Think Russell Brand is ugly? You’ve seen nothing yet.

So Canterbury was the scene of one of the most rowdy editions of the BBC’s flagship political discussion programme Question Time for some years. Well, it was always likely to happen with UKIP leader Nigel Farage pitted against self-appointed revolutionary Russell Brand on the panel.

The contest created a great deal of heat and passion. What is interesting, however, is how far someone likes a man or woman is a determinant to whether we actually hear what they say.

Looking at the reaction to last night’s broadcast on Facebook, or on news sites ranging from the Huffington Post, the Express, the Independent and the Telegraph, their relative performances appear to have merely confirmed what people had already thought about them: Farage is the racist, uber-establishment scumbag, and Brand the millionaire fool.

Farage faced hostility from the moment he started talking – both from Brand and large parts of the audience, some of whom hailed from the South Thanet constituency he will be contesting at next year’s election.

This didn’t faze Farage at all, however, and he remained articulate and determined on his core issues of immigration and the failures, as he sees them, of the political establishment. Contrary to what Farage apparently stands for, much of what he actually said could have been voiced by any number of Tory ministers and MPs.

As a battle-hardened professional politician whose threat to the Conservatives and divisive agenda always places him in the line of fire, the UKIP leader handled the barracking relatively calmly. Though turning on sections of the audience, describing them pejoratively as Brand’s natural voters, was probably ill advised.

Brand was his usual uneven combination of quotable soundbite flourishes – such as his depiction of Farage as a ‘pound shop Enoch Powell’ – and feeble retorts to direct challenges, particularly from the audience. He’s rousing and infuriating in equal measure, but then it’s still churlish to complain: he’s not a politician. Shouldn’t we at least listen to voices outside the trained, on-message establishment?

And it’s not as if Brand’s arguments have no merit, and many of his ‘true news’ YouTube programmes, The Trews, are reasonably well-constructed pieces of comment journalism.

Still, back to Canterbury. Farage probably beat Brand on points, if only for being more controlled under attack. That fact alone probably gave him the higher moral ground in many people’s eyes, while Brand’s passion rendered him uncomfortably inarticulate at times.

Beneath the clash of personalities, however, are two powerful narratives which are struggling to find an outlet. Both relate to the perceived detachment of and betrayal by the Westminster political establishment.

The first is immigration, on which there are two competing arguments: that immigration is good for the UK economy, and especially from within the EU (a view supported by various bits of research, most notably this study); and the claim that the numbers coming to Britain are too high.

On the second point, there is considerable anecdotal and some research evidence to suggest that immigration has hit the economic fortunes of the poorest 20% in our society. While immigration has had little impact on average earnings across the UK, the Migration Advisory Council (MAC) agrees that it has had a “notable” impact on income inequality.

In a review of current immigration research, the MAC concludes: “The literature suggests small impacts of migration on average wages but notable effects across the wage distribution. The studies … broadly agree that migration is more likely to increase wages at the top of the distribution, and reduce wages at the bottom. Consequently, migration may have caused the pay distribution to become more unequal than it otherwise would have been.”

Being at the bottom of the economic scale, those directly impacted by immigration are also likely to be the less well educated, skilled or articulate sections of society. Among this social segment, which might appear to some as quite unfashionable, are people who are more likely to have been cut adrift by the Westminster machine – particularly under the Coalition government’s drive against welfare benefits.

Indeed, having targeted much of his austerity at the most vulnerable people in society, chancellor George Osborne has signalled his intent to slash benefits for those of working age if the Tories are re-elected. So much for helping the ‘working poor’.

Immigration has long benefited the UK as a whole, culturally as well as economically. But given the overall context of injustice in the UK, the anger within the bottom 20% is completely understandable. And as sections of this group tend to also be socially quite conservative, their anger finds a natural home with Nigel Farage and UKIP, who sees lower economic growth as a price worth paying for lower immigration.

But it is the same context of injustice from which Brand’s arguments arise. Because while the poor is penalised in the wake of a financial crash that was not of their making, the corporate elite – and especially the banking sector – has been given complete cover by the state from the consequences of its own idiocy.

