The following article appeared on the New Statesman’s online blog, The Staggers in July 2014 To save the NHS, Labour must face the ugly truth of PFI debts Labour is right to focus on rescuing the NHS from the harm done by this government, but must face the truth that it was the party that introduced private finance into the health service in the first place. Ed Miliband has said that this is going to be an “NHS summer”. He has sensed, rightly, that there’s something in the air, a tension over the precarious health service. Strain on services is rising, the number of hospitals in the red is surging up, patient concern is growing and doctors are quitting in disgust at the ominous developments from the top. As much as the coalition would love to suppress them, the figures point towards a potential full-blown crisis before the parliamentary term is through. In August, campaigners will march for 300 miles, through 23 towns from Jarrow to London to press home these fears, and there are activists up and down the country straining just to get the same message across to the public: the NHS is in danger. http://www.newstatesman.com/staggers/2014/07/save-nhs-labour-must-face-ugly-truth-pfi
“LOOK at the fire that started at these pumps here,” begs the BBC man. “They’re almost entirely destroyed and the fire spread right up to the ceiling. HAVE A LOOK at the roof there. That SOOT!” James Reynolds is doing his best. Summoning every skill of journalistic oratory, diction, emphasis and hyperbole he can call on to describe the “damage caused by a Palestinian rocket strike” in Israel, yesterday. But with a different set of eyes following the camera as it pans to ceiling to the slight scorch marks visible, and then across the forecourt to glass panels that stand intact, miraculously unaffected by the fierce blast, something doesn’t add up between the catastrophic scene being described, and the reality. Yes, as he implores, “SIX people were injured, one of them seriously”. Which is terrible. It must be a sickening and terrifying experience for Israelis, running for their lives as those sirens wail into life. But he wouldn’t have to look nearly as hard to find destruction in Gaza, nor work anywhere near as hard to describe it. It all speaks for itself. At time of writing, 127 Gazans, mainly civilians, have died in four days of Israeli shelling, and hundreds more injured. No Israelis have died. With hellish intensity, Israel is tearing down the sky on the people of Gaza as part of operation “Protective Edge”. Yes, Gaza is home to Hamas terrorists who, yes, have fired hundreds of rockets into Israel. That is a sin as well, a [...]
There was a copy of the London Evening Standard waiting for me on the table as I slumped down on the train to St Pancras. The headline snapped at me: ‘LONDON: THE £12BN TECH POWERHOUSE’.“London’s booming tech industry ,” it continued, “will pump £12bn into the capital’s economy over the next 10 years, according to a major study”.Full-time Londoners probably don’t notice this storm of activity around them. But as I come and go, yanked back and forth between the capital and Nottingham, sometimes I think I’m in a privileged position to see the woods and the trees.I notice the little details. Like the thundering din of construction in London. The sound of liquid capital from all over the world being poured, set, hammered, drilled and twisted into shape, rising up from giant cavities in the earth. I see the house prices rising like mercury, heated by distant investors snapping up new builds from right under the noses of Londoners. I notice the cutting edge. The innovators, the moustachioed early-adopters of the freshest trends from the booming tech industry. Of course, these people will change the world. And they will create the 46,000 jobs for the capital that my newspaper predicts. Not that it’s not all terrifically exciting. Of course it is. But outside of the powerhouse, things are very different. There is no flood of capital pouring in. There are whole regions where what little there was, is shrinking. Starved of real investment for decades, the deindustrialised midlands and [...]
…out of the blue. It doesn’t happen so much these days, but it used to, all the time. In fact there was a time when we hardly went a day without nattering, especially during long summers in our early teenage, watching videos of The Young Ones and Bottom, laughing hysterically for hours and hours and hours on end. Oh yes, that’s why we spoke. Rik Mayall died yesterday. That mad lunatic with the flaring nostrils, peeping-Tom eyes, and the sweaty, sinister, perverted grin. Those demented features are among the reasons we became friends in the first place. The first time I ever went round to his parents’ house was to watch Bottom. That discovery opened up a very surreal box of comedies: The Young Ones, Red Dwarf, Blackadder, The Fast Show, Reeves & Mortimer, and on and on… It was the sick, disgraceful foundation on which our friendship was built. Our humour back then was pretty much a squeaky-voiced imitation of that assorted bunch of loons. But it was bloody funny. That was 20 years ago. A lot’s changed, although I suspect our humour hasn’t developed a great deal since then. It was set, like jelly poured into a mould of a large pair of breasts, at a very crude level. I had to cut short the conversation with my best friend, because I had work to do. I’ve got two deadlines looming in the next couple of days; pretty dull bread-and-butter stuff. Rik Mayall dying so before his time [...]
