Archive for the ‘London’ Category

Rebuttal is futile, but sometimes it is necessary, and at least you can help people update their lists of people to ignore. Here’s Zoe Williams wilfully misleading the readers.

From two completely different sources – Ted Reilly, a road safety campaigner, and Alice Bell, a lecturer in science and society and part-time Sack Boris campaigner – I heard astonishing things about air quality in London. They say it correlates, not vaguely but absolutely precisely, with the traffic volume, that it is the largest threat to public health after smoking (seriously!), and that once you get any distance from its source – 20 yards – it vanishes.

In other words, if you pedestrianised major thoroughfares from 8am til 8pm, if you dropped speed limits, if you made public transport cheaper, if you consolidated deliveries to the periphery and got one provider to bring it all to the centre (“We used to call it the Royal Mail,” Reilly remarks, erm, wryly) you could do as much for the health of London as the person who discovered that smoking caused cancer.

Economically, it comes up repeatedly in living wage analyses that the cost of transport is not just a pest, it changes people’s lives. The tube has become a luxury, a young professional’s option. For someone with two separate cleaning jobs, most likely the only way to make that work economically would be by bus. Say that adds an hour (it’s probably more) to the commute, that will ricochet into that person’s stress levels, their parenting, their mental health, everything.

The mayor, whoever it is, can do a lot more with the powers he (or she, ha!) has than Boris Johnson is doing, or Ken Livingstone is suggesting. But it is also worth considering that, paradoxically, if they had more power, we would probably hate them a lot less.

Strangely, one mayoral candidate has in the past dramatically cut public transport fares, imposed a tax on motor vehicles in central London, and set up a low emissions zone to restrict how much poison lorries can emit in the city. That would be Ken Livingstone. I put it to you that someone who is unaware of congestion charging or Fares Fair shouldn’t be writing about London politics.

Another mayoral candidate gave up on the low emissions zone, abolished the western extension of the congestion charge, and put up the fares. That would be Boris Johnson. I put it to you that someone who is unaware of this hasn’t been paying attention and shouldn’t be writing about London politics.

On page three of Ken Livingstone’s manifesto, he explicitly promises to cut public transport fares by 7% immediately and reduce pollution. The next eight pages consist of nothing but public transport. Page 8 contains the following quote:

Faster, greener, more efficient freight
I will ask TfL to look seriously at the possibility of more freight consolidation centres for London. This would mean deliveries are taken to hubs and aggregated together before being taken into central London, saving on costs and cutting traffic.

The next page is about cycling, and the one after that about the necessity of investing in public transport in order to reduce pollution.

Page 66 is devoted to air pollution, including the creation of clean air zones with much lower speed limits and a ban on idling cars around schools, and the issue of smog alerts by SMS (something Boris Johnson directly refused to do). I could go on.

The sad facts are that a lot of journalists, Zoe Williams included, are evidently just fine with the largest threat to public health after smoking so long as their petty personal elite vendettas, the ego wars of media London, get took care of.

Reading through tehgrauniad’s riots deep-dive, the impression that I get is that the whole “riots as an insurgency” idea wasn’t that far off. I’ve been indisciplined in that I took notes but didn’t keep links (a problem with paying for and reading the actual newspaper), so you’ll have to trust me on this. Obviously, blaming the whole thing on “criminality” is about as useful as blaming rain on “water falling from the sky”.

The first common factor that struck me was that pretty much everyone they interviewed had a grudge against the police. Not in any broad theoretical sense, but a grudge – a specific and personal memory of perceived injustice and especially incivility, cherished over time. Now, it’s in the nature of policing as a public service that nobody enjoys it. If you’re interacting with policemen on duty, it’s either because they suspect you of being a criminal, or because something bad has happened to you. Generally, everybody would quite like to minimise their lifetime consumption of policing.

There is something that motivates people to put up with it, though, and that something is legitimacy.

The second common factor was the attitude towards property. Quite a lot of the people the Guardian spoke to reported looting goods from shops, and then giving them away, or witnessing others doing so. Stealing goods is one thing, but immediately giving them away is rather different and very much a political act. So much so that there is a word for it (and I’m not the only one to notice this).

