Thursday, 31 January 2019

Batten Down The Hatches

I suppose you could say I have been on a journey over the past two and a half years.  I voted “Remain” during the 2016 EU Referendum.  It was a relatively straight-forward decision even though I had huge reservations about the current direction of the bloc.  I looked on with horror at the way in which Greece had been treated and found myself questioning the merits of the community in terms of its moral compass.  In the end, I simplified the question by proclaiming I could never find myself voting the same way as the BNP and other right-wing factions.

As previously outlined, I don’t think there’s enough migration.  I saw the opt-out of the Schengen agreement as being a missed opportunity.  I also wanted Britain to adopt the Euro when it became the currency of twelve nations in 2002. I viewed the annual rebate as being unfair to our European neighbours.  Indeed, prior to the treatment of Greece, I’d always been very positive about the Union and felt British people collectively didn’t embrace it enough.  I suppose much of that outlook, especially in terms of my views on immigration, resembled a mindset more in common with the city I grew up in (London) as opposed to the ‘country bumpkin’ I had matured into.

Then we had the result and the reluctance to accept it. I spent the first 24 hours telling anyone who would listen, that Britain would never leave. Another referendum would be offered and the nightmare would all be over very quickly.  I also fell into the mistakes of many around me, dismissing those who voted “Leave” as racist little Englanders.  On the Friday evening following the vote, a BBC News special from Birmingham shattered a lot of misconceptions.  I can still recall my eyes being wide open as my jaw dropped to the floor, watching contributions from the second city, with notable participation from BAME voters, as they explained why they had voted to leave the EU.  This began the process of me starting to gain a deeper understanding. My lazy attempts to generalise anyone who voted the other way to me as a xenophobic cretin, were not going to stand up to any kind of scrutiny. A wonderful expression emerged which I have repeated countless times since, ‘not everyone who voted to leave is a racist, but every racist voted to leave’.

A short while after, the results from the city I have made my home for the past seventeen years were dissected in more detail.  The city as a whole had voted to leave by 51% to 49% which had already been something I had found trouble digesting. Yet this was nothing compared to my shock when the ward results were disclosed, revealing some incredibly alarming outcomes which left me questioning everything just short of the laws of gravity.  Areas of the city with huge BAME communities had voted for Brexit.  A part of the city which I had affectionately labelled as the ‘Hackney of Nottingham’ (St Ann's) and my own ward (Basford) which I have often likened to Enfield in north London, both were in favour of leaving the EU.

It probably took me another twelve months to finally accept that we were definitely leaving the EU in March 2019. I did buy into the prospect of another referendum, I clung onto the dream that it had all been a mistake that everyone would realise before it’s too late with common sense prevailing.  Then reality bit me on the bottom and I have become more stubborn in my outlook ever since. So much so, that if somehow another referendum is held, I would vote to leave the EU. Not because I have suddenly found merit in the fairy tale viewpoint of Liam Fox about a world queuing up to do business with us, far from it. It is actually down to a principle that votes have consequences and as a result, voters must take responsibility for their actions.

I resent this notion that the referendum was a unique chapter of British political history where lies were told. Elections have always been full of lies for as long as I can remember. Indeed, the winter of discontent which occurred exactly 40 years ago this winter not only played such a huge part in helping Thatcher win the 1979 General Election, it also provided the propaganda which would keep Labour out of power for the next eighteen years.

As a child growing up, practically craving my first taste of a Labour Government, I recalled those images from before I was born used repeatedly to warn everyone about the dangers of voting Labour.  It wasn’t until I was an adult that I found out that the overflowing rubbish bags in Leicester Square, a consequence of the industrial action by waste collectors, weren’t collated in such an iconic location by chance. It was a deliberate act, an instruction from Tory controlled Westminster Council who recognised the strategic importance of such a high profile site, a venue used for major film premieres and red carpet events. The most infamous image of the most notorious industrial relations dispute in post-war Britain did not come about as a consequence of events, but deliberate manipulation by a council with an eye on helping Thatcher secure a General Election which would be a matter of months away.

Likewise, when Labour finally ended 18 years of Conservative rule in 1997, a key message of their campaign was about “saving the NHS”. This cherished national institution was in danger under Tory rule and would not survive another term of mismanagement.  The passage of time has allowed us to re-examine such claims and indeed many of the problems of the NHS today can be traced back to catastrophic decisions taken under Blair which led to the private sector having such a massive role. The concept of building hospitals with PFI funding is something I have condemned as being as illogical as purchasing a house with a ‘payday loan’.  If the NHS as we know it vanishes in the next decade, then far from 'saving the NHS', those decisions taken two decades ago would've condemned it to a death sentence.

Which brings us to the grandest myth of all: the one that suggested the last Labour Government crashed the economy and in effect brought about the global financial crisis of 2008. Even writing such a sentence now sounds as ridiculous as first coming across the theory a decade ago, but it became an argument which found a receptive audience and became central to enabling Cameron to enter Downing Street in 2010.

They’re just three porkie pies, hugely influential as they were, but certainly not exclusive in the grander scheme of elections contested in my lifetime. Derek Beacon’s historic BNP council election victory in 1993 built on lies would be just one of many to have influenced contests on a local level. This idea that the EU Referendum represented a unique milestone in history where lies were told insults the intelligence of every single one of us, irrespective of which way you voted.

