Friday, 23 October 2015

Wither Canada or the second coming of Trudeaumania

Wither Canada, no not the Python episode from the 70's but the genuine question; what ever became of Canada.

Well the short answer is that it never went away, but from the day Stephen Harper became PM in 2006 to last Monday, Canada had been the 51st state, the pale imitation of trickle down Rayndian neo liberal petrie dish to the USA. For years people in the UK would, especially from the election of Barak Obama in 2008, naturally or rather unnaturally look to the USA for examples of how to do things and shining examples of small l liberalism or alleged socialism.  The only problem with that model is that the USA is not now nor will it ever be anything but an apple to the UK's orange. The histories of both nations divert in every significant way you can think of and the resulting political structures and philosophies that dictate world views as well as economic and societal structures could not be more different. And yet UK political and economic elites continued till a few days ago  to only go to  the well of America for inspiration .

I suppose I should point out the obvious or not so obvious, starting with the basic notion that Canada has a House of Commons and Senate modelled on Westminster. What that means is that much of the required assumptions of how government works be it central or  provincial will be the same assumptions that govern systems and applications of civil service, how a bill proceeds through Parliament and how members are elected and behave in the chamber. Party political fund-raising through to the rules governing elections and debates are closer than anything you will find in the USA. And yet when talk of reform surfaces, the last thing you hear is  why don't we ask our Canadian cousins for their experience.

Next up is of course the very basic veering off point between Canada and the UK... being where on the spectrum each country was in 1979.  In Ottawa a very likeable  but  slightly gormless Tory named Joe Clark was about to be lapped by Pierre Elliot Trudeau in February of 1980 after losing a non confidence motion on a money bill, while the UK had in May of 1979 embarked on the hell that would be the Thatcher era. Monetarism at it's worst v the Just Society and centralised mixed socialist economy. It's natural that while Canada built on the foundations of the late 60's and 1970's social and economic compact that preserved the welfare state and multiculturalism with a huge dash of leading the West and the South ( aka third world aka developing block of ) nations in a series of initiatives to fight land mines, global warming and poverty, it was seen as a genuine alternative player on the world stage and that of course included think tanks in the UK.  However, from the moment the Government in Ottawa joined the lock step march of the UK and USA in the trickle down world of the American Republican and Thatcherite war on the poor the sick and weak, it became easy even under the Blairite era to ignore any contributions to public policy and debate Canada would have to give. Let's be honest, for a while as much fun it was to kick the shins of American politicians for their ignorance, it was damn embarrassing watching the likes of John Baird the minister of selling off natural resources and national parks, deny global warming at International conferences. Harper himself would be the dull  invisible PM at  G8 and  Commonwealth conferences who if  Canadians were lucky; said nothing  and if not, made some deal that further put the country in the back pockets of dictators and multinationals.

And yet... even under these unproductive circumstances, there were and still are plenty of areas where UK policy can learn much from Canada. Federal structures and reform, party political financing, internal reforms of the House of Commons as it pertains to operating hours and the accountability of it's members to the House and the electorate. Why is it that even now the PM here still only faces questions once a week when in Ottawa there is no such thing as PMQ, it's just question period and the PM must be a part of it every time unless away from Parliament. The expenses scandal we had would not have happened if rules and regs  in place for over a decade if not longer in Canada, had been applied.  As for the NHS, every Province and Territory has had  universal health care since 1968 while the Americans still struggle with the concept of free health care at point of delivery.  Why when there is public discussion of the NHS and the mess it's in  are we not even alluding to Canada or other nations at least on the same page as we are? Gay rights, Canada quietly and without fuss allowed gays to marry over a decade ago ( something that still is news to many here), in 1967 the minister of Justice ( go on guess who) said "The state has no place in the bedrooms of the nation" thus decriminalising homosexuality. Women have had control over their bodies and reproductive systems for so long it's simply not an issue now. All still issues in the USA, home of the free and the brave.

Most recently and wisely the new Governor of the Bank of England was hired from Canada, that country that had been the direct neighbour of the USA, that didn't go down the route of Fanny May and Enron. Yet when the debate occurred here, till recently, it was still the fault of Gordon Brown???  How blind some media outlets and political parties  were to utterly ignore the facts. Our closest political cousins did not need to bail out the banking sector ( even under a tory administration) while here Thatcher's children pointed fingers at Brown and ignored the reality of a stable Canadian economy. Only the apparently brave and  ultra left wing fire brand  and threat to the nation.... Jeremy Corbyn winning, put an end to that lie.