Of course, police legitimacy comes in a very large degree from their role as protectors of property, so this was a way of directly challenging their claim to provide security and to employ legitimate force.

Eyewitnesses often described a tactical, practical implementation of this – small groups of rioters harassing the police, in a sort of screening or covering operation, while many more looted or destroyed property. It’s very interesting that this could all happen so quickly.

Update: I originally didn’t want to publish this because I didn’t think it was good enough, but I hit the wrong button. Anyway, Alistair Morgan read it and thinks one of the premises of the whole thing is wrong. Namely, the weapons were going in the same direction as the drugs, not the other way around. Well, at least the story moved on a bit, but this renders mostly useless a whole additional post I put together from reading a lot of crazy-but-interesting stuff out of the bottom of the Internet. Also, despite the Jessie J reference there’s better music at the bottom if you get that far.

So, Alistair Morgan’s twitter feed frequently hints at “cocaine, weapons, and Ireland” as well as police corruption as being factors involved in the case of his brother, Daniel Morgan, the private detective murdered in 1987, probably by people who were since employed by News International. It’s often been said that Morgan was on the point of publishing some sort of huge revelation when he was killed, but nobody knows what it was beyond his brother’s hints based on what the police told him at the time.

Since the eruption of the phone-hacking scandal, a number of sidelights have come up which linked the News of the World, its cadre of ex-police gumshoes, and its contacts inside the police force. Notably, it seems to have spied on the former Army intelligence agent-handler, Ian Hurst, on an NGO, British-Irish Rights Watch (because documents of theirs were on Hurst’s computer when they hacked it), and perhaps on the chief of police, Sir Philip Orde. It would have been hard for people working for the press not to have covered at least one Northern Irish story in the last 20-odd years simply because it was such a news staple, but it’s worth noting their interest.

The War Economy of Northern Ireland

So, what might link Morgan, cocaine, weapons, Ireland, and policemen? There are some fairly well-known stylised facts or stereotypes about the economy of the Troubles. The IRA mostly funded itself from money collected in the United States, from bank robberies, and from unofficial taxes it collected in the North. It also got contributions from friendly countries, specifically Libya. The Loyalists didn’t have a reliable source of their own money abroad like NorAid, and so specialised in protection and drugs. Both sides also got involved in smuggling across the border as a commercial exercise.

That’s a glib summary ‘graf; obviously, I collect a revolutionary tax for the struggle, you impose fines on drug dealers and dishonestly stick to some of the money, and they are merely thugs operating a protection racket. Traditionally, both Sinn Fein and the British tended to stereotype the Loyalists as basically criminal and the IRA as proper insurgents – there may be some truth in there, but the distinction is one of emphasis and degree and also of propaganda rather than of kind.

Having obtained money, they both needed to convert some of it into arms. The IRA got a famous delivery in the 80s from Libya in its role as Secret Santa, and also often bought guns in the US over the counter and smuggled them back. I don’t know how well characterised the sources of Loyalist arms are, which of course gives me license to speculate.

Permanently Operating Factors

Now for the cocaine, which has often been known to land in bulk quantities on the wilder, less populated bits of the Atlantic coast that also offer good harbours. This is a rare combination, as people live near ports. Two of the best bits on that score are northwest Spain and southwest Ireland. Having landed, you can move it on anywhere in the UK-Ireland common travel area without much more trouble. Since the creation of the Schengen area, Galicia is even better for this because there is such a choice of markets you can reach without a customs inspection. But in 1987 this was an un-fact, so you might as well go to Ireland.

This transit trade had important consequences – notably the rise of Martin “The General” Cahill, the assassination of Veronica Guerin, and probably a substantial chunk of the Irish property bubble via the laundering of profits and also by the boost to those ol’ animal spirits the drug provides.

Imagine, then, that an important criminal actor supplying the London market with cocaine also had access to a reliable surplus of weapons. There is the potential for trade here.

However, it’s not that simple – the famous Libyan shipment would have fit in a couple of shipping containers, and it kept the IRA going up until peace was signed, with a fair bit left over to be buried in concrete by the international commissioners on decommissioning. It is very unlikely that any plausible flow of arms to Northern Ireland would have paid for the flow of cocaine into the South-East.

