Boris’s Pride outfit and the political precipice

30 June 2008

So so sad I cannot be there… wouldn’t this be amazing! Thanks Dave! I still think he’d do worse than follow Dr David Bull’s outfit.

In more exciting news perhaps the country’s wonky shopping trolley wheel is unashamedly steering us towards that rather worrying looking precipice on the right.

But how far? I hope the New Statesman doesn’t have the answer:

An increasing number of traditional Labour voters believe that the party no longer reflects their interests. This is in no small measure a result of new Labour’s triangulation tactic – a deliberate shift to what the political class thinks is the “centre ground”. It is also a symptom of a failure to prioritise grass-roots activism at the local level, instead flirting with the “virtual party” and delivering messages through centralised marketing. The danger is not only that we ignore the reasons for the strength of the BNP, but that in so doing we reinforce the very conditions that have created it.

Sam Sparro, Bloomsbury Ballroom

30 June 2008

So, last Wednesday we went to see Sam Sparro at the Bloomsbury Ballroom in central London. Despite keeping us waiting for two hours in the cold (probably a combination of late-running and a mixture of ticket timings) the gig was excellent.

I’ve been quite addicted to the Sparro since hearing Black and Gold for the first time at the beginning of the year. The rest of his self-titled album is excellent too. I’ve since decided he’s obviously the lovechild of Jake Shears and Elton John though got Shears’s looks more than Elton’s obviously!

With the aid of three rather large black diva backing singers, Sparro energetically flung himself into every single one of his songs with an outfit of crazy see through trousers and trademark glasses. Far more than a one-hit wonder every song he sang was impressive, particularly Sick which blew me away and which I have listened to pretty much constantly since.

The costume change half way through gave a chance for the backing singers to dance chat between themselves before showing off their incredible gospel cum disco voices. Returning with a second outfit and playing both his keytar and a keyboard sweaty sam took to fanning both himself and his singers with towels (which caused a riot after throwing them into the audience in the end). Cottonmouth and Hot Mess are not only great songs themselves but delivered with a hell of a lot of passion. After finishing with Black and Gold including some audience-touching (mmm) Black Box’s Ride on Time was a great encore! Excellent live and well worth seeing – the 200/300 people in the rather intimate audience made the gig particularly and never-to-be-repeated special and I cannot praise his talents, all of them, highly enough! Pictures below:

Multicultural London

26 June 2008

From Dave Hill at the Guardian:

Pandering to prejudices about multiculturalism isn’t difficult until you find yourself in charge of the most multicultural city on earth and maybe discover that this isn’t an aberration forced on Londoners by Trotskyites but is, in fact, its authentic character. Deleting the GLA post of women’s adviser is one thing, deleting the principal of equal opportunities another. Feeding off resentments of funding for causes like anti-racism can work for you in opposition, but in power you may discover that these might not have been mere ruses for squandering taxpayers’ money on your allies after all: especially when you have a BNP man at your elbow at mayor’s question time.

London really is a city like no other. It is far more open to other cultures than any other city in the world through both an national economic openness allowing people to come and settle here and cultural advantages, especially language. Other major world cities have similar qualities, but none is as open as London.

A melting pot where the ingredients are constantly changing surely needs more than just a celebration of it’s diversity. It needs a carrot and a stick. It needs leadership which gives guidance as well as nice words – like a mother who knows when to scold a child and when to let the child relish in play.

Dave’s article is well worth a read.

Biggotry tastes better when smothered in mayonaise

25 June 2008

In update to yesterday’s post on the Heinz advertising complaints I am becoming more convinced that I should be angered by the decision to pull it off air.

And I am, and have signed this petition. I was number 1,737 to sign. I guess that beats the 200 or so original complaints.

Two comment pieces sum up nicely:

Pushing the boundary:

What makes this all even more bizarre is that if you watch the advert, it’s pretty clear that this advert is no more about an actual same-sex relationship than the Bounty kitchen paper ads are about accurately portraying a pair of cohabiting pre-op transsexuals.

