London calling: An Alphabet of Sights from #Brexit-infused England 2020-H is for hostile Home Office

If you’ve followed discussions about British policy about defining itself the term ‘hostile’ has cropped up more over recent decades than words like ‘caring’, ‘compassionate’ or ‘inclusive’. So, we see a policy-making attitude that is divisive and punitive regarding people whom the government feels should not be part of the national ‘melting pot’.

The latest incarnation of the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, has had a torrid few days as far as her public image goes.

Home Secretary, Priti (not a typo) Patel

The Guardian’s Marina Hype wrote a scathing and funny piece last Friday, entitled ‘Perma-smirking Priti Patel brings the hostile environment in-house’, which contained such zingers as:

  • ‘repeatedly confused “counter-terrorism” with “terrorism”’
  • ‘One of the more eye-catching Home Office briefings against her this week declared that Patel was “not committed to the rule of law”. Given she’s home secretary, that feels akin to a doctor not being committed to the idea of medicine.’
  • ‘this week she was accused of bullying staff, trying to oust her most senior official, and creating an “atmosphere of fear” within the department. As opposed to outside of it, which is the norm.’
  • ‘Patel insisted those jobs previously filled by immigrant workers would be stepped up to by Britons currently classed as “economically inactive” – a rationale that means so much more coming from someone always classed as intellectually inactive. One theory is that last Thursday’s cabinet reshuffle brought bad news from Priti’s magic mirror, which no longer gave the desired answer when she inquired of it: “Who is the dimmest of them all?”’

She’s had a rough few years after being forced to resign as Secretary for International Development and apologize publicly for holding meetings in Israel in August 2017 without telling the Foreign Office, while on a “private holiday”.

She’s an odd fish in Tory Party waters: the 2nd generation child born in 1972 of Gujarati immigrants who’d left Uganda in the 1960s, before President Amin expelled many such. She’s been painted as a firm pillar of the so-called ‘new right’ while having said allegedly that “racist attitudes” persisted in the Conservative Party, and that “there’s a lot of bigotry around”.

Since being selected as a Tory candidate, winning a seat, rising to Cabinet positions, resigning and then re-emerging as a Cabinet minister is not a shabby resume. However, her hostile stance towards immigrants and those who call the UK ‘home’ is strange. It’s an odd way to square the circles, but that’s politics, I guess.

London calling: An Alphabet of Sights from #Brexit-infused England 2020-I is for impasse

If Brexit has been a great political football match, it stands to draw a distinct line through what has ironically been called ‘English’ football, especially as the Premier League looks more like the United Nations with every passing (no pun) match.

The ink has barely dried from ‘Brexit Day’ on January 31, but it’s not much clearer what the effect on the great game will be. The touch line is new immigration rules for ‘overseas footballers’ playing in England after December 2020, which will come into force when freedom of movement between the UK and the 27-nation bloc ends.

The issues to tackle come from how immigration rules should affect football once the UK has a new trade deal with the EU. But, there’s a lot of tussling for the ball by two premium players in the English game (I wont talk about the football associations for the other parts of the British Isles and whether they will be bound by any agreement). For the Football Association, English football’s governing body, the UK’s departure offers a rare chance to curbs the number of foreign players at top clubs. That will force clubs to develop more local talent which should boost the England national team. The Premier League, the top tier of English club football, is fighting the proposals, fearing they will harm one of the UK’s great international exports.

EU footballers would be expected to meet the same criteria as non-EU nationals to gain a work permit, such as regularly playing for their national team. It will revolve around money, inevitably, as the major clubs are likely to use their financial muscle to corner the smaller market for so-called ‘home grown’ talented and likely see transfer prices for such players rise, with some clear implications throughout the structure of British football.

For now, those two governing bodies are at an impasse.

The chart below shows that starting positions are skewed, so clubs like Burnley, which have developed on the back of few non-home-grown talent, would have less need to adjust than say Wolves—heavily dependent on imported EU talent through a controversial ‘Portuguese connection’.

(Credit: Financial Times)

London calling: An Alphabet of Sights from #Brexit-infused England 2020-F is for food

The Times cited an article noting that the impact of migration on the history and culture of London could do worse than read How immigrants have made London and the chapter on food. London’s first coffee house was opened in the 1650s by an Armenian from Smyrna called Pasqua Rosée, its most famous food, fish and chips, invented by 19th-century Jewish immigrants who ate fried fish (the first shop to sell London’s most famous staple dates to 1860 and was run by the Jewish Joseph Malins in Hackney’s Old Ford Road).

