Monthly Archives: November 2013

Why Boris Johnson is wrong about equality

Originally published on The City Scoop

Boris_Johnson_-opening_bell_at_NASDAQ-14Sept2009-3c_cropped

It must be tough to get to the top, and you sure as hell can’t be thoughtless buffoon to get there. Hence, you might of been surprised by our mayors now infamous comments at a speech on Wednesday, addressing the Centre for Policy Studies in London, a free-market neoliberal British policy think tank.

Boris mocked the 16% “of our species” with an IQ below 85 and called for more to be done to help the 2% of the population who have an IQ above 130. He declared that inequality was essential to foster “the spirit of envy” and hailed greed as a “valuable spur to economic activity”.

I must admit however, I was not entirely shocked by the Mayors latest bout of pleb bashing, the Eton bred, Oxford Graduate in Classics, following a similar outburst last week. The Mayor was lambasted after he defended the rich, claiming they have been unfairly ostracised by the British public. According to Boris, life sure is tough being in the top 1%.

His most recent remarks reflect a very troubling trend, a deeply concerning misconception when it comes to causal link between poverty and intelligence. Boris’  ‘interesting’ remarks about the poor in this country shows there is something inherently wrong with the Mayors conception of equality.

While it’s not particularly out of the ordinary for our bumbling mayor to talk utter shite, his recent slew of comments attacking the poor and rallying behind this nations elite has left a sickly taste in my mouth. And I would assume the five million people living below the Mayors ‘London Living Wage’ were none too pleased by the remarks either.

Boris, who is a person known for not mincing his words, said that economic inequality is something that is inescapable, in a world where there are ‘natural differences’ between peoples aptitudes.

Boris is wrong about equality. Economic inequalities will not cease to exist, not because of inherent differences in natural ability, but as long as people hold onto this unwarranted assumption that poor people are somehow inherently inferior. While I am not condoning deterministic bred apathy, for us to understand the issue of income inequalities as they stand, we must understand what the reasons for these differences in ability are. Once we understand the reasons, we can attempt to find the solution. Simply accepting that inequalities will always exist is lazy and ill-conceived means at tackling the problem.

But it is easy for people like Boris to feel morally and intellectually superior when they have been educated to such a high standard. The former journalist, and now heavy weight political figure, has had ample opportunities in life that only a very small fraction of us could ever hope for. His success, despite what he may think or believe, is not necessarily due to his aptitude, but a combination of circumstances that propelled him into the limelight.

And it is not necessarily wealth that has been the key ingredient in this recipe for success, and I say this as someone who has grown up in relative poverty. During my childhood, all around me my peers and I were subject to obstacles that Boris could hardly fathom in his sheltered upbringing.

Could a man like Boris, suckling from the teats of aristocracy and privilege, ever know the frustration of growing up in poverty? Has he ever felt the anxiety of hearing parents bicker over unpaid bills? Has he ever had to share a 80p bag of chips for dinner with his family? Has Boris ever experienced bailiffs coming to his home as a child and taking all his possessions? Can he appreciate the stigma and low self-esteem that comes with being the child of poor, working class immigrants? Can he comprehend the difficulty of growing up with parents who can barely speak English? Has he lost a parent and been brought up on meagre benefits? Has he had family members succumb to a criminal life just to survive?

This kind of life, while it doesn’t necessarily close doors for you, it makes it so much more difficult to succeed, and this I have experienced first-hand.  While I concede these obstacles can be overcome with hard work, with determination, and most importantly, a whole lot of luck – for a lot of people, it just doesn’t pan out like that.

I have been incredibly fortunate in my life to have the right people around me, to give me guidance and help me understand this world and my place within it. But many of my peers, my friends, and even family members, have not been so fortunate; they have not been given the same nurturing and encouragement to reach their full potential. To hear Boris say that some humans are just inferior, I find deeply insulting, and incredibly frustrating. If we don’t believe in people, if we don’t give them the means to attain success, then how can we ever expect to irradiate inequality?

