Posts Tagged Meral Ece

Pitta and politics

On Wednesday night I was heading up the Holloway Road on the world’s slowest bus (thank you blue car parked in the bus lane) for our Pizza Pitta and Politics evening.

Each month Islington Lib Dems have a Pizza & Politics event where we discuss politics and, er, eat pizza. This month’s was a bit different – a Pitta & Politics evening, joint with the (Holloway-based) Dialogue Society, with yours truly in the chair. Our topic was how you tackle violent extremism in a liberal society.

I still remember where I was on 9/11 and 7/7 and the sense of panic, horror and anger as the news came in. Islington is a highly diverse borough, and we lost more of our citizens and workers in the 7/7 attacks than any other individual borough, so these issues affect our area deeply.

I was incredibly proud of the reaction of ordinary Londoners and the emergency services to the attacks. But I’m not proud of everything our Government has done since, from appearing to endorse torture flights to undermining the same rights that the terrorists want to destroy.

Tackling extremism is something on which the Dialogue Society, formed by 2nd generation British-Turkish Muslims, has done a lot of work. It was an unexpectedly topical topic, because among all the revelations about MPs expenses (how many homes do you need to be in the Home Office?), Jacqui Smith has just launched the second round of Contest, the Government’s anti-extremism strategy.

Dialogue’s concern is that in attacking the minority of extremists head-on only serves to polarise them more, by casting them as ‘the other’. Young people like to join groups that are supportive yet seem subversive: most are harmless, some are not. Bigging them up only glamourises them. And at the same time it gives negative images of Islam to the rest of us, which make a bad situation worse. Dialogue prefer to promote the positive tenets of mainstream Islam – peace and justice – both to Muslims and to non-Muslims, achieving what they call ‘de-radicalisation by default’. Instead of talking up extremism, you starve it.

We certainly did not starve – fantastic Turkish food, and food for thought from our speakers; Dialogue director Ozcan Keles, Meral Ece OBE and leading MEP candidate, and international academic Jonathan Fryer. Meral reminded us that challenging extremism is everyone’s responsibility and that only a tiny handful of Muslims are extremists. Yet it’s the 20 demonstraters in Luton who make the headlines, not the peaceful majority. Instead of the 4 Ps of the Government strategy, Jonathan proposed an Ode: outreach, dialogue and engagement. We even had Simon Hughes on a video link from Westminster.

We were enthused by how much of an agenda liberal Muslims and Liberal Democrats have in common, from defending free speech to encouraging democratic engagement – and challenging the stereotype that we’re both full of men with beards.

Next steps include mentoring future council candidates (provoking puns about Young Turks) and future events with the Dialogue Society, with the help of the Liberal Democrat Friends of Turkey.

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More on the New Year honours

Frank McLoughlin, principal of City & Islington College, has got the CBE. Frank worked at the College as deputy and acting Principal before that, and under his leadership, the College has completed a series of major building projects, and consistently been one of the top performing colleges in the country. I got to know Frank because of his involvement in partnership working with the Council – he’s a charming man but with a no-nonsense style that was great at cutting through to get to the point.

The Observer’s leading financial journalist William Keegan, known for his common sense Keynsianism, also gets a CBE. Generally supportive when I was his local councillor, he was a frank but constructive critic of any council policy he thought was wrong. And his support for Gordon Brown doesn’t stop him poking fun at the PM from time to time.

Meanwhile more coverage of Meral’s OBE in the Londra Gazette.

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New Year’s honours for Islington

Congratulations to the Islington residents who’ve been recognised in the New Year’s Honours.

Meral Ece gets a well-deserved OBE for her long years as a local councillor in both Islington and Hackney, her work helping people get the best out of health services and her leadership in the Turkish community.

Harley Sherlock receives the MBE for his services to Islington. He’s a distinguished architect, planning advocate and transport campaigner, and pillar of the Islington Society, and an extremely kind and constantly cheerful person.

And David Ryan, the engine of the Times Boxing Club, also gets the MBE. David is totally dedicated to the work of the Club which helps so many young people. It’s good to see him getting some recognition in return.

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More on Alexandra

Still excited about Alexandra winning the X-factor! And I’m not the only one… I was getting texts from friends about it even after I’d gone to bed.

She’s a real local heroine, and Islington has been rooting for her. To quote Council leader James Kempton, “Alexandra is totally what Islington is all about and an inspiration to young people across the borough“.

Another Islington blogger, Meral Ece, has her reaction here.

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Reading the runes

It felt quite extraordinary to be waking to a London with Boris as Mayor. We are so used to the Islington electoral landscape of Labour vs Lib Dems, that Tory victories are a bit of a shock It’s a healthy reality check to find that everything looks the same as usual in Islington this morning; Labour activists apart, people seem very relaxed about the result rather than having a collective hangover.

