Thursday 21 December 2006

Films in 2006

Another year, another summary of the films I've been to in the last year.

Despite still no longer having the time to write reviews, I haven't yet broken the habit of heading straight for a cinema when I have a few hours to kill - 38 times this year.

I was saying to a friend recently that 2006 had been a year of fairly mediocre films, but looking back on those I've seen in the last twelve months, that's not true: there have been some excellent movies, a number I'd love to see again.

Here's the list - as usual, with star ratings (out of 5)

5 stars: Unmissable!
4 stars: Definitely worth seeing
3 stars: Decent film
2 stars: Disappointing
1 star: Pants
No stars: Why was this released?

In date order - five star films highlighted in bold

Jarhead (***)
Memoirs of a Geisha (**)
The Constant Gardener (***)
Syriana (*****)
Tsotsi (****)
V For Vendetta (*****)
The Inside Man (****)
Capote (****)
Massaker (**)
Good Night and Good Luck (*****)
Mission Impossible 3 (**)
Hidden [Cache] (**)
The Three
Burials of Melquiades Estrada (*****)
Brick (****)
Donnie Darko (*****) - again!
X Men 3 (***)
The Wind That Shakes the Barley (****)
Superman Returns (****)
Warrior King (***)
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (***)
Nacho Libre (**)
CSA: Confederate States of America (****)
A Scanner Darkly (****)
Right At Your Door (****)
Children of Men (*****)
An Inconvenient Truth (*****)
Primo Levi's Journey (***)
Days of Glory [Indigènes] (****)
The Prestige (****)
Casino Royale (****) - twice
The Page Turner (****)
: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (*)
Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait (**)
Shortbus (****)
Eragon (**)
Pan's Labyrinth (*****)
Flags of Our Fathers (***)

Monday 6 November 2006

Newham's voluntary sector - the Trojan Horse for backdoor privatisation?

Newham takes a step closer to the possibility of backdoor privatisation of a swathe of council services in the coming months. Key to this process is what many will see as a surprising potential Trojan horse – the charities, voluntary organisations and community groups that seek to represent, defend and support the most disadvantaged in east London. Their involvement is a central plank of the Blairite agenda for so-called ‘public service reform’, with the Local Government Association suggesting that half of all council services could be outsourced to not-for-profit sector organisations by 2010. And the decision by Newham council to move away from providing grants and towards commissioning services from local voluntary and community groups has left these organisations in a flat spin.

In part this has been because the council is consulting on the services it might want to outsource, but has already started the process of commissioning before consultation has been completed. This has left everyone confused. But mainly it has geared up local organisations for an undignified scramble for money, one that looks likely to shut out smaller groups or make them dependent upon the goodwill and favour of their larger counterparts. In this respect, local groups have already started to mimic the private sector in looking for ways to survive in a market environment, eyeing the competition and keeping their plans closely guarded. But what is most surprising is that a voluntary and community groups, at heart people and community orientated, have accepted this ‘reform’ without question.

There has been almost no debate amongst groups about whether this is really the direction they should be taking or if it is in the interests of those they work with. Nor does there seem to be any recognition of the many failures of the market, from rail privatisation to education and the NHS, where the private sector has demonstrated its inability to apply market methods to delivering public services. As Martin McIvor, Director of Compass (by no means a
particularly radical think tank), has argued, “complex services, in which strategic planning, efficient integration and the maintenance of universal standards are at a premium, are likely to suffer when ownership is fragmented, resulting in increased costs and risking the emergence of unaccountable local monopolies.” There is a real prospect that what already looks like a hastily thought through commissioning process in Newham risks exactly this outcome. Not only could there soon be a widening gulf between the larger charities that become the new providers of contracted services and the rest of Newham’s beleaguered voluntary and community groups. But will services suffer as they are split apart, only for those who trying to deliver them to find they are shackled by the contracts they have signed?

The disappear of grant funding will undermine many of the strengths of Newham's not-for profit sector, such as the value its independence from the state provides in encouraging the self-organisation of communities or vulnerable groups to exercise their rights and articulate their concerns, or its ability to experiment and therefore offer alternatives to the way things have always been done. But more competition and dependence on contracts will also force voluntary and community groups to make increasingly commercial decisions that could move them further and further away from their fundamental principles. Will becoming more like the private sector mean cost cutting and depress already lower salaries in the not-for-profit sector? Is there more chance that users will face new or increased charges? Will the cohesiveness and shared vision of the not-for profit sector, and its ability to act together in the face of inflexible and bureaucratic decision-making by the council, disappear forever?

Most importantly, does the lack of capacity of voluntary and community groups to cope with growing levels of contracting out herald the arrival in three years time, when the new contracts will end, of the private sector, ready to step in when voluntary and community organisations are judged to have ‘failed’? Is Newham's not-for-profit sector holding open the door for privatisation by stealth?

Wednesday 16 August 2006

Launch of Billy Bragg's new book 'The Progressive Patriot'

Billy Bragg will be in conversation with John Pandit of Asian Dub Foundation on

Wednesday 18th October

Straford Circus, Theatre Square E15
Tickets cost £5 and are available from Newham Bookshop
Call 020 8552 9993 or e-mail

What does it mean to be English? What does it mean to be British? Is the cross of St. George a proud symbol of a great tradition, or the badge of a neo-Nazi? In a world where British citizens can lay bombs to kill their countrymen, where religious fundamentalism is on the increase and where the BNP are somehow part of the democratic process, what does patriotism actually mean?

