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Chris Bertram

Sunday photoblogging: Bantry House, Cork (2008)

by Chris Bertram on April 5, 2020

Bantry House, Cork, Ireland (2008)


Sunday photoblogging: Cardiff arcade, 2008

by Chris Bertram on March 29, 2020

During the lockdown, time to go through the archives

Cardiff arcade, 2008

Sunday photoblogging: Alderman Moore’s allotments

by Chris Bertram on March 22, 2020

We’ve mostly confined outselves to the house now, because of the threat of COVID-19, but Alderman Moore’s allotments provide a safeish place to get some sunshine and grow some vegetables. If the lockdown reaches Italian, Spanish, or French levels then perhaps we couldn’t continue, which would be a pity.

Alderman Moore's allotments

Waiting for the wave to break

by Chris Bertram on March 18, 2020

Months at home. Months working remotely. Months during which we may see close friends, family, and even neighbours on a screen. Here in the UK we aren’t at Italian levels of disease and death yet, but we’re getting there.

The streets are getting empty, yet despite government advice, there are still people in pubs and bars and on our local community Facebook page people argue vociferously for the right of publicans to open. After all, “they have a living to make”, and “it is a personal choice.” I doubt people will be saying such things in a month.

In theory we (by which I mean the people in my immediate workplace) are all working from home, but I confess that the anxiety, fuelled by the news cycle, the constant rush of social media updates on CV19 isn’t conducive to concentration. Meetings are happening via Zoom or Skype Business, but a good part of each meeting is taken up with people saying “I can hear you but I can’t see you”, “I can see you but I can’t hear you”, “I think I pressed the wrong button”. There’s alway one person who thinks the sound isn’t working, so you can see them, bemused, trying to fix the problem with someone else in their house, in a loud voice, believing that they are cut off from us all when they’re not. Nice to see people’s pets though, and their bookshelves and decor for that matter. [click to continue…]

COVID-19 and migration: we need a firewall

by Chris Bertram on March 10, 2020

Rather obviously COVID-19 is a global public health emergency. Tackling it, particularly in the absence of a vaccine, means blocking and shortening the chains of contagion through personal hygiene and social distancing, identifying people who are infected, treating those who need treatment, enabling the isolation of the infected for as long as they can transmit. & cetera. And the issue is not just about the risk to each of us, but also about the risk we bring to others. So the fact that the fit and young may escape with minor discomfort shouldn’t lead them to exempt themselves from necessary measures, because the chain that leads from them can be a death sentence for a vulnerable or elderly person.

All of which brings me to immigration and, specifically, to immigrant populations. In recent years governments with good public health systems have moved to restrict access to citizens and legal permanent residents. In the UK, one of the features of the “hostile environment” that has led to the Windrush scandal was the denial of medical care to people who couldn’t prove their entitlement. Others have been hit with enormous medical bills because of their nationality and perceived immigration status. But now, obviously, we can’t have a situation where people are deterred from seeking help because they fear being hit with a huge payment. [click to continue…]

Sunday photoblogging: St Mary Redcliffe, Bristol

by Chris Bertram on March 8, 2020

I took advantage of being on strike to do some Bristol tourism, and enjoyed looking round St Mary Redcliffe particularly: a gothic wonder that I pass every day but because it is local only seem to enter once a week.

St Mary Redcliffe

Europe fails refugees again

by Chris Bertram on March 5, 2020

Once again, Europe is failing in its duties towards refugees. The latest episode is the decision of Turkey’s President Erdoğan to permit and even to encourage thousands of people to cross into Greece in order to pressure the EU to do more to support Turkey in its conflict with Russia and the Assad regime in Syria’s Idlib province, itself a site of mass forced displacement where people who have fled Aleppo and other conflict areas in Syria are now concentrated. Erdoğan’s instumentalization of migrants and refugees is cynical and calculated, but that doesn’t excuse the failure of Europe to do its part. Turkey already hosts 3.7 million displaced people from Syria on its territory and the EU has viewed the country as a convenient buffer to keep them from its borders, paying Erdoğan €6 billion to warehouse them. [click to continue…]

Sunday photoblogging: Mount Pleasant, Bristol

by Chris Bertram on March 1, 2020

Mount Pleasant, BS3


by Chris Bertram on February 24, 2020

Sometimes you are reading a novel and it is so extraordinary that you think, is this the best thing I have ever read? For me, that feeling probably comes on about once a year, so there are quite a lot of books that have evoked it. Still, that they do says something, and the latest to have sparked it is Anna Burns’s Milkman, the Booker Prize winner from 2018.

Milkman is, all at once, a tremendous linguistic performance, a triumph of phenomenology, am insightful account of sexual harrassment, a meditation on gossip and what it can do, a picture of the absurdities of enforced communitarian conformity, and a clear-eyed portrayal of what it is to live under the occupation of a foreign army and the domination of the necessary resisters to that army who are, at the same time, friends and family, sometime idealists but sometimes gangsters, bullies and killers.

