Archive for the ‘Yorkshire’ Category

Here’s some “why the Bradford West result means we should support my politics” that supports my politics: Next Generation Labour.

  1. Don’t take support for granted
  2. We have to realise that the wars still matter
  3. Mobilised youth are a polical force to be reckoned with
  4. Labour has to examine its relationships with Muslim communities
  5. Austerity needs a fighting response

See also Matt Turner‘s point that Bradford West has had the biggest percentage rise in unemployment in the UK. NGL (which seems to be some sort of Ken Livingstonian tendency, fair enough by me) also say:

One of the more unpleasant responses to Galloway’s victory has been the suggestion that ‘the Muslim vote’ is somehow tainted and invalid

The best thing you’re likely to read on this is Irna Qureshi’s post here about the day-to-day, dogshit’n’forms processes of Bradford West politics.

She explained that her family had this time boycotted the “apna” (our own, referring to Imran Hussain, although she couldn’t name him either) because he’d stopped making time to attest her extended family’s passport photographs. And here’s my point. This woman and her clan’s vote had nothing to do with policies or even an inkling of research – the only thing that seemed to matter was accessibility

It’s easy to forget that quite a significant number of people don’t know anyone in the odd, class-based list of professions who are allowed to sign across the back of your passport photo. On Twitter, someone described this as “patrimonial” politics, but it’s more than that. Democracy itself is an institution that is meant to cross class barriers. If Hussain wouldn’t do it, that’s a very clear message about where the local CLP sees itself in the class system.

Also, if you swap out “clan” for “family”, this sounds pretty much like the sort of politics that are stereotypical of France, where there are officially no ethnic or religious communities in the secular republic. The explanation of this is that it’s just politics, stupid. It’s like that everywhere, just the bullshit differs.

Over here, the following excellent points are made.

British people are stereotyped for a tendency to turn to the weather as a means for finding some common ground for smalltalk. In Bradford, it’s the failing regeneration projects first, then the weather if there’s time. Everyone seems to have a better idea of how to run the place than the people currently doing it, and they’re always agitated enough to tell you. Not a great sign.

This is why I knew he would win, despite the answers to my Twitter question: ‘Would Galloway be good or bad for Bradford and why?’ coming back with 50% negative responses based on his showboating, lack of substance, self serving nature, and worse. His policies were quite simple: regenerate the Odeon. Sort out Westfield. Sort out education. He either succeeds, in which case, great. Or he fails, in which case, we’re not exactly losing out are we?

There’s been much made of his appealing to Muslim voters, which he did as well, but 18,000+ votes in Bradford West makes a mockery of the accusation that this is the real reason he won. His policies were pretty broadly relevant and Twitter was buzzing with ‘I wouldn’t normally vote for him BUT… ’. This shouldn’t have been an angle that any of the big three should have had to worry about, because they should have had it covered.

I didn’t know he took a view on the Odeon; no wonder he won. One theory I have about this is that the Labour HQ remembered him making a fool of himself on TV, and reasoned from a TV-centric, airpower theorist perspective that anyone who went on Celebrity Big Brother (and doesn’t that sound dated) and made a cock of himself would be a permanent laughing stock. Nobody was more obsessed with reality TV than Blairites. In this sense, not only didn’t they worry over much about the street campaign in Bradford, they also didn’t remember that there are two iconic video clips of him. 1) is him being a cat, 2) is him ripping into the Republican senators. You’re unlikely to see 1) again on TV, but there’s nothing to stop 2) circulating virally on the web.

Consequently, I do worry that the London election campaign is so virtual. Boris Johnson is a deeply virtual character, of course, a media construct built out of grinning on TV and mildly controversial newspaper columns, and Brian Paddick’s public image has apparently been designed to look exactly like a mildly corrupt town-hall politico in a Danish thriller. But it’s not as if the campaign is very visible on the streets – I’ve seen precisely two posters (one this weekend, Ken, in a window in Waterloo, and a Lib Dem billboard which has now ended its run).


