Brief encounter – the murder of Diana

diana and dodi

IT was a wet February in 1997 and I was ensconced in a four star hotel in Islington, tasked with bringing home what could be the biggest newspaper story of the decade.

My job as Chief Investigative Reporter for the Scottish national daily The Scotsman was to gather information from Harrods owner, Mohamed Al Fayed, about an alleged conspiracy involving his business rival Tiny Rowland and a senior Conservative government minister.

It was an enjoyable and wholly productive three days of interviews with the gregarious and at times incomprehensible Mr Al Fayed, his PA Michael Cole and head of security John MacNamara – a former Scotland Yard senior detective.

The daily routine was purposeful: breakfast at my hotel, a taxi ride across London to Knightsbridge, an escalator to Mr Al Fayed’s office on the fifth floor of the Harrods department store, a coffee and croissant with Michael Cole and up to three hours of talking, questioning and sifting through reams of documents and photographs.

On Wednesday 12 February, I arrived as usual at 10am in the reception area outside the office and boardroom.

I was greeted cheerily as usual by Mr Cole. But on this morning he asked me if I minded waiting in an ante-room for half an hour as his boss was expecting a personal visit from Princess Diana.

I was shown into the room and given the usual coffee and croissant plus copies of the day’s national newspapers to browse at my leisure.

After 10 minutes waiting, I suddenly needed a quick loo break so quietly made my way to the now familiar private washroom.

Upon my return to my isolated coffee and partly eaten croissant, I stopped suddenly as the most recognisable woman in the world walked by, accompanied by Mr Cole and an as yet unknown young Middle Eastern man.

Diana turned briefly and smiled at me.

It was a memorable brief encounter.

But a tragic event some six and a half months later undoubtedly made it more memorable.

Later that day, I caught my return train to Edinburgh and The Scotsman offices at North Bridge.

Upon my arrival I was introduced to our new editor Martin Clarke, who had taken up his position while I was away in London.

My first meeting with him was also memorable, but for very different reasons.

I was brusquely told that our investigation into the conspiracy surrounding Tiny Rowland had been spiked for ‘political reasons’. I was also told I was ‘wasting my and the newspaper’s time’, not to ask any more questions and to ‘get on with some proper reporting’.

The months passed and on 31 August 1997, two events coincided: it was my final day working for The Scotsman and ironically Princess Diana, 36,  her lover (Mohamed Al Fayed’s son) Dodi Fayed, 42, and driver Henri Paul were killed in a horror car crash in the Pont de l’Alma road tunnel in Paris.

My reaction to the deaths at the time was the same as it is now: they were murdered.

But it was only 10 years later at a judicial inquest, following a three year inquiry into their deaths and possible murder, that my own brief encounter came back to haunt me.

The inquest, under Lord Justice Scott Baker, heard on at least six occasions that at the time of his romance with Diana in the summer of 1997, Dodi Fayed was engaged to an American model, Kelly Fisher. Dodi had bought a house in Malibu for Fisher and himself with money from his father.

The inquiry also heard heart surgeon Hasnat Khan give his first detailed account of his two-year relationship with Diana, during which he says he often stayed at Kensington Palace and met the princess’s sons.

He described how the princess broke up with him after she got back from a holiday with Mohammed Al Fayed and his family.

The inquest dismissed reports that Dodi and Diana were in a relationship prior to that summer and therefore any talk of an impending engagement in August 1997 – and possible motive for their murder – were subsequently rubbished.

Something I knew then and now to be untrue.

The Inquest jury returned a majority verdict that Princess Diana and Dodi Al Fayed were unlawfully killed due to the gross negligence of their driver, Henri Paul, and the paparazzi.

But I am still left with the haunting question: if that was the case, what were Diana and Dodi doing making a personal visit to Mohamed Al Fayed on 12 February 1997?

Mr Al Fayed later claimed that a plot to kill Diana was kicked into high gear as soon as British authorities found out from the CIA that Dodi had picked out a $215,000 star-shaped diamond ring for his future bride.

“The only reason my son and Diana were in Paris that night was so that he could personally collect the ring and propose to her,” he said.

“I spoke to Dodi and he was so excited and happy. Diana was too. They deserved a lifetime’s love together, and this beautiful ring was to put a seal on that,” he added.

“Diana believed all her married life that she was under surveillance by British and foreign intelligence agencies who reported back to her husband Prince Charles and the British establishment,” said Laurie Mayer, Mr Al Fayed’s press spokesman.

“She had every reason to think they intercepted her phone calls. The call she made to Lucia on the afternoon of her death could have alerted them she really was going to marry Dodi and that he, a practising Muslim and the son of a man who helped bring down the British government, would be stepfather to Prince William and Prince Harry.”