Anna Burns’s sentences, the stream of consciousness of her 18-year-old narrator, loop back on themselves with further thoughts and reconsiderations. The voice is a combination of personal idiosyncracy and northern Irish English, i.e. comprehensible to speakers of other versions of English but sometimes odd or disconcerting. You can’t skim and get the plot. You have to hold on, read each sentence, and sometime start it again.
[click to continue…]

Sunday photoblogging: Coal loader at Avonmouth

by Chris Bertram on February 23, 2020

Back from 2007

Coal loader at Avonmouth

Who will pick the turnips?

by Chris Bertram on February 20, 2020

I have a new piece up at the LRB blog on the UK’s post-Brexit immigration plans. I argue that at the core of the plans is an intention to treat EU migrants and others as a vulnerable and exploitable workforce and that the logic of denying a long-term working visa route to the low paid leads to three possibilities: either the businesses that rely upon them will go bust, technology will substitute for labour, or the UK will have to start denying education to young Britons so that they become willing to be the underpaid workforce that picks turnips and cleans the elderly in social care.

An important new book about refugeehood

by Chris Bertram on February 19, 2020

A brief plug for an important new (and affordable) book: every home should have one! David Owen has long been know for his thoughtful contribution to philosophical debates around migration, and now he has published a brilliant short book, What Do We Owe to Refugees? in the same excellent Political Theory Today series from Polity that my own book appears in. David’s book is highly readable and gives a solid introduction to the main controversy that runs through modern debates on refugeehood, namely, whether we should adopt a “humanitarian” or a “political” conception of refugees and what we owe to them.

A humanitarian conception of refugees focuses attention on them as needy persons forcibly displaced through no fault of their own. They may be fleeing persecution, or war, or natural disaster or environmental collapse, and the duties that we have to them flow from our common humanity. It is their neediness and not the specific cause of their neediness that is the most important factor. A political conception, by contrast, sees refugees as victims of a special wrong, the denial of political status, of effective citizenship through persecution by the very state whose obligation it is to include them as citizens and to guarantee and respect their rights. Refugeehood as conceived of by the political conception is an internationally-recognized political substitute for the membership that has been unjustly denied by a person’s persecutors. [click to continue…]

Sunday photoblogging: Green post-box

by Chris Bertram on February 16, 2020

A bit of a collector’s item this (taken in 2016). In Ireland there are many British postboxes with the sovereign’s initials that have been overpainted in green by the Irish government since independence. This one, on the Falls Road in Belfast could not be of a type that would appear in the Republic of Ireland because the monarch in question, Elizabeth II, came to the throne after Irish independence, but has been overpainted by Irish republicans in Northern Ireland. In the event of a united Ireland, we could expect official overpainting.

Posted after a bit of twitter discussion with Declan Gaffney and Joel Walmsley yesterday. Joel has a blog on Irish postboxes.

Green Postbox on the Falls Rd in Belfast

Deliberate cruelty and injustice

by Chris Bertram on February 11, 2020

The UK Home Office has just proceeded with a deportation flight to Jamaica. On the flight are “foreign national offenders” convicted of serious crimes. On the flight are also people who have been in the UK from an early age (2 or 3), and people who were convicted of one-time drug-dealing offences, for example. The courts have stopped the removal of a few people who had been denied access to legal support. Naturally, the Home Office and Conservative politicians foreground the “foreign” aspect and the presence of “serious criminals” to perform being tough to the public and their base whilst refusing to discuss the “individual cases” that don’t fit with their propaganda. Labour politicians and others have demanded to know why the flight went ahead when we are still awaiting the results of an inquiry into the Windrush scandal (which included unjust deportations) and in defiance of recommendations that people who came to the UK as small children should not be deported to places where they know no-one. Defending the government’s conduct in the House of Commons, the new immigration minister, Kevin Foster made a comparison between black immigrants (such as midwives) who make a contribution and criminals, thereby suggesting a standard of deservingness that communities of immigrant origin have to meet. And with some justice, the Tories can say that this deportation regime has its basis in laws passed by New Labour in 2007, a point highlighted in Maya Goodfellow’s excellent book, Hostile Environment.

The case raises many issues, but I’d like to foreground three. The first is the willingness of the government to stigmatize as “foreign criminals” people who are anything but foreign, who have been socialized as British, who have nothing and nobody in the country of the nominal nationality. This is because British nationality law puts registration as British beyond the financial grasp of many low-income families or imposes a “bad character” test on children as young as 10 to prevent them from registering. The second is that this shows that the Windrush “moment” is over. Despite having cried some crocodile tears over a scandal that saw some people deported and others lose their homes, jobs and be denied medical care, the government has done nothing to prevent such things from happening in the future and most of the victims have not even been compensated. In fact, the British government remains determined to make it as hard as possible for people at the sharp end of its immigration and nationality regimes to assert and defend their rights, leaving them at the mercy of government officials. The third is that this may be electorally popular, which raises questions for the left: how do we fight injustice in a democracy when deliberate cruelty and injustice come with political benefits?

Sunday photoblogging: Courtyard in Ortygia, Sicily

by Chris Bertram on February 9, 2020

Surprised I hadn’t used this one for Sunday photoblogging before. Taken with a Fuji X100s which I later sold and then somewhat regretted selling. Now I see that that camera has a new generation, the X100v, and I’m tempted, though the price is forbidding for a fixed-lens camera.

Courtyard in Ortygia