Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Banking on Brexit

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on November 2018

http://ceylontoday.lk/news-search/padraig%20colman/print-more/17174

 

Arron Banks, who was a significant figure in persuading a majority of British voters to choose to leave the EU, is under investigation by the UK’s National Crime Agency about allegations of multiple criminal offences. The Electoral Commission said there were reasonable grounds to suspect Banks was “not the true source” of £8m in funding to the Leave.EU campaign. “Due to multiple suspected offences, some of which fall outside the commission’s remit, the commission has referred this matter and handed its evidence to the National Crime Agency.” A spokesman for the NCA said: “While electoral law offences would not routinely fall within the NCA’s remit, the nature of the necessary inquiries and the potential for offences to have been committed other than under electoral law led us to consider an NCA investigation appropriate in this instance.”

Banks’s criminal career started early. He was expelled from Crookham Court school in Berkshire for “an accumulation of offences”, including the sale of lead stolen from the roofs of school buildings and “high-spirited bad behaviour”. He was later expelled from St Bartholomew’s school in Newbury.

He started his business career selling paintings, vacuum cleaners and then houses. The Guardian reported that from the age of 27 he worked for Norwich Union and Warren Buffett but both Norwich Union and Buffett deny that. He started motorcycle insurance broker, Motorcycle Direct from an office above a bakery in Thornbury, Gloucestershire, and, within a few years, the sold for “a few million”. He used the money to found van insurance company Commercial Vehicle Direct which expanded to become Group Direct Limited. In 2008, that company became the Brightside Group and Banks was CEO from June 2011 to June 2012, when he was dismissed. He sold £6m worth of shares in 2013 and received significantly more when the investment firm AnaCap Financial Partners bought Brightside the following year. In 2014 he became CEO of Southern Rock Insurance Company, which underwrites insurance policies for the website GoSkippy.com, which was founded by Banks. Brightside took legal action against him, alleging he used confidential information in setting up GoSkippy.com six months later. There were also legal actions between Southern Rock and Brightside. According to Companies House, Banks has set up 37 different companies using slight variations of his name. When asked by The Guardian about this, he declined to answer.

In January 2015, Banks’s wealth was estimated at £100 million. Another estimate in November 2017 put it at £250 million. Large amounts are stashed away in tax havens such as the Isle of Man, Gibraltar, the Virgin Islands.

Banks also owns Eldon Insurance, whose CEO, Elizabeth Bilney, worked with Banks on Leave.EU. Banks and Bilney have vehemently denied any wrongdoing, or any suggestion that they received funds from the Russian government.

 

in 2001 Banks married Russian Ekaterina Paderina, who is reported to have received help to remain in the UK from Mike Hancock while he was an MP. So much for the Brexiteers’ stance on immigration. For two years, Banks insisted his only contact with the Russian government consisted of one “boozy lunch” with the Russian ambassador. However, documents obtained by the London Observer show that Leave.EU had many meetings with high-ranking Russian officials, from November 2015 to 2017. His contacts at the Russian Embassy in London were providing investment opportunities in Russian-owned gold or diamond mines. On Nov. 12, 2016, Mr. Banks met President-elect Trump in Trump Tower. Upon his return to London, Mr. Banks had another lunch with the Russian ambassador where they discussed the Trump visit.

Several MPs have called for the Brexit process to be paused pending the investigation. The Liberal Democrats said Brexit could not go ahead based on “a leave campaign littered with lies, deceit and allegations of much worse”.

The UK is about to jump of a cliff in March 2019. Parts of Kent are already being converted into a huge lorry park to accommodate the vehicles that will be queuing for days at Dover to comply with customs regulations. The National Union of Farmers has predicted that the country will run out of food by August 2019. The army is on standby to distribute medicines and essential goods and to deal with civic unrest. The NHS will run out of nurses.

Despite all this, the UK is altruistic enough to want to interfere with our little local difficulty in Sri Lanka. I suppose that when Russia is interfering with their democracy (and killing British citizens) it is only natural that they would want to interfere in another sovereign nation’s democratic processes.

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Bower on Corbyn

Bower on Corbyn

By

Padraig Colman

A shorter version of this article appeared in Ceylon Today on March 28 2019.

http://www.ceylontoday.lk/news-search/padraig%20colman/print-more/27315

No one could decide whether he was a skillful strategist or an unimaginative simpleton.

The current political situation in the UK is so confusing that it beyond the most astute and erudite analysts to explain it satisfactorily. As I write this, it seems unlikely that Theresa May can hang on for much longer as prime minister and a motley crew of contenders are queuing up to take over the poisoned chalice she will bequeath.  In such chaotic times, the oracle we often turn to is the bookmaker. According to Oddschecker, which compiles odds from all the leading bookies, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is favourite to become the next prime minister.  Both Betfair and Paddy Power have shorter odds on the Labour leader becoming prime minister than on any Conservative candidate. Corbyn is 6/1 to succeed Theresa May – ahead of Tory contenders including Boris Johnson on 13/2, Michael Gove on 7/1 and Jeremy Hunt at 11/1.

Tom Bower recently published a scathing biography of Corbyn – Dangerous Hero: Corbyn’s Ruthless Plot for Power – which was serialized in the Daily Mail. I acquired the book on the day it was published and also read it in its entirety on that same day. It surprised me that so many people were prepared to express vehement views about the book without actually going to the trouble of reading it. Many thought it could not be true because the Daily Mail was publishing it.

As one who has read it, I can say that, despite the many faults in the book, I am convinced by Bower’s contention that Corbyn is not fit to be prime minister. Theresa May has already proved that she is not fit to be prime minister. None of the other contenders seem capable of organising the proverbial alcoholic carousal in a beer manufactory. Albion luctificus.

Household Maintenance

 

Supporters of Corbyn have mocked Bower for dishing up trivia about his personal life such as his mismanagement of his personal finances, seeing this rather as a virtue in a committed socialist. This is a man too saintly to be bothered about money. Corbynistas argue that he got in debt because he honored a commitment to personally fund an office and community centre in his constituency. They argue that this was an act of good faith. Corbyn’s second wife, Claudia, would disagree. Claudia was struggling to feed and clothe their three sons. Corbyn’s often tenuous relationship with the truth (as Bower puts it: “If it burnished his left-wing credentials, Corbyn was still willing to lie about trivialities”) is here illustrated by the fact that he has allowed the story to persist that his first marriage ended because his wife wanted their children to be educated at grammar schools and he refused on a matter of principle. (Corbyn himself was educated at Castle House School, an independent preparatory school near Newport, Shropshire, before attending Adams’ Grammar School as a day student. His son subsequently attended Queen Elizabeth’s School, which was his wife’s first choice). Corbyn’s first two wives, according to Bower, both felt emotionally and practically neglected. Corbyn missed his youngest son’s birth as he was lecturing NUPE (National Union of Public Employees) members at the same hospital. Bower writes: “His self-portrayal as a universal ‘do-gooder’ was at odds with his inability to care for his wife, or indeed any female companion. He was quite incapable of understanding.”

