On Britain and Europe: why we must stay “in”

I have held off writing about the referendum being held on 23rd June on Britain’s membership of the European Union (EU), in part because it is such a complex issue and difficult to write about succinctly.  However, recent conversations with taxi drivers here in the south-east of England have convinced me that I should indeed respond to my friends across the world who keep asking me what my own thoughts are.  I very much fear that the referendum may indeed result in a majority vote to leave the EU, and this frightens me.

I have many concerns over the way in which the European Union ‘functions’, about the costs of this additional tier of European wide government, about the excesses of its bureaucracy and the lifestyles of its bureaucrats, and the attempts by some politicians to make it a truly federal centralised state.  However, I have absolutely no doubt that we have to remain within the EU and I have great difficulty in understanding the overly simplistic statements, many of which are erroneous, that are being promulgated by those advocating that we should leave the EU.  Quite simply, the UK is part of Europe, and whatever happens in the EU will affect all aspects of our lives whether we remain in or leave.  We must therefore remain ‘on the inside’ where we are able to influence the EU’s decision-making processes.  Britain has much to contribute to the EU, and much to gain from it.  Yes, I voted against our membership of the European Community in 1975, but the conditions were very different then, and more than 40 years of membership have so changed the context that I feel very strongly that we must remain in.

My taxi conversations shocked me because they revealed that many people are going to vote about a single issue that they think is true, and yet that in my view is quite simply wrong.  One taxi driver complained, for example, that we are paying £55 million a day to the EU, and that we could better use this money to support our health services and other government expenditure.  Whilst it is very difficult to measure the precise financial inputs and benefits of EU membership, it is worth noting that in 2015 the UK would have been liable for £18 billion in contributions if it did not have rebate of almost £5 billion.  In practice, the UK therefore paid about £13 billion to the EU last year, but it must be remembered that the EU also provided support for the UK of some £4.5 billion, mainly through payments to farmers and poorer regions in the UK.  Britain’s net contribution was therefore in the region of only £8.5 billion, or  just over £23 million a day, for which we also get many other intangible benefits that it is difficult to measure in precise financial terms.  Moreover, there is no guarantee that any savings  would actually be spent on relevant public services or social welfare, even if the UK were to make a net financial saving by leaving the EU.

Another taxi driver claimed that migrants were mainly living in ghettos and that large numbers were simply here to sponge off the generous British benefits system.  The impact of migrants on the British economy and society is indeed a highly charged subject, with much contrasting evidence being adduced to support particular ideological positions.  My own view is unquestionably that Britain has benefited hugely over many centuries from immigration.  From the arrival of Celtic people, through the Roman occupation (1st century BC – 5th century AD), and then the Anglo-Saxon (5th-7th centuries AD) and Norse (8th-11th centuries) invasions, Britain was born through immigration.  More recently in the 20th century, immigration from South Asia, the Caribbean and Africa has vastly enhanced our cultural diversity, economic vitality, and social distinctiveness.  Immigration from other European countries is but a new dimension of an old tradition.  To be sure, the UK (263 people/sq. km.), and particularly England (410 people/sq. km.), is more densely populated than many other European countries such as Germany (229 people/sq. km.) and France (121 people/sq. km.) (Figures from 2012), and there is undoubtedly pressure on housing as well as urban encroachment in rural areas in the UK.  However, recent migrants from the EU, about whom there has tended to be most criticism, appear to contribute £1.34 to the British economy for every £1 that they have taken out.  While those who migrated before 2000 contributed less, at £1.05, this is still a net financial benefit to the UK.  The bottom line, even if only financial figures are considered and all of their social and cultural contributions are ignored, is that EU migrants contribute more to Britain than they take out.  I very much prefer living in a country to which people want to come than in one from which people want to leave.

These were the conversations that precipitated my desire to write, but I also want to comment briefly on some of the other things that are being said about many of the political, social, economic and cultural dimensions of EU membership.


  • I am amazed that so many people are saying that by leaving the EU we will regain our sovereignty.  Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, has made numerous statements about this, claiming that Britain will inevitably be led into a superstate if we remain in the EU and would lose its sovereignty yet further as a result.  Much depends on precisely how sovereignty is defined, but few states actually have absolute sovereignty because the world is already so inter-connected.  Not least, countries that sign UN treaties have to abide by them, and numerous trade and other international agreements limit the real freedom of national governments to take truly independent, sovereign decisions.  Moreover, whilst in the past some European politicians have indeed had a vision to create a politically united centralised European state, and I have no doubt that the creation of the Euro was one means of trying to do this through the back door, my judgement is that there is now much less appetite for a centralised vision of Europe than was once the case. Indeed, the voice of Britain in Europe has been one of the factors that has tended to limit some of the wilder tendencies of the centralists.
  • Others argue that Britain can be ‘great’ again only if we leave Europe.  This is complete and utter nonsense!  Whether Britain ever was ‘great’ can be debated (much of our ‘greatness’ was gained at the expense of others, thus belying our claim to greatness), but we are now a post-imperial, small and largely insignificant country on the edge of Europe!  It is amazing that we still retain some respect in the world.  In terms of population we are ranked the 21st largest country in the world, and in terms of size we are the 79th largest country.  We are dwarfed by China and India, which themselves dwarf the USA!  The future lies with countries such as these, and we need to learn to play by the rules that they will determine if we wish to play at the table.  Being part of Europe enables us to have a greater voice than we would otherwise have.  We should also not believe that by leaving Europe we will somehow be able to rekindle other special relationships.  Those who think that it might bring us closer to the USA miss the point that the USA is itself a failing state, and will soon have to grapple with just the same post-imperial trauma that Britain has come to grips with since the middle of the 20th century.


