Living with dragons

In a society filled with Google Maps, MapQuest and other easy access map services, Gregory Marler de

Intense followers of the NMA awards may remember a nomination made last year for OpenStreetMap (OSM). The project, set up four years ago, involves creating a wiki-map of the world that can be modified by anyone who creates an account. Unlike other online and offline map providers, the resulting map is free to copy and use how you like, with no restrictions or fee except ensuring that you credit your changes and link back to OSM.

A free map data source like this is great for small organisations that can't afford the alternatives, but some people still question whether it's useful or required in their simple life. A couple of months after the 2007 NMA awards ceremony I was set to move up north to the beautiful city of Durham. Seeing that only the river and A1 motorway had been mapped in Durham for OSM, I decided to start an experiment.

The experiment was to live without using any maps unless I could copy, publish, and modify them without requiring explicit permission or paying. So to guide me to locations and addresses I could use: a 1948 map that was so old its copyright and usefulness had expired; and I could use OpenStreetMap, that might as well have marked the city 'Here be dragons' because no one had added the streets. To record the stresses and difficulties I experienced I set up a blog, Living with Dragons, so you can follow along and know how I'm doing.

Prior to moving to Durham and starting this experiment, I had spent slightly less than 48 hours there. Going anywhere outside the very centre would require guessing where to go or going with someone who knew. I was invited to houses of new friends but had to ask them to doodle directions from the nearest place I had previously been to.

Along with living without maps, I'm also dedicating some time to building OSM's coverage of Durham. This requires me to walk down every road and footpath I can possibly find, and by the end of it, I'll know Durham very well. But mapping an unknown area is harder than somewhere you're used to. I couldn't systematically divide up areas to map each week. Sometimes I'd map a small area but discover it to be the type of housing that is a warren of short roads and many footpaths/alleyways.

Since October I've mapped the city centre and the area to the east of it. I'm currently working to the North, and what's been done can be seen here. On June the 7th and 8th I'll be arranging a mapping party so you can come along on either or both of the days to learn what to do while helping me out.

Dragon drawing by Joyce Webb

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Labour's Eurosceptics should steer clear of loaded language

Phrases such as "wholesale importation" leave the impression Labour will not speak for migrant workers.

Nothing reflects Britain’s division over Brexit than the Labour party. Do we want soft or hard Brexit? What do we prioritise? The fractures within the party’s ranks is a portrait of the divisions splintering the country.

Labour’s ambiguity over Brexit helped it in the general election in appealing to everyone. It convinced Remain voters that they could hold the Tories to account while promising the Leave voters that the referendum decision would be respected. But now clarity is needed. 

The Labour leadership seems to be angling for a hard Brexit, wishing to leave the single market and customs union on the grounds that this honours the wishes of the 52 per cent. Ironically, they are at odds with everyone in this situation, from the general public – who favour access to single market over immigration controls – to a poll in LabourList showing that 72 per cent of readers prioritised inclusion within the single market.

Jeremy Corbyn's lukewarm attitude to the EU is well documented. If the Labour Party are serious about their public ownership plans for the railways and energy, it’s likely they envision it being made difficult within the EU because of directives which create competition between the state and the private sector. There are unexplored alternatives to this, as seen in Germany and Italy where private companies are made and run the industries with the states acting as the major shareholders of the company. However it’s unlikely to see the hard left ever accepting this, given its disdain for both the private sector and the idea of it interacting with the state to deliver services.

But this is not all that should trouble progressives regarding the Labour leadership’s stance on Brexit. During a recent Andrew Marr programme in which he appeared on, Corbyn claimed that mass immigration had been used to denigrate the conditions for British workers, saying that there was a “wholesale importation” of workers from parts of Europe which would then undermine the rights of British workers. It’s an argument that has been regurgitated by British politicians consistently in recent years – but from the right, not the left.

The idea that migrants are taking British jobs and depressing wages does not hold up to evidence at all. The London School of Economics carried out a research which illustrated increases in migration from the EU did not result in depression of British wages. That’s not to suggest that wages have not stagnated, but rather the trend is linked to the financial crash in 2008, rather than migration. Corbyn’s defenders insist that there were no deliberate racist overtones in his argument, and that the villains are employers deliberately taking advantage of an easily exploited labour market. But the manner in which Corbyn framed his speech was worrying.

The reason for this is that Brexit has created an unbelievable sense of uncertainty, insecurity and fear amongst migrants. Their position in society is now being contested by politicians with different stakes in society to them. Xenophobic abuse – legitimised as an acceptable part of political discourse by Brexit – has been climbing swiftly. Immigrants are seen as threats to British jobs and that is a narrative consistently drummed out – not just since last year but for possibly the past decade.

This is not to say that Labour should not address how some employers might seek to cut costs by hiring foreign workers on a cheap rate. But phrases such as “wholesale importation” or even using the heavily demonised “mass migration” simply sketches the idea that Labour are swinging towards the hard Brexit voters, and in doing so leaving migrant workers to be defended by no one. If the intended idea was to castigate employers, it simply entrenched the idea of immigration as a problem. Rather than bringing British and migrant workers together, you know with that whole “workers of the world unite” idea, Corbyn’s framing of the argument keeps them pitted against each other.

If Brexit has shown us anything it’s that language matters in politics in how it transmits its message to people. Slogans such as “take back control” were attacks on multiculturalism and immigration, stoking white nationalism, even if the Leave campaign insisted it wasn’t about that. Likewise, Corbyn might insist it wasn’t about migrants, but his message sounded a lot like he was blaming freedom of movement for the suppression of wage growth in Britain.

Needless to say, Labour need a rethink on what kind of Brexit it pursues.