Singer Billy Bragg's new book 'The Progressive Patriot' is an passionate response to the London bombings of 7 July 2005. Bragg describes feeling hemmed in by fascists on one side and religious fanatics on the other, with the suicide bombers all British-born and well integrated into a multicultural society and yet feeling no compunction in murdering and maiming their fellow citizens. He argues that inclusivity is important, but without a sense of belonging to accompany it, what chance is there for social cohesion? But where does a sense of belonging come from? Can it be conferred by a legal document? Is it a matter of blood and soil? Can it be taught? Is it nature or nurture?

Monday 31 July 2006

Seven Weeks On, Police Still Struggle To Answer Concerns On Local ‘Anti-Terror’ Raid

The following is the text of a newsletter distributed by Newham Monitoring Project to residents of the streets that were closed following the disastrous 'anti-terror' raid in Forest Gate. You can download a PDF copy of the newsletter here [116K]

It has now been seven weeks since an ‘anti-terror’ raid on two homes in Lansdown Road led to the closure of streets, the shooting of an innocent Forest Gate resident and two families found their lives turned upside down. And yet despite admitting that they need to ‘learn the lessons’ of the failure to communicate with local people, Newham’s police have failed to provide answers to the concerns that have been raised about both the raids themselves and the aftermath. They say they have spoken to ‘community leaders’. This update pieces together information for the benefit of everyone else.

Why weren’t local people kept informed?
On the day of the raids, 2nd June, the Metropolitan Police press bureau issued a statement (bulletin 413, subsequently altered on the Met’s website) saying that “local Safer Neighbourhoods’ officers will be working closely with affected residents and members of the community to provide support, advice and reassurance.” This turned out to be untrue. The sergeant leading the Green Street East team was on holiday but no other efforts were made to ensure that local officers with a knowledge of the area were involved in providing reassurance to the local community. As we all soon discovered, the officers patrolling the cordons of the roads that were closed were from across London. They had been given no information as to why there were road closures when there was no threat to the safety of the public or why residents had to be escorted to their homes. This led to considerable confusion about whether visitors were allowed in, whether they had to be met at the cordon and (in the case of Lansdown Rd) whether they had to provide identification.

Both the local and national press reported that the police would be delivering a letter to local people, answering some of their questions. At a meeting of the Green Street Community Forum on 13 June, Newham’s senior officer in charge of Operations, Superintendent Phil Morgan, said that a letter including ‘questions and answers’ had been drafted but that Scotland Yard had refused to agree its wording. At a meeting of the Newham Community and Police Forum on 24 July, Superintendent Morgan went further, saying that the police had been unable to write to residents because ‘logistics’ could not keep up with ‘changing events’.

However, when it came to the information that was really needed – about the cordons, about escorting residents to their doors, about how long the police operation might take – nothing fundamentally changed between 2 June and 10 June, when the cordon was finally lifted. Why was its so difficult to communicate with 300 homes?

On 22 July, a letter from Chief Inspector Derrick Griffiths was finally drafted, but it has never been delivered. It is far from adequate and far too late, but you can read its contents overleaf [see below]. It seems a shame that it has been necessary for Newham Monitoring Project to pass it on to local people, rather than the police themselves.

Why WON’T the police say anything?
There are many questions that need answering about the raids themselves and understandably, some information will not be available until after an investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC). This is to ensure that any possible disciplinary or legal action is not put in jeopardy. However, this only applies to the complaints that the IPCC are investigating, not to everything to do with events from 2 June onwards. On 24 July Michael Johnson, Borough Commander for Newham, was extremely unwilling to answer questions and kept taking refuge behind the IPCC’s investigations as an explanation for why he is will not comment in more detail.

The IPCC have told us: “The Metropolitan Police are not prevented from providing information to the community about the aftermath of the Forest Gate incident. We are aware that, in some quarters of the police, the perception exists that they are prohibited from divulging any information; however, the IPCC has clarified the correct position to the police whenever possible.”

Why CAN’T Newham police answer our questions?

Maybe part of the reason that senior officers are hiding behind the IPCC investigation is that they simply do not have the answers. It is clear that our local police were shut out of an operation planned and directed from Scotland Yard, making a mockery of the idea of ‘community policing’.

Borough Commander Michael Johnson has said that he does not feel his role has been undermined by the exclusion of local officers from one of the most significant and high profile police operations in Newham because the raids “were a very tiny part of the work of the police in the borough”, but that sounds unconvincing. Seven weeks on from 2nd June and despite promises that the police will ‘learn the lessons’ from the poor communication to local residents, it also looks as those Newham’s police are still shut out. Michael Johnson looks like a man struggling to talk about issues without so much as a briefing from his superiors.

We need someone who CAN answer our concerns
Andy Hayman, an Assistant Commissioner for the Metropolitan Police, was in charge of the raids in Lansdown Road and had a central role in assessing the intelligence and coordinating the police response. Newham Monitoring Project wrote to him in June expressing some of the concerns raised by local people and suggested that he is best placed to respond directly to you about those concerns. Now the Green Street Community Forum has written to him, asking him to come to the borough and answer the questions that the police in Newham are unable to address. Michael Johnson has also agreed to pass on this request.

It is vital that Andy Hayman comes to Newham and talks to local people at a public forum in person. It is clear that our local officers, pushed aside by Scotland Yard, are unable to answer any local concerns.

