Month: February 2009

Not British

In 25th place on my list of 25 random things about me was this:

25. I was born in Gothenburg in Sweden, I grew up in Sheffield, and have developed a real attachment to Wales despite having only lived there for nine months.  I feel proud of all of them, which proves to me that everyone who has a background that is either mixed nationality or mixed race is perfectly capable of having a loyalty to all of them.

This seems quite prophetic given the latest diatribe from the Daily Mail about how people who are second or third generation immigrants are ‘hidden’ by the Government as they are classed as British by the Office for National Statistics.

In my case of course we can forget about the 2nd or 3rd generation bit.  I am an immigrant and I didn’t get British citizenship until I was about 13.  But that is why this article by the Daily Mail annoys me so much.  What the Daily Mail is doing is pandering to racism by using a completely irrelevant set of statistics and at the same time implying that the ‘establishment’ is somehow complicit in hiding the problem.

The reason is this.  This article basically implies that as a foreign-born resident of the UK I am some sort of threat to British culture and that I am part of this swarm of migrants who are swamping the country.  Yet, I bet the Daily Mail wouldn’t deny my right to live in this country.  Which is the rub.  What the Daily Mail seems to be talking about is foreigners who either look different or who come in large groups and bring a different culture with them.  I suppose my Dad and I are just about manageable in numbers and my occasional penchant for pickled herring and singing strange folk songs about frogs has yet to change the culture of Sheffield.

The article also quotes statistics that shows how many people in this country were born outside of Europe.  Maybe I am doing them a disservice, but I am pretty sure the Daily Mail isn’t talking about the Americans who live here or the many people who are ‘British’ but who were born in countries like India.  I was going to use as an example here Indian-born Cliff Richard, but I suspect there are many people who would be quite happy to see Cliff Richard deported.

So perhaps the Daily Mail should just come straight out with it, and say what they mean rather than using nebulus statistics to try and prove a political point, when the statistics show nothing of the sort.  I have no problem with newspapers debating the issue of immigration.  I also think that there is nothing wrong with people holding the view that immigration levels are too high – I happen to think that the issue is more complicated than just too high or too low, but that’s an argument for another time.  I also accept that there are a good number of people who fear that their area is losing its traditional character because of the number of people moving in with a different ethnic background (again an issue that I think is more complicated than just numbers).

Lets have the debate on immigration, but please Daily Mail, let’s not use the fact that some people are born abroad or imply that the authorities are trying to hide levels of immigration as an argument that proves that immigration levels are too high.

Hat tip to Mark Pack

25 random things about me

It’s ages since I was sent this (so by now, everyone is probably fed up with them) but it has taken me ages to come up with things that are at least vaguely interesting and make me seem like a fairly rounded individual rather than completely nuts.

Despite that I love these things as when you read the 25 belonging to other people you always find out something surprising that you never knew.  Although most people who have tagged me are Lib Dems, I am thankful that the first person to do it was a non-Lib Dem (see I do have a life outside politics).

