Fish and Brain

Fish, my mum always said, made Bengalis the cleverest people on earth. When school exams started , she cooked fish every day. Cod liver oil was a must too and once she actually massaged my head with this stinky stuff, trying out a theory that it would sink in through the scalp and skull go ‘straight to the brain, direct, no turning corners’. She was a quack. And I was her only regular client, plus a few mates who had never learnt to read or write. Anyway, this was one of the ways she cooked fish, in a thick sauce, eaten with bread or rice or just a spoon.  I add prawns, she never did. Too expensive.  She pounded the spices by hand. I use a food processor.  

Seafood and Fish Curry
For 6
3 lbs of chunky fish- I mix salmon, tilapia and hake, filleted and skinned, plus a few raw prawns.
½ bunch of fresh coriander leaves
3 hot green or red chillies
2 tbsp oil
1and a ½  tins chopped tomatoes
2 tins good coconut milk I use the powdered sort which you dissolve in warm water
3 tsps dried coriander and cumin powder
2 tsp crushed garlic
2 tsp crushed ginger
1 tsp turmeric
1 lime
2 tbsps desiccated coconut
2 onions.
Salt to taste

Toast the desiccated coconut in a dry frying pan over low heat, keeping an eye on it. When it starts to change to light brown, it is done.

Put this toasted coconut, coriander, chillies, all the spices, ginger, garlic and one chopped onion in the food processor. Add half a cup of water and pulp.

Chop the other onion and fry in the oil in a largeish pan until teh onions start to brown a little.

Add the pulped, spicy mix and cook for five minutes. Add the coconut milk, tomatoes and cook for another ten minutes over low heat.

Cut the fish into large pieces and carefully place in the bubbling sauce with the lime juice. Poach for five minutes. Add prawns if using and cook for another five minutes. Turn off, cover and serve after five more minutes.

A lidl venison

Sorry have been away so long- exhausted, wintered out, time and all that. But here we are. We went, like all greedy and good middle class people to Lidle which sometimes really does sell you fabulous surprises, fabulously cheap. Especially over Christmas and when some game seasons come. Some of the posh feel either very virtuous or nervous, others go in for under-the breadth sniggering- ‘Look at those fat people, buying ready cooked chicken tikka masala with all that colour and fat’ ‘See the number of crisp packets in the trolley? Do they bath in crisps?’ And so on. I once whispered into the ear of a particularly obnoxious mum from my daughter’s school, a self publicised eco warrior and animal lover, that the goose she had  just bought was from a cruel battery farm in Slovenia. It was a delicious lie. They wouldn’t take it back, obviously. We bought a venison joint the same day. Hope there are no battery deer somewhere in the old Eastern bloc. Here is the most fantastic recipe I made up for it, never having cooked it before. 

Venison either a joint or thick slices
Mixture to rub on made up of a ¼ tsp each of cinnamon, cardamom, dried ginger and nutmeg powder.
½ lb each of carrots, onions, and potatoes, peel and cut into chunks
½ bottle cheap red wine
4 cloves garlic thinly sliced
1 beef stock cube
1 lb of button mushrooms washed
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp pomegranate paste or syrup
3 mugs water

Rub the powder mix onto the meat on all sides
In a casserole with a lid, head the oil and cook the onions until they soften and start to brown
Add sliced garlic
Cook for a minute and add the joint turning it over a couple of times. With sliced meat do the same
Add all the other ingredients except the vegetables
Season with salt and pepper, cover and cook in the oven ( 150 degrees Celsius or gas mark 4)  for forty minutes

Take out and stir a little and add all the vegetables
Cook for another 50 minutes. Check the potatoes are cooked.
Turn off the oven and let the pot rest for half an hour
Serve with French bread and a green salad

