Monthly Archives: November 2013

Top Motorist Myths About Cycling and, er, Motoring

Advisory cycle lanes exist to let councils off the hook. They’re mostly useless and can encourage bad cycling.

The recent cluster of cycling deaths on London’s streets has brought road cycling back into the spotlight. It is unfortunate, of course, that it has taken 6 deaths in the space of a fortnight for people to sit up and pay attention. Now it’s all fine for motorists to complain that cyclists are self-righteous wankers (and there are no drivers who are self-righteous wankers? Come off it.) who dress in Lycra and take serious, often foolhardy, risks with their lives, but drivers have no room to talk given the numbers of undetected motoring offences I see every day in London.

With any debate of this nature, cycling is always likely to excite some passionate, if not excitable, views. I have spent some time in the last week or so scanning the comments threads on the recent spate of blogs that highlight the problems cyclists face when riding on urban streets. The comments, particularly those from motorists, are some of the most ill-informed and point to a basic and often wilful ignorance of the Highway Code.

Here are some of the more enduring myths that motorists have when they engage in a ‘debate’ over the rights and wrongs of cycling.

1. “I pay road tax”

This is the myth that’s heard the most. It’s also been debunked endlessly. There is no such thing as “road tax” and there hasn’t been since the 1920s. There is Vehicle Excise Duty and it is, as its name suggests, an excise dutypayable to HM Customs – that all motorists have to pay. It’s essentially a tax on pollution . If you don’t want to pay it, you can always cycle (cheaper) or take public transport (expensive). The choice is yours.

I had an encounter on a comments thread during which the other person claimed that he/she “believed Vehicle Excise Duty was the same as road tax”, which somehow made it true. I told him/her that just because “people believe in fairies and unicorns it doesn’t make them any more real”. There was no reply.

2. Cycling is dangerous

This is based on the notion that driving a car is inherently safer than riding a bike, because the driver feels that he/she is safer inside a two ton metal, glass and plastic box. It sort of makes sense… being surrounded by all that stuff. It’s like the cyclists who think that helmets have magical powers that render the wearer safe. They don’t.  Thing is, most car bodies are not armoured; they’re made out of lightweight metal. Have you ever seen a car that’s been side-impacted by a lorry? It’s a mess. Even the numbers of motoring fatalities aren’t on the motorist’s side. According to this Guardian article from 2012, the numbers of road fatalities are on the rise.

1,901 people died in road accidents in Great Britain last year – a rise of 51 since 2010, but still one third lower than the average number of fatalities between 2005 and 2009.

The figures, released by the Department for Transport, also show that the number of deaths to pedestrians and car occupants rose by 12% and 6% respectively, while there were drops in the numbers of bus and coach occupants (-22%), motorcyclists and (-10%) pedal cyclists (-4%) killed.

Over a thousand road deaths caused by a combination of factors: drink-driving, being in a hurry (speeding), reckless driving and not paying attention (put your goddam phone away!). It’s not as bad as Ireland, but still isn’t good.  According to ROSPA, there were 118 cyclist deaths last year. Again, it’s nothing to brag about but anyone can see that 118 is less than 1,901. But that’s one in five cyclists dying on the roads, often for a range of factors, some of which I’ve talked about on this blog. A UCL study from last year notes that cycling is still safer than driving. Indeed, as I mentioned earlier, many motorists are lulled into a false sense of security while they’re driving and it is because of this that some feel that they can take greater risks. Cyclists and motorcyclists feel everything because they’re exposed to the elements. The experience is much more immediate and real. For the cyclist perhaps more so, because of the amount of physical effort need to pedal at a decent cadence.

3. Cyclists jump red lights

What? And motorists never jump red lights? This myth really needs to be put to bed. In the last three days I have seen no less than 5 motorists jump red lights, some of them at pelican crossings. I sat on a bus last year and the driver jumped seven red lights in a row. Let’s get something straight: some road-users jump red lights.  To say that all cyclists jump reds is a sweeping generalization. It’s like saying that – as an urban cyclist –  I believe that all Mercedes drivers are selfish dickheads. They clearly aren’t but most of the ones that I’ve met are selfish dickheads.

4. If you ride on the road, you should be insured and that includes cyclists

This is another ‘belief’. Many cyclists are motorists and are already insured and all cycling instructors are insured – often through their employer – because of the nature of their work. Insisting that cyclists be insured to ride on the road is like saying users of mobility scooters and pedestrians should be insured. Where does it end?