Which brings me nicely to the events of Monday and why they happened. Justin Trudeau, the most interesting thing to happen in Canada since Celine Dion or that abomination Justin Bieber , if we're to believe the sudden eruption of serious news stories and  vid  clips of him kissing men and twisting the light bulb emerging on the net, became Prime Minister elect. If I were a brit for the last  30 years I'd be going, where in hell did this guy come from? But the answer is he was always there and is the natural extension of the what it is to be Canadian. To be clear, the Harper years are even referred to by Canadians as very un Canadian. The two issues that won Trudea the election were in order 1- Defecit spending and 2- The Niqab. then maybe 3- Taxing the 1%  followed by  the environment ...The reasons he won are very Canadian.

Before I say more, for those of you in the know, I do not acknowledge the existence of limp and useless Michael Ignatieff and mourn the kicking around of a wonderful but far too nice a man Stephane Dion who I had the honour of calling my MP and friend. His Green plan was years ahead of it's time and will most likely be the foundation of the new government's war on green house gasses.  

Let's start with deficit spending. Going back as far as the early 70's, Keynesian based policy that espoused the spending of money to make money and the tolerance of a certain level of deficit was the back bone Liberal policy.  Every minister of finance right up to several who themselves became Prime Minister were never shy of spending a little more than they had. In the last Parliament, Harper managed to extract a promise  from Thomas Mulcair and his NDP ( the allegedly real left wing party) to support a law forcing future Canadian governments to operate under a balanced budget.  Let's examine the terms  here . For Tories, here and there, balanced budget is another term for austerity. A policy that has seen veteran pensions reduced  by  more than half, services to the public  including door to door delivery of the post being withdrawn most  recently, and throughout the Harper years, a consistent effort to reduce the amount of money spent on citizens and  the services given them across the board. Even the hobbled and injured CBC so used to cuts from central government was on the verge of the final indignity of complete irrelevance as a national broadcaster. But The NDP felt they had to respect the public mood and take on board the will of the people if they stood a chance of winning the election. Sound familiar? It should.

The actual left in Canada, which has always been the Liberal Party,  under a controversial, bold, brave, perhaps even courageous leader said  NO. The accepted wisdom was that the Liberals had signed their own death warrant. Oooo I'm sure I've heard that here somewhere too... But then a funny thing happened on the way to the circus, the team explained what that actually meant. Municipalities and families  and farmers and small businesses signed on and supported the Liberal position. Shock horror! Except if you think about it, it 's perfectly sensible centrist policy that has  worked  on and off in Canada going as far back as 1948 or earlier if you take Mackenzie King's rural electrification policy that cut the legs out from under the CCF. The occasional slow down for a liberal balanced budget ( achieved by the way by Chretien and Martin) were exercises in socially just economic policy that still included taxing the wealthy and collecting taxes from large corporations.

Next up the niqab.  Oh what a lovely petard the right weaves to hoist itself upon. And this one did not fail to explode in the face of the Tories and the nationalists. The simple facts are that a woman who was going to a citizenship ceremony wanted to wear the niqab when getting sworn in. On the surface an issue that could be dangerous to anybody brave enough to touch it.  The Tories and the Bloc Quebecois waded in and  demanded the woman show her face.  Quickly and I mean  at light speed, the debate especially in Quebec, escalated to the levels where the EDL and UKIP would feel particularly comfortable.  It's at this point that the NDP again waffled, choosing to to finally appear to both support the woman and the existing rules. Trudeau in March had  said “You can dislike the niqab. You can hold it up it is a symbol of oppression. You can try to convince your fellow citizens that it is a choice they ought not to make. This is a free country. Those are your rights,” he said. “But those who would use the state’s power to restrict women’s religious freedom and freedom of expression indulge the very same repressive impulse that they profess to condemn. It is a cruel joke to claim you are liberating people from oppression by dictating in law what they can and cannot wear.” So when the whole thing  blew up in Quebec and the party taking again a brave position to support the choice of that woman was seen as  taking a strong stand against the apparent public mood , it cemented in the minds of undecided voters and NDP voters that the only way to be rid of the Tories  was to vote Liberal. As the rot spread and the NDP vote collapsed in Quebec the rest of the country noticed and took a three way race and turned Trudeau into the front runner. 

