Sunday, 30 August 2009

Cooking at Climate Camp

The chef in the London neighbourhood tells us what's for dinner.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Heathrow - Adopt a Resident

Liz from Plane Stupid explains the Adopt a Resident initiative, part of the campaign to stop a third runway being built at Heathrow.

Climate Camp - Day Three

My third day began by wandering around the perimeter helping a couple of guys from the defence group secure the fencing, which had taken a bit of a battering during the night from wind. That's the beauty of Climate Camp, there's always something to get stuck in with and never a shortage of help if you're in need. This was soon followed by the fencing team coming to the rescue of an Italian guy and his girlfriend desperately trying to pitch their tent as the heavens opened. I'd ignored the forecast of rain to venture out in shorts and t-shirts and I was soon ringing wet through as we tackled with the flapping tent. As if to rub it in, it seemed the rain was only targeting Climate Camp - in the distance, Canary Wharf was swathed in golden sunlight. It's times like these I wonder why I don't wait for the British climate to warm a little bit before getting involved with the fight against climate change...

In mid-afternoon the Indymedia guys from Leeds and the North held their first media workshop. Around twenty people, including a secondary school teacher, an architect, a Brazilian girl and a Bohemian looking Czech guy sat around in a circle to hear how the Indymedia collective works and how it can be used to an activist's advantage. Many of the people in the workshop had little media experience and simply wanted to know how they could be given a voice. This is the essence of Climate Camp, sharing skills and knowledge and educating each other to help each other's battles.

Indymedia was originally set up in Seattle in 1999 ahead of the now infamous WTO meeting to report on events without any vested interests taking over and forcing the news to pander to editors or advertisers. A concurrent outlet in London helped disseminate news from the 'frontline' to try and counter mainstream interpretations of proceedings. It's since spread to over 70 countries around the world with numerous collectives within each nation.

The group run on the principle of open publishing and are run in a non-hierarchical manner with different groups covering different regions. Anybody can publish news to the Indymedia website and the only stories removed are usually those that are pushing an authoritarian or other agenda counter to their own loose political leanings, but they're never fully removed and if the community wishes they can always be reinstated.

They have a fraught relationship with the mainstream media, who often steal content and don't credit them. They also point out the hypocrisy of some media, such as the Guardian who ran a story covering Climate Camp alongside adverts for jobs involved in Heathrow's proposed third runway.

A quick Q&A followed with other members of the group sharing their ideas and knowledge of how to use basic media to further their cause and lots of notes were scribbled down by an eager audience.

After the workshop I went for another wander around the site which had swelled with more tents. People were either busy learning about generating electricity with bicycles, fixing up toilets, cooking meals for upwards of 300 people, taking part in workshops on a variety of different topics or listening to slam poetry in the main marquee. You're never short of something to do at Climate Camp.

I finished the day with a talk about airport expansion, joined by Alan from the Stop City Airport Masterplan (SCAM) group. The people of the villages around Heathrow's third runway have been fighting plans for nearly a decade but were beginning to feel jaded and adopting an almost defeatist attitude until Climate Camp sprung up on their doorstep in 2007, reinvigorating the campaign. Asked why that was, one of the campaigners said that although wary of the campers at first, to see outsiders who were utterly committed to stopping the runway gave a morale boost to a flagging movement. Plane Stupid have also got in on the act and introduced the Adopt a Resident scheme to give wider support to locals. The campaigns team now feel confident the plans will be dropped, especially as the Conservatives have voiced their opposition to the runway and look likely to win the next election, but there are still many smaller battles, like the expansion of London City Airport, to be fought.


More pictures at Twitpic and live updates from me on Twitter.

Friday, 28 August 2009

Wind power at Climate Camp

Renewable energy at Climate Camp 2009 from Jamie Potter on Vimeo.

Tom from 3V Power talks us through the wind turbines at Climate Camp 2009.

Climate Camp - Day Two

Day Two of Climate Camp started with the first of the promised non-violent direct actions in the City of London.

A number of campers donned their finest garb and locked sights on the Climate Exchange on Bishopsgate, target of the G20 Camp in the City for its role in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, one of the world's biggest carbon markets.

