Article: My interview in ShortList magazine

A couple of weeks ago, I received a call (from France!) from a journalist called Mike Peake (bymikepeake.com) who, by the looks of things, writes some pretty interesting things for a range of publications.  Anyway, he contacted me through UpRising regarding a piece he was working on exploring the existence of a “Class Ceiling”.  I, of course, had a perspective on it and, lo and behold, it’s made into the magazine.

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Article: Sikhs and Muslims should unite over Wisconsin

My second Huffington Post piece has now been published.

You can read the original article here.

The twenties has been an epiphanic decade for me and, generally, the epiphanies have been embarrassing. Just last year, I learnt that “awry” is pronounced aw-rye and not aw-ree. When in primary school, a Sikh friend convincingly told me that the “Kara” (a steel or iron bracelet that form part of the 5 “K’s” of Sikhism) could only be removed if it had drawn the blood of a Muslim. Not thinking about the logistics of this, I went on believing it to be true until I witnessed the tears of laughter from a Sikh friend at university.

As details emerge of the shootings in a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, initial reports, as well as the opinions of my Sikh friends, are converging to one point – that these shootings are a case of mistaken identity. The killer reportedly believed Sikhs to be Muslims on account of their turbans and beards. The ignorance of the killer aside, this sets a worrying precedent for the already fractured relationship between Sikhs and Muslims.

In 2001, Balbir Singh Sodhi was murdered at the gas station he owned just four days after 9/11 by Frank Silva Roque for being a “turbanhead”. Since then, there have been numerous instances, both at home and abroad, of Sikhs being mistakenly targeted as Muslims. In 2004, there were reports of a 16-year old Muslim boy being wounded by a ceremonial sword (the “Kirpan”, another one of the 5 “K’s” of Sikhism) at a Vaisakhi festival in Walsall. Two Sikh youths were subsequently attacked in an act of reprisal.

To appreciate the root of the differences between Sikhs and Muslims, we must turn to 17th century Mughal India. Sikhs opposed the forced conversion to Islam by Mughal emperors and, by the end of the century, had established their credentials as the “Warrior Caste” by being the first army in history to destroy the Mughal Empire and conquer Afghanistan. The Sikh Empire established by Ranjit Singh spread over Lahore, Kashmir, Peshawar and Multan in modern day Pakistan, and would rule for 50 years in the Punjab until its defeat by the British in 1849.

Indian and Pakstani independence in 1947 would further disrupt relationships between Sikhs and Muslims. The powerful Punjab region was split along religious lines (much like the rest of British India) and would see both Sikhs and Muslims displaced. Violence erupted along the borders of the newly formed Pakistan and India, leading to deaths on both sides. Today, many Muslims and Sikhs fondly remember their homes in Amritsar (India) and Lahore (Pakistan) respectively – now in opposing states – and despair at the loss of life.

It is this history that keeps Sikhs and Muslims largely independent of each other, even in the UK which has the largest Sikh population outside of India in the world. But there have also been instances of Sikhs and Muslims coming together; the dance group Signature is a Muslim-Sikh duo. Perhaps most notably, Sikhs and Muslims came together during last year’s riots when they joined forces to protect Southall from rioters.

It is this kind of unity that is needed now to prevent a backlash from the attacks in Wisconsin and the difficult history of their relationship. It takes one flashpoint — a misinformed argument or a revenge attack – to create a wave of mistrust and misunderstanding. Just like Sikhs are not Muslims, Muslims are not terrorists. If true, it is alarming that people are willing to go into a place of worship to attack Muslims who had nothing to do with 9/11, just as much as Sikhs didn’t.

Both groups have experience of being a vilified minority, both at the hands of each other and by others. I am proud of my Punjabi heritage (my dad is a Pakistani from the Punjab), have been known to teach Punjabi to my Sikh friends and dance to Bhangra music (who wouldn’t want to?). In this month of Ramadan, Muslims and Sikhs should unite in their condemnation at these attacks, which are not only against Sikhs but against humanity.

