Monday 31 May 2010

The battle for Kingston - Who are the real gangsters?

Being half Jamaican, I’ve been following closely the major news story of civil unrest in the capital Kingston. The government has faced violent attacks in response to its attempt to capture the alleged drug dealer Christopher ‘Dudas’ Coke, who's wanted for extradition to America for drug trafficking offences.

I read an excellent article on this story in the Guardian entitled ‘The battle for Kingston’ you can read it here.

It's an interesting story as at first glance it looks like the Jamaican government trying to arrest and capture a notorious drug dealer. The more you read, you begin to realise it’s more complex than that and involves the murky world of politics and organised crime tangled together.

It's not often you get news stories from Jamaica high up on the news agenda. I know drug and gang crime are notorious on the island, but this story seems to have an added dimension.

Perhaps it's because Christopher 'Dudas' Coke doesn't appear to be you run of the mill 'Yardie' gangster! Although he's allegedly been involved in gun and drug trafficking between the America and the Caribbean, he's also spent years developing political contacts on the island, as well as becoming a hero to the poor in his local community of Tivoli Gardens.

BBC report on the unrest.

Politics and crime have always been closely linked in Jamaica, ever since the island gained independence from the UK in 1962. It's widely believed that many of the gangs that run the ghettos or garrisons of Kingston are in the pocket of politicians.

All the gangs in Kingston have links to the two main political parties, the JLP (Jamaican Labour Party) and the PNP (People's National Party. I've heard that the gangs and political parties have such close links that its unlikely that one could survive without the other.

After independence, both political parties started building housing projects in different parts of Kingston to house their supporters. Disputes between the parties emerged over land in the capital, which lead to increased tensions and violence. Very quickly Kingston became segregated along political lines, with areas affiliated to one of the parties.

Gangs then moved in and took control over the garrisons, many of whom were backed by the politicians who looked to the gangs to guarantee votes in general elections.

This is the context to the problems that are happening now. The Jamaican Prime Minister, Bruce Golding is from the Labour Party. They were responsible for building the garrison of Tivoli Gardens, Golding is also coincidentally the sitting MP for Tivoli Gardens.

Having tried for nine months to stop the extradition of Coke to America, it looks like he's now made a u-turn after rumours that he was pressurised by Coke himself to stop the extradition taking place.

Golding's now in a really awkward position. His use of force to try and capture Coke suggests he's trying to show that he's not in the pocket of the gangsters. But at the same time it now looks hypocritical for him to target one the biggest gangsters or Dons, when for so long he and his party have been conspiring with them.

One of the main things that strikes you about this story, is why so many people want to support a gangster like Coke, to the point where they're prepared to fight and die for him?

The intriguing thing about Coke is how he's more then just an alleged drug dealer. He's taken on many of the responsibilities you'd expect from a politician!

Reading in the Sunday Times they reported how he's provided schoolbooks and uniforms for the children in Tivoli Gardens. Paid for healthcare, given food to those that needed it and provided jobs.

I read this thinking, you can’t help but respect someone who has that kind of power and influence and has put it to such good use. The Times also said that petty crimes like theft are almost non existent as his posse act as the local neighbourhood police.

In the Guardian they said such actions are normal for ‘Robin Hood' style gangsters like Coke. It helps them win the support and loyalty of the communities they control. They essentially take on the role of the state or government in providing welfare provisions.

If I was from such a neighbourhood, I can imagine that I wouldn’t care if someone was a alleged drug dealer; if they can guarantee safety on the streets and provide housing, and some form of welfare then so be it. These people have no confidence or faith in politicians who they see as being the real criminals.

From my limited knowledge on the problems of Jamaican society, it looks as if successive governments have abandoned many of the poorest in society, and it's left of vacuum which has been filled by gangs who act as government. No wonder the likes of Coke have so much support from people.

After years of politics and organised crime being tied together it's going to be extremely difficult now for the government to suddenly impose its will on the gangs and the communities the gangs control. You can only see more violence and unrest taking place, but some sort of break with the past has to occur at some point.

Jamaica's one of those societies where many people don't see a great deal of difference between politicians and drug dealers, they're all gangsters in once sense or another. There are no good or bad guys. Everyone's got a bit of dirt on them.

If you're interested in finding out more about Jamaica's gang problems, you should check out Ross Kemp's 'Gangs of Jamaica' which gives you an idea of the culture and history of Kingston's gangs.

Sunday 30 May 2010

Rugby and football - Two sports, two different worlds!

