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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

The Corbynite legions have become the Tories’ most valuable allies

This comment piece originally appeared on The Huffington Post UK Politics section in July 2016 The Corbynite legions have become the Tories’ most valuable allies In a less surreal political era the sudden forced resignation of the Conservative Prime Minister would be a moment of panic for the Tories, and a golden opportunity that Labour would have jumped on. But nothing is quite as it should be now we’re through the political looking-glass. On one bizarre Friday morning alone we witnessed as many as six impossible things before breakfast. A little over a week later the UK is poised to leave the European Union; the faction of the Conservative Party which prompted the divorce is in the ascendancy both in the party and the country; and with victory in an almost inevitable early general election, the hard-right will dictate our future relationship with Europe and the shape of a post-EU Britain. There’s a part of me which suspects that, in some ways, the Labour leadership is secretly celebrating Brexit. There’s an even more uncomfortable notion lingering in my mind that Corbyn and his supporters don’t actually want to win power back from the Tories; that Labour now has a leader who doesn’t even want to be Prime Minister, backed up by a movement that would rather exist in perpetual, demonstrative opposition than bear the responsibility of government. But assuming I’m wrong and Jeremy Corbyn dreams of one day standing statesmanlike outside No.10, of facing down Putin and Merkel in heated […]

Humanity took a backward step on Thursday

Humanity took a backward step on Thursday One day, in December 1995, astronomers pointed the Hubble telescope at a black spot in the sky. It made no sense – this was a black spot in the sky the size of a tennis ball viewed from 100 metres away, containing no visible stars, dots, blobs or, well, anything. After 10 days of exposure, they took a look at the picture that emerged. A picture that’s now considered the most important image ever taken. They gazed in universal wonder at 3,000 swirling galaxies crammed into a space one 24-millionth the size of the sky, each containing, if our own galaxy the Milky Way is anything to go by, some 500 billion stars. From this image and subsequent Hubble Deep Field exposures, we have been able to calculate that the Universe is far, far larger than had previously been believed; some 47 billion light years across. The scale of the universe is beyond what we can comprehend. Its mind-boggling size makes the distances in our own life incomprehensibly small. The distances between what we choose to call countries, even continents an ocean apart, are beyond any definition of tiny. In fact between most countries there is literally zero physical distance – merely an imaginary line on a map. Yet look at the misery those infinitesimally small distinctions can cause. Rage, murder, fear, ignorance. Every day on this planet people are slaughtered; whole races denigrated; cultures resented and suffering ignored, over distances and differences […]

How can retailers generate revenue from Snapchat?

This article originally appeared in Retail Week magazine Anaylsis: How can retailers generate revenue from Snapchat and other social media? Snapchat has millions of users worldwide and the business recently announced that ecommerce functions might be just around the corner. Hours before the catwalk launch of its Spring/Summer 2016 collection, as last-minute finishing touches were still being made, Burberry gave its fans a peek behind the curtain. In what chief executive Christopher Bailey described as a “unique, real-time view of the creation of our show”, the retailer posted dozens of photos from behind the scenes, live to its millions of followers on Snapchat. A month later came another first – a full Snapchat advertising campaign, featuring product shots by famed fashion photographer Mario Testino, months ahead of the full print launch. Burberry was breaking new ground. And with more than 200 million views of the SS16 collection on Snapchat alone, breaking records as well. Burberry has also become the first brand to use Snapchat’s ‘Snapcode’ QR-code style feature that when scanned takes shoppers to the social networking app and delivers them exclusive content in store. That content includes a director’s cut of the new advert for the Mr Burberry fragrance. Throwing out the rulebook Social media has already made the old marketing rulebook virtually redundant. Within a few seconds a product shot can be seen, liked, posted and shared by millions of users. Within a few hours a trend can be born. And there’s a race to develop ecommerce functions now […]

Vaccine “free for all” market

This article  first appeared on the newstatesman.com in March 2016 Take a look at the World Health Assembly’s action plan on tackling the barriers to global vaccination, and time and time again, the almighty dollar comes up. The resolution, passed by all 193 countries present at the Assembly last summer, raises deep concerns about the “increased financial burden of new vaccines”; that “many low- and middle-income countries may not have the opportunity to access newer and improved vaccines, particularly because of the costs related to the procurement and introduction of these vaccines”; and that “globally immunization coverage has increased only marginally since the late 2000s”. Behind the resolution, on the floor of the Assembly, apparently the language wasn’t so polite. Delegates from almost 60 countries spoke out vituperatively against the high prices of vaccines as being the main culprits for the sickening lingering of killer diseases, and urged the global community to act. Take pneumonia. It is the biggest cause of childhood death under the age of five globally, claiming the lives of almost one million children each year – one every 35 seconds – yet in 2016 70 per cent of all the world’s children remain unprotected. The reasons why are complex and many, but humanitarian agency Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) says that it can name one for sure: the cost of vaccinations is prohibitively high. The life-saving pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV) is big business. And the entire market, worth $30bn to date, is sewn up by just two companies: […]