Text of the letter from Newham Police that was never delivered to local residents

Dear Resident, Business Owner

This message seeks to address some of the current issues that have been raised by the local community following the Police operation in Lansdown Road on Friday 2nd June.

First of all let me reassure you that your local Police understand your concerns and understand why such an operation can be unsettling to the local community. We apologise for the lack of information that has been available in respect of this operation, which is due to circumstances beyond our local control. The Muslim community is one of many that co-exist peacefully in Newham. The contribution of all of these communities is highly valued and makes Newham the vibrant place it is. The fact that so many different communities live together in peace and harmony is our greatest strength and it is only by us all continuing to speak and work together that we can grow ever closer and resist pressure from those who would seek to cause unrest and division. Despite the tensions of the past couple of weeks we find that the community are still united and we therefore seek your continued support and confidence.

I would personally like to thank those residents who kindly supported the officers staffing the cordons with drinks and other refreshments. These officers were from other boroughs, but they have asked me to pass on that your kindness was very much appreciated.

Chief Inspector Derrick Griffiths


Only a small number of officers were needed for the actual search of two premises. The vast majority ( about 200 ) were never deployed. Their presence was essential in order that we could ensure the safety of local residents should events have unfolded differently. Fortunately their deployment was not necessary.

Recent media reports suggested that a lot of damage has been caused. This is not the case. In fact, given the extent of the searches little damage has been caused to the houses during the operation and subsequent search. Immediately prior to handing the houses over to the control of solicitors acting for the families I arranged for them to be viewed by the Chair of the Barking and Dagenham Independent Advisory Group. This person is entirely independent of police in Newham and is also a Muslim. He shares my views about the extent of the damage, however, I do understand that any such event must be very traumatic for the families concerned and so even small amounts of damage can seem significant.

Local police had no part to play in this operation and the search of the premises. Our role was to ensure that the community were kept informed of events (as far as was possible) and to protect the local Muslim community.

I acknowledge that such a high profile incident happening on your doorstep must have an unsettling effect. However, if you still have any outstanding concerns then please feel free speak to one of your local Safer Neighbourhood officers or contact me at East Ham Police Station (0208 217 4372). If you do not wish to speak direct to police then you can contact one of your local councillors at their advice surgeries, they have agreed to help address any concerns that you may have. Your local councillors are Cllr Sharaf Mahmood, Cllr Rohima Rahman and Cllr Abdul Shakoor. Details of their surgery times can be found on Newham Councils website,

On a daily basis local police have contacted and sought the advice of members of our local Independent Advisory Group and community leaders both elected and otherwise. On the day of the event the local Borough Police Commander visited five of the local Mosques to explain what had happened and why. We have also worked closely with the Alliance of Mosques, other community leaders and local ward councillors to listen to community concerns. May I take this opportunity to thank all of these people and organisations for their continued advice and support.. Finally, being under the media spotlight brings with it the risk of inaccurate information being circulated within the local community. Your local Police work very closely with the people mentioned above in order to ensure that through this community consultation process we can keep people as informed as possible.

For more information on the community campaign demanding Assistant Commissioner Andy Hayman comes to Newham and faces local people, see earlier posting from 14 July here

Monday 17 July 2006

In Other News: Sun Comes Up In The Morning...

... and the Crown Prosecution Service said today, in what must be one of its most leaked and least surprising announcements, that once again, no police officer will face criminal charges for killing a member of the public.

This time there will be no charges for the execution of Jean Charles de Menezes at Stockwell tube station last year. We can now expect the line trotted out by Sir Chris Fox, chair of the Association of Police Officers on this morning's Today programme on Radio 4, that the police have a difficult job to
do and they thought their actions had made London a safer place, will be repeated by the Prime Minister, the Metropolitan Police Authority and everyone else with an interest in ensuring that there was no prosecution.

Fox is also quoted on the BBC website as saying that "holding people to account had to be done within the existing law of the land" but the law of the land seems pretty clear, unless of course a police officer is involved. Gross negligence involuntary manslaughter requires the existence of a duty of care, the breach of that duty of care causing death and the jury finding that the conduct of the person who owed the duty to be such as to be described as "gross negligence." Now it may seem like commom sense that the shooting someone dead because of what leaks from the Independent Police Complaints Commission describe as a catalgogue of failures by the police is grossly negligent. But it may have been that a jury would have decided that in favour of the officers and acquitted them. We shall never know. Justice [or the lack of it] is made by agencies of the state when it comes to the police, not by juries.

So if you are a coach driver who crashes killing a party of schoolchildren, or a seafarer who fails to shut the cargo doors of a car ferry, sinking it and killing hundreds, you can face prosecution, not because you deliberately set out to kill but because your actions were grossly negligent. But if you shoot someone and you are in a Metropolitan police uniform, don't worry, you'll never have to face a jury. It's no surprise that in 36 years there has only ever been one successful manslaughter prosecution for a death involving the police - and that was in 1970.

And the sun comes up in the morning and fairly soon, Sir Ian Blair will found to have acted entirely appropriately in the separate investigation into his conduct following Jean Charles de Menezes' death. All we have left is the hope that senior judges, who will hear the inevityable judicial review of the CPS' decision and who have shown a surprising degree of independence over recent months, will take a different view. Meanwhile, the relatives of Jean Charles join Irene Stanley, whose husband was gunned down by the police because he was carrying a table leg, and Pauline Ashley, whose brother was shot dead in his bed in Hastings, in wondering if the day will ever come when police officers can no longer shoot members of the public with impunity.

