Why I love the Shard

Posted on July 06, 2012

I love the Shard.

Yes, the opening ceremony last night was more than a bit underwhelming – resembling nothing more than an 8-year-old Sauron playing with a laser pen – but the building itself is magnificent.

Just look at it. This is arguably the most ambitious and radical building London has put up since Parliament was rebuilt in the 19th century. It is bold, sleek and a remarkable technical achievement all in one building.

As well as its external appearance, there is the mind-boggling scale of the experience it offers those inside. It is so tall that it will provide London’s first ever sea view. That’s remarkable, an achievement which reconnects us with the unlimited engineering dreams of the Victorians.

The Shard is also a confirmation of our welcome return to sane modernity. The 1960s and 1970s saw architecture kidnapped, locked in an abandoned warehouse and ritually tortured by a clique who were convinced that being modern meant knocking down beautiful historic buildings and replacing them with ugly, brooding concrete boxes. The Shard is a stake through the heart of architectural nosferatu like Euston station.

There will always be criticism – happily, we live in a populous and opinionated society, where all have access to digital loudhailers, so that is inevitable. Tastes differ, but there is genuine absurdity in the cult which seems to have developed around the design of St Paul’s cathedral.

For some, it seems, no large building is acceptable in London unless it is St Paul’s, or a carbon copy thereof.

The Guardian glowered that it can be seen “towering over St Paul’s” in a picture that implied they are next door to each other, rather on different sides of the Thames.

The Telegraph’s normally excellent Ed West similarly objected that from Parliament Hill, the Shard can be seen “dwarfing St Paul’s”.

It is as though some imagine St Paul’s as a great, stone censor, Mary Whitehouse carved in Portland stone, tut-tutting about anything that might offend her stately sensibilities.

This is wrong-headed: St Paul’s itself was, in its day, a radical departure from the norm. Nothing of its sort had ever been built in England before, and it shocked and repulsed many contemporary observers. In that sense, the Shard is a descendant of St Paul’s, not its usurper.

Wren himself had to battle for years to be able to go ahead with his revolutionary new building, fighting against those who said the new cathedral should be exactly the same as the buildings that had gone before. Thank goodness that he stuck with it and prevailed – and thank goodness those building the Shard did the same 300 years later.

The real problem with Laurie Penny

Posted on April 30, 2012

It can’t be easy being Laurie Penny.

For a start, being the self-appointed voice of the young must be a heavy responsibility – particularly when so many of the young keep thinking things you don’t agree with.

Then there’s the difficulty of carving out a media career in New York, a place somewhat less vulnerable to the British Left’s obsession with appointing new Messiahs of the Media every 6 months or so.

Even when you give in to the temptation to abandon your RiotGrrl anti-paternalism and write a traffic-hunting piece swooning over a Hollywood star who, you claim, saved you from death-by-traffic, irritating bloggers crop up pointing out that your story bears remarkable similarities to the plot of a Natalie Portman film.

Now, having inherited the seat left vacant by Johann Hari’s ignominious demise as the previous pen-wielding star of the young left, people start snooping around suggesting you have perhaps polished reality or even made things up to fit your articles. There’s even a hashtag, #pennygate, set up a couple of weeks ago by the guy who brought Hari down.

I must confess that as all of these things pile up, I can’t get too excited about whether Laurie is the new Johann or not. There is speculation, there are undoubtedly people hunting through her past works for fabrications or plagiarism, and who knows if they will find anything.

It’s true that Laurie is almost unique among journalists in always happening to overhear the quote that perfectly and precisely proves her point, regardless of whether she’s in the middle of a riot, trapped in an alley by the EDL or having her bum pinched on a sweaty dance floor. Indeed, I questioned a couple of years ago whether all of her quotes, which tend to read like a poor Grange Hill script, are genuine. Maybe she’s just immensely lucky, all the time; maybe she has remarkable hearing superior to that of ordinary humans; or maybe there’s something more scandalous to it.

It would be interesting to know, but even if the worst was proved it would not be the most fundamental problem with her journalism.

The problem with Laurie is far more important than that.

Laurie’s journalism is flawed because of her worldview.

There’s nothing wrong with biased journalism. Whether you read the original gonzo journalists or, you believe truly balanced journalism is an impossibility, bias has plenty going for it. It is human nature.

Laurie’s worldview suffers not because it is biased, but because it is so hypocritical and so inconsistent.

For an investigative commentator who paints a picture of herself as a kind of war correspondent on the streets of London and New York, she has a remarkable dedication to double think. On Planet Penny, everything is a bit topsy turvy.

Those who loot shops are excused, having been forced into their crime by a wicked society; those who go to work or stay at home watching TV are bad, and by daring to enjoy the fruits of their own labour are personally responsible for forcing those looters to nick flat screen TVs.