Mr Al Fayed also wanted – and got – files on two photographers, a Frenchman and a Dutchman.

“These men know what went on that evening,” said John McNamara.

“They filmed the motorbike we know was blocking the exit road, forcing the Mercedes to take the tunnel. That could show the license plate of that bike and another one we believe shot into the tunnel behind the white Fiat Uno.

“The Fiat Uno was waiting at the mouth of the tunnel. There was a collision and since then the bikes and the Fiat have vanished.

“Immediately after the crash, the photographers sent their pictures round the world. Some of those wired to an agency in North London had vital frames showing the vehicles we cannot now trace.

“The agency was broken into just hours after the crash and neither we, nor the police, believe it was an ordinary burglary.

“Many photographs show Diana lying in the rear seat of the Mercedes, one arm flung across Dodi and her legs buckled up under, have been seen across the world. Some have even been published in Europe. But none has shown the bikes or the car.”

Just one of far too many unanswered questions over the death of the People’s Princess.

 

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Stars for a minute

skysports-brighton-and-hove-albion-dale-stephens-championship-football_3816005

HOW narrow is the dividing line between being a professional footballer, seeking the best salary for your ability, and being a self-seeking prima donna?

That line has been firmly tested over the past couple of months.

First we had the one man strike at West Ham by their star play maker Dimitri Payet, demanding he be sold for a mega million fee.

Then we had striker Chris Martin do much the same at Fulham, although on this occasion he simply wanted to return to his parent club Derby County.

And then we saw striker Ross McCormack conduct a one man training strike at Aston Villa. His actions forced Villa manager Steve Bruce to publically reveal that the Scot had been dropped from the first team squad for “continually missing training”.

But these examples are not a new capitalist madness in the beautiful game we all love.

Back in 1998, Dutch striker Pierre van Hooijdonk staged a very public one player strike, claiming Nottingham Forest had made “broken promises” to sell him if he helped them earn promotion from Division One.

And more recently in September 2011, during a Champions League clash with Bayern Munich, Argentine star Carlos Tevez ignored Roberto Mancini’s orders and refused to come on as a substitute for Manchester City.

Crazy eh!

So how refreshing is it that one of our own stars has the dignity and professionalism to show others how to behave.

The transfer speculation surrounding Dale Stephens dominated the Albion’s close-season.

The Seagulls turned down several bids of up to £8million from Premier League side Burnley for the midfield star.

Then as the transfer window closed, Stephens took to Twitter to explain that although he had been “reluctant” to submit a transfer request, he wanted an opportunity to play in the top flight.

“I’m 27 and recognised this could by my final opportunity to do so, which is why I feel disappointed my chance was taken away,” he posted.

Many Albion fans feared that Stephens might sulk, rebel or simply refuse to train as a result of his rejected transfer.

But how wrong they were.

Since last August, Stephens has proved to be one of our key players. His work ethic is exemplary and his importance to the team is pivotal.

Small wonder that the Albion have not lost a game this season, when Stephens has been in the team.

On 22 October, after scoring the winner for the Albion against Wigan, he underlined his professionalism saying: “I enjoy playing for this club and enjoy playing for this manager and I remain fully committed until the end of the season.”

But Dale Stephens’ situation opens up a reality for many professional footballers, and maybe casts some light on the actions of Payet, Martin and McCormack.

It has always been the case that the career of a professional footballer is short.

For while many may sign for a club as a schoolboy, their proper career doesn’t usually take off until they turn 20. And for most it is all over by the time they reach 35 – Inigo Calderon, Bobby Zamora and Gordon Greer are good recent cases in point.

So what do they do for the next 30 years of a normal working life?

Some stay with the club in an executive or coaching capacity (Guy Butters and Paul Watson) and some take up TV or radio punditry (Adam Virgo), but for others the future is less clearly defined.

For all players the onus is to earn as much as they can, while playing at their top level, to pay for a lengthy retirement.

Last season, average Championship earnings were £6,235 a week (£324,250 a year) while in the Premier League first-team average salaries were around £1.7 million.

Meanwhile, the average basic pay in League One was £69,500 and £40,350 in League Two – not much more than the national average.

That means top-flight players earned over five times as much as Championship players, almost 25 times as much as League One players, and around 42 times as much as League Two players.

Small wonder that players like Dale Stephens want to play in the Premier League before age and declining fitness determines that their career is over.

Thirty years ago, a top-flight footballer earned on average £25,000 per year, or just two-and-a-half times as much as the average household income of £9,788.

By 1995-96, a top-flight player earned six-and-a-half times as much as an ordinary family, and by 10 years ago it was more than 20 times as much, or £686,000 versus £33,000 per year.

