Maiden speech to Council: cuts to policing in Leicestershire

Thank you my Lord Mayor. This is my first time speaking in full Council, and I am proud to associate myself fully in support of this motion. My Lord Mayor, the cuts to police numbers being imposed by this Tory-led government is of grave concern to residents in Beaumont Leys, and to residents right across Leicester. And the public are right to be concerned.

In Leicestershire alone we’re going to be worse off to the tune of some 200 officers before the end of this financial year. Not only that, but the forces’ 1,000 civilian support staff will be cut by nearly a quarter by March of next year.

In terms of policing, this Tory-led government is letting down not only the people of Leicester and Leicestershire, but letting people down right across our country. This government likes to talk tough on crime, but when it comes to taking action on matters of law and order, they have behaved disgracefully – and the facts speak for themselves:

We’ve got a Justice Secretary, a former barrister, who doesn’t understand the meaning of the word rape. We’ve got the Ministry of Justice, a government department that up until last week was proposing to give shorter sentences to criminals. We’ve got proposed cuts of some £350million to Legal Aid, making it even harder for the poorest in society to get justice. And then to top it all off, we’ve got the icing on the cake – national cuts to policing on an unprecedented scale, with the loss of anything up to 30,000 jobs.

Some of my wiser colleagues will recall that the last time we had anything close to this level of upheaval in policing was at the time of 1962 Royal commission. But since then, the remit of the police service has expanded dramatically to include dealing with serious and organised crime, cyber offences, increasing local concerns such as antisocial behaviour, and then of course in more recent times, the threat of international terrorism.

What an utterly ridiculous situation we find ourselves in My Lord Mayor, when on the one hand government agencies are proposing to give us a bit of money as part of the Prevent Strategy to tackle home grown extremism leading to terrorism, whilst on the other hand the Tories and Liberal Democrats pull the rug from under our feet, slashing funding, slashing police numbers right across the country.

When the Tories and the Liberal Democrats pledged in their manifestos for the 2010 General Election, to cut the amount of paperwork that the police have to fill in, we all thought they’d rid of the paperwork. Instead, they’re getting rid of the police officers themselves.

The police service is just that – a service, a public service that deserves public support. And I for one am glad that here in Leicester, City Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby has already begun to lead on this subject, with the support of his Cabinet, as well as local Labour MPs, and that action is being taken to try and defend our police service from the impending coalition cuts.

As members of the Police Authority, myself, Councillor Potter and Councillor Senior will also work hard to try and protect policing in Leicester.

My Lord Mayor I hope that this motion receives the unanimous support of this Council and our two Opposition Councillors. And should they, in their infinite wisdom be in two minds about supporting this motion, let me just read this quote from Barrie Roper, who as the Chair of the Leicestershire Police Authority, is on record as saying and I quote:

“There is no doubt that the next four years are going to be extremely challenging as we grapple with major reform, and a shortage of funding to deliver services to the high standards, that our residents deserve.” My Lord Mayor Barry Roper is also, as I’m sure you’re aware, a Tory County Councillor from Rutland. Thank you my Lord Mayor.

Thank you!

Thank you to everyone who helped campaign for Labour in Beaumont Leys: Vijay, Sam, Charles, Richard, Eileen, Chris, Hemant, Aryan, Jeevan, Dina, Leo, Suraj, Rupal, Jamini, Ravina, Leena, Mahboob, Sheraz, Asif, Tahir, Abdul, Shane, Sally, Matt, Naomi, Vijay, Chi, Jason, Michelle, Shaheen, Adam, Zaheer, Justin, Peter, Ashley, Tammy, Liz, Richard, Phillip, Jitu, Riad and Vikesh. You all made a really big difference!

Lest we forget

In a place called Patcham just outside Brighton on the south coast of England, there is an impressive white domed pillared structure called The Chattri. Upon this war memorial inscribed in English and Hindi it says:

“To the memory of all the Indian soldiers who gave their lives in the service of their King Emperor this monument erected on the site where the Hindus and Sikhs who died in hospital at Brighton passed through the fire is in grateful admiration and brotherly affection dedicated.”

Over 12,000 wounded Indian soldiers passed through the Brighton and Hove hospitals during the Great War, and The Chattri memorial is built on the same spot where 53 bodies were cremated, with the ashes later scattered into the sea.

These are just 53 of the millions of reasons why I, as a young British man of Indian descent, wear my poppy with pride at this time of year. 

For me, this ultimate sacrifice that my fellow British countrymen have given over the course of our shared history, means that I have been indebted to them, from the very moment that I was born.

