New Statesman deluded about Islamism; secularism revisited

Like many people, I don’t read the New Statesman any more. Here’s something from Harry’s Place by Andy Lambert which confirms this decision and goes a tiny way to make amends for not posting nearly enough here on the problem of political Islam.

I know little about post-Islamism (according to Andy Lambert the AKP in Turkey, which has its origins in the same Muslim Brotherhood as Hamas, is an example) and having spent a bit time with a Malaysian colleague on Friday evening, I wondered what is happening there and whether their parallel sharia system is contained or not. A brief look suggests that the body of law referred to by its critics as Ketuanan Melayu (‘Malay hegemony’) embodies discrimination and is an obstacle to secularism, as Regina Lim writes (in a very informative paper of uncertain provenance but hosted at the Political Studies Association). In 2008, this Malay hegemony was implicated, along with the long shadow of colonial law, in the resignation of long-standing cabinet member, secularist and proper democrat Zaid Ibrahim. The influence of Islam in the legal system allowed for the conviction, also in 2008, of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim for the charge of sodomy of which he was cleared after serving four years of his sentence. At the current time he is now on trial for new allegations of sodomy which he says are politically motivated. Clearly the law should literally butt out of sodomy between consenting people – and I’m thinking Oscar Wilde here too.

I am attempting to follow the work of the UCL political theorist and secularist Cecile Laborde.

A must-read, Cecile Laborde has an illuminating piece in this month’s RSA journal which sets out the differences between the Reformation and Enlightenment strands of secularism (the first emphasising conscience, the second, democracy) noting that they are not mutually exclusive, and neither is a fair way to conceptualise the proper relationship between state and religion in contemporary societies. (One of the things I love about the RSA is the willing welcome it gives critics of its own Enlightenment project.) She goes on to make the case for a secular state:

“In what sense is the secular state an important democratic ideal that we all have reason to endorse? It implies neither hostility to religion nor an intention to exclude it from public and social life. Freedom of conscience is one of the pillars of the secularist tradition (and is particularly central to Reformation secularism). Respect for freedom of conscience should not, however, be interpreted as a substantive claim according to which particular beliefs are true and should be politically entrenched as such. Rather, religious believers, when engaged in public debate about a particular controversy, can appeal to the importance of particular beliefs to them personally and can then explain to others how they relate to the issue at hand. What they cannot reasonably expect is that their views will prevail, or that religious rights will automatically trump other rights, in particular those associated with the tradition of Enlightenment secularism.”

Then she discusses the obligations of religious believers, namely their preparedness to offer political, secular reasons for beliefs they seek to make comprehensive under a justificatory structure which defines a secular state.

“Take the example of funding. Can a case be made, in a secular state, for the channelling of public funds towards religious organisations and activities? The answer depends on the context. What is not permissible is to subsidise religion on the grounds that it is intrinsically valuable, or that it promotes important truths, since this would violate the requirement of state neutrality.

By contrast, it might be permissible to argue for state support of religion by appeal to public, secular values. For example, one might claim that faith-based associations that provide a public service on the same terms as similarly situated secular organisations should not be discriminated against as recipients of public funds simply on the grounds that they are religious. So there might be good secular reasons for state support of religion, but only on the basis of (and conditional upon the respect of) democratic values. Likewise, if religious believers are to make a claim for exemption from the application of general laws, it will not be permissible for them simply to say that claims of conscience should trump other values. Rather, religious believers must explain to others the sense in which theirs is a rightful claim, one that respects and promotes the values of freedom, equality and reciprocity. Generally, while a secular state must make space for conscientious objection, this space will be narrowly constrained by, on the one hand, the demands of reciprocity and, on the other hand, those of equality.”

It needs saying in these times that the growth of Islam itself is nothing to fear – it does not make inevitable the triumph of Islamism, nor preclude the secularism we need to collectively defend as the only guarantee of equal religious rights and freedoms for all.

Relatedly, dump the New Statesman along with everybody else (circulation down to 22k these days according to Wikipedia), and instead see One Law for All, Women Living Under Muslim Laws, and this by Paul Kelly in the New Humanist.

My next post will be on the Con-Dem coalition Academies Bill, if it’s the last thing I do…

Communitarianism and liberalism

First a few scattered thoughts about community, followed by some chunks out of Prospect relating to Jon Cruddas’ fine line.

