Wednesday 29 March 2023

The Time I Met Paul O'Grady and Lily Savage at the Same Time

 Back in the 1990s I worked for H. Samuel and for three years of that time I was based in the store (no longer within the group) that was positioned at the Piccadilly Circus end of Shaftesbury Avenue. It was the flagship store of the chain at the time, with the famous semi-circle window up in what was our ring sizing and buffering room and being right under the neon lights. It also of course was right in the heart of things.

Right in the heart of the hustle and bustle of the City of Westminster. Shops, Government and Theatre land were all walkable. Although our branch didn't shut until 10pm we ofter got a last minute rush of customers after the theatres got out.

Further along Shaftesbury Avenue during that time a musical version of Prisioner Cell Block H was having a run. A very well dressed man in a suit entered early one afternoon and went straight over to the costume jewellery cabinet. When he say what he wanted there was a familiar Birkenhead accent that called over to me:

"Excuse me! I'd like to take that red necklace and earings to match please."

It was not the most expensive sale I ever processed in that store, that would undoubtledly be the three times I sold the matching his and hers Raymond Weil Parsifal watches which at the time were a neat £2,750. But this was the time I took the credit card of Mr P O'Grady knowing full well that these items although going to be worn by someone else were going to grace his neck and ears. He had obviously dropped in before heading up the Queen's Theatre (now the Sondheim) to get Lily ready or her staring role in Prisoner Cell Block H.

RIP Paul O'Grady 1955 -2023

Saturday 11 March 2023

Is Government asylum policy "fair and right"?

 So Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has broken the ministerial silence since the BBC asked Gary Lineker to step back from presenting Match of the Day. In doing so he says that Linker "was a great footballer and is a talented presenter" before going on to say that that he believes that the government's policy is "fair and right?

The question though should be is it?

Firstly we need to rebuff the phrase branded about claiming there are illegal asylum seekers. The Refugee Council point out:

There is no such thing as an ‘illegal’ or ‘bogus’ asylum seeker. Under international law, anyone has the right to apply for asylum in any country that has signed the 1951 Convention and to remain there until the authorities have assessed their claim

The UK is a signatory of that Convention. This is the Convention was actually in part drafted by Winston Churchill. It is also something that is enshrined into the European Convention on Human Rights. It was the ECHR that when presenting her policy to the House of Commons the Home Secretary Suella Braverman wrote:

I am unable to make a statement that, in my view, the provisions of the Illegal Migrants Bill are compatible with the Convention rights, but the Government nevertheless wishes the House to proceed to the Bill.

Herein lies problem number one. We are already calling those that arrive my small boats Illegal Migrants, see the Refugee Council above. But also this Government knowingly wants to proceed when it could break a Convention drafted with British input. 

Maybe we can rule out that the Bill is going to be right on that basis.

As for is it fair, we need to look at how anyone claim asylum in the UK under the Bill. Let us return to the Refugee Council.

It is recognised in the 1951 Convention that people fleeing persecution may have to use irregular means in order to escape and claim asylum in another country – there is no legal way to travel to the UK for the specific purpose of seeking asylum.
Yet the Government are saying that the provisions of the Bill will not affect people who seek a legal route into the UK to claim asylum, such routes do not exist.

The Bill also aims to detain those that reach these shores by small boat without trial, without access to a lawyer for the first 28 days, or the courts, and then deport them, with no legal right to appeal and to be barred for ever from entering the UK.
However, arbitrarily depriving an individual of their liberty is prohibited under international human rights law. Article 9 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights decrees that "no one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile"; that is, no individual, regardless of circumstances, is to be deprived of their liberty or exiled from their country without having first committed an actual criminal offense against a legal statute, and the government cannot deprive an individual of their liberty without proper due process of law.  

So not looking very fair or very right. Also, before I get apologists saying but these are all international treatings and conventions remember one thing. In the shadow of World War II it was Britain that was at the forefront of drafting and writing the conventions and treaties that are mentioned here. This was done to prevent a nation treating other humans in a lesser way. At the moment the UK Government is steering us into a clear breach of so much international convention we are heading to being a pariah state on a par with Russia, North Korea et al.

Not just close to the language of 1930s Germany

 So the outrage over Gary Lineker's comments that some of the language used by the Home Secretary to launch and defend her asylum policy has wreaked havoc to this weekend's football schedule on the BBC. Now this is the thing, Gary only compared that language to 1930s Germany, anyone with a little knowledge of the diaries, biographies from pre-war British politicians will be able to point out to something a little closer to home.

There are three types of sources we can learn from history. First there are straight forward history texts, these are often written long enough after the event to sanitise some of the comment. Then is biography of those involved, these need to be taken with a pinch of salt, some as sycophantic in their praise for their subjects, others are the reverse written by those who disagree with them, occasionally you will find a balanced view but even that will have omissions. Then there are the firsthand documents, speeches, diaries etc. 