I was down in Twickenham yesterday. I went to watch the rugby, it was the Guinness Premiership final between Leicester Tigers and Saracens. It was an entertaining game with Leicester snatching victory at the death 33 - 27.

Although I consider myself a rugby fan, it was only the second live game I've been to. My first game was to watch England v Australia about 18 months ago. As a football fan who's been going to matches for 20 years, watching rugby is a completely different sporting and cultural experience. It seems the two sports will always be polls apart.

There's this huge cultural divide between football and rugby in this country. One which won't be bridged anytime soon. In my own personal experience there's been many occasions where football fans have looked at me almost with contempt as if to say 'What!...You're into rugby?'

You tend to find many people are either for one or the other, with a lot of football fans I know actively hating rugby. I seem to be in that small minority who appreciate both sports but for different reasons.

It's no surprise in this country, you still get that sense of lingering class prejudice that influences the types of sports people like.

One of my friends from work, a self styled 'working class hero' suggested I was abandoning my working class/football roots by going to the game!

For me, the main difference between the two sports is this. Football is the people's game, it always has been and always will be. Rugby on the other hand is the sport of Middle England.

Football is about letting out all your frustrations, showing your tribal instincts for club or region. Rugby is all about self discipline, control and decency. I never heard any bad language on Saturday, everyone's so polite and agreeable which is strange when you consider how aggressive and at times violent rugby is on the pitch.

Sitting on the train from Waterloo down to Twickenham. I looked around the carriage and quickly noticed what I call 'rugby looking people'. It's hard to describe this look, but as a football fan you'll instinctively know who they are because you never see these types at football matches.

About 10 minutes before the train was about to leave, a couple of boozed up lads got on the train. One was wearing an 80s casual style beenie hat with an England St George's cross on it. They were your classic looking football lads.

These lot couldn't be going to the rugby could they?

Seeing as they all had quite strong Cockney accents, I thought perhaps they'd taken the wrong train and got lost on their way to Wembley to watch Millwall v Swindon in the League One Play off final.

But no I was wrong, it turns out they were going to the rugby after all. I sighed to myself as the one cockney lad sat opposite me and next to a classic looking 'rugby type'. I thought this is going to be a very long train journey to Twickenham.

It was actually quite amusing as I watched the football/rugby culture clash unfold right in front of me. I did start laughing to myself when the Cockney lad began chatting to the rugby chap and said without any shame:

'I don't even f*cking understand rugby..Who's playing?'

He later revealed he was a West Ham fan from Essex! How typical!

Before the game I spent a few hours drinking in a various pubs, similar to football. The difference is that at football you tend to drink in town centres, or you end up in a pub in some grimey inner city ghetto! I'm thinking Tottenham or West Ham away here!

At Twickenham I was drinking on the banks of the river Thames! That tells you all you need to know!

We got to the ground about 10 minutes before kick off. I'd decided that as a Midlander I should support Leicester, but I found myself appreciatively clapping whenever Sarecens scored a try or penalty. The whole rugby politeness thing was rubbing off on me.

Even though the game was between Leicester and Saracens, you still had loads of people wearing various rugby shirts for other teams. Some wore England tops, whilst I spotted other club tops for teams like Northampton, Wasps, and Harlequins.

This would be like going to an FA Cup final between Chelsea and Man Utd, but finding that various people in the crowd were wearing Spurs, Villa or Liverpool tops. You know that would never ever happen at football.

I enjoyed the match, although I have to concentrate a lot watching live rugby. You don't have the tv commentary to tell you what's going on, particularly during the scrums and rucks.

It looked like Saracens were heading for victory when they scored a penalty to make the score 27-26 with only 4 minutes to go. But straight from the kick off Leicester went and scored a try that won the game.

Saracens would have been kicking themselves by letting victory slip away, but I don't get the impression that the average Saracens fan was too gutted in the way that most football fans would be.

That's perhaps one of rugby's strengths and weaknesses in comparison to football, in that you don't have that level of intensity in supporting and watching your team.

Football is at times like being on crack cocaine, intense highs and depressing lows and varying points. Something we can look forward to with England in the World Cup next month.

Sometimes I've hated being a football fan. Like many fans, I've been sick of the endless disappointments and frustrations. Watching rugby you'll never really have the same low points as a fan of football.

Occasional I don't mind this lack of emotional intensity with rugby, but then I can't imagine rugby ever giving me the same emotional high as football. Not that I get many highs as a Birmingham City fan!