If you’re looking for things to get upset by in this ad, how about the casually sexist stereotyping inherent in wheeling out the cliché of ‘mum’ preparing meals for kids, nagging them and so forth, and ‘dad’ going out to work? Or the fact that a product banned from kids’ TV due to its unhealthiness is prominently advertised being given to kids for lunch.

And a Zoe Williams:

Why don’t lefties complain more? First, we assume watchdog bodies such as the ASA will be on the side of a very old-fashioned respectability, despite all evidence that mainstream culture is more evolved than that. Second, we are lazy bleeders. When an ad featuring men kissing is one of the most complained about, that matters: not as a reflection on the nation’s scattered homophobes breathing their last gasp, but as a sign that the rest of us don’t complain anything like enough.

How can removal be justified on such narrow grounds for complaint? Is the ‘peck’ any different to the husban kissing a large jamacan woman on an advert for jerk seasoning? Would that result in a racist response? Would parents have to explain mixed-race marriages to their kids? The decision of Heinz proves them to believe homophbia is one of the last remaining areas where discrimination is acceptable.

So sign up to the petition now!

Oh and PS, it may be more expensive but Sainsbury’s organic mayo tastes far better and is made from organic free range eggs, unlike heinz.


24 June 2008

Heinz has pulled it’s an advertisement for Deli Mayo after it received complaints for showing two men kissing. The advert is online here.

The advert shows:

Heinz’s ad opens with a family on a normal morning routine with a young boy and girl getting ready for school and their father preparing for the office.

The young boy and girl go to the kitchen to get their sandwiches, which are being prepared by a man with a New York accent, dressed in a deli serving outfit, who they refer to as “mum”.

When their father goes to get his sandwich he says to mum in the kitchen: “See you tonight love.”

However, mum barks back “Hey, ain’t you forgetting something?”, at which point the two men share a kiss. Mum then sends the father off with the words: “Love you. Straight home from work, sweet cheeks.”

The concept behind the campaign is that the product tastes so good, “It’s as if you have your own New York deli man in your kitchen.”

The Daily Mail of course chose to tell a rather more biased version of the story.

I thought the days of two men kissing being “offensive” had gone. Obviously not. And Heinz have bowed to pressure from a homophobic minority and pulled an advert which is an amusing play on the New York Deli stereotype. The ‘peck’ clearly has no gay context, yet Heinz have agreed with those who seem to think it has because they ‘listen to their customer’.

Why don’t Heinz listen to their gay customers who find their decision offensive. I’m sure there will be numerous blog entries on this. Left In Britain‘s is particularly good. This one and this one on the other hand seem to be rather blinkered to what the advert is about, or, more appropriately, is not about.

Ben Summerskill of Stonewall has called for a boycott of Heinz products and I’m certainly inclined to agree with him. He says:

Any nod at all to the very existence of homosexuality might be enough to have Mary Whitehouse twitching in her celestial bathchair, but the Heinz peck broadcast last week had not even been shown in front of the children the ad is claimed to have upset. (The Deli Mayo it promotes is so unhealthy that Heinz is not allowed to advertise it during children’s programmes.)

…the decision to withdraw the ad …seems to have been made under the quaint impression that it will cause no offence to Britain’s 3.6 million lesbian and gay consumers. Or any of their friends. Or families. Or colleagues.

Above all, Heinz’s prim retraction seems to have been made without any thought for the damage that might be done to its business. Popping into my usual Costcutter on the way home this evening, I look forward to missing out on my regular Heinz purchases, as many thousands of Stonewall supporters hope you will too.

Branston baked beans. Baxters soups. Buitoni spaghetti. Jardines tomato ketchup. Hellmann’s mayonnaise. Yum yum! They’re all delicious. How sad that for Heinz in 2008, beanz meanz bigotz.

Planning for a defeat?

24 June 2008

Town Planning is rarely seen as exciting. But, hot on the heels of the 42 days debate, tomorrow’s vote in parliament on the new planning bill will be a key moment for the Government. Over 60 Labour MPs have signalled their concerns about the bill. Not only is this ‘yet another’ change to a relatively new planning system which local authorities are well-behind on delivering, these changes raise much bigger issues of how decisions are made.