  1. I went to the same secondary school as athletes Sebastian Coe and Becky Lyne, three members of Def Leppard, writer & journalist Philip Hensher and Richard McCourt (Dick from ‘Dick and Dom,’ who was in the same year as me), as well as at least two Lib Dem councillors (Joe Taylor from Sheffield and Linda Chung from Camden).  I also went to the same primary school as singer Joe Cocker.
  2. I won the Lydgate Middle School poetry cup when I was about 11 for a poem I wrote about the Sheffield Canal.
  3. When I was a small child I fell over in the hall at home, banged my head on the radiator and I still have a scar across one of my eyebrows to this day.
  4. My first full-time job was as a ‘Customer Host’ for the Midland Mainline train company.  This involved serving hot food in first class, selling from the buffet and trolley, checking tickets and all sorts of other things on board trains between Sheffield and London.  In this job I served tea and coffee to all sorts of different ‘celebrities’ including snooker player Peter Ebdon, Carol Vorderman, the Duke of Devonshire, diet & fitness expert Rosemary Conley, actors Jane Asher, Shirley Anne Field (someone who you might recognise even if you don’t know the name – one of my colleagues ended up asking her who she was) and Kevin Lloyd (Tosh Lines from The Bill – who I served a coffee to two days before he died), and several politicians including Tony Benn, David Blunkett, Joe Ashton, Glenda Jackson, Patricia Hewitt and Margaret Beckett…
  5. …two years later I stood against Margaret Beckett in the General Election in Derby South (I increased the Lib Dem vote by 5%).
  6. One of things that makes me angry is the cynicism people have about politics and politicians, something which I think is fuelled by the media’s obsession with assuming everyone is lying and the fact that they won’t give people the benefit of the doubt.  The majority of people I know in politics are doing it because they genuinely care and want to make a difference and have ended up financially worse off as a result.  However, I am also angry at the inability of those who have the power to do so, to clean up politics once and for all so we aren’t all tarred with the same brush as the minority who do fiddle the system.
  7. One of my more obscure ambitions is to become a qualified Blue Badge Guide.  I enjoy it when history is brought to life in the place where it actually happened, which is why I really enjoy going on London Walks. I also love telling people useless facts and anecdotes, which is why I also spent five years as a volunteer steward with The National Trust.
  8. When I was little I sent in a picture I made to the children’s TV programme Play School.  I was sent back a postcard (which I still have) and a balloon (which I don’t).
  9. At school I learnt the clarinet and got up to grade two on the piano.  However, my main musical involvement was in one of the Sheffield city youth choirs, where I sang in the Semi-Finals of the Choir of the Year Competition and the International Eisteddfod in Llangollen.  Now I don’t do anything musical at all, except listen to it.
  10. I am a pessimist and worry about most things I do in my life.
  11. Despite being so involved in politics I had never seen The West Wing until last Autumn.  Now I am obsessed.
  12. I am a terrible cook.
  13. At the last Lib Dem Spring Conference in Harrogate I fell down on the ice outside the conference centre and broke my elbow.  Sheffield’s Northern General Hospital restored my faith in the ability of the NHS to repair elbows as they did a brilliant job of getting it working properly again.  This was unlike my previous experience when Aberystwyth’s Bronglais Hospital just asked me “are you a student?  Were you drunk when it happened?” and then told me to go away and it would heal.  It didn’t for a long time.
  14. I have a long-standing crush on Newsnight’s Kirsty Wark.
  15. I was once on a BBC Pebble Mill programme called Café 21 presented by Rajesh Mirchandani.  I was on it as a young Lib Dem representative to help provide some political balance.
  16. As a child, the first job I ever wanted was to be an author (or as I used to call it a bookmaker) and I still have an ambition to write a best-selling novel now.  I have some ideas for stories, but I never get around to writing them.
  17. I have very good eyesight, particularly over long-distances.
  18. When I was a child I had a lisp until I went for a speech therapy at the Sheffield Children’s Hospital.
  19. Whenever I do the tests to find out my personality type (such as Belbin) or learning styles (such as Kolb) I nearly always end up in the middle on all types with no strong or weak preference for any.  Although I keep being told by ‘experts’ that it is really rare and possibly the perfect score as I should therefore be able to turn my hand to anything, in practice the world usually judges people by their top scores not their average.  That is perhaps one of my biggest frustrations in life.
  20. I have driven Simon Hughes’ yellow London taxi from Hartlepool to Westminster.
  21. I went to the UK premiere of the film ‘Moulin Rouge’ at the Odeon Leicester Square.
  22. I have been the navigator in two historic car rallies, including one (the Berwick Classic) where the driver and I were top in our category.
  23. I am double jointed and can bend my thumbs back until they are at right angles to my wrist.  I can also do something weird with my arms where I cross them, hold hands so they are in a loop and then put my head through the gap.  It runs through the family and my Dad claims that he married my Mum because she was the only other person that he’d met who could do it.
  24. I love liver pate, but I hate liver.  The only other food I don’t like are broad beans and celery.
  25. I was born in Gothenburg in Sweden, I grew up in Sheffield, and have developed a real attachment to Wales despite having only lived there for nine months.  I feel proud of all of them, which proves to me that everyone who has a background that is either mixed nationality or mixed race is perfectly capable of having a loyalty to all of them.

Liberal Democrat Voice demands Government funding

Of course Liberal Democrat Voice aren’t demanding Government funding.  But I was thrown for a while when I saw a headline that read that LDV were having financial difficulties and so needed a loan from the Government to keep going.  Given that this was straight after I had clicked on the Liberal Democrat Voice website and been presented with the screen below it did make me wonder what was going on.


Barclays invent road name for their new Sheffield branch

Barclays are currently converting the former Gap store in Sheffield City Centre in to a new branch to replace the one at the bottom of Fargate, and which from the appearance of the building must be nearly ready to open.  But I was surprised, when I noticed on the side of the building the name they have picked for the new branch:


Put simply.  City Hall Square doesn’t exist.  There is a City Hall in Sheffield, and it isn’t far from the branch, but the square in front of it is called Barker’s Pool (named after the pool that supplied the city’s first drinking water which was once on the site).

