Fatema Ahmed


3 July 2017

Leave it to Osborne

In Psmith, Journalist (1915), P.G. Wodehouse’s most enterprising character stumbles into the world of New York journalism and transforms a sleepy and sentimental family paper, Cosy Moments, into a campaigning publication. He sacks all the regular columnists and launches a crusade to improve the living conditions of tenement dwellers and unmask their anonymous landlord, despite threats encouraging him to stop: ‘Cosy Moments cannot be muzzled!’ he declares.


14 December 2016

Nebulous Concepts

The Casey Review into opportunity and integration was published last week. Among the platitudes (‘integration is a nebulous concept’) and non-sequiturs (it quotes opinion polls extensively without explaining why they are important or relevant, or considering if the questions were worth asking), Dame Louise Casey asks: 'Why conduct an integration review?' Because 'numerous reports on community cohesion and integration had been produced in the preceding fifteen years but the recommendations they had made were difficult to see in action.’


18 November 2016

Where is ‘The Secret of England’s Greatness’?

In the middle of Room 23 (‘Empire and Expansion’) of the National Portrait Gallery, between the explorers and officers on one side and Florence Nightingale receiving the Crimean wounded on the other, is a selection of cartes de visites and group photographs of visitors to the Houses of Parliament. The calling cards include those of the Parsee intellectual Dadabhai Naoroji, the first Indian to become an MP (for Central Finsbury in 1892), and ‘Mr Stanley, in the dress he wore when he met Livingstone in Africa’.


7 May 2016

Sadiq Khan’s Symbolic Victory

I wasn’t expecting to be so pleased about Sadiq Khan being elected mayor of London. I was underwhelmed when he won the Labour nomination, and even more underwhelmed when the Conservatives chose Zac Goldsmith. Neither candidate seemed as if they’d rather run London than hold any other political office, and despite the mayor’s limited powers, the Londoner in me feels, unrealistically, that they should. (Perhaps unfortunately for both the city and himself, the only candidate who has ever fitted that description is Ken Livingstone, who made an uncharacteristically graceful concession speech in 2012; if only the rest had been silence.)


22 May 2015

Who are the Rohingya?

There was a sign on the floor of one of the boats abandoned off the coast of Aceh this week. ‘We are Myanmar Rohingya,’ it said in white capital letters. Its occupants may have been picked up by Indonesian fishermen, or they may have drowned. In the last couple of days, Malaysia and Indonesia have agreed to give temporary shelter to 7000 or more people stranded on boats in the Andaman Sea, some for as long as four months. The Malaysian navy has also begun to look for boats in its own waters. Thailand won’t be joining them, though it has agreed not to turn the boats away for the moment. ‘Our country has more problems than theirs,’ the Thai prime minister said. He may well be right: a mass grave was discovered in the south of Thailand earlier this month, containing the bodies of 26 Rohingya. There are probably more. On 29 May, there will be a meeting in Bangkok of 15 countries including the US, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Bangladesh and Burma, which is attending on condition that no one use the word ‘Rohingya’.


27 April 2015

In Brent Cross

In Patrick Keiller’s film London (1994) there’s only one moment at which the camera moves: on the up escalator in the old central court of Brent Cross Shopping Centre, a once magical attraction for children all over north-west London. The fountain you can see in the court and the panels of rainbow-coloured ‘stained-glass’ in the cupola above aren’t there any more. They disappeared in 1996, in an ‘improvement and expansion’ scheme.


7 April 2015

‘Dior and I’

Dior and I, a documentary following Dior’s new creative director Raf Simons as he prepares his first haute couture collection (autumn-winter 2012), tries to summon up the fashion house’s ghosts while ignoring several elephants in the room.


8 August 2014

Boris Johnson's Great and Glorious Future

The text of Boris Johnson's speech at Bloomberg headquarters on Wednesday has the following helpful subheadings: 'The European Nightmare', 'The Solution – Reform and Referendum', 'But Be Prepared for a New Future', 'The Dream'. The first part of the speech is devoted to the nightmare of EU health and safety regulations (truck drivers must not drive for more than nine hours a day etc), but Britain could have ‘a great and glorious’ future if it leaves the EU. London is already ‘the America of the European Union’ (because it's a place of ‘massive opportunity’, not because it’s one of the most unequal cities on earth).


13 May 2014

Deconstructing Heygate

The ‘deconstruction’ of the main part of the Heygate Estate in Elephant and Castle is well underway. Since last autumn, it has been almost completely hidden by scaffolding; to a passerby, it might have looked as if the blocks were being built rather than being taken down. But now that any asbestos and all the fixtures and fittings have been removed, cranes are removing the concrete panels from the block nearest the Walworth Road. It’s an unspectacular demolition, and a quiet one. There won’t be a specific moment of explosive collapse; the 1974 structure will just be gone by the end of the year.


6 December 2013

Boris Johnson’s Calculations

Last week, Boris Johnson gave the third annual Margaret Thatcher lecture, organised by the Centre for Policy Studies. Most of the spluttering that followed has focused on what the Mayor of London is supposed to have said about the impossibility of equality, his remarks about IQ, and his comparions between people and cornflakes.