 

It could be argued (it has been argued) that this is all personal and not political. Others might contend that Corbyn could not run a country if he could not run a home and a marriage (or two). We need to find some evidence to decide whether Corbyn can run a country. He has been a member of parliament for a very long time (since June 1983) but has been a lone wolf for most of those 36 years. He has generally voted with the Labour Party but has not been afraid to vote against his party on matters of principle. He has never been a minister in a Labour government or even a shadow minister in opposition. He has only briefly served on three Commons committees. As Bower says: “he had rarely scrutinised legislation in a parliamentary committee, and had never seriously proposed any new law.” How do we assess his ability to run the country? According to Bower, Diane Abbott, John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn, “stood not just on the fringe of Labour, but of mainstream British society. Supported by a hinterland of far-left groups, the trio had remained unwaveringly loyal to their dream of radically changing Britain. As the least articulate of the three, Corbyn aroused the least antagonism.”

 

Practical Politics in Haringey

 

We could look at his record as a local councillor in the London Borough of Haringey. In 1974, he was elected to Haringey Council at the age of 24, in the South Hornsey ward, and served until 1983 when he was elected to parliament as the member for Islington North. He was responsible for the housing maintenance department. Corbyn’s first wife, Jane Chapman, was chairman of housing, responsible for over four thousand people. Haringey’s housing was in a bad state, not least on the Broadwater Farm estate in Tottenham. Following the publication of Alice Coleman’s Utopia on Trial in 1985, the area acquired a reputation as one of the worst places to live in the UK. In 1985, there were riots on Broadwater Farm during which a policeman was hacked to death by a rioting mob.

 

Corbyn’s role as an elected council officer responsible for housing maintenance was compromised by the fact that he was also a trade union organiser for the National Union of Public Employees and the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union. He was in charge of the employment of NUPE members, and at the same time he was their trade union representative organising a NUPE strike against the council. Corbyn, even though he was their employer, joined council workers as a NUPE official on their picket line outside the council’s premises. Corbyn was responsible for the housing maintenance department from which £2 million had gone missing annually for several years in succession. Council employees were both stealing money and inflating their claims for overtime. The district auditor had discovered that Haringey’s caretakers were submitting fraudulent overtime claims and the dustmen had stolen council property. Polls showed that the strikes were highly unpopular with the public, but Corbyn dismissed this, and ignored complaints by local NUPE members that his political agitation was coming at the expense of their private lives.

 

Robin Young, the Labour whip at Haringey, said ‘You could not out-left Corbyn,’ recalled. ‘He detested everyone who disagreed with him. And he always got others to do his dirty work. Young’s biggest gripe was that “Corbyn played no part in building Haringey’s houses and social services. He just played politics. Jeremy and Jane turned every meeting of the Labour group into a terrible argument.”

 

Haringey became Britain’s highest-spending local authority, with the highest rates for residents and businesses. While council tenants waited a long time for repairs to their homes. “Labour officials spent huge amounts of public money to promote their political ambitions, and wasted more on illegal projects. Officials in the housing department bought whole streets of private houses by compulsory order, ostensibly for council tenants, used council labour to rebuild them, and occasionally moved themselves into the best”.

 

“Despite levying London’s highest council tax, the borough had debts that in 1998 would lead it to the brink of bankruptcy. Forty-seven per cent of its residents lived in 35,000 council homes notorious for infestation with crime, drugs, damp and dilapidation because Islington’s unionised labour force refused to undertake repairs, despite threats of dismissal. NUPE, the workers knew, would protect their jobs.” An auditor’s report highlighted tax arrears of £23.7 million, with £4 million missing in uncollected fines.

Bower’s Shortcomings

It should be noted that many reviewers find Bower’s approach unacceptable. I will take Peter Oborne as a specimen case. Oborne is well-known conservative commentator, a Daily Mail columnist no less, and hardly the sort of person one would expect to defend Corbyn. Oborne writes: “The ugly truth is that Bower is not straight with his readers, let alone Corbyn. Again, and again he withholds relevant information, with the result that the Labour leader and his colleagues come over in the worst possible light.” Oborne made many unsuccessful efforts to contact Bower to clarify facts. He did some research of his own: “Again and again, I have been able to prove that his account of events is false, misleading and, in some cases, pure fabrication.”

More criticism of Bower here:

https://www.gq-magazine.co.uk/article/jeremy-corbyn-and-daily-mail

 

Oborne and others criticise Bower for not citing sources or providing evidence. Bower does mention a name in connection with a subject I know something about. He mentions Liz Davies, the social worker, who blew the whistle on the sexual abuse of children in Islington’s care homes. I had a lengthy correspondence with Liz and with Eileen Fairweather who publicised the scandal in her articles for the London Evening Standard. I know from personal experience that Corbyn did not cover himself with glory on this issue.

I was myself uncomfortable with many aspects of Bower’s book. At the beginning, Bower takes great pains to establish that he was himself a lefty in his youth. He met Rudi Dutschke. The implication is that Bower grew up and abandoned his childish ways and Corbyn did not. At the same he is sniffy about Corbyn’s credentials: “None of those illustrious Marxists who have survived since the 1960s – all intelligent, well-educated, engaged and engaging – recall Corbyn as a major player over any of the four decades before his ascension as leader of the Labour Party in September 2015.” Corbyn made several illegal attempts to get Tariq Ali a Labour Party membership card. Ali does not appear to be grateful. “I shared many platforms with Jeremy,’ he recalled, ‘but I can’t remember what he said except that he was on the right side.” According to Bower, “On the rare occasions when a speech of his was interrupted by applause, he would be so surprised that he would stop and start again from the beginning.” George Galloway said, “His speeches were one mile wide and an inch deep,” One MP described Corbyn’s style of parliamentary oratory as “the single transferable speech”. Andrew Roth, the author of Parliamentary Profiles, mocked Corbyn as “a pastiche of the bearded Spartist fantasist still fighting fights in his own head at least’.

