Author Archives: David Gray

Public Spaces Protection Orders are out of control

On Monday 15th August, a new Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) will come into force in Birmingham, banning all busking from two of the most profitable locations in the city. There are a number of councils around the country who have introduced restrictions on busking using PSPOs, but Birmingham City Council’s decision to introduce a blanket ban on busking in these areas, whether or not they are acting reasonably and considerately, is unusual.

Despite assurances from Shirley Williams during the introduction of the PSPO as a tool to clamp down on anti-social behaviour that “they (PSPOs) should not use the new powers to stop reasonable activities such as busking or other forms of street entertainment that are not causing anti-social behaviour”, these rules are being flouted up and down the country. Why? Because there are no mechanisms in place to stop them.

The case of the Birmingham Busking Ban is particularly egregious. A Freedom of Information Request released during the consultation period showed that, of the 81 complaints received by the council about busking in the two areas specified, 77 were from the same individual. He is well known in the area as someone who has a track record of verbal aggression towards the city’s street entertainers, particularly the young female ones.

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The right to online anonymity must be protected

There are plenty of lessons to be learnt from the horrific killing of David Amess. People are right to call for a less divisive tone to political debate; Brendan Cox’s article was particularly moving in its calls for more civility and understanding between opposing political sides. Part of this may well be more enforcement against online abuse, and perhaps pressuring social media companies to act faster when it comes to people using those platforms to threaten others. These things will be debated in time and rightly so.

Emotions are running high and there is an understandable desire to create a legislative legacy for Mr Amess. Jo Cox’s death prompted the creation of organisations such as More in Common, which works towards creating more united societies. Close friends of Amess seem keen to stress his focus on ending online abuse, and are rightly raising this as an issue that should be amplified in the light of his death.

But we must tread very carefully in the next few weeks.

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Our public highways are under threat

As restrictions are gradually eased, it is heartening to see our public spaces once again being filled with shoppers, cafe-goers and those who just want to make the most of being able to socialise freely again. This should also prompt us to have a serious look at the value we place on our public spaces, for if we do not act soon, we could lose them without realising until it is too late.

A small but growing number of commentators and activists are drawing our attention to increased use of pseudo-public spaces – that is, those which to all intents and purposes appear to be public spaces but are in fact privately managed and owned. Vast swathes of Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham (as well as many more) are under private ownership, but this is no longer an issue confined to big cities. Devastated by years of austerity, councils have been selling off land at alarming rates to private corporations and as a busker, this is more obvious to me than most. With the number of busking pitches available on genuinely public land reducing, it is now very difficult to make a living without busking on publicly accessible private land. It is not just in the large metropolises – I have faced attempts to move me on in Didcot, Stourbridge, Redditch and countless others. They will never try to argue that I am causing any genuine problems – simply that ‘management don’t allow it’.

I will almost always stand my ground, pointing out that, not only does a specific section of public highways law allow for privately owned land to act as a de jure public highway in many instances, but also that with trespass being a civil offence, there needs to be some evidence of harm being caused in order to compel me to leave. Where there is no material harm, I see no reason to leave. Usually, the security guards hired by these private corporations give up and let me continue. They’ve even, on one occasion, returned to buy a CD from me. But if they dig in, problems can occur, which has led to me being arrested for ‘breach of the peace’ in 3 different locations. In all of these instances, the police have admitted that I was not actually breaching the peace, nor did they have any evidence that I was likely to. But for a breach of the peace arrest, none of this is actually required. All that is required is for the police officer to believe that a breach of the peace may occur. Note that it is not legally relevant who will be causing that breach. The last time this happened, officers in Birmingham accepted my argument that they were effectively arresting me because, if I didn’t leave, the security guards might initiate a physical altercation.

Two new proposed laws threaten to escalate this to a worrying extent. One is Priti Patel’s much-publicised policing bill, which has rightly been the subject of mass protests. For me, it is almost laughable to see her argue that existing powers regarding Public Order are not strong enough, given my experiences of being arrested under the very laws that apparently do not give the police enough power.

