Saturday, 11 July 2020

The dark factories in Britain’s garment trade

Leicester's Shameful Industries & Covid-19

ON the 17th,May 2018 Sarah O'Connor in the Financial Times [FT] asked: 'How is it possible to make cheap clothes in a country where the minimum wage for over-25s is £7.83 an hour?' 

She suggested:   'Online retailers’ nimbleness and lower overheads allow them to pay more for products while still giving consumers a good price. In addition, there are manufacturers that use technology to make clothes more efficiently' and she added 'factory owners in Leicester say some take a different route, one more reminiscent of the 19th century than the 21st.  They call these places “dark factories”.'  

At that time it seemed part of May 17 2018’s garment industry in Leicester had become detached from UK employment law, 'a country within a country', where '£5 an hour is considered the top wage', even though that is illegal.  And one man said he had worked in places with blocked fire escapes, old machines and no holiday or sick pay.


A digital billboard in Bradford city centre warns the public about keeping safe.
The government has drawn up a list of 20 councils facing the worst coronavirus outbreaks in England, with Bradford, Sheffield and Kirklees identified as areas needing “enhanced support”, according to a classified document leaked to the Observer and the Guardian.

As evidence mounts that the relaxation of lockdown rules is leading to a resurgence of Covid-19 in some of England’s most deprived and ethnically mixed areas, officials have ordered the army to deploy extra mobile testing units, which will be sent into a series of hotspots around the country from this weekend.

Public Health England (PHE), the country’s lead infection control agency, 
briefed local government health chiefs last week that ministers were considering publishing a ranking of the 10 councils most affected by new outbreaks, which could be released within days. Councils fear the data will be used to enforce more local lockdowns of the kind imposed in Leicester, where all but essential shops must stay shut, schoolchildren have been sent home, and pubs and restaurants remain closed.

The top 10 ranking is likely to be based on a document circulated to local health chiefs on Thursday, headed “official sensitive”. The chart, compiled by PHE and reproduced here, ranks the 20 councils with the highest proportion of positive cases. Leicester remains at its head, with 5.7% of individuals who underwent a test found to have the virus. Kirklees, in West Yorkshire, was not far behind, with a 5% rate. Bradford, and Blackburn with Darwen in Lancashire, were the next highest.

Titled “local authority areas of interest”, the table is based on testing between 21 June and 4 July. It identifies six areas of “concern”. More serious cases are labelled as needing “enhanced support”, with three councils in this category. One – Leicester – is listed as requiring “intervention”.

The document states “these areas are currently under investigation by the local public health protection teams”. “Testing access is being increased in areas including Bradford”, it says, and the areas listed are “associated with workplace outbreaks which have contributed to the increase in infection rates”.
Last month, 164 workers at a meat factory in Kirklees tested positive, and at the beginning of July, a bed factory in Batley, which is administered by Kirklees Council, was closed after eight workers were found to have the virus.The communities most affected have several factors in common: poverty, poor health and a high proportion of non-white residents.

The top 10 is likely to change daily, although some areas will remain severely affected for weeks, health directors believe.
“Those on the list are going to be characterised by higher deprivation, higher black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities and denser housing,” said a public health director briefed on the plans.
“Some are going to be in the list for the whole period of the pandemic. The drivers are structural and demographic, so the pattern of spread will reflect the inequalities that already existed. Some of the most strapped-for-cash councils are going to be dealing with some of the worst outbreaks.”

Areas with large south Asian populations, particularly where several generations may share a home and live in crowded conditions, are among those emerging as particularly at risk.

Hand sanitiser at Kober meat processing plant in Cleckheaton, confirmed as the location of a localised coronavirus outbreak.
Bradford has the highest proportion of people of Pakistani origin in England.
The council has today deployed testing units, staffed by the armed forces, to its Bowling and Keighley districts. Residents will be able to be tested without an appointment. Similar units will be deployed in Blackburn and Sheffield.

“Bradford has a higher infection rate than most but it’s coming down due to action we’ve taken,” said council leader Susan Hinchcliffe.  “We welcome the dialogue with government.  We’re already doing more testing than any other authority in the region, but want to do more.”

Bradford has asked for its own mobile testing units, more environmental health officers, support to pay full wages to low-paid workers having to self-isolate, and funding to develop its own local test-and-trace system.

