Sunday 30 December 2007

India in the imagination

People have asked me how I enjoyed my trip to India and the honest answer is that for the first time, I think I understand the country a little better.

For no matter how progressive your politics may be, there is always a first sense of excitement about the exotic idea of India. It’s a reflection of the Orientalism that Edward Said described so brilliantly, which is probably harder for someone raised on Kipling, Forster and the visible remnants of British India to ignore. It’s difficult not to become caught up in the thrill of finding everything unfamiliar and strange. For others, the mystical interpretation of the Indian sub-Continent, the focus on its ‘spirituality’ over other aspects of India’s cultural and social identity, is just another facet of this need to project a narrow vision on what India actually is.

Reading Amartya Sen’s excellent book The Argumentative Indian whilst on holiday, I was struck by the case he makes for comparing those who see the exoticness of India as somehow holding superior values, the people who attend the ashrams like the Osho international commune in Pune or who elevate some notion of ancient knowledge above post-Enlightenment reason and science, to the propaganda of the sectarian Hindutva organisations like the BJP or Bombay’s tiny but extreme Shiv Sena party, led by the loathsome Hitler-admirer Bal Thackeray. These extreme Hindu nationalists also reject everything modern for an entirely false reconstruction and revision of India’s history and culture, although their aim is very different from those on a personal and often very indulgent ‘journey’ of self-discovery. Too many times, I've heard visitors to India, seeking the mysticism of their imagination, disparage modern ideas in favour for the value of centuries-old 'wisdom' that is supposedly special simply because it is old and 'spiritual'. The BJP, in its brief period in government, was busy rewriting school textbooks based on a similar anti-intellectual pseudo-science.

Looking solely at any country's distant past is always liable to result in a wholly distorted view of its present. A visit to Britain that includes only Buckingham Palace, Stratford upon Avon and Canterbury Cathedral does the same to thousands of overseas visitors every year, but the difference is that Britain's historical, often turbulent religious controversies are not taken to have some particular bearing on modern Britain. The past is just the past. In India, however, the Victorian view that Indian culture is crude and incapable of embracing modernity still tends to persist. Amartya Sen argues that focusing almost exclusively on what India is perceived to be ‘good’ at – its religiosity – deliberately ignores a rich tradition of scepticism, invention and new ideas that continues to this day. And it’s fascinating that Sen’s book, along with Richard Dawkins’ ‘The God Delusion’, are amongst the bestsellers in India at the moment.

Like every country, India is also constantly changing and, in the seven years since I first visited, I have noticed the changes most clearly in Bombay. The gap between the rich and the poor has grown and modern India has become more evident and more confident, but perhaps less fair. There are ATMs all over Colaba and expensive car show rooms in Bandra, but literacy rates outside of a few states like Kerala and West Bengal are alarmingly low and the Dharavi district of Bombay remains Asia's largest slum. During this trip, knowing my way around meant that I could stop rubber-necking, relax a little and appreciate that India is far more than an exotic destination, but a place where people live and work, a modern country with very modern concerns. I read the newspapers more this time and whether it was the problems of traffic congestion in Pune, or attacks by Hindutva activists on art exhibitions for ‘blasphemy’; or protests in Goa against unaccountable Special Economic Zones, or most notably the fears about India’s nuclear neighbour after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto (on my final day in Bombay), what is most interesting about India is what is happening now, not just India’s past.

I don’t know the next time I’ll be in India, but I know it won’t be for anything as pointless as trying to discover myself - I can do that anywhere if I really wanted to. Don't get me wrong, I love ruined forts, temples and India’s history but India is much more than its distant past, more than its religious heritage. I hope next time it will be to discover more about what India is gradually becoming, what matters today.

But first, I'm going to have to start saving. Three continents in a year has taken its toll on my travelling funds!

Sunday 23 December 2007

Christmas in Goa

Today, I saw Santa, on the back of a truck. And standing behind him was a woman in full hijab. Christmas is a little different in Goa than back at home.

For starters, its far to hot to be wearing a big red costume and a false beard - it was around 32 degrees today. Secondly, my Christmas celebrations look like they'll involve dinner on a deserted beach a little further south from Palolem, where I am now. It's be surprisingly good arriving here after a frantic wedding in Pune, with the pace of things much slower, even more than the last time I was here after Gilly & Debbie's wedding in 2005.

I'm told that the number of visitors is down, apart from today when the day trippers arrived from out of state. This may be because the police have clamped down on the all night parties and loud music has to stop at 10pm. Tomorrow night - Christmas Eve - is one day when parties until the early hours are allowed. The other is 31st December (obviously) but it seems likely that these will be nothing like the big raves of the past, with thousands of people in attendance. But despite the restrictions, party organisers will always find a way around them. I met a guy today who has 200 headphones in customs in Bombay, and once they arrive, the plan is to arrange a 'silent party', with the music sent wirelessly to each participant. Imagine a party where everyone dances in apparent silence to their own groove. It should be quite a night.

Sadly, there have been other changes. The island at the far right of Palolem beach has been bought, so I'm told, by the Russian mafia, who plan to build a luxury property on it. They also have bought the whole of Colom village, which has been effectively squatted for four generations, so the villagers worried about their future. All this information in 24 hours. If I was here for longer, I think I'd be as expert in the gossip as some of the regulars I've met today.

I'm back before New Year and I'm told that it's chilly in London, but that there's little prospect of snow for Christmas Day. Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without some certainties like a lack of snow and crap TV. But not this year for me. It's a quarter to midnight and I'm still baking...

Saturday 15 December 2007

India again - overwhelmed again

Fort, Bombay...

Have arrived in India and feel frazzled after the flight. Made the mistake of not trying to get some sleep before plunging into Bombay's busy streets and had to snooze in the afternoon.

Woke up feeling like an worker ant in a giant anthill, but without the sense of purpose - utterly overwhelmed. Momentarily it was terrifying. There were so many choices to make that it was all I could do to stop myself from doing nothing.

Bombay is not a city you really want to visit on your own. It's too frenzied not to have others around to wander into a bar with and forget about the madness outside. But still. I do love it here. Couldn't live in Bombay, but love coming here.

Thursday 13 December 2007

Déjà Vu

Another Christmas, another wedding. Another trip to Goa. Another long journey.

I’m starting to feel a really acute sense of déjà vu, in the proper sense, not just the compelling sense of familiarity but also the experience of eeriness.

