Monthly Archives: April 2010

En-ger-land! En-ger-land!

Just take a look at the Evening Standard today. Do you think Currys would have wanted their ‘England’ campaign placed right next to a full page story about nationalism, the British National Party, and why voters in Dagenham are fed up of immigrants?

Currys 'England' ad

Final leader debate

I have to say, after Clegg leading both of the first two debates, I think he came last in this one. He sounded a bit ineffectual and undecided on several key points. Banking, the economy, and immigration all tripped him up this week.

David Cameron was the most improved and almost certainly the winner of this final debate, but the Prime Minister was a strong second. Brown should have struggled far more than this, but he was a strong performer and often reminded the audience that both his opponents have very little experience of running a country.

But this was a debate on economics and there was no detail at all on the public sector cuts we expect after an election.

More in the morning, after some sleep…

Is immigration ‘a good thing’?

Gordon Brown is in trouble today. A woman complained to him about the number of immigrants coming into the UK… a familiar complaint he has heard many times before, but this time he made a private comment about her in his car just after the event – calling her a ‘bigoted woman’ – and Sky News had left their radio microphone on his suit… so the private comments were recorded and replayed to the world.

It was a private comment, and many would credit Brown with telling the frank truth, but Sky can’t be blamed for using the material – any broadcaster would love to have an indiscretion like this on record.

But is the woman just reflecting what the majority think, and is the Prime Minister reacting in a liberal left way – horrified that someone might criticise those from another country, or race, or faith?

The immigration question is one of the hardest for our politicians to deal with because they never seem to quite get it right. The Labour party at present has made it almost impossible for unskilled workers to enter the UK, encouraged people with specific skills to come using the Highly Skilled Migrant Worker programme, simplified visa approvals using a points-based system, and made it far harder for foreign students to work and overstay their visa.

When you list the measures Gordon Brown has presided over, it looks quite tough on immigrants, but the public perception is that Johnny Foreigner continues to flood into the country. The reality is that immigration is reducing – mainly because of the economic downturn and fragile recovery – but again, why ruin perception with reality?

So, is the problem just that nobody trusts politicians anyway?

This is really the power of the BNP and UKIP. They don’t behave like ‘normal’ politicians and they focus on the immigration and ‘foreigner’ issues. UKIP has pledged to ban immigration for five years if they had any power over legislation, the BNP has been watering down the racist content of their manifesto, but they still appear to actively favour repatriation of migrant workers.

These parties are getting considerable support with their extreme views, and that’s really because of a failing by the major three parties to be seen to be doing something. Brown has argued this point on all the genuine changes he has made to the system. Clegg has argued that we need a better understanding of who is here illegally – potentially leading to an amnesty because that would not change the number of people working, but it would mean they pay tax. Cameron has argued for an absolute cap on immigration numbers by skills.

All three of the major parties have ideas on immigration, but they are all essentially failing to communicate the positive values of welcoming people – with skills – to Britain. The skills that help the British economy to succeed – and therefore allows us to live in a prosperous nation far richer than a population of 60m would suggest.

They are also failing to explain the different types of immigration; what is a refugee, what is an asylum seeker, what is a highly-skilled migrant… and the freedom of labour movement within the 27-nation European Union. All these issues are entirely confused in the arguments of the ‘bigot’… that’s not implying that those who oppose immigration are stupid, but any debate on immigration has to focus on the real issue that concerns them: Are people coming in and taking work from locals?

If that is what people perceive then the mainstream parties need to show that it is not the case, or what they intend to do about it, and they need to do this in a way that people believe. The Prime Minister has a good grasp of facts, but when he reels off stats about this and that, the public switch off and ask why the corner shop sells Polish food. Without once realising that the Polish shop down the road was a Punjabi shop twenty years ago.

The major politicians need to explore why normal people are so attracted by the BNP on this issue, why normal people don’t see any value from the European Union – they just see it as Eastern European workers coming to take jobs, and why a caring and tolerant society like the UK should close the shutters to those not born here.

Leaders’ debate – round two

The leaders’ debate on Sky last night was a more charged event that the first. They really argued this time. They were all clearly more comfortable with the format, and Sky political editor Adam Boulton seemed content to just sit back and let them slug it out. It was not a bad strategy, but sometimess Boulton did allow them to stick to a single subject for too long – he could have moved it on a few times.