People fought for the right for universal suffrage, but far too many do not consider the enormous responsibility that comes with such a privilege. They click and share articles by the Hate Mail/Scum rags and consider themselves as being informed. I’ve expressed a grievance with such conduct for the past two decades, but the two publications are still the first and second most popular newspapers in this country. That is a huge problem which has almost been accepted as part of the fabric of having a “free press”, regardless of the irresponsible behaviour of such segments of the media.

One of them is often referred to as the “current bun”, like it is harmless, as opposed to the racist, wicked, spiteful and vile rag that it has always been for as long as I’ve lived. People who turn to these for informative reporting, can no longer be dismissed as blinkered when they have the vote and are able to exercise such rights while drawing on knowledge sourced from such dubious outlets. Their votes wield significant power and it is time that people take responsibility for their actions. If they insist on continuing to indulge in such poisonous reading, they must equally take on the responsibility of their actions when their ill-judged votes provide mandates for horrendous repercussions.

I think what frustrates me so much when I come across videos by activists like Femi Oluwole which promote the argument for a second referendum, is that the points he has made are extremely valid. His ability to outline the reasons for staying in the EU is very impressive. What annoys me is his energy, passion and slick videos were needed three years ago! I would prefer he devotes that enthusiasm to making the case for returning to the EU once Brexit has taken place.

Be under no illusion that accepting the result does not mean I have suddenly arrived at a conclusion that it is the right decision. I think it’s a terrible one and will hugely harm this country, but those consequences must be felt. Indeed, the nearer we get to the end of March, the more I find myself longing for a no-deal scenario. One which brings about maximum chaos, be it queues at immigration control, to empty shelves at the local supermarket.  I see it as a time we all have to ‘do a Michael Fish’ and batten down the hatches because it will get rough out there.

I strongly believe that the more brutal the Brexit, the quicker the momentum will build towards revisiting the question of the EU with the British public. Granted, once we leave, the terms upon re-entry to the bloc will be different. No more Pound, no more rebate and most importantly, no more opting-out of the Schengen Zone. It’s not a formality that British people will readily sign up to those terms, but this is where I wish people like Femi would focus their efforts upon and start making the case for a revised relationship as part of the EU. Personally, I have no problem with those terms, but as I mentioned at the start of this piece, that probably has more to do with where I grew up. After all, you can take Clency out of Tottenham, but you cannot take the Tottenham out of Clency.

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Aurevoir Arsene….Bienvenue Mediocrite?

We always knew the time would come.  The day when the sun would set on the reign of Arsene Wenger, thus bringing to an end the most bitter of Islington Civil Wars. The club have attempted, as best they can, to present an image of consensus to usher in an era of unity, although tell-tale signs indicate this had been anything but amicable.  Final proof will arrive in the form of Wenger reappearing in another dugout, a defiant gesture that this is a man who felt he had unfinished business.  Yet whether you were “IAWT” or “Wenger Out”, nobody took pleasure from the way the fans had become so bitterly divided.  We are now left to survey the scenes of devastation which depending on who you ask, marks the culmination of a battle for the “soul of the club” which lasted 5, 10 or even as long as 12 years.  I can remember some fans as far back as 2006 calling for his head, following our Champions League defeat during that cruel night in Paris.

Visitors to my blog will know I am somebody who will never tolerate hypocrisy.  I have more respect for people who stand by their beliefs, than those who surf upon bandwagons attempting to ride a wave of populism.  It’s why I texted Stafford Scott recently and described him as a weather barometer.  Rain or shine, you know where you stand.  It’s why I have an awful lot of time for him; the world needs more like his type.  It’s also why I find myself unable to contain my contempt for people like Lammy who has spent the past nine months attempting to reinvent himself as some kind of tribute act to Bernie Grant, despite spending the previous seventeen years doing everything he possibly could to represent the polar opposite of everything he stood for.  Lammy will always come to represent more a child of Thatcher than Bernie, hence the reason I am able to swiftly dismiss his recent biblical conversion from Saul to Paul.

I appreciate the fact that those who wanted Wenger gone will feel elements of vindication, especially as the story becomes clearer and it does look like the parting of the ways had been forced by the board.  I don’t want them now to cry crocodile tears and pretend they appreciated the past 22 years.  However I also feel that you can feel triumphant without treating such a day like the club has won a trophy.  It’s a fine line, a delicate balancing act, but having surveyed reactions from many fans since that momentous announcement, it can and must be done.

