I’m a professional driver, and I’m not a knucklehead

Front page of the Sun newspaper, showing a house covered in red and white English flags with a white Ford Transit van parked outside, with the headline \Last week Mark Reckless, who had stood down as a Tory MP in the Rochester and Strood constituency in Kent and re-stood for UKIP, won the by-election with 42.1% of the vote on a 50.6% turnout. Remarkable in this election was the poor showing for the Liberal Democrats, who scored only 349 votes (0.9%, down 15.5% from 2010) and lost their deposit. During the campaign, the Labour MP Emily Thornberry, who had been Shadow Attorney General, tweeted a picture of a house festooned with St George’s Cross flags with a white Ford Transit van parked outside, simply captioned “Image from #Rochester”, which allegedly made Labour leader Ed Miliband “incandescent” because it gave the impression that Labour were full of metropolitan snobs who looked down on “real” working-class people they expected to vote for them. The Sun and the Daily Mail both made front-page stories of the tweet, the former headlining “Only Here for the Sneer” and printing a picture of the owner of the van, now covered in Sun mastheads, along with his ‘manifesto’; the Daily Mail’s headline this morning said “Labour row deepens over snob MP”. The idea that this man’s views and behaviour actually represent working-class men (let alone women) are not being seriously questioned, at least in the mainstream media.

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Julien Blanc and swearing on talk radio

This morning on the Nick Ferrari show on LBC (which I don’t listen to very often; I always preferred the BBC London station), they were talking about the American “pick-up artist” Julien Blanc, who has been going around the world giving seminars on how to “pick up” women, which he seems to think involves using very physically aggressive methods, who was meant to be coming to the UK to give seminars but, following widespread protests from feminists in particular, now will not be as he has been denied a visa. Nick Ferrari (right) had two feminist guests on (unusual), namely Rahila Gupta and Louise Pennington. The discussion, however, came to a premature end when Pennington used the F-word, leading Ferrari to cut her off and say he would never invite her onto his show again.

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Are we really much better than the Greeks?

Brightly painted wooden cage-like cells, photographed in a care home in GreeceLast Friday there was a story on the BBC website on a state home for both children and adults with learning disabilities in Greece, in which some of the inmates, who have conditions including Down’s syndrome and autism, are kept locked in cages for most of the time, have no access to personal possessions and rarely leave the centre. Other abuses have been documented over the past ten years, including people tied hand and foot to their beds and one 16-year-old boy who died and was found to have swallowed bandages as a result of poor supervision. A modern centre for people disabilities exists in the area and was built with EU money and currently houses the head of an association for people with disabilities and their families, but has no residents as the Greek state has no money to staff it. The director of this centre has not been paid for a year. Continue reading

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Why does sport welcome violent men?

A picture of a street with a football stand backing onto it, with "Cobbold Stand" and "Ipswich Town Football Club" on the sides, and shops fronting onto the street. Another stand is to the left with turnstiles below.It’s not often that I write about sport here, mainly because I pay so little attention to it. I’ve watched only one football match in person (Ipswich v Oxford at Portman Road in 1991 I think; Ipswich won 1-0), and I don’t think I’ve ever watched one end to end on TV. I’ve long been disturbed by how much money is spent on it, how much the players in the top divisions earn for very little activity, and how much public inconvenience is tolerated for major sporting events. It’s great entertainment, but that’s all it is at the end of the day, and it isn’t an achievable life goal for most people. Recently, the news has been full of controversy about whether two men convicted of serious acts of violence should be allowed to compete again: Oscar Pistorius, the Olympic runner convicted of killing his girlfriend, and Ched Evans, convicted of rape in 2012 and now training again for Sheffield United FC in England, having served less than half his five-year sentence.

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In-your-face racism is back (but victim blaming never went away)

Picture of an old-style red London bus, with the number 9 on the front, under some leafless winter trees in a London streetA few people I know yesterday tweeted an article by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, the mainstream media’s favourite “Muslim” and authority on all things Asian, which claimed that “in-your-face racism” had returned and that she was spat at on the number 9 bus the other day (although it appears to have missed and landed on the back of her seat), and that few people were doing anything to fight it, unlike in the 80s and 90s. Towards the end, which the people retweeting it did not seem to notice, she turns to blame the people she spends much of her media career railing against: Muslims.

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Claire Dyer is free

Claire Dyer, a young white woman with glasses and multiple missing teeth wearing a blue and white striped T-shirt, holding a heart-shaped card with the slogan "There's no place like home".Today Claire Dyer and her family found out that she had been released from her sectioning under the Mental Health Act, and will not have to return to the medium-secure unit to which she was sent on 1st August. Claire Dyer is a 20-year-old autistic woman who had been in an NHS learning disability unit in Swansea who had earlier fought off an attempt to transfer her to St Andrew’s hospital in Northampton; the unit she spent more than two months in was near Brighton, which was even further from her home than Northampton. She had been on extended leave from the hospital for the past three weeks and was due to return for an MHA tribunal this Wednesday. This will now not be necessary. (There is an update from Claire’s mother here.

