Brexit Britain, the Windrush Scandal and the Power of Pro-Test

The drama that is the spectacular rise and fall of UKIP, the United Kingdom Independence Party, aired its series finale in British local elections in May of this year. The sensational death throes of the UKIP leadership grabbed newspaper headlines, as the demise of the party finally became known in results that showed a heamorrhaging of popular support.

Compared to 2014, and 2016, when the former leader, Nigel Farage, had caused a series of political earthquakes, first leading UKIP to victory in the European Elections, and then succeeding in the UKIP-inspired campaign to Leave the European Union, the failure of the party to win more than three council seats in this year’s local elections appeared to be evidence of an embarrassingly quick decline and fall.

However, rather than rushing to celebrate this turn of events, and breathe yet another sigh of relief about dogged determination in the UK to resist and defeat each and every reconfiguration of right-wing anti-immigrant, anti-multi-cultural nationalist politics whether in the form of the National Front, the British National Party, UKIP, or Britain First, I felt deeply concerned. I knew that despite UKIP having achieved its central mission of triggering the removal of Britain from the European Union and, therefore, having no reason to justify its own existence anymore, there was more to this loss of support for UKIP than met the eye. I knew that this series finale was not the end of the story.

Series 2: The Sleeper Bomb

In 2017, when the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, called a snap General Election - to try to increase her majority in parliament and, therefore, gain greater authority at Westminster to influence Brexit negotiations – the signs of a loss of support for UKIP appeared to be good news, but there was no reason for celebration. This was because the Conservative Party strategy, of unashamedly adopting for itself the rhetoric and policies of UKIP, had been intensified in the desperate attempt to win more votes. A calculated gamble had clearly been taken in the Conservative Party to legitimize and make more mainstream a right-wing political position. By making palatable again what had long been unspeakable in mainstream British politics - an anti-immigrant, anti-multicultural British nationalism (built on an English version of ethnic exclusivity and cultural parochialism)  - the UK now showed itself on the international stage with the USA and other countries in Europe, as also being complicit in the dangerous game of right-wing racist populism.

Controversial as this political development is, the success of the strategy (despite growing resistance from Jeremy’s Corbyn’s increasingly credible and popular Momentum movement for a re-visioning of the left-wing of British politics), has now been demonstrated in the final dramatic decline of support for UKIP and the transfer to the Conservative Party of the majority of those 123 council seats lost by UKIP in the local elections this year. It is not surprising then that rather than lamenting their decline and fall, UKIP leaders are now celebrating what appears to be their ultimate success; not only have they cleverly and subversively contributed to the withdrawal of the UK from the European Union, they have, with their own demise, planted a sleeper bomb at the heart of the British political establishment.

This sleeper bomb, dormant at the point of its attachment, has gathered in power as it has held fast to its host in the Home Office and only now – in the form of the Windrush Scandal explained below - is it beginning to show the force of its destructive power. No wonder that rather than commiserating himself on the catastrophic results of the local elections, the UKIP General Secretary recently described the political upheaval caused by the party in positive terms, as a kind of medieval scourge, or Black Death that clears the ground for new growth.

The Empire Windrush

Empire Windrush is the name of the ship that provided transport to Britain, in 1948, to 1027 passengers, 802 of whom gave their last place of residence as a country in the Caribbean. When the ship docked in Kingston it was en route from Australia to England and had stopped in Jamaica to pick up servicemen who were on leave (10,000 men from the West Indies fought for Britain in WWII). The British Nationality Act of 1948 had just been passed by the Labour government, which granted citizenship and British passports to all British subjects of the United Kingdom and Colonies. This meant that these citizens could now settle indefinitely in the UK without immigration restrictions and travel on British passports.

Responding to the opportunity provided by the new immigration act, the chance was taken by the British government to try to fill the empty spaces on the Empire Windrush. An advertisement was placed in Jamaica offering cheap transport to anyone who wanted to travel to the UK to try to find work.  As a result, demand for tickets soon exceeded supply. This was the beginning of an enthusiastic response in the Caribbean to the invitation from Britain, after the devastation of World War II, to provide labour to rebuild the country and staff its public services including the new National Health Service. By 1971, half a million British citizens from the Caribbean had responded to the invitation of government to join the workforce in the ‘motherland’ and these people became known as the Windrush Generation. 

Even though the Empire Windrush also contained migrants from other parts of the world (including Polish men, women and children who had been living in exile in Mexico after having escaped Siberian labour camps during the Second World War) the ship became famous as a symbol of the first large-scale migration of Black Caribbean British citizens to the UK. Many iconic photographs captured the hopeful moment of disembarkation at Tilbury Docks and later, the testimonies of those migrants who travelled to the UK told tales of extraordinary resilience in the face of what turned out to be a harsh and unwelcoming environment in Britain. In a country whose history of empire had taught its residents to be racist and xenophobic, migrants from the Caribbean, and their children, faced decades of heroic struggle as they settled in the UK, staked their claim as British citizens to their right to belong, and persevered to make an invaluable contribution to the economic prosperity and cultural life of Britain.

 In 1971, in a move that was interpreted as evidence of increasingly racist immigration policies, the Conservative government in the UK gave preferential treatment to white migrants from the Commonwealth countries of Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa, but stopped the permanent migration of workers from other countries of the Commonwealth including the Caribbean. At the same time, the rights of the Windrush Generation and other long-standing migrants from the Commonwealth residing in Britain were clarified and protected before the UK entered the European Union in 1973. The new immigration act afforded important legal protections to the Windrush Generation and their fellow British citizens of the Commonwealth in the form of indefinite leave to remain in the UK. However, the Home Office did not issue these citizens with any paperwork and nor did the government keep a record of those who had decided to stay. This did not become a problem until over forty years later, in 2012, when Theresa May, the current Prime Minister of Britain, who was then Conservative Home Secretary, set about creating an aggressively xenophobic set of immigration policy measures called the Hostile Environment.