So, while George Osborne suggests that UK taxpayers should be spared the £5bn a year burden of paying out Jobseeker’s Allowance, he has no such qualms about the £14bn a year subsidies and grants that go directly to businesses, nor the £85bn a year paid to large corporations and the banks in corporate tax benefits and cheap credit. In other words, while attacks on social welfare threaten whole sections of society with destitution, corporate welfare is to remain unchallenged.

Look at the absence of any criminal action or banking sector reform, and the conclusion is inescapable that the state and the political establishment has not only been captured by that corporate elite, but has also become its guard dog. To the captured state, we can probably also add the legal system and most of the press and media.

You might not like Russell Brand, but what he has to say about corporate power is overdue and well-made. And Brand is not the only one saying these things: many other commentators far more equipped and ‘respectable’ than Brand have been making the same arguments for some time.

Unless the political establishment begins to address the issue of corporate power and impunity, then the state’s legitimacy will be increasingly threatened. If you think the brand of political debate displayed in Canterbury yesterday was ugly, well you’ve seen nothing yet.

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Manston airport saga takes unexpected turn

manston passenger terminal

Two passenger airplanes have been circling the skies above Thanet, north east Kent, for three weeks waiting for clearance to land at Manston airport, it has emerged.

PanAmanian flight BSE227A from New York and HopefulAir’s UFO97/3 from the Central African Republic have been stuck in a holding cycle over the Sunshine Isle since November 19 because of continuing wrangles over Manston’s future.

And in a dramatic bid to break the deadlock, PanAmanian’s flight captain Bob Parker made an emotional appeal for a deal to be brokered so his Boeing 747, seven staff and 347 passengers could finally land.

Fighting back tears of boredom, Capt Bob radioed this heartfelt message: “Please! Please, I call on all decent Thanet people to do what they can to settle this now. It’s purgatory up here. Three hundred and twenty seven Scooby Doo re-runs is surely enough for anybody.”

Manston’s Kent International Airport has been a global aviation hub for centuries, but was precipitately closed in May just as it was about to celebrate its 200th paying customer.

But international confidence grew that the airport would reopen when Thanet District Council and a host of local politicians stepped in to compulsorily purchase the site and restore it to its previously open but largely deserted state.

Two global airlines were so keen to use the airport that they immediately chartered flights to Manston in the certain knowledge that the runway would be ready for them by the time they arrived.

Instead, the airport purchase plan faltered and the two flights have been stuck in the air for three weeks, with only 20 gallons of spirits to relieve the tedium of the in-flight entertainment – the 12th series of Scooby Doo and The Hottie & The Nottie, featuring Paris Hilton’s film debut.

Air Traffic Control’s Roger Rodger said the whole saga has created an unusual logistical nightmare, not least because both planes have to be refuelled in mid-air at least once a day.

“We’ve been able to manage it so no one on the ground has noticed the crisis going on above,” said Rodger. “We directed the planes to refuel over Birchington, whose population is largely oblivious to the outside world.”

With negotiations ongoing, the authorities are poised for action immediately Manston reopens. All the arrivals will be treated to a selection of local delicacies – mainly cauliflowers – at a special reception party in the airport terminal, before being bussed to Gatwick, where there are reasonable transport links to London.

Meanwhile, you don’t have to wait for Manston to reopen to enjoy living next to an aviation hub, thanks to the enterprising Nott family. Based in Thanet, their new company, Nott Landing, has launched the innovative Aircraft & Aerodrome Simulator kit. Which, according to daughter Maybee, is an “experiential system offering all the authentic sights, sounds and aromas of living under the flight-path of a major international airport”.

Retailing at just £499.95, it costs a fraction of the proposed compulsory purchase order, and includes an 84-CD box set with soundtracks of all the frequent, low-flying aircraft one could wish to hear during any given week. The standard pack also includes a month’s supply of kerosine vapour spray, so aviation buffs can even do a bit of jet fuel dumping in and around their own homes.

For an extra £30, enthusiasts can choose the Superior version, which includes a barrage balloon in the shape and size of a Boeing 737. Once secured, tethered and inflated, you can let it float above your house for the genuine dwarfed-by-an-airliner effect.