Officials have not yet outlined what metrics will be used to impose further lockdowns, but it is understood a system based on the German model is under discussion.  This would involve a threshold of 50 weekly positive tests per 100,000 of the population in any given council.  Once that is breached, special measures could be triggered.

Data made public on Thursday shows Leicester is currently on 116 new cases per 100,000 of population per week, down from 140 two weeks ago.

Rochdale is in second place, with nearly 33 cases, down from over 50 three weeks ago.  Kirklees is also suffering high rates, as are Bradford, Blackburn with Darwen, Rotherham and Bedford.

The health secretary, Matt Hancock, announced the UK’s first local lockdown on 29 June as Leicester reported 944 new cases in a fortnight.  Non-essential shops and schools were shut, and pubs and restaurants were unable to reopen. 

Legislation to enforce the restrictions was pushed through parliament.

Desperate to avoid Leicester’s fate, councils are lobbying for a “graded response”, the local public health director said, with a rolling back of some elements of lockdown, such as larger gatherings, rather than closure of whole sectors. “What we want to avoid is the secretary of state making clumsy, unhelpful interventions, so we are getting ahead of the curve, understanding what our problem is and acting to address it.  But we are hampered by slow reporting of data and absence of data,” they added.

Councils have only just begun to receive a breakdown of new cases by postcode, and this is arriving weekly.  Health chiefs say they need the information daily if they are to spot outbreaks in time to stop them spreading.

The plans to publish a top 10 were discussed on a regional call with Public Health England, two public health directors confirmed.  “They seem to be intent on putting it into the public domain,” said one of those on the call.  “We have expressed some concerns over how they do it, as the data does need to be interpreted. Nonetheless, I welcome transparency.”

The classified list of 20 at-risk councils uses six metrics including number of cases per 100,000 of population per week and per day, percentage of individuals testing positive as a proportion of all tests, and “exceedances”.  This is where councils are issued with a red light because they consistently have more positive cases than forecast by a government algorithm. A slightly lower number of exceedances leads to an amber light.

The chart also shows the number of community outbreaks per council over the last week. Outbreaks are classed as two or more positive tests in a single setting, such as a workplace, school or prison.

The Department of Health and Social Care said it did not have a set trigger, but would use a range of data to decide where and how to act, stating:  “We have been transparent about our response to coronavirus and are always looking to improve the data we publish, including the way we update testing statistics.
“The list of the 10 local authorities with the highest weekly incidence of coronavirus is already publicly available in PHE’s weekly surveillance report.
“All councils in England now have the ability to access testing data, right down to an individual and postcode level.  If councils feel they require more assistance with data, of course, PHE is able to help them.”

Kirklees and Sheffield councils were approached for comment.


Wednesday, 8 July 2020

‘Cancel culture’ Condemned by Noam Chomsky &

Salman Rushdie et al. in Harper’s Magazine

“HARRY POTTER” writer J.K Rowling, “Handmaid’s Tale” author Margaret Atwood and “Midnight’s Children” writer Salman Rushdie are amongst 150 public figures to have signed a letter condemning the practice of public shaming, or ‘cancel culture’ as it is known popularly.

‘Cancel culture’ is a term used to describe individuals who have shared an unpopular opinion or have past behavior that’s deemed offensive, who are ‘canceled’ on social media. Rowling is one such example, due to her views on the trans community.

Atwood received considerable backlash in late 2016 after supporting an open letter calling on Canada’s University of British Columbia to provide its reasons for suspending and firing novelist and instructor Steven Galloway after sexual assault allegations emerged.  Meanwhile, Rushdie’s 1988 novel “The Satanic Verses” has also drawn criticism over the years for its depiction of Islamic beliefs.

Other signatories of the letter include authors Martin Amis and Jeffrey Eugenides, public intellectuals Malcolm Gladwell and Noam Chomsky, jazz musician Wynton Marsalis, psychologist Steven Pinker, feminist Gloria Steinem, chess grandmaster Gary Kasparov and CNN and Washington Post journalist Fareed Zakaria.

The letter, published Tuesday in Harper’s Magazine, states:  “The free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted.  While we have come to expect this on the radical right, censoriousness is also spreading more widely in our culture: an intolerance of opposing views, a vogue for public shaming and ostracism, and the tendency to dissolve complex policy issues in a blinding moral certainty. We uphold the value of robust and even caustic counter-speech from all quarters. But it is now all too common to hear calls for swift and severe retribution in response to perceived transgressions of speech and thought.”

