Profile

I’m a multimedia reporter, producer and presenter currently covering politics for BBC Westminster.

I have worked on investigations and breaking news, covering the EU Referendum campaign, the fallout from the vote to leave and the 2017 General Election for the BBC Westminster desk. I have interviewed senior politicians including the Prime Minister, Chancellor and Foreign Secretary. Prior to making the move to Westminster, I reported and presented for BBC South, covering the scandal at Southern Health, UK asylum seeker policies, the international trade in surveillance technology and child sexual exploitation.

I have a keen interest in World Affairs and have shot and edited films overseas for the BBC and other organisations on the migrant crisis in Greece, how mobile technology is changing lives in Tanzania, provision of schools for disabled children in Sri Lanka and the university system in Holland. You can view some of these pieces by clicking on the ‘World Affairs’ tab.

I am a VJ and video editor and have experience of creating digital films for the BBC and creative organisations. Before joining the BBC, I worked as a financial journalist creating digital video and print pieces, as well as optimising content for online publication.

In my spare time I enjoy playing the acoustic and bass guitar, listening to music (and going to festivals), reading, running, watching films and playing squash.

You can follow me on Twitter @robpowellnews or email me at rob.powell@bbc.co.uk.

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History according to Ken

Where is the veteran left-winger getting his information on Hitler and Zionism from? And how much truth is there in his claims?

Over the last week, former London mayor Ken Livingstone has again been making a number of eye-catching claims of “real collaboration” between the Nazi government and Jewish groups in the 1930s.

He repeated his claim that Hitler had supported Zionism; the belief in the establishment of a Jewish state.

But he also went further, saying the Nazi paramilitary group the SS had set up training camps to help Jews move to Palestine and that Hitler’s government has passed a law allowing “the Zionist flag” to be flown in Germany.

Asked where the evidence was for this, Mr Livingstone cited a 1978 Chicago University paper by an academic whose name “begins with N”.

That academic is Professor Francis R. Nicosia, a historian who has authored and edited several books on Zionism, anti-Semitism and the Holocaust.

So what exactly does Professor Nicosia say?

‘Hitler supported Zionism’

On the question of whether Hitler supported Zionism, Professor Nicosia wrote in his Chicago University paper that in the 1920s there was “some evidence that Hitler… was prepared to encourage Zionist emigration from Germany to Palestine”.

But speaking today, he says this was not a “sympathy or support for Zionism as such”.

“The Hitler regime saw Zionism and its movements and organizations as useful mechanisms for facilitating the removal of Jews from Greater Germany and Europe,” he said.

Or as Holocaust historian Professor Dan Stone puts it, “if you believe Jews represent a threat to the Aryan race and that they run the world, then that’s not really compatible with believing they should have their own state”.

‘SS training camps’

Professor Nicosia and the website Jewish Gen both refer to training programmes and centres to help German Jews obtains skills before moving to Palestine.

But neither claims the SS set up these camps, as Ken Livingstone suggests.

Rather, both say they were run by German Zionist organisations and allowed to operate by the SS – as they helped facilitate the movement of Jews out of Germany.

Professor Nicosia says that while these centres were allowed to operate, there was a ban on “Jewish meetings of a political nature”.

‘The Zionist flag’

Ken Livingstone’s claim that Nazi Germany passed a law allowing the “Zionist flag” to be flown also has some basis in reality.

The Nuremberg Laws of 1935 permitted Jews to display “the Jewish colours” but banned them from displaying the Swastika or the German national colours.

Professor Dan Stone says any suggestion that the Nuremberg laws put the Jewish flag and the Swastika on an equal footing is false.

“The laws did not mandate that the swastika and the ‘Zionist flag’ were the only flags that could be flown in Germany”, he says. 

‘Partial truths’

Throughout the last week Ken Livingstone has stood by his remarks on Hitler and Zionism, pointing those with questions to the work of Professor Francis R. Nicosia.

Today, Professor Nicosia has said that while Hitler and the Nazis “encouraged the Zionist movement in Germany” they were not supporters of the Zionist cause.

“For Nazis, as for anti-Semites in general, there was no such thing as ‘good Jews’ but there were ‘useful Jews’”, he says.

Professor Dan Stone calls claims of ‘real collaboration’ between the Nazis and Zionists “a misunderstanding of the nature of the situation”.

“Human life involves shades of grey, there were always very small numbers of Jews who collaborated with the Nazis in order to try and save their own skins. Usually to no avail,” he says.

Israeli historian Professor Yehuda Bauer sums up the row by saying “much of what Livingstone says is true, but at the same time distorted”.

“Partial truths are more dangerous than outright lies!” he says.

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Portsmouth ‘takes more asylum seekers than other cities’

A “disproportionate number” of asylum seekers are being housed in Portsmouth compared to more expensive towns and cities, a leaked report claims.

From April to June 2015, 124 asylum seekers were housed in Portsmouth – 43% of the south east total.

But areas in the south of England, including Winchester, Chichester, Guildford, Bournemouth and Havant, took no asylum seekers in this quarter.

Portsmouth council has asked the Home Office to look at the situation.

In the leaked document, the authority said it had taken a “disproportionate number” of asylum seekers, and any more would “increase pressure” on local services.

The Home Office said it worked with local authorities to monitor closely the impact of housing asylum seekers.

‘Cheaper accommodation’

Portsmouth is a designated cluster area where asylum seekers are housed by a private company contracted by the Home Office.

Southampton, another cluster area, had 61 asylum seekers in dispersed accommodation.

The leaked report said there had been: “a reluctance to open up new cluster areas in the south, possibly due to cheaper accommodation available in Portsmouth.”

Councillor Donna Jones, leader of Portsmouth City Council, said, “Portsmouth really has stepped up to the plate over the last ten years.

“We’re doing our bit, we have done our bit. But we have massive housing waiting lists.”

Asylum seekers are dispersed to and housed in Portsmouth by the company Clearsprings, which is contracted by the Home Office.

A spokesperson for the Home Office said: “Agreements between the Government and participating local authorities are voluntary.

“We review these arrangements regularly and all asylum intake has to be approved by the local authority involved.

“We work closely with local authorities to ensure that the impact of asylum dispersals are considered and acted upon.”

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Analysis

Rob Powell, BBC South Today

The question of where to house refugees is being asked at every level.

National government debates how people should be divided up between countries. Local government debates how they should be divided up between regions.

When compared to other parts of the south east, Portsmouth does take a large number of asylum seekers. But when you look at country-wide figures, a different picture emerges.

Between April and June this year 124 asylum seekers were placed in dispersed accommodation in Portsmouth. The same figure for Liverpool was more than ten times larger at 1,369. Rochdale had 956. Manchester had 786.

The regional differences are even bigger: 289 asylum seekers in the whole of the South East, 7,009 in the North West and 2,646 in the North East. Cost and availability of housing are seen as the drivers for these disparities.

Experts in refugee accommodation say the dispersal programme was first set up to ease the pressure on London and the South-East – traditionally the entry region to the UK for most asylum seekers.

But with asylum seeker dispersals in the north far outnumbering the south, that aim now looks to have come full circle.

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