Podcast: Anjan Sundaram – Bad News

“Here was a case of people doing harm to themselves on government orders, because there was no voice in society saying, This Is Wrong”

Earlier this year I recorded a podcast with the award-winning journalist Anjan Sundaram. We discussed his wonderful book Bad News: Last Journalists in a Dictatorship, an account of the extinction of press freedom in Rwanda.

This week the podcast and an edited transcript of part of the discussion was posted in the PEN Atlas section of the English PEN website.  You can listen to it on SoundCloud or via the player below. Continue reading “Podcast: Anjan Sundaram – Bad News”

Jeremy Corbyn Is Not Doing His Job And Should Resign

The Leader of the Opposition is not leading the opposition. He has turned a tautology into an oxymoron.

Rt. Hon. Jeremy Corbyn MP has two jobs and two job titles. First, he is Leader of the Labour Party, a position to which he was elected by a majority of those eligible to vote, in every voter category (members, registered supporters, affiliates).  If that were the whole story then a leadership challenge would be completely undemocratic and wrong.

However, Mr Corbyn is also Leader of Her Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition.  This is not some ceremonial title you get when elevated to a particular position, like Lord of the Isles or Second Lord of the Treasury. Instead it is a post that fulfills a crucial rôle in our democracy, scrutinising Government actions and Bills on behalf of the entire country, including people who did not vote Labour.  Just as the Prime Minister (First Lord of the Treasury, by the way) is accountable and answerable to everyone, so too is the Leader of the Opposition. Continue reading “Jeremy Corbyn Is Not Doing His Job And Should Resign”

Article 50 Will Be Triggered When Illogic Dictates

Now Britian has voted to leave the EU, there is a lot of discussion about at the moment over when or if Article 50 will be triggered.

Spinning Hugo suggests that it may never happen. He points out that the negotiating position of the UK is far stronger while Article 50 has not been invoked… and it will be instantly worse once it is invoked.  Since EU leaders have declared that they will not begin negotiations until Article 50 is triggered by the British Government, a stalemate has arisen.

This is a compelling analysis, but I am reminded of the the Unexpected Hanging Paradox:

A judge tells a condemned prisoner that he will be hanged at noon on one weekday in the following week but that the execution will be a surprise to the prisoner. He will not know the day of the hanging until the executioner knocks on his cell door at noon that day.

Using logic, the prisoner deduces that he will never be hanged. When the executioner knocks on his door on a Wednesday he is therefore totally surprised. Continue reading “Article 50 Will Be Triggered When Illogic Dictates”

Talking Free Speech and Literature Across Borders with Lunar Poetry

British poets can show solidarity with embattled writers while developing their own creative practice

My colleague Cat Lucas and I sat down with Paul McMenemy, editor of the Lunar Poetry Magazine, to tell their podcast listeners about the work of English PEN. We discussed imprisoned Saudi poet Ashraf Fayad, how blogging is the 21st century version of pamphleteering, and how British poets might show solidarity with embattled writers while developing their own creative practice at the same time.

You can listen on the Lunar Poetry website, via YouTube or judt hit the play button on the embedded podcast below. Continue reading “Talking Free Speech and Literature Across Borders with Lunar Poetry”

My Gut Tells Me Teresa May Will Be Our Next Prime Minister

Anyone who can present a calm and collected facade will be an attractive candidate. Teresa May is doing this.

The perils of not posting your blog post immediately after you’ve written it!  I wrote this last night when the two main leadership contenders were Boris Johnson and Teresa May, and he was the bookies’ favourite.  Now Michael Gove has entered the race saying “Boris is not a leader”, Johnson’s odds have lengthened significantly and Mrs May is now the favourite.  I don’t know how that affects the principles I set out below.

The Conservative Party has begun the nomination process to elect a new party leader and therefore out next Prime Minister.

Boris Johnson is the favourite but my gut tells me that Teresa May will win.

Making pronouncements based on what one’s intensities say is a perilous practice. Often you end up talking shit or vomiting nonsense. Allow me to offer some head-like reasoning for what I feel in my waters. Continue reading “My Gut Tells Me Teresa May Will Be Our Next Prime Minister”

The Typography of Labour Resignation Letters

Apparently, Tweeting a copy of one’s resignation letter is now A Thing.

