Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

Answering Simon Webb’s Question about the Contribution of the Windrush Migrants

June 23, 2022

Yesterday, right-wing Torygraph reading internet historian Simon Webb over at the History Debunked channel responded to the Queen’s speech, in which Her Maj referred to the ‘profound contribution’ of the Windrush generation. Webb asked what that was. He’s put up another video today repeating the question, and commenting that nobody was able to give him an answer. A number of people told him he was racist for asking it. So he repeated it, giving as an example of a profound contribution made by an immigrant community the Gujarati shopkeepers who kept their shops open up to eight or nine in the evening rather than shutting at five O’clock. This is a benefit, because it’s led to a change in opening hours which means you can buy whatever you want at any time without having to worry about a rush when the shops open a nine.

I’ve left a reply there answering his question. Here it is:

Okay, Simon – it’s a fair question, so I’ll bite. After the War there was a labour shortage which the Black Caribbean immigrants helped to fill. They were particularly needed in nursing and the care sector. Not a spectacular contribution, but a contribution nonetheless. And here in Bristol the St. Paul’s Carnival is a major local event and very popular, despite that part of the city’s poverty and crime. There’s also a statue up in one of the more multicultural parts of Bristol to a Black writer, actor and playwright of that generation.

Okay, the actor and playwright is obscure – he was mentioned a few months ago when racists vandalised the bust to him, probably in reprisal to the toppling of Edward Colston’s statue. And the St. Paul’s carnival is local to Bristol. Nevertheless, it is spectacular and very popular, with White Bristolians coming into to see it and it is one of the major events in the city’s calendar. As for Black Caribbean workers helping to fill the labour shortage, that’s true whether they did so in response to national appeals for workers or if they were simply looking for better wages and opportunities. And I’d also say that Bristol was made morally better by the boycott of the local bus company because it wouldn’t employ Blacks. The bus boycott was given great support by the-then Bristol MP, Wedgie Benn.

I think Webb might be asking the wrong question, or expecting the wrong kind of answer. He clearly wants to hear about a distinctive contribution made by the Windrush generation. Something revolutionary. But even if the Windrush generation’s main contribution was as workers, the same as White Brits and the other New Commonwealth immigrants that arrived at the same time, that’s still an important contribution. And our hospitals and care homes did need their nurses and ancillary staff.

And just before the Windrush arrived, we were assisted during the War with workers and soldiers from the Caribbean. There’s a bit about them in an anthology of articles on Black and Asian British history, Under the Imperial Carpet. There was, I believe, even a Black RAF pilot, who I’m sure deserves to be better known. As for the post-War years, I’d say that the most profound contribution of the Afro-Caribbean community in Britain has been in the performing arts and particularly music. Apart from some great Black musicians, they also introduced into Britain new musical genres like Ska and Reggae, which were also taken up by White performers. Oh yes, and they introduced the steel band to Britain. One of the school’s in Bristol’s St. George’s ward had one.

I’m very much aware that the Black British community has its problems – higher rates of unemployment, low academic achievement, drugs and crime. But nevertheless they’ve also brought benefits and made a genuine contribution to British society, and Her Maj was quite right to talk about it.

Cineworld Pull Film on Life of Prophet’s Daughter Fatima Due to Intimidating Protests from Sectarian Sunnis

June 8, 2022

I feel I have to comment on this story now going the rounds on the right-wing satellite news shows like GB News and the Murdoch-owned Talk TV, if only to provide some perspective on it. They’ve been discussing Cineworld’s decision to remove a British-made film, in which a young Muslim girl learns about the life of Muhammad’s daughter, Fatima. The film’s directed by Eli King, and was written by a Muslim clergyman, and its executive producer, Malik Shlibak, appeared on GB News talking to Nigel Farage to defend the movie. There were mass protests outside cinemas in Bolton and Birmingham, which led to the cinema chain removing the movie, first from those towns and now across the country. They stated that they were afraid that if they did not do, they could not guarantee the security of their staff.

One of the accusations against the film is that it is blasphemous, because it shows Mohammed’s face. This is frequently omitted in Islamic art, it has to be said. There’s either an oval hole left for the face, or else the face of Mohammed and other leading members of the early Muslim community are hidden behind veils. Shlibak explained to the Fuhrage that Habib, the Islamic scholar who wrote the film, was a highly respected clergyman with a following around the world. They were also very careful to base it on the historical sources. As for blasphemy in portraying the Prophet’s face, Shlibak stated that this wasn’t true, as there is a variety of attitudes towards the portrayal of Mohammed across the Muslim world.

The real issue, it appears, is sectarian. The protesters were all Sunnis, the orthodox branch of Islam, who objected to the film because it was from the Shia perspective. Fatima was married to Ali, whom the Shias revere as the first Imam and the true successor to Mohammed as the leader of the nascent Muslim community. However, he was passed over in favour of three members of the Meccan aristocracy, who had converted to Islam. Ali’s sons, Hassan and Hussein, attempted to seize power but were defeated in battle by the forces of the Caliph Muawiya. They were killed, their forces routed and the women of Ali’s family captured. Shia Muslims commemorate this event annually with processions and a passion play, in which they carry models of the Hassan and Hussein’s mausoleums.

