Why Aditya Chakrabortty (may have) called himself Paul

A 'Welcome to Haringey' sign outside a shop on a road in Wood GreenThis morning I saw a Twitter thread (starts here, ends here) from Haringey councillor Joe Goldberg, purporting to expose the middle-classness and inauthenticity of the pro-little-people and anti-establishment stance of the Guardian columnist Aditya Chakrabortty, who has been a strong critic of the Labour council’s “Haringey Development Vehicle” (HDV), which involves selling off whole tracts of public property, including housing and a library, to a private developer which is expected to demolish most of it. This has led to a local revolt with a number of pro-HDV councillors deselected from the forthcoming local election and the (female) council chair resigning, blaming bullying and intimidation. The thread claims that on a previous occasion, Mr Chakrabortty took a similar “David versus Goliath” position on a major redevelopment project, championing the opponents as “David” and conveniently ignoring an ‘elected’ chair of a local residents’ association (I have not investigated this myself so I do not know how representative this “residents’ association” was) which supported the project. The Twitter thread claimed that Chakrabortty claimed to have been brought up in Edmonton, a deprived part of neighbouring Enfield borough, but in fact was brought up in well-heeled Winchmore Hill and went to a grammar school there.

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If you don’t like trucks, don’t buy stuff

A picture of a main road through a village which is not wide enough for two cars to pass or to justify putting a line down the centre. A four-storey red-brick house is to the left of the road with a pharmacy on the ground level. A car is making its way up the road (on the left side) and other cars are parked on the pavements on each side.A member of Kent County Council has called for trucks to be banned from roads in Kent, claiming they cause “more damage than 10,000 cars” driving through his village. Seán Holden, council member for the rural ward of Cranbrook, called for Kent to follow Leicestershire’s example and restrict truck access to roads in Kent, claiming that 87% of the lorry traffic through Kent is not going to Kent:

“When you see a lorry going down the roads, like I do, between Cranbrook and Benenden knocking down the hedges on both sides with its wing mirrors, that’s doing the equivalent to, if you have half a dozen of those down there over a day, around a year’s worth of cars.

“Those roads are not built for that. The potholes, that are the bane of the lives of everybody, costs us millions of pounds.

“This is a direct consequence of heavy vehicles using those roads. I want to see a strategy come into place because people’s lives are being ruined.”

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Zac Goldsmith, an authority on FGM?

Two girls with their faces painted white, both wearing blue caps and a skirt made of strings hanging from the waist over other clothing, take part in a dance.Earlier today, BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour featured a 6-minute segment on FGM, tomorrow apparently being “International Zero Tolerance on FGM Day” and who better to invite on than the co-chairs of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on FGM, Jess Phillips (Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley) and Zac Goldsmith, the Tory MP for Richmond Park who was returned to Parliament last year after being unseated when he called a by-election over the expansion of Heathrow airport; many of us associate him with the Islamophobic smear campaign he ran while running for mayor against Sadiq Khan in collusion with the Australian race-baiter Lynton Crosby. You may notice a curious omission: all the three participants were white (the presenter being Jane Garvey) and therefore nobody is from a country where FGM is or has been commonplace. In fact, given that it was Woman’s Hour, you’d think they’d have found a survivor (they’re all women) or at least a woman who works with survivors. But no.

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Review: Silent Witness, “One Day”

A stockily-built white man in a suit walking down a corridor in an institutional building carrying a red folder under his arm, followed by a white woman in a powered wheelchair wearing a grey overcoat and a pair of blue jeans.Silent Witness is a series based on the work of police pathologists: the “witness” refers to the body of a murder victim. It’s been running since 1996 and the stories are always in two parts on two consecutive nights (Monday and Tuesday, currently). It has always prominently featured female characters, notably the star Amanda Burton, who played pathologist Sam Ryan until she left in the 8th series. Early series were set in Cambridge, echoing other British crime dramas that were set in Oxford, but since series four it has been set in London after Ryan relocated to take up an academic position. Since 2013, it has featured the disabled actress (and comedian) Liz Carr as a lab assistant and has been regarded as a model drama in terms of using a disabled actor to play a disabled character without making it all about the disability. Last week, however, the story was about the murder of two women, one of them disabled, and the abuse of elderly and disabled people at two care homes, and her character (Clarissa Mullery) was at the centre of it. (You can watch the two parts here and here for the next five weeks at the time of writing; there is an interview with Liz Carr here.)