In the context of the emerging threat to the Conservative Party of UKIP - the right-wing, anti-Europe, anti-multicultural, anti-immigration United Kingdom Independence Party – Theresa May’s policy strategy was to quickly prove that it was the Conservative government that was tough on illegal immigration and no need, therefore, for people to vote for UKIP. New legislation and regulation meant that migrants now did not just face interrogation and the need to provide proof of their status at the border of Britain, but within the nation too their eligibility to be in Britain was questioned. Measures were implemented in the Immigration Act of 2014 that meant that employers, landlords, banks, healthcare providers, universities, pension providers etc. were for the first time forced to become the watchdogs of the state. The aim was to prove that the Conservative Party could tackle illegal immigration, reduce immigration figures overall and thereby, neutralise the growing popularity of UKIP. Controversially, targets were set for reducing immigration that created a culture of ‘deport first and appeal later’ and a system of bonuses that rewarded civil servants in the home office, and their private sub-contractors, for detentions and deportations of suspected illegal migrants. Worst of all, the embarkation records of Windrush citizens were destroyed by the Home Office and vans, with the message “Go Home” written on them, were driven through areas of London to spread fear among migrant populations.

For the Windrush Generation and their fellow long-standing Commonwealth citizens of Britain, the consequences of the new immigration measures have been catastrophic. The way in which the disgrace of the scandalous treatment of these people, (many of whom are now, of course, elderly and frail), has emerged has been insidious. Rather than resting secure in the knowledge of the legal protections that previous immigration acts afforded to them, members of the Windrush Generation and their children suddenly found that they were being denied their rights to housing, employment, travel, healthcare, banking, pensions etc. that they had enjoyed as their legal right in previous decades. The reason for this is that when the 2014 Immigration Act passed into law the paragraph that provided legal protection to Commonwealth citizens who had arrived in Britain before 1973 had been removed without consultation. This affront to democracy – the secret removal of critical wording in the legislation – lies at the very heart of the Windrush scandal. Unaware of the omission, or its impending consequence, opposition politicians, and the media, were shocked to discover that little by little, one family at a time, a terrible miscarriage of justice had been unfolding. 

The Hostile Environment meant that without any warning British citizens who had in some cases been in the UK for five decades, paying taxes, contributing to society, and exercising their legal right to belong to Britain suddenly had to prove their right to enjoy the benefits of British citizenship. And of course, because the Immigration Act of 1971 had not required there to be either any form of government record of these long-standing citizens of the Commonwealth, or for these citizens to hold paperwork as proof of their citizenship, it was not going to be a simple matter for this proof to now be provided. Part of the problem was that the burden of proof was placed on those who had long enjoyed respected status and who were now suffering the humiliation of being accused of being illegal immigrants in their own country. In addition, the cost to each family member of having to provide documentary proof of their status, lodge an application with the Home Office, and seek legal advice, ran into thousands of pounds, which for many families was completely out of reach. The prohibitive cost, combined with the difficulty of accessing paperwork as proof of every year they had been in the UK, meant the most vulnerable of these citizens found themselves evicted from housing, unable to continue to work in Britain, unable to access their pension and denied healthcare on the NHS. For some, detention and deportation followed.

Ironically, this year – June 2018 - marks the 70th anniversary of the arrival of the Empire Windrush to Britain and, in April, when the Windrush story broke in the media, largely thanks to the dedicated work of journalists such as The Guardian’s Amelia Gentleman, the country was supposed to be gearing up for a cascade of national celebrations. Instead, the scale of the Windrush Scandal was beginning to emerge, casting a terrible shadow over preparations for Windrush festivities and this eventually led to the dramatic resignation of the Home Secretary – Amber Rudd MP.

The Resistance Movement

On the 16th April, David Lammy – Labour Member of Parliament for the London Borough of Tottenham - was compelled to hold the Conservative government to account for the national shame of its disgraceful treatment of the Windrush Generation. Barely able to contain his rage, David Lammy directly addressed the Conservative Home Secretary - Amber Rudd MP - and single-handedly, he gave her a lesson in the inseparable history of Black people in Britain dating back to the 16th Century. He then demolished the inadequate response of the Home Office to the emerging details of the inhumane and cruel harassment/deportations/detainments of thousands of British-Caribbean citizens.

The video of David Lammy’s speech went viral on social media and touched a nerve in the nation. What has followed is an outpouring of support as he continues to spearhead the fight to hold the government to account. Demanding a proper apology from the Home Office, David Lammy clarified in no uncertain terms the ways in which the government had embarrassed itself by its treatment of the Windrush Generation and its underestimation of the outrage this would generate in the nation among fellow citizens whose lives have been enriched by the invaluable contribution Caribbean migrants have made to British society.

Humiliated by David Lammy, and forced to take the fall for Prime Minister, Theresa May, who had been the architect of the Hostile Environment at the Home Office, Amber Rudd was forced to publically apologise for what she described as the unintended consequences of the 2014 Immigration Act and she announced a special Windrush Task Force to make good on the devastation caused to Caribbean-British lives. Two weeks later, after having denied that she knew about illegal immigration targets, and could not, therefore, be held personally to blame, the Home Secretary was forced to resign after leaked documents showed that she had in fact written to the Prime Minister promising a 10% increase in deportations.

Creeping Fascism

In David Lammy’s speech, as he lambasted Amber Rudd and the role of the government in the Windrush Scandal, he declared furiously: “Let us call it as it is, if you lie down with dogs you get fleas and that is what has happened with this far right rhetoric in this country.” Bringing public and political attention to the flirtation of the British government with the politics of the far-right, David Lammy made an indirect, but important connection between the Windrush Scandal and the wholesale adoption by the government of the UKIP agenda.

My own concern, as I reacted not with surprise, but with an urgent sense of outrage, to breaking news about the Windrush Scandal was that finally, here was the evidence of creeping fascism at the heart of the British political establishment. Before this, it could easily have been said that it was obvious that the Conservative Government was shifting to the right, or that there was evidence of growing support for the far right among British voters, but to describe the Windrush Scandal as an example of creeping fascism was another matter.