  • The most important point to note here is that European countries, and especially those in the EU, are Britain’s biggest trading partner as a bloc.  Again, it is possible to choose various trade figures to make different arguments, but I am persuaded by the argument that the EU is the “UK’s major trading-partner, accounting for 45% of exports and 53% of imports of goods and services in 2014”.  Were Britain to leave the EU, there is no guarantee that we would continue to retain a special relationship economically with the EU bloc.  Indeed, I would imagine that governments of other European countries would be so infuriated that they would probably seek to isolate Britain as much as possible in terms of any beneficial trade agreements!
  • I know that bankers are not the most popular people in Britain, and rightly so given their past misdemeanors!  However, the past battles between London and Frankfurt over which city should play the central role in Europe’s banking system testify to what will happen if Britain were to leave the EU.  Frankfurt would undoubtedly become the financial captial of the EU, and would therefore become much stronger in its competitiveness with London.  This is not to say that London’s financial roles would overnight become defunct, but it is to say that it will become very much tougher for London to maintain its strong position in the global financial markets, which would be to the detriment of Britain as a whole.
  • The UK attracts substantial inward investment because foreign investors have traditionally seen us as a strong and stable economy within Europe, and therefor a safe means of accessing wider European markets.  If we were to leave Europe, this incentive for foreign investment would vanish overnight, and we would have difficulty in attracting the further investment that has recently played such an important part in fueling our economy.
  • Further evidence of the likely economic impact of leaving the EU is the effect that the uncertainty has had on the Sterling-Euro exchange rate, which was around € 1.38 to the pound in early December 2015 and had fallen to just over € 1.26 by the end of February 2016.  Although it is very difficult to predict financial markets, most analysts suggest that the pound would fall considerably in value were the referendum to result in a vote to leave the EU.  Goldman Sachs, for example, suggests that “if the UK voted to leave the EU, the UK’s current account deficit would still be a source of vulnerability despite some recent improvement. An abrupt and total interruption to incoming capital flows in response to a ‘Brexit’ could see the pound decline by as much as 15-20%.”


  • The social impact on the UK of  leaving the EU would also be very considerable, not least in terms of social diversity.  Whilst some people undoubtedly see an increase in diversity as being negative, I suggest that the greater social mobility and inter-mixing between European people that has resulted from the existence of the EU over the last half century has unquestionably been positive.  Understanding different societies better through meeting and socialising with different people is of great importance for reducing tensions and misunderstandings between countries, and this still remain of very great importance even though, hopefully, the devastating 19th and 20th century wars across the continent are now a thing of the past.
  • The European Union has also done much to try to ensure a fairer society across Europe, and acts as an important factor in seeking to promote a more communal and less individualistic society than, for example, exists in the USA.  I fundamentally disagree with the European human rights agenda as well as some aspects of European social legislation, but I have no doubt that the tempering social effect of the EU has been beneficial in reducing some of the excesses of rampant capitalism.
  • Another important aspect of social impact has been reflected in comments that I have received from friends across Europe, who simply cannot believe that people in the UK would be selfish enough, and foolish enough, to leave the EU.  This has two particular manifestations: first, the overwhelming reaction of my friends is along the lines of “if people in the UK choose to leave Europe, then we will have little sympathy for them in the future when life gets difficult”; but second, there is a genuine belief that the UK also has much to contribute to Europe, and it will be to Europe’s disadvantage as well if the vote is indeed to leave.  The British would be very much missed from Europe, but our truculence in having a referendum has already seriously dented our reputation.


  • Finally, there are clear cultural implications of any decision to leave the EU.  While cultural exchange, and the ebb and flow of ideas, will undoubtedly continue if the UK was outside the EU, the amount of such exchange at many different levels would decline without the support and encouragement provided by the EU.  Not least, the implications for tourist visits are very substantial.  According to the Office for National Statistics, UK residents made 43.8 million visit to the EU in 2014, and EU citizens made just over 23 million visits to the UK in the same year.  For those who like visiting Europe, the thought of possible new visa requirements, and additional border checks, especially if European governments did not take kindly to the UK’s departure, is hardly a pleasant one!

These are just some of the more important reasons I believe without a shadow of doubt that despite problems with the European Union, we should unquestionably vote to stay in, and continue to play a very active role in reformulating the Union so that it better serves all of the people of Europe.  Yes, there are problems with the European bureaucracy, its legal system, and its many excesses, but the people of the UK would be far worse off outside it than remaining within it.  The UK is a small, relatively insignificant island off the north-west coast of Europe.  In a world increasingly dominated by large powerful states who do not necessarily share our values and interests, we need to continue to work together with people and governments from similar minded countries in Europe if we wish our cultural values, our social system, our economic vitality and our political structure to continue to represent the interests of the people of the UK and Europe more widely.


Filed under Development, Politics, UK, Uncategorized

World Interfaith Harmony Week, 1-7 February

A chance posting by a friend on Facebook asking if anyone knew of good examples to celebrate the UN’s World Interfaith Harmony week, made me reflect on two interesting recent examples that I would just like to post here, both in acknowledgement of the importance of this issue, but also to encourage others to seek out and celebrate inter-faith dialogue.

shah-jahan-mosque-gallery_12I know that it is just a tiny drop in the ocean, but last week in the town of Woking in the UK there was a meeting of the Christian deanery synod which had invited leaders of the nearby local Shah Jahan mosque, Britain’s first purpose built mosque, to speak about their faith and what it means to be a Muslim in the UK today. The meeting was not without its challenges – I was saddened to see the Muslim speakers initially sitting at the back of the church before being invited to the platform – but if such local initiatives could be replicated and built on much more widely, we might just create a world where people can live together in greater understanding and peace.  Having lived in Woking for much of my early life, I always remember passing the mosque and being fascinated by the nearby cemetery, now thankfully restored and renovated.

