newspapers do have their few committed readers and opinions of newspapers can influence how people perceive current affairs, but their viewpoints are not so great as to give one party a free ride through to victory at an election.

An often cited case of the papers’ so-called ‘power’ was the 1992 election when Neil Kinnock’s head appeared in a light bulb under the title “If Kinnock wins today will the last person to leave Britain please turn out the lights”, then subsequently declaring “It’s the SUN WOT WON IT!”

People simply found John Major a more attractive candidate than Neil Kinnock based on both parties’ campaign methods – while Kinnock overdid his bid to look prime ministerial – WE’RE ALRIGHT, WE’RE ALRIGHT, WE’RE ALRIGHT!! – Major got on his soapbox, went up and close to the voters and endured their simultaneous wrath and respect; the result being Knnock appeared too packaged and distant, while Major appeared more genuine and sincere, a purely rational decision – with an ever so slight impact from the papers.

For the sake of a better future, we need to unravel this bubble of media hype around ourselves and become more critical and independently perceptive of the country we live in to strengthen our democracy.

Blog Archive: Payback time - Originally published on OBV Blog Site 28/09/2009

University tuition fees are based on the assumption that graduates will become high-flying hotshots earning megabucks. But that’s not always the case, says James Gill

A week ago, you may have read my article There Will Be Greed: Reflections on the Financial Crisis, in which I expounded much criticism of the laissez-faire, devil-may-care style of economics which has been a staple of the past twenty five years of public life.

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) noted that the banking industry had not learned the lessons of the fragile economic system from the recession, continuing to hand out multi-million bonuses amongst themselves (the most noteworthy being Barclays CEO, Bob Diamond, seemingly convinced that bonuses are part of a vital way of attracting ‘talent’ to banking) while governments continue to encourage lending via fiscal stimulus’ alongside cuts to many dimensions of public spending.

The lessons are brought closer to home more disturbingly through a recent announcement by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) that students should pay more in student loans – appropriately, the competitive market price – and receive less money in the form of student grants from the government.

It’s alarming that the tentacles of ruthless, dog-eat-dog economics have wriggled their way into institutions which should not serve the public as a value-for-money competitive luxury provider based on your ability to pay, rather universities are a universal choice for students of various backgrounds to enjoy further education and training towards a goal/career which should not be dictated by income levels.

An important epoch for the expansion of the principle of universal university education were the 1960s creation and establishment of Warwick, York, Essex, Sussex and Kent universities (since gone on to become some of the most reputable universities in the country) and the Open University (then the University of the Air); and the 1992 conversion of many polytechnics into universities in their own right, for example Kingston, Liverpool John Moores, De Montford Leicester and Southampton Solent University.

The establishment of these institutions instituted a greater choice for students who couldn’t attain places at the halls of Oxbridge, St Andrews and the LSE, effectively creating a larger stake hold in public life for those who were not able otherwise to attain any.

However, that dream is in danger of being extinguished by the desire for increases in the already controversial fee of £3225 (increasing by a tiny amount) per annum. The CBI went even further, declaring that ambitions for a larger intake on students should be cut, focusing instead on assisting and improving the institutions’ competitiveness.

Supporting voices for the fees are echoed by some of the universities’ own administrators, notably Oxford’s Chris Patten, UCL’s Malcolm Grant and York’s Brian Cantor, as well as the heads of the Russell and 1994 groups of universities, are calling for the cap on tuition fees to be lifted, enabling universities to charge fees competitively, while providing subsidies for less well off students.

While the subsidy part seems genuine in good intention, the fee amounts won’t shrug off the feeling that university has become a selective rich man’s game, which questions of the validity of one’s degree.

Although a student at one of the 1994 Group of universities, York, and an admirer of the very high standards of the Russell Group of universities, I think it is a raw shame that a group of respected and influential people are still trying to push this harsh agenda at a time when students need more security than ever in the search for jobs and education, even shifting a focus onto a select group of subjects, notably STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths), at the expense of many other rewarding courses.

Thankfully, the Million+ group of post-1992 universities alongside the National Union of Students (NUS) have vigorously opposed these proposals, seeing them as anathema to the aims of a higher education for students, especially in the middle of a recession. The Million+ group said the ideas are “the wrong approach in a recession which has already caused one million young people to be unemployed”.

Wes Streeting, NUS President, said “At a time of economic crisis, when many hard-working families are struggling to support their offspring through university, I am astonished that the CBI should be making such offensive recommendations.”

Encouraging market-based changes such as these could result in a dangerous elite division between the Russell/1994 groups of universities and the Million+ group, creating a double standard of higher education based on high wealth as well as fuelling the stereotype that you need only go to the more established, ‘prestigious’ universities in order to get to a reputable job such as becoming an MP, banker, lawyer or doctor.

It effectively creates a UK equivalent of the Ivy League system where universities such as Yale, Harvard, Columbia and Massachusetts’ Institute of Technology (MIT) all charge immediate fees of around $30,000 dollars per annum, with a few lucky less affluent students arriving on scholarship, while their state universities lie at the bottom of the academic food chain.