I set off to get some video but by the time I got there they'd left. Of their own accord I think, not because of the police, so on to Blackheath went I.

The camp was almost in top gear when I arrived and a marked contrast to the previous day. Many of the neighbourhood kitchens and compost toilets had been constructed, as well as the central infrastructure including the comms, welcome tent, first aid and media tents.

The Welcome tent, just by the main entrance, was staffed by two very charming ladies dishing out sweets, literature and advice about the camp. It's also where you can go to meet other people if you've turned up on your own, meet 'guides' if you're a local resident come for a butcher's and see which jobs need doing, if you feel inclined to get your hands dirty.

There were still a couple of big jobs remaining, principally the main marquee in which most of the workshops are held. The four masts had already been erected, hoisted up and fixed in place by guy ropes and mounted with Climate Camp flags. It almost looked as though a tall ship had been sunk in the heath, only its masts showing. The canvas that makes up the roof of the tent was lain on the ground, the four large sheets being threaded together at the seams. Later on (things can go quite slowly at Climate Camp, but in such lovely sunshine I don't blame them) dozens of campers stood around the edge of the marquee ready to lift it into place. A few strong campers crawled under the fabric to the masts and began winching the canvas up from the centre. As it went up, the helpers on the outside set in place wooden poles onto which the walls would later be attached. It was done in a matter of seconds, adding to the Camp's lovely little skyline, though it paled in comparison to the docklands in the distance.

Inside the media tent, a photo opportunity for the Guardian turned into an impromptu workshop on citizen journalism as the media group quickly lead us through how to produce photo and video stories on the cheap, accompanied by some handy little leaflets providing templates. Paul Lewis spoke to me after about producing our own content, but my sentiment about us not trusting the mainstream media didn't make his article...

The London neighbourhood was a hive of activity all afternoon, especially around lunch time as campers queued up to receive their vegetarian fare. A blackboard with a rota on let people add their names to duties such as cooking and cleaning and it was all carried off with ease and efficiency. Once the pots and pans have been washed, the water is put through two redundant bath tubs filled with hay, pebbles and hessian, which strips the water of the detergents and chemicals used in the cleaning process. The water filters through and collects in a large hole in the ground, about two feet deep. This 'clean' water now seeps back into the ground, recycled and with minimum harm to the environment. Clever, huh?

Elsewhere in the camp, people were chilling in their neighbourhoods, listening to bicycle-powered soundsystems and waxing lyrical about all things environment and politics. A crowd had begun to gather at the main entrance which had now been beefed up with hay bales in an almost medieval-style castle entrance, to thwart any attempts by the police to enter the camp. People were sat in the tripods and up on the bales in what I thought was a photo thing for the media. Turned out Frances Wright of the legal group was speaking to the Met's silver commander, Julia Pendry. The camp had taken the decision not to allow the police in to the camp out of respect for those who had suffered at their hands during the G20, but Pendry, who was only joined by three other officers, didn't seem to mind. Both were smiling and it was all very civil. The police had however, put in place a cherry picker the day before, which the girls in the Welcome tent told me was home to one of those heat sensitive cameras, I assume to see how many people were getting up to in the tents.

By late afternoon I had to leave the camp to head for central London. There'd been no word of any other direct action, though I noticed the Carbon Casino banner was available free for anybody to use, as long as they brought it back. Later that night, the first plenary was held, but it's today (Friday) when the workshops really kick off and no doubt we'll see a few more campers running around the City of London. Bankers, beware!


More of my pictures at Twitpic

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Climate Camp - Day One

At one point I thought it wasn't going to happen. I arrived at Stockwell tube station a few minutes before noon, to a low key police presence and around fifty odd campers waiting outside by the shrine to Jean Charles de Menezes. There were a few media folk there including somebody from Channel 4 News who we gently ribbed by suggesting he actually worked for the Met. The numbers swelled to about a hundred and after waiting nearly three quarters of an hour on the pavement outside we headed around the corner to a small park to chill in the sun and play games until further notice. We should have received the text revealing the location by now and hadn't, which was making a few people a bit itchy. We even wondered if the Met had somehow brought down the SMS service, wrecking the swoop and making us look like fools, something the Evening Standard seemed eager to see at least.

