The Open House weekend, when buildings across London open their doors to visitors, gets bigger every year: the most recent, its 23rd, featured more than 800 buildings and 2600 architect-led tours. Part of the pleasure lies in discovering so much of the city that is hidden from you: 10 Downing Street, the Cheesegrater, banks, halls and bell-towers; it's like walking onto a movie set, or into another life. It also indulges your nosiness about how other people live (and where): who knew there’s a three-bedroom flat at the top of St Pancras Station's clock tower, or that Lewisham has a whole cul-de-sac built on stilts?
Tuesday morning's session at the Labour Party Conference last week went totally unreported. On BBC Parliament, the titles said: 'Delegates are taking part in a debate about conference arrangements' – in other words, 'don't watch this'. But it was the most eventful discussion of the week.
It was difficult at times to recall that the military intervention in Iraq being debated in the House of Commons involves sending six Tornadoes to bomb suspected Isis positions. It is very much a symbolic action from the British point of view. MPs seemed to be trying to grapple with the complexity of what is happening but not quite succeeding. Cameron and others made great play with the idea that military action is in support of a new, inclusive Iraqi government, when in fact it is as Shia-dominated as the old. Its most effective military strike force are Iranian-managed Shia militias but they, along with the Iraqi army, terrify the Sunni.
Barnet Council and Barratt Homes are in the early stages of knocking down a housing estate in West Hendon, to replace it with a new development. Their aim is to create ‘high quality new homes in a pleasant environment and make the area a desirable place to live, work and spend time in’. But not for most of the current residents: nearly 400 homeowners and non-secure tenants, along with their families, are being ‘decanted’ off the estate. Twenty-six non-secure tenants have already been made to leave. Those remaining are not going quietly.
Karl Miller, the LRB’s first editor, died yesterday. Neal Ascherson, John Lanchester, Andrew O'Hagan and Mary-Kay Wilmers will be writing about him in the paper.
Francesca Woodman’s early death, at the age of 22, has cast a long shadow over her work. In the preceding years (her father gave her a camera when she was 13), especially those spent at Rhode Island School of Design and in New York, she produced a wealth of images: there are more than 10,000 negatives. This leaves a problem for her estate (her parents, George and Betty Woodman, are both artists) and her curators: it has been left to others to select, group and edit her archive. Eight hundred prints have been made, of which fewer than two hundred have been exhibited.
The speed with which David Cameron has turned the victory of No into the West Lothian question is not surprising in a man who is both an opportunist and partisan, and who is concerned to protect his own leadership. But Ed Milband is right to resist Cameron’s rushed attempts to exploit promises made to Scotland, which almost certainly need never have been made, to justify legislation that would allow only English MPs to vote on ‘English’ measures (however they might be defined). Such a proposal is wrong for two reasons.
On Friday evening, hundreds of loyalists congregated in George Square. Some bought union flags from hawkers; most brought their own. Women in red, white and blue wraparound skirts sang 'you can stuff your independence up your arse.' Expensive cars disgorged burly men from Ayrshire and Fife onto the square. A Rangers banner was attached to the metal railings in front of the city's cenotaph. Sections of the crowd chanted 'Rule Britannia' and 'No Surrender'. Some gave Hitler salutes. In the gloaming, pro-independence supporters and non-aligned passers-by were attacked. So far eleven people have been arrested.
The early Scottish referendum results didn't look good for the would-be dividers of the kingdom. My pro-independence Orcadian friend, down in London for a wine fair, went to bed before three a.m., disconsolate, not long after a furious thunderstorm lit up the deserted streets and made drums of the cars. I stayed awake long enough for the moment around four when my home town of Dundee went heavily for Yes, swiftly followed by another Yes in West Dunbartonshire. Suddenly the two camps were neck and neck.
Polling day is suitably dreich in Fife. Since yesterday morning the damp mists of a haar have loomed over us like a hangover that won't go away. We cannot see the Forth, the Isle of May or the Lammermuirs marking the horizon beyond. In Arncroach, where I live, there's just the polling booth adorned with a single large Yes poster. The most striking thing about the referendum is the extent to which it has turned out to be not about Scottish independence.
In the course of the current debate about Scottish independence I’ve noticed a few references comparing it to an anti-colonial struggle: the poor oppressed Scots against their arrogant English masters. This is historical nonsense. Scotland joined the Union originally in order to share in the benefits of England’s overseas colonialism, after its own had failed; and thereafter played a disproportionate part in the expansion and rule of the British Empire, from the butt end of the gun. It has also shared greatly – maybe disproportionately again – in the governance of Britain itself, as well as in its culture. It may be that the loss of the empire has removed one of the original Scottish motives for the Union, and so boosted nationalism in that way. But that is a very different thing from painting it as a rebellion by colonial victims. On the other hand, colonialism/imperialism has moved on from the mid-20th century.
In case you haven’t been able to get your hands on Merci pour ce moment, Valérie Trierweiler’s sellout tract about President Hollande, herself and her feelings, here it is, accelerated and reduced in the first available English translation. I No choice but to take up the pen. I didn’t smash the crockery AS WAS ALLEGED when FH told me, on the bed, in the Elysée apartments, about Julie Gayet. Does a real man in charge of a country have an affair with an actress – that’s actress, not actor – when factories are closing and unemployment is rising?
