Ooooh Mrs Robinson.


My love of movies can be traced back to a juvenile series of transgressions. It was, in many ways, a serendipitous chance acquaintance motivated by an insatiable thirst to develop my recently discovered and all-consuming love of the opposite sex.

At impossible late hours like 11.30 (the Seymour family retires early) I used to painstakingly creep downstairs, spending minutes navigating the stairs and slowly opening wooden doors, impotently attempting to muffle every grind and creak. My 13 year-old self had an almost pathological fear of being caught by a somnambulist parent who would find me crouched, eyes-wide and pyjama-clad, bathed in the flickering grey halo of Television X’s 10 minute preview. Always wondered where the phrase red-handed originated.

There were tests and challenges along the way. If the cat managed to run between your legs as you entered the living room, she’d make a fee-line (get it?) for the comfort of my parent’s duvet. In this scenario, you would have to very quickly take one of two available options:

Option 1) chase the cat.

Option 2) as silently as possible, leg it.

Secret option number three, which I tried only once, was to hide outside in the winter’s air until the cat had been redeposited. Unfortunately, the sound of me coming in again through the front door justifiably led my progenitors to believe they were the recipients of a break in. On that occasion, I was at a loss.

Within this youthful journey of discovery, I accidently exposed myself to a lot of dreadful films (thankyou Channel 5) and a few very good films (mostly Channel 4). I also gained a more detailed knowledge of the numerous plot-lines in Sex and the City than a 13 year-old should because, to put it bluntly, it had the word ‘sex’ in the title. I was experiencing more tension than a G20 rally and we only had five channels, so try not to judge me.

On one of my midnight journeys, this time with rogue cat safely pacified, I became ensconced in what I now know to be The Graduate, the 1967 cult movie that launched Dustin Hoffman’s unlikely career as a sex symbol.

“Mrs Robinson, you’re trying to seduce me… aren’t you?” mutters young college graduate Benjamin to middle-aged Mrs Robinson (played by Anne Bancroft, only six years older than Hoffman in real life). Unwittingly, I was witness to one of the most famous seduction scenes in the movies. A recent child of juvenile and confused sexuality, I did not know what to do with myself.


I love it when art seems to aline with reality, so the sad news of Peter Robinson’s demise as Northern Ireland’s first minister was for me tainted by a little tit-bit of comedy. Thanks to Mrs Robinson’s midnight discoveries, I’m assuming a young, ruddy-faced Dustin Hoffman won’t be appearing on RTE’s channels anytime soon.


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An early election?

As the results of the local and European elections come flying in, as the storm of Westminster continues to rage, after an unprecedented amount of ministerial resignations and political suicides and enforced reshuffles, it is worth reminding ourselves what challenges Britain has to face.


Along with the rest of Europe and the world at large, we are dealing with an economic crisis, wars in the Middle East, an omnipresent terrorist threat, rampant unemployment, a flu pandemic, an environment in meltdown and a malign and pernicious threat from medieval far-right groups.

It is clear, therefore, that the role politics and governance plays, from the lowliest parish council to the echelons of the European Union, has never been more central to each of our separate livelihoods and identities.

But the results of the elections are unequivocal. Despite this myriad of challenges, one thing continues to dominate our headlines, to rear its ugly head in Parliament. The MPs expenses scandal will not go away- and Labour have been bitten the worst.

As Brown said in PM’s questions this week, every single MP is accountable for this crisis of confidence. But, as is the nature of being Prime Minister, his head is even more exposed in this political manifestation of trench warfare. As the old American saying has it, the buck stops here.

Brown is the figurehead of our political system. He holds the truths of Westminster to be self-evident. Hard as it may be on him, he is undoubtedly the most accountable, and he cannot provide the answers.

He is a good, honest man, and a loyal servant to this country. In terms of policy and reform, of dealing with the big issues and big ideas, few can match him. But it is the minutiae of modern-day politics that he fails to get to grips with, and never really has.