“Whatever the arguments around each particular incident, the result has been to steadily narrow the boundaries of what can be said without the threat of reprisal,” the letter argues.  “We are already paying the price in greater risk aversion among writers, artists, and journalists who fear for their livelihoods if they depart from the consensus, or even lack sufficient zeal in agreement.”
“We need to preserve the possibility of good-faith disagreement without dire professional consequences. If we won’t defend the very thing on which our work depends, we shouldn’t expect the public or the state to defend it for us,” the letter concludes.

The letter has provoked a deluge of online responses.  Author and transgender activist Jennifer Finney Boylan, who signed the letter, recanted her position within hours.  “I did not know who else had signed that letter,” Boylan tweeted. “I thought I was endorsing a well-meaning, if vague, message against Internet shaming.   I did know Chomsky, Steinem and Atwood were in, and I thought, good company.  The consequences are mine to bear.  I am so sorry.”
Similarly, historian Kerri K. Greenidge, an original signatory, was removed from the list after she tweeted that she does “not endorse” the Harpers letter, and had contacted the publication about a retraction.

Surgeon and scientist David Gorski tweeted: “I read the letter. It’s the same old whiny BS about ‘cancel culture’ from privileged people with large audiences complaining about facing criticism and consequences for their speech.  I am unimpressed.”

Meanwhile, John Boyne, author of “The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas,” tweeted:  “I agree with this letter completely.  Self-appointed witch-finders hounding people for perceived moral slip-ups while trashing reputations, destroying careers, shouting down women & pursuing cancel culture is the opposite of free speech & reasoned debate.”



Tuesday, 7 July 2020

Why 'Black Lives Matter' Will Fail!

by Les May

THE proximate factor in the murder of George Floyd is that the USA has militarised police forces; the notion of ‘policing by consent’ is absent. Trump does not want any international legal oversight of the actions of the the US military with regard to possible ‘war crimes’; should we be surprised that strong legal oversight of US police officers is resisted?

As of 30 June 2020 a total of 506 civilians were shot in the US, 105 of whom were black. In 2018, there were 996 fatal police shootings, and in 2019 this figure increased to 1,004.  For comparison the rate of shootings per million of the population was: black 31, hispanic, 23, white 13, other 4.  These figures speak for themselves.   By comparison the average number of fatal police shootings per year in England and Wales in the 15 year period 2004/5 to 2018/9 was less than 3 in a population of about 60,000,000, that is about 0.05 per million.

Faced with a fatality rate from police shooting which is 200 to 600 times higher than in the UK one might have thought that saving lives, black, brown and white, by demilitarising US police forces, would be central to any widespread response to the murder of George Floyd. Seemingly it isn’t.

Instead of attempting to attain measurable objectives like improving police training and making officers accountable every time they use a firearm, the emphasis is on ‘racism’, something for which there is no objective measure and having all the explanatory power of asking ‘how long is a piece of string?’ It’s a popular badge to display because it allows the wearer to get a warm glow of satisfaction from ‘calling out’ racists. If by chance the murder of George Floyd causes anyone to remember their humanity and dare to say they think all lives matter, you can call that racist too!

And if you have any time left over from combating racism you can always spend it ‘dismantling cisgender privilege and uplifting Black trans folk’ ordisrupting the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure’ or you could ‘dismantle patriarchal practice’ or even ‘foster a queer‐affirming network’. You will find the quotes by scrolling down the page at:

But if all this is too much for you then why not buy the tee-shirt for a mere $25* and get back to denouncing someone on Twitter?

Things are not much better in the UK. Check out the website at and you will find the disclaimer, We are not affiliated with either Black Lives Matter USA or the political arm of the Black Lives Matter (Activist Coalition) UK who are purported to be affiliated with BLM USA.’

In the UK the response to the murder of George Floyd has been to facilitate the rise of groups of ‘activists’ who think that symbolic gestures like tearing down statues actually achieves something which will improve the lives of real people, and the energising of self promoting academics.