One such fan, a close friend, I had to spend time reading the riot act to. I explained that in my life as an Arsenal fan which began in 1985, this is the fourth occasion I have experienced a changing of the guard.  The one that stood out the most prior to this week had been the end of George Graham.  I can remember exactly where I was when I heard, a ‘JFK moment’ of my childhood as a Gooner.  It was half term and I had spent the afternoon with my cousins swimming at Leyton Leisure Lagoon.  I was getting changed and speakers inside the changing rooms relayed Capital Radio who had their hourly bulletin announcing the news.  It stunned my 14 year old self.  The criminal, this crook, a thief who stole from our club, fired for being caught with his hand in the till, so to speak.  Sacked in disgrace and later given a worldwide ban from the game.  But I couldn’t do any fist pumps or perform a merry dance.  Frightened, I looked to the future with a sense of trepidation.  It had been a miserable season.  The ‘house that George built’ was falling down all around us, ITV’s London Tonight were running features on Arsenal falling out of the top flight for the first time since 1919 and bookies were taking odds on the club being relegated.  Yet I never wanted Graham fired, I thought his six trophies in nine years earned him the right to turn it around.  I’m a loyal person; it probably marked out the characteristics which would make the classic ‘apostle of Wenger’ all those years later.  I still feel emotion recalling the day, a chapter closing and a sense of sadness which never has nor never will leave me.

Similarly when Rioch found himself fired on the eve of the 1996/97 season after just a year in the job, his running battles with our then best player (Ian Wright) had raised the unthinkable prospect of our star striker leaving, I do not look back at the day as one for celebration or joy.  Staring at an uncertain future, I feared the direction this club of mine were heading.  Rioch for all his faults, had taken us back into Europe again, restoring our status as a club with a profile which in my eyes deserved to be broader than just a quest for north London supremacy.

As the page turned in the journey of my life as an Arsenal fan, a chapter commenced and the end of Wenger’s time represents the end of that special period.  We are such a different club from what we were then with different aspirations and ambitions.  I guess looking around now, I wonder if it is the club I recognise anymore.  We have an enormous fan base today, one that stretches far beyond the M25, but I ask myself, 'at what price?'  I loved Highbury and of course I think the Emirates Stadium is wonderful, a bold statement of our intentions to become one of the biggest clubs in the world.  Although that old adage of bigger not always being better, does gnaw away today.

The club I started supporting as a five year old is one that feels part of me, a personal connection, through my childhood, my years at school, especially that privilege of attending St Joan of Arc.  Epitomised by experiencing “Arsenal in the Community”, where the club would send staff members to our school to oversee our Physical Education afternoons.  This wasn’t a club I adopted from hundreds or thousands of miles away, this is a club that was part of my community and in turn became an extension of me.  When the club would be happy, I felt joy too.  Such as watching ‘Anfield 89’ on ITV as a nine year old from deep behind enemy lines growing up down the road in Tottenham.  Winding up next door neighbours, living and breathing every peak and trough the club encountered.

When the club mourned, I shared that pain too, emphasised by my earlier accounts of the end of Graham and Rioch.  The concept of fans who selected a club over their local side hundreds of miles away to adopt another, like selecting a horse in a grand national with a pin, is an alien concept to me, one which will I never begin to understand. Nor do I attempt to.  Furthermore, I don’t even want to.

I watch those fans rejoice as the club grieves, I politely shake my head in despair when all I want to do is scream from the top of the Cornerhouse in my adopted city of Nottingham, a chant which became such a poisonous battle cry of those who for years wanted Wenger dismissed from his role: I WANT MY CLUB BACK!

I think what is needed now is a period of prolonged decline, an era of mediocrity.  Of course, I am not talking about European competitions, with a nod to those at the forefront of the “Wenger Out” movement with their view that “4th place is not a trophy”.  I am talking real mediocrity, barren years, and an extended chasm where the club can shed its skin.  As fondly as I look back on this Wenger reign, we have attracted a vast number of fair-weather fans down the years.  Ones who assume we have a right to be at the top, always in the mix for trophies and when it hasn’t happened, it has been comparable to a national scandal.

I valued the Arsenal that I grew up around, where trophies were treasured, where title races were valued and fantastic seasons adored and not viewed upon as almost as being “par for the course”.  I was 13 years old before we won the FA Cup for the first time in my life, when I went school the next day, there were celebrations which accurately reflected the magical experience.  I can still see my history teacher, fellow Gooner Mrs Rimmer, responding to me when I had been sluggish in my answer to a question, that I’m “day dreaming about the cup win the previous night”.  We all shared the joy, a community united in happiness.  I could never imagine then that a manager would later be fired for winning that competition three times in his final five years.  Graham was sacked having won the competition two years earlier, but criminal activities aside, this was not in any way a reflection of what had happened on the pitch, even if we weren’t having a great season as referenced earlier.

If we can experience some difficult years, not just one or two, but a prolonged period where we effectively find ourselves again, it may become a blessing in disguise as the “pin-dropping” fans who have no community based connection to the club, can find someone else to adopt.  It may even become a welcome boost for local teams in the cities they actually grow up in.  Because they’ll be able to establish a deep-rooted link to a club which is something they live, breathe and feel.  One day they’ll look back at my response to all of this and understand why I found their reactions so incomprehensible.

They’ll know what it’s like to mourn when the club is weeping and sing when the club is winning.

Monday, 20 November 2017

Zim Zima: Who Got The Keys To The Land?

Following the 'Panama Papers' scandal, I observed the disproportionate backlash against Lewis Hamilton and noted that generally speaking, the financial affairs of British F1 drivers, only became a topical issue when the driver was not Caucasian.  It was not a piece I wanted to write.  Defending the behaviour of someone who utilises tax havens is not an easy one for me to swallow.  It goes against so much of what I believe in.  Similarly defending Mugabe, in any capacity, has always felt like a moral dilemma to wrestle with.

