“… and Crocodiles are Hungry at Night” at the Africa Centre

I have just returned from a powerful adaptation of Jack Mapanje‘s prison memoir “And Crocodiles are Hungry at Night” at the Africa Centre.  The memoir tells the story of the arrest and imprisonment without charge of Jack Mapanje, an academic and poet, in the dying days of Hasting Banda’s Malawi.  The arrest, probably generated by academic jealousy, led to incarceration for 3 years, 7 months and 16 days and had a profound effect not only on Jack but on his family.  His release followed a lengthy campaign by Amnesty International and PEN International.

The production presented by Bilimankhwe Arts (of which I am a trustee) has an impressive central performance by Misheck Mzumara as the poet, but the entire ensemble are highly effective – particularly in showing the interplay of the prisoners sharing a single cell and their relationship with their guards.

The play runs to 18th August and tickets can be obtained here.

David Lipsey’s “In the Corridors of Power” is a great read

I have just finished reading the book by my Lords’ colleague, David Lipsey, “In the Corridors of Power“.  It is a great read: lucid and clear as you would expect from someone with his journalistic pedigree and full of crisp insightful comments on the policy issues of the last forty years with which he has engaged.

His account of working for a trade union in the 1970s and then being one of the first SpAds (long before the term was coined) is hugely enjoyable, as are his portraits of Tony Crosland, Roy Jenkins, Jim Callaghan and the other figures that he has worked with.

The book is also a must read for those who want to understand the realities of being a member of the House of Lords and the limits to what you can achieve.  It is also a concise primer on House of Lords reform, changing the voting system, the finance of social care and many other topics from the funding of the BBC to the politics of greyhound racing.

Buy it and enjoy!


Much ado about something: the Mayor’s Twitter account

My webmaster, the excellent Jon Worth has posted on the row that has developed about Boris Johnson usurping the Mayor of London Twitter account for his political campaign.

And as usual he talks a lot of good sense:

“The issue here essentially boils down to your answer to one question: is there any longer any point in insisting on the separation of party political and governmental (i.e. supposedly impartial) communications?

If your answer is that there is still a need for a separation, then Boris is clearly in breach of the rules. The Twitter account in question was established after the 2008 elections, staff time from officials at the GLA was used to maintain it, and – prior to the username change – the account was prominently displayed on the GLA website, a site maintained by the administration that is supposedly above party politics.”

He even offers a solution:

“It would actually not be hard to separate the party political and administrative comms for someone in Boris’s position. A party political, personal Twitter account could be maintained by the politician and his political staff (even if these are taxpayer funded – i.e. SpAds and equivalents – and you could even make the case for there being more of them), and linked to the politician’s political website. A further administrative account (@LondonGov or something like that in this case) could then be used for the governmental comms. If the political account chooses to RT something from the governmental account, so be it, but the administrative account would not RT the political account. When the politician leaves office, his/her followers stay with him/her, while the governmental followers transfer to the next administration. Everyone would know where they stand. Too much to ask?

As for the Boris Johnson case: the account should be returned to the GLA and should not be used by anyone during the election campaign as resources from the impartial administration have clearly been used in its creation, production of content, and increasing its reach, and the two account solution put in place thereafter (of course applying to @ken4london and not Boris!)”

The episode, of course, has displayed an arrogance and a belief that rules are for other people – which it could be argued has been something that the present Mayor has displayed though out his life.  Of course, it may not be a personality trait that uniquely applies to Boris Johnson, it may be the case for other Old Etonian Tories ….


Total Politics 2011 Blog Awards

I gather that the Total Politics Blog Awards are now in progress.  I want to make it quite clear that I will not be in the least bit affronted should you chose to vote for this blog by clicking here.