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It’s not just the Far Right

Picture of Makram Ali, a 51-year-old South Asian man with a bald head and a white beard, wearing a pale blue shirt.Yesterday (Friday), Darren Osborne, who drove a van into a crowd of Muslims after a night-time prayer (taraweeh) last Ramadan and killed a 51-year-old worshipper, Makram Ali (right), who had collapsed prior to the attack and injured several others, was given a life sentence with a ‘tariff’ or minimum time to be served of 43 years for murder and attempted murder. Osborne was a drifter with a drink problem who had not worked for ten years and had a long history of criminal convictions, including for violence, and developed a hatred of Muslims after watching the BBC drama-documentary Three Girls, about the Rochdale grooming case (in which small groups of mostly Asian Muslim men enticed young girls, mostly white, and then raped them and allowed other men to do the same), and subsequently reading material from the Far Right, including the former EDL leader Stephen Yaxley-Lennon AKA Tommy Robinson, online. Politicians and the media have been laying a lot of emphasis on the role of the likes of Lennon in ‘radicalising’ Osborne and other violent racists, but are silent about their own role.

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Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba, racism and the appeal to authority

A picture of a Black woman wearing a long grey overcoat and a white headscarf walking along a street next to a Black man of similar age wearing an orange shirt with a beige jacket and trousers.Last week the High Court ruled that a doctor whose mistakes contributed to the death of a young boy in 2011 should be erased from the medical register for life. Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba had been convicted of manslaughter by gross negligence in December 2015 and given a two-year suspended prison sentence in connection with the death of Jack Adcock, a six-year-old boy with Down’s syndrome who died of sepsis in February 2011 at the Leicester Royal Infirmary. The judgement has provoked outrage in the medical community with very many doctors, especially junior doctors, feeling that the situation Dr Bawa-Garba was in could have happened to any of them and that she is being made an example of rather than her managers, quite possibly for racial reasons. I have also seen some parent-disability activists dismiss them as a bunch of overprivileged crybabies who are simply worried at the possibility of now being accountable after being untouchable. Repeatedly I see some of them tweet reminders that she was found guilty in a court of law and that both a medical tribunal and a high court found against her, while her defenders have only read one side of the story. (More: Confessions of a Junior Doctor.)

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Esther McVey and the Samaritans: a conflict of interest

A picture of Kryten (an android) and Arnold Rimmer sitting in front of some controls on a spaceship, in the BBC comedy Red Dwarf.This week it was revealed that Esther McVey, the new work and pensions secretary (after Justine Greening refused the job) in the Tory government, was on the advisory board of the Samaritans, the charity which runs a helpline to support people contemplating suicide and which campaigns for awareness of the issue. The charity says that the advisory board “provides [them] with informal support, helping [them] increase [their] potential to influence and fundraise” and “has no legal or governance role in Samaritans and elects its own Chair and members”. McVey’s appointment is being criticised because many people blame government welfare policies for the suicides of people affected by them and one person I followed on Twitter said they had done an “awful thing” which led directly to a friend’s suicide. Vox Political compares her to Arnold Rimmer, “the incompetent chicken soup vending machine technician” in the British sci-fi comedy Red Dwarf who killed most of the crew by exposing them to radiation. Rimmer was a Samaritan for one morning and the five people who contacted him all killed themselves, including one who only called by mistake to find out the cricket scores.

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Who’s behind “Survivors Against Terror”?