Robert Mugabe came to power three weeks before I was born and has ruled Zimbabwe ever since. Last week he was placed under house arrest and at the time of writing, his tumultuous reign is drawing to an end.  He engaged in some of the most abhorrent conduct ever administered by a world Statesman in my lifetime.  However, the uncomfortable truth for much of the world’s media outside of Africa is that land redistribution had been a huge issue in the country and desperately needed addressing.  My regrets over Mugabe and the ‘Fast-track land reform programme’ (FTLRP) surround not its implementation, but that he took so long to do it and that when he did, it became a political issue of his creation.  It has and always firmly will be a social justice one.  It is about correcting the crimes of colonialism, as painful as they may be.  The consequential cries of agony serve as a sharp reminder that for all the nostalgic love of Empire, it created a cruel legacy that became so complicated to untangle. 

Between 2000 and 2013 some 4,500 Caucasian-owned farms were seized and redistributed among black citizens, often during violent confrontations. They generated images which horrified the world.  In many ways, the decision taken in 2000 to pursue FTLRP was a defining moment in the career of Mugabe and ensured his permanent caricature as a 21st century African bogeyman.  Visitors to my blog will feel like they have read this piece before, because if you change some of the details, the rise and fall of Mugabe as a “friend of The West”, loosely follows a similar tale to other dubious individuals around the world who later fell out of favour, such as Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden to name but two.

To understand the context of FTLRP, one first needs to go back to some of the origins of how the Zimbabwean State was established in 1980. This followed the Rhodesian War of Independence which had raged for the proceeding decade and a half and resulted in the Lancaster House Agreement. This created a deal to end minority rule in Zimbabwe, albeit with conditions. It is those conditions which were to later form the basis for the appetite of the implementation of FTLRP twenty years later, when Mugabe believed that an agreement with Britain was no longer being honoured.

Without turning this piece into a history lesson drawing in everything from Ian Smith and the use of chemical weapons, the Nyadzonya raid, the Gukurahundi massacres and everything else in between, the key sticking point at the end of the talks surrounded land reform.  The picture in 1979 was stark with 97% of Zimbabwean land owned by a minority Caucasian population.  Joshua Nkomo and Mugabe’s perspective that Zimbabwe should be able to determine its own future was resisted by Britain who maintained that land redistribution would be restricted on a “willing seller, willing buyer” principle for the first ten years following independence.

Up until 1997, Britain continued compensating the Zimbabwean Government for the purchasing of farmland from Caucasian landowners in accordance with the principle set out in 1979.  However when Tony Blair swept to power in May of that year, a new British foreign policy towards Zimbabwe was brewing and a desire to deploy funding elsewhere emerged.  Of course it is at this point that one can easily slip into the mistake of finding an explanation for all of Zimbabwe’s 21st century economic difficulties stemming from a decision made at the British ballot box.  For example, it would be churlish to dismiss the devastating impact that Mugabe’s disastrous ‘Economic Structural Adjustment Programme’ (ESAP) which commenced in 1990 (four years before Blair became Labour leader) or the hyperinflation it triggered.

This is the reason why Mugabe’s motives should be scrutinised and rightly bring into disrepute his status as a Pan-African icon championing social justice.  However, leaving that aside, they do set the scene for a country facing economic hardship while tasked with the duty of juggling a promise to a minority population from an era of colonialism.  Coupled with two severe droughts in four years, Zimbabwe was a nation in crisis and the last thing it needed had been London pulling the rug out from underneath them.
So set in motion a chain of events, Mugabe using the breakdown in talks with Blair as a pretext for a fight to uphold Zimbabwean Sovereignty.  “It’s your money, keep it. It’s our land, we will take it”.  The popular headline almost collectively orchestrated by every media outlet outside Africa has steadfastly maintained that the decision to implement FTLRP in 2000 is an obvious answer to the economic output which plummeted in the following years.  Yet predictably they failed to take into account the crippling sanctions which were applied by Britain, the EU and the USA who were under pressure to retaliate.

They also fail to reflect a reality of success stories as a result of FTLRP. You would be hard-pushed to find many who would justify the violence or methods of intimidation that were enlisted, but the contrasts do make for interesting reading.  Even with the principle set out in 1979, by 2000 some 4,400 Caucasian landowners still controlled 32% of agricultural land, compared to 1 million black families who occupied 38%.

Fast forward to 2013 when the FTLRP programme was completed, and no Caucasian owned farms remained.  In the same year a book entitled ‘Zimbabwe Takes Back Its Land’, showed that agricultural production had reached the same level of the 1990s, with more land now under cultivation than had been worked previously by Caucasian farmers.  6,000 Caucasian farmers had been replaced by 245,000 black farmers as a result of the programme.

It followed a trend, confirming encouraging signs seen from a study in 2010 which showed that over half of new agricultural landowning households were accumulating and investing.  The study had been able to debunk five myths including the widely held viewpoint that FTLRP had been a total failure or that the rural economy had collapsed.