Yes, the problem is a natural difference Boris, but not in intelligence, but in privilege. Because I can guarantee you, if you’d gone to my school, located in a working class constituency in East London, and not the grand halls of thorough bred Eaton, you’d not be the same person you are now. If you’d grown up in poverty, you’d most certainly not be Mayor of London. And to be quite frank, I hope you aren’t for much longer, because the last thing we need in this country is another egocentric, self-righteous prick in office.

Losing my Burlesque Virginity

Note: This article was originally written for and published on www.planetivy.com

This last week has been quite a journey, friends. After twenty-four years of existence on this pale blue dot, I’ve finally lost my burlesque virginity. A seedy, hilarious and captivating concoction like no other, I dived headfirst into the Burlesque Games which took place in London last week.

Natsumi Scarlette performing at Twisted Burlesque night, Madam Jojo’s, Soho.

Natsumi Scarlette performing at Twisted Burlesque night, Madam Jojo’s, Soho.

“Stripping for posh people” is what it is often labelled by critics. Being a broke-ass pleb, I was going into the show a little sceptical. And the results? Tassels, glitter and giant rubber dildos – let me tell you, folks, Burlesque ain’t for the faint of heart.

It all kicked off with the press meet and greet last Tuesday, where I was hoping to get pissed off free booze and chat up scantily-clad ladies. I met Chaz Royal, one of the event organisers, by the door of Gore Hotel in West London. He’s a down to earth guy who doesn’t seem like he’d be the architect of one of the biggest Burlesque festivals in the world.

Event organisers Chaz Royal and Betty Q

Event organisers Chaz Royal and Betty De’Light

He told me there are 65 performers at the Games this year, with 6 shows and up to 2,000 viewers. The games started as a spin-off from the World Burlesque Festival, inspired by the 2012 games last year. Not exactly the Olympic legacy Cameron had in mind, I suspect. Chaz lives in Edinburgh after migrating from Canada, and has been around the world working with bands and burlesque groups. “London is the place to be,” he says, “people can be hostile…but not as much in London.”

I headed through the entrance and straight to the bar, but I quickly found I’d need a small fortune to get drunk here. I stuck with water and ice for the rest of the week. After realising I was actually going to have to do some work, I started talking to the folks loitering around the small room, which had a distinct 1920s feel to it. There was a grand fireplace, retro décor and fine oil paintings scattered along the walls. No wonder the drinks were so expensive.

The Emcee Reuben Kaye preparing to go on stage

The Emcee Reuben Kaye preparing to go on stage

The show was hosted by the flamboyantly gay Reuben R Kaye, who describes himself as a “rampant dipsomaniac”. When I first met him he was wearing a long, feathered hat and had a face caked in makeup. His eccentric look had a personality to match. Wonderfully enthusiastic and exceedingly intelligent, the man had a presence that was hard to ignore. The jokes came thick and fast throughout the show. He had a dark, self-deprecating sense of humour that was so typically British (even though he’s Australian). My favourite joke from the show: “I’m like a Sainsbury’s self-checkout: approval needed, approval needed – please put your items in the bagging area.”

Performing couple Collette  and Willy at the Press Party

Performing couple Collette and Willy at the Press Party

The first performing pair I met was Willy and Collette, a couple who’d travelled from Brussels for the games. They tell me they’re here to “meet international people and other performers”. The two are dressed in matching tuxedos, keeping in line with the early 20th century throwback. Collette has a dream-like glaze in her eyes and sports a gleaming top hat, while Willy has a suave pencil moustache and bowtie. I jokingly ask him if he’s fundraising for Movember, and he looks back at me with bewilderment. I guess it must not be a thing in Brussels.

Collette and Willy performing at Twisted Burlesque

Collette and Willy performing at Twisted Burlesque

I later saw the pair perform at the Variety act, which took place at the intimate Madame JoJo’s in a nefarious corner of Soho. The lights dim, and then turn a sombre blue as Willy’s booming voice begins the tale. His playing of the accordion was masterful, and together they crafted a captivating few minutes of song and dance. I was surprised by the performance, not by how professional it was, but by the fact that that there was no stripping. The pair went on to win the variety act and perform at the finals in Bush Hall on Saturday.