The World Cup is ongoing. Because half the delegates had gone awol, I had the opportunity to interface directly with Wikipedia-founder Jimmy Wales at an online conference. Delegates came from across the world, and I had hardly heard of any of them. And yet – I’m usually mousey at conferences – in that chat pane I got into some of the more edifying and immediate debates of my working life, and presenters would adapt what they were saying in response to what was being typed there. The distance became a great virtue because the unique potential of the technologies to afford communication without interruption came into play, and there was a readiness of the presenters, moderators and participants to use it. So often at online conferences, you get the one but not the other, with the result that you feel remote and dystopian. For those of us who are connected (and education, age and income are implicated in digital exclusion) community isn’t only geographically based any more.

A football pundit – or somebody BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme got on just before 09:00 to talk about the football – quoted Hobsbawm: “The imagined community of millions seems more real in the form of 11 named people”. I was out last night after England beat whoever it was they beat. By the end of the night London Bridge was a mess of addled men, blood, cocaine and rozzers.

It’s midnight – Today In Parliament is on Radio 4. The stand-in Labour leader Harriet Harman (I think) is protesting the rise in pensionable age for men to 68 in 2016. She’s not talking about safeguarding a good later life for people who have made a direct economic contribution for as much as 45 years, and who will probably continue to make an indirect one for many years to come. She’s not talking about the look the old duffers where I work (including people with some of the most potentially rewarding jobs going) get in their eyes when they talk about their imminent retirement, and the cloud which comes over their not-so-distant juniors’ when you talk about the goal posts being moved. No, she (or perhaps the editor – I should check Hansard) is expressing it in cash terms.

In this month’s Prospect (June 10, p42 – a sociologist I know a little does Prospect down as ‘Blairite’ but I don’t really get that – compared to anything to its left Prospect just strikes me as above all committed to getting to the bottom of things – and a great many different things, too) I was reading an arresting piece by David Edmonds on the Dagenham and Rainham MP Jon Cruddas. Besides Dave Edmonds’ frank encounters with the regulars of The Roundhouse, a BNP pub in Dagenham, the arresting thing about it was that the threat Cruddas’ faced from the right and extreme right last election had stimulated a new approach, and that new approach is (to put it contentiously) illiberal.

“When a local resident was asked why he was voting BNP he was flummoxed, “Well I can hardly vote Tory, can I?”

Jon Cruddas has tried to win back such voters. He refers, repeatedly, to an encounter with an 86-year-old woman in Dagenham. She pointed across her street to an old mattress dumped by the house’s occupant in his front garden. “This mattress was a proxy for disenchantment and abandonment, he told me, for the decline in neighbourliness, for things that “ruptured a tacit covenant between the traditional working class and Labour”. Cruddas’ response was to back a scheme to get rid of eyesore gardens: people could tell the council about gardens full of rubbish, and the council would ask residents to clear it up. If they didn’t, the council did it for them, but made them pay. “So the front yard became a political space in which we could re-establish a sense of community”.

(In fact it’s usually the thought of the neighbours’ gaze which prods me to tend the garden at the front of my home.)

“Working out how to deal with that abandoned mattress may seem a trifling affair, but it matters: it delineates the line between liberal and communitarian values, and it’s pretty clear on which side of the privet hedge Cruddas sits. “It’s a really interesting question and it is cropping up in other local policies,” he said. “Whether you can walk around with a can of Special Brew; how people look after their dogs; and what about if you burgle a home and get caught – should your wife and child get chucked out of public housing while you are in prison? Has a covenant been broken? These things are right on the frontline of the liberal-communitarian debate.”. He talks approvingly of a council plan to prohibit rowdy revellers from public drinking. It will undoubtedly prove popular… Nonetheless it’s a philosophy that contains dangers. That mattress was on private property. Residents might object to it, but what if the majority of residents were equally offended by neighbours wearing a niqab? Cruddas says that these topics are “issue specific” but what’s required is a principle (or a set of rational criteria) to justify when communitarian values can be imposed on citizens, and when they cannot – and that principle Cruddas has yet to supply.”

You’ve probably guessed what comes next – remember how Margaret Hodge (MP for Barking, next door) was attacked for proposing that length of residency in the community be taken into account when allocating social housing, rather than making decisions based on need alone? That was a communitarian proposal.