Red to Start With

I had fourteen people to dinner on Friday and am still cleaning up, leaving my lovely man to wash fifty glasses (being a perfectionist, he won’t put them into the dishwasher) and getting back to normal. It was a fab evening with friends we haven’t brought together for too long. And it was the cheapest dish- beetroot and potato starter that got the biggest cheers and even some lines of red poetry. So here it is. Enjoy. I am sure it will cheer up the lone diner too- just the beautiful colour does it for me.
Red To Start With
For 4
4 fat beetroots cooked and grated and then mopped with kitchen towel
3 big potatoes, parboiled for six minutes, cooled and grated too.
2 onions finely chopped
3 tbsp sunflower oil
1 tsp whole coriander seeds
Salt to taste
Tahini paste
Pine nuts
½ tsp garam masala – bought from any Asian food shop
Gently mix the beetroots and potatoes, salt and garam masala with a metal spoon.
Heat 2 tbsp of oil in a flat, wide pan which you can put into the oven
Add the seeds and cook for 3 minutes
Press the beetroot mix down as flat as possible over teh onions
Cook for two more minutes and take off the heat.
Brush the top with remaining oil and bake in a medium oven for fifteen minutes.
Cool
Spread tahini paste over the top and sprinkle with pine nuts. Serve with pits bread

Tale of Two Nations

The Olympic flame is on its way to fantabulous London and the Queen’s Jubilee should get us all jiving in parks and eating lots of iced cake. CHANGE HERE Visitors and the loaded, devoted Royalists, sports fans and privileged politicos these are just so, so excited, can’t wait CHANGE ENDS . I come to spoil the party. The merriment feels impolitic and uncivil, callous too. Buried evidence of destitution and hopelessness crawls out from under official assurances ( and excuses) and PR spin. Calls to Mind, the mental health charity have risen by a hundred per cent and new research by the Church Urban Fund finds that in parts of Manchester and Liverpool the average life expectancy is 70 years and 65% of the children live in poverty while in parts of Surry and Berkshire folk the average is 85 and only 1% of children live in poor households. As shocking is the indifference of all of us who own homes, easily pay the bills, have savings, and who can, in hard times still have very good times.
Of course many of us are feeling a little squeezed and do moan about that incessantly, unlike the truly, provably deprived. The paralysis of poverty takes over the mind, body and soul. Few give a damn about these wasted citizens. Or their children.
Instead Alistair Darling yet again, comes out defending Fred Goodwin of RBS, that unfortunate millionaire who lost his knighthood for not doing his job well enough. And billionaire dictators dine with the Queen and news comes that the Sheikh of Qatar owns the most expensive house in Britain- 200 million pounds.

Last week I had lunch with a wealthy, intriguing, sensitive Tory in a packed, upmarket fish restaurant where the recession was further than the farthest, unseen orb. The very same day I went to a small flat where people lived in fouler conditions than I ever saw in Uganda, my birthplace. Earlier in the month I spent half a day with the phenomenal Camilla Batmanghelidj, founder of Kid’s Company, a highly professional, multidisciplinary charity trying to save thousands of children from going under. They see severe psychological and emotional problems and kids with simple physical needs, like breakfast.
Politicians of all shades have brought us to this. Reaganomics and Thatcherism instigated the shift away from social cohesion to individualism. New Labour proudly continued that ideology and the Coalition fanatically pushes it further still. In the Queen’s speech they promised they would make it easier for bosses to sack workers without all that bother of tribunals. Their benefits rearrangements are cutting down the most disadvantaged. A disabled woman, Merry Cross, whom I met last year, emails to describe the iniquities of the work capability assessments which are often so ruthless and senseless assessors must have been ordered to impose cuts without due care. Suicides among the disabled, she tells me, are rising fast.

We have become divided Victorians again but without the conscience. Pamphleteers and church leaders energetically defended the poor then. Dickens, Mrs Gaskell, Tory PM Benjamin Disraeli wrote novels explicitly to stir up national guilt and action. In Disraeli’s Sybil or the Two Nations, Walter Gerard, a working class radical, describes his country thus: ‘Two nations between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are as ignorant of each other’s thoughts and feelings as if they were dwellers in different zones or inhabitants of different planets; who are formed by different breeding, are fed by a different food, are ordered by different manners, are not governed by the same laws’. Disraeli detested the exploitation of workers by the laissez faire capitalist system. His political descendents want that laissez faire back and with a vengeance.