Although we here in Britain have had our fair share of struggles in a less visible but no less essential movement for civil rights for persons of ethnicity, I am confident that we as a people are more united and integrated than others would have us believe.

And it is through our shared history and heartache, our sacrifices and our defence of freedom and the rule of law, that we have gradually shaped and strengthened the bonds which now unite us as a society.

As we second and third generation British-Asians grow up, advance within our careers and create families of our own, far from being confused or unsure as to why people wear poppies or even whether we, as members of minority ethnic communities can or should also wear them, I sincerely hope that one simple truth is borne in mind.

A poppy is a subtle and dignified public display of unity. Unity with all the countless men and women who have given up their lives fighting for the ideals which make our country what it is, and upon whose sacrifice we can live free, and under the equal protection of the law. Whatever our backgrounds or our upbringing, whatever our political, cultural or religious beliefs, the simple truth is that without the sacrifices of generations of brave individuals that have come before us, we would not be blessed with all that we have, and with all those whom we love. 

Lest we forget.

Music for the soul

In the words of Berthold Auerbach, “Music washes away from the soul, the dust of everyday life.” Enjoy these memorable excerpts from 75 of the most stunning pieces of classical music ever produced. Click through to the original YouTube videos for details of the individual piece and composer.

Top of the Popes

To honour the State Visit of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI – Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Primate of Italy, Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman Province, Sovereign of the State of Vatican City, Servant of the Servants of God – I have compiled this Top 10 list of my favourite, historically interesting Popes:

1.   Pope Urban VII was the shortest reigning Pope in history. He became Pope on 15 September 1590,  and died a mere thirteen days later on 27 September 1590. His brief papacy gave rise to the world’s first known public smoking ban, when he threatened to excommunicate anyone who consumed tobacco in church.

2.   Pope Adrian IV was the only Englishman to ever become Pope. He reigned from 4 December 1154 to 1 September 1159. He was born circa 1100 in Abbots Langley, and his birth name was Nicolas Breakspear. He reputedly died from choking on a fly in his wine glass.

3.   Pope Gregory I is the patron saint of musicians, singers, students and teachers. He became Pope on 3 September 590 and died on 12 March 604. Gregorian chant music is named after him, but not the Gregorian calendar, which was instituted by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582.

4. Pope Pius IX was the longest reigning Pope, from 16 June 1846 to 7 February 1878, a period of 31 years and 236 days.  He formalised a system known as Peter’s Pence; an annual worldwide voluntary financial contribution paid by lay members of the Roman Catholic Church and other persons of goodwill. In 2009, Peter’s Pence raised $82,529,417.00 for the Vatican.

5.   Pope Lando became Pope around July or August 913, and reigned until his death around February or March 914. He was one of several Popes to reign during the Saeculum Obscurum; a period of some 60 years when the papacy was strongly influenced by the  powerful and corrupt Theophylacti family.

6.   Pope John Paul I was the first Pope in more than a thousand years to choose a completely new name for himself. His papacy lasted only 33 days in September 1978, making 1978 a “year of three Popes” for the first time since 1605. He is often referred to as the September Pope or the Smiling Pope. The year 1276 is the only year which saw four Popes on the Throne of St Peter.

7.   Pope Celestine V was the last Pope not to have been elected by a conclave. His papacy lasted five months and eight days, commencing on 7 July 1294, and ending with his abdication on 13 December 1294. He is best known for formalising the process by which a Pope could resign, and then relying on that process to tender his own resignation.

8.   Pope Benedict IX was the only man ever to have been Pope on more than one occasion, having held three separate papacies between 1032 and 1056. He was also the only Pope ever to sell the papacy, which he did briefly in May 1045 to his godfather, who proclaimed himself Gregory VI, before reclaiming the title by force a few months later.

9.   Pope Pius V, who reigned from 7 January 1566 to 1 May 1572, famously excommunicated Queen Elizabeth I of England on 27 April 1570, declaring her to be a heretic. He is also credited for introducing the wearing of white garments by a Pope.

10. Pope Victor I was the first Pope to have been born in the Roman Province of Africa. He reigned from 189 to 199, and is famous for introducing the Latin mass to Rome, which had until his papacy been conducted in Greek.

Jai Hind

Jana gaṇa mana adhināyaka jaya he | Bhārata bhāgya vidhātā
Punjāba Sind Gujarāṭa Marāṭhā | Drāviḍa Utkala Banga
Vindhya Himāchala Yamunā Gangā | Ucchala jaladhi taranga
Tava śubha nāme jāge | Tava śubha āśiṣa māge
Gāhe tava jaya gāthā | Jana gaṇa mangala dāyaka jaya he
Bhārata bhāgya vidhāta | Jaya he jaya he jaya he
Jaya jaya jaya jaya he!