The media are for now superficially supportive, but this is all too reminiscent of the #MeToo movement. Dr David Starkey has unwittingly managed to contribute a couple of ways of keeping BLM in the news, but eventually the media will move on to another story.  Unfortunately it won’t be the one about inequality in the UK and the US. Getting a few black faces in the boardroom won’t solve that.
*$25 would pay for one sixth of an operation to correct cleft palate, or all of an operation to correct ingrowing eyelashes plus 40 doses of antibiotic to treat an eye infection of children and adults in Africa. uksmile train


In the article I mentioned a disclaimer which read We are not affiliated with either Black Lives Matter USA or the political arm of the Black Lives Matter (Activist Coalition) UK who are purported to be affiliated with BLM USA.’

If you check out the website which appears to be the group referred to in the disclaimer, you will find passages like ‘a commitment to dismantle imperialism, capitalism, white-supremacy, patriarchy and the state structures that disproportionately harm black people’ and ‘we lift up the experiences of the most marginalised in our communities, including but not limited to working class queer, trans, undocumented, disabled, Muslim, sex workers, women/non-binary, HIV+ people.’

You’ll also find the group have been given £1.2 million by 35,000 donors. At the risk of being tedious I will mention that this sum would change the lives of almost 7500 black children in Africa who were born with a cleft palate and face a lifetime of ridicule and social isolation, or pay for nearly 75,000 ingrowing eye lash operations or nearly seven and a half million doses of a drug to cure trachoma and prevent this many black people going blind.

Clearly all those donors have different priorities to mine.


Saturday, 4 July 2020

Who is now 'The Left' and what about the workers?

beware long angry rant
by Dave Douglass
David Douglass worked as a coalminer in the coalfields of Durham and South Yorkshire, and was NUM Branch Delegate for Hatfield Colliery from 1979.  He appears in the documentary The Miner's Campaign Tapes to discuss the role of the popular media in the strike of 1984–85. In 1994–95 he was Branch Secretary at Hatfield Main, but after the pit was privatised the NUM no longer had any recognition there.  Dave was also until the 12th, August 2019 a Friend of Freedom Press, the anarchist publisher.   
SINCE Thatcher and Major decimated Britain's industrial base there has been a seismic change in 'left' perceptions, and who exactly speaks for 'the left'.  Consistently the working class itself, self-consciously advancing its own interests not only embraced the politics of social change, anti-capitalism, and socialism, it determined for itself the how and what of strategy, tactics and general social outlooks.  The middle class 'left' the liberals the paper sellers in general stood in awe at the mighty columns of organised labour and respected 'the workers' as people who knew what was best for the class but knew who the class was and how it thought.  All other struggles and oppressions and individual hardships suffered by this or that specific, sexism or racism as symptoms of capitalism not necessarily overthrown by the end of capitalism were nonetheless subsumed into the overall class struggle, that being the struggle of the working class itself.
Some tectonic plates however have shifted, and we find now on issue after issue 'the left' is not by enlarge represented by horny handed sons and daughters of labour, nor yet the mass of intellectual or technical white-collar workers.  Almost at every stage 'the left' now confronts the opinions and politics of the working class , by 'the working class'  I am not talking figuratively here, I mean literally the folk who labour by hand and by brain , the working class communities, though mostly these are now post-industrial centers of unemployment and social deprivation.  These are the heartland of the working-class traditions with conscious class struggle halls of fame.  The left now isn’t us, not these people, the left is now the army of middle-class liberal leftists who deem to speak on our behalf and know what’s best for us. In order to do this they have of course to confront our own attitudes and outlooks and conclusions, so consistently over the last twenty years 'the left' has defacto become 'anti the working class' at least how we express our opinions and outlooks and conclusions.  
Any collection of normal working-class folk expressing opposition to what currently passes as left politics, is likely to be designated 'far right' or any of the numerous 'isms' which separate us out from the shining paths of liberal agendas.   Often the aspiration of the 'left' is synonymous with that of the state itself, on issues such as remain or leave the EU, or racism, transism, censorship, safe spaces etc.  So often the 'left' has become the cheerleader of the state singing off the same hymn sheet and forgetting the most fundamental principle of class warfare, to keep an independent identity from the state and its interests. The bleating of the 'left' over social distancing, scooting folk out of the parks or beaches, crying for harsher and longer curfews and abandoning any notion of civil liberties and social freedoms.
The Trade Union movement now that the big militant industrial unions like the miners and shipyard and heavy engineering proletariat have gone and construction workers and car and others have paled into insignificance, it is the white collar and professional unions which dominate.  Not that the nature of the work union members do, or even our opinions matter too much.  The unions and the TUC are now dominated by middle class liberal agenda's, re-education classes, PC speak schools, and making policy fit the liberal middle class left agenda is now the dominant 'culture' of the TUC. it is doubtful how far workers are actually allowed to express their opinions on subject like Brexit with unions like UNITE and GMB swinging in behind leave agenda's despite their rank and file's opinions (RMT and ASLEF were exceptions).  The passing of anti-radical feminist policies denying the existence of women as a biological sex, even in the Women’s Commission of the TUC is a case in PC point.  You could cite almost any major issue over the last twenty years and the so-called left will have drawn the opposite conclusion to the bulk of the actual working class and particularly the traditional working class, postindustrial communities and regions.  Brexit comes to mind, but then also the degree of hysteria and anti-industrialization in response to climate change is another, the remain position of the PLP and NEC and host of bright young mainly southern middle class liberals in the Labour Party itself, Identity politics and the trans impositions, and oddly the lock down and attitudes to withdraw of civil liberties and rights . There is now a miss match between those who see themselves as the left leaders of the working class and the working class itself.  The attitude of the current left tends be one of 'fuck em' if they won’t do as we tell them, they are all Tory, racist, xenophobic, sexist, transphobic, fascists anyway.  They appear to find the working class and engaging with our politics at large, entirely superfluous. In one way, it was this contempt for the opinions of the working class communities which led to the surprising victory of the Tories, the belief that Brexit- committed communities in the rust belts who were the heartlands of Labour support would never vote Tory and could therefore be ignored.  Actually I was one who swore they would never vote Tory too I knew they were never going to vote for Labour on a remain anti-industry program, but the degree of their anger transcended for the space of time it took to put the cross on their deep hatred of the Tories over generations of struggles.  The left is now expert at painting the working class into corners charging us with racism, and empire loyalism monarchism and patriotism and other such absurdities.