Then there are the numbers of uninsured drivers on Britain’s roads. It’s estimated that there are over a million of them. Yes, motorists whose insurance payments are up to date have a right to be angry about uninsured drivers. Their premiums increase because of them. According to The Guardian, Britain has the highest number of uninsured drivers in Europe. Many of the accidents on Britain’s roads are caused by uninsured drivers.

5. Cyclists don’t know the rules of the road.

Yes, there are a lot of bad cyclists out there. I almost got hit by one as I was going through  a green light in Ealing as he was jumping a red light. I had another one pull out of minor road while I was travelling along the major road. When I remonstrated with him I got a ‘V’ sign for my trouble. Then there are the motorists who pull out from a minor road without bothering to look for cyclists and motorcyclists. An experienced cyclist could be travelling at 20mph, perhaps faster and there are some motorists who lull themselves into thinking that anything on two wheels is slower.

Then there was an occasion when I was behind someone in a four-wheel drive who didn’t indicate once in the half a mile or so that I’d followed them. Use your indicators! Or how about the driver who’s in the wrong lane on the Hammersmith gyratory and fails to indicate while changing lanes? It isn’t just cyclists who do this kind of thing. Drivers do it too – all the time. Pick your lane early and if you find you’re in the wrong lane, look behind and signal your intention to change lanes to other road users.

There are some motorists who think it’s fine to park on double yellow or zig-zag lines. I often see drivers parking on the double yellow line on Bridge Avenue in Hammersmith. One woman told me that it was okay to park on double yellow lines (on a bend) because “it was Saturday”.  Double yellow lines are there for a reason and are enforceable 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Then there are the numbers of drivers who are driving without a license or operating a vehicle that’s ringed or displaying a false number plate. Some people don’t care for the rules of the road. They think they’re above them.

6. Cyclists weave in and out of traffic

This is called “filtering” and it’s a perfectly reasonable and legitimate thing to do when you’re faced with a long queue of traffic. Motorcyclists and moped riders also filter. The motorist’s objection appears to be based on two things: 1) Why should I have to sit here in a long queue of traffic, while they get to ride to the front on the queue? 2. The bicycle has no engine, therefore it’s dangerous to filter. My reply to the first is, “start cycling or get a moped, then you won’t have to sit in traffic” and second, get used to cyclists filtering (and read the Highway Code). Having an engine is completely irrelevant.

Of course, cyclists also need to avoid potholes and this means swerving to avoid them. Riding into a pothole can be dangerous. It could also damage your bike and you could injure your spine. The motorists is protected by shock absorbers and the most that could happen is that they damage their suspension. Their spines will not suffer as a consequence.

7. Cyclists should wear helmets

Since when did cycling helmets come with magical powers? Never and the things that are going to keep you safe are your eyes and your road position. I always make eye contact with other road users and I look back frequently. If I make a turn, I always perform a lifesaver check.  I know that a helmet will protect the head in event of a crash but what about the other bones of the body? Should all cyclists be thinking of wearing full body armour too? Absurd.

8. Cyclists should ride on the pavement or in the gutter where I can’t see them

First, it’s illegal to cycle on the pavement unless where indicated. Second, riding in the gutter is not only uncomfortable but it could lead to punctures and skidding on wet drain covers. Staying out of sight is how many cyclists end up being killed or injured by motorists. Many cycle paths that run adjacent to roads aren’t cleaned regularly and there will be debris, including broken glass, lying in them. I can’t think of many motorists who want to damage their car or risk a puncture because they think it’s “safer” to do so. Can you? For the cyclist, it’s often better to ride on the road, than to ride on a detritus-strewn cycle path.

9. Cyclists should stick to cycle lanes and paths

Most cycle lanes are designed by people who don’t ride bikes, therefore many of them are actually dangerous. Some cycle lanes run close to give way lines or will encourage riders to overtake larger vehicles on the left. Cycle lanes need to be segregated and the Advance Stop Boxes need to be properly enforced.

Even if a cyclist uses the cycle lane, some drivers won’t give the cyclist enough room and will overtake far too closely. The safe recommended overtaking distance is three feet or a metre. This is another cause of accidents.

Some motorists clearly have a sense of entitlement and much of it is based entirely upon myths and the belief that because they drive a car, then they’re better than anyone who uses public transport – often seen by them as the “poor man’s mode of transport”. To these people, the cyclist is an inferior form of life that serves the same function as the tenant does to the self-styled homeowner (who rents their home from the bank).

There is no hierarchy of road users. Everyone needs to remember this.