Finally, after a couple of hours waiting, we got the signal and set off for Blackheath via the Tube and DLR. Nice touch of the day: after piling onto the DLR and taking over an entire train, the lady 'driving' it made sure to announce which station we had to get off at and when, as well as keeping the doors open a little bit longer for us all to disembark. We thanked her with a hearty "hurray!". The rest of the passengers seemed completely oblivious to what was happening.

A slight detour in Greenwich later and we arrived at the final location, on Hare and Billet Road on Blackheath itself, site of numerous peasant revolts through the centuries and common land, which makes it hard for us to be kicked off. We were among the last swoop groups to arrive and scaffold tripods and banners had already been set up when we got there, as well as a few pitched tents. Hire trucks were spilling out their contents onto the heath ready to assemble some of the larger tents and metal fencing had been rigged around the perimeter. There were even sofas, wheelie bins and bathtubs scattered around. Surprisingly, I couldn't see a single cop, bar a solitary van parked some way in the distance. Well done the Met.

At four o'clock the first site-wide meeting was held. Everybody gathered in a circle to hear an introductory speech and the first bit of housekeeping, chiefly to organise some sitebuilding and establish the spokes from the different neighbourhoods. I scanned the crowd, a sea of white faces. Climate Camp gets a lot of stick for being full of trustafarians and hippies, which is what it looks like at first, but without speaking to everybody its hard to distinguish their economic background. The media piled in and I noticed a particular group of photojournalists hunched around their gigantic lenses and flashy laptops, filing images to who knows where. Somebody made a point, rather tiresomely, that anybody taking photographs or video of anything should ask for permission first. I can see their point, but at the same time it is in a public space and most people didn’t seem bothered about being caught on camera.

After the meeting, everybody split off into their neighbourhoods to sort out the camping areas. The London group seemed sorted, but then they always are. I also noticed the Whitechapel Anarchists Group who were just sat around their red and black flag listening to jungle and dubstep on a home made soundsystem.

People not involved in neighbourhoods, including myself, got stuck in with helping the central infrastructure which in my case meant erecting a huge marquee-style tent. This takes longer than you'd think and requires a lot of geometric aforethought and precise measuring. After a couple of hours we'd only got as far as hoisting the central pole/mast and getting ready the canvas cover. During that time I spoke to some protesters from Portugal, France and Spain, living in London and taking part in their first climate camp. Apparently people in these parts of Europe don’t care, so you'd never see anything like this over there, but they felt compelled to come to this camp because of their concerns about climate change and the pace at which our governments are working, or not.

I soon had to leave for the night but by then a number of smaller utility tents had been raised, including a couple of kitchens and the compost toilets, which the mainstream media absolutely adore. Positions, neighbourhoods, pathways etc had all been clearly marked and the majority of people there, no more than 1500 at a guess (if somebody could teach me how to measure crowds it'd be much appreciated) were involved in one way or another in setting up and establishing the camp. All without leadership. How's that for a DIY ethic?

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Media at Climate Camp

In less than two hours, environment activists from across the country will be gathering at locations around London, ready to swoop on an as yet undisclosed location to set up the 2009 Camp for Climate Action. Thanks to the insane policing at a mini-camp in the City of London back in April, it's no doubt going to be a media circus as all eyes turn to the policing of the event.

It will be interesting to see how the police do behave when the media spotlight is upon them. Unfortunately, I fear this is the only media spotlight we shall see. The big story for them is the policing of the event, rather than the actual event itself. If it passes without much police intervention, how much reporting from inside the camp will we see? I'm not making a judgement, merely posing a question, but this leads me on to the Camp's Media Access Policy, which is somewhat bemusing.

At previous Camps, access for the mainstream media has been very limited, which is somewhat understandable because there is a lack of trust towards the MSM for numerous reasons, mainly the haphazard and misrepresentative reporting of environmental protest and environment politics in general. This year, the rules have been relaxed somewhat, but like previous years they've still drawn criticism from photographers and journalists unhappy at the restrictions.