Friday 14 July 2006

Senior Police Officer Behind Forest Gate Raid Refuses to Address Public Forum

Assistant Commissioner Andy Hayman, the senior officer who planned the bungled ‘anti-terror’ raid in Forest Gate, has refused to come to Newham and address a public forum where all local concerns, not just those of selected individuals, can be raised.

Newham Monitoring Project (NMP) wrote to Hayman on 19 June expressing its concern that “the Metropolitan Police’s strategy of speaking only to councillors and selected ‘community leaders’, important those this is, has excluded those most affected by the raid – local people”. Since the raids in Lansdown Rd on 2 June, promises from the police to write to residents have been broken, whilst anyone who raises concerns about the raids with local officers are unlikely to receive anything approaching an informed response.

On 13 June at a meeting of the Green Street Community Forum, Superintendent Phil Morgan from Forest Gate Police spoke to local people, expressed his wish for 'dialogue' with local communities but acknowledged that he was unable to provide any information that was not already available in the press. In its letter, NMP therefore argued that local police commanders like Superintendent Morgan had effectively been placed in an impossible position, claiming they wanted to kick-start a dialogue that by its very nature is a two-way process, but having no means of responding to questions about an operation planned and carried out centrally by Scotland Yard. Therefore, NMP said “we believe that if the Metropolitan Police Service is serious about a dialogue with local communities, then it is vital that someone with the information to properly answer local people’s questions, someone of your seniority, takes the first step.”

Hayman has responded by defending the Met’s tactics of meeting only those who have been carefully chosen not to ask too many difficult questions. He claimed “senior officers have visited Newham on a number of occasions to meet community groups” without saying whom they have spoken to and that “we have canvassed a wide selection of the community through a variety of methods,” without elaborating what these ‘methods’ are. He has also rejected the idea of attending a public forum with the bland statement that “action already in progress will provide a suitable vehicle for local officers to maintain an informative dialogue with their local community.”

It is clear the Metropolitan Police intend to arrogantly brush aside legitimate concerns about their actions on 2 June. Their refusal to make a meaningful apology to the two families whose lives were turned upside down by heavy-handed police tactics is matched by a cavalier attitude to local accountability. However, a network of community groups and members of local mosques are circulating a community letter demanding that Hayman faces questioning by Newham residents and signatures are currently being sought.

To add your organisation’s name to this letter, download the text (link below) and then e-mail Newham Monitoring Project at to express your support for its content.

Download the Community Letter to Andy Hayman Word document

Thursday 13 July 2006

Forest Gate Raid Families Speak Out on First Anniversary of Jean Charles de Menezes' death

One year to the day since the fatal shooting by police of Jean Charles de Menezes at Stockwell tube station, the two families from Forest Gate whose homes were raided in another 'anti-terrorist' police operation will speak alongside Jean Charles' cousins at Friends Meeting House.

One Year On - Is Justice Possible?

Saturday 22 July

2.30pm - 5pm
Friends Meeting House,
173-177 Euston Rd, London NW1

Nearest tube:
Euston / Kings Cross

Speakers include Patricia da Silva Armani & Alex Pereira (cousins of Jean Charles de Menezes), Mohammed Abdul Kahar & Abul Koyair (Kalam Family - Forest Gate), Inayat Dhogra (Dhogra Family - Forest Gate), Gareth Peirce (leading civil liberties lawyer), Bianca Jagger (international human rights activist), Lord Steyn (Chair of
Justice - invited)

Chair: Asad Rehman
(Newham Monitoring Project)

To mark the first anniversary of the death of Jean Charles de Menezes, join this unique platform of the three families together with leading civil liberties figures to ask: is justice possible in the 'war on terror'?

Contact: Justice for the Kalam Family / Justice for the Dhogra Family

PO Box 273, Forest Gate, Lonon E7. Tel 07765 707 632 or 020 8470 8333

Monday 10 July 2006

Underground Adventures in the Arms and Torture Trade

Visit the website of the Florida-based defence company Kejo Ltd and the title of the comedian Mark Thomas' book, 'As Used on the Famous Nelson Mandela' becomes clear. Amazingly it's true - they actually advertise heavy-duty leg-irons in this way, as used by one of the most vile regimes on the world's most famous political prisoner.

These and other eye-opening revelations about the arms and torture trades can be found in Mark's excellent account of infiltrating the Excel Centre for the DSEi arms fair, helping school children set up arms companies to expose the loopholes in the import of torture equipment and other magnificent mischief-making.

Mark will be speaking on Wednesday 19 July at 7pm at Stratford Circus, Theatre Square E15.

Tickets costing £3 are still available from Newham Bookshop - call 020 8552 9993 or e-mail

Saturday 8 July 2006

The London Bombings One Year On: Stay Silent. Be Afraid. Question Nothing.

The government resists calls for a public inquiry into last year’s bombings in London, argues Kevin Blowe, because the last thing it wants is scrutiny of the security services or the conduct of the ‘war on terror’ in Britain. Instead, we are offered two minutes of silence and encouragement to rekindle our fears, in the hope that fearful citizens will ask fewer questions about bungled police raids, the death of Jean Charles de Menezes and authoritarian attacks on civil liberties.