Another interesting character at the games was Equador the Wizard, a charismatic Londoner. At the press party he was sporting a long tail and a handlebar moustache with a pointed chin puff. He wowed me with some close-up magic and told me about his training as a ‘bubbleologist’ with bubble legend “Sam Sam Bubble Man.” This wizard is a rare breed, kinda like Gandalf the Grey, but instead of one ring to the rule them all, he’s got one tassel to bind them.

Equador the Wizard at the Press Party

Equador the Wizard at the Press Party

“Boylesque”, as he calls it, was a pretty big hit with the crowd, who roared in applause when he flung off his overalls and gyrated his hips to heavy metal. As the audience for Burlesque is mainly female, it’s not really a surprise that a half-naked man would draw such an eager ovation. Equador tells me he used to be a ballet dancer, like a lot of performers in the show.  But he was hit by a train in Bournemouth a few years back which left him with a broken pelvis. The accident turned the zany wizard into a bit of a philosopher. He told me to “always do what you find exciting. That’s why I do so many things.”

Equador the Wizard at Madam JoJo's

Equador the Wizard at Madam JoJo’s

By far the highlight of the week, though, was the weirdest of the five days: the wonderfully strange world of twisted burlesque. This shit was fucking weird, guys, I kid you not. At one point performer Lottie Kixx from Edinburgh walked off the stage sporting a strap on dildo which she rode like a horse. She grabbed Dennis the photographer and rammed the rubber phallus into his face, leaving a glittery jizz stain on his cheeks. It was actually quite a beautiful sight to behold, despite Dennis being none too pleased by the ordeal.

Lottie Kixx with The Phallus of Doom

Lottie Kixx with The Phallus of Doom

In another performance, Alan Debevoise, from Lake Como, Italy, stripped to the theme tune from “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly”. He walked into the crowd and proceeded to display his waxed butt cheeks in front of my young innocent eyes. Some things cannot be unseen.

 Alan Debevoise performing at Twisted Burlesque night


Alan Debevoise performing at Twisted Burlesque night

What I found most enticing about Burlesque however, was the sheer inventiveness of it, the unbridled creativity that goes into some of the acts. Performers like Natsumi Scarlett from Amsterdam, and Bruised Violet, from Sheffield, impressed me with their dedication and hard work. They designed their own costumes and props, along with orchestrating the choreography and music. There were some bad bitches in this show, with the talent to back it up.

Natsumi Scarlett getting ready to perform

Natsumi Scarlett getting ready to perform

So my final thoughts on Burlesque as a newcomer to the scene – it’s definitely entertaining, a good night out and a show that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Yes, burlesque is stripping, heck, it inspired modern stripping, but it’s a form of entertainment that goes so much further. It’s about working with characters and creating an engaging variety act. The best shows for me were the strange ones, I just couldn’t turn away. The more bog standard routines I found a little boring and repetitive. While there’s nakedness involved, from my week long crash course it’s more like a naked-themed pantomime than your run of the mill strip show, with whooping, hollering, cheering, singing, and plenty of laughs to go round.

 

Winners of the World Burlesque Games 2013

Winners of the World Burlesque Games 2013

*Pictures courtesy of Chaz Royal

East London educational charity launches documentary series on CLR James

An East London citizens TV channel and educational charity, kicked off their documentary series on renowned intellectual CLR James with a debate on the ‘Western Cannon’, after winning a heritage lottery grant to fund the project.

trey-ratcliff-the-fields-3000x3000 (1)

Every Cook Can Govern: The life and works of CLR James

Last Saturday, Worldbytes, a charity and citizens TV channel based in Hackney, London, embarked on a two year long journey documenting the life and intellectual legacy of renowned black activist, CLR James.