Whistleblowing doctors

How the government is leaving whistleblowing doctors to twist in the wind By Benedict Cooper To the untrained mind the sheer incomprehensibility of legal talk can make courtroom proceedings seem like a thick layer of cloud: featureless and unremarkable. But every now and then, a thunderbolt darts down and catches you by surprise. Sitting in Courtroom One of the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) two weeks ago, on the second floor of Fleetbank House, Salisbury Square – in the heart of the legal establishment – I had one of those moments. I was there to report on the latest stage in the legal odyssey of whistleblowing junior doctor Dr Chris Day, and frankly a lot of it was going over my head. That is until the barrister representing Health Education England (HEE) made a startling admission. It’s pretty remarkable that I was even there. Day is a rare species of doctor – perhaps an endangered species, if the judgement doesn’t go his way – who has held his nerve through two years of pressure since he ‘blew the whistle’ one night. Most never get half as far as he has, and it’s not hard to see why. The fulcrum of the case is a gap – or “lacuna”, to get into the legalese – in the laws protecting junior doctors when they blow the whistle. A gap which exists because of an ambiguity as to who is ultimately responsible for their career, and which Day’s case has revealed. The status quo […]

Junior doctors are warning us

This article first appeared in the New Statesman on January 15 2016 Junior doctors aren’t just going on strike. They’re trying to warn us There’s a bigger story than just pay and conditions, warns Benedict Cooper. By Benedict Cooper On a bitterly cold afternoon in Nottingham’s Old Market Square, a group of junior doctors stood shivering together, banners in hand, pleading with the people hurrying by in thick winter coats and scarves to listen to their reasons for why they and colleagues throughout England are on strike. A few stopped, tapping their feet in the chill air; some even signed their petition. On the surface it’s about pay. But there’s something more serious going on – a lesson we ignore at our peril. Doctors are deeply concerned about safety on the wards. Why do they feel they have to take to the streets to tell people, rather than going through the official channels? Because that’s a dangerous game as well. Take the case of Dr Chris Day. When Day qualified in 2009, the idea that he was destined to cross swords with the Secretary of State for Health would have seemed ludicrous. Now he is embroiled in a dispute with the highest levels that has implications for the future of the controversial, and often misunderstood practice of ‘whistleblowing’. It all started one night back in January 2014. Day was working through the night on ICU at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, part of Lewisham & Greenwich NHS Trust. When two locum doctors […]

The refugee crisis/medical angle

With winter fast approaching the refugee crisis could become a medical disaster This article first appeared on OpenDemocracy As temperatures drop in eastern Europe, western attitudes to refugees cool. The Paris attacks have hardened many hearts, yet still the migrants arrive, at medical camps and aid agencies. When ISIS arrived in Mosul, Fatima knew that her son, a policeman, was in mortal danger. With his children they fled to Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, a safer place for now but with little future to offer a displaced family. So Fatima set off on her own, on a tortuous journey in search of a better life for the family. She flew to Istanbul, then made her way to the Turkish coast, straight into the hands of people smugglers. When the boat she was on reached the Isle of Lesbos there was no beach to land on so she and the other passengers were slung overboard to swim to shore. If it wasn’t for two younger men supporting her as they swam Fatima, in her mid 60s and overweight, says she would surely have drowned. “I had nothing to lose when I left Iraq”, said Fatima, as she waited anxiously for the ambulance to arrive to take her to hospital. “I am old. I took the risk so that my family can live”. … While arriving in Europe, into the arms of volunteer doctors, is a moment of salvation in the eyes of those who have survived that far, what they […]

The attack on Kunduz Trauma Centre

This article was first published on OpenDemocracy in November OUT OF THE DARKNESS of the Afghan night, in the skies over the Kunduz Trauma Centre, the faint drone of propellers could be heard. Then, the bombing began. The intensive care unit (ICU), where the most critically ill adults and children silently lay, kept  alive only by ventilators, was first to be hit. For the next hour the American AC-130 gunship circled its target, unleashing “concentrated volleys” of rockets on the medical centre. As staff escaped the building and fled, they were cut down by machine gun fire from above. What they saw in that terrible hour on October 3, and in the grim aftermath, was enough to test the most conflict-hardened medic. Patients burning to death in their beds in ICU; two killed while lying on the operating table; the decapitated body of a colleague; the charred remains of children lying in the blood and the dust. Frantic efforts to temper the chaos followed: a desk in the undamaged administrative building was converted into an operating theatre to perform emergency operations on staff and patients left dismembered, with open chest wounds, ruptured abdominal blood vessels and severe shock. While the sun came up, the hell continued. As the wounded were rushed out to ambulances dispatched by the Ministry of Public Health to take them to hospital, fresh clashes erupted outside the compound leaving one ambulance riddled with bullet holes as it took patients away. _ What isn’t up for question […]

Debunking the government’s NHS conference spin

It was David Cameron’s birthday last week. The big day was actually Friday, but the gifts began pouring in much sooner. An hour of conference-talk was enough to convince seemingly most of the political commentariat that the Conservatives are now the true guardians of left wing politics. Including the Blairite right, that is pursuing vengeance on the new leadership with such venom that it happily cheers Tory spin over anything Labour now says or does. Exactly how a party which is working away at, say, the Trade Union Bill – a legislative two fingers up to everything the Left stands for – can possibly be described as left-wing, I don’t know. Birthday treat perhaps. But if you want to see just how well David did last week, you need to look no further than the speech by his Secretary of State for Health. The fact that Jeremy Hunt could stand up and with a straight face say that the Conservatives want to be “the party of the NHS” is one thing; that so much of the press believed him and, more importantly, didn’t check that statement against the reality, is something else. I wonder if it occurred to him that there are currently 13 trusts in special measures, and 33 without chief executives, when he said “there is no greater privilege in government than being responsible for our NHS”. Even if the Department of Health didn’t lean on Monitor to delay a hideous set of financial figures until after the […]