Apart from Shlibak, the Fuhrage also talked to a Muslim who supported the protests. He denied that the film was being accused of blasphemy, because blasphemy doesn’t exist in Islam. The protests were instead against it because it caused sectarian tensions. Now the statement that blasphemy doesn’t exist in Islam is pure taqiyya, a lie to defend the faith. Technically what he said is correct – it doesn’t have quite the same concept, but has a similar idea. This is ‘insulting Islam’. There have been mob lynchings and murders of people accused of blasphemy in Pakistan. The Pakistani legal code also considers it a crime, and there are 200 people on death row in the country on blasphemy charges. When the man defending the protests repeatedly refused to answer Nige’s questions about blasphemy, Nige ended the interview ‘in the interests of free speech’.

I found an other video today in which the protests were being discussed by Leo Kearse, a Conservative comedian, who has appeared with Sargon of Gasbag’s Lotus Eaters, and another man, whom I didn’t recognise. It seems that the protesters were also recorded chanting ‘Allahu akbar’ and ‘Shia kaffir’, Shia unbelievers. Although unremarked by the three discussing the issue, this is particularly chilling. Muslims cannot enslave other Muslims under the explicit dictates of sharia law, although this was frequently violated. In the Middle Ages, however, a number of Sunni theologians and jurists ruled that the Shia were not Muslims, but unbelievers. They could thus be killed and their children enslaved. A few years ago the Grand Mufti of Mecca declared that the Shia were ‘heretics, worthy of death’, which is a call to genocide if ever I heard one. Kearse added that this was a problem of importing thousands, millions of people from other cultures that don’t share our values. He was corrected by the second panellist, who made the point that the people speaking were all born here. The problem was about parallel societies. This is a genuine problem. There have been articles in the press discussing the way White and ethnic minority communities are growing apart. There was one such in the left-wing political magazine, Prospect, a few years ago about one town in which Whites and Muslim lived in separate areas and had nothing to do with each other. The panellists stated that there wasn’t much in the way of British values on display. No, the protesters were following the traditional values of the Sunni Muslim world. They also made the point that it was similar to the teacher, who was hounded of his job at a school in Batley because he dared to show his class the French cartoons of Mohammed. This fellow and his family are still in hiding a year later. And it was for showing the Charlie Hebdo cartoons that the French teacher, Thomas Pattie, was murdered following similar protests.

Julia Harley-Brewer on Talk TV tried to put it into some kind of perspective by comparing it to Christian protests against Monty Python’s Life of Brian. And a few years before in the ’70s there were also protests against the horror film The Exorcist because of its portrayal of demonic possession. But as far as I know, these protests never included death threats, whether explicit or tacit, against those involved in the movie. The real parallels, and the source of the problem, are the protests in Bradford in the 1980s against Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses. This was intended as a critique of western racism, and the Mahound character, who was supposed to be a caricature of Mohammed, actually wasn’t at all. People I know who’ve read the book have said it’s not blasphemous. It is, however, incredibly boring. The book was denounced by the Ayatollah Khomeini as a cynical political ploy in order to gain some kind of moral leadership over the Muslim world against Saudi Arabia. In Britain there were mass protests, led in Bradford by Mohammed Akhthar, Kalim Saddiqui and other intolerant hardliners. Akhthar penned a pamphlet, Be Careful With Mohammed, which I had the misfortune to read when I was briefly trying to study Islam at postgraduate level. It’s a staunch defence of traditional Islam, which is held up as everything good and admirable as compared to western society and Christianity, which is everything inferior and wrong. And Akhthar makes very explicit the British Muslim community’s rejection of British culture and values ‘They came to Britain to work, not to become Englishmen’. These protests gave the Muslim radicals in Britain as sense of power, especially as Rushdie was forced to go into hiding for a decade or so. In 1991 or so Kalim Saddiqui was filmed in his mosque in a BBC documentary, The Trouble With Islam, telling his flock that British society was a vast killing machine, and killing Muslims comes very easily to us. When asked about this, he bleated some nonsense about a forthcoming Muslim holocaust.

But to return to the death threats, these are not confined to the leaders of the mass protests. The Muslim evangelist Ali Dawah in one of his videos told one of the ex-Muslim atheist YouTubers that when Britain becomes an Islamic state, he’d be put to death. One of the ex-Muslim atheists, Harris Sultan, appealed for donations a little while ago to pay for protection after a British Muslim put a price on his head.

I feel very strongly that we have to start pushing back against these bigots. One of the criticisms levelled against the handling of these protests is that the police didn’t turn up. I’m not surprised. They were no doubt scared of being accused of racism and Islamophobia, which may have been blown up into mass demonstrations around the globe. But I also despise the way protests like these are being ignored and played down by our politicians. I well appreciate why. They’re afraid of stoking real hatred against ordinary Muslims, who have nothing to do with the protests and who may not share these views. When Akhthar and Saddqui were organising protests in Bradford, there were counter protests against them from liberal Muslims. One of my former college’s lecturers on Islam also went up, and quote the passage in the Quran which condemns religious intolerance. I think it was probably the verse that runs ‘There should be no compulsion in religion’.

And protests carrying real or implied death threats aren’t confined to Muslims. A year or so ago Kathleen Stock, a feminist scholar, was forced out of her job following mass protests by students. She was accused of transphobia because of her stated belief that transwomen aren’t women. The university first tried sacking her for bigotry, which she successfully challenged. But she went anyway because she no longer felt safe.