The expenses scandal serves as a perfect illustration of his own chronic limitations; his lack of conviction and decisiveness, his insecurities and communication deficiencies. His talk of the devolution of power and of self-reliance, but his inability to loosen his grip on all areas of policy, or to surround himself with anyone but his closest allies.

These traits stand in stark contrast to that of his young pretender’s populist approach and ability to read public opinion. Cameron judged the outrage and immediately threw his grandees to the pack, knowing they were on the way out anyway. Most of the flack was deflected from Gove and Letwin who were, in many ways, the real culprits.

Brown, on the other hand, publicly and privately gave Blears a dressing down and refused to back her position. She jumped before she was pushed, and made sure that while doing so she rocked the boat. If she’d been sacked weeks ago, the current crisis could have been tempered and managed, if not avoided.

Cameron continues to savage “the Government of the living dead” at every turn, while managing to avoid the question of what he will do with the power he will gain if, as seems increasingly likely, he comes to occupy number 10.

If Cameron is voted in, we will have the most Eurosceptic leader since Britain first joined the E.U in 1973. At a time when constructive engagement on these big issues are necessary, we will be in the extraordinary situation of carping about British independence and identity and winging about the beurocractic gravy-chain of the Union.

For all his misgivings and half-measures, it will be a sad day when Brown eventually goes, as he inevitably will. For all his earnestness and undoubted commitment, his Premiership has had the air of a tragic-comedy.

He bided his time and diligently crunched the numbers while his smooth alter-ego cosied up to George W. Bush, privatised the NHS, invaded Iraq and Afghanistan, ostracised the party’s core electorate whilst immersing it in corporate City greed.

After rattling the keys above Blair’s head for so long, Brown’s Premiership is now being decided by dodgy receipts, moats and duck ponds and a saintly little ray of sunshine from Salford.

Smith, Purnell and in particular Blears orchestrated their departures in such a way as to impart maximum damage on the ever-more beleaguered Prime Minister. There message is as clear as the electorate’s; Brown, for all his abilities, does not convince.

But Brown deserves the right to fight an election and to at least defend his honour.  He could judder on to the last available moment, and fight off all the putsches and coups that will accompany that, but the credible thing to do now would be to go to the polls.

For my money, when people are faced with a decision, the election could be a closer thing than many commentators expect. The election roadshow will bring the best out of Brown, will sharpen his sense of purpose and reinvigorate him when he is slumped on the ropes.

Blair’s departing words to Cameron: “You can dance around the ring all you want, but when he hits you will go down.”

In many ways, it is a trivial matter. After being held in such contempt by so many of our politicians, the British public deserve that. Whoever occupies Downing Street will have to start again to restore Parliament’s credibility.

MPs Can’t Just Hide Away Again

After a fortnight of unparalleled self-flagellation, the mood is changing in Westminster. Britain’s politicians, many of them personally disgraced, are now beginning to talk of constitutional change and electoral reform, a brave new world of democratic accountability and integrity.

After their dirty laundry was so very publicly aired, our MPs are actively retreating into their comfort zone. While the electorate continue to trudge to work in an economy shrivelled by recession, an NHS stymied with rampant managerialism and an education system preoccupied with measuring rather than advancing knowledge, they are again being removed from the equation.

The talk of an elected second chamber, of a clear separation of legislative, executive and judicial power, and of an unambiguous, transparent constitution is commendable but inevitable. It conveniently fails to appreciate one obvious truth – this will not happen overnight.

Michael Martin was the first Speaker of the House to resign since 1625An elected House of Lords was in Labour’s manifesto in 1997. The need for a British constitution has been discussed for years in classrooms and lecture theatres the country over with little sign of an actual consensus emerging. We need to demand more.

Scapegoats are always necessary, but Michael Martin’s resignation was entirely right and proper. He embodied the introspection, traditionalism and self-aggrandisement of a political elite wholly divorced, and masochistically insulated, from the country it attempts to serve.

His defence of a mediaeval system of entitlement sent a very clear message to the electorate: Parliament is a world of its own, aware of its boundaries but ignorant of what lies beyond. He had become institutionalised, and his complete misjudgement of the public’s justified outrage was lamentable.