Second, I was privileged recently to be invited by a group of former Commonwealth Scholars now back home living in Pakistan to dinner at Des Pardes in the village of Saidpur on the edge of Islamabad.  It is a very different and physical representation of what peaceful co-existence could be like. I know it has been reconstructed as a model village, in large part to attract tourists, but visiting there  I was particularly struck by the juxtaposition of the reconstructed Hindu Temple and a Sikh Gurdwara (until quite recently a post office) with nearby Islamic architectures, indicative not only of a past where peoples of different faiths did live (relatively) peacefully together, but also of a will to instill such understandings in the present day.  It made me think again about all of the horrors of partition in 1947, and indeed afterwards.  I hope that my pictures below capture just a bit of this very special place, shared with some brilliant people.


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Filed under Pakistan, Photographs, Politics, Restaurants, Universities

Murree, Pakistan, 1946-2016

My father spent time in Pakistan in 1946, and it is some 70 since then that I now have the privilege of  visiting the country for the first time.  During the 1939-45 war, he had served in the Signals with the 8th Indian Division, and had been in North Africa, and then fought with them up the eastern coast of Italy.  At the end of the war he had returned with them to India, and particularly to the north-west, in the towns of what became Pakistan after partition in 1947.  The time he spent here was one of the happiest  of his life, and I particularly remember stories he told about the times he spent in Murree and Tret to the north east of Rawalpindi.  Islamabad had not even been thought of by then.

The opportunity to run a workshop for the Ministry of IT and another under the auspices of the Inter-Islamic Network for IT over the last fortnight provided me with a chance to visit some of the places he had known and told me about many years ago, and it was wonderful to experience the magic of the landscape and generosity of the people in this particular part of Pakistan.

IMG_5679Just before I left, my mother showed me an old map, dating from 1945, on which he had depicted the route he had followed across India, highlighted with a black pen.  The map as a whole provides fascinating insights into what the sub-continent looked like before the traumatic events of partition in 1947.  Murree is clearly shown, as befits its role as the summer capital of the Punjab Province until 1864, and its beautiful position as well as its relatively cooler climate makes it clear why it was such a popular location, particular for the British living in India.  Indeed, it had recently snowed when I visited, even though the weather was much warmer only a relatively short distance away in Islamabad.

My father had taken some pictures of his time at Murree, and in the village of Tret approximately mid-way between Murree and Islamabad in April 1946, and these provided me with an amazing opportunity to compare how things had changed.  First, was the view of the mountains of Kashmir from Kashmir Point in Murree

Kashmir Point 1946 Kashmir Point 3

It was extraordinary to have been able to find almost exactly where he must have stood to take his photograph, and almost equally interesting to note how rather little must have changed since he had been there.  He would certainly have recognised my photographs!

He had also taken a photograph of a street scene in Murree, which included a Lloyds Bank building.  Unfortunately I was not able to find it any more, but the accompanying photograph shows how very much more crowded the streets are today than they were 70 years ago!

Lloyds MurreeStreet scene






My father clearly loved the mountains and landscapes, and took several photographs of these.  Again, I attach one below (labelled “Hills from Murree Road – 5000 feet”), together with one of the hills between Tret and Murree today, albeit from a different viewpoint.  Both pictures  illustrate a typical settlement on the top of the hills in the mid-distance, but a contrast between them is the difference in forest cover.

Hills from Murree roadHills






I was not able to find exactly where he was based while in Tret, but the photo on the left below shows a 1946 view of the military encampment there with the village in the background on the hill top, and to the right my 2016 photo which might just be of the same buildings.  The photo on the right is also particularly interesting because it shows many black flags flying on the buildings, indicating that these houses belong to some of the Shia minority.

Tret 2016Tret 1946






Sadly I was not able to locate the old regimental animal lines shown in the picture on the left below, but have matched it with a view of Tret today on the right.  My father had been a keen polo player, and had become very fond of one of his horses (Bellezza) in particular, and I recall him being very sad that he had to leave the horse behind on his next assignment. Remarkably, on returning to Islamabad, a friend told me that the old polo ground is still there, and had managed to survive encroachment from the bus station.  Next time I visit Pakistan I will have to return and try to find it.

Daddy's horses Tret 3






I’m so grateful to everyone who made this visit possible and particularly colleagues in the Ministry of IT, my security team (below), and Asim Malik who accompanied me.

Tret security copy



Filed under ICT4D, Photographs

Citizen journalism, trolls, and international terrorism

IMG_5302On Saturday, I had my first encounter with the world of Internet trolls. It was only a small skirmish, but it taught me a lot about some of the darker aspects of the internet. I now have a much greater understanding of the devastating impact that trolling can have on people, particularly in terms of personal abuse.

But there were many good things about yesterday as well, not least my first foray into “citizen journalism”.  I arrived at Gatwick North, all ready to go away for a few days holiday.  Little did I know then that I would not be going on holiday, and I would be leaving the airport to go home again some eight hours later! As we drew up to Level One check-in, airport security staff were rapidly closing the entrances and preventing anyone from entering.  As swiftly became clear, a major terrorist alert was just beginning, that would lead eventually to a 41 year old French man being arrested.

I often post tweets, particularly at conferences and when I find something that I think might be of interest to other people.  So, IMG_5310at 09.49 a.m. I posted the above picture, and then as things began to develop, I gradually began to post further images and comments, so that those arriving at the airport might be aware of the situation.  Surprisingly, it seems that rather few other people were recording the incident, and quite swiftly a number of journalists began to get in touch, and encouraged me to provide them with information, and share further details through my tweets.  It swiftly became evident that the North Terminal was locked down, and so I was one of the few people with whom the outside world could communicate to gather first hand information and imagery.  I felt very strongly as the day developed that I should let the images speak for themselves, and just provide information as I became aware of it, rather than giving personal interpretations or conjectures as to what might be happening.

This made me very aware of the power of citizen journalism, and the way in which individuals can contribute to the wider international making of news.  Never having been involved in a similar situation before, it was fascinating fielding the flow of requests from journalists, until the flood became far too great to deal with and I had to stop taking calls if I was to record what was actually happening.  There were so many fascinating aspects about this, not least the ways in which journalists (and others) tried to get in touch, either by tweeting their phone numbers, or asking to be made friends so that we could “direct message” each other.  Given how reluctant I usually am to share my phone number, this caused some interesting discussions, but I was surprised at how willing journalists were to share their numbers in an environment as open as Twitter.

