7 December 2015

The world's smallest violin

Watching the debate on bombing Syria last week, it struck me that this would be one of the few times that people would be sitting down to actually watch BBC Parliament in any great number. The last time I recall spending an evening watching a parliamentary debate was probably in 2013 over the bungled attempt to destroy the Syrian government and assist the heart-eating "moderate" Islamists topple Assad.

Perhaps I have a rose tinted view of what parliament should be like, but watching a load of non-entities line up one after another to read out pre-prepared and shallow lectures like schoolchildren reading out their homework in class from sheets of A4 paper, I was struck by the lack of any passion, anger or insight into anything much at all. Where was the debate? Where was the division? Where was the opposition?

Save for the obligatory Dennis Skinner moment and a few choice quotes from the intellectual Tories about “bogus battalions” of supposedly moderate rebels, nobody really seemed to be incensed at the idea of waging war in a foreign land *again*, but this time with the added complication of rival nuclear superpowers fighting in the same small area with wildly different geopolitical interests.

The fact is, there was no debate. This wasn’t a debate at all. It was a lot of nondescript MPs pontificating about which way they had already decided to vote, against the clock, largely in order that they could put a print out of their platitudes on their website so they can prove they are doing something to their constituents.

Hilary Benn’s “electrifying oratory” was no masterclass and no great political moment, despite what the increasingly inane Westminster bubble gossip merchants would have us believe. As Phil points out, Benn’s speech was only notable by its theatrics because virtually no other sitting MP was able to speak with anything like that level of persuasion and belief. The fact the politics of his speech were so deeply flawed and facile mattered not a jot. Because Benn gave that speech simply to give a fig-leaf of ideological cover to those MPs wanting to attack their own party leadership the day before the Oldham by-election. The 66 Labour MPs were ALWAYS going to vote for bombing. “Doing our bit in Syria”, as Benn clumsily puts it, by sending in four Tornados to bomb some oil fields from six miles up was a secondary concern to them.

Parliament voting to pursue another expensive war at a time we are told we cannot afford to pay working poor people tax credits, deliberately putting members of the armed forces in harms way and possibly risking a disastrous and apocalyptic confrontation with Russia has, perhaps unsurprisingly, elicited a strong and emotional reaction from some quarters of society who are not happy about the decision taken.

There are many reasons why, but the fact remains that a sizeable (and growing) section of British society are opposed to air strikes in Syria.

As is the way in this age of immediate access, people have taken to Twitter and Facebook to have a go at their MPs. Rather than seething at home in an impotent rage, people can now immediately voice their views directly to MPs easily and quickly. The vast majority have politely raised legitimate concerns. A large number have been righteously bloody angry. A tiny handful have wished or threatened harm on MPs.

This is, despite what the MPs may report, not surprising. This is not the usual mundane parliamentary fare on hospital car parking charges or rail franchises. Voting for war is our government, in effect, legalising the state to engage in organised killing. When MPs vote for bombing, they are voting to kill human beings. It is that blunt. So when you vote to kill, however officially and legally you claim to be doing so, you ought not to be surprised when you get a strong reaction to this decision.

Clearly serious death threats are not cricket. Neither is violence. MPs like Stephen Timms knows where this leads. It doesn't lead to righteous political revolution.

But at the end of the day, words are just words. And emojis are cartoons. These words are a reaction to a really contentious political decision taken freely by our privileged parliamentarians. And the reaction of some MPs to the Twitter trolling and Facebook baiting in response to the Syria vote has been childish and hysterical, bordering on the farcical.

Firstly, let us not forget that all of these people have CHOSEN to enter parliament. They didn’t turn up destitute at the Job Centre and get told by the DWP that they would lose their meagre benefit entitlement unless they joined a political party then convinced the local electorate to win a seat in Westminster by a majority in a first past the post vote. Put another way, this is a job they have carefully plotted for, fought for and ultimately chosen to do through wilful desire and not through economic necessity or hard luck.