These business proposals might repeat that process for the UK reinforcing a wealth divide that is already complained about in the primary and secondary school spheres that should not be applied to those seeking to enhance their capabilities to achieve their chosen profession.

Although tuition fees do not need to be paid back instantly – my £10,000 fee debt from my three years at York (and a prior brief spell at Queen Mary), with additional student loans too, will be taxed off me monthly when I finally get a £15,000 per annum job – the thought of having to be charged up to an estimated £10,000 per year to attend university is immensely discouraging to those of less well off backgrounds who are hesitant and insecure about the merits of attending university.

Once again, the argument of the pro-higher fee figureheads tends to rest on the theory that a university degree will automatically grant one a job in an excellent sector such as aforementioned business and law.

However, not all students are interested in the heavy thrift and competition of the high flying enterprise sector, preferring a less hectic job, but one where they are guaranteed happiness and good pay, not based on eternal market competition.

Blog Archive: There will be greed: reflections on the financial crisis - Originally published on OBV Blog Site18/09/2009

The famous Gordon Gekko character from the film Wall Street represented the 80s financial system. But more recent events prove the ‘Greed Is Good’ mentality never went away. James Gill explains

This month the world commemorates recent disasters which shifted the international landscape.

One atrocity was committed by a group of terrorists, which resulted in an unprecedented loss of life on American soil, consequently leading to a world divided in its approach to terrorism and two bloodthirsty, controversial wars. The other was the result of pecuniary stupidity and sheer ego, cloaked in the name of the rational market free choice; this resulted in the largest bankruptcy in history as well as the deepest recession in eighty years. I’ve chosen to focus on this latter event.

It was so sudden that the aura of financial euphoria and a persistent lauding of a seemingly foolproof financial system (a former chancellor’s hail to “the end of boom and bust”) came crashing down in the largest credit bust which apparently no-one saw coming.

The mutual failure to take into account the dissenting voices of more compassionate economists, John Kenneth Galbraith and Will Hutton, as well as the reluctance of financial bodies to regulate the economy more appropriately, have resulted in a mess far muddier than a boys’ swamp adventure course.

In 1996, the height of the “roaring nineties”, the then Federal Reserve Chairman, Alan Greenspan, a close associate of the late Ayn Rand and a self-confessed ‘Libertarian Republican’, emphasised that for the deregulated economy to operate smoothly, financiers and investors need not be fooled into acting out of “irrational exuberance” when the market seemed to be in such a healthy state.

It is now safe to say that the actions of Lehman Bros last year exemplified this irrational exuberance.

At the heart of this whole approach is the persistently flawed, insecure laissez-faire unregulated form of economics that has proved too often susceptible to corruption and abuse to be the benign, utopian, ever self-correcting way of life it purports itself to be.

The historical antecedents for this euphoria were Rand, Adam Smith, Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman. All were instrumental in bringing the idea of so-called ‘pure’ economics to life, believing in the inevitable hand of the market to self-correct itself.

The state (government) should solely be left to policing and defence of their countries against the ‘enemies’ of their supposed economic freedom – any form of government intervention and restructuring of the economy (interference in their eyes) would damage the rational instincts of the market’s sellers and consumers, causing irrationality and subsequent market collapse.

These ideas were instinctively taken up by the UK Thatcher and US Reagan governments of the 1980s – both eying an opportunity to spring this doctrine in its most uncompromising way on their subjects, capitalising on an economic system that was restructuring itself after the previous few years of stagnation.

Reagan wanted to get government “off the backs of hard working people” while Thatcher intended to set people free from the ills of state dependency. Reagan’s result was running up a huge deficit from the countries increasingly deregulated system and increased defence spending; Thatcher, after a painful first term of sado-monetarism (raising taxes and cutting spending) causing small businesses to fall and unemployment to rise to three million, actively encouraged people to earn as much money as possible to be part of her moral hyper-capitalist democracy.

To achieve this in reality, however, a low to middle income earner had to borrow 300% of their own income on credit to purchase a house whereas Thatcher, in the words of former Labour chancellor, Denis Healey, saw it as a cardinal sin to borrow 3% of her own budget to assist in financing public services.

The policies of deregulation pursued on both sides of the Atlantic, ensuing a Gordon Gekko, greed-is-good, hyper consumerist, materialist free for all in the financial markets, resulting in a more contemporary precursor to the credit crunch, Black Monday of October 1987, the result of accumulated wealth based on quick-fixing credit debt.

The Gekko character from the 1987 movie Wall Street represents the financier as a sleazy corporate raider antagonist espousing greed being good for feeding the naturally aggressive spirit of market – the purity of survival of the fittest that can do only good.

Even with the fresh New Labour government in office since 1997, with its pragmatic emphasis on reshaping the state to combine social justice and mobility with flexible enterprise, the economic gurus Gordon Brown and Ed Balls could not resist bragging about their booming economy and its light-touch regulation, alongside praising City bankers for their supposed courage in handling the markets and providing amongst other things, ‘stability and investment.’