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Telegraph Comment of the Week (#17)

The thing about today’s racists is that they don’t like to be called racists. Yet that it is what they are and describing yourself as an ‘ethno-nationalist’ doesn’t let  you off the hook either. In fact, an ethno-nationalist is exactly the same thing as a racist. If you look at blogs like those on the Telegraph or Express websites, you will always see the racists jumping up and down and whining that they’re being labelled ‘racists’. Seriously, these racists doth protest too much. Diddums. Life’s so unfair.

This blog from the Torygraph’s token black blogger, Selena Grey, has the kind of title that gets all the racists chiming in with their tuppence worth. Indeed the fact that she’s black is enough to get some ranting and raving about ‘white genocide’.

Grey opens with this paragraph that’s bound to get the racists  baying for blood and demanding there be such a thing as ‘white history’ on the school curriculum.

Black History Month is all about learning. I certainly learnt something this year. I trekked across England as a panelist on the Great Debate Tour. The tour travels to university campuses through October and November and invites black and ethnic minority students to Question Time style debates on immigration, integration, voter registration and enterprise.

She then goes on to describe how some black students defied her expectations and complained about the amount of racism had poisoned the so-called immigration ‘debate’.

At Goldsmiths University the panel was asked whether immigrants take jobs from Brits or merely do the jobs that Brits are unwilling to do. I shared how my hardworking British friends in the construction industry found themselves undercut and almost unemployed when the Polish builders first arrived on the scene. In response to my contribution an enraged black female student raised her hand and yelled “if your friends couldn’t compete with the Polish maybe they’re just crap businessmen”.

Did you see how she set up that paragraph? She fell back on the auld canard that immigrants come here and “take jobs from Brits”. She’s a crowd-pleaser and no mistake.

To press her point, Grey carefully selects the correct black voices to lend support to her dreary argument. Here’s one:

At Oxford University, a black female student was furious at our politicians’ inability to discuss, address or control immigration. At Manchester University, a black female student was annoyed to find herself in the English-speaking minority on her Medical Science degree course. At Greenwich University, a black charity worker from East London shared his deep-seated irritation at how the local culture had been transformed by Asian and Somali immigrants: “I feel uncomfortable” he said. His candid comment led to an awkward silence.

Nothing like divide and rule, eh? The sad thing is that Grey has fallen for it. Yet if the anti-immigrationists ever got their way, guess who they’d turn on next? Uh huh, that’s right, people with black or brown skin. That hasn’t crossed Grey’s mind nor the minds of second generation immigrants who think it’s reasonable to enter into the same side of the knee-jerk ‘debate’ on immigration as white racists.

Grey closes with this paragraph:

One concern of the Great Debate founders is that blacks are not as politically active as whites. But immigration was the one issue black people in these audiences did have a political opinion about. And black Brits are uncomfortable with it.

If she’s trying to ingratiate herself and the black people she claims to speak for to a bunch of xenophobes, then she will fail.

Now for this week’s comment. This one is from “tedsanityville” who’s appeared on this blog once before.


Notice how the racists can’t avoid using zoological terminology to describe non-white people. Other cultures – the filthy hordes – “breed”, unlike pure white Brits (itself an oxymoron) who also breed, though the racists will often referred to it as ‘shagging’.  This is how white racists see others: as lesser beings, even animals.

See how “tedinsanityville” extends the ‘crowded island’ canard to “mainland Europe”. Their countries “are shitholes” declares this racist without a trace of irony. Everyone else lives in a ‘shithole’ but these people.

“brendalacluster” then chips in with an ‘Amen, brother’. Her suggestion is that the reason for “failing hospitals, schools etc” is because of those immigrant darkies, who come over here with the intention of destroying Britain’s infrastructure. It never occurs to people like this that the country is being destroyed by a ruling class that uses the NHS and education as political footballs. Like the ruling class, these xenophobes and racists would much rather blame someone else. Why? Because it’s easy and they’re incapable of critical thinking.

I have a simple proposition: if people who are against immigration don’t want to be called ‘racist’, they could start by not being racists in the first place. See? It’s easy.

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Filed under Media, propaganda, Racism, Telegraph Comment of the Week, Tory press

Telegraph Comment of the Week (#16)

It’s been 16 weeks since I started the Telegraph Comment of the Week and in that time, the vast majority of the comments I’ve featured here have been left by self-described ethno-nationalists who baulk at the thought of being called ‘racists’.  Yet this is what they are and there is no escape for them. No matter how hard these people try to rationalise their racism as eminently sensible and logical, they always end up making themselves look foolish as well as hate-filled.