So, Bradford West. Chris Brooke already made the point that everyone and his dog has written a Why The Bradford West Result Means We Should Support My Politics. Meanwhile the jamiesphere is having some sort of left-of-the-left carnival of the marginally relevant, although to be honest that could be the banner over the entrance to the blogosphere.

Anyway, here’s my effort at Why The Bradford West Result Means We Should Support My Politics. My first point is that it makes absolutely no sense to describe this as a rebellion against the “ethnic Labour machine” or whatever. Obviously there’ll be a lot of people crying into their beer (or not) who fit that description. But who was it that Galloway recruited to run his campaign?

None other than the departing Labour MP Marsha Singh’s election agent and campaign manager, Naweed Hussein, as this really excellent piece points out. And if anyone would know their way around west Bradford Mirpuri committee politics, the guy who repeatedly got his man elected there would.

Further, I don’t think it makes much sense to throw a wobbly about people “voting for him because they think he’s a Muslim” or whatever. After all, the Tories can tell you just how much this gets you in Bradford politics in and of itself, after they stood Mohammed Riaz against Marsha Singh on the charming platform that you should “vote for your community” (subtext: the other guy is a Sikh). The answer you’re looking for, then, is “that and a fiver gets you a kebab”, and come to think of it the influential post of “William Hague’s race relations adviser”.

One thing that certainly will have helped Galloway is the fact that his rival was a councillor while the council was busy creating the Rubble Zone – in case you don’t know, Bradford Council demolished a vast chunk of the city centre in the hope that Westfield would build a giant shopping centre, but the shopping centre didn’t happen and now there is just the enormous hole. There is a long history of politically-inspired half-completed projects in Bradford – it’s a matter of taste whether you prefer the Interchange, of which half was closed and replaced by an Abbey National call centre (leaving the original Abbey National building facing City Hall empty), the M606, a motorway that tears away from the M62 and ends messily in a housing estate, the Millenium Faith experience (closed due to a lack of faith or indeed experience)…and at last someone’s got their just desserts over one of them.

This shouldn’t be that surprising, as it was literally the second bullet point on his leaflets!

And finally, I would like to point out that Bradford West politics is usually run by a close-knit network of Labour ward heelers and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Nobody seems to even care, for example, that Boris Johnson fixed it for Sarah Sands (for it is she!) to be editor of the Evening Standard. Politics is organisation, lists, and committees in much the same way that rugby is about tackling.

As a result, unless his new campaign manager really pulls something out of the hat over the next year or so (Bradford West in its current form is going to disappear due to boundary changes) and Galloway puts in much more time than you’d expect of him on form, I predict that he’s not going to last. In some ways he’s a throwback to one of those old-fashioned MPs who only went to their constituency at elections, that Simon Jenkins loves so much, just with the added twist that he doesn’t go to the House either.

Meanwhile, the real Bradford news: he walked from Odsal to Keighley’s ground to raise funds for Bradford Bulls, who are going bust if they can’t raise a million quid. So far they’re up to £234,000.

Bonus extra: it’s quite odd that literally every opinionating gobshite knows Galloway’s position on Palestine but nobody seems to care what it might be on Kashmir, which is considerably more important in context. Fixed that for you, although I disbelieve the accusations by the Indian ‘bloids as being far too similar to the Torygraph‘s 2003 furphy.

Bradford Links

If the last post scared you rigid, what about some more Bradford-related links? Alternate headline for this probably Predictable Twat Has Good Time Despite Self. Stupid TV show, meet much better writing. Scenarios for a better future, and a worse future. Mind you, the better future includes Westfield building a giant shopping centre in the Rubblezone, and the worse future includes the end of the Interchange and the completion of the M606. And Bradford’s Bouncing Back. There’s one from the past.

