Friday, September 30, 2011

Then There Were Three!

Yet another member of the Mars Hill blog team interviewed by Winkball! Rachel caught on camera on the last day of the Labour Party Conference, where she was delegate for Hertford and Stortford CLP

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Tuesday at Conference

My last full day. I attended and helped out at the CSM Prayer breakfast, attended a Tony Benn booksigning, went to the Northern Ireland Labour Party reception, and attended a worthwhile event hosted by the Co'Operative Party and CSM on the awful effects of our loan culture, at which Stella Cresay, the MP for Walthamstow, spoke eloquently and passionately about constituents of hers who had sufferedas a result and who ended up owing far more money than they earn in a month. Her website goes into brilliant detail on this.
Yesterday seemed to be the day to bump into many friends, aquaintances, and people one had spoken with at previous conferences, so good to meet up again with Kevin Bonavia, Iain Dale, Alex Hilton, Tony Benn, Simone Webb, Gillian Troughton, Rob Carr, Andy Flannigan, Greg Rosen, Lord Kinnock and apologies to anyone I missed out and that list is just yesterday :-)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Monday at Conference

Very busy day. Not just attendiung events but the sheer energy of the place, meeting people all the time etc.. Tires you out. I attended a good fringe meeting (and well turned out) on Palestine/Israel, where Ben Bradshaw, Arelene McCarthy, John McCartthy and Medhi Hassan among others were on the panel. It seems that the Palestinian issue, especially given last week at the UN, is one that is growing, will not go away, and has many on the Palestinian side, if not their sympathy.
Then I attended the Irish reception of Labour Parties and got to meet up with good friends Kevin Bonavia and Sara Ibrahim among others. BTW Wasn't Ed Balls' speech a blinder yesterday, one of his best I thought and look on BBC iPlayer if you want to see it in it's entirity

Monday, September 26, 2011

Winkballing all over the place

I see that Paul has managed to get spotted by the Winkball team at Liverpool this week for Labour conference.

For the sake of balance, I also got interviewed last week at the Liberal Democrats conference in Birmingham

Both of us it seems on day one.

Sunday at Conference

Well at was at the church service at St Nicholas this morning, hosted by CSM. Andy Flannigan spoke and Stephen Timms spoke at reception afterwards in place of Ed Miliband who was otherwise busy. attended a Progree meeting and the East of England reception, plus, bizarrely, a Downton Abbey Party hosted by Simone Webb. One of the great but strange things about conference is the speed and the unusual situations one finds oneself in. Which reminds me, yesterday I was briefly interviewed for The Daily Politics over Ed Miliband's performance using small balls

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Stephen's on the BBC News Website

One of our contributors, Stephen Glenn, is quoted as mentioning his views on the coalitions' progress on the BBC's News Website, so on behalf of the other contributors and myself, congratulations are in order.
Whether we agree with him is of course another matter ;-)

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Fisking Kelvin Mackenzie on Scotland!

Normally I wouldn't even bother fisking a column by Kelvin Mackenzuie, but I was drawn attention to his usual diatribe against Scots this morning and noticed a couple of things that concern me and should concern Daily Mail readers.

The first thing that bothered me was when he said:

As things stand, the Scots receive 19 per cent more State money per head than the English, which leads to the disgraceful situation where we are giving people who don’t even like us free prescriptions, free universities and the like, whereas we haven’t enough money to do that for our own people.

I would like Cameron to address this issue — after all it won’t cost him politically as he has more chance of seeing Gaddafi in Scotland than a Conservative voter.

Is it me or is Mackenzie writing that without being fully aware of the pain and misery felt by Scots over Lockerbie and how his remarks could be taken? If this is on the same level as his Hillsborough comments then it doesn't just show Mackenzie to be nasty, it shows him to be incompetent and foolish as well!

He then stated:

I do not want to keep paying. So I suggest we bring those clever folk from Israel who put the wall around their country and get them to do the same for Scotland. Then we can give the Scots independence and perhaps suggest they merge their currency with Greece.
We could call it the Skinto.