A group of people running away from something on a London street at night. There is a man at the front who is running with a pint of beer in his hand.I don’t mean who’s at the front of it: the public faces of it are on their website and include Brendan Cox, the widower of the murdered Labour MP Jo Cox, and some survivors of IRA and ISIS/Al-Qa’ida terrorist attacks or their victims’ relatives. The real question is who is funding it, and there is little indication of this on the website or, for that matter, on that of “More In Common”, the think-tank also founded by Brendan Cox which hosts the group’s two published email addresses. Think-tanks and pressure groups are often founded and follow agendas set by public relations companies paid by industry; to take an example, American victims’ rights lobby groups are often funded by the prison industry and lobby for increased minimum sentences, from which the prison industry profits. Think tanks and pressure groups are notorious for being opaque about their funding, while the media interviews their spokesmen as if they spoke for the “grass roots” rather than a corporate funder — Forest, a pro-tobacco lobby group funded by the industry, is often presented as a “smokers’ group” while Migration Watch’s spokesman refused to answer such questions when an interviewer for The Spectator asked why he was interested in the subject of ‘migration’.

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Polygamy and “violent societies”

I saw this video being tweeted out by the Economist, a London-based weekly news magazine, this morning. It posits the idea that polygamy is strongly linked to violence in a society.

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One lesson from Richard Handley’s inquest

Picture of Richard Handley, a young white man with Down's syndrome. He has a short beard and is wearing glasses with thin black rims and standing underneath a free-standing umbrella in a garden; a wooden and a metal chair can be seen behind him.Shitstorm. | Who By Fire

The inquest into the death of Richard Handley (right), who died of faecal impaction in Ipswich in November 2017, is ongoing and is being live-tweeted on the account @HandleyInquest, which I recommend everyone who is interested in the issues surrounding the care and treatment people with learning disabilities get in this country should follow. Richard Handley had Down’s syndrome and Hirchsprung’s syndrome, a disorder of the gut in which part of the bowel lacks motor nerves and has a tendency to narrow, trapping faeces above the point. His condition had been managed both when he lived with his family and later after he was admitted to a respite home and then a care home, but after that was converted (for cost reasons) to a “supported living facility”, the support stopped, the staff stopped managing his condition and his family were not able to. It’s too long a story to retell here so I recommend you read the above entry.

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Charities “refusing” Presidents’ Club donations

A picture of four people sitting around a table at the Dorchester hotel, with a large circle of hanging lights dangling from the ceiling behind them. The people are silhouetted. There is a small candle in the foreground.In light of the revelations about sexual harassment of hostesses at the men-only Presidents’ Club dinner, an annual event for very wealthy men at which expensive prizes (e.g. flash cars, cosmetic surgery, flights in private jets, the chance to name a hospital wing after oneself or characters in a David Walliams book named after their children) are auctioned for charity, which were aired in the Financial Times in a free-to-read article (and aired on BBC’s Newsnight last night) as a result of a sting in which one of the FT’s female reporters worked as a hostess, the BBC reports that a number of charities have refused the donations and two London children’s hospitals have said they will return previous donations from the annual dinner. The guest list included CEOs and owners of big corporations, some sportsmen and some politicians (e.g. Tory minister Nadhim Zahawi, who has been called in by the Tory chief whip to explain himself) and lords. The club has closed down as of this evening.

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Review: Panorama, “White Fright”

A still of a young white couple walking along the road somewhere in Blackburn. Both are wearing blue clothes, the woman in fairly tight blue jeans with a pink scarf round her neck. The man has two tubs of take-away food in his left hand.Last night a 30-minute Panorama programme was shown on BBC1 that looked at Blackburn, a town of about 140,000 in Lancashire (north-western England) where the white British majority live largely separate lives from the mostly Muslim Asian minority and the Asian population is growing and the white population decreasing. Ten years ago they broadcast another programme about so-called “white flight”, then as now appearing to view the Asian population as a “problem” and blaming them for “not integrating”. This time they focussed on pub closures, the expansion of state-funded faith schools and the increase in the numbers of women covering their faces, and show people speculating that in a few years’ time Blackburn will be a mostly Asian town, as if that is a bad thing in a country with dozens of mostly white towns to choose from. (You can watch the programme here for the next 11 months, if you’re in the UK; the original is on YouTube in three parts: [1], [2], [3].)