This repetition of behaviour has led the bankers, who, although doing important and fundamental jobs, developed a huge hubris syndrome, leading themselves to often be described as the ‘masters of the universe’.

Alan Greenspan earned the nickname the Oracle, in spite of ‘presiding over a fast moving, debt fuelled economic boom which eventually went off the tracks’ – the words of economist, Jeffrey Sachs.

The unscrupulous behaviour of bankers in the past year, still claiming bonuses for themselves even after rollicking in the muddy waters of frantic borrowing and profiteering, demonstrates the entrenchment of this harmful mentality.

When Lord Turner, chairman of the Financial Services Authority (FSA), came up with bold proposals to tax the bonuses to redistribute some of that wealth into the community, he was soon rebuked by a government that, unfortunately still fears the wrath of the bankers which they sowed so well.

It’s time we bring ourselves and the financial system down to earth, away from the cluttered skies of loose money and insecure trade deals.

Blog Archive: The health reform timebomb - Originally published on OBV Blog Site 14/09/2009

Right-wing anger against President Obama’s healthcare reforms has its’ roots in America’s conflicted history, says James Gill

Obama must persevere with his healthcare reforms, not just for America’s health deficit, but for the nation’s sanity and reputation as a tolerant, open and diverse nation.

We all knew it was to be a controversial upheaval given the United States’ more conservative disposition towards government assistance, but no one expected the ridiculous ruckus that would envelope opposition to President Obama’s healthcare reforms.

The televised scenes of screaming right-wingers carrying images of Barack Obama in ‘Joker’ make-up, and comparisons to Adolf Hitler, showed the world that far from being healed by Obama’s nearly angelic ascension to the White House, portions of American society seem locked in a perennial time warp of primitive intolerance of any face of reform.

Not to mention the failure of sections of the media to reform and update their arguments for a civilised debate on the issue – Fox News being an obvious culprit here when it’s own Jeff Bradley went on the record calling Barack Obama a racist against white people – with no sufficient evidence to back it up.

Since Americans know that the state has a hand in publicly funding its education and fire safety departments why is there so much explosive anger about taking healthcare into the public domain.

It’s an almost nuclear reaction compared to “Hillarycare” proposals of the early years of the Clinton administration, where the Republicans flattened it.

However, it seems to strike me that part of this hysteria over Obama’s reforms steam from the fact that it’s not just any Democrat government proposal for publicly-funded healthcare; it is the anger that a black man is at their helm, overhauling a system which has been sacred to some in defining America’s character.

We must remember that this is not the first time that Obama has been vilified so violently. In the run up to his election campaign, the right-wing shock jock, Rush Limbaugh compared him to Robert Mugabe. And his female counterpart, Ann Coulter, comparing his memoirs Dreams from my Father to Hitler’s pamphlet of evil, Mein Kampf.

It seems this is just another chapter in angry white America’s crusade to promote their insular, undisturbed, poorly informed world from crumbling to reveal the realities around it.

The staunchly conservative Fox News spent the whole duration of the presidential campaign emphasising Obama’s middle name, Hussein, sneakily inducing suspicion that Mr Obama is a closet Muslim infiltrator of foreign descent.

For years, portions of American society, notably academics, activists and communities on the right have bought into the myth of America as a sacred land of opportunity, a Christian haven and police against evil foreign influences.

The truth is that, although mainstream America would never like to admit it, this debates strikes at the inherent racist flaw of the United States’ genesis and a side of its character. In the words of acclaimed writer, Gore Vidal, “(America) is a racist country, it always has been”.

The United States of America as we know it, from the 1776 Declaration of Independence, has been a nation plagued by an uncomfortable reconciliation between liberal, universal ideals it purports to be founded upon, alongside its brutal, racist reality.

Ironically for a country which prides itself on being a bastion of democracy and equal rights, America today was founded on the removal and genocide of millions of native Americans (the Indians we commonly see in western movies), as well as denying opportunities to minorities and women, a staunch, new imitation of the European countries, save its young age.

Rather than abide by the principles of “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal”, and their supposed openness and liberal principles, the whites demeaned and exploited blacks mercilessly as creatures who were both scary and sub-human.

Even 200 years later, with slavery abolished in 1865, the Civil Rights Act signed in 1964, and forms of desegregation and various inequalities outlawed throughout the 1950s through till the 1970s, America continued to have a chronic insecurity about its supposedly progressive ideals alongside the ingrained racism of many segments of the population.

After the civil war of the 1860s, plenty of Southern states still practiced segregation. Even today as we see in the Appalachian voters’ attitudes to Barack Obama as a black man during the 2008 election campaign were all the more alarming as they were traditionally Democrat voters who didn’t see Obama as ‘one of them’.

There are characteristic hostilities to people of colour, especially ones espousing causes to reform previously untouched institutions.