As someone who is still plodding through the unabridged diaries of Chips Cannon (I'm now on volume 3) I have read the pre-war entries. I can see why when the diaries were first to be printing that many leading lights in politics were nervous until they were told they would be heavily edited. You see the thing is in those diaries are recorded the language, thoughts and opinions of many of those in the Conservative party and British aristocracy that Cannon mingled with. The language used by Braverman is actually very similar to that of many in pre-war Britain who were sympathetic or enthusiastic for the National Socialist Party in Germany.

Now I doubt that Gary has an extensive a political library that I have. There were of course members of the Conservative Party who were opposed to too close a link with Germany during that period. But as Churchill himself pointed out these were his wilderness years as he was away from the main thrust of his party. However, there were many to the right of the Conservative party at that time who either flirted with or espoused fascist ideology. That group is worrying, looking at them and the attack on asylum seekers from the current Conservative party they would seem to fit right in with the current party and policies, some of which are actually taken straight out of the National Front policy book from the 1970s.

So here's the thing the actions from the Government calling out against the criticism of their policy, forcing what is meant to be an impartial public service braodcaster take a side is this debate, is exactly the opposite of impartiality. They never rile against opinion when it is strongly in their favour. They never stand up when the exclusion of pro-European voices such as the Liberal Democrats were missing from many of the political panel shows during the lead up to the referendum to leave the EU. No, the cries from Westmister, despite the wolf call from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport that "indivual cases are a matter for the BBC" are actually the signs of repression of freedom of speech. One side of a culture war is given carte blanche but dare to speak out on the other side and we will shut you down.

Today there are no presenters, pundits or commentators, willing to bring football to the BBC. So no Football Focus, no Final Score no match commentary of Radio 5 Live, no Fighting Talk on the radio tomorrow either. Match of the Day  itself will have no pundits, no commentary (from the usual freelancers) and maybe also not any interviews with players or managers. 

People are standing up and wanting to be counted. The mood may be that the language is divisive, the language is hedging towards that of Mosley's New Party in the early 30s here on British soil. The football community this weekend may be making a stand against that language in their own version of Cable Street. 

Wednesday 22 February 2023

Kate Forbes misses out the liberalism of same-sex marriage legislation

 So Kate Forbes, who at the time of writing this, is running in the leadership election of the Scottish National Party has said she would have voted against same-sex marriage legislation at the time, if she had been elected to Holyrood. She is also accusing others of being illiberal who speak out against her views.

The irony is that same-sex marriage was from the time was written as policy the whole way up to legislation shows how liberal you can be, while not excluding other. You see same-sex marriage legislation could have forced faith groups to carry out such marriages. However, nobody in a same sex relationship wants to celebrate or have that recognised in somewhere they don't feel welcome. That is why in my opinion one of the key phrases in same sex marriage legislation is "allow faith groups that wish to do so". 

You see prior to SSM legislation nobody could carry out a same sex marriage, not in civil law, in a faith setting or in Scotland by a humanist celebrate. At this point I'll ignore the fact that at Lib Dem Federal level the policy for Same Sex Marriage had to be amended to allow humanist celebrants to carry out mixed sex mrriages (which had only been possible in Scotland up until then). You see when drafting the policy in Scotland it was clear that nobody would be forced to carry out same-sex marriages. 

But I hear you say what about making registrars carry out same-sex marriages. Those who raise an argument about this based on their religious perspective seem to leave their religious views at the door when they marry divorced couples or even couples who Kate Forbes would say were wrong already had children.

You see SSM is a legislation that enables faith groups to come to their own decisions. With the exception of the Church of England and Church in Wales that some people thought it would be better to legislation against those churches solely making a decision on their own, and thus amended to exclude them from the enabling to carry out such marriage if they wanted to.

But it is something I have faced through the 13 years that there has actually been a Lib Dem policy in place for SSM. Something that I am proud to have had a hand in When people in faith groups accuse it of impinging on them when n fact the only thing impinging on them is their own views. It is ironicly something that I still struggle with coming from my own church The Presbyterian Church in Ireland, although I do feel excuded from there because of the judgement those in high places put on people from the LGBT+ community. In a strange way Covid actually makes my church accessible to me once more even though I haven't set foot in it for years.

The irony is that today a spokesperson for the Free Church of Scotland, of which  Kate Forbes is a member said:

"It is lamentable that Kate's honest adherence to simple traditional values would, for some, disqualify her from contributing to the public good of Scotland.

"Kate Forbes is standing on the basis of her policies - the fact that she is being criticised for her Christian convictions shows a level of bigotry that has no place in a pluralistic and diverse society." 

As I have pointed out above the views themselves are actually protected in the legislation she is opposed to. But the Free Church like one or two others likes to play the victim in all this.

It was faith that made homosexuality illegal in the first place and every step of the way LGBT+ people have had to slowly move towards equality, not getting there in one step like banning did, but incrementally. At every step we are told that people of faith don't agree with loosening the hod they have over our civil lives, while some of our are also in dialogue with them in relation to our faith lives. Kate Forbes has put this front and fore of her campaign during her launch, yet apparently we are not to take her stances as a step towards leading a Government as a possible move to restrict freedoms. If we speak up against it we are the illiberal ones, despite constantly bending over backwards to get small change after small change to not upset those with certain faith views to object to everything.