The thing to take from this exercise in decision making and risk taking is that Justin Trudeau gambled that Canadian core values had not changed. A country built by immigrants would be tolerant and accepting, a country that had  as of Sept 3rd responded with a huge outpouring of anger and dismay at the death of a refugee boy who's family was already in Canada. The shame felt by people that such a government spoke for them with such miserly cold hearts that it killed a child in the name of austerity, immigration control and let's face it ... Islamophobia. The only decision then was which way were the the 60% of the electorate not voting tory going to go. Harper knew his goose was cooked by early September but  until that moment during the Niqab debate Mulcair was still in with a shout for a minority coalition.  The mesquinerie or pettiness of Harper had driven the final nail into the desire of Canadians to be well rid of him and the NDP was going to pay the price. This is  illustrated by an incident best related by Justin Trudeau himself on election night

 Last week, I met a young mom in St. Catharines, Ontario. She practises the Muslim faith and was wearing a hijab. She made her way through the crowd and handed me her infant daughter, and as she leaned forward, she said something that I will never forget. She said she’s voting for us because she wants to make sure that her little girl has the right to make her own choices in life and that our government will protect those rights.
To her I say this: you and your fellow citizens have chosen a new government, a government that believes deeply in the diversity of our country. We know in our bones that Canada was built by people from all corners of the world who worship every faith, who belong to every culture, who speak every language.

Lastly there is a trickle of issues that would make a leftist here giddy with delight if they thought there was a ghost of a chance of getting elected on these planks.. 

1- Taxing the top 1%
2- Legalizing the sale of marijuana as a priority 
3- Increasing exponentialy the representation of  women and natives in the Commons
4- Going on the world stage and reclaiming Canada's rightful place in the Green House Gas fight
5- Saying refugees are welcome and will not be allowed to die, target 25,000 before Christmas.
6- Withdraw from participation in the bombing of Syria and Iraq with as immediate effect as can be achieved.  

and some of you will positively wet yourselves over this one.

7- Vowing that the 2015 election was going to be the last ever federal election using the first past the post system. 

To quote his father in less happy and more dangerous times "Just watch me" 

 So what do we on the left have to learn from these strange creatures in Canada who are so related to us they are nearly us? Fate has given us Jeremy Corbyn. He's done three impossible things according to the establishment.  Get on the ballot, be a serious candidate and win.  Can he win an election? If a centrist Keynesian Socialist can take a mainstream party from 34 seats in the commons to a majority government of 184 MPs in a country where there is a belief  they are open , friendly accepting and progressive, then why not here? 


Monday, 12 October 2015

West End's Dine@theBistro unveils new look

Yesterday I attended a fund raiser in Newcastle’s West End
that doubled as the launch for  Dine@the Beacon's
new menu. Located in the old fire station on the Westgate road the
Bistro has evolved from a place that just did basic coffee and not much else,
to a full service family friendly restaurant. Amer Mirza and Noor Couture have
done an amazing job of turning the space into one of the West End’s newest fun
places to eat.

A cracking full room from start to finish was treated to Newcastle’s
best and probably only, all day Halal full English breakfast.  The bacon is replaced by wonderful turkey rashers and if you go for the large plate the price includes a generous
coffee.  Nothing on the menu costs more than £5.95 so feeding your family won’t bust your budget.  All the food is prepared from fresh ingredients and made on site; as the breakfast implies, it’s Halal and they don’t serve beef but do make a wide variety of dishes from chicken and lamb including an amazing pie and mash. I had the wonderful home made lasagne, which like the Halal full English breakfast flew out the kitchen and has now passed into legend among those who had the
pleasure of tasting it.

The menu also includes salads,  panini and wraps made from fresh seasonal ingredients,  as well as a shepherd's pie, reasonably priced burger platers of lamb or chicken served with chips or vegetables . Amer who is the brains behind the catering team of Thomson and Naffa, produce dishes you would not normally have time to cook at home. The soups of the day, sweet potato and coconut today, are as varied as the ingredients available on the day, and the only thing I can say is TRY THEM.

 Wherever you live in Newcastle, if you are in the West End with your family, don’t stress, it’s your  kitchen away from home and it’s Halal. Come along with the kids after school for tea, and let them choose from the mini diners menu.

Amer caters a fine dining vegetarian experience suitable for all events.

So don’t forget to make Dine@the Beacon part of your daily
routine.  Home of the best all day Halal
English breakfast in town,  open to dine in or take away….
Weekdays 8 am to 6pm
Saturday 11 am to 10 PM
Sunday 11 am to 6 pm
Call for catering options 0191 242 5425

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Corbyn, from fringe to frontrunner, an insider's perspective .

