Listen to women — but which women?

Two women wearing all-over swimsuits. The one on the left has a black suit with pink sleeves and a pink floral motif on the chest. The one on the right is a lifeguard and has a yellow and red uniform suit with "Surf Rescue" and the DHL logo on the front. She is holding a red metal pole.Last Friday the highest court in France, the Council of State (Conseil d’État), struck down the ban on full-body swimsuits or so-called burkinis which had been imposed by some 30 municipalities in southern France on various pretexts such as morality, public order and security, ruling that it “seriously, and clearly illegally, breached the fundamental freedoms to come and go, the freedom of beliefs and individual freedom”. This followed incidents in which women were arrested and fined for wearing the garment in public, and one woman was surrounded by four armed police on a beach and ordered to remove her headscarf (she was not wearing a “burkini”); in similar incidents, sunbathers in the vicinity shouted “go home” and “we are Catholics here”. The BBC carried two important interviews, one of them on BBC London with a female human rights scholar in Toulouse who debunked some of the myths being peddled by supporters of the ban (e.g. that the women approached by police on beaches had gone there to seek out trouble), and another on Radio 4 at lunchtime in which a spokesman from the Human Rights League accused local politicians of fomenting trouble that had not previously existed and dismissed a ruling from the local administrative court in which wearing the ‘burkini’ was compared to allegiance with terrorism, saying, “if someone can think that without being drunk, we might as well quit any reasonable discussion in a democracy”.

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Let’s be clear: the French swimsuit ban is about hate

A woman sitting on the edge of a swimming pool, wearing a black two-piece black swimsuit consisting of a tunic and trousers with pink decorative lines, with a black and pink hood over her head of similar material.In the past couple of weeks several coastal regions of France, including the districts that include Cannes, Nice and Menton, have banned women from wearing the full-body swimsuits known as ‘burkinis’ that are popular with Muslim women on their beaches. The mayor of Cannes justified it on the grounds of “security”, claiming that the swimsuits do not represent “good morals and secularism” and claiming, “manifesting religious affiliation in an ostentatious way, while France and its religious sites are currently the target of terrorist attacks, could create risks of trouble to public order”. In other words, they do not want to see anything that looks like Islam when “Islam” had just attacked them. (More: Aishah Schwartz.)

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Schools should provide books, not require iPads

A young white boy wearing a bright red school jumper with a school emblem consisting of a cross inside a diamond with the letters S, A, S and M around the cross. He is holding an iPad and a young child wearing a light grey and white baby suit is sitting looking at it.Back to school bill: pencil case, pens, rubber … and a £785 iPad (from today’s Guardian)

This is about how state schools (private schools have been doing this for a while) have started asking parents to send children into school equipped with an iPad “as a result of a lack of proper government funding for technology equipment”. The schools involved justify the policy by saying such things as “embedding technology in the classroom, alongside traditional learning, has been shown to enhance learning”, which is a dubious claim when applied to iPads, but the devices are being sold for up to £785 in installments when basic iPads are available from £219 from Apple. There are a whole host of reasons why pressuring parents to pay for this device is a bad idea.

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Yes, Black lives matter. But so do other people’s journeys

Image of a protest at a roundabout outside Heathrow Airport, in the background of which is a sign saying "Welcome to Heathrow". There is a banner saying "Black Lives Matter" and in the foreground is the stationary traffic held up by the protest, including cars, a tipper truck and two buses.Last week I was working at a site just north of Heathrow airport, the quickest route to which is down the Heathrow spur and off at the bottom. On Friday morning I was returning from a delivery run to Neasden and turned off the M4 at junction 4, to find a queue of stationary traffic in the spur road. After a couple of changes of the lights I was able to get back on the M4 and got to my workplace via the Colnbrook junction instead. By the time I left the site for my next run, the traffic had built up back to the Hayes exit and into secondary roads around the airport (like Sipson Road, which runs alongside the spur). It transpired that the road was closed because a group of “Black Lives Matter” protesters had blocked the bottom of the spur by lying down on the road and unfurling a banner reading “This is a crisis”. Although police opened one lane, the blockage of that road remained in place for several hours and traffic was still being diverted via Hayes in the late morning.

