What we might have lost

A fire at the Cattle Market in November wrecked four buildings and damaged several more. But it could have been worse. We went down to see what Notts would be missing if the whole thing had gone up..  www.leftlion.co.uk The blaze at the Cattle Market was so intense, and the flames so high, that looking out of the skylight in my flat on Forest Road, a hazy orange aurora hung behind the city centre, casting Nottingham in a strange, ominous backlight. If it hadn’t been for the direction of the wind, and the rapid response from the emergency services, we might well be ruminating on what we lost the night the Cattle Market burned down. The feelings would probably range from mournful loss of a beloved Nottingham institution, to a lingering regret at not visiting more often, as was the reaction of a student I spoke to a few days after the fire: “Uhh, what’s the Cattle Market?” For those who don’t know, the Cattle Market is a ragbag of a bazaar just outside the city, in the shadow of the Meadow Lane Stadium. It’s home to one of the most serious live auction houses in the country, an open-stall market selling pretty much anything you can get in the high street but cheaper, a flea market, and a rackety open-air thrift store. You can walk out with a quid’s worth of biscuits past their sell-by date, or £30,000 worth of 200-year-old mahogany furniture. Or nothing. You can just traipse […]

The People’s Vote movement is playing with far-right fire

    Take a placard calling for a ‘People’s Vote’, spin it around. You might well find the reverse bears another slogan: ‘Stop Brexit’. Keep spinning: Stop Brexit – People’s Vote – Stop Brexit – People’s Vote – Stop Brexit, until the two phrases blur into the political axiom of the day. Ostensibly – and perhaps practically, if it comes to it – they don’t mean the same thing at all. But assuming, as the post-referendum Remain camp confidently does, that a re-run vote does lead to Brexit being overturned, what then? Addled and vile as they are, the thugs caught on camera abusing Remain MP Anna Soubry outside Parliament in January might stand as a portentous answer; one of the first penetrating bursts from the fire raging beneath the ice on which the second referendum campaign is standing. You could have called round a dozen casting agencies looking for someone to play ‘Enraged Leave voter’ at the last People’s Vote demo I was at – in Nottingham city centre last November – and not got a better fit than the man who crashed the party, bellowing “GET THE F***ING FOREIGN BASTARDS OUT!! WE VOTED BREXIT!!” Useful idiots often invade political rallies. And this idiot was particularly useful. As the epitome of everything the post-referendum Remain campaign believes it is up against: nothing more than a hoard of mindless racists and square-jawed white van bigots, just like this awful man. Later that week an email from Stand Up To Racism […]

The NHS whistleblower

This article appeared in the Guardian Society section in October 2018. I was left to fight alone for NHS whistleblowing protection Blowing the whistle in the NHS is meant to be easy. Medical bodies such as the Department of Health and Social Care, the General Medical Council (GMC) and individual hospital trusts all encourage the practice – on paper. But when Chris Day, a junior intensive care doctor, raised numerous concerns about understaffing and safety at the intensive care unit of Queen Elizabeth hospital in Woolwich, he found out all too quickly the toll it would take on his career. Day says he made a “protected disclosure” to hospital management and to Health Education England (HEE) – which oversees junior doctors’ training and career development – about the understaffing. But he says that far from being believed, he became the victim of a pernicious effort to discredit him and the issues he’d raised. A number of counter-allegations were made against him, and his HEE training number was deleted, effectively forcing him out of his career. “Looking back it was incredible that so much effort was going into discrediting me and my safety concerns,” he says. Day went to an employment tribunal on the basis that his initial concerns hadn’t been taken seriously, and that he was suffering detriment, including loss of earnings, as a result of having raised them. The tribunal was set for February 2015, the same month, incidentally, that Robert Francis QC – author of a damning review […]

The city’s ancient hill

My piece for LeftLion magazine on the history of Canning Circus, Nottingham SIX ROADS meet at Canning Circus. From the north, three of the major highways into the city form a delta in the urban space between them; converging then splitting off, renamed, they ferry traffic and people down the hill out into the splintering, winding channels and streams of the city. To the south lies the city centre, to the west, the Park Estate and the Castle. To the north, Lenton, the university, Wollaton Park and Radford, and to the east a canopy of green trees shelters thousands of gravestones, sweeping all the way down to Waverley Street and the Arboretum. This meeting of flows has deposited centuries of memories on the land around it. From as early as the 8th century, multifarious lanes and pathways all led to the area once known as sandhills; people travelled and made their way in and out of the city, and life and times progressed. In medieval times traders and travellers arriving in the dark of night would rest up in the inns and houses clustered around the junction, before making the final push into the city. In the morning they’d wake to the sounds of the windmills cranking and creaking away in the breeze, and the horse-drawn carts of commerce trundling over the earth. When Queen Victoria was on the throne, the area was still known as Zion Hill – it has only been called Canning Circus since 1931 – and […]