The statue toppling hysteria sweeping the nation, no I understand not many are being knocked over by groups of Simon pure iconoclasts, but the fear that they will and the fear of being regarded as reactionary, or racist has panicked City Councils into the pre-emptively felling them themselves. Let’s be clear I have no attachment to any of the victim statues thus far and I doubt that I will shed any tears for any on the secret hit list. What rattles us is that someone else has come along and imposed these judgements upon us, that without public discussion and debate a group of unelected vigilantes can decide what is 'appropriate' for us to continue to view.  

Cities are being scoured.for offending masonry and brass and any obscure imperialist lackey can now pay the price. This is an attempt to sanitize history it is an attempt to make the nasty history go away and remove memory of it, when clearly we should be doing the opposite. They were erected within a social and political context and thankfully that context has now changed , the statue though is a reminder of social attitudes and politics of the past , as long as there is adequate information boards alongside there is no reason why they need to be removed.  The statue of Nelson in Trafalgar Square is a case in point, was Nelson a distinctive character of history who served the state and the cause of his country as he would have seen it at the time?  Obviously, nobody today including the ruling class would aspire to empire building and defense and colonialism which they did at the time, almost anyone with a brain cell knows this is a historical monument in a historical context.  Actually it is quite interesting from a social history point of view, walk round the base plinth and look at the images of the seafarers in the height of the battle, look at the racial composition of the crew and the ages of the lads running through bombardments with gun powder for the guns, there is a clear presence of black seamen and boys, volunteers earning their freedom from slavery serving 'their' country.  Statues and plaques are interesting platforms for discussing history and understanding it.  Following the logic of the liberal iconoclast would surely see the pyramids fall and the colosseum?   There are already moves afoot to move the statue of the emperor Constantine from York, it appears the guardians have suddenly found out Roman Society was based on slavery, there noo !   I think most of us knew that, it really doesn’t make us want to run through the country uprooting all the many Roman monuments and remains for fear we upset.  Well who exactly?