In articles published in 2017 and 2012, and a book in 2006, I attempted to explain to public and academic audiences the transformations of strategy at the heart of the reconfiguration of a politics of the far-right in Britain. I explained Brexit as the result, in part, of the Labour Party having abandoned its traditional working class supporters in the post-industrial urban heartlands of Britain and I showed how the political vacuum created by this abandonment made space for the growth in popularity first of the fascist British National Party and then the populist far-right UK Independence Party (UKIP).

What has to be brought to public attention now, not just in the UK, but also across Europe and in the USA, is the danger of fascism in our midst. To be clear, this does not mean being able to say that certain nation states are now definitively fascist, even though places like Hungary are not far away from this. Rather, it is about calling out and protesting against the gradual erosion of democracy that increasingly xenophobic, authoritarian, and, therefore potentially fascist, governments imply. In Hungary, for example, the Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, has boasted of his country’s ‘Illiberal democracy’. The Hungarian parliament has this month passed legislation that makes it impossible for refugees to seek asylum, and it has become a criminal offence to help migrants and refugees. George Soros, the famous Hungarian billionaire is withdrawing his charitable foundation from Budapest, because of a ‘repressive political and legal environment’ and the Central European University, which is the source of a strong critical voice in Hungary, may similarly be driven out of the country by repressive measures. Journalists who critique the government are also facing similar pressures. Most shocking is that all this has happened at the same time as Hungary has enjoyed the freedoms of membership of the European Union. UKIP too, built its popularity – paradoxically - as an anti-European party on the back of success in the European elections.

Other European nations are beginning to call for Hungary to be expelled from the European Union, because of human rights abuses in its treatment of refugees. The assault on the independence of the judiciary and the restrictions of free speech have also been the reason for the expression of similar and growing causes of concern. However, the European Union appears to be impotent in the face of growing concerns about authoritarian compromises to fundamental principles of social democracy. Meanwhile, fascism creeps through gradual political tests of what the people will tolerate in terms of a reconfiguration of democratic freedoms, increasing xenophobia and other repressive conservative measures such as the regulation of religion and sexuality.  

The President of the United States, Donald Trump, in the latest version of his attempt to fuel patriotic nationalism by closing down the border to foreign migrants, recently escalated the American version of the Hostile Environment by separating migrant children, at the border with Mexico, from their parents and placing the children in camps, or centres for the concentration of ‘undesirable others’, from where the children are then distributed around the country. The outrage of the majority of the American people about this scandalous and inhumane treatment of migrant families has taught Donald Trump an important lesson and forced him to think again. The lesson is that if authoritarian politicians go too far, the people will exercise their freedom to resist and the steady creep of the assault on democracy then has to be pulled back. It is a dangerous dance. No wonder that Madeleine Albright, former Home Secretary, 2001-2007 under Bill Clinton’s presidency, has just published a best-selling book entitled Fascism: a warning.

Similarly, in the UK, the government has learned an important lesson. It has tried to see what it could get away with, gambling on an increase in its authority by creating a hostile environment for migrants to satisfy the desire of its new-found right-wing supporters who crave a patriotic cultural nationalism based on the exclusion of anyone who might be forced to feel that they are not fully British and should ‘go back to their own country’. But a significant proportion of people in Britain have made clear to the British government that an illegal, cruel, inhumane and creeping assault on democratic principles will not be tolerated. This is why it is vitally important that the power of free speech, the power of a free media and an independent judiciary are fully exercised as critical acts of dissent. And that is why when the Windrush Scandal came to light and my 24-year-old daughter was deeply moved and compelled to action by David Lammy’s speech in parliament, she turned to me and said, “… but what can we do?” And I replied without hesitation: “we must resist.”


Often, my undergraduate students feel dispirited, because they are overwhelmed by what they learn in anthropology about the depth and scale of social injustice in the world. Repeatedly, they express their sense of helplessness as individuals, saying, “what can I do, I am just one person?” This, I have recently come to understand, is part of the problem of youthful political inertia – the mistaken idea that individuals act alone and that action can only be taken if there is certainty about the outcome.

Instead, a spirit of experimentation and productive uncertainty is to be encouraged that reframes acts of dissent as a test of what is possible - a try-out – or process of shared enquiry that examines and reveals the cultural politics of the contemporary moment through the social struggle to argue for and make real an alternative vision of the current state of affairs. This reframing of political involvement as a process of social experimentation might best be described as PRO-TEST. A case in point is the #WeAreAllWindrush t-shirt campaign.

instagram: @weareallwindrush

twitter: @allwindrush

Organised as a social media movement, the #WeAreAllWindrush campaign is the brainchild and heartfelt expression of outrage of my daughter – the actress Fola Evans-Akingbola - and I as an immediate response to the Windrush Scandal. The experiment was to see how quickly and effectively protest art might be mobilised to counteract racist government immigration policy with a symbolic gesture of solidarity that argues for and reinforces the idea of Britain as a racially diverse, inclusive and democratic society that honours and respects all who are part of it.

We first came up with a hashtag - #WeAreAllWindrush – that expresses an optimistic defiance of the government’s attempt to separate the Windrush Generation from their honoured place at the heart of British society. My daughter then approached an artist, Cressida Djambov, who replied at once to accept the challenge of the brief, and within a week she had designed the most beautiful protest art in the form of a brilliant subversion of the royal postage stamp. Where the Queen of England’s head would have been, the face of either a Windrush man, or a Windrush woman had now been drawn. The result was beautifully disruptive of national symbolism and, at the same time, the stamp commemorated the 70th anniversary of the arrival of the Empire Windrush to Britain.

Fola then went on to find an online print-on-demand t-shirt company that supports charitable and protest clothing movements, and the idea was born that if we could produce good quality t-shirts and encourage people to wear them in solidarity with the Windrush Generation, we could raise awareness about the scandal, and use fashion to raise funds to pay the legal fees of those affected by the scandal. By resisting the Hostile Environment, we are commemorating the legacy of the invaluable contribution of Caribbean and Commonwealth migrants to Britain.