 

I drew on Bower’s previous books on Tony Blair and Gordon Brown to support my own reservations about privatisation, outsourcing and public/private finance initiatives. In this book Bower seems to assume that it would be ludicrous to renationalize public utilities but does not state a lucid case. He presents a muddled picture when dealing with accusations that Corbyn is anti-Semitic. In his zeal to condemn Corbyn, he often crosses the line by citing criticism of the state of Israel as evidence of anti-Semitism. That won’t do.

Smear Tests

I have noticed a tendency on the part of Corbyn supporters to wiggle away from even justified criticism of their hero by complaining about ‘smears’ and the iniquity of the ‘mainstream media’. In practice, they do quite a bit of smearing themselves. It is unfortunate that Bower’s case against Corbyn is undermined by his own tendency to leave himself unnecessarily open to charges of inaccuracy.

When I shared the first Daily Mail instalment on Facebook, a couple of doughty pillars of the Sri Lankan ‘left’ (they know who they are) defended Corbyn and attacked (without, I suspect, reading the extract, let alone the book) Bower. As do many Corbynistas, they accused the ‘mainstream media’ of distorting the truth about Corbyn. Strangely, most of their venom was directed at the Guardian and the BBC, although the article that was supposed to be under discussion was in the Daily Mail. The gist of the complaint was that the western media told lies about the Sri Lankan government’s successful fight against the Tamil Tigers who wanted a separate Tamil state in Sri Lanka. Curious that these opponents of Tamil separatism, these stern critics of western intervention in Venezuela, should be sympathetic to Corbyn who has long been a supporter of Tamil separatism in Sri Lanka. I shudder to think of Sri Lanka’s future if Corbyn becomes prime minister. Bower does not cover this aspect of Corbyn’s support of terrorists (sorry, freedom fighters) in his book but I cover it here. https://pcolman.wordpress.com/2016/09/01/corbyn-and-the-tamil-tigers/

 

 

 

 

 

Millionaire AG for England and Wales

This article was published in Ceylon Today on August 10 2018

Another one  in my occasional series about some of the bizarre individuals, who manage to get elected as MPs in the UK. Some of them are even rewarded and trusted with high office.

Her Majesty’s Attorney General, for England and Wales, serves as the chief legal adviser of the Crown and its Government in England and Wales. The Attorney General’s job is a demanding one. He or she superintends the Crown Prosecution Service (and the CPS Inspectorate), the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), and other Government lawyers with the authority to prosecute cases. The Attorney advises the Government, individual Government departments and individual Government ministers on legal matters, answering questions in Parliament and bringing ‘unduly lenient’ sentences and points of law to the Court of Appeal of England and Wales.

One would expect the holder of this office to be a person of high moral standing with a history of ethical conduct. Theresa May appointed Geoffrey Cox as her new Attorney General on 9 July, 2018. Cox is not short of a bob or two. He was called to the Bar at the Middle Temple in 1982, Cox started practice as a barrister; in 1992, he co-founded Thomas More (that’s the lawyer who was made a saint for burning heretics at the stake) Chambers, serving as its Head of Chambers. He was appointed a Queen’s Counsel in 2003. In 2016, he earned almost £670,000 on top of his £74,962 Parliamentary income. One of his jobs providing legal advice netted him nearly £147,000 for around 80 hours of work.

In 2003, he represented the property tycoon Nicholas van Hoogstraten, who had been found guilty of and sentenced to ten years for the manslaughter of his business associate, Mohammad Raja. Mr. Raja was shot in the head and stabbed six times at his home in Sutton, South London, in 1999. Thanks to Cox, the verdict was overturned on appeal and van Hoogstraten was released, but in 2005 he was ordered to pay the victim’s family £6 million in a civil case.

In 2005, Cox’s work on the Jubilee Line trial brought him to national attention. Cox represented Anthony Wootton, a contracts manager who denied conspiracy to defraud. Six defendants accused of serious fraud were acquitted before any of them had completed their evidence at the Old Bailey. Cox was one of ten barristers who billed a total of £4.6 million in legal aid for work on the £60 million case, the costliest in British legal history. The men’s barristers were paid nearly £5 million out of the public purse for the 18-month trial. Five firms of solicitors shared fees of almost £9 million; Cox was paid £300,000 more than any of the other publicly-paid barristers.

In 2007, Cox successfully defended Kingsman Darren Fallon of the Queen’s Lancashire Regiment, who had been accused of war crimes related to the brutal killing of Baha Mousa in Iraq. In 2014, Cox successfully defended the former Premier of the Cayman Islands, McKeeva Bush, on charges of corruption and misuse of office.

Cox recently spoke against proposed measure to curb tax avoidance through havens such as the Cayman Islands. He only revealed at the end of the debate that he had practised in the Caribbean for 20 years. Mr. Cox’s entry in the register of financial interests shows he was paid £35,000 ‘for legal services provided between 1 January, 2016 and 28 July, 2016’ by Grand Cayman-based Messrs. Travers, Thorp, Alberga. He also registered a £4,994 payment from the Caymans firm Messrs. Maples and Calder. In September 2014, it was reported that Cox was one of a number of individuals investing in the Phoenix Film Partners LLC scheme which HM Revenue and Customs had alleged to be a tax avoidance scheme.

Cox is very familiar already with the Serious Fraud Office for which he now has responsibility. Cox was paid £64,400 of public money for defending fraudster Virendra Rastogi in 2008 when he was prosecuted by the SFO. Also, in 2008, Cox spent eight months in Court defending a man prosecuted by the SFO for an extensive Ponzi scheme. Janes Solicitors boasted that the case ‘helped many defendants secure a reduction in their default sentences’.

In 2015, Cox was asked to make an apology to the House, by the Standards Committee, for a ‘serious’ breach of rules after failing to declare £400,000 of legal earnings.

The committee decided that Cox had not meant to be naughty but the “number of payments and the sums involved in the late registration are significant and Mr. Cox was in a position which should have ensured that he was more familiar with the rules and the relevant principles of public life in this area than other Members might be.” This might be decoded to say that as Cox was himself a member of the Standards Committee he did not have much excuse. Cox reigned from the Committee.

Cox claimed almost £16,500 in expenses in 2016, including £94.74 for a fridge in his constituency office. He previously had a 49 pence expenses claim for milk rejected.