National acts of remembrance are rarely without controversy. Think of the Muslim Council of Britain’s boycott of Holocaust Memorial Day because it is ‘not inclusive enough’, or the absence at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday until recently of representatives of the faiths of the thousands of men and women from Commonwealth countries who died in the name of Empire. And what about the call for a memorial day to remember the thousands of victims of the slave trade? The controversy always lies in what exactly these events are for and what message they are supposed to reinforce. And it is precisely because there have been so few voices of dissent about the official two-minutes silence at noon on 7 July, to mark the first anniversary of the London tube and bus bombings, that it is important to ask – what is that we are expected to remember?

The Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell has described the two-minute silence as an opportunity to “bring the whole nation together to pay tribute” to those who have died and to the fortitude and courage of those who were injured. Jowell has argued, “It is right that we as a city, and as a nation, come together to reflect on what is still unutterable grief and loss.” But to what end? Few people can have anything but enormous sympathy for the bereaved families of those who were murdered, and the memorial event in Regent’s Park may have provided some small measure of comfort to them in ensuring their loved ones are not forgotten. But a two-minute silence is rather less than they have been demanding, which is a public inquiry into the 7 July bombings. So what is it exactly that the government wants the nation to reflect upon?

At the same time, few people living and working in London will have forgotten the feeling of powerlessness, the frantic telephone calls to loved ones and the shaky camera phone pictures from those trapped in Tube tunnels last July. A paper published in the British Medical Journal in September 2005 found that, in the immediate aftermath of the bombings, 31% of Londoners reported substantial stress and 32% reported an intention to travel less. Who benefits from asking us to relive in minute detail these experiences?

Part of the problem is that much has happened since last July. BBC newsreader Peter Donaldson’s recital in Regent’s Park of the names of all 52 victims of the bombings did not include the name of Jean Charles de Menezes, gunned down by the police at Stockwell station, because the ‘unutterable grief and loss’ of his family does not fit the framing of debate that the government seeks. Last year’s British Medical Journal paper found that Muslim respondents reported significantly more stress than people of other faiths, a situation that the government has exacerbated, through the use of its draconian anti-terrorism laws and by events such as the recent bungled raid in Forest Gate in east London. This is also something that the government would prefer we did not reflect upon.

More and more, the two-minute silence on 7 July looks like another exercise in reactivating our fear, in defining public discussion on how the government conducts the ‘war on terror’ in Britain, not by stopping us from being afraid but by reminding us why we need to be fearful. If that sounds too cynical, then consider this – as 7 July drew nearer, there has been a host of wild stories in the press, usually from unattributed ‘security sources’, claiming everything from attempts by ‘Al-Qaeda sympathisers’ to infiltrate MI5 to the claim that there are 400,000 Muslims in the UK who are “sympathetic to violent world jihad”. Prime Minister Tony Blair has once again attacked moderate Muslims for not doing enough to tackle the problem of extremism in their communities (which any seasoned Blairologist recognise translates as ‘failing to agree with everything the Prime Minister says’). The last two weeks look as carefully constructed to distract attention from the police’s disastrous shooting of an unarmed man in east London as the ’45-minute threat’ of weapons of mass destruction was to try and mislead the public into supporting war in Iraq. And as long as we are encouraged to forget that in reality, terrorists are few in number and that we are more likely to be killed in a traffic accident or even by a lightning strike than by terrorist atrocity, it is possible for MPs like Ilford’s Mike Gapes, the chair of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, to tell the BBC’s World Service on 2 July the patent nonsense that “Al-Qaeda represents a threat to our democracy” without challenge or a demand for evidence.

Equally, as long as we are encouraged to dwell on the horror of 7 July, the hope must be that we will be less likely to ask too many other questions For example, if Mike Gape’s committee can conclude that detentions without international authority in Guantanamo Bay “work against British as well as US interests”, why does it ignore the detentions in Belmarsh Prison and the introduction of control orders that have the same effect in undermining the way Britain is viewed by the wider world? And by seeking to control the boundaries of discussion, the government must also hope that the public can be encouraged to accept the Prime Minister’s “101% support” for Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair and his assertion that the “necessity and appropriateness of police actions” includes shooting someone who is entirely innocent in a police raid and then refusing to apologise.

It is easy for us in Britain to mock the US and the way that President Bush has managed to successfully limit the possibilities of debate by saying “you are with us or with the terrorists”. But our government is just as guilty of manipulating public discourse. So when Tessa Jowell asks us to “reflect on what is still unutterable grief and loss”, she is not simply asking for two minutes of silence. She is asking for a blank cheque for the government’s actions against the ‘threat of terrorism’.

Wednesday 28 June 2006

Newham Unites against Police Terror

The terrifying police raid in Newham at the beginning of June was justified by both Tony Blair and Ken Livingstone as the price 'we' have to pay to keep Britain safe. The people of Newham, who unlike Labour politicians are the ones actually paying that price, see it rather differently. And now, says Kevin Blowe, a history of community activism has led to widespread unity and demands for police accountability.

Read the full article on the Radical Activist Network website

Latin America: Social movements fight back

Radical Activist Network Conference

Saturday 15th July
University of London Union
1pm-7pm Third Floor, ULU, Malet Street, London WC1

The Radical Activist Network, which Radical Activist Newham is a supporter of, has organised an important conference on Latin America that features Oscar Olivera, spokesperson for Bolivia's Coalition in Defense of Water and Life, ('La Coordinadora'), which was at the forefront of a popular uprising in Cochabamba in 2000 against US multinational Bechtel who had taken over their water systems as an IMF-imposed condition for Bolivian debt relief.