The UK now celebrates National Curry Week every October. While curry is an Indian dish modified for British tastes, it’s so popular that it contributes more than £5bn to the British economy.

It’s possible to find almost any country’s cuisine somewhere in the UK, and some are concentrated, eg in London’s Chinatown or the Bengali community in East London, and even some of our Caribbean cousins around the British Isles. Many have gone from ‘tasting funny’ or ‘being smelly’ or ‘a bit spicy’, to must-haves. If you’ve lived in or visited the UK, you’ll know the joys of a kebab or a curry and a few pints on any night. Britain has also put its peculiar spin on food, so nothing beats curry and chips, for some. I I I promise Ironically, several of Britain’s traditional food places and eats have been preserved by immigrants taking them on and perhaps adding little variations.

Let’s not get into the lineage of the current Royal family being German.

Boris Johnson knows the importance of migration and foreigners to the development of the UK, having been born in the USA to English parents, bounced to England and back to the USA and then Brussels as his parents sought work and educational opportunities while he was a child. Significant members of his current Cabinet are the offspring of immigrants. So, it’s mighty peculiar that Brexit has a major pillar that is about denying movement of people. But, that’s politics, and the last thing I would expect is consistency and coherence, there.

London calling: An Alphabet of Sights from #Brexit-infused England 2020-E is for Englishness

The 2016 referendum on whether or not to stay in the EU got a 52:48 percent result to leave. But, the UK voice was not consistent in that direction: England and Wales voted clearly to leave, while Northern Ireland and Scotland voted decisively to remain. Further analysis of these results and some of the trends were clear and well-known; one is that identification with ‘Englishness’ explains a lot. (Other salient factors included age (younger wanted to remain), educational levels and social class (higher in either tended to want to remain).)

London calling: An Alphabet of Sights from #Brexit-infused England 2020-D is for derby (London-style)

What’s Brexit all about? Search me, mate! Sitting in a pub on a Saturday lunchtime, watching Chelsea play Tottenham; west London v north London.

The pub is in an area with a huge Irish population. The pub is run by Bosnians. The beer is English. The menu offers pasta, sausage and mash, Ushtipka and other Mediterranean food.

The teams are managed by an English man and a Portuguese; the latter has managed both clubs plus others in England and in his native Portugal, Italy and Spain. The teams are stacked with delegates from many nations, some EU, some not. The first goal was scored by a Frenchman, beating his international teammate. The second, just after halftime, was scored by a Spaniard. Chelsea up 2-0. The English fans at the match go wild.
(Image credit: BT Sport)
The banter is a mixture mainly of Irish brogue and Cockney. I detect some Slavic tongues. Bosnian? Genuine concerns exist about Brexit’s impact of British football, especially the English Premier League. But, much confusion exits, too. How things will look after the transition period is unknown.

What’s certain is the beer is great; the food looks good, too. Politicians and political thoughts are nowhere near.

London calling: An Alphabet of Sights from #Brexit-infused England 2020-C is for colour

The Times has on its front page one of those iconic images of Brexit: PM Boris Johnston is holding a UK passport…and it is blue, not the burgundy that was the common colour of passports for EU member countries (though it was a recommendation, not an obligation. It was an election promise, and it is symbolic of ‘taking back’ control of UK affairs.

Getting Brexit done! (Photo credit: The Times)

Funnily, the anticipated earlier exit from the EU meant that the Passport Office issued prematurely (in March 2019) passports without the words ‘European Union’. Now, those ‘offending’ words have been officially removed. Also, funny, I got one of those when I needed to renew my UK passport last summer. 🙂

Many Brits only know the burgundy version, so will have little real nostalgic feelings about the change of colour. However, it may be a powerful symbol for some that getting the EU out of their hair is not so hard.

Ironically, the passports were made by a Franco-Dutch company at a factory in Poland (11-year contract worth £260 million), under EU procurement rules. British company, De La Rue, had bid £4 million to renew the printing contract, but lost, and has since pulled out of printing passports, putting some 200 jobs at risk. You can’t make this stuff up! 😒🤔

Nothing says UK more than a passport made in a variety of EU countries under EU rules 🙂 (Photo credit: The Times)

London calling: An Alphabet of Sights from #Brexit-infused England 2020-B is for bigotry

It’s ironic that one of the biggest stories today was how the BBC allowed itself to be a party to some unbridled bigotry during its flagship discussion programme, Question Time. I saw the offending segment early this morning and have read a lot of critical reactions to it. However, I think this piece by Owen Jones ‘The BBC normalised racism last night’ summarized the situation well.