Now it’s more than 40 times as much.

So spare a thought for my boyhood Albion heroes of the late 1960s.

Charlie Livesey was already a star with Chelsea when he joined the Albion in 1965. He was the Dale Stephens type dynamo of that era.

At the time the average weekly wage for a footballer in the third tier was just £20.

In his four years with the Albion, Livesey made 146 appearances, scoring 37 goals, before being released aged just 31, in April 1969.

He finished his career at Crawley Town then returned to the East End of London where he became a humble painter and decorator. Charlie died in 2005, aged 67.

Nobby Lawton was a similar midfielder – ironically born in Newton Heath, Manchester, just a few miles from where Dale Stephens later grew up.

He began his football career as an amateur with Manchester United. Following the Munich air disaster in 1958, he gave up his job with a local coal merchant to sign professional forms.

By the time he signed for the Albion from Preston North End in 1967, aged 27, wages had climbed to £30 a week.

Lawton was Livesey’s natural replacement at the heart of midfield and scored 14 goals in 112 appearances before dropping down to the Fourth Division to play for Lincoln City in 1970, and retiring two years later, aged 32. He returned to Newton Heath in 1977 to work for an export packaging firm.

Nobby Lawton died in April 2006, aged just 66.

Today, while Dale Stephens will hope for a much longer and healthier life, his career expectation is the same as it was for Charlie Livesey and Nobby Lawton, all those years ago.

It’s a long retirement.

 

The numerological mystery of Seven Up

Numbers

THE late John Lennon was pre-occupied with the number nine and throughout his life it held an almost supernatural significance.

It was present at his birth, prevalent throughout his life and omnipresent at his death.

John was born at 6.30am on Wednesday 9 October and, although officially announced dead at 11.15pm in New York on 8 December, due to the time difference, it was actually 9 December in Liverpool, the place of his birth. The time of his birth, 6.30 also adds up to nine, as to the letters of Wednesday, the day of his birth.

Several of his songs reflected his interest in his favourite number: # 9 Dream, Revolution 9 and One After 909, the latter being written at 9 Newcastle Road, Liverpool, his grandfather’s house where he was reared in his early years (Newcastle has nine letters, as does Liverpool).

As John once said: “I lived in 9 Newcastle Road, I was born on the 9th October. It’s just a number that follows me around, but, numerologically, apparently I am number six or three or something, but it’s all part of nine.”

  • Numerous events in his life took place on the 9th:
  • The Beatles played at the Cavern Club for the first time on 9 February
  • Brian Epstein saw the Beatles for the first time on 9 November
  • The Beatles played in the south of England for the first time on 9 December
  • The Beatles EMI contract was confirmed on 9 May
  • The Beatles made their Ed Sullivan Show debut on 9 February
  • John first met Yoko Ono on 9 November
  • John and Yoko’s son Sean was born on 9 October

Combinations of numbers that also added to 9 also intrigued him. He travelled on the No 72 bus to the art college. John and Yoko had an apartment on West 72nd Street and their original Dakota Buildings apartment was No 72. Other combinations that formed the number 9 and which added to his obsession were 18, 27 and 126.

When John was shot he was rushed to Roosevelt Hospital – on 9 Avenue (Roosevelt also has nine letters, as does Manhattan, the district in New York where he lived and died).

Bizarre coincidence, or something beyond our understanding?

I strangely share John Lennon’s strange fascination with numerology.

My personal number of fate is seven, and like John’s #9, this number has followed me all my life.

I was born at 7am on 1 February, as was my eldest daughter. My eldest son was born on 25th June (2+5=7) also at 7am!

The house where I was born was 7 Atkinson Drive, the next house was 17 New Barn Road and the next 17 Westway Close and so on.

When I left home to go to university my first hall of residence room was D27 and my first flat was 7 High Street.

But it is with specific years when the number 7 becomes of immense significance to me.

  • 1967: I started grammar school and also attended my first Brighton and Hove Albion football match – a passion which has stayed with me all my life.
  • 1977: I graduated from university, moved back to mum and dad, who lived at 52 North Road (5+2=7) and met my lifelong friend Jayne, who sadly died three years ago aged 57.
  • 1987: I narrowly missed being killed in a high speed crash on 7 September, then on 17 September was diagnosed with high grade malignant cancer of the right shoulder and on 27 September underwent radical surgery to remove the cancer before undergoing seven weeks of life-saving radiotherapy.
  • 1997: I lost my career and passion in national newspaper journalism… my last day at work in the job of my dreams at The Scotsman was 7 July.
  • 2007: At the start of the year my house was repossessed and I was penniless. Then later in the year was left minutes from death from a vicious assault on 7 September.