Take Jess Phillips MP. In her short Parliamentary career, she has become famous for telling the saintly Diane Abbot to “fuck off” and for apparently being targeted for rape threats from misogynists for her stance against marking International Mens Day. She has been recently eulogised by Julie Burchill and is being tipped for the very top for her tough talking brand of plain speaking politics.

I, like others, had high hopes for a young working class woman shaking up the cosy establishment. But in this dreadful, indulgent piece for the Huffington Post she complains about the difficulty of being an MP and having to vote on difficult motions. Suddenly taking on the role as a kind of union rep for the entire House of Commons, she paints a picture of the poor, tortured MPs rowing and weeping over the dreadful decision to authorise killing (over subsidised dinner in the restaurant of course). In shortform, her message is: How dare we talk about de-selecting them?  How dare we criticise them for taking decisions under such pressure? Don’t we understand how difficult it is for them?

Jess is clearly already falling deep into the Westminster trap. She is defending the Commons as if it is collective and co-operative effort for good, rather than the political embodiment of the very deep conflicts of interest which exist and fester within our broken society. Defending all MPs when they feature specimens as awful as the salivating, warmongering, neo-conservative Liam Fox, or the pompous blustering, drink driving defence secretary Michael "Handbag" Fallon, is absurd.

Meanwhile Stella Creasy’s artificial crisis of persecution has now been slapped down by Tom Watson who has backed away from his original denunciation of the mythical lefty “thugs” to a more nuanced and acceptable critique of those very few who threaten violence. From being derided by the sexist tabloids for her blue PVC skirt to suddenly becoming The Sun’s favourite feminist, Creasy has gone from being an earnest campaigner against serious issues around payday lending, and a serious contender for Deputy Leadership, into another supposed "victim" of online nastiness from the bad people and another boring Progress ranter against Corbyn.

Make no mistake, I don't threaten people with death or wish violence on anyone. But I take exception to well paid and well looked after public servants moaning. Public servants, let us not forget, who can declare war, wield and use nuclear weapons, decide which sick people get lifesaving drugs and which don't and kill in the name of our country. Seeing cosseted MPs play the victim card, when there really are people who deserve our sympathy and support, is really poor form.

It is this which creates anti politics and creates cynicism. And more dangerously, when the police are called every time someone sends an angry spur of the moment tweet to a politician and ends up on the receiving end of a criminal charge, it silences dissent and freedom of speech. Suddenly the spirit of Je Suis Charlie seems a long way away indeed.

3 December 2015

The Renegade Master (Back Once Again)

A lot can happen in two and a half years, let me tell you.

I can't believe it's been so long since the last post, but time does fly when you are having fun. And also, as it turns out, when you are engaged in a professional shitstorm. If a week is a long time in politics, then 30 months is a life sentence.

I can't really write about the stuff that's been happening, suffice to say that finding out someone you are working alongside, in a relatively important job, is a multiple identity housing benefit fraudster who made up their CV doesn't really do much good for your general peace of mind. Particularly when you are working away from home and living in a hotel room from Monday to Friday.

Being embroiled in a nasty battle involving, variously, police, solicitors, a plethora of false and vexatious allegations, internal and external investigations and a multitude of hearings takes its toll, even on the supporting cast players like me. I deleted my Twitter, losing around 1,500 followers and have kept complete radio silence other than my personal Facebook, following my own sage advice of course. And of course, neglected my already badly neglected blog.

I realise I have missed writing and have found myself writing longer and longer missives on Facebook, presumably being quietly and politely unfollowed by bemused drinking acquaintances from the pub who are wondering why I am ranting on at length about topics of not much interest to anyone at all, except perhaps other vaguely political trade union anoraks.

Given I write primary for pleasure and for steamletting purposes, I realise I missed this outlet. Particularly in light of recent political events which have really raised my ire.

However, when a good pal decided to tip me the wink that my humble blog has had a small resurgence in readership from a certain trade union since the take over of Unity (formerly CATU where I used to work), I felt all the stars were aligned for a comeback.

