tnt magazine: Belfast
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The following article appeared in TNT magazine in the February 2015 edition; my photos of Belfast can be found here.

In pictures: Belfast
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I took a trip to Belfast in January, to write a feature for TNT Magazine (due to be published in February). Here are some of the pictures I took, of the city centre, the Peace Walls, the Harland & Wolff docks where Titanic was built and a few other sights to be found wandering around this wonderful place..   [Show slideshow] 12►

In pictures: Hoxton Street

Fifty metres back from the trendified beardified playgrounds of Hoxton and Shoreditch lies a funny little place that hipsterdom has mercifully forgotten.  A market stall here, a little cafe there, some nice pubs, a couple of convenience stores, a funeral parlour and a few splashes of more unusual colour, Hoxton Street is somehow utterly down to earth but unselfconsciously vital. It’s a unique bubble; it feels like a normal place where normal people live and work. In a city of self-conscious style and early adoption, it’s a cheery trip down normality lane.

Privatisation is unravelling

…before our eyes. As Circle Holdings, the first private firm to manage an NHS hospital, looks to leaving its contract, we have a depressing example of how privatisation can go badly wrong. Hinchingbrooke Hospital is to lose the private firm that runs it. Photo: YouTube screengrab What a difference (less than) a year makes. In a press release back in February last year [3], private healthcare company Circle Holdings spun that it had, “transformed services at Hinchingbrooke”. The hospital, it boasted, “is now secure for the future”. Which would make the news today that it was walking away two years into a 10-year contract to run Hinchingbrooke – the UK’s only privately-run NHS hospital – a shock, were it not for the sheer, abject predictability of it. The fact that Circle is dumping the contract on financial grounds, citing a lack of funding and pressure on the casualty department, is certainly no surprise to many, not least the National Health Action Party founding member and Save Lewisham Hospital veteran Dr Louise Irvine. She says: “This is exactly what we warned and predicted would happen and illustrates the folly of private sector involvement in our NHS. When the going gets tough, the private sector gets going – and dumps NHS patients. The privatisation experiment has lamentably failed”. It isn’t unexpected, not least because in September last year, when Health Service Journal obtained a damning report by the Care Quality Commission [4] (CQC) in which a litany of shocking failings were revealed, the writing was […]

The root of the A&E crisis

lies far beyond the wards… How restful it must be to be Jeremy Hunt. Lesser health secretaries would regard the NHS’ worst ever A&E performance [3] happening on their watch as a damning indictment. More insecure an operator might take the calling of an urgent summit [4] to discuss the unfolding crisis as a sobering reflection on their own ability. Perish the thought. Outcry from Labour over the alarming figures is merely “an example of the politicisation of the NHS that people find so distressing,” he said, during an urgent question session called today by Labour in the hope of prising some answers from him. Since the figures were published yesterday the Tories have done everything but accept them for the depressing landmark they are. They have continuously blamed unprecedented demand from an ageing population for the surge, combined with the traditional winter spike in admissions. Before we go any further, it’s worth pointing out that A&E attendance in England was actually higher over the summer than the “unprecedented demand” in December [5] that has led to this crisis. But let’s leave that to one side. Even accepting that overall admissions are increasing, it’s facile of Hunt to blame increasing demand on an ageing population alone. Accident and emergency is not an island, entire of itself. Cut the wider social and welfare system, squeeze GPs, and enforce a hugely wasteful internal market [6] – as this government has done compulsively – and A&E figures will go up, hospitals will […]

Black Friday at John Lewis
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I took a tour of John Lewis’s main distribution centre on the busiest day of the year: Black Friday. This article appeared in Retail Week (paywall) magazine later that day… How John Lewis prepared for the Black Friday rush By the end of this week 30 tonnes of cardboard boxes will have made their way in and out of John Lewis’s distribution centre at Magna Park. That is more than double the usual weekly amount. That is because of Black Friday, which this year has seen bargain-hunting reach fever pitch in shops up and down the country and ecommerce sites jammed with traffic. Well behind the scenes, John Lewis director of national distribution centre operations Terry Murphy is having a busy day at Magna Park in Milton Keynes. With regular updates from head office on everything from John Lewis’s web sales and traffic, the latest from the pricematch team, and even snippets of info about problems on rival retailers’ sites, there’s a lot for him to think about. “We will send out at least 120,000 units today just for online orders,” he says. “It could be as much as 130,000”. With another 250,000 items going out to stores on Friday alone, it’s a massive operation. Friday was the first day this year that the centre has been fully manned, with extra and longer shifts laid on, agency staff and temporary staff drafted in. Murphy admits that he was expecting something of a lull around 9am, down from the 6am to […]