Comment piece

This comment piece appeared in the Times online at the end of July By nothing more than my increasingly hollow-feeling membership of a particular Labour Party constituency, I am now officially affiliated with one of the most contentious, offensive groups in left-wing politics. Actually it was very straight forward. An emergency motion was proposed, there was a show of eager upstretched hands, a prolonged round of applause, and that was it. We’re in. Nottingham East is officially affiliated with Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL). There was no mention that JVL has deeply and routinely offended Jewish party members ever since it was set up just under a year ago. When JVL organised a counter-demo in Parliament Square in March against the protest against antisemitism in the Labour Party, which was reduced, in JVL’s own words, to the “Board of Deputies’ attack on Jeremy Corbyn”, where Jewish members were jeered at openly and harassed in the streets. JVL activists consistently brush off Jewish Labour members’ and MP’s claims of being victimised as lies and “smears against Corbyn”; there are still those who claim never to have even seen, read or heard of any incident of antisemitism in the party, in other words, that it doesn’t exist. And it is a side in this odious debate. A partisan, sectarian, divisive side whose founding function was to take on the Labour-affiliated Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) and to abrogate all claims that Jeremy Corbyn wasn’t doing enough to stamp out antisemitism. A contact of […]

Stories of the Streets

This article initially appeared in the Guardian in July 2018. ‘Give a homeless person a camera and they will see the city in a different way’ “You’re worth nothing,” Colin’s stepfather used to tell him as a child. Even now, sleeping rough on the streets of Manchester, the words haunt him; as a child he started believing it himself, and is still racked with self-doubt. It’s easier not to think what demons might be plaguing a person sleeping rough. Much simpler to keep walking, pass them by: out of sight, out of mind. It’s the natural response, says Alex Greenhalgh, co-founder of social enterprise People of the Streets. “The norm is being ignored or sidelined,” he says. “Or pitied with an awkward smile. It’s a totally isolating experience.” The one perspective nobody ever sees, says Greenhalgh, is the one that really matters: that of the person in the doorway, the man or woman inside the sleeping bag, and the world as they see it looking out. So Greenhalgh, 22, has come straight out of university and created Stories of the Streets – part fundraiser, part social art project – to turn the tables. Working with local homeless charities and support networks, first in Nottingham, where he was studying, and most recently in Manchester, the project puts disposable cameras into the hands of people sleeping rough and encourages them to capture the world as they see it. The pictures are then developed, framed, and put on sale in a public exhibition, […]

I see the broken eggs, comrades..

..but where is this omelette you promised us? Swelled by that old intoxicant, victory, Labour big guns joined MPs and staffers on Tuesday to lift a glass to the party’s new general secretary – Corbyn candidate Jennie Formby. While inside the Two Chairmen pub, John McDonnell, Len McCluskey, James Schneider, Emily Thornberry et al sipped sweet success, and the seeing-off of Formby’s predecessor Iain McNicol, on the street in front of Labour HQ, Momentum, the party’s guerrilla wing, was also celebraring. “McNicol’s gone,” bellowed Jackie Walker and supporters, “now it’s time for the rest of them.” That shouldn’t take long – a flurry of resignations went in even before the champagne corks were popped on Tuesday night, and there will be more. There will be more resignations, more division, more tension, and more bad blood, before this septic season is over. In the first three months of 2018 alone there has been enough tension within the party to snap a titanium cable. A quick, nauseating recap: there was Unite vs Momentum, or Formby vs Lansman; there was – and is – the all women shortlist row; there was – and is – the Labour Against the Witchhunt row; there was the row over the Labour Equalities Conference; there was Jeremy Corbyn’s membership of an anti-semitic Facebook group (which, you’ll notice, has all been shrugged off) and a previous message of support for an artist who painted an anti-semitic mural (which has only just emerged, but will be shrugged off); the […]