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The Investigation that revealed nothing

Picture of a girl, a man and a woman (all white) standing in front of a window. The girl (Sam) has curly hair and is wearing a black top with a white or light grey stripe across the upper chest and a red and white tartan knee-length skirt. The man (Russell) has a light-coloured shirt with no tie, and a beige pair of trousers. The woman (Carole) has short blonde hair and is wearing a white, red and black striped dress and a black jacket and is holding a bag in her left hand. The man's arms are round both the other two.Last Thursday night, the last in a four-part series called The Investigator showed on ITV. The series attempted, or purported, to investigate the death of Carole Packman, who disappeared in 1986 after attempting to leave an abusive marriage to the man who killed her, Russell Packman (now Causley), who had moved his girlfriend Patricia Causley (whose surname he took) in with her and their daughter Samantha. Russell was jailed for his murder on circumstantial evidence despite no body ever having been found; he has always proclaimed his innocence, until briefly during the making of this programme. As a result of Causley’s attempts to gain parole, Samantha and her son Neil had asked that he reveal where the body is buried and Mark Williams-Thomas, who boasts that he broke the scandal over Jimmy Savile, offered to help. The result was a series that revealed almost nothing, treating things that were already known as revelations, and appeared to be manipulated by Russell Causley, reading out letters ostensibly from him first confessing to the murder and detailing how he had done it, then changing that story, before finally retracting his confession.

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The loser of Sagamihara

An aerial shot of a group of buildings, including two large Z-shaped and one smaller L-shaped building, plus a small outdoor swimming pool, some gardens and a car park and surrounding roads.Last Monday a former employee of Tsukui Yamayuri-en, a care centre in Sagamihara, Japan broke into the centre during the night and murdered 19 disabled residents. We do not know the names of the victims and no photographs have yet been published, but they were aged between 19 and 70 and included ten women and nine men; 26 more were injured, 13 of them severely. The murderer had previously sent a letter to the Speaker of the lower house of the Japanese Parliament, claiming that he “may be able to revitalize the world economy and I thought it may be possible to prevent World War III” by euthanasing people with multiple disabilities because they “can only create misery”. He mentioned how he might carry out the killings and then demanded a sentence of no more than two years, a new identity on release, plastic surgery and financial aid of 500M yen ($5M). He was committed to a mental health facility when the letter came to the attention of the police, but was only held for two weeks, until early March.

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Apricot kernels

Image of white apricot flowersEarlier today I was browsing the mentions of Kate Granger, the doctor best known for setting up the “Hello, my name is…” campaign aimed at encouraging doctors, nurses and other health professionals to introduce themselves to patients when they meet them, and who is in a hospice with terminal cancer at the time of this writing, and I came across a series of tweets from someone trying to sell her apricot kernels (organic Himalayan ones, no less) which she claimed had cured an old friend who had stomach and lung cancer that had spread despite surgery (a bit of “spiritual healing” helped also). I didn’t see any responses from Kate (who is clearly too ill to tweet much) or her husband (who is too busy caring and making the most ot his last few days with her), but I do believe this nonsense deserves a response because Dr Granger is obviously not the only person with this disease and there will be other targets for these cranks.

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So, where’s your inspiring leader?

A white woman with wavy hair wearing a green jumper with a pink scarf round her neck, holding a home-made banner saying "No goodbyes based on lies", with a hand-drawn EU flag.This week, as the Tory leadership election gets underway and a bunch of five ghastly right-wing, anti-immigrant, mostly Islamophobic extremists compete to be the next prime minister, people who are in or more inclined towards the Labour party (even if voting for it isn’t an option, given the lack of effort they make to try and win our constituencies) have been on the edge of our seats waiting for someone to make a move against Jeremy Corbyn, who has the support of the party membership but is regarded with open disdain by most of the Parliamentary party, including a large proportion of his shadow cabinet who resigned last week, mostly citing a lacklustre performance in campaigning to keep Britain in the EU before last week, when his anti-EU sympathies have in fact never been a secret, as well as fears that he is unelectable and accusations that he tolerates or even encourages anti-Semitism. However, the party Right, described as “all plot and no plan”, have not put forward a leader that will be any more effective than Corbyn. (More: Paul Bernal.)