So what awaits me in 2017 … and to be frank, what is all this numerology about?

Maybe Chaos Theory has the answer?

Chaos Theory is about how complicated the world is and something which can only be understood through numbers.

The world is so complex that one small change, even a seemingly tiny insignificant change, has enormous consequences (The Butterfly Effect).

Imagine you typically catch a plane to go home at the weekend, but this time you decide to go by rail. On the train, you meet a person you end up falling in love with and marrying. What made you change your mind and go by rail? Who would you have married if you hadn’t have gone by rail?

Is there is a way to find order out of this chaos?

You can’t ignore chance, and are numbers determining our fate?

Numerology is any belief in the divine, mystical relationship between a number and one or more coinciding events. It is also the study of the numerical value of the letters in words, names and ideas.

It is often associated with the paranormal, alongside astrology and similar divinatory arts.

Pythagoras and other philosophers of the time believed that because mathematical concepts were more “practical” than physical ones, they had greater actuality.

St Augustine of Hippo (AD 354–430) wrote “Numbers are the Universal language offered by the deity to humans as confirmation of the truth.” Similar to Pythagoras, he too believed that everything had numerical relationships and it was up to the mind to seek and investigate the secrets of these relationships or have them revealed by divine grace.

I am a deist – I believe in some higher spiritual power, but exactly what that is, I have no idea.

Do you John Lennon, and shall I ring you on your usual number?

My own number begins 077 and ends in a 7!

 

Think again Boris – a song for our Islington Herbivore

SONG for jc BLOG

Go ahead and smear him because he makes you doubt

Because he has denied himself the things you can’t live without

Laugh at him behind his back just like the others do

Remind him of the knives behind him when he comes walking through

 

But he’s loved by all of us

Resent him to the bone

You got something better?

You’ve got a heart of stone

 

Stop your conversation when he passes on the stairs

Hope he falls upon himself, no-one really cares

Because he can’t be exploited by media moguls anymore

Because he can’t be bribed or bought by the things that you adore

 

But he’s loved by all of us

Resent him to the bone

You got something better?

You’ve got a heart of stone

 

When the whip that’s keeping you in line doesn’t make him jump

Say he’s hard-of-hearing, as ridiculous as Donald Trump

Say he’s out of step with reality as you try to test his nerve

Because he doesn’t pay no tribute to the Queen that you serve

 

But he’s loved by all of us

Resent him to the bone

You got something better?

You’ve got a heart of stone

 

Say that he’s a loser because he uses common sense

Because he doesn’t increase his worth at someone else’s expense

Because he’s not afraid of trying, he embraces others with a smile

Because he doesn’t threaten immigrants, say he’s got no style

 

But he’s loved by all of us

Resent him to the bone

You got something better?

You’ve got a heart of stone

 

You can laugh at austerity, you can play your nuclear games

You think that when you rest at last you’ll go back from where you came

But you’ve pocketed your bonuses and you’ve changed since the womb

What happened to the real you, you’ve been captured but by whom?

 

But he’s loved by all of us

Resent him to the bone

You got something better?

You’ve got a heart of stone

 

(with thanks to Bob Dylan for the song pattern)

Celebrities flock to provide new Red Wedge for Corbyn

celebsblog

THE right wing press loves to depict Jeremy Corbyn as a dour, out-of-touch “retired geography teacher” who is more at home pottering on his allotment than connecting with real people.

Oh, how wrong they are!

Corbyn’s leadership election campaigns in 2015 and 2016 gave the electorate a glimpse of the man’s universal appeal.

And anyone who has met him or heard him speak publicly, will attest to the 67-year-old’s contagious charisma and genuine human warmth.

Small wonder therefore, that celebrities from the world of acting, music, sport, and elsewhere, are flocking to support him in his bid to become the UK’s next Prime Minister.

An unlikely quartet of multi-millionaire snooker player Ronnie O’Sullivan, Harry Potter actor Daniel Radcliffe, Welsh diva Charlotte Church and the Modfather himself, Paul Weller, are leading a 21st Century Red Wedge for Corbyn.

This new Wedge kicked off last December with the hugely successful Concert for Corbyn at Brighton’s famous Dome auditorium.

The People Powered concert was a real return to the days of Red Wedge and Rock Against Racism, when musicians publicly stood up for political causes.

In the case of Red Wedge, a collective of musicians spearheaded by Paul Weller, Jimmy Somerville and Billy Bragg, the aim was to support the left leaning Labour Party of Neil Kinnock in their battle against Margaret Thatcher and her far right Conservative government.

Red Wedge was launched in November 1985, with Bragg, Weller, Strawberry Switchblade and Kirsty MacColl invited to a reception at the Palace of Westminster hosted by Labour MP Robin Cook.

