An insurance company identified Somerville Road, Worcester, as having Britain’s highest number of car insurance claims in the last five years—and wrapped everything from trees and pavements to vehicles in protective plastic BRITAIN
What’s going on at the Islam Channel?
Watched regularly by an estimated 59 per cent of Muslim households in Britain, the free-to-view Islam Channel is a flagship of modern British Islam, and prides itself on being a leading “interface” between Muslims and non-Muslims. Recently, however, controversy flared up when the channel was accused of giving a platform to an alleged extremist cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki, whose DVDs and events were featured in adverts. The channel strongly denies giving a platform to Awlaki.
The Islam Channel featured in the news again in late January, however, when its chief executive, Mohamed Ali Harrath, found himself arrested in South Africa. Harrath—who was released after 48 hours without charge—was detained thanks to an Interpol “red notice” issued because of his alleged activities two decades ago in Tunisia, where he co-founded the Tunisian Islamic Front. Harrath, who now advises Scotland Yard’s Muslim Contact Unit, denies all wrongdoing, and no evidence has ever been produced linking him to terrorist activities. But Prospect understands that there is continuing controversy about the leanings of the Islam Channel, which has referred to Israel as “the Zionist state,” featured Harrath talking about how Jews “command” in America, and had presenters though to be sympathetic to the Islamic group Hizb ut-Tahrir. No doubt the channel, which denies any breach of its obligations, will be keen to lay such concerns to rest.
An end to Britain’s great religious schism?
In a reminder that Britons once felt religious passion too, there is a plan finally to heal the historic rift between Methodism and the Church of England, writes Andrew Brown. The small print suggests, however, that there could still be resistance from Anglicans (who chucked out the Methodists in the first place two centuries ago).
The Methodists emerged almost by accident from the Church of England in the 18th century, driven by the extraordinary preaching and eloquence of the Wesley brothers. They combined extreme doctrinal conservatism with an emotional warmth and urgency which appealed especially to the poor and the labouring classes (Harold Wilson once famously said that “Labour owes more to Methodism than Marxism”).
In the 20th century, Methodism became more tolerant and liberal—and resistance to Methodism became the chief mark of ecclesiastical snobbery among Anglo-Catholics. Modern Methodists have women priests, and bishops, and presidents. They are also officially friendly towards gay people. Methodists, in fact, are now the practical, decent, pragmatic middle-class Christians that the Church of England is supposed, not least by itself, to be. It will be ironic, but not a real surprise, if the proposed merger founders on the increasing evangelical fervour of the Church of England, which once expelled John Wesley for his enthusiasm.
Could Gordon Brown be the next John Major?
Could the 2010 election still produce a surprise victory for the incumbent, as in 1992 when John Major beat Neil Kinnock? According to the “Taylor thesis”—formulated by former Downing Street policy guru Matthew Taylor (now head of the non-partisan RSA)—voters today, as in 1992, want short-term stability and a longer term change of direction. And, as in 1992, they are broadly sympathetic to the opposition party but not ready to seal the deal. To win, therefore, the opposition must play down its differences with Labour in their handling of the economic crisis while stressing that things will change mightily when things are on an even keel. Looked at this way, the cause of Cameron’s recent wobble is clear. For the Tory leader has done just the opposite: stressing tough budget cuts in the short term, while promising “progressive ends by conservative means” in the future—in other words, taking the country to the same place as Labour. Continuing down this path means victory in May is far from certain. Expect Dave to revert soon to a more promising line: “you want five more years of him?”
British bike bombers beware of Big Brother
As the parties beaver away on their manifestos, one transport policy seems unlikely to get much play: ending the ban on bicycle parking in Westminster. Despite government targets to beef up the number of us on two wheels, not one bike rack is visible from Whitehall’s windows. Why? The pressing danger of exploding bicycles, of course, or of “pipe bombs” being left in bike frames.