This article was picked up by TNT Magazine in April 2014 One summer day two years ago I heaved my rucksack over my shoulder and set off on the trip of a lifetime. Over the next month I sat on train after train, either alone or thrown in with some truly colourful company, whizzing between some of the great European cities: Paris, Brussels, Berlin, Warsaw, on to Moscow, through the wilderness of Siberia, the plains of Outer Mongolia, the Gobi Desert, the lush greenery of China’s countryside and the madness of its colossal cities, until finally my last ride ground to a standstill in Hanoi and I stepped down onto the dusty ground, a hot, sweaty, happy mess. Sometimes the memories echo back so vividly that my nerves tingle. But it’s not just all those mesmerising moments from the trip haunting me now. I also remember with sheer clarity how I felt just before I left. I was filled with adrenaline. My system rushed with emotions. The type that surge through the nerves and heighten the senses, soaking obscure details from the present straight into the long term memory. Travelling can tell you a lot more about what you’re walking away from than where you’re going. It’s as if just as you head out into the unknown, you turn around one more time to take a nostalgic picture of your life as it stands. Those special eyes you’re preparing for mysteries yet to be uncovered can also look at the [...]
Clause 118 would leave no hospital in England safe Rules are pesky things when you’re trying to get things done. Especially when it comes to health care and you’re making such big changes that they can be “seen from space”. But for Jeremy Hunt et al, they’re more of a bore, not real obstacles. If the rule book tells them they can’t do exactly what they like, it’s very simple: they just rewrite it. It’s a luxury of the rich and powerful when irritations like Lewisham happen. The public claimed a victory, Hunt feigned defeat. But it was only a simpering type of defeat; he knew he’d be back. Hunt’s costly setback at Lewisham – costly for the taxpayer of course – said a lot about the government’s plans for the NHS in general. The way he has responded since, contriving to stack the law in his favour, says even more. It speaks volumes for the sheer determination he and the rest of the cabinet have in seeing their plans through, and the powerful means they have to back it up. Means like Clause 118 of the Care Bill. Or as it’s known in some circles, the “Hospital Closure Clause”. Another obscurity in the legislative blur, its purpose is nonetheless stark. If it is nodded through in the next few weeks, another checkpoint on the road to private health in the UK will be passed. In short, Clause 118 will allow Jeremy Hunt and any future health secretary to close [...]
In December I had my first article published in the New Statesman, on the EU’s role in NHS Privatisation. The article, which you can read here, has been tweeted over 600 times and received over 2,000 likes and shares on Facebook……… “No doubt the launch of Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) in June was cause for much celebration in Brussels. The European Parliament is in the process of enabling a historic shift in world economics with countless, far-reaching consequences.A key part of the TTIP is ‘harmonisation’ between EU and US regulation, especially for regulation in the process of being formulated. In Britain, the coalition government’s Health and Social Care Act has been prepared in the same vein – to ‘harmonise’ the UK with the US health system. This will open the floodgates for private healthcare providers that have made dizzying levels of profits from healthcare in the United States, while lobbying furiously against any attempts by President Obama to provide free care for people living in poverty. With the help of the Conservative government and soon the EU, these companies will soon be let loose, freed to do the same in Britain. Linda Kaucher is a leading expert on trade agreements. She has written and spoken extensively on the topic, most recently in an article in Chartist. In it, she lays out a disturbing truth about what is going on behind the scenes in Brussels, arguing that while on the surface the EU is a bastion of protections and rights, [...]
WHEN DANNY took out his first payday loan he had no idea what a terrible cycle he had just stepped into. A cycle that would see him make repeated suicide attempts as he got deeper and deeper into debt and found himself eventually struggling with a sickening 30 different loans at once. Danny is no stranger to suffering. Growing up family life was so dangerous that at the age of 12 he was taken into care, and placed in the tough new environment of a boy’s care home. “I had nobody there to support me,” he tells me. “I didn’t have much family support. It was me on my own fighting the world”. When he came out of the care system, at the age of 17, and was placed into his own accommodation, Danny was left to manage almost single-handed. It wasn’t long before the bills came flying in and, floundering, he ran out of options. “At one point I didn’t have any money; I was out in the high street and had people coming up to me in the street asking if I needed cash. They targeted me because I was a vulnerable person. “So I went to Wonga for a short term loan. But I didn’t think it was as short terms as it was. I borrowed £100 and it was £130 after 30 days”. Helpless, he started borrowing more money just to pay the interest on the first one. It’s become known as ‘rollover borrowing’ and is [...]