In the conservative decade of the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan praised the hilariously jingoistic, over-the-top movie, Rambo: First Blood Part Two as a movie demonstrating the spirit of the USA’s armed forces, a fantasy symbol of American redemption in a conflict they in reality could never win.

On the other hand, various critics and public figures demonised Spike Lee’s realistic movie about contemporary racism, Do the Right Thing as a movie that could incite black people to riot if they watched it.

Lee also faced criticism over his portrayal of two Jewish characters in his follow-up film, Mo Better Blues – he was alleged to have deliberately portraying them as greedy and exploitative.

Lee, never a favourite with mainstream opinion, riposted that the same people never criticised other directors for getting black actors to portray pimps, murderers, drug dealers and rapists – his two villainous characters just happened to be Jewish.

If Barack Obama manages to place his health reforms through Congress, it will hopefully provide medicine for a desperately ill national patient.

Blog Archive: A Chance for the Real African Renaissance - Originally Published on OBV Blog Site - 28/08/2009

James Gill argues that South Africa’s Jacob Zuma should take a stand against the tyranny of Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe. Lester Holloway responds, asking why other tyrants are getting off the hook.


There was always a sense of inevitability that President Jacob Zuma, President of South Africa, would have to meet his next door neighbour, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe. As this meeting has come to fruition, I am filled with simultaneous foreboding and optimism.

Zuma, as the leader of the most influential and powerful African nation, really can set about creating a dynamic, more disciplined, relationship with Zimbabwe, setting a pace for administrative reform across the continent.

Or he can prove to be an even damper squib than his predecessor, Thabo Mbeki, the man who incidentally coined the phrase ‘African Renaissance’.

Contrary to any envisioned Renaissance, there has been an eerie silence around Mugabe from other African nations, not least the most influential one.

Mugabe initially came to power in 1980 as the first, and so far only once, democratically elected prime minister of Zimbabwe (previously white Rhodesia under despicable racist, Ian Smith), receiving a reception similar to what Mandela received 14 years later, as the great hope for African democracy and magnanimity.

What happened then was the descent into crackpot tyranny that has for the past 25 years been a symbol of caricature for terrible African leadership.

By causing domestic economic collapse and seeking to brutally silence any form of dissent, Mugabe became Idi Amin remixed with academic credentials to boot.

Even more disgraceful is how many African leaders have tolerated and revered Mugabe as though he represented some exemplary standard in African leadership. Any form of criticism was left to Archbishop Desmond Tutu (former archbishop of Cape Town and anti-Apartheid campaigner) and Levy Mwanawasa, the late president of Zambia.

Desmond Tutu recently advocated military intervention for peace in Zimbabwe in light of its precarious state and even went on to condemn Thabo Mbeki’s (a fellow anti-apartheid campaigner) handling of diplomacy with Zimbabwe as weakening South Africa’s moral authority in international politics.

During his presidency, Levy Mwanawasa stripped his former president, Frederick Chiluba, of his immunity from prosecution for corruption; he spoke out about the crisis in Zimbabwe, comparing the economic situation there to “a sinking Titanic”, eventually going on to sympathise with Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai when he withdrew from a controversial run-off vote in June because of attacks on his supporters.

In a pleasing contrast to the outwardly meek Mbeki, Zuma showed guts in criticising the conduct of elections in Zimbabwe in 2008, describing the violence as unacceptable – the ANC also released statements regarding his visit to Mugabe advocating a more outspoken relationship between the two.

However, seeds of doubt are cast once again when people observe the numerous trials he has had to endure over, amongst other things, arms smuggling, organised violence and having unprotected sex with an AIDS infected woman.

Not to mention during a previous Zimbabwe election in 2002 when he travelled to Zimbabwe as vice-President under Mbeki, he described the elections as free and fair even though impartial observers stated the opposite. As The Economist rightly said, Zuma could provide a model for better African leadership or become a living caricature of African misrule.

His predecessor, Thabo Mbeki, should be praised for securing a deal between Mugabe and Tsvangirai for a power sharing government in Zimbabwe which eventually came to fruition, but he nevertheless proved a disappointment as the leader of Africa’s ‘Rainbow Nation’.

Denial about AIDS and its treatment for years caused millions of unnecessary deaths, he failed to solve the chronic wealth and employment divide in South Africa (which has a 50% unemployment rate), as well as seeing accusations of him bending the law and constitution which he helped to draw up. Mbeki ran the risk of descending into incompetent corruption.

If Zuma manages to wipe South Africa’s slate clean of the misdeeds and mistakes that he and Mbeki committed in the past, then hopefully he can provide a inspiration of good leadership not just for South Africa and Zimbabwe, but for the entire continent.

For decades, Africa, a beautiful and resourcefully wealthy continent, has been plunged from ruthless colonial exploitation to post-colonial misrule.