It’s a really thought-provoking piece, where the central dilemma of liberalism v. communitarianism (i.e. the social engineering of communal infrastructures and resource where there is currently none) is sharpened by Jon Cruddas’ predicament. There is no sense of fighting for a redistribution of wealth – or not in those bald terms. Well, in the Conservative-Liberal budget, the City’s bonuses stay tax free. Meanwhile, as Caroline Lucas points out, we lose tens of billions a year to tax avoidance and evasion.

This is relevant for where I live, as comments here and conversations show. I know this will occupy my mind for a long time to come.

During Refugee Week

Refugee Week has just gone. In the Ilford Recorder (Thursday 17th June, 2010, p10) Rita Chadha of RAMFEL (Refugee and Migrant Forum of East London), Cardinal Heenan Centre, High Road, Ilford, writes:

“The suggestion that Redbridge is home to thousands of illegal immigrants is simply untrue.

It is unfortunate that in trying to promote their service, M. K. Suri appears to have started a discussion that has sadly developed into the usual cliche hysteria about immigration (Recorder, last week).

The government has introduced what it calls a points-based system which means that only those who have the skills that are needed by the UK labour market are let in. Such individuals are not illegal, they are here, they cannot claim benefits or housing, they take nothing.

Even asylum seekers are not housed in Redbridge. Asylum seekers are not allowed to work, in many cases they cannot study, and they most definitely cannot claim benefits. So how do they survive?

They are dependent on the handouts of charities like ours, should we really in this day and age be providing in excess of 50 food parcels a week? Paid for out of the generosity of local churches, not by taxpayers.

The government does provide those who have stated they wish to claim asylum a subsistence allowance of £35.52 per week, which is 70 percent below the poverty line. And that is it – no freedom pass, no special treatments, no access to college and no right to work. I defy anyone to live like that for 11 years. It is not illegal to claim asylum.

As the ninth most diverse borough in the country, Redbridge should pride itself on being a place where people feel not only comfotable and wish to settle, but also a place where people can and want to make a positive contribution. Redbridge schools and hospitals are full of people here legally and making the lives of all our communities better.

During Refugee Week, we would ask people to take a moment to look at the reality of the situation, rather than believe the half-truths peddled by a few misinformed individuals.”

I think the middle bit was got at by an editor on glue but I transcribed it faithfully because it’s a good and necessary letter.

Snails crazy about chilli, and other food encounters

Because there’s so much shit going down in the world at the moment I thought I’d journal in an escapist manner.

We’d bought some searingly hot chilli sauce from the inappropriately named ‘farmers’ market’ at Valentine’s Mansion in Ilford. We ate it for a couple of weeks but it must have begun to ferment because one day I heard hissing and moaning at the lid. I felt sure it would explode so Matt took it outside and called me an idiot when I urged him to remove the lid. Anyway, it continued to emit. That evening Matt noticed a strange thing – a snail had climbed the bottle seemingly attracted to the chilli gas. I chalked that one down to dysfunction but the next evening some of the chilli had begun to seep out and a slug had climbed to the bottle neck. It had a deep hole in its body (update: Uncle Monkey below has identified this hole as the slug’s respiratory opening, or ‘pneumostome) and some crud at its hind end. I wondered if perhaps sick slugs self-medicate on chilli, and made a mental note to ask B21.

Then at some stage the next day, there was an eruption (I was right, I’m always right) which blew off the lid and fired chilli sauce as high as the guttering where it’s still caked, a stain on Matt’s judgement. And there was the bottle, a mess of chilli sauce, being licked by something like 3 snails and 6 slugs.

Are we the first to discover this – and where will it lead?

More food tales.

Yesterday Matt and I walked down to Gants Hill and got a table at Idly Dosa (41 Perth Road IG2 6BX, 020 8554 5777) which is a newish idly and dosa joint at the roundabout opposite the Chabad Lubavitch House. Despite referring to itself as “fine dining”, it initially strikes you as more of a take-out place with seats. But then you settle in and begin to realise that the atmosphere is great, very reviving. There are local South Indian food fans with their families, chatting and laughing early on a Saturday evening, the plate glass window with the busy street beyond, the interesting blue and green ceiling bevelling with the myriad lights, the comfortable wipe-clean upholstered chairs, the steel cups, the keen service. I had paper dosa and it was good. Matt had onion and it was good. We didn’t have idly but did in the end have some curry, however, the curry is subordinate to the idly and the dosa, so better go for those. There wasn’t much in the way of greens on the menu, either. The lemon rice is excellent – one portion is plenty for two. A lot of it happens to be vegan.