We Don’t Need Your Money, Money, Money, We Just Wanna Make The World Dance…

There’s something else going on – Diego Gambetta would have already pointed out that you need to understand the trade in protection. To sell protection, you need weapons, which are the capital equipment of the business of private protection. In so far as the buyers in the UK were paying in guns as well as cash, they were arguably expressing a protector-protectee relationship. While on our territory, we protect you, and license you to provide protection. This was also reciprocated. In accepting them, were the sellers of the cocaine undertaking to protect it in transit on their own territory?

Another way of looking at this, which Gambetta would also approve of, would be in terms of costly signalling. Being both a supplier and a protector is a powerful position, but it might be worth letting the other side have it as a guarantee or hostage, to signal that you didn’t intend to break the agreement and deal with some other supplier. This makes even more sense given that you still have a regular supply of guns you could cut off or use against them, and therefore both parties have something to lose.

Now, Gambetta’s work mostly deals with Sicily, where a very important protection supplier has often been irrelevant. London is a very different society from this point of view. Whatever you think of the police, you can’t just ignore them as a factor. In some other societies, the police might be protection consumers, but here, police corruption usually takes the form of policemen selling protection. (In a sense, the more effective the police, the more tempting this will be. Nothing sells like the good stuff.)

So, gazing down on this complex, neo-medieval exchange of cash, credit, and protection, there is a sort of Sun King whose permission is required for any protection contract to be signed. It’s like a feudal society. My liege lord is only so, because he is the King’s subject, and the King at least theoretically owes duties to the Emperor, or later, directly to God. Our buyer is in a position to offer protection for his end of the business because he enjoys protection supplied by the police.

Who were the recipients, the sellers? They might have been drug dealers who needed to buy protection from one or other paramilitary group. They might have been drug dealers who wanted to build up enough arms that they could stop buying protection, or rather, change protector. Or they might have been paramilitaries who sold protection to the drugs trade. The distinction is surprisingly unimportant.

So, to put the pieces together, there was some group of South-East London villains importing cocaine from transit providers in Ireland, who were also exporting weapons in the opposite direction as part of an exchange of protection for their common business. This required buying protection from the police. Where did the weapons come from? And why is News International involved?

Over at Stable & Principled, I’ve been blogging about running out of policemen and how the Prime Minister doesn’t seem to have any thoughts at all that weren’t adequate-ish newspaper columns from about 2004. But how did we get to the stage of using up the Met and most of the wider police forces’ reserves of manpower just like that? This isn’t a “What does it all mean?” post, although inevitably we’ll have one of them for you as well. It’s more like a “How does it all work?” post.

In all, 2,347 people have been arrested nationally. This is only a rough lower bound on the numbers of people involved, as obviously not everyone got caught and some of the people arrested are innocent. At an arrest rate of one in 10, that would give a total of 23,000. 51% of the arrests were in London, or to be precise the Met’s area of operations, which gives us the answer to one question at least – the police eventually quelled the riot by outnumbering the rioters, 16,000 cops versus an estimated 11,500 rioters. Obviously if you pick a different arrest rate fudge factor you’ll get a different answer, but then at least we’re using a model of sorts.

It’s certainly interesting, though, that a fairly small crowd was able to exhaust the policing resources of most of the UK. If the 23,000 rioters had shown up in central London to march on Whitehall, even assuming they were willing to be as troublesome and violent as they were elsewhere, I think the Met would have handled it without breaking sweat and certainly without needing to summon the South Wales force as mutual aid. Even the most hayseed British police forces deal with crowds of 23,000 young men reputed to be ready for violence, every weekend, quite commonly several at the same time, without very much happening. They are lower division football matches. And to be frank, a 23,000 strong national demo is disappointing.

So what’s up? One point is dispersion vs. concentration. Demonstrators want to occupy symbolic space and show their organisation by the very fact they could concentrate all these people. Casuals want to duff up the other mob. Therefore, the police problem is to either prevent them from getting to Parliament Square or the match, or else keep them segregated from other people while they are there. The police are on the tactical defensive, but the strategic offensive – if they stick it out they win.