As well as having nasty figureheads like Mugabe, Amin and Mengistu Haile Mariam (former dictator of Ethiopia who presided over the 1984 famine), there have been appalling abuses and conflicts raging from Somalia to Sudan to Sierra Leone, the product of corrupt renegades, terrorists and corrupt leaders who wrap themselves in the cloak of Marxist rhetoric, but really having no love for their people whatsoever.

If Zuma lives up to the respect the title African Renaissance entails, then Africa will truly encounter a wind rush of change through its cities, nations and governmental bodies.

Africa has already recognised the necessity of intergovernmental cooperation via the setting up of the African Union, inspired and modelled on the European Union, as well as the Southern African Development Community, which has been chaired by Mbeki and Zuma.

Although the unsavoury leaders of other African nations are present at these organisations, the setup up of these cooperative initiatives is one step to eventual self-betterment of a potentially strong continent.

If Zuma manages to put Mugabe in his place and demonstrate the awakening of moral authority and democratic practice above tyranny and corrupt squandering, then Africa stands a chance for a lifetime of living up to its true potential. Administrative reform combined with moral leadership and cooperative organisations can lead only to better days for the continent.


Robert-Mugabe-defiantWho decides who the good guy is, and who’s the bad guy? Line up the goodies and baddies, and quite often there’s not much to choose between them.

We really need to question what the Western media tells us. For example, what is the difference between political oppression and corruption in Zimbabwe compared to many other nations?

On these two measures alone, it is arguable that President Mugabe may not be the worst offender in Africa, let alone the world.

Ethiopia’s Meles Zenawi, a member of Tony Blair’s Africa Commission, Tanzania’s Jakaya Kikwete and DRC’s Joseph Kabila, have all stood accused of using violence against their people. When you consider body-counts, we have to ask why one country is in the spotlight while the others are not.

That’s not defending Mugabe, or justifying oppression carried out in his name. It’s a plea for consistency, without which moral authority does not exist.

If Mugabe is accused of circumventing democracy, why is Britain now dancing to the tune Libyan ruler Muammar Gaddafi (40 years in power), and on friendly terms with Angola’s Eduardo dos Santos (30 years), and Egypt’s’ Hosni Mubarak (28 years)?

The hidden, and sometimes the not-so-hidden, hand of former colonial powers is all too often evident when African rulers seize power, and when they abuse human rights to stay there. It is regrettable that James Gill fails to acknowledge this.

The approach of Thabo Mbeki towards Mugabe, far from being a damp squib, was actually a policy of attempted constructive engagement that ultimately paved the way for the power-sharing government now operating in Zimbabwe.

Mbeki’s was an African solution that valued reconciliation over outright regime change. South Africa recognised Mugabe’s failings, but refused to accede to Western demands to drive ordinary Zimbabweans into even greater poverty. Reducing a country to its’ knees is no guarantee of success, as Britain found with Iraqi sanctions.

Mbeki’s was a strategy that recognised that American and British ‘smart sanctions’ were in reality not very smart at all. Contrary to the impression given by the BBC, these sanctions did not simply freeze assets of the elite, but virtually cut off development aid.

The Western media then reinforced this with a different kind of sanction; by demonising Mugabe as a ‘Hitler’ (a ridiculous comparison), or an ‘Idi Amin’ (a comparison you make, James, but equally one that does not stand up to scrutiny), private investment was also cut off, driving the Zimbabwean economy when into freefall.

Mbeki acknowledged, as the West did not, Mugabe’s history as a freedom fighter against Imperialism, which once again became relevant as the start of Mugabe’s troubles only seriously began once white farms were invaded.

Before that, while white farmers enjoyed ownership over 80% of the arable farmland, Britain happily ignored Zimbabwe’s political oppression against black opponents, including scores of deaths every year between Mugabe’s election in 1980, and the start of the farm invasions, around 2000. In particular the Matabeleland Massacres of the mid-80s, when thousands were killed, went largely uncommented upon in Britain.

Ironically Zimbabwe had been moving slowly towards orderly and non-violent land redistribution until Tony Blair decided to tie financial compensation for white farmers to his vision of political reform in the Abuja Agreement, something that proved unacceptable to Mugabe, and ultimately wrecked hopes of a peaceful conclusion.

In light of the rank hypocrisy on the part of Britain, it is not surprising that many African leaders refused to be brow-beaten by Britain into condemning Zimbabwe’s ruler.

Britain’s cause was not helped by the fact that opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai allowed Mugabe to portray him as a puppet of the West after Tsvangirai aligned himself with white farmers, allowing them to become MDC MPs and spokespeople. This matters in a country where little pockets of old Rhodesia still exist, and where I have witnessed the way in which white Zimbabweans often talk to black Zimbabweans.

Tsvangirai has also at times appeared to lack political nous, to such an extent that his leadership split the MDC, with a rival faction now led by Arthur Mutambara, the current vice-president.

The power-sharing government still has a long way to go to get Zimbabwe back on its’ feet. Continued media broadsides against Mugabe, even as the joint Zanu PF-MDC government gets going, reflects a disappointment on the part of the West that the President is still in office.

