28 September 2005

Tuesday at the fringe.

Watched Tony's speech and as ever it was excellent, pushing all the right buttons. Couldn't help but compare his political genius with Brown's laboured (if you pardon the pun) style. For all Blair's faults (I didn't agree with him over Iraq but understood his motives-we couldn't stop the war so he tried to use his support of the war as political leverage in other areas over Bush-with mixed results) we are really going to miss Blair when he has gone. I was very interested to hear about Blair's plans to reform the criminal justice system. This is long overdue and I particularly hope he can reduce the time between arrest and a trial happening and reduce the cost and length of trials.

Also particularly pleased that he linked the develolopment of youth clubs as crucial in the 'respect' agenda. If Tony only achieves in these two areas, he will have done well in the few years he has left in power.

I can't really understand why those on the left are impatient to get Brown. It seems to me he is just as New Labour, just not as competent (working tax credits overpayment fiasco-Blair apologised for that when it was Brown policy) or as good at getting his message across in terms the electorate identify with. Blair has been a genius at this, if only he could carry on another 8 years. Anyway on to the fringe meetings I managed to get to.

6pm IPPR/Channel 4. Working Cities. Chair Ed Balls MP, Ken Livingstone, John Healey MP, Tristram Hunt (historian), Richard Leese (leader manchester CC), Ken Dyter (Urban Catalyst)

Ed started by asking the panel to name one area of this subject they considered the most appropriate.

Ken Livingstone stated devolution as his top priority and said he was as optimistic as ever because for the first time we had a government committed to giving power back to local government. He said the opposition parties whoever they were, had always been in favour of devoluton but when in government had tried to pull power into the centre. He sighted the powerful local government in Germany as a model for how efficiency is improved by de-centralisation.

The rest of the panellists agreed with more devolution and highlighted areas from densification (Tristram Hunt)to improving civic duty and community cohesion. Ken Dyter stated the importance of small businesses to the vibrancy of the city and said something had to be done about rising business rents. Richard Leese mentioned the success of his Northern Way group. Tristam Hunt also mentioned that it was a scandal that VAT was charged on Brown Field developments but not on greenfield sites. I found this particularly shocking.

After these brief introductions it was thrown open to the audience. (Im going to try to be very careful to be impartial here). The first question came from a woman who was part of the 'save Hove' campaign. She said it was a disgrace that high rised building were being planned for Hove and that densification of cities was a government conspiracy as people really wanted family homes not flats, she then went on to rant that Northerners coming down to Hove should be sent back (I jest not-this is what she actually said.)

Ken Livingstone was first to answer this. He said apart from introducing some sort of Stalinist regime where people couldn't move about the country, what exactly was this woman suggesting? He then went on to talk about the mistakes of the sixties with tall building, where low funding meant the cheapest lifts and materials were used leading to many problems. He said that tall buildings built to high standards were highly desirable properties and with the world population increasing from 2 billion to over 6 billion in his lifetime, densification was not only a more efficient way of providing affordable environmentally friendly homes but essential. Ken asked the question why should people be denied the opportunity to enjoy the view of Hove from high story buildings?

Tristam Hunt said he had more sympathy with the woman, as people who live in the suburbs with their gardens have achieved their dream home. But the environmental cost of this is immense and as a society we need to encourage more efficient homes and less travel. Sprawl is damaging to all who live in cities in the longer term.

The next question came from a woman who said she was having to consider flats with 8ft by 6ft bedrooms and that space should be a consideration in the quality of people's lives and not just more crammed densification.

Ken Livingstone stated that he was born in 8ft by 6ft room and said at the end of the day, space is expensive and therefore limited and there is no reason why smaller flats cannot provide a decent quality of life. He said we all have to make a decision in our lives how much we spend on accomodation and how much we spend outside. He said from his experience of London, although he loves his garden, not everyone wants a garden. This is demonstrated by the number of people who pave over their gardens in London.

Richard Leese also claimed to have experience of cramped living conditions when growing up but he acknowledged that we should be able to afford more living space nowadays but sprawl is not the answer.

Ken Dyter cited the Thames Gateway development as having potential to be either very good or very bad and that it is design that matters.

John Healey said that densification needn't have to be high rised building although they can have a place. The Georgian buildings of Hove are an example of fairly high density but desirable design at six storeys high.

The next question came from an Asda representative and he probably wished in retrospect that he hadn't have bothered. The panel laid into him with a ferocity I found surprising (although probably deserved. The Asda man went on about the efforts of his parent company Walmart in innovative design and how they provided much needed employment in socially deprived areas.