Red Wedge was not officially part of the Labour Party, but it did initially have office space at Labour’s headquarters.

And it organised a number of major tours.

The first, in January and February 1986, featured Bragg, Weller’s band The Style Council, The Communards, Junior Giscombe, Lorna Gee and Jerry Dammers, and picked up guest appearances from Madness, The The, Heaven 17, Bananarama, Prefab Sprout, Elvis Costello, Gary Kemp, Tom Robinson, Sade, The Beat, Lloyd Cole, The Blow Monkeys, Joolz and The Smiths.

It was mind-blowing in its style and political swagger – particularly with under 25 electorate.

But after the 1987 election produced a third consecutive Conservative victory, many of the musical collective drifted away and Red Wedge was formally disbanded in 1990.

Billy Bragg remembers the days clearly: “I suppose the Wedge came about because we all kept meeting at benefit gigs for Nicaragua or whatever. Those were the darkest days of the Thatcherite 80s, as well. There was a feeling that something had to be done.”

Paul Weller added: “The MPs we’d meet around the country were more showbiz than the groups. It was an eye-opener; it brought me full circle in how I feel about politics. It’s a game. I’ve very little interest in it. I’m not talking about what’s happening to our planet or our country, but about organised politics.”

But the last few years have seen an upsurge in radicalism in both music and politics as the economic conditions for the poorest in particular reach crisis point.

Now the people are hand-in-hand with celebrities speaking their minds about Theresa May, the Conservative government, austerity, homelessness, the NHS and the greater Establishment.

Last December’s Concert for Corbyn was organised by music journalist Lois Wilson and the Brighton branch of Momentum; and it persuaded Paul Weller, to take part in his first direct support of a politician since the days of Red Wedge.

The Dome was sold-out and the organisers smartly utilised both the bar area and main auditorium for a ‘revue’ type affair.

Edgar Summertyme Jones and Kathyrn Williams played to an enthralled bar; and later Ghetto Priest and his band delivered one of the sets of the evening; a superb concoction of dub, grime, percussive African-fusion, and rock, that had the audience tapping away, many with big smiles on their faces.

With many bands to get through and short turnarounds, there was very little time to relax before the quirky three-piece all-girl band Stealing Sheep took to the stage in fetching polka dot onesies.

Guitars dominated concert hall proceedings, beginning with The Coral founder Bill Ryder-Jones, who claimed on stage that he personally got the call from JC to appear.

Paul Weller, ever the rebel, puffed on a cigarette beside the stage, ready to go on with a collection of musician friends, put together for this occasion, including an exceedingly rare live gig for the wheelchair-bound Robert Wyatt.

He, Weller and Steve Pilgrim alternated songs, based around keys, guitars, drums and the double bass of the legendary Danny Thompson.

A personal highlight was Steve Pilgrim dedicating his anthem Explode the Sun directly to Jeremy Corbyn.

Meanwhile, Wyatt, like Weller, opted for a series of lesser known songs, such as Mass Medium, which originally appeared on his 1985 Old Rottenhat album, a song that Wyatt introduced saying the whole press had turned into gutter press.

Jeremy Corbyn followed them on stage and delivered a short speech; a mix of his politics and the importance of music in general.

The final words were left for The Farm front man Peter Hooton who said if he had to plant a flag in a field, he would want Corbyn on his side.

Prior to playing the Dome gig in December 2016, Weller said: “When Red Wedge came to an end I said I would never get involved in party politics again.

“’I’m doing the gig because I like what Corbyn says and stands for. I think it’s time to take the power out of the hands of the elite and hand it back to the people of this country. I want to see a government that has some integrity and compassion.”

Billy Bragg is with Weller on this.

Last August (during Corbyn’s second successful leadership campaign) he accused the Murdoch owned Times of twisting his words in a report claiming he thought Jeremy Corbyn was unable to reach enough of the electorate to become an effective political force.

In response to the Times article Bragg said he had “joined the long list of people stitched up by the Murdoch papers”.

“Don’t believe the bullshit about me in the Times,” he said, “I’m still supporting Corbyn.”

He then urged his followers to “stay calm”, adding, “don’t let Murdoch sow discord”.

He later said: “I’m a socialist which means my glass is half full. I’m encouraged by the young people being mobilised.”

But while the support of veterans, Weller, Wyatt, Bragg and award-winning film producer Ken Loach may be taken for granted, it is the new celebrity supporters who have caught the eye.

Snooker superstar Ronnie O’Sullivan has been positively verbose on Twitter about his support for Corbyn.