Failing Grayling Part Two

I wrote in a previous article that UK Transport Minister, Christopher Grayling, had granted a contract and £14 million of taxpayers’ money to set up a ferry service from Ramsgate in Kent to Europe. The flaw in the cunning plan was that the company awarded the contract had no boats and had never run a ferry service before. In its pitch for the contract it seemed to have cut and pasted from the website of a pizza delivery firm. The contract has now been cancelled and MPs of all parties are calling for Grayling’s dismissal. Grayling has a long record of foolishness and I promised my readers that I would give them more information.

Grayling was also a disaster when he was Minister for Justice. He served for a mere three years but presided over many ill-judged policies. At least nine major policy reforms were abandoned, either because of widespread outrage or because a court ruled against them.

Legal Aid

In 2013, the Ministry of Justice tried to stop legal aid for prisoners in certain situations. The Court of Appeal said this was “inherently unfair” and argued the Government did not provide enough “alternative support” after general cuts to legal aid. In March 2014, Grayling introduced a legal aid cut of 8.75%, with a second reduction of the same amount planned for July 2015. Grayling’s successor at the Ministry of Justice, Michael Gove, suspended that follow-up cut because the MoJ was facing 99 legal challenges over the process, and a judicial review had “raised additional implementation challenges”. One scheme placing restrictions on legal aid for domestic violence victims unless they met specific MoJ criteria was deemed “invalid” by the Court of Appeal.

Tough on Prisoners

Another bright idea was to apply a ban on books being sent to prisoners as part of a crackdown on “perks and privileges”. This was declared “unlawful” by the High Court. In the same initiative, the Government banned steel-stringed guitars. He rejected efforts to improve condom access behind bars, despite warnings of the public health implications. An offender tracking scheme which would allow prisons to keep tabs on dangerous and repeat offenders costing £23m was ditched after “considerable delays” because it proved “too challenging”.

On Grayling’s watch, the number of prison officers declined by 5,000. This coincided with a rise in deaths of prisoners. The chief inspector of prisons, Nick Harding, accused him of interfering with his critical reports into the prison estate and threatening the independence of his office.

Another Grayling cunning plan was a contract to advise the Saudi prison service on training staff and running the organisation. It drew criticism even from some inside Cabinet, and was ditched by Mr Gove in October 2015 – but not before it cost the Government £1.1m.

Charges

Another spiffing wheeze was to make offenders pay between £150 and £1,200 depending on what court they were in and whether or not they pleaded guilty. This policy was so unpopular that 50 magistrates resigned in protest. Gove scrapped it seven months after it was brought into force.

A similar genius plan bit the dust when Grayling introduced employment tribunal fees of up to £1,200 in 2013 in an attempt to reduce the number of malicious and weak cases. There was, indeed, a 79% reduction in cases in three years. The Supreme Court ruled that the charges were unlawful because they “prevent access to justice” and ordered the Government pay back millions of pounds.

Probation

Grayling’s reform of the probation service must surely be the jewel in the crown of his incompetence. The service was privatised in 2015, despite the fact that no-one wanted it and everyone warned that it would be a disaster. The National Offender Management Service, which oversaw 35 self-governing probation trusts, split into the public National Probation Service and private CRCs. The public National Probation Service is still doing rather well. Dame Glenys Stacey, the chief inspector of probation, has pointed to many flaws with the new system. Meg Hillier, the chairwoman of the parliamentary public-accounts committee, has said there is a danger that the Ministry of Justice has “bitten off more than it can chew”.

Staff on the front line said their bosses became more concerned with meeting targets that have little to do with helping former offenders. The number of cases soared and safety standards deteriorated. Morale plummeted and many staff left the service.

An eight-month inquiry by the Parliamentary Justice Committee concluded that the Transforming Rehabilitation scheme was failing by every measure and was a danger to public safety. Some private Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) were monitoring offenders on the telephone, with overstretched staff handling up to 150 cases each. CRCs are meant to ensure prisoners are freed with accommodation, employment and financial support, the Justice Committee found many were being kicked out of jails homeless and with just £46 to last for several weeks. They may revert to crime in order to survive.

HM Inspectorate of Probation said firms commissioned in a 2014 overhaul of the service are “stretched beyond their capacity”. failures by CRCs allowed people to drop out of contact and disappear, including a homeless heroin addict with a “long history in the criminal justice system” who was later wanted for arrest. Many people on probation are being sent back to overcrowded prisons because the private firms who are supposed to be supervising them cannot cope. In the 2016-17 financial year, almost 30,000 court orders were terminated through failure to comply, further offences being committed or other reasons. Convicts who were released but then recalled to prison for violations made up 6,554 out of 85,513 people imprisoned in England and Wales.

Conclusion

MPs on the Justice Committee hit out at the Ministry of Justice’s “reluctance to challenge over optimistic bids” from firms running CRCs and its closed-door renegotiation of contracts. The government had to pay out more money to failing private companies.

Let me conclude by quoting the political commentator, Ian Dunt: “Grayling is at the top of that system of failure. He is that little bit more intellectually, presentationally and ideologically useless than all the others and therefore deserves special mention. But he is merely the totem of a culture that has singularly failed the country.”

Failing Grayling Part One

This article was published in Ceylon Today on February 4 2019

http://www.ceylontoday.lk/news-search/padraig%20colman/print-more/23455

What Me Worry?

In many fields of endeavour and employment, incompetence seems to be rewarded. Bankers who contributed to the 2008 crash were not thrown into gaol but carried on receiving their ill-gotten bonuses. There are many incompetents in the current (as of time of writing) UK government but one who has never ceased to astound is the Secretary of State for Transport, Christopher Grayling. Whenever he appears on TV his smiling vacuous moon-face makes one just want to hug him. He calls to mind many other characters real and mythical.

His calmly reassuring aura while all turns to shit around him reminds me of Alfred E Neumann, the fictitious mascot and cover boy of the American humour magazine Mad of the 1950s and 60s. There was once available a rubber mask in Neumann’s  likeness with “idiot” written underneath along with his signature phrase “What, me worry!” Neuman has from time-to-time been presented as a candidate for President with the slogan, “You could do worse… and always have!” His face has often appeared in political cartoons as a shorthand for unquestioning stupidity.

Prospering in an Insane World

Another character Grayling brings to my mind is Aarfy in Catch 22. Captain “Aarfy” Aardvark is the plump navigator in Yossarian’s B-25, noted for being oblivious to incoming flak getting lost on missions, and getting in Yossarian’s way when he is trying to get back to the escape hatch. No matter how loud Yossarian shouts, Aarfy never can hear him He nearly gets himself and his comrades killed several times while getting lost on mission. Aarfy is so heedless of his own personal safety and the well-being of others that it always astounds him when others become angry with him. Aarfy’s character exemplifies the perversity of a society and culture governed by Catch-22s that ultimately serve to protect the powerful. No matter how hard Yossarian punches him, his fat absorbs the blows and he never personally suffers any negative consequences for his lack of awareness and, indeed, his own insanity helps him to survive and prosper in an insane world.