This is in turn reflected in the fact that the West has not released the flood of investment which Zimbabweans were led to believe would arrive if MDC gained power. Consequently, this lack of investment means political progress is slower, and it is that much harder to dismantle a culture of gangsterism that the authorities and self-appointed Zanu PF thugs have adopted to survive, often at the expense of their countrymen and women.

But there is a positive process going on. So, however unsavoury Mugabe’s regime has been, calling Zimbabwe a “crackpot tyranny” now is particularly unhelpful, especially in what can loosely be called part of the UK’s Black media.

South Africa’s new president, Jacob Zuma, has already been put on notice by the Western media that he could become the new Mugabe if he’s not careful. All this leads me to conclude that it is more important than ever that African people, including the wider Diaspora, strive to develop arguments and discourses that are not merely extensions (or repetitions) of those in the first-world, infused as they are with Western strategic interests and Imperial values.

For those of us in living in the West, that is hard to do in the face of a constant drip-drip of negativity about the bogymen that have been pre-selected for us to jeer. But try we must.

Blog Archive: University challenged - Originally Posted on OBV Blog Site 14/09/2009

Government plans to help poor students get into top universities could end up trapping them in state dependancy, writes James Gill

Recently Lord Mandelson announced a new series of measures designed to encourage more people from lesser well off backgrounds to study at university. As a long time fan of Peter Mandelson, I was looking forward to a very sensible proposal.

What I heard instead was a disappointing scheme of giving students from poorer backgrounds who achieve lower than AAA/AAB, who plan to attend high grade universities, a two-grade head start in admissions ahead of high achieving candidates of a similar or different background.

This problem is a perfect example of when a well-intentioned objective for the Labour Party goes awry when dipped into a cauldron of middle class socialist condescending attitudes towards those of a less fortunate background than theirs.

Peter Mandelson (whose brief now includes universities) is a naturally intelligent man who studied at Hendon County Grammar and subsequently went on to read PPE at Oxford University.

I am not in any way discriminating against Mandelson on the basis of his strong academic heritage. Rather I am criticising positive discrimination proposals which are forwarded from men of these backgrounds towards those of poorer backgrounds, which seems to makes a mockery of the achievements of natural AAA/AAB students from poorer backgrounds who might be forfeited due to a BBB/BBC student getting a leg-up from the government.

Mandelson received a great education, not because of his parent’s income, but because of excellent schooling and a good upbringing. Ministers ought to remedy some home truths about the flaws in the secondary school system which still leaves a good proportion of young people without basic literacy, numeracy and science skills.

For a party committed to furthering the interests of people in poorer backgrounds, they seem to be going in the opposite direction.

Instead of drawing on the recent examples of Lewis Iwu and Michael Isola, as two students from modest backgrounds in London who made it to Oxford University through simple hard work, our ministers have unknowingly kept poorer people in the trap of state dependency than nurturing talent and skill to their optimal potential.

I see myself in the same category as Lewis Iwu and Michael Isola, an African-Caribbean student born in relatively modest Tottenham who is currently reading history at the University of York.

I reached my goal not through having my grades altered on the basis of my parents’ income, but through hard work and an intellectual curiosity nurtured by my parents and my many excellent school teachers, from a comprehensive school.

Considering these proposals are aimed to better the opportunities of people of less well off backgrounds, the focus tends to shift onto ethnic minorities in a flurry of stereotypical ghetto-dwellers and underachievers.

More often than not, the focus is likely to shift onto ethnic territory, in turn, unintentionally implying that some young BME students who earn BBB/BBC lack the intellectual capability to university than peers and others who achieve AAA/AAB.

The pattern over the past six years (or even longer) demonstrates that there have been increasing numbers of young people attaining top grades like AAA or AAB to go to university. This number would also include numbers of BME students too.

Another flaw in the government’s approach to this higher education problem is their constant focus on Oxford and Cambridge. There’s no doubt that they are the most reputable universities in the country, but doesn’t it strike one that the constant focus on these institutions reinforces their aura of elitism?

There are plenty of universities throughout the country such as Queen Mary, LSE, SOAS and Manchester, who have larger percentages of ethnic minority students, and who, although not having the mythic supremacy of Oxbridge are still highly valued in the academic community.

Their larger percentage of ethnic minority students going on to achieve highly valued university degrees is testament to a reality that people from poorer backgrounds are getting a good quality education by attaining the necessary grades.

Not to mention the new universities (post-1992 polytechnics), which, although not carrying the prestige as aforementioned institutions, pride themselves on building links with disciplines such as law, business and politics to give their students simultaneous life experience as well as academic demand.

The subjects such as law, economics, politics and history are not much different in content than courses offered at Oxbridge, albeit with lower entry standards. To focus on Oxbridge constantly might also dent the self-esteem of those applying outside the ‘elite’ field.

If there’s any problem with the admissions services in the more highly rated institutions, it’s up to the internal governance of those respective institutions to privately observe any bias’ they might have to a particular class or form of schooling and experience.