Recent Tweets include:

“I love paying tax. As long as it goes to the right people who need it, like the NHS and education”

And taking a swipe at Donald Trump and the Tories he tweeted: “Everyone should boycott the USA and any other country. Also the bankers who stole the tax payers’ dosh for fiddling the books.”

Ronnie Blog

In an interview last month with the Daily Mirror, O’Sullivan said people should give Jeremy Corbyn a break.

“Jeremy Corbyn is a man of his word,” he added. “He is unwavering in his beliefs whether he is criticised for them or not. I’d like to be his friend.”

And step forth Harry Potter to lend some magical support for Corbyn.

Actor Daniel Radcliffe energetically praised the Labour leader saying it was “just so nice to have people excited about somebody.”

“It seems to be more or less because they are excited about sincerity,” he said. “I think we all suddenly realised that we are so used to politicians lying. Even when they are being sincere, it feels so scripted that it is hard to get behind them.”

Singer and activist Charlotte Church is a well-known Labour supporter and is also 100% behind Jeremy Corbyn.

She called Corbyn: “A cool-headed, honest, considerate man”.

In a post on her blog, she said: “He is one of the only politicians of note that seems to truly recognise the dire inequality that exists in this country today and actually have a problem with it. There is something inherently virtuous about him, and that is a quality that can rally the support of a lot of people, and most importantly, a lot of young people.”

Shia LaBeouf, the actor from the universally acclaimed Transformers films normally delivers lines such as: “Not so tough without a head, are you?”

But for Corbyn, LaBeuf speaks plainly: “I like Jeremy Corbyn. I like him in every way.”

Former Roxy Music keyboardist Brian Eno wrote a whole opinion piece in the Guardian on his support for Corbyn, saying the Labour leader has spent many years sticking to his principles.

“He’s been doing this with courage and integrity and with very little publicity,” Eno said.

“This already distinguishes him from at least half the people in Westminster, whose strongest motivation seems to have been to get elected, whatever it takes.”

Turner prize winning artist Grayson Perry he would back Jeremy Corbyn, as he was “doing something interesting for the political debate.”

“I think he’s gold,” he added.

Comedian Josie Long has shown her support for Corbyn from the start of his 2015 leadership campaign.

“I think people are voting for Jeremy Corbyn because they like and are excited by him,” she said.

“There is so much excitement and so many people are desperate to get involved in a positive way.”

Pop star Lily Allen, is also an ardent supporter of Jeremy Corbyn, and has worked hard to highlight the plight of the refugees.

She strongly supported Mr Corbyn’s campaign to remain Labour leader in 2016, stating: “He seems to be the only dignified person in Westminster.”

At a Corbyn rally in Manchester, former Corrie star Julie Hesmondhalgh said she’d left Labour after it “parted company with its principles”, but that recently she’d “started to smell something that smelled like hope”.

She spoke at the event, telling supporters: “Welcome to the vibrant, mass movement of giving a toss about stuff.”

And Maxine Peake, star of Channel 4 drama Shameless, and The Theory of Everything, wrote in The Morning Star, that Corbyn has put Labour “back on track”.

“He has inspired a movement of young and old to fight for education, health, welfare, peace and justice and we will quickly organise and mobilise ourselves in his support”.

But let’s leave the final words to three veteran celebrities

Pink Floyd guitarist Roger Waters has nailed his colours firmly to the Corbyn mast.

“I think it is fabulous that somebody has risen to the surface who could describe themselves as being heir to Aneurin Bevan or Tony Benn or Michael Foot or one of the genuine left wing Labour Party leaders,” he said in a BBC interview, before almost vomiting the word “Blair”!

Celebrated playwright Alan Bennett – the man behind The History Boys – said he “very much approves” of Corbyn.

“I approve of him. If only because it brings Labour back to what they ought to be thinking about,” he said.

And Star Trek’s captain Jean-Luc Picard (actor Patrick Stewart) believes Corbyn can “Make It So” for a Labour victory in the General Election.

“I think that Jeremy Corbyn has begun to find a voice that’s clearly authentic and passionate,” he states with conviction.

“I’m beginning to have a feeling that there’s a route for Labour that might be very exciting for the country. I carried a placard for the first election after the war in 1945, when Clement Attlee got in, and those principles remain my principles.”

Jeremy Corbyn: unfashionable and out-of-touch?

Think again!

  • Further Concerts for Corbyn were planned for Liverpool and Manchester this summer, but Theresa May’s ‘snap’ General Election has delayed those gigs, at least for the time being.

The face of innate racism

SAFFBLOG

“No human race is superior; no religious faith is inferior. All collective judgments are wrong. Only racists make them.”

Elie Wiesel

THE subjugation of one human being by another is something which has eaten at me for as long as I can remember, and is the main reason why I am a socialist and a pacifist.

