Thursday, 30 June 2016

How not to face the media!

“How to face the media” was the subject of a training day I attended when I was running a breast cancer research charity. This was at the height of the vile and dangerous campaign by animal rights activists about medical research using animals. (It was vile – they dug up the body of an old woman from a cemetery to ransom to her family and dangerous, they bombed scientists and scientific establishments). 

One of the pharmaceutical companies arranged a training day for some of their key staff and very generously included a few people from charities. The pharmaceutical staff needed to know how to deal with aggressive journalists, most of our interaction with the media was gentler.

It was a most valuable day and a couple of generic lessons stuck in my mind. If the subject affects your sector but not your organisation you can say no.  You can say no anyway but then they may well say – “no one would comment”  The second and most powerful was – from the moment you walk into the studio or the journalist comes into your office you are on the record. Even if you believe the microphone or camera are switched off, don’t risk it.

When Prime Minister Gordon Brown called a woman he had just been very polite to a bigot he didn’t realise he still had the microphone on, even though he was back in his car (see here for the full story). This haunted him for the rest of his career.

Our charity was once approached by a TV company who wanted to do a “day in the life, behind the scenes” at our office.  The Fundraising Department was very keen – wonderful exposure.  My response was, not under any circumstances: not because we had anything to hide, we were very proud of how the organisation was run and our staff but we couldn’t control the off the cuff remark someone might make which could be misinterpreted, the phone call that might come in or how it might be edited. 

That’s why I was so surprised to see that Seamus Milne, Jeremy Corbyn’s Executive Director of Strategy and Communications, allowed a reporter from Vice to do exactly that.  Milne used to be a reporter – did he think that because the reporter was a life-long Labour supporter that it would be just fine. It starts off that way but turns into a car crash.  Watch it - here

While this wasn’t disastrous – things then became worse.  After over half the Shadow Cabinet resigned, new appointments were made and it was thought a good idea to let the cameras in to their first meeting. Not only does it start with Corbyn saying that he is not sure this is a great idea but when they regroup the people around him have moved seats – one key person is not there.  Seamus I'm not sure this is a great idea either has now gone viral.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Post Brexit – this time sad

Anti-Semitism has been a thread running through the last few months in the UK before the referendum campaign kicked in. There has been much discussion in the press and certainly on university campuses. After several members had been suspended for their views, the Labour Party eventually – eventually – launched an investigation into anti-Semitism in the party – we are not very confident, given the lack of cohesion in the party at the moment and its leader’s associations in the past, that this is going to work.  Let’s see.

And that’s why I am sad.  I never thought when I came to live here so many years ago that I would feel uncomfortable – but I, and many of my friends, do now – even though our day-to-day lives have not changed.

I came to the UK from South Africa for a few years in the sixties and then came back in 1977. I was relieved that at last I was in a country where my colour didn’t matter and my religion didn’t matter either.  I was naïve about racism based on colour – it certainly existed but most people got along and my religion didn’t matter to most people either.

There is a rise in overt anti-Semitism in many European countries and in the USA – it has probably always been there but the presence of 24 hour news means that it is instantly available to everyone which encourages others to do the same – if someone else is doing it then it’s OK for me – and leaves us feeling perhaps more insecure than we need. What we are experiencing now is fear of and hatred of the “other”.  The “other” is anyone who doesn’t look like me or sound like me, has a different religion or belief or even a different political view.  See the photo I posted yesterday of a left wing Corbyn supporter calling others “vermin”.

Nigel Farage posed in front of a poster showing a dense stream of people who were allegedly flooding into the UK. The UK has taken a pitiful number of refugees so that can’t be why people voted to leave the EU. People who are smuggled or trafficked in and are here illegally are nothing to do with the EU.

I know people who are not racist, not anti-European but voted to leave because they were fed up with being “told by Brussels what to do” – this is misguided and wrong and we may well end up doing all the same things as before to continue to trade.

But there those who voted to leave the EU because of Europeans coming in and apparently taking their jobs (for lower wages), houses, school places and clogging up the doctor’s surgery etc. If they stop coming we will need to persuade people from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere to come here and do the jobs that you are not qualified for or won’t do – is that what you meant?  If they don’t, our health service will collapse – not only the carers and cleaners that everyone seems to think about but highly skilled doctors, nurses and scientists. You will have to wait longer for your operation or your chemotherapy. Is that what you want?