The public need to be given a tangible opportunity to control the direction this country is moving, and to rid it of the elements that have allowed it to stagnate. A chance for change they can at least, on some level, be part of.

This country has a proud democratic history and a tradition of social mobility and meritocracy. That alone deserves our faith and commitment. This legacy has no place for politicians who charge us for the upkeep of their moats, who spend more on their gardens than many of us earn in a year and then send the bill to the Inland Revenue. As much as anything, we cannot afford to keep them.

We need to be given the right to choose those who represent us, and those who believe in democracy rather than self-advancement should be given the right to replace the current nepotism of Parliament. Those who have laudably stepped outside the rot should be recognised, and allowed to continue.

We need to be empowered, and whoever is chosen to occupy Downing Street needs to start again.

Israeli War Crimes in Gaza

I can’t post them directly to my wall, but I implore you to watch these videos. The Guardian have revealed that Israel was guilty of war crimes in the so-called conflict in the Gaza strip at the start of this year.

The report says:

“The drones are operated from a remote position, usually outside the combat zone. They use optics that are able to see the details of a man’s clothing and are fitted with pinpoint accurate missiles. With a weapons system that is so accurate, and with such good optics, why are we experiencing so many civilians being killed?

As we all know thanks to figures published by the World Health Organisation, 1,380 Palestinians perished, 431 of them children, during Israel’s  23-day offensive. 48 civilians were killed by the drones.

Sitting here watching the Guardian’s videos earlier, the only conclusion I could come to was; if my family was smeared around my garden when we were sat out eating tea one evening because an unpeopled drone five miles high dropped a bomb in my back garden, I would have little reason to continue living and would never be able to come to terms with the arbitrary randomness which allowed me to survive and them to die.

If I chose to kill myself, would I do it peacefully and quietly in some room somewhere, or would I be so consumed with vitriol that I felt I deserved a small bit of justice or, if that word ceased to have any meaning or relevance, plain old revenge?

I think these feelings would be sharpened if this act of gratuitous and extreme violence of towards those I love was acted out and then attempted to be justified by people willing to attribute it to an act in the ongoing war against terrorism.

The Guardian videos reminded of this scene in Munich, Steven Speilberg’s best film. It expresses in dramatic form the phrase “violence begets violence,” arguing that, as soon as one is proactively uses aggression in order to achieve an objective, it becomes almost impossible to return to co-operation and diplomacy, and the primary objective is eventually forgotten. It’s worth watching the full ten minutes, but if you don’t have time watch between just before the third minute to about the middle of the fifth.

The War on Terror was an idiotic sham, perpetrated by the arrogance and near-sightedness of democratically elected individuals obsessed with their own moral conviction.

We have watched half a million people die in Iraq, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, the continued appeasement of corrupt dictators in Pakistan and Afghanistan, our Government grant itself the ability to lock people up without trial or question for six weeks, home grown Britian’s blowing themselves and 52 others up on the London Underground, extraordinary rendition, and the continued arming of Israel who now possess one of the most advanced and bloated weapons arsenal in the world.

The over-arching justification for this? WMDs that didn’t exist and the belief in human rights and civil liberites.

Gaza was the epilogue to the war on terror, not another chapter in it.

The Guardian’s video illustrates why we need to cease using terrorism as an excuse or a justification. It is a redundant term. Terrorism is the latest in a long line of terms that succeeded in dehumanising somebody else- Communism, Fascism, Anarchism, Atheism, zionism. All these terms, these -isms, paradoxically invite people to ignore the question of motive while simultaneously intellectualising it, safe in the knowledge that they possess the moral high-ground, that they are in the right.

For almost ten years we had two leaders whose administrations were propelled by religious conviction. How many times did we hear Bush and Blair talk about right and wrong and good and evil?

Marx wrote:

“Hegel’s philosophy of right doesn’t assign a moral category to wrong.”