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It was the Muslims

Three girls aged about 10 or perhaps less, jumping over a skipping rope. All are of South Asian appearance, wearing a blue school uniform jumper with black or blue trousers. The girl on the left has a black and white patterned wrap-around hijab; the girl on the right has a pink wrap-around hijab, while the girl in the middle is not wearing one. A brick wall with an orange hoop painted on it is behind themSo, last Friday the school in Newham, a borough in east London with a large Asian and Somali Muslim presence, which had introduced a ban on girls under age 8 wearing the hijab or fasting during Ramadan at school, backed down and the chair of governors, Arif Qawi, resigned (the headteacher, Neena Lall, remains in place at present). This followed a high-profile social media campaign to pressure the school to back down on the policy and a petition (to the local MP, Lyn Brown) posted by local activist and student Hafsah Dabiri which received 19,723 signatures, as well as some investigative work which revealed that Arif Qawi had made some derogatory remarks about local parents and imams in an email that he accidentally copied to one of the imams in question (all his social media posts have been removed or made private, but screenshots were posted on Twitter and elsewhere). This was the latest bit of mischief-making the Sunday Times had been involved in with Muslims in east London, having published the intrusive but false story about the Muslim foster carer not letting a child eat pork under her roof last August (people are claiming the paper “sullied itself” with its “embarrassing” story about a supposed Momentum plot to oust sitting Labour MPs on today’s front page, but it’s not the worst story the paper has produced recently, by a long shot).

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“I’ve stopped fighting for Britain”

Two hand-made signs on the wall of a house, one of which shows the Spanish, EU and British flags with the words "Mamá, Me, Daddy" under them respectively, followed by "I will not be forced to choose, I am European". The second says "I want to keep my European wife, not more cod" with a cartoon image of a fish.BBC Radio 5 live on Twitter: "“I’ve stopped fighting for Britain” Olaya has worked as an NHS nurse for fifteen years. Now she and her family are moving to Spain becaus… https://t.co/5X3puABDbN"

An interview with an NHS physiotherapist who is packing her things and moving back to Spain, where she intends to buy land and start a business, after 18 months of abuse from racists in this country and being let down by people she expects to help her — friends, colleagues, family members of EU nationals — who stand by when the abuse happens:

People who hurl abuse are being allowed to hurl their abuse unchallenged. So there might be many people out there who don’t feel that way, that would never say these things, but they’re not standing up and saying anything either and this apathy from friends, from family members of EU nationals, from neighbours, from co-workers, is the most hurtful thing — way more hurtful than the abuse we get in the first place. When I get told that I need to learn to speak English properly, that if I don’t like it I should leave, that it was the will of the British people and I had no say in it and that it was the right thing to do, even though I’ve lived here for seventeen years and my husband is British, my children are British.

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Please sign this petition: leave our hijab alone!

A picture of three young girls in long black dresses and headscarves, one in black, one in light pink and another in light blue. One of them is standing on a prayer mat.Petition · Lyn Brown MP: Make Neena Lall remove the hijab and fasting ban at St Stephens in Newham! · Change.org

This is a petition to the local MP in Newham, east London, against a ban on the hijab for younger girls at a primary school, St Stephen’s, in the borough of Newham in east London. (It should also be addressed to the local council as the MP cannot, on her own, force a school to change its policies while a local authority might be able to, if it’s a local authority school rather than an academy.) Although this ban only applies to girls under eight, and thus nobody for whom hijab is mandatory in Islam, it should be opposed because of what it represents: an attempt by a group of agitators, in collaboration with a newspaper with a recent history of hostility to Muslims who have resorted to publishing untrue stories to smear us, to control Muslims and interfere with how we bring up and educate our children. (Update 17th Jan: Sister Hafsah Dabiri, who started the petition, said on Twitter last night that she knows families with children at the school and that they only found out about this through the papers, not from the school. I’m watching this story to see what turns out to be inaccurate about the Times’s story — whether, for example, it had actually been approved by the governing board or just proposed.)