IMG_5319I posted 53 tweets during the day, and it was fascinating seeing the impact that these had, not only on national and international news media (see, for example, CNN and the BBC), but also for many individuals who got in touch to thank me for the information that I was sharing.  However, I had never expected the darker side of what might happen – and herein lies a warning for other citizen journalists.

Quite swiftly, those who were locked in and not permitted to leave the terminal vicinity were moved down the ramp to huddle in the drizzle under nearby bus shelters.  They were then eventually moved to Jubilee House, where some limited refreshments were made available, and people could escape from the damp and cold.  At about 11.40 a.m., however, people were evacuated again out into the rain for the walk to the Sofitel, where most arrived before 12.00 mid-day, and were to stay until just before 4 p.m.  Whilst in the airport itself, we were kept reasonable well informed, but once we arrived in the Sofitel very little information was provided, and we seemed very much to be left at the mercy of the Sofitel staff.  I had rather naively assumed that emergency routines had frequently been practised for this scenario, and therefore that the Sofitel would indeed be prepared for a large influx of tired, frustrated, damp, hungry and thirsty people, but cannot help but think in hindsight that this was probably not the case.  The Sofitel seemed completely unprepared for us, and not only was there little information, but there was also very little refreshment available unless you were willing to pay very expensive prices and queue in long slow queues.  To be sure, there was a large influx of people (between 500 and 1000), but I remain surprised at how poorly treated most of the evacuees were.

Interestingly, I did not tweet many negative comments at all about this, but one tweet was picked up by a crowd of people who became highly critical and abusive of me.  At 12.40 I tweeted “Have to say staff at Gatwick Sofitel serving tea/coffee are doing an appalling job – queue does not move. Management please do something”, and this precipitated a torrent of unbelievable abuse.  i tried hard to resist the temptation to respond to the abuse then and there on Twitter, which I am sure would only have exacerbated the situation more, and just blocked the abusive messages, but new people kept re-tweeting negative messages already posted by others!

IMG_5325I very much stand by what I wrote!  There were four staff “serving” in the café area at the edge of the Sofitel lobby, and it took more than 30 minutes for them to serve ten people standing in the queue.  All of the tables in the café were full, and those in the queue just wanted any refreshment that they could get to take away.  There appeared to be no other outlets, and no-one was offering the evacuated passengers any food or drink – free or otherwise.  To make matters worse,

  • the staff showed no sign of hurry or interest in the plight of the passengers;
  • they spent more time just chatting with each other, rather than trying to serve customers;
  • one dropped a whole jug of milk on the floor and took a long time clearing it up;
  • they seemed to have considerable problems working out how much change to give customers paying with cash;
  • payment via card took ages; and
  • perhaps the ultimate annoyance was the cost: £8.89 for one tea and one coffee!

I was amazed at the abuse I received on Twitter, and just want to rebut some of the comments here! I guess there were seven main types of criticism (many were much more abusive than the comments I post below, but I prefer not to use the language in them on my blog!):

  • I was a complete [insert numerous body parts] for complaining
    • gratuitously unpleasant – just cannot understand why people want to be unpleasant like this, deliberately seeking to be nasty to someone they don’t know
  • Being grateful for our situation: “Better being tired and hungry than the unthinkable! People should be grateful they are safe” and “so you had to wait in the warm whilst the police dealt with a serious incident?! Get a grip!!!”
    • fair enough, but I was just pointing out the situation, and imploring management to do something about it
    • people were indeed very grateful that they were safe (and I had tweeted positive sentiments about this), but the lack of preparation and co-ordination was surprising
    • well, passengers had been out in the damp and cold before going into the Sofitel, and they were very grateful to the police
  • I should not be complaining, especially after the dreadful incidents in Paris the previous night (polite versions of this were: “Time for a bit of persepctive considering what happened to our neighbours yesterday evening, perhaps?” and “this really grinds my gears. Would u rather have been blown 2 smithereens. People in Paris would love 2 swap places “)
    • what happened in Paris was clearly dreadful, and earlier in the day I had already tweeted my thoughts about this, expressing solidarity with my French friends (as I do frequently when there are incidents elsewhere in the world)
    • this highlights that trolls focus on just one or two tweets, and do not know the full context of the person about whom they are being abusive
  • A range of comments along the lines that I should be in the terminal with the terrorist (“I take it you’d rather be back in the airport with a gunman?”), or should be killed by a terrorist for writing such things
    • I was just shocked to get such comments – which were actually very hurtful.  I can only imagine how horrible it must be for someone to have a sustained barrage of hate-tweets over a long period
  • I should offer to help serve tea and coffee – implying that I was not willing to do so: “I can’t even fathom how you can be so ungrateful in a time like this. If you’re so concerned get off your phone and go help them”
    • Well, I did offer to help, but you can imagine the response I got – yes, no way would they let me!
  • I was from a spoilt and privileged background, and I should focus my attention on more important things (a polite version: “Gatwick is on lockdown because of a potential terror attack but the coffee is the main problem”)
    • Yes, I do come from a privileged background, but I have spent much of my life focusing on major issues of development, as far as possible from a critical and empowering perspective
    • And I never, ever said “coffee was the main problem” – using “coffee” was in any case shorthand for tea/coffee/water/sandwiches etc. – any kind of food and drink!  Passengers had been “evacuated” in total for six and a half hours that day, and many had not had food or drink because they were hoping to have breakfast/lunch at the terminal
  • I was milking the situation for my own personal gain, by checking with news media who wanted to use my pictures that they would credit me with the images
    • this is a tricky one – I certainly had no intention of having any personal gain, and thought I was doing a service by providing imagery (which was indeed what most people said, and I had some lovely comments thanking me)
    • Most media journalists simply asked if they could use my images saying that they would credit me – my replies were usually just affirming this
    • I have been long involved in debates over Open information, and particularly Open Educational Resources, and years ago like to think I was was at the leading edge (certainly in my own university) about making all of my courses freely available.  I do not even use Creative Commons licensing, because I see that as a constraint!  I just believe (as an academic only too aware of being plagiarised) that credit should be given to the originators of ideas, words and images.