The Kurds are being left to twist in the wind

Britain and the US have fought alongside the Kurds in Syria. Now they are leaving them to the mercy of a Turkish President vowed to “cleanse” them from their homes. The last time they were left in such peril, they were massacred in Kobane. This time the consequences could be even worse. With the first Turkish bodybags returning from Syria, Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s latest drive against the Kurdish people is officially underway. But the grand plan has Russian chess manoeuvres written all over it, and taking the fight wilfully to where the U.S. has troops could force a capitulation that leaves the Kurds well and truly stranded. Not that any of this should come as a surprise. There’s no mistaking intentions when the Turkish President vows to “cleanse” an area of a foreign country. Even if the mission has been given the miserably ironic codename of “Operation Olive Branch” since, that sinister pledge came three months ago. Russia, which controls the air-space in which Turkish jets now fly with impunity, has signed off on the plan; Bashar al-Assad, busy launching chemical attacks on his own people elsewhere in Syria, is happy to see Turks and Kurds fight it out; the US is protesting, though ambivalently and with some incoherence; Britain does even less: “Turkey is right to want to keep its borders secure”, tweeted Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson as the first shots were fired. Erdogan’s war on the Kurds has two fronts now. An increasingly dictatorial Islamist President is old […]

The Labour Party is becoming a closed system of thought

Preparing to run a blogging workshop for a group of media students in December, I was gifted a news story for us to get stuck into. Donald Trump had just retweeted those Britain First videos: a comment writer’s bread-and-butter. For potential angles for a piece, I told the group, the possibilities were endless: whether it was presidential behaviour to be tweeting anything at all, let alone the postings of a known far-right organisation; how social media was impacting political discourse; the pernicious right-wing agenda. And, I added, it posed the question, what the hell is going on this world where gay men are being thrown off rooftops by religious fascists? Quick as a flash one of the students who’d been gawping at her phone, half-conscious of my presence, jumped in. “But white men kill gay people as well!” she snapped. “Umm….yes,” I replied, a little baffled. I decided to leave it there. The conversation that loomed had futile written all over it. Lots of conversations do these days. Lots of ‘arguments’ are in the same intellectual league as, “But white men kill gay people as well”. It’s standard practice on social media; this felt like being tweeted in person. Of course twitter has a lot to do with it. But something else has changed. The whole function and form of discourse has changed. Opinions are no longer put forward from one person to another – they are scrawled on a note stabbed furiously to the chest. Compromise isn‘t something to […]

Corbyn visits Mansfield

A comment piece I wrote for the New Statesman, covering Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s visit to Mansfield, Nottinghamshire. The visit came a few months after the party had lost the seat to the Conservatives for the first time in a century; Corbyn vowed to the crowd that Labour would win it back. newstatesman.com Brexit-voting Mansfield turned Tory in June – now Jeremy Corbyn believes Labour can win it back By Benedict Cooper Dig beneath the topsoil of the East Midlands, and you will find Labour, in all its layers. This unassuming region includes some of the most overt of Corbynsceptic MPs, as well as his most vociferous allies. It is home to some of the country’s most deprived post-industrial former pit towns, still reeling from the Thatcherite treatment, and some of its most green and pleasant lands. Some East Midlands voters will die before they vote Tory. Others have gone blue – or purple – with barely a pang. Some of the most Leave-voting seats anywhere in the UK are in the East Midlands. Dennis Skinner’s Bolsover – which contains Shirebrook, where Sports Direct HQ sits metaphorically on the site of the old pit – returned a 70.8 per cent Leave vote. The Beast of Bolsover is just one of the big-hitters of the region. In the blue corner sit the Tory party’s most outspoken Remainers – Anna Soubry, Nicky Morgan and Ken Clarke, no less. Then there are Labour MPs of all shades of red – Gloria De Piero, Chris Leslie, […]

Corbyn vows fightback

When Jeremy Corbyn came to address a rally in Mansfield, I caught up with him and interviewed him for the Nottingham Post. It was the first time Corbyn had been in Mansfield since the Labour Party had lost the seat to the Tories – for the first time in a century. Corbyn promised the crowd that the seat would be won back. Jeremy Corbyn vows to win back Mansfield during rally Labour lost the seat for the first time in June Jeremy Corbyn spoke at the rally in Mansfield (Image: Nottingham Post) Jeremy Corbyn has vowed to fight to win back the Mansfield constituency by giving young people the hope of a “future in the area”. Addressing a rally organised in Mansfield on Saturday afternoon, the Labour leader said the party would win in Mansfield and in marginal constituencies in Nottinghamshire if another election was to be held nationally. Speaking to the Post following the rally, Mr Corbyn said that Labour needed understand the “needs of communities” such as Mansfield, where the party lost in June after having held the seat for 94 years. “We also to be looking at the needs of healthcare and housing and industrial and economic investment to keep young people in the area to give them a future in the area. That’s what we propose to do,” he said. “We need more government involvement to ensure fairness. The East Midlands has the lowest level of central government expenditure of any English region. That can’t be […]

Ay up me Dutch!