Cheshire Cat

Grayling is more inane than insane, and he is a member of the inane asylum that is Theresa May’s Conservative Party which rewards incompetence. Grayling’s smile hovers like the Cheshire Cat’s above all the madness.

Commuters shivering on railway platforms contemplating the latest hike in rail fares and wondering if a train is ever going to materialize were cheered up immensely by the tale of no-tendering relating to Seaborne Freight. It was quietly announced on Christmas Eve that a new ferry service would operate out of Ramsgate to relieve pressure on the port of Dover in the event of a no-deal Brexit. The government would pay Seaborne Freight to operate freight ferries from Ramsgate to Ostend, beginning with two ships in late March and increasing to four by the end of the summer. A spokesman for the company said:” “It was intended to start the service in mid-February but this has now been delayed until late March for operational reasons.” “Operational reasons” is one of those cant phrases that people often hear when their train does not turn up.

No Deal No Boats Pizzas

Ramsgate Councillor Paul Messenger brought a discomforting message about Seaborne Freight. It had never been seaborne, it had never carried freight and it had no ships: ““It has no ships and no trading history so how can due diligence be done? Why choose a company that never moved a single truck in their entire history”. Further hilarity ensued when someone got hold of Seaborne Freight’s terms and conditions. It seemed that the firm had cut and pasted from the website of a pizza delivery company: customers were advised to check goods before “agreeing to pay for any meal/order”. “Delivery charges are calculated per order and based on [delivery details here]. Any delivery charges will be displayed clearly in your order summary,”

No Need to Answer

Hilarity gave way to anger when the matter of awarding the contract came before a Commons select committee. SNP MP Joanna Berry wanted to know why the contract was awarded under emergency provisions citing “unforeseeable events” when plans were supposed to have been made long ago. As he was himself exhausted after failing to answer questions in the House, Grayling sent a minion robot along to the committee. The robot was Christopher Heaton-Harris (one of Jacob Rees-Mogg’s chums). A simple question was put to him countless times and he robotically refused to answer. “A range of operators were invited to tender and the correct due diligence was done to fulfil the plans that we require.” It seems that Seaborne was the only bidder. Its chief executive previously ran a ship chartering business that was forced into liquidation following court petitions from HM Revenue and Customs. The former company had a total of £1.78 million in unpaid debts.

Watch Heaton-Harris’s performance on YouTube and you will see the British government’s utter contempt for Parliament and the British people. We don’t care what you think and we don’t need to answer to you. Eddie Mair has a show on LBC radio. The show has a pot called the Chris Grayling Jar of Truth. Mair puts a pound in the pot every day that Grayling doesn’t answer his question about Seaborne Freight.

High Speed to Nowhere

Grayling has had too many failures to mention in relation to the high-speed train project, HS2. One that is particularly inexplicable on the same level as the NoBoatyMcNoBoaty Face farrago is that when everyone knew that the outsourcing firm Carillion had overreached and was in deep trouble, he still handed the company taxpayers’ money. Their profit warning should have given him a clue. What kind of half-wit gives £1.4 billion of taxpayers’ money to a company days AFTER it has issued a profit warning? Carillion shares slumped by 70% in a month as it was forced into the profit warning following an £845m write-down. There were calls for Grayling to resign but he continued bobbing along, smiling serenely in an Aarfy manner.

Space has not been available here to cover Grayling’s triumphs in other ministerial jobs. Particularly egregious is the way that he has, in association with private outsourcing firms, ruined the probation service and put the British public at risk of harm.

 

 

 

 

 

Musil Part Two

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on January 22 2019

http://www.ceylontoday.lk/news-search/padraig%20colman/print-more/22453

There is now a quite definite nobody-knows-what in the air. Robert Musil

Corrupted Ideas

 

In my previous article, I wondered what the author of The Man without Qualities, Robert Musil, who called himself Le Vivisecteur, would have made of the Brexit farrago (the word has no etymological connection with one of the architects of Brexit, Nigel Farage). Translating the “will of the people” for the UK to leave the EU into practical action is proving problematic. Musil wrote: “Ideas can never maintain themselves in the state in which they are most powerful; they’re like the kind of substance that, exposed to the air, instantly changes into some other, more lasting, but corrupted form.”

 

Confusion Reigns

 

People are confused and their elected representatives are compounding that confusion. I cannot help but feel that the UK electorate must feel that they are regarded in the same way as Musil’s Count Leinsdorf regarded people: “His Grace was far from thinking that other people were stupid, even if he did think himself more intelligent than they were, and he could not comprehend why all these intelligent people taken together made such a poor impression on him. Indeed, life as a whole made this impression on him”. Musil wrote: “In the old days, people felt as it were deductively, starting from certain assumptions. Those days are gone. Today, we live without a guiding principle, but also without any method of conscious, inductive thinking; we simply go on trying this and that like a band of monkeys.” He also wrote: “man’s deepest social instinct is his antisocial instinct.”

 

Confidence

 

On January 16 2019, the UK government survived a vote of no confidence in the House of Commons. They won by a margin of only ten votes. There are ten MPs from the Northern Ireland Democratic Unionist Party who support the government (when it suits them) after being bribed to do so by Theresa May. It was interesting to see that friend of Sri Lanka, Ian Paisley Jr smirking smugly among his Neanderthal colleagues. He has finished his stint on the naughty step after being caught out taking bribes from the Rajapaksa government.

The DUP, whose ten MPs supported May on January 16 as required by their confidence and supply agreement, boasted afterwards that DUP backing was the difference between victory and defeat for the Tories. The DUP’s Nigel Dodds reminded May that she had only survived because of his party’s votes and that the price of his continued support was a hard Brexit plus more from that money tree that she said does not exist.

Triumphant Failure

May and her supporters seemed to regard this as a great triumph, even though just a day earlier, her Brexit agreement was rejected by the biggest margin in parliamentary history. The DUP MPs all voted against the government on this occasion. I watched most of the debate as it happened and it was quite a surreal experience. One MP quoted Fintan O’Toole’s book on Brexit, Heroic Failure. In my column last week, I was smug about the fact that I had finished reading The Man without Qualities when Fintan had heroically failed to do so. It took me fifty years, but hey. I noticed that The London Guardian’s political sketch writer, John Crace also refenced Musil: “Those who had spent the morning working on decommissioning her (May’s) memory had done a decent job. She had already blanked out just how crap she was. She was proud to be the woman without qualities.”