It’s been two years since I travelled to Delhi and took a long drive to Buwan Kothi for Debbie and Gilly’s wedding. Recently, I was rummaging through a trunk (looking for old photos of my friend Ken from Brighton, who will be 40 this Saturday) and I found the invitations to both the India wedding and the ceremony in north London in 2006. India over Christmas and New Year in 2005 was a really happy time, from freezing in Haryana in the fog for the ceremony itself and then plunging into the afternoon sun at Dabolim airport in Goa, me and Rupee and Sukhraj, drowning in the excitement of suddenly, finally, feeling warmth.

Now much of coastal Goa itself is really a bit rubbish, completely divorced from the rest of India, a playground for holidaymakers looking for a couple of weeks on a beach and some winter sun, its ‘otherness’ perhaps explaining the coach parties who descend from outside of the state, apparently to do little more than ogle and ‘Eve tease’ the foreign women. Palolem in the far south may once have been a last refuge from the rampant commercialism but when we were there, every space between the tree line and the sand had beach huts or restaurants. Given the choice, there are a dozen places I would place a higher priority to revisiting India than Goa, but I definitely return to that warm feeling when I think about the ten days I spent there in 2005-06.

From 22 December, I will be back in the village in Palolem, staying with Putu who worried so much when Suk went missing for three days. I can visualize the walk from Putu’s place to the beach in complete detail. If I close my eyes, I can see the fishing boats on the beach and I bet when I get there, they’ll be in exactly the same place. But somehow I’m not sure that I’ll be spending much time at the Cosy Nook restaurant at the north end of the beach, because the memories I have are so strong and so happy. In darker moments over the last year, I’d always transport myself back there. And what I remember most is hanging out for days on end with Gilly.

Tonight I was in Shish in Old Street, meeting up with some of my favourite people, and the last time I was there was in February for my birthday, drunk beyond comprehension, eating chips with Gilly and Catherine in the upstairs restaurant, taking a breather from endless cocktails downstairs. So many places, people and situations are like Shish, coming back to remind me that my old mate has gone forever. But somehow, I think Goa is going to be the hardest of all.

Wednesday 12 December 2007

One Strike I Would Never Support

I'm with George Orwell on this one. Orwell remarked in Homage to Catalonia, "when I see an actual flesh-and-blood worker in conflict with his natural enemy, the policeman, I do not have to ask myself which side I am on."

Over the last ten years, British police officers have received the equivalent of a 39% increase in their pay. Whatever they have wanted - new equipment, new more draconian laws, a practical veto over criminal justice policy - they have been given. And now it isn't getting its own way, the Police Federation, perhaps one of the most reactionary organisations in the country, is threatening to try and overturn the ban on strike action by police officers.

But were it not for the ban on strike action that followed the Police Strikes of 1918 and 1919, the Police Federation wouldn't even exist. It was set up as what was effectively a 'company union' in direct response to the emergence of the National Union of Police and Prison Officers, which started to campaign for better pay (which was poor and inconsistent) at a time of international labour militancy. The police union was outlawed and the Federation has enjoyed its special status ever since.

The last time the Federation tried to rattle the government with the threat of overturning the strike ban was over potential criminal charges for firearms officers - yet another claim for special treatment and immunity from prosecution.

There may be some on the Left who believe that any strike action should be supported (witness the support from Respect for the thugs in the Prison Officers Association), but this is just sabre-rattling by a bosses' union. The Federation knows that overturning the ban would mean the end of its monopoly as the representative body for the lower ranks.

Tuesday 11 December 2007

Beware of Lockheed

Do you want an arms company collecting senstive details about you?

Trust in the government's ability to safeguard senstitive information is at an all time low, following the disappearance of the child benefit data for 25 million people that was lost in the post by HM Revenue and Customs and the increasing number of computer discs that seem to have gone missing.

The only positive outcome of the HMRC fiasco is that hopefully it will scupper once and for all the government's ID card scheme, but with ever more sensitive information being collected by the state, do we really want data about everyone in the UK being collected in the next Census in 2011 by an international arms company?

Lockheed Martin is one of the shortlisted contractors to provide data capture and storage services for the 2011 Census, but the majority of its business is with the American Department of Defense and other US government agencies. They produce missiles, naval systems and land mines, as well as providing intelligence, surveillance and reconnnaissance services. Most worrying is their claim to deliver 'integrated threat information' to the US military by combining and analysing a widde range of intelligence information from around the world.

With Lockheed Martin involved, people in the UK will not believe that their Census submissions will be safe from being incorporated into these systems, and this is likely to harm the reliability of the 2011 Census.

A new campaign, Census Alert, has started an online petition calling for a halt to the involvement of Lockheed Martin in the 2011 Census.

This is one petition that's defintely worth signing.

Monday 10 December 2007

Are the attacks on Lee Jasper just dirty politics?

The Evening Standard has kept up its attacks on Lee Jasper, race advisor to London Mayor Ken Livingston, over allegations that he influenced the London Development Agency over £2.5 million of funding paid to organisations with which he had strong links. The paper alleges that Jasper is at the centre of a network of groups controlled by by himself or his close friends that have received large sums of public money in return for little or no work. Specifically, it says that:

  • Hundreds of thousands of pounds of public money paid to the companies is unaccounted for or has disappeared.
  • • Up to £295,000 of this funding is the subject of possible legal action for return of sums from Diversity International, a company controlled by a long-standing friend and business associate of Lee Jasper called Joel O'Loughlin. It received LDA funding for the Diversity Dividend, a web-based tool for London business, even though it allegedly has no expertise in IT and is based in Liverpool. The website does not exist, the company has now gone into liquidation and all the money paid to it has apparently vanished.
  • LDA officials had severe doubts about Brixton Base, a "creative training hub" for the black community whose patron is Lee Jasper and whose director is Errol Walters, another of Jasper's friend. Brixton Base has received £287,000 from the LDA over the past two years for "premises" - even though it has occupied an LDA-owned building throughout that time and was charged no rent in the first year. The Evening Standard alleged that the LDA wanted to evict the organisation from its building, but that in an email to the LDA's senior director, Tony Winterbottom, Jasper gave an order to "ensure that this action [the eviction] is withdrawn immediately and ensure I am consulted on all major decisions affecting [Brixton Base]".
  • Several of the organisations are based in the same small room at a business centre in Kennington.
  • The same people, friends or business associates of Mr Jasper - including Errol Walters and businesswoman and reality TV show star Yvonne Thompson - appear as directors or staff members of each organisation.
The Greater London Authority has refuted the allegations and called upon Andrew Gilligan, the reporter leading the story, to hand over any evidence to the police, saying that his failure to do so suggests that "the allegation is without any substance."