Monday 16 January 2023

Conservative and Unionist Party hoisting the union on a Trans Petard

The full name of the party that is in Government in Westminster is the Conservative and Unionist Party. However, today that took a shocking step that may well rock or even split up that union.

It is being announced that the Scottish Secretary will this evening inform the Scottish First Minister that tomorrow he will take the legal steps to invoke a Section 35 which allows Westminster to overturn a piece of legislation passed by the Scottish Parliament. This is something that has never been done in the 25 years of the Socttish Parliament. 

The piece of legislation that it is seeking to overturn is the Gender Recognition Bill that was passed with an overwhelming vote of 67% of MSPs voting in favour. The breakdown by party was

  • All 4 Lib Dem MSPs in favour (100%)
  • All 7 Green MSPs in favour (100%)
  • 21 out of 22 Labour MSPs in favour (95%)
  • 54 out of 64 SNP MSPs in favour (84%)
  • 2 out of 31 Conservative MSPs in favour (6%)
So as you can see every party in Scotland bar one was overwhelmingly in favour. The fact that the Westminster Conservative Government is now going to block this going to Royal Assent is a political football being played in an increasingly right wing leaning Conservative party. The language that the party has been using on assylum seekers, Trans peoples, workers rights to strike and protest are all now looking more and more authoritarian. 

However, by invoking section 35 for the first time in history this is also piling up gunpowder under the very Union itself in a way which unlike Guy Fawkes may explode the union. It is such a minor piece of legislation in the grand scheme of things, but it opens a flood gate and leads to a slippery slope. At a time when those who want another independence referendum are already heated, the act of stopping a Scottish Act gaining Royal Assent just might push many who were agnostic to Scotland's independence into the independence camp.

The worse thing is that the Scottish Government's Gender Recognition Bill has no actual impact on UK-wide equality legislation, this was pointed out in the wording of the Bill itself. It is only impacting the right to change your gender on your birth certificate and only impacts those who wish to do so not anyone else. We in the UK do not currently* need to carry our birth certificates around with us. 

The Secretary of State of Scotland also calls for there to be more consideration of this. However, there was already 6 years of public consultion into this bill it was not rushed, what is rushed in the UK Government's response.

Yet this is the petard upon which the Westminster Government is prepared to hoist the Union.

It is laughable that the West Lothian Question which caused Tam Dalyell great ethical quandry over Scottish devolution will pale into comparison to what today has become the Westminster Question. What is a Secretary of State for Scotland opposes the will of a supermajority of the devolved Scottish Parliament.

By saying currently the more right wing, authoritarian and dare I say facist the Conservative Party are becoming me may well start to single out individuals and groups of individuals may not be far off.


Wednesday 4 January 2023

Maths post 16 years old


So Rishi Sunak thinks that maths should be taught to all young people up to the age of 18. Now I do have an O'level in Maths, plus one in Additional Maths, an A'Level in Maths, plus as part of my Economics degree did guide a lot of maths/statistics. So I would say I know a fair amount about the type of maths that is taught after the age of 16 as in some form or other I was being taught maths up until the age of 22. My late father also had a degree in maths.

I have laid out my maths qualifications here to show the level of expertise I have on the issue of maths. I know that some out there in this post expertise required age will argue that I don't know what I'm talking about, but thats the nature of knowledge these days.

On top of this I have 2 nephews both post 16 years old and a niece currently in secondary education. Each of them have different experience of maths through their schooling as well. So with all the agrued experience within our family is maths really something that needs to be taught to everyone after the age of 16.

Most of the maths that most careers need for every day use is that which is taught up to the age of 16. Additional maths, A'level and anything you are taught at university are more specialised for the decipline you are studying or more complex maths. If you go into a career that works with numbers yes you will need to know the principles behind many of the more complex maths, especially when you have to set up a spreadsheet or a data base programme that needs to calculate something. Excel or other programmes may be good but the better the maths of the person working it the more complex the functionality can become. For this I also worked as a global data analyst for a call centre with all sorts of contingency built in, some of our worksheets will still be funtional long after we are gone, for example, working out set public holidays (Easter is a little more awkward).

My nephew are a mixture one is science base the other more artistic. Both were good at maths, both got decent result in their GCSE but both knew the path they wanted to travel. For one maths fitted into the sciences for the other it didn't fit in. Does that decision make one of them less useful going into adulthood? No! As for my neice she struggles with maths, something that I know a lot of people do, these are probably the proportion of people that the Prime Minister wants to educate more in maths.

So while I can do matrix algebra, complex statistical equaltions with x constants and other stuff that would blow your mind this isn't going to help your hairdresser, car mechanic, beautician or bricklayer. They all just want to do a BTEC after the age of 16.

Post 16 education needs to remain a mix of academic split into sciences and humanities, and vocational. The vocataional courses will include what maths is required within those professions but that maths isn't what is stardardly taught at 16 year. No young person over the age of 16 should be enslved into the level of maths that someone Winchester educated, with an Oxford First in PPE and Fulbright Scholar who went on to become an investment banker before turning to politics thinks helped him. This is how out of touch with ordinary people, ordinary work and day to day life the richest Prime Minister in our nations history is.