How to Solve Labour’s Funding Problem

The Trade Union Bill represents an existential threat to the Labour Party. If passed it would change the way workers pay into their union political fund, at present the only means by which the unions are allowed to fund the party. The Bill proposes that, rather than having to opt out of the political levy, as is presently the case, unionists would have to agree to pay, in writing, every five years. There are four million levy payers in unions currently affiliated to Labour; the change could lose the party as much as £8 million a year. The House of Lords voted earlier this month that the proposed reforms should apply only to new members. The reprieve may prove temporary. More »

In İzmir

The only travel agencies open in İzmir on a Sunday are in Basmane. A neighbourhood of former imperial splendour, it is now known as Little Syria. I was there on 20 March, the day that the deal between the EU and Turkey to deport ‘all new irregular migrants crossing from Turkey to the Greek islands’ came into effect. There’d been a suicide bombing in Istanbul the day before, and another in Ankara a week earlier. Basmane was the only part of İzmir where the streets were crowded. More »

Waiting for the Containers

Riot police outside the Moria detention centre during a protest on 24 March

Riot police outside the Moria detention centre during a protest on 24 March

Up to 190 shipping containers are on their way to Lesvos, Samos and Chios, to be used as offices by 600 EU asylum officials and 430 interpreters. According to the terms of the deal between the EU and Turkey that came into effect on 20 March, ‘all new irregular migrants crossing from Turkey to the Greek islands … will be returned to Turkey’. More »

The Schools Business

George Osborne announced in the budget that all remaining local authority schools in England must become academies by 2022. The Education and Adoption Act 2016 will compel councils and school governors to co-operate in the forced academisation of eligible schools; remove any requirement for consultation with parents, governors or local authorities; and allow the education secretary to control the make-up of the ‘interim executive boards’ that oversee a school’s conversion into an academy. An amendment tabled by Labour peers, requiring that parents and others be consulted on academy conversions, was defeated by Conservative MPs. More »

‘Court’

Judi Dench’s character in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel describes India as ‘an assault on the senses’. It’s a view shared by most British and American films set in India, from Slumdog Millionaire to The Darjeeling Limited and Life of Pi. Movies that look beyond the tourist guide book, especially independent Indian films, tend to disappear from UK cinema screens more quickly. Chaitanya Tamhane’s ambitious first feature film, Court, goes on general if limited release in the UK tomorrow (it premiered at the Venice Film Festival in September 2014). More »

Profiting from Divorce

‘We are on familiar ground,’ Lord Faulks said. Another increase to court fees, another futile motion of regret in the House of Lords. Fees for an uncontested divorce petition – which costs, on average, £270 to process – went up from £410 to £550. Government profits from divorce are set to increase. More »

In Brussels

Fifteen years ago I woke in my flat at the northern end of Manhattan, unemployed and hungover. I munched on a stale bagel while gazing out the kitchen window at the Palisades. A friend who’d recently moved out of the city called on my landline, the only line I had: ‘I got through – Lee! The towers are gone!’ I turned the radio on and heard the chaos, then ran downstairs to the bar I’d left a few hours earlier. On the way I watched a white man accost an Arab cab driver, yelling: ‘I’m gonna call the cops on you!’ The bar’s television showed the towers fall countless times over the next three hours. I took the subway as far south as it went, then walked as close to Ground Zero as I could, close enough anyway to leave footprints in the dust.

This morning I woke in the Brussels commune of Saint-Gilles, not much more employed and hungover from last night’s weekly outdoor market and apéro in front of one of the city’s nineteen town halls. I had two text messages: ‘We just heard the news, are you OK?’ I knew instantly what had happened. Those two messages asking if I was all right were enough to tell me there’d been an attack in Brussels and people had died while I slept. More »

The Spider in the Urinal

In The View From Nowhere, Thomas Nagel describes his encounter with a large spider in a Princeton University urinal, from whose gutter it can’t escape. Through the summer, the spider survives, even thrives, despite being urinated on ‘more than a hundred times a day’. Finally Nagel takes pity and helps it climb out of the trough with a paper towel. Next day he finds the spider, exactly where he had left it, dead. The golden shower turns out to have been its lifeblood. More »

Clerical Abuse

When I went up to Cambridge in October 1960, I found myself, for the first time, in the company of public schoolboys. My college, Corpus Christi, boasted – if that’s the word – a higher proportion of them than most, about 90 per cent, I would say, all appearing to fit in naturally to the ethos of the place, which I, at first, found strange and rather wonderful. They were all very pleasant to me, despite my ‘Estuary’ accent and the fact that I had lived at home during my school years, and I made close friends with a number of them. But there was always this barrier – of adolescent experience – between us. They knew things that I didn’t (and vice versa? perhaps).

One thing was the proclivities of one of the fellows, the Rev. E. Garth Moore, notorious in public school circles as a sexual predator: they felt they needed to warn me, as a comparatively plebbish ingénu. ‘If Garth invites you to tea in his rooms,’ one of them told me on my first day, ‘don’t go. We know about him. You won’t understand.’ I think they were trying to protect me from embarrassment more than anything. It was kind of them. Anyhow, I did get the invitation, and politely turned it down. More »

The Case of Fadi Mansour

In August 2012, Fadi Mansour, a 28-year-old law student from Homs, left Syria to avoid conscription. ‘I had to do my military service before the war started; after the war they called me to fight in the reserve army, so I escaped,’ he wrote to me yesterday. He told Amnesty International that he went first to Lebanon, where he was kidnapped and held to ransom. After his release he felt unsafe; in early 2015 he came to Turkey. He flew to Malaysia but was denied entry and sent back to Istanbul. ‘They caught me in the airport,’ Mansour said. ‘I asked for asylum here. But they rejected my request.’

This was on 15 March 2015. Since then Mansour has been detained at Istanbul’s Atatürk Airport. He is living in the ‘Problematic Passengers Room’. It has no natural light and no beds. The electric lights are kept on around the clock. ‘Sometimes they let me go outside the room for one or two hours,’ he told me. ‘But nothing is different between here and outside.’ More »

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