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Brexit: A misguided vote

A map showing results of the referendum by local authority areaSo, on Friday morning we woke up to the news that Britain had voted narrowly (51.9%) in favour of leaving the European Union, with Scotland overwhelmingly against and Northern Ireland also mostly against, but with both England and Wales voting Out (53.4% and 52.5% respectively). The result was an immediate fall in the value of Sterling (which stands at 1.37 to the dollar right now), rumours that various banks were beginning the process of moving jobs out of London to elsewhere in Europe) and various reports of people claiming they had been lied to by the Leave campaign and regretted their vote. What is of more concern is an upsurge of racist incidents since Friday, with people of foreign appearance told it was time to go home now or physically attacked or threatened, and some demonstrations by far right fringe groups (so far small, and dwarfed by anti-fascist demonstrations). The Prime Minister has already announced his resignation in October and has delayed invoking Article 50, which is the procedure for a state’s withdrawal from the EU, until a new leader is in place; meanwhile, the Labour shadow cabinet is in meltdown, with widespread criticism of Corbyn’s leadership and open talk of a challenge to it; seven members of the Shadow Cabinet have resigned or been sacked already.

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What happened to the child’s best interests?

Picture of Ellie Butler, a young white girl with brown hair and a suntan, wearing a pink T-shirt showing unidentifiable cartoon characters.Last Wednesday, Ben Butler, a convicted armed robber and serially violent offender from Sutton in south London, was convicted of murdering his six-year-old daughter Ellie in 2013 and sentenced to life in prison, with a minimum of 23 years. The murder took place less than a year after a Family Court judge sent her to live with Butler and his girlfriend, Jennie Gray, who was convicted of perverting the course of justice and received a 42 month sentence; she had been living with Gray’s parents after her father was convicted of causing her serious injuries, some of them consistent with shaken baby syndrome, of which he was later cleared on appeal. Butler and Gray launched a publicity campaign, hiring the publicist (now, of course, convicted of abusing children) Max Clifford and appearing in various tabloids and ITV’s This Morning programme. The judge, Mary Hogg, called it a rare “happy end” and said it was “a joy … to oversee the return of a child to her parents”, ignoring a welter of evidence of Butler’s violent character.

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Appeal to Muslims on Brexit

Boris Johnson, a white man with wild blond hair and mouth agape, wearing a black suit jacket with a blue rosette with his name on it, with a white shirt and pale blue tie underneath.Recently I’ve seen a couple of articles online appealing to Muslims to vote for Britain to leave the EU in this Thursday’s referendum. The claims are that the EU is anti-Muslim, that it could ban halal slaughter (as a couple of countries in the EU have already done), and that leaving will enable Britain to renew its links with the Commonwealth countries where most British Muslim families originate. I’ve had a few comments suggesting that I should put a “Muslim view” on this subject and that my writing on this issue could have come from any white Englishman. I believe that this referendum is about more than whether we stay in or leave the EU now; it is about who governs this country, as the defections of former Tory Leave campaigners Sarah Wollaston and now Baroness Warsi demonstrate.

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Brexiters are lying

A graphic from Vote Leave, showing an open British passport with footprints leading to it, with the slogan "Turkey (population 76 million) is joining the EU. Vote leave, take back control".

Coming home the other day over a flyover on the A3, I saw a poster from Vote Leave, the official campaign for Britain to leave the EU, which proclaimed “Turkey (population 76 million) is joining the EU”. Below that was a picture of a British passport with a blank red page, with footprints leading to it. I found this poster appalling, not only because it appeals to fear of foreigners who are assumed all to intend to come here, but also because it simply is not true. It’s astonishing that a Tory MP has complained to the 1922 Committee accusing Cameron of “lying profoundly” by saying that Turkey is not joining, when it is they who are lying by claiming that it is happening, when there is no imminent prospect of it happening.

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Who flies an English flag?

An image of a small yellow-brick house with three St George's Cross flags hanging from the roof, one obscuring an upstairs window, with a red brick driveway and no front garden, with a white Ford Transit van parked outside it.There’ll always be an England … and Labour must learn to love it by Tristram Hunt (from the Guardian)

Tristram Hunt, in this article which appeared on the Guardian website Sunday before last, argues that Labour is out of step with the “ordinary” working-class English in places like Harlow, and beyond “liberal enclaves” such as Cambridge, Norwich and Exeter, and “Latin quarter” constituencies in places like London and Bristol (no idea what makes them ‘Latin’), “traditional Labour voters think the party is out of step with their values”, partly because of “a wilful refusal to embrace a positive English identity”. He also cites a comparison between Labour’s losses in traditional working-class areas and the Democrats’ losses in the American South, and the St George’s cross to the Confederate flag, on the basis that both parties lost because they failed “to connect ‘culturally’ with a socially conservative working-class electorate, increasingly willing to vote against their own material interests”. Hunt is the editor of a book published yesterday titled Labour’s Identity Crisis; similar conclusions are reached by a report published this week by Jon Cruddas, MP for Dagenham, which claims that Labour is becoming “irrelevant to the majority of working people” and “is now as toxic in the south of England as the Tories are in the north”.