IMG_5322It was the personalising of much of the negative commentary that hurt – I though that I was just observing and sharing information that I saw.  People in the queue for any kind of refreshment were indeed getting very frustrated, and I felt that my own comment trying to capture this was actually quite mild!  It was therefore so, so nice to receive kind messages thanking me for what I was doing – if I hadn’t received such messages I would certainly have stopped tweeting once the abuse had started.  As one kind person wrote, “thanks for all your updates. It’s a shame that some are being rude to you. If it wasn’t for people like you, we’d be in the dark”.

There are many lessons about trolling (even in the relatively mild form I received) to be drawn from this experience, and in concluding I highlight just seven lessons I drew from the experience:

  • Just a single tweet can set off a torrent of abuse, especially when your tweets are going viral – trolls do not care about your previous tweets, or anything about you
  • You have to be tough skinned to deal with such abuse
  • Blocking people who send you abuse as soon as possible can help reduce the impact, but be prepared for others to keep retweeting their originally offensive tweets
  • Certainly in my case the level of abuse increased over time, almost as if people were trying to be more offensive than the people whose abusive comments they were retweeting
  • It is important not to reply to those sending unpleasant tweets – initially I did try to defend myself, but that made matters worse, until I remembered this advice from things I had read previously about trolling
  • It is so nice to receive positive comments, because they help to put things in balance.  I was very grateful for this comment “respect to you for keeping people informed and not spreading mindless crap. Someone buy this man a beer!”.  Sadly I never got a beer!
  • All tweeting is very much “in the present” and so the abuse will usually stop after a couple of days. That was my experience of what I know was low-level trolling, but I can only imagine the really deeply unpleasant effects that long term digital abuse must have.  Clearly, the only situation in such circumstances must be to change one’s digital identity, or even go offline completely for a period of time.

There was, of course, some irony in this scenario: it turned out that this was not a major terrorist incident after all, and that the man was eventually only charged with having an air rifle and a knife.  Only a relatively few (perhaps a thousand at most) were affected, since those who were not caught up in the incident as it happened were redirected to the South Terminal.  All in all, I was at Gatwick for some eight hours, and am now rebooked on a flight later in the week.  Am very much looking forward to a holiday!  However, I learnt a great deal about citizen journalism and trolls!


Filed under Uncategorized

Reflections on hip replacement surgery – getting fit again!

Just under a month ago, I underwent hip replacement surgery.  However much I tried to find out about the actual surgery and the “getting fit again” process beforehand, the reality was somehow not quite what I had expected, and so I just thought I would note some reflections here for anyone else considering, or undergoing, this amazing operation!  The two most important things to say are that:

  • It is an amazing operation; and
  • It’s really important to remain positive throughout the whole recuperation process, which is why I am calling it “getting fit again”.

hip xraySo, in the first place, why should one consider having a hip replacement?  Quite simply, in my case, the increasing pain from osteoarthritis was making life ever more painful and difficult, waking me up at night and really making it unpleasant to go for long walks, let alone runs or skiing!  Everyone said that the operation would transform my life, and the brilliant consultant with whom I spoke reassured me that this would indeed be the case.  However, here was my first challenge: at only 60 I felt really quite upset that my body was beginning to need such interventions.  I still felt young, and it was really difficult to come to terms with the implications of aging.  So, this was where it mattered to be positive, and to look forward to seeing all the things that a new hip would enable.

As the time drew closer to the operation, I also remember feeling very ‘strange’ about the idea of part of my body being taken away and replaced by a metal and ceramic “new hip”!  I hadn’t expected to feel quite like this, but the loss of “integrity” was something I had to come to terms with.

I’m sure that many things helped me address my concerns in the run-up to the operation: the assurance and matter-of-factness of the surgeon, the care taken by the nurse to reassure me during the pre-operation discussions, and the advice given in advance asessential equipment to the exercises I would need to do.  One key message for the “getting fit again process” was that the angle between my back and my thigh should never be less than 90 degrees for the month after the operation.  This necessitated getting various bits of equipment, not least a raised toilet seat, a long shoe horn,  a grabber to pick things up with, and a sponge on a long arm for the shower (all shown on the adjacent image)!  Several people advised that I should get other equipment, but these four items were really all that was needed.  The final preparation was to make sure that I had a seat with arms that was high enough to ensure that my knee was lower than my hips when I sat down- again the 90 degree rule!  This actually proved to be quite a challenge, because we did not have seats with arms, and all were too low.  The solution was to get an old office chair that could be raised to the right height, and move it around the house.  Hard cushions for raising the level of seats outdoors were also essential!  I have to confess that I hadn’t realised the importance of chair arms, but normally when one gets up from a seat one leans forward, and that would mean the angle between back and thigh going well below 90 degrees!  So, I had to learn how to get up from sitting by pushing on the chair arms!  Incidentally, another rule was never to cross my legs for five weeks after the operation – again, not easy to obey, especially towards the end of the time once the pain was less.