Even more outrageous is the way the dispossessed are blamed and hated by those in their localities. Large numbers of those we demean and exclude then do turn feral and beastly. The other day, walking in a tough district, teens started spitting and racially abusing me and threw some pretty scary missiles. I hated them at that moment, wished them nothing but ill and bad punishments. But no child is born that way. We must remember that and compel our elected representatives to understand that we don’t want planned economic apartheid.

The geographer Danny Dorling writes in his book, Injustice : ‘Social inequality within rich countries persists because of a continued belief in the tenets of injustice, and it can be a shock for people to realise that there might be something wrong with much of the ideological fabric of the society we live in.’ Slave owners, he argues, believed there was no alternative to slavery; others argued female suffrage was ‘unnatural’ and so it is with the modern capitalist model. Too many believe or are made to believe it is part of the ‘landscape of normality’.

There is nothing normal or good about living in such a dreadfully cleaved nation. The Victorians understood that better than we modern Elizabethans. Goodwin is in the list of the sixty most influential Britons of this horrible age, thus confirming that the establishment is determined to carry on sucking up to the rich and crushing the poor. One has to ask if Team GB is fast losing its claim to be either civilized or an advanced nation.

Published in The Independent

Asian Grooming Gangs

Let me make three vital points first. These depraved men, most of them Pakistani, would never have been tried and convicted had it not been for Nazir Afzal, appointed the North West’s Chief prosecutor who is a Muslim and I guess of Pakistani origin . Way back in 2008, a young white girl, seriously abused by the gang rapists in Manchester told her harrowing story to law enforcers and prosecutors who simply disregarded her testimony. To them too, she was worthless ‘trash’. Afzal overturned that decision. It is also important to remember that most men who groom and rape young girls in Britain are white. And thirdly when one of the ring leaders tore off his shirt and claimed he was the victim of racism, he was behaving no better than the BNP and EDL who use race and ethnicity for their own devilish purposes. When these cases happen, as an Muslim Asian woman I am warned not to write on them because it encourages racism against us. Black Britons are similarly enraged when some of their bad men are exposed. Well damn such injunctions. Keeping the lid on dreadful crimes committed by Britons of colour only increases the numbers of racists in this country, maybe even turns good people who try hard not to be prejudiced.

These young lives matter much more than any sensitivities about racism.
We will never know how many girls were victimised and what the effect will be on their lives. Many lived in troubled families and were easy to lure with pathetic ‘treats’ and other enticements. Blame for this cannot be planted on to their families, however dysfunctional they may be. The rapists may convince themselves and others that their victims were ‘trash’ Their own daughters, one could say, are also growing up in difficult households. I know how much physical abuse goes on behind the closed doors of such families, how many girls from ‘good Muslim families’ are married off when too young, raped within marriage and treated as things. White girls are of no value at all- except when they bring in money serving men. The appalling thing is that in the enclaves and families where these men came from families will be blaming the abused teenagers, the ‘devils’ as one man described them.

The rapists are all probably considered very good Muslims, praying and fasting in the daytime, then prowling and preying at night on girls they think of as barely human. I remember once writing a story on bounty hunters in Bradford, men who were capturing Asian girls and women who had fled to refuges and getting paid thousands of pounds by the families. In one taxi a young chap, born in Britain but of Kashmiri heritage. He had a tasbi ( Islamic rosary) hanging on the mirror. Yet he was a proud pimp. As we drove around I was reminded of the murderous morality of the anti-hero in the film Taxi Driver. He was furious about young Asian girls on the streets and wanted them to be kept indoors and he believed he was a good man because in his ‘business’ he only used white women, ‘cheap and easy will go with anyone’ he informed me, ‘not like us’.

These men- and there are many of them- are filled with fear and hatred of females, only understand coerced sex and are convinced that white women in particular deserve no respect and can be used with impunity. Sexism and racism courses through their veins. One can but imagine what they actually did to the traumatised and drunk children. Prison will make no difference to their sick minds and hearts. Or to those many others out there.