Momentum for the campaign was generated first at the protest outside 10 Downing Street and the march on the Home Office mobilised by anti-racist organisations on the 4th May 2018. Fola spent the week making her first political placards and her dedication paid off: as soon as we arrived, proudly bearing our messages of protest, we were surrounded by photographers and put front and centre of the gathering and at the head of the march. The press photographs of the placards became symbolic of the day of dissent and featured in international news media. It was a take off moment, and gave us the initial visual material to start our campaign on instagram with the promise of campaign t-shirts to follow. Within a few days Fola had designed the t-shirt website and ordered a sample in every design and colour. When the tees arrived we could not have been more excited and Fola proudly posted the first photo of herself wearing the t-shirt on instagram, twitter and facebook.

This was just the beginning of what has now become a gathering multi-racial social movement. Hundreds of people have now ordered t-shirts and posted pictures of themselves wearing their tees on their social media pages. British celebrities of stage and screen, award-winning entrepreneurs, and other public figures very quickly got on board with the campaign and have lent their popularity and social connections to the movement. Activists in the USA are also now starting to support the campaign and collaborate in gathering support from across the Atlantic. Every day, as new posts come in, it is heartening to see and feel the sense of solidarity and to read messages of support and stories about what Windrush means to people either because someone has an intimate family connection, and shares heritage with a person from the Windrush Generation, or because people feel passionately that the government’s actions have disgraced everything that we hold dear about our proudly multicultural nation.

The campaign has created an opportunity for people to protest against injustice and, in a very short period of time, the second fund-raising target of £2000 has been met. All profits made from the sale of t-shirts go to the Windrush Justice Fund (organised by Patrick Vernon, the tireless campaigner for recognition of the Windrush Generation), which is collaborating with the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants to provide free legal advice and support to those families whose lives have been turned upside down by the Windrush Scandal. This matters, because the free legal advice that would have been available to these families is no longer readily available as a result of increasing cuts to legal aid and barristers have recently called for strike action to protest against the diminished rights of people living in poverty to access legal advice. Thus, the Windrush Scandal is beginning to stand for more than itself; it is becoming a potent symbol of the growing threat to social justice in our nation – a threat we must resist.

How to Support the Campaign

  • Buy a t-shirt – post a picture of yourself on social media wearing your tee, and make sure you @weareallwindrush on instragram or @allwindrush on twitter, so that we can repost and keep building momentum for the campaign – add a note about why the #weareallwindrush campaign matters to you.
  • Encourage friends and family to get their tees too.
  • All profits raised from sales of t-shirts go to the Windrush Justice Fund, which is providing legal advice to members of the Windrush Generation who would not otherwise be able to afford legal advice
  • Write, or send an email to your MP – you might want to use the template below for your letter to ask some or all of the following questions
  • If you aren’t sure who your Member of Parliament is, use this link to find out: and you can then use a google search to find your MP and their email and twitter addresses
  • Use twitter to send any one of the questions below to your MP to maintain a public conversation about the Windrush scandal - be sure to include @allwindrush and use #weareallwindrush
  • Include the t-shirt link in your letter and tweets to your MP to bring awareness to the campaign

Dear X

I am concerned about human rights abuses at the heart of government affecting the #WindrushGeneration and would like answers to the following questions:

  • When will the government announce a hardship fund for the families whose lives have been turned upside down by the Windrush scandal?
  • When will the government report on the whereabouts and welfare of those Windrush individuals who have been wrongfully deported or detained?
  • When will the legal protections afforded to longstanding migrants from the Commonwealth be reinstated after they were removed in the 2014 immigration Act?
  • Why is the Home Office refusing to release the paperwork for public scrutiny that would allow a full enquiry into who Is responsible for this scandal and who exactly has been affected by it and with what outcome?
  • Will the government publicise the amounts paid and the names of all those people to whom financial bonuses have been given for meeting detention and deportation targets illegally applied to the Windrush Generation?
  • When will the government find the courage to show the world the kind of Britain we believe in - diverse, inclusive, democratic and honouring of all those who are part of it?
  • When will the hostile environment be dismantled?

Brexit Britain: A Snap Election, A Safe Bet and Another Spectacular Backfire

Yet again, a Conservative Prime Minister in Britain has misread the mood of the nation. Gambling on right-of-centre populism to increase her authority, Theresa May, like David Cameron before her, has seriously underestimated the potential of protest to radically reconfigure the political landscape.

On the 18th April 2017, three years ahead of schedule, less than a year after the EU Referendum, with a confident twenty-point lead over Labour in the opinion polls, and after having repeatedly denied that she would take this course of action, Theresa May called a snap General Election. Why was this political manoeuvre such a worrying prospect? Why has it failed?

In June 2016, UK voters decided in a referendum to leave the European Union. In a recent article, I explained why this outcome, known as Brexit, was the result, in part, of the Labour Party having abandoned its traditional working class supporters in the post-industrial urban heartlands of Britain. I showed how the political vacuum created by this abandonment made space for the growth in popularity of the populist far-right UK Independence Party (UKIP).

UKIP had reconfigured class politics into a new nativist logic based on a combination of anti-European Union, anti-immigrant cultural nationalism and anti-establishment populism. This brought together, across the political divide, the protest votes of older white, less educated, working-class men and women of formerly opposing Conservative and Labour persuasions. With just one Member of Parliament in the House of Commons, UKIP won 4 million votes in the General Election of 2015, and proved that it was a force to contend with. Trying to contain the Euroskeptics in the Conservative Party, who were beginning to defect to UKIP, David Cameron agreed to a EU Referendum and hoped to call the bluff of a growing right-wing movement.