I agree completely with the media on this one. Apart from stating the obvious in that it goes against the idea of a free press, first of all, it defies the anti-authoritarian nature of the group to place restrictions on the media. Secondly, how are we to trust the official content coming the Camp's media team? And thirdly, in this day and age how do you apply media restrictions when nearly everybody has a phone with a camera on it?

I emailed the press team to find out how the media access policy would apply to people intending to blog and tweet content from the Camp, they replied:
"in the handbook that will be handed out to all campers, there will be a
section providing guidelines for people who will be taking photos and
videos in this capcity - asking people to bascvially just do it with

If the onus is to basically do it with respect, surely that's the only guideline necessary? I don't know, I'll find out in a few hours time, but that's the only guideline I'll be following.

Climate Camp is trying to build a mass social movement from the ground up to try and steer climate change policy in the right direction. They may not like this, but it means engaging in the mainstream media at some point or other. This doesn't mean relying entirely on the mainstream media, not when social/new media are just as powerful, but would you want to get on the wrong side of newspapers and television stations that are seen and watched by millions of people every day?


During this week, as well as regular blog posts I'll hopefully be tweeting photos and video from the Camp so follow me on Twitter and I'll try keep you updated, pending phone signal/battery/police etc.

Monday, 17 August 2009

Waugh jealous of the Scots for having a bit more Darling

Another week and another face in the temp job of all temp jobs as Alistair Darling covers for Gordon Brown during the summer holiday.

And what's this? A couple of Tories trying to make mud stick by whinging about Darling running the country from Edinburgh rather than London. Because Scotland isn't part of the UK is it?

Paul Waugh of the Evening Standard blogged about it, exclaiming: "If a minister is tasked to 'mind the shop', doesn't it make sense to have him actually behind the counter? Imagine if the chief exec of a major corporation took a summer holiday only to find his deputy was taking calls from home."

I can't be sure, but from the rest of the article it sounds like Waugh is suggesting Darling should be running the country from London, but why does that even matter? Who says that the 'counter' is in London, or indeed that there even is one, seeing as most of the UK is actually outside that southern shithole? If politicians actually got out of the capital more often they'd be a bit more in touch with the rest of the population. It's a quiet time of the year and as long as Darling is dealing with the matters at hand, rather than playing Call of Duty or whatever it is MPs do with their time off, I don't care if he's in London, Edinburgh or John O'-bloody-Groats.

I wasn't even going to blog about it, it being such a triviality, but then I saw this article about Oxford airport changing their name to London-Oxford Airport because their own city's world-renowned heritage is obviously worthless unless they align themselves with London.

Which led me back to this rambling text from a Facebook note I wrote a few weeks ago in response to lots of uni friends flocking to the Big Smoke:

It seems everyone is getting sucked into London. It's almost like it's some kind of black hole, drawing in everybody that slips beyond the event horizon, which seems to be the English border.

There's a lot I like about London. I love its vibrancy, plethora of things to do, mix of cultures, languages and people. I don't doubt Samuel Johnson when he opined "when a man is bored of London, he is bored of life". It has a certain intoxicating effect, like heroin (I assume...)

But, there are many things I don't like about London. The sheer size of it gets to me. The fact there are so many people rushing around in their own world. I know it's a hackneyed thing to say, but it breeds a kind of selfishness.

Furthermore, there's an obscene amount of money there, something I just can't tolerate and Central London is simply a conveyor belt of soul destroying clone stores overrun with tourists and suits, amongst other things that grate me, but London's failings aren't the subject of my ire.

What gets to me most is this overarching sense of centrality, that London is the be all and end all of the UK, that if you want to succeed you must go the way of Dick Whittington and pack you and your moggy off to Shoreditch.

I don't understand the fascination with joining the rat run, becoming one of 7 million anonymous cogs all after some kind of London Dream, that many don't attain. Fair enough if you already live there, have friends, family etc. or have been offered a job, but there are many more young cities around the UK (or even abroad) offering similar opportunities and exciting playgrounds, albeit on a smaller scale.

I know it can be hard to avoid going there. I think I want to get into something political[never!], which inevitably means moving to London, but if I want to spread the word around the grassroots and help fight causes on the ground that means getting out of the London bubble.

