On yer bike vs. kick a bike

Big Society – on yer bike

Broken society – kick a bike

A man was arrested after attacking one of Boris Johnson’s new London hire bicycles yesterday.

The 23-year-old began kicking one of the bikes, telling bystanders he was angry at losing his phone.

He was taken to a police station in Shoreditch, East London at 2.30am, and released on bail.

Stop saying “atheist school”

Many individuals and organisations are persuading Richard Dawkins to open up an atheist, free school to counter the amount of applications expected from the religious.

Two moments thought will tell you that an atheist school could be one of two things: a place where atheism is taught and promoted as the truth, thus not free thinking, or a place where bias over beliefs is not tolerated, thus the closest thing to free thinking that exists.

A school set up by religious people could also be one of two things: a place where their religion is taught and promoted as the truth, thus not free thinking, or a place where bias over beliefs is not tolerated, thus the closest thing to free thinking that exists.

A bit like a normal school, which could be one of two things: a place where their religion or atheism is taught and promoted as the truth (though perhaps not officially allowed), thus not free thinking, or a place where bias over beliefs is not tolerated, thus the closest thing to free thinking that exists.

The conversation is obviously ridiculous. It’s a secular school which is needed, and able to be achieved by believer and non- alike.

Ken versus Oona

The North West London area of Harlesden was host to a Labour mayoral candidate hustings last night, with Oona King and Ken Livingstone both trying to convince Labour members and supporters why they should choose them as their candidate to stand against Boris Johnson.

No surprises that Boris was the immediate topic of debate to a question from the audience on personality. A smirking Ken pointing out that politicians tend not to go through borough councils to learn the ropes anymore, very often politicians are parachuted in, being no different with Boris.

“Boris never run anything in his life,” Ken reminds his all-agreeing audience, as he wryly cites Boris’ limited political achievements before beating Ken to the job in 2008.

Oona King, who did well to heap praise on her Labour opponent with dignity pondered on how if only political networking was as popular as social networking, which may remedy the ‘not what you know, but who you know’ state of current politics.

King, not having the same calibre of anecdote as Ken, who has obviously served as a London-wide politician and was popular to boot, took to explaining her reasons for going into politics.

She noted that she “joined the Labour party at age 14 out of disgust at Thatcher’s action on housing”. Housing, in fact, is one of King’s key focuses, supporting the re-introduction of 50% social housing policy and return to regulation of private housing associations. The barrier to this move is that it is mostly shared by her opponent, as is a great deal of other policies.

Both are committed to making London safer for cyclists, in response to Boris’ dilly-dallying and what Ken described as his “blue-lines” – to refer to the very uncommitted achievements of Boris on making on-road bike riding safer.

Both candidates agreed that the return of the routemaster is a vanity project for Boris, pointing out that the number 18 bendy bus, which runs from Euston to Sudbury, made it easier for people to travel around on, while not labouring too much on the questioner’s original observance whether money should continue to pay for the bus or pay towards cutting crime on buses.

King apologised to the audience and those in the Labour party who oppose electoral reform because, as she pointed out, “your two candidates for London both support reform of the electoral system,” met with a grins from an audience seeking rebellion in the ranks.

The first point of real contention was on the subject of the Iraq war and winning back voters who gave their vote to a Liberal Democrat candidate, particularly Sarah Teather, the member of Parliament for many in the room, who has taken a Ministerial post in the Department for Education. Ken was at his most brazen here, promising that Labour can take back those voters who may have voted liberal, but certainly didn’t vote for the package of swingeing cuts to their public services.

He laboured over the decision to go into Iraq and how that affected Londoners.

Ken, mincing none of his words, noted that: “that invasion [into Iraq] took the lives of 52 Londoners” – referring to the 7/7 bombings.

King was keen to stress that we will be debating Brent not Baghdad with Liberal Democrat voters during the election, making efforts not to take the same narrative as Ken on the Iraq war, which she voted for, but has since turned her back on.

After both agreeing that Boris needs to get his act together on rape crisis centres, after it emerged that one of just two in London will face a cut of £30,000, another point of division between the two had been brought up on the subject of freedom passes, which drifted into a conversation on the progressive way on benefits. For Oona, it doesn’t make sense to provide a freedom pass for everyone, stating: “Prince Philip wouldn’t get free travel in London”. That he does receive what is effectively taxpayer funded travel around London and beyond is far from the point for Ken, who jokingly told an amused audience that he hopes Philip will travel by bus around town.

