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Detachment from the world

August 19, 2014
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A fitting poster near my apartment.

I’m starting to settle now (I think, it’s difficult to tell) and I realised today that although I knew what was going on in the world (politically, socially, legally and economically) I didn’t know it in the detail I previously would have done.

Ok. So not the end of the world right? I read the news less than 3 times a day now, I don’t get glued to my phone from stock market updates (I barely even use my phone now….I KNOW, REALLY!) and I no longer say to people ‘have you read that…’. The stopping or decrease of these things have significantly improved my social life but I worry it’s a slippery slope.

What if I wake up tomorrow and the first thing I do isn’t check the news? Am I addicted to seeing people around the world suffer? Should I be stopping anyway?

The answer is – I don’t know.

Keeping up to date for me has always been just that. I’m inquisitive, I like to know what’s happening and in a strange and twisted way – it makes me feel like I’m a part of something bigger. I feel sad when I read about Palestine; I want to help when someone mentions the Ebola virus and I get so annoyed when I learn how little the majority of people care about politics.

Is this normal when you move to another country and there isn’t your newspaper handed to you every morning and your daily conversations become language tests?

I always end my posts by expressing some way in which I am going to improve myself or attempt to influence something around me but this isn’t the same. I can’t force myself to be more interested. Politics is something I love and if I’m going through a phase where I don’t want to know the ins and outs of every story then that is something I have to accept.

Maybe not feeling ‘in the loop’ will pass, maybe it won’t.

Somehow, I get the feeling I’m not quite as settled as I thought I was when I started writing this!


Karl Marx-Hof, Wien

August 18, 2014

Karl Marx-Hof (and for a brief time called  Heiligenstädter Hof) is impressive; it spans over 1km in length and is known for being the longest single residence in the world. It was built by city planner Karl Ehn between 1927 and 1930 and has become a symbol of the ‘Red Vienna’ which then existed. The aim of this vast housing construction was to tackle the poverty and distress caused between the two world wars. Rent was adjusted to being between 5-8% of wages, gas and electricity prices were kept low and essentials such as water were provided free of charge. (Sounds ideal right?!) In addition,  a whole community was built around this block – baths, shops, nursery schools and most notably; vast areas of green space.

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As soon as I read about this ‘welfare palace’ I knew it was worth a visit. So with trainers and a map I went to find it. From near the Radthaus the walk should take approximately an hour however there is a S-Bahn which will take you straight there. I obviously ended up getting lost so getting there took me quite a bit longer…so please google and find your own way there, my advice on directions should not be taken…

According to my Baedeker guide book there are now 1,252 flats and the building was refurbished between 1989 and 1992. The building also undergone repairs in 1950 to compensate for the heavy fire it came under in 1934. One thing is for sure – this building is impressive. But what is symbolizes is plain beautiful.

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Today, the Karl Marx-Hof is different. Rent is no longer dirt cheap and basic amenities have to be paid for at normal council rates. The space itself however has not changed. The idyllic and peaceful park is occupied by people from every walk of life; living alongside each other enjoying the sun. From what I could see I was the only tourist there. On one hand this is surprising but on the other not so much – the building isn’t mentioned in that many guide books and isn’t in the centre of Vienna.

This ‘welfare palace’ shows that the ideas of philosophers can be translated in to practical solutions but more importantly, that we, as a society have a duty to one another to create spaces where people can live and come together as a community.  Karl Marx-Hof may be just a symbol but what is symbolizes is so powerful that it will forever exist and be lived out politically by people across the world – if we have the power to change and influence something for the better – we should.

I am now a resident of Vienna

August 4, 2014

For someone who considers themselves rather organised. I moved to Vienna yesterday and I feel so organised and entirely and wholly unprepared. As my language skills improve and I meet new people I imagine I’ll start to feel like I’ve made myself a new home; but for now I feel out of place, alone and frankly a little afraid.

My blog is usually about politics and law so I suspect many of my readers are wondering why I have gone so off tangent. I want to learn about Austrian politics and the history so I figured you should all get some background to why I am doing this. I am still avidly reading the English news – I’m already missing the BBC news channels!

Moving to a different country is difficult and I have a great deal of respect for anyone that does this in the search for a new life, a better life or an adventure. Something that now strikes me as odd is the emphasis on immigrants, foreigners not integrating socially into new places and sticking only with those from the same place as them. I completely understand why.

