Ten most popular blog postings (2nd quarter, 2008)

In traditional reverse order, here are the ten postings which have proved the most popular over the last three months:

10. The morning after the night before: the moment when it looked like Paxman might punch Johnson – one of the (few) TV highlights of the London Mayor election: Boris Johnson flounders over his bus policy.

9. The real lesson of the 10p tax rate fiasco – it wasn’t just the tax policy that was wrong, it was the whole way we do budgets.

8. What will Boris Johnson be like as Mayor of London? – no prizes for guessing the topic of that piece!

7. The London results – yes, Boris is Mayor.

6. Olympics protest – I joined the protests as the Olympic torch passed through London.

5. Crewe & Nantwich by-election: are the rules wrong? – should election campaigns really be rushed through at the convenience of the incumbent party rather than giving the public time to find out about the candidates and their policies?

4. Iris Robinson – homophobia is certainly still alive in Northern Irish politics.

3. Nine years in a squalid and infested flat – a tale of failure that should make Haringey Council ashamed.

2. David Davis and his resignation to fight a by-election.

1. What did you think of the BBC TV local elections results program on Thursday night? Not a lot by the looks of it, though given the amount of traffic to this post long after the poll has closed it’s clearly an issue still on some people’s minds!

No surprise to see the London elections features so heavily in the list – but interesting to see that several of these posts are very brief and basically just me saying what my view is on an issue of the moment. I guess people have read them either because they’ve been very timely – or perhaps because they do want to know my views on issues!

Sports and politics: do they mix?

Beijing 2008 countdown clock. Photo credit: Flickr user http2007My latest newspaper column (for the Ham & High) is about the Olympics and China’s behaviour:

I can’t help but observe the contrast between how Britain and China deals with protestors. In Britain – the police’s response to protests during the passage of the Olympic Torch through London was to pop the torch on a bus for a bit. How very English! And then in China we have the dark side of the contrast – the violence, gunshots and even deaths that are the frequent response to protests.

Standing in Bloomsbury Square last Sunday chanting ‘China Out’ in reply to a young Tibetan shouting out through a megaphone ‘Free Tibet’ reminded me not only of the issue in question but also of the feeling you get when you go out onto the streets to claim your democratic right to peaceful protest. It is active. And it makes you feel that you are not taking it lying down; not abjectly rolling over, tut-tutting at the pictures on the news whilst saying there is nothing I can do.

Indeed, in a world of global, near-instant media, protests in one part of the world can garner coverage all over the globe – including, directly or indirectly, in China itself. (I know how well the internet reaches all sorts in China from when I was on the London Assembly – and got a three page marriage proposal from a fisherman in a remote part of China!)

As you may have guessed – I don’t buy the argument that Olympics = sports = you mustn’t say anything about anything other than sport. The Chinese Government has been repeatedly and politicising the Olympics for its own ends – so simply mouthing that formula means conceding it is ok to politicise the Olympics to promote thuggish authoritarianism but not ok to speak out against such behaviour. Where is the morality in that approach of self-censorship and unnecessary deference?

Read the rest of the piece here.

Photo credit: Flickr user http2007

If you're good and keen enough, a team of five can beat a team of twelve

I visited Amir Laksari today to find out more about the Sparrows. Mr Laksari came over from Iran as a political refugee in 1986 and soon after he joined a wheelchair basketball team, becoming very heavily involved.

Traditionally the Sparrows Wheelchair Basketball Club has been mainly a refugees / ethnic minorities team. Something like 30% of the people in the team and half the people on the Management Committee are from Haringey – albeit Haringey wouldn’t negotiate a reasonable price for them to use Tottenham Leisure Centre to practise and play so instead they had to go to Hackney.

The club is extremely successful and has won tournaments in a host of different countries. In a particularly memorable example Mr. Laksari described when they only had enough money to send five members of their team, but won games against other teams who had the full quota of 12 players! The famous Ade Adepitan used to play for their club.

They used to play in Haringey but are currently in Hackney. Mr. Laksari wishes that Haringey Council would be more supportive, both in terms of championing the achievements of the team and also possibly providing some financial support.

Competitive wheelchairs for basketball can cost £2,500. The organisation was given £8,000 lottery funding – but that is not enough for them to repair or provide the special wheelchairs -nor pay for practise facilities – nor help with their expenses in competing abroad.

We say we want integration and participation for those with disabilities – but we don’t seem to do that much to help.