In the build up to the 2016 Referendum, UKIP only gained in credibility, adding a middle class support base inspired by a Conservative rebel leadership, and Euroskeptic supporters who were keen to jump on the populist bandwagon.  Spurred on by the perfect storm of a migrant crisis in Europe and growing anti-Muslim feeling in reaction to terrorist incidents in Europe, the Leave campaign succeeded and shocked a nation oblivious to post-industrial discontent and falsely confident in its metropolitan, multicultural vision of progressive society. Suddenly, the Brexit vote made it clear that the political landscape of Britain was shifting to the right and that nothing could be taken for granted as the idea of society was opened up for renegotiation.

After such a catastrophic political miscalculation, David Cameron had little choice but to resign, and Theresa May won the leadership contest to replace him. Immediately, it became clear that the determination of the Conservative Party under Theresa May was to hold the centre ground in British politics by shifting to the right. Backing Brexit, promoting UKIP causes, and adopting UKIP rhetoric as its own, the Conservative strategy was to mop up those UKIP votes and neutralise UKIP in the process. Part of the reason for Theresa May’s confidence in calling the General Election is that this strategy appears to have been successful. Support for UKIP is now almost non-existent, because the party leadership has imploded, important by-elections have been lost, and voters have shifted allegiance. Branding herself as a safe pair of hands, the message from Theresa May to the nation was that she is the only person who can provide “Strong and Stable” leadership in these most precarious of political times. The reason this was a worrying prospect, in so far as her initial clear lead in the polls suggested the likelihood of her success, is that having neutralised the far-right by incorporating its causes and rhetoric, the Conservative Party legitimised and made mainstream that which was only marginalised before. The ultimate success of UKIP, then, has been to make palatable what was once unspeakable, which is an anti-immigrant British nationalism (built on an English version of cultural parochialism) that puts it on the same playing field as Trump’s America and in alignment with other adjustments in European politics where the populist, racist far-right is forcing the hand of social democracy in crisis. 

The problem for Theresa May has been that she inherited from David Cameron a government with only a 12-seat majority in the House of Commons. This means that it has been easy for opposition parties, like the Scottish National Party, to be a thorn in her side, and for the House of Lords, and rebel MPs to disrupt her attempts to drive Brexit forward and handle the negotiations with Europe in the way that she feels her continuing popularity requires her to do.

With a greater parliamentary majority, Theresa May could have bolstered her position and lent increased authority – Margaret Thatcher-style - to the right-of-centre populism that she has forged. This would have brought her increased bargaining power in Europe, lending more seriousness to her attempts to negotiate a hard-Brexit way out for Britain. A convincing General Election success would also have meant that Mrs May could have led in relation to a new Conservative manifesto of her own making, rather than having to deliver on the promises of policies forged under the leadership of Cameron whose legacy she is desperately trying to distance herself from.

All the immediate signs, after Mrs May called the snap election, were that the Conservatives were set to increase their majority in the House of Commons from twelve to one hundred, representing a massive increase in popularity for the Conservatives, and an uncontested mandate for Theresa May to lead the way forward. Her timing depended partly on the fact that post-Brexit the Labour Party opposition had been in disarray and appeared to have been incapable of unifying behind the socialist leadership of Jeremy Corbyn. Infighting prevailed and the Conservative ascendancy appeared to be unstoppable as calls were repeatedly heard, even as late as February 2017, for Corbyn’s resignation.

So, on the morning after the General Election, how have things gone so horribly wrong for Theresa May? How has her gamble so spectacularly backfired? Apart from the fact that the policies she unveiled proved to be unpopular, leading to embarrassing u-turns, and disregarding the growing sense that after all, she is not naturally good at engaging the public, or the media, Theresa May has made the same fundamental error as David Cameron: she has underestimated the potential of a populist protest movement to turn the political tide. Leaving aside the counter-cultural projects of an underground resistance in music and the arts, which has seen pop-up protests take the successful form, in the last few weeks, of a “Strong and Stable, my Arse” poster campaign and a song about Theresa May entitled “Liar, Liar” reached the top of the download charts, what has been most significant is the transformation of Corbyn’s political fate.

With nothing to lose, Labour took the reins off Jeremy Corbyn, and let him lead as what he is, which is an Old Labour-style socialist, conviction politician. Lending the populist political technology to a new kind of content, the Labour Party has skilfully marketed Mr Corbyn as an authentic man of the people - “Letting Corbyn be Corbyn” - and connected him with new kind of publics, which has, among other things, bolstered the youth vote, and found unlikely popularity for him among never-before-voters in parts of society that prefer to make music out of politics rather than go to the ballot box to seek social justice.

The ‘others’ in relation to whom Corbyn pits his left-wing populism are the media establishment who are accused of being against him, (because he is a socialist), and the wealthy elite represented by the Tories, whose version of austerity Britain - right-wing, elitist, and self-serving – is rejected for having severed the economy from its commitment to society. The brand for Corbyn’s campaign, “For the Many, Not the Few” has proved to be popular, and some of his policies, to protect the NHS from privatisation, to renationalise the railways, and abolish university tuition fees have become political symbols of the idea that Labour presents a genuine political alternative.

Labour voters in the former heartlands of the Northeast appear to have been convinced by this revitalisation of Old Labour-style politics, and abandoned their flirtation with the far-right. Despite the tragedy of two terror attacks that rocked the nation during the campaigning period, Theresa May could not convince the nation to have complete confidence in her and Corbyn has destroyed Theresa May’s mandate to lead. Now one thing is for certain, Theresa’s May’s gamble has not paid off and a hung parliament will plunge Britain into political uncertainty again. The difference this time is that uncertainty is good news, because a left-wing populist uprising has given hope to a new generation that society can be reclaimed from the far-right, negotiation can begin about restoring public services to the people, and not the private sector, and that voting really does make a difference after all.