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I spent over four hours in a cell for busking during lockdown – that was wrong

The increasing polarisation of politics across the globe is concerning for many reasons. The storming of the Capitol felt like a defining moment in this trend, while our government’s hollow pleading for the nation to unite over their shoddy Brexit deal has done nothing to bring opposing sides together. One area where this polarisation is becoming increasingly worrying is over Covid-19 measures. The world is not made up of Covid-denying conspiracy theorists and authoritarian-loving lockdown fanatics, but whenever a debate crops up, the position you take on that debate will inevitably see you lumped into one of those categories.

Most people accept that the temporary suspension of some liberties is a tragic necessity. But scrutiny has never been more important. John Harris’ excellent Guardian article goes into this at some length, so I will add the dimension of my own experience to this.

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The new BBC guidelines are a threat to a healthy democracy

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The BBC faces criticism from people across the political spectrum for perceived bias. The left accuse it of being full of Conservative Oxbridge graduates; the right accuse it of being stuffed with do-gooding lefties. Remain voters shame it for giving Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson a disproportionate voice; Leave voters are convinced that its coverage verged on making it a campaigning tool for Remain. On the whole, this suggests that the BBC gets it broadly correct. I myself feel it leans too much towards a sort of moderate conservatism, but then as a proud liberal leftie myself, I suppose that’s only natural.

The question of what exactly can be considered political is an interesting one. On the face of it, introducing new rules to ensure political impartiality in an era when it has never been easier to inform the world of your views makes perfect sense. But the reality of this, and the extent of Tim Davies’ new rules, are nothing short of a chilling attempt to placate a government that wants to be set free from the constraints of scrutiny and criticism.

Perhaps most headline-grabbing of these guidelines is the ban on BBC journalists attending LGBTQ+ marches, on the grounds that it is a ‘controversial’ issue. It is shocking that in 2020, supporting equal rights for LGBTQ+ people is considered controversial. That in itself is a political statement, and a phenomenally illiberal one.

Then consider how inappropriate it is that a white, Cambridge-educated male who has previously stood as a Conservative councillor is telling his staff that they can’t attend Black Lives Matter demonstrations or express their support for the movement. That is arguably more of a political statement than allowing staff the freedom to express their opinions in a personal capacity. I’m sure that sixty years ago, expressing support for the civil rights movement in America would have been considered controversial. Two hundred years ago, opposing the slave trade might have been seen as overly woke, hand-wringing liberal nonsense.

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We must listen to the teachers’ unions

We should all be watching carefully the dispute that is bubbling at the moment between the teaching unions and the government. It could very easily set a precedent for how the rest of us are treated when it comes to workplace protections against COVID-19.

When Boris Johnson addressed the nation last Sunday, informing us of the new rules in a way that he alone could have imagined was significantly clearer than the hue of mud, the onus was delicately and deliberately placed on employees rather than employers:

Work from home if you can, but you should go to work if you can’t.


Think how different this is to what he ought to have said: “If your employees can’t work from home, employers must adapt their working environments to the new Covid-secure standards.”

Yet instead of this, we were given the woolly assurance that, “we have been working to establish new guidance for employers”.

And here is where we come to teachers. The academisation of the education sector means that schools are now run for profit. A Local Education Authority can set minimum standards across their region and co-ordinate efforts to ensure that schools are safe. An academy chain, motivated by little other than exam results and quantifiable progress, can much more easily set their own standards.

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Covid-19: Radical economic measures must be considered

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As a freelance musician and actor, I have seen and spoken to a lot of self-employed colleagues and friends recently about their fears regarding Covid-19. Obviously the number one priority must be the health and well-being of the general public, but the government must also consider how best to protect its citizens and businesses from financial ruin.