Now that Unity has been voluntarily shuffled off to Dignitas and buried in the GMB, with most combatants floating off happily with their golden parachutes to create an actuarial nightmare for the pension trustees, I feel a little safer (and less disloyal) in recounting some of the more bizarre tales from my time there more than a decade ago. I will blog again on Unity/CATU soon.

I also hope to turn my hand to less salacious and more strategic issues around trade unions today, in particular such issues as the checkoff, facility time, employment law and the ever present organising versus servicing conundrum.

However, the first target of my reinvigorated ire will be the nefarious assortment of charlatans, villains and bad character actors who now make up the Palace of Westminster.

I'm writing for fun, so don't shoot me down. Anyway, blogging isn't fashionable any more...

6 July 2013

Falkirk: Why Unite is not the enemy.

Whenever the workings of trade unions are put in the spotlight, there is a default media/commentariat position which presumes that every single trade union member is a brainless drone who does exactly what their leaders tell them to do.

So when Unite backed Ed Miliband for Labour leadership in 2010 - and put a letter in the voting pack suggesting members should vote for him - this is translated as being akin to a North Korea style election mandate. It is a truism that Unite members would simply see that letter and, in the privacy of their own home ignore any and all critical thought they may have had over which candidate to vote for, and simply obey their union executive and vote for Ed.

Similarly, when trade union members vote over whether or not to take or support industrial action, they do so in a secret postal ballot from their own home. Not, as portrayed in the press, in some show-of-hands mass meeting with mythical union thugs watching over them ready to beat up anyone who votes the wrong way.  

And there are presumptions about Falkirk that go down the same path. 

Is it against the rules?

Assuming Unite had signed-up 100 or so individuals to the Labour party, regardless of who paid the fees, those individuals would ultimately have had to have had to vote for their preferred candidate for Parliamentary candidate in a secret ballot - as specified in Rule 5c of the Labour Rule Book.

Unite would not have been able to station an official in each members' house to intercept their post or attend the meeting with each individual to fill out the voting slips for them.

I'm not naive enough to suggest this gets Unite off the hook in terms of what is looking like a fairly straightforward attempt to flood the local party with sympathetic members to ensure it gets a result it wants. In fact, this is a stated aim of the union. Had Unite been trying to do this sort of thing in secret, it would perhaps have been sensible not to print documents setting out the plan. 

But it simply cannot be taken for granted that those individuals would do what their union officials wanted them to do when faced with an actual choice of who to vote for. This is an important point to remember. When we talk about the trade union link to the Labour Party, we need to differentiate between the support of a union executive and bureaucracy, and the free choice individual trade union members actually have when it comes to voting in internal Labour elections through one-member-one-vote. It's difficult to explain all of this in less than 140 characters of course.

UPDATE: It is being suggested this morning by the pugnacious sitting Falkirk MP Eric Joyce that Unite were signing up members to Labour against their knowledge. But even if this turns out to be the case, Unite would still NOT control those member's votes in a Labour parliamentary selection - those people would have had to take the effort to consciously vote as individuals.

What cost membership?

The fact of the matter is that when you cheapen party membership in the way the Labour leadership has done, you invite this kind of thing going on. You cannot on the one hand claim to want to sign up millions of people for the cost of 1p, then complain when some of them don't behave in the way you want them to.

The most disgraceful abuse of this open-ended subscription system, in my view, was the appeal to members of the army to join Labour for £1. Presumably had the army organised itself to join soliders up to Labour en-masse to ensure its own officers became electoral candidates this would be being heralded as a major success for Miliband. However, as it is a trade union doing the same thing, it is seen as a sordid scandal.

This whole thing reinforces my belief (gleaned from those heady days of my youth in the Socialist Party) that every individual signing up to a political party should agree to make a serious and substantial financial contribution to that party which is linked to income and personal wealth. This would reduce opportunist entryism but also help in part to weaken the sway of a few individual rich donors. 