That abuse of power shows itself in so many ways in our ever expanding world and not least by the innate racism that exists in white Western society.

Here in the UK, UKIP and many Conservative politicians contrived to make the 2015 General Election and the Brexit referendum of last year revolve around the issue of immigration and fear of foreigners.

UKIP leader Nigel Farage, in particular, singled out Romanians, and immigrants from other former Warsaw Pact countries, as “scroungers” and “criminals” who are taking “British jobs from British people” and putting pressure on our NHS and housing supply.

And more recently, across the Atlantic, US President Donald Trump has daily blamed Muslims and Mexicans for every conceivable problem in the world.

It is the sort of racist scapegoating we have witnessed time and again in this country since end of World War 2.

Racism is the belief that characteristics and abilities can be attributed to people simply on the basis of their race and that some racial groups are superior to others.

Racism and discrimination have been used as powerful weapons encouraging fear or hatred of others in times of conflict and during economic downturns.

You only need to look at the rise of Nazi Germany in the 1930s or the atrocities meted out today by Zionist Israel to Palestinians, to see the dire consequences if racism is left unchallenged.

But here I am not talking about the overt racism exhibited by Bibi Netanyahu, Donald Trump or Nigel Farage, or even the so-called ‘institutional racism’ within some of our national institutions, such as the police. But I am looking at a deeper racism which exists within almost all of us born white and British.

It exists due to 800 years of our collective history as a colonial and Christian power, hell-bent on exporting our values, religion and control on other nations.

And it exists because our collective media does nothing to challenge it.

In 2001, I was working as chief investigative reporter on The Chronicle – a daily tabloid newspaper in Newcastle upon Tyne. On 11 September, I returned from a routine job in the town to watch in horror – on the newsroom TV – the atrocities of 9/11 unfold in front of our eyes, some 3,000 miles away in New York and Virginia.

The next day, the newspaper’s senior management determined that all employees should stand and observe two minutes silence for the innocent victims of the terror attack.

I refused.

Not because I did not feel pain or sympathy for those victims, but because my company had never observed even one minute’s silence for the hundreds of thousands killed by Allied military action in Iraq in 1991, the one million murdered in Rwanda, or the thousands killed in Bosnia, just a few years earlier.

Instead I went to the newsroom toilet, sat in a cubicle and cried.

The newspaper’s reaction to 9/11 – and the wall to wall media coverage over the ensuing months – typified everything I had witnessed in my previous 16 years in journalism.

Now, 16 years later, nothing has changed.

If I take Bosnia, Iraq and Rwanda out of the equation, a few other examples may clarify what I mean:

  • Three French skiers are lost in an avalanche in the Alps. The next day there are lengthy reports in most UK national newspapers. Each of the victims is named and in-depth family stories are written.
  • A lone gunman goes berserk and kills children in a US high school. The next day it is front page news in almost every newspaper in the UK and Europe. In depth analysis of the gunman and tributes to each of the victims and their families ensues.
  • A mad man kills hostages in an Australian restaurant. It is front pages news in every newspaper in the UK, USA and Europe. Extensive coverage about the killer and each of his victims finds itself across western media.
  • An earthquake in Northern Pakistan kills thousands of inhabitants. Over the ensuing weeks there is barely a mention in any UK or western newspapers.
  • Tens of thousands of innocent civilians are murdered by US and UK bombing in Afghanistan and Syria. But there are few reports of these atrocities in UK and western newspapers.
  • Flooding in Bangladesh kills thousands of people. Over the following weeks there are just a few lines in UK broadsheet newspapers.
  • Almost weekly we read of reports about African and Syrian refugees drowning the Mediterranean. There is often news about how the accidents happen and who is to “blame”, but no attempt by any British newspaper to name the migrants or find out a little about who they were and the grieving families they leave behind.

You don’t need a microscope to see the differences in the reaction and news reporting. It has nothing to do with distance from our shores. It is all to do with white western values.

So our news media – even enlightened newspapers like The Guardian – value the life and story of an English speaking suited, white, Western person quite differently to that of an African black or Urdu speaking Asian person.

We give ‘ours’ names, identities and lives, but the ‘others’ just nationality, religion and race. It is so much easier to avoid reporting the lives and deaths of these people if we don’t identify them as human beings the same as us.

This innate racism runs deep and has been entrenched more deeply with the Islamophobia which has perpetuated within Western society since 2001.

The white mass murderer, Norwegian, Anders Brevik is reported simply as a ‘madman killer’ – despite the fact he was a zealot Christian with a white supremacist agenda.

In contrast any killing carried out by a person of even dubious Muslim faith is reported as the act of an Islamist Extremist!

Sorry for the pun, but it is clear black and white racism.