Mugabe can be criticised for so many poor judgements made on his watch as the President of Zimbabwe and the purpose of this piece is not to excuse any of them.  Where land was appropriated by party associates or friends, this is indefensible and cannot be explained away so I make no attempt to do so.  Where human rights were violated, where democratic principles ignored, none of these can ever be justified.

FTLRP should serve as a warning to other countries in the region, indeed I did predict as much to a Zimbabwean friend back in 2000 when the policy had been pursued.  Neighbours like South Africa are still very much distracted by the novelty of being able to vote and have yet to question the enormous social inequalities which still exist in their country, nor indeed the disproportionate land redistribution which eventually must be addressed.  That will not last forever.  Zimbabwe has provided a glimpse of what may yet unravel next door, unless progress is made to remedy the hangover of minority rule.  This must go far beyond the “willing buyer, willing seller” principles which remain in practice there. It is a solution so poorly devised under that Lancaster House Agreement and only offers sluggish progression.

Friday, 23 June 2017

Last Of The Summer Whine

August 25th 2014. It’s something I look back upon as a magical day, the culmination of another fantastic long weekend. Owing to the wettest carnival I had ever experienced, my cigarettes were destroyed, reduced to a soggy state, completely unusable. But it just became a comical scene in a weekend none of us will ever forget. Keith and I knew this couldn’t go on forever, but we were both enjoying ourselves far too much to call time on the “Clency and Keith Show” just yet. He’s five years older than me and I would often tease him that when he retired from the carnival life, I’d afford myself five additional years before following him from the stage.

photograph taken the day before of us at the Mastermind Stage had three generations of carnival goers in the same picture. We had reached the ultimate peak of our carnival experience. Our little troupe that had accumulated over the years continued to grow. 2008 had been just the two of us, but every subsequent year, somebody new would join our squad. They’d initially be sceptical; having previously endured an unpleasant carnival experience without us. However, we always insisted that nobody had done a carnival properly, unless it was with us.

So it came to pass as one by one, we added more and more to our ever-growing family of carnival regulars. And like clockwork, we’d use the Mastermind Stage as the meeting point before we would head off to other sound systems such as 4Play and the rest.  As I left my Notting Hill sidekick that evening, it had been on the same terms that we had done during the six years prior to that Monday: same time, same place next year?

Just over six months later, my dad passed away and overnight everything changed. I reflected deeply on the notion that “you never truly grow-up until you lose a parent”. Added to this was the looming reminder that I would soon be turning 35 years of age- something I had long regarded as being the symbolic start of “middle age”.  Analysing all of this together, I took a decision that I would no longer be participating in any future carnivals or festivals.  As I kept insisting, ‘Peter Pan’ was finally going to grow up.

What made the wound all the more painful related to the fact that my father’s birthday would always coincide with the period around Notting Hill Carnival. As I remember commenting in August 2015, it had always been such a happy time of year for me: sun shining, my dad’s birthday, football season starting and of course my carnival weekend. Now August felt like it would always be full of sorrow.

By August 2016 I had started to learn how to live with the loss. I even managed to summon up the spirit to spend the long weekend listening to soca thanks to my favourite DJ sending me over his mix from two years earlier. Unfortunately, this triggered a series of questions- will I come back to carnival? I didn’t say goodbye, do I need to return and do things properly?

Finally in March 2017, I reached a decision: I would participate in one more “wild summer” that would incorporate multiple carnivals and a festival weekend too. And then that would be that, I would carry through on my promise to turn my back on this stage of my life. I would do what I probably should have done when I had originally suggested it ahead of my 30th birthday in 2010: call time on my partying antics and grow-up (thank you Keith!)

Unfortunately as soon as I booked my ticket for the Detonate music festival in March, the questions were stacking up from friends. Why only one more summer? Shouldn’t I see how it goes and then take a final decision in September? The answer to that is probably something I have only stumbled upon relatively recently and I still don’t know how to adequately convey it, in terms of whether it is a negative or a positive attribute in my character. Nonetheless, it does go to the heart of who I am as a person.

I think the best way to describe the quirk is that I have always been someone who embraces something completely. So during the social drink-up’s and gatherings, it would never be a case of a glass of rum. It would have to be a bottle. When I became a Chagos activist, I wasn’t a part-time supporter who would dip in and out of the cause when time allowed. I fully immersed myself within the campaign, usually taking on far too much in the process. Indeed for several years people assumed I must be Chagossian because they couldn’t comprehend that anyone could be as dedicated without having a blood connection.

When I finally got into a habit of going gym, I couldn’t just be like others and go three or four times a week, I had to go consecutively for 117 days. And after starting the Labour door-knocking, it wasn’t enough to  do a bit of local canvassing in my neighbourhood. I had to go overboard and knock on doors as far as away as Bermondsey in south London, which coupled with my activities in Nottingham North, Nottingham South, Sherwood and Newark, meant I had clocked up an awful lot of miles by the time the election was over with.

Consequently I would never be someone who would be comfortable with “passing through” Notting Hill for a couple of hours on a Monday afternoon. If I am going Notting Hill, it would be the entire fanfare (most people think of it as a two-day event, but of course experienced heads like myself know that it starts on the Saturday night with Panorama) and would absolutely involve adding other carnivals to form the now infamous “bacchanal tour”.