It’s been a while since that first tiny meeting at the Newcastle Irish Centre so many weeks ago, so the best question to ask is where did we start from, where are we now, and maybe  even how we got there.
Way back on Sunday July 12th we were mostly resigned to hitching our wagon to a principled man and his ideas which were ours as well and knowing we’d never get out of last place because let’s face it, who would have wanted to vote for a lefty like Corbyn? The day before I’d been out canvasing in South Heaton on the Chili road with Mick Bowman and few others of our ilk and had declared that given the choices, we’d rather go down with the ship with principles intact than support a candidate who would quietly bury us in the history books  come 2020.  Armed with this fatalistic, doom laden “now is a good time to die” approach, some of us dove in feet first and waited to see what the man was like in person.
Not disappointed, from his entrance into the packed function room that holds about 200, Corbyn walked in, knocked over the music stand of the singer who will now forever be known as that lass who sang at the Corbyn do, helped her pick up her bits and pieces, thus making him the only man she’d ever had to bow down to.  With the candidate Once on stage, Ben Sellers, David Stockdale and all the others who had come to or organised the event were treated to a fairly direct and honest  Q&A with Jeremy Corbyn.  Ranging from the soft and flippant to the harder edged serious questions, the veteran Islington MP managed to keep an even, sincere tone while never wholly shaking that image of a man thrust into a strange new place despite himself. I can’t speak for others, but I knew from about the second question in, I liked the man. He reminded me of the great lefty activists I used to know when I lived in Montreal, sincere to a fault and unlikely to shrink from a fight if forced into a corner. Those who mistake his laid back nature for weakness do so at their peril, there is a sharp tongue and even sharper mind in that head and he’s not a jumped out of nowhere phenom with no policy, unlike last year’s flavour of the moment, UKIP. It’s likely that barring a few meetings, that was the last time Corbyn would speak to a room as small and the last time any of us would feel as suicidally principled.  But you know even as the meeting was breaking up, the photo ops and souvenir shots taken and the man was going out the door, I still hadn’t shaken the feeling we were anything but a valiant last stand of the real left. 

A week later on the 20th of July, Harriet Harman put on a three line whip and ordered to our horror Labour MPs abstain on the welfare bill.  As it happened, 48 broke the whip including only one leadership candidate. From that day onward our fatalism became anger, the public who were till then somewhat supportive but incredibly sceptical of the chances of a good man, a mensch, surviving the process let alone getting elected leader, turned on the Labour establishment with a flashing anger and determination not to give up.  From that day, we started collecting, first in ones and twos then in whole groups, people who wanted to at least register their support for the one decent, good candidate that spoke their language. Then those who had come to our fairly large tent started to believe we should try, could even make a fight of it. New people from the trade unions, community groups, young, old, native,  immigrant, well off, poor , men, women, hopeful , disillusioned etc…  all of them came wanting to join what was becoming a wave, a movement. 

I knew we had come to that no turning back moment when a mate who shall remain nameless , Ed, co created Kittens for Corbyn. When you have kittens, all other arguments become invalid and Mum's net declares your man sexiest man on Earth.  You can't make it up. 

I want to take a step back here now, a few years ago  when I first came to Newcastle I said that the complacent  comfortable, dare I say presumptuous air of the Labour Party in the North East could easily be  swept aside in a tsunami of  populist,  charismatic , hope renewed politics. When UKIP came along, it shook us a bit but not enough to dislodge or  create a wave, the Greens and Tusc  hurt us but no so much that we lost ground, if anything Labour picked up votes on the back of a real desire to stick it to the tories, at least in the North.  But if there had been an SNP candidate around, I can tell you that we could have had a nasty shock on election night.  The SNP did to us what the rotten empty shell of the Labour party deserved. It swept it aside in a popular wave that took even great hard working MPs in its wake.   So imagine my relief when the next wave, the one that would have washed the last remains of the old Labour Party was a Labour man from North London riding the crest with his sensible suit and socialist beard, bearing the ideas and the tools to take the barely standing shell and fill it once again with strength, principle and volunteers. 

The next big thank you I have is to Tony Blair…. The day he informed us we needed a heart transplant, there was no turning back. Those still wondering and waiting, waited no more. If there was a day on which this race was lost by the right, it was that one. Everything else has been second third and fourth helping of Sh… . Just when I think there is no more mud to sling they scraped a bit more off the bottom of the barrel. Tis a miracle it is we have kept our tongues civil, but we shall march on knowing we have the people and the truth with us. 

So roll on a few weeks, add to the mix a relentless smear campaign against Corbyn  by all but a few so called journalists and political types, fold in a generous dose of paranoia fed by all the talk of purges and threats from infiltrators…. and you have an establishment running scared.  Nothing sticks, his numbers grow, and his ratings are incredibly strong even in places where we should be weak. This is an election like none other, in all my years I have not seen the likes of such a thing. In one constituency where we should have been beaten by a huge margin, we are in fact 10 points ahead of the rest. Suffice to say where we are strong; the numbers are at times so hard to swallow we have to check twice to make sure we aren’t somehow imagining it all. 