On Saturday, with only days to go before the independence referendum, thousands of Yes supporters gathered on Buchanan Street in Glasgow, waving Saltires and singing ‘Flower of Scotland’. At around the same time, more than ten thousand Orangemen staged a pro-union march in Edinburgh. The standards at the head of the flute bands hailed from Portadown and Coatbridge, London and Liverpool, Leeds and Stockport.
Is the island of Albion about to split? It’s clear that the No/Yes gap has narrowed but it’s still likelier that ‘No’ will win, by a clear if not comfortable margin; certainly if the bookies, who usually get these things right, are credited. The London press has blunderbussed out unionist propaganda, some of which, in the way of propaganda, has hit the truth, notably about Salmond’s triangulation of left and right by promising to scrap Trident while levying bargain-basement business rates. No prizes for guessing which pledge would be met first.
Last week a fracking company was refused permission to drill in the South Downs National Park. Celtique Energie is considering an appeal to Eric Pickles to overrule the decision. He might be reluctant to cause a furore in West Sussex, but would he feel the same if aggrieved companies could sue the government for lost profits? This can happen if foreign firms have access to an investor-state dispute settlement, as provided for in the new trade agreements being finalised by the EU with Canada and the US. Ministers reassure us that the provisions are nothing new, without mentioning that US companies are the world leaders in making ISDS claims. The two main ISDS tribunals, run by the World Bank and the UN, operate behind closed doors, with private attorneys who rotate between being judges and advocates, and have no appeals mechanisms.
On 26 August a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas was agreed, bringing a fragile end to a war that killed 2150 Palestinians (mostly civilians) and 73 Israelis (mostly soldiers). Since then Hamas has not fired a single rocket, attacked an Israeli target, or done anything to break the terms of the ceasefire. Israel has done the following:
What is most striking about the retrospective of Edwin Smith’s photographs at the Royal Institute of British Architects (until 6 December) is his ability to capture the human relationship to buildings. A woman's silhouette in a shadowy side street is dwarfed by York Minster; a man in a suit casts a short shadow before the long shadows of the palatial façade of the Royal Exchange; a cat lingers uncertainly in the gateway to Ampton Hall.
If the passion of David Cameron, the Saltire flying over Downing Street and the threatened departure from Scotland of major business houses do not between them dissuade Scots from their interesting proposal, what remains of the United Kingdom will require a new name. This would not have been a question a hundred years ago. Conservative politicians and journalists for sure, and many others, rarely if ever spoke of 'Britain' or 'Great Britain', still less of the 'United Kingdom' or 'UK'. It was invariably 'England'.
When the Bank of England governor, Mark Carney, addressed the Trades Union Congress on Tuesday, the press bench at the side of Liverpool’s BT Convention Centre was full. Some national papers had several journalists in the hall, dividing their efforts between shorthand notes, tweets and other tasks. But as soon as Carney moved onto questions from the gathered delegates, reporters began to put their notebooks away and leave. It was a neat illustration of the link between the decline of industrial reporting and the surge in attention afforded to the City.
Rectory Gardens, a residential mews in Clapham Old Town, is being emptied, one household at a time. Henry, who has lived in the street since 1985, is among those waiting to be rehoused. When he leaves, Lambeth Council will probably hire Camelot, a ‘vacant property management’ company, to install ‘guardians’: people who pay the company for the privilege of staying in disused buildings and keeping out squatters. There are several property guardians already living on the street.
‘Settlement through excavation is the same as settlement through building,’ according to Yonathan Mizrachi, an archaeologist who works with Emek Shaveh in Jerusalem. The organisation explores the connection between archaeology and politics in Israel and Palestine, particularly in and around Jerusalem. Earlier this year it published a report, written by Mizrachi, called From Territorial Contiguity to Historical Continuity: Asserting Israeli Control through National Parks in East Jerusalem.
If Scotland votes ‘Yes’ to independence, Scots and English will both lose a country, Great Britain, but also gain a new one. I will lose one, but what will I gain? As a first-generation immigrant I can be British but never English (or Scottish or Welsh or Irish). It would be the second time I’ve lost a country. The first was the USSR. I don’t regret its demise but I’m still perturbed by airport visa forms that ask where I was born. I want to write USSR but am told to write Ukraine. Why wipe out history?
A trip through the dark corridors and political galleries suggests that what we are witnessing in Pakistan today – street demos in Lahore and Islamabad, attempts to seize the prime minister’s house, a token occupation of the state television building – is little more than a crude struggle for power between the incumbents (the two stooges otherwise known as the Sharif brothers) and a segment of the opposition led by Imran Khan and the forces unleashed by the Canadian-based ‘moderate’ Islamist cleric Tahirul Qadri, who controls a large network of madrassahs that were supported by the Sharifs and many others. Mohammad Sarwar, for instance, the governor of Punjab (a millionaire chum of Blair and Brown and former New Labour MP from Glasgow), joined Qadri’s procession, presumably to demonstrate his faith.
Lady Gaga once said that ‘more mayors in the world should be like Jón Gnarr.’ In June, Gnarr left office after serving a full four-year term as mayor of Reykjavík. His memoir, Gnarr! How I Became the Mayor of a Large City in Iceland and Changed the World, will be published in Britain this week.