In pictures: Bordeaux

In September I spent a blissful few days in Bordeaux, exploring this gorgeous town by myself with a notebook and camera in hand. Here’s the article I wrote for TNT Magazine, and below are some of the pictures I took…  

The marketisation myth

  NHS reform and the hollow marketisation myth A metamorphosis is taking place; a mutation of the NHS from a public service into a lucrative marketplace. by Benedict Cooper [2] Published 30 October, 2014 – 11:42 When the chief executive of NHS England produces a 39-page, 15,000-word rescue plan [3] for the health service that, a senior doctor later told me, “doesn’t even mention the real problem in the system”, you know something is up. Not that it’s any great surprise. Simon Stevens isn’t likely to agree with my source that the real problem in the NHS is a prevailing ideological dogma that “private is good and public is bad” among top brass, nor that the aggressive marketisation programme currently underway is all based on a myth. The private healthcare man turned NHS-saviour has only been in his post for seven months after 10 years at global giant United Health Group, and old habits die hard. But the real paradox at the heart of Stevens’ five-year plan is that he calls for ruthless efficiencies and then turns a blind eye to the sort of “grotesque financial waste” that consultant clinical oncologist and National Health Action Party [4] (NHAP) co-leader Clive Peedell says is crippling the system. Peedell says: “Wasteful internal markets, commissioning support units, management consultancy fees, the cost of procurement of clinical services, profit-taking by private providers, the cost of fragmenting pathways due to outsourcing components to private contractors, and PFI deals bankrupting our hospitals; they are draining billions from frontline care in our NHS”. A metamorphosis is taking place; a mutation of the NHS from a public service into a lucrative marketplace. None of this is particularly new – but since the Health and Social Care Act kicked in two years ago, trusts have […]

March for the NHS

“NHS principles aren’t intact”: how the public is trying to protect its health service This conference season, all parties have announced new plans to save the NHS; but how do those members of the public trying to protect their health service feel? by Benedict Cooper Published 9 October, 2014 – 12:45   Campaigners march for the NHS. Photo: Getty It had been another grey morning in a long line of dismal August days, and the streets of Nottingham were still wet from the latest summer soaking. I’ll admit, there was a part of me that feared what I might find as I headed out to meet the NHS march. I was afraid of stumbling across a sad, aged version of the legendary 1936 Jarrow Crusade it was honouring; a musty heirloom handed down through generations of waning engagement in politics and activism. I arrived in the centre of Bulwell, on the outer reaches of the city, and joined a small crowd that had already gathered to greet the marchers. By then the dreary clouds were just loosening their grip over the Midlands sky and the sun was starting to flicker through. *** At first it was just a pulsating dot on the horizon. But it kept on coming from around some hidden bend; a trickle, then a stream of people, heading our way. Pretty soon our little huddle was caught up in a flash flood of bustling colour, sound and energy. Campaigners of all stripes filled the square: unions, healthcare […]

Business as usual?

This article appeared in fashion magazine Drapers, following the historic Scottish referendum in September 2014 Scottish Independence: Where does the fashion industry stand on the future of Scotland? 2 October 2014 | By Ben Cooper The dream of Scottish independence may be over, but the fallout from the vote will take much longer to settle, according to those working in the country’s fashion industry. Within an hour of the No vote being confirmed on the morning of Friday, September 19, celebratory statements from the worlds of business and politics began pouring in. The Confederation of British Industry director general John Cridland described it as a “momentous day”, one that would be greeted with a “collective sigh of relief across the business community”. David Cameron said he was delighted the Scots had chosen to keep “our country of four nations together”; the City rallied, sending the pound to a two-year high against the euro, and property agency Knight Frank predicted a “flurry of investment activity in the commercial property market”, with the months of uncertainty now over. The decision will no doubt have come as a welcome move for the 130 high-profile Scottish businessmen who signed an open letter at the end of August questioning the benefits of independence, including the chief executive of the Harris Tweed Hebrides mill, Ian Angus MacKenzie. But real life is never soundbite simple. The vote split a nation and there were many – including some among the Scottish fashion industry – who felt it was […]