The Death Throes of the American Dream

Refusing to die quietly, the American Dream thrashes violently and becomes a parody of itself in the form of Donald Trump. Who else to symbolise that dream than a self-made billionaire, a cowboy who defies convention, shoots from the hip, and rides the ritual rodeo of the American presidential election as if it were nothing more than another reality TV show. All he intended, perhaps, was to do well enough to increase his ratings and, therefore, his bargaining power with the television networks, but to his great surprise, despite all his last-ditch attempts to sabotage his own chances of success, Trump has won the contest, and now finds himself President Elect, filling the space created by a political vacuum he had simply hoped to exploit. Suddenly, with the prospect of public office bearing down on him, the self-serving publicist looks like a celebrity who wishes he could get the hell out of there. Too late Trump - there is no escape for you, or any of us. This is reality, stupid. 

Brexit Plus Plus Plus

Brexit Plus Plus Plus: and so, we wake up at the crossroads. There is nothing surprising about the result of the American election, but it feels like something important has died. A wave of grief brings us to a temporary standstill while we gather our wits. This is the morning of what we must come to terms with - the reality of post-industrial society. We should not be shocked, but it is frightening - what has finally emerged, fully fledged. White working class men who have borne the brunt of the last thirty years of economic history in the UK and the USA have had their say, and they have joined forces, unwittingly, with the great mass of the population who have gradually lost faith in a social democracy emptied out of its moral value by its self-serving alliance with financial capitalism. Politicians are seen, popularly, to serve only their own interests, and hence their vision of liberation and progress - multicultural, multi-racial, female-centred, multi faith, multi-sexuality - has been rejected as the determination is made manifest to reject the establishment and everything it stands for. Only one thing is now certain: worlds will collide and the liberal metropolitan elite will rue the day that it lost the moral high ground because it took for granted the idea that people living in relative poverty could be ignored.

Rio Re-brand Runs Out of Time

Rio looks destined to become another in the sorry list of Olympic host cities, like Athens, to fall prey to the speculate-to-accumulate model of international urban re-branding. Like other host nations winning the right to host The Games at the height of their economic 'emergence', Brazil has, since 2009 when the success of its Olympic was announced suffered a tragic loss of confidence. Its economy has faltered, its national political landscape has erupted into chaos, the state of Rio de Janeiro has declared itself bankrupt and Cariocas - the people of Rio - have taken the opportunity of The Games to show the world that theirs is a wounded city with problems that the opportunity of hosting The Games have failed to address. No amount of spectacle can conceal the issues of urban inequality that lie at the heart of Rio's problems. Even though the real estate investors will profit, as will the mega-event experts who simply move on to their next watering hole, as the IOC oligarchs turn their minds to the perks of what comes next, in Tokyo, there is the sense that for Rio, it is only when the circus has left town that the real show will begin. This is because the consequences are about to felt, as they were in Athens, of having gambled everything on a world show and then, failed to make a mark. This will not do the IOC any favours as they are forced to have to come to terms with the fact that despite all their attempts at reform, a diminishing number of the world's cities are interested in taking the political or financial risk of bidding for The Games. This begs the question of why, relatively speaking, things went so well in London in 2012 and beyond. Does London have lessons to teach the world about how to deliver an Olympic legacy?

Brexit Backlash: the symbolism of Britain's Olympic medal success

I was interviewed this week for Finnish national television news. The journalist wanted to know what lessons Rio ought to have learned from London about how to stage an Olympic Games and plan an Olympic legacy for the host city. The interview was quick, nothing unusual about that, but what happened next surprised me: I asked the journalist how he felt about London's Olympic legacy and what followed was a conversation more interesting than the one we filmed. 

It took no time at all to explain during the filmed interview that compared to previous host cities, like Athens, and now Rio, London has done exceptionally well to take seriously the opportunity of The Games to create a positive global image for itself, reconfigure the city - directing attention , growth and investment towards East London - and attempt to harness that commercial imperative to the promise to deliver benefit to the population living locally to the Olympic Park. I explained that this does not mean that London could not have done better or does not itself still have lessons to learn. Part of the challenge of planning a new urban future is how to undertake the task of imagining and bringing into being a new reality whilst also integrating the past. East London has many challenges to face in this respect especially when the local political desire for 'aspirational' housing in the Olympic Park is at odds with a local population facing serious overcrowding, a lack of affordable housing and a diminishing access to social housing.

After the interview, over coffee at the View Tube Cafe overlooking the Olympic Stadium, whose exterior, as we spoke, was being dressed for West Ham's first game in their new home ground, the journalist shared his views. He had been sent to London for a year in 2011 from Finland to cover the year's build up to the 2012 Games. He explained how pleasantly surprised he had been when, despite all the scepticism he had felt himself, and perceived locally and in London prior to the Olympics, the city and the nation suddenly got behind The Games after the success of the opening ceremony, the success of the athletes, and the feel-good factor of the mass volunteering programme. Compared to the relatively parochial and conservative atmosphere of Finland, and even Helsinki, the journalist said that he was completely inspired by the progressive, globally connected, multicultural society and city that London and Britain portrayed in the unfolding of London 2012. As a result, he decided to stay; he felt that this was the place to be, because it was clear to him that London was the 'capital of Europe'. Where else would a young European journalist in his thirties want to be?

Fast forward four years and another Olympic Games, and what this journalist wanted to talk to me about, off camera, was the betrayal of this progressive, global, outward looking, multicultural vision of society by the Brexit vote. What now, he wondered. Should he stay? What would become of London? No one he knew wanted to associate themselves with this new idea of Britain - this suddenly inward-looking, backward, and worse, racist nation. Maybe it was time to move to Berlin? Brexit was the very opposite of what London 2012 had created, which was a brand for London and a brand for Britain that put it at the very heart of European and global attention, and firmly in the minds of a generation of young people aspiring to be open to the world. Brexit was a betrayal of this brand, and, the journalist explained, a shocking betrayal of what Boris Johnson appeared to have stood for during his time as mayor of London. Most interesting was the journalist's determination to put the blame for this political catastrophe firmly at the feet of the Labour Party, which, he suggested, had completely failed, historically, to address the concerns of those Brexit voters in post-industrial Britain, and failed utterly, therefore, to bring those people on board with the vision of British society that London's 2012 Games stood for. 

