United with Livingstone

Opposition to the BNP makes for some curious political alliances

There is not much on which Ken Livingstone and I agree.

However we are united in our determination to ensure that next May’s election to the London Assembly do not produce one or more members of the British National Party sitting in City Hall.

The electoral system for the Assembly has 14 'first past the post' constituencies and, with the current lead in the polls, the Conservatives should pick up 10 or 11 seats.

Then there are the 11 so-called 'top up seats' elected under a system of proportional representation named after its Belgian founder D’Hondt.

In 2004 this produced two UKIP members of the Assembly who, after less than a year, defected to Robert Kilroy-Silk’s soon forgotten egomaniac Veritas Party.

They now sit as the the 'One London' Party after UKIP (in my view wisely) refused to take them back.

These two illustrate the dangers of proportional representation. One has the look of a refugee from the Haberdashery Department of John Lewis and the other (on those occasions he turns up) plays entirely to the gallery and repeats the views of whoever the last person to knobble him was. Neither member will survive next May under any banner as the poll does not coincide with the European Parliament election.

However UKIP/Veritas/One London’s reasonably harmless, usually right wing, and totally ineffective presence in the Chamber at City Hall can be contrasted with the Green Party who have used their two votes to hold the Mayor to ransom over his budget and have cleverly and adroitly used their office to promote their general political philosophy and build their power base - on Lewisham and Southwark Councils in particular.

Indeed it has been suggested that the public resources available to the Green Party at City Hall in staffing and other costs have allowed them to run an effective London-wide machine.

It is exactly this Green Party scenario that Londoners should be worried about next May in relation to the BNP.

Five percent of the vote will give the far-right party one seat and eight percent, potentially, two seats.

On top of the £50K-a-year salary paid to Assembly members and the media profile they attract, about £100,000 is currently allocated per member in much needed member support costs.

The nightmare of the BNP funding its London operation from taxpayers’ money is too ghastly to contemplate. The same applies to the fast disintegrating Respect Party and their culture of extremism, although their electoral chances are diminishing by the week.

In a perfect world no Londoner will be misguided enough to vote for extreme parties, but what would be far more sensible would be put the genie of proportional representation, an imported Continental invention and decidedly unbritish, back in the bottle and keep our traditional election system.

You have been warned!

Brian Coleman was first elected to the London Assembly in June 2000. Widely outspoken he is best known for his groundbreaking policy of removing traffic calming measures
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.