This isn't a 'which is better? football or rugby post'. I just like the contrast between the two. Football will always be 'the game' for me, but rugby is a good alternative now and again. I'm always learning something new and enjoy the novelty of it all.

If you're one of those football fans that hates rugby, you have to except that rugby is completely different to football and has it's own qualities. If you except that, you might just start liking it a bit.

Wednesday 19 May 2010

Tuesday 18 May 2010

Have you seen the elephant parade?

For those of you living in London, you may have noticed a number of highly decorated elephant sculptures dotted around the city.

I pass a couple of them on my journey to work as I walk across London Bridge, down to South London.

They're part of a public art/charity appeal aimed at raising awareness of the plight of Asian elephants. There's meant to be 250 of them in London, but I've only managed to spot three so far!

Keep your eyes open for them!

I like a bit of public art, and they've raised the awareness of the Indian elephant. I hadn't realised that there numbers had been decreasing so rapidly.

The Elephants have been painted and decorated by artists and celebrities. You've got until July to catch a glimpse of them, as they're due to be auctioned off at Sotherby's.

Here's some more elephants I later discovered!

Monday 17 May 2010

What's happened to diversity?

No, I don't mean the winners of last year's Britain's Got Talent! I'm talking about diversity within our new coalition government.

It's impossible not to notice the distinct lack of women in the new government, and as for the so called 'Obama generation' of bright new ethnic minority MPs, there's only Baroness Warsi representing things in the new cabinet.

It's not just the media that's been highlighting this disparity, I've had conversations with people who feel the same way.

Some people will moan this is typical white middle-class male bashing, but you can't deny that at the top level of government, you're mainly going to find white middle-class privately educated men running things.

In many professions in this country, it looks like diversity is on the decrease.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who's lost count of the number of cultural diversity and equality training days I've been on during my time in work.

These days my first reaction of being told I have to go on one of these is:

'not another one. What more can I possibly learn about diversity?'

But in saying this, it still appears that real diversity is elusive as ever in many professions.

I've been a little sceptical in the past about the whole diversity issue. Yes you want offices, industries and professions to represent society, but sometimes I wonder whether certain groups are in a realistic position in regards to numbers to be considered for many professions.

I live in London, arguably the most diverse and cosmopolitan city in the world, but this diversity is rarely represented in my working life. This is especially true in many of the more middle class professions.

I've always worked quite closely with lawyers and barristers. For the sake of my argument I could say I don't meet many male barristers from Bangladeshi or Afro Caribbean backgrounds.

Is this a lack of diversity? Is it the fault of employers not making enough effort? Or is it because there simply aren't enough people from these backgrounds, studying law, training to be lawyers and applying for jobs?

If it's the latter then the issue of diversity needs to spread its focus onto education, and social mobility.

Returning back to the election, clearly more efforts need to be made. I've read that in our new parliament 35% of MPs were privately educated, even though only 7% of the population attend such schools, around a third of MPs went to Oxbridge including 15 members of the cabinet. There are 511 male MPs and only 139 women. It's a very narrow base to draw your political class from.

When we talk about diversity, you have to look at the whole picture. You need more women, ethnic minorities, but you also need people from working and lower middle class backgrounds. You also need people who haven't all been educated at our elite universities.

You have to provide people with the channels to enter professions like politics, which aren't really open to many people. You have to make people aware that politics is something which can be open to them.

I don't have a definitive answer on how to solve things, but my initial thoughts make me think we need to get more people involved at a local level. That way they can be introduced into the political culture. If they have the talent and drive then hopefully they can progress up the party ranks.

My second point returns back to the issue of education and social mobility. These are key components in any equality debate and should open up greater avenues for people from different backgrounds.

I'm not always convinced as to how well educated some young people are these days. It's ironic that we have more people going to university, gaining academic qualifications but yet so many professions are a closed shop. Appearing to only be available to select groups of people.

As for social mobility, does it even exist anymore in the UK? You were probably more likely to make it into government coming from a working class background 30 or 40 years ago then you are today.

The problem doesn't just apply to politics, you can say the same about law, medicine, journalism and most media industries.

A lot of the time politics is presented as this elitist interest, when in reality, politics is everyday life for many people. As we saw with the election debates, if politics is presented in the right way people will be interested.

If the make up of our politicians both at local and national level reflects all of society then I'm sure it will encourage more people to get involved.

Sunday 16 May 2010

A brave new world for British politics!