Published in The Independent

Making a Spice Box

Just a little bit of advice today. In Wembley and Brick Lane in London and other Asian areas across Britain you can find really useful stainless steel spice tins with small little cups – usually 8. Indian cookery is much easier, much faster, much better and ‘proper’ as my mum would want it to be. You fill each cup with different powdered or whole spices and seeds that are used to make various dishes. Then as you cook you have them all in front of you, you can adjust the quantities and feel like an artist with her/his palate.

I made one up and took it with me on Saturday night as a present to the fantastic journalist and even more fantastic cook, Zoe Williams who had invited us to dinner. I put in the following:

Turmeric, crushed chillies, cumin, mustard and fenugreek seeds, a mix of ground coriander and cumin powder- half and half- and in a separate cup, garam masala, and finally, some whole cloves, cardamom and cinnamon sticks. It looked beautiful. The boxes can be bought for under a tenner. I also have a second one for rarer spices like mango powder, fennel, powdered pomegranate, citrus acid and other strange and mysterious stuff. But really, for most curries you only really need the basics. You can make your own with a biscuit tin and little pots if you like. Having all you need in one container will transform the way you cook Indian. And it will make you feel like a pro.

Zanzibari Food

When I was last in Zanzibar, it was both just as I remembered it as a child and not at all. Today the old spice island is a hip holiday destination with posh hotels along its scenic coast. But I knew it when it was assuredly itself, not having to impress or wheedle moneyed foreign visitors, who fly in and out and soon forget. Thankfully underneath the tarty makeup and false smiles, old Zanzibar is still there, just. With so many layers of conquest and occupation, it’s a wonder it hasn’t sunk to the bottom of the sea.

The Bantu were the first settlers, then, in the 9th century Arabs and Persian turned up. Arabs started clove farming using black slave labour. The isle has seen bleak times. The Portuguese arrived next and fought winning and losing wars with the Arabs, until finally skulking off. Indian merchants sailed over, Chinese travellers dropped in. The British took charge after slavery was abolished and German rule cowed the place for a short while.

Each nationality left its mark, particularly on language and food. Coconut palms were introduced by Hindus; the Portuguese brought avocados, chillies and cashew nut plants from Brazil. Ancient travelogues describe Zanzibari rice, ghee, groundnuts, cassava, wild fowls, pulses. In 1505, a Portuguese sailor noted that besides honey, maize and meat ‘… Zanzibar produces sweet oranges, lemons, pomegranates and sugar cane’. It was a cornucopia.

My father was cerebral, unreliable and joyless but my mum, in spite of all her tribulations, loved life. She was sensual, loved food and perfumes, films and music, and Zanzibar, the place of fabulous food, scents and secret delights. She saved up all year and took me there so often, Zanzibar’s sea, smell, sounds mixed culture got embedded deep in my psyche. I speak the local language Swahili and as soon as I land I feel as if I haven’t been away.

We used to take a ferry over from Dares salaam. First the shoreline came into view, white houses with carved Arabian balconies, and then smells wafted over. We stayed at a holiday hostel for widows and other needy women and their children. The sea air was considered a necessity for good health. Each family got one room and several mattresses. Food was delivered by local women from the mosque who cooked in their kitchens everyday and then sold it to holiday makers. Tiffins were brought over by the servants and we paid hardly anything for the most extraordinary grub on earth. You can still get these tiffins. I ordered one when I was there five years ago. On the beach my very British daughter scoffed ‘pek bateta, boiled new potatoes, halved, sandwiched with a hot red paste and fried in batter, eaten with date ketchup and masala fish eaten with bread, ending with jugu cake made with flour and unpeeled groundnuts, an exoticised Victorian sponge.

Some posh hotels do serve authentic Zanzibari food. In one I ordered ndizi na kastad, a favourite when I was a chubby young child, bananas in soft yellow custard with cinnamon and nutmeg! At the Sarena Hotel in old Stone Town, as the sun sets over the sea, they have local musicians playing their instruments and singing Swahili laments while fabulous snacks are served- lentil fritters, fried cassava, small mince patties served with coconut and coriander chutney, spring rolls and halva. Paradise would be dull in comparison.