Further on food, I had my hands in what had become of our discarded vegetable parings and left-overs today as I planted out 5 cucumber plants, several lettuces, some rocket, chilli and parsley which I’d grown from seeds. I wonder if its too much pee that makes my compost so much more like mud than anybody else’s compost.

The strawberries are ripening – we eat them one by one before the woodlice or slugs get them, and they’re sweet. I’m remembering to cut the thyme and oregano for drying before it flowers. We have fresh mint tea too at this time of year. Today we had breville sandwich with a loaf I made last night, fake Redwood cheese from Barkingside’s new Holland and Barratt, with oregano and some parsley from the garden. Blanched and preserved in brine what I pruned off the vine – dolma for next visitor. Hot brine smells surprisingly good. The lettuces will soon be ready – if I can only remember to water them. This all takes a lot of time, and on my worse days I wonder if I shouldn’t pave over the garden and read a book instead. I always conclude that it would be a bad mistake to do that, on account of water run-off, hostility to wildlife, waste, and (even more profound) alienation from my means of existence. Anyway, I was raised to garden. Before he got his allotment, my dad used to negotiate to cultivate the neighbours’ gardens in return for tithes.

There’s somehow an asparagus crown in the front garden – one of the few unpaved gardens in the street, note, and see how Gaia rewards me? – which bolted before I noticed it. The shoots before the flowers come are, in my view, tastier than asparagus spears.

London Labour mayoral candidate hustings kick off in Hainault

Not being a Labour member myself (though my heart is with them, I can’t commit to a party that irresponsible about our habitat) I sent a delegate to the Labour mayoral candidate hustings in Hainault (cradle of London politics) this evening.

Ken talked about his achievement as former mayor, particularly the buses, evening up policing in the wards to make it more like the 1950s, and obtaining funding for council housing. He advocated economic links with China – no caveats. Hardly mentioned the environment. He also talked about vocational training. He counted former factory sites twice – once for building homes on and another time for rebuilding factories on. Apparently he was very credible, unless you know he accepts money from the Iranian government’s Press TV and have seen Martin Bright’s sorry tale of corruption – which is why we need to keep these things in mind, alongside the deal he made with the now President-for-life of Venezuela accept discounted oil from a developing country, the cuddling of extreme right Muslims, and how he fought for the non-doms to live in London tax free. He’s a populist, and no democrat. London would just be his bauble again. I don’t want to return to those days.

Oona illustrated her vision for community participation with Tower Hamlets story of a Bangladeshi woman who had never been involved with social enterprise before, but started a successful fruit and veg collective on her estate. She talked about her achievements as MP including protecting workers’ terms and conditions, for which she brokered a deal between the TUC and CBI. She also changed the rules around right-to-buy after in Tower Hamlets they were given £50m on regenerating an estate, but right-to-buy ate into it. She has plans for transport, comparing London to Africa where it is easy to get between the parts that the colonial powers used to want to get to; she wants it to be easier to get across London, and not just in and out. She wants to recalibrate the economy to balance out financial capital with social capital (social enterprise, like the veg collective). She talked about using the buying power of the GLA to get businesses to do things – so clauses into contracts to encourage equal pay by favouring businesses with better pay equality.

Apparently they were civil and courteous to each other. Oona closed with a bit of advice: vote for the candidate who can beat Boris.

Well, I reckon she needs to get her campaign in gear so she gets a chance to do that.

Update: Oona King’s campaign site.

The truth about meat-eaters

My last post was about a very human tendency to discount troublesome knowledge, and so is this one, which I’d been intending to write for a while.

In The Vegan magazine (Summer 2010, p8-9) Carol Norton, alumna of the Social Psychology Unit at the London School of Economics, has written an account of her research into the contradiction between liking and eating animals. I reproduce it below without permission because I thought it deserved a wider readership.

The truth about meat-eaters

Carol Norton, PhD

My research suggests that meat-eaters are ‘in denial’ about the life and death behind meat: that is, they keep the meat they eat separate in their minds from the animals they love. Meat eaters may genuinely believe that they like eating meat more than they love animals, but analysis of their attitudes reveals that the opposite is true, and that psychological and cultural processes maintain their illusions of consistency.