Moving is scary. It’s shrouded in high expectations, excitement and dreams. The reality can be very different. If then, you do not speak the language the task of meeting people and ‘getting involved’ is heightened only further. It’s up to the people already there and the new entrant to make as much effort as they can.

So today, I will try to meet people, keep a smile on my face at all times and remember that I am in one of the most beautiful cities in the world that needs to be made the most of!

Wish me luck!

Flags. Tea. Immigrants. Let the Magna Carta celebrations begin…

June 17, 2014

Who What is the Magna Carta good for?

Yesterday marked a year until the 800th year anniversary of this “great document”.  So with 364 days to go until this grand show of British Values, British principles, British cakes and most probably an abundance of British flags, David Cameron and other figures of ‘Britishness‘ have decided the Magna Carta should be celebrated as the “foundations of laws and principles”.

DC plans to have all children and clearly most importantly – Immigrants, learning about the Magna Carta as a way of tracing back British social, economic and political values. Our liberal values which stem from this document should be celebrated. But all our other liberal achievements (that were actually mostly drafted by Conservatives) such as the ECHR should probably be put in a cupboard somewhere and not mentioned….who would want a modern more recent affirmation of values?…oh I forgot – these aren’t British, they are European. I forget these are different things. Silly me. 

My favourite quote about this whole issue is – “back then plebs had the same Human Rights as a parsnip”.  And this should be remembered. The Magna Carta wasn’t made for ordinary folk; it was a way of King John putting legal constraints on wealthy landowners. King v Very rich people. That sums up the whole thing really. The legal significance might be important but unless you are a legal academic or a student being made to listen to droning on about the laws of the 13th Century, why should you care?

The answer is, you shouldn’t. Politicians just want another British thing to celebrate. But is the problem really that Britain isn’t British enough?

The Great British Bake Off, The Great British Menu, the Great British Sewing Bee, Downton Abbey even!…The 2012 Olympics, the Commonwealth Games, flags on cushions, posters, mugs and tea becoming a new quirky thing young people use to make them seem quintessentially British but somehow edgy…We are British. You couldn’t get more Britishness into one decade if we put all bull dogs into one Union Jack covered house and only fed them tea, digestives and scones and taught them to do Queen impressions…

As someone interested in law I want to see the value of celebrating the Magna Carta. But I can’t. It’s hype to distract from illiberal policies and opinions. We should teach children about modern-day laws, the ECHR, the HRA, International Laws that are there to protect freedom and give people rights. We should teach about politics not Britishness.  I don’t know what being British means, I don’t know how to tell if someone is or is not British. But I do know that within 364 days there will be so much flag twirling and cucumber sandwich eating, the Great British public will show how British they are and this is important because this. is. SPARTA. Great Britain. The nation of British people, British values and most importantly – this is a darn good excuse to bring Immigrants up again…I’ll call UKIP right away.

The power of the past

June 8, 2014

The Scottish Independence debate was brought once again to the frontier on today’s Andrew Marr show. Alex Salmond appeared relaxed, confidence and dare I say – almost cheery.

He reiterated his stance on trident, the currency and devolution powers.  Nothing new. Nothing that interesting. The debate dwindles on towards September.

What was interesting was how the Thatcher years have come to symbolise a view of Westminster politics. This shouldn’t be a suprise – for many people, particularly in Scotland they were horrendous and left communities in such a way that they cannot yet be forgotten. What did make me sit up and pay attention was when Salmond used the 1979 Scottish vote (in which powers were promised to Scotland) to represent how promises would be broken today. He stated that what the Scottish people has gotten was ’18 years of Thatcher’. This is true but is it still relevant today?

Today’s Conservative Government is not cut from the same mustard of that in the 70s/80s but you may disagree with me on that. The polices are not as radical, there is u-turn after u-turn and the party cannot afford to isolate a large proportion of typically labour supporters for the next election.

Moreover, the humbleness and attractiveness with which Salmond promised to still serve the Scottish people even if he loses the referendum is remarkable. The PR people for the SNP thought this interview through! To the Scottish people he represents the opposite of the harsh images left behind by the Thatcher Government. He is like the people, he talks like them, he shares their need for devolution and for the needs of the Scottish people to be properly understood.