Ken maintains the old Labour mantra of universal provisions for everyone, saying that those people above the means test are often not millionaires, but are the comfortable middle classes who should also enjoy child tax credits and the like, pondering also on the cost of bureaucrats doing the means testing.

Many of the questions from the audience gave ample room for the respective candidates to score points against their opponents, the most agreeable being the amnesty for immigrants, which both Ken and Oona praised the uptake of; the most amusing being the question on whether the candidates felt there should be a two-term limit on how long a mayor can stay in office for, which King, unsurprisingly, jumped to her feet to affirm.

King was able to be strong on the point of youth boredom in the capital, citing this as another personal reason to get involved in politics, and pledging that if she became mayor kids would not be at a loose end, adding that she is not someone to promise something she couldn’t deliver, making an exception for this issue.

Nearing the end both candidates were asked to make a statement about why they should be the Labour mayoral candidate. King illustrated herself as the person to oppose ideological Tory cuts, and a supporter of the “Labour way” of investment not job losses, as well as not just being on behalf of diversity, but reflecting diversity.

Ken decided to draw parallels between himself and King. After wrongfully accusing Oona of supporting a 40p tax rate for high earners (she corrected this by saying she juggled between supporting 60p and 40p to the pound in working out which option accrued the most money for services) Livingstone, enraged, identified King as being part of the New Labour machine, voting for the war in Iraq and raising little surprise from the support she is receiving from Peter Mandelson.

This was an undignified way to end the hustings, but it should be remembered that Ken takes Oona’s running for candidacy very personally, much in the same way as when Boris won – Ken is clearly hurt that he is not going unopposed.

Though Oona can’t shake off the link between her and New Labour; even tonight she spoke of “modernising the Royal Mail” and turning to a “new politics” – both epithets out of the Blairite textbook.

The evening offered clear insight, and clarified distinction between both candidates, but none the less the first question on personality seemed to be the most important by the end. Both candidates were keen to stress many of the concerns in the questions were slightly out of the remit of the mayor, though they could offer opinion on the matter – and that they did. But what must be remembered in choosing the candidate to represent the Labour party in London is how they intend to be ambassador to it, while controlling a budget that mobilises London and ensures nobody is left behind. On this, both candidates crossover somewhat; this is where personality politics is at its most applicable.

Update: Adam Bienkov has verified that Oona King did say express support for the 40p rate at the Eltham hustings.

Update 2: ‘B’ in the comments thread has provided the exact quote of King at Eltham, it is as follows: “On tax, money that brings in most for the exchequer… the IFS showed how much can be raised and they said top rate should be 40%, I think that is the right level, any more and you deter people, if it’s too high.”

It should be very difficult to support Ken Livingstone again

Tonight is the Labour mayoral candidate hustings, taking place in Neasdon, North West London, and will see Ken Livingstone and Oona King argue the case for why Labour members should back their candidacy.

It’s not an easy decision to make between the two; they’re both good people, they’re both key figures of London politics and anyone is better than Boris.

As a socialist it should be a no-brainer that I root for Ken, the candidate more to the left, but it certainly isn’t that simple.

Oona has since turned her back on support for the war in Iraq (despite this being trvially due to the US government’s reaction to Hurrican Katrina), and has pledged to make 50% of all housing development in London social housing .

Ken is of course a veteran of the left, which is why it is hard to be dubious of him. But, of course, there was the incident.

I’m not talking about the phone call with the Jewish hack from the Standard, for me, that Ken was called to question on that was trivial in itself, clearly he was not being anti-Semitic towards the journalist, or even being personally offensive to him, but made some wild statements towards the newspaper, owned by the Daily Mail, which did suppot Oswald’s Blackshirts in the 1930s.

I never ever felt that because some journalist took this comment personally, despite Livingstone’s ignorance of the racial background of the man he was speaking to, that Ken should have been in the doghouse.

Further, it is not because of the connections with Socialist Action that I am not jumping with enthusiasm for Ken.