So, why did we get here? Back in the mists of time, in the US Bell System, there used to be something called a Business Office, by contrast to a Central Office (i.e. what we call a BT Local Exchange in the UK), whose features and functions were set down in numerous Bell System Practice documents. Basically, it was a site where the phone company took calls from the public, either for its own account or on behalf of a third party. Its practices were defined by Bell System standardisation, and its industrial relations were defined by the agreement between AT&T and the unions, which specified the pay and conditions for the various trades and workplace types inside the monster telco. If something was a Business Office according to the book, the union agreement covering those offices would apply.

In the Reaganite 80s, after the Bell System was broken up, someone realised that it would be possible to get rid of the union rules if they could re-define the site as something else. Not only could they change the rules, but they could move the site physically to a right-to-work state or even outside the USA. This is, it turns out, the origin of the phrase “call centre”.

In the UK, of course, call centres proliferated in parallel with utility privatisation and financial deregulation. A major element in the business case for privatisation was getting rid of all those electricity showrooms and BT local offices and centralising customer service functions into `all centres. At the same time, of course, privatisation created the demand for customer service in that it was suddenly possible to change provider and therefore to generate a shit-load of admin. Banks were keen to get rid of their branches and to serve the hugely expanding credit card market. At another level, IT helpdesks made their appearance.

On the other hand, hard though it is to imagine it now, there was a broader vision of technology that expected it all to be provided centrally – in the cloud, if you will – down phone lines controlled by your favourite telco, or by the French Government, or perhaps Rupert Murdoch. This is one of the futures that didn’t happen, of course, because PCs and the web happened instead, but you can bet I spent a lot of time listening to people as late as the mid-2000s still talking about multimedia services (and there are those who argue this is what stiffed Symbian). But we do get a sneak-preview of the digital future that Serious People wanted us to have, every time we have to ring the call centre. In many ways, call centres are the Anti-Web.

In Britain, starting in the 1990s, they were also part of the package of urban regeneration in the North. Along with your iconic eurobox apartments and AutoCAD-shaped arts centre, yup, you could expect to find a couple of gigantic decorated sheds full of striplighting and the precariat. Hey, he’s like a stocky, Yorkshire Owen Hatherley. After all, it was fairly widely accepted that even if you pressed the button marked Arts and the money rolled in, there was a limit to the supply of yuppies and there had to be some jobs in there as well.

You would be amazed at the degree of boosterism certain Yorkshire councils developed on this score, although you didn’t need top futurist Popcorn Whatsname to work out that booming submarine cable capacity would pretty quickly make offshoring an option. Still, if Bradford didn’t make half-arsed attempts to jump on every bandwagon going, leaving it cluttered with vaguely Sicilian failed boondoggles, it wouldn’t be Bradford.

Anyway, I think I’ve made a case that this is an institution whose history has been pathological right from the start. It embodies a fantasy of managing a service industry in the way the US automakers were doing at the same time – and failing, catastrophically.

So, I managed to get to watch the Grand Final on Saturday night! The first pub we tried had a private function where the TV is, although it also had Timothy Taylor’s Landlord Ale, and the other bar contained a group of Irish union fans who’d been drinking steadily since 6am. We moved on, and actually found rugby league on the Holloway Road.

John Kear apparently thought it was the best of the Grand Finals he’d seen, and he ought to know. He also thought Danny McGuire was Leeds’s defence leader, a clearly inspired judgement.

Saints were all about width, the classic pattern of trying to extend the line faster than the sliding defence and creating the overlap. Leeds were all about depth and tempo, trying to force defenders to turn and beat them for short sprint pace. It was a classic clash of styles.

A few years ago, people used to talk about the “midfield triangle” in league, being the half-backs and the loose forward. This doesn’t quite make sense, as the hooker in league is a specialist acting halfback and one of the most important distributors in the team, and organising a league team around the scrum is beside the point. Instead you’ve got a square, or a quartet, or something with four in it. A box with four pies in it, if you will. A four-pack of beers.