Oscar will be joined by a group of speakers who both write on and organise in solidarity with Latin American social movements including:

Hilary Wainwright, Red Pepper
Andy Higginbottom, Frontline Latin America
Sue Branford, Latin America Bureau and War on Want
Nick Buxton, trade activist based in La Paz, Bolivia
Paul Chatterton, Kiptik (Zapatista solidarity network)
Lies Craeynest, War on Want

Sessions and workshops will include:

  • Social Movements and Left Governments
  • Venezuela's Bolivarian Revolution
  • Social movements in Bolivia
  • Brazil's Landless movement
  • The continuing Zapatista revolt in Mexico

Entry by donation (£2 suggested).

For more information see the conference page on the RAN website or download the flyer (PDF)

Queen's Market - Asda Throws In The Towel

In a stunning victory for local campaigners, the supermarket chain Asda, owned by the US conglomerate Walmart, have announced that they are pulling out of the hugely controversial scheme for Queen's Market in Upton Park.

It is clear that sustained pressure coupled with compelling data produced by the New Economics Foundation has resulted in Asda throwing in the towel.

Newham Council's plans for London's most ethnically diverse market have been fiercely resisted from the outset. To many the proposals championed by Newham's mayor are seen as a genuine threat to social cohesion. It has also become clear that the council scheme fails to make economic sense. Some 12,000 shoppers have signed a petition (the largest in Newham's history) against the plans.

Traders and campaigners alike are ecstatic about the news that Asda-Walmart have pulled out and now believe that it is only a matter of time before the whole project is scrapped. The proposed developers, Edgbaston-based St Modwen Properties Plc is already facing problems over Edmonton Green Market and Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre. St Modwen had planned to demolish the existing covered street market and replace it with an Asda-Walmart superstore, over 220 executive apartments and a market-in-a-mall. Local people feel there has been minimal consultation and are angry that the Mayor of Newham seems intent on foisting his detested scheme on their market.

A press statement by Friends of Queen's Market said:

"This is a stunning victory when you think of what we are up against. We have seen off Asda, now we need to see off St Modwen Properties, for they have already ruined Edmonton Green Market and we're not going to allow them to ruin our thriving market. As for Sir Robin Wales and Newham Council, well their arrogance and pigheadedness beggars belief. Sooner or later they will have to face up to reality, people don't want this appalling and ill-conceived scheme and we will fight this all the way."

Tuesday 27 June 2006

Heart of Fire

SENAIT MEHARI will be talking to BBC London's Amina Taylor about her book Heart of Fire at 7 pm at Stratford Library (Hopkins Room), 3 The Grove, London E15. on Monday 10 July

Senait Mehari was a child soldier in the Eritrean Liberation Front. She escaped to Germany and was living on the streets by the time she was 15. Today she's a pop singer in Germany and a best-selling author. Her book, Heart of Fire, is the powerful memoir of a lost childhood.

‘This is a powerful book of truth; it made my heart stop, race, skip and weep’
Benjamin Zephaniah

Heart of Fire sold over 150,000 copies in Germany and has been translated into eight languages. A film of Heart of Fire is in production (in German) and is due for release in 2007.

Tickets cost £3 and can be reserved by calling Newham Bookshop on 020 8552 9993 or emailing

Senait is visiting the UK with the support of English PEN’s Writers in Translation

Monday 12 June 2006

Apologies: We were hacked...

Thank you to all those who let us know about the strange picture that accompanied the last post updating events in Forest Gate.

The picture was originally of Yvonne Ridley, but someone found a way to change it. Someone out there who obviously doesn't like Yvonne...

Wednesday 7 June 2006

Latest on Anti-Terror Raid in Forest Gate

As the detention of brothers Mohammed Abdul Kahar and Abul Koyair in Paddington Green Police Station was extended to Saturday, last night’s pre-arranged meeting by the Newham branch of Respect brought the television camera crews back to east London, and captured Yvonne Ridley, a member of Respect’s National Council, in grandstanding mood, calling on Muslims not to cooperate with the police. The look on the faces of some of her Respect colleagues was a picture, for rather than non-cooperation with the police, everyone else is calling for the police to actually start cooperating with local communities. We pay their salaries, after all, and have a right to hold them to account. Ms Ridley quickly became the story and enabled local Labour politicians to spend the day condemning her and her party, whilst Respect’s Green Street West Councillor Hanif Abdulmuhit publicly distanced himself from her comments. She was interviewed on Radio 4’s Today programme this morning, which also included a somewhat more thoughtful contribution from Asad Rehman, the chair of Newham Monitoring Project. You can listen to the piece by downloading this MP3 (5.8Mb)

Meanwhile, Stop Political Terror announced a demonstration this Sunday from Forest Gate Police Station, backed by the Muslim Association of Britain and Respect (see the latter's press release). However, there seems to be some confusion as to whether this protest will take place this weekend or be pushed back, after local activists pointed out that without the support of the two families caught up in the raids, proper stewarding and the participation of local mosques and community organisations, the demonstration could be either a damp squib or kick off and lead to arrests.

Meanwhile, Newham Monitoring Project has been busy helping the family that lived next door to the main focus of the raid, whose home was also raided and who are traumatised by the experience, to receive medical attention, overcome problems relating to absence from work and find somewhere new to live. NMP will also be conducting a door-to-door witness search next week and bring together residents from the six streets that have been cordoned off since 2nd June to discuss their concerns and experiences. One resident of Lansdown Rd, who complained about having to give his address and have an escort to his door every time he wanted to get back to his house, was seized and handcuffed. Five days on from the raid, residents in three streets still have to have permission from the police to return to their homes. And no-one, least of all the individual officers on duty, seems to know what legal basis they have for imposing this.