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About those sarnies

Front page of the Daily Mail, with the headline "Is there no one left in Britain who can make a sandwich?". Also has a red poppy displayed at the top right, and a picture of the Duchess of Cambridge, a white woman wearing a black hat and coat with a poppy on the lapel.The Daily Mail’s headline today reads “Is there nobody left in Britain who can make a sandwich?” and refers to an Irish-based sandwich making company, Greencore, which is seeking to recruit hundreds of workers from eastern Europe for its new factory in Northampton because it cannot recruit them locally. As is often the case with these stories, however, the story does not match the headline; the firm’s own “human resources” director claimed that the reason was that there was low unemployment in Northampton, although the Daily Mail claims that the rate is 6.8%, and higher in surrounding towns (though I wouldn’t put Luton in that category; it is a good hour’s drive away and is not on the same railway line).

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The 4G rip-off

Website image showing 3G speeds compared to 4G. In practice, you will rarely notice the difference in speed.Last month I switched from the 3G SIM-only deal I’d been on with T-Mobile since 2012 to a new 4G deal with EE, which is part of the same company (I’m not sure who owns who). Under the old deal I’d been paying around £11-12 per month and getting unlimited data and a cap on my calls and texts, and 08 numbers (free or reduced rate on landlines) were effectively premium rate. This new deal included unlimited texts and calls but a 2Gb monthly cap on my data. And for the first time since I started using smartphones in 2009, I ran out of data (albeit only 15 minutes before the ‘month’ ended last Monday night).

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A rail geography lesson for jihadis and journos

Over the years I’ve noticed that a standard tactic of the dishonest journalist or columnist in the age of the Internet is to rely on the geographical ignorance of your overseas audience, most of whom will not know or care if you claim, for example, that Downe (home of Nigel Farage and his favoured drinking den) is a typical Kent village rather than a well-heeled London suburb, or that parts of London have become Islamic enclaves when in fact they are mixed, and Muslim women just feel more confident to wear the veil because they are less likely to get spat at. Latest offender is Shiraz Maher, whose lengthy piece about a group from Portsmouth who went to fight for the so-called Islamic State in Syria, in the current New Statesman (not currently online) contains this geographical howler:

They took circuitous and different routes to the airport. Rahman, Uzzaman and Roshid all took the train to Gatwick from Fratton Station in Portsmouth. Choudhury travelled by car, while Hassan made his way separately from Guildford.

The seven stops from Fratton, near Portsmouth, to Gatwick AirportI used to live in Croydon, which had a major station on the southern main line to the coast (East Croydon), and there were trains to Portsmouth at least hourly, with another taking a really circuitous route to Southampton (via Hove, the junior partner to Brighton). They all stop at Gatwick Airport. All the trains that go to Portsmouth stop at all four stations on Portsea Island, including Fratton. There’s an hourly direct train from Fratton to Gatwick, which is the nearest major international airport to Portsmouth, and it takes the most direct route, via Horsham and Crawley, and they take just over an hour. So they did not take a ‘circuitous’ route so as to disguise their intentions (and why would three of them travel together if that was the idea?), but a very common and fairly quick route that probably hundreds of people take every day. (And there is a direct train from Guildford to Gatwick Airport as well; it runs hourly, ten minutes past each hour, and is run by First Great Western.)

(Shiraz, readers may recall, is a remnant of the “celebrity ex-jihadi” movement of about seven or eight years ago, which imploded spectacularly when Hassan Butt revealed that his tale of having received jihad training in Pakistan was made up and that the injuries he’d received at the hands of former jihadis were self-inflicted. Shiraz, who regularly crops up as an ‘expert’ on Islamist and jihadi movements in the media, claimed he had joined Hizb-ut-Tahrir after 9/11 and left after the July 2005 London bombings, despite the first being a spectacular and the second, a routine operation for a major terrorist group, and despite HT and Al-Qaida being ideologically and organisationally entirely separate. I didn’t believe it then, and don’t believe anything he writes now, and these slip-ups, or deceits, show he cannot be trusted.)

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Lipman, the socialist, deserts the poor for Israel

Last week Maureen Lipman, the British comic actress best known for roles in advertisements in the 1980s (as in “if you’ve got an ‘ology, you’re a scientist”), announced in an article for Standpoint magazine that she was not going to be voting Labour at the next election, primarily because its leader, Ed Miliband, had supported the vote in the Commons to recognise the state of Palestine:

“The world is exploding around us. Isis is beheading our civilians while raping and pillaging across Syria and Iraq. Presidents Putin and Assad are playing such heavy-handed games that we don’t know which rebel group to support.