Unsurprisingly, groups like The 1990 Trust, where Jasper was once Director, and Operation Black Vote, run by Jasper's friend Simon Woolley, have launched a counter attack on the Evening Standard. Karen Chouhan of the 1990 Trust has highlighted significant inaccuracies in Gilligan's reports, whilst Woolley has said (rather melodramatically) that the accusations are "an attack on the capital's African, Asian, Caribbean and other minority ethnic communities." Both accuse the paper of using the story to discredit Livingston as part of the coming electoral fight for the London Mayor's office. And certainly the latest attacks are so personal that they suggest an bitter vendetta - include the revelation that Jasper, who earns £117,000 a year, lives in a £90 a week housing association property in Clapham.

The problem for most of us, looking in from the outside, is to separate facts from rhetoric on both sides. Those who have known Lee Jasper for many years would find it hard to believe that Jasper would personally seek to involve himself in corruption - his main interest has always been political, not financial. However, hearing the story for the first time, it's hard to forget that Jasper has always surrounded himself with a coterie that he has protected, and that when Livingston first came to power, many of them ended up in City Hall. That's the problem - there is often a grain of truth in even the most outrageous lie. Certainly, if Gilligan and the Standard have evidence of criminal activity, they should put up or shut up, by passing their dossier to the police. But if they decide to do so, Jasper has to stand down until the case against him is thrown out or taken to court.

As for the idea that attacking Jasper means attacking London's minority communities, there is a grain of truth in this too. I spoke to a friend in one group in Newham that receives LDA funding, on the day the Standard's first story appeared. She was concerned that it would lead to an attitude of greater suspicion towards black-led organisations, which is a real concern. But in spite of the impression that Jasper has fostered over the years, his persona and London's black communities are not interchangeable. Most funders are likely know this, even in the event that there might be an unfair level of extra scutiny given to some organisations in the future, simply on the basis of past association with Lee Jasper.

Indeed, even if you accept the ludicrous idea that there is such a thing as a 'spokesman' for black Londoners, Jasper has long given up any credibility to hold such a role. He has firmly supported the Mayor's staunch defence of Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair and defended the police on two issues that continue to anger many black Londoners - stop-and-search, which black communities are around four times more likely to be targeted for than white people, and the introduction of the police DNA database, which will soon encompass around three-quarters of young black men.

Jasper represents a wholly different approach to "anti-racism" from the progressive, community-led politics that once meant there was something resembling an 'anti-racist movement' in Britain. The road he has travelled, largely abandoning work with local communities to stride the corridors of power, has depoliticised the fight against racism, created an 'anti-racism business' rather than a movement, where black communities are clients and where the fortunes and reputations of the 'leaders' are more important than the impact that anti-racism is able to make on the ground.

Lee Jasper is now more like any corporate business leader, liable to hostile briefings from rivals and open to outright attacks from the press at any point. In the rough and tumble, the 'business' is likely to get hurt.

But considering his profile in the past, it's just surprising that it has taken the newspapers so long to turn on Jasper.

Saturday 8 December 2007

I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue

This remains the greatest radio program ever... from the South Bank Show on Humphrey Lyttleton, chairman of 'I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue'. Sadly Samantha had already nipped out with her gentlemen friend when these moments were captured.

Millennium Dome was insolvent from the start

The BBC reported yesterday that National Archive files from the Millennium Commission, which funded the Dome, show that on 28 January 2000 the project had run out of money and was insolvent.

The report also mentions that in 2002 a public consultation on lottery funding concluded that "there is (public) agreement that the (Millennium) Dome was a waste of good causes funds and that this project in itself has tarnished the supply of funds to large capital projects."

On Wednesday, Third Sector magazine reported mounting anger over losses of lottery good causes money to the 2012 Olympics is being fuelled by the Government's refusal to pledge that there will be no further lottery raids. Olympics minister Tessa Jowell has met third sector groups associated with the four lottery distributors but has so far declined to give this promise.

Some things never change.

Friday 7 December 2007

Tantum religio potuit suadere malorum *

Radio 4's Today programme this morning followed up a story in yesterday's Times, which reported that the daughter of a British imam is under police protection after receiving death threats for converting to Christianity. The woman has been hiding for 15 years but only recently placed under guard by the police after the most recent threats on her life from one of her brothers.

A spokesperson for the Muslim Council of Britain made a fair attempt at condemning this appalling situation. He pointed out that British Muslims are not exempt from UK laws forbidding murder and threatening behaviour, do not live under sharia law and that even in a country that practices sharia, it would be for courts rather than gangs of thugs to pass judgement (not a great deal of comfort, admittedly, but better than nothing).

presenter John Humphries tried, as he often does, to imply that this story reveals something particularly sinister within Islam, which is clearly not backed by the evidence. In minority communities across the country, where identification with strong religious beliefs in Islam, Sikhism or Hinduism are commonplace, where religion is what Marx called "the expression of real distress and the protest against real distress", similar cases occur with depressing regularity. Bounty hunters track down young men and mainly young women who refuse to enter into forced marriages, or have partners from outside their parents' faith, or who abandon their faith altogether. It's not that Islam is unique in this respect. All faiths have elements that are equally guilty and all are as bad as each other in failing to stop those resonsible. This includes Christianity - the Church of England may be as non-threatening as a children's teddy bear, but try asking those in hiding from sectarian gangs because of cross-denominational relationships in northern Ireland whether the Christian religion is as tolerant and peace-loving as it is often claimed to be.

What is most surprising about this story is perhaps its most obviously missing element. At a time when the police have committed to take a far more robust approach to tackling violence against women, why aren't all those responsible for hounding this young woman and threatening her life currently under arrested and facing trial and imprisonment?

* To such heights of evil are men driven by religion - Lucretius, On the Nature of Things

Wednesday 5 December 2007

Inside source in Menezes investigation?

Did Met have inside source in Menezes investigation?

As The Times reports today, rumours and allegations are rife about the sudden resignation of Andy Hayman, the senior Metropolitan Police officer with responsibility for anti-terrorism.

Hayman was criticised recently by the Independent Police Complaints Commission for briefing journalists about the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes at Stockwell Tube station in 2005. He provided information that he allegedly failed to also pass on to Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair and the IPCC recommended that Hayman faced disciplinary action.

Now, the latest allegations against Hayman are that he sent 400 calls and text messages to a female member of staff at the IPCC at the time that it was finalising the Stockwell 2 report. The IPCC has said that the contact was not work-related and that the unnamed staff member has moved on to work at the Association of Chief Police Officers.

