Heaven and Hell and Robert Hughes

Saturday Night Fever was based on a story for New York Magazine by the British rock critic Nik Cohn. ‘The Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night’ was ‘true’, Cohn said. ‘While Manhattan remains firmly rooted in the sixties, still caught up in faction and fad and the dreary games of decadence,’ he wrote, ‘a whole new generation has been growing up around it, virtually unrecognised. Kids of sixteen to twenty, full of energy, urgency, hunger. All the things, in fact, that the Manhattan circuit, in its smugness, has lost.’ Years later, Cohn revealed that his story was based on people he’d known in Shepherds Bush. More »

Respite from Extremity

The defeat of the Front National in every mainland region on Sunday has given France a welcome respite from extremity. Nicolas Sarkozy’s party, which has taken seven out of 12, is in good spirits, as it was on the eve of the contest. Surveying the field before round one, a centre-right MP concluded that François Hollande’s party had done two things well: stealing Sarkozy’s ideas and losing the socialist vote. ‘If you agree with Gramsci,’ he said, ‘it’s an intellectual victory for the right that will end in electoral victory.’ More »

Cuba, Open for Business

Since Barack Obama decided to ease the 55-year trade embargo on Cuba at the beginning of the year, the United States has dropped the country from its list of state sponsors of terrorism and in July reopened its embassy in Havana. In October, the Buena Vista Social Club was the first Cuban band to play in the White House in half a century. Since the Obama administration eased the rules for American citizens wanting to travel to or do business in Cuba, MasterCard, American Express, Netflix and Air BnB are among the companies that have moved in. More »

Among the Firefighters

In 2002 the first national firefighters’ strike in 25 years was called to demand a 40 per cent pay rise, which would have seen their salaries go up to £30,000 a year. Tony Blair compared the Fire Brigades Union’s leader, Andy Gilchrist, to Arthur Scargill; the local government minister Nick Raynsford said strikers were ‘criminally irresponsible’ for refusing to co-operate with an independent pay review. The dispute was eventually settled with a compromise pay rise of 16 per cent, tied to changes in working practices. In 2004, not long after the RMT union was expelled from the Labour Party for supporting candidates to the left of Labour in Scotland and Wales, the FBU cut its longstanding link with the party. Gilchrist was ousted as general secretary in 2005.

Last month the FBU held a recall conference in Blackpool to decide whether or not to reaffiliate to Labour. The overwhelming vote in favour was heralded by Jeremy Corbyn as a ‘milestone in the building of our new politics and our labour movement’. More »

On Course for Disaster

I was one of ten thousand people who marched on Westminster to protest against the unjust and unsafe imposition of a new deal for junior doctors by an arrogant government. The reforms treated us like cogs in a malfunctioning machine, abolishing our autonomy and any consideration for family life. We cheered as the leader of the opposition spoke up for us, told us how much the NHS meant to him, and explained how the government had got it wrong by undervaluing junior doctors. The year was 2007, and the speaker was David Cameron. More »

Railway Spine, Minor Whiplash and other Medico-Legal Constructs

Shares in the Nahl Group, part of the ‘no win no fee’ legal industry, fell by 25 per cent overnight after the chancellor of the exchequer announced in his autumn statement that the government ‘intends to introduce measures to end the right to cash compensation for minor whiplash injuries’. He also said that the government would be consulting on the details and expected average savings of £40 to £50 per motor insurance policy to accrue.

In 2012, the Ministry of Justice characterised the UK as ‘whiplash capital of the world’. In 2012-13 there were 476,938 claims for whiplash, making up 58.2 per cent of all road traffic accident personal injury claims.

The quick jerk of the head caused by the sudden stop of a vehicle can cause real injury. But in cases of minor whiplash the diagnosis relies on symptoms alone. This is the problem. More »

Terrorism or tragedy?

Up to a point, the US is to guns as the Netherlands is to bicycles. Both bits of kit are widely owned, used and even venerated in their respective lands. Their users can mobilise powerful lobbies. On Saturday on the Haarlemmerstraat I saw an irate motorist get out of his vehicle to bawl at a cyclist. He was quickly surrounded by passers-by and forced back into his car. It was a more satisfactory outcome than some disputes between gun users. But then – and here’s where the analogy begins to give out – bikes aren’t generally designed to kill people.

‘Terrorism’ and ‘tragedy’ thrive in different semantic fields. After the murders in San Bernardino last week the media were at first stumped about whether to call it ‘terror’ or just another ‘tragic’ gun massacre. More »

The Front National Breaks Through

Sunday mid-afternoon at our nearest polling station – a modest mairie which now opens only a couple of times a week –the voting in the first round of France’s regional elections was desultory. The deputy mayor had reckoned on 40 per cent of the voters turning out by teatime, but they hadn’t. In a flower border where the council planted out a few perennials earlier this year, some of the shrubs had been removed during the night. Three gendarmes were hard at work on forensics, taking photos of the holes. More »

Hilary Benn’s ‘Internationalism’

Before Hilary Benn sat down from his contribution to the Syria debate in the House of Commons last night, the political echo chamber was reverberating. Over the applause, microphones picked up outbursts of praise from the Conservative benches that were echoed through the commentariat: ‘superb’, ‘historic’, ‘career-defining’. It was certainly an impressive feat of rhetoric, all the more so for having been written largely during the debate. But at the core of the rhetoric were two distortions, which aped the language of socialist internationalism while arguing for its opposite. More »

Corbyn’s Declining Popularity?

Today’s by-election in Oldham West and Royton is the first real test for Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader. Nigel Farage has said the results will be ‘very, very tight’, but a victory for Ukip is unlikely. They’ll probably come a closer second than they did in May to the late Michael Meacher, but that says as much about the Tories’ inexorable fall in England’s north as it does about the parliamentary opposition. More »

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  • From the LRB Archive

    Chris Lehmann: The Candidates
    18 June 2015

    ‘Every one of the Republican candidates can be described as a full-blown adult failure. These are people who, in most cases, have been granted virtually every imaginable advantage on the road to success, and managed nevertheless to foul things up along the way.’

    Hugh Pennington:
    The Problem with Biodiversity
    10 May 2007

    ‘As a medical microbiologist, for example, I have spent my career fighting biodiversity: my ultimate aim has been to cause the extinction of harmful microbes, an objective shared by veterinary and plant pathologists. But despite more than a hundred years of concentrated effort, supported by solid science, smallpox has been the only success.’

    Jeremy Harding: At the Mexican Border
    20 October 2011

    ‘The battle against illegal migration is a domestic version of America’s interventions overseas, with many of the same trappings: big manpower commitments, militarisation, pursuit, detection, rendition, loss of life. The Mexican border was already the focus of attention before 9/11; it is now a fixation that shows no signs of abating.’

    James Meek: When the Floods Came
    31 July 2008

    ‘Last July, a few days after the floods arrived, with 350,000 people still cut off from the first necessity of life, Severn Trent held its annual general meeting. It announced profits of £325 million, and confirmed a dividend for shareholders of £143 million. Not long afterwards the company, with the consent of the water regulator Ofwat, announced that it wouldn’t be compensating customers: all would be charged as if they had had running water, even when they hadn’t.’

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