What is really interesting to observe is that the instant polls are useless. They reflect the prejudice of the people who would support one particular party anyway. So the YouGov poll sponsored by the Sun came out strongly in support of Cameron having won. The Channel 4 poll came out strongly in favour of Clegg, and so on…

Personally I thought it was very close this time. Clegg probably was still in front by a nose, but they were all close together. That actually says a lot for Brown, who should be doing much worse in the debates as the incumbent and conversely it also means Cameron is not landing punches when he should have a sitting target. It’s all wide open.

Chancellor's Debate on C4

When will conferences allow more participation?

I was at a lovely office by the river Thames on Tuesday, chairing an event focused on the environment and sustainability. It was interesting and there were some good speakers from companies such as HSBC and IBM, but a few thoughts crossed my mind as I sat there controlling the speakers and taking notes:

  1. At most conferences, the audience is packed full of knowledge, but they end up only having a few short minutes in a controlled Q&A session, the rest of the time is given to the speaker. Yet more knowledge and learning can be drawn from having a debate with many experienced people, rather than all listening to one experience. So why isn’t the unconference format more popular?
  2. Why isn’t more knowledge captured at conferences? All these learned speakers get together with an interested audience, but the majority of events I attend don’t bother to video the talks, or even capture the audio. All that information can be extremely valuable and published in a rich multimedia format with notes from speakers or audience members. Usually the last you hear of the content is at the end of the day over networking drinks.

I realise the status quo is that sponsors finance events and sponsors want visibility and the opportunity to provide ‘thought leadership’, but when will some event organisers start structuring conferences that (1) create learning and real knowledge that lives on past the day itself and (2) allow everyone to participate in a meaningful way – if they want to?

Southwark Bridge

Santa Maria pizza: “best pizza in London”

I was really pleased to see this review of the Santa Maria pizza restaurant in Ealing in the April 14 edition of Time Out magazine.

I had just walked past the restaurant the other day and Pasquale came out to say that he was short-listed in a Time Out survey of Italian restaurants. He was telling everyone that they may possibly be listed as the best pizza restaurant in west London. I was only walking past the restaurant and he came over to tell me this. I’ve only eaten there three times, but already it feels like I’m a regular… it’s new though, just a few months old, so he must have noticed a few people developing into ‘regulars’.
Santa Maria, Ealing

But the Time Out review goes much further, giving the restaurant 5 stars for food and listing it at the top of all their pizza restaurant reviews for London. And it’s listed as the best pizza place in London whilst also being listed in the ‘budget’ category for price!

Congratulations to the guys at Santa Maria. I loved the food there when I tried it and I know I will be returning more often – if I can get a table.

Oh, and if you want to know how to find it, use the 65 bus. The bus goes north from South Ealing station or south from Ealing Broadway – the 65 runs right past the restaurant, and it’s next door to the Red Lion pub. Well worth a visit for their collection of ‘Ealing Comedy’ posters and photos (the pub and restaurant are directly opposite Ealing Studios), and the Fuller’s beer.
Best pizza in London

Leader Debates, round two

So it’s time for the second leader debate tomorrow. This one should focus on international affairs, so it’s likely Gordon Brown will be on the defensive when talking about Afghanistan, Iraq, and the “special” relationship with the USA.

But Brown should have been on the back-foot in the first debate on domestic policy, yet Clegg’s style and Brown’s substance somehow combined to force Cameron into a box. The Conservative leader was most popular when talking on the ‘British jobs for British workers’ immigration debate and that causes an issue for the Tories. They have consistently tried playing to the middle-ground in an effort to win back the Conservative voters who deserted the party for the New Labour project, but if he feels support is coming from sounding tougher, harder right, and less empathetic, then what can he do?

Those views will resonate with old-school Tories, and probably the party membership. But he won’t win the election by sounding like Michael Howard used to. Especially when Cleggmania means the Lib Dems are now on a charm offensive with Vince Cable already the most trusted politician in the UK.

