Da da DUM

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So, the far left in Greece (nice change to type those words) has won the election and has formed an alliance with the far right to renegotiate the country’s austerity package. Hmm. They may well succeed at that but I don’t know how the coalition will be able to agree on anything else.

What lessons, if any, does this hold for the UK? (Not that Labour is within sniffing distance of being left of anything, while the Tories tilt madly on the UKIP tide.)

The Centre may not hold

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I was listening to BBC World Service last week, to an eloquent Liberian analyst discussing the Liberian government’s request for aid to assist in combating the Ebola outbreak. He pointed out that the money requested was for medical supplies, including bleach, gloves etc.

It pulled me up short. Of course, African governments need support in combating the Ebola threat. But part of the reason health crises can escalate is because the medical system is already in disarray. The expert mentioned how people are reluctant to go to the doctor except in dire circumstances, and the fact that Ebola’s early symptoms are indistinguishable from other diseases mean that a diagnosis is slow coming.

There’s so much to this. So often people don’t go to the doctors because it is expensive; so you only go if you must. It may be expensive to get there, or far away from where you live. It may be that you could make the journey and there’s no medicine anyway. If this is the normal state of affairs, then what of when a crisis hits?

African governments and Ebola

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There’s a lot to be discussed when it comes to President Hollande’s indiscretions with French actor Julie Gayet. Privacy, celebrity culture, press standards, the status of First lady/partner/girlfriend – and just how he found the time – but pushing all those meaty issues to one side, Hollande’s response to one of the two tentative questions about the affair in this week’s press conference amuses me. English translations run:  “Hollande said his indignation is total.”

I know this sounded so much more badass in French. It really sums up the all-encompassing fury. I can think of further uses:

– When someone finishes the last cupcake/biscuit: My disappointment is TOTAL.

– When people stand on the left hand side of the Tube* escalator: My frustration is TOTAL.

– When Borgen ended: My grief was TOTAL.

* Becoming a Londoner involves tapping into rage that you didn’t know you had. It’s only since living in The Smoke that I’ve added things like standing on the wrong side of escalators (or at the top of escalators, or at Tube entrances) to my list of absolutely unacceptable things that human beings can do.




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I’m preparing to go home. (My other home). It’s the strangest feeling to pack my bag with excitement knowing that soon I’ll see my family again – but I now have a home here too. The only time I get homesick now is when I’m actually preparing to go back again. It’s a  familiar ache that tugs on the edges of my consciousness, reminding me that part of me lies elsewhere. And yet, when my plane touches down at Heathrow, it’s a homecoming too. I leave home to go home and return home again, like eating candy that’s sweet and sour at the same time.

Living in the diaspora is a peculiar contradiction. Almost everyone has a plan for when they return home. And yet, the years drift by and sometimes you find that your other home is where you lay down your roots for good. Or, you do return but soon realise that the home you cherish is perhaps the home of your childhood, or your teens – it’s a storehouse of memories but just as you’ve changed since you left, it has too.  I also nurse the hope that one day I’ll return to live somewhere in Africa, if not in my own country. But I know too that even though it will feel in some ways like returning – mostly it will be a case of starting over.

Britain is home. Malawi is home-home.

When I tweeted that, someone asked, “What about home-home-home?”

We have those too. I think we have as many homes as our heart has room to love.

And that’s quite a lot.

Where the heart is

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I do love twitter. It’s hard to explain to the uninitiated, but for a newshound like me, dipping in and out of news streams through the course of the day is a pleasure.

And so it happens that a couple days in a row now I’ve come to hear about some immigration debates and research via people I follow on Twitter. Like many others, I’m happy to watch Jonathan Portes taking David Goodheart to task for his lazy prejudice and truth-starved statistics on immigration. I was also intrigued to hear about a Spectator Debate on immigration via Mehdi Hasan, who was tweeting about the fact that he’d be taking part, as would, among others, David Goodheart and Peter Hitchens. Then just today, I see that Sunder Katwala of the excellent thinktank British Future, is speaking at an event organised by Lord Ashcroft, called “Immigration on trial”.

Well, no one can say anymore that we’re not having the debate (though that’s still the go-to argument for those whose views are contested: “You’re stifling the debate!” – no, we’re just saying that you’re wrong. Disagreement is not the same as shutting you down, this isn’t Communist Russia etc etc)

However…I can’t help feeling, as an immigrant myself, very much talked about and not talked to. I also think it’s strange to have so many abstract debates. Well, sure, have the debates, but behind all the rhetoric there are people. People like me, with lives and loves and an intricate web of human relationships. And white people (because invariably when we talk about immigration, plaintitive cries about “Britishness” and the loss or absence of it usually reveal that Brown or Black Britons are still very much ‘other’ and what they really mean is ‘white homogenousness’) are just as human as the rest of us. They leave Britain for Australia, Canada, somewhere in Africa, East Asia – there they may work for a while then return home, or they may fall in love, set down roots, stay forever – or seek to return with their families.

Immigration is, at its heart, a human story. Facts and figures are so important to illuminate the debate, but in this globalised world we live him, the movement of humans, which has happened throughout the ages, is happening more and faster than ever before. It’s not something “happening to” Britain; it happens everywhere. Britons move around; so do Africans, Indians, Canadians, Americans. An abstract debate may be of interest to some but it doesn’t address the real human impact of immigration, or the human experience of the immigrants themselves.

Do we need policies? Absolutely. Do we need facts? No doubt about it. But discussing immigration like it’s something you can stop or opt out of  is just ridiculous, unless you’re also going to ground all Britons too. One man’s immigrant is another man’s expat, after all.

My ears are ringing

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Last week the government wanted a visa bond for UK tourists.

Today a letter leaked to the Times reveals they want to encourage more foreign school kids to study here and charge them handsomely for the privilege, despite an already acute shortage of school places.

Britain is allegedly open to “the brightest and the best” but the visa system is increasingly complex. However, they’re smoothing the way for the mobile rich elite because the assumption is that if you’re rich enough, apparently, that automatically makes you bright, the best and worthy. (You may never actually pay tax here and contribute anything but let’s not let logic interrupt a good run of populist nonsense)

Meanwhile, a crackdown on student visas to meet the arbitrary “tens of thousands” immigration target means that the kids that come to school here will find it hard to get a student visa for university, despite paying above the odds for both primary and higher education. What’s the incentive to sink money into UK plc and subsidise British schools and universities?

Would the real government immigration policy please stand up?

Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics

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The deeper the pain goes, the more room there is for joy.

 I Am Completely Different

I am completely different
Though I am wearing the same tie as yesterday,
am as poor as yesterday,
as good for nothing as yesterday,
I am completely different.
Though I am wearing the same clothes,
am as drunk as yesterday,
living as clumsily as yesterday, nevertheless
I am completely different.

Ah –
I patiently close my eyes
on all the grins and smirks
on all the twisted smiles and horse laughs –
and glimpse then, inside me
one beautiful white butterfly
fluttering towards tomorrow.

Kuroda Saburo

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