The media reported the Mayoral election as the Ken vs Boris show, and that in turn unfairly marginalised Brian Paddick. Brian really grew as a campaigner during the election; he didn’t lose the straight-talking honesty that really reached people when he met them, but he did get more relaxed and confident at hustings and with the media. If all voters got to hear from all the candidates, Brian’s vote would have been much higher. He brought a serious approach to the issue of how we tackle crime and violence in London, from which I hope the new Mayor will learn. It will take more than a new generation of City sponsored boys’ clubs to tackle this problem.

Londoners clearly found Boris an acceptable and electable alternative to Ken Livingstone. Boris rightly recognised that this does not mean that London has suddenly turned Tory; Islington certainly has not.But there’s no doubt that the celeb cred of Boris combined with the meltdown of the Labour government – and the desperate response of local Labour activists – made Lib Dems vulnerable to an anti-Tory squeeze in Labour areas.

We do not yet know the breakdown of votes in Islington, but Meral’s vote across London NE (Islington, Hackney and Waltham Forest combined) was significantly ahead of the London-wide trend, making her the most popular Lib Dem GLA candidate north of the river.

Meral’s been a brilliant candidate, engaging people who don’t normally get involved in politics, both from the Turkish community and across the borough. One email I got yesterday said “I voted yesterday for your colleague Meral Ece. We have yet to find out whether she won, but as the only candidate who took the trouble to canvas me (and I am not registered as one of your supporters) I felt she deserved my vote.” So this is a personal achievement by Meral and one that reflects well on the local campaigning in Islington.

Nationally Liberal Democrats got a bigger vote share than Labour, a shift that would see Westminster seats like Islington South & Finsbury go Lib Dem. Although if I were in Gordon Brown’s place I’d not be contemplating a General Election any time soon. We didn’t elect him last year, and we certainly wouldn’t elect him now.

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Enemy territory?

Another Saturday, another action day. With just under 3 weeks to go, the campaign is hotting up.

The weather is less sure: we have sunshine and sleet in the space of a few minutes. With a team of 16, ranging from students to veteran councillors, we got all our deliveries out in record time. A friend from church came out of his house as I passed; his son turns 18 this week, so will be able to vote for the first time on 1st May. The whole family are debating their choices for Mayor; it seems to be mostly Brian with a bit of Boris. I reassured him that with the 2nd vote system, you can have Brian then Boris, if you insist.

At lunchtime we went to the Duchess of Kent pub. The food was good as ever – I had the mushroom and spinach pancakes – but the service was more than a bit off. Maybe they couldn’t handle that number of hungry Lib Dems all at once.

With deliveries done, we started canvassing in pairs, hitting different streets and estates over the neighbourhood. I end up on BoJo’s own street. You remember those shots of him jogging in disgrace and a bandana? Then finding himself locked out of the house? That’s the one. It is a lovely place, elegant houses with enough arched windows to delight anyone brought up on PlaySchool, and cherry blossom on the trees. There were not a lot of people in, but the cute cat count was high. A pretty butterscotch one even hopped on my shoulder and stayed there, parrot style while I rang their owners’ doorbell and posted my leaflet through the door. Don’t try this at home...If only I had a camera” said my colleague.

This street is arguably the most Tory in Islington. Not only does Boris Johnson have a house there, but opposite there used to be the Conservative party hall, until they sold it off a few years ago. So we were braced for lots of Boris votes; not the case. What’s interesting is the genuine uncertainty among voters: “I normally vote Labour/Conservative, but....” is the common theme. So we met a mum who normally votes Labour but thinks Ken is a hypocrite; and a young man who stopped us in the street to say he’s basically a Tory but can’t take Boris seriously. Then there was the EU citizen who likes Brian and hadn’t realised he could vote. So good news all round.

I wasn’t the only one canvassing in possible enemy territory today. I’d just got home at teatime when there was a knock on the door. I opened it to find a nice looking young woman with a Labour sticker. Her: “Are you Bridget Fox?” Me: “Yes“. Her: “Oh, I guess I shouldn’t have called here....“. Me: “I think you can safely assume I won’t be voting Labour 🙂“.

Mind you, we started it. Earlier this week I was out with our GLA candidate Meral Ece and our Barnsbury team. We’re reminding people that they’re electing assembly members as well as the Mayor. Our standard question – “do you know who your Assembly member is?” – usually has a 100% non-recognition rate for the incumbent; after 8 years, that’s reason enough for a change, as voters agree! So Meral was surprised to find one guy who instantly knew the name of our mystery member. I checked the card: he works for our Labour MP.

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Marching on our stomachs…

We took Monday night off from door-knocking for a fundraising dinner on Upper Street. Our venue was the Harbour, opposite what used to be Granita, site of the famous Blair/Brown leadership deal. I had the pleasure of introducing our guest speakers, including party president Simon Hughes MP. Meral had supporters from all over the country as well as a large contingent from the Turkish community. So I found a suitable Ataturk quote for the occasion.

Meanwhile, with Gordon Brown’s poll ratings slumping faster than house prices, it’s perhaps appropriate that Granita is now called Desperados...

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