In the face of the shock and dismay of Brexit deniers, like this young European journalist, the success in Rio of Britain's Olympic team acquires a special symbolism; their success stands for a progressive, outward-looking, multicultural vision of the nation that is in contrast to the imaginings of a populist right wing politics that is desperately attempting to reconfigure politics in terms of a new and culturally exclusive form of nationalism. This is why, despite the predictable scorn of the Olympophobes, like Sir Simon Jenkins, it is so important to celebrate the success of Team GB as they return home with their haul of medals - it is a moment for the nation to celebrate and for that national celebration to stand in defiance of the doom and gloom, which has been cast over us by the spectre of an alternate vision of society in which our multi-racial, multi-cultural, heroic cosmopolitanism is not something to be proud of.   

Churlish, the Olympophobes haven’t got it all right: London has lessons to teach the world about Olympic legacy.

http:/Much as I gawk at the gigantic folly of Boris Johnson’s loss-making, pet art project in the Olympic Park – Anish Kapoor’s Arcelor-Mittal Orbit – which was always intended to be a giant helter skelter, and is now making fun of itself, I have to admit that his other inspiration, the Olympicopolis is a stroke of genius.

Boris was always determined to bring a world-class higher educational offer to The Park, and continued doggedly to explore this option even as the overall masterplanning for the whole park site stalled in 2009. That this idea then morphed into a much more ambitious vision for a mixed offer of educational and cultural institutions shows how in sync Boris was with the ambition of Baroness Margaret Ford, Chair of the Olympic Park Legacy Company (OPLC), who was resolute in her determination to make the Olympic Park a London visitor destination to rival the attraction of West London’s popular museum cluster. Reaching beyond that vision, and creating, in the Olympic Park itself, a new museum and cultural cluster for the 21st Century, Boris Johnson has left a lasting legacy in East London.

Churlish, as ever, Olympophobes, like Sir Simon Jenkins, decry the Olympicopolois development, now renamed the Stratford Waterfront Culture and Education District. Sir Jenkins has nothing to say in favour of the development, because its proposed architectural form speaks of ‘1960s Brutalism’, rather than the organic development of institutions placed in relation to more recognisable urban landscape, like city streets, but his distaste speaks only of his determination to disagree in general with the Olympics and the Olympic legacy in East London. Unfortunately, this reveals a more general ignorance in the press about the seriousness with which the challenge of delivering London’s legacy has been taken.

The new cultural quarter is controversial not because of its architecture, but because it replaces a use for the Stratford Waterfront part of The Park that was originally designated for housing. This further reduces the housing offer in a scheme that was always intended to meet the strategic purpose of the London Plan to provide additional housing for a rapidly growing population. It is because it replaces the plan for housing that the new cultural quarter must prove its worth; it will do this easily, because it introduces, into the overall mix of what The Park has to offer to East London, an incredible combination of high-end cultural attractions and educational opportunities that will mean a new generation of young people, and already youthful population, will not need to travel to West London to partake of the best the city has to offer. Instead, young people from East London will be able to benefit from the excitement of a dynamic new cluster of creative institutions comprising V & A East – the new outpost of the Victoria and Albert Museum in West London; a Sadlers Wells Dance Theatre, and new campuses for the London College of Fashion and UCL (University College London). The only thing missing in the mix is a Museum of East London, which would marry the new cultural quarter to its industrial and cultural context.

Much as I am loathe to praise Boris Johnson, because of his Brexit betrayal of London’s Olympic vision of a progressive multicultural future, a future which London itself embodies, and nowhere more so than in East London, I cannot deny that his capacity to dream up schemes and quickly realise them will, in the case of The Stratford Waterfront, yield dividends. The development will compliment well the other dynamic and exciting development - the technology and innovation centre - Here East – on the Hackney side of The Park that is the transformation of the former Olympic Media Centre. Here East is the outcome of a very different kind of planning history, one in which the long struggle of Hackney Council, and a community planning partnership, in collaboration with independent media advisors, led, in the end, to what had always been planned - pre-Olympics – for the transformation of Hackney’s post-industrial land into a creative industries hub providing new employment and training opportunities for local people.

This is a history that proves the point that only an in-depth knowledge of the whole story of London’s Olympic legacy planning operation can make possible a rigorous critique of the long term – 30 years evolution of London’s plans. So far, my sense is that the recent trend for anti-London-Olympic-legacy journalism fails the public, because it is based on superficial knowledge and it comes from a perspective, for the most part, that has decided in advance that the only good story about London’s Olympic legacy is a bad news story. This does not mean that bad news stories are not there; there are plenty, such as the displacement of Europe’s largest concentration of artists in Hackney Wick, or the failure to keep the promise to fully reinstate to The Park the allotments of the Manor Gardens Society. However, the desire to keep on damming the Olympic Park as a temporary festival site that was only ever intended for its purpose as the stage for the Olympic circus to pass through town, is an ill-informed impression of a planning operation that always meant to harness The Games to the Ken Livingstone’s broader purpose, which was the regeneration of the whole of the Lower Lea Valley.

The reason all of this matters so much is because the Olympic movement itself is in jeopardy, and with good reason. The travesty of the failure in Rio to use The Games as the means to address rather than to repress urban inequality is only the latest example of the scandals that are creating a growing sense that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is losing its legitimacy. The withdrawal of Oslo from the bidding for the 2020 Winter Games, and of Hamburg and Boston from the bidding for the 2024 Summer Games, show that cities of the world are increasingly less likely to want to take the political, financial and reputational risk of bidding for The Games. In this sense, the game is up, and good. It is about time. This really means that the only excuse for hosting an Olympic Games is the opportunity to address urban inequality and to deliver a lasting legacy to the host city and its population. This means so much more than the IOC’s attempts at reform – Agenda 2020 – set out, which is why that agenda has largely been ignored. Hence, the IOC is now in crisis. And, unless that crisis is taken seriously, the Olympic movement will fail or reform too late. My suggestion is that London has lessons to teach the world about what it means to take the challenge of planning for Olympic legacy seriously, but who is listening?