The measures announced to protect small and medium-sized businesses will hopefully help to prevent firms from closing (though for many even this will be too late, and I know of several that have already folded), but protection for the self-employed – an estimated 6 million people – is still a glaring omission.

The introduction of ESA claims being made available to the self-employed who are advised to self-isolate is, on the face of it, very welcome. However, without wishing to look this particular gift horse in the mouth, it does not address the root of the problem. A one-off payment of less than £100 for a week of self-isolation will do very little to help those who have lost thousands of pounds worth of work and do not know when bookings and contracts will pick up again.

I have spoken to people who work as entertainers in care homes who now face cancelled bookings with no compensation; musicians who have had to abandon entire tours; actors who have had  several months’ worth of work put on hold indefinitely, perhaps permanently. Even a dentist who, despite working for the NHS, counts as self-employed and is therefore not entitled to sick pay.

Covid-19 is likely to cause a significant number of deaths, but these could be outstripped by deaths caused by economic hardship, unemployment and increased levels of homelessness that we are bound to see in the coming months. As expected, it turns out the ‘flexible workforce’ that has long been advocated by conservatives (both small and large ‘c’) is a one-way street, proving resolutely inflexible for workers trapped in it. It seems likely that Britain’s patchwork, deunionised gig economy will soon be exposed in the harshest of ways.

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We need to talk about Public Space Protection Orders

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Five years ago, a rather dull-sounding law was introduced by Theresa May’s Home Office called the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act. It passed relatively easily through parliament and was presented as a more effective way of taking enforcement against anti-social behaviour.

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A second Remain campaign must learn from its mistakes

If recent news reports are to be believed, a consensus on how best to achieve a second referendum is coming together. Vote through Theresa May’s deal on the proviso that it is put to the people first, with Remain an option on the ballot paper. There are many hurdles to jump over before then, not least convincing a reluctant Labour leadership to whip its MPs into voting for it. In preparation for the possibility, those campaigning on the Remain side should be gearing up for it, and we must learnt the lessons of the 2016 vote.

Firstly, it is vital to accept that a lot of people are going to be very angry about this. That is understandable. Their right to protest peacefully about a second referendum must be respected, upheld and admired.

Secondly, remainers should be careful about the way in which they speak about their opponents, and I refer here to both the politicians and the electorate as a whole. No patronising, no tarring leavers with the same brush as Nigel Farage and no condescension. It doesn’t help; it doesn’t address the valid concerns that people have about the EU; more importantly, it is a guaranteed vote-winner for the leave campaign.

Thirdly, it can’t be a negative campaign based on the horrors of the outcome of a leave vote. Facts and forecasts are important and should play a role, but there is a positive emotional case to be made and it must be heard. I want to hear more from the nurses from other EU countries, without whom the NHS wouldn’t function. I want to see more about UK citizens who have gone to live in other countries and made a success of it. I want to hear about small businesses that have made enduring partnerships with other businesses on the European mainland. I want to hear stories of friendships and relationships that have come about as a result of our ability to travel the EU with no restrictions. Positive stories that extol the virtues of freedom of movement and of free trade with our neighbours are going to have a far wider impact than graphs that predict economic doom if we were to leave. However accurate these may be, they should be used as evidence to back up the emotional arguments, rather than the main thrust of the campaign. If you’ve been trapped in low paid work (or indeed no work at all) for many years and you feel that the economic odds are stacked against you, then being told by someone who is clearly very well-off that you shouldn’t vote to leave the EU because it will damage the economy is not going to ring true. If a healthy economy is seen as only benefitting those at the top, then a campaign based on scare tactics will not work with the vast majority of the electorate.

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My proposal for a successful Brexit

Having voted courageously to take back control of our nation and regain our sovereignty, it has been incredibly frustrating to see our elected representatives over-complicating the process of Brexit and not putting Britain’s interests first. I have heard much from Theresa May and her team about how difficult it all is; less about the opportunities that Brexit presents for us as a nation. So let’s break down the stumbling blocks one by one, and look at how the governement should be approaching them.