We have a new government! A proper coalition between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.

I can't believe how well the Lib Dems have done out of this deal, five cabinet members and Nick Clegg as Deputy Prime Minister. I didn't see that coming.

Regardless of your political persuasion, you have to admit it's an exciting time in UK politics. If only for the fact that we're entering into a period of the unknown! We don't do coalitions in this country. That's for the continentals!

Who knows what's going to happen? Can this coalition really last for the next five years?

It's easy to be cynical about so many things, particularly politics. But if this coalition lasts a full parliamentary term, it will be an amazing achievement.

It's certainly been an historic week in British politics. I was at home on Tuesday night watching the BBC's coverage of Gordon Brown resigning as PM, followed by David Cameron accepting the Queen's request to form a new government.

It was one of those moments where you knew you were watching history taking place. I can imagine that in 100 years time from now, students studying British politics and history will be looking at this period in great detail.

The end of 13 years of New Labour and the beginning of the first coalition government since World War Two.

I'm slowly beginning to warm to the idea of a Lib/Con coalition. I'm not a Tory voter, but I did vote Lib Dem in this election. I'm hoping that they can be a counter balance to some of the Tories more natural right wing inclinations.

On Wednesday It was hard not to notice the chemistry between David Cameron and Nick Clegg as they gave their first press conference in the garden of Number 10. Culturally speaking they do have a lot in common in terms of background and education.

What they succeeded in doing well, was in generating a feeling of enthusiasm and optimism for the coalition. You'd think it was what they both really wanted all along.

It was all about being above traditional tribal party politics. It's no longer just about party interest, it's all about the national interest.

It didn't always feel that way, when you look at how the Lib Dems conducted themselves during the post election negotiations. However, this does look like the new politics we've been hearing so much about, and yes the novelty of it all does look quite exciting!

The trouble is, I think back to 1997 and New Labour's landslide victory. It was such a beautiful sunny day, the day after that election. It felt like a new dawn, there was so much hope.

13 years later, a little older a little wiser I can't fall for that a second time! It's more a case of 'Lets see how this plays out' It's only week one. There's a very long way to go yet.

What Clegg and Cameron have done so well, is sell and present the idea of coalition to the public brilliantly. The trouble is you know behind the scenes there are so many backbenchers, grass root supporters and organisers from both parties who are totally sceptical about this deal.

If I was a Tory backbencher I wouldn't be pleased with this coalition at all. Cameron's given way too much to the Lib Dems. As I Tory I would have preferred to go it alone as a minority government, no matter how difficult that would have been.

With the Lib Dems, I've always seen them as being distant cousins of the Labour party. Yes they have their differences and disagreements, but they have more in common with Labour than with the Tories.

Only yesterday the Times was reporting that Vince Cable the new Business Secretary was in contact with Gordon Brown telling him he didn't want to be in a coalition with the Conservatives. Is this really a surprise when Cable used to be a member of the Labour Party?

From a Lib Dem point of view I wouldn't be totally happy or comfortable either. It'll be interesting to see how things play out in the West Country, where the two parties are in direct opposition to each other.

If they want some inspiration perhaps they can look to my home town of Birmingham which has had a Lib/Con coalition council for the last couple of years. From all accounts they seem to have worked quite well together. It's all about compromise apparently.

Regardless of how uncomfortable some people may feel, political power is intoxicating. People can talk about the 'National interest' But most politicians want to be in power, how else do you get the chance of making a real difference.

You can't help but feel that there was a certain level of desperation on both sides, that this deal represented the best opportunity for the Lib Dems and the Conservatives to get into government.

At the moment I've got an open mind, I'm going to sit back and see how it all unfolds. Something inside me says that long term, this deal will benefit the Tories more than the Lib Dems. The Lib Dems shouldn't get too comfy.

We also shouldn't forget Labour. For what on the surface was a disastrous election defeat, they've actually emerged in quite good health, and will soon be in a position to attack both the Lib Dems and the Tories particularly when we approach the next election.

Certainly fascinating times ahead for everyone.

Monday 10 May 2010

Fight on Sky News! Boulton v Campbell

If you haven't seen this interview, this is funny!

Sky News presenter Adam Boulton almost coming to blows with Labour's Alastair Campbell!

What is going on at Sky News? They're getting very aggressive these days! Last Saturday there was Kay Burley's interview with David Babbs from 38 Degrees, and now we have Adam Boulton losing it professionally.