I am sure the people of Israel and Palestine, who suffer violence, misery, and hardship, will be happy to be compared with Scotland and England where the issue, if it is to the level Mackenzie suggests, is purely economic.
A word of free advice to Kelvin Mackenzie. Make a monumental effort to change the unpleasant habits of many years and think before you click send

Martin McGuinness - President of Ireland?

I doubt very much I am alone in having two minds about Martin McGuinness. On one, I have difficulty forgetting that he was involved to some degree with the IRA during the Troubles and was possibly privy to, and therefore probably involved, some of their biggest terrorist attacks.
But McGuinness the peacemaker I cannot help but admire.He and Ian Paisley both managed to let go to some degree, the bitterness from their respective pasts and move forward into the bright sunlight future of Northern Ireland that we hope to see. Whether Northern Ireland one day becomes part of the Republic or will always remain part of the UK, I hope that the more positive aspects of the distinctive nature of the Province, from both nationalist and unionist, is respected and cherished
So it is that I have mixed feelings about McGuinness aiming for the Irish Presidency. Will this help foster tension within the Unionist community (I think some is inevitable) ? Or will it also help create a better dialogue between North and South and help bring Sinn Fein further from the political cold? Over the years I have gradually come to see that Adams, McGuinness and their followers do not want to return to the past. That they see peace and dialogue as permanent, and I hope that, come what may this election, that will continue.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Total Politics list is from Mars (Hill that is)

With Paul and Rachel away out of regular Internet access this week I may as well post this.

Mars Hill Blog is ranked 57th in the Total Politics Top 100 Labour Blogs for 2011.

Personally I'm loving the fact that one of the team is the actually ranked number 5 on the Liberal Democrat list. Just don't tell the Total Politics team, they'll have apoplexy.

So on behalf of Paul, who did most of the blogging this year, and the rest of the team who have joined him recently, thank you for you votes and keep reading.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

10 years on the silent route over Edinburgh

Ten years ago I was sitting in my office on Queen Street in Edinburgh. the window from my top floor (or actually attic) office offered a view of the Firth of Forth and Fife beyond. But also of course a view and noise of all the planes that headed in over the Firth and Leith on their way to or from the airport off to the west.

We were a small team of four with me as the Administrator for three counsellors. From the other office one of them came in and told be to turn on the radio and try and find out online what was going on in New York. Her husband had called her to tell her that a plane had just hit the World Trade Centre. A few minutes later there was a gasp from both offices. We'd just heard the news that a second plane had hit the second tower.

This was in the day when small business still had dial up and the Internet was incredibly slow. The BBC pages that I would normally access without any difficulty were so slow as to drag information up sometimes 20 minutes after I'd requested it. Everyone was trying to do what I had been told to find out what was going on. But I already through my online life had friends all over the world and my thought was where were they. I logged unto forums to see if anyone had any news from any of the New York based ones.

Within hours all flights were being grounded. Nobody knew, or at least was saying what level of threat there was, so the precaution was to ground all civilian aircraft. Later in the afternoon I saw the last few aircraft coming in to land with RAF jets nearby, I assume from Leuchers.

My drive home to West Lothian took me alongside the Airport at Ingleston what my Northern Ireland eye noticed was an increased police presence in the area at that time, but for the busy early evening landing our as I queued in the heavy traffic from the Airport to the Motorway there was a lack of planes taking off or landing. There was to be an eerie emptiness in clear September skies for a number of days after that point. No vapour trails, no planes, no lights from wings for night landings and no noise overhead. It was strangely comforting to see vapour trails in the sky once again once the global flight ban was lifted.

We I got home I found my then fiancée and her family all huddled around watching News 24 or Sky News (I don't recall which) something they never did. I joined them as soon as the dag was walked. It was harrowing to watch and she and I started to check up on our online friends who we'd yet to hear about. One who should have been above the impact zone of the North Tower was fortunately on a business meeting elsewhere. However, what was even worse for us a couple of weeks later was pictures on one of her flatmates cameras from his holidays. One picture had the time stamp 14:59 10-Sep-01 it was a view from the observation deck on the South Tower of the North Tower with its TV antenna. Of course his camera was still using British time for the time so the time was 24 hours before a view from there would have suddenly dropped as the first Tower collapsed. He'd left New York that afternoon to fly to Philadelphia and this was his last tourist excursion in NYC.

