Category Archives: Society

The ex-Islamist, the million pounds grant and the big-mouthed Minister

IF YOU haven’t already read The Islamist by Ed Husain, then I recommend you do so.

It tells the very true and moving story of a British-born Muslim and his recruitment into – and subsequent disillusionment with –  the radical Islamist group, Hizb ut-Tahrir. It offers a fascinating insight into the Islamist, as well as the Muslim, mindset in the UK. Husain is painfully honest about his experiences; I physically winced at the part where he describes encouraging fellow Muslims to celebrate the events of 9/11, and his confusion when he was reprimanded by those same people.

Now Husain and another former Islamist, Maajid Nawaz, a former political prisoner in Egypt, have formed the Quilliam Foundation, aimed at combating the Islamist tendency in the UK. Only an ex-Islamist can effectively fight the current ones, the logic goes.

Government grants of nearly a million pounds have been put at the foundation’s disposal, whcih seems to have irked some, not least The Times and an unnamed government minister who, hiding, inevitably, behind the shield of anonymity, described the giving of the money as “outrageous”. He (let’s assume it’s a “he”) also warned that Britain is becoming home to “the ex-Islamist industry.”

Well, we can only hope. Or would he prefer for us to be home to the Islamist industry?

Once again, we are revealed as a nation obsessed with the cost of everything and the value of nothing. The Times reports its supposition that the two directors of the Quilliam Foundation are receiving salaries of “about £85,000”. The same report states that its offices have no sign, for security reasons, but doesn’t make the logical link that if people are doing dangerous work to protect other people, they should be finacially rewarded.

I had a discussion recently where I told a friend that Islamism represented the greatest threat to our nation. “No,” he replied, “global warming is the biggest threat to our nation.”

Not sure those aboard any of the Underground trains on 7 July 2005, or any of their friends or relatives, would necessarily agree with that.

The Quilliam Foundation will produce its first report soon. It may well do some vital work on behalf of our country. If it results in saving lives, these government grants can be considered money well spent.  If it doesn’t deliver the goods, then we can always try another approach. But for crying out loud, can we just for once see past the headlines and the salary figures, past the snide little comments about “state of the art computers” (“Golly! They’re using up to date IT? Outrageous!”) and plush offices and judge such organisations on results? Or would that be too logical for our talkative ministerial colleague?

Presumably, the fact of the awarding of these grants suggests that the Quilliam Foundation has the support of the government. That being the case, maybe the minister in question should shut his mouth and get back to supporting the government.



Filed under Government, Society

Class warfare and other complete and utter wastes of time and energy

I FELT strangely depressed yesterday on reading this over at LabourList. That in this day and age we can still have this kind of “debate” in the Labour Party is incredibly dispiriting.

I mean, come on! A maximum wage!? And it’s not just left-wingers who betray this level of disengagement from reality: many right-wing and Tory-supporting commenters on this site have, over the months, left barbed and pointed comments expressing their resentment that Tony Blair is earning many millions of pounds a year. Good for him, say I.

And while we’re at it, good for Geoff Hoon for hiring a private tutor for his daughter. Any decent parent would do the same, and I certainly would, without hesitation or apology, if I felt any of my sons would benefit from it.

So there.


Filed under Blogging, Society

Patrick McGoohan: not (just) a number

I CAME late to The Prisoner, the TV series for which Patrick McGoohan will inevitably be best remembered.

It was 1989, and a friend encouraged me to watch the whole series which he had just bought on VHS. So I did. I considered it dated, a bit pretentious, dull at times. I also thought it was utterly addictive, and I couldn’t wait to see the final episode where all the mysteries would be explained.

What a disappointment! I once read that McGoohan even received threats from fans who were enraged at the inability of the series finale to answer a single question without creating at least two new, unanswered ones. I seem to remember there was something about a man in a monkey mask and an articulated lorry carrying a cage.

The Prisoner was genius, of course, whatever the verdict on the 17th and last episode. It did what very few, if any, TV series had dared to do before or since, and explore the complexity of the relationship between the individual and society, or the individual and the state. Whatever, it was always about the individual. “I am not a number – I am a free man!” the rebellious Number Six (McGoohan) would shout at the start of each episode, just to remind the audience that his protagonists wanted to compromise, or take away completely, that individuality.

Okay, enough of the obsessive fan stuff – the real reason I felt I wanted to pay tribute to McGoohan is not, in fact, because of The Prisoner; it’s because of Columbo, and because Columbo is Carolyn’s all-time favourite TV show.

