Dinner With Kate

I had to read the story on the MSN Entertainment site which said “Kate Middleton has topped the ‘Most Invited’ list of the sought-after guests in town”.
Apparently, according to a survey by Tatler magazine (who reads that?), she is “more welcome at parties than Tony and Cherie Blair” (the list’s joint number two).
Lord and Lady McBlair beat off dinner party rivals Jemima Khan; Elizabeth Hurley and Arun Nayar (are they still married?); Lord Rothschild (I am now getting an image of the Tatler reader); The Hon Sophia Hesketh and Robie Uniacke (eh?); Arnaud and Carla Bamberger (alias of eccentric fastfood billionaire?); Lord Ed Spencer-Churchill and Petrina Khashoggi (“Lord Ed” and the Khashoggi woman, simply ghastly); Elisabeth Murdoch and Matthew Freud; and Mischa Barton (special agent).
Well, of course, the site invites readers to describe their ideal guests too.
Top last night was No Name with his listing “Ian Wright, David Dickinson and Paul O’Grady”. Not quite Lord Teddy Spanner-Churchill-Khashoggi-Etc but, as No Name says: “Good times”.
Another reader has listed, “Someone really funny: Lee Evans (or Lenny Henry)”.
Surely some mistake?

Threat to minimum wage in Wales

Are we already seeing the hand of “Sir” Digby Jones at work on Gordon Brown?

The ex-director general of the CBI, who is now a life peer with a job in Prime Minister’s “government of all the talents”, has long been hostile to the minimum wage.
Now the BBC Northern Ireland website is reporting that Brown is considering reducing the £5.35 minimum wage in Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and the north east of England.
The government would not comment apparently, but the idea that by penalising the poorest we will increase Britain’s economic prosperity stinks unpleasantly of Digby.

What defence for the arms trade?

A £14bn deal – the largest since devolution – is creating one of the world’s biggest military training sites in South Wales.
You won’t have seen much opposition to the plan. You won’t even have seen much discussion.
Newspapers have been supportive, as have the unions. Politicians have been tumbling over themselves with excitement.
The reason? Well, the St Athan Defence Training Academy promises to create jobs: 5,000 for the Vale of Glamorgan is the headline figure.
No-one dares criticise job creation, be the creator a dodgy call centre company, a shaky Korean technology firm or the arms industry.
But finally, led by people like Cardiff University’s Stuart Tannock, a debate is brewing about just how good this facility is for Wales.
In a recent paper he said that, with St Athan, Wales jumps from being “one of the least militarised nations” to the “forefront of global militarist presence”.
He quotes one of the project’s senior executives: “Our aim is that by 2013 if you travelled anywhere in the world and talked about military training, people would say that St Athan was the only place to go…People will come from Australia, the Middle East and other parts of the world to train…The academy will captivate the world.”
I’m not that excited. We already have enough killing to “captivate” us, thank you very much.
The Metrix Consortium developing the St Athan base includes Qinetiq, “a world leader in military capability enhancement”; AgustaWestland, creator of the A129 combat helicopter and Apache AH Mk1, which the MoD website helpfully observes fires not only the Hellfire missile but also “high explosive sub-munition”; and Raytheon, a “defence” giant which creates among much else America’s ballistic missile systems.
Tannock points out that where politicians could have insisted future development in Wales lay in investing in technology and education projects, they have instead committed to a “culture and economy based squarely on militarism”.
He also questions how “many high quality new jobs” will actually be created for locals.
It’s not exactly clear in anything I’ve read on the project.
But then the arms industry is rarely what it says on the tin – or, indeed, the shell-casing.
Enemies have – or don’t have – ‘weapons of mass destruction’; ‘we’ have ‘defensive’ and ‘precision’ weapons.
Manufacturers have yet to market the ‘Child-Killer’ cluster bomb – “Whole schoolyards cleared in seconds” – or the ‘Limb-Remover’ landmine – “A huge jump forward in guerrilla warfare”.
Four years ago I reported on opposition to the massive MRO Europe business fair which was bringing major arms manufacturers to Cardiff.
“The aviation and aerospace industry plays a major role in the Welsh economy,” an assembly spokesman told me then. “In this context, we are pleased to bring MRO to Wales.”
That’s the only context in which we have this discussion.
It is as if wings flapping at centres like St Athan have no effect on communities beyond our vision.

::Leftfield column, Morning Star, July 23, 2007

Wales & Spanish Civil War, exhibition latest

Wise and Foolish Dreamers, an exhibition about Wales and the Spanish Civil War, is now touring Wales following its Swansea launch.
It is currently at Ammanford Library (until August 2); and will then be at the National Eisteddfod (August 3-11); Rhondda Heritage Park (Oct 1 – Nov 4). More dates soon as it travels around Wales.
The film produced to accompany the exhibition is on You Tube in three parts.
Part One
Part Two
Part Three
If you have visited the exhibition or watched the short film, please let me know what you think.