So, with all the preparations complete, but still with much trepidation, the day of the operation came.  As ever when one goes into hospital, lots of tests needed to be done, and so there was much waiting around.  I just wanted to get it over and done with – but watching a test match on TV helped to pass the time away.  I wasn’t quite ready, though, when the anaesthetist asked me what kind of anaesthetic I wanted: a spinal block, or a general anaesthetic.  My immediate reaction was that I quite fancied the spinal injection since I could watch what was going on, and it served to reduce the pain in the immediate hours after the operation!  However, he made two observations that changed my mind: the first was that I really should not try to interfere in the operation, and I just thought that I could get so interested that I would be asking questions as to what was going on; and the second was that I would need a catheter, something I really did not want, but more about that later!  So, I opted for the general anaesthetic, and woke up a couple of hours later!

plugged inIt is not easy to recall exactly what I felt like when I woke up, because of the drugs I was on to reduce the pain, but the after-effects of the anaesthetic gave me a rather blurred sense of reality!  I’ve not often had general anaesthetics before, but as on previous occasions they left me feeling rather “low”, and this time was no exception.  I was also plugged in to a drip, a drain, and something to help my breathing!  However, already as soon as I woke up I felt a different sensation in the hip.  The horrible aching pain deep inside was replaced by a much sharper pain on the outer part of the hip, and around the incision that had enabled the surgeon to do the operation.

However, there was no time to rest.  As soon as I was awake enough my new exercise regime kicked in!  My first night, I stood up only five hours after the operation; the next day I was walking on crutches; and the next day I could take a couple of paces without crutches.  After only four nights in hospital I was released.  All of the hospital staff were amazingly supportive, and the physiotherapists made sure that I went for short walks every day as well as doing my exercise regime three times a day!  Again, this was where being positive made such a difference.  I was indeed determined to get fit again.  It was, though, very strange, because this involved having to think consciously about how to walk again.  The operated leg didn’t seem to want to do what I had previously taken for granted, and I really had to think about how to walk!  This involved (I think) kicking the leg forward consciously onto the heel and then rolling onto the toes.  Another tricky and indeed quite painful thing was learning how to get into and out of bed! This involved standing by the bed, pushing the operated leg slightly forward and then sitting down, before swiveling round towards the un-operated leg side,  lifting that leg first, and then trying to get the other leg into bed!

catheterThe pain of the operation, though, was nothing compared with the difficulty and pain I had in peeing!  The anaesthetic had made it difficult for me to go to the loo, and my bladder filled up to such an extent that they were concerned that this could affect the hip.  So, I had to have a catheter drain put in the second night just to release all of the urine! Unfortunately, it did not prove easy to put this in (several attempts were necessary), and so once it was removed I was in considerable pain.  Of course, this caused very much greater pain when I tried to pee again!!!!  For anyone who has not experienced this, it is difficult to describe, but the nearest description is something like razor blades cutting me inside when I tried to pee.  Of course this in turn meant that I had an uncontrollable reaction that made me stop peeing, and so my bladder filled up again, meaning that they had to insert another catheter.  All I can say is that the pain of trying to pee was very, very much worse than the pain resulting from the operation, and if I hadn’t had the catheter problems I would honestly be saying that the pain of the actual hip replacement was really relatively minor, and very much less than I had expected!  It took a good fortnight before I could go to the loo again without pain.

Once home, the exercise regime started in full force, and it is here that my determination to do all of the exercises and focus on “getting fit again” came into force.  I felt exhausted and totally disinterested in doing anything for the first few days, but having to do the exercises three times a day gave me some focus.  Learning to walk properly, first with two crutches and then with one took some time.  I was doing two 10-minute walks a day by the second half of the first week, rising to two 15-minute walks or one 30-minute walk by the start of the second week, and then regularly doing at least 30 minutes a day by the beginning of the third week.  I had been determined only to use one crutch by the second week, but found that I walked with less of a limp if I used two crutches for balance.  Still, it really is not easy to walk properly again even now, 26 days after the operation, both because of the lingering aching pain, but also just because the leg will still not do quite everything it is told to!

Another positive thing has been the opportunity to go “swimming” especially on hot days.  I must confess to being someone who prefers baths to showers, and not being able to have a bath for five weeks has therefore made me long for a nice hot luxuriating bath when I am again allowed to.  However, being able to do my exercises in a swimming pool adds a different experience to the “getting fit again” routine, especially since the water takes the weight of the body and actually enables me to do much more.  If I am very careful in how I use my new hip, I can also swim gently, which is very liberating!

Scar 8 daysFor anyone concerned about the size of a hip replacement wound, and how quickly it heals, I haveScar 16 days been amazed at the pace of the healing process, shown in the adjacent pictures, with the left one being the bruising after 8 days, and the right one showing the wound (much closer with most of the bruising having gone) after 16 days.  The wound itself is only about four inches long!

The biggest challenges have been sleeping, dealing with the ever slowing pace of recovery, and having to wear compression stockings.  One thing about hip replacements is that you have to sleep on your back for about five weeks after the operation (the same rule as not crossing your legs!).  For those of us, like me, who are used to sleeping in other positions this can be a real challenge – especially since I am not a good sleeper at the best of times.  I also found it difficult in the early stages to deal with the pain at night (despite pain killers and the occasional sleeping pill), and only now after three-and-a-half weeks am I beginning to get back into anything like a vaguely normal sleep pattern. Being so tired means that I don’t have the energy to do all the things I want to, and so there is a tendency to fall into a downward spiral.

Hip replacement smallThen, the pace of recovery also slows down with each day (a kind of negative exponential curve), and I find this quite difficult to deal with.  In the first few days, I felt I was making huge progress very swiftly, but by the end of the second week it became more difficult to see regular improvements.  I know I am continuing to get better on a daily basis, and have now started walking completely without crutches all day, but the dull pain, and the inability still to do many things is incredibly frustrating.  This is much more of a psychological thing than a physical one, but having been “out of action” and not able to drive or do much for myself is very wearing.  I just want to be completely fit again so that I can be revitalised and use my new hip (shown adjacent!) to its full potential.

Having to wear compression stockings to prevent deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is also very wearing, and in hot weather it is incredibly uncomfortable – again especially at night.  I had not previously realised quite how serious concerns over DVT were with hip replacements, and not being allowed to fly long-haul for three months afterwards has certainly caused some considerable problems with respect to my work commitments.  However, on a more mundane level, wearing the stockings to help prevent DVT is very frustrating, and still requires assistance since I cannot bend down to put them on!