I think this all needs to be stopped now. People have the right to protest but not to the extent where others fear for their lives. I wonder if it’s time to demand legislation against protests where there is a reasonable fear of threats to life and limb, and to make sure it is properly enforced. And I realise that this is an attack on free speech and the right to protest, but I cannot see any other way of defending free speech against such mobs without it.

Here are the videos I’ve mentioned.

Farage talking to executive producer Malik Shlibak:

Leo Kearse and others discussing the protests.

The Black Prof Who Proposed a Trans-Time Radio

May 31, 2022

Simon Webb of History Debunked put up a video yesterday asking if Black people wrote about anything other than race. He contrasted a book, Don’t Touch My Hair, written by a young Black woman studying at the School of Oriental and African Studies, with pop-science books written by Richard Feynman and Michio Kaku. He argued that there were other ethnic groups who had suffered just as much as Blacks, but these nevertheless wrote about something other than race and racism. It’s a good question, as Black Conservatives like Thomas Sowell have argued that Black people have taken the wrong road to improving themselves. He states that rather than being intent on taking political power, they should instead of have concentrated on raising their economic status through building business, education and so on, as the Jews, Chinese and other ethnicities have done. In the case of the Jews, there’s clearly a large amount of Jewish literature about anti-Semitism, but also about other subjects. Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, for example, is about Henry VIII’s minister Thomas Cromwell.

I’m no expert at all on Black literature, but there are a couple of Black SF writers: Samuel Delaney and Octavia Butler, and looking through Waterstone’s the other year a found Dark Matters, an anthology of Black SF. I don’t know how much SF written by Black authors concerns racial issues. I got the impression that it was a significant theme in Butler’s work, though this also includes alien contact and genetic engineering. Delaney’s bisexual, and his novels also cover gay issues, though at least one is about an immortal wandering a devastated Earth.

At the moment there are very few Black scientists, which the discipline is trying to change. However, I do remember that way back in the 1990s, at about the same time the remake of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine came out, a Black American lecturer at a Community College was in the scientific news for his proposal for a type of time machine. This used a supercooled gas to create an Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen condensate. This is a weird type of plasma in which the ions in the gas all behave as single one. The ideo was to start the ionised gas whirling in one direction, and then send an electron into it travelling in the opposite. Stars and Black Holes are so massive that they drag space-time around after them when they revolve. This is why Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and its predictions about the way gravity distorts the fabric of space-time has been useful in predicting the orbit of Mercury, the closest planet to the Sun. One of the suggestions for achieving real time travel is that a spacecraft could travel in the wrong direction against the rotation of a Black Hole and thus against the direction of the bits of space-time it’s pulling with it, and so travel into the past that way. The scientist suggested that if you suddenly saw two electrons in the condensate, it would mean that the electron had travelled from the future back into the past, where it joined itself. The experiment and its proposer were featured in New Scientist and there was even a programme on Channel 4 about it and the Time Machine film, looking forward to a future in which we in the present could communicate across time with the future. The experiment was due to be taken into space for testing aboard one of the space shuttles, but I think the shuttle that carried it was one of those that disastrously blew up, thus leading to a cancellation of the programme.

I’m not sure that a cross-time telephone would be a good idea. It raises awkward questions of predestination. If history cannot be changed, how would humanity cope with the news from the future about crimes, wars and disasters yet to happen, but which we would be unable to avert? And if history could be changed, this could lead to chaos with messages coming back to us from the future, which would affect the present and thus their past. One solution to this is that if we attempt to change the past, it leads to the creation of an alternative universe following the consequences of the change while the first universe continues with its set progression to an immutable future. Gregory Benford used this in his book, Timescape, about a physicist receiving messages from the future through one of his experiments, warning him and the rest of humanity of an ecological disaster that would destroy Civilisation As We Know It. The messages have been sent by his future self, and in that future civilisation is indeed collapsing and leads to the hero, his friends and family taking refuge in a farmhouse as society prepares to collapse. In the other, alternative time path, he is able to convince the world that the messages are genuine and persuade the world to use the techniques sent back to him and his colleagues to destroy the algae blooms devastating Earth and humanity is saved. I read in a book on the SF pulp magazine, Astounding, and its editor John W. Campbell, and most prominent writers Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov and L. Ron Hubbard, that Benford had indeed been researching the possibility of time travelling radiation, dubbed Tau radiation in the novel, so I think the book may have been based on his own research. Since the shuttle explosion, nothing’s been heard of the real, cross-time communication experiment. If it had gone ahead and worked, the prof who invented it would have got a Nobel prize, no problem, and the world would have been very different.

But the point here is, beyond the issues raised by time travel, that a Black academic certainly was actively pursuing something that didn’t have anything to do with race. And while I dare say that race and racism is an issue that informs much Black SF, it isn’t the only issue. I also recall a video I found on YouTube contrasting the situation today, where the arts are being increasingly defined and compartmentalised by race, with that in the 1960 when Black writer James Baldwin published one of his novels. The characters in the book were mostly White, and the book was praised by the critics as a great piece of modern literature. Baldwin was praised as a great novelist in his own, individual right, and not as a great Black novelist. He was praised for his literary skills, rather than simply because of his race. This is one of the reasons Sowell and other Black Conservatives don’t like books by Black authors being promoted and included in the canon of great works simply because of their race. They want talented Black writers and artists to be respected because of their individual merits, and are afraid that they will have their deserved reputations tarnished because of more mediocre literature promoted simply because of the authors’ race.