We of course didn't know at the time where else might be a target. We didn't know if there were more planes up there aiming for locations. For someone from Northern Ireland who knew on the ground if there was heavy police presence going one way, especially during the IRA's London campaign when I worked there, that you head the other way the thought of planes being used was far more awful to comprehend.

I'd been used to the occasional no warning bombs. But could not imagine what it would have been like for those on floors that saw a plane heading straight for their office window and in a few brief seconds to comprehend their fate, knowing it was too late to do anything about it.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

9/11 - Shock and disbelief

For me 9/11 happened off stage. Maybe that's why it at first seemed so unreal.

People often talk about where they were when big events happened and how they experienced them. But for me I was totally oblivious of what was happening in the wider world until several hours later.

At the time I was working in Marks and Spencer in Canterbury and that day I had an all day shift. I had no access to television or the internet, and my mobile phone was switched off all day. As far as I was concerned it was just another day. I spent it working the various tasks in the coffee shop and whilst I did have a lunch break which must have been around the time the planes hit, it was spent eating, reading a newspaper and chatting to other staff.

The news only came that evening as I was walking home when I passed the house of a local councillor whom I'd help get elected earlier that year. He was out in the garden and I stopped to have a few words with him. He mentioned that the World Trade Center had been destroyed. I just couldn't believe him and thought he was pulling my leg. It seemed so impossible - like saying the Moon had vanished.

I'd visited New York only a year earlier, at the end of a holiday along the east coast. With only two days in New York and warned about lengthy queues I choose to make the World Trade Center my main tourist visit. Standing on the roof of one of the towers and looking out over the city truly was an awe inspiring experience. And it was just impossible to believe that it was no longer there.

I walked the rest of the way home wondering just how true all this was. I got in to find my flatmate watching the news on television and got the whole story of that day in one go. My reaction was a mix of horror at what had happened, but also worry as my parents were in the States, visiting my sister, and I had no way to communicate with them. Matters were made worse as we didn't have an internet connection in the flat itself. So I grabbed my laptop and jumped in the car and drove the short distance to the university campus where I had a key for one of the offices with a network connection. That evening was spent in the office fruitlessly searching the internet for some way, any way to get in touch with them (it's amazing how back then the internet played no role whatsoever in family communications). Eventually I realised I would have to wait for them to get in touch with me.

Looking back it seems strange that my focus was such as it was. But I guess that when faced with such events that seem so incredible sheer disbelief can make it hard to comprehend it all. It was only slowly over the next few days that everything really began to sink in and we were left wondering what the "War on Terror" would bring.

When the Twin Towers Fell...

It was my first week at university when the attacks happened in the US. I had moved from my tiny rural village home to be immersed in the cultural craziness and diversity of a very international college in the heart of Liverpool city centre. I was incredibly excited, but also terrified of meeting so many new people so quickly, and having to live in a totally new environment and live and work with a whole load of people from around the world I had never met. On 9/11 I was on the way to the first welcoming meeting of the new intake, but as I stepped into the lobby of the building, the massive plasma screen on the wall displayed the first impossible video footage of the first plane going into the tower. I stood horrified, and for a moment oblivious to the crowds gathering around me to watch as events unfolded. It was a mixture of disbelieving silence and frantic American accents on mobiles calling home that soon filtered into my consciousness, students calling friends and family and checking whether they were ok. We were all still gathered there as the news came in about the second plane...and at that point we were all shocked out of our paralysed horror. Anger and sadness and rage swept like a wave over the group, and the rest of the day passed in a haze for most of us. The teachers came and told us that everything had been called off for the rest of the week while some students organised flying home - some Americans to be with family, and even some conscripted forces students recalled to their units. The rest of us had no place of grounding to turn to in this new place, so over the evening most of us drifted towards the LIPA bar and mulled over the events of the day over our first student beers.
It was horrifying at the time, but one thing I did realise afterwards was on that day in the bar, we skipped over the usual boasting small talk and ego trips and focussed for a long time on what was real in that moment - an overseas tragedy brought close to home; an anger at the terrorists that fired up latent activism; an encounter with death that made us question what really mattered, and had all of us opened up to each other in the way that perhaps only adversity can. I sometimes we could be like this with one another the whole time, without something having to shock us into being real. I wonder what would be different if we were all real from the outset, and what would really matter to us? I wonder how many of us are bold enough to try...