At the Long Room of The Kia Oval Cricket Ground, South London, an expert panel discussed the works of CLR James, and debated whether a revised “Western Cannon” was needed for a new generation of thinkers.

The event began with a representative from The National Heritage Lottery Fund congratulating the charity for winning a £70,000 grant to produce the multimedia project.

The project, dubbed “Every Cook Can Govern: Documenting the life, impact & works of CLR James”, will include a documentary series and an on-line knowledge portal, produced largely by volunteers.

Despite disagreeing on precisely what should be included in a revised cannon, there was no shortage of kind words for CLR James. The panelists all agreed on the significance of his writing and activism.

Education system is “a dull instrument of policy”

Claire Fox, director and founder of the British think tank, the Institute of Ideas, expressed concern that the current education system is a “dull instrument of policy”.

515

She said: “There is an injunction between people who want to know and the way they are taught.

“The cannon of great literature has universal experience. It allows us to break out the particulars of our experience,” she added.

Kenan Malik on The Black Jacobins

While Kenan Malik, a writer, lecturer and broadcaster, was pressed by audience members to speak about “The Black Jacobins”, CLR’s most iconic and endearing piece of literature.

511

He said: “[CLR James] is perhaps the greatest poet of the anti-colonial movement. There are few figures who can match.

“He was an icon of black liberation. Undoubtedly, The Black Jacobins was his masterpiece.”

James wanted to “change the world”

Fellow panel member Selma James, an author, activist, and partner of CLR for 30 years, believed that he wanted to make the world a better place.

514

She said: “James used [The Black Jacobins] as a weapon in the struggle for African independence.

“He had a passion for learning. He brought with him a profound understanding of humanism when he came to England, and offered a radically new vision of the world.”

Beyond a Boundary: More than just a game

Alan Hudson, Director of Programmes in Leadership & Public Policy at Oxford University, focused on CLR’s famous memoir on cricket, “Beyond a Boundary”, first published in 1963.

513

He said: “The book is not about cricket, but how the game can express so much more… the cultivating of this powerful cultural embodiment is much more than the game itself.

“[CLR James] was able to unite everybody in a way that nobody else can. He had a powerful sensibility to the working class.”

Volunteer for WorldBytes

WorldbytesLogo_RGB

The charity plan to host a “Read-a-thon” in February next year, where volunteers will take part in a sponsored live streamed reading of CLR’s work, to help raise extra funds for the project.

Volunteers can also take part in producing the documentary and on-line portal, learning on the job media skills, such as filming, editing, promotion and research.

Head on over to the WorldBytes website to find out how you can get involved.

*Pictures courtesy of WorldBytes

The changing face of journalism #soeconf2013

Originally published on The Society of Editors official website, with live updates on my twitter account. 

At a panel discussion at the Society of Editors conference, industry leaders were optimistic about the future of the industry despite the decline of traditional print media.

Untitled

Both Simon Fox, Chief Executive of Trinity Mirror, and fellow panelist Peter Barron, former editor of BBC’s Newsnight, said that journalism today is in robust health.

“The standard of journalism is absolutely phonemenal,” said Cox.

Both agreed that there has been a revolution in the way reporters gather information.

Barron said: “The possibilities for journalists are so rich today.”

Steve Auckland, former chief executive of Local World, said: “The web has enabled encouraging audience growth for first time in a long time.”

However, the panelists disagreed on the best way to monetize digital media.

Speaking on paywalls, Simon Fox, Chief executive of Trinity Mirror, said: “For a mass news organisation like Trinity Mirror, the best route was to have content available to as many readers as possible.”

Panel member Geraldine Allinson, Chairman of the KM Group, was optimistic about advertising online.

She said: “Advertisitng is definitely going in the right direction…but ask me again in 6 months time.”

David Dinsmore, editor of The Sun, argued that a paywall was best for his newspaper, and that he was excited to have an in depth relationship with their readers.

“If you can create an easy mechanism, people will pay for it,” he said.

In a more diplomatic fashion, Fox said: “There’s no right or wrong model.