Therefore calling time on my wild antics is a case of saving me from myself; in addition to growing up too. My personal history of carnivals is completely entwined with my dad, right back to August 1995 when he banned my 15 year old self from leaving the house as he knew I had conspired with friends the day before to be at Notting Hill on the Monday. Every year I would always text or call my dad after I had finished my fun. This served two functions, firstly to share my enthusiasm for what had always been a golden weekend packed full of momentous memories for me. But there was a second reason too, and we both knew it because he never stopped worrying about my welfare. It became an opportunity to reassure him, that I’m safe and sound and eagerly looking ahead to the next episode.

The hardest part of facing another carnival season is that element which will no longer be present; that end of the weekend conversation. It had become an outlet to share my euphoria with someone who could relate to my enjoyment, mainly because he’d done so many carnivals himself. Indeed, while we didn’t go together, he was at that final Notting Hill Carnival, accompanying his cousin who was visiting from Switzerland for the weekend.

It is somewhat daunting to appreciate that this will be a very different season. I won’t be using Tottenham as “my base” for example. Although fresh from my final festival two weeks ago, I approach Preston Carnival this weekend with optimism that even though it will be an emotional summer, it will be a great one. That some incredible memories are waiting to be created which will inspire stories for decades to come.  When I hang up my whistle and horn for good at the end of August, I’ll do so knowing I ended this chapter of my life the right way.

It didn’t feel right to end it as I did in August 2014 because I didn’t approach that day like it had been the end. This time, I know what lies ahead and can prepare myself accordingly. So that in September, I can look back without regrets. Hence, the only thing left to say is: let's do this!

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Here Comes The Door-Knocker

“You've got the gift of the gab, Clency!”

There I am, stood in what could only be described as an Arctic rain shower! I wasn’t queuing up for the turnstiles at the Emirates, nor waiting to get into a bar to watch us take on Leicester in a critical Premier League match. Oh no. I had found myself in Sherwood, east Nottingham, on my sixth door-knocking session in seven days. It’s all part of a campaign for a local candidate in a Council by-election next week. When I actually write all that down, it comes across as some kind of punishment from God. Only it has not been anything of the sort. Remarkably it’s the complete opposite and most bizarrely of all; I cannot fully comprehend how much fun it’s been!

So how did we get here? Well before my father so rudely interrupted my writing hobby a little over two years ago, I’d found myself completely gushing from an experience watching a fledgling political party break new ground 7000 miles away in Mauritius. I dreamed of an alternative vision for the UK and had become exasperated by a political consensus in Britain.  I yearned for a day where an electorate would have a clear and defining choice.

For so long as I live, I will never forget the moment I heard that Jeremy Corbyn was putting together a bid to become the leader of the Labour Party.  What followed would be something that I now look back upon as the “summer of love”, where an unstoppable force emerged from nowhere to complete the most wonderful and unimaginable political fairy-tale of my life.

I’d be here for days recounting the whirlwind of the past two years and extraordinary people I’ve met and places I’ve visited, many of which I’d never been to in my life before. One of my oldest friends even went so far as to refer to me as a ‘Corbyn groupie’, such had been my tenacity to attend various rallies around the country.

There’s no doubt in my mind that nobody else in politics today could have inspired me like this. There is only probably one other public figure who I have as much time for, and he is so suspicious of politics as a whole that my wishy-washy fantasy of him becoming the MP for the part of London where I was raised, has less chance of being realised than his own football team winning a trophy any time soon!

Of course, the history between me and Corbyn is well documented. MP for where I did all of my schooling, our paths would cross several years later as I found myself immersed in the Chagossians quest for justice. Observing his work at close quarters further inspired my own efforts while working on the cause. Succinctly, there is no other Parliamentarian today who has more integrity, compassion or strength of convictions to lead this country. No other politician can inspire as much hope behind a desire for change.

And how this country needs to change!

To where I now find myself, knocking on doors for a potential Councillor who has identical political views to me. It has been an opportunity to ‘test the lyrics’, so to speak, and ensures that when I am on the doorstep campaigning for the General Election next month, I am able to convey my arguments confidently. Why wouldn’t I? I am canvassing (albeit indirectly under the political system we have here) for a Labour leader who if he becomes Prime Minister, would be a dream come true for me.

I honestly have no idea what the next few weeks will bring. The polls tell us this election is a foregone conclusion but they have been wrong about so many things in recent years that one can never truly take anything for granted anymore. What I do know is that I am going to throw everything I can (short of putting my day job on the line!) into this canvassing and see where it goes. Maybe this is the only time in my life I am ever involved like this and if that’s the case, I may as well put my all into it. Thus, I could look back in future knowing I tried everything. This doesn’t feel like a waste of time or a futile fight against a tide. It feels like my only chance to make something unbelievable, somehow become possible. I will dare to dream because I am honest enough to know that I don’t think anything like this will ever happen in my lifetime again. To coin a phrase my boss at work has a fondness to deploy, “I got one shot at this”. And judging by the feedback from some I have been out on the rounds with so far, I might actually be quite good at it too!