Our culture promotes meat-eating through surreptitious farming methods, renaming animals into meat (e.g. pig/pork), different media portrayals between species, and children’s socialisation. But this veil of separation does not completely obscure the former life of film-engulfed flesh on supermarket shelves; it merely enables denial, a paradoxical state in which people simultaneously seem to know, and not know, the truth. Denial is always partial; people always register enough information to trigger their denial strategies.

These include avoiding or rejecting the truth, attacking the source of information, blaming others, seeking alternative information, or forgetting. When confronted with the truth, someone in denial may experience being reminded of something unpalatable that they ‘sort-of’ already know. Their denial strategies then rush to restore the illusion. As an example, like many vegetarians, I have been asked why I don’t eat meat, only to be interrupted with: “Oh no, don’t tell me, I don’t want to know!”

In focus groups, meat-eaters agreed that they did not ordinarily connect animals to meat:

“I reckon 90% of people that go into the butcher’s shop … and order a piece of lamb don’t think of that as a sheep”

“… You don’t … it’s ‘meat’; you don’t see it as a sheep; you don’t see it as a cow”

“If they actually knew how they were killed … there’d be a lot more vegetarians”

“It’d put you off for life”
“Oh yeah true”

owever, most meat-eaters argued that they liked eatiing meat more than they loved animals: hence their views were consistent with eating meat overall. A minority argued that farmed animals are bred to be eaten and therefore eating meat is good for animals. This presupposes that farmed animals lead happy lives and that they would otherwise die out (ignoring the precedent protection of some species)”. The remaining meat-eaters were torn: feeling very uncomfortable with no sufficiently valid reason to eat meat:

“I see no justification whatsoever … I only eat meat because I don’t think about it. If I thought about it, I couldn’t possibly”

Reasons about eating meat and loving animals

To test these arguments, I experimentally measured meat-eaters’ automatic responses to images of animals, animals being slaughtered, and cooked meat. Unlike the focus group discussions, participants could not consciously control these measurements taken by computer. The results were astonishing: contrary to popular belief, meat eaters did not like animals any less than vegetarians. The difference was that, whereas for vegetarians meat was synonymous with animals’ slaughter, meat-eaters did not connect meat with the slaughter of animals. This fog of denial allowed them to eat meat guilt-free.

I also tested people’s satisfaction with their own attitudes and whether or not their attitudes changed. Meat-eaters became increasingly uncomfortable as they considered their attitudes. In the end, meat-eaters’ attitudes to animals reamined highly positive, but their attitudes towards eating meat and animals’ slaughter fell significantly.

Changes in attitudes

Yet these results contradicted the focus groups, where most meat-eaters argued that they liked eating meat more than they loved animals. The conclusion is that many meat-eaters are ‘in denial’ about their own attitudes towards meat, animals and their slaughter.

Further, although meat-eaters claimed that they enjoyed the taste of meat, statistical analysis revealed that underlying their reasons for eating meat was ‘habit’, not ‘taste’. The psychological explanation is that most of our moral arguments merely justify automatic judgements, made without conscious awareness. Such shortcuts ease our mental workload, but they mean that decisions are often less well-considered than we imagine. For most meat-eaters, ‘taste’ seems a better reason to eat meat than ‘habit’. In the same way, many focus group members justified eating meat backwards from their behaviour; reasoning which the experiments discounted. Backward justification works like this: “I eat meat; therefore I must like meat more than animals”. In fact, most meat-eaters eat meat out of habit and like farmed animals more than meat. Further, when meat-eaters honestly consider their own attitudes, they become uncomfortable and reduce their liking for meat.

Facilitating attitude change

One of the best ways to change someone’s behaviour is to draw their attention to inconsistencies between their behaviour and attitudes. In this case, the attitude change was contrary to the behaviour of eating meat. This is because meat-eaters’ attitudes towards animals were remarkably stable and because meat-eaters were in denial about animals’ slaughter. When meat-eaters were forced to reconnect meat to animals’ slaughter in their minds they became uncomfortable and, without their usual denial strategies, they changed their attitudes towards animals’ slaughter and eating meat.

In theory, then, many meat-eaters would become vegetarian if they honestly considered their own attitudes and the reality of animals’ slaughter. To encourage this, we need to grab meat-eaters’ attention without them feeling too personally judged or threatened. In many ways, denial strategies have the psychological upper hand as they maintain a safe status quo. Yet my research shows that, if used carefully, the simple truth may lead people to change their own minds.