This tweet of mine garnered a few fav-hearts and re-tweets, which suggests that this is the sort of thing people are interested in.

Of course, the content of the letters is the really important part, so far as the authors are concerned. But design and presentation is incredibly important, despite being 99% Invisible when done right. We can gather some insights into the thoughts of the authors by how their resignation letter is laid out.

I compiled a Storify of a couple of dozen Labour Shadow Cabinet resignation letters, and added comments about their design.  Continue reading “The Typography of Labour Resignation Letters”

Are Young People To Blame For Brexit?

I see a lot of Remainers complaining on social media about susceptible, low information voters. But absent voters are as surely as culpable.

As people try to make sense of, and come to terms with the result of the EU Referendum, it’s become fashionable to complain about old people. For example, the Independent has a piece entitled ‘How old people have screwed over the younger generation’ demonstrating how younger people voted in greater numbers for Remain over Leave, while older folk did the opposite.

Yes, the senior generations did impose their views upon the junior generations… but that’s only because they showed up to vote.  Since the result was announced on Friday I’ve been looking for figures on turn-out, and found these numbers from Sky Data. Continue reading “Are Young People To Blame For Brexit?”

Here’s What We Need To Do Now

We should hope that we were wrong, and that Leave were right

OK, so the United Kingdom as a whole has voted for Brexit. I am profoundly disappointed.

For those of us who voted Remain, here are some things that we should do and some things that we should not do. Continue reading “Here’s What We Need To Do Now”

The EU is Not A Household Expense—It’s A Trade Fair

The country-as-household metaphor is particularly difficult for Cameron and Osborne to argue against, because they have been deploying exactly the same argument in order to justify their austerity policies

Ever since the EU Referendum campaign kicked off in earnest, everyone—Brexiters, Bremainers and Bragnostics—have been complaining that they can’t get the straight facts out of anyone. “If only we had the facts” they cry, “then we’d all be able to make a sober, rational choice about whether to vote in or out”.

That’s a noble idea but it’s also delusional. Most people aren’t going to do sums. They’re going to vote on gut instinct, emotions, and, if they are trying really hard to be civic minded, then they’ll vote on whose arguments seem most credible.

We don’t need more facts. The facts are out there for those who care to look and who have been educated in macroeconomics.

What we need are better metaphors. Continue reading “The EU is Not A Household Expense—It’s A Trade Fair”

A Terrible Day, But We Will Regain Our Optimism

It is part of our political and social history and should loom large in our collective consciousness.

I posted this yesterday evening on Facebook.

The TV news reports about the death of Jo Cox have actually been quite sober. Reporters have refrained from speculating on the motives of the alleged killer. It’s very easy to find a picture of a suspect from friends or family, but the media have declined to grant this man notoriety. Instead they have focus on the life and achievements of someone who was by all accounts remarkable.

During the obituaries, two almost irrelevant facts jumped out at me. She was 41 and only 5 feet tall. These incidental traits are also shared by the person I woke up next to today, just as Brendan Cox must have woken up next to his wife this morning. A rush to get the kids ready, a piece of toast grabbed out the door, and an expectation that we will all see each other again in a few hours. We all did that this morning: me and my family; Jo and Brendan Cox and their kid; You and yours.

And now she is gone, and he is having to tell his kids why.

This is not like getting cancer. This is not like a car accident. This is not like the unexpected death of a pop star, however influential. We do not know whether the killer is mentally ill or whether there are deeper and more sinister reasons for his actions. But this is an act that has emerged from our society. It is part of our political and social history and should loom large in our collective consciousness.

In a blog post that is being wildly shared on social media tonight, Alex Massie says he does not remember feeling as bad about the country as he does tonight. I think 7/7 comes close.

It is indeed a terrible day but I am bizarrely confident that we will regain some optimism. And the reason I think that is because of how quickly we have seen an outpouring of solidarity, and affirmation of ideas of love. Led by none other than Brendan Cox, who put love for family and the human dignity at the centre of his astonishing statement this afternoon.

Led by none other than Jo Cox, who spent her life seeking to make the human experience better for others.