You may also remember that a little while ago, BBC 4 showed a 4-part series, the Lost Civilisations of Africa, fronted by a Black academic. I think he was an art historian, rather than archaeologist, but he sported the Indiana Jones-style hat. Going through my local branch of Blackwells, when it still existed, I found the book that accompanied the series. Now I realise that it could be argued that this was about race, as the presenter was discussing Black civilisations, just as another Black presented did in another programme about the African city of Timbuktu and its wealth of medieval philosophical and scientific literature. But these programmes are no more about race than a White presenter talking about the general history of Britain and Europe, or a Chinese presenter talking about the history of his country.

It seems clear to me that Black people are capable, and certainly have written about other matters quite apart from race. It simply appears that way at the moment because of the way anti-Black racism has become one of the dominant contemporary issues following Black Lives Matter and the rise to prominence of Critical Race Theory.

Incidentally, BBC 4 is one of the BBC channels about to be culled due to cost-cutting measures. I’m not surprised, as it’s devoted to highbrow subjects like history, archaeology, literature and the arts. I can’t say I’ve watched much of it, but I do remember that it has broadcast programmes like The Lost Civilisations of Africa, as well as a number of other programmes about the Lost Civilisations of South and Central America. There was also one fascinating programme on historic maps and what they told you about the attitudes and politics of the time they were made and who made them. I’m afraid the cancellation of this channels represents another attack on high culture and serious arts programming, in order to appease the Beeb’s right-wing critics who want it privatised anyway. It’s an assault on genuine Reithian values by people who would like to keep this country uneducated and uniformed in the name of making TV another conduit for Thatcherite propaganda, delivered by Rupert Murdoch.

Official Invitation to Work in Britain Shown on Beeb Antiques Programme

May 28, 2022

A little while ago I put up a piece about a video posted by Simon Webb on his History Debunked channel about the Windrush migrants. Webb claimed that the travellers on board the ship weren’t actually invited into this country, but did so merely to take advantage of the opportunities made available to them. The ship hadn’t managed to sell all its cabins, and so offered them cheaply to anyone wishing to go to Blighty. This was the reason the first group of Black and Asian commonwealth migrants came to Britain. This has been challenged by some of the great commenters here, one of whom distinctly remembers Birmingham council advertising in the Caribbean for people willing to work on the buses. Further evidence supporting the official invitation of BAME workers from the Empire to work in Britain appeared the other day on one of the Beeb’s afternoon antiques shows. I’m afraid I can’t remember which one it was, but one of the members of the public, who appeared on the programme showing their prized possessions, was a lady with her father’s official invitation from the British authorities to come over here and work. The invitation was made in the name of Her Maj. She said that these had been issued when their very many jobs available. She said that the inclusion of the Queen on the official document had allowed her father to make an excellent rebuff to the racists questioning his presence in the country. When one of them asked him why he was over here, or why didn’t he go back to his own country, he waved the invitation in their face and replied that he had an official invite from the Queen. And you can’t really argue with that.

Genevieve Gluck on the Similarity of the Trans Flag to Paedophile Insignia

May 22, 2022

This is a very short video of about one and a half minutes. It’s an extract from a longer talk by Genevieve Gluck on the YouTube channel for the feminist organisation, Women’s Declaration International, discussing the trans flag and its similarity to the logos and symbols used by paedophile organisations. The flag was invented by Monica Helms, former Richard Hogge. It has baby blue and pink stripes, symbolising male and female. The same colours are used in the various paedophile symbols uncovered by feminist researchers into these vile organisations. These symbols date from 1997, before Helms’ invention of the trans flag. Gluck states that there’s no evidence to link these symbols with the flag, but their similarity is too close to be coincidental. The video shows the paedophile symbols, all of which misleading suggest that what they stand for is somehow genuinely good and loving, whereas it’s one of the very heinous of crimes.

I think it’s quite possible that the similarity between the trans flag and those of these vile outfits is coincidental. For over a century the established colours representing gender in western culture have been blue for a boy, pink for a girl. It’s therefore entirely reasonable that these would appear on a flag representing gender and gender fluidity. However, that said, there is an issue with using the trans flag because of its similarity to those of the child abusers. My concern is that, whatever Helms’ intentions, paedophile organisations would play on the similarity to confuse people and falsely present themselves as a respectable part of the trans or LGBTQ+ movement, when they are absolutely nothing of the sort.

More Satire! Priti Patel Vs Megan Thee Stallion – Priti Savage

May 4, 2022

Another excellent, funny and extremely pertinent video from PoliticsJoe on YouTube to remind us what a shabby excuse for a human being Home Secretary Priti Patel is. It cuts her own words so that, in time to the music, she calls herself a ‘would-be Margaret Thatcher’ and a ‘right-wing appeaser’, who wants to send the migrants back, punish those who pull down statues with ten years in prison and ban demonstrations for making a noise. And let’s not forget, she didn’t back gay marriage either. And, if she did bully civil servants, then she settled out of court with them.

