Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Tag: Kevin Higgins

Corbyn versus Mann

Colman's Column3

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Friday August 28 2015.



I published an article in Ceylon Today recently hung on the peg of Jeremy Corbyn’s bid for the leadership of the UK Labour Party. I specifically dealt with Corbyn’s role in the Islington child abuse scandal of the 1980s and 1990s but my main interest was in the kind of reasoning that goes into political debate.

John Mann’s Case against Corbyn

John Mann MP issued an open letter to Corbyn on July 23 2015, in which he said: “The extent of the abuse was only uncovered through the tenacity and bravery of whistle-blowers, journalists and survivors which led to a number of independent inquiries and the damning Ian White report in 1995”. The gist of John Mann’s argument is that Corbyn is not fit to lead the Labour Party at a time when much attention in Parliament and the media will be generated by the Goddard Inquiry into historic sexual abuse of children. This is not because anyone suspects Corbyn of being an abuser himself but because he was not pro-active in helping the victims or in establishing an investigation and indeed obstructed investigations.

Smearing Mann

Mann’s letter struck a chord with me because I was working on child protection at the Department of Health from 1994 to 1997. I saw files and was privy to discussions about the Islington care homes scandal. I can endorse that the leader of Islington Council, Margaret Hodge, and the local MP, Jeremy Corbyn, were, to put it charitably, less than helpful to the Department’s investigations.

The first comment was that Mann was “not fond of us northerners”. He was born in Pudsey, Yorkshire and educated in Bradford. He represents the constituency of Bassetlaw, which is well north of Watford.

Mann’s opinion of Corbyn was thought to be undermined by the fact that he was supporting Yvette Cooper for leader. He makes no secret of this and surely he can support whoever he likes. But wait- someone else accuses Mann of the crime of “trying to influence the election”. Is that not allowed in a democracy?

Kevin Higgins

Because I agreed with Mann, that meant that I was fair game for smearing too. Kevin Higgins is an Irish poet who I had admired and whom I had thought of as a good (virtual) friend. Although he is an Irish citizen living in Galway, Higgins is strongly campaigning for Corbyn. He thought it was OK to call me a liar who was not to be believed on any topic. He said that I was suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia. He called Mann “deranged”. He provided a link beside this assertion, which I thought would provide evidence of Mann’s insanity. The link led me to a very silly poem by Higgins in which he fantasises about Mann while sitting on the lavatory. Who is the mad one here?

Monster Mann

Generally, Corbyn’s supporters content themselves with attacking Mann rather than rebutting his arguments. One called him “Tory Labour lite”. Most think he is not a proper socialist. Some called him a “Blairite”. What is the cause of such hatred?

As I read about him in parliamentary sketches it strikes me that he is one of the awkward squad. I have had a good look at Mann’s voting record in the Commons. The big black marks are that he voted in favour of the invasion of Iraq and against an inquiry into it. On domestic issues, he is very much on the side of the angels, voting against benefit cuts and austerity measures in general. Mann was also vocal in criticising other MPs over the expenses scandal. He was responsible for lodging the complaint that resulted in an inquiry into Tory minister Maria Miller’s expenses claims.

He has organised numerous positive campaigns in his constituency, examples of which include campaigning to save Bassetlaw Hospital Accident and Emergency Department and helping former coal miners to get their compensation. Following reforms recommended by an inquiry he instigated, the number of heroin addicts in treatment in Bassetlaw rose from 2 to 400, and acquisitive crime fell by 75%.

In 2014 Mann was responsible for compiling a dossier of historic allegations of child abuse, detailing allegations about 12 former ministers that may have been involved. He said he believes some of them were “definitely child abusers”.


I once worked with someone who was campaigning against female circumcision and her constant battle cry was that FGM should be “pushed up the management agenda”. Agenda is a vogue word and has become something sinister. However much I might protest that I am just an elderly  gentleman scholar living up a mountain in Sri Lanka, I am often accused of having an ‘agenda’. I have been accused of being sent to Sri Lanka by MI5 to undermine the Rajapaksa government. Others accused me of being on Gota’s payroll. I have been portrayed as a Sinhalese-Buddhist chauvinist and a propagandist for the Tamil Tigers. Now I am apparently a dyed-in-the wool Daily Mail Tory out to destroy the Left in Britain.

Someone noted that my article was published in Ceylon Today and provided a link to an article about Sri Lanka being a haven for paedophiles. I think this was intended to smear me as a paedophile.


The distinguished UK writer and TV dramatist Janey Preger wrote that my previous  article was a : “great piece… well-written and well-said”. She tried to share it with former Guardian journalist W Stephen Gilbert. Apparently, he disliked my article so much that he refused to read. How did he know that he disliked it so much if he had not read it?