"English" shouldn’t be housing patsies

Threatening incomers and burning second homes is on the agenda of some Cornish nationalists.
There’s a growing anger at rich retirees and holiday-home owners.
Prices have soared and the market has been so tightly squeezed that locals can’t afford homes.
Blow-ins like rich chefs Rick Stein and Jamie Oliver have left a bad taste.
The Cornish National Liberation Army – possibly just one man and a pasty – claims: “This year or the next two years Cornwall will see a huge change in nationalism. You will see a lot of second homes going up in smoke.”
The CNLA has “a real dislike towards the English” and claims connections with the Free Wales Army.
Of course, in Wales, the whole story strikes a familiar ring: over-inflated house prices, anger at incomers, holiday homes ablaze. Indeed, the CNLA claims solidarity with Meibion Glyndwr, who put a match to around 200 second homes back in the 1980s.
But why turn matters of affordable housing and fairness into racial or nationalist hate?
Celebrating your culture involves inviting others to enjoy it too.
Tackling inflated housing prices is about socio-economics rather than fighting your neighbour.
It’s not about where people are from, or about hating “the English” as the Cornish activists do.
It’s about bad housing, low wages and a high level of part-time jobs.
It’s about cutting back the grasping greed of buy-to-let landlords.
We could look to Spain for some answers – there, the government takes between 25-35 per cent in tax off landlord’s rental income.
After all, it’s not only people from the south-east of England who snap up Welsh or Cornish holiday homes – and most of them have housing crises of their own.
In a recent survey an astonishing 98 per cent of homes in the south-east were deemed unaffordable for fire-fighters, police, teachers, nurses and ambulance staff.
And these are the people we dub “key workers”. What sort of society allows them to be priced out of the housing market?
Forget race and regionalism. Think fairness.

:: The Big Issue Cymru, July 9-15

The Extraordinary Kim Howells

Always a pleasure to report on the latest successes of an old friend, Pontypridd MP and Middle East minister Kim Howells.
Last time Howells had a walk-on part at What Is Wales? it was over some silly old stuff about Iraqi Oil.
But now he’s back – and thanks to Private Eye for bringing this one to my attention. This time he causes a return to a grim topic, so-called “extraordinary rendition”.
As Private Eye reports: “Even on the last day of the Blair regime, Howells was sticking to the line that the US does not fly torture victims in and out of British airfields”.
The report takes its lead from this fascinating exchange in the House of Commons (anoraks should click back over previous sections of the Hansard record for the full debate).
Suffice to say the following exchange confirms the former NUM firebrand remains reluctant to burn bridges to Bush.
Tory Geoffrey Clifton-Brown asked him: “May I again press the Minister to make a statement here today that the British Government utterly refuse, refute and condemn anything to do with what is commonly known as extraordinary rendition involving torture?”
“Absolutely,” said the good doctor. “I give that undertaking totally. We are completely opposed to such activities. They are a violation of every international treaty that we have signed up to and of British law, and I hope that that is clear.”
Then, chipped in another Conservative Andrew Tyrie, “Will the Minister clarify whether in saying that he is condemning the policy that the United States has developed during the past seven or eight years for large numbers of extraordinary renditions? Is it British policy publicly to make our Government’s dissociation from that policy crystal-clear to the Americans?”
Er. “No,” responded Howells, “I am not criticising American Government policy. The honorable gentleman assumes that the Americans are torturing people. I certainly do not have such information, but he is very clear about it. I disagree entirely.”
Tyrie bit back: “Is the Minister seriously suggesting that the overwhelming body of evidence that has been produced in Washington to show that the Americans have been engaged in rendition, a policy that involves cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment that amounts to torture, does not exist or has been made up? Is he suggesting that it is just a figment of the imagination of people on the Opposition Benches?”
Howells replied: “No, it certainly is not a figment of the imagination. Such treatment would not take place in Britain, in British prisons or in prisons that Britain is responsible for administering in any other territory.”
So, just like the Americans, it’s a case of ‘not on our soil – someone else’s’. How convenient.
As noted here in December, extraordinary rendition is a way of using one’s power to cause unpleasantness at third hand. Like the gangster don who has never seen blood but has the power of life or death by silently waving his hand and sending a killer on his way.

Say ‘Hello’ To Hellstorm Seven

Vox pops can be the scourge of the reporter’s life.
For a start, they mean mixing with the ‘public’. Face to face.
A friend of mine had to go out to an M4 service station and ask travellers what they thought of the toilets – they had just one some award.
Well, one, it’s embarrassing standing with a camera and stopping people as they leave the loo.
And, two, it’s one of the unwritten duties of the reporter to rebel against the daft things newsdesks ask them to do.
My friend got around it this way.
He stopped people getting on a coach going towards London and asked them an entirely different question.
Back in the Cardiff newsroom he made up their names, rewrote their answers so that they gave glowing references for the service station toilets and then sent their photos and ‘quotes’ for publication.
No one was any the wiser. The newsdesk, the London daytrippers who would never see the newspaper or, indeed, the readers.
They do vox pops in Iraq too. British reporters hunker down in the back of Humvees so that when someone back in London asks them what “the Iraqi people” think, they have a response.
The sharp-toothed watchdogs at Media Lens highlighted a vox pop aired on Newsnight recently.
The BBC reporter was travelling in a Humvee called “Hellstorm Seven”. (American “peacekeepers” always have such suitable call-signs, don’t they? It must be so reassuring when “SuddenViolentDeath Three” and “CollateralDamage Four” arrive at your door.)
The hack jumped from the vehicle to point his microphone at the locals and to ask “whether they feel secure” as the surge happens all around them.
“The security situation, we are relaxed about it,” said the man. “We come and open our shops, even though business is down. There is stability now.”
An American soldier asked another Iraqi: “So you’re happy we’re here.”
“Oh, very, very, very happy,” came the eager reply.
Now, behind the reporter and the kindly-looking soldier, remember, are the soldiers of Hellstorm Seven.
These guys can barely move for weaponry. They make Robocop look like Gandhi.
And they will be back later on another patrol – when the BBC is back in the Green Zone.
What does the reporter expect these people to say?
“No, I’m very pissed off. Would you mind giving me my neighbourhood back?”

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