Patel’s under fire at the moment for her cruel plan to send the Channel migrants to Rwanda, a plan which lasted only a day before it fell apart and they were back coming across Le Manche again.

She’d love to be the next Tory female prime minister, which would be a disaster for this country and democracy, as well as for her underlings who allegedly have had to suffer her screaming and bullying.

W.L. Phillips, Working Class Socialist and Anti-Slavery Activist, and E. Nesbit’s Work for Deprived Schools

April 30, 2022

I’ve been reading Eleanor Fitzsimon’s biography of E. Nesbit, The Life and Loves of E. Nesbit (London: Duckworth 2019). Nesbit’s best known for her children’s books The Railway Children, Five Children and It, The Story of the Amulet and The Treasure Seekers, but she was also a prolific poet and writer of short stories. But she and her husband, Hubert Bland, were also committed socialists and members of the Fabian Society. She and her husband would have been pilloried by the right-wing media today, because they lived very unconventional lives. Her husband put it about a bit, and she ended up sharing her household with his mistress and raising their child, Rosamund, as one of their own. She also mixed with members of the literary and artistic set of the time, including, obviously, leading socialists like George Bernard Shaw, William Morris and Eleanor Marx. Fabian meetings tended to be genteelly middle class, and Hubert remarked that they were sneered at as armchair socialists. If they were around now, the Tories and their lapdog press would be screaming that the were members of the ‘liberal elite’ and ‘champagne socialists’. But the Society also included working people, who not only talked the talk, but walked the walk. The first Fabian pamphlet, Why Are The Many Poor?, was written by W.L. Phillips, a housepainter who, when he was in America, had been active aiding escaped slaves. (p. 73). Unfortunately, that’s all that’s said about this fascinating and courageous figure.

Nesbit and Work Parties for Deprived Schools

And there are other passages in the book that are interesting because of the vile way the Tories have dragged our great and noble country back to the deprivation and poverty of the 19th century. Nesbit, her husband and their friends and family were active organising work parties to provide food, clothes and Christmas presents for the children at Hughes Fields school, in a particularly deprived area near where they lived in Kent. The book states

‘The London School Board had designated Hughes Fields primary school a ‘specially difficult school’. Pupils were withdrawn as soon as they were capable of earning a wage and the attendance rate was just sixty-five per cent. It was reported that one kindly school inspector purchased food for the children out of his own pocket. The dire poverty they endured was highlighted in an appeal carried in the Blackheath Gazette

“In this very poor school a large proportion of the children are either shoeless or very badly shod and clad, even during this inclement weather, and the teachers would gladly welcome any gifts of old boots and clothing – no matter how old they may be.”‘ ( p.127)

She organised Christmas parties for the children. One of these was described by the Kentish Mercury in this passage from an edition from 1896

‘Following her usual custom, Mrs Hubert Bland, of Lee, assisted by several friends gave a tea and entertainment on Saturday afternoon to between 300 and 400 of the poorest and wretchedest of the little ones who attend the Hughes Fields Board Schools, Deptford. The whole of the children were first mustered in the infants’ class-room, and eventually divided into batches and served with tea – which included a plentiful supply of bread and butter and cake – in the four classrooms… each child was made the recipient of a warm garment and a toy.’ (p. 129).

The book goes on to describe the work parties she organised to provide the fare, clothes and toys, which also included a fair bit of fun for those attending.

‘She raised funds and hosted working parties every Saturday for three months leading up to each party, at which family, friends and and neighbours made warm, practical clothing; they knitted hats and comforters, and, on one occasion, made trousers for the boys from blue corduroy that had been supplied to Saretta’s (Nesbit’s half-sister from her father’s previous marriage) husband, John Deakin. Edith’s neighbour Ada Moore described these gatherings

‘I shall never forget our Saturdays during the winter of 1890-1 (I think). We worked at all kinds of things for the very poor of Deptford for some hours, then a supper of, probably, herrings, cheese and bottled stout, followed by a dance.” (p. 130).

Now we have children and families only kept from starvation by food banks, and charities appealing for clothes for the poor. And the situation is going to get worse thanks to the cost of living crisis. As for the school inspector buying food for the kids out of his own pocket, there are stories that some teachers in British schools are also doing that.

But the passage also reminds me of Marcus Rashford and his campaign for schools to provide free meals to children during the summer holidays. He suffered terrible abuse for this, because, obviously, as a millionaire footballer he couldn’t possibly demand such state provision for children without being a massive hypocrite. But Rashford had endured similar poverty when he was a sprog, and the real reason for the Tory ire was that he had exposed the callousness and real deprivation behind their policies. And I’m very sure that if she lived today, Nesbit and her friends would have been similarly attacked.

Nesbit herself comes across as fascinating figure – highly intelligent, and extremely mischievous when a girl, who based many of the incidents in her books on her own life. She clearly had a deep sympathy for the poor and children, and was a woman of very strong principles, expressed in her literary work and social activism. She definitely earns her place as one of Britain’s great literary heroines.

And it is utterly disgusting that similar conditions are now returning to the UK, thanks to the Tories. Thatcherism is a failure and they and the Blairites should be thrown out of power as soon as possible.