It's also sensible to have some kind of limit on membership privileges (such as voting in internal elections) relative to the amount of time a person has been in membership. Trade unions, for example, will often not represent or assist people over matters that have occurred prior to them signing up and paying subscriptions - in much the same way as insurers will not retrospectively cover you after you have been burgled.

However, the Labour party actually encouraged non-members to join the party simply to take part in the 2010 Leadership election - presumably not worried at all about the terrifying potential for organised entryism from disruptive elements. With this being so, I don't see how Labour can now complain too much about trade unions taking advantage of this same open-door policy.

Where next?

There are so many agendas at play here it is impossible to know where this will all end. Getting the police involved and invoking the spectre of Murdoch as Ed has done is adding more fuel to a fire that would otherwise burn out by itself - silly season is already upon us and there is really no need for anyone to carry on with all this.

They often say the best form of defence is attack.

If Labour wanted to go on the attack back over funding then why, on earth, are shadow cabinet members not screaming from the rooftops about Wonga and pay-day lenders buying Tory influence? Where is the advertising campaign pointing out the same scumbags enslaving the working poor through usury are buying home-counties crypto-fascists to protect their interests in parliament?

The targets and weak points are there if only Labour wanted to go for them. But for some reason, it doesn't.

20 August 2012

The £1000 rail ticket increase

A COMBINATION of wrangles over privatisation and a planned bumper increase on all rail fares could lead to the annual bill for commuters living in Stoke increasing by more than £1000 in 2013.

I have my issues with Virgin. Branson makes me suspicious. I know he is anti-trade union and I really, really don't like this whole Virgin-getting-involved-in-the-NHS business. That said, I use Virgin broadband and TV services, and far prefer handing over my Sky Sports football taxes to Beardie rather than Murdoch.

The other thing Virgin does with startling mediocrity is operate the rail services on the West Coast mainline. It's been hit and miss over the past 10 years. They brought in some genuinely welcome new ideas for rail travel - onboard wi-fi, quiet zones, at seat audio, a fully-stocked shop. But the overcrowding, absurdly large and always empty First Class area, appallingly restrictive peak times for services and that fucking annoying mystery beep overshadowed the experience for many.

Arguably the best thing Virgin Trains did, at some point around 2008, was introduce the Virgin Only tickets between Stoke-on-Trent and Manchester, knocking a decent amount off the standard price of tickets from the Potteries to Piccadilly station.

I've never known exactly why Virgin did this. I remember something being said at the time about how it was an example of "competition working" on the rail network as there are several alternative - and slower - services from Stoke to Manchester each hour, run by the appallingly bad Cross Country and Northern Rail franchises - each costing much more money to travel on.

Either way, Branson's boys and girls became the commuters choice - simply on price.

For comparison here are the prices compared for Virgin Only, and Standard Season tickets.

7 day pass: £66.70 (Standard) vs £48.70 (Virgin Only)
Difference of £18 a week - adds up to £936 over a year.

Monthly: £256.20 (Standard) vs £187.10 (Virgin Only)
Difference of £69.10 a month - adds up to £829 a year. 

Annual: £2668 (Standard) vs £1948 (Virgin Only)
Difference of £720 over a year.

As you can see, the differences are huge. For anyone on a tight budget. the difference of £70 a month is vast and potentially life-changing. £800 a year is the difference between a family being able to manage a holiday or not.

The thing is that Stoke has been hit hard when it comes to jobs. Apart from the artificially low wages, the closure of coal, steel and then finally the flight abroad by the pottery companies, has meant the city has largely been in a sort of permanent recession for the best part of 40 years.

That's why more and more of us who live there travel to Manchester - and other cities - every year. 35 minutes on the train and you're in the heart of Manchester and, more importantly, a major UK employment hub. Given the continued absence of any large scale new industry in Stoke, the rail link is a vital economic lifeline - an artery to relative prosperity that allows residents to bring some much needed hard cash into the area.

So what's the big deal?