Timing – Post propter hoc

A pseudonymous commenter (LightShedder) on my blog, after calling me vicious, asserted that Corbyn is on record as having called for an investigation at the time of the allegations. I know that his spokesman said this recently but I can find no record of Corbyn making such a demand in the I980s or 1990s. If anyone can provide me with a link to a contemporaneous call for an investigation, I will humbly eat my toupee. I asked LightShedder to help me with this, saying that I would publicly apologise if evidence is forthcoming. At the time of writing this I have received no response.

Someone referred me to a news item in the Belfast Telegraph about Corbyn calling for a standing commission on child abuse. Another bureaucratic entity might be just what is needed, but I doubt that it would help. The main problem is that Corbyn called for this on August 5 2015 – what did he call for in the 1990s?

One commenter seemed to be saying that because I said that I believed Mann’s allegations after seeing documentary evidence, the fact that I could not now produce this evidence   placed me in the same league as the totalitarian governments of the Soviet Union, China, Iran and the Tudors. This is insanely disproportionate.  My “evidence” is not necessary to the case presented about Corbyn’s lack of action. The issue has been in the public domain for a long time. This is not just conspiracy theorists. Social worker Liz Davies’s testimony is credible.

Dr Davies has been telling the Islington story for 30 years. That does not stop some Corbyn supporters saying “why did no-one mention this before? You are only bringing it up to smear Corbyn”. Because she is quoted in the Daily Mail, someone says it “can’t be true because it’s in the Mail.


Responses to my article brought a rich harvest of flawed thinking. I read those comments with a copy of philosopher Nigel Warburton’s Thinking from A to Z close at hand. Warburton covers the following tricks of bad argument: false dichotomy, ad hominem, referential ambiguity, disanalogy, assumption, bad company fallacy, enthymeme, lexical ambiguity, companions in guilt move. I recommend having the book to hand when reading about Sri Lankan politics too.


Living beyond my Outstation

A version of this article appeared in Ceylon Today on Wednesday September 24 2014



Colman's Column3

Most capital cities of centralised nations draw life from the provinces. What shocked me was that Colombans call any area that is not Colombo “outstation”.

Here in Uva we have been getting some unusual attention because of the Provincial Council election. Colombo journalists ventured out of their comfort zone to blink at the Uva natives like anthropologists discovering strange indigenous tribes previously hidden from civilisation.

I upset a few people on Facebook recently. I was responding to an article about the takeover of Odels by Softlogic. I wondered if the elderly ladies queuing up for water during our prolonged drought would be spending much time thinking about Otara as a model entrepreneur and philanthropist. Surveys conducted by the Department of Census and Statistics show that poverty has increased in Uva Province despite poverty in Sri Lanka as a whole having significantly declined. According to those statistics, Moneragala is the poorest district and Siyambalanduwa in Moneragala is the poorest DS Division.

I commented on Facebook: “So much about Sri Lanka is Colombo only. There is a whole different universe out here that you Colombians have no conception of. Colombo is a different country entirely from the rest of Sri Lanka.” One commenter accused me of “latent anger and simmering animosity”. “Try not to let your ‘anti-Colombo’ sentiment blind you to the positive energies that abound, yes, even here in Colombo! Otara and Odel are iconic not because of their business value or cash count – but because they proved that a dream, with hard work and acumen, can become more than just a reality.”

Well- good luck with that!

Metropole versus Province

There is a tendency in most nations for the capital city to drain life and people from the rest of the country. South Korea has a population of 50 million. The capital Seoul has a population of 9.8 million. The Seoul National Capital Area, which is smaller than London, has 24.5 million inhabitants making it the world’s second largest metropolitan area and easily the most densely populated city in the OECD. Metropolitan Tokyo is large enough be a G20 economy if it were an independent country. Cities like Paris and Istanbul dominate the economies of their respective countries as well. All capital cities in Europe countries with centralised government are growing similarly. London started from a larger base.

The Great Wen

William Cobbett (1763 – 1835) was an English pamphleteer, farmer and journalist. He called London “the great wen”. A wen is a benign encysted tumour of the skin containing sebaceous matter. “BUT, what is to be the fate of the great wen of all? The monster, called, by the silly coxcombs of the press, the metropolis of the empire?” The view that London, far from being a glittering metropolis, is in fact the source of provincial Britain’s woes persists today. Today, even a government minister, Vince Cable, the UK Business Secretary, warns that London is “becoming a giant suction machine, draining the life out of the rest of the country”.