Having announced his retirement, Hayman cannot be disciplined. Theoretically, the Metropolitan Police Authority could refuse to accept his resignation, but it has proved completely supine when dealing with senior Met officers in the past. And the IPCC's statement seems to suggest that Hayman had been having an affair, which of course the media love. But there is something uncomfortable about this story and saying so runs the risk of sounding like a conspiracy theorist.

  • Why is it impossible to believe that sending repeated phone calls and text messages to a member of staff in the IPCC could very likely be to gain information on a hugely controversial case that could have a direct impact on Hayman and his boss Sir Ian Blair?
  • Why should anyone take at face-value the relevance of the IPCC's assertion that the "member of staff, who was not an investigator, had no involvement or contact with the IPCC’s two Stockwell inquiries" or that "we have satisfied ourselves as far as we can that there was no improper sharing of information"? Anyone who has ever had any contact with staff at the IPCC will know that, like most organisations, rumour is commonplace within its Holborn headquarters and that inside information regularly leaks out to other staff. Despite the security over the Stockwell reports, people in the IPCC knew what was in it well before publication, which is why details were leaked to the press. Why not also directly to the Met Police?
  • Why is it impossible to believe that MI5 had an insider - one of its officers or at the very least a paid informer - in the IPCC because of the controversy over the Menezes case? Why is it beyond the realms of possibility that Hayman, who led the Met's Specialist Operations and was in regular contact with MI5 in his role as the senior anti-terrorism chief, was being passed information by a security services contact?
  • Why is it also impossible to believe that Hayman has been pushed into retirement though an engineered 'sex scandal' to prevent him facing disciplinary action? After all, someone was obviously trying to force him out, which is why the investigations into his expense claims were leaked to the press. Why not to prevent Hayman potentially revealing more insider details about the Menezes case - a killing the Met have done as much as it can to keep its secrets about, including obstructing official investigations and briefing reporters with false information?
  • How does someone who allegedly had an 'improper work relationship' with the country's most senior anti-terrorism officer end up vetted and working for the Association of Chief Police Officers? Perhaps because it was never considered to be 'improper' by the police and security services?
It sounds crazy, doesn't it? But because this story is tied up with the death of Jean Charles de Menezes, what may otherwise have sounded off-the-wall in other instances shouldn't necessarily be dismissed.

More to come, I'm sure.

Tuesday 4 December 2007

Arkansas introduces Apostrophe Act

I can't believe I missed this story from earlier this year. It's a classic.

At a time when the governor of the US state of Arkansas Mike Beebe was busy declaring a number of counties as disaster areas due to thunderstorms and tornadoes, the state Senate was supporting a resolution declaring... “Arkansas’s” as the correct way to write the state’s possessive case.

The Arkansas Senate voted to support the resolution introduced by Rep. Steve Harrelson, a Democrat from Texarkana, who argued that adding apostrophe-s makes sense. Apparently (and you learn something new every day), although Arkansas became a US state in 1836, formalising its spelling was complicated by maps from the time often dropped its final “s.” A resolution by the Arkansas Legislature in 1881 formalised the state’s current spelling and pronunciation, making its final “s” silent.

Harrelson introdued the resolution on behalf of Parker Westbrook, who describes himself as a “longtime practical Arkansas historian.” Westbrook described the Senate vote as a vindication for his long-held view and told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazzette (which does not use the extra 's') that "we’ve waited 126 years for this.”

Harrelson, who apologised repeatedly to legislators about the attention the bill had received, said he had no regrets, although he has no plans to offer additional grammar-related bills in the future.

“I’ll tell you I never expected all the attention I received on this resolution,” Harrelson said. “I did this as a gesture and tribute to a well-known historian. I was glad I did it for him.”

Monday 3 December 2007

Brick Lane gets its own Tube station?

The Evening Standard has reported today that London Mayor Ken Livingstone's plan to rename Shephard's Bush station on the Metropolitan Line as 'Shepherd's Bush Market' could followed by the renaming of at least four other Tube stations.

The Mayor has indicated that the two Edgware Road stations could also be renamed to end the confusion between them, with the Circle, District and Hammersmith & City line stop changing to Chapel Street and the Bakerloo Line stop becoming Church Street Market. Apparently there is also pressure to rename Aldgate East, the Tube station I spent so much time travelling to and from when I was at university, as 'Brick Lane'. Livingstone has said that he is prepared to look at these suggestions.

So what other changes could be made locally? If West Ham FC finally bugger off to the former Parcelforce site next to West Ham Station (we can but hope), then there is no excuse for not renaming Upton Park as 'Green Street' - not if Brick Lane is a serious proposal. And now that Transport for London has taken over a number of train services under the banner of 'London Overground', Woodgrange Park badly needs renaming (perhaps to 'Romford Road') and Wanstead Park really has to be called 'Wanstead Flats'.

We just have to hope that in 2013, any tube station renaming plans involving 'Stratford Olympia' are fiercely resisted.

Saturday 1 December 2007

Outrage Over A Teddy Bear Called Mohammed

You've got to feel sorry for the British teacher Gillian Gibbons, who has been jailed for 15 days after allegedly insulting Islam's Prophet by allowing her pupils in Sudan to name a teddy bear Muhammed.

Not only is her situation driven by an interpretation of religion that is as twisted as those who believe Harry Potter should be put to death, but Ms Gibbons is also the citizen of a country whose press love a story about the travails of the English abroad, especially when it's a white woman in a Muslim country.

The Sun claims today that "all Britain is outraged by the jailing of this innocent schoolteacher" and speaks of the demonstrations in Sudan in support of the prosecution as "scenes of savagery yesterday [that] sent chills down our spines." It's little wonder that the British government, long a hostage to the tabloids, seems to have expended more energy on Gillian Gibbons than it has on real scenes of savagery, the genocide of 200,000 people in Sudan's Darfur region. Or in helping others trapped in unfair legal proceedings overseas.

Some questions have been rattling around my head over the last couple of days:

Isn't Ms Gibbon's detention less about religion and more about politics, an attempt by the Sudanese government to threaten and discredit international aid workers from countries pressurising it over Darfur? Wasn't it the children that named the teddy bear, not the teacher? Are we to hear that they too have been locked up - or could this be an excuse for the government in Khartoum to close the British international school that allows Muslims and non-Muslims to be educated together?