Unreality

 

Musil would have been interested in the way outside reality did not impinge on the debate. “For vagueness has an elevating and magnifying power”. Labour and Scottish Nationalist MPs had a go at criticizing the parlous condition of ordinary people and I am sure their compassion was sincere. Conservatives painted a mythical picture of the huge improvements the government had wrought in everyone’s lives. They probably believed it. Every so often, all parties lapsed back into the clubbish banter of an institution alien to those watching from the outside. Musil: “The general obsession with turning every viewpoint into a standpoint and regarding every standpoint as a viewpoint”

 

Cheesy Process

 

There was lot about stale, arcane procedures. When faced with direct questions from journalists, politicians from all sides reverted to meaningless formulae and cant phrases. Musil: “This fearful activity stems from the single fact that people have nothing to do. Inwardly, I mean. But even outwardly, in the last analysis, everyone spends his whole life repeating the same thing over and over: he gets into some occupation and then goes on with it”. No one really seemed to be connecting with the awful disaster looming ever closer. Musil had words for this phenomenon: “We’re left floating around on relationships, processes, on the dirty dishwater of processes and formulas, on something we can’t even recognize as a thing, a process, a ghost of an idea, of a God-knows-what. Under such a crust the living soul itself hardens.”

 

Thriving on Humiliation

 

May has suffered a number of humiliating defeats and pyrrhic victories but she is still bright-eyed and optimistic. The EU has said there will be no more negotiation. May’s agreement with the EU was rejected by 432 votes to 202. Nearly 120 Conservative MPs voted against their leader in that vote.  In the vote of no confidence in her as leader of the Conservative Party 117 of her MPs voted against her but she saw that as a victory.

 

Musil: “When something is happening every minute, it is easy to imagine that one is actually getting real things done… even on those days when one wasn’t doing anything in particular, there were so many things one had to guard against doing that one had the sense of being kept frantically busy at all times…everything depends on only a few simple principles, but above all on a firm will and well-planned activity.”

 

Unraveling

 

I am in London and see that people are getting on with their normal lives – what else can they do? Musil: “There is always something ghostly about living constantly in a well-ordered state. You cannot step into the street or drink a glass of water or get on a streetcar without touching the balanced levers of a gigantic apparatus of laws and interrelations, setting them in motion or letting them maintain you in your peaceful existence; one knows hardly any of these levers, which reach deep into the inner workings and, coming out the other side, lose themselves in a network whose structure has never yet been unraveled by anyone.” Will there be an unraveling?

 

 

 

The Quality of Musil

This article was published in Ceylon Today on January 14 2019.

http://www.ceylontoday.lk/news-search/padraig%20colman/print-more/21911

 

During 2018, I often quoted the words of Fintan O’Toole, the Irish journalist and literary critic. He made many trenchant and perceptive comments on Britain’s folly over Brexit. He has published a book on Brexit (Heroic Failure: Brexit and the Politics of Pain) which swiftly became a best-seller. In an interview with the London Observer on Sunday December 30 he was asked “Which classic novel are you most ashamed not to have read?” His reply gave me some encouragement. He saidRobert Musil’s The Man Without Qualities. I’ve tried about five times. The problem is with me. It’s obviously a great book, but I just get bogged down.” I bought a three-volume Panther paperback edition of an English translation of Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften in 1969 and started reading it in February 1970 in a freezing bed and breakfast in Rusholme Manchester. I have just finished it and it only took me 50 years. It was worth it.

I think that what I then held in my chilblained fingers was the first English translation by Eithne Wilkins and Ernst Kaiser published in 1953. I am now reading a Kindle version which is in more modern (sometimes anachronistic) English. The translation is by Sophie Wilkins and Burton Pike. The work is well over a thousand pages long in its unfinished form. Some have asserted that the intended length of the work was twice as long as the text that survives. Musil never decided how to end the novel and left a large section of drafts, notes, false-starts. In the German edition, there is even a CD-ROM that holds thousands of pages of alternative versions and drafts. Musil started writing the book in 1921, spent more than twenty years on it and died before he finished writing the book. I am happy to report that I have finished reading it before I die. Musil died in Switzerland on April 15 1942 and his remains lie in an unmarked grave in Geneva.

Kakaesque Futility

The novel is set in 1913 in Vienna. Musil refers to Austro-Hungary as ‘Kakania’, a name derived from the German abbreviation K und K (pronounced “ka oond ka”) for kaiserlich und königlich or “Imperial and Royal”, but ‘kaka’ is also a child’s word for faeces.  Musil uses the adjective Kakanien to convey the lack of political, administrative and cultural coherence in Austria-Hungary. In the novel, a committee is established to prepare for the 70th anniversary of Franz Joseph becoming Emperor. The year of the anniversary, 1918, would also have marked 30 years of the rule of the German Emperor Wilhelm II. Many bright ideas are discussed, for example, The Austrian Year 1918, The World Year 1918, The Austrian Peace Year 1918 or The Austrian World Peace Year 1918. The novel provides an analysis of all the political and cultural processes that contributed to the outbreak of World War I. Musil’s cruel joke is that what was planned as a celebration of peace and imperial cohesion collapses into chauvinism, two world wars and the destruction of Austro-Hungary and Prussia.

Three Volumes

The main character, introduced in the first volume, A Sort of Introduction, is a 32-year-old mathematician named Ulrich. Although he is described as a man without qualities, he is intelligent and witty and successful with women. Musil said that Ulrich’s main principal characteristics were indifference and ambiguity towards life and society and a kind of passive analytical mind. Novelist Jane Smiley puts it nicely: “As an idle pastime, he gets to know the leading lights of the Austro-Hungarian empire, who, somewhat like their counterparts in the American south of the 1850s, have no idea they are passing into history.” Ulrich lacks hope as well as qualities. “He is always right, but never productive, never happy, and never, except momentarily, engaged. The reader may enjoy his talents and his state of mind, but Ulrich is building to something that may not be pleasant.” A man for today.