Those who use violence against the police are protecting themselves and epitomising the beautiful flame of youthful rebellion; those policemen who hit back are not protecting themselves or others, they are simply autobots carrying out the personal orders of David Cameron/Rupert Murdoch/Andy Coulson to smash what is beautiful.

Those who are on the Left are well informed, have made their own minds up and base everything on evidence; those on the Right just think what they are told by their parents and have obviously never read any history. At worst, the Left are just keen on serving good; at best, the Right are genetically incapable of disobeying the master class.

Those are just some of the peculiar distortions that she embeds in her work. We can also consider the factual distortions inherent in her argument.

Take, for example, the idea that the West is at war with itself. To read Laurie’s work, you’d think every family is riven by violent generational hatred, every student is planning the downfall of the state, every relationship is one of power struggles, and every Primark lies empty because its ethos is so corrosive to the human soul that anyone entering a shop immediately tears at the hair and vomits uncontrollably.

This is, put simply, balls.

But you knew that, because you only need to hold up Laurie’s picture of the world next to the reality that you see every day to realise there is a remarkable discrepancy between the two. As much as she may hate the idea, most families are pretty happy, most people would like a successful career, most consumers enjoy the ability to buy new ipods or to prettify their house. Whisper it, most people are even willing to believe that their partners really do love them, rather than viewing them as foreign ambassadors negotiating a temporary inter-gender armistice.

I suppose it must be deeply frustrating to have to struggle every day to uphold an ideology that, no matter how strongly you promote it, keeps running up against inconvenient fundamental human emotions like aspiration, pleasure, loving one’s family and that kind of thing. Laurie has let that frustration disconnect her writing from reality.

In short, the problem with Laurie isn’t that some of her reported quotes or experiences may (allegedly) be untrue. It’s that all the things she asserts so strongly about human nature are untrue – and no journalism course can set that right.

“Don’t forget to bring your cheque book”: Virendra Sharma MP’s office breach Parliamentary rules

Posted on April 02, 2012

The way MPs use their taxpayer-funded expenses and facilities is an area the public are understandably concerned about. The MPs’ expenses scandal was a disinfecting burst of sunshine into some pretty dingy corners of Westminster and led to a welcome clear-out of some representatives of the people who saw the rules merely as recommendations.

One element of the rules which is long-standing and extremely clear is that MPs’ Parliamentary resources (staff time, computers etc) is explicitly and solely for use in their Parliamentary duties. As the Members’ Handbook puts it:

“These facilities and services are provided in order to assist Members in their parliamentary work. They should be used appropriately, in such a way as to ensure that the reputation of the House is not put at risk. They should not be used for party political campaigning or private business activity.

Apparently not all Members are so keen on this rule.

Last Wednesday, the following email was sent out by Julian Bell, researcher for Virendra Sharma MP, apparently to all members of their constituency Labour Party:

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: BELL, Julian <BELLJG@parliament.uk>
Date: 28 March 2012 13:48
Subject: Dr Onkar Sahota’s GLA Campaign Launch – This Saturday 7 untill 10 pm at the Dominion Centre, The Green, Southall, UB2 4BQ

Dear Member,

The Mayoral and GLA campaign has now entered the legal short stage and there are only 36 days to polling day on 3rd May. With their budget for millionaires and a Tory Councillor being suspended for a racist blog they really are the same old Tories. Tory Mayor Boris Johnson and Tory Deputy Mayor Richard Barnes are no different and there will be no better chance than now to kick them out of office.

In order to do just that and to launch Dr Onkar Sahota’s campaign for Ealing and Hillingdon we are holding a campaign launch and fundraising meeting this Saturday 31st March at 7 pm at the Dominion Centre, The Green, Southall, UB2 4BQ. Please come along and give Onkar your support. Bring along other Party members and enjoy an evening of politics, food, drink and socialising. Don’t forget to bring your cheque book.

Best wishes,
Steve Pound MP
John McDonnell MP
Virendra Sharma MP
Cllr Julian Bell
Cllr Mo Khursheed

As you can see, it is from a Parliamentary email account, written by a Parliamentary researcher and yet is a highly partisan invitation to a party political election campaign event, which doubles as a party fundraiser. There can be no doubt this is a breach of the very clear rules of the House of Commons.I’ve always thought the MPs’ expenses scandal was unlikely to be the last we would see of MPs abusing their position – but I didn’t necessarily expect it to start again so soon. The Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards is unlikely to be very pleased about this, I suspect.

Ken’s Con

Posted on January 09, 2012

Evening Standard polling on the London Mayoral Race shows clearly that transport fares, and the management of the underground service, is the only major chink in Boris’s armour. It’s a topic which is high on Londoners’ list of concerns and it’s the only area where Ken appears to have a distinct opportunity.