Moreover, what 'mistake' has Ms Gibbons actually made? As there was no intention to use the toy as a representation of the Prophet, how can naming it Mohammed be idolatrous if there is no idol worship? And if there was no intention to used the toy to cause deliberate offence, how can it be an insult? For years, the Islamic Society in Britain has apparently sold a soft toy made for British Muslim children named Adam the Prayer Bear, named after the prophet Adam. What are they to do now?

Will every British Muslim who looks on this sorry affair with embarrassment now be required to "stand up and be counted" as opponents of extremism, just like after the London bombings and after every story around the world that involves extreme interpretations of Islam?

And will Archbishop Rowan Williams make a statement on 'Jesus Camp' (as he has over the treatment of Gillian Gibbons)? Harry Potter fans everywhere demand to know...

Friday 30 November 2007

Obscure List of the Week

Today's Independent reports on the boom trade in... bagpipes (a big seller on eBay apparently). It offers the following list of twenty facts about the bagpipe that I'd imagine are a must-read for everyone (especially those with a mild tartan fetish):

Bagpipes by numbers

1 Bagpipes developed independently in parts of Europe and the Middle East around the same time. The earliest surviving written reference comes in the writings of the Athenian poet Aristophanes, who disdainfully mentioned that the pipers of Thebes played on instruments of dog skin and bone.

2 There are four vital components to modern pipes: a steady supply of air delivered down the blowpipe; an airtight bag (originally made from animal skin but now synthetic) which stores and controls the supply of air via squeezing; the chanter or melody pipe, played by one or two hands; and the drone – a reeded pipe with a sliding joint to alter the pitch.

3 Bagpipes have long been popular as an instrument of war, both scaring the enemy and boosting the morale of the pipers' own side. During the Jacobite risings of 1745, possession of the pipes in Britain was punishable by death.

4 After leaving university, Alastair Campbell – later to be Tony Blair's spinmeister-general – busked his way round Europe with his bagpipes – even basing an erotic essay on the experience.

5 There are more bagpipe players and pipe bands in New Zealand than in Scotland, largely as a result of Scottish migration in the 19th and 20th centuries.

6 The bagpipes made an unlikely appearance in Friends when Ross, played by David Scwhimmer, tried to learn to play them for his sister Monica's wedding.

7 Because of their limited range of just nine notes bagpipers can play only music specifically composed for the instrument. Sir Peter Maxwell Davies composed 'Orkney Wedding, With Sunrise' for the pipes in 1985 while musical satirist Peter Schickele featured them as one of his six instruments for the fictional PDQ Bach's Sinfonia Concertante.

8 The Emperor Nero was known not just for fiddling while Rome burned but also for his love of bagpipes. According to Suetonius, he once showed offered to play them in public after losing a poetry competition.

9 The noise of bagpipes can reach 111 decibels – louder than a pneumatic drill.

10 In 2005 army health and safety inspectors called for soldiers to wear ear protectors while learning the instrument.

11 Bagpipes featured prominently on AC/DC's fist-pumping anthem It's a Long Way to the Top (If You Want to Rock 'n' Roll). The track featured on their three-million selling album High Voltage in 1976.

12 A mysterious bagpipe-wielding figure peers down from the central panel of Hieronymous Bosch's 15th century triptych The Epiphany, observing, apparently unseen, the Magi's adoration of the young Christ.

13 One of the earliest written records of the "great pipes" in Scotland came in 1623 when a man was prosecuted in Perth for playing them on the Sabbath.

14 The relationship between Cherie Blair and the Royal Family is said not to have been improved by the famous Balmoral ritual of a bagpiper playing a 6am reveille.

15 King Rama VI of Thailand ordered that the Great Highland Bagpipe replace the oboe as the official instrument of his elite Wild Tiger Corps.

16 An asthmatic teenager in Glasgow recently reported that his breathing problems had been radically improved since taking up the instrument. Scientists are investigating his claims.

17 The Gaida – a form of bagpipes– remains Bulgaria's national instrument, and it is common both in orchestras and at weddings.

18 Bagpipe standard Amazing Grace is often hailed as the most covered song in history, with more than 3,200 different recordings in existence . It was played at the funerals of Presidents Kennedy and Nixon, Joe DiMaggio and Sonny Bono.

19 The jazz musician Rufus Harley switched from saxophone to the bagpipes after watching the Black Watch play at President Kennedy's funeral, adapting the instrument to play jazz and blues.

20 Paul McCartney's bagpipe-based 'Mull of Kintyre' was his biggest ever hit. The 1977 single sold over 2 million copies, outstripping anything he had achieved with the Beatles and created the highest selling bagpipe track of all time.

Thursday 29 November 2007

Harry Potter is the Devil

From 'Jesus Camp', a film that looks worth seeing... but these people are REALLY insane...

World Turned Upside Down

You know it is when start agreeing with... Boris Johnson, the Tories' shambolic London Mayoral candidate!

In response to complaints from the chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority, the Commissioner-friendly Len Duvall, over the use of the words 'trigger-happy' to describe the police officers who executed Jean Charles de Menezes, Boris had the following to say:

You seem to want me to withdraw the use of the word "trigger happy" in respect of the death of Jean Charles de Menezes.

I have absolutely no intention of doing so. It is hard to think of any other description of a catastrophe in which a completely innocent man ends up with seven bullets in his head.

I have made it repeatedly clear that I believe the officers involved to have been personally extremely brave.

But I remain deeply dismayed that neither you nor the Mayor nor anyone else seems willing to address the fundamental question in the minds of the London public.

If this man was thought to be a potential suicide bomber, why the hell was he allowed on two buses, and then down the Tube? Why was he allowed to put the public at progressively greater risk?

Many people believe that common sense policing would have allowed his identity to be established at a much earlier stage.

Amen. Couldn't have put it better myself.

Wednesday 28 November 2007


God, I love this tune...

Sick Day

I've been off work today - the 24-hour knock-out cold bug has found me. And there's something very odd about staying home in the middle of the week, half-dazed; it's like a flashback to student life - only this time with central heating that works and a fridge that contains fresh vegetables.

It's hard to believe that in three days time, December will have arrived. Perhaps that old trope about time speeding up on the slip road towards 40 is true. Yesterday I told my friend Estelle that this year had been the worst of my life, but if that is true, how come it has flown by? Shouldn't it have dragged along, painfully, like waiting in the queue at the Indian High Commission for a visa?

Instead, since the turn of the year, there has been this and that and a great birthday party in February. And since Gilly's passing, there have been events to organise and things to do, and I managed to get by without having to take time off work. Plus two, soon to be three, trips abroad to three different continents. I have what can best be described as a wretched carbon footprint...

The reason is simple - I realised today that I can barely remember any of it.