I guess what I'm trying to get at is, let's spread our wings beyond the capital. There are cities like Brighton, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool, York and Newcastle (I hear good things about Glasgow too) undergoing something of a renaissance, turning into major cultural centres and spawning great businesses and organisations. Hell, even Leicester is beginning to pull its socks up!

Wouldn't it be nice if we could have something on a par with the National Opera, National Theatre, Tate Modern etc elsewhere around the country, not just in one other city, but every city. Let's end London's monopoly being the creative hub and share the 'wealth' across the land. I'd rather go to one of these emerging cities and help build a new community, doing its own thing, forming new scenes with their own ideas. Does nobody else see that? Where's the pioneer spirit?

Somebody said in a comment: "Its embaressing how little we value our other fantastic cities in comparison to places on the continent. That coupled with the fact that London embodies so much about what is wrong with capitalism, im suprised that young people dont move out rather than in."

That hits the nail on the head and is kind of what I was getting at. Where are our Barcelonas, Milans, Munichs etc? Does anybody agree with me, or should I just relent and suck from London's plump, heroin-abundant mammary glands?

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Climate Camps Galore!

A week after activists formed a climate camp at an opencast coal mine in Scotland, another mine in Wales has been targeted by campaigners protesting against the hypocrisy of an authority that is apparently dedicated to fighting climate change but continues mining fossil fuels.

Both camps aim to draw attention to the business-as-usual agenda of their respective governments while exhibiting sustainable living and providing workshops on the issues involved.

Climate Camp Cymru's target is one of Europe's largest opencast mines at Ffos-y-Fran, which has been given permission in face of heavy campaigning from locals, many of whom live a stone's throw away from the mine despite regulations that homes mustn't be located less than half a kilometre from a mine's edge.

The Welsh camp 'swooped' on Wednesday morning and quickly established their temporary sustainable community just 36 metres away from the coal mine, as close as some homes. They intend to stay for three days.

The Scottish campaigners gathered last week for seven days at the recently squatted Mainshill Wood solidarity camp in South Lanarkshire, earmarked for a new opencast coal mine by the Scottish government.

During the camp, the nearby Glentaggart mine was sabotaged by activists who shut down one of the conveyor belts transporting coal to the Ravenstruther rail terminal, where the fuel is loaded onto trains bound for Drax power station.

Both camps have been characterised by great support from local residents opposed to the two mines targeted by activists, which helps to dispel the myth that Climate Camp is the preserve of hippies and crusties.

One resident near the Ffos-y-Fran mine in Wales told the BBC: "I think it's absolutely fantastic. I will be going. I've been fighting the social injustice of the mine for over five years now.

"During that time, you come to realise it's not only a social injustice but a climate injustice as well. We simply cannot be going down this path any longer if we're serious about tackling climate change.

"The message now has to come from the people. We can't rely on the politicians to do this job for us."

At the Scottish camp, according to the Guardian "many locals supported the protesters... and wanted the opencast mines to be dramatically scaled back."

It will be interesting to see how this dynamic plays out at the London camp though, which has no discernible target unlike the Welsh and Scottish camps. The London event aims to draw attention to the role of unfettered capitalism in propelling climate change, but that is such an abstract entity in comparison to the two coal mines which are symbolic of what's wrong with the current energy policy in this country. At the national gathering in Hebden Bridge, much of the discussion stalled when it came to deciding on where the camp will be, other than a green space somewhere in London.

The April camp couldn't have been more perfect in terms of imagery: a street at the heart of the City dominated by grandiose architecture, reclaimed and transformed into a thriving eco-community. The juxtaposition was clear to see and would have been seen by more people if the media coverage hadn't been dominated by police violence.

But how will the August camp fair? There's no way it will be able to occupy such prime territory for a week, likely it will be no where near the City at all, so how will residents and the wider population make that connection between capitalism and climate change? I can't help but wonder if the camp's message will be diluted somewhat. Perhaps a prolonged, concentrated campaign of protests and action in the City is what is needed?

And one final thing; the police presence at both camps seems to have been quite low key. Admittedly the camps are small compared to the 'main' camp in England, but have the police learned their lesson from the G20 and Kingsnorth fall out? Fingers crossed we'll see a more relaxed attitude at the London camp.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009


With all this toss about US healthcare reform dragging the poor NHS into the American right's woefully ignorant and misguided argument, aided and abetted by their willing accomplice, Daniel Hannan MEP, why are British diplomats in Washington so mute?