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The men alive because we can’t hang them

A view across the street to the front entrance of Manchester prison, a Victorian, red-brick, castle-like construction with several steeple-like chimneys and a large archway in the middle, the entrance to which is obstructed by five black bollards.The past two weeks it was separately announced that one serial rapist who preyed on women in London was to be released after serving nearly ten years and another, who attacked women and girls mainly in and around London and the surrounding area was to be considered for parole. This naturally has caused outrage. The first was John Worboys, a black cab driver who got away with a series of rapes and other sexual assaults for so long because the police refused to investigate his crimes, a failing that is still the subject of human rights litigation against the Metropolitan Police. The second was Antoni Imiela, known as the “M25 rapist”, who it was reported this week was to be considered for parole in six months’ time, although as a life sentence prisoner, his release can be vetoed by the Home Secretary.

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What’s “not Canada”?

A front page from the Toronto Sun showing a picture of a young, light-skinned girl wearing a white hijab with the headline "It's just not Canada", with (in smaller letters) "Mom of 11-year-old girl attacked for wearing hijab says 'This is not who we are'."This is a front page from today’s Toronto Sun about the 11-year-old girl who was attacked in the street by a man who cut her hijab with a pair of scissors as she walked to school in the morning. The paper tweeted the image and it’s been doing the rounds on social media. The sub-heading quotes the girl’s mother saying “this is not who we are”. But …

The page prominently features a young girl wearing a headscarf and the slogan “It’s just not Canada”. I’m sure that will strike a very different chord with many readers to the one intended.

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The “Workers’ Brexit” delusion

A cobbled bridge over a river, with a blue border sign faintly visible towards the other end. Three cars and a small van are parked to the left side in the foreground. There is no other sign of a border, such as an passport control post or any police.Yesterday, there was a letter printed in the Guardian from one Sarah Ansell about the notion that many of those who voted for Brexit in June 2016 are now experiencing “buyer’s remorse” after Larry Elliot claimed that the strategy “required the UK to fall into recession and it has not come remotely close”. She claims that remainers refuse to accept that the EU is a neoliberal institution and that its “four freedoms” were introduced for the benefit of the “capitalist class”, not the workers. She concludes: “what we need now is to wrench away the initiative from the right and come up with an alternative workers’ sovereignty – a new Bill of Rights or written constitution, new economic priorities”. (Update: the Guardian printed a letter from someone else in response to Sarah Ansell’s letter; it’s at the bottom of the page.)

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Review: House of Saud, episode 1

A picture showing four men, three in traditional Arabic clothing and a fourth wearing a suit and tie, walking down a red carpet away from a large aeroplane in white "Kingdom" livery with three green stripes, the thickest of them around the main row of windows.So, last night the first episode of a three-part series on BBC2, House of Saud: A Family at War was broadcast. I commented on the trailer last night as the language had been troubling me since I first saw it. However, the first episode seemed not to give out the message I had been expecting of enthusiasm for crown prince Muhammad bin Salman’s reforms which have been widely praised in the western media which has been quieter about the repression accompanying them. Instead, it focussed on ‘history’ and the implication seemed to be that MbS could not be trusted because he was still a Saudi, still a Wahhabi and still the son of king Salman. While it did conclude with a segment on the ongoing war in Yemen which it rightly said was fought using British weapons, much of it consisted of Islamophobic and anti-Arab clichés, irrelevances and veiled attacks on Islam itself. (You can watch the episode here for the next month if you’re in the UK.)

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Method acting

A picture of James FrancoA Twitter defence of James Franco (right), who has been accused of sexual assault explicitly by one actress and implicitly by others:

If you read closely, it said it happened during filming of Palo Alto. The movie stars Franco as a man who seduces a younger woman. James Franco is a method actor. Bad judgement yes, but you know how method actors immerse themselves in roles.

I hope nobody casts this guy in any film about the Holocaust or any other atrocity.

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