While the government is right to encourage wider participation within the more reputable universities, it is wrong to interfere with the grades achieved by the students themselves.

It reinforces a new form of state dependency which is harmful to the prospects and ethics of the education and to the academic self-esteem of the students themselves, most of whom work hard even if they don’t achieve the AAA/AAB bracket of results.

I personally think the government has overstepped the mark in state intervention in this case, creating a self-parody of a government whose commitment to further educational opportunity might squander others’ hard work.

Blog Archive: Reflections on a dark day in Europe - Originally Posted on OBV Blog Site 03/08/2009

The election of extreme right MEPs in the recent Euro elections was a disaster, but these forces can be defeated with honest debate, argues James Gill

In a society becoming increasingly pluralistic and representative of a natural multicultural state, one becomes used to news of breakthroughs for representation of the many facets of British society.

Two months ago, however, we saw a breakthrough of the worst kind, the accession of two BNP MEPs to the European Parliament, having won seats within Yorkshire and the Humber and the North West of England – the antithesis to our multicultural nation.

And it wasn’t just Britain that saw this devastating rightward shift. The entire continent was ablaze with numerous hard-right sweeping Europe off its feet in a pool of bigotry and insecurity, and towards a fast-changing world.

For a country and continent that have simultaneously preached pleasing rhetoric on multi-ethnic inclusivity, reconciliation and understanding, these elections were a wake-up call for an apathetic generation that has let racism sneak in, under the silence of ignorance.
BNP: no yolking matter

BNP's Nick Griffin

With BME communities in Britain, who are barely informed about the European side of British politics, I feel it is time to address the issue of participation in Europe.

The European Union (EU) was borne out of the devastating violence of World War Two, a conflict instigated by the evil, racist brutality of Adolf Hitler, who succeeded in capitalising on voter apathy and disillusionment in the same way that the BNP does in contemporary Britain.

After intense fighting, people realised the need to build a Europe united in the common interests of peace, cooperation and tolerance. This translated into the formation of the EU, initially the European Economic Community (EEC), of which Britain’s membership, ratified in 1975, symbolised a fresh start for the former colonial power.

Those arguing for membership included the then Tory leader, Ted Heath, who had courageously sacked Enoch Powell as a policy spokesman after his ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech, and Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson with fellow ministers, Jim Callaghan and Roy Jenkins, who had signed the 1968 Race Relations Act.

Accession was bitterly opposed by bigots Powell, Alan Clark (who later described Africa as ‘Bongo bongo land’) and anti-Catholic demagogue Ian Paisley. It was a clear choice where the European dream lay.

However, that joy and promise seems to have been forgotten in modern times. Although Hans Gert-Pottering, the former President of the European Parliament, spoke of the need for cultural understanding between Europe and its external neighbours, notably the Islamic world, it is clear that reality demonstrates there is remoteness in Europe from ideas of racial and cultural equality. There still remains a cultural distrust for Islamic culture, focused in most centre-right parties’ unwillingness to accept Turkey into the ‘Christian’ club (human rights notwithstanding).

Prominent political figures continue to make daft to inflammatory comments, ranging from Silvio Berlusconi describing Barack Obama as having a very good tan, to the likes of Nicolas Sarkozy, who whilst Interior Minister described the predominantly black members of a banlieue (ghetto) as ‘scum’, and Geert Wilders who compares the Koran to Mein Kampf.

Then there’s Michal Kaminski, the Polish MEP leader of David Cameron’s new European Conservatives and Reform Parliamentary Group, was quoted as saying that Barack Obama represents the end for white civilisation, not to mention their homophobia and anti-Semitism.

These attitudes show a stark contrast to the dream fought for by Heath, Wilson, Callaghan and Jenkins 34 years ago and the enthusiasm shown by Labour and Liberal Democrats to a continent as part of a modernising Britain.

It is also testament to the apathy of the general public to the European political body, especially that of ethnic minorities, when such public figures can get away with such despicable deeds.

The turnout at June’s European election was 43% for the entire continent and 34% for the UK. Out of the 72 MEPs sent to Brussels, only four – Syed Kamall, Sajjid Karim and Nirj Deva (Conservatives), and Claude Moreas (Labour) – are from BME backgrounds.

The commentary and debate on Europe and all the senior figures within the public bodies and MEPs groups, are overwhelmingly white.

Voter registration and participation literature is common for domestic elections, and often reminds ethnic minorities to actively make their voice heard. Yet, with racists and fascists in ascendance all over Europe, as well as the two BNP MEPs, surely there should be a European-focused message too?

Shouldn’t Britain, as a leading member of the EU, with clout on economic and diplomatic matters as well as negotiating treaties, make a concerted effort to stimulate the European debate more, and set an example to other countries which have characters that are openly racist?

The EU is such a vital part of our political system and livelihood. For example cross border efforts between police forces, options to form common foreign and defence policies, a convention on human rights, two courts of justice and human rights, intergovernmental councils of ministers and the largest parliament in the world, elected under the fairest electoral system of proportional representation.