Obviously, the demonstrators (or thugs) can’t counter this by dispersing because that would defeat the point. They have to come to the Bill, and the Bill can then canalise them. Kettling is the ultimate expression of this thinking.

If the police have to look for the crowd, though, this is obviously going to be a much more labour-intensive exercise. You can’t kettle several dozen groups of ten or so people spread over a dozen streets – the idea is absurd. You have to go looking for them. That in turn conditions what the crowd can do – it can’t stage a classic mass demonstration – and favours people who are willing to just randomly destroy stuff that happens to be undefended, while the traditional mass demo favours a show of what you might call subversive respectability. The slow march of the Zulus, if you like.

Another important point was that there was no key identity-group here – it wasn’t aligned with any one ethnic or religious group or geography and wasn’t even totally young, and it didn’t explicitly identify with a class either. Therefore, anyone who felt like it could join in, and did. This obviously helped it go national and also made a traditional (since the 80s) police tactic more difficult. How do you call community leaders to ask everyone to go home if you can’t identify the community? From the other direction, how do you negotiate with authority if you can’t identify a community?

(This is of course the final problem with the Big Society – its only organising principle is that it’s a society and apparently it’s big.)

I wonder if a lot of the violence was driven by the fact anyone could turn up, and therefore the only way to demonstrate that you really were one of the gang rather than a do-gooder or a fink or just some random spectator was to do something obviously illegal.

Also, did this kind of riot drop in between the classic modes of British policing? If someone commits a crime, there’s investigative policing, if it’s the right kind of crime and the right kind of victim. If the Chartists are marching on Westminster, line up on Westminster Bridge with shields and big sticks. And of course there’s community policing if there’s time between the other two for some cups of tea and old ladies, etc.

Investigation was rather irrelevant while it was going on, although of course it’s not any more. And the heavy mob couldn’t draw a shield wall around every shop in London. Neither could they find enough bodies to kettle every group of rioters, or find enough rioters in one place to kettle. It does look like the December 2010 student riots were a tactical learning-experience for a lot of people.

Finally, those BlackBerries. Not much to say here, except that the most important feature involved seems to have been the fact that BBM is multicast. You can message groups rather than only individuals. There are apps that let you emulate this with SMS, although the reply will only go to you.

As a general rule, BlackBerry Enterprise Server traffic should be hard to do anything to as the server, typically hosted by an organisation for its own purposes, generates its encryption keys when it’s set up. It’s not anything RIM or your operator has to know about. But this is of limited relevance – plenty of people run their own mail servers, but I’ve never heard of anyone who self hosts BlackBerry. The BlackBerry Internet Service, which is hosted by operators, certainly can be monitored by the operator as they own the server. UK operators would be covered by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act and might have to hand over logs from the BIS servers.

I don’t know, however, if the BIS machine archives the content of what passes through it (which isn’t required by RIPA anyway). Obviously, the traffic-analysis data of who messages who and when is potentially revealing.

From a network point of view, though, I doubt if snooping on the traffic in transit would be very useful. You’d know that someone was using a BlackBerry, as it would be opening Packet Data Profile connections through the network and querying the BlackBerry network DNS. But as they monitor messaging all the time, that isn’t very useful information. Certainly nothing as useful as the BIS server log.

While I was thinking about VRCs, I re-read this post of Dan’s about how specialising in the problems of Irish immigrants was no longer as good a career move for a north London social worker as it had been in – say – 1981, although I think what he meant with regard to the date was “when he moved to Camden”.

Looking back, it’s ironic and probably inevitable that this post appeared on the 22nd of November, 2008, just as the hypothetical social worker’s career prospects were about to be dramatically revived, before presumably running into the cuts wall a couple of years later. History makes fools of us all.

Geography, however, is the original time machine; it wasn’t at all clear to me, over the Camden-Islington border in Holloway, that Islington Council could do without another social worker specialising in the problems of Irish immigrants, and it’s even less so now.