Well, Virgin have lost the franchise. It's gone to First Group - a company I have fairly terrible experiences of during my period of travelling excessively between London and Cardiff.

The most important thing to understand here is that the cheap fares introduced by Virgin are not legally binding. Therefore, nothing is stopping the next operator coming in and tearing up those offers and returning the fares to the standard rate. First are paying the government £1 billion more than Virgin tendered. Where's that money going to come from? Whatever likely attacks on staff First Group manage to cook up to save some cash, you can bet the punter will be fleeced further as well.

The nightmare scenario is if First Group come in this January and tear up the cheap fares. Along with that, the across-the-board annual increase will kick in too - estimated to be an average of 11% for each ticket in England.

Taking into account the loss of the cheap fares, and putting an estimated 10% increase on the price of the Stoke-to-Manchester season ticket, you can see a new annual standard travel-card for Stoke to Manchester costing £2934.80. That's just under £1000 difference from the price of a 2012 Virgin Only season ticket.

Given that most people can't afford the cost of paying upfront for an annual season ticket, and employers are generally too mean to offer loans, the reality is that most people pay monthly or weekly which obviously work out at costing more.

Given the figures above, if First Group do away with the cheap tickets, commuters in Stoke will be looking at finding a cool extra £1000 a year to pay for the privilege of getting to work.

Of course, if that comes to pass, many won't stomach it if they can help it.

Some might quit their jobs in Manchester and throw themselves at the mercy of the local market. Not an attractive prospect.

Some, with the option, might get back in their cars, adding to the already manic M6 traffic rush and carbon footprint.

Some might move. Either to Manchester or one of the many commuter towns outside it, thus taking more money out of the already weak Stoke economy.

But the reality for many more will be that they will just have to find the money, as quitting a stable job or moving house is simply not an option for them.

We need to pay more to travel, we are told, because railways are getting more popular and need more investment. But unlike supermarkets and broadband providers - popularity of railways doesn't mean prices being cut - in fact they are going the other way.

If ever there was an example of the ordinary working people being made to pay for the failures of the profit system, this is it.

7 August 2012

Remembering Eltham

THE recent and long-overdue jailing of David Norris and Gary Dobson for the vicious and hate-filled murder of Stephen Lawrence has, for all the wrong reasons, brought the historic South-east London town of Eltham back into the spotlight. 

Received wisdom is at least three more of Stephen Lawrence’s murderers still walk the streets of south east London, although police are now saying that number could be even higher. 

There is no doubt that his killers were a bloodthirsty and racist bunch of scumbags who deserve the longest possible stretch of incarceration at Her Majesty's pleasure. 

Eltham under the microscope

The facts of the case, the police incompetence and corruption, and the links of the suspects to the top of the criminal underworld and beyond, have been scrutinised thoroughly by both the state and by many great journalists - not least Brian Cathcart in his brilliant book The Case of Stephen Lawrence – a must read if you ever really want to understand this whole affair. 

But over the past 18 years, many articles have been printed in the national papers portraying Eltham as the race-hate capital of London - where black and Asian people fear to set foot, where reams of neo-Nazi graffiti are plastered on every available wall and where both the political far-right and various academics have attempted to suggest there is some kind of invisible frontline in a perceived “fight” against multiculturalism. 

Perhaps the most notorious article was Brian Reade’s visceral piece in The Daily Mirror in early 1999 with the headline “Into Hell: Estate of Hate”. Reade spends a Saturday wandering the streets and visiting the shops and pubs of Eltham, and paints an almost hysterically bleak picture of sink-estates, outright neo-Nazi-indoctrination of children and utter fear amongst what few BME people he could find in the area. 

His article was joined by pieces appearing in several other papers, including The Times, that thundered Eltham was “notorious” and a “no-go” area for anyone without a pale pink complexion.  
The profile articles have been brought up to date and many now seem to accept, to some extent at least, the area has moved on. But still the media seems to paint Eltham as an anomaly town - some kind of abnormal blight on the landscape populated by violent white gangs who bully their way around with police turning a blind eye. The question I want to address here is whether the portrayals were justified, and whether they remain so now. 