I do believe that most people are reasonable, don’t hate and don’t abuse – but through the 24 hour news reporting and statements made in the Referendum campaign – racism in its broadest sense is in danger of becoming normalised.

That’s why I’m sad.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Post Brexit – angry and sad

I have not blogged for some months. Everything seemed too awful or too trivial and every time I sat down to write I was immediately stuck.

However, in the UK a momentous referendum was held last week and we will be leaving the European Union.  David Cameron, the Prime Minister, has resigned – whether you think the “Remain” campaign was good or not, it was his campaign and he, quite rightly, doesn’t think that he should be the person to negotiate the exit. 

The Leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, failed to lead the party: although the policy was to "Remain", his attitude convinced many people that he was for “Leave” as he always has been and, as I write, more than half his Shadow Cabinet have resigned and there has been an overwhelming vote of no confidence today – 172:40. He has said “I’m not going anywhere” – well that can be interpreted two ways.

Why am I angry? I am not angry because I voted “Remain” for the future of this country, peace in Europe and particularly for my children and grandchildren but my side lost in a democratic vote.  I am angry because I am now told that it’s my generation’s fault. The actual demographics of the referendum are not known – they are assumed and the assumption is that most people over the age of 60 voted Leave and 75% of 18 – 25 year olds voted to Remain – that is when they voted.  The older generation traditionally have a high turnout and some sources have quoted that under 40% of the younger generation actually voted – but it’s all our fault. This is quite a good article How did different demographic groups vote in the EU Referendum

I am over 60, draw a pension and am white – therefore the assumption is I voted Leave – wrong.  I am also an immigrant and Jewish. The first is significant because some immigrants have been told to go back where they came from (usually not English speaking or white) and the second because the referendum campaign unleashed a rash of racism – it almost seemed to give ‘permission’ to people to express suppressed racism – and the Jews are always targets in the end.


A wonderful, gifted young woman Labour MP, Jo Cox, was shot dead outside her constituency office (by a white Christian, British born man – given the events in Orlando, this is significant).  She believed in the EU and was campaigning for “Remain”.  Parliament was recalled, there were emotional scenes in the House of Commons and all party leaders went to her constituency to pay tribute to her. 

But, one week later, last night, at a rally by the left of the Labour Party (although most placards seemed to be for the Socialist Workers’ Party) John McDonnell, Shadow Chancellor, said:

"Now a number of MPs have complained that people have been turning up in demonstrations to express their view. Some have described it as rabble, or mob rule or whatever. Let me be clear. People have the right to peaceful protest. The protests will be peaceful, but the reason the protests are taking place is that we will not allow a handful of MPs to subvert Jeremy’s mandate."

They haven’t been peaceful and MPs and their staff have complained of being threatened and harassed. The “handful" of MPs – 172 against 40!

This charming individual was at the rally - look how thrilled the young people on either side are about what is on the t-shirt.

I will write about "sad" tomorrow - still too angry!

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Aimless in London

Surely not – how can you be aimless in London – so much to see so much to do.  I never have before but I was going to be in Knightsbridge with about four hours to kill.  (Boring bit – I needed new lenses in my glasses so had to take to them to the optician and return later.  Why do I go all the way to Knightsbridge from North London? “36 Opticians” is run by two brilliant women who are not only competent but can look at you and find three frames which suit you perfectly – rather than having to try on everything in the shop as well as fitting exactly the correct contact lenses)

Wearing said contact lenses I drifted down Beauchamp Place with no fixed idea of where to go and what to do.  I could have met up with friends, taken in a museum or two – goodness knows there is enough to see within walking distance – but decided to be aimless.

Knightsbridge is a strange place – even by London standards. It has been colonised by the oligarchs and the oil-i-garchs. You will see more wildly expensive sports and custom cars there in an hour than in the rest of London in a month – even more so in the summer – with chauffeurs and bodyguards to match. Women in hijabs and burkas – the younger ones with their £1,000 Louboutins peeping out.  Some of the cafes now have shisha pipes and groups of men sit there, drink coffee and smoke.