Leeds re-organised theirs quite radically – in the playoffs, they’d been using Kevin Sinfield as the scrum half and saving Rob Burrow to run at tired legs. In the final, they played Burrow from the start with his regular partner McGuire and put the Sinner back in 13. But that doesn’t tell you much. Burrow didn’t do much distribution or tactical kicking and McGuire’s role in the game was almost totally defensive. Instead, Sinfield and Danny Buderus did the distribution, Burrow had a free role to dash and buzz and harass Saints, and McGuire had a parallel defensive mission to hunt the Saints first receiver, coordinate the defence, and generally get stuck in whereever the attack came from. And he did a hell of a job on this.

Saints didn’t really come up with an answer to this, once it got going. Kicking penalties flattered the score a bit. McGuire broke up their moves regularly, Burrow kept catching defenders on the turn and eventually won the Harry Sunderland trophy, and Buderus and Sinfield kept control of the pace of the game.

This may bring back the old “is a stand-off really a loose forward” thing from the 1990s. Back then, there were quite a few good players who operated in either slot – Daryl Powell, Tony Kemp, Phil Clarke, Ellery Hanley, and earlier, Wally Lewis come to mind. The 1994 Lions, coached by Hanley, used first Clarke and then Powell in this role to mark the great Laurie Daley (who was the absolute opposite). It worked at Wembley, but the plan rather broke down after both of them got injured, and it also made the team pretty negative. On the other hand, once Powell was off the pitch and Garry Schofield back on, Daley ran rings round Great Britain for the rest of the series.

But Leeds’s game plan didn’t really reduce to that. Anyway, it was a hell of a game and Rob Burrow’s first try was a bit of brilliance beyond tactics, exploiting a gap in depth rather than width – one side of the defence hadn’t come up quite as smartly as the other – and ducking under the big men to make the initial break.

Oh yes, and that makes it a Yorkshire clean sweep of the three divisions with Leeds, Featherstone Rovers, and Keighley. Keighley! They told me it was Warrington’s year, and Wigan were back…

Let’s talk sheep dip. No, not drinking the stuff.

Sheep. Being dipped. In sheep dip

Spooks have another couple of uses for the word. One means to fix the admin when you borrow people or equipment from the real world. Another, and the one we’re interested in, is to arrange things so it’s not obvious to other people how you got hold of information. Typically, if you have a secret source of information you want it to stay secret. But there’s no point having the secret source if you don’t act on it. All the fun of secrets is telling other people about them, after all.

So you’ve got a problem – how do I make use of the secret without letting slip the bigger secret of how I got it? The answer is sheepdipping.

Here’s a second world war example. As basically everyone knows, the British had broken the Germans’ primary radio cipher, taking advantage of work Poland and France had begun earlier and eventually creating an industrial system to pull in radio traffic, break it, translate it into English, analyse it, and distribute reports based on it. In the process, Bletchley Park as good as invented the computer. It was a priceless source of information. So much so that serious precautions were needed to avoid giving the game away.

The answer was to make sure that you found out the information you already had from the code break before you did anything about it. So, once the ships and soldiers were already on the move, a reconnaissance plane would go out or a patrol would be pushed forward to look in exactly the right place. As well as disguising the real intelligence source, this was also an opportunity to check that the source was right.

So why are we indulging in ENIGMA kitsch? Well. The Sun denied vehemently that it got access to the medical records of Gordon Brown’s son. Actually it didn’t, quite. It denied that they were the source of the story they printed, and hid behind the PCC about the tax files and the bank account and his lawyer’s notes and God knows what else. But they found somebody who says he told them all about Brown’s son out of the goodness of his heart. As God will be his judge. Yeah, he really said that. Everyone say “Awww.”

He really said it; it’s in the Sun. Anyway, he swore an affidavit.

Here’s the sheep dip, though. Imagine if you’re a sweaty ‘bloid hack who’s just been listening to the chancellor’s voicemail. But, unlike the rest of them, you read books. What are you going to do? Take the risk of using the illegal secret surveillance as your source? What if some bastard with a Web site and a grudge goes through years and years of stories and pulls all the ones that are single sourced to conversations on the phone? You’re smarter than that.