This week’s comment was found on this blog by Alan Johnson, no not the right-wing Labour MP, but the Torygraph columnist. His mini-biography describes him as…

… the Editor of Fathom: for a deeper understanding of Israel and the region and Senior Research Fellow at the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM). A professor of democratic theory and practice, he is an editorial board member of Dissent magazine, and a Senior Research Associate at The Foreign Policy Centre.

A “deeper understanding of Israel”? Come again? That is not the aim of BICOM (British Israel Communications and Research Centre), which is, for all intents and purposes, the British version of AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee). Like its American counterpart, BICOM acts as a propaganda and lobbying arm of the Israeli state and exists to demonize opponents of Israel’s military and social actions. Its role is to also cosmeticize Israeli brutality in the Occupied Territories and Gaza and to drum up support for a war against Iran.

The title of Johnson’s blog is designed to attract loads of frothing-at-the-mouth nationalist types who whine and moan about ‘halal’ and ‘dhimmitude’. The title is:

George Orwell betrayed: Islamist Tariq Ramadan gives a lecture in his name

Here are the opening paragraphs.

This week in London, the annual George Orwell Lecture was given by the Islamist writer Tariq Ramadan. Where is one to start?

George Orwell was against religious censorship. Tariq Ramadan campaigned successfully to cancel a production of Voltaire’s play Le fanatisme, ou Mahomet le Prophete in Geneva.

Orwell was a rational man. When Ramadan taught at the College de Saussure he argued in favour of Islamic biology over Darwin.

I’ll tell you what isn’t ‘”rational”: the tone of Johnson’s article.

Cue today’s headbanger! Today’s commenter is “journeyman” who writes:

journeyman numpty

This is the rant of a  typical BNP type. Notice the hysterical tone of the comment: the way he (I assume it was a he wrote this dreck) rails against “anti-racism” and complains of “White historical guilt”. Notice how he also falls back on Nazi-style hygiene metaphors by using the words “healthy and auto-immune defence mechanisms”. Anyone who isn’t in “journeyman’s” eyes one of ‘us’ is by definition a ‘parasite’. Yet, what these people seem to forget in their rush to claim the ‘West’ is more civilized than any other point on the compass, is the brutality that was used to subdue colonized peoples in Africa, Asia and The Americas. There was nothing ‘civilized’ about the European genocide of the American Indians or the Australian Aborigines.

When hardline right-wingers like “journeytoparanoia” rant and rave about social hygiene, it’s only a matter of time till they start playing the victim.

By doing this the Left aided and abetted in Global Capital / Corporatism’s unquenchable thrist for cheap labour and profit, by crushing any resistance to mass immigration by demonising it as ” fascist ” “bigot ” ” racist ” ” hate monger ” “nazi “

Here, our fascist friend uses words that allude to The Protocols, then he complains that he and his violent ilk are being “demonised”. There’s an old saying where I come from. ‘If the cap fits’ and the cap fits this fasho so well.

The last part of this comment is completely off-the-scale in terms of its ridiculousness.

The Capitalist billionaires who donate to Left wing causes are not “right wing ”  They are Capitalists who support Left wing agendas like the Koch Brothers or Soros who are pro-mass immigration .

The Koch Brothers are what? Left-wing? Not according to all the available information, they’re not. Naturally, “journeytothebin” closes with a much-loved phrase of the anti-immigrationist right: “mass immigration”. Nothing like an appeal to emotion, eh?

Coherent thinking is not the forte of the far-right, hence the potpourri of hate-speech and paranoid ramblings. Their ideas are produced out of hatred, prejudice and fear. They use emotional phrases to play on the heart-strings of gullible members of the public, some of whom will claim they are in favour of ‘free speech’. But in allowing these people to dominant the discourse on immigration, they unwittingly allow the entire debate to be poisoned with the rhetoric of hate and intolerance.

Remember, if you’ve seen a comment on the Telegraph website that you think qualifies as a candidate for Telegraph Comment of the Week, then post a screenshot of the comment and a link to the original article to

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The Immigration ‘Debate’

Do something now or we'll end up with someone like this as Prime Minister

We need to do something now or we’ll end up with someone like Geert Wilders as Prime Minister

Every time I hear the words, “Let’s have a debate on immigration”, I wonder if that’s what the speaker actually wants. What I’ve found, more often than not, is a desire on the part of the speaker or speakers to control the discourse on immigration. All too often, there is an ugly discourse lying behind the façade of this apparent ‘need’ to want to ‘debate’ the subject of immigration.