The fascinating story of the ‘twinning’ between one of Nottingham’s most famous boozers and a wonderful real ale pub in Amsterdam. I wrote it up for Nottingham cultural magazine Left Lion. leftlion.co.uk The Lincolnshire Poacher’s Brother From Another words: Benedict Cooper “Oh! You’re from Nottingham!” the smiling, bearded barman bellowed as he loomed over my table, the tang of some powerful herb tingling my nostrils. “I went to the Poacher last year!” Sitting in an alley on the edge of Amsterdam’s red-light district talking about the Lincolnshire Poacher has a surreal kick to it, especially when you’re getting passively stoned. We all know it’s one of Nottingham’s magic little corners: the huts, the cubby hole, the regulars, the irregulars, the live music tinkling around the yard when the door’s left open on a warm summer night. But these are our dusty little secrets, aren’t they? How does some Viking-esque beer-pourer in Holland know and love the Poacher? For that, he has to thank a towering Dutchman called Henk Eggens. Striding up Mansfield Road in the summer of 1989, on a short trip to Nottingham, Henk found himself at the door of a newly christened Lincolnshire Poacher. Henk knows a thing or two about pubs; he has his own little ale joint, In De Wildeman, in a seventeenth-century gin distillery in the centre of Amsterdam, founded on his own staunch principles of real ale, good service and a friendly, neighbourly, music-free atmosphere. Something about the Poacher and its founding landlord Neil […]

The age of unreason

Jon Snow has “no recollection” of screaming ‘Fuck the Tories!’ at Glastonbury this year. Neither does he remember adding a cheeky, ‘I’m supposed to be neutral’ to a breathlessly happy fan, who then tweeted it (and then deleted it). Maybe he doesn’t, maybe he does. Self-evidently it’s the sort of thing he might have said, otherwise he would have issued something more substantial than a good old fashioned non-denial-denial. I’m guessing being either quoted or misquoted as saying “Fuck Jeremy Corbyn!”, for example, might have elicited a slightly more strenuous response. But here’s my point. Imagine, just imagine, what would have happened if Laura Kuenssburg or Nick Robinson had been quoted as saying “Fuck Jeremy Corbyn!” after they’d had a few jars? Madness. Mayhem. Revolution! Fatwa! Twitter would have seen nothing like it. Wherever they went in future, they would have been greeted with the sort of zoo noises you already hear when a traitor is unveiled, or been forced into hiding for fear of violence. The most notable thing about the frenzied backlash against Jon Snow, is that there wasn’t one. Smoothly he escaped all but a mild bit of turbulence, with no question of him being dragged from his desk by the mob. In fact he’s become a hero, and any hint of bias casually snorted at by pointing out, I kid you not, that ‘Snow is free to say what he likes because he works for a private company not a public service broadcaster’ (which isn’t true). […]

Mourning isn’t enough

This comment piece appeared in the i newspaper in the wake of the Manchester attacks We should be angry about the Manchester attack How inevitable it is, that at times like this all the sordid clichés and false apprehensions come out. That if it weren’t for a “reckless foreign policy” the Salman Abedis of this world would wish only peace upon the West. That without an innately Islamophobic British population forcing disenfranchised young men into the arms of the radicalisers, the Salman Abedis would not exist. That love and unity alone will protect our children from people who see them as fair game for nail-bombs. ‘People like Salman Abedi don’t want to “divide us”. They want to kill us’ Or perhaps the most flawed interpretation of all, that people like Salman Abedi simply “want to divide us”. After a day when the emergency services have been through the unspeakable task of picking up children’s limbs from the floor of an arena, how can you think that the main motive at work is social division? This isn’t about an ‘atmosphere’ The view that it’s better to internalise these things and turn the guilt and responsibility onto ourselves is an inherent lineament of the Left. Take Novara Media founder Aaron Bastani, who just over 12 hours after the attack put someone to rights on Twitter by edifyingly pointing out that “the point of these attacks is literally to create atmosphere of mistrust between Muslims and non-Muslims in Europe”. ‘People like Salman Abedi […]

Nottinghamshire guidebook

I was commissioned to write a guide book of my home county, Nottinghamshire, by Kingfisher Publishing. This covered all aspects of life in Nottinghamshire, from shopping to sports to where to dine out. You can view an e-version of this here.