Bristol and Labour’s Elected Mayor, and the Arguments Against

April 26, 2022

On the fourth of May parts of the country are due to go to the polls again. These are mostly council elections, but down here in Bristol it’ll be for a referendum on the system of elected mayors the city has had for the past few years. At the moment the elected mayor is Marvin Rees for Labour. His predecessor, Ferguson, was supposedly an Independent, but he had been a Lib Dem. He personally promoted himself by wearing red trousers, even at funerals when he toned the colour down to dark claret. His first act was to change the name of the Council House to City Hall for no real reason. His administration was responsible for running through a programme of immense cuts. He intended to make £90 million of them, but told Bristolians that they shouldn’t be afraid. He also turned down grant money from central government to which the city was qualified and untitled. I heard at a meeting of the local Labour party that he left the city’s finances in a colossal mess, and it has taken a great effort for Marvin’s administration to sort them out.

The local Labour party has thrown itself four-square behind the elected mayoralty. It’s being promoted in the election literature from the party, boasting about how, under Rees, 9,000 new homes have been built, green power and other initiatives invested in. The opposition parties, by contrast, have wasted council taxpayers’ hard earned money on trivialities.

I think the party is also holding an on-line meeting tonight to convince members that the system of elected mayors is a positive benefit. Speakers include Andy Burnham amongst other prominent politicos. One of the claims being made is that elected mayors are democratic and transparent, whereas the previous committee system meant that decisions were taken behind closed doors.

But I am not convinced by any means that the elected mayoralty is a benefit.

Bristol South Labour MP Karin Smyth has stated that she is also no fan of the system. She has made it plain that she is not criticising Marvin’s administration, and is very diplomatic in her comments about his predecessor. But she has described the system as ‘too male’ and believes that the city should go back to being run by the council, whose members were elected and in touch by their local communities. The anti-male sexism aside, I agree with her. There have been studies done of business decision-making that show that while a strong chairman is admired for leadership, collective decision-making by the board actually results in better decisions. And one criticism of Rees’s government in Bristol is that he is not accountable to local representatives and has zero qualms about overruling local communities.

Here’s a few examples: a few years ago there were plans to build a new entertainment stadium in Bristol. This was due to be situated just behind Temple Meads station in an area that is currently being re-developed. It’s a superb site with excellent communications. Not only would it be bang right next to the train station, but it’s also not very far from the motorway. All you have to do if your coming down the M32 is turn left at the appropriate junction and carry on driving and your at Temple Meads in hardly any time at all. But Marvin disagreed, and it wanted it instead located in Filton, miles away in north Bristol.

Then there’s the matter of the house building at Hengrove Park. This is another issue in which Rees deliberately overruled the wishes of local people and the council itself. Rees decided that he wanted so many houses built on the site. The local people objected that not only was it too many, but that his plans made no provision for necessary amenities like banks, shops, doctors’ surgeries, pharmacies and so on. They submitted their own, revised plans, which went before the council, who approved them. If I remember correctly, the local plans actually conformed to existing planning law, which Marvin’s didn’t. But this didn’t matter. Rees overruled it. And I gather that he has also done the same regarding housing and redevelopment in other parts of south Bristol, like nearby Brislington.

Rees definitely seems to favour the north and more multicultural parts of the city over the south. And I’m afraid his attitude comes across as somewhat racist. South Bristol is largely White, though not exclusively. There are Black and Asian residents, and have been so for at least the past forty years. Rees is mixed race, but his own authoritarian attitude to decision making and the reply I got a few years ago from Asher Craig, his deputy-mayor and head of equalities, suggests that he has little or no connection to White Bristolians. When I wrote to Asher Craig criticising her for repeating the claim that Bristol was covering up its involvement in the slave trade, despite numerous publications about the city and the slave trade going all the way back to the ’70s, in an interview on Radio 4, she replied by telling me that I wouldn’t have said that if I’d heard all the interview. She then went on about the ‘One Bristol’ school curriculum she had planned and how that would promote Blacks. It would be diverse and inclusive, which she declared was unfortunately not always true about White men. This is a racial jibe. She may not have meant it as such, but if the roles were reversed, I’m sure it would count as a micro-aggression. And when I wrote to her and Cleo Lake, the Green councillor from Cotham, laying out my criticisms of her motion for Bristol to pay reparations for slavery, I got no reply at all.

A few years ago I also came across a statement from a Labour group elsewhere in the city, stating that Blacks should ally themselves with the White working class, because they did not profit from or support the slave trade. This is probably true historically, but it also reveals some very disturbing attitudes. Support for slavery has become something of a ‘mark of Cain’. If you have an ancestor who supported, you are forever tainted, even if you are the most convinced and active anti-racist. And Critical Race Theory and the current craze for seeking out monuments to anyone with connections to the slave trade, no matter how tenuous, is part of an attitude that suspects all Whites of racism and tainted with complicity in the trade, except for particular groups or individuals. It disregards general issues that affect both Black and White Bristolians, such as the cost of living crisis and the grinding poverty the Tories are inflicting on working people. These problems may be more acute for Black Bristolians, but they’re not unique to them. Working people of all colours and faiths or none should unite together to oppose them as fellow citizens, without qualification. But it seems in some parts of the Labour party in the city, this is not the attitude.

Rees’ overruling of local people in south Bristol does seem to me to come from a certain racial resentment. It seems like it’s motivated by a determination to show White Bristolians that their boss is a man of colour, who can very firmly put them in their place. I may be misreading it, but that’s how it seems to myself and a few other people.