A dream unravels
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  In the end it was all over with a whimper and two years of anticipation unravelled in a couple of hours. In the club we had fallen into on Niddry Street somewhere after midnight, crowds that would usually be bouncing off the walls in raucous revellry  were clustered underneath TV screens, staring up as the results came in. By 3am it was obvious which way it was going to go. Maybe it was just in my dehydrated brain, but everywhere in the sweaty underground maze of rooms and bars, an instant hangover seemed to suddenly kick in. It was a difficult soreness, not violent or mean, just a sour whiff in the air. Just a few hours before, it was a very different scene. The misty streets of Edinburgh didn’t have the electric atmosphere I had imagined. But there was something in the air that night. A different type of mist; an emotional, sentimental, even hysterical insulation from normality had condensed. Faces painted blue and white and shoulders draped in the Saltire flickered in the crowded streets. Film crews’ lights flooded cobbled squares and grand stone walls, and as the evening went on clusters of people gathered on street corners and in pubs, riding an invisible wave of expectant energy that rose as the hours slipped by. The pro-independence crowd was by far the more active; I sense the ‘no’ voters had decided that a quiet night in would be safer all round. But there certainly wasn’t anything dangerous […]

Labour’s murky PFI past

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.

LOOK at the fire!
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“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 […]

‘Into the powerhouse’

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 […]

Revolutiony Wutiony

Once upon a time, I was invited to watch a man masturbate. It was a show in an artist’s bedroom, where, to the gathered audience, the sound of a drum and the background of a poetry recital, he was going to indulge in a long drawn-out wank, and bring himself to climax. I declined. But I’ve often thought perhaps I should have gone. I’ve tried to picture the scene, and me standing there, and wondered how I would have felt. Whether it might have drawn some conservative, reactionary indignation from me. Or whether it might, in fact, have been fascinating and resonate with meaning. I’ll never know now. But I imagine it feeling a bit like watching Russell Brand at work. Often when I read a Russell Brand comment piece, or see his face on TV, those big doe-eyes backlit with a burning ego, or, these days, when I see him on a stage addressing his legions, I get the same sensations I imagine I would have felt standing in that artist’s bedroom. Russell took his t shirt off for the revolution today. He bore his chest (not, of course, for the frisson of sexual excitement that it gave him) to the 50,000 strong-crowd and proclaimed the revolution alive and well. He believes his “peaceful, effortless and joyful” revolution is going to change the world. He urges people not to vote; to end the disconnect between politicians and the public. He believes in Socialist egalitarianism and a “massive re-distribution of […]

I spoke to my best friend last night….

…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 […]

Open Democracy: Our NHS
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I have written various stories for Our NHS, part of Open Democracy, a progressive news site dedicated to preserving democracy and fighting for social justice. These can be viewed here: Labour’s Andy Burnham moves to strike out “Hospital Closure Clause” Benedict Cooper 7 March 2014 Labour confirmed yesterday that it would be staging a last ditch attempt in parliament on Tuesday to strike out the deeply unpopular “Hospital Closure Clause”. Government brushes aside NHS Free Trade Treaty Concerns Benedict Cooper 27 February 2014 MPs raise concerns about the impact the forthcoming trade treaty, TTIP, will have on the NHS – but Minster Without Portfolio Ken Clarke says it will make no difference. Hunt seeks to shed his duty to keep our medical data safe Benedict Cooper 7 February 2014 Ministers dodge Labour grilling on the controversy.

48 Hours in…Liverpool

48 hours in Liverpool: Go ‘ed, get down   You won’t walk far (and never alone) in Liverpool without hearing the echoes of Beatlemania.   The story of the four likely lads who conquered the world will be told by locals for years to come. But these days, a new generation is looking forward, not back, and the buzzing artistic, creative scene and quirky nightspots that have sprung up with it are worth the trip alone. Day one:   Morning:   Between two imposing cathedrals on the side of a hill lies one of Liverpool’s classiest streets. Hope Street is a catwalk of Liverpool’s creative talent and a great place to immerse yourself in its unique cultural scene. HOAX Liverpool hostel is the ideal place to base yourself right in the heart of the Cavern Quarter and it’s a short walk to the Metropolitan Cathedral at the top of Hope Street.   Strolling down the street you pass the home of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, the Liverpool College of Art, the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts – founded byPaul McCartney – and the recently refurbished Everyman Theatre.   Thereare also plenty of lovely pubs and restaurants dotted around – check out the Clove Hitch for some top British cuisine and craft beers. Hope Street will be the buzzing hub of the 2014 Liverpool Biennial, a major celebration of British contemporary art running from early July to the end of October. For four months Liverpool will be alive with […]