All these goodies and more are also made and sold in Farodhani Square the bustling, noisy evening meeting place for locals. Though intensely Muslim, Zanzibar has not yet been Saudi Arabised and so men and women mingle here, modestly attired of course. Mishkaki, skewers of small pieces of barbequed mutton are still as good as decades back, only now instead of chipped enamel bowls they use paper plates. Addictive cassava crisps are fried in great big vats of hot oil, sprinkled with salt and chilli. Sometimes you find corn-on-the cob served with a thick peanut sauce, which you must suck fast if you don’t want it to drip over your clothes. Then there is the famous Zanzibari ‘mix’, a tangy soupy sauce with lentil dumplings and other stuff eaten with a spoon, a dish that looks like dishwater and leftovers until you taste it and are blown away.

I have left the best to last. Find a place, not fancy which serves Zanzibari kuku paka and meat pilau. The first is chicken cooked in coconut and the second rice, potatoes and meat cooked in a single pot eaten with kachumber, finely chopped onions and tomatoes and fresh chillies. The rice dish was described by Ibn Batuta the global traveller back in 1324 and should never be eaten with cutlery. When I die I hope my family makes a huge vat and serves it to mourners to eat with their fingers, a homage to the loveliest of islands where I spent the happiest of days.

Published in Independent on Sunday Magazine

Racism and the UK Police

I can’t impugn police officers who racially abuse and assault black and Asian citizens. In the last fortnight ten complaints have been brought against the Met by different black men who allegedly suffered racist insults and violence after arrest. One of them, Mauro Demetrio, recorded the experience on his phone. A new inquiry was launched into the case of 53 year old, black bus driver Kester David, found burnt to death two years ago in Enfield. The police treated it as suicide though the coroner recorded an open verdict. His family strongly believe the Met didn’t investigate with due care and professionalism because David was black. Mr and Mrs Lawrence faced that stonewalling when their boy Stephen was killed. The IPCC remains, as ever, utterly hopeless. Now Police Chiefs and Top Tories have got on their high horses and promise to rid this land of prejudiced coppers. Bernard Hogan-Howe, head of the Met has declared he is their ‘ implacable enemy’ and will drive them out of the Met. Even Boris, ( read further to find out why ‘even’) wants an official probe into the Lawrence case to check out if some officers behaved improperly.
Why turn all blame on policemen and their forces? To cuss and diss them is displacement, a way of tossing off collective responsibility.

Bob Morgan of Thatcham, Berkshire sent a pithy letter to this paper stating facts too long denied. Racist police officers, he wrote, only reflect our society, ‘where even discussing racism is so uncomfortable it is rarely done.’ I thank Mr Morgan for his acuity and candour. Such talk has vanished ( been banished actually) from the public space. Britain has decided racism is over or an unsightly scratch on its radiant self-image or a profitable lie used by citizens of colour or, worst of all, perfectly OK and even understandable. Disagree with any of the above and you get slapped by the right (metaphorically) and bullied by an army of malevolent internet ‘nationalists’, or are quietly categorised as trouble and dealt with accordingly. I now try hard not to bring up British racism because what follows is scary. I was recently told by a successful independent TV producer that the time was right for people like ‘that Sikh in a kilt. Funny, no chip on his shoulder, who doesn’t make whites feel guilty, not full of PC shit ’ Now you know why so few young black and Asian highflyers mention the ‘R’ word.

Britain is uniquely open, delights in different cultures, where people of all backgrounds mix, work together and marry. We have come some way since the blatantly racist sixties, but not that far. My friend the restaurateur Iqbal Wahab, a mentor for unemployed people say race discrimination is the elephant in the room, seen but ignored.

Women know how a little progress is used to block further change. It is even worse for racial minorities who are supposed to be ‘grateful’ for being here trying the patience of the ‘host country’ by always asking for more.

So to Boris. He denounced the Lawrence inquiry as ‘hysterical’ a ‘witch hunt’, the recommendations more tyrannical than people suffered in Ceausescu’s Rumania. I couldn’t find any of these columns online- must have been buried in a box for prosperity. Or there is an election to win, black votes to get. His arts advisor, Munira Mirza has repeatedly asserted, without hard evidence, that racism is no longer that serious a barrier to life chances and that the excluded today are white working classes. People of all backgrounds have been failed by the powerful. To pit them against each other is a disgraceful political strategy.