Windsor 2So, a real tip for anyone facing this operation, as indeed with many other operations, is that it’s very important to find especially nice things to do during the recovery period.  I have found that having very special things to look forward to helps immensely (such as visiting Windsor last week), because it gives a sense of purpose and pleasure when the pain and tiredness have a tendency to become overwhelming.

Finally, I just want to pay tribute to the amazing surgeon, anaesthetist, nursing staff and physiotherapists who made my stay in hospital such a great experience, and to everyone who has helped care for me and keep me up-beat over the last three weeks.  I am really looking forward to continued progress, and really being fit again!


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ICTs and the failure of the Sustainable Development Goals

The euphoria associated with the consensus reached by UN member states on 2nd August on the Sustainable Development Agenda to be signed by World Leaders in New York on 25-27 September is fundamentally misplaced, although not unexpected (for process see UN Post-2015 Development Agenda).  The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will do little to reduce poverty, will continue to propagate a world system based on inequality, and will continue primarily to serve the interests of those in the UN system and practitioners in the “development industry”.

I find it difficult to believe how Ban Ki-moon could really believe the words he said when welcoming the agreement, saying it “encompasses a universal, transformative and integrated agenda that heralds an historic turning point for our world … This is the People’s Agenda, a plan of action for ending poverty in all its dimensions, irreversibly, everywhere, and leaving no one behind. It seeks to ensure peace and prosperity, and forge partnerships with people and planet at the core. The integrated, interlinked and indivisible 17 Sustainable Development Goals are the people’s goals and demonstrate the scale, universality and ambition of this new Agenda”.

Here, I wish to focus attention particularly on the almost complete omission of ICTs from the final agreed SDGs, and why this is a very serious failing.  Back in June 2013, I wrote stridently about the paucity of mentions of ICT in the report of the High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, which provided the initial basis for the agreement reached last Sunday.  Little has changed since then. Although my focus is on ICTs, it is important, though, to begin by noting some of the fundamental structural issues that mean the SDG process has been so flawed, and will fail to address the interests of the world’s poorest people:

  • There are far too many goals (17) and targets (169) – this will lead to diffusion of effort and lack of focus, not only within the ‘global system’, but also in individual countries.  It is much better to do a few things well, rather than try to do too many things, and fail to do any of them well.  The reality is that this list is a compromise of everything that those involved in the formal deliberations could think of that might reduce poverty (and serve their own interests)
  • Target setting is hugely problematic in that it can lead to resources being directed too much towards delivering the targets and not enough to other factors that might actually have greater impact.  This would not be so worrying if goals and targets were treated as flexible aspirations, but the reasons for the failure to deliver on many of the original Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) should have sent a much more powerful message to those planning the SDGs.  The UN’s own 2014 report on the MDGs, for example, stated that “Substantial progress has been made in most areas, but much more effort is needed to reach the set targets”.  If the world could not deliver on 8 Goals in 15 years, how is it going to deliver on 17 goals and 169 targets in the next 15 years?
  • The process remains largely concerned with absolute poverty rather than relative poverty.  Claiming that the SDG agenda will end poverty in all of its dimensions is, I’m afraid, crass (see my now very old paper No end to poverty that explores this further).  The SDGs will do little fundamentally to change the structural conditions upon which the present world system is based, which remain primarily concernd with economic growth rather than reducing social and economic inequality (despite claims that the agenda does indeed address inequality, as in Goal 10).
  • These goals and targets represent the interests of those organisations (UN, civil society, private sector) driving the SDG agenda, rather than the poorest and most marginalised; it is these organisations that are actually likely to benefit most from the SDG agenda.  Perhaps more than anything else, the SDGs have become a vehicle through which the UN and its many agencies can try to show their continued relevance in an ever-changing world.
  • The need to monitor progress against the goals/targets will further expand the “development industry”, and consultants and organisations involved in such monitoring and evaluation will undoubtedly benefit hugely.  Small, poor countries simply do not have the capacity to implement, let alone develop the complex monitoring systems required by, the new SDGs and targets.
  • The SDGs reflect a relatively small set of interests (economic growth, agriculture, health, education, gender, environment and climate, justice and security, urban/industrial development), and focus insufficiently on some of the key issues that require attention if we are to create a fairer and more equal world, notably the role of ICTs, and the relative lack of attention paid to people with disabilities.

Each of the above claims (and indeed the many other reasons why the SDGs will fail) needs justifying at much greater length, but the last point brings me directly to the abject failure of the SDG agenda to pay sufficient attention to the critical role of ICTs in shaping contemporary development.  ICTs are not mentioned directly in any of the SDGs, and are only to be found in but four of the 169 targets:

  • 4b) By 2020, substantially expand globally the number of scholarships available to developing countries, in particular least developed countries, small island developing States and African countries, for enrolment in higher education, including vocational training and information and communications technology, technical, engineering and scientific programmes, in developed countries and other developing countries
  • 5b) Enhance the use of enabling technology, in particular information and communications technology, to promote the empowerment of women
  • 9c) Significantly increase access to information and communications technology and strive to provide universal and affordable access to the Internet in least developed countries by 2020
  • 17.8) Fully operationalize the technology bank and science, technology and innovation capacity-building mechanism for least developed countries by 2017 and enhance the use of enabling technology, in particular information and communications technology

Only one of these (9c) has a focus on ICTs as a direct aim.  All of the others merely mention ICTs in an enabling role: for higher education scholarships (4b); to promote the empowerment of women (5b); and for the development of a technology bank and science, technology and innovation capacity-building mechanism (17.8).  In this context, it is quite scandalous that the SDGs, while mentioning the empowerment of women, fail to mention the much more significant use that ICTs can make to the lives of the 10% of the world’s population with disabilities.

