A round of Cuba Libres!

Keyboard activists plot Cuba's political future, while Tories salute Miliband's apology

In the week Fidel Castro declared he would not complete his half century as leader of Cuba, the blogosphere said farewell to the longest ever serving communist leader.

Conservative Party Retile, who fears an “endless hagiographic encomia” from the BBC and Channel 4 following the announcement, writes: “Rather like one of his speeches, you rationally knew it would come to an end at some point, but had trouble really believing that it [would].”

Daniel Finkelstein brings together a collection of, what he describes as, some of the best reporting of Cuba under Castro's leadership, including Arthur Miller's account of when he met the bearded one.

Luke Akehurst bids farewell to Castro and looks to Cuba’s future: “Maybe the communists would win, but personally I hope Cubans would choose a third way which kept Cuba's commitment to free healthcare and education while bringing in freedom of speech, political pluralism and an end to the command economy.” Perhaps some sort of utopia will suffice.

Dave Osler uses his experiences of living in Cuba to weigh up the pros and cons of Castro’s regime. He concludes by describing his own dystopia: “We need to stress that a democratic opening is essential if Cuba is to avoid the build up of discontent on the scale of 1980s Eastern Europe, and the eventual introduction of a particularly savage brand of neoliberal capitalism.

“I’d hate to go back in a few years and find that heart-stoppingly beautiful Old Havana had reverted to its former role as one big extended casino-cum-whorehouse theme park for gringos.”

David Miliband’s apology on behalf of the government for cover-ups over US rendition flights was greeted by praise by some unlikely sources. Both Iain Dale and the Daily Mail’s Benedict Brogan showed support, the later writes: “His public performances have been criticised, often justifiably, as too glib or juvenile, but he hit the right note, and it was refreshing to have humility rather than swagger at the despatch box.”

The good will across the political divide extended to Tom Watson’s blog. When John Redwood responded to a Watson post, Ellee Seymour wonders if it marks a turning point in political bogging and if it is the first time an MP has posted a comment on another MP’s blog.

The Labour MP had quoted Redwood’s statement on the Conservatives’ view on the nationalisation of Northern Rock. The interaction was supported by other political bloggers, including Tim Ireland and Curly, for its civility. A far cry from the oft-raucous Commons floor.

Owen Walker is a journalist for a number of titles within Financial Times Business, primarily focussing on pensions. He recently graduated from Cardiff University’s newspaper journalism post-graduate course and is cursed by a passion for Crystal Palace FC.
Felipe Araujo
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Hull revisited: What happens when a Brexit stronghold becomes City of Culture?

We report from Hull, to find out if you can replace the kind of nostalgia that led to a Leave vote with cultural investment.

At 75 metres long, the offshore wind turbine blade erected across Queen Victoria Square, in the heart of Hull, is a sculpture intended to mark a new chapter in the city’s history. For the next 12 months, Hull, a city of more than a quarter of a million people in the northeast of England, will be the UK’s City of Culture.

The 28-tonne blade hails from the local Siemens plant. The German technology company employs around 1,000 people in the area, making it Hull’s biggest single employer.

Seen up close in this context – laid dormant in the middle of a town square instead of spinning up in the air generating energy – the structure is meant to remind passersby of a giant sea creature. It is also, I’m told, an allusion to Hull’s rich maritime history.


All photos: Felipe Araujo

Nostalgia is a big thing in this part of the country. At one point, Hull was the UK’s third largest port but technology and privatisation drastically changed that. The battle over cod fishing with Iceland in the waters of the North Sea 40 years ago has also dealt a major blow to a region with a long and proud trawling tradition.

People here still talk about a bygone era when the fishing industry provided jobs for everyone and there was enough money to go around.

Fast forward to 2017, and the country’s new capital of culture is the same city that voted 67 per cent in favour of leaving the EU last June. Its new-found prestige, it seems, is not enough to erase years of neglect by a political class “too busy for commoners like us”, as one resident puts it.

“More than a message to Brussels, it [the Brexit vote] was a message to Westminster,” Paul Leeson-Taylor, a filmmaker born and bred in Hull, tells me. “For the first time in a long time people in Hull felt like they had the chance to change something, and they took it.”

But while speaking to people on the high street and hanging out with locals at the Community Boxing Club in Orchard Park, one of the city’s most deprived areas, there is one word that consistently popped up in conversation – more than any specific policy from Westminster or the much-hated rules “dictated” by Brussels. Foreigners.

According to official figures, Hull’s population is 89.1 per cent white British. Still, immigration is big on people’s minds here.

During my two-day stay in the city, I find myself being the only black person in most places I visit – I’m certainly the only black guy at the boxing club. So when someone begins a sentence with “I’m not racist but…”, I know a tirade on immigrants is about to ensue.

“There are just too many of them,” Nick Beach, an estate agent whose Polish clientele is a big part of his business, tells me as he is about to teach a boxing class to local children. Beach was born in Shepherd’s Bush, in West London, but has been living in Hull for the last 20 years.

“When I go down there these days and go into Westfield shopping centre, it is very rare you get an English person serving you now,” he says. “I just find it disappointing that you go into your capital city and you are a minority there.”

These are the much-discussed “left behind”, a white working-class community that has gained particular prominence in a time of Brexit and Donald Trump. Under economic pressure and facing social change, they want to have their say in running a country they claim to no longer recognise.

For Professor Simon Lee, a senior politics lecturer at the University of Hull, immigration is only a superficial layer when it comes to explaining the resentment I witness here. For him, the loss of the empire 70 years ago is still something that as a country Britain hasn’t come to terms with.

“The reason for us to be together as a United Kingdom has gone, so what is the project?”

As destiny would have it, a foreign company will now play a major role on Hull’s economic future, at least in the short term. In the wake of the Brexit vote, there were widespread fears Siemens would pull out of the region and take its factory elsewhere. With the massive blade looming large in the background, Jason Speedy, director of the blade factory in Hull, assures me that isn’t the case.

“The Brexit decision has made no difference. We have made our investment decision, so Siemens, together with the Association of British Ports, has put in £310m. It’s all full steam ahead.”

As Hull becomes the country’s cultural hub for the next few months, the hope is that its residents stop looking back and start looking forward.

For Professor Lee, though, until there is a complete change in the power structures that run the country, the north-south divide will remain – with or without the EU. “The way you kill nostalgia is to have something new,” he said. “The reason why people here are nostalgic is because there is nothing to replace it with.”

Felipe Araujo is a freelance journalist based in London. He writes about race, culture and sports. He covered the Rio Olympics and Paralympics on the ground for the New Statesman. He tweets @felipethejourno.