Saturday, 19 July 2014

Letter in The Times: music should be as central to people's lives as sport

The Times

Sir, I applaud the BBC Proms for broadening the appeal of classical music beyond its normal audience. Music may be integral to the portrayal of sport in popular culture, but the dominance of sport in this culture makes it hard to make classical music accessible for all.

Governments, aided by the media, regard participating in sport as vital for young people’s physical and character development. This is not true of music, despite its study helping people to develop skills such as teamwork, discipline and creativity. Sadly, music is often under threat in state schools due to centrally mandated curriculum changes which emphasise “vocational skills” and the widespread misconception that classical music is boring and elitist.

Only by making learning a musical instrument as ubiquitous as learning to kick a football around can we ensure that music has a sporting chance.

John Slinger


Friday, 13 June 2014

Panellist at SOAS Kurdish Society / Kurdistan Regional Government UK Representation event on "What future for Syria's children?"

I was honoured to have been on the panel at an event at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) on Wednesday, hosted by the SOAS Kurdish Society and Kurdistan Regional Government UK Representation. The theme was: "What future for Syrian refugees". I spoke of my plans for the CAMP 4 Refugees (Culture, Arts, Music and Performance for refugees) charity that I'm trying to establish  - see more here.

Photo: Honoured to have been on the panel of tonight's SOAS Kurdish Society and Kurdistan Regional Government UK Representation event on "What future for Syrian refugees". I spoke of my plans for the @CAMP4Refugees charity and possible gigs. Other panellists included: Baroness Emma Nicholson, Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman (KRG High Representative to the UK) and more details here
Other panellists: Bayan Rhaman, Kurdistan Regional Government UK High Representative; Baroness Nicholson, the Prime Minister's Trade Envoy to Iraq and Chairman of the AMAR Foundation; William Morris, Secretary General of Next Century Foundation; and Sherko Zen-Alush, UK Representative of the Kurdish Yekiti Party, and the party's representative to the Kurdish National Council, Syria. More details of the event here.

During my talk, I used the microphone to play the audience audio from the video below of a man singing a lament in his UNHCR tent in the Domiz refugee camp near the Syrian border in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, which I witnessed during a visit in 2013.

I set out my view that once the basic needs of camp inhabitants are met, it is vital that the world makes every effort to cater for the needs of all humans for culture and creativity. More about my proposed charity can be read here. The basic aims are to:
  • Encourage and facilitate international artists and relevant organisations to bring entertainment to refugee camps by organising concerts and workshops, with an initial focus on refugee camps dealing with the Syrian humanitarian crisis.
  • Encourage genuine cross-cultural exchange by ensuring that concerts and workshops in camps include as far as possible, local artists and camp residents as well as international artists.
  • Through the involvement of internationally famous artists, and educational organisations, raise awareness in donor countries of the suffering of refugee camp residents and about the conflicts from which they have fled.
  • Raise money for its own services and also for “normal” humanitarian relief work in refugee camps.
  • Organise a fund-raising and awareness-raising concert in the UK involving international artists to fund the first visit to a refugee camp.Boost the well-being of camp residents and help them cope with trauma by involvement in artistic expression, learning or entertainment.I am working with leading figures in the UK music industry on a possible series of gigs to raise funds for Syrian children in refugee camps. More details soon.
Baroness Nicholson spoke movingly of the de-humanising effect of life in a refugee camp. I wrote about my experiences at Domiz refugee camp here in the Wall Street Journal. As a musician, I believe in the power of creative arts to bring people together, to overcome differences, to heal trauma, to stimulate imagination - ultimately to RE-HUMANISE people. I believe that this is needed, once basic needs are met, in the camps. I'm grateful to Bayan Abdul Sami Rahman for her support of this idea.

Despite the debate we had about the recent events in Iraq, the event ended on an optimistic note, which rather made the point above. See the video below of Kurdish refugee camp inhabitants dancing to the Pharrell Williams song "Happy" (apologies for the quality of the footage - this is my footage of the genuine video being projected onto the screen at Wednesday's event). 

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Times letter: ceremonial flummery of Queen's Speech doesn't help in engaging young voters

The ceremonial which surrounds the Queen’s speech may strike younger voters as bizarrely irrelevant flummery

Sir, As a council candidate I spent ten minutes on polling day convincing a reluctant 18-year-old to vote for the first time. My pitch about maintaining a thriving democracy did not include reference to any of the following, heard during the coverage of the Queen’s speech: the Lord Privy Seal, the Lord Great Chamberlain, the Lord Chancellor, the Earl Marshal, the George IV diadem, the Speaker’s Chaplain, Sovereign’s Heralds, Trainbearers, Black Rod, the Great Sword of State, the Cap of Maintenance, the Robing Room, the Honourable Corps of Gentlemen at Arms, the Yeomen of the Guard, the Serjeant-at-Arms, the Pages of Honour, and calls of “hats off strangers”.

John Slinger

Rugby, Warks

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Thoughts on the Queen's Speech

Out of touch democracy

As a council candidate, I spent ten minutes on polling day convincing a reluctant 18 year-old man to vote for the first time. I can assure you that my successful pitch about the importance of voting to maintain a thriving democracy did not include reference to any of the following, heard ad nauseam during today's coverage of the Queen's Speech:

The Lord Privy Seal,The Lord Great Chamberlain, The Lord Chancellor, The Earl Marshal, the George IV diadem, the Speaker's Chaplain, Sovereign's Heralds, Trainbearers, Black Rod, the Great Sword of State, the Cap of Maintenance, the Robing Room, the Honourable Corps of Gentlemen at Arms, the Yeomen of the Guard, the Serjeant-at-Arms, the Pages of Honour, and calls of "hats off strangers".

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Guardian letter: Bank of England Governor on "responsible capitalism" sounds like Ed Miliband, who was mocked when he made same points 2 years ago

Here are some sentences from a speech about the nature of present day capitalism given by a leading member of the establishment:
• "Inclusive capitalism is fundamentally about delivering a basic social contract comprised of relative equality of outcomes; equality of opportunity; and fairness across generations."
• "For markets to sustain their legitimacy, they need to be not only effective but also fair. Nowhere is that need more acute than in financial markets; finance has to be trusted."
• "Capitalism loses its sense of moderation when the belief in the power of the market enters the realm of faith."
• "Many supposedly rugged markets were revealed to be cosseted…"
• "We simply cannot take the capitalist system, which produces such plenty and so many solutions, for granted."
• "…by returning to true markets, we can make capitalism more inclusive."
• "Consideration should be given to developing principles of fair markets, codes of conduct for specific markets, and even regulatory obligations within this framework."
• "When bankers become detached from end-users, their only reward becomes money."
Had Ed Miliband uttered these words, he would have been condemned by many in the City and the majority of the Conservative Party, as having been anti-business, anti-City, or even Marxist. Yet these are the words of Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England and a former investment banker.
Ed Miliband's speech on "responsible capitalism" in January 2012 was much-derided. It seems that Ed may have found an ally in the governor.
John Slinger

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Letter in Rugby newspapers: Tory vs Tory leaves ordinary people's concerns neglected

The Editor,
Rugby Observer

Rugby's interests come second when it's Tory vs. Tory


As a Labour candidate for the local elections in May, I've been campaigning on the streets of Rugby, hearing ordinary people's concerns about insensitive and damaging way that the Conservative-run  Borough and County councils have inflicted cuts on our communities.

Conservatives could perhaps be forgiven for giving preference to the interests of the wealthy, comfortable and strong - this is after all in their DNA. What is unforgivable about the behaviour of our local Tories is the recent bout of empire-building and infighting in their own ranks. The Conservative leaders of Rugby Borough Council and Warwickshire County Council are currently engaged in dispute over whether Warwickshire should become a unitary authority. We shall no doubt see in coming weeks the unseemly spectacle of Rugby's Cllr Humphrey slogging it out with Warwickshire's Cllr Izzi Seccombe over whose empire should gain ground.

Tories are placing their self-serving needs over the interests of the people of Rugby. People will make up their own mind about whether Tory candidates deserve their vote.

Yours faithfully,

John Slinger
Vice-Chair, Rugby Labour Party

The letter also appeared in the Rugby Advertiser on 24/4/14

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

LabourList blog: HS2 and Trident should not be grand projects when there is a grand housing crisis

Online at Labourlist here.

HS2 and Trident should not be grand projects when there is a grand housing crisis

MARCH 25, 2014 3:00 PM

“Follow the money”, they say in detective stories. Apply your inner Sherlock to the government’s grand projects in modern day Britain and you’ll see that the vainglorious too often trumps the vital. While there is nothing intrinsically wrong with HS2 (the same cannot be said of Trident), in these austere times, governmental largesse should be reserved for tackling genuine crises or meeting significant economic needs like housing. In much of the debate, the elephant in the room is the opportunity-cost of such spending.
The £50bn magicked out of austere air for HS2 has been justified variously as: needed to reduce wasted time for businesspeople on trains (until they said that mobile technology means this time is productive); vital to connect Britain to the European high-speed network (until the recent Higgins review killed the link to the Channel Tunnel); crucial to relieve pressure on existing lines; or to rebalance the economy in favour of the North of England (despite the clear need for immediate investment in the existing transport infrastructure there). That the government had to pay consultant KPMG to issue a report which unsurprisingly concurs with its argument, shows it’s on rusty tracks.
Another example of distorted priorities is Trident, a weapon of mass destruction designed to kill civilian populations, which can never be used, and is unnecessary given NATO’s doctrine of collective security. Some claim it’s the ultimate deterrent in a dangerous world, yet any attack warranting the use of Trident would by definition already have been fatal to the UK. It is argued that it justifies our seat at the “top table of international diplomacy”, and allows us to “punch above our weight”, yet this can be achieved by having more and better conventional forces which can actually be deployed. Instead, while engaging in savage cuts to conventional forces, the government began spending billions on submarine reactors while disingenuously stating that the final decision would be made after the General Election.
In both cases, there is neither an overwhelming need, nor decisive public support for the spending. What’s proposed isn’t the best use of resources, even to tackle the supposed need, which itself may be questionable. Other far more pressing problems exist which fare better under the scrutiny of opportunity-cost, yet the establishment issues the edict “make it so” and the arguments, finances, and politics are constructed accordingly. The question is not “why these particular projects?”, but rather, “why not others?” The answers show point to vested interests having become so entrenched as to have largely closed down debate about the real priorities of ordinary people.
There is no crisis in the rail network, yet in the case of housing, there is a very real crisis born of failure to meet an essential need. It’s multi-faceted: house prices and rents are too high, home-builders understandably seek to maximise profit rather than social good and the London market is fuelled by untaxed foreign wealth which distorts the entire country’s market. These complex problems have a single root cause: insufficient supply. Last year Labour boldly pledged to increase supply to two hundred thousand per year by 2020, while the Tories have predictably chosen to stimulate demand. No government since the 1950s has met or exceeded demand. In an age where Britain can help build double-decker airplanes, or invent graphene, why are we seemingly incapable of building sufficient homes?
Perhaps the reason is that the particular vested interests obstructing change are so powerful and have so much to lose?
  • First, current home-owners: the value of their homes would stagnate and possibly fall as supply increased hugely to meet the demand of hardworking people (even mortgage adverts admit this).
  • Second, house-builders: reforming the broken market in which they operate by giving preference to positive social outcomes will see a reduction in land-banking and a propensity to build the most profitable rather than affordable homes.
  • Third, land-lords who have massively benefited from the strangulated supply of new homes, will inevitably see their margins narrow, or in some cases, their market disappear.
  • Fourth, NIMBYs whose power over politicians is out of all proportion to their number, will find that as the balance is tipped in favour of the need of hardworking people for high quality housing, so their ability to frustrate new developments, including some on the green belt, will decline. Just as teachers in schools learn that the voices of stereotypical “pushy parents” aren’t the only ones of value, so the voices of the many will begin to be heard.
On opportunity-cost, politicians like Ed Balls seem to be contemplating a future in which these tens of billions could be used more productively or to improve the public finances. A simplistic example would be to imagine what could be done with the £100bn allocated for HS2 and Trident. At a £50,000 unit price per house, two million homes could be built. A party which had the courage to tackle these vested interests would of course pay a cost: an unprecedented media, establishment and political onslaught. But the opportunity, both for society, and electorally, would be immense. “The party of affordable homes for all” has a better ring to it than “the party of expensive nuclear weapons, defence cuts, a high speed train system that most people can’t afford and continually rising, unaffordable house prices and rents.” The opportunity outweighs the cost.
John Slinger is a strategic communications consultant and Chair of Pragmatic Radicalism