Perhaps instead Barclays were thinking of the Town Hall, which is more logical as it is on the opposite side of the road from the branch.  But that’s the Town Hall rather than the City Hall, and although I have heard the area in front of it described as the Town Hall square, you don’t hear it very often and it certainly isn’t called that officially.

Perhaps with the banking industry under so much pressure these days, they can’t afford to employ anyone to check the address of their new branch (which should be 1 Barker’s Pool).

Just read… Roseanna by Maj Sjöwall & Per Wahlöö

I read Roseanna by Maj Sjöwall & Per Wahlöö after discovering that Sjöwall and Wahlöö were part of the inspiration for Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander stories.

Sjowall and Wahloo, and their detective character Martin Beck are well known in Sweden, but have had more of a low-key cult following in Britain until the recent surge in popularity of Scandinavian crime fiction. Sjöwall and Wahlöö are perhaps best known as socialist writers. This shouldn’t be a surprise in some ways, given that they were writing in Sweden in the 1960s; although their view was often that Sweden was only toying with being on the left and wasn’t properly socialist in the way that they would like. Despite this agenda supposedly being a key part of their writing, I didn’t pick up much in Roseanna and it certainly didn’t detract from the writing.

I can honestly say that Roseanna is one of the best books I have read recently. Although it gets off to a fairly slow pace, this allows you to feel the frustration of the detectives as they try and solve the case and head off down some blind alleys, it is probably also quite realistic.  It is a very detailed story and shows you a lot of how the investigation is conducted without being tedious, and it shows you a lot of the human side of the characters without being overly distracted by their personal lives. Once the key clue as to the killer is discovered, the pace quickens considerably and in the end despite a few more frustrations, the case is solved at a decent speed.

Despite being around 40 years old, the story hasn’t dated. In fact apart from some details, such as reports being written on a typewriter and the need to wait on the post to get photos sent from the United States, it could just as easily be set in the present day.

There are another nine Martin Beck stories by Sjöwall and Wahlöö and so I shall look forward to reading them.

Tories propose city mayors

I really don’t understand this obsession with having directly-elected mayors for big cities.  Labour have been trying to persuade big cities to have a referendum on them for years, and when they failed to do that they mulled over the idea of forcing them to have referenda.  Despite the fact that the majority of referenda that there have been so far have actually voted against them.  Now the Tories are at it as well.

Superficially I understand the attraction.  Create a big figurehead that is well known by the electorate and they will be more accountable and able to get more done.  But it isn’t a lack of accountability that is holding back councils, it is the fact that they don’t always have the power or the resources to do the things that they would like to do.  Far too many things are dictated by central government and councils aren’t given the freedom to provide the services they want, in the way that they want and to be able to raise the funds in the way that they think is most appropriate.

In last year’s local elections in Sheffield for example, the voters in Sheffield decided to opt for a change and to elect a Liberal Democrat council.  That council is headed up by the very competent and determined council leader Paul Scriven, but it isn’t just about Paul.  It is about the team that surrounds him, and the party is putting in to practice a lot of good stuff simply because they are clear on what they want to do and are trying to make it happen.  If Sheffield had a directly elected mayor (who in an election that revolves more around personality and fame, rather than who is better at the job and who has the vision to make a difference, could be from any party in the city or none) I just think you would create a figurehead without the people around him or her to provide that support.  Certainly, many of the cabinet members in Sheffield are as crucial to making a difference as the leader himself.

I am sure there are many other cities that are in a similar situation to Sheffield.  So I am not trying to make a party political point about how great the Lib Dems in Sheffield are.  Instead I am trying to show that it is not just the leader that is important, it is the team around them that makes the difference.  I would hate to see the decision making in Sheffield being about one person, who is elected because he or she is likeable rather than competent.  It also flies in the face of Lib Dem plans to push more decision making down to communities.  If Sheffield had a mayor would that mean that power would have to be centralised again?

I can only hope that this idea of the Tories is one idea that they drop if they get in to power at the next General Election.

Shock as Bertie Bassett commits bigamy

It’s not often I spread news of a big celebrity scandal, but this one I felt needed a bigger audience.  Bertie Bassett – popular figurehead of Sheffield confectionary giants Bassetts – is in trouble for bigamy.

The scandal has emerged as Bassett’s announced a new lady in Bertie Bassett’s life with their wedding scheduled for this Thursday.  However, yesterday’s Sheffield Star runs the news that Bertie Bassett married previously back in the 1970s and as far as anyone knows they never officially separated.

Before you decide I am completely mad, the full story is here.