Churchill and the miners existed in mutual hatred and class warfare, as miners children right through the post war period and before we were raised on stories not so much of Goldilocks and three bears, but Churchill and Tonypandy, and 26, and his hatred toward us.  Was he due his distinctive Mohican grass haircut and spray-paint during the class war protest of a few years ago?  Of course, he was.  Was he a distinguished member of the British ruling class and a memorable character from history, of course he was.  A statue of him in the coalfields would be blown to kingdom come, but outside parliament is fine by me, of course when we the miners pass it, our tale our history in regard to him is somewhat different than the ones told by the tour guides (incidentally see:  'The Day Britain Said No' a more clear sighted history of Churchill) and dauntless any demonstration by the working class or radical movements will find expressions of class war on the statue and plinth, no problem here.

Can I warn against allowing a simple 'hit list' of statues and monuments and plaques as this will always favour those opposed to and rarely those who defend, not least because the defenders won’t know whether or not they need to do any defending or whether someone is attacking something they think is valuable. Can I also warn against taking at face value accusations against particular historic figures, these may well come down to poor research or a particular political or cultural or class interpretation.  Scratching around for something to link Tyneside and the river and the region with the Slave Trade in order that we too might be suitably contrite and consumed with self-guilt, on the day of the first, BLM demonstration in Newcastle,  Look North focused on Blackett Street.  Repeating a poorly researched piece in I think the Journal, talking about Newcastle and the slave trade, the author firstly couldn’t even spell Fredrick Douglass's name right ! But then went on to talk about Blackett having made his fortune in an offshoot of the slave trade by importing Rum.  A totally misguided image was thus conjured up enough that now the name Blackett Street is now on some hit lists. Let’s be clear Blackett was a Liverpudlian , Liverpool being certainly a center of the slave trade though also strongly working class opponent of it. Blackett had started as a young merchant apprentice to his Cousin who did make his fortune in slaves, but he himself didn’t. The fortune and business and wealth of the river, city and region was coal not slaves. Of course, at this time boy miners from six years old worked in the mines, bonded to the coal owners and not allowed to run away or be employed elsewhere on pain of imprisonment the blacklist and starvation. This is the wrong sort of slavery of course, since these children who happened to be sometimes white, if they found time between the 18 hour shifts to get bathed and eat and sleep.  Doubtless some middle-class liberal PC wit will tell us they had 'white privilege' although I’ve never discovered just what that was.  It’s almost certainly true Blackett would have received cases or barrels of rum from his cousin, all rum consumed worldwide was based on the slave trade , as was tea, and cotton and much else, but this wasn’t how fortunes were made on the Tyne or Newcastle which were NOT part of the slave trade other than living in a country and state which overall was.  We had no specific connection and the penitents ought to stop scraping the bottom of (rum) barrels to find one.

The problem with a witch hunt is once you start looking, the world is full of witches.  All Judeo-Christian traditions including Islam have condoned slavery.  Neither Mohamad or Jesus condemned it or banned it or spoke or instructed against it, the bible euphemistically refers to master’s 'servants' rather than the slaves they actually were.  Paul went further and instructed the slaves not to disobey their masters and work hard for them.  This means all religious statues, churches, temples in that tradition Islam, Judaism, and Christianity could be charged with complicity and excusing slavery worldwide and therefore should be removed and shut down.

Modern morality imposes strict age limitations on sexual relationships, courtship and marriage, all sorts of outrage and repudiation is heaped upon those who breach the law or the consensus, but history had no restrictions especially on kings and queens.  If the trend is to take modern values and mores back into ancient history regardless of context and understanding of past society, the censorship of past artifacts could be unlimited.  How many kings and queens have been under 16 or were not even teenagers when they married,?  How many preteens and even on occasion babies, were married?  The whole of European history as it is represented could be shut down.

So, buildings, paintings and statues and books and even the history of such times could be banned and removed from view or knowledge.  The young comrades of the Chinese Red Guard during the so called 'cultural revolution' in their enthusiasm for change, destroyed swathes of ancient Chinese heritage believing it was keeping China in the past. it wasn’t of course, as the miner’s slogan says 'the past we inherit the future we build'.