 

Article: Billy Elliot – Lessons for the UK Economy

I’ve decided to join the wonderful world of Huffington Post blogging.  It really is a blogging behemoth.

My first article has been posted and I hope to continue posting; I’d quite like to make it a more regular thing but time pressures of a full-time job that has nothing to do with mainstream politics can make this difficult!

The original post can be found by clicking here.

On Wednesday evening, I was at the Victoria Palace Theatre in London to watch Billy Elliot: The Musical. A magical evening was made more magical thanks to the appearance of Sir Elton John, whose music and lyrics have contributed to the show’s 7-year longevity and critical acclaim – including an Olivier and a Tony Award – to celebrate what was to be its 3,000th show.

For those not in the know, Billy Elliot is the story of an eleven year old motherless boy in County Durham who trades in his boxing gloves for ballet shoes, set against the backdrop of the 1984-85 coal miner’s strike in the UK. It was estimated that the strike cost the economy some £1.5 billion.

With the UK currently in double-dip recession, the struggles of Billy’s widower father and his coal-mining colleagues were a little too close for comfort; the sentiments on stage, representative of 1984, didn’t seem too different from the sentiments I read or hear about in 2012.

I already despair that we don’t seem to have learnt any lessons from the banking and subsequent economic crisis from 2008 – credit rating agencies are still able to influence market movements (just ask France and Greece in recent months) and bank bonuses are set to rise by between 5 and 15 per cent in 2012.

But in digging a little deeper as to what the UK was like in the year of my birth, the UK I know today doesn’t seem to be all that different to Billy’s.

In 1984, The European Court of Human Rights ruled in favour of Surrey businessman, James Malone, who accused the police of illegally tapping his phone. Leveson take note.

The Labour Party started the year 3pc points ahead of the Conservatives in the polls, riding the wave of discontent over Thatcher’s economic policies. By the end of the year, Labour were 9pc points behind. Miliband Jr. take note.

Perhaps most enlightening is that UK unemployment today has reached the levels we would have seen in 1984. UK unemployment stood at a record 3.3 million, whilst youth unemployment reached a record 1.2 million. Today, unemployment stands at around 2.6 million, whilst 1.03 million young people are unemployed. Grayling take note.

In fact, some of the key events of that year – the expulsion of 30 Libyan diplomats following the death of PC Yvonne Fletcher, protests outside the Houses of Parliament, the wave of goodwill for the Royal family following the birth of Prince Harry and Everton winning the FA cup – would not look out of place in today’s papers. Except, perhaps, the Everton story.

But the point is this – we’ve been here before. The general malaise surrounding the UK (save for this week where Diamond Jubilee celebrations give us, and the papers, a chance to get away from Leveson it all) is something we’re accustomed to. But the key difference is that half way through this year, the UK doesn’t seem to be learning from some of the positive lessons of 1984. This last week has been more about sharp u-turns, rather than attempting to climb through the traffic on the mountain en route to that thing they call “economic growth”.

1984 saw the start of the FTSE 100 index; whatever you might feel about financial markets, you have to admit it showed bold ambition. It was perhaps this kind of ambition that attracted Nissan to open a car factory in the UK for the first time. The Queen was cutting ribbons at a new airport terminal in Birmingham and the very British Vauxhall car company doubled its market share with its European Car of the Year, the MK2 Astra. Britain was very much open for business.

I appreciate that I’ve glossed over the privatisations of British Telecom, the Trustee Savings Bank (Lloyds today) and the share sale of British Gas, but the point about generating economic growth by making the UK open for business is important.

The last few years should have taught us that big business can mean big failures and you can go too far. But given that “economic growth” seems to be the rallying call – even from non-tax paying heads of the IMF– Britain’s entrepreneurial spirit must be rekindled quickly. That might mean creating favourable conditions for businesses to thrive; revamping education to encourage innovation, creativity and enterprise (1984 was the year the GCSE was announced as the replacement for O-levels); and creating industrial hubs that create the scope for apprenticeships and new employment opportunities. Economic cycles are repetitive but present opportunities to take some positive lessons too.