So how do you get from Shoreditch to the South Bank? Well, as Tom from Boris Watch pointed out, you take a number 243 bus. Or you wait 15 years – one way or another. Or you practice, baby. Or you get a haircut. Anyway, so much for taking the opportunity to reuse what I thought was quite a good joke. If journalism is the first draft of history – an ill-thought out exercise in speed-typing riddled with basic factual errors that aspires one day to be edited into ideological propaganda – and blogging is the first draft of journalism, then Twitter is evidently a lot of old cock.

I wanted to flag this article on how the tube map is a lie. Apparently, people tend to underestimate how long their routes will take when using the Beck map, not just tourists but natives (or as we call ’em round here, slightly less recent immigrants) too.

I think the explanation, and the fix, are as follows. Beck’s key insight was to analogise the system to an electrical circuit and draw a schematic diagram of it, showing the key components (stations) and how they interconnect. However, the problem is that we expect a map to show geographical information whereas the Beck map shows logical information.

The fix is, I think, to adopt cold potato routing. The Internet normally uses hot-potato routing – networks hand over traffic to each other at the first possible interconnection point, trying to get rid of it as soon as possible. This has some advantages – it avoids the situation where traffic for Network B is routed into Network A, carried across it, and then carried back towards its source because the furthest interconnect point has failed.

Occasionally this causes a pathological equilibrium – consider a network with customers on both coasts of the US and interconnections with another similar network. Under hot-potato routing, traffic from a customer of A on the East Coast to a customer of B on the West Coast could get routed into B on the East Coast, back out to A, and eventually into B on the West Coast.

Cold-potato routing is the opposite. You carry the traffic as far towards its destination as you can yourself, then hand it off. Roughly, cold is more efficient but hot is more robust. Basically, the recommendation from this would be to avoid changes as far as possible, including changing between modes of transport – which includes, of course, getting onto the tube in the first place. When everything breaks down – every five minutes – of course you can revert to hot potato to route around the break.

You’ll note that Tom’s solution gets it in a one-r.

So we did the Stag & Dagger festival. This translated into the following facts on the ground, which I propose to review briefly.

Toro y Moi, at XOYO

This lot could be interesting – if they stopped, ugh, jamming. EDIT. Ended up back in the bar with the house’s DJ. Venue is pretty great, too – fantastic sound, disturbingly reasonable drinks prices and surprisingly nice people. Even though I spotted someone holding a pint in their teeth to facilitate tweeting with both thumbs. Quote: “You’ve really done that skinhead look haven’t you – is that, er, deliberate?” No, I fell under a barber’s shop.

YBAs at the Old Blue Last

If you like vaguely punky, you’ll like this, but there’s a lot of it about. Also, could people stop pretending to be the Jesus & Mary Chain? This was the second act of the night I would have dropped in favour of the house’s DJ like a shot.

Wire at Village Underground

Legends, but ruined by terrible sound in the cavernous railway arch.

James Yuill at City Arts & Music Project Basement

This is going to be harsh, but stop trying to be Jarvis Cocker, especially as you’re a DJ. No-one dancing. Beer prices the highest I’ve seen anywhere in the world. I also refuse to believe that their basement really looks like this and suspect that decorators spent serious money making it look that cheap.

Star Slingers at Queen of Hoxton

This lot sounded interesting and they got the floor going, but for some reason we didn’t like them much. Don’t remember exactly why, probably because they were the last act of the night. And they kept pointing a laser at me. Prices appalling (I brought Daniel Davies here once and even he jibbed), not much point if you’re not on the roof terrace. Handy for the office.

I forget who played at the Hoxton Bar & Kitchen but we couldn’t stand the gaff for more than 30 seconds at a time, so the only way to take part would have been to take turns to duck in and out like Soviet submariners during a nuclear accident.

We keep having power cuts. In eight days, we had three, all of them between 5.30am and 6am, which all lasted most of the morning. I know exactly when they happen, because the smoke alarms start beeping and wake me up. My partner claims she was warmer on a demo than she was in the flat during no.2. As they seem to follow a pattern of happening at the same time every other day – just about when power demand starts to turn back up in earnest – I was wide awake at 0545 today waiting for the plaintive beeps. But no – looking at the chart, the ramp-up is later on a Sunday. Mind you, later in the day the lights flickered repeatedly for half a minute.