Days away from the close of the vote, Ladbrookes having paid out on wagers, any result other than a win will be seen as tampering of the first order. What the Grandees and PLP have done is just insure that when the change does come it will not be the one they wanted or nearly as nice to them as it would have been. We on the left have been asked by our leader to turn the other cheek, be nice, and not play their game. Well most of us won’t, at least not in the open, why should we? We’ve already won; we’ve won because we are no longer the long shot, the crazy ones, and the disconnected unelectable ones. We are the future, we had been before but no one was listening, in giving us Corbyn the party gave us the two things we needed to win… a platform and a candidate. We will not now be ignored, we will not now be cowed, and we will not now be robbed of our party and our leader.
First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, and you win. Transformed since July from the unwilling standard bearer of the left into the smooth front runner with the confidence to confront the worst of the dirt thrown at him, Jeremy Corbyn has done the one thing none of the others have done; produce popular, vetted and principled positions that resonate with the party and the public. On the night he came to Newcastle the second time I saw him in his dressing room alone with his son and an advisor, composing himself. Let me tell you, the defiant, confident powerful speaker we saw, come from deep inside a private man who knows he is the holder of the dreams, desires and demands of hundreds of thousands of ordinary people. The mantle we have laid on him lays heavy but he is equal to the task. 

Fool to fighter and winner in such a short time, Jeremy Corbyn has been the figure head and vessel for an entire movement that slumbers no more, what the party does with us in the next few days will go far in determining if there is a Labour Party after 2020. 

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

The night we crossed the Rubicon

so 48 Labour MPs voted NO on welfare cuts, my own MP Nick Brown was not
among them, though according to stories in the papers he was among a
great many not happy at being forced to abstain. At the end of the day
it is the 48 who said no who will have made the stand those of us who
voted Labour in the last election and kept faith, wanted to see.

At the Newcastle Irish Centre

My choice weeks ago was not set, but vaguely left and curious about
Corbyn. As of two or three weeks ago I fell into the Corbyn camp more
out of comfort with fellow travellers than understanding that I was,
like them , following my principles to their logical conclusions. During
the election I had longed for us to steal the thunder of the SNP and be
kind to immigrants, fight austerity, bin Trident adding my own personal
goal of nationalising the rail lines and utilities. Positions
described as unpopular but surprisingly gaining traction even before
election day dawned. As it happened we had no spine, our leaders were
weak and never did figure out we wanted more distance between us and
the tories not less.

Who's NHS? OUR NHS! well apparently no...
not with our comfortable season ticket holding career leadership
cowering behind the wall in fear of the dark mass of Daily Mail readers
that wouldn't vote for us even if we promised to castrate Millwall fans.
Last night's vote proves they fear wandering from the Tory narrative so
much they prefer to be known as the ones who put the final nails in
the coffin of the Labour party. Well I can hear you saying that Corbyn
and the left wing of the party will do that. At least it would be a
choice we give the electorate, a clear obvious dramatically clear
choice. I'd rather go down fighting than be smothered quietly in the
soft mushy quicksand the Parliamentary party wants us to perish in. 

Speaking at the Durham Miners Gala

The fact is that we have five years of the Tories in a majority
government, we've lost the Scots, the left and the middle ground. If we
don't have a discussion now about policy and reform, when will we? Who
will trust us ever again? By choosing Jeremy Corbyn, we as individuals
make clear to the Westminster mob that the rank and file will not stand
idly by and be dictated too like small naughty children who don't know
any better. Our popular positions are in fact what people want, and it's
time the party reflected that. So who's party is it anyways? You'd be
surprised how complicated and expensive it was until recently to join
the party of the people, starved of volunteers, local constituencies ,
hands tied by regulations and sliding scales, have been unable to
operate anywhere near as busy or active as they should due to the
Byzantine politics of recruiting. Policy dictated from above and
filtered out so carefully we are at times at a loss to determine what is
and is not official policy.