The incident is inviting Muslim Brotherhood figurehead Yusuf al-Qaradawi to speak at a conference about a woman’s right to wear the hijab.

As Peter Tatchell pointed out in protest at Livingstone’s decision, al-Qaradawi has in the past openly pledged his support for “female genital mutilation, wife-beating, the execution of homosexuals in Islamic states, the destruction of the Jewish people, the use of suicide bombs against innocent civilians and the blaming of rape victims who do not dress with sufficient modesty”.

But Livingstone was not just inviting al-Qaradawi to add to the debate, he had invited him because, in Ken’s words, of his “eminence as “one of the most authoritative Muslim scholars in the world today” who “has done most to combat socially regressive interpretations of Islam on issues like women’s rights and relations with other religions”.”

It’s very nice of al-Qaradawi to assert a woman’s right to wear something that signifies her as a second class citizen, and worse the right to wear something that has nothing to do with her religion, but an awful, patriarchal and prohibitive interpretation of the Koran’s insistence that women dress modestly.

Alexandra Sokolowski, writing for the Centre for Social Cohesion blog, notes a couple of other opinons by al-Qaradawi. She notes that:

This is the same cleric who declared that Hitler was a divine punishment against the Jews:

“Allah has imposed upon the Jews, people who would punish them for their corruption. The last punishment was carried out by Hitler […] he managed to put them in their place. […] this was divine punishment for them.”

The same Islamist who called for jihad against Jews and their “allies”:

“Deal with the arrogant tyrants and aggressors against Muslims, oppressive Zionists and arrogant Americans. O God, deal with every oppressor of Muslims. O God, deal with them powerfully.”

“The Israelis might have nuclear bombs but we have the children bomb and these human bombs must continue until liberation”

Interestingly for a Labour politician, and following from a blog post I penned yesterday, al-Qaradawi inspired a blog post by Azad Ali (which, it seems, can only be opened through a cached version) suggesting that Muslims should participate in European politics through “approach” and not through theological endeavour, that is, as an entryist.

The post, as Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens explains, “is also critical of Hizb ut-Tahrir for distributing a leaflet which states that the recent IFE episode shows the futility of political participation and that “Islam does NOT allow joining secular political parties, especially when they promote policies that directly contradict Islamic values…” ”

Not critical in the way one would hope, but critical becasue Hizb ut-Tahrir’s position doesn’t allow for entryism, to influence decision making from inside.

This approach was thusly taken by Lutfur Rahman and the Islamic Forum Europe (IFE), whose aims at entryism within the Labour party were rejected for the third time yesterday, and hopefully for the last.

One of the MPs most perceptive of these incidents was Jim Fitzpatrick -who just happens to be backing Oona for mayor.

Ken could have apologised for his decision to invite al-Qaradawi by now, but instead chose to stand by his decision on the basis that he should listen to all community leaders, even if he doesn’t agree with them.

Two problems with this; firstly Ken invited al-Qaradawi as an expert voice and a representative of Islam, which should be challenged, and secondly it does little to curb the image of the radical Muslim as a representative, that, since Ken is a multicultural man, should be in his interest to promote.

This incident, for me, should not be viewed as a one-off, but part of Ken’s blind spot, which is why I may throw my eggs in Oona’s basket.

Lutfur Rahman third time unlucky

Andrew Gilligan of the Telegraph made efforts to show that the Islamic Forum Europe (IFE) – which operates out of the East London Mosque in Tower Hamlets – were not quite right, in fact they are a bit nasty and quite loopy (not “harmless democrats”).

In a telling paragraph Gilligan notes:

Perhaps our unemotive, factual quotation from original IFE documents has helped still those complaints about “defamation” and “vindictiveness”. Such as, for instance, the transcript of a 2009 recruit training course where the organisation tells its new members: “Our goal is not simply to invite people and give da’wah [call to the faith]. Our goal is to create the True Believer, to then mobilise those believers into an organised force for change who will carry out da’wah, hisbah [enforcement of Islamic law] and jihad [struggle]. This will lead to social change and iqamatud-Deen [an Islamic social, economic and political order].”

Also, Gilligan showed that Muslim moderates were having no truck with them.