Firstly, the Irish question. The Leave campaign always stressed that there was no need for a hard border in Ireland. I can see why there are some issues to be resolved here, but no one wants border checks, which is why I would propose an agreement that goods can be brought from Ireland into the UK, or vice versa, without any restrictions. Of course, as Ireland already has an agreement with the EU, this would automatically mean that there would be no need for customs checks for going in an out of any other EU country, thus reducing red tape and showing that, despite Brexit, Britain is open for business!

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The post-truth era is here – what does it mean?


We’ve been hearing a lot recently about the ‘post-truth‘ era and what that means for the world. Generally, this is framed as meaning that the truth doesn’t matter any more; that it is becoming easier, and perhaps fully acceptable, for politicians to lie and get away with it. But I have started to wonder: what if it’s worse than that? What if the post-truth era means that people now deny the very existence of truth?

The roots of this lie in resentment towards politics as a whole. People have always dismissed politicians as ‘all a bunch of liars/crooks’, but it’s arguably become more commonplace to do so since the global recession hit. The natural progression from this is that you get to a point where the truth doesn’t matter. You start to draw a false equivalency between all politicians, painting them all as equally bad as each other, when in reality there are many good politicians as well as shades of grey within the bad ones. The US Presidential election is the obvious example here.

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We must hold back on military action against ISIS

Even in a world in which we see tragedy every day on the news, one where twenty four hour coverage of the many battles currently raging in different corners of the globe makes it easy to become numb to humanitarian disaster, the Paris attacks last week were shocking. Amongst the heartening displays of solidarity and defiance, people are angry, and rightly so. Those who committed the attacks displayed such a level of callous cruelty that it is completely understandable that many across Europe want revenge against patrons of the twisted ideology that leads people to carry out such horrific acts.

Now, however, is not the time to act on this anger. Emotions are running far too high for sensible decisions about foreign policy to be made. It is not heartless or unpatriotic to point this out, and of course we all want to see an end to ISIS, but the growing pressure on the British government to join the bombing campaign in Syria must be resisted. For now, anyway.

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Opinion: On voting reform, the Lib Dems must seek an ally in UKIP

Voting reform has been a key Lib Dem issue for many years now. It’s not necessarily primary concern of the average voter, but the way in which we choose who governs us is one of the most important aspects of democracy and cannot be dismissed.

The latest election has provided us with a stark display of why a more proportional system is vital for Britain’s future. Those determined to protect that status quo will point to the referendum in 2011 and claim that the British public has already rejected reform, but this is nonsense. AV may be fairer than FPTP, but it was ultimately a fudge, and no more proportional than the current system. We’ve never been allowed a vote on whether we want PR.

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Opinion: We shouldn’t talk about soldiers ‘giving’ their lives in WW1

ww1Much of the news recently has focused on the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I. Rightly so, too. It changed the course of history and approximately sixteen million people died during it.

But there is something that sits very uneasily with me about the way it has been covered. When discussing it, many will refer to how many people ‘gave their lives’ during the conflict. ‘Giving’ is a selfless deed, and it is one that is done voluntarily. One shouldn’t have to ‘give’ out of obligation, nor as a result of being misled. It is here that I have a problem with this phrase. Did those millions of people on both sides of the war really believe that the loss of their life was justified in the grander scheme of things? Did they, in their final moments, feel a sense of patriotic pride in having done something wonderful for their country? Or would they have cursed the futility of mass loss of life on such an unfathomable scale? It is difficult to say for sure, but we can all hazard our own guesses.

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Opinion: Sending more weapons to the Middle East is not the answer

iraqIt is truly saddening to read of recent events in Iraq. Seeing the horrific images that have been all over the media for the last few days, it is impossible for your heart not to go out to the millions of people in the region who have suffered for many years at the hands of oppressive governments, violent rebels and misguided Western intervention.