And then there is Harrods (or Horrids as we used to call it).  I have not been there in years and, although I never progressed above the ground floor on that morning, it is stunning: a temple to consumerism in the most extreme way but gorgeous nevertheless.  I remember in the 1960s being dazzled by the food court and it is just as dazzling. What heaven to walk there every day to do my food shopping – like the high street used to be but more glamorous – a butcher cutting my meat and a fishmonger serving the fish (but rather empty at 10.30 in the morning). There is a café above the food hall and I had an excellent cup of coffee (served in a bone china cup) and the most delicious yogurt, granola and berries – it was more expensive than the faceless high street chain but so delicious with the most charming service.

I abandoned my aimlessness to walk to Hyde Park Corner to see the Royal Artillery Memorial commissioned after the First World War. I must have driven past it a thousand times and never really looked at it before. I heard a radio programme about the sculptor, Charles Sargent Jagger, and wanted to see it.  It was quite shocking in its day because, instead of heroic anonymous figures it portrayed realistic bronze figures of three standing soldiers and the body of a dead soldier, laid out and shrouded by a greatcoat.  It is moving and impressive and the relief sculptures show the reality of war not the glory.

From there to Oxford Street to buy a pair of trainers and then through Hyde Park – a good chunk of which is under mud rather than grass and cordoned off. On the way to collect my glasses I met a man with his hawk – keeping the pigeons away from all the posh glass buildings. The ground floor of one of those buildings is occupied by the ADIB bank – if invited you could have a Diamond Visa Debit Card which allows you to spend £20,000 a day and withdraw £4,000 from ATMs with free access to all airport lounges – oh yes – “Ladies also enjoy their own ADIB Dana Visa Infinite Debit”
This is Knightsbridge – not London and certainly not England but £20,000 wouldn’t be enough to buy this little number parked in the street.....or the Aston Martins in Harrods’ window.

Monday, 18 January 2016

Justice, justice – part two

I wrote about our granddaughter’s Bat Mitzvah that took place earlier this year.  As I mentioned, she read from the Torah and her portion was about justice.  She also had to deliver a D’var Torah, a talk about the section that she read. This is a daunting task for anyone, let alone a 12 year old – to write it and then to deliver it to a large audience, which will range from the very knowledgeable to those from other religions for whom this is quite new.

This day was the culmination of several years at religion classes but also a year of instruction from the Rabbi. The Rabbi spoke to the congregation and told them that in her life she has learned from her teachers, from her colleagues but most of all from her pupils. I agree - it was interesting to see how a young woman (which our granddaughter is now) brings relevance and immediacy to a script which is thousands of years old. I hope she won’t mind if I quote from her speech (which, by the way, was delivered with confidence, clarity and aplomb!!) 

“Today we read Torah Shoftim which is about Law, Justice and how we behave:  ‘Zedek  Zedek  Tirdof ‘ which means “Justice - Justice shall you pursue!  Why justice twice?  Some people think it’s to repeat justice so you definitely hear it. Other people think it is so that we remember to be just in the way we go about our pursuit of justice in our lives and the lives of our community.

She outlined how Moses knew that he couldn’t always be the one to judge things and gave the Jews instructions about what to do and what not to do! This covered the appointment of judges and the behaviour of the King; witnesses and testimony and even rules of war.  If you want to read more about this you will find it in Deuteronomy.

She went on to say “Justice is not only about making laws. They have to be written down and we need to be sure that they are followed.  Justice is also not only for some people but has to be equally for everyone, including children. A few years ago I went to a children’s workshop organized by the Kinderburo in Basel. They try to make sure that children are part of the discussion about what is happening in our city and listen to our views because they think that is the only way that we will learn to live as part of a community. We had some interesting discussions about children’s rights which is something that we take for granted living here in Switzerland, in Europe and America. 

We drew postcards illustrating different kinds of children’s rights on them.  I chose to draw a card showing how every child has the right to have a name and be a citizen of a place! Did you know that that are at least 10 million people across the world who are stateless because of war or politics?  

(What she didn’t say was that her card was one of those selected for reproduction and distribution.) 
She concluded by saying, ”I think the important part of justice is that we mustn’t be selfish and we must try to be fair. We mustn’t only think of how something affects ourselves but also our families, our friends and our community. In that way we will truly be pursuing justice.

I agree with the Rabbi. We have much to learn.