There is widespread agreement that ICTs have been one of the major factors that have transformed the world over the 15 years of the MDGs.  They have driven extraordinary economic growth, have opened up entirely news ways of delivering education, health and rural development, have transformed the relationships between governments and citizens, and have created an interconnected world of communication and knowledge sharing.  It is not an exaggeration to say that they have been one of the most significant changes to humanity over the last 20 years.  Yet, those determining the SDG agenda for the next 15 years barely give them any recognition at all.  This would not be so worrying if ICTs had not also created some of the greatest inequalities that the world has ever seen; the differences in life experience between someone connected through mobile broadband to a 4G network, and someone with only 2G connectivity, let alone without a smartphone or equivalent digital device, is extraordinary (for a wider discussion see some of my recent papers).  ICTs have the capacity to be used for great good, and to transform the lives of poor people; but they also have the capacity to be used to create vast inequality, and to do much that is negative.

Hence, those involved in crafting the SDGs should have paid very much greater attention to the transformative role of ICTs.  The single target (9c) “Significantly increase access to information and communications technology and strive to provide universal and affordable access to the Internet in least developed countries by 2020” is indeed to be welcomed, but as one of only 169 targets there is a real danger that it will be lost in the plethora of other competing aspirational targets for governments across the world.  As it is, there is little indication of what “significantly increase” actually means, or indeed of how best this target can be achieved.  The dominant rhetoric in the “global community” is still of how to reach the “next billion”, rather than how to serve the needs of the poorest and most marginalised, what most people call the “bottom billion” but which should better be termed the “first billion” to focus our attention on it being the most important!

The failure of ICTs to be mentioned more substantially within the SDGs provides a salutary example of how such goals are formulated, and the politics of the UN and international development system.  Looking back, it is remarkable that ICTs were mentioned explicitly within the sixth target of Goal 8 of the original MDGs in 2000: “In cooperation with the private sector, make available benefits of new technologies, especially information and communications”.  Yet, from this highpoint the role of ICTs within the SDG agenda of 2015 can be seen to have diminished almost to insignificance.  In large part this reflects the failure of international organisations with interests in ICTs to realise the significance of the SDG agenda early enough, and then to engage sufficiently actively in the discussions surrounding their formulation.  In this context, I was delighted that under my leadership the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation (CTO) did indeed reach agreement in 2014 on a statement about the role of ICTs in the SDGs, but sadly this fell on rather deaf ears in the wider international community. Interestingly, during informal discussions with several multilateral and bilateral donors in recent years, during which I have personally sought to promote the crucial role of ICTs in development, I have regularly been told that the relevant UN organisations (such as the ITU) and other donors have insufficiently promoted the need for a goal on ICTs.  This, I am sure, is correct, but it is also important to understand why this might be the case.  At least four reasons seem relevant:

  • First, the UN system is one of strict hierarchy, with some agencies being seen as much more powerful and dominant than others.  Despite dramatic enhancements in the efficacy and role of the ITU in recent years under the leadership of Hamadoun Touré and now Houlin Zhao, it still seems to lack the clout at the wider international table of some of the other more powerful UN organisations and lobbies, for example, in the fields of health, gender and climate change.
  • Second, despite their being some young brilliant Ministers for ICTs/Telecommunciations across the world, more often that not these ministers are relatively low down the national hierarchy of ministerial responsibility, and were therefore unable effectively to influence national delegations who contributed to the crafting of the SDGs about the importance of ICTs.
  • Third, many bilateral and multilateral donors remain unconvinced of the power of ICTs to transform development in the interests of the poor and marginalised. This reflects badly both on the ICT for Development (ICT4D) community who have failed to provide enough evidence of the real development benefits of ICTs, but also on the ignorance, self-interest and bigotry of many of those working for donor agencies.
  • Fourth, when push comes to shove, individuals and institutions will usually focus on their own core areas, rather than on cross-cutting or collaborative initiatives.  Hence, the WHO and the powerful international health lobbies focus primarily on delivering health, UNESCO and the educational industry will focus on education, and the FAO and rural development lobby will focus on agriculture and rural development.  The ICT for Development field is relatively new, and remains insufficiently robust to compete against these powerful existing entities.

Building on this last point, it is highly salient that at the May 2015 WSIS Forum held in Geneva, the UN agencies involved explicitly recognised that the battle had been lost to have one of the SDGs with an explicit focus on ICTs, and instead developed a matrix to show how ICTs as represented in the WSIS Action Lines could contribute to each of the emerging SDGs.  While this goes some way to indicate how different UN agencies can indeed use ICTs to deliver their wider SDG commitments,  it fails comprehensively to tackle the deep structural issues that mean that ICTs are continuing to contribute to greater global inequality.

Without much greater focus on ensuring that the poorest and most marginalised, including people with disabilities, can use ICTs effectively to lead enhanced lives, the SDGs will inevitably lead to a more fractured and unequal world.


Filed under Development, ICT4D

Jenny and Al making a speedy ascent of Mont Ventoux

24I drove up Mont Ventoux years ago, and thought it then to be one of the bleakest drives I had ever been on.  Little did I think then that my daughter and son-in-law would actually cycle up the mountain in the early hours of the morning some 20+ years later. It was actually great fun being their support vehicle, offering water and encouragement along the way!  An early start shortly after six enabled them to be on the mountain just after seven in the morning on a day when the temperatures reached the high 30s. I very much hope that the images below capture some of the  beauty and energy of this amazing HC mountain climb.  Mind you, I am sure that using Pinarello Dogma bicycles helped them achieve their target in such an amazing time.

13Jenny’s next cycling adventure is the 100 mile Ride London event at the start of August.  As she says, Mont Ventoux was “Just some “light” hill training for my 100 mile cycle, Ride London, in less than two weeks time. Please help spur me on by providing some extra motivation and sponsor me riding for War Child here https://www.justgiving.com/Jenny-Bowe/ or come cheer along on 2 August”

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