According to the Guardian:
The British embassy in Washington is quietly trying to counter inaccuracies. A spokesman said: "We're keeping a close eye on things and where there's a factually wrong statement, we will take the opportunity to correct people in private. That said, we don't want to get involved in a domestic debate."
Shouldn't they be making these corrections in public? I can understand not wanting to get embroiled in American domestic policy, but we owe it to our friends across the pond to set things straight about healthcare in this country when it's being desecrated by scum like Dan Hannan and his new arse licking Fox frat bros to fit their own agenda, if only so the American people can make a judgement based on informed argument rather than outright bullshit propagated by lobbyists and capitalists who fear losing control over a cash cow populus.

Some people on twitter have pointed out that if the NHS was an actual business these gobshites would be issued with libel writs. Grow some balls and smack 'em down Ambassador Nige.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Ban the Bag

You'd think getting rid of plastic bags is a no brainer but some green folk would have you think otherwise.

In The Guardian today, Leo Hickman wrote a Comment is Free piece, spurred by the Welsh Assembly's consideration of a tax on plastic bags, and poured cold water all over the idea.

The crux of his argument is that it detracts from the larger problem of climate change, the same line espoused by George Monbiot and James Lovelock, who compared tackling the plastic bag problem to "rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic".

Of course, putting your shopping in a cotton bag rather than a plastic one isn't going to stop the Earth turning to a crisp, but there are still many reasons for doing it.

First of all, plastic creates an awful lot of unsightly and ecologically damaging waste. Everybody's seen the cliched Tesco bag caught in a hedgerow or tangled in seaweed on the beach, but many haven't seen the veritable soup of plastic waste floating around the Pacific Ocean.

According to Greenpeace, this 'trash vortex' of the remnants of our throwaway society acts as a 'chemical sponge' which "can concentrate many of the most damaging of the pollutants found in the worlds oceans: the persistent organic pollutants (POPs). So any animal eating these pieces of plastic debris will also be taking in highly toxic pollutants." And is passed down the food chain, I assume.

Monbiot points out that the production of plastic bags contributes little to greenhouse gas emissions. However, it does contribute to different kinds of ecological ruin, so why should this be kicked into the long grass for the sake of the wider problem? Isn't the whole point of living a green life to limit your impact on the environment? Surely then, any kind of positive action should be encouraged?

One reader said in the Comments section of Hickman's piece: "I think this sort of article is why many people don't even attempt to be more environmentally friendly, because no matter what we do, someone, somewhere is going to tell us it's not good enough."

We're damned if we do, and we're damned if we don't.

I also fail to see how it will actually draw attention away from the issue of climate change. I understand the point, that people will use alternatives and think they've done their part for the planet, but this is flawed. If the production of plastic bags has little effect on emissions, don't sell a curb on them as being something that reduces emissions then. Instead, sell it as it is - an effort to curb what is essentially littering.

Furthermore, how many people currently think about the environment in their day-to-day lives? Would a ban or tax on plastic bags not bring home to them the consequences of their lifestyle and actually kick start people into thinking about the environment? We need to start somewhere after all and campaign groups could then seize on this awareness to drive further change, from plastic packaging to global warming.

Hickman alludes to a wider problem when he says that plastic bags are "one of the most recognisable symbols of our modern throwaway culture". We live in a wasteful society which thinks nothing of throwing away 'stuff' willy nilly. This is an equally pressing problem, which is among the root causes of the kind of behaviour causing climate change as well wider socio-economic problems around the world. Another reason to get rid of them, no? If only to set people's minds on a more considerate path.

Hickman also talks of "unintended consequences" such as the subsequent increase in demand for black bin liners, but concerted efforts at recycling would render bin bags obsolete. Bin bags are items of convenience, because it's easier to put waste in a bag in a bin rather than split it up for recycling or carry it straight to the big wheelie bin. Granted, it's a problem, but one that can easily be overcome with a bit of common sense. People may not like it because it's lifestyle change, to consciously recycle, but we're going to need bigger lifestyle changes if we're to avert climate disaster.