 We have to acknowledge that Britain was a long time Imperialist and colonialist state, it invaded other countries, it imposed empires it suppressed other cultures and peoples, throughout that long period of the 'empire of which the sun never set' statutes and heroes of the time were built and commemorated. If the attempt is to be allowed to remove all markers to these people and any attempt to see them in historic context then essentially any appreciation of history will be impossible. All statues of Victoria and all other imperial monarchs, generals, wars , must be removed, Lord Collinwood springs to mind, certainly no Mr Nice Guy to his crews. Baden Powell the founder of the scout movement, unsurprisingly an imperialist empire loyalist, was not put up for that reason, but for founding the international scouting movement.  Shock horror they now discover he condemned homosexuality, but society condemned homosexuality, it was highly illegal and poor souls rotten in jails, were beaten and murdered for the offence, that was the injustice of the period in which he lived. Also as man trying to found an organization of little boys would hardly be a public advocate of same sex relationships would he ?, pedophilia being synonymous with homosexuality in those days.

A controversial figure in history, not particular Mr Nice Guy might well still be important corner stones of history and events and worthy of marking. I would expect that if Adolf Hitler had been born on Pilgrim Street Newcastle a plaque at least would mark this fact, that would simply be a historic marker and not some celebration or badge of honour.

The miners have particular reason to remember our slavery and oppression and see in the character of Lord Londonderry in Durham City Centre a monument worthy of removal, but how would that serve our history?  That statue allows us to tell that story, and to demonstrate that the same history can have at least two versions and two sets of facts.  I use it often given on the stump lectures.



Friday, 3 July 2020

Slavery, Fitzwilliam College & Dr. Starkey

VARSITY 3rd, July 2020*

IN an interview with Reasoned on Tuesday, the controversial historian Dr. David Starkey argued, “Slavery was not genocide, otherwise there wouldn’t be so many damn blacks in Africa or in Britain would there?”

Since then Cambridge's Fitzwilliam College has announced it will discuss Dr David Starkey’s Honorary Fellowship at a Governing Body meeting on Wednesday, following widespread condemnation of “racist” comments by the historian.

Dr. Starkey has argued:  “You cannot decolonise the curriculum because you, Black Lives Matter, are wholly and entirely a product of white colonisation. You are not culturally Black Africans. You would die in seconds if you were dumped back in black Africa.”  He went on to say, “Of course, slavery was not the same as the Holocaust.”

In response Fitzwilliam College said:  “We support and promote freedom of speech in our academic community, but we have zero tolerance of racism. Dr David Starkey’s recent comments on slavery are indefensible.”

Varsity understands that it is “almost certain” that his fellowship will be revoked.

Meanwhile Fitzwilliam College has issued the following statement:
'Fitzwilliam College does not tolerate racism.
We support and promote freedom of speech in our academic community, but we have zero tolerance of racism. Dr David Starkey’s recent comments on slavery are indefensible.
Fitzwilliam was founded upon values of fairness and mutual respect and we are proud of the College’s inclusive and diverse membership.
The matter of Dr Starkey’s Honorary Fellowship will be considered by the Governing Body at its meeting next Wednesday.'


*  Varsity is the independent newspaper for the University of Cambridge, established in its current form in 1947. In order to maintain our editorial independence, our newspaper and news website receives no funding from the University of Cambridge or its constituent Colleges.
We are therefore almost entirely reliant on advertising for funding, and during this unprecedented global crisis, we have a tough few weeks and months ahead.
In spite of this situation, we are going to look at inventive ways to look at serving our readership with digital content for the time being.
Therefore we are asking our readers, if they wish, to make a donation from as little as £1, to help with our running cost at least until we hopefully return to print on 2nd October 2020.
Many thanks, all of us here at Varsity would like to wish you, your friends, families and all of your loved ones a safe and healthy few months ahead.

Samuel Pepys on the Pox.

Is this what we have to look forward to tomorrow?


Wednesday, 1 July 2020

Contact Tracing: Shoe Leather or Apps?

by Les May

IF WE are going to eliminate the virus which causes Covid 19 the only way to do it is to break the chain of transmission from one person to another. One effective way of doing this is to interview every infected person to find out who they have been in contact with, trace all the people named, contact them and determine if they are showing signs of infection. If they are, they too must be interviewed to determine their contacts, and so on. If they are not showing signs of infection they would be advised to ‘self isolate’, a.k.a. ‘go into quarantine’, and monitored daily. If they show symptoms during this period the business of contact tracing must start all over again.

The process of investigating identified cases and tracing contacts is well shown on the website of the US Center for Disease Control website, but the basic procedure is applicable to any public health system.