It is therefore maddening to see politicians in both the US and the UK suggesting that we should assist them with military aid including both troops on the …

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Opinion: In every conflict, there is always more than one side to the story

Protests in UkraineIt is always tempting to view the world in black and white. When Good is pitted against Evil, who in their right minds would want Evil to succeed? We can all happily unite behind Good and therefore feel Good about that ourselves.

Sadly, the world isn’t like this. This may seem like an outrageously obvious statement, but it is not intended to be patronising. Reactions from various politicians to recent events have given the impression that many political conflicts are indeed black and white.

When the Arab Spring began over 3 …

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Opinion: Do you love this country?

One question asked by the Home Affairs Select Committee to Alan Rusbridger over the Snowden leaks should be of great concern to us all. During the often heated exchanges, Keith Vaz asked:

Do you love this country?

If we were told that in, for example, Russia, a committee of MPs were grilling a newspaper editor over his patriotic credentials, we would rightly condemn it as a worrying level of state pressure on the press. Just what were Vaz’s intentions behind that question? Would it have been held against Rusbridger if he had said ‘no’? We can only speculate. But, whether or …

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Opinion: Which side are we on?

RBS logoAllegations have recently come to light that RBS engaged in a programme of ‘deliberately wrecking small businesses’ in order to seize their assets on the cheap and boost their own profits. The case is another story in which we, the public, are shocked but not surprised. The response of the government and, in particular, Vince Cable will be watched very closely indeed.

It is interesting to view this story in the light of other recent events.

Take the sale of a student loans book to an investment consortium at a price …

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Opinion: Vince Cable is right to question the wisdom of Help-to-Buy

Rocks Green LudlowAll policies have winners and losers. The inevitable consequence of policy-making is that some people in the country must lose out; it is the Government who must decide who this will be when they are passing laws. Which is why, on the surface, few scrutinised George Osborne’s help-to-buy scheme when it was introduced in the form of an Equity Loan in April of this year. The idea of giving people help to buy new build homes is one that has no immediate losers. But in the long run, we will all pay the price.

The housing market has crashed before, and it will crash again if house prices go back the days of increasing at an alarming rate. It is not a sustainable model and it is one that contributed heavily to the UK staying in recession for longer than most. The worrying thing is that Osborne is ignoring this recent history for short-term political gain. Booming house prices are frequently reported in the media as being ‘healthy’, whereas the reality is anything but. The reality is mortgages that will take a lifetime to pay off, placing a huge burden of debt on an entire generation.

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Opinion: Even if this is the end of our ‘Special Relationship’, there is no need to mourn its passing

cameron-obama-hot-dogIt’s that old classic love story. Boy meets Girl. Boy and Girl become infatuated with one another. Boy leads Girl into a series of illegal wars in the Middle East. You know the rest. (In the interests of gender equality, I should point out that you are more than welcome to switch around the genders in this analogy.)

But now, this one sided relationship has a new twist. Girl has said no to the Boy’s latest attempts to lead her into another bombing campaign, and Boy is angry. Boy storms out, and …

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Opinion: We need urgent debate about Syria, not just rhetoric

If recent news reports are to be believed, we are now edging closer and closer some form of military conflict with Syria. It is a fast moving situation; indeed, one that could escalate drastically within a matter of days. But with MPs on their summer holidays, there has been a worrying lack of proper debate about the issue.

A few months ago, an 87-year-old woman died and Parliament was recalled so that people could talk about it, at no small expense to the taxpayer. I have no wish to go through that particular debate again, but it is difficult to …

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Recent Comments

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    Re: Tory Party Chairman Jake Berry's suggestion that people struggling to pay bills need to get a higher salary. Is he advocating that they should go on strike...
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    I don't hold out any hope of mass Tory defections but the way they are tearing chunks out of one another at their conference shows that they are not a governmen...
  • Mick Taylor
    The only person who call an election is the King, acting on the advice of the PM. So as long as Ms Truss holds her nerve and keeps her cabinet together, there...