NB: It was always going to take something I felt super-passionate about to end my self-imposed writing exile.  I had spent the past two years after my dad’s untimely passing utilising my talents in other ways, helping my big sister edit her Midwifery thesis and assisting my Godchildren’s mother with her university assignments.  There were several occasions I thought I had come to the point where I would pick it up again, as early as the FA Cup final of 2015 in fact.  The adventures of Corbyn, became the fairy-tale that would’ve written itself, but still I couldn’t make that leap. Then there was brexit and the theft of Mauritian democracy, both of which equally riled me more than most will ever know. And yet it took being stood in an icy-rain shower on the streets of Nottingham to finally trigger the spark to write again….

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Goodnight Dad

I remember my dad saying to me a couple of years ago that he would not be around forever and I immediately insisted that he had at least another 15-20 years left ahead of him.  His untimely passing has come as such a devastating shock to us all.  There was no warning, no long goodbye, no chance to say farewell.  Two weeks on we still can’t make any sense of it.

And of all the days for us to receive the news on: March 12th.  It’s the date we all know as Mauritian Independence Day.  It was also the day in 1987 when my dad took us from our mum and we went to live with him.  Coincidentally this also happened to be on a Thursday.

My dad: the man who arrived in the country at the age of 14 and did something which really wasn’t common three decades ago- a stable parent figure raising a young family.  Gina, Michelle and I initially, but later on there were times when Tony would come stay with us for a while when things got too much with mum.

And things were hard for dad; really hard.  He lost his house a quarter of a century ago, just one of the many sacrifices that I could only truly appreciate the magnitude of once I had reached adulthood.  But he made the best of the hand he was dealt, there was the weekend trips to the seaside, the holiday camps at Pontins or Butlins and of course that never  to be forgotten two month trip to Mauritius.

I did three further trips to Mauritius with my dad, and there was also a visit in 2006 when our trips clashed coincidentally and wasn’t planned at all.  The first time we did a holiday just the two of us was in March 2007 when he was helping me to get my Mauritian ID card.  This was my 4th trip in two years so I was starting to get confident, but I soon realised that his wisdom and experience was so essential as I ran into wall after wall trying to get my citizenship.

The first time they told me I would not have the citizenship, we left the office building and made our way to Caudan Waterfront in Port Louis. I was convinced my dreams were over, but dad was so relaxed.  It’s like he knew this was not the end of it, and he told me that there is no consistency when it comes to Mauritian bureaucracy and that I should not give up.  So I didn’t, and a year and two months later I was holding my certificate of citizenship.

Even when I did trips without him, most recently four months ago, I never felt like I was alone.  One of the first things I always did whenever I landed in Mauritius would always be to buy a local simcard and send my dad a text so he had my temporary Mauritian number. Who taught me that trick? That’s right: dad, on our 2007 trip. I’d been racking up a fortune in roaming charges even for basic things like sending a text message and suddenly I was now able to call the UK from my mobile for peanuts!

I would always be able to have that security of knowing dad was never far away.  He may have been 7000 miles away in North London, but he was available instantly through a text message or in an emergency on the phone.  His guidance, knowledge and experience when it came to Mauritius would be so valuable.  As he always pointed out to me: I’ve visited Mauritius a lot in the last decade, but I’ve never lived there and he had that unique viewpoint.

A lot of people have told me I’ve been so lucky to have a relationship with my dad which a lot of people will never have, and it’s true, there is so much to be thankful for.  Yet equally I have often asked the question during the past fortnight that if we had a more conventional relationship, then maybe the pain would not be as sharp.  I would be mourning the loss of parent, but then I would not be distraught over losing such a valuable friend.

So many people have tried to be so supportive, giving the prep talk on bereavements.  But the truth is I’m very experienced when it comes to grief- I’m the one who lost two friends to gun crime, who lost all his grandparents in 2.5 years. The trouble is the one I turned to in all those dark moments is the one we are gathered here today to remember and I really need his help now because I really feel lost.

I caught some of the coverage of the Jeremy Paxman interviews this week, but couldn’t pay attention for more than five minutes.  This would be something I’d normally be able to talk to my dad about. I can’t follow any of the football and I can’t find any comfort in watching Arsenal.  It’s all just too painful.

Practically everyone knows me and dad had our moments down the years and indeed our relationship could be broadly broken up into three chapters: the era up to me leaving London in 2001, the period between when I was 22 and 27 and then the part since I was 28.  I take away positives from all three chapters, but it was definitely the last 7 years which were the best.  I saw dad more often than at any time since I had left London 13.5 years ago.

I was looking at Facebook the other day and found some messages between us from spring 2011, I had sent him something which I had written about the AV referendum. He was full of praise and even felt that I was educating him which I found surprising and I responded back to him that he had shaped my political outlook on life. I explained that if anything it was him who was continuing to teach me: well into my 30s.

But now that precious tuition has been closed down permanently, and it’s really scary.  We’re distraught that we will never hear his reassuring voice again.  We will miss his calming (he mellowed so much in later years) influence and wisdom.  And most of all we will miss the love that he had for us all.

I used to hate having the name Clency as a kid, which morphed into “Clency Jnr” and “Little Clence”. It sounded so condescending and patronising.  Now I am so proud that Michelle and I had his names from birth, because now that he has gone, he will live on. Quite literally.