9/11 - Ten Years On

Ten years ago tomorrow, I was working at a local coffee shop and was just finishing my 6AM-2PM shift when my Boss came in and told us of a plane hitting one of the Twin Towers in New York City. Like many I assumed it was a small bi-plane and thought of the time when a such a thing happened many years before with the Empire State Building. My Boss added that it was a terrorist attack.
I was picked up at work by my Dad who told me the same story and it was only when I got home that the full horror of what happened started to emerge. It was on all the terrestrial TV Channels, the horror of the fact it was two commercial planes, news of attacks on the Pentagon, some mentioned a bomb attack near the State Department (later proved to be inaccurate), in London Canary Wharf was being evacuated and, as I was going to London that afternoon, I had to swiftly cancel my journey. I remember being horrified as I saw the Towers collapse and thinking "All those people.." who were still trapped inside. It was horrifying and one swiftly realised that history was in the making and that the devastating impact that was taking place would be felt for decades to come.
In the days and weeks that followed there was a sense of shock and anger. I can well empathise with the desire for revenge as well as justice, to want to make those responsible pay dearly for the deaths and misery they have caused, but we must never, ever, in our quest for justice, put ourselves down to the level of those responsible. We must never behave in a way that would shock and appal us if it was anything else.
Ten years on, the World has indeed changed. We are more alert with regards to the issues of terrorism, we still have to face down Al Qaeda, even though Bin Laden was killed some months ago. But life is still the same in other contexts. We still go where we like, we still eat, drink, sleep, meet with friends and relatives. Al Qaeda took many things away from us on 9/11, but not everything, and not the most important things

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Blair, Murdoch, and Accountability

There is something disturbing about this on a no of levels. The first is simple, Wendi Deng's comments could be translated as "We go down, Blair goes down!" and that this is just the tip of an iceberg where offers of help are made with the possible blackmail.
The second disturbing thing is (assuming this is true) doesn't the former PM have any proper understanding of the word ethics? Wasn't he aware of how being Godparent to one of Murdoch's daughters caused a conflict of interest in his role as PM! What if he was still in Downing Street!
I appreciate success Prime Ministers' have been scared of Murdoch, but it seems that all, from Thatcher onwards were prepared to turn a blind eye. A sad reflection on our society and a sad reflection of what power and fear does to people

Friday, September 02, 2011

Protests Disrupt Israeli Philharmonic Proms Night

I can see the protesters point, but it was badly planned and organised at the wrong people. The Israeli Philharmonic are accepting of all musicians and protesting at the Royal Albert Hall during Proms season was not going to win friends and influence people!
Perhaps they should have aimed their protests at those who actually support and actively back Israeli occupation, and work out ways of committing peaceful protest there. Last nights action did little, if nothing for their cause

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Abortion and Dorries. What Isn't Being Done!

Much has been said around the blogosphere and twittersphere about Nadine Dorries's proposals for wider counselling on abortions,
What bothers me however is not the debate itself, but the language used. This is an issue which involves trauma, hurt, depression, anger, etc.. Many of those on both sides have a lot of emotional investment on this issue, for whatever reason and so why are people (inc Nadine Dorries) not being careful with their language, throwing accusations, instead of trying carefully and gently to win people over. How is anyone going to convince those who disagree on an issue such as abortion by being like this?
It's important to bear in mind the decency and humanity of the opponent, however disgraceful you find their views. It's important not to patronise, accuse, belittle, otherwise you will achieve almost zero in the long term.