I can tell you that from where I
sit, only Jeremy Corbyn can force the conversation that has to take
place to halt the rot and turn around the decline in what are supposed
to be core Labour values. Compassion, fairness, openness to the world
and the balls to take the acceptable risks to get Britain working again.
And it is a discussion, one in which we will not all agree nor will we
get all our bits in. Which brings me to another thing. Some have said
they cannot vote for a candidate because he or she does not tick the one
foreign policy box they see as a deal breaker. For some its BDS, yet
others Palestine or our involvement in foreign wars. Let me tell you
comrades, I as a member of stop the war coalition desperately want
peace, but cannot agree for reasons of culture and personal self
interest on every iota they have to say , and yet ... I will work hard
for them. Are some of you troubled by the one or two positions held by
Jeremy Corbyn on Palestine? Will that stop you, an otherwise committed
voter on the left from supporting him? That would be sad as this is less
about foreign policy than it is about the kind of Britain we want to
live in. There is only one candidate willing to put that vision into
practice. World events come and go, but we need a party that will save
our NHS, protect the weakest in society, promote education, trade unions
and yes even hard working business people willing to pay their fair
share of tax. Like all things that change, working conditions have
changed along with the challenges that come with the Internet economy.
The self employed, the small family business and the need to harness,
feed and house all this talent rather than doom them to the back alleys
and food banks. But if you are hung up on one issue and think some
perfect person will come along that fits you like a glove, mate you're
in for a long wait while the rest of us get on with it. Europe is at yet
another crossroads where we can veer left or carry on with austerity.
Country by country we are lurching towards a real alternative that does
not abandon compassion, fairness or security. Hard fought worker rights
are under threat, health care, access to education and civil rights are
crumbling before our eyes. If we allow the right and the fascists to
high jack the agenda of change we have only ourselves to blame.

Now is our turn to take the first step by joining the Labour Party as a
supporter at a £3 level before August 12th. Let's elect a real socialist
as leader who will conduct the conversation our top most layer seems to
fear so much. I would be shocked if it turned out what we're saying
wasn't connecting with the public and the rank and file. Long ago the
mainstream press from the Guardian to the Telegraph became more
interested in selling papers than the truth; on the street, in meeting
halls and in the privacy of social media outlets people have been moving
along and past these now paralysed old organs of the establishment
looking for an instrument of change, Jeremy Corbyn is that instrument.

Did you vote TUSC, Green, SNP or not at all in the last election? Maybe
you held your nose and voted Labour, no matter; that was then, this is
now. Get the party you want by taking part in the process. I don't
promise you perfection or that we'll win every time. But I will tell you
this, a few weeks ago we thought it would be a miracle if Corbyn got on the ballot, then we figured he'll at least make a good show of it, but
look at where we are. 15 points in the lead according to some polls, the
party establishment is afraid, very afraid. Last time I saw such a
thing we won a close municipal marginal much to the surprise and dismay of the Lib Dems. ‪#‎jezwecan‬ The only thing crazy about this campaign is that it looks like as long we don't take our eye off the ball, we will win this!

Contact your local constituency party, Labour councillor or trade union to see about joining and helping.

Join the Labour Party

Corbyn for leader North

Monday, 21 July 2014

Sanctuary Artspace presents: Maya Horton Silent Seas

Running from the 21st to the 31st of July, at St-Edmunds church in Gateshead, Sanctuary Artspace presents a retrospective of works by local artist Maya Horton.

Maya is a trained marine biologist who's work has taken her to far flung places in the northernmost reaches of the planet. From as close to home as South Shields to the wintry vistas of the frozen tundra, when free time presented itself, Maya recorded the special way water and sky combine at sea. She has captured in particular, the strong blues that only ever occur this close to the top of the world. Combined with the variety of weather and the eternal dusk of her paintings, you cannot help be transported to these wild isolated places.

The gallery is open from noon to 4 pm most days and is right across from the Trinity Square shopping Centre. To close the show on the 31st, from 7 pm to 9pm there will be a special story telling evening starring the Moss Troopers. In the setting of an 800 year old church, hear northern culture come to life.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Sanctuary Artspace presents: The selfie as mirror of the soul

Gateshead's Sanctuary Artspace, known for it's many and varied exhibits in the past,  has for  this week only, an interactive display art event they hope to move into a more permanent viral format . When asked if this was an one off, Rev Jim Craig said he hoped an online version of this could be set up  and maintained so that more people could participate.

The "how do you see your #selfie " exhibition opened on Monday with over 100 hand drawn selfies, each as unique as the person who drew it.

Ranging from small children to adults and crossing the wide gulf that is perceived artistic talent, the selfies reveal a range of ambitions, emotions and self image. In amongst the many tiny images, I found inspirational combinations of words and images that alone or in juxtaposition to other images revealed a healthy, spiritual and hopeful community. If we as people could find a way to wear our hopes, dreams and desires as clearly as this display does, we might realize that in a very real way that no man is an Island, we are not alone in a sea of utter gloom, nor are the aspirations and connections around us as uniform as we think they are. 

In my own selfie I drew a man who is among the views and vistas he loves, but the instrument I view them with and share with the rest of the world... my camera... was bold, clear, distinct. The camera is revealed as my face to the world, my images,  how I  hope to be seen.  While I was saying don't look at me, look at my work, others were in your face and bold about themselves rather than what they do.