I have to admit I've admired Alastair Campbell's belligerence towards the media in the past; particularly towards the right wing press, but he was asking for a slap here!

I can't believe Boulton's reaction though. As funny as it is to watch, his journalistic professionalism went completely out the window. As a reporter you can't lose it like that on national television!

Apparently the media regulator Ofcom received hundreds of complaints against Boulton's conduct. I'm not surprised.

There must be some history between these two. You could sense a bit of simmering tension that hilariously came to the boil.

I love this election!

Sunday 9 May 2010

Post election thoughts

Where do I begin? So much to discuss!

Firstly I'm going to start by 'bigging myself up' by saying I predicted this election result way back in January of this year. You can read my prediction here.

So we got the hung parliament everyone was predicting. The problem is, it's the worst case scenario hung parliament possible.

Everyone's a loser in this election somehow. The result is pure grid lock for all the main parties, and it's going to be a few more days before any deal is sorted out.

I've got so much to discuss, I'm going to break things down into a summary before going into more detail on the results.

Hung Parliament

The people have spoken and have roughly said, they're not convinced by anyone. What we do know is that most people don't want Gordon Brown as Prime Minister. People like the look of the Tories but aren't totally convinced. We like Nick Clegg, but unfortunately aren't sure about some of the Lib Dems policies.

What should happen next?

For me the Conservatives need to make a deal with the Lib Dems to form a government. There's no way the Lib Dems can do a deal with Labour, it would be a government of losers and if that was to happen would potentially alienate the electorate further.

Electoral reform

This election result is deeply unsatisfactory on so many levels and has highlighted the weaknesses of our First Past the Post system. There's no doubt that electoral reform needs to be discussed further, and I'd actually like to see a referendum on the issue at some point during the next couple of years.

Voters denied the chance to vote.

Watching clips of thousands of people denied the chance to vote because polling stations couldn't deal with the increase in the turn out was embarrassing.

We're meant to be one of the world's leading democracies. At this rate we'll soon have UN electoral inspectors from places like Kenya coming over to observe and give us tips on how to run things.

BNP Crushed in Barking.

Here's a controversial statement: Has the threat of the BNP been exaggerated? The reason I ask is that the party were well and truly humiliated in their strong hold of Barking, losing all their seats on the council, and Nick Griffin being beaten into third place as a parliamentary candidate.

So what we do know from the election is that voters (including myself) don't want Gordon Brown as Prime Minister. It's time for him to exit stage left.

He's essentially become a caretaker PM waiting for the other parties to form a government. Brown's problem is that he's such a complicated and flawed character. I've lost count of the number of times I've read stuff about him, where he's shown to be aggressive, angry, bullying of other people and ruthlessly ambitious.

Clearly many of these traits have enabled him to be a success in politics, but they're also traits that have hindered his ability to be a successful and popular PM.

As for the other two parties, The Tories are the main winners but you have to ask the question; with an unpopular PM a struggling economy, and huge financial backing, winning a majority should have been the minimum requirement? They couldn't even do that!

The biggest loser has to be Nick Clegg. I couldn't believe the exit polls at at 10:00 on Thursday night predicting the party would end up on 57 seats! I seriously thought they'd get between 70 - 80.

The Lib Dems problem is that people liked Nick Clegg, but when faced with real scrutiny over their policies people thought 'no not sure about that'. I admit myself, their policies on Trident worried me, and their stance on immigration and Europe seemed wishy whashy.

In the last few days I've thought to myself how I might approach things if I was from one of the three main parties. This is what I'd do.

If I was the Conservatives, I'd look to form a deal with the Lib Dems, but if it doesn't come off then they should govern as a minority government.

As a minority it's going to be tough to get through all their legalisation, but they'll probably just have to have an election in the next 18 months and try to gain a working majority.

With the Lib Dems I'm still surprised they did so badly, but they've still ended up in a once in a lifetime opportunity. No matter how unpleasant it might be for some of their grass root members, they have an opportunity of being in government. They shouldn't pass this up lightly.

If they form some sort of formal coalition it gives them the opportunity of showing the country that they can act responsibly when given real political power. In the long run this would be better for them. If they perform well it will help their case for electoral reform.

Finally with Labour, they need to accept defeat. To be fair I think many in the party do accept this, there's just the stumbling block of Gordon Brown. Labour should be grateful, the election defeat although heavy could have been a lot worse.

They're still in relatively good health for them to come back sooner rather than later. I'm convinced they could still have emerged as the biggest party had Gordon Brown not been PM.