In the second book, Pseudoreality Prevails, (The earlier translation renders ““Seinesgleichen geschieht,” as “The Like of It Now Happens.”) Ulrich is persuaded to serve on a committee making preparations for a celebration in honour of 70 years of the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph’s reign. Ulrich’s participation in the committee introduces him to many interesting characters. The voluptuous Ermelinda Tuzzi, called Diotima, is Ulrich’s cousin as well as the wife of a senior civil servant. Arnheim, a Prussian business magnate and prolific, if superficial, writer whose character is based on the figure of Walter Rathenau (with perhaps a soupcon of Thomas Mann). Count Leinsdorf, an elderly conservative nobleman, chairs the committee and has been described as being “incapable of deciding or even of not-deciding”. General Stumm von Bordwehr of the Imperial and Royal Army, is initially tiresome but becomes more sympathetic to this reader at least and becomes friends with Ulrich. He makes himself unpopular by attempting to introduce a methodical approach to the mystical atmosphere.

The last volume, entitled Into the Millennium (The Criminals), focuses on Ulrich’s relationship with his sister Agathe. There is a hint of a mystically incestuous stirring and the twins become soulmates when they meet after their father’s death.

Now I feel a little superior to Fintan O’Toole. Like those other forbidding mammoths (Ulysses and À la recherche du temps perdu) this book is often funny. Musil called himself Monsieur le Vivisecteur” “that’s who I am! My life: the wanderings and adventures of a vivisectionist of souls at the beginning of the twentieth century!” and I am sure that he would have had some cutting things to write about 21st politicians.

Kindle is an excellent format in which to read The Man Without Qualities. Because the book is so long it is handy to have the thousand pages in one’s pocket, to dip into it while stuck in Colombo traffic. Kindle allows one to highlight passages and cut and paste. That facility allows me to bring to you examples of Musil’s wit and wisdom. I will do that next week.

Fighting Them on the Beaches

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on April 5 2018

http://www.ceylontoday.lk/news-search/padraig%20colman/print-more/2103

It is reasonable to argue that, in order to grow and prosper and to be secure, a nation needs to have control over its infrastructure. Who could argue against the view that British railways, roads, water, electricity, telecoms, airports, ports, broadcasting, financial institutions should be British-owned or UK Government owned.

In pursuit of the voodoo economics of privatization the great and the good who steer the good ship Britannica, Labour as well as Conservative, have contrived a situation in which British citizens depend on Russia to heat their homes while that nation’s leader is poisoning people in Salisbury and Russian oligarchs are making it impossible for ordinary Londoners to afford homes.

Energy

Many years after UK State energy market was privatized, much of the industry remains in State ownership. The thing is that it is owned by foreign States not Britain. EDF Energy one of the largest distribution network operators in the UK after taking control of the UK nuclear generator, British Energy. It is owned by the French State. Power is owned by Innogy SE, a subsidiary of the German company RWE. Scottish Power is a subsidiary of Spanish utility company Iberdrola. E.on (formerly Powergen) has its HQ in Dusseldorf.

About 60 per cent of the UK energy supply comes from foreign countries including Russia, Norway, Qatar, Sweden and the Netherlands. Around 60 per cent of the UK’s natural gas imports come from Norway, and 30 per cent of it comes from Qatar. Around half of the UK’s crude oil imports come from Norway, and just over 30 per cent comes from OPEC.

Water

Few other EU States opened their vital services to foreign competition the way Britain did. Most of the water that Britons use to make their tea or flush away their excretions is controlled by foreign companies. After the UK water industry was privatized in 1989, several new companies were formed and many were sold off. There are now 12 water companies, out of the 23 in the UK, which have foreign owners. Thames Water was bought by a consortium which included the Australian investment group Macquarie and a Chinese wealth fund. Yorkshire Water was acquired by a consortium including Citigroup, HSBC, and the Singaporean sovereign wealth fund GIC. Northumbria Water was bought by the Hong Kong-based company Cheung Kong Infrastructure Holdings.

Transport

It would be impossible to take a rail journey anywhere in the UK without putting money into the pockets of foreign shareholders. Chiltern, Cross Country, Wales & Borders, London Overground and Grand Central services are run by Arriva, which is owned by the German company Deutsche Bahn. MTR shares the South West Trains franchise with a British company First Group plc. MTR will also run Crossrail. Hong Kong State owns MTR.Trenitalia, an Italian company, runs Essex Thameside. The French State firm SNCF owns Keolis, which runs numerous franchises in joint ventures. SNCF, as part of Govia, operates Thameslink, Great Northern, Southern, Southeastern and London Midland and with Amey it runs the Docklands Light Railway. Scot Rail and Greater Anglia, and Merseyrail are run by Abellio, which is owned by the Dutch State.

Ports

Transport Minister Chris Grayling visited Felixstowe and proudly boasted of Britain’s history as a “great global trading nation”. An empty boast because, as Private Eye pointed out, Britain’s ports are owned by “a medley of foreign governments, billionaires and tax-avoiding conglomerates”.

Felixstowe is owned and run by a Chinese conglomerate listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange and incorporated in the Cayman Islands. Southampton and London Gateway are run by a UAE Government conglomerate called Dubai World controlled by Dubai’s ruler. In 2013, a Judge ruled that the company had used “an elaborate trick” to avoid paying £14 million in UK income tax.

Liverpool, Glasgow and Great Yarmouth are run by Peel Ports which is jointly owned by Deutsche Bank. In 2013 the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee accused the company of tax-dodging. Associated British Ports is established in Jersey to avoid taxes and is owned by Singapore’s foreign reserve fund and Kuwait’s sovereign wealth fund.
The rhetoric of many Brexiteers was that the UK had to get out of the EU to restore national pride. A similar mindset persuaded Americans to vote for Trump to make America great again. Unfortunately, this is an untenable viewpoint in a globalized world. It is particularly ludicrous in the UK where the very people who called for the UK to be freed of the shackles of Brussels were selling off the nation’s assets for a mess of pottage – well, a mess of something and an expensive one at that.

Poverty in the UK

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on March 292018

http://www.ceylontoday.lk/news-search/padraig%20colman/print-more/1616

 

In the UK, the DWP (Department of Work and Pensions changes its name every few years to protect the guilty. When I worked for it, it was called the SS) is more unloved than it ever was – and that is saying something.

A combination of austerity measures and a deluded faith in outsourcing has caused a great deal of extra suffering to already vulnerable people. The National Audit Office (NAO) has reported that 70,000 benefit claimants were underpaid by an average of £5,000 each since 2011. 20,000 people could be owed around £11,500 each and “a small number of people” could have been underpaid by £20,000.

There are many people who desperately need that money. Poverty is not just a problem for people who cannot find jobs. Even people in full-time work struggle to exist. Two-thirds (67 per cent) of children growing up in poverty, live in a family where at least one person works. A family might move into poverty because of a rise in living costs, a drop in earnings through job loss or benefit changes.