As for what action should be taken I think an outright ban, although ideal, would be pushing it too far, but some kind of tax is not unreasonable. At least then on the occasion when you genuinely do forget your Bag for Life you can still get your oranges home without resorting to an insane juggling act.

This is something that people can do so let's do it! The sooner we just get on with it and implement the bloody thing the sooner we can focus on those serious issues that deserve even more attention.


See the work of photographer Chris Jordan, who portrays statistics of American life, such as the number of plastic bottles used at any one moment, through the lens.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Dear Mr President

I just sent this via The White House website.

Dear Mr President,

I know you're in a dilly of a pickle trying to figure out what to do with Guantanamo Bay, but I believe one of Britain's finest (sic) journalists may hold the answer.

If I can direct you to this link you will begin to understand the absolute anguish that our middle-aged women go through just to get a good barnet these days.

Personally, I found it a tough read and was close to tears, but then it struck me. The Guantanamo detainees could be sent to one of our many hairdressing establishments, given a cut and blow dry, bit of a mental roughing up and admit to the whereabouts of Bin Laden with no lasting psychological effects, and be on their way again with a nice 60s beehive in the time it also takes to paint their nails.

What say you, fine sir?

Yours sincerely,

Jamie Potter

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

When fools rush in

I did something stupid yesterday. I ran in guns blazing to comment on somebody's blog when I didn't know the entire story and hadn't made an effort to fully understand the issue before putting my foot in my mouth.

The victim of my wrath was the [Tory] Thunder Dragon blog, who published a post denouncing Harriet Harman's call for the leadership of the country to always include a woman, at which point I jumped in to stick up for her on the basis of fairly representing women in government.

I'll come clean, I'd missed the story the first time round, didn't bother to follow the links to the story and thus wasn't aware Ms Harman was referring particularly to the leadership as in the top two positions of power, rather than the cabinet, as I interpreted it for some reason.

Now, I was off work sick yesterday and hadn't slept well, which is probably in part to blame for my lapse in concentration and failure to read everything in its context before sticking my oar in, but I was also in a bit of a blind 'fury', which is no excuse to be honest.

Nonetheless, I still stand by what I said, which is that in a relatively unequal society as we have today, an absolute meritocracy is not a fair way of representing people in government, as many people face barriers to acquiring and/or exercising the kind of ability that excels in such a scenario. In which case, 'positive discrimination' is a necessary short-term means of accomplishing something approaching fair representation in government. Hannah Nicklin does a better job of explaining my position in her blog post. This is why I believe more women should be 'pushed' into Parliament and the cabinet, although I'm undecided whether this should apply to the very top two positions of government, which is where I went a bit wrong yesterday.

Admittedly, what Ms Harman said about men not being left to rule alone can be construed as being sexist. On the face of it, that's how it seems, but she goes on to make the point that a balanced team makes better decisions. Was it really a sexist comment? I don't think so.

On the subject of Harriet Harman, how disgusting to see the Daily Mail's James Slack shoot down her plans to teach children not to beat women, calling it a 'feminist initiative' and suggesting that it's controversial to teach children not to beat people up.

Whilst Slack has a somewhat fair point to make, that this should be taught at home (a view I completely disagree with), to go about it in such a vitriolic, spiteful manner is downright atrocious journalism. I won't go into a critique of the article as it's been done by dozens of other bloggers since the article appeared this morning, so I'll just point you in the direction of @antonvowl and @BevaniteEllie's efforts here and here, respectively.

Monday, 3 August 2009

Citizenship, not censorship

People should be welcomed to this country, rather than be put through some ridiculous finishing school to test their worth, but that's exactly what the government have in mind for testing immigrants' rights to UK citizenship.

In plans revealed by Immigration Minister Phil Woolas, immigrants seeking citizenship will have to earn points to become a fully fledged citizen of these fair isles. Those who have been in the country for five years or longer will have to apply for citizenship, rather than earn it automatically.

People who contribute to the "democratic life of the country" will be rewarded with points, a bit like a neo-Nectar card I assume, but be docked points for getting ideas and dissing the government.