Roll of Honour

In Hinduism teachers are considered to be second only to God. Students are taught from a very young age to pay homage to their teachers in order to receive their blessings and their wisdom. In my opinion teachers are the lifeblood of our society. By carefully imparting knowledge from one generation to the next, like batons in a relay race, our teachers help bring about the evolution of our collective human consciousness.

I think most of us tend to remember those teachers who had a lasting impact on our lives. What they did and what they said. The things they taught us and helped us to understand. The way they believed in us and trusted us, inspired us and encouraged us to become better, and to achieve anything we set our minds to.

Just before I’m admitted to the Roll of Solicitors on Monday morning, I want to pay tribute to a number of my former teachers, the men and women who helped make me the man I am today. I am forever grateful to these people, my heroes, for the immeasurable role they’ve had in my life:

Mr J Piper, Mrs E Needham, Mr J Catton, Mr G Campian, Mr J Singh, Mr D Bennett, Mr A Hogg, Mr A Holbrook, Mr M Donnelly, Mr G Tipping, Mr A Cooper, Ms Bhatia, Mr P Crompton, Ms A Crellin, Ms G Kenyon, Mr R Naik, Ms S Zafar, Mr S Nwanuforo, Mr A Wright, Mr D Nixon, Mr B Hicks, Ms M Bakht Ur Rahman, Mr E Hobden, Mrs B O’Reilly, Prof B Blank, Prof A Glees, Prof J Fisher, Mr A Gray, Mr C Stevens, Ms R Grimley, Ms S Peaple, Mr G Hipwell.

“Education is the silver bullet. Education is everything. We don’t need little changes, we need gigantic, monumental changes. Schools should be palaces. The competition for the best teachers should be fierce. They should be making six-figure salaries. Schools should be incredibly expensive for government and absolutely free of charge to its citizens, just like national defence. That’s my position. I just haven’t figured out how to do it yet.” – Sam Seaborn, The West Wing

Why Labour is losing the Hindu vote

– Written exclusively for Labour Uncut –

There is an expectation within the Labour Party that ethnic minorities will remain loyal to the cause come what may. They won’t. In fact, not only is Labour losing popular support amongst British Hindus, but the Tories are making significant inroads into this once rock solid demographic. The trend is reversible, but we need to act decisively in the coming months and years to shore up our vote with Britain’s half a million strong Hindu community.

First, it is important to understand that Hinduism isn’t just a religion, it is a way of life. There is a great deal more than just religious belief that binds the British Hindu population together. It is also worth pointing out that the British Hindu community is becoming increasingly confident, organised and influential, with the emergence of several major umbrella organisations and think tanks in recent years.

Younger second and third generation British Hindus are at the forefront of a progressive revolution within the community. Traditional socio-political trendsetters, such as priests and “community elders”, have been comprehensively replaced by the likes of property developers, high-flying lawyers, and well-connected business people. One of the unfortunate corollaries, however, is that it’s now no longer seen as unfashionable or disloyal to vote Conservative. In some naïve quarters, it has even become something of a status symbol.

The Tory brand has lost it’s racist connotation and aura of elitism. Instead, the Conservative Party has successfully revamped itself as the party of strong family values, educational attainment and success in business. All of which strikes a deep chord with the average British Hindu voter, and with younger professionals in particular. The Conservatives are acutely aware of the benefits that come with increased support from an aspirational British Hindu electorate. David Cameron’s recent Indian jolly was just the latest in a series of concerted efforts to capitalise on Labour’s complacency.

In 1997, just as the Tories were about to be decimated nationally, an organisation called the British Asian Conservative Link was set up to improve the image of the Tory Party and foster better relations with British Asian voters. Their current general secretary, Rickie Sehgal, is a fine example of how strategic thinking on the part of the Tories has helped to deliver support from prominent Hindus.

Since being appointed ethnic minorities officer for Leicester West CLP several weeks ago, I have been speaking to  movers and shakers in Britain’s growing Hindu community. What I’ve been hearing has not made for comfortable listening.

Take Sanjay Mistry for example, vice president and media spokesman for the Hindu forum of Britain. He told me that research carried out by the organisation prior to the election found that support for Labour had fallen significantly, to 27% for Labour, 26% for the Conservatives, 21% for the Liberal Democrats, and 21% undecided.

The Hindu Forum of Britain also found that voting among British Hindus had become much more issues-focused in recent years. Crime, education, healthcare and the economy were the top areas of concern, with little regard for Hindu-specific issues such as cremations and religious rights and freedoms. Sanjay also told me that in his opinion:

“Hindu voters are more likely to vote for Labour if their policies advocate improvements to the economy, increased jobs and support for businesses. Should the Labour party move backward and more to the left, I believe they will lose support from the Hindu community.”