A normal place to grow up?

I spent the first 20 years of my life growing up in the very centre of Eltham and I was almost 15 at the time of the Stephen Lawrence murder. I was abroad on a school exchange trip at the time of the murder - but the news that a young man had been stabbed half a mile from my home travelled even as far as our coach taking us around northern Germany.

I have to confess I don’t recall being especially surprised or shocked about the murder at the time – certainly not any more so than by any other major crime that took place on my doorstep. It was something of an accepted fact in the 90s, even amongst my more middle class contemporaries, that stabbings happened in London. Long before the recent tabloid hysteria over inner-city knife-crime had reached its full crescendo, the carrying of blades was fairly commonplace. I even remember some teenage classmates from the very school trip I had been on in April 1993 smuggling butterfly knives they had purchased back through customs, as they had recently been banned in the UK but remained on sale in Germany. 

This is not in any way to justify or trivialise the seriousness of knife crime of the murder of Stephen Lawrence. But it is to point out that even back in the relatively innocent “good old days” before mobile phones, the internet and globalisation had taken hold, violent crime in London was not something consigned a few movies. Those many people with rose-tinted spectacles about how everything was better in the “good old days” would do well to remember that. 

To me and my friends, Eltham was always a place you didn’t hang about in unless you were a bit of a tough nut – particularly outside the church at the crossroads of Well Hall Road and the High Street. Instead, leafy Bromley with its safe and shiny new indoor shopping centre was our hangout of choice.  

On the times we did walk the streets of Eltham, I remember being careful to avoid other groups of youngsters, particularly older ones, on the absurd basis they were likely be “harder” than you and would almost certainly have to beat you up if you crossed their path. As a pupil of a smaller school slightly outside of the main Eltham area, I also went to great lengths to hide my uniform from sight on my daily route to the bus stop after being deliberately knocked to the floor in the High Street by some of the kids from the bigger schools. 

But was my experience of growing up in Eltham any different from that of other youngsters anywhere else in England? I suspect not. 

I remember spending many a happy weekend hour in 93 & 94 at the back row of The Coronet cinema engaging in my first torrid teenage fumbles  merely yards from the very spot Stephen Lawrence was slaughtered. 

I spent many hours at my best friends Turk-Cypriot father’s cafe down by Eltham Station on Well Hall Road - even helping him out with pizza deliveries on the very same Brooke estate Brian Reade and many other journalists had painted as being the very epicentre of race-hate hell  in England.

I even remember the mocking of Reade’s article at my old local The Rising Sun which was a pub singled out in the piece as having “no black face to be seen” with the then landlord of the pub – who happened to be a black St Lucian.  

But as a pasty-white Anglo-Saxon middle-class kid, terrifying similar in many respects to something out of The Inbetweenersclearly my experience of growing up in Eltham would almost certainly have been different had I been black. 

The evil side

This was brought home to me a number of times when I had grown up a bitIn summer 1997 I had a visit from a mixed-race friend from the north of England and we went for a drink in the Greyhound pub – allegedly favourite of the Acourt gang. Sat outside in the sunshine having a smoke, we were soon engaged in conversation by a group of white drinkers of a similar age. Their initial false bonhomie quickly gave way to a nasty tangent of bullying and belittling, attacking our dress sense, suggesting we were homosexual and all the usual school-playground level personal attacks. But having personally drunk in the Greyhound without issue many times in the past, I realised we had attracted their attention simply because my friend had black skin. They were desperate to goad us into a fight. When the reality of where the banter was leading sunk in, we left in a hurry. 

A few months later I went to the fabulously dreadful Waltons Sports Bar on Eltham Hill to watch live coverage of England’s friendly against Cameroon. I heard a stream of grunted monkey” impersonations from several of the yobbish balding middle-aged wankers drinking at the bar to accompany the live commentary, reaching a peak when Rio Ferdinand was brought on as a sub for his first ever England game. 