As a result, Ken Livingstone is hammering the issue, promising a 7% cut in fares. But can he be trusted to stick to this pledge for a so-called “fare deal”, or is it pie in the sky?

Judging by his track record, it’s the latter. In fact, he’s broken promises on fares at both of the last two Mayoral elections.

In September 2003, with an election coming up, Ken promised to peg fare rises to “no more than the rate of inflation”. But in September 2004, he announced tube fares would rise at inflation +1% and bus fares would jump by inflation +10%.

In December 2007, with another election approaching, he told the London Assembly “I intend to freeze Tube fares in real terms in 2009″. He lost the election, but by April 2008 leaked emails emerged showing that when he gave that pledge to the Assembly he had already signed off on higher than inflation rises for bus and tube passengers.

It’s understandable why Ken – lagging by 8 points in the polls behind Boris – is making increasingly desperate pledges to persuade voters. The question has always been how he will fund them. Looking at his past behaviour gives us the answer – he won’t have any trouble funding his 7% cut, because he makes a habit of  breaking his promises as soon as the election is out of the way.



Ken ne regrette rien

Posted on November 10, 2011

Ladies and gentlemen, I proudly present the first video venture from CrashBangWallace.com. It explores all the things Ken Livingstone should be – but isn’t – sorry for from his terms as Mayor of London. Ken ne regrette rien…

Appropriately, Ken’s been shooting his mouth off again recently – this time telling LondonlovesBusiness.com that it’s ok that he’s matey with Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the extremist preacher who argues violence against Israel is justified. In fact, is there anything Ken has done that he’s ever said sorry for?

This is a man who drove Londoners’ council tax through the roof, ditched City Hall’s reputation into the gutter and “reached out” to Islamist extremists in an official capacity. Why should anyone give him another chance to do it all again?

Ken Livingstone fans revisit the failed ‘Tory Toffs’ tactic

Posted on October 11, 2011

Boris Johnson spoke at a Lambeth & Southwark Conservatives event last night in Lambeth Town Hall, rallying the troops in advance of next year’s GLA and London Mayoral election. In a retro return to the old days, a gaggle of Labour and Trade Union activists picketed the event, heckling guests as they arrived and making a minor nuisance of themselves.

It wasn’t just the sight of lefty pickets at Tory events that was a blast from the past, though – Ken Livingstone’s camp appear to be revisiting the “Tory Toffs” attack strategy that ultimately doomed Labour in the Crewe and Nantwich by-election. The organisers told protesters:

We would ask that formal dress be worn; bring your champagne flutes and martini glasses in the hope someone will provide some drink, and join us in trying to ensure that everyone may eat cake.

For those who don’t recall, this was exactly the approach that Labour took in Crewe and Nantwich in 2008 – Labour supporters turned up dressed in top hats to pursue an explicit class war strategy that they seemed convinced would work. It didn’t – the Conservatives got a 17% swing to take the seat, in part because voters were turned off by the stench of class warfare and the politics of envy. Even the Guardian described the toff attacks as “patronising, old-fashioned and divisive”.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that people who support Ken Livingstone are quite keen on things that are “patronising, old-fashioned and divisive”, given that you could plausibly put the phrase on Ken’s business card, but it doesn’t bode well for his election prospects. Particularly given that his old ally Lee Jasper was back in the thick of things, too, promoting the event on Twitter.

So here they are in all their glory, the politics-of-envy, class warriors who Ken apparently hopes will hand him the keys to the capital. I suspect the Boris campaign will be hoping they are wheeled out on a regular basis right up to polling day – as Crewe showed us, the more they do this, the more they will deter voters:

“Independent” anti-Boris campaign – the Green Party fingerprints spread and spread

Posted on September 05, 2011

Following my post last week about the apparent attempt by senior members of the Green Party to pretend the Sack Boris campaign they were running was “independent”, the plot has thickened somewhat.

We’ve already established that Common People, the outfit running Sack Boris, is registered to Jim Killock, long-serving Green activist, former Party employee and the partner of Sian Berry, 2008 Green Mayoral candidate. Interestingly, Sian herself – who memorably endorsed Ken Livingstone at the 2008 election – appears to have been involved in organising the Sack Boris flashmob, which took the definition of “mob” to breaking point with a turnout of “a dozen in total“.

Now it has emerged that the Sack Boris site itself is registered to James Mackenzie. Mackenzie’s involvement is interesting on two grounds.

First, he isn’t even a resident of London, as he lives in Edinburgh, which must surely raise a question as to why he is mounting a campaign to “influence the outcome of elections” in London. Second, he isn’t any common or garden Green activist, he’s a full time employee of the Green MSPs and is in fact the exalted Head of Media for the Scottish Green Party. Scottish politicians, including the Greens, would flip if the English started trying to influence their devolved elections, so what legitimacy does he have to poke his nose in to the London Mayoral race?