Rev. Jim Craig

The creators of this event, Sanctuary Artspace director Rev Jim Craig and his visiting trainee Vicar Kate Jamie,  were also looking for signs of spirituality and faith. In the art works  we see a variety of  self belief, reliance on faith for guidance and the flame of those who hope that they are in fact good examples to those around them. If there is a word that comes to mind that links both the timid and the bold in these spiritual selfies, it is hope.  Hope that we are the best we can be in the eyes of others, hope that others see us as we are ourselves and hope that what it is we are, is of some use to others.

Is this public made installation, art? Are the various  bits of art meant to be seen solely as unique expressions of individuality and nothing more? I like to see it as the DNA of  those  moved  to lift part of their mask joining up into a single bright lamp.  Be like them, show your soul, be inspired by others.

Cut out the flame , fill it in, add it to the others.

Monday, 30 June 2014

Dear Labour party: Time to engage in a fact based dialogue

Dear Labour party and Ed, it occurred to me a while ago while watching the news on Al Jazeera and Euro news in several languages, that we are not alone in facing a similar onslaught of far right lies and conservative trickle down theology that is held up by a barely believable but well financed media campaign that has pulled the wool over the eyes of even some of the smartest people I know, some of them even in the front benches of Her Majesty's loyal Opposition. Isn't it time we stopped "taking on board the concerns of the people" and started maybe putting out the case for the vision of the future under Labour?

I have no problem with reactionary politics if it means

1- We de-construct the myths from the truths in any public policy debate.

2- Show people the genuine consequences of some of the other parties policies if they are elected for the one popular policy or slogan they have.

3- Insure that who ever is being the straw man of the day is rescued before it becomes not only ok  but required ritual to demonize any one group of people regardless of class, level of wealth, ethnicity or religion.

4- Boldly strip the media bullies of the power to lie by not going for the bait. 

5- We stand by the principles that underpin the NHS, the welfare state and the Just Society so many other people are fighting deadly awful wars and revolutions to achieve. 

and lastly.

6- We finally make a move on creating that coalition with the electorate we used to have.  Only this time it's young women who are not their mothers and grandmothers, immigrants who are on the whole, hard working, educated and business minded and what about all those middle and upper class people you abandoned to the Lib Dems and the Tories. There are a lot more of those people than a hard core of former trade unionists or rabid common sense revolution far right nutters.

Here are a few things some people in the party seem to not know or pretend not to know.

Posh people vote and they are not all tories. If anything, educated, slightly better off and not blue collar still make an impact in the market place and the fair trade world of consumerism, do you honestly think they will bite you if you talk to them?

Religious people are not all right wing  swivel eyed loons. In fact most immigrants are a delightful combination of Catholic, Muslim or Sikh and do not believe in creationism, buggery of children or homophobia. As for your bog standard "English" religious person, and they are legion, they are also in the same mould as the immigrants.  All of these people, who by the way  support the separation of Church and state to some extent or other,  have in the past  and will again, vote Labour, the question is, how much recognition and respect will you give them?

About Immigrants. Immigrants are in the vast majority, not on benefits, many even if they wanted to, cannot qualify for at least three years. They are healthy, young, educated and multilingual, here to work and build businesses that pay taxes and contribute to the cost of all those English people on benefits moaning about immigrants on benefits. Nobody is living in £3 million houses for free with 20 children. It may not mean much to some, but to people of immigrant stock or recent arrivals, it's beyond insulting and has to stop. BTW, where do you think all those immigrants, old and new  go to for advice, spiritual  needs, food, meetings and parties? PUB? no, more like Churches, Mosques, small family run businesses, community halls and centres. Without these institutions many of us would not even have our cultures, basic liberties or dignity. We shop in small community grocers and we cook, we buy in bulk, our food is smelly and funny and sometimes it even becomes flavour of the week and yet despite all those vital and interesting contributions to the community, local economy and democracy, we have to fight still in 2014 to be treated as something more that just a colourful dance troupe on special days.

 What are British values? Well not to put too fine a point on it, Judeo Christian values that are best expressed by a combination of basic laws that protect the weak, the poor and the truth from oppression and tyranny. It is a system that has evolved to create a better distribution of wealth and tolerance of difference in culture and language where the basic laws that govern civil society need not bar or limit the free expression of people or peoples in a community. It is since 1948, a system that takes it as given that all people have a right to proper health care, education and upward mobility. Most if asked, are proud of the relatively recent tradition of accepting refugees and helping those who cannot help themselves.  These values have evolved and gotten better with every generation and with every wave of immigration. If we stand for inclusion, tolerance , justice and  equality, then I'm fine with British values.  But let's be careful where we go if we insist on blindly going along with IDS and Theresa May.