A part of me wondered how much of this kind of attitude I would see up-close when I went walking today. But, where I strolled, against the wind, is an area that has long been a host for immigrants, and its streets reflect well the idea of London as cosmopolitan. Now, I’m not naive and think that the fact that many places on London streets host businesses that are clearly not British in their origin, whether as reflected in their language (say, Arabic, Polish, Hindi, or Gaelic) or nature (hooka bar, Indian restaurant, adverts for Polish construction workers, etc.) makes everyone happy. It’s long been the case that talk about Britain being ‘swamped’ by immigrant has rippled through the Union, sometimes fiercely, sometimes backed by violence, sometimes on the fringes, but increasingly in the mainstream.

The assessment of views is complex and an Oxford University study this year spells that out But, this point in the study summarized things well:

‘Remain voters are, on average, more socially liberal and pro-immigration while leave voters are more socially conservative and anti-immigration. It is now also well established that older people tend to be less favourable towards immigration and more likely to have voted for Britain to leave the EU, while those with more education are more pro-immigration and more likely to have voted remain’.

Familiar sight on a London street: businesses that reflect little that is deemed British

It’s beyond ironic that the current Home Secretary, Priti Patel, who’s just outlined a policy to restrict immigration based on points, is the child of immigrants who were expelled from Uganda in the 1960s, and whom she admits might not have been allowed in under the scheme she’s proposed.

London calling: An Alphabet of Sights from #Brexit-infused England 2020-A is for arrival

The UK stopped being a member of the European Union (EU) at 23:00 GMT on 31 January 2020. The referendum held in June 2016 saw 17.4 million people opted to leave the EU, which gave the Leave side 52%, compared with 48% for Remain. That desire to leave the EU has been nicknamed Brexit (Britain-exit).

However, political wrangling over terms on which to leave the EU was inconclusive and the government first lost its leader, Theresa May, over this and saw her replacement, Boris Johnston, call a general election in December 2020, which the Conservative Party won with an overwhelming majority, essentially on the promise to “get Brexit done”.

But, having left at end-January, the full separation will need to be worked out during the transition period (or implementation period), which began immediately after Brexit day and is due to end on 31 December 2020.

During this 11-month period, the UK will continue to follow all of the EU’s rules and its trading relationship will remain the same. The timeline looks as follows (credits: The BBC):

So, just over a month into this process, how are things looking for Britons? For a lot of Britons one of the factors that they have disliked about EU membership is how it has allowed greater unrestricted migration to the UK from the EU—part of the free movement of people that is enshrined in the EU’s structure. This is on top of negative sentiment about immigration, in general. So, it’s ironic that one of the impacts of the UK leaving the EU is that Britons will eventually face tough migration policies when they wish to travel to other EU countries. While this should not have yet taken effect, some Brits have faced countries who have ‘jumped the gun’. An outraged ‘Brexiteer’ vented his feelings when jammed at Schiphol Airport in the Netherlands, earlier this month: “Absolutely disgusting service at Schiphol airport. 55 minutes we have been stood in the immigration queue. This isn’t the Brexit I voted for.” Well, it was what you voted for!

I was interested as I arrived in the UK to see how immigration was being handled at Heathrow.

A is for arrival. How are EU visitors now treated? So far, not much differently. The line was long as people wound their way to the facial recognition machines that have been at UK Border controls for several years. The biggest problem is that the facial recognition doesn’t always work, and I counted a failure rate of 3 in 5 in the line where I was. When my turn came, the machine took a long time to show ‘remove your passport’ (which is a pass, as opposed to ‘seek assistance’, which is a fail.

Given how tempers have flared over the years since the referendum results, I was half-expecting at least one Briton to yell “Why are all these Europeans clogging up the line? Send them to a line of their own!” But, no such drama. But, it’s early days, and as summer travel builds up, who knows?

It’s too early to assess the idea publicized this week by the UK’s Home Secretary, Priti Patel, to restrict immigration to the UK through a points system, which targets the end of immigration of low-skilled workers. The logic behind it seems a bit flaky, at best.

No place I’d rather be? Jamaica 2020 vision: Has the tolerance needle moved?