Ken Livingstone with the funniest quote of the day, said 'although I don't hold Walmart solely responsible for Hurricane Katrina'. To a roar of laughter from the audience. He went on to lambast their irresponsible out of town developments. This was concurred by the rest of the panel in uninamity.

Tristram Hunt told about his experience living in Texas and visiting a Walmart that as you approached looked more like a whole new town rather than a store. And he said the carpark....you needed a bus (literally) to get from one end to the other.

The rest of the panel had equally frightening stories about Asda and its parent company and I could almost see the Asda rep wanting the ground to open up each time his company was slagged off.

* Best joke that I forgot to include was Ken Livingstone saying that he found it easier dealing with firms (who he imagined would probably hire hitmen to bump him off) than he did dealing with civil servants.

7.45pm GMB Target BNP National Campaign Launch to stop BNP in local 2006 elections. Live set from Billy Bragg plus teasing lu lu. UK preview of the movie 'who shot the sheriff?'. On 20 years of the struggle of musicians from 'rock against racism' to 'love music,hate racism', the current campaign.

Just get here in time to get last ticket so the security tell me anyhow. Throw in my £2 donation into the bucket (and I am amazed to find later that some people didn't donate-tight gits!)

Great to see Jerry Dammers (of Specials fame) on the decks. 8pm, we all settle down to watch the film. (Just a mention here that it is great that this is a no smoking venue-even if some people didn't realise or chose to ignore the fact. Such a nice thing to get home not stinking of cigarettes after a gig).

Brilliant film that reminded us of how bad Enoch Powell and Sixties and Seventies and Eighties Britain really were. Clips of the Thatcher swamped speech and Enoch's river of blood. Lots of clips of people starting sentences with 'Im not racialist but..' and then proceeding to be racist. Lots of pictures of white people marching either for fascism or against it. The jist of the film was to highlight how multi-culturism is winning and the part musicians played in this. I'm sceptical about how much credit musicians can actually take here but it is undeniable they made a big impact in the fight against fascists. Interesting anecdotes in the film about Eric Clapton's idiotic rant in support of Enoch Powell and how Jimmy Purcey (of Sham 69) received death threats from the National Front whose supporters when he shared a bill with reggae band Misty in Roots. The only thing missing for me was to add Michael Howard and some present day Tories ranting about asylum and compare how similar there comments are to Enoch and Thatcher. This is just a minor criticism. Excellent film, should be showed in every school.

There is no mention is any of the leaflets I read after watching the film that mentions the irresponsibility of the press which pre-election were barely disguised BNP rags in my opinion. I think to blame the BNP for all racism is incorrect. The BNP rely on the press to enable them to get away with spreading their racist myths and lies and not being laughed out of town. This to me sometimes get forgotton.

Brilliant speechs follow from Labour MP Shahid Malik (MP for Dewsbury) about how he has fought the fascists who have firebombed his car (3 arrested). I shamefully forget the names of the other speakers. Good to see Shahid later near the front watching Billy Bragg and in a drunken impulse go over and shake his hand and wish him well in his fight. He tells me not to worry, we'll defeat the bastards.

So first band on are Brighton's own 'Teasing Lu Lu'. Plenty of nice noise from the band and the crowd, and good to see the Corn Exchange filling up. I estimate over a 1000 by the time Billy Bragg comes on. Teasing Lu Lu have good music, fast rhythms and nice guitar and drum sounds that make you move, but they fail my 'first law of a good band', I can't make out a word the lead singer is saying! Too slurred and drowned in noise. Sorry if I can understand what the Dead Kennedys sing, I should be able to make out a few words of this band (I know Radiohead are incoherent and they made it but they are the exception that proves the rule). So Lu Lu are alright but no great shakes.

Now the great Billy Bragg. He starts with a Woody Guthrie number, 'all you fascists are bound to lose' and links the emergence of the Clash and 'rock against racism' to Woody Guthries pioneering music. I Always think his political gigs are the best, he plays all the lefty crowd favourites, 1649, Between the wars, Power in a Union (obviously), and the Great Leap Forward to which he changes the words almost ad libbing about Alistair Campbell and 45 minute warnings. He does a great version of Half English, then he comes back with a quick encore of New England, and the chorus echoes around the venue from a crowd in good voice. Im sure he played many more than this and he made some great speechs about how the fascists were losing, including a tribute to Shahid (who must have a bright future in the party). Anyway fantastic stuff and a night I will remember for a good while. Best gig of the year for me so far, although Kimya Dawson might beat it on Thursday at the engine room. Tara a bit


  1. "great billy bragg" ha theres a laugh...

  2. I know, its all subjective, but I like him anyway.