I’m not going to pretend I’ve read Hegel or Marx or really understand this sentence, but it still makes sense I think. Right and wrong are a semantic exercise in dividing and then understanding the world in its most simplistic and cursory forms. They express part of an equation within a continuous struggle.

People are people. People have causes. People can be misled. We differ enormously but essentially we are all the same, with the same motivations and impulses, and the same occasional belief in violence.

Violence begets violence. It makes no difference who the victims or the perpetrators are.

I have asked a lot of questions here, and I do not possess the intellect to provide answers, if such things exist. All I can hope is that things will progress. All I know is that, despite the fact that my life has no direct connection to the people of Gaza captured so dispassionately by the Guardian’s cameras, watching these videos inspires anger and frustration in me, and leads me to thrash around trying to make sense of something which is at heart completely illogical and beyond understanding.

My conclusion? if anyone ever doubts the importance of investigative journalism, direct them towards these videos. I would rather have the Guardian telling me what the truth is than accept the official explanation from the Israeli Defence Force or the Home Office. At least it gives us the chance to try and work stuff out.

Cardiff’s Pandora

The following is a few small anecdotes and observations I wrote for the section of the trainee paper I write for that we refer to as the Diary. Its my paltry stab at Private Eye reporting. Peter Cook, eat your heart out.

It can be a frustrating thing to live with a guy who’s a little work-shy. We’ve all been there – got in late after a long day only to find the sink piled high with dirty dishes, your last cookie freshly eaten, and the bathroom covered in razor trimmings.
It’s always difficult to know how  to approach it. There’s either the softly, softly approach, where you occasionally drop in a veiled comment about the rotting chicken carcass on the kitchen side a week after it was cooked, or there’s the note-leaving approach: “I’ve decided to call our resident mouse Ringo. We’re now knee deep in beer bottles and half-eaten kebabs. Do you think you could maybe…”
Alternatively, there’s the “get really angry and tell them they’re a lazy good for nothing and you can no longer stand to live in a house pigs would turn there noses up at” approach. It can be the most effective way forward.
However, if you possess a temper, proceed with caution. Just ask Andrew Cohen,43, of New Road, Porthcawl.  He got two-and-a-half years for stabbing his lazy flatmate in the arm with a kitchen knife after a conversation about housework.  In mitigation, his lawyer said: “Andrew Cohen was simply trying to carry out the wishes of his landlord.”  At least he drove the point home.

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Third Runway- The Other Side

Arrested Development

The news the third runway at Heathrow Airport has been given the go-ahead by the Government, despite the Prime Minister’s continued calls for a green revolution, has been met with widespread anger. Highly regarded columnists from across the spectrum of the national press have joined together to condemn it, opposition politicians have had a field day and the No Third Runway Campaign Group seem to have merely redoubled their efforts.

This is an issue people will talk about in the queue for the ballot box, and Mr Brown understands that. He has presented himself to the British public as a serious man for serious times and it is unlikely he will have taken this decision lightly.

This is a good message. For all his short-comings, and he is undoubtedly a very serious man, we are equally living through very serious times. As he has rightly said recently, when the actions of one banking system can impact so enormously on the banks of another nation half way across the world, then the only way to approach the global financial crisis is with a global financial response.

As Colin Matthews, the CEO of the British Airports Authority has repeatedly said, Britain cannot afford to compromise its position as a global
financial hub and, as another bail-out comes into view, this is as true today as it has ever been.

The hard truth is we do not know how much impact the third runway will have on the environment. It could very well be negligible. What we do know is that it will provide us with 72,000 new jobs and, in the current state of play, Heathrow will not be able to hold on to the airline business that has already started to migrate to airports with more runways, such as Schiphol, Frankfurt and Charles de Gaulle.

Airplanes are often seen as the arch-villain in global warming, but they only contribute about 1.6 per cent of all carbon emissions. In the current climate, they are given tax exceptions that allow them to dominate trans-national travel. By combining the speed of an airplane with a comparable lack of price, many consumers think there is no other option.