Contact for further information.

Looking for responses, I found this from Maneka Gandhi, who also refers to the work of Clive Hamilton, the subject of my previous post.

Climate change is a matter of social science

A synopsis of a talk, plus a book review.

The entire way home this evening I listened to a long recording of Clive Hamilton (Professor of Public Ethics, Australian Green Party candidate, author of Affluenza) addressing the RSA on May 12th 2010, on the occasion of the publication of his book Requiem for a Species. (Just one species? Apparently so.) The presentation took in the failure of the international summit at Copenhagen, the tendency of official bodies to omit what cannot be said for certain, the vilification of climate scientists, Climategate, the climate change denial movement, and the irresponsibility of the media, different adaptive and maladaptive responses ordinary people have to news this bad, the poverty of the consumer movement, Camus’ The Plague and what people do when hope is all but gone, young people’s youth lost to worry, poor people’s stolen prospects, and the hollowness of optimism.

Hamilton is in line with the most enlightened climate scientists in recognising that only social science can provide the tools steer us, by activating humanity’s collective imagination about our future. I fear it may be counter-productive to talk like this, because it sounds redemptive, and as such it would probably raise hackles about academic freedom and instrumentalisation of research. (Or maybe I’ve been working where I work – a distinctive place where an institutional scheme to reduce waste is baselessly condemned by senior academics as a disingenuous austerity measure – for too long.)

His summary of the predictions, that we have exceeded the tipping points to limit global warming to the 2 degrees most scientists think would limit climate change, aren’t new to anybody who has been taking notice these past few years. The expectation is 650ppm by the end of the century and the attendant 4 degree global temperature rise. This certainly makes a mockery of the way I live my life, and as somebody pointed out in the discussion, we are all everyday denialists. The effects, most people who have studied these things agree, are going to be drastic.

But what was new were the kinds of questions he was asked, including one about whether society could afford democracy (response: to become authoritarian would be unconscionable), whether we should control the population (response: a statistic – one British person’s emissions legacy – where the legacy is your descendants and theirs – is equivalent to that of 136 Bangladeshis’, so if we do control, we start with the most developed countries first), whether we need to live like it’s WW2 (response: yes). I had no idea that a critical mass of people was talking about that stuff. It must then be time to think about how to be responsible global citizens, and also to live fully human lives where we look after what is valuable and what want to protect, out of the stuff that may not look so important when it’s crunch time.

Extract in The Guardian about the intertwinement, post Cold War, of climate denial and political conservatism. A predictable part for The Guardian to pick up on, which doesn’t deal with the more interesting parts of the book, about maladaptive responses of ordinary people, short of denial.

To end, a Times Higher review by Steven Yearley (Professor of Sociology of Scientific Knowledge at the University of Edinburgh).

“As the reader quickly anticipates, there is to be no happy conclusion to this book. Hamilton is looking for a different kind of “closure”, arguing first of all for acceptance that things really will alter for the worse. We should despair and banish false hopes, acknowledge that the world will change irrevocably and commit to what actions we can to reduce emissions.

This is a provocative and sobering book, in which Hamilton shows very clearly that the climate problem is now primarily a question of social science: of psychology and political economy. For my money, he could have done more to systematise his social scientific analyses and to specify the relative importance of the numerous factors he highlights. But this is nonetheless a vivid book and an urgent invitation to do much more detailed social science.”


I opened my huge craw to the day and all this coursed in.

Public spending

Visualise Open Government data at Where Does My Money Go, a site for looking at UK public spending. The only place I know of that’s recording cuts as they happen. The Treasury has set aside a staggering £2bn to fund the cuts. Perhaps some of that will be my redundancy package. I’ll be lucky to make it through this

This is what our new Conservative minister for higher education thinks about public spending.

Labour candidates

According to MP for Popular and Limehouse, Jim Fitzpatrick, Labour has undermined the selection process for London mayoral candidates in a way which favours Ken Livingstone the defeated 2008 candidate. Ken Livingstone means control without scrutiny and he keeps terrible company – if he’s the best Labour can do, Labour is in a bad way. I hope Oona King gets her campaign in gear soon. I’m afraid the ‘Why Oona for Mayor’ part of the site provides no basis for giving her my vote. Brilliant news about childcare (more detail please), but what about a balanced green economy, social housing, water, noise, waste, biodiversity, air quality, safer cycling and better public transport? Still, early days.