Geographical snobbery is a two-way street, and for this nowhere man, whose life has meandered back and forth from London, it’s bullshit in both directions It seems someone has to be the bad guy, so I guess I’ll be. I’m a bit of a nowhere man anyway, so I’ve not got that much to lose. I’m in a tumultuous three-way relationship, which got really complicated when I moved from Nottingham to London to follow my dream of being a journalist. No sooner had I exited the M1, than I found myself fielding some rather bizarre questions about the city I’d turned away from. ‘Shottingham? Is it true that there are more guns there than anywhere in the country?’ Hmmmm…. ‘Nottingham, that’s very bleak isn’t it?’ If you want to believe that, go ahead. ‘Have you ever seen a drive-by shooting?’Oh for fuck’s sake. Even convincing people that Nottingham isn’t in the North of England was a push (although that’s a classic bit of sport for Londoners, who love to bait the provincial simpletons by playing dumb). Even while I was there, I felt the pangs of anti-Londonitis hacking my nerves. I kept my feelings to myself while colleagues in the media sneered at, well, any city but London, and actively conspired to favour the capital in their editorials and features. I bit my tongue when the blazer-clad Mayfair property agents I found myself writing about gloated that they had convinced xx company from Zurich to take London office space [...]
Update: this piece was featured on the Huffington Post UK, here. The police were on alert. Above hearts-and-minds grins, vigilant eyes followed a disparate procession as it streamed into the community hall on a still, pale evening in May. A week before, almost to the hour, a young soldier’s death had sickened a nation. But he had not bitten the dust of the Helmand desert. Lee Rigby fell on a far more ominous corner of the world, a hard grey London street, mowed down and hacked to death in broad daylight by two men wielding carving knives. Almost as soon as the news had hit, the words ‘terrorism’ and ‘Islamist’ were darting around computer screens and rolling newscasts, and an ugly reality dawned. And there was an even more shuddering detail to emerge, with the grainy footage of a bloodied murderer, strangely composed, summoning the rhetoric of the jihadist to explain the still warm corpse lying face down in the street behind him. It felt like the end of a very long fuse had been reached. By nightfall men in EDL balaclavas filled the streets around the murder scene, vengefully hurling hostilities at an unseen enemy. A fragile truce looked like it could be shattered at any point. With such a tense background behind it, I doubt I was alone in feeling a mixture of intrigue and apprehension as I walked to a public meeting aimed at opening the channels of communication between people on the front line of the [...]
An article I wrote about Gordon Brown’s address to the MIPCOM conference in Cannes. Brown, who was speaking in his capacity as UN envoy for education, was joined on stage by the father of Malala Yousafzai, the girl shot in the head by the Taliban in Pakistan for refusing to stay away from school. He was there to launch the UN’s Global Education Initiative, a 1000-day drive to put every child in the world into school.
…in getting heavy with stupid people or Jesus freaks, just as long as they don’t bother me. In a world as weird and cruel as this one we have made for ourselves, I figure anybody who can find peace and personal happiness without ripping off somebody else deserves to be left alone. They will not inherit the earth, but then neither will I… And I have learned to live, as it were, with the idea that I will never find peace and happiness, either. But as long as I know there’s a pretty good chance I can get my hands on either one of them every once in a while, I do the best I can between high spots.” Hunter S. Thompson, The Great Shark Hunt: Strange Tales from a Strange Time
The tensions in the UK over the past two weeks, and the subsequent backlash against Muslims in Britain is distressing, but, as sobering reading of an article I wrote in 2006 shows, it’s hardly new…. A year on from 7/7 07/07/2006 Ben Cooper examines the effects of 7 July 2005 a year on… Twelve months ago four young men plunged an entire faith into turmoil. Since the London bombings Islam has been thrust into centre stage to face scrutiny, persecution and rage. Fear, intolerance, extremism, and terrorism are the most lasting images of Islam reflected in the national media, which at times has chosen to ignore the core truths behind a fundamentally peaceful, loving and accepting faith. A year on from LeftLion asks why Britain still suffers from Islamophobia. Click here for the rest of the article
The grey skies over Britain were a fitting tribute to Maggie as she sucked a final helping of Britain’s resources down with her into the darkness. It was a gratuitous day that wrapped up a fortnight of a very modern, cynical type of grief. In reality her death changed nothing: the Lady was long gone, but it said so much more. About the world she has shuffled off, the grey she leaves behind. Those who still revere Thatcher choose only to look at what came before her, the rest of us see what has followed.
I wrote this feature for Property Week based on a round-table discussion I attended during real estate conference MIPIM 2013. The event, chaired by Property Week editor Mike Phillips, featured some of Europe’s leading real estate experts to discuss a range of key topics affecting the market in 2013.
David Cameron got a warm pat on the back from the French National Front last week for “breaking the taboo on immigration”. Trying to drag back drifters who have been lost by some osmosis to UKIP, he laid it on the line. No more scrounging, show the door to illegal immigrants, a rolling up of the “red carpet”. I wonder if most immigrants notice a red carpet rolled out for them when they arrive in this modern Britain? Where they are condemned and crudely labelled by right-wing politicians cashing in a growing nationalist sentiment.