Data released by the UK Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows that in 2015, some 4.6 million (7.3 per cent) people were enduring “persistent” poverty. The technical meaning of ‘persistent poverty’ is living in relative income poverty in the current year and at least two of the three preceding years. The figure marks a 700,000 rise in people who are persistently poor since 2014, affecting 6.5 per cent of the population.

It is generally agreed that the effects of experiencing relative low income for long periods of time are more detrimental than experiencing low income for short periods. The proportion of women who were persistently poor in 2015 stood at 8.2 per cent, compared with 6.3 per cent of men – marking the biggest gender gap since data began in 2008. Such levels of poverty are having effects on people’s mental health.  Almost a third of the population was recorded as being at risk of poverty for at least one year between 2012 and 2015.The figures do not compare badly with other EU countries but things have got worse since 2015.

Poverty affects one in four children in the UK. There were 4 million children living in poverty in the UK in 2015-16 – look at it as 9 in a classroom of 30. That wonderful cosmopolitan city London has the highest rates of child poverty in the country. By GCSE, there is a 28 per cent gap between children receiving free school meals and their wealthier peers in terms of the number achieving at least 5 A*-C GCSE grade Men in the most deprived areas of England have a life expectancy 9.2 year shorter than men in the least deprived areas. They also spend 14% less of their life in good health.

According to a Joseph Rowntree Foundation report in 2011, in the year to 2009/10, the child poverty rate fell to 29%, the second fall in two years. Child poverty fell by around one-seventh under the previous Labour Government. More recently, Campbell Robb, the current chief executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, warned of “signs we could be at the beginning of a sharp rise in poverty, with forecasts suggesting child poverty could rise further by 2021.”Government figures now show that 300,000 more people are now in poverty compared to last year

This suffering is not due to irresistible natural forces or even the spurious laws of economics. This is the result of boneheaded government policy. It has been government policy to impose austerity measures and cuts in public services and to entrust the administration of benefits to those more interested in profit than welfare. Many cuts have not yet worked their way through the system. Many of the most significant reductions to working age benefits will not be reflected in the 2016/17 figures but will bite harshly later on. Robb urged the government, “to restore the Work Allowances in Universal Credit to their original level.

By doing so, lower earners could keep more of their earnings ensuring they could reach a decent standard of living, benefiting over three million low income working households and protecting 340,000 people from being pushed into poverty by 2020 – 21.”

In a press release dated only a few days before I wrote this, 22 March 2018, Robb, said: “We share a moral responsibility to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to build a better life. The government must act to right the wrong of in-work poverty.”
We will see.

 

Hate Crime in the UK

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on March 22 2018

http://www.ceylontoday.lk/news-search/padraig%20colman/print-more/1106

According to the Crown Prosecution Service, a hate crime is ‘any criminal offence which is perceived, by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by a hostility or prejudice’ based on one of five categories – religion, faith or belief; race, ethnicity or nationality; sexual orientation; disability; or gender identity.

According to Nottingham police there was no information to suggest the attack which led to the death of Mariam Moustafa was motivated by hate. Was it tough love? The 18-year-old Egyptian engineering student died on 15 March, 2018 following an attack that took place on 20 February. Nottinghamshire Police said Miss Moustafa was ‘punched several times’ by a group of women while waiting for a bus outside the Victoria Centre in Parliament Street.

Video footage is available showing the attack continuing on the bus. A 17-year-old girl was arrested on suspicion of assault occasioning grievous bodily harm. Mariam’s uncle, Amr El Hariry, said two of the girls had attacked Mariam and her sister Mallak, 16, four months prior to this assault. Mallak’s leg had been broken in the previous attack. He said the police had done nothing.

Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said that Miss Moustafa’s death ‘cannot go unpunished.’ Crimes committed in one country are often condemned by other countries. At the 37th Session of the Human Rights Council on 8 March, 2018, the UK condemned just about everybody. Honduras, Thailand, Philippines, DRC, Israel and Vietnam all got a good kicking.

“Finally, we share concerns about recent inter-communal violence in Sri Lanka. We support the government’s determination to end it swiftly, using measures that are proportionate and respect human rights, and urge it to hold the perpetrators to account.”

A report by The Home office, compiled by Aoife O’Neill and published in October 2017, shows that the number of hate crimes in England and Wales has increased by 29%, the largest percentage increase seen since the series began in 2011/12. In 2016/17, there were 80,393 offences recorded by the police in which one or more hate crime strands were deemed to be a motivating factor. 62,685 (78%) were race hate crimes.

‘Race hate crime can include any group defined by race, colour, nationality or ethnic or national origin, including countries within the UK, and Gypsy or Irish Travellers. It automatically includes a person who is targeted because they are an asylum seeker or refugee as this is intrinsically linked to their ethnicity and origins. Policy and legislation takes a ‘human rights’ approach and covers majority as well as minority groups.’

I got into an intense discussion on Facebook with a woman who described the story of Mariam’s death as ‘fake news.’ She asserted that there would not even be a charge of manslaughter. Indeed, a post-mortem was ‘inconclusive.’ Mallak, told the BBC that her sister was ‘born with half a heart.’

My interlocutor seemed to be saying that the girl deserved to die because she was foolish enough to be out and about in St Ann’s after dark, because that is a notoriously rough area. She hinted that Mariam was attacked because she was a ‘snitch.’ She found it odd that Mariam and her extended family seemed to be middle class but lived in an area that was ‘stereotypical inner city full of drug dealers and drug wars.’ She described the normal inhabitants of St Ann’s as an ‘underclass’ and as ‘scum.’ It would be difficult for Mariam to live in St Ann’s without going out.

I have spent a lot of time in Nottingham and first heard about St Ann’s 51 years ago when Ken Coates and Richard Silburn published a study of the area which was then inhabited by 30,000 people living in dire conditions. In his preface to the 2007 reissue of the book, Coates wrote, ‘Poverty has certainly changed its aspect since the 1960s, but since we were primarily concerned with its moral effects, our report remains depressingly familiar, and points up a whole constellation of attitudes and experiences which are all-too-familiar in modern times.’

According to my Facebook interlocutor, St Ann’s is more of a hellhole today than it was in the 1960s. Although she was vituperative in her comments, my interlocutor seemed to me to be agreeing on some basic points. It seems she is not a native of Britain and disapproves of much that is British, “your entire society is responsible for it. As well as Brexit.”

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