And immigration

Jon Cruddas isn’t interested in standing for Labour Leader because believes in the kind of grass roots action exemplified by Hope Not Hate in his constituency. He says that Labour is no longer the voice of the voiceless. Trouble is, the voiceless don’t speak with one voice, and Labour’s wants to speak for only some of the voiceless. Richard Darlington on a leadership contest fought over immigration; Denis McShane on why Labour is wrong to scapegoat immigrants. I wish I understood what lay between the current state of affairs regarding borders, and borderlessness. Also, a bit like Jon Cruddas, I detest this stupid hierarchical political system. I’m not persuaded of the need for chiefs – I think we need participation, subject experts, consensus-generation techniques, executives, occasional representatives and administrators. And in my world, everybody cleans the toilet.

A Lord Mayor with deep pockets

And another Dispatches, another mayor. Will Hutton exposes the income of the Corporation of London and how it has been used to lobby for resistance to reform and regulation of the banking sector, while the bumble bees of our economy, the small to medium sized businesses, founder. And the Corporation’s pocket is incomparable with the taxpayer’s. Every British household is in depth to the tune of £90,000, says BBC Radio 4’s and the Open University’s number crunching tour de force, More or Less hosted by the people’s economist, Tim Harford. Yes, I’m angry about it. Unemployment is a terrible, terrible thing.

We need a pay cut

My sector is in a terrible way, so is the environment due to consumption, and so I wondered today whether I should offer to work fewer hours for less pay (the organisation is hoping we will) but actually work the same number of hours. The main barriers to that are that my work wouldn’t be recognised, my standing in the organisation would suffer, expectations would rise, I’d lose on my pension, I’d undermine colleagues, and all in all I’d be at a deficit. Also I’d pay less tax (which is bad).

I think we should negotiate a proportional pay-cut affecting only the affluent. But my trade union reckons otherwise.


The church, memory and child abuse

One of my favourite public academics, Chris French, insists that evidence about false memory syndrome is brought to bear in the campaign to bring child abusers to justice. This is proving a troublesome point of view.

Saudi hunger strikers

From time to time I think of them – I go to search for news and find none.

Instead we have our pet victims, whom we maintain as our perpetual victims.

Gaza flotilla

Israel is launching an inquiry into the violence and deaths further to its raid on the Mavi Mara. Former Israeli ambassador to the UN Arman Chaval defended Israel’s rejection of a UN investigation on BBC Radio 4’s 10 o’clock news last night: “When you talk about an impartial inquiry under the UN, that is basically an oxymoron”. The UN has given Israel good reason to say that. I wish it hadn’t. Modernity says that news is emerging of an extreme right Turkish presence on the ship, unlikely to have been motivated by humanitarian concerns – no matter how real those are. Israel’s investigation will have two observers, one of whom is David Trimble.

Now I’m going to listen to an academic making excuses for jihadis. Flesh, I dare say there are some things you’ll never understand.

Run, run, Reynard

A young fox eyeballed me in my road yesterday. To break the ice, I whispered a sick joke. He turned and walked away.

Twin babies were got at by a fox in the night. It is a terrible thing to have happened, and it is nobody’s fault. We didn’t know before – because after all it is virtually unheard of for a fox to try to eat a child’s nappy while the child is in it – but now we know to take precautions and keep the door closed.

Instead, the authorities trapped and killed any old fox. Boris is not going to be bothered about the things humans do to attract urban foxes. Instead, he’s going to try to have them killed. But is there any room for Borises in our city?

All over the world, people look after the vulnerable people and animals in their care – it’s part of day-to-day existence to take precautions against snakes, creepy crawlies, bad men. They do not try to cleanse them.

Let’s get this straight. If you are complaining of shit in your garden, you’d better also be campaigning to keep cats on leashes. If you’re complaining about noise, you’d better campaign against the early birds. If you are complaining about them killing your pets, you should have realised your pet was potential fox food as soon as you even saw a fox in the locality.

If they bother you, then be inhospitable to foxes – for God’s sake don’t kill them.

The animals are always with us

Deepwater Horizon deaths and a review of books.


One noticeable thing about the tabloids is how interested their readers must be in animals. Animals as figures of fun – like the chav finch and the ass hole – in among the adverts for cheaper and cheaper supermarket animal products.