And I had similar responses from others. This from Sanjay Jagatia, Secretary General of the National Council of Hindu Temples (UK):

“In the early years the Labour government built strong links with the Hindu community, but in later years Hindus were marginalised and ignored. There was less effort and investment in engaging with the Hindu community compared to other faith communities. The economy was one of the biggest issues for Hindu voters at the last election and it remains so. I think that Hindu business leaders, entrepreneurs and economists are already more likely to support the Conservative party, and the Conservatives are generally gaining support from British Hindus.”

Kapil Dudakia, respected columnist and adviser to a number of Hindu organisations, is much more blunt in addressing why Labour has been losing support from British Hindus:

”The Hindu community has given Labour a lot of goodwill over many decades and many elections. However there is now a clear sense that whilst votes are accepted by the party, when it comes to doing something for the Hindu community there appears to be little in the way of substance. We still have serious inequalities and a lack of representation in government departments and other public bodies, there is comparatively limited support and capital funding for voluntary Hindu organisations, and there remains a distinct lack of Hindus being selected by Labour to stand in winnable seats, to name a few examples. Labour would do well to address these concerns by moving forwards into 2010 and beyond, rather than going back to the 1970s.”

So the message to Labour from British Hindus is clear. The issues which matter most to British Hindus are the same ones that matter to everybody else: health, education, crime, the economy. If you get these issues wrong, British Hindus will not support you. When it comes to Hindu-specific issues, though – like funding for community organisations and the selection of Hindu PPCs in Labour seats – British Hindus feel neglected and taken for granted.

Nevertheless, British Hindus still retain tremendous goodwill towards Labour. There is a shared history which still resonates. The party still starts every election with an advantage. But it is an advantage which Labour needs to work much harder to convert into votes. Labour needs to embrace the community again, engage with it directly and show it some respect. It’s not too late to stop the British Hindu slide away from Labour. But it soon will be.

The world is not enough

The map of the world that most of us are familiar with, isn’t strictly accurate. The popular Mercator projection map of 1569 inflates the size of land mass moving away from the equator. As much of the developing world lies near the equator, these countries appear smaller and less significant, like the continent of Africa for example which appears the same size as Greenland. The Gall-Peters projection map of 1973 by contrast provides a far more accurate interpretation, correctly reflecting areas of equal size on the globe, and thereby restoring less powerful nations to their correct proportions. This clip from The West Wing sums it up brilliantly:

Legal aid cuts universally condemned

The Junior Lawyers Division, Young Legal Aid Lawyers and the Shadow Legal Aid Minister Lord William Bach have come together today, to condemn the Government for cutting the legal aid training contract grants scheme.

In yet another shocking example of how the least well-off in our society are now the Government’s lowest priority, new Tory legal aid minister Jonathan Djanogly has scrapped the legal aid training contract grant scheme. The scheme, which was introduced by Labour in 2002 and costs the average UK taxpayer around eight pence per annum, helped to create more than 750 new legal aid solicitors over the last 8 years.

But now thanks to the millionaire legal aid minister Jonathan Djanogly, who unsurprisingly chose to train as a corporate finance solicitor himself rather than work in legal aid, there will be fewer solicitors in future to help those who cannot afford to pay, further disenfranchising those who earn little or nothing at all from having access to justice.

Moreover the cuts threaten to jeopardise hundreds of potential new jobs over the next few years, with far fewer training contract places available for LPC graduates, who are already struggling to overcome so many barriers within the profession.

Take Daniel Harrison for example, a trainee solicitor from Eastbourne who benefitted from the scheme. He told me earlier today that he wouldn’t have gotten a training contract at his firm without the training contract grant. With part of his salary being paid by the grant, it allowed him to carry out work that whilst not always being particularly profitable, did in-fact serve to make a difference in peoples’ lives.

Needless to say the scrapping of the training contract grants scheme has been universally condemned by the Young Legal Aid Lawyers, by colleagues at the Junior Lawyers Division and by the Shadow Legal Aid Minister, who spoke exclusively with me earlier this afternoon.

Labour’s Lord Bach condemned the move, saying “this is a mean decision which will lead to some skilled and committed young lawyers not choosing the legal aid path, but looking to other parts of the law. Everyone knows that there may have to be some savings in the total legal aid budget, but to cancel this superb scheme which has worked so well for the last 8 years in order to save £2.6 million, looks petty and incredibly short-sighted. A Labour Government would not have made this decision and I hope to raise the issue in Parliament in the next few days.”