“Hong Kong may be about to see a replay of Tiananmen. Islamist terrorism in every spot on the globe and if one Jew had been responsible for any of those bombings, there would, I am afraid to say, have been another Kristallnacht.

“At this point in our history you choose to back these footling backbenchers in this ludicrous piece of propaganda?”

She went on: “May I remind you that no one is tunnelling into Dover or sending rockets into Coventry, yet we seem to have every right to bomb the living daylights out of Iraq.

“Again. Conclusion: one law for the Israelis, another law for the rest of the world. Plus ca change.”

She also criticised him for eating a bacon sandwich, inviting him for a Sabbath dinner at her house, and told the magazine that, despite being a socialist, that she would vote for “any other party” until Labour was again led by “mensches” (decent people).

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Bedroom Tax gag on Lamont typical of Labour’s cowardice

Picture of Johann Lamont, a white woman with fair hair wearing a light green jacket.Miliband barred Lamont from attacking bedroom tax for 12 months | Politics | theguardian.com

Yesterday, in the fallout from Johann Lamont’s resignation as leader of the Scottish Labour party (a nominally independent Scottish version of the Labour party), “sources close” to Lamont revealed that Ed Miliband had ordered her not to attack the Bedroom Tax (the policy by which a person or family’s housing benefit is cut if they are deemed to have “spare bedrooms”, which may not be spare at all) while he made up his mind on the issue; this resulted in the widespread perception that Lamont was indecisive and vague on the issue. This, to me, is typical of the cowardice which Labour show when the agenda is being set by the Tories and their press, and it goes back to well before Tony Blair came to office.

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Julie Bindel does not deserve a “no-platform” policy

Julie BindelThis week Julie Bindel (right) is due to speak in a debate at Essex University about pornography. Bindel is a radical feminist best known for her work with Justice for Women, a group that fought to get women who killed violent husbands and partners out of prison starting with Sara Thornton in the early 90s; she has also written extensively on violence against women, on prostitution and people-trafficking, transgenderism and pornography. Someone has started a petition to get her dis-invited, however, and so far it has attracted 200 signatures, mostly from well away from the university. The event she is due to speak at next week is aimed at first year undergrads and is part of their “Think!” seminars, organised by the social sciences faculty. While other attempts to prevent Julie Bindel appearing at university events have been successful, at present she is still listed as attending the event. (I read about this campaign on the Edinburgh-based feminist Louise Pennington’s blog, but she does not accept comments from men anymore. She covered a previous attempt to exclude Julie Bindel, and I did comment on that.)

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From Clegg to Clacton

Douglas CarswellThe other night I was driving home (I had a long drive from Diss, Norfolk to west London, which takes three hours by any reasonable route in an 18-tonne lorry) and listening to reports on Nick Clegg’s speech at the (now forgotten, I think) Lib Dem party conference. In that speech, he told everyone off for looking for someone to blame for the current crisis, be it big business, immigrants or Europe. He also reminded everyone how he’d toned down the Tories’ worst instincts during his four years cosying up to them, and promised that he’d never repeat the mistake of caving in on increasing student tuition fees. Then on Friday morning, we woke to find that UKIP had gained the seat of Clacton in Essex in a by-election in which the sitting (former Tory) MP, Douglas Carswell (right), had defected and put himself up for re-election. In a 51% turnout, Carswell won 60% of the vote, more than double the nearest rival (a Conservative). In another by-election in Heywood and Middleton in Greater Manchester, Labour held the seat and increased its share of the vote by 1%, but UKIP came second with only about 600 fewer votes.

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Would Braille have thrived in inclusive education?

The other day I had a brief tweet discussion with Liz Ball, campaigns involvement officer with Sense, the British deafblind charity, about whether Braille would have become established as the major means of written communication for blind people had the Victorians embraced inclusive education. That was prompted by an article on the BBC’s Ouch (disability) section on a forgotten group of Victorian educationalists who deplored the trend towards segregated schools for deaf and blind children which often taught particular trades which sometimes enriched the institutions, not the pupils. In the 21st century, the majority of blind children in the UK are taught in mainstream schools and Braille has declined in popularity. I do not think that these two facts mean that Braille would have been forgotten without the segregated schools of the 19th and 20th centuries.

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Niqab in Camden: where are the Muslim voices?