And, for an additional £50, you can opt for the Premium product, which includes a four-gun, radio-controlled kerosine spray system. It might sound complicated, but setting it up is simplicity itself: just place each loaded kerosine gun in a different corner of your garden, insert CD1 in your music centre, turn up the volume, press play … et voila!

Maybee’s brother, Rhatha, has used the Premium kit at his home near Ellington Park, Ramsgate, for the last two months.

“It’s just like living by Heathrow,” he said, “particularly since I spent £15,000 on a new stereo system, complete with floor-to-ceiling speakers and sub-woofers. Now I get the full vibrational impact of each and every passing aircraft. Nice!

“Admittedly, we did have a few teething problems, most notably on syncing the kerosine guns with the CD player. Fortunately, we quickly sorted that out. Now, when I’m out in the garden with the wife and kids and we hear a plane approaching, we know we’ve got three seconds to run for cover.”

However, sleep deprivation and jet fuel poisoning haven’t diminished Rhatha’s love of his five-minutely aviation interludes.

“On the minus side,” he said, “I still have to go downstairs three or four times a night to change the CD – although, obviously, if we actually had a busy airport nearby, we wouldn’t get any sleep at all. So that’s okay.

“But on the plus side, I don’t have to worry about the gardening any more as I no longer have any weeds, and my lawn, flower beds, shrubs and trees are all dead.”

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Everything you know about Hamas is wrong


One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. This book – Hamas: A Beginners Guide – is enlightening and timely. We have seen the vilification of groups representing oppressed people so many times in history that we really should be more discerning when confronted with this. Indeed, years after the conflict is over, Nelson Mandela was hailed as a hero by the very same establishment and corporate media that were happy to see him castigated as a terrorist during his resistance against apartheid. Likewise, Hamas is not the organisation it is portrayed to be. The media runs with claims that Hamas routinely uses civilians as human shields, even though there is little or no evidence to support this. There is also no challenge to the claim that Hamas is purely an extremist organisation, but the Hamas leadership has shown arguably more interest in pursuing a lasting peace with Israel on the basis of a two-state solution – which includes an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza – than Israel has. Take the example of ‘Hamas hardman’ Ahmad Jabari, who has assassinated in 2012 by the Israelis soon after receiving the draft of a comprehensive peace agreement he was intimately involved in negotiating. If Israel was really interested in peace, why would they murder the very person who could have delivered it?

Originally posted on Tim Holmes:

Two Minutes Hate

Alright, not everything. And no, not you, smart-arse. Still, it’s been alarming to be reminded over the past month just how delusory much western public conversation on Hamas is. A common perception is that Hamas are in essence recalcitrant fundamentalist extremists, hell-bent on destroying Israel by any means possible. Virulently anti-semitic, misogynist and genocidal, they use whatever weapons they acquire to murder Israeli civilians and perhaps even attack Western targets internationally, without compunction or restraint. There is little awareness in this discourse that Hamas differ in any significant way from the Jihadists of ISIS or Al-Qaeda.

Probably the most valuable basic text in dispelling these delusions is Khaled Hroub’s Hamas: A Beginner’s Guide, which takes on most of the major confusions and misconceptions surrounding the group’s seldom-explained ideology and modus operandi. Hroub is a senior research fellow at the University of Cambridge’s Centre of Islamic Studies…

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Israeli-style policing in Ferguson gives US minorities a taste of Palestine

A Palestinian youth with a gas mask grabs a tear gas grenade fired by Israeli forces during clashes in the West Bank town of Bethlehem protesting Israeli attacks on Gaza, November 20, 2012. (photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/

Just like Ferguson: A Palestinian youth with a gas mask grabs a tear gas grenade fired by Israeli forces during clashes in the West Bank town of Bethlehem protesting Israeli attacks on Gaza, November 20, 2012. (photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/

Israel’s position as a pariah state seems assured with revelations that at least four US police departments have been coached in the ‘counter-terrorism’ techniques used by the IDF in the occupied Palestinian territories.

US commentators have been drawing telling parallels between Israeli operations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and their own combat-ready law enforcement officers, who they claim increasingly resemble an occupying force.

And the links with Israel have been highlighted by the paramilitary-style response of St Louis County police to the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, which followed the fatal shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown by the local force on 9 August.