Nobody at the Ministry of Justice was available for comment when I telephoned them earlier today. Probably because the scrapping of the scheme isn’t yet official, despite emails being sent out to dozens of people by the LSC, and the legal aid minister telling a group of lawyers about the plan in person yesterday morning.

Beth Forrester of the Junior Lawyers Division said “the JLD is acutely aware that the current financial climate has had a grave impact on the availability of training contracts throughout the profession, but we are very disappointed to see that those junior lawyers in particular, who are looking to progress in an area of law which is of maximum benefit to the community, are going to be hardest hit.”

Beth’s comments were echoed by Grace Brass, Council Member for junior lawyers on the Law Society’s governing body, who said “if we do not support the training of legal aid lawyers now, the future looks bleak for the profession and society as a whole”.

As luck would have it, the Junior Lawyers Division’s next quarterly meeting is on Saturday 10 July, and Chair Heidi Sandy has agreed to table an emergency discussion and response to this extraordinary development. 

Returning goods to stores made easy

Attempting to return goods to a store in this country can be an infuriating and drawn out process. However if you exude confidence, understand your legal rights and follow through on what you say, you shouldn’t have any problems at all.

When you buy something, pay for it and leave the store, the transaction may be complete but the contract is ongoing. In other words just because you’ve returned home or kept an item for a few weeks, you haven’t automatically completed your end of the contract, and you might still have an option to return or exchange something with which you are dissatisfied.

The question is: are you are dissatisfied with the item because it is faulty, or for some other reason?

If the goods are faulty, not fit for purpose, not as described or not of satisfactory quality, then you are entitled to a full refund. You do not have to accept a repair, a credit note or replacement, although you may want to consider this if you have had the goods for some considerable time.

If you have purchased the wrong item, changed your mind or the item is an unwanted gift, then you are not entitled to a full refund. More often than not however, the shop will give you a refund out of goodwill, but you may have to settle for an exchange or credit note if it’s outside of the store’s discretionary return period (usually 28 days).

You should always act quickly and return items as soon as possible. However if you are attempting to return faulty goods, then you have a “reasonable amount of time” within which to do so, irrespective of what the store’s policy is. So for example, it should to be perfectly fine to return a pair of faulty straighteners after about 6 months if they begin to singe your hair, because if you’ve spent more than £100 on them, you would expect them to work properly for a lot longer than 6 months.

However items which are not fit for purpose, not as described or not of satisfactory quality, should be returned fairly quickly, i.e. within a couple of months, because it would be not reasonable for the buyer to decide 6 months down the line for example that a pair of trousers were wrongly labelled as a size 34, but in-fact measured up as a size 28.

It is always best to have a receipt, but it’s also worth knowing that shops aren’t actually obliged to provide you with a receipt in the first place and under English law, you don’t need to show a receipt when you’re trying to return something. You are just as legally entitled to use a bank or credit card statement to prove the date and location of where the goods were purchased. In-fact simply having a witness who can verify your version of events may also be fine but it’s probably best avoided unless taking legal action.

Whatever happens, don’t take no for an answer, don’t tolerate silly excuses and don’t allow the shop to pass the buck onto the manufacturer. It is the trader’s responsibility to rectify the problem and it is up to them to go back to the manufacturer. If an item is faulty then you should quite simply have no problem in getting back your money from the shop where the item was purchased.

If you don’t get anywhere with the person at the counter, you could asked to speak with the manager. Remind the manager that he/she must surely be familiar with basic consumer law and the Sale of Goods Act, and that you would like the matter to be resolved immediately and without a fuss. If the store manager doesn’t cooperate, take the names of all the people you spoke with as well as details of the company’s head office (if applicable), and leave the store with your head held high.

It is then up to if you wish to take matters further, and you would have several options open to you. You could get in touch with their head office (if there is one) and outline the nature of your dissatisfaction. You could do a Companies House search online, get the addresses of all the Company Directors and then write to them individually. And of course you could always sue the company in the Small Claims Court, if the damages sought are less than £5,000, however this would be time consuming and probably cost you a few hundred pounds.

Overall just remember that you’re not a criminal for taking something back to a shop and wanting a refund, despite how the sales assistant looks at you. Just stay calm, be confident, polite and professional, and then when you feel the full weight of the English legal system behind you, just lean in and gently ask… “may I speak with the store manager please?”

THIS BLOG MUST NOT BE RELIED UPON AS LEGAL ADVICE

David Miliband wins BAME Hustings

Well it’s been an exciting day here in Leicester, as the Labour Party leadership hopefuls converged on the city, to take part in the first of a series of special BAME hustings (click here for a timetable of other upcoming hustings). Along with a number of other people I was Tweeting live from the event, primarily to get the message out, and let those in my Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn networks follow the event.