So, you look up somebody who might be able to give you the story you’ve already got. This shouldn’t be that hard. You’ve already got more than enough information. That way, you’re covered. And you get to check the possibility that the whole thing is a nightmarish trap. And there’s a chance that they might provide some more juicy details if correctly handled.

The sheep goes into the dip, and comes out cleansed of its ticks and blowflies and worrisome legal problems, ready to be fattened up, shorn of its valuable fleece, and finally roasted and served with red-top jelly.

Alternatively, a slightly less underhand version. So this bloke walks into a bar. No.

So this bloke walks into a newspaper office. And he says to the barman…I’ve got this incredible story about Gordon Brown’s sick kid because mine’s as sick and I go to the same support group or clinic or whatnot. And you punch the conniving, insensitive Nosey Parker in the mouth and throw him out in the street. Right? I mean, who behaves like that?

No. This is a newspaper, dammit. You’re not going to turn a chance like this away. But there’s a problem. If his motives really are as nice as he makes out, what’s he doing hanging around the News International building? Perhaps it’s all bullshit. He’s taking you for a ride. Newspapers attract enough crazies as it is; look at the comments threads. Throw around money for stories into the bargain and you’re going to be beating them off with a side-handled baton, like the printers’ union pickets. It’s Brown’s kid because he knows that will get your attention. Hey, you’d prefer Ulrika Jonsson’s. But he’s probably crazy and crazy people like politicians.

So you need to check on him. Quick. And because you’ve got a human source, you don’t need to mention whatever you do to check up in the final story. Into the dip goes the sheep. Baa.

In my life I’ve had the pleasure of cleaning out not just a sheepdip but a cattle dip. It’s a long job. My advice is to drain off as much liquid as possible – keep checking the filter on the firepump – and then pressure-blast it with boiling steam. Accept no substitutes, and watch your feet.

Alliance Géostrategique is having an interesting-sounding meetup on the theme of walls, borders, and checkpoints. Here’s a little contribution.

In my home village in the Yorkshire Dales, there lived two men, who both owned a large shed they used for their business. Somehow, one of them owned the roof and two walls, and one of them owned the other. There was some arrangement about the land under it, but this bit of the story escapes me. Anyway, years pass, eventually they give up the business and sell a chunk of land next door to a property developer. But they can’t agree on what to do with the shed. They fall out to the extent that only genuine Yorkshiremen can; and the shed is left to rot quietly.

Eventually, bits of it start to fall down. One day, down goes a great chunk, and the local council decides that the building is a menace to the public. So they knock it down. Surely this must resolve the issue one way or the other. Or can the wall exist in a purely legal, moral sense, without the tiresome requirement of a couple of hundredweight of rocks? It turns out that it can, at least for a while. The owner of the roof sells the plot of land, less the strip the wall actually occupied, to another property developer, who builds on it.

At this point, our man gets worried about his interest. Even if the legal position was clear, it might be difficult to assert his rights if the question had actually been physically built over. So he visited the site and put up a sort of temporary favela barrier of corrugated iron, tape, and cones along the route of the wall. Rather like the original, overnight barricade the East Germans set up before the more permanent Berlin Wall was created. On this he stuck a sign reading “For Sale: Valuable Amenity Land”.

It’s worth stopping here and thinking for a moment. Strangely, the replacement of the original wall probably strengthens his position from an economic point of view. If it was a sound structure of traditional Yorkshire stone, would anybody notice it? Probably not. They would treat it as a wall, not an economic interest. Nobody would think of removing it, or even that someone else owned it. It would just be a brute stone fact. The wall, however, has been replaced with a sort of deliberately absurd, theatrical monument to the guy’s ego. (Actually, the original wall wasn’t Yorkshire stone or any stone – it was made of breeze-blocks.)