Launching the Freedom Charity’s book “But It’s Not Fair” at the House of Lords

I was delighted to be joined by Keith Vaz MP, Chair of the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee, this morning when we presented the first copies of the book “But It’s Not Fair” produced by the Freedom Charity to help educate teenagers about the danger of forced marriages and what they can do protect friends who may be facing such a situation to a group of London schoolchildren.  The aim is to distribute the book to all secondary schools in the country to raise awareness of the problem.  At the same time a twenty-four hour helpline is being launched to provide advice to those at risk.

Read an interesting review in The Guardian ….

I was going to comment on an extremely perceptive review by David Marquand of Vernon Bogdanor’s “The Coalition and the Constitution” which appears on page 8 of the Guardian’s Review section.  But after ten minutes of unsuccessfully trying to find it on www.guardian.co.uk so that I could link to it, the urge has passed…….

Sorry about that.

House of Lords to permit electronic devices in the Chamber – but not that nasty interweb thingy

I don’t claim to be at the cutting edge of new technology, but I am aware that I am more up-to-date on these matters than some of my House of Lords colleagues.

It was with some trepidation therefore that I picked up the recommendations of that venerable and important body the House of Lords Administration and Works Committee on “Use of Electronic Devices in the House.”  The Committee chaired by the Lord Chairman of Committees, the Lord Brabazon of Tara, has noted that:

“the rules regulating the use of mobile telephones and other electronic devices … in the House are incomplete, outdated and contradictory”

and accordingly is recommending to the full House that the rules be revised and updated.

Most of what they are recommending makes sense and is sensible.  For example, they are proposing that:

“Hand-held electronic devices (not laptops*) may be used in the Chamber and Grand Committee provided that they are silent, but repeated use of such devices is discouraged. Members making speeches may refer to electronic devices in place of paper speaking notes, subject to the existing rule against reading speeches.”

But one of their recommendations seems harder to follow and will, I would assume, be rather unenforceable.  They are suggesting that:

“Electronic devices may not be used to send or receive messages for use in proceedings. They may be used to access Parliamentary papers and other documents which are clearly and closely relevant to the business before the House or Grand Committee, but not to search the Web for information for use in debate which is not generally available to participants by other means.”

So Twittering from the Chamber is presumably permitted because the messages are “not for use in the proceedings”. 

Accessing Parliamentary papers – presumably via the Parliamentary web-site – will be allowed, but a Google search forbidden because this may yield “information … not generally available to participants by other means”.  I am not sure exactly how this is meant to work or even why it is a distinction worth making.  Perhaps I am missing something.

*And another thing: does the prohibition on laptops preclude netbooks and does the approval of hand-held devices encompass iPads and Kindles?

Launch of the Freedom Charity to combat forced marriage and dishonour killings

Last night I hosted an event in the River Room of the House of Lords (by kind permission of the Lord Speaker) to launch the new Freedom Charity.  The event was well-attended despite the weather and there were inspiring speeches from Dr Humayra Abedin (an NHS doctor who was kidnapped by her parents in Bangladesh after she rejected the husband they had selected for her), solicitors Anne-Marie Hutchinson and Aina Khan, as well as Baroness Patricia Scotland, the former Attorney-General.

The charity’s aim is to combat forced marriage and dishonour killings and intends to work to empower young people through education and school awareness programmes.Next year, the Charity hopes to distribute a book aimed at teenagers, “But It’s Not Fair”, written by Freedom’s founder, Aneeta Prem, to every school in the country.

A charity well worth supporting.

Hard to put down: Chris Mullin’s “Decline and Fall”

I have spent several hours this weekend – to be honest, more than I intended – finishing reading Chris Mullin’s second volume of diaries, “Decline and Fall” – the excellent follow up to “A View from the Foothills”.  I had thought that without the vignettes of (junior) ministerial life, it might be less interesting than its predecessor.  In fact, I found I could hardly put it down.  His account of the last days of Pompeii (editorial note: this is a metaphor) remained riveting and his accounts of those events where I too was present were unerringly accurate and beutifully described.  So, if you’ve not already bought it, I recommend you get it for yourself as an early Christmas present.