Unsurprisingly a number of people on Twitter have been questioning the need for the Labour Party to hold a special BAME hustings. Equally unsurprisingly, most of those who appear to have an issue with the concept are either a) not from a BAME background or b) not Labour supporters.

As the Ethnic Minorities Officer for the Leicester West constituency, I know for a fact that the vast majority of Labour Party members and supporters have no issue with there being a special BAME hustings. Indeed it’s not even a new concept. I remember attending the Deputy Leadership BAME hustings in Leicester almost 3 years ago to the day, where both Harriet Harman and Alan Johnson stole the show, before both coming first and second respectively in the proceeding contest.

Today’s BAME hustings, which were held at Soar Valley college in Leicester where I’m proud to be a school governor, attracted a diverse mix of people from all backgrounds and all religions. The questions were also fairly similar to the types of questions being asked at other hustings up and down the country. There was of course an underlying BAME theme to the debate, and every candidate did a good job at tackling the big issues, and tying them in with the specific needs and concerns of BAME communities.

For me however, there was only one candidate who stood head and shoulders above the rest. That candidate was DAVID MILIBAND, who himself is the son of Jewish immigrants to Britain.

David spoke of the need to run our immigration system with humanity and the need to tackle international problems with international solutions. He also committed to a target for BAME MPs and promised to lead the drive to make Labour the equal opportunities party. On Labour’s record in Government David was frank and honest, saying that the “worst thing that ever happened to Tony Blair was George Bush”. He also lamented the ‘British jobs for British workers’ phrase, calling it a mistake.

And to minority communities here in Britain, David spoke of the responsibility that we all share to become part of the wider society. He praised Leicester’s proud history of multiculturalism and diversity, and challenged the city to lead the way and show the rest of the country how it’s done. David certainly has a lot of support in Leicester and beyond, and indeed earlier today nearly 200 members of BAME communities backed David Miliband for the leadership of the Labour Party.

Based on the applause and the dozens of people I spoke with at the hustings, it was clear that David Miliband had the most support from the hundreds who attended, with Diane Abbott a close second, particularly after a very well received closing speech. There was also a good deal of support for Ed Miliband, who had been out campaigning earlier in the day in the city’s Castle Ward, where Labour are contesting a Council by-election on 15 July 2010.

Overall it was a fantastic and well-attended hustings, generating a great deal of interest and excellent, purposeful debate. Like many other Labour Party members and activists across the country I look forward to an exciting summer ahead, and a time when the party of progressive politics is once again, back in power.

Brain’s Got Talent

The human brain is absolutely astounding. As far as I am aware, there isn’t anything else like it in nature, and science has yet to build a computer that even comes close.

Putting aside for a moment any deeper philosophical discussion on the differential between the brain and the mind, it strikes me that we are living in extraordinary times, evolving in a way that nobody had foreseen. For the first time in Earth’s 4.5 billion year history, all the component members of an entire species the world-over are able to communicate amongst themselves, with ease.

Admittedly perhaps this build-up over the preceding few sentences for the humble Internet was a tad dramatic, but when you sit and think about the fact that we now have a global infrastructure in place to potentially connect up and harness the energy of more than 6 billion human brains, well, it’s enough to blow your mind.

Humanity really is on the cusp of a new era of scientific discovery. Sequencing the human genome was a big step in the right direction, and within the next two decades I predict that our collaborative human effort will eradicate all diseases, and develop a way to treat other health problems at a sub-atomic level.

Far sooner than that however, I predict that social media will advance to such a level, that willing participants will be able to integrate themselves into a kind of hive-mind “Borg” collective. That is to say, voluntarily undergo medical procedures to connect organic brain tissue, with technological circuitry for the purpose of communication.

Human beings will eventually be able to communicate with not much more than the simple power of thought. Our collective human consciousness is about to be unveiled in a way that we could never have imagined. These are very exciting times in which to be alive.

The A to Z of BlackBerry: a beginner’s guide

Applications

Think of your BlackBerry as akin to Microsoft Windows, and think of “applications” as akin to different software packages. These applications can be downloaded (either for free or for a fee) from BlackBerry Apps World. There is an ever expanding variety of useful applications.

BlackBerry Messenger

This is a brilliant feature available on all BlackBerry handsets. This application allows you to create a permanent live connection with fellow BlackBerry users. You can then send and receive free instant messages, files and photographs to one another, anywhere in the world.

Calendar

The BlackBerry calendar feature is very user friendly and similar to your Microsoft Outlook calendar. It can also be synchronised with your Microsoft Outlook calendar at work. You can change the view settings and alert times, and you can run several simultaneous calendars.