Of course, the other parties to the dispute have not been idle. They are still unwilling to pay the greenmail required to make the whole thing go away, and the very ridiculousness of the new wall makes it clear that destroying it would solve nothing. So they came up with a plan of their own – they painted the whole thing pink, in the hope that this would embarrass the other guy into giving in.

He still hasn’t.

Is if the exploiters miss you out, said Joan Robinson of capitalism.

A twofer of Owen Hatherley on Manchester. Thoughts: it’s surely a slightly odd idea that London is rich because of the housing market, rather than the other way around, although I can certainly imagine an unusually dense Blairite town-hall politician getting that impression. Bu then, I wouldn’t class the GMC pols as being that dense. And this:

In a way it’s hard to resent them and again this is the major flaw in my stuff about Manchester. The thing is I don’t remember it when it was fucked.

Well, this is the turd in the punch bowl. Is there an even vaguely credible alternative route from about 1983 forwards that goes anywhere else, thinking of the basically hostile central government for most of that period and the various path dependencies? Owen is working on the assumption that without the redevelopment era, we’d have found our way back to the high welfare state in the end, rather than – essentially – Thornton Road in Bradford. It’s a sort of sick, el cheapo parody of Tony Wilson urbanism, with converted mills that end up being rented to not one but two serial killers in ten years, and positively Sicilian half-built failed projects like the motorway to nowhere, the Interchange, Abbey National, the Millenium Faith experience, the Alsop master plan, and the rubble zone.

Actually, making a list of ’em, the periodicity between failures seems to be declining over time, the rate picking up, and one of them includes Will Alsop, so perhaps he has a point. But I still think this rant against decay-porn in a US context could be imported.

Shouldn’t Crowdsourced New York Apartment Pushing Limits actually be an Onion headline? Either that or the core of a new ResPublica/New School Network collaboration as the Big Society’s contribution to solving the housing crisis. We’ll crowdsource it! If everyone brings a brick, we’ll have…a pile of as many bricks as users who actually bothered showing up, that the two people who actually care about the project will have to use.

Those coalition housing plans, in pictures!

(Yes, I know this should be on Stable & Principled, but I’m trying to keep that blog Terribly Serious.)

Meanwhile, genuinely serious and interesting points on the same theme are made in this excellent piece on Park Hill in Sheffield and its redevelopment. It’s not as smash-mouth as Owen Hatherley would likely be, but it also makes the point that letting the squatters have their way with it was tried, effectively, and a lot of the work required on the building was basically making good the results. It also strikes me as a good point that it’s not, in fact, easier to run away from the scene of a crime on an access deck. Of course, the real point here is that as the society that built it crumbled, they stopped providing proper investigative policing to the people in it and started treating them as the object of mass public-order policing.

Extremists. ur doin it rong

I can’t help but think this is a contribution to the ongoing debate about hero-of-the-blog Diego Gambetta’s work on engineers and terrorism. If stuff is upside down before you start the riot, fire, explosion, etc., your extremist cell could probably do with more engineers. Meanwhile, the SELF THOUGHT SPIRITUAL SCIENTIST guy next to him looks like he’s on a demo to demand that ordinary decent schizophrenics can de-compensate without the EDL lowering the tone.

Due to the 30th birthday, I didn’t cover this at the time, but there’s a really nice piece on the Bradford EDL rally and counter-demo here. “It’s the middle of Ramadan, as if we’re bothered about this lot”, indeed. And the EDL were the only people ever to decide that the Rubble Zone was a great place to hang out.

Something else I missed, except for the last 15 minutes: the Challenge Cup final. Lee Briers got the Lance Todd. Kevin Sinfield got his third runner’s up medal. He must be really desperate to escape the fate of another Loiner, Garry Schofield, who played in four finals and never won, a record.

Elsewhere: I’m sticking the boot in over at Stable & Principled again. What is it about the Blair/Gove academies that makes them so suited to influence peddling?