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Undercover: Some impressions

A still of a Black man wearing dark-coloured jogging clothes with a flourescent yellow strip along the zipI couldn’t write a full review of Undercover, the six-part TV series about a police spy (Nick, played by Adrian Lester, right) who fell in love with and married the woman he was meant to be spying on (Maya, played by Sophie Okonedo, below left), as I tend to forget large chunks of the plot over the six weeks (or seven, as the final episode was delayed by a week), although others who watched the series and commented on it on Twitter couldn’t see the point of certain characters, for example, either. I watched it intently as a relative of mine had a minor role in it (as one of the cops in episodes 2 and 3) and believe that despite the strong acting, it had a weak plotline which fell to pieces in the final episode. It’s also problematic in how it handles issues of race.

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Make corruption history?

A stage in Hyde Park, London, with audience in the foreground. The stage features two live 8 logos of guitars with bodies shaped like Africa with the slogan "One voice to make poverty history" across the top of the stage.Who remembers the slogan “Make Poverty History”? It used to be found on banners on streets, on pamphlets and on the top corners of websites. I remember Bob Geldof trying to get a crowd of people at Hyde Park to chant it at the “Live 8” concert in July 2005, which he envisaged as part of some big protest against the G8 summit that was going on in Scotland, but which the concertgoers saw as just a rock gig. But despite the march of climate change and its consequences, despite the deterioration of human rights and the spread of state-enforced poverty in parts of the world, nobody seems to be talking about how to make poverty history anymore. Instead, we hear a lot of talk about corruption, and a lot of criticism of the cultures of the peoples affected. The latest example is the anti-corruption summit hosted by David Cameron this past week.

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No, Labour can’t “just win”

Picture of Rhea Wolfson, a young white woman with below shoulder length brown hair, wearing red glasses and a bright red jacket, holding a sign saying "Vote Labour". Two South Asian men are walking behind her.One of the candidates standing for the Labour party’s National Executive Committee (NEC), having replaced Ken Livingstone on the centre-left slate, is a lady called Rhea Wolfson, who came to my attention today when someone retweeted a tweet she had posted about having received anti-Semitic abuse (I had a look and it was serious stuff; Nazi references about vermin and taunts about gas chambers, for example, not angry remarks about Israel). I discovered that she was on Corbyn’s side of the party and there was a post by “Guido Fawkes” drawing attention to an article she had written for London Young Labour (now deleted) which suggested that winning the 2020 election should not be Labour’s main priority. Fawkes summarised her remarks by saying “the Corbynista candidate for the NEC says there is no point in winning elections if it means compromising your purist values”. I don’t see it that way at all.

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Sexist trolls shouldn’t be able to ruin a petition

Picture of Laura Kuenssberg, a white woman in her 30s with shortish blonde hair, wearing a blue top with a black suit jacket over it, with a backdrop composed of the logo of Policy ExchangeUpdate 2: I’ve run a search for the phrases “kuenssberg whore” and “kuenssberg bitch” on Twitter, using both TweetBot (which searches recent tweets) and TweetDeck (which searches all tweets). I really advise that you do these searches for yourself. The first resulted in just five results from TweetBot, and this includes people commenting on people calling her a whore. The second fetched just ten in the last few days, again including people commenting on the abuse rather than dishing it out. Some of those calling Kuenssberg a bitch were women. This is clearly an exaggerated problem. Perhaps more people were leaving such remarks on the petition itself, but the owners should have been able to weed these out; that they couldn’t is the fault of 38 Degrees.

Update 1: there is still a petition on Change.org urging the BBC to review Kuenssberg’s position.