What’s worse are the numbers of self-described ‘left-liberals’ who are prepared to countenance some pretty appalling views for the sake of ‘free speech’. These people are willing to listen and even respond – albeit feebly – to the discourses offered by the anti-immigrationists, whose speech has not changed one iota since the 1970s. Yet, the left-liberals seem to sincerely believe they can have a rational and sensible dialogue with people whose views on minorities, women and the disabled are frankly obscene. To adapt Fanon: if they’re talking about immigrants (or Muslims), then they’re also talking about you. While our ‘left-liberal’ friends are politely debating Nazis and other hardcore right-wingers, attacks against minority groups including the disabled are on the rise in Britain.

And now we hear the old hate speech again, the talk of ‘floods’, ‘invasions’ and being ‘swamped’ are  joined by  familiar words associated with hygiene like ‘contamination’. Other emotive  phrases like ‘mass immigration’ are deployed to appeal to people’s emotions. More recently, I’ve seen words like ‘genocide’ and ‘treason’ being used on public internet fora. Take this example of a comment left on Douglas Carswell’s nit-picking diatribe against the recent UCL study into immigration on Telegraph blogs:


“Genocide”. Yes, this is the kind of language used by those who want a ‘debate’ on immigration.  The definintion of the word ‘genocide’ is:


[mass noun]

  • the deliberate killing of a large group of people, especially those of a particular nation or ethnic group:

Hysteria, hyperbole, histrionics, paranoia and playing the victim are all part of the right’s strategy to control the discourse on immigration and the liberals fall for it every time.  I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard or read, ‘Our voices aren’t being heard’. Utter rubbish. Nigel Farage has appeared on Question Time 25 times since 2009 and the views that are expressed by these vile simpletons grace the comments threads of the Daily Telegraph, The Daily Mail and The Daily Express every day of the week.  Articles with sensationalistic titles, such as the one cited by our racist friend here, help to reproduce the poisonous discourse of nationalism and its fixation on a pure, but nonetheless, constructed ‘British’ identity.

Even the supposedly ‘left-wing’ Labour Party has taken the bait and pandering to the Tory-supporting press, UKIP and the notional but bloodthirsty man-on-the-street, it too wants a ‘debate’; its spokespeople admitting that Labour ‘got it wrong’ when it was in power. What seems to have escaped the Fabian Party’s attention is that these anti-immigrant discourses have only become more vocal since the Crash of 2008.  If there’s a problem with the economy, then in the minds of the racists and the gullible it’s the fault of the immigrants. It was like that in the 1930s and 1970s and its come back with a vengeance.  It’s as though the events of history have been wiped from the collective memory of these postmodern politicians as they pursue the grand prize of everlasting political power. What do they care beyond paying lip service?

Any mention of racism to these people is greeted with ‘anti-racism is a code for anti-white’. How on earth can you reason with people like this? You can’t. If gullible liberals believe they can have a polite discussion with these extreme nationalists, then they are deluding themselves. This is no time for cordiality.

If you want to see what could happen in Britain in 10 years time, look across the North Sea to the Netherlands, where Geert Wilders racist PVV party is currently ahead in the polls.  On Wednesday, Wilders is due to meet Marine Le Pen of France’s racist Front National. Two years ago, UKIP’s then leader, Malcolm (Lord) Pearson, welcomed Wilders to the House of Lords to show his film, Fitna. Be in no doubt, these parties enjoy the warmest of relations in the European Parliament and for all their talk of freedom, they want to enslave those of us who are different.

Britain, it’s time to wake up. We need to respond to the attacks on our communities and we need to hit the anti-immigrationists hard.  These people cannot be reasoned with. If you turn your back to them, they will plunge a knife into it. You have been warned.

UPDATE 13/11/13 @ 0941

David ‘Shoot the Bastards’ Blunkett channels Enoch Powell in this article on the BBC website.

Tensions between local people and Roma migrants could escalate into rioting unless action is taken to improve integration, David Blunkett has warned.

The former home secretary fears a repeat of race riots that hit northern cities in 2001.

His concerns centre on the Page Hall area of Sheffield, where Roma migrants from Slovakia have set up home.

But he also accused the government of “burying their head in the sand” over the scale of Roma settlement in the UK.

In an interview with BBC Radio Sheffield, he said the Roma community had to make more of an effort to fit in with British culture.

“We have got to change the behaviour and the culture of the incoming community, the Roma community, because there’s going to be an explosion otherwise. We all know that.”

It’s hard to believe that Blunkett was once the leader of one of the most left-wing councils in Britain. Now he earns praise from Falange.

Mr Blunkett’s intervention was praised by UKIP leader Nigel Farage, who campaigns against the ending of border controls for migrants from Romania and Bulgaria, both countries with significant Roma populations.