That such things are virtually unheard of cuts little ice, explains UCL geography professor John Adams, who has been waging a mini-campaign on the issue to little avail. Adams argues that any would-be terrorist would be unlikely to pedal in their Semtex, given attractive alternatives like motorbikes, or even backpacks. And his research has turned up only a single example of a successfully detonated bicycle pipe bomb in history. In Sarajevo during the Bosnian war, a bike packed with explosives was apparently set off on a crowded street: startled pedestrians watched as the saddle shot many hundreds of feet into the air, while the rest of the bicycle remained intact. Still, the rules seem unlikely to be changed any time soon—unless, perhaps, Labour loses the election and in time reflects on a wise adage from Chilean leftist José Antonio Viera-Gallo: “Socialism can only arrive by bicycle.”
The old New Left Review
This February, the New Left Review turned 50—and celebrated in true Marxist style with an issue in sober black featuring many of its guiding lights. Top of the bill was ex-editor and part-owner Perry Anderson. Never a man to shy away from grand pronouncements, Anderson’s most recent book described the creation of the EU as “the last great world-historical achievement of the bourgeoisie,” and within the NLR itself he expounded on how the 21st century “will be shaped by the outcome of the Chinese revolution” more than by any other event.
It’s astonishing to recall that Anderson was in his mid-twenties when he penned his seminal 1964 essay, “Origins of the present crisis,” on why England’s incomplete bourgeois revolution meant Harold Wilson was bound to fail. But what are the next 50 years looking like? The average age of the NLR’s contributors is now well over 50. Zizek and Badiou rant entertainingly, but neither are spring chickens. And while young Turks from cultural studies departments may dazzle, the scholarly touch of Brenner, Blackburn, Aglietta, Anderson et al is hard to duplicate. Marxism’s annals are glorious, but is its future running out?
Does Ashton say bonjour?
It’s the question on every Europhile’s lips: does Britain’s Cathy Ashton—Europe’s new high representative for foreign affairs—speak French? Hostile briefings from Paris have suggested not. But Prospect can reveal that the answer is yes, a bit (more than can be said for past commissioners Mandelson and Kinnock). Ashton hasn’t yet been confident enough to do so in public, a big part of the Parisian test. One person who has heard the evidence is, however, David Rennie of the Economist. He was interviewing her when, in a rather surreal moment, she spontaneously broke into French to prove she could.
Iraqi regime change, again
George Bush’s neocons plotted the invasion of Iraq alongside controversial exiled Iraqi politician Ahmed Chalabi, even planning to install him as the country’s first free leader. How delightful for Wolfowitz et al, then, to see Chalabi back in his native land, recovering from corruption charges and tipped to play a prominent part in the Iraqi election on 7th March. Some, including Washington Post writer Tom Ricks, speculate that he may end up as president one day, just as the neocons wanted. Less welcome for the American imperialists, however, is Chalabi’s new choice of friends: the Islamic Supreme Council in Iraq, euphemistically known for its “close ties” to Tehran. So clear is Chalabi’s change of heart, reports the Tehran Times, that he has taken to barracking the US for “interfering” in Iraq’s elections. Were Chalabi to prosper in the upcoming poll, he would use his new power to push Iraqis to reject America, and jump into bed with their old rival to the east. Not quite the regime change the US had in mind.
Australia turns Chinese
As if sunshine and Kylie weren’t enough, now the Aussies have another reason to mock us Poms: economic growth. True, GDP dropped Down Under for one quarter in 2008. But it’s been non-stop growth ever since—with predictions of a booming 3.5 per cent in 2011. The boom comes courtesy of China’s voracious appetites. Factories in the middle kingdom guzzle up ever more of the outback’s minerals, with China investing around US$40bn in Australia over the last 18 months. The result? Kevin Rudd, the west’s first fluent Chinese-speaking leader, presides over a land where school leavers turn down university places in order to take mining jobs in Western Australia’s new gold rush. Australia, one close political observer ruefully told Prospect, is increasingly little more than “a farm, a beach, and a mine”—run as a franchise from Beijing.