Category Archives: London

This is not OK

IMG_20160626_123022On hearing the Brexit result, my grandad texted me saying “Hopefully we’ll find a way to fix things and make this OK”. Like me he was shocked, disappointed and hurt that this was the choice made by such a significant proportion of Brits.

But this is really not OK.

It is not OK that our futures will be determined by the reckless actions of less than half of the population. It is not OK that the Leave campaign used lies and propaganda to get their way. It is not OK for Britain to wash its hands of the refugee crisis, to leave our neighbours to deal with this humanitarian challenge, a challenge whose root causes can be linked to Britain’s past actions.

The EU isn’t to blame for the UK’s more deep-rooted problems which caused a large section of society to vote to leave an economic, social and legal structure which took decades to build. As the news sinks in (slowly – like an infection in a dirty wound), many are already mourning what they are about to lose.

Since the referendum, the mood on the street is uncomfortable and tense, several of my friends have witnessed acts of racist language and threatening behaviour, the slim margin of victory having bolstered the confidence of a racist minority. The Brexit referendum result seems to have been misunderstood by some as an open season on minorities and foreigners. It is terrifying that some people see this as a green light for acting out their small-minded violent fantasies. The far right are gloating over their perceived triumph, they feel that, with this result, all their reprehensible views have a stamp of approval, that racism has suddenly become socially acceptable.

This tension is by no means unique to the UK. In Germany where large numbers of refugees have been taken in, a change is tangible: faces have changed, attitudes are changing and society is polarising, many working hard to adapt and understand, while some view new arrivals with suspicion and fear. In France, Spain, Italy and Netherlands tensions are rising, as well as in other European states, although the most xenophobic tend to be those who, as yet, have few foreigners. But the EU itself is not to blame for the rise of the far right. In fact the EU as a body is in a much better position to deal with these poisonous political opportunists, in promoting dialogue and responding to the root causes. Yes the EU needs reform, yes there needs to be a more balanced approach in policy decisions, but fragmentation and less integration is not the answer to fighting common problems and dealing with them effectively.

Just over half of the voters chose “Leave” yet this translates into roughly a quarter of the UK’s population. Many British overseas citizens (including my parents) have lived in mainland EU for over 15 years and therefore couldn’t cast a vote despite the profound effect this result will have on their lives. Residents of the UK from mainland Europe were also denied a say. Most of the younger voters wanted to stay in the EU. While the young and aspirational saw opportunities for education, work, business or just friendship and culture, this door has now been slammed and is about to be bolted. We, and our kids will still be suffering the consequences of this referendum when many of the Brexiters are long gone. But this is not to say everyone who voted out was over 60, there was a significant number of young and middle aged people too.

I grew up thinking of myself as a European, my British passport was just as good as my neighbour’s German one.

Now, although not worthless, my passport has suddenly lost a lot of advantages.

I worry about, the rise of the far right as they gloat in victory, I’m also concerned about the unravelling of key laws and agreements, such as the Human Rights Act and the Northern Ireland peace treaty and of course the effect of Scottish independence. The consequences we and our children will face are uncertain, while the regret I predict as a certainty. But the feeling now in my gut, as a European is one of a personal attack on my identity, on my rights and on my British passport. The nastiness of the “Leave” campaign shook me, it opened up vile sentiments and a culture of open racism. It brought me into a country I couldn’t recognise or identify with.

The fear tactics employed by the “Leave” campaign terrify me, a stirring of hatred and suspicion that is reminiscent of Nazi propaganda.

The atmosphere is one of “us vs. them”, tribalism at its worst. And which tribe do I even belong to?

It feels as if the UK has become a collection of small islands floating away from one another, unable to listen and unable to communicate.

London, where so many of our EU “foreigners” live and work, voted overwhelmingly to stay.

Living in London is an incredible experience for one main reason – that London is London – it is bizarre, unique, overcrowded, stressful and inspiring. It’s the most diverse and accepting place I have ever lived, anyone, and really anyone can be a Londoner. I don’t want this to change London, London is an incredible enclave in a confused polarised fearful and frustrated world. People here can quite happily live side by side in cramped buildings regardless of their culture or race. In London you can go to the shop wearing whatever you like be it your PJs or a one legged PVC trouser suit, without anyone even so much as blinking an eye. Every single person here contributes to its energy and it’s vibrance its magic and its intensity. What would London be without immigration, what would it be without the free movement of people across Europe?

I just hope that whatever happens next, will be thought out carefully and clearly to prevent any more damage from knee-jerk reactions based on nationalist nostalgic fantasies. The last time populism triumphed in Europe, things did not end well.