Now I believe that, these criticisms aside, Rees has been good for the city. He was very diplomatic and adroit in his handling of the controversy over the toppling of Edward Colston’s statue, despite the obvious disgust at it he felt as a descendant of West Indian slaves. But Rees ain’t gonna be mayor forever. Indeed, he has said that he isn’t going to run again. There is therefore the distinct possibility that his successor won’t be Labour. And then there’ll be the problem of opposing someone, who always has the deciding vote and can overrule the decisions of the council and the rest of his cabinet.

The people of Bristol voted for the system following a series of deals between different parties to get control of the council, where the individual parties by themselves had no clear majority. It convinced many people that the system allowed them to get into power over the heads of the real wishes of Bristol’s citizens. Now the Lib Dems and the Tories are demanding an end to the system. It’s clearly a matter of self-interest on their part, as obviously they are trying to abolish a Labour administration and the system that supports it.

But I believe that on simple democratic principles the elected mayoralty should go and the city return to government by the council.

Oh yes, and they should start calling it the Council House once again, instead of continuing with Ferguson’s egotistic name for it.

My Objections to the Removal of the African Statue on Stroud’s Town Clock

April 21, 2022

More iconoclasm driven by current sensitivities over historic slavery and contemporary racism. The local news for the Bristol, Gloucestershire, Somerset and Wiltshire area, Points West, reported that Stroud council was expected to vote for the removal of the statue of an African from the town clock. I’m not surprised, as there were demands last year from a local anti-racist group, Stroud Against Racism, demanding its removal, and I really thought it had been taken down already. Stroud’s a small town in Gloucestershire, whose historic economy I always thought was based on the Cotswold wool trade rather than something more sinister. Stroud Against Racism seems to be a group of mainly young Black people, led by a local artist, who’ve had terrible personal experiences of racism in the town. In an interview on BBC local news, it seemed that they particularly resented the figure as representation of the racist attitudes they’d experienced. They assumed it was a slave and demanded its removal, with one young Black woman complaining about the statue’s grotesque features which she obviously felt were an insulting caricature.

The African ‘Slave’ Figure on Stroud Town Clock

While I entirely sympathise with them for the abuse they suffered as victims of racism and appreciate why they would want the statue removed, I believe it is profoundly mistaken. Firstly, while the local news has been describing the statue as a slave, there’s no evidence that connects it directly to slavery and the slave trade. They know the name of the clockmaker, and that’s it. No evidence has been presented to suggest he had any connection with the slave trade or slavery at all. Further more, there are no marks on the statue to suggest slavery. There are no chains or manacles, as seen in this image of Black African slaves captured by a group of Arab slavers below.

Arab Slave Coffle

Nor does the figure look like the poor souls on sale in this 19th century picture of an American slave market.

American Slave Market

It looks far more like African chief and his people, shown making a treaty with British officers in this painting from 1815, following the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire in 1807.

British Officer Meeting African Chiefs to Make a treaty, 1815

As Europe expanded to colonise and establish trading links with the outside world from the 15th century onwards, so Blacks and other indigenous peoples began to enter European art. Sometimes they were depicted as servants and slaves, but at other times simply as symbols of the exotic. See this picture of the 17th century painting, Vanitas, by Jaques de Gheyn.

Jacques de Gheyn, Vanitas, 17th century

The statue also looks somewhat like the depictions of a Black Brazilian family by the `17th century Dutch artist, Albert Eckhout, between 1641-3. These are part of a series of 8 paintings commissioned by the Dutch governor of Nassau, intended to be anthropological studies of Brazil’s non-White peoples.

Blacks also appear as decorations on the musical instruments of the time. For example, negro heads often adorned the pegboxes of citterns, a 17th century ancestor of the guitar. It therefore seems to me that the statue of the Black African on Stroud’s clock is not that of a slave, but simply of the sculptor’s idea of an indigenous Black African. The modelling isn’t very good, but I suspect this is less due to any animosity on the part of the sculptor than simple lack of artistic training or skill. It’s more an example of folk art, rather than that of someone with a proper academic artistic education.

I therefore think that it’s wrong to assume that the Stroud figure is a slave. The assumption that it is seems to be a result of the general attack on anything vaguely connected to historic slavery and the slave trade following the mass protests in support of Black Lives Matter. It also seems to be directly influenced by the toppling of Edward Colston’s statue in Bristol, further to the south.

In fact, I believe that rather than suggesting Black degradation and slavery, the statue could be seen in a far more positive light as showing Stroud proudly embracing Blacks as trading partners as well as symbols of exoticism and prosperity.

Government Bans Gay, But Not Trans, Conversion Therapy

April 12, 2022

Last week the government finally came to a decision about banning gay and transgender conversion therapies, and the result has predictably been controversial. Gay conversion therapies were outlawed, which is what LGBTQ+ groups wanted. But trans conversion therapies weren’t, which was very much what the gender critical movement wanted but definitely not welcomed by the mainstream gay organisations like Stonewall. The government had intended to put on a gay conference attended by members and representatives of the various gay organisations in the UK, but a large number of these have pulled out in protest. The decision itself follows a consultation process with the British public which was also controversial. It was initially going to be short, spurring fears amongst the gender critical that the government had already made up its decision to ban trans conversion therapies and that the process was deliberately being kept short to prevent people opposed to a trans conversion ban having their say. Then, after pressure and criticism, the government lengthened the consultation period.