“There are different approaches in each case.”

 

Attack on Florida student: Was it the Muslim Patrol?

American student attacked in East London

Two weeks ago police released CCTV footage of a man being attacked by a group of five Asian men. A 20-year-old man, Shelim Uddin from Whitechapel, was charged late last month with causing grievous bodily harm to Francesco Hounye, a 22-year-old student from Florida.

Francesco had only been in the country for three days. Shelim was implicated in the footage, seen attacking the student with a bottle on Commercial Road, Whitechapel.

[FULL] US Student Attacked By Five Men In London, Video captures beating of US student in UK

VIDEO: American student being attacked

Description: In a dimly lit street, a young man is walking home after a night out drinking with a friend.  Unbeknownst to him however, is a gang of hooded hoodlums lurking in the shadows. They follow him down an empty street and a confrontation begins to unravel.

As the gang quickly surrounds him, some heated words are exchanged, and he postures up to them ready to fight back. The first punch is thrown, while another grabs the bottle in his hand and smashes it across his face.

A few stretched out moments of panic follow as he makes a dash across the road in front of a passing car, but they chase the man, grab him by the shoulders and pin him against a wall, wildly punching and kicking until he stumbles to the floor.

When the thugs have had their fill of savagery, they scatter like cockroaches, back into the covers of darkness.

Islamist group accused of attack

There were some news outlets that claimed that the vigilante street gang, who named themselves the ‘Muslim Patrol’, was to blame for the attack, while others, such as The Daily Beast, alluded to the possibility of the group being responsible.

However, there is currently no evidence to suggest that these attackers were connected to the Islamist group. The police said that Mr Hounye, who was considering continuing his studies in Britain, was targeted because he was “obviously not local.”

Who are the ‘Muslim Patrol’?

The Stream – 'Muslim Patrol' police London streets

VIDEO: Aljazeera “The Stream, Who are the Muslim Patrol?”

The Muslim Patrol first gained notoriety after uploading their night time crusades onto Youtube earlier this year.

On a few nights in January, the group filmed themselves scolding prostitutes, people drinking alcohol, and women whom they called “naked animals”. The video went viral, spreading across the internet like wildfire. In it they claim that they were “vigilantes implementing Islam upon your own necks”.

A follow up video soon appeared. They increased their range, with a ‘patrol’ in Whitechapel, Tower Hamlets and Shoreditch. They increased in confidence, stating “Islam will take over the world”.

One member of the group started getting violent. 19-year-old gang member Jamaal Uddin, is a British born Muslim convert formally known as Jordan Horner. Last month he pleaded guilty to two charges of assault and using threatening words and behaviour. In another incident, which took place outside Islam4UK’s spokesman Anjem Choudary’s home, Jamaal attacked one photographer and caused nearly £3000 worth of damage to another ones car.

By the beginning of February the gang’s two videos had been removed from YouTube citing policy violations, and two men had been arrested in connection to homophobic assaults. They were held on suspicion of causing grievous bodily harm and public order offences, and were bailed to return to an east London police station in February and March.

A further three were arrested in July, bringing the total to five possible gang members, two of which were teenagers. Details of these arrests have yet to be released. None of the arrested persons have been convicted, with having either charges dropped or proceedings still active.

In April this year, PlanetIvy reporter Ben Holt spoke to 22-year-old Royal Barnes, one of the men who was arrested over the Muslim Patrol videos. Royal and his wife were later charged with terror offences over the Woolwich murder video.

In the interview Royal said: “I’m proud of what Muslim Patrol done… I’m encouraging Muslims to speak out against evil.”

Reponse of the British public

The public response to the two clips that surfaced was a mixed one. There was anger; there was hatred; an uproar about the apparent growth of ‘Islamist Extremism’ within our British society.

Many in the Muslim community feared a backlash of violence, and were quick to condemn the assailants. The East London Mosque, which also functions as a local community centre, tried to distance themselves from the group. While Tower Hamlets Inter Faith Forum, a faith network in East London, released a statement in response to the patrols.