With the promise of a new runway, Mr Brown has bargained for a strict set of fiscal policies. If he is able to impose these taxes, he will encourage the aviation industry to pursue a greener future whilst evening out the playing field with other forms of transportation. This is where the pressure should be placed.

It is easy for us to sit here and criticize without fully understanding the complexities of the situation. Barack Obama has already made it blindingly clear he will be unable to see through all of his campaign promises in the current economic climate. Gordon Brown will privately be as frustrated as anyone that he has not been able to see his vision materialize, but right now we need practical leaders. If not anything else, he is certainly that.

Heathrow’s Third Runway

Terminal Decline

 

In the face of stiff opposition, Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon recently announced the go-ahead for the £9 billion expansion of Heathrow Airport after Prime Minister Gordon Brown said the needs of the economy and the environment had to be balanced.

Both Mr Hoon and Mr Brown have attempted to convince Ministers and the public that the new runway is essential to Britain’s business in a globalised economy and will offer guarantees that environmental sanctions will not affect the Government’s carbon emission targets.

They are failing to convince. Last year, over half a million flights left our shores and 87% of air users in Britain did so for leisure and tourism reasons. Due to the rise of low-cost companies, most notably Easyjet and Ryanair, it is now possible to fly across Europe for a single penny, with tax and extras added.

Even at Heathrow, only a third of users claim their flight is purely for business purposes, but how many of these claims are believable and how many involve a knowing look from the boss and a quiet word about packing the swimsuit?

Companies such as BAA (whom own Heathrow and six other airports) continue to borrow, invest, speculate and build debt by indulging these projects and, despite the all-too obvious warning signs, the Government still seem unwilling or incapable of standing up to them.

As much as anything else, it is poor politics. The public now know the over-extended ambition, overblown promise and excess of big business has led us to this precarious point. Brown’s continued calls for a new era of personal responsibility sound increasingly hypocritical.

Brown is hoping that, when the dust settles, the third runway will help our economy and his own standing as Prime Minister. The runway will create more jobs, more business and consumerism, more spending and plenty of tax, as well as encouraging the aviation industry to invest in greener, less polluting planes. On paper it is undoubtedly attractive, even if the figures the Department of Transport are using are based on increasingly tenuous long-term projections as our economy becomes more unstable. 

The overwhelming impression is the third runway will have a significant and long term impact on the environment and a shorter and less significant impact on the economy, and this is what the public is going to remember.

Members of Brown’s own cabinet oppose the runway, the Conservatives have vowed to scrap it if they win the next election, and the No Third Runway Action Group have insisted: “This is not the end. It is simply the end of the beginning.”

Considering the anger and frustration with which the general public have greeted the announcement, it is clear the third runway is far from a forgone conclusion.

Capturing Cardiff: A New Movement.

The scratches and bruises on his face were as evident as the anarchy badge pinned to his red beret when Caerphilly Councillor Ray Davies, 79, stood from his seat and addressed the lecture hall. 

“Friends and comrades,” he said to the collection of socialists, humanitarians, activists and Muslims twisting in their seats to face him, “I’ve been going to public meetings like this for years and have grown used to standing up and speaking in front of four or five people. I can’t remember a turn-out as good as this.

“I realised at the marches in Cardiff on Friday and in London on Saturday that a marker has been set. The campaign will now continue and won’t die out. The movement we’ve been waiting for is now here.”

Mr Davies has campaigned for peace for decades. His activism and humanitarian work has seen him campaign on various individuals’ behalf and on a range of issues. It has forced him to serve time in jail and seen his position as a councillor severely compromised. During the recent London protest, Mr Davies was hit on the head  when violence broke out between protestors and the Metropolitan police outside the Israeli Embassy, leaving him unconscious. 

He has been instrumental in orchestrating the series of peaceful protests and public meetings that have taken place, and will continue to take place, in Cardiff over the last few weeks in response to Israel’s attack on the Gaza Strip. 

It is evident that Mr Davies and other activists across the city feel that the Gaza crisis has galvanised the general public and in particular the Muslim community. The protest that took place on Queen Street on Friday 9 January was the largest Cardiff has seen for many years. Starting at the City Hall and moving towards Cardiff Castle, it spanned half the length of Queen Street. 