Figures show that over 50% of young black men are unemployed today, double the number in 2008. Trust me they are not all trainee rioters and drug dealers. Furthermore Black Britons are more likely to be unemployed than Black Americans. When last did you hear a politician make a full and thoughtful speech about the evils of racism? I believe it was Jack Straw, when he announced the Lawrence inquiry. If there were others do send me names. Politicians frequently push gay rights and muster up concern for the disabled and women’s equality, though with this government pretty words are used to distract us from their iniquitous policies punishing women, the disabled and poorest. But still, at least we argue about those injustices.

Race is buried under an avalanche of outrage over political correctness and of prejudices whipped up by the press, pundits and politicians against non European immigrants and Muslims the whole lot thought to be active or passive terrorists. Frank Field’s obsessive anti-immigration campaigns have made outsiders of us all. Now those who give jobs to whites feel they are being patriotic, favouring true Brits. Nobody cares when Muslims who have never been tried are parcelled off to the US, and Blair and Straw casually wave off their complicity in rendition. The English Defence League and BNP have been accommodated by a nation that fought Nazi racism. That’s how bad it is.

The police reflect what Britain has become. Racist cops burnt on the stake of righteousness makes our leaders feel better, but doesn’t address that terrible truth.

Published in The Independent

The Tories and The Human Rights Commission

 

The Equalities and Human Rights Commission( EHRC), set up in 1998, with fulsome backing from the LibDems, is deliberately being weakened by the Tories in government. Its heartbeat gets fainter, pulse and voice weak, and the hope must be for a long coma. The budget has been slashed; campaigning commissioners are being turfed out, among them respected black activist Simon Woolley and Baroness Meral Hussein-Ece, a Muslim.  Baroness Onora O’Neill, 71, has replaced Trevor Phillips as chair. Phillips ( a Blair appointee) was not as effective or dynamic as he needed to be, but he did understand how discrimination damaged individuals and society. O’Neill is a thoughtful philosopher, ex principal of a Cambridge college, an establishment figure with no record in equality or human rights work. Oh, except for a paper on the ‘dark side of human rights’ which suggests some victims get off on their feelings of victimisation. The Hillsborough relatives and Doreen Lawrence have been accused by others of just that. Imagine what the Commission would be under Shami Chakrabarti or Geoffrey Robinson Q.C or the indomitable Helena Kennedy?  They just wouldn’t play safe or dead and would NEVER be appointed.

The UN has just warned that the UK may lose its ‘A’ status on human rights protection and so cannot join in top table discussions on those universal rights and country violations. On equality UN figures are as miserable. Latvia is getting better on gender parity and we are getting markedly worse. On race there is serious criticism of government inaction. That will have our lovely reactionaries rubbing their stomachs with deep satisfaction.

The Tory right has always hated anti-discrimination remedies and dangerous talk of human rights. According to these ideologues, inhabitants of this capitalist, individualistic nation, should, put up with hard luck and unfairness and not bother busy, busy businesses with profligate complaints.  By comparison, the US, an even more fanatically individualistic, capitalistic, nation has had equalities laws and anti-discrimination institutions since the sixties for ethical and economic reasons. Not even George Bush and his band of NeoCons could persuade majority public opinion that such ‘interfering’ legal protection was ruining the country.

The Human Rights Act and the Commission materialised after years of painstaking work by the LibDem lawyer Lord Anthony Lester and other civil rights and democracy experts. I remember endless seminars, fiery arguments, public meetings to work out a good model to defend all UK citizens from prejudices and unjust actions. That principle was what got me on side. The Commission would not only be fighting for black Britons and women, but white men too, old, young and gay people, anyone who had been treated unfairly. Though the campaigns against them never stop, those rights are now firmly in our heads and hearts. Theresa May gave them as her reasons for not extraditing Garry McKinnon, Asperger’s sufferer and Pentagon hacker  to the USA recently; we are collectively profoundly upset when the human rights of children are violated as they were by Savile and others and shocked to see the abuse of vulnerable old people in some care homes, their right to human dignity violated.