Laura Kuenssberg petition taken down over sexist abuse, from the Guardian

I don’t watch the TV news much nowadays, even Newsnight, so I can’t comment personally on whether the coverage of politics by Laura Kuenssberg on the BBC, where she is political editor, is biased or not. People I trust on Twitter, however, say that her coverage is persistently biased in favour of the Tory party and against Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, in particular. (She has chaired seminars and written for the website of Policy Exchange, a Tory-affiliated think tank; Tim Montgomerie of Conservative Home wrote this glowing blog entry about her in 2009.) I’ve seen a Twitter account titled @ToryKuenssberg, which offers a rather amusing parody of her coverage, such as the following from last night:

Some people have launched a 38 Degrees petition to get her removed from her position. Some time today it was taken down, as the above news report states, because it was ‘hijacked’ by people from Twitter and Facebook who had left abusive comments of a sexist nature and posted similar writing on social media. Some of the defences of Kuenssberg boil down to “she’s just doing her job”, a common response when a woman in a public role is criticised for doing a bad job. I think it’s wrong for such petitions to have to be taken down (the owners have published a statement). (More: Stavvers, Vox Political.)

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Who really “made Islam a hot topic”?

A Mail on Sunday headline reading "On Thursday, are we really going to hand the world's greatest city to a Labour party that thinks terrorists are its friends?". There is a picture of a bombed-out London bus from the 2005 bombings.There has been an article published on the Daily Beast, the American news website that owns Newsweek, by Maajid Nawaz, explaining to their American audience the “real reason” why Islam was made an issue of during the recent mayoral campaign. It’s not just that the Tories used a consultant that is notorious for running racist campaigns that appeal to the worst in middle-class white provincials and suburbanites; no, it’s all down to “Islamists” and their friends on the “Regressive Left” in the Labour party and the liberal British media, who hold Muslims to “lower expectations” than others, and the “Populist Right” such as Donald Trump’s Republicans. He brings up things that were never mentioned in the recent campaign, such as the fact that he once shared platforms with people linked to extremists or who expressed unpopular opinions and that third parties told Muslim voters in Tooting not to vote for an “Ahmadi” Lib Dem candidate.

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Did Sadiq Khan win, or Zac Goldsmith lose?

Picture of Sadiq Khan and Zac Goldsmith, presumably in a tall building, with a view of central London behind themAs I write this, the first preference votes for the London mayoral election are counted and Sadiq Khan has won 44.2% of them (on a turnout of only 45.3%); second preferences are being counted, but it seems to be accepted that Khan has won. The campaign has been fought, as far as I am aware, without any reference to either his policies or those of his Tory opponent, Zac Goldsmith (son of James, former editor of the Ecologist and MP for Richmond Park, which includes the northern part of Kingston); it has been fought almost entirely on the basis of smears against Khan for having connections to extremists, including former clients from when he was a Human Rights lawyer and someone who used to be (but isn’t now) married to his sister. Goldsmith’s campaign was ‘masterminded’ by Lynton Crosby, who has a history of winning election campaigns in both the UK and Australia using divisive, often anti-immigrant (or, as in this case, just anti-minority) stances, earning himself a knighthood for “services to politics”, but this campaign showed his limits: it was a disaster, as Goldsmith found himself denying that he had links to conservative Muslim leaders in south London such as Suliman Gani, only for the links to be proven.

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Jews, Muslims, the left and “anti-Semitism”

Picture of Malia Bouattia, a young woman of North African appearance with long hair, a necklace with three leaf-like charms visible, and a black T-shirtSince I wrote my last piece on the left and claims of “anti-Semitism” against Labour students and the Left more generally, a spate of claims of anti-Semitism against various Labour politicians, two of them Muslims, have been made, resulting in the suspension from the Labour party of Ken Livingstone and the MP for Bradford West, Naseem “Naz” Shah. Also, following the election of Malia Bouattia as NUS President, a number of local student unions threatened to disaffiliate, claiming she was an anti-Semite and had refused to support a motion condemning ISIS and complaining that her election was undemocratic because it was carried out by conference delegates, not through a ballot of all students. While I agree that the remarks that got Ken Livingstone suspended were crass and historically inaccurate, I suspect they would not have resulted in suspension if said about any other minority or for that matter any other genocide. The row about Naz Shah’s remarks from 2014 fail to take into account the fact that most Muslims feel the same way, and that their stance is not a matter of racism but of being on the opposite side of a conflict.

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