I failed animals this election time by missing the opportunity to lobby. It’s good for the animals that Caroline Lucas won for The Green Party in Brighton Pavilion. She’s president of the European Parliament’s cross-party Animal Welfare Intergroup.

11 workers died and 17 were injured in the Gulf of Mexico Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster. Google Earth is tracking the spill with layers. If It Was My Home (ht B21) layers the oil slick over BP headquarters in London Town. It reaches from Gloucester to Great Yarmouth. The (mostly academic?) vets at the Oiled Wildlife Care Network have been saving animals from oil spills for over a decade. A few weeks ago they were preoccupied by the effects of hard booms (floating barriers to prevent oil slick from reaching coast) on turtles attempting to nest. They had found few oiled animals at that time and the fatalities were few. They had fleeting hope, but that has gone. Not forgetting humans, here is Mike, one of the vets, on the multifactorial effects of oil spills. That was when he had time to write.

The Boston Globe has heart-breaking pictures of oiled birds off New Orleans. What is the life of one oiled bird worth? 300 gallons of water, four people washing for 45 minutes, and more: the ministrations of the US government’s Fish and Wildlife Service for one northern gannet. Many sea animals are dead of oil.

Other news. Did you know your car is running on dead animals, and they’re – they must be Buddhist – calling the fuel ‘renewable’?.

Reading. Jonathan Safran Foer’s book Eating Animals. Here are the reviews Wikipedia had:

Do Fish Feel Pain by Victoria Braithwaite is reviewed by an angler at Fishing Magic. He thinks it’s alright to put himself in the same boat as somebody who relies on fish as part of a meagre diet. But he (long may this last) resides in a post-famine part of the world. There can be no excuse for him harming animals – not for food and never for recreation. Head in the sand, he ends by stating his intention to continue eating, hunting and wearing animal.

Second Nature: The Inner Lives of Animals by Jonathan Balcombe is reviewed by Josh Lacey in The Guardian. Also in The Guardian, James Randerson interviews him:

“For much of the 20th century, it was taboo to ask questions about what animals think and what they feel. That’s changed; now we have a spate of studies of phenomena that show that animals are, in all the important ways, sentient in the manner that we are. They may not lead the same sorts of lives that we have, but they feel pleasure and pain just as intensely. They have just as acute emotional experiences as we do – there are studies showing that there are real inner lives to these animals.

What does this say about our relationship to animals? The paradox is that as our knowledge of animals increases, our treatment of them falls further behind because we still live according to a might-makes-right strategy, which is the kind of thinking that justified colonialism and slavery. Unfortunately, our treatment of animals remains pretty much medieval.”

Yes, it instinctively feels right to appeal to the left, the progressives. If a vegan appeals for animal liberation by making arguments about human justice, there’s no cause for outrage about dehumanisation as there would be if an animal eater made the comparison, or as there would have been before the research findings revealed the complexity of animals’ inner lives. But I’m not very good at writing about animals or talking about animals. Friends, family and respected colleagues pay for them to be killed and taken from and they pay for their lives as enforced companions. I’m frequently stunned out of my wits about this – it’s my life’s most consuming and ominous perpexity. Their plates, the action of their knife.

Look at Antonia Senior writing in The Times last March. She seems to think it over, but in the end sinks her teeth into a pig who lived a life of intermittent fear and loss – and we know it was keenly felt – and died in terrified agony at the hands of a human who wasn’t going hungry.

Balcombe finds a way not to be angry, but I don’t know what other hooks this might let us off:

“The most violent creature on the planet is, of course, us. We are “moral toddlers”, he says, and, like any ordinary two-year-old, we blithely wander around our environment, chomping and stomping and shoving and breaking things without much thought for anyone else.

To grow – to achieve our human potential:

“…we have to reform our relationships with animals; we will “live in better, more caring societies when we treat all feeling individuals with compassion and respect”.

This feels right, but it seems strange to me that Caroline Lucas, who presides over the institutionally antisemitic Green Party and is not herself vegan (what happens to the male calfs, the elderly chickens?) and The Guardian, comfortable home for antisemitic writers, should be loudest on behalf of animals. What is the other agenda? An ecological anti-consumption movement disguised as a compassion movement, perhaps? I don’t know. Anyway, definitely too much looking of gift horses…

There isn’t always another agenda. This respect for life became central for the Holocaust survivors whose efforts on behalf of animals are described in the closing chapter of Charles Patterson’s Eternal Treblinka.