A more detailed explanation is given at:

This is what I call the ‘shoe leather’ approach to contact tracing. It has both advantages and disadvantages. Its major advantages are that it is ‘low tech’, a pencil and notebook is all that is needed, proactive in the sense that it is a public health initiative and does not rely on the infected person to initiate it, and it is infinitely adaptable, because the contact tracer can prompt the interviewee if necessary.

Its disadvantages are, it requires trained people to carry out the interviews, hence it is expensive and difficult to implement if the number of infections is high, it is relatively slow, the infected person may not remember all their contacts or fail to mention, for example, that they stood at a bus stop with other people.

It is in order to mitigate these disadvantages that technological solutions to the problem of contact tracing have been proposed. These necessarily involve smartphones. At which point one disadvantage of this approach becomes apparent, not everyone owns, or want to own, a smartphone. Nor would every smartphone owner want to allow it to be used in this way. This is not fatal to the enterprise; it only requires that about 60-70% of a population can or will allow this.

One of the things which may make people reluctant to allow their smartphone to be used for contact tracing is a concern for their personal privacy. There are however a number of points which people who have these concerns might like to consider. Shoe leather’ contact tracing also carries risks to personal privacy, remember the pencil and notebook. Owning and carrying a smartphone poses even greater privacy risks. Users may not switch off, or know how to switch off, the GPS location facility on their phone. Even if they do, smartphones regularly ‘ping’ nearby mobile phone masts.  Both these can be used to obtain location data for a mobile phone owner.   Both may be misused for surveillance of individuals, but locations are too crude for contact tracing.

So called contact tracing ‘apps’ make use of Bluetooth hardware which is available on most smartphones.  This signal is of much lower power which restricts the detection range to other smartphones in the immediate vicinity, hence the term ‘proximity tracing’.

Proximity tracing applications send to, and collect from, other smartphones in the vicinity very short ‘nonsense’ messages which act as an identifier of the phone. These are changed frequently to prevent tracking by a third party.  This exchange only happens if the phones, and hence their owners, are sufficiently close, say less than 2 metres, for a sufficient length of time.  This assessment is carried out by the ‘app’, not the phone owner, and the identifier of the nearby phone is then logged. It is in measuring the strength of the Bluetooth signal and hence estimating the distance between phones and their owners, that ‘apps’ seem to run into trouble.

At this point all the logged data is on the user’s phone.  To be useful in alerting other smartphone users that they have been close enough, for long enough, to an infected individual to be considered a contact, some means must be found for bringing all logged identifiers together and alerting potential contacts. It is at this point that the potential for surveillance comes into play again.

The extreme surveillance by the state in China is well known, but other countries have implemented systems where there is a high risk of exposure to surveillance. The TraceTogether application used in Singapore requires users to share their contacts information with the authority which keeps a database that links identifiers to contact information. When a user tests positive, their phone sends all the identifiers it has logged over the past two weeks. The authority looks up the identifiers in its database, and contacts by phone or e-mail the people who may have been exposed to infection. This places a lot of information in the hands of the government.

For the potential for misuse of centralised information see:

For the potential misuse in some other countries see;

Apple and Google’s proposal is a more decentralised system which uses a database accessible to the public.  When a user tests positive, they can upload their private identifiers to that public database.  The database can be hosted by a health authority or on a peer-to-peer network; as long as everyone can access it, the contact tracing system functions effectively.  Peer to peer networks do not have a centralised server.  All users are equally privileged.

How the decentralised system works is here:

If I used a smartphone I would probably find this system acceptable from the privacy point of view if the code were ‘open source’ which would allow thousands of pairs of eyes all over the world to check it for potential privacy violations.

So far as I can ascertain the system which was proposed initially would be used in the UK was in the second rank so far as privacy is concerned; better than many, but still leaving something to be desired.  Now it seems to have been dropped altogether in favour of one using the applications interface (appi) proposed by Apple and Google, but will it be ‘open source’?

The downside of relying on technology to alert us to something that has already happened to us is that we will be lulled into a false sense of security about our present behaviour.  Rather like the man who fell off the Empire State Building and as he passed each window shouted “So far so good”Meeting as few people outside our own household and keeping at least two metres away from those we do meet is still the best way of reducing transmission and eliminating the virus.