In its annual “health check” of British cities, the think-tank The Centre for Cities shows that the gap is widening between the capital and other major centres of population. Eighty-thousand people in the 22- to 30- age group moved to London between 2009 and 2013, compared with 31,600 who left London – a net inflow to the capital of 48,400.

Between 1997 and 2012, London’s share of Britain’s economic output grew from around 19% to around 22%. The capital’s economy sucks in workers from all over Britain—indeed, from all over the world causing great pressure on housing.

I recently published an article about London being voted the top crap town in Britain. Rich financiers and Russian kleptocrats have made London unaffordable for the working class. One reader, who lives in Derbyshire, commented: “For most British people, London is foreign; your piece highlights some of the reasons. Since London is the seat of central government, this entails the feeling among many of us that we’re being governed by a foreign power, remote from our concerns. This intuition is relevant to the support for Scottish independence and, on a ‘lower’ level, for the rising dissatisfaction with Westminster in northern England”.

Uva must be a foreign country to Colombans. Colombo is like a different planet for we yokels.


Dublin is the nerve centre and the control focus of nearly every aspect of Irish life. Because the country is small, not mountainous and has good straight roads, many people commute daily to the capital from all over Ireland to work in Dublin.

The poet Kevin Higgins, who is from Galway, which has distinctive character of its own and a fine arts and culture scene, paints a picture of Dublin somewhat similar to my view of Colombo. This Dublin is epitomised by celebrity philanthropists and self-publicists Bono and Bob Geldof. Kevin resented Geldof’s intervention in the Scottish independence debate. “Apologies to the people of Scotland for Bob Geldof’s jaded ramblings. He represents no one in Ireland. When you vote on Thursday, as my mother used to say, ‘don’t mind that fella’”.

Kevin suggests creating a new republic: “Perhaps the Republic of Ireland should give enforced independence to South County Dublin. … No more Bono or Sir Bob… They could live in their own little country of South County Dublin, with a permanent Fine Gael majority government and fly the Union Jack all they want”.

Is Otara the Bono or bob Geldof of Sri Lanka? Rock musician Julian Cope said: “One of the problems with Bono and Bob Geldof’s view of the world is that they are ultimately Dublin Irish. The Dublin Irish are a kind of Viking landed gentry who can’t stand the rest of Ireland. I think one of the reasons those two charge around trying to save Africa is so that they don’t have to hang around in Ireland.”


In the UK, towns that thrived because of heavy industry now have no jobs at all or precariat jobs like call centres. There have been attempts to transfer government departments out of London. Radical suggestions have been made that the capital should me moved to Manchester or Middlesbrough. Those in the commentariat who like living in London and do not want to be transferred out to the wilderness suggest that people in distressed areas should come to London for work. People may be willing to do the shortish trip from Peterborough to Kings Cross every morning even though it is very expensive. Doing a three-hour journey from Middlesbrough to London every morning would be impossible and train fares are prohibitive.

The majority of people in Scotland may have voted to stay in the UK but 44.7% voted for independence. Talk to anyone in towns and cities in the north of England and you will not hear much affection for London or Londoners. Come to Uva province and you will not hear much affection for Colombo.

In its report, Cities Outlook 2014, it says there are “green shoots” of recovery in places other than London. It names Edinburgh as the second most successful city in generating private-sector jobs, followed by Birmingham and Manchester. It calls for major cities to have more power and funding devolved to them. The Centre argues that Greater Manchester and Greater Leeds each produce more than the entire Welsh economy, but have none of the powers enjoyed by the Cardiff Assembly. Devolution of power in Sri Lanka is a contentious issue.

Like other capital cities across the world, Colombo, gets its strength from many diverse and talented people being located together. The infrastructure throughout the country has improved greatly but it would not be possible, because of the terrain, to commute daily from “outstation” to Colombo. Travelling by train in Sri Lanka is still an endurance test. The answer must be continuing infrastructure improvements in the rest of the country and devolving power and resources. The biggest hurdle is to change the mindset of Colombo dwellers so that they remember that there is a whole country out there containing 18,170,191 fellow Sri Lankans.

I used to love Odels and I admire Otara. I love Colombo and will probably end up living happily there when I am too old to cope with the rigours of “outstation” life. I have lived in Ireland and England and in those countries too there is a huge divide between the metropolis and the rest of the country. Not as strong as in Sri Lanka. London is a foreign country to someone living in Yorkshire. London is a country on its own dominated by financiers.

I hear there will be a presidential election next January. Despite the drop in UPFA support in the Uva Provincial Council election, the insular mind set of Colombans will prevent Ranil Wickremasinghe standing a chance against Mahinda Rajapaksa.



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