Today’s Independent sums up the controversial change nicely:

At present, major projects such as power stations, ports, airports, roads, railways, dams, water plants, hazardous waste facilities and critical gas and electricity works are subject to public inquiries, where lawyers for residents, pressure groups and developers do battle – sometimes for years – before government-appointed inspectors recommend whether the schemes should go ahead. Ministers then take the final decision.

Under the Bill, an independent infrastructure planning commission would decide whether to approve such projects. Environmental groups and MPs from all parties have condemned the proposals as an affront to democracy. They say the final say on such developments should not be handed to an unelected quango but should be retained by ministers accountable to the public.

This raises major concerns over the democratic accountability of decision-making for major infrastructure which will affect peoples’ lives for more than just 42 days

A comment piece on the Guardian website added:

It rejected calls for the impact on climate change to be part of the commission’s remit. It wants the new system to speed through projects that have been stuck for years in the slow (but democratic) planning system.

A further irony is that, at least upon my last reading of the bill documentation (yes I have read it) the Government proposed not to include railway infrastructure because there was no forseen requirement for major infrastructure on the rail network (the multiple planning applications to each local authority on the West Coast Mainline for upgrading undoubtedly contributed to the project delays).

There is a need to speed up the planning process for major infrastructure. There’s a need to make sure decisions on new wind farms and power stations are made in the near future and nobody wants the Terminal 5 planning debacle again. The inquiry cost £80m, heard 700 witnesses, and took eight years from first application to government approval.

The Guardian comment sums up the political debates nicely:

The fantasy politics comes from the almost mythic status that monetary independence for the Bank of England has assumed in the Brown story. It was his most successful single act, so he wants to repeat it. Planning is about balancing different needs. It isn’t about expertise or arcane knowledge. A body told to keep inflation low will get on with it. A body told to get things built, will get things built. Remit is all. But deciding if a wind farm is more useful because of the power it generates than it is damaging because of its impact on a landscape – that’s about balancing interests. There is no obvious “right” answer. It is for politics, and argument, not for closed meetings and phoney experts.

The proposed means of decision making is simply wrong, regardless of any concessions that may be offered. It takes democracy away from decision-making. A different approach is needed which allows both speed and democracy, allows people to make their case but takes into account the much wider benefit of infrastructure. The democratic deficit can work the other way around too (where small-scale decisions are made by elected councilors who are voted by residents but may affect more people than those living in the area).

Coming so soon after other concerns about democratic rights the government is once again setting itself on a collision course with its own party and those who vote for it.

London, New York and Paris (the sex of the city)

23 June 2008

I randomly stumbled upon this quote on TheLondonWord blog which made me smile…

Cities have sexes: London is a man, Paris a woman, and New York a well-adjusted transsexual.

I have never read anything by Angela Carter before but if she’s this amusingly perceptive I may have to do so… or alternatively move to New York

(now where’s my high heels?)

Observer interview with Ken Livingstone

23 June 2008

Sunday’s Observer carried an interview with Ken Livingstone. Interesting to see what someone does after the most personal job in politics for eight years. Read it here.

The interviewer reflects on the eight years as Mayor:

He has an eye for detail, he delegates well, and he gets things done. Even his worst enemies agree that he was hugely instrumental in London winning the Olympic bid, throwing himself behind it early on, and whatever you think about the congestion charge system, it’s not that it doesn’t work. The question of his Blairesque ‘legacy’ is still up for grabs, but it’s down to him that Crossrail is finally going to happen and by anybody’s measure there’s a whole lot more buses on the roads. You even occasionally these days see a copper on a mountain bike rather than a panda car – he’s very proud of the fact that he’s ‘the first politician in 30 years to get policemen back out on the streets’.

The new Mayor has not yet received – the same reception. The Mayorality is a political position unlike any other in British politics – the Mayor is the executive power, a single person, there’s no cabinet or government, the buck stops with him. The Ken Livingstone style was very different to the Boris style – he got advised by people and retained key decisions whereas Boris delegates to deputies.

The interview also talks about Livingstone’s outspokenness:

But then it’s his outspokenness, his anti-politicianness, which has always endeared him to the public. He says it how he finds it, and has a talent for insults like no other. When I ask about Veronica Wadley, editor of the Evening Standard, which campaigned against his re-election, he calls her ‘pure evil’. And he refused to compare Amanda Platell, the former Tory spin-doctor and now Daily Mail columnist, to an attack dog ‘because that’s unfair to attack dogs’.