Picture of a white woman wearing a white headscarf and separate face-covering, with an embroidered 'border' under the eyes.The niqab is not just a fashion statement | @guardianletters | World news | The Guardian

These two letters appeared in today’s Guardian in response to an article in yesterday’s edition by Gaby Hinsliff, a former politics editor at the Observer, which argued that people who wear unusual or disapproved-of clothing, including niqaab, should not be denied an education even if banning niqaab could be justified in other contexts. The second letter raises the issue that the veil could make it difficult for deaf fellow students or teachers to interact with this girl; the first is just the standard, uninformed white woman’s opinion about what the niqab ‘represents’:

However, she wilfully ignores what it means to cover schoolgirls’ faces: the face-veil is no more just “a scrap of fabric” than a gag is, it is an iconic manifestation of an ideology which holds that women’s faces are analogous to their genitals as a source of shame which must be hidden from all men other than their husbands.

If it is a fashion choice, it is that of Isis, the Taliban, Boko Haram and al-Shabaab, who – along with our Saudi allies – brutally enforce this particular deletion of women from public life. Tolerating misogyny is one thing, but it is depressing that a certain patronising mindset seems to cover its own liberal face so it cannot see and challenge it.

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ITV’s soft focus on learning disability crisis

A woman and man sitting on the floor with their baby son, who has Down's syndromeLast Thursday ITV broadcast a 24-minute programme titled Against the Odds, which supposedly revealed “the reality of life for people with learning disabilities in the UK, with many experiencing harassment and violence and just 6.4% in paid work”, as part of its Tonight strand. They interviewed several families, including the parents of a boy with Down’s syndrome who had faced the suggestion that they abort him, a young woman who had participated in equestrian and running events at the Special Olympics, a man who had been the victim of public harassment when trying to live independently a few years ago, another who was bullied at school because of his condition and had been out of work for four years, and a man in his 40s with Down’s syndrome who was preparing to move into a shared house. The format of the documentary did not give enough time to investigate all these issues, but very little attempt was made even within this limited format. The programme just consisted of a procession of happy endings. (It can be viewed in the UK here for the next four weeks or so.)

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The UK is not the USSR, nor an abusive relationship

Recently I’ve seen some quite preposterous commentary on the Scottish independence referendum, which is taking place as I type this. I have heard that the turnout for this has been higher than at any recent general election, which shows what happens when voters think voting will make a difference. Social media seems to favour Yes, but a fairly large proportion of the population do not have access to it, or just don’t use it. Craig Murray, the former ambassador to Uzbekistan, published an article on his blog, based on a conversation he had with a Polish friend who had changed his mind and decided to vote Yes. The article compared Scotland within the UK to Poland under the Warsaw Pact, and the British media now to Poland’s under communism. It’s a quite ridiculous comparison.

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There will be FUD

A demonstration in favour of a Yes vote in Glasgow, today (13th September 2014); people are filling a street and there are Scottish flags being held in the foregroundIn under a week as of this writing, the Scottish independence referendum will have been held and the votes will either have been counted, or will be in the process. Last Sunday in the Observer, Will Hutton proposed a constitutional settlement to save the union: a wholesale change to the British constitution, giving each of the constituent nations an assembly of its own, including England, the replacement of the House of Lords with a “House of Britain” representing the nations and regions, and greater autonomy for cities and towns. The major parties have already promised to transfer more powers to the Scottish parliament in the event of a No vote, in particular greater control over taxes.

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Ice buckets and cruelty

A picture of a black African boy meeting a white woman wearing glasses, and a caption saying "So, let me get this straight: you waste clean water as a challenge in order to avoid raising money for charity?"I’m sure everyone has heard of the “ice-bucket challenge”, in which someone is filmed having a bucket of freezing water poured over their head in response to donations to a charity, usually one dedicated to Motor Neurone Disease, also known as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis or, in the USA, Lou Gehrig’s Disease after a baseball player from the 1930s who died of it aged 37. Various complaints have been raised about it, including that it’s a waste of water (see image right), that many people aren’t donating at all or don’t really understand what it’s about, and that it’s already leading to bullying incidents or assaults. However, the silliest complaint, in my opinion, is that the major ALS charities fund research that uses experiments on animals.

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Claire Dyer and the LB Bill

Picture of Claire Dyer, a young white woman with shoulder-length hair, looking through a closed window at her dog, Jonjo, who is being held up to the window by a person in a black raincoat.On Friday 1st August, Claire Dyer’s family lost their legal bid to stop her being transferred from an assessment and treatment unit in Swansea, where her family live, to a medium-secure unit near Brighton, some 230 miles from her home. Claire was transported within an hour of the decision being made, without any of her family being given the chance to say goodbye. A number of charities have spoken out over this dreadful decision, including Mencap, after Claire’s supporters contacted them en masse through Twitter in the days before her transfer. Hamish Laing, medical director of the local health board, promised a number of people who alerted him on Twitter that he would “speak with MH team to get more info”, but it didn’t have the desired effect, if he said anything (although she is still under the board’s care, even though she is a long way out of area).

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