But we have 800 years to overcome.

Britain, France, Spain, Belgium, Holland and Portugal have been colonialists since the so-called Holy Crusades to Jerusalem in the 13th century, the colonial exploitation of the Americas in the 16th and 17th centuries, to the dissection of Africa, South America and Asia in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Our imperialist ancestors conquered peaceful countries, imposed western values and Christianity upon them, murdered millions and took millions more into slavery.

And over the past 100 years we have been joined by our ‘allies’ the USA, which since the end of World War 2 has bombed: China 1945-46, Korea 1950-53, China 1950-53, Guatemala 1954, Indonesia 1958, Cuba 1959-60, Guatemala 1960, Belgian Congo 1964, Guatemala 1964, Dominican Republic 1965-66, Peru 1965, Laos 1964-73, Vietnam 1961-73, Cambodia 1969-70, Guatemala 1967-69, Lebanon 1982-84, Grenada 1983-84, Libya 1986, El Salvador 1981-92, Nicaragua 1981-90, Iran 1987-88, Libya 1989, Panama 1989-90, Iraq 1991, Kuwait 1991, Somalia 1992-94, Bosnia 1995, Iran 1998, Sudan 1998, Afghanistan 1998, Yugoslavia – Serbia 1999, Afghanistan 2001, Iraq 2003, Libya 2011 and Syria 2014-2017.

Our nations have sown war and hatred all over the world – now there is a heavy harvest.

As a white English father I despair for the future for my children and the children of Palestine, Africa, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Yemen and anywhere that is deemed by a Western government to be a target.

At the core of any working definition of racism is the unspoken ingredient of fear.

People around the world all belong to the same human race; they share the same tendencies to fear, domination, and subjugation.

We need to let everyone know, we are the same, no matter what language we speak, whatever the colour of our skin or the religion we follow.

Maybe, I am lucky.

I live in Wolverhampton in the English West Midlands. It is a city which basks in multi-culturism. It was the bed of much Afro Caribbean immigration in the 1950s. This was followed by immigration from Pakistan and India in the 1960s and 1970s.

Now decades later, those with black, brown and coffee-coloured skin mix, work, play and even marry those with white skin.

Currently there are 22,000 Sikhs, 11,000 Muslims and 7,000 Hindis in Wolverhampton. But there is no racial or religious tension.

Within a mile of my house there is a Hindi temple, a Buddhist temple, two Sikh temples, a central Mosque and at least nine Christian churches of various denominations.

Most of those with Asian or African ancestry are now third or even fourth generation immigrants and speak English as their first language, often with a thick Wolves’ accent, that Noddy Holder would recognise as his own.

But, I am not pretending it has always been like this.

I live in the parliamentary constituency which was once the seat of overt Conservative racist MP Enoch Powell (1950-74), and there has been a later history of National Front and BNP activity in the area.

But most of their racial fear, or as Powell put it: “the rivers of blood” of immigration, has now passed.

Now most inhabitants of our city realise that under the skin and religion, we are all the same… we are all human beings struggling to make a living and make sense of our lives.

Then suddenly last week something quite wonderful happened… one young woman brought all these struggles into the light.

Her name is Saffiyah Khan and in the past 10 days a photograph of her smiling bemusedly at an incensed English Defence League (EDL) protester Ian Crossland has been seen by millions of people across the globe.

Her smile has become everyone’s totem of defiance in the face of racism and the far right.

Hands in pockets, Saffiyah, intervened during an EDL rally in her home city of Birmingham after members of the fascist group threatened Muslim woman Saira Zafar, who was wearing a hijab.

The two had never met before, but Ms Khan said that when she saw that Ms Zafar was surrounded by people and looked intimidated, she felt she had to step in.

Ms Zafar explained: “They were saying, ‘You’re not English,’ ‘This is a Christian country, not your country,’ and ‘Go back to where you came from.’ I was alarmed and worried for my safety.”

“I was born and bred in this country so for these people to be saying these things was very wrong.

“There was someone behind me putting an Islamophobic placard above my head and resting it on my head and another person was shoving an EDL flag in my face.”

Facing violence with a smile, Saffiyah said she was ‘not scared in the slightest’ as she faced down Ian Crossland.

“There’s no excuse to be doing nothing,” she said later.

“Even if it just means calling the police and saying I just witnessed this. Even if there’s no violence … just reporting it to the police means it comes up on their stats and they can look at it all and start working on ways to combat it.”

And to add greater hope to this one woman beacon of hope, even our right wing press – such as the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph were embarrassed into calling her a hero.

Maybe, just maybe, the ugly face of innate British racism is beginning to unravel.

So thank you Saffiyah… and watch this space.