‘Djuluchen’ – the heart and soul of urban planning/architecture

The challenge of planning new urban futures is how to adequately integrate the past; this was the theme of discussion at my book launch on Friday. The event took place at The White Building in Hackney Wick, an area where Europe's largest concentration of artists is fighting for survival in the face of plans to transform the neighbourhood into a 'mixed use' residential development. 

To a lively audience on a hot summer's evening, overlooking the Olympic Park, a panel discussion explored the emotional reactions of local residents, and displaced allotment holders as they struggled to come to terms with the battle they have faced over the last ten years to be part of, and not to be completely displaced by the Olympic legacy in East London. Juliet Davis, a senior lecturer in architecture, and Olympic legacy specialist, explained her reaction to my book in terms of the possibility it provides to the reader, to navigate the labyrinthine complexity of the London 2012 urban planning process. 

To frame the discussion, I mentioned to the audience the work of my colleague at Manchester - Dr Olga Ulturgasheva - who studies reindeer herders and hunters in Siberia. I explained that the hunters throw their souls ahead into the imagined place where the prey awaits, and then, in a hazardous environment, they work out carefully, how to rejoin their souls along the foreshadowed path towards the desired destination. This. I suggested, is true too for urban planners, and architects; they must imagine the future and they must do this by throwing their souls forward to a vision of what the future of the city could look like and then, they must set about bringing that future into being.

The danger, however, is that they might try to do this by leaving the past behind. This means that the real difficulty of the endeavour of urban planning is not just in trying to realise a new future, against all the odds, but also that the past must be slowly and carefully integrated into the vision of what the future can be. This matters now more than ever, I suggested, because in Britain, we have mostly failed to give the post-industrial populations of urban neighbourhoods a sense that they belong to the future that politicians, urban planners and architects have crafted.

The consequence of this, of not bringing the past, and its people with us, as we plan new urban futures, is that a point of resistance will be reached where those people who feel left behind will create enough resistance to bring the trajectory of our forward moving motion to a complete stand still. And that motion then creates a brutal snap back, bringing us all, suddenly, to the same disorientating halt. This is what has happened, I suggested, to book launch guests, with the Brexit result. This can be explained, in part, by the failure of planners and politicians to adequately imagine a new future in which the post-industrial past of our urban histories is integrated into the future of what a new service, retail, finance and knowledge economy means for our society.

Now, the challenge posed by the Brexit result, is for us all to understand that it is not just those who were feeling left behind, but also all of us - who thought we were getting ahead - who have to understand what it means to inhabit a post-industrial society. 

On the same night as the opening ceremony in Rio, I explained to book launch guests that the only excuse for the Olympic Games is the opportunity it provides to rapidly address the problem of urban inequality. The fact that this has not happened in Rio is an embarrassment and a disgrace, which is throwing the spotlight on an Olympic movement in crisis, with less and less cities of the world prepared to take the financial, political or reputational risk to host the games.

Professor Gavin Poynter, who opened the book launch discussions, highlighted the lack of transparency about political or planning process in Rio. He explained that part of what makes my new book original and valuable is the insight I am able to lend as a result of the unprecedented opportunity I was given to research and to reveal the behind the scenes planning operation in London. It is this that has made it possible for me to write the drama of the Olympic legacy as it has unfolded in real time.

From London to Rio with Love: lessons in Olympic legacy

Against all the odds, London has delivered an Olympic legacy that will make it the test case city against which all future Olympic host cities will be judged. There are many things London could have done better, but compared to Rio, which has been negatively described as 'The Displacement Games', London has shown how the juggernaut of Olympic development, and its commercial imperative, can be harnessed to the broader cause of meaningful urban regeneration in cities marked by social and economic inequality.

A Gold Medal for Boris Johnson: champion of the piggy back politics of populism

The real beneficiary of London's Olympic legacy is Boris Johnson. He is a consummate self-publicist and a popular political clown, but he is not to be underestimated, as recent events have shown. My book about London's Olympic legacy predicts his meteoric rise and argues that his success is the outcome of his ability not just to imagine and very quickly realise attention-grabbing projects, but also to piggy back on the political achievements of others, whilst also cleverly reading the popular political sentiment and translating it into a spectacular but vacuous publicity campaign

Boris charmed the people of London, and to Ken Livingstone’s great regret, and with a lament rising from the Labour Party internally, took the Conservatives into power over London in 2008 with the largest personal mandate in British political history. Piggy backing on Ken Livingstone and Tessa Jowell's determination to use the Olympic Games to deliver a multi-billion pound development project to the long neglected East End of London, Boris was able to steal a march on London's Olympic legacy and emerge victorious with the spoils of political prestige bolstering his advance on Whitehall.

The translation of this strategy into a a self-serving alliance with Nigel Farage and UKIP, an alliance which appeared to 'tell it like it is' and appealed to a post-industrial white working class and more general anti-Westminister, and anti-metropolitan sentiments, led against all the odds to a successful Brexit campaign. This was a complete betrayal of London's multi-cultural progressive Olympic Games and legacy, and worse, a betrayal of London, which voted overwhelmingly to remain in Europe. Londoners will not forget this, which means that his recent political exploits will become either an own-goal for Boris, or just one more trophy for him in the popular contest of contemporary Punch and Judy politics. That Punch and Judy show now sees him established on the world stage as Britain's foreign secretary.

The same kind of politics-as-popularity contest, with the post-industrial working class as its audience, is unfolding in the USA.  Donald Trump steals a march on the presidential campaign with a similar strategy to what Boris Johnson unashamedly described as 'Project Fear'. This essentially means winning votes by appealing to the desperate desire for certainty of a population disenchanted with the failure of the new service economy to deliver any kind of future to America's former manufacturing heartlands.