I am writing to the Leader of Haringey Council to seek support for the team and to try and link up the schools and the Sparrows so that there is a pathway into the team from our local schools. I will also write to the Olympic Committee for the Paralympics to see if they can try to make sure the Sparrows Club benefits from the investment for the London Paralympics. Surely any such team that is inspiring and achieving ought to reap some benefits from the zillions it is costing London to host the event.

Olympics protest

Lynne Featherstone with Tibet protestorsJoined the protests earlier today – with Hornsey councillor Monica Whyte – over China’s record on Tibet and human rights as the Olympic Torch passed through London.

Free speech – and speaking out against that which we oppose – is a key part of our society, and it was great to see so many people exercising that right to speak out today – a right, of course, that China doesn’t extend to people in Tibet or China.

The Chinese Government has been repeatedly politicising the Olympics for its own ends – and yet Gordon Brown seems too timid to show any real displeasure at China’s repeated abuse of basic human rights.

Numerous other government heads have spoken and acted – but not our own. What is the point of having the privilege of holding a post such as Prime Minister if you’re not willing to use it to speak out when needed?

Well done Steven Spielberg

Impressed to see in the news today that Steven Spielberg has pulled out from his role in the Beijing Olympics because of the Chinese Government’s failure to do enough to influence the Sudanese Government, which is continuing to oversee horrific atrocities in Darfur.

His willingness to speak out stands in stark contrast with Gordon Brown – who, as on so many other issues, seems afraid of taking a clear stance and leading the way – and hence the failure to put serious extra pressure on China in his recent visit there. As it’s dear old Gordon, perhaps the best we can hope for is for him to set up yet another of his reviews to go away, ponder for a long time and then come back to tell him what to do!

Olympics and the right to protest

Back in November I wrote about the importance of allowing protests around the Olympics:

Glad to see that Chris Huhne has made it quite clear in a news release that when the show comes to town in the form of the Olympics, the right to peaceful protest must be upheld:

The Olympics are a chance to put our values in the global showcase which is why the organisers should plan for and allow the right of peaceful protest, which is such an important part of our political tradition. It will not be on display at the Beijing Olympics.

Diversity and freedom of expression is what has always made our society strong, and we should not be afraid to show it.

And I suspect given the number of countries competing whose human rights record may not be quite what we would wish – there will be quite a number of protesters wishing to protest. A good thing too. As a country – we should be proud that peaceful protest is one of our guarantees of freedom of expression.

So – it was good to read that Nick Clegg’s taking this line too:

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg has accused British Olympic chiefs of a “real abdication of our moral responsibility” over moves to restrict athletes from speaking out about China’s human rights record.

A new clause in the contract Olympians must sign before competing in Beijing this year forbids them from making political comments about the host country.

Clegg told BBC1’s Politics Show: “It’s extremely disappointing. It’s part of a pattern of us kow-towing to the Chinese communist authorities.

“We have to be very clear with the Chinese: They now play a significant role in the world economy and international affairs.

“That brings certain domestic responsibilities with it and I think for us to sort of gag ourselves is a real abdication of our moral responsibility to push for human rights wherever they are being abused.”

Referring to the prime minister’s recent visit to China, Clegg said: “Unlike Tony Blair and certainly unlike President Sarkozy from France, Chancellor Merkel from Germany and even President Bush from the United States, he said nothing publicly on China’s appalling human rights record.”

Does the right to protest matter?

Glad to see that Chris Huhne has made it quite clear in a news release that when the show comes to town in the form of the Olympics, the right to peaceful protest must be upheld:

The Olympics are a chance to put our values in the global showcase which is why the organisers should plan for and allow the right of peaceful protest, which is such an important part of our political tradition. It will not be on display at the Beijing Olympics.
Diversity and freedom of expression is what has always made our society strong, and we should not be afraid to show it.

And I suspect given the number of countries competing whose human rights record may not be quite what we would wish – there will be quite a number of protesters wishing to protest. A good thing too. As a country – we should be proud that peaceful protest is one of our guarantees of freedom of expression.

That’s something that won’t be the case in Beijing and it might not be the case here judging from the Labour Government’s desire to stop all forms of freedom of expression and protest – even when it is just reading out the names of the war dead!

Still – now Chris has thrown down the gauntlet on it – will Nick follow suit? There was a pattern last time round of Chris leading the way on issues – troops out of Iraq, the environment, etc – where he proposed a radical policy, others weren’t so keen – but in the end, it was Chris’s radical position that won the day.

That’s why I like about leadership contests – they push each candidate on and as a party we end up with a better set of policies as a result. Hurrah!

This time round hopefully the issue of the right to protest will become a key point for our party. And then we can also shame the Government into doing the right thing.