“The fact that he is talking of the significant difficulties with the Roma population already in his constituency should be taken seriously by the likes of Cameron, Clegg and Miliband.

“My question is if they won’t listen to the dangers of opening the door to Romania and Bulgaria next year when UKIP speak out on it, will they listen to David Blunkett? I certainly hope so.”

Look at Blunkett now, doing the dirty work of the right.  Shame? He doesn’t know the meaning of the word.

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Filed under immigration, Islamophobia, Labour Party, Media, Neoliberalism, Political parties, Society & culture, Tories, Tory press, UKIP, Yellow journalism

Let’s be clear – Tory and Lib Dem MPs have decided terminally ill patients should work or starve

These ConDems are cruel, heartless, callous and inhuman. Even if you’re a terminal cancer patient they make sure you suffer even more.

Pride's Purge

(not satire – it’s ConDemNation today)

Back in 2011, Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs joined together to reject an amendment which would have exempted terminally ill cancer patients from benefit cuts.

They decided that if you are diagnosed with a terminal illness such as cancer – but have been given more than 6 months to live – you will have to work or starve.

Here’s a previous blogpost about that:

The government has finally done something so outrageous even I can’t be bothered to satirise it

This decision by coalition MPs was so outrageous that after intense lobbying, there were some concessions made by the government.

However, in a bizarre piece of upside-down DWP logic, it now seems that if you have less than 6 months to live – you will be refused benefits.

This is from the Chester and Ellesmere Port Foodbank blog:


Jenny came to the…

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Today, Britain Honours Its Forces Personnel…

… by providing their families with crumbling substandard housing (last year the government put the Armed Forces housing upgrade “on hold” according to this article from The Daily Telegraph)  and making 5,000 service personnel redundant.

The politicians and media talk about ‘heroes’ but don’t seem too bothered by the numbers former squaddies sleeping rough on the nation’s streets either. There are an estimated 36,000 homeless ex-forces personnel in Britain. 3,000 of whom are on London’s streets.

The Royal British Legion released a statement which points out that up to 3,000 of London’s homeless population are ex-service personnel. (LBC’s article draw my attention to this fact and provide an interesting interview with a homeless veteran, read the article here.)

This amounts to 8.3% of the total of homeless people in London. This seems like a small percentage, however if we think about the homeless population’s contribution to the ex-service personnel community rather than the other way round, the figures become quite startling.

So if you’re watching the Remembrance Day services on television, remember how the ex-military are treated by the state. Today politicians may lay wreaths at cenotaphs and talk about the ‘wonderful work’ done by ‘our’ armed forces, but they honestly couldn’t give a shit.


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Telegraph Comment of the Week (#15)

This week’s comment isn’t so much a comment as it is an exchange between two xenophobes. I found this exchange on the comments thread of an article by Julia Llewellyn-Smith, which is entitled “The great gluten-free scam” . It’s hysterical. She suggests, using a photograph of Gwyneth Paltrow and citing a few celebs, that gluten-free food is faddish. She tells us:

But coeliacs make up only one in 100 of the population, while one in five of us is buying gluten-free products. Surveys of US consumers show that, of these, only five per cent are buying to combat coeliac disease, with the vast majority citing their reasons as “digestive health”, “nutritional value” and “to help me lose weight”. People have been eating bread since biblical times without reporting adverse effects. So why has it recently become demonised? The gluten-free “community” points to a recent surge in the number of people being diagnosed as coeliacs. Not so long ago GPs expected to see one case during their whole career, but now one per cent of the population has it. (Though others say the rise is simply due to improved diagnostic methods and greater awareness of the condition.)

What Llewellyn-Smith has failed to consider is the way in which wheat has changed over the millenia. The wheat that we currently have in our bread and cakes is completely different to ancient wheat, which had a lower gluten content. Llewellyn-Smith appears to be suggesting there is a conspiracy of left-wing hippy do-gooders who are out to contaminate our precious fluids.

Now onto that exchange. It doesn’t matter what subject is under discussion, there’s always someone who wants to come along and racialize it. First we have “Mithrandius” suggesting that “Caucasians” aren’t affected by sickle cell disease and then “StoutCortez” spouts a load of ignorant rubbish about its causes.

Coeliac disease and sickle cell

Sickle Cell Disease affects people of African extraction and those from the Mediterranean. This includes some Italians, Greeks, Maltese, Turks, Arabs, Bulgarians and South Asians. It is not, as some would suggest, confined solely to black people, nor does Vitamin D or the apparent inability to “synthesize it” have anything to do with the disease.