The capacity for cross border mobility and economic cooperation is immense, including the Erasmus exchange scheme for UK-Europe universities, and free mobility for workers and residents in any European country to move as they freely wish to do so, irrespective of nationality.

If members of BME communities and activists take advantage of this vast political entity where our country harbours a great deal of influential power sharing, then the European dream of Heath, Wilson and Jenkins will return to conquer the reality of Wilders, Berlusconi and Kaminski.

Blog archive: The Future's Bright, The Future's Black - originally published 26/07/2009 on OBV Blog Site

Young black leaders are taking their place at the top table, as Dr King predicted. James Gill looks to the future

‘Everyday create your history, everyday you are writing your legacy’ – Michael Jackson

As so aptly stated by the late pop star, history is the story of mankind. Every so often an individual or social movement comes along to change the national or international demographic, sometimes for the worse, yet often for the better.

I, as a young black individual, feel it is appropriate to celebrate a historical moment for black people especially. The fact that Barack Obama is the most powerful man in the world is testament to the change that shows black people as capable individuals who can easily have their share in the big, wide world.

A world where black people are fearless innovators, one where instead of wallowing in urban inner cities with nothing to do, black people are out there contributing to the world stage solving problems increasingly complex and globalised.

Since 1960s, there have been legions of black entrepreneurs, politicians and entertainers who have dominated their respective fields.

Although they might not have been politicians or financiers by profession, the late entertainers, James Brown and Michael Jackson were black men who used this medium to achieve a political coming of age as well as disposing a form of black occupation of the music industry and what Brown himself coined ‘Black Capitalism’, giving black people the same opportunities and chances for economic and political prosperity as their white counterparts.

Brown and Jackson not only recorded chart-topping funky tracks and soothing ballads, but also socially conscious and politically encouraging songs. Brown hit the top with Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud, Unity and Don’t Be a Dropout; Jackson chimed off to Earth Song, They Don’t Care About Us and Man in the Mirror.

Brown struck up relations with then vice-president Hubert Humphrey (who subsequently endorsed Brown’s Don’t Be a Dropout campaign to encourage young people to stay in education) and Richard Nixon to name a few.

Jackson broke the invisible colour divide on MTV, making the way for numerous African-Americans to dominate the entertainment medium. Along the way, he founded his Heal the World Foundation (with Jimmy Carter as the chief Ambassador of it, no doubt!) and spoke at the Oxford Union on the subject of how best to rear children in a world packed with consumerism and digital excess.

Martin Luther King and Malcolm X preceded Barack Obama in bringing black consciousness to the surface. Chris Gardner, the subject of the Will Smith film The Pursuit of Happiness, started his own stock-brokerage firm, Gardner Rich LLC (with offices in New York, San Francisco and Chicago) in 1987 going on to become a leading philanthropist too, assisting with charities to cure homelessness, a challenge he had to overcome in the mid-1980s when working on a trainee course which got him his eventual job.

Updating oneself to the present, we can see this dream of the baby boomers has finally come to fruition with the arrival of Adam Afriyie and Simeon Williams.

Adam Afriyie made history in 2005, becoming the UK’s first black Conservative MP for Windsor and has subsequently been appointed by Tory leader, David Cameron, to be Shadow Minister for Innovation, Schools and Universities.

With the Conservative’s electoral prospects looking the best they have done for years, Mr Afriyie looks like he will be joined by Shaun Bailey and Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones, breaking an ensuing political mould that black people are frequent charity cases which consistently rely on the Labour party and welfarism.

My former college and university colleague, fellow Afro-Caribbean, Simeon Williams has been trailing the world in the form of Cradles and Co, the new information services provider firm he co founded, dealing with themes of sustainable development in China, acting as a dynamic middleman between inter-governmental relations and businesses looking for ways to invest sustainably in one of the world’s largest economies.

Simeon is the living epitome of James Brown’s ‘Black Capitalism’ – a bold, intuitive and innovative personality with mountains of experience in the financial and political systems which guide domestic and international political-economic relations, ranging from IPPR, Deutsche Bank and at DLA Piper’s Global Government Relations department.

On the academic-political side, two of the UK’s most prestigious universities have elected within the past two years the first ever black presidents of their respective student unions.

Oxford elected Lewis Iwu as student union president for the 2008-2009 academic year, while York elected Tim Ngwena as student union president for the upcoming academic year of 2009-2010.

Having won the university’s mini-Apprentice competition and successfully staging one of the university’s most successful events of 2009 – the Fusion dance extravaganza – Tim covered, in one year, the entertainment, political and economic opportunities I mentioned at the beginning of this article.

The future for black leaders is looking brighter than ever. In an ever-increasingly diverse and changing world, blacks are increasingly coming to dominate the political and economic domains like never before.

The dream of Martin Luther King has finally come true, and the nightmare that Malcolm X so vigorously campaigned against is finally coming to a close.