Friday 2 June 2006

Back in the Firing Line

The shooting and wounding today of a Forest Gate resident has turned the end of my street into a media circus. Outside broadcast vans block the pavements and journalists are standing around looking down an empty Lansdown Road at an innocuous-looking tent outside the house that was raided this morning. A crowd has gathered to join them in their inactivity and no one seems to know what is going on.

This lack of information has led to some fairly wild speculation all day – there was one rumour that there had been a shooting outside Forest Gate train station – but it is not just local people who have been adding their own theories to the mix of conjecture and assumptions about the raid and its significance. Sections of the press have been busy too and they have none of the understandable scepticism about the competence of the intelligence services that most of us have post the Iraq ‘weapons of mass destruction’ fiasco, or the shooting of an innocent Brazilian in Stockwell.

The Sun managed to find a resident to tell them that he was always suspicious of the "bearded brothers" and “they [sic] were a lot of comings and goings at that house, those boys had radical views." Just in case readers had failed to realise the men who were shot and arrested are Muslim, the paper helpfully said that they “worshipped at a mosque and prayer room located just around the corner from their door.” Sun journalists also quoted a neighbour, Dimple Hirani, saying that "it is creepy there are people like this living on your doorstep," although what she really said in an interview on Channel 4 News was that “it is shocking this can happen on your doorstep.” Moreover, she also told news agencies that the two men “were really nice lads and really nice people… I never thought anything of it [their religious beliefs]. Lots of young Muslims these days are getting more religious, especially after 9/11. It's nothing to be suspicious about."

She’s right of course, but we can all see where this is heading. The men arrested in the raid were religious, they had beards, they attended a mosque, so they must be guilty if the intelligence services are interested in them. Once again, millions of newspaper readers who have no idea what Forest Gate is like will be reminded of the imperative of suspicion towards Asian Muslims and the need for armed officers to use potentially lethal force.

But the lack of information also tells us a great deal too. You can bet that if there were firearms in the house that was raided, we would have been told within hours. Was the man who was shot armed, or was this incident another example of trigger-happy officers, an issue that remains unresolved in the investigation into the death of Jean Charles de Menezes? Is there a ‘bomb factory’, as has been speculated? When the raid last year on the Leeds home of the 7 July bombers found explosives, residents were evacuated, but all my neighbours and I have had to endure is an escort to our homes through the police cordons – the novelty of which has quickly worn off. One officer told me that the only reason the roads were closed off was to keep back the press. The decision to impose an air exclusion zone around the scene of the raid but not evacuate local people begins to look more and more like another media stunt to emphasis the seriousness of the incident, a tactic that the Metropolitan police have been notorious for in the past.
Deputy Assistant Commissioner Peter Clarke told the media this evening that the raid was to prove or disprove intelligence they had received. That sounds as though his intelligence assessment was rather less than emphatic and yet it has led to another shooting. That is why people I have spoken to today are anxious. A combination of the press speculating on the ‘guilt’ of Muslims and potentially speculative raids by the police using draconian anti-terror laws seems like a leap backwards to the immediate aftermath of the 7 July bombings.

Monday 29 May 2006

Local Groups Call March Against Excel Arms Fair

An alliance of east London organisations, including Newham Green Party, Newham Monitoring Project, Newham Opposition to War and Racism (NOWAR) and East London Against the Arms Fair, are supporting a march against the return of the DSEi arms fair in 2007 on:

Saturday 29 July 2006
Assembe 12.15pm
Marching from Plaistow Park through Canning Town to Victoria Dock

For more information see the NOWAR website or call Simon on
07986 904748

Download a copy of the flyer

Wednesday 24 May 2006

STOP PRESS: author of 'Fast Food Nation' in Newham this Saturday

Chew On This : Everything You Don't Want to Know About Fast Food
Book signing by author Eric Schlosser

Saturday 27 May

between 11.30am and 12.30pm ONLY
Newham Bookshop
45-747 Barking Road,
London E13 9ER

For more information call the bookshop on 020 8552 9993.

Based on Eric Schlosser's bestselling "Fast Food Nation", 'Chew on This' is the shocking truth about the fast food industry - how it all began, its success, what fast food actually is, what goes on in the slaughterhouses, meatpacking factories and flavour labs, global advertising, merchandising in UK schools, mass production and the exploitation of young workers in the thousands of fast-food outlets throughout the world. It also takes a look at the effects on the environment and the highly topical issue of obesity.

Meticulously researched, lively and informative, with first-hand accounts and quotes from children and young people, Eric Schlosser presents the facts in such a way that allows readers to make up their own minds about the incredible fast food phenomenon.

Monday 22 May 2006

As Used on the Famous Nelson Mandela

"As Used on the Famous Nelson Mandela: Underground Adventures in the Arms and Torture Trade"

Newham Bookshop hosts the launch of Mark Thomas' first book on

Wednesday 19 July
7pm, Stratford Circus, Theatre Square E15

Mark Thomas is one of the UK's most effective and best-known political activists, as well as being a highly successful stand-up comedian. His show "The Mark Thomas Comedy Product" ran for six highly acclaimed series on Channel Four.