McGoohan, a good friend of Peter Falk’s, directed five episodes of the series, played the murderer four times, wrote two episodes and won two Emmys for his work on Columbo. I recall one episode where he played a retired secret agent who, in saying goodbye to Lt Columbo, tells him: “Be seeing you…”

He had many other roles, one of the most memorable being Edward I in Braveheart (1995). But as I said, it’s The Prisoner which will be his cultural legacy. There have been a number of attempts to remake it (sorry, we’re supposed to call them “reimaginings” now, aren’t we?) for both the small and the big screen, and I recall reading that a new version will find its way onto our TV screens this year.

Always a risky proposition, especially when the original is still regarded with such affection by so many people. But there’s no doubt that the themes The Prisoner explored are at least as relevant today as they were in 1967, so who knows – it could be successful if done properly.

McGoohan was one of a rare breed who had the luxury of dictating exactly the kind of roles he wanted to do. He was a successful writer and director, and as well as creating one of the most iconic fictional characters of the 20th century, was rare in Hollywood circles by enjoying a 57-year long marriage; he is survived by his actress wife, Joan Drummond McGoohan.

Number Six

McGoohan as Number Six...


... and as the murderous Nelson Brenner in the 1975 Columbo episode, "Identity Crisis"


Filed under Society, TV, United States

Stick, carrot or finger-pointing and laughing?

MY PREVIOUS post about the politically-incorrect use of red ink on weans’ jotters provoked some amount of the usual abuse but also a rather useful and informed debate in the comments thread. I love it when that happens (not very often, if you must ask).

The Devil pointed out, (not without some justification, I should confess) by way of suggesting a solution to my red mist dilemma, that, since I am a member of the governing party, then the remedy is in my own hands.

Oh, if only ’twere so easy…

Do we really think that the way to prevent this kind of waste of time and energy is to pass a law prescribing the language that can be used in schools and by local authorities? Sounds a bit authoritarian to me, and ultimately unenforceable.

No, surely better to mock and ridicule education providers teachers and local services and equality facilitators council staff and to shame them into coming to their senses.


Filed under Blogging, Government, Society

Green ink shortage imminent

SURPRISED there’s not been more of an (over-) reaction to this nonsense.


Filed under Media, Society

Five ‘wise’ men

THE five Church of England bishops who have attacked Labour as “immoral” should not be dismissed out of hand.

After all, these giants of Christian leadership are the very people who have presided over a colossal rise in church membership and attendance. Such has been their inspiration to the nation, few people fail to consult them on great matters of import before coming to a conclusion. 

So when these Five Wise Men choose to ignore the work of this government in combating poverty in the Third World, we have to assume they have good reason to do so (perhaps involvement in such causes might detract from their party political work?).

When they ignore the tax credit system, the historically large increases in child benefit, the minimum wage or pensioners’ winter heating allowances, we must assume that the Five Wise Men have prayed long and hard to seek Divine Inspiration for their pronouncement and that God agrees with them.

And when they, by implication, dismiss the record investment in the NHS under this government, we should perhaps ask if the Church of England’s runs a Bupa membership scheme for its clergy.

More than all of this, we should remember that the description of the Church of England as “the Tory Party at prayer” was never more true than when there is a Labour government.


Filed under Church, Conservative Party, Economy, Politics, Society

In praise of credit unions

MUCH indignation today on the apparent intention of the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) to allow the charging of interest on Social Fund loans.

The minister responsible, Kitty Ussher, denied this was the case, but inevitably her denial was carried on the BBC site near the end of the story, after various rent-a-quotes had got their tuppenceworth in first. 

The good news is that there does seem to be a move towards encouraging more people on benefit to use credit unions.

I first became a member of a credit union in 1993. These really are fantastic organisations, which encourage you to save as well as borrow. The amount you’re allowed to borrow depends on how much you’ve already saved, and when your repayments on a loan are calculated, they include an amount that continues to be added to your “shares”, or savings, during your loan term so that, by the the time you’ve paid it off, you have more savings than when you took out the loan. And the rate of interest on loans is tiny compared with most banks.

It’s all good. 

So although the headlines today are all about how this evil “Ebenezer Scrooge” government is trying its best to force the poorest in society into the workhouse, I suspect all they’re doing is encouraging Bob Cratchit to consider cheaper, more responsible methods of borrowing. 


The Permanent Secretary at DWP was less than satisfied by the tone of that morning's press coverage

PS: As I was writing this post and looking up the correct spelling of “Ebenezer” on the web, I was reminded of the last time I had to write it. I was working at the Paisley Daily Express and had to write an advertising blurb for a local store which sold electrical items. The owner was part of that generation which still considered it acceptable to use people’s initial rather than full name in print. I didn’t realise this, so when I asked him what the “E” stood for, he said: “‘E’ as in ‘Ebenezer’…” So, naturally, I assumed his Christian name was Ebenezer, which is how it appeared in the next day’s edition. Turns out his name was Edward. Why couldn’t he just have told me that?

A complaint was subsequently made and I was not invited to write articles for this shop again.


Filed under Hinterland, Media, Society