Seriously. Don't ask me for anything detailed that happened this year and expect an instant answer. I just have random memories.

Getting a lift from Naz through south London at eleven in the morning after a long flight from Houston, heading to the Royal Free Hospital to see Gilly for one last time.

Checking into the Copthorne Hotel near Gatwick and then out again about three hours later because of a severely delayed flight to South Africa, knowing that in the space of 12 hours we had managed to travel no more than ten miles.

The last hill on the road to Southend.

Coming back on the train from Leamington Spa with a clammy whisky-hangover and stopping at Wembley Stadium's new station - before the stadium had even opened. Unsurprisingly, no-one got out.

I seem to have travel memories. Actually, no, I seem to mainly have airport memories. And in a couple of weeks, I can add some more.

So tell me again... who exactly are you?

Monday 26 November 2007

King Kevin

Most unlikely headline for the first 'Kevin' in the world to become a nation's leader:

King Kevin the new conqueror

Sunday 18 November 2007

Olympic Promises

Interesting report this morning on Radio Five Live by Barbara Collins on whether the East End will benefit from the 2012 Olympics and whether the Games will really leave a legacy of sporting facilities, business opportunities and a brand new transport infrastructure. In the week when the Olympic authorities have been trumpeting their plans, what kind of regeneration is on the cards?

Download as a podcast here [mp3 - right click to 'Save As...']

Saturday 17 November 2007

The RESPECT split and its impact in Newham

For those who are still unaware, one of Newham’s two opposition parties, RESPECT, has split nationally into two factions, one led by George Galloway and the other by the Socialist Workers Party.

Following an emergency meeting of Newham RESPECT on 26th October, a statement was issued that strongly opposed any split in the party and called upon the leadership “to pause and refrain from any move to divide us.” The statement adds that “Newham members are united in believing that everything that brought us together still exists and more so now” and that the party locally “appreciate our weaknesses and resolve to move forward and manifest the nation's desire for a political organisation that reflects the most important aspirations for a just society.”

What is interesting about this statement, as with much of the sudden and acrimonious collapse of RESPECT as a political project, is who has signed it and where it has appeared. It is posted on the ‘official’ RESPECT website, which is controlled by the SWP faction, but a number of the signatories were most definitely not SWP members, including Sabia Kamali, the unsuccessful candidate for councillor in Plaistow North, or the Mayoral candidate Abdurahman Jafar, or branch chair Michael Gavan, or Sarah Ruiz, a former Labour councillor who lost her seat after standing as a RESPECT candidate for councillor in East Ham North. But the names very obviously missing included the three RESPECT councillors who were elected - Hanif Abdulmuhit, Asif Karim and Abdul Karim Sheikh. Hanif was also RESPECT's chosen candidate for the Greater London Assembly (GLA) constituency of City and East.

Since the end of October, however, a number of the signatories of the ‘unity’ statement have chosen sides. SWP members, unsurprisingly, have opted for their party's 'Continuity Respect', whilst Abdurahman Jafar and Sabia Kamali have chosen Galloway’s “Respect Renewal” camp. Michael Gavan understandably has more pressing concerns to worry about than which of the two competing conferences on 17 November to attend. Meanwhile Cllr Hanif Abdulmuhit in particular has become very close to George Galloway, hosting a “members” meeting at his home after Galloway refused to attend one at the local RESPECT office whilst SWP members were present (reported in the SWP's internal bulletin Party Notes as “further evidence of a declaration of war against us”).

But others are torn, between the deeply sectarian SWP and the faction led by an MP who has not turned up to a single constituency surgery in 10 months, hardly ever enters Parliament, but is the fifth richest MP in Britain though TV work (that the SWP faction allege includes forthcoming, lucrative adverts for... Domestos).

With the SWP fairly weak in Newham and the Galloway faction more likely to prevail, the likelihood is that a number of these independents, especially those who have never been particularly enamoured with Galloway's raging ego, will drop out completely.

Meanwhile, the local New Labour councillors can barely restrain their glee at the rupture within RESPECT. Many were genuinely concerned at the last local council elections that they might lose their seats and there was a sigh of relief when RESPECT failed to capture more wards.

The Hounding of Michael Gavan

On Monday, Michael Gavan will be fired from his job as chair of Newham UNISON Local Government for alleged "gross misconduct", because Newham council accuses him of "not acting in the best interests of the council" and organising an "unauthorised" meeting against possible privatisation of services.

Newham UNISON has denied the allegation amounts to gross misconduct and moreover argue that this is a direct attack on the union, aimed at gagging their main negotiator as it starts a campaign against the privatisation of the refuse and cleaning service.

Newham Council’s case rests on two allegations. First is the “unauthorised” meeting of refuse and cleansing staff that Michael is said to have organised and attended. There was indeed a stewards meeting to discuss privatisation, but unfortunately for the council, it had been called off the day before it was due to be held. The second allegation is even more preposterous: the allegation of “not acting in the best interests of the council” is purportedly the result of Michael’s representation of a UNISON members who have been suspended for more than a year on an allegation of having committed a criminal offence that the council claim Michael was aware of – and should have reported.

To make matters worse, the council decided to bring in the former head of the School of Management at Westminster University to “investigate” Michael, who subsequently faced a perfunctory interview that failed to address the central claims against him. The appointment of a management consultant to investigate makes clear that the intention is to sack him and remove one of the union’s most effective representatives.

Newham Council’s aim seems to be to intimidate other union representatives by showing it can remove anyone who dares to stand up for rights at work and oppose council plans to privatise. Protests against Michael’s treatment have come from trade union branches all over the country, but although he has formal backing from UNISON nationally, there have been complaints that the London Regional Office has been slow to call a ballot for strike action (action eventually happened on 31st October). And despite the fact that Newham branch secretary Irene Stacey is also a member of UNISON’s NEC, general secretary Dave Prentice has yet to flex his union’s muscle within the Labour Party nationally to stop the appalling actions of a Labour council much-favoured by Whitehall. Could this perhaps be because Michael is also the chair of the local branch of Respect?

Michael is likely to win the inevitable employment tribunal that will result from the hounding he has received from the council, but he will be out of work next week and unlikely to see an outcome in his case for anything up to two years. In all probability, the council will settle at the eleventh-hour, satisfied that its money will have been well spent in breaking the union. Meanwhile, the borough’s New Labour Mayor Sir Robin Wales will be able to plough on with privatisation, resulting in cuts in pay and longer hours for cleansing and refuse staff.