Mohammed Shafiq is the chief executive of the Ramadhan Foundation, a Muslim organisation that campaigns for a peaceful co-existence among communities. He condemned the group’s behaviour in an address given at Ebrahim College, a school and educational foundation in Whitechapel.

He said: “We live in the UK and we are governed by UK law, there should be no mob rule. If people are involved in this behaviour then it is worrying but it is an isolated incident.”

An Islamic Response to 'Muslim Street Patrols'

VIDEO:An Imam’s response to patrol

Yet despite the widespread chastising of the group by British Muslims, there were many who were ready and willing to let the incident stoke racial tensions. Indeed, one Daily Mail commenter, Paul from Chilwell, lamented: “Why don’t these hate filled Muslims go back to their country of origin and leave us brits alone?”

In response, Abdul Mammon from Liverpool said: “I was born in the UK…are you lot going to send me back to England?”

Extremism in the UK

The Muslim Patrol is only the one instance of growing extremism in the UK and across Europe, which is being mirrored by anti-Muslim groups.

Haras Rafiq is the former Director of CENTRI, an organisation that specialises in countering extremism. In an interview with BBCs Shiraz Maher, he said: “The way [extremists] recruit is to create a lens or a prism through which youngsters who have a personal problem, that they may have created in the first place, will find the answers.”

Earlier this month Tommy Robinson, cofounder of British far right group the English Defence League (EDL), left to join Qulliam, a London based anti-extremist think tank started by Maajid Nawaz. Maajid was a former speaker and recruiter for the The Liberation Party, a conservative Islamic political group, until an arrest in 2001 and subsequent departure from extremism.

VIDEO: SkyNews Tommy and Maajid Press Conference

Tommy and Maajid recently appeared in a BBC Documentary “Quitting the English Defence League: When Tommy Met Mo”. Both men are now working together to curb the rise of extremism across Europe. In an article in The Times earlier this year, Maajid said: “The longer we stand by and watch the far Right and Islamists impose their dogma on our streets, the more the extremes will become mainstream for a rising new generation.”

Both sets of right-wing extremists are “attempting to claim the streets” he added.

However, Maajid and Quilliam are not without their critics.

Editor of 5Pillarz.com, Roshan Salih,  lambasted the think tank for a lack of grassroots support, claiming that the organisation had been artificially amplified by government finances. He said: “There is a need for an organisation which has roots in the community, is loyal to it, is critical of the government and Islamophbia, yet also still seeks to address the real problems that exist in the community itself.”

 

London Living Wage in Ilford

Employers are reluctant to adopt the London Living Wage despite last week’s report of growing inequalities across Redbridge.

2333590215

At the London Assembly today, Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, urged businesses in London to pay the London Living Wage to their employees.

Responding to a question by South West London representative Tony Arbour, Boris said: “I think a compulsory living wage is not the way forward.

“We’re making considerable headway however,” he added.

The London Living Wage, which was introduced in 2005, currently stands at £8.55.

While the wage is not binding, up to 200 employers back the scheme.

In Ilford, the average hourly wage is £16.46, while across London it is £20.10, according to the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings, 2012.

Almost a quarter of people living in Ilford earn below the London Living Wage.

Last week, a report by The London Poverty Profile, compiled by charity Trust for London, showed that wealthy residents lived up to eight years longer than the poorest in Redbridge.

Corps officer John Clifton, from The Salvation Army, based in Clements Road, Ilford, said: “A lot of these problems could be addressed through employers paying a living wage.”

However, employers say it’s out of their hands.

Naeem Hassanali, owner of Accurate Alarms Ltd, Seven Kings, said: “I really want to pay a decent wage, but I simply can’t afford to.

“The government needs to do more to help us pay our workers enough to live properly.”

Earlier this year, Redbridge Council began a consultation process on paying the London Living Wage to Redbridge Council employees.

Lee Scott, MP for Ilford-North said: “I think it would be fair for all to be paid a fair wage.”