In February this year, a Dispatches documentary unconvered entryism by Islamists into the Labour party (which HP picked up – of course).

Gilligan has also continuously written about Lutfur Rahman and his aim to stand for Labour in Tower Hamlets (which he has done three times now). Today Gilligan has written about his last failed attempt. “How much humiliation can a man take?” He asks.

In the same documentary mentioned above, Mr Rahman was accused of achieving the council leadership with the help of a radical Islamist organisation, the Islamic Forum of Europe, accused by Jim Fitzpatrick MP of infiltration.

Perhaps this time Mr Rahman will get the hint. There should be no element of the IFE in the Labour party, particularly not while they assume affinity with groups such as Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT) through Azad Ali – close associate of the IFE  and ELM.

Correction: In the article by Hitchens, he mentions that Ali criticises Hizb ut-Tahrir “for distributing a leaflet which states that the recent IFE episode shows the futility of political participation and that “Islam does NOT allow joining secular political parties, especially when they promote policies that directly contradict Islamic values…” ” – though Ali does confess affinity with the Muslim Brotherhood.

The lawyer of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani is wanted in Iran

Iran has issued an arrest warrant on Mohammad Mostafaei, the lawyer of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani who was convicted of adultery after allegedly having “illicit relationships” with men other than her husband.

Already authorities have arrested Mostafaei’s wife and brother-in-law, ransacked his office and carried out interrogation methods in Evin prison for four hours last Saturday over his human rights activities.

His admission there that could be “no legal obstacle to Ashtiani’s execution being carried out at any time” was seen as a criticism of Iranian’s harsh and corrupt legal system. According to the Guardian, Mostafaei also called Sakineh’s stoning sentence “a bogus conviction” and “absolutely illegal”.

The use of evidence during court hearings in Iran are a subject of much contention. Article 105 of the Islamic Penal Code of Iran states “The Shari’a Judge can act upon his own knowledge in the cases of [defending] the God’s Rights and People’s Rights and carry out the punishment constituted by the God and it is necessary that he documents his knowledge.” The way this law is practised often allows judgements to be made entirely on interpretation rather than documented evidence, which is the case for Sakineh where forensic evidence of her adultery is missing.

Even within Islamic law itself adultery cannot be proven satisfactorily before the perpetrator has confessed under free conditions on three separate occasions, or if four males, whom the court are happy to trust, actually witness the act of penetration – making testimony virtually implausible. If the single opinion of a judge can override that of the collective disagreement from five judges also involved in Sakineh’s case it would seem like that is even a violation of the Islamic Penal Code.

Mostafaei is considered to be a human rights activist as much as a lawyer. The international attention that Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani’s case received made the Iranian authorities even more suspicious of him and the profile he was gaining.

The Guardian also quotes Mina Ahadi, a human rights activist for Iran Committee against Stoning (ICAS), based in Germany, who said: “It is ridiculous that they [officials] have taken Mostafaei’s family as ransom, they have somehow taken them hostage. This confirms what Sakineh’s son wrote in his public letter, that there’s no justice in Iran.”

Don’t blame Bevan

A substandard comment on the labour party would have slipped past my otherwise observant radar, were it not for the collation of good and bad blog entries by the super observant blog of Poumista.

Hywell Williams, in a piece entitled Nye Bevan: the Militant Godfather, states unapologetically that:

Bevan created a party within a party and together with his Bevanites he brought a Leninist skill to the business of organising internal dissent to Clement Attlee and Gaitskell.

All the typical stuff about Bevan being a Marxist and entryist to bring about his rancid communist beliefs in a normal decent party. Not true, but even so, the point about Bevan creating a party within a party (as though this had a direct effect on the militant tendancy of the eighties – can Bevan be blamed for this, yet referred to as its Godfather, if it is true that Hatton and the like looked to the Bevanites as inspiration) is a sin, a lie like no other.

But there is hope for Williams, and his nonsense, yet. He goes on to say:

He [Bevan] then justified his scheming as the only way to keep Labour a socialist party

Save for the “scheming”, precisely! Bevan wanted to keep the Labour party socialist, not create a (socialist) party within a party. A pity Williams had not realised his own perfect critique was contained within his own Kinnockite drivel.

Couldn’t help myself