Clearly, with the present first-past-the-post voting system, there is no chance of a Lib Dem majority, but a surge in support for Clegg means we are aiming for another Labour government (if Lib Dem support is mainly poached from Tory areas) or a hung parliament in which a Lab-Lib coalition will carve up power between them.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Lord Neil Kinnock
Whatever your politics, this has to be the most closely-fought and exciting British political battle in a generation. And it’s all over the TV and Internet in a way that was not imaginable at even the most recent general election. I’ll be blogging the debate live for Reuters, so lookout on their politics page for my comments as the leaders speak…

Safeway Sandhurst Reunion

I’m not sure what made me do it. Perhaps it was my book launch last October. When I was going to give a lecture at London South Bank University I suddenly heard the  cry of “annnimmaallll!!” across the lecture theatre, and there was Ferret loping across the place.
Ferret dancing

Now, if Ferret was going to turn up at my book launch then surely I could reconnect to all the guys I used to hang out with at Safeway. And for those of you wondering what I am talking about here – I worked at Safeway in Sandhurst, Berkshire, from 1987 to 1991. It was mainly a student job, stacking apples while I studied, but once I was supposed to be out in the world of work in 1990, the UK was in the midst of a recession. I stayed on working full-time at the supermarket until I could land my first job in technology – at Siemens Nixdorf in Bracknell. Thank you Siemens 🙂

But, after heading off to work at a Japanese bank in the City in 1992, and buying my first home in London in 1993, I pretty much lost touch with a whole group of friends back in Sandhurst.

And they all moved on to new places too. I used Facebook and Friends Reunited to track down a whole bunch of them and we arranged to meet at the Jolly Farmer pub in Collegetown, Sandhurst. So called, because it’s the part of Sandhurst right next door to the Royal Military Academy. We used to get Gurkhas tooled up with their big knives walking around the supermarket.
Jolly Farmer

The pub looks OK from the outside. I even “walked” around the street using Google Streetview to see what has changed in 20 years. It looked OK, so I fixed the reunion there. However, this was never a great pub. It was always a bit rough, the kind of place with an old off-sales counter and snug. But I never figured it might actually be worse than it was 20 years ago!

Spit, sawdust, disinfectant… a strange smell in there… but it was our local pub 20 years ago so we had to do it…

Once everyone started gathering there, it was too late to move on to a nicer venue, so the Jolly it was! And that also meant that our plans for a curry were also dashed. No Raj Tandoori, just some grub from Skippers… ah it really was just like back in the old days!
Skippers

It was great to see the old gang again. Only a few were missing. One or two were not found and a couple of them just couldn’t escape work or other commitments like a wedding… we got most of the old faces together though.
Safeway group loiters outside the Jolly Farmer

And Ferret even managed to entertain us all on the Jolly Farmer karaoke that evening…

Thanks to everyone who made it. It was a great night, despite the venue. People came from Doncaster, Dorchester, Farnham, London… all over the place and all back to the old Safeway supermarket. Which is now a Waitrose.
Waitrose Sandhurst, Berkshire

Next stop, Frome in Somerset in July. To meet the guy who hired most of us into Safeway. Ferret was supposed to call him up for this reunion, but after Mike didn’t answer the phone once, I think he gave up. At least it gives us all an excuse for a night out in the West country this summer…

Is everything going to be nationalised?

The present crisis in Europe over the ash cloud from Iceland is fast moving beyond a joke. Of course, it’s no joke for the thousands of people struggling to get home and stranded all over Europe, but what will happen to the airlines?

BBC Business editor Robert Peston has estimated that BA alone is losing something like £20m a day. And as each day passes, the EU warning is extended to the following day. I’m supposed to be visiting Austria this weekend and it seriously looks like it won’t happen. Of course, I’m not choked about it because I am at least at home and able to just stay home rather than being stranded thousands of miles from home. But how long will this go on?

And what is the implication for the national air carriers if they need governments to bail them out? First the banks, then the airlines? The question will be asked that if the airlines are so essential to national economies then how come they are not already government owned – like the old days?

Who would have thought that in 2010 we would see nationalised banks on the high street and private airlines all over Europe begging to be saved by national governments. Next thing, the private power companies will ask for government help setting up new power stations, err…

Live blogging for Reuters

During key parts of the general election I’m going to be blogging live for Reuters on their UK politics homepage. Do take a look later for the leaders debate to see what is being blogged in advance of the event, as it happens on TV, and after for the analysis… look forward to seeing you there. I’ll be pushing a lot of my comments on Reuters out to my Twitter feed too.