Mackenzie did mount a defence when I raised this point, arguing that a) he had “visited London“, which is nice but hardly compelling and b) that he had only set up Sack Boris then “handed it over to Common People”, in which case he might want to shift the registration to someone else given that they are sailing rather close to the wind in terms of electoral law.

So the questions stand – how far up in the Green Party does this go, why do Sack Boris and Common People conceal the identities of the people involved and when do they intend to come clean about the true character of this campaign to influence the London Mayoral election?

Greens running no-fingerprints anti-Boris campaign

Posted on September 01, 2011

Given Ken Livingstone’s pretty diastrous campaign so far, it’s unsurprising that a separate anti-Boris campaign has emerged online. “Sack Boris 2012″ has an active Twitter account, campaign site, a Facebook page and even merchandise like Oyster card holders and mugs. They’re starting to get some traction among lefty Twitterati, and are appealing for donations like nobody’s business.

But who are they?

On the site itself there are no “About” or “Who are we” section to illuminate as to who runs it, other than an outgoing link in the small print saying the site is “Published by Common People”. The Common People website is similarly opaque – the content fits just about every lefty stereotype, supporting UK Uncut, opposing any cuts, lining up behind Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine nonsense, laying into people who want to set up private educational establishments and so on and so on.

There is a “Who we are” section but it provides few answers:

Common People was founded at a corner table in the Bricklayer’s Arms, Putney, in June 2010 by a group of activists who have worked together over the past ten years on a wide range of campaigns, blogs and elections.


the board are members of the Green Party, the Labour Party and no party, but we all support the same principles of equality, rights, environmental protection and sustainability, and citizens working together to support each other and solve problems

Ok, but why no names still?

Fortunately, the internet has its own wonders, and a quick WHOIS search brings up the name of the person who registered the website: a James Killock. Surely not the James “Jim” Killock listed by Wikipedia as being the live-in partner of Sian Berry, the 2008 Green Party candidate for London Mayor?

Why are Common People and Sack Boris so secretive about who they are, to the point of keeping any names of both of their websites? For that matter, when do they intend to tell the people donating to them that their campaign is run by senior Green Party activists? What is the real Labour/Green split on their governing body?

Given that they are seeking to raise thousands of pounds to spend campaigning against Boris in an election, and that their mission is to “take an active part in influencing elections”, it’s surely only a matter of time before the Electoral Commission come sniffing around – and so far, Common People haven’t registered with them at all…

Ken Livingstone and Lee Jasper reunited

Posted on April 23, 2011

Do you remember Lee Jasper? As Ken Livingstone’s Director for Policing and Equalities in City Hall for 8 years, Jasper was one of Red Ken’s closest advisors and confidantes. Having been suspended in February 2008 due to a storm over alleged dubious dealings at the London Development Agency, he resigned in March 2008 when it turned out he was secretly sending “sexually charged” emails to a woman who ran projects that he helped to get taxpayer funding for.

Jasper’s reputation soured the entire Ken campaign in 2008 – and since then Ken has steered well clear of him, at least in public. The message has been that this is a new, clean Ken Livingstone, without dodgy mates like Jasper on his bandwagon any more.

How surprising, then, to see the list of speakers at the TUC’s May Day Rally in an email sent out by Lambeth TUC, and since sent on to  me:

Ken Livingstone (Labour Party NEC member and candidate for London Mayoral election)
Matt Wrack – FBU General Secretary
Tony Benn
Sarah Veale – TUC
Lee Jasper – Black Activists Rising Against the Cuts
Eylem Ozdemir – Refugee Workers Cultural Association

It seems the old band is back together again. (And yes, you did read that right – Jasper really has set up a group that believes the cuts are racist, and he really has called it “BARAC” in a heroically desperate attempt to get some Obama-glitz-by-association.)

According to his propaganda, we are meant to believe that Ken Livingstone has changed, but here is, once again, sharing a platform with the same old cronies, banging the same old drum. The leopard hasn’t changed his spots – and who really believes he’s been trying to?

The banning of the burqa would be even more un-British than the wearing of it

Posted on April 11, 2011

On the day that France bans the burqa – thus becoming a state so draconian as to dictate what people can and cannot wear – it seems appropriate to repost one my earliest pieces on this site, weighing up whether a ban in Britain would be right.

It’s a tricky topic – often leading people who oppose a ban to falsely pretend they are entirely comfortable with an institution which in truth few people really are comfortable with. Britain’s position is all the more important now that proponents of the French ban are pointing across the Channel to warn that without it France could become like the UK.

So here’s the post. Let me know your thoughts.