"As Worn by the Famous Nelson Mandela" is a deeply funny, deeply disturbing account of Mark's rampage through the arms trade. Under a fairly flimsy disguise and with the use of some worrying poor accents, Mark managed to set himself up and begin trading as an arms exporter. His account of his encounters, adventures and discoveries provide a shockingly entertaining read. His aim throughout was to change the law. Embedded within the sharpness of his humour is the truth of an industry that causes conflict and poverty in developing countries. He talks to arms dealers, torture victims, manufacturers, interrogators and politicians, and moves through South Africa, Ireland, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia to the Serious Fraud Office. Mark Thomas exposes the laws and loopholes, complacency and greed that are used to make money through persecution, at the expense of the poorest people in the world.

Monday 1 May 2006

Local Elections: What to make of the BNP scare?

Two neighbouring boroughs, both amongst the poorest in the country, and yet in Barking & Dagenham, the British National Party is contesting 7 of the 17 council wards with a real prospect of gaining seats, whilst in Newham, they are contesting none. And because of the intervention of local MP Margaret Hodge, many column inches in the national press have been devoted to growing support for the far-Right in east London. So what's going on?

We have been here before, of course. After the General Election in May 2005, Hodge was warning in an article in the Observer of the danger of disaffected white working class voters drifting towards extremist parties. Then she said, “Now is the time for the new government to show it cares about those voters by addressing the things that concern them. The people in Barking need to know that they matter as much as the floating voters of middle England.” One year on, she told the Sunday Telegraph: "The Labour party hasn't talked to these people ... Part of the reason they switch to BNP is they feel no one else is listening to them."

At one level, it is tempting to be cynical and wonder whether Hodge will pull out dire warnings about the BNP at every election as a means of galvanising local Labour voters. After all, as Work and Pensions minister, Hodge has arguably had far greater opportunity than the average local MP over the last year to do something about causes of disaffection like run-down housing and crime. But, far from being a public admission that Hodge has failed to persuade the government she is a member of to take action on these issues, her warnings look a lot like an attempt to shift blame elsewhere.

Hodge follows other Blairites in blaming multiculturalism (and ethnic change in her constituency in particular) for frightening white communities. She has said: “When I arrived in 1994, it was a predominantly white, working class area. Now, go through the middle of Barking and you could be in Camden or Brixton. That is the key thing that has created the environment the BNP has sought to exploit.". But Hodge also blames the welfare state for prioritising the needs of immigrants at the expense of white voters, an idea given greater credence in government circles since the recent publication of The New East End by Geoff Dench and Kate Gavron, which has been much praised by Blairites like Trevor Philips at the Commission for Racial Equality (and comprehensively critiqued by Jenny Bourne of the Institute of Race Relations). Hodge told the Sunday Telegraph, “white families are angry at the lack of housing since immigrants began arriving in the area, and because asylum seekers have been housed there by inner London councils. There was nowhere for the local people to move to and we did not reinvest in social housing, nor did the Tories. Neither of us have done enough of that.”

One way or another, whether it be the need for support from the welfare state or because of a failure to integrate – the basis for the government’s disingenuous ‘community cohesion’ policy – black communities keep getting the blame for white racism.

From the Right, those Blairites that have criticised Hodge and against race being central to support for the BNP, such as Blair’s most enthusiastic cheerleader in the press, John Rentoul, have tried to argue that all forms of dependency on the state, not simply race, alienates white working class voters. Writing in the Independent, Rentoul has argued “the BNP flourishes where dependency culture is strongest, because those are the areas where the sense that some people are getting something for nothing is most poisonously strong”. The real problem, therefore, that the government “has not been New Labour enough”.

But why then has the BNP no presence in Newham? The borough also has high levels of poverty and residents on long-term benefits. In many ways, the situation in Barking & Dagenham is similar to that in Canning Town a decade ago. In 1994, the BNP came within 66 votes of winning a council seat. What has changed is that Canning Town is no longer a solidly white area. Far from failing to integrate, black people have successfully transformed the south of the borough for the better by their presence. The process has not, as Hodge claims, created an environment the BNP to exploit.

However, in 1994, anti-fascist campaigners could still argue ‘vote anyone but BNP’ with some credibility. Those on the ground in Dagenham, where Labour councillors and supporters dare not enter certain pubs for fear of their lives, do hot have that opportunity. There have been too many betrayals, too much disappointment in Labour, for that to be possible. There is clearly a space to the Left of Labour and in an article in the Guardian, Respect MP George Galloway rightly argues that “the worst thing to do… is to make concessions to the BNP's immigrant-bashing or to slander white working-class people as irredeemably racist, while continuing with the destructive neoliberal policies that are fragmenting and impoverishing working-class communities.” However, Galloway also claims that Respect “have been challenging, from the left, New Labour's refusal to represent those it was elected to serve”. A glance at the list of Respect candidates for May’s elections shows that is simply not true in Barking & Dagenham. Perhaps the party’s tacticians felt there was too much of a risk that Respect would end up splitting the working-class vote and increase the chances that the BNP would win seats. But it has left anti-fascists with no credible candidates to argue for as alternatives to both Labour and the BNP.

Whatever criticisms those on the Left may have of Respect, when the task of maximising the generally poor turnout for local elections is crucial to marginalising the BNP, leaving the field to the far Right and a utterly discredited Labour party looks like a terrible mistake.

Random Blowe | Original articles licensed under a Creative Commons License.