This map shows the distribution of Sickle Cell Disease:

A lack of sunlight and a poor diet leads to rickets, which is now making a return to Britain. Funny how it always seems to reappear when the Tories are in power. No?


Filed under Media, Telegraph Comment of the Week, Tory press

Housing, the 1968 Rent Strike and What We Face Today

Can’t pay your rent? Then we’ll come for your children.

When the Tory-led government announced that social rents should rise to market levels, there was anger but nothing happened. That anger wasn’t channelled; forged into a weapon to attack the government and the local authorities and greedy Housing Associations. Instead, people just rolled over and took it.

When the same thing was proposed by Wilson’s Labour government (a LABOUR GOVERNMENT) in 1968, there was righteous indignation.  But instead of sitting and fuming, people actually did something about it. They organized rent strikes. So far, few people have advocated rent strikes and, as far as I know, I am one of those few.

In London, the Greater London Council (GLC), which was controlled by the Tories (hard to believe but the Tories only liked the GLC when it was run by their fellow travellers), was particularly zealous in implementing the rent increases. I found this article by Ian Macdonald on in which he says:

The Greater London Council is Britain’s biggest landlord. There are about 242,000 tenants involved. On 7 December last year, the chairman of the GLC Housing Committee announced the Tories’ new rent scheme. Under the scheme, GLC tenants can expect their rents to increase by 5s in the £ in October 1968, a further 5s in the £ in October 1969, and an extra 4s in 1970. A tenant now paying £4 per week, will be paying £6 16s in 1970, and tenants in some of the newer flats will be paying as much as £10 per week. In addition, lodger charges are to rise, and central heating and car parking will be more expensive.

That is not all. In future, less money is to be spent on repairs, and tenants will have to do their own interior decorating. In this way, the Council hopes to save £850,000 on repairs, and £500,000 on decorating. It also means the sack for some of the Council’s 6,000 electricians, plumbers, carpenters, and other maintenance men.

The GLC have made much of their intended rebate scheme. But the only way to get a rebate will be to go through a means test; no tenant, say the GLC, need disclose his income to the Council unless he is applying for a rebate. In fact, very few of the 240,000 GLC tenants will benefit. Here is an example of a family which will not benefit. The tenant earns £12 per week, and his wife £5. They have a child and a lodger, both over 21, and now pay a rent of £2 16s 8d per week. In 1970, they will pay £4 16s 4d and get no rebate.

You can see this happening right now. All Housing Associations have increased their rents above the rate of inflation and, furthermore, they have duly bowed to the government’s diktats and are letting out properties for market rents. Local authorities, too, have increased their rents. One of those councils is Hammersmith and Fulham – Cameron and Pickles’s favourite council – which has palmed off the management of its stock to Pinnacle and placed income restrictions on those people applying for or living in one of their properties.

Last year Hammersmith & Fulham announced:

Trailblazing Hammersmith & Fulham (H&F) Council is to be the first local authority in the country to simultaneously introduce fixed term social housing tenancies and a maximum income cap for people wishing to access the housing register.

The flagship council will be ripping up the social housing rule book from April 2013 when it will introduce a number of radical policies which seek to increase low-cost homeownership, tackle the social and economic divide in the borough and give a far greater priority for council housing to people who are making a community contribution.

H&F, has the fourth highest property prices in the UK and one of the highest proportions of social housing in London as a proportion of total housing, with around 34 per cent social rented.

That compares to a London average of 25 per cent and a West London average of 21.5 per cent. Just over two per cent of the borough’s housing is intermediate.

H&F is also one of the first councils in the country to get back into building homes, after a 30 year absence. These properties are sold at a discounted market rate to those on low to middle incomes who live or work in the borough and might struggle otherwise to get onto the property ladder.

Notice how this article tells us that the council is “trailblazing”. As for its claim that it’s “building homes”, it is building homes but not for those on low incomes.  Last year the council announced  that it would be building 25 new (yes, 25) homes for those foolish enough to buy them. But there’s worse to come in this article:

Those households earning above £40,200 will generally not be eligible to access the housing register. Instead, they will be offered advice on other housing options including joining the Council’s HomeBuy Register.

This new way of working will replace an antiquated and inefficient system that created false hopes and expectations.

The council and the government’s solution to the housing crisis (and let’s face, it is a crisis) is to stimulate a potentially disastrous property bubble. The HomeBuy scheme aims to achieve this, in spite of the council’s denial. Ian Macdonald:

Instead of directly attacking this problem, the GLC and the Government talk rubbish about ‘well-off Council tenants’ being subsidised. In fact, every penny that is contributed to housing out of rates or from the Government goes straight into the pockets of the money lenders, landowners and builders. If this element were removed, Council rents would be cut to less than a quarter of their present levels without anything coming from the ratepayers or the Government.