Standing by the Aneurin Bevan statue speeches were given by, amongst others, the prospective Labour parliamentary candidate for Cardiff Central Jenny Rathbone and Munir Ashi, a resident and business-owner in Cardiff who was born and brought up in the Gaza Strip.

        

Both of them shared their views with me on the state of political protest in Cardiff as a result of the Gaza crisis:

The next day, three coach-loads of people travelled from Cardiff to London to join in the 150,000 strong march on the Israeli Embassy. It was the biggest protest against Israeli aggression in Britain’s history.

Ghaith Nassar spent three years in Cardiff whilst completing an architectural engineering degree at the city’s university. Ghaith was born and bought up in Ramallah, a city in the West Bank where he has now returned to live.

Whilst in Cardiff, Ghaith was heavily involved in the Cardiff Palestine Solidarity Society and protested alongside the Cardiff Reds Choir against the Welsh Assembly’s invitation to the Israeli ambassador in June.

Ghaith is now an active member of Action Palestine, conducting a campaign against Israeli aggression over the internet using social-media sites, primarily Facebook.

“Surprisingly enough it was not that bad,” he said when I asked him about Cardiff’s perception of his hometown. “Many people understood a lot about the situation but not much about the Palestinian people and the culture.

“The people in Cardiff seemed to be mostly aware of the situation but active? No, not that much.

“Many people wanted to stay neutral and not take sides which was frustrating. In my eyes being objective, neutral or whatever you want to call it means you are with Israel whether you intend to be or not.”

Ghaith was keen to talk about the Palestinian people as well as the politics that surrounds their everyday existence. He directed me to an article he had written for This Week In Palestine.

Ghaith’s perception of the Cardiff people may be different if he were in the city now.

But, if the movement Mr Davies has welcomed is to sustain itself and have an impact, changes need to be made to the way that activists approach their work.

For something billed as a public meeting and a place to discuss, there was too much transmitting and not enough receiving at the Wallace Lecture Theatre at Cardiff University.

Faced with a crowd who have a liberal interpretation of facts, who shy away from asking each other questions, who applaud each comment regardless of whether it is practical and insightful or inane, self-congratulatory and wide-of-the-mark and who act like a procession of soap-boxes, the inevitable, nagging question always arises; what good is this doing in the concrete world? Why bother?

I talked to Myrla Eastland, a member of Cor Cochion Caerdydd (Cardiff Red Choir). The Choir meets outside the indoor market in Cardiff every Saturday and Tuesday, singing protest songs in different dialectics and raising awareness about humanitarian crisis throughout the world.

They formed in 1983 due to shared feelings over events in Chile, South Africa and at home in Wales. After visiting Palestine in 1994 with Ray Davies, they set up CND Cymru.

It is humbling to watch someone, rain or shine, exercise their civil liberties and in doing so continue to reinstate the belief that those liberties should be available to anyone, whether they’re from Caerphilly, Cathays, Ramallah or Gaza.

As Myrla Eastland said:

“The important thing for the people in this group- the thing we believe in- is that acting is much more important than reacting. People come up to us and say ‘what you’re doing is useless, Palestine is never going to change.’ When we were members of the anti-apartheid movement we never felt that. We felt that it was important, no matter what the odds, to keep going. In the end, we prevailed over the apartheid.”

Understanding the BNP

A Party From Your Parent’s Day

 

After a long, gin-soaked Friday night the grind of the proceeding week had almost been forgotten. At four in the morning, with the sweat of the dance-floor hanging off me and lurid ideas spawning about possible combinations from the fridge, I was probably not the most receptive to fuel for my next blog.  Inspiration chooses its moments.

There’s that brilliant Peter Kay sketch when he talks about getting into a taxi and can’t resist getting into the conversation with the driver. I seem to have embraced this when taking the 5 minute journey from the centre of Cardiff to my place in Splott, always starting the conversation with the classic “busy night mate?” before comfortably going through the motions.