As for White Voters, let's draw a line under that term and call a spade a spade..... White means English/Scot/Irish/Welsh, everybody else is something else. Some of us are excitable Slavs, emotional Latins or Mediteranians and equally mysterious Nordic types. We have as many different and varied ways of  interacting with others or ourselves as there are ethnic groups and regional traditions. If you think you can appeal to every so called WHITE PERSON with a uniform campaign strategy, media message and direct contact, then you are doomed to miss out on vast swathes of the electorate. Not everybody drinks down the pub or shops at the Morrison's. There is so much happening out there away from the tired old spots; Parks, Churches, Mosques, YMCAs, allotments and schools, these are all the other natural collection points for people that don't spend all their time at the pub or at home watching telly.

About the White Voters. How come so many are so afraid? Well the further away you are from the more multi ethnic city centres the more likely you are to be a bigot. The less education you have, the more likely you are to be a bigot. The poorer you are the more likely you are to be lured in by the far right fantasies about immigrants, poor people, the unemployed and the sick. So what to do with them? Firstly some of them will never change and there is no point in trying to dissuade them. Secondly, the rest of them, if given a better laid out situation with the truth in plain sight, will at the very least be less openly bigoted or even .... come around and see reason.

I am mystified at the continued belief among some that we can somehow win the next election with only the unlikely combination of worried "working class" white voters, atheists, ageing feminists and disillusioned 40 and 50 something year old Guardian readers.

When the likes of the Tory front benches and the increasingly shrill right wing media, including the BBC now, put up straw man after straw man and the media and gullible public lap it up like mother's milk, it's time we as a party made a decision to stop being so bloody cautious and understanding. 

The fact is that with hardly any declared policy and a less than stellar performance from the leadership, we are in a position to win a majority government. Imagine if we showed some spine and spirit,  I'm giddy with the idea of waking up the electorate. We sit on the cusp of a major rebellion among the most destitute and the least powerful, we ignore the middle class that is slipping into the same trap and still despite saying next to nothing, have a shot at power. Now if we also tried to lure back all those people being temped by the Greens on the intellectual left, the toff left, and the grumpy old Hippie left, instead of apologising to the UKIP/Tory hordes, the narrative in UK politics would be different.

Do we not stand for something good? Is not the Labour party about rising above the easy the trite and the safe? When principles are as easily abandoned as yesterdays dirty pants then they are not principles. When it wasn't popular or easy, Labour promoted the NHS, social equality, immigration, environmental policy and Europe.  Even now we can high jack the agenda by turning it on its head and making it about the big multi nationals that don't pay taxes, protecting the migrant workers from exploitation, rebuilding the trust and the foundations of the NHS, creating new long lasting jobs for well educated young people who have hope not despair. I'm still waiting for the rumble to be heard over the din of the Number 10 orchestrated pro Murdoch press.

From now on in, the conversation with the electorate and the press, if with nobody else, needs to be in the tone of a Government in waiting. Labour need to discredit the lies and defend the legacy it took decades to build. People are not as stupid as they sometimes let on. An informed electorate will be less likely to fall for the lies peddled by the red tops and now sadly the BBC. We need to grow a spine, strip the lies away and deal with the actual problems head on. It won't make the party friends with everybody, but why would you want that? You want a solid mass of voters to support a properly thought out platform that can be carried out over the life of a Parliament or even two.

What about the European question? I cannot speak for others but I believe in Europe, I believe in a union that is keeping us free from a major war and the sort of chaos that sucked the world into a frenzy of  racism, ethnic cleansing and intolerance that lead to the ovens of Auschwitz.  NEVER AGAIN. The EU is not perfect but the alternative is far worse. Political and economic union is hardly the end of the world and has despite a few hick ups created a zone where we are frankly better off than we were before the EU. A massive level playing field will never be a bad thing and even now benefits the UK more than harms it. And in case people are missing this particular bit of news, were it not the active involvement of the EU right now, Putin would not have backed down and we would be knee deep in a Central European war with all that goes with it.... refugees on a scale not seen since 1945, escalations and massive destruction and the disruption of the gas supply from Russia, followed by the inevitable reconstruction decade where we rebuild everything that got burned bombed and levelled to the stone age. To me, Europe is not an academic question nor is it just about a few miserable regulations.

So in short, please Eds, both of them and all the others, please start acting like the next Government.  We have a year, let's not waste the time.

Ed Miliband's recently released text from the Sunday Times. It's a start, but we need more.

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