Yes Mr Hunt, this is unacceptable

One of the few positives to note about Jeremy Hunt’s perennial tenure at the Department of Health, is that he’s actually been there long enough to witness his own policies, and rhetoric, unravel. Take the decision last year to scrap bursaries for student nurses. At the time it was obvious to seemingly everyone outside of the Cabinet that encumbering future nursing students with huge private debts would harm applications and jeopardise recruitment, not free up 10,000 new places as was spun at the time. Now the figures are bearing those warnings out – applications for nursing and midwifery training places for September are down 23% year on year. Of course, it wasn’t entirely down to Hunt – if anyone could pluck David Cameron out of the cosy lifestyle in which he’s now ensconced, we could ask him too. Then there’s A&E. Countless warnings over the years have been largely dismissed with casuistry and creative number-play. It takes a leak to the BBC to reveal that January’s A&E figures are likely to be the worst ever, with emergency departments falling dramatically short of their targets throughout England. Take your pick from the horror stories: the 500,000 hours spent by paramedics waiting to get into A&E; 12-hour waits for beds; photos of chaotic corridors reminiscent of, well, the last time the Conservatives were in power. In short: with each year that passes with Jeremy Hunt in charge of the NHS, A&E departments in England get steadily worse. With each year that passes […]

Welcome to the left

The thing about momentum, is that it has to be sustained. You can’t restart momentum; if something is slowing down it’s decelerating, with inertia the ultimate conclusion. The thing about Momentum, is that there’s absolutely no surprise it is decelerating. It was at best a bad idea, at worst a malevolent ploy, from the offing. There are those who say that Jeremy Corbyn’s doubters – yes, plotters before you scream it at me – had it in for him from day one. Well, they’re right, but I think they might have the wrong day in mind. From the day Momentum was set up, he lost all hope of ever winning some people back. Because they could foresee precisely what is now happening. The wisdom – and motivation – to allow to thrive a movement fundamentally at odds with the Labour Party in Parliament was questionable to say the very least.  The fact that Corbyn gave his blessing to an organisation which set itself up on an ‘Us vs Them’ platform, with ‘Them’ being the Labour Party, didn’t fill us with much hope. Nor did a rival event held at the same time as Conference,  designed to physically sort the ‘them’ from the ‘us’. But most reckless of all, was to willingly open the door to the sectarianism of the hard left tribes. Who, liberated from the task of having to even fight an election, have spent years tearing each other down over largely miniscule differences and individual mistrusts. Just look […]

Turkey is at a crossroads between democracy and dictatorship

In November the European Parliament voted to freeze Turkey’s bid to join the EU, with dire warnings over human rights violations, the systematic abuse of women and children, daily arrests of MPs and journalists, and a brutal campaign against the Kurdish minority. With a referendum in April likely to hand President Erdogan almost total executive power over Parliament, Turkey stands poised at the crossroads. The world needs to watch carefully to see which way it goes. “The police are at my door”, tweeted Selahattin Demirtas, in a last desperate message to his followers. Seconds later, officers forced their way in, arrested the MP, and dragged him off into the night. Demirtas hasn’t been heard from on Twitter since – that was three months ago. Somewhere during those same chaotic hours, his colleague and co-chair of the main Kurdish political party HDP, Figen Yuksekdag, was taken from her home, as were nine other MPs; Twitter, Facebook Whatsapp even YouTube all mysteriously shut down across Turkey. By morning it was confirmed 11 MPs from HDP- the third largest party in the Turkish parliament, with 6 million votes in the Turkish general election a year ago – had been arrested for alleged connections with proscribed Kurdish militant group the PKK. Since then, arrest warrants for four more HDP MPs have been issued and yet more Kurdish MPs – from other parties – have been targeted. Including Sebahat Tuncel, co-leader of the Democratic Unity Party (DBP), who was dragged away by police as she […]