I filled out the consultation document online. The link and web address was provided by my local Labour party in concert with one of the gay organisations. There was also a request or a directive telling us to vote for a ban on both types of conversion therapies. In fact I filled out the form stating that I was in favour of banning gay conversion therapy, but not trans. I’ll explain why.

Gay conversion therapy is horrendous. As gay people have explained, back in the past it involved the use of aversion therapy, giving gays electric shocks or drugs to make them sick, and worse, in order to destroy their sexual attraction to their own sex. Pat Mills, one of the titans of the British comics industry and a man of very left-wing opinions, tells how the Roman Catholic church in Belgium in the 1950s had a group of 15 young gay men castrated in order to cure them. Way back in the teens and the twenties of the last century, the Italian Futurists attacked a contemporary Italian scientist for advocating the same thing. Clive Simpson, a gender critical gay YouTuber, has made the point that such treatments are illegal and would not be used today. This was in response to an article in the Pink Paper by a transgendered person stating that he had been subjected to such terrible medical treatment back in the 1960s. The Lotus Eaters have weighed in on the issue in one of their videos, citing statistics that showed that only a tiny percentage of gay and trans people had been subjected to conversion therapy. The therapy itself, they stated, was mainly attempts to talk them out of their sexual orientation and was consensual.

I’m not entirely convinced this is the case.

Some of the readers of this blog may recall an episode of South Park where the adults misinterpret comments by Butters as indicating that he’s bisexual. Butters isn’t, but he’s sent to a centre to cure him of his perceived bisexuality. I think the place is run by Christians, who believe they can ‘pray the gay away’. In actual fact, it’s a hellish place whose inmates are made to feel humiliated, worthless and hopeless because of their sexuality. There are jokes about the terrible amount of suicide in the centre, with the officials running the place shocked and alarmed as yet another gay youngster takes his or her own life. The comedy’s black, as in just about all South Park episodes, but there’s a point to it. But there’s a serious point to the satire. Eventually Butters is released by his family, who find themselves no longer caring if he’s a little bit bicurious, just so they can have him back.

I think the type of institution South Park was satirising is largely an American phenomenon, but Private Eye has raised the alarm about similar places over here. I recall that a little while ago there was an article in the ‘In The Back’ section about a similar centre in Wales, and the suffering it inflicted on the young people sent there. I believe some of the inmates may have tried to harm themselves or commit suicide, and there were fears for safety of a young girl, who’d been sent there. It was definitely a case where the ‘cure’ was far worse than the ‘disease’. I am also unsure how consensual such treatment is. The young people that go there may well have given their formal consent, but I suspect they would have been under great pressure from their families to do so. It’s because of all this that I have absolutely no hesitation in demanding gay conversion therapy be banned.

Trans conversion therapy, however, raises a number of different issues.

I gather that historically aversion therapy has been used to treat people, who are now classed as trans. I think Han Eysenck used it to cure a transvestite trucker, and the trans soul who wrote the piece in the Pink Paper claimed it had been used on him in the early ’60s. As Clive Simpson said, this wouldn’t be used now. I believe others have described going through a process of counselling like the gay conversion therapy, which similarly left them feeling degraded and hopeless. If this was all that was involved, then I would have cheerfully voted for a ban on trans conversion therapy as well. But it’s more complicated than that.

Traditionally the process of transition has been lengthy and subject to stringent medical supervision. Those changing sex have been required to live as a member of the opposite sex for two years and are continually asked if this is what they really want. As it should be for such radical, life-changing surgery. I’m sure that the sexual reassignment surgery is appropriate and beneficial in many cases. But there’s a real danger of misdiagnosis. The gender critical activists have noted that quite often people with severe mental health problems and autism have been diagnosed as transgender when they very probably aren’t. And there is a large a growing number of detransitioners, former transpeople who are attempting to return, as far as possible, to their birth sex because they have found that the transition hasn’t worked out for them. Clearly you need to be as sure as possible in such cases that you are doing the right thing, and that may involve deterring people who have become mistakenly convinced that they’re trans.

The danger is, therefore, that any ban on trans conversion therapy would prevent this, so that the affirmative care model is the only treatment permitted.

This is predicated on the assumption that the individual always knows what is best for him- or herself, and that their desire to change gender must therefore be supported. This has resulted in gay and trans activist teachers over the other side of the Pond claiming the right to ask small children as young as four what their gender, as opposed to their biological sex, is.

Which in my view is highly dangerous.

If there was a way to distinguish quack and pseudo-scientific trans ‘cures’ that just lead to despair and humiliation from serious medical advice intended to deter the genuinely mistaken from going down a surgical path they would later regret, then I would be all for it. But at the moment this doesn’t seem to be the case. I therefore conclude that I fully agree with both the ban on gay conversion therapy and the decision not to ban it for the transgendered.

One of the strict requirement of the Hippocratic Oath that doctors were required to take since the development of rational medicine in ancient Greece was ‘First, do no harm.’ I am terribly afraid that a ban on trans conversion therapy, especially in today’s ideological climate where trans identification seems to be encouraged for ideological reasons, would do exactly that.