The interview discusses Ken Livingstone’s love of London, and politics:

‘I could never leave. I love it here. It’s where I want my children to grow up. When people say to me, “You shouldn’t have lost to Boris, it’s not fair”, I say to them, “If someone can remove you from political power, you shouldn’t be there. This is the life that we have chosen.” That’s a line in Godfather II when Hyman Roth says, “Mo Green was like a son to me, but when he was killed, I didn’t complain because this is the life we have chosen.” And these are the rules.’

It goes on to discuss the importance of personal and political loyalty to Livingstone, which damaged him – for example his support for Lee Jasper despite criticisms and accusations against him. It appears the new Mayor is being quicker to try and prevent such accusations when concerns over inappropriate comments by his own team have been raised (however it came about).

The interview also touches on what Ken Livingston is doing now – including his turning up at Mayor’s Questions at City Hall to see how his successor is doing, which has led to this response from Tristram Hunt:

Livingstone was a great mayor, but his era is over. Either Ken should go and play with the forces of international capital for which he expressed such admiration during his time in City Hall. Or, like a Cricklewood Cincinnatus, he should tend his garden and feed his newts, having served his civitas well.

Hunt also says that

Despite Boris Johnson’s recent clanger over the Olympics memorandum of understanding – which he claimed didn’t exist, when it was up for everyone to see on a government website – the new mayor has not thus far proved a disaster”

(which I assume is not a measure of success thus far).

The difficulty being Mayor is that you deal with big, strategic issues. You are the leader showing the way to go, you are, generally, not empowered by law to get on the ground and change some of the big things (but have the greatest influence over transport and policing). The main power is to influence and direct others. The approach Mayor Johnson is taking is more collaborative and may work, but only if he shows leadership and an absolutely clear theology behind what he is doing. Livingstone’s was clear, but criticised for being divisive. How will the new Mayor’s work?

Madhur Jaffrey update etc

22 June 2008

Madhur Jaffrey update, Florence and Sparkle Motion (random blatherings)

After finding Madhur Jaffrey, tonight was the first opporunity to try cooking her food from scratch, and I must admit to being very impressed…

Three dishes: Neela’s Aubergine and Potato, recepie available here, with an earthy flavour – you can taste what aubergine actually tastes like, Mattar Paneer (recepie here) creamy, sweet and spicy indian cheese with peas, and Mushrooms with onion, garlic and ginger – fabulously tomatoey, savoury and citrussy flavours…

It was a fair amount of work but an absolute triumph for both of us, so I had to update!

Still looking for somewhere to stay in Florence in the meanwhile, have found a few options with Tripadvisor but haven’t had the time to search prices etc yet – the website has a great map function, displaying the top hotels on a map which you can zoom, move and re-load to give the top 25 hotels in whatever area you choose.

I’m busy watching Donnie Darko to entertain myself this evening before another hectic week at work…

Sparkle Motion!

Rise update 2

21 June 2008

The public sector union UNISON have removed funding from Rise festival this year after the change of emphasis removing the anti-racism festival message as noted here and here. UNISON said:

“As long as the anti-racist message is removed from the Rise festival, UNISON will have no part in funding it. London is a city of 270 nationalities. It is a city where different cultures should flourish, and racism should have no place. Sadly, on the streets of our capital many people face inequality, abuse and even violence on account of their race”

More here and here.

on Architecture (updated)

20 June 2008

The London Architecture festival was addressed by the Mayor last night who said:

It is true that I did once take a paper in architecture at university but the syllabus ended after the invention of the Corinthian column and before the Romans introduced the arch and though I look up with a delighted eye at many of the revolutionary buildings going up in London my profoundest thought is that I like the crashed mothership by Daniel Libeskind on Holloway Road, and I like the cornices and the triglyphs and the metopes and the caryatids of the more traditional buildings but I have come to the conclusion that I like each more for its proximity to the other.

…the rest of it however was also interesting and, in theory, more readable! It’s available here.