On this particular occasion, I ended up sat in the taxi outside my house for about 10 minutes trying to understand why my driver was going to vote for the BNP at the next election.

I never got my driver’s name, but for the sake of this blog I’m going to refer to him as Geoff. I think (although, due to the 20 or so units, I can’t be sure) the conversation was sparked by me saying how quickly Cardiff seemed to be changing and my own city, Sheffield, was going through a similar thing.

As we drew up by my house, Geoff told me he had grown up “just round the corner” and now lived in Ely. His Dad had worked at the East Moors steelworks in Splott and was made redundant when it closed in the late 70’s. “He’s still waiting for his pension,” he said. He told me about the Miner’s Strike: “These men, who were fighting for their way of life, were painted as yobs and criminals.”

Despite his father’s experiences, Geoff himself had worked in the steel factory run by ASW until it went into receivership in 2002. “I went into work one morning, the boss called me to the office and there was a cheque on the table for £16,000. They told me it was mine if I accepted voluntary redundancy. It was very difficult not to, I had kids at home that needed feeding and we all knew the place was going down the tubes. Turns out it was about half of what I was owed, but I took it.

“Labour’s done nothing to help me. I’m never going to get what I earnt. My Dad is almost 70 and he’s still working. I’m probably going to be stuck doing this until about the same time,” he said, cuffing the steering wheel with the flat of his hand as he did so.

I asked him about the Splott of his upbringing, and he told me of the sense of community that was held together by the shared identity and shared destiny that the steelworks provided. He talked of the way this community fragmented when the steel industry died, and of the social and demographic transformation that has gone on since.

Finally, he told me that he’d received a knock on his door from a couple of guy’s canvassing for BNP votes. They said they stood for a Britain that existed in our parent’s day.

So there it was. This amenable, personable guy not only felt intimidated by the sheer force of change that had swept through his community, it wasn’t just that the BNP provided him with a sense of belonging (although these stereotypes were to an extent accurate with my driver), it was that he felt betrayed and dismissed by successive centrist Governments.

Geoff argued well, and the anger and the sense of helplessness at how he and his family had been treated by men in Westminister was almost tangible. He gripped the steering wheel and didn’t take his eyes off the road whilst he spoke, as if he was talking to himself. Deep scars that may have scabbed over, but hadn’t healed.

I thanked him for the conversation, went inside and switched my laptop on, and what was the leading article on the Guardian’s website? The rise of the BNP is politicians fault.

In response to the leaked BNP membership list (my erstwhile colleague Sean expands on this on his own blog) which showed that people from all over Britain and from a broad range of professions signed up to the BNP, Cabinet Minister Hazel Blears wrote a forthright piece investigating the causes of the BNP’s rise to uncomfortable relevance:

“We must recognise that where the BNP wins votes, it is often a result of local political failure. Estates that have been ignored for decades; voters taken for granted; local services that have failed; white skilled working-class voters who feel politicians live on a different planet. In such a political vacuum, the BNP steps in with offers of grass-cutting, a listening ear, and easy answers to complex problems…Shouting Nazi is not the answer.

I grew up in a suburb in Sheffield and I went to the local comprehensive school. Each member of my family works in some capacity in the public services. After I graduated from University I went back to Sheffield and, without a lot of consideration, found myself working with people with learning disabilities. As a result, the left is a very natural place for me to occupy.

There is also, from my reasonably sanitised point of view, a defined distinction between the left and right wing. I find opposing Thatcherism (and, by extension, any Conservative government) about as difficult as drinking beer. But, to Geoff, the distinction between left and right have ceased to have, or maybe never had, any meaning.

 Do you know what the worst thing about talking to Geoff was? I could see exactly where he was coming from.

To conclude, I want to show a clip from a wonderful film which, as cinema has the tendency to do, illustrates what I’m attempting to say far more articulately than I ever could. This Is England, by Shane Meadows; if you haven’t seen it, I urge you to. I just wish that, late that Friday night, I’d had the presence of mind to recommend it to Geoff.  

 

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