Legal Spoken Word Poetry

Michael Bossone performing ‘PUSH – A Spoken Word Poem about Law, Technology, and Fear’ first shown at Law Tech Camp London 2012 last week.

The conference was dominated by the theme of embracing technology in the legal profession.

The Dangerous Streets of London

 

I have just started cycling a longer and more inconvenient route across London. It consists of being threatened and squashed to the curb by cars, motorbikes, buses, taxis and most alarmingly – big smokey lorries. As I wait for the adrenalin to wear off after I arrive at my destination, I am thankful that made it there alive again . My route largely consists of cycling along the top of Hyde Park and through the leafy streets of West London. It sounds quite nice in theory really, however there are no bike paths and lots of insane drivers. Many people, especially my family have told me that cycling in London is crazy and ridiculous. All I can say is that I cannot afford public transport, I don’t have the money and I don’t have the time to wait for a horrifically crowded bus or train that may or may not be late. The experience of public transport is so unpleasant and expensive that risking my life daily seems like a favourable and convenient option.

 

Having partly grown up in Germany I know that cycling does not need to be a life threatening experience. When I look at London with all it’s problems of chaotic and crowded transport options, congestion and air pollution. I simply cannot believe that cycling is not being welcomed and promoted as a possible solution to alleviating these problems. When I talk to many Londoners they say that they would love to cycle but they are simply to scared. I don’t blame them. It took me 3 years to pluck up the courage to cycle in London and I started slowly. I began cycling only in the suburban areas on cycle super highways close to where I lived at the time. I gradually progressed to cycling in East london where I moved to. I then found myself with no money and was forced to cycle everywhere as I preferred to spend the little cash I had on food.

The mayoral election seems give Londoners a perfect opportunity to pressure the candidates for change in road safety. For me the daily fear for my life because of the unneccessarily terrible conditions for cyclists in London. A city dominated by cars, when the majority of Londoners don’t even own one. They have an adverse effect on air quality, noise and living standards. Road safety is not just an issue for people with a bike, it is an issue for pedestrians especially children, communities and our health. When politicians talk about crime, they should also consider those injured or killed as a result of badly designed roads and ineffective transport policies. If the candidates can address road safety as an important issue, cycling conditions could be improved by promoting better planning and more cycle paths. Encouraging more Londoners to cycle could be such a positive thing in many different ways, but primarily cycling gives people an independence in such a large city that other modes of transport do not.

To campaign for safer streets visit  Londoners On Bikes and follow them on Twitter @LondonrsOnBikes

What Water Cannons Could Mean For Crowd Control

After the summer riots in cities across the UK, the government decided to take a hardline stance in relation to policing. David Cameron announced that police would have water cannons available at 24 hours notice, if the police wished to use them. Even now many of us are still trying to understand what exactly happened this summer and why it was able to spiral out of control so fast. The police largely stood by and watched while Tottenham went up in flames, leaving two police cars on the street, unlocked and abandoned while the violence slowly escalated. Youths started by throwing tomatoes, and when they moved the first police vehicle and nothing happened, it was evident that there was little if any police presence in the area. Whether this was down to understaffing, policy, error or a combination of all three is still being examined. While the cause of the riots is complex to say the least, it is clear that policing during the riots was ineffective and largely flawed. The belief that this could be solved with a hardline stance is both naive and misguided. These strong words by Cameron are more an attempt to pander to his voters than an effort to address the core problems.

Demonstrators in Stuttgart with the police and water cannons

Taking the example of Stuttgart 21, where water cannons were used by German police to clear an ongoing protest against the new central train station. The water cannons were aimed at peaceful protesters, injuring numerous people among them schoolchildren. They mostly sustained eye and head injuries from the water cannons, ranging from bruising to concussion. One man, a pensioner in his mid 60s, was left with severe eye injuries and was blinded in one eye. Although the peaceful Stuttgart 21 protest cannot be compared to the violent behaviour of the rioters, the use of water cannons, especially against minors raises huge concerns in terms of safety and human rights. The 66 year old retired engineer, left badly injured and blind in one eye, highlights the dangers of using water cannons in crowd control.

The disproportionate measures taken by German police in dealing with the 21 protest is something the UK police force should seek to avoid. Other methods and strategies in policing are available to avoid the scenes witnessed this summer. The riots were not caused by bad policing, their roots were complex and caused by a multitude of factors and circumstances.  However the use of water cannons would only exacerbate the situation and raise human rights questions. The role of the police is to protect it’s citizens and not to cause them harm or injury.