Some eyewitnesses say that the 18-year-old boy was trying to surrender to police when he was shot six times. His body was left in the street for hours, during which time a crowd gathered demanding answers from the police, who responded by deploying K-9 units and riot squads.

This sparked days of riots in Ferguson, culminating in the deployment of the Missouri National Guard to restore order to this St Louis suburb.

However, in addition to the disturbances in Ferguson itself, the boy’s death has provoked protests across the nation, with institutional racism, breaches of human rights, police brutality and the militarisation of law enforcement the primary targets.

With images of Israel’s latest carpet bombing of Gaza still fresh in the memory – an operation which has more than ever threatened grassroots US support for the Jewish state – Michael Brown’s death and the subsequent riots have come at the worst possible time for Israel’s supporters.

And this is because the IDF-style counter-terrorism tactics, and the weapons used by the police, have highlighted the links between the policing of minorities in the US and Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian territory. Palestinians and US minorities now have a common interest, as Palestinians were quick to show when they tweeted tips on dealing with tear gas and with their messages of solidarity.

Even before Ferguson, Israel’s Operation Protective Edge had already sparked protests across the US, led by organisations such as Jewish Voice for Peace, which is behind grassroots campaigns – such as this one in Colorado – to hold Jewish community leaders to account. US support for Israel is likely to come under further scrutiny as evidence emerges that Israel has committed war crimes in Gaza.

Indeed, support for Israel among young Americans has been waning for some time, according to polling research by Gallup and focus group studies, but the latest bombing has significantly also hit support among the Evangelical Christian community. Unsurprisingly, studies suggest that support for the Palestinian cause is much higher and growing among non-white Americans.

Grassroots support for Israel, though still strong, appears to be on a long-term declining trend. Throw in the suppression of the US black population – an fact so apparently obvious it has become the subject of satire – using Israeli techniques and the same US-made weapons as those used to control the Palestinians, and this could begin a real shift in American opinion on the Jewish state.

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Bank of England ‘a spectator’ as London housing market surges


London house prices are being driven beyond the Bank of England’s control by cash-rich foreign investors seeking top-end property in the capital.

Speaking on yesterday’s Andrew Marr show, Bank governor Mark Carney said the government’s Help to Buy scheme is having a minimal effect on the surging London market.

Instead, he said, the property surge is being driven by the continuing influx of foreign buyers whose cash purchases avoid the Bank’s influence, rendering it a spectator that can merely “watch” as prices rise.

Mr Carney said: “Much of what’s driven in London … is not mortgage-driven, it’s cash-driven. The top end of London is driven by cash buyers. It’s driven in many cases by foreign buyers.

“We, as a central bank, can’t influence that. We change underwriting standards, it doesn’t matter, it’s not a mortgage. We change interest rates, it doesn’t matter, it’s not a mortgage.”

However, Mr Carney went on to describe the surge in prices as an “adjustment” from their post-crash low, but which still remain below their 2008 peach. “They’ve now bounced back but they’re still more than 25% below historic averages, let alone stronger than historic averages,” he said.

His comments were at odds with figures released last week by Shelter, which suggested that the affordability of home-ownership is becoming an increasing problem.

Based on wage and house inflation figures collated from each area of the country since 1997, the homelessness charity claimed average earners would need to see their annual salaries double to match the rise in house prices.

And it highlighted Hackney as an area where property values had become completely detached from wages, claiming that the average salary across the borough would need to rise by £100,000 to remain in line with the “astronomical increase” in local house prices.

The charity added: “Worryingly, there is not a single area in the whole country where wage and house price inflation have remained aligned. Burnley has the smallest gap, but here £10,000 would still need to be added to the average salary to put it in line with the rise in house prices.

“The impact of the housing shortage has been widespread, with the latest Census showing a drop in home ownership in England for the first time since records began.”

Shelter chief executive Campbell Robb added: “It is no surprise that the dream of a home of their own is slipping further out of reach for a generation.

“Politicians need to start meeting people halfway by committing to bold solutions that will get more affordable homes built. Otherwise future generations will find themselves priced out of a stable home, however hard they work or save.

“The only solution is to build more affordable homes.”

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