Messages of support can be emailed to the branch at and messages of condemnation sent Robin Wales at

Sunday 11 November 2007

UFFC Remembrance Procession 2007

Sunday 9 September 2007

Book Launch: Tony Benn - 'Making More Time for Politics'

Tony Benn will be visiting Newham in October and launching his new book ‘Making Time for Politics’ at Stratford Circus. This is your chance to put your questions to him and buy a signed copy of the book.

Wednesday 10 October

Stratford Circus
Theatre Square
E15 1BX

Ticket prices: £5 from Newham Bookshop - 020 8552 9993

Queens Market Campaigners Publish Submission to GLA

The campaigners trying to stop the redevelopment of Queens Market in Upton Park have published their submission to the Greater London Authority's "Review of London Markets'

The submission sets out the hard-fought campaign and can be downloaded from here.

Space Hijackers to Auction Saracen Tank at Arms Fair

The Space Hijackers, veterans of the protests against the DSEi arms fair in Canning Town, are now, after several months of fundraising, the proud owners of a Saracen Mk1 tank, which they intend to drive to the arms fair. As the protesters line up against the heavily armed police, they intend to auction the tank to the highest bidder. They said:

"If this so happens to be an angry teenager in a balaclava, then so be it. We don’t see how destruction caused with our tank can possibly be our responsibility."

To those who have accused the Space Hijackers of recklessness and wonder what might happen if someone drives over a police car in the tank, they have responded by saying that "we are simply looking to make a profit, it’s just business transaction. As with the arms dealers and their weapons, once the goods are out of our hands, how can we be held accountable for how they are used?"

For more information, visit

Defence Systems and Equipment International, or DSEi, is one of the world's biggest arms fairs and has been held in the ExCel centre in Canning Town since 1999. It is a "tri-service defence exhibition", which means it is a forum for selling military equipment of all kinds for land, sea and air. The arms fair is organised by a commercial company, and receives major support from the UK government: financial, logistical and political.

The current commercial organiser, Reed Elsevier, has announced it is to pull out of the arms trade and plans to sell DSEi by the end of 2007. This has sent a clear signal that DSEi is a liability and that reputable businesses don't deal with the arms trade. Read more.

However, the campaign to stop DSEi continues. If another buyer is found, protesters will continue to put pressure on them and continue to call on the government to end its support for DSEi.

Demonstration against the arms fair

Tuesday 11th September
Meet at 11am, Plaistow Park, Newham

Plaistow park is between Balaam Street and Greengate Street, London E13 0AS. (Nearest tube Plaistow, District or Hammersmith & City Lines). Map.

The demonstration will then move off at 11:15am to end at the ExCel exhibition centre, where the arms fair takes place,. A rally will be held next to the Custom House Docklands Light Railway station at 12pm. Map.

The distance of the demonstration is about 3 km, or just under 2 miles. People with limited mobility are very welcome to join the demonstration at Custom House for the rally if preferable. Custom House DLR station has full disability access and the rally will take place just next to the station.

The rally is expected to finish by 1pm.

More information at

Saturday 18 August 2007

Get away from the Olympics

A new Newham website claims to "bring together people who live near the Olympic venues in Stratford" and who want to get away from the Games in 2012 "with visitors or media types from around the world who face renting accommodation in one of the most expensive cities in the world."

Escape 2012 offers to put visitors who are looking for somewhere to rent in 2012 in contact with local people looking to escape the Olympic madness.

Apparently it has been created by local people who have been involved in community campaigns or voluntary groups in east London and who "were, it has to be said, pretty much opposed to the hosting of the Olympics in the midst of our communities. But now it's happening and we just have to live with it... By getting as far away as we possibly can."

For more, visit

Wednesday 25 July 2007

Jean Charles de Menezes: still no justice two years on

Two years ago on 22nd July 2005, an innocent Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes was shot dead at Stockwell tube station as the result of a disastrous police anti-terror operation. But two years after his shooting:

  • No police officer involved in his death has faced criminal proceedings
  • The inquest into his death remains adjourned
  • The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) report into the police operation on the day of his death remains secret
  • The IPCC report into Sir Ian Blair also remains unpublished
  • The family and public still have no answers about the use of Operation Kratos and the police's shoot-to-kill policy
To mark the anniversary, the Justice4Jean campaign projected this image on the Houses of Parliament on Friday last week.

Thursday 12 July 2007

Remembering Gilly - this Saturday 14 July

The memorial event celebrated the life of Gilly Mundy, who died in March (see earlier article) is taking place this Saturday at the Rich Mix, 35-47 Bethnal Green Road, London E1 6LA

The event will start at 6pm and will feature contributions from Gilly's family and many friends. From around 8.30pm until 1am, there will be music from the Purple Banana Sound System.

If you would like to attend, please could you RSVP to

Tuesday 10 July 2007

Government 'financially exposed' by London Olympics

Many of the fears expressed by opponents of London's Olympic bid, which were scorned by the bid's supporters in 2005 but based on the track-record of previous Games, have already proven to be accurate.

The costs of the London Olympics were seriously underestimated at the time of the bid and the private sector funding seriously overestimated, according to a report by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee. The budget for the Games has spiralled to over £9 billion, an increase of around £6 billion on the position at the time of the bid, because whole categories of cost were omitted, including tax, contingencies and security. The Government also claimed it could raise £738 million of private sector funding, which would have covered a quarter of Olympic costs, but the Public Accounts Committee have said that "now there is little prospect of significant private sector funding being achieved" and that "as the ultimate guarantor of funding for the Games, the Government is financially exposed."

The report also highlights "a lack of clarity about how venues will be used after the Games, with the risk that designs fail to reconcile the needs of the Games in 2012 with those of subsequent users." The bid's opponents had pointed to exactly this position with mothballed and decaying stadia in both Sydney and Athens. However, as the report notes, "funding the Games means that there will be about £1.7 billion less money available for the other good causes supported by the National Lottery" - exactly the 'daylight robbery' of lottery funding that more sceptical observers of London's bid had warned of.

The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee report can be found here.

Wednesday 13 June 2007

THAT Olympic branding...

Tuesday 12 June 2007

Take Action Against Junk Mail

Newham is awash with junk mail. Our letter boxes are stuffed full of it every day and leaving aside the content of the rubbish that people distribute, the impact on the environment is immense.

On average, each UK household receives 18 items of junk mail every week, leading to 21 billion junk mail items distributed to UK households on average every year. The annual total of unsolicited mail and hand-delivered flyers in the UK weighs about 550,000 tonnes. The vast majority of this is unsolicited unaddressed junk mail. The production of junk mail also uses a significant amount of energy and causes air pollution. Each tonne produced uses enough energy to heat an average home for 6 months and causes 26 kilograms of air pollutants.