As I continue my search for qualitative changes in Jamaica, I was honestly surprised to find this in my way. Something odd happened this week. Jamaican politicians, in the rabble-rousing setting of political rallies, especially when the smell of general elections seem to be in the air, often jump headlong into the gutter and expect many to follow them in. However, they got a rude awakening this week; many did not follow and many took the opportunity to individually and collectively condemn what they had done. They got called out for bigotry in the form of homophobic remarks. That’s worth reading again.

Jamaicans tend to think they have certain rights to insult, and we’ve just gone through another period when women, especially, were saying loudly that they would not put up with men and their catcalls in public. One politician who rallied to that call was Alando Terrelonge, MP, who wrote a strong column on ‘toxic masculinity’ in last week’s Jamaica Observer. He’d written an earlier piece last year, Toxic Masculinity Affecting Our Boys, urging school teachers to ‘to let boys be their natural selves instead of pressuring them to conform to society’s views of masculinity’. He’s an energetic JLP MP, who has used his ministerial position in the Ministry of Youth, Education and Information to build support for a range of views that challenge many Jamaican social stereotypes. But, in politics, opponents don’t often want to pick fights over the good that their rivals have done; instead, they look to tear down. One of the ropes they often use is to tar someone with the hint of male homosexuality. I wont go into the taboos around that topic in Jamaica and how it’s complex and different from views about lesbianism, or how Jamaican men reconcile their often hostile attitudes to male homosexuality with their often open physical displays of close friendships with each other as true ‘manliness’.

Politicians rarely apologize, and in Jamaica, that’s no different; it’s one of the many pedestals of privilege on which politicians build their images. So, after two high-ranking members of the PNP took to a platform on Sunday to act as ‘attack dogs’ in the constituency held by Mr. Terrelonge and refer to their candidate’s [Dr. Winston De la Haye] ‘straightness’.

Dr. Mark Golding, MP, is reported as saying; “…I know seh Terrelonge, when him see the straightness of the man who is coming against him, going to wobble in his boots,”

Dr. Dayton Campbell, who was recently brought back into the fold of the PNP’s inner circle following a bruising presidential race back in September, added:

“The little fake Rastaman weh name Terrelonge…, all me hear him talking about is toxic masculinity. Me ask him, ‘A wah dat?’ Every day him get up, him deh pon ‘toxic masculinity’, and I don’t know what is that.”

Most Jamaicans knew what the ‘straightness’ alluded to.

But, public condemnation of the homophobic allusion, especially on social media was swift. But, usually, such reactions come to naught. However, on Tuesday morning, the PNP issued an apology that it ‘regrets homophobic innuendoes’, and later on Tuesday night, Mark Golding issued a personal apology on his Facebook page.

I’m not going to parse the statements here and will take them at face value.

Several things had struck me about the incidents, prior to the apologies. I’d long been amazed how some of the politicians with the best academic and experimental records (lawyers, doctors, Rhodes scholars) descended so readily into a style that should have been anathema to them on a number of grounds, including the spirit of things like the Hippocratic Oath (‘…to do no harm or injustice…’ ‘In purity and according to divine law will I carry out my life and my art’…’So long as I maintain this Oath faithfully and without corruption, may it be granted to me to partake of life fully and the practice of my art, gaining the respect of all men for all time. However, should I transgress this Oath and violate it, may the opposite be my fate.’). My somewhat cynical mind sometimes wondered if I’d misheard and it was in fact a hypocritical oath. Or, in a moment of whimsy, I’d wonder how a Rhodes scholar could so easily find himself under the road’s collar.

So, has Jamaica made a turn for what I see as the better is seeing that this kind of discriminatory behaviour is just unacceptable, and using it on political platforms is especially bad given its easy consumption as part of the rhetoric of division and hate?

I don’t think we are going to see anytime soon a public tolerance of people’s lifestyles (actual or perceived) that is as liberal as in many other countries. But, I hope we see that a certain civility is due to us all, irrespective of what people may wish to think.

My regret at this stage is that, in a country where people look to political leaders to guide many of their actions, the party leader was (as far as I know) silent on the matter.

Sharing nature’s beauty: week 8 bonus-When nature comes indoors

I was really just having a recovery day after my golf yesterday. Living things survive amongst people as best they can. So, look who decided to share my living space this morning.

First, some ants decided to collect some food dropped on the kitchen floor—a veritable feast—all busy trying to get it back to their nest.

A big ‘bat’ moth was chilling on the study floor

A bird was confused inside the patio and took a few hours to find again the open door through which he’d flown.