All talk of a Lib/Lab coalition is ridiculous, together they're still short of the 326 seats needed for a majority. They'd have to join forces with some of the smaller national parties like the SNP and Plaid Cymru the Welsh Nationals.

This would be like some sort of hideous Frankenstein's monster of a government! It wouldn't last long, and at the next election would probably result in a crushing landslide victory for the Conservatives.

Labour need to go away into opposition, regroup, develop some new policies and most of all find a new leader. Most likely, one of the two Milliband brothers. Everyone thinks it'll be David, but don't rule out Ed.

Under a new leadership they should be in a strong position to fight any election that may be called in the next two years.

Electoral reform

I'd really like to see a referendum on this subject at some point, but we need to have a proper discussion on reform and the public need to be appropriately informed on all the pros and cons on the various forms of Proportional Representation. I'm going to discuss PR at some point in a later blog, but our present First Past the Post system is beginning to seem outdated, and for many is unfair.

In my constituency of West Ham, my vote doesn't really count for much, I'm not saying its a wasted vote, but Labour has such a huge majority, the sitting MP has a job for life.

I've now voted in four elections, and I reckon that in only two elections has my vote really been of significance in the sense that you couldn't confidently predict who the winner would be.

Voters who couldn't vote

This was really shocking, and I really feel for those people who couldn't vote. I've voted in every single election both local and national since 1997. There's only been one occasion where I didn't vote, and that was because I wasn't on the electoral register which I only found out when I arrived at the polling station for a local election.

I have to say I was pretty upset about it. I felt like I didn't have a voice, that I couldn't make my feelings known. I can imagine this is how many people felt on Thursday night.

It seems many councils have made cut backs over the years, and have only been prepared to deal with elections where around 60% of the registered electorate were likely to vote. Clearly on Thursday numbers were up by maybe 10 - 15% in some places meaning some polling stations couldn't cope.

Jenny Watson from the Electoral Commission has said that this situation must never happen again. We shouldn't underestimate the time, effort and resources needed to run a national election successfully.

BNP crushed in Barking

As I said earlier, for a while now I've wondered whether the real threat of the BNP has been exaggerated by some people. I know this might be a controversial statement to make, but I was one of those people who argued that they should be on shows like Question Time, as people would have the chance to question and challenge their views directly.

If you look closely at their policies, you quickly begin to realise that they're a disorganised shambolic little party. I have a theory that maybe the increased media scrutiny of the party and higher profile of Nick Griffin meant people had a better understanding of who the BNP really are and what they're all about.

It's almost the Nick Clegg affect. The Lib Dems had much greater media coverage this election than before, but with that focus people looked harder at their policies some of those like immigration, trident and Europe didn't appeal to the electorate.

I think the same thing happened with the BNP, greater focus exposed them for what they really are, not dangerous fascists, but a shambolic irrelevant party.

The fallout from the election is going to run and run for at least another week or so. I'll end this post here and discuss further developments later in the week.

Saturday 8 May 2010

Sack Kay Burley!

Apparently the top twitter trend today is Sack Kay Burley! It started following the Sky News journalist's interview this afternoon with a David Babbs from the political group 38 Degrees, who were demonstrating in Westminster in favour of PR and electoral reform.

It's funny, I was at home this afternoon watching the election coverage and I saw her interview with Babbs. I'm not surprised people set up this twitter trend against her, the interview was dreadful! She was so embarrassingly aggressive, I eventually had to turn over!

You can watch a clip of the interview below and see what you think.

Jeremy Paxman it isn't! Shoddy journalism!

I spent most of this afternoon flicking between Sky News and BBC 24 trying to keep up to date with developments on the election. Are the Lib Dems going to do a deal and join the Conservatives in government and all that.

There was loads of coverage of demonstrators outside a building where Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg was inside having some post election meeting. Demonstrators where outside showing their support for electoral reform and to try and persuade Clegg not to abandon his commitment to PR in any deal with the Tories.

During the afternoon Kay Burley was interviewing various people, and at one point there was a demonstrator who kept shouting in the background 'Sack Kay Burley' along with other anti Rupert Murdoch and Sky news comments. It was quite funny to be honest, but I'm sure it was annoying for Burley.

Perhaps she got fed up of hearing this bloke and decided to turn her frustrations against David Babb. What other reason would there be for such a hostile interview?

You can ask tough questions, but this is more than tough questions, it was just aggressively attacking someone for their views.