The beginning of the second act in Billy Elliot starts with a not-so-complimentary performance of “Merry Christmas, Maggie Thatcher” and chants of “Maggie! Maggie! Maggie! Out! Out! Out!”. Two years into his term, Cameron still has the opportunity to prevent a rewrite of that song.

Article: Remembering the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War

My last day at The Times was also the 40th anniversary of Victory Day for Bangladesh.  I wrote two pieces – one for The Times and one for The Vibe.  The one below was written for The Times – you’ll see plenty of similarities with the one I wrote for The Vibe…!

You can find the original article by clicking here.

Today is a very important day for my family. Not only does it mark 23 years since my grandfather’s death but also 40 years since Victory Day for the country that came to be known as Bangladesh.

Pakistani Armed Forces surrendered to the Allied Forces of East Pakistan, the Mukti Bahini (Freedom Fighters) and Indian forces (who joined the war effort on December 3, 1971) on December 16, 1971. With a patriotic Bangladeshi mother and a similarly patriotic Pakistani father, I always witness the most fascinating family dynamic around this time of year.

The war was bloody. The scale of atrocities moved Anthony Mascarenhas, a (West) Pakistani journalist based in Dhaka, to flee to London to expose the atrocities in The Sunday Times and his book,Bangladesh: A Legacy of Blood. He got the world’s attention. A senior US official at the time described Operation Searchlight, the initial offensive by West Pakistan, as “the most incredible, calculated thing since the Nazis in Poland”.

There was harrowing brutality and a great human cost. This has been captured in part by a BBC Asian Network report today. Some 10 million people fled East Pakistan to India and three million people were reported to have died (though the exact figure is now being disputed). Women like Ferdousi Priobhashini were repeatedly raped and large scale killings were the norm.

My uncle, a Chief Superintendent of Police, was taken away from his wife and four young children and was never seen again. His wallet, shawl and walking stick are on display in the Liberation War Museum in Dhaka.

On December 14, 1971, the Day of the Martyred Intellectuals, my mother narrowly escaped death after my grandfather was tipped off by the Indian General J. S. Aurora and told to leave the house.

Henry Kissinger, the then US National Security Adviser, famously said that Bangladesh “is and always will be a basket case”, offering US support to West Pakistani forces during the war and at one point removing his own Consul General in Dhaka, Archer Blood, for criticising the failure of the US government for “failing to denounce the suppression of democracy” – as highlighted by none other thanChristopher Hitchens.

The surrender of the Pakistani army made the front page of The Times.

As I remember those who passed, I leave you with Bob Dylan as he performs in The Concert for Bangladesh in 1971.

Article: Protect the City, neglect the regions

The unemployment debate raged on but very little was being said about investment away from London – with the focus being on the Olympics and reinvigorating our service industries.  This was perhaps my first properly “journalistic” article as opposed to comment – it was the first time I had used and analysed data as opposed to rhetoric.  I really enjoyed writing this piece and hope to to write more of a similar ilk.

You can find the original article by clicking here.

Unemployment has hit a 17-year high and the figures are, as usual, being masked by political mud-slinging.

“Unemployment doesn’t just happen overnight – it’s the mess you’ve left behind that has caused this,” say the Conservatives. “Our mess is part of a wider mess but if you’d used a broom instead of a pneumatic drill to deal with it, we wouldn’t have consecutive bouts of unemployment!” say Labour.

Both arguments have merit but amid all this, young people are being left behind: the number of young unemployed has reached its highest level since the mid-1980s.

History shows us that migration, particularly internal migration, has a very important role to play in generating economic growth. This graph is based on ONS data on regional migration:

The data, from March 2010 to March 2011, shows that people are generally leaving London, apart from those aged 15 to 24, who are moving in.