According to Environment Agency, reducing 1 tonne of junk mail saves 17 trees, 2.3 cubic metres if landfill, 31,400 litres of water, 4,200 kilowatt hours of energy, 1,600 litres of oil and avoids 26 kilograms of air pollutants.

Fortunately, you can do something about it.

Firstly, put up a sign saying 'no junk mail'. You can make your own, or buy one - we like the fancy (and cheap) ones available from

Next up, return the junk mail you receive to the people that distributed it.

Download this flyer (PDF), cut it into 'compliment slips' and post the junk mail back to the companies that produced it - no need for a stamp, making them pay may help them to focus on the bigger picture.

If enough of us start to do this, maybe the junk mailers will get the message.

As for the unsolicited mail that is actually addressed to you, you can cut down on this by registering with the Mail Preference Service.

Some junk mail is actually delivered by your postie - you can cut back on this by registering with the Royal Mail Opt-Out Service

Friday 27 April 2007

Mission Accomplished Day - Tuesday 1st May

Wednesday 11 April 2007

The Life and Death of Tom Hurndall - Killed by an Israeli Sniper

Newham Bookshop and Newham Monitoring Project present:

Defy the Stars - The Life and Death of Tom Hurndall

Tom Hurndall was an English photojournalism student. In April 2003, he was shot in the head as he carried a Palestinian child out of the range of an Israeli army sniper in the town of Rafah in the Gaza Strip. Tom was unarmed, and wearing the internationally recognized peaceworker’s fluorescent orange jacket. Severely wounded, he never recovered consciousness and died nine months later in a London hospital.

Defy the Stars by Tom’s mother Jocelyn Hurndall tells the story of Tom’s life and tragically premature death. Published by Bloomsbury in April 2007.

Join Jocelyn Hurndall in conversation with Asad Rehman, chair of Newham Monitoring Project, on:

Wednesday 25th April
7 pm at Stratford Circus,
Theatre Square,
London E15


Tickets - £5 Book or reserve tickets by calling Newham Bookshop on
020 8552 9993

Let 2000 Demos Bloom!

Get your application forms in by this Saturday (14 April)!

On the 5th of April Mark Thomas and a group of regulars at the Mass Lone Demos arrived at Charing Cross police station armed with 1,184 requests for demonstrations in the SOCPA zone. The demos will take place on the 21st of April. The aim is for people to carry out 20 demos each in the SOCPA zone in one day and to get as many people as possible to do so.

1,184 forms!

The designated area that the law applies to covers the Southbank to Millbank, from St James' Park to Hungerford Bridge, and from Admiralty Arch to MI5. Any individual wishing to demonstrate within that area - just one person with a banner or a badge - needs permission from the police.


You can join the challenge to New Labour's liberty threatening laws. So far 59 individuals have applied for 20 demos each (with 4 single demo requests) but anyone can come along on the 21st of April. Get involved and let's have 2,000 demos!

This is how it works: Each demonstrator holds a 10 minute demo at 19 different places (the start and finish demonstrations are in Parliament Square) and then gives themselves 10 minutes to get to their next demonstration. For an information sheet see below or visit: includes how to organise the demos, a list of places you might want to protest at in the designated area, a map of the SOCPA zone and access to our easy to fill in application printer (type in the bare details of your demos and in seconds you will get 20 forms set up and ready to print.)

If you want to demonstrate on the 21st of April you have until 10.30am Saturday the 14th of April to get your forms into the police at Charing Cross police station. [You can post your forms but you'll need to send them special delivery - see for details.]

If you can't make the whole event but want to come and join in why not come along to the final demo at Parliament Square at 5.20pm on the 21st of April, you will need to apply for permission for your demo.

Remember there's no obligation on you to turn up for the demos that you apply for, so if you think you "might" be around on the 21st and "might" want to hold 20 demonstrations then make sure you'd be legally in the clear by applying - under SOCPA the police *must* process your applications if you get them to them a week in advance.


So far Maya Evans has been arrested and convicted of ringing a bell and reading out the names of British and Iraqi war dead. This was illegal without permission. Mark Thomas has had to get permission to wear a red nose on Red Nose Day in Parliament Square - as he might have been arrested without permission. A young woman was threatened with arrest for wearing a T shirt with some of Brian Haw's art works printed on them- when she pointed out to the police officer that she was advertising the Tate Britain show by Mark Wallinger the police withdrew the threat of arrest. A man dressed as Charlie Chaplin with a sign saying "Not Allowed" was arrested outside Downing St, he was convicted under the SOCPA law.

If the law is a bad and stupid law then challenge it! The Home Office said "We understand from the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police that during the period 1 August 2005 to December 2006 1,379 demonstrations have taken place with an authorisation." Already we have given the police over a years worth of demo's in one day. Let's get to 2,000!


The police MUST give permission for the demonstrations according to the law and the Home Office. The info pack should help you through any problems or questions you have but you can always email us here if you have a question on the demos or SOCPA. Please drop us a line here to let us know if you are joining in, so we can keep a running total of the demos.


For information also visit:

Sunday 25 March 2007

Rest in Peace - Gilly Singh Mundy

It is with enormous sadness that we have to pass on news of the death on Saturday 17 March of our great friend Gilly Mundy, a management committee member for the Newham Monitoring Project (NMP) and former caseworker for NMP between 1993 and 1997. Gilly collapsed at work on Thursday 15 March and never regained consciousness. He was just 36 years old.

As a campaigner and activist, Gilly managed to cram so much into his own life and touch the lives of so many others that it is almost too painful to imagine what more he could have achieved. As well as supporting the victims of racist violence in east London whilst at NMP, he worked for the Lawrence Family Campaign during the inquiry into Stephen Lawrence’s murder. As the senior caseworker for INQUEST, the charity that advises bereaved people and their lawyers following contentious deaths, he helped hundreds of families who had lost loved ones in police and prison custody. And through an organisation called Conscious Clubbing, he helped organise music events to raise money for the many causes he supported, including the work of Newham Asian Women’s Project

But most of all, Gilly had a rare gift that made him so special: the ability to connect on a personal level, quietly and generously, with absolutely everyone he met. It was a talent that made him so important to those he supported in his work and so loved by his wife Debbie, his family and the huge number of friends who now grieve for him.

His wife Debbie has asked that anyone in Newham who knew Gilly and might be thinking about sending flowers