Also today the owners of Battersea Power Station launched their own plans

I’m saving the world

19 June 2008

John Harris has written an interesting comment piece for the Guardian about being vegetarian. He raises interesting points:

The decisive arrival of the current food crisis must be making them feel even more righteous. As daily news reports now remind us, there are three key factors behind the rocketing price of the most basic foodstuffs: the rising cost of oil, swathes of agricultural land being given over to biofuels, and the fact that the increasing affluence of China and India is spearheading an explosion in the demand for meat and the feed needed to produce it.

Now, thankfully, there comes this new vegetarian(ish) agenda, and the chance to make the case against meat-eating on more level-headed grounds: that even if meat will remain part of most people’s diet, they are going to have to eat less of it; and that right now, this is actually more about human lives than those of animals.

It’s been known for a while that using scarce resources to breed meat for consumption has a bigger ecological footprint than simply growing crops themselves. According to the Food & Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, livestock contribute more to global warming than transport, producing 18% of all global greenhouse gas emissions.

The Toronto Vegetarian Association published a very interesting article too with a lot more detail. As a vegetarian it’s good to think that my diet is less likely to contribute to climate change then prolific meat eating, but the issues are wider.

As poorer nations become richer and diets ever mote meat-focussed it’s important for the richer nations to lead the way in thinking about what impact what we eat has on our environment, as well as ourselves. I’m not going to be a millitant vegetarian and talk of the evils of eating any meat at all, but in doing our bit for the environment we shouldn’t forget about what’s going in our mouths as well as thinking about whether we should drive to the supermarket or fly Ryanair from Glasgow to London. It’s about thinking and reducing meat intake, it’s about local food, organic food. Most importantly it’s not just good for the environment, but it’s good for our short term and long term health.

Gay Pride and the Military

18 June 2008

DarkAeon has posted an article from The Times which states that Army personnell can now march in their uniforms at this year’s gay pride in London – bringing them in line with the RAF and Navy, and police.

Although I find the tone of the start of the article slightly judgemental, stereotyping about combat trousers and dog tags, it is, nevertheless, positive news…

Rise Update

18 June 2008

Interesting updates to the Rise story provided by both the Mayor’s cultural adviser at the Guardian Comment is Free website, and an initial response to it by Dave Hill here which says:

There’s a proper debate to be had about anti-racism, multiculturalism and GLA arts funding, but I don’t think Mirza’s piece contributed much to it. Gratuitous swipes against Lee Jasper do not advance the case for change and neither do airy urgings to “trust the people.”

I’m not sure how “doing anti-racism for real” (for a few hours of festival) is compensation for an event which envouraged it for 365 days a year… The Tory Troll brings a more sinister angle here with the BNP’s response to dropping the anti-racism message.

Not sure if the issue was raised at Mayor’s Questions today but would like to find out



Rise up against… What?

16 June 2008

Dave Hill has pointed out that the anti-racism message of the Rise festival (which has been central to it since 1996) has been dropped by the Mayor of London… Which begs the question, what is it actually for?

In a city with such a wide range of people from different backgrounds something akin to community cohesion is vital. Ken Livingston was criticised for compartmentalising London’s communities. Boris Johnson seems to be focussing on everybody being Londoners. The trouble here is the contradictory arguments between equality and ignoring difference. Similarly it’s the contradiction in the idea of Compassionate Conservatism about allowing self-expression and self-organisation without making distinctions about different communities. (As a gay man my self-organised community is one which arose from a history of political oppression). Indeed if we follow the Compassionate Conservatism argument to it’s logical conclusion what is the role of the public sector in the un-purposeful Rise festival anyway?

Andrew Gilligan’s flippant argument in the Million Vote Mandate seems to deny that any problems exist: it’s colour blindness. This is a step back in equality from celebrating diversity to negating difference. It’s the kind of ’sweeping under the carpet argument’ that has the potential to surpress tension and contribute to greater problems in the future and shouldn’t be entered into lightly.

Rise is another example of the potential for a hands-off approach to ignore a fundamental role for governments, non-intervtionist but promotional, in a world where politicians no longer have control over a globalised economy and even essential services…

That, at least, is my opinion…

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