As a journalist you need to be asking the questions that the audience would naturally want ask themselves, and find out information the audience would want and need to know.

Burley did this up to a point, but then her interview technique started to sound like her expressing her own personal point of view, almost suggesting that the organisers of the protest were wasting their time. It wasn't proper journalism!

I ended up shouting at the TV saying, if he (Babbs and his organisation) want to protest it's because they're fully entitled to do so it's called democracy!

Someone should tell Burley this.

Thursday 6 May 2010

I've cast my vote!

I've just got in after casting my vote for this year's General Election. I love voting! I get a little bit of a buzz as I head to the polling station, as I remind myself that I'm engaging in the democratic process, making my feelings known to the political establishment. It's a shame that the actual act of voting itself is so mundane!

To be honest it doesn't matter what the result is tonight/tomorrow there won't be an outcome that will be truly satisfactory for me.

During the last week, most of the national press have come out and stated who they wish to see elected. Most of it was quite predictable.

The Mirror always support Labour, the Sun came out for the Tories ages ago. It's no surprise to see the Mail and Express back the Tories, and for the first time since the 1992 election the Times are backing the Conservatives as well.

What was really interesting was the Guardian's decision. They've decided to back of the Lib Dems which I thought was significant.

With all the papers making their feelings known, I feel that I too should reveal on my blog how I voted.

I should start off by saying that Labour are my party. They're the party I identify with the most. This is in terms of my political beliefs and outlook; and also my own family background and upbringing. I've always voted Labour at General elections but for this election I had a serious choice to make.

I've never voted Conservative, and at this moment I can't imagine ever voting for them. Why is this? I just don't vote Tory!

In terms of my political instincts and background, they're not my party. Some of their policies I dont mind, some of my personal views could even be described as socially conservative, it doesn't matter, I still won't vote Tory.

You like to think you're an intelligent, educated and rational person who will make intelligent rational decisions on such things as voting. Instead you find you're still influenced by irrational and emotional gut instinct!

I envy the floating voter sometimes, the person who can flit from one party to another depending on how they feel. It's more difficult for those of us who feel any sort of attachment with a particular party.

This election is the first time where I thought: 'how do you actively support your natural party when you're not that enthusiastic about them or the leader?'

A year ago I wrote on this blog that Labour should have removed Gordon Brown as leader and replaced him with someone else, and then called a General Election.

We needed an election last year, and Labour would have fared better with a new leader. They didn't do this, and we've had to endure another 12 months of what at times has been Brown's painful Premiership.

At the beginning of the year, I thought about how I might vote in May. I couldn't imagine having Gordon Brown in power for another five years. I think he's a principled individual but has personality traits and flaws which are not suited for Prime Minister.

Secondly, although I think Labour have done a lot of good things, I also thought that their time in office could and maybe should have been a lot better!

The War in Iraq has tarnished the government, I hate stuff like ID cards, social mobility in this country is dead, and although I don't blame them for everything on the economy, you do wonder what they were doing during the good times.

Finally every party has it's natural shelf life in government. Labour needs a period in opposition in order to refresh itself. They've run out of ideas which after 13 years is only to be expected.

I thought about voting Lib Dem as I did in the London mayoral elections of 2008, but Having considered it I still thought I'd end up voting Labour out of some sense of loyalty. My feelings have now changed!

The Lib Dems started to appeal to me more, I respect Vince Cable, and I've been predicting a hung parliament since the start of the year, maybe a Lib Dem vote wouldn't be a waste.

At the start of the election campaign I reckon I was about 60/40 in favour of Lib Dem over Labour, but after the first election debate and Nick Clegg's performance, I thought I'd go Lib Dem.

This is what I did tonight and voted Lib Dem. It won't make much difference in my constituency of West Ham. It's a Labour stronghold and is the sort of constituency where unless you vote Labour your vote doesn't count for much. It's not an exciting marginal.

You wouldn't have known an election was even taking place in West Ham and it's the kind of constituency that makes the argument for Proportional Representation even stronger.

So there it is. I don't want Brown as Prime Minister and Labour have run out of ideas. Can't vote/won't vote Tory, and the Lib Dems won't form their own government. I suppose I'm advocating a hung parliament. The polls close in almost 20 minutes from now as I type. We'll soon find out!

Saturday 1 May 2010

Black Britain Decides

I went to my first election rally this week. On Wednesday I went to Westminster Central Hall opposite the Houses of Parliament to attend an event entitled 'Black Britain decides' and event set up by the black political organisation Operation Black Vote (OBV).