I had an illuminating exchange at a party this week. A property developer wanted to know how he could get the EHRC to take up his daughter’s case. Expected to get top grades, she applied to an Oxford college and was rejected. The disappointed teenager has, since, tried to kill herself: ‘It’s not fair, they didn’t give her a chance. They just judged her on class.’ I replied I completely sympathised and I do. And I hope he too now has some empathy with the qualified black man who never gets an interview, the old worker sacked because of his age. From being against such ‘political correctness nonsense’ as he put it, the father had started to see why we need laws to safeguard us all.

David Cameron seemed, at one time, far removed from his anti-equality troglodytes. He worked tirelessly in the last election to persuade voters that under his leadership Tories had undergone not a makeover but irreversible reconstructive surgery. It was no longer the ‘nasty party’( in the words of Theresa May), but nice, caring, sharing, modern, meritocratic, inclusive and diverse. He understood the Conservatives were stuffed without new blood. Their most loyal white, middle class supporters were getting old and most young Tory whippersnappers were almost as badly out of touch with modern Britain. Excluded and self-excluding voters had to be attracted to boost numbers and change the old image of the party. I do think Cameron, in that moment and mood,  passionately believed and truly meant what he said- in that he is Tony Blair’s doppelganger.

Now the PM backs off from all that idealism, dumps progressive policies and state institutions to enforce best practice, casually abandons his pre-election persona and swerves sharp right. Disabling the equalities and human rights agenda and sacrificing the Commission are offered as proof to the old guard that he is still one of them. And as ever LibDems leaders, warm in their ministerial cars and self importance, do nothing to stop him or defend an institution they so wanted, so believed in.

Published in the Independent 5th November 2012

Adele: Fat is a Female Issue

Fat is a Female Issue

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown

Chanteuse Adele says she is not that bothered about being size 14-16. Why would she be?  Blessed with a divine voice, poised, a superb lyricist, eyes which sparkle more brightly than jewels, her silky skin, big, red hair styled with panache, who has millions of fans worldwide, who co-wrote and sings the theme song for the latest Bond movie Skyfall, why, the hell should she care about mingy and talentless, body watchers and snipers? Do her tormentors think this is real work? It isn’t but it gives them untold power over the minds and insecurities of female stars.

The very few who try and hold out against the image harridans, seemingly lose the fight. You should see how many blogs, sites, tweets and articles swill around nastily picking on big female names with bigger bodies than is allowed in the witch’s manual of female torture. Or even those who conform. Gorgeous Victoria Beckham can’t escape their vicious arrows. Their orders are she must stay thin, ageless, lifeless, like a mannequin. They are watching. This is woman upon woman cruelty and that makes me doubly mad and sad.

Dawn French seemed totally comfortable in her body and then emerged several stones lighter earlier this year- all fine ,if it was her own choice or for her own reasons. Now she has put on weight again and instead of being the multitalented actress and writer, all the focus is on her body. Nigella, bright and beautiful,  who seduced us into thinking flesh was erotic, has shed that flesh. Pursued by fashion cacklers she appears to have succumbed. As have Sophie Dahl, Fern Britten, Anne Diamond and star actresses and singers. Again,  I can’t blame them at all. I looked at eight glossy magazines this weekend to see if any of the fashion shoots were with women who didn’t look like coat hangers.  Only two did, but then their readers are homely, sensible and practical.

I have never been thin and have never dieted. And so I am round like an apricot, as my mum was. Though not a size 8, wear nice clothes, have always found men to love me, to flirt with, to make me feel attractive. Except for a minority- like the ghoulish Karl Lagerfield who criticised Adele for being ‘too fat’- men in general, are not repulsed by flesh on a woman. Quite the opposite.  In the fab, ultimate feelgood,  new film The Sapphires, about an Aboriginal girl group in the sixties, their manager played by Chris O’Dowd, falls in love with the chubbiest of the singers. In real life, Adele has a good man too and sensibly says she will lose excess fat if it affects her health or sex life. She is already slimmer than in her earlier days.  I hope she can stay strong. For all our sakes and those famous women ground down by body harpies.

Published in the Independent, 12th November 2012