Who says history doesn’t repeat itself? H&F Council wants to go further and bases its approach on the widely-discredited and evidence free report produced by its former leader, Stephen Greenhalgh and his partner John Moss:

Currently most social housing tenants have the right to stay for life unless the tenancy is brought to an end because of a breach. Once the tenant passes away, the right of succession passes onto a family member even if the housing need of the individual is less than other potential applicants.

The council believes that this does not promote personal aspiration or provide tenants with any incentive to try to move into home-ownership and fails to take into account the fact that a household’s need for social housing may be temporary.

From next year, the council will issue fixed-term tenancies of five years for new social housing lettings. This would be reduced to two years in certain cases.

Existing tenants will be unaffected by the new proposals. New tenancies in sheltered accommodation and for those with special housing or health needs will still be on a secure basis.

Two year tenancies will be issued for those with a history of antisocial behaviour and for those between the ages of 18 to 25.

So what Wilson’s Labour government failed to achieve in 1968 has now been enthusiastically adopted by the Tories. The only real difference between then and now is that the classism is turbo-charged and more blatant than ever.

As for those who doubt the effectiveness of rent strikes, Macdonald writes:

It is true that badly organised or isolated rent strikes are usually defeated. But where the tenants are properly organised and show determination, they have in the past succeeded. In Glasgow in 1915, the strike was completely successful. In 1938-9, there were over 30 strikes in the East End of London demanding cuts in rents. All were successful. In 1939, 50,000 Birmingham municipal tenants defeated a differential rent scheme similar to the present GLC scheme after a 10-week strike. In the 1950s, Luton tenants managed to defeat a similar scheme. The GLC tenants can do the same, but there is no doubt that the battle will be tougher than anything in the past, since the Government’s whole prices and incomes policy is at stake.

The key, as always, is organization. These days, organizing rent strikes may be harder because of Housing Benefit. Yet, these payments have been replaced by something called the ‘Local Housing Allowance’. The Tories also want people on low incomes to pay Council Tax. This is nothing less than a form of economic feudalism, in which the poor, the vulnerable and those earning less than £40,000 are forced into a 21st century version of serfdom.

John Grayson, writing for Inside Housing says:

The campaigning of tenants between 1968 and 1973 had an effect. Many councils began negotiating with tenants’ organisations for the first time. The Association of London Housing Estates drafted the first tenants’ charter in 1970. Three years later Dick Leonard, a Labour MP, introduced (unsuccessfully) the Council Housing (Tenants’ Representation) Bill.

Unfortunately the proto-neoliberal Labour government of Wilson and Callaghan decided to have another stab at crushing council tenants:

Between 1974 and 1979 the Labour government continued a policy of cuts in housing. There were often confrontations with councils and the National Co-ordinating Committee Against Housing Cuts organised a national campaign in 1975. In Liverpool the Tenants’ Co-ordinating Committee emerged as a federation for tenants and rent strikes were organised in protest at the council’s policies. The tenants were excluded from all council meetings.

Rents are increased, people are threatened with having their children taken from them and there’s the Bedroom Tax, another half-baked government idea to ‘solve’ the housing crisis. Yet there is no evidence to suggest that such a draconian measure will do anything other than hammer those who are already being squeezed by a high cost of living and stagnating incomes.

We want homes, not property ladders.

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Telegraph Comment of the Week (#14)

You’re going to love this comment. Man, is this a doozy. I found this comment on one of The Lyin’ King’s (Dan Hannan) blogs.

The blog, titled “Capitalism: the environment’s best friend” tries to make the claim that unfettered, that is to say laissez-faire, capitalism is best for the environment. Hannan has posted a video of himself speaking in the European Parliament.  in which he claims that capitalism is giving us “cleaner air” (sic). To this he adds, “the best thing to happen to the environment was the collapse of the Berlin Wall”… just sit back and take that in for a moment. I know, barking. Isn’t it?

Now to the comment. This one is from “spencerisright” but I think “spencer” is a little deluded in thinking that he (and it has to be a ‘he’) is “right”.


Yes, “spencer” thinks that the prospect of “increased co2” will spell a bumper harvest for the world’s farmers. What “spenceriswrong” has failed to consider is the fact that increased levels of CO2 will kill humanity and all animal life. And they say that right-wingers aren’t thick? Pull the other one.

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