Applicants will also have to undergo a period of probation before being wholly accepted into our warm embrace, I guess, to make sure they're the 'right sort'.

Yes, I really did just write that.

First of all, the idea that immigrants could lose points for 'bad behaviour', which could include protesting against government policy, such as demonstrating at the homecomings of soldiers from Afghanistan, is morally abhorrent.

This borders on - actually, no, it is - thought crime. The state is already encroaching on our civil liberties, now they're set to go a little bit further. Phil Woolas said: "If someone is applying to be a citizen to our country we do think that you should not only obey the law but show you are committed to our country."

First of all, the government is not the country; they are separate entities. There is a difference between being committed to your government and being committed to your country*. Protesting against government policy does not mean you are not committed to your country. But how dare people rail against the government! I guess Woolas would also like all new UK citizens to join the Labour party too? Dissent is part of the "democratic life of the country", you twerp.

Secondly, how are they to police such a law? Is the surveillance of protesters to be stepped up a gear, cataloguing every attendee and cross-referencing this information with some database of people who are and aren't citizens, stripping points away from the outspoken? I thought we were talking about citizenship, not censorship.

Moving on, the probationary period will be reduced by way of 'civic activism', which may involve "contributing to the democratic life of the country through trade union activities or canvassing for a political party". On the face of it, there's nothing wrong with such activities, but as Heather Noller pointed out, making people do it purely to gain citizenship kind of misses the point. People shouldn't be doing it to gain points but to improve their local community.

And, further, how does it fit in with not demonstrating against the government? Is this not civic activism? Where do the government draw the line on what constitutes civic activism? Some people may not believe in the mainstream parties, they may be anarchists, or they may be die-hard capitalists who'd rather destroy the unions than participate in them. How do you attribute points accordingly? How do you quantify something like this?

I'd just like to make the point that the initiative to combat brain drain in immigrants' countries of origin by rewarding them for temporarily returning to share their skills is commendable, in its spirit. However, it's still playing the numbers game and forcing people to live up to expectations, undermining the whole concept of doing good for its own sake rather than for personal gain, which is all too prevalent in our society. Is that the kind of British character we want to instill in people? {Update - if indeed we should be 'instilling' character in people}

Equally disgusting is the notion itself of being a 'probationary citizen'. What the hell is that, some kind of half-way citizen? Is it like being a probationary person? "You fail at being a human being, you don't quite pass as a citizen yet, go away and try harder."

It's plain insulting and has the whiff of Nazi Germany about it. I'm currently reading The Book Thief, in which one of the main characters struggles to find work in war time Germany because he isn't a member of the Nazi Party. This citizenship lark isn't far off being the same; you'll struggle to be accepted if you don't conform to the state's idea of a model citizen.

I'm also reading Brave New World (I'm polyamorous when it comes to books...) and the caste system in that literary work also springs to mind, though it's a tenuous link if truth be told.

On the face of it, this looks a bit like an effort to steal ground from the far right who bemoan the incoming hordes, rather than a well thought out attempt at addressing the 'problem' of immigration. I don't think there is a problem with immigration, but a lot of people do and have been saying as much for a long time, as the BNP have exploited so well to their advantage. However, there's been a lot of unwillingness from Labour and much of the media to engage seriously in this debate. Is this Act an effort to appease those who think we're a 'soft touch'?

The most obvious contradiction in this sorry affair though is the fact that most natural-born UK citizens would fail the test.

How many people are politically active? How many get involved in their trade unions? How many contribute something of worth to their community? There are an awful lot who do, but in such an apathetic society as exists today there are also many who don't. Should we strip them of their citizenship? Many British people don't know much about this nation's history. I'm ashamed to say (or am I, is it really my fault?) that I failed the online citizenship test. I also disagree with most of the government's policies and show an "active disregard for UK [plc] values".

So, what you gonna do boys, take me away and cart me off back to Yorkshire?

*As an aside, patriotism is a fool's game. Blind love for your country is what leads to outrageous policies being implemented at home and abroad. People who are committed to their country reject themselves and their brothers and sisters around the world. "Patriots always talk of dying for their country but never of killing for their country." (Bertrand Russell)