Documents To Go™

Documents To Go is a suite of applications akin to Microsoft Office: Word To Go (Word), Sheet To Go (Excel) and Slideshow To Go (PowerPoint). The basic application allow you to view documents for free, but you have to upgrade and pay to be able to create and edit files.

Emails

You can set your handset to receive emails from virtually every email account that you hold. Emails are usually forwarded to your handset instantly. Your handset should also reconcile itself with your various email accounts, so that sent and deleted emails are synchronised.

Flashing LED

Although the flashing LED indicator can be switched off, it is probably best to keep it switched on. It flashes red when you have received an alert. It can also be set to flash green for when you do not have any alerts. When you are using Bluetooth it flashes blue.

GPS

Most handsets now come with GPS as standard. You can use BlackBerry maps and other applications to locate your position or plan a journey. Some applications rely on this feature to be able to give you relevant localised information, i.e. weather reports, cinema listings etc.

Handsfree / speakerphone

Like most phones you can plug in a handsfree kit or use a Bluetooth headset with your BlackBerry. Whilst on a call, press the key with a small red megaphone (above the $ key), to put your phone on loudspeaker. The volume controls are on the right of the handset.

Internet

Your BlackBerry needs the support of a server to function. It can either use a BlackBerry Enterprise Server (if your company has is set up), or more likely it will use your network provider’s server. You can access Internet sites on your phone by clicking on the globe icon.

Just for fun

Every BlackBerry comes with a number of basic games. These are contained within the folder with a small blue games controller icon. The media gallery contains all your music, videos, ring tones, pictures and voice notes. This folder has a small CD, photo and musical clef icon.

Keyboard

Numbers are in red on the left side of your keyboard. To type a number, press “alt” together with the relevant key. Press “symbol” to find less frequently used letters and symbols. When checking texts or emails, press “T” to scroll to the top and “B” to scroll to the bottom.

Locking handset

Press and hold key “A” to lock your handset. To unlock the handset you have to press the star key, followed by the green call button. For added security there is a new application which allows for “remote self-destruct” of all data, in the event your handset is lost or stolen.

Media Card

Most handsets come with an added media card as standard. They usually slot into the left side of the handset. A media card provides additional memory space on to which excess data can be stored. This is particularly useful if you have lots of music files on your BlackBerry.

Navigation

Most BlackBerry handsets come with either a trackball or trackpad to navigate your way around the handset. All individual icons can also be moved around, depending on your preference. It makes sense to have your 6 most commonly used icons on the top row.

Options

Options are located under the small spanner icon. Here you will find a variety of options to check / amend the settings on your handset. Clicking on Status for example, tells you the battery life on your phone, and Memory tells you how much free memory you have left.

Profiles

A BlackBerry comes with several standard profiles, i.e. Normal, Quiet, Vibrate etc.. You can also create your own profiles. You can programme your handset with different alert tones for different messages, and this helps to distinguish an email from a text message, for example.

Quick keys

When checking texts or emails, there are a number of quick keys you can use. Click “N” for next and “P” for previous, click “R” for reply and “F” for forward, and click “T” to scroll to the top and “B” to scroll to the bottom. Clicking “S” give you the option to perform a search.

Reboot

You can reboot your handset by briefly taking the battery out of it. This needs to be done after removing an application from your handset, although you do get prompted. It is also advisable to reboot at least once a week, to maintain the performance of your handset.

Speed dials

You can assign a speed dial to every key on your QWERTY keyboard. The easiest way to do this is to press and hold a particular key, and then assign the speed dial when prompted. Speed dial “Q” is usually assigned to change your profile to vibrate. “A” usually locks phone.

Text messages

Like most phones, sending and receiving SMS (texts) and MMS (picture messages) is relatively straightforward. This feature has a small mobile handset and envelope icon. You can also save text messages and emails, which are then stored in your saved messages folder.

USB Port

All handsets come with a USB port and data cable. Installing the BlackBerry desktop software onto your computer is essential. This allows you to perform backups and restorations when required. The file structure on your BlackBerry is very similar to that of Microsoft Windows.

Video / Camera

All handsets come with a built-in camera and most have a video recorder as well. The video camera feature has a camcorder icon, and the camera feature has a camera icon. Video clips and photos are stored in the media gallery, along with music, ring tones and voice notes.

Wi-Fi

Although most handsets now use the 3G network to browse the Internet and download data, utilising Wi-Fi is by far the quickest method. Your handset can connect to the web on the back of any unsecured Wi-Fi signal, although setting up your own secured Wi-Fi is the best option.