So I rang up UK Power Networks’ (what used to be EDF Energy Networks, what used to be the London Electricity Board) press office and announced myself as a blogger. And the lights immediately went out…no, actually, they issued the following statement.

UK Power Networks would like to apologise to some customers in the
Holloway Road area of London who have experienced a series of power interruptions over recent weeks.

In the latest incident, power was interrupted to 327 customers at 5.54am today and restored to all customers affected by 11.20am.

The cause of the problem is believed to be an intermittent fault on an underground cable which our engineers are currently trying to trace. This can happen when the heat generated within the cable seals the damaged section, making it difficult to trace

Can it indeed. Let’s hope they don’t end up needing to do one of these.

convergent mayors

Is Boris Johnson the right’s Ken Livingstone? It came to mind as a result of his unexpectedly strong remarks about housing benefit. A lot of Tories disbelieve that Johnson is genuinely committed to the party. Ken spent large chunks of his career either at odds with the Labour Party leadership or outside the party. Johnson is now reprising Livingstone’s role in protesting against Thatcher, while also reprising his role a second time around as an alternative version of a government he’s fundamentally sympathetic to.

A lot of people remarked that Ken Livingstone, as mayor, was remarkably keen on facilitating the City’s interests for someone whose staff included John Ross. Johnson is heavily reliant on the remaining ex-Livingstone officials to keep City Hall’s basic functions going. Both of them put a lot of effort into maintaining a public image that is almost a caricature of their party – the whole tedious Shower Jobby act, vs. all the stuff about newts and public transport.

Of course, this overstates a bit. But I do think there’s a significant truth here, and I suspect that future Mayors of London are going to have more in common with Ken and the Jobby than they will with the Prime Minister of the day. They will tend to be noisy and brash, given to ranting, and drawn back towards consensus within London by the administrative realities. There is famously no Democratic or Republican way to collect the garbage*. However, they will also tend to operate in permanent tension with the national government up river. This is an expression of the structural factors – you can’t position yourself politically by replacing the Underground with a network of cable cars over the streets or abolishing school, so you’ve got to do so by picking fights with Westminster.

Given that, you’re either going to be in the role of unofficial opposition leader, or else aligned with the government of the day’s rebels, whoever they may be. Also, it seems that you’ll probably end up being a couple of points to the left of your party either rhetorically or operationally. Despite all the yelling, Ken Livingstone was basically following the Blairite “let the bankers rip and then do some redistribution” plan, but with more aggression and nous. It’s also true of the Jobby – for all the bullshit, he’s not actually changed that much, which puts him some way left of the cuts consensus. Interestingly, this also seems to be true of Bertrand Delanoe and Klaus Wowereit, and perhaps also Michael Bloomberg.

* This argument may no longer seem as convincing as it once did, as there are probably Republicans who want to abolish rubbish collection…

Owen Hatherley has an immense post about Sheffield, modernism, socialism, privatisation, etc. Which reminded me of an estate agent ad I saw recently, for a gaff in the Highgate New Town estate. The sales-slug referred to a “3 double bedroom apartment in an architecturally-designed ex-local authority development, with 19′ kitchen/diner, 12′ reception, and exclusive access to a full-width south-facing balcony”. Well, indeed. A snip at £340,000. I liked the “architecturally-designed” – as opposed to what, exactly? All buildings are architecturally designed – some are designed by architects, some are designed well, a lot are designed badly. But don’t let that put you off. It’s not really my point either.

Highgate New Town

I do think it’s a sign of the times; suddenly, buildings like this aren’t concrete monstrosities imposed on the poor by a remote leftist elite, but rather, “architect-designed” jewels. This is relevant. That this should come up just at the point when Grant Shapps wants to end security of tenure in council housing (which Highgate New Town mostly is, still) should not really be surprising. In the Cameron future, we’ll swap over – the poor can move back into draughty, mouseful Victorian buildings they can’t afford to heat, and the elite can enjoy Parker-Morris space standards. (75% of the houses Peter Tabori’s project replaced didn’t have a bathroom.)