My mother, a former lecturer at the vast multicultural melting pot of Lewisham College, told me that when she worked late and got in a cab to come home it was always difficult to convince any of the black drivers to take her to Eltham after the Lawrence murder. 

I even now remember the one and only time I have had a knife pulled on me and yes – it was Eltham. It was an almost comically ridiculous event. Walking down outside the Mecca Bingo with a female friend after an uneventful teen disco and a fat, drunken man wearing a garish pink bomber jacket decided to jump out at us from behind the bus stop wielding a kitchen knife screaming “come on then, where’s your mates?” In a textbook move from my Krav Maga defence technique book, we ran away as fast as we possibly could in panic and called the police.  

So on reflection, perhaps Eltham wasn’t really that nice a place. But the over-arching memory that my friends and I all have, though, is simply one of boredom. There wasn’t much else to do in Eltham other than go to the run-down cinema or the pub. Perhaps that’s why almost as early as I was financially able to as a young working adult, I moved away. 

The picture today

A large number of my close family still live in Eltham, and I visit regularly. Just 25 minutes on frequent trains from the heart of the West End, less to Docklands and the City of London, it is one of the best connected and comparatively cheapest parts of London to reside in. There are acres of unspoilt open space, and a number of very nice pubs and restaurants. It’s within a fifteen minute drive of the Kent countryside but from Shooters Hill and other high points you can see all the landmarks of the greatest city in Europe. And the new combined library and leisure complex is possibly one of the best municipal facilities in the entire country. 

As a town, it is thriving. Unlike my adult home-town of Stoke, I didn’t find a single boarded up shop or house in Eltham during my annual Christmas visit last year. The beautifully refurbished Park Tavern pub had a wide selection of real ale and one of the most genteel atmospheres I have experienced in any London boozer. The Greyhound pub mentioned above is now a smart Himalayan restaurant. The poor old Coronet cinema is being converted into flats. Walton's Sports Bar - the scene of the monkey chanting - has thankfully shut down.

Whilst still far more “white” than some neighbouring areas like Woolwich, Catford or Lewisham, I definitely saw a more diverse community out on the High Street in the run-up to Christmas. And as for those gangs of kids, as a fully-fledged mortgaged-up boring adult I certainly felt no less safe in Eltham at night than in any other part of the capital. 

To that end, it does raise the question as to whether Eltham in 2012 is fundamentally different to any other town in provincial or suburban England. In spite of their best efforts to hijack the poisonous atmosphere around the Stephen Lawrence murder, the BNP at their height have never even saved an election deposit in Eltham - unlike many other parts of the country in recent years where out and out Hitler-worshippers have been elected to parliamentary, assembly and council chambers. 

That is not to say there have not been serious problems in Eltham that have still not gone away. The summer 2011 riots saw gangs chanting “EDL” congregating on Eltham High Street to “defend” the area from looters. When it was clear that the looters had no intention of coming to Eltham, the imbecilic gangs promptly set upon attacking the police they had purported to be supporting with their “protest”. The history of the area still acts as some kind of totem to the far-right, in whatever guise they come.


I originally wrote this post back in January of 2012. In discussing this blog post at the time, by sheer chance I spoke to one long-standing anti-fascist who quite angrily told me that class was not the root problem and that Eltham always suffered from a peculiarly ingrained local racism within the community. I backed away from publishing the post in light of that (rather tetchy) conversation. But I have revisited this some months later.

I still feel that to single out Eltham as some kind of special-case hotbed is ignoring the wider problem of residual racism in England as a whole. As Eltham is a largely working class area, it is easy for the media and the establishment to pin racial problems down to the fact the area is populated by ignorant lumpen proles as opposed to neighbouring, and no less white, middle-class areas such as Blackheath, Bromley and Greenwich.

The fact remains there is a very, very long way to go to a peaceful and inclusive society where the colour of skin is no issue. But I would argue Eltham is now getting there much quicker than other parts of England.