Xtras

There are a number of other useful features on your handset, including: alarm, calculator, stopwatch, maps, task scheduler (a to-do list with alarm), and voice recorder (for dictation / voice notes). Helpful features include: manage connections, search, help, and standby.

Your PIN

Your PIN is unique to your handset. It is particularly helpful when trying to connect with someone on BlackBerry Messenger. It is also far more secure to give out your PIN to somebody, than your mobile number. To find your PIN click Options, and then click Status.

Zzz…

In the unlikely event that you want to switch your phone off, simply press the standby button and wait for about 30 seconds. You can also set your handset to switch off / switch on automatically. This feature can be found under Options, and then under Auto On/Off.

Junior lawyers inspired to take action

As the national representative for Leicestershire, I have the distinct honour of representing my home county on the national committee of the Junior Lawyers Division (JLD).

At our last full committee meeting, we received an inspirational briefing from Simon Baker, a member of the JLD’s executive committee. He briefed us all on The Milburn Report, a document published last summer by the Panel on Fair Access to the Professions, and chaired by the Government’s social mobility czar Alan Milburn.

The report identified law as a “closed profession”, with 50% of lawyers coming from private education, whereas nationally only around 7% of people attend private schools. Barriers to entering the profession include the cost of higher education, lack of work experience opportunities and poor careers advice in schools.

Simon also briefed us on a conference he had attended in late 2009, entitled “The Future of the Legal Profession”, where Mr Justice Vos was a keynote speaker. Mr Justice Vos spoke of the need to get young lawyers into schools and to act as role models and careers advisers, particularly to children from less privileged backgrounds, for whom having existing connections to members of the profession was a rarity.

The whole ethos at the Junior Lawyers Division and indeed the firm that I work for, is to take action, and work hard to make a difference. Thanks to the inspirational leadership of our executive committee officers, I decided to take action and to try and make a difference in my community. A few days later I applied to become a School Governor, and a few weeks ago I learnt that my application had been successful.

I am now a Governor for a modern, vibrant college here in the city of Leicester, and whilst no meetings have yet been held, I’m very much looking forward to investing my time and energy into this school, and working hard to try and make a difference for the children that study there.

I know there are other junior lawyers up and down the country with the drive and determination to change our society and to work to improve the lives of those less fortunate. My advice is to get out there and take action. The next generation is relying on us, now more than ever.

Welcome to my world

A BlackBerry is not just a mobile phone. To think of it as such is akin to labelling Leonardo Da Vinci a good painter and decorator, or the Great Wall of China a sturdy fence. No, a BlackBerry is a “life organiser”. A modern day Triquarter that can neatly press, fold and deliver the sum of all human knowledge to ones fingertips with all the sophistication of a Mercedes Benz. If sliced bread could talk, it would use the invention of the BlackBerry as a benchmark.

This extraordinary device has, if you’ll pardon the pun, taken the legal profession by Storm. A cacophony of legal applications are now being rolled out, with hybrid software that can already record dictation, edit and view Office and PDF documents, and capture billable units from calls and emails, to name but a few examples.

However the biggest appeal for lawyers surely has to be the way in which a BlackBerry simply gets on with the job, without faffing about. The language is clear, the features are straightforward and the integrated technology is effortless. Indeed the whole BlackBerry resin d’etre could probably be defined in three words – simplicity, efficiency and ingenuity – and this is something that more and more law firms are beginning to clock on to.

And when it comes to keeping up with business trends, we all know that any lawyer worth their salt needs to have a decent online presence, in order to build relationships with fellow professionals and potential clients. Thankfully a BlackBerry can easily integrate a multitude of social networks with the robust functionality of a Swiss army knife (although the Facebook application is admittedly rather poor).

So why do I have a BlackBerry? Well for a start I want clear, concise and accurate information without delay so that I can make quick informed decisions. I also want to be able to plan my next hour, day or week in seconds, not minutes, and spend as little time as possible entering details into my phone, learning how to operate some new fangled software or going back and having to correct a dozen mistakes, courtesy of a grimy unreliable touchscreen.

The truth is a BlackBerry has your best interests at heart. It understands how you work and it’s on your side. It’s not going to try and sell you applications you don’t need or games you’ll never play. It’s not going to make you feel out of touch if you don’t happen to have the latest version. And it’s not going to suck money from your wallet like some kind of vibrating leech should you happen to drop it.

What it will do however, is give you what you want, when you want it. A functional, professional and reliable personal assistant, ready to synchronise your world, maximise your productivity, and free up some much needed time. Case in point, I’ve just written this on my BlackBerry sitting on a packed Piccadilly Line train, somewhere under West London. Welcome to my world.