When we met the funeral directors for the first time, I noted that the time of the service today was fitting.  3.45pm would normally be half-time in a traditional Saturday afternoon football fixture.  And for us, his children, this really is half-time in our lives. We now have to utilise all the expertise and knowledge that he provided us during the first half of our time on this earth. Now the second half begins and this 3.45pm ceremony serves as a reminder to us all that while we may feel like life as we know it is over, in many ways, it is only half-time. We must now pick ourselves up from this unbelievable shock and make dad proud of us: to prove to him that all the selfless sacrifices he made were justified.  That will be the perfect way to honour his memory and ensure that his incredible legacy will survive.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

End of the Road

10.45pm on Wednesday 6th October 2004.  My life was about to change and I didn’t even realise it.  I sat down and watched a documentary by the respected journalist John Pilger on the British Television channel ITV.  The content was on something I had only come across once in my life before, when my dad alerted me to a court case that had taken place some four years earlier.  The documentary was called “Stealing a Nation” and it was about the depopulation of the Chagos Islands and the injustice that continued up to the present day.

The following day I looked on the internet for more information and came across contact details for the UK Chagos Support Association (UKChSA).  It was the beginning of my time as an activist for the Chagossian quest for justice and a right of return to the islands they were illegally removed from.

Today that chapter comes to an end.  It feels weird.  It feels strange.  There are emotions of guilt and sadness, but deep down I know it is the right decision to take.

I had previously warned that working with the Chagos Refugees Group (CRG) after leaving the UKChSA could be one of those complicated scenarios.  It could be a situation where you have the best of intentions but ultimately cause more damage or at best add to the problem.  It is not why I got involved in October 2004.

Last summer I lifted the lid on the reasons behind why three senior members of the UKChSA left the organisation simultaneously.  I have always maintained that the organisation is not fit for purpose and should be closed down immediately.  It is not a message that I have ever deviated from over the past eleven months since that now watershed AGM in April 2014.

It is true that the UKChSA experience did leave a bitter taste in the mouth.  A long working relationship which came to such a thunderous end amidst recriminations, I would not be human to suggest that I did not have a sense of anger at the way things ended.  However this was always been so much more than individuals or a clash of personalities.  This was about good, honest people who sympathised with the Chagossians’ fight for justice and donated money believing that their contributions were being used to benefit a community that had been treated so shamefully.

I refused to sit back in silence while the UKChSA continued to plead for donations, when I knew that I had seen for myself practices which were borderline criminal.  Whether anyone listened to me, that’s their prerogative, but at least I knew that I had enabled them to make an informed decision.  If they still wanted to donate, well as the cliché goes: some people really do have more money than sense sometimes.

It is my insistence on ensuring that everyone knew the truth about the UKChSA that is a big reason behind things coming to a head recently.  They were not allegations fished out of thin-air, and every point can still be substantiated by the mountain of emails I have retained to this day.  Like the one from the treasurer asking for receipts for a football team which never existed.

Sadly it is not a view that is shared any more.  Others feel that because the long awaited Feasibility Study has been completed, it is a delicate time and I should effectively refrain from repeating the truth.  This doesn’t sit easily with me.  My experience of working on this cause at different levels, including the executive committee of the UKChSA, means I know precisely how things work.

I know that when the Chagossians are in the news, as they have been recently, there is a natural spike in interest.  Inevitably this leads to the UKChSA being contacted in the same way that I found them all those years ago.  To suggest my silence under such circumstances would be unethical would probably be the understatement of the decade.
I cannot do it.  I will not do it.

I got a lot of stick down the years from friends who never got their head around my passion for helping the Chagossians fight back.  My response to them was always that I thought that maybe one day it would help me get to heaven.  To ask me to be complicit in a conspiracy to bury the truth from my time at the UKChSA completely undermines that.

Olivier Bancoult and Sabrina Jean are good people.  Whatever they’ve done or continue to do have always been in the best interests of Chagossians all over the world.  I understand the reason why they think it’s for the best for me to tone down my vocal opposition to the UKChSA.  I strongly disagree with their view, but I understand completely the reasons for their position.

I am just sad that it means I can’t continue to work on this cause anymore.  I can’t highlight the Chagossian quest for justice under those restrictions because I know that my efforts will benefit the UKChSA by raising awareness and they will reap the rewards of that.  It doesn’t matter that I am not personally financially benefiting from the arrangement, I would be no better than anyone who I had spent the past year exposing.

It was an unbelievable dilemma to be placed in.  On one side I could break a promise I made to Sabrina years ago that the only way I’d stop being an activist is when the Chagossians had the right to return the Chagos Islands.   Alternatively I could keep that promise, but help to conceal a dirty little secret about an organisation I no longer worked with or the reasons why I believe that the organisation should be closed down.

Today it is the end of that road and I am officially a former Chagossian activist.  I hope the Chagossians secure a right of return and I wish everyone connected to the CRG well.   If anyone asks me about the cause, I will be unable to help.  This will be the post that I circulate as my response to the questions that will inevitably arise.  I just hope that everyone understands the reason behind why I have taken the decision I have.