Of those who left London, where did they go? Some 84,600 moved to the South East; 53,660 moved to the East; and 19,480 moved to the South West. Unsurprisingly, house prices had a large part to play: the South East experienced the second highest annual fall in house prices nationally.

As for young people migrating to London, the overwhelming majority came from the South East, then the East. This suggests that London is being seen as the place to find work.  But data shows that the largest numbers of job vacancies are in the North West – 48,700 as at November 2011 with London second (31,000 jobs in banking, finance and insurance). Interestingly, 220,000 vacancies nationally are in banking, finance and insurance, after distribution, hotels and restaurants with 46,000.

London is second only to the North East in terms of unemployment rates. Youth unemployment in London has jumped by 26,000 in three years. But with 77,000 young people aged 15 to 24 migrating to London in the last year alone, it is hardly surprising that a sizeable number have been unable to secure employment.

This has to change: jobs have to be created away from London and the South East. Concentrating wealth and opportunities in one part of the country leads to pressure on housing stock and public services, and results in over-population.

Young people are highly mobile, so they should see other parts of the country as feasible places to work and live. House prices are be cheaper the further North you go and, with Londoners already spending £489 more on travel than those in the West Midlands and North of England combined, cheaper travel should be a more appealing prospect.

The Prime Minister has been criticised for protecting the “one square mile of the 86,000 in the UK” with his unprecedented EU veto. He must create hubs in other parts of the country for our financial industry and other services industries to grow.

Article: Perhaps it’s Europe left out in the cold

I’ve never really been interested in European politics.  I never got into it.  But when David Cameron made the unprecedented decision to veto the European Treaty Deal in December, it became one of my most memorable political moments.  Not because it mattered to me but I got to witness how a newsroom takes news like this.  Everyone was wading into the debate about its merits and, honestly, I wasn’t moved either way.  But I felt like I had to say something and the only way I could understand it was by using a football analogy.

You can find the original article by clicking here.

Britain, I know how you feel. In the playground, I never got picked to play football.

But you chose not to play. It’s cold out there. Standing knee-deep in European bailout mud is not your idea of fun. The two team captains, France and Germany, have run off to play. But they are playing with a square football.

That square football is the debt the eurozone countries are trying to repay. And to make matters worse, they want to repay it at the pace of Cristiano Ronaldo: EU leaders have agreed to penalise countries that overshoot a deficit limit of 3 per cent of GDP.

Unfortunately, the burden of their debt means they will end up looking like Neil Shipperley. The latest figures from the OECD database show that eight eurozone countries have deficits 1 to 9 points above the 3 per cent limit.

Is it really in every participating country’s interest to reduce their deficit so quickly? And given that each will have a different approach to deficit reduction, is it realistic to expect they’ll all be able to do it?

I don’t think it is. There can never be a truly united Europe when each country has such distinct economic and social characteristics. What works in Italy might not work in Greece.

The UK currently runs a deficit of 9.4 per cent – a heavy leather ball. But now, there’s no overbearing French or German coach screaming instructions about how to kick it. That’s liberating.

Britain can focus on reinvigorating its services industries. It can catch the attention of the Chinese and Indian kids to support its attacks. And in time, the Neil Shipperley nations will come to Britain, asking us to help spare them a ticking off from the Franco-German managerial team.

Article: Ilford

I went to primary school in Ilford, Essex and, whilst I have a lot of affection for the place, it ain’t the prettiest.  So imagine my surprise when Ilford was the “fastest growing European tourist destination” for 2011.  Being the only guy who had actually heard of the place on the Times Opinion desk, naturally, I wrote a quick post!

What do Nigel Benn, Paul Ince and Noel Edmonds have in common?

They all hail from Ilford in Essex, the fastest growing European tourist destination in 2011. No, really.

I spent my primary school years in Ilford, did my first job there and then worked for Redbridge Council. There is a nice park, a small shopping centre and a bustling high street.

I love Ilford. But a tourist destination it is not.

As it’s less than 10 minutes from Stratford by train, I’m guessing that people are looking for places to stay within reach of the Olympic Stadium.