I'd heard there'd be representatives from the three main political parties, and I had no great expectations as to who would turn up. I was seriously surprised and impressed that the organisers managed to get Labour Deputy leader Harriet Harman, Shadow Chancellor George Osborne, and Lib Dem Treasury spokesman Vince Cable to turn up!

For me there were two main aspects to evening, firstly it was about showing the three main parties that Black and Ethnic minority (BME) voters do have a voice in this election and expect to be heard. Secondly it was a chance for the main parties to persuade the BME electorate on why they should vote for them.

The BME vote can't be ignored by anyone these days. According to the statistics from OBV, there are 113 marginal seats in the country which could be decided by the BME vote.

For those of you not familiar with Operation Black Vote, they're an organisation set up in the 1990's with the aim of increasing the participation and representation of BME communities within British politics. Wednesday's event was organised by OBV director and founder Simon Woolley.

The debate was hosted by actor and playwright Kwame Kwei Armah. Kwame did a good job in what I have to say were challenging circumstances.

It was a tough crowd, and although I accept people have a right to express their opinions, I felt some people were actually a bit rude in their general behaviour towards some of the speakers.

If you want to ask a politician a question then at least give that person a chance to answer before you start shouting them down, which is what some people decided to do.

Poor Kwame had to remind members of the audience on more than one occasion how to behaviour, otherwise the evening would have descended into chaos!

There were a number of speakers on the evening and Harriet Harman was first up to speak from the main parties. She started her speech by addressing the audience with,

'Good evening Brothers and Sisters'

This was met mainly by silence from the audience with the odd chuckle from a few people. I'm sorry Harriet, I think you may have misjudged your intro there, but she did improve following on from that!

I have to say I found her an impressive speaker, she spoke passionately about Labour's record on race relations over the last 50 years, and not unsurprisingly wanted to remind the audience of Labour's achievements.

When it came to the Conservatives turn, George Osbourne entered the hall to a chorus of boos from the audience which I thought was a little uncalled for considering he hadn't even spoken. He later admitted the crowd was 'worse than the House of Commons'.

For me the boos represented an historic distrust of the Conservative party from BME communities over the years, rather than specific policies that the Tories are currently advocating.

Before he began, a specially recorded message was played featuring David Cameron speaking directly to the audience.

Osborne got off to a slow start by talking about Martin Luther King, and the progress America had made from the civil rights movement to the election of Barack Obama. It was all valid stuff, but it was too much an American context and it made the audience restless.

His speech improved when he focused on the Tories efforts in improving the number of BME candidates standing for the party in this election, and policies to help black businesses.

For the Lib Dems, Vince Cable addressed the audience after another video address from Lib Dem leader, Nick Clegg.

With his speech, Cable took a different approach to Harman and Osborne and made things more personal.

He began by explaining how he first became aware of Simon Woolley and OBV. A few years earlier Wooley had castigated the Lib Dems for their failure to improve BME representation in their party, something Cable admitted was true.

He then proceeded to tell the audience his own personal family story, describing his father as an old colonialist and someone who opposed Cable's subsequent first marriage to an Asian women from Kenya. This apparently caused a breakdown in his relationship with his family, which was eventually repaired, but only after a number of years had passed.

I have to say I thought Cable's speech was superb. He was the only speaker who had the audience in total silence. A serious achievement in itself!

His personal story indicated that although things aren't perfect today in terms of race relations there has been a progression and positive developments during the last 50 years, which his personal story seemed to reflect.

Like a lot of people in the country, I've become a big fan of Cable these last 18 months. He's one of the few politicians around that I have some confidence in and respect for. His speech only made me think more highly of him.

I'm really glad I decided to attend this event. I think what I learned is that it doesn't matter who you are, or what community you feel you belong to, you have to remind politicians that they're here to work on your behalf.

As individuals and as communities you need to make your voice heard otherwise politicians will ignore you, or think you don't matter.

Don't get me wrong, there is no homogeneous BME vote in this country. Britain's ethnic minority communities are a diverse and varied group of people. They all have different experiences and issues affecting them. This should be recognised and it shouldn't be seen that only one party can address these concerns.

Clearly by the guest speakers invited on Wednesday, the main parties have acknowledged that ethnic minorities in this country can't be ignored, and although there are areas that need to be improved, last Wednesday's event shows that we're all heading in the right direction.