I don’t get a vote in the Scottish referendum, I’m technically English. But I feel a strong connection to Scotland; I don’t want them to leave the United Kingdom even if for wholly selfish reasons. But if  I was Scottish I can see how Alex Salmond is convincing. He is. He might not have every answer to what would happen after the referendum but no politician ever does. A large part of this is guess work and the other half is having faith in the public to determine their own future.

The prospect of having another 18 years of a Thatcheresqe Government is daunting and will resonate with ordinary people across the United Kingdom who fear this. As much as I dislike the past being used to scare monger, it is a tactic that works.

For now it looks like Salmond has the upper hand on this debate but as we have seen there will be a response to what he has said and the ping pong game of plans, figures and statistics will carry on.

All I have to say on this matter is -Scotland, please don’t leave and if you do – take the North with you!

It’s the final countdown

June 4, 2014

Much to my disappointment I didn’t receive an invitation to the Queen’s speech today for the State opening of Parliament. (I had the most perfect hat as well!).  Cameron and Clegg must have had a lovely day out pretending to be happy families with Miliband looking for a photo-op where he doesn’t look ridiculous.

Today’s farce of lavishness and pomp was about showing that the coalition is still very much ‘coaliated’ and there is no zombie government to see here. For a couple presenting such a united approach, it’s odd they didn’t talk to each other much…or even walk together..but I’m probably analyzing too much…Nick does look a bit pale though doesn’t he?

'Really Dave, the way he follows you is just embarrassing...'

‘Really Dave, the way he follows you is just embarrassing…’

This speech and the next few months are crucial for the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. They need to distance themselves from one another. With less than  a year to go before the general election it is unlikely that all 11 proposals will become legislation. It is ambitious.

Reform to annuities was top of the list along with collective pensions (an idea no-one seems to know much about yet). Fracking made a dramatic entrance which will make the Greens sit up and most importantly the 5p charge for plastic bags got in there. Phew.  

One thing that did catch my eye was that there will be a bill offering extra legal protection for people being sued for negligence if they acted heroically or in the public interest. The tort of negligence has always been about compensating people for losses and putting them back in to the position they once were in; not making moral judgement’s.

There a couple of bills I will be keeping my eye on, especially after the Commons debates them on Wednesday afternoon – we’ll know more and have a clearer idea of the tone of the house. However, it all just seems a bit …lackluster.

I don’t expect a grand bill this late in the term, but having lots of little/medium ones that do not target much just makes it seem like they are going out of their way to look busy. Labour has pointed out that the NHS and Immigration were not mentioned at all! But if they had have been mentioned they would only have overshadowed every other bill and the government would have been criticized for ‘only tinkering around the edges’ more. Big bills should come at the beginning.

The approach the coalition is taking is like watching two people slowly unpeel themselves from one another but having to remain slightly attached for the children. It’s painful. With less than a year to go, it will most certainly be interesting to see how these bills develop and which will be the first to be dropped.

What are your thoughts? Which bill won’t make it!?

And to remind ourselves that so much pomp and ceremony can be bad for your health, here is the photo of Charles and Camilla reaching (barely reaching) for a page boy who fainted.

Darling I've pulled a muscle, I can't move

Darling I’ve pulled a muscle, I can’t move

European Commission – coming over ‘ere, taking our jobs.

June 3, 2014

Raise tax. Build more. Adjust help to buy.

The European Commission just can’t respect the wishes of the euro skeptics and has butted in once again. Anyone would think it’s their job…

But clearly it isn’t their place to make recommendations (that a large majority of people actually agree with) on the UK economy, they should be focusing on other things…like europe…ya know…the thing that we might be part of that the Commission oversees…

The European Commission and Mr Jose Barraso must certainly be quaking in their boots (most probably fancy boots) with the anger being directed at them. They are unelected, undemocratic and stoutly telling the UK how to spend its money. Who do these people think they are! The cheek of it…

Economists across the country are debating whether help to buy should be rolled back whilst figures about how many people it has helped and bounded between newspapers. People need homes. No one debates that. Our tax system is not progressive. Some people will debate that.

There is a bigger picture here. We are just emerging from a national recession. Part of our recovery has been dependent on jobs, on trade (exports) and investment. I am no expert in economics but it doesn’t take a genius to work out that some of our recovery can be attributed to being a member of the EU.

But what do I know? The European Commission is probably here to take the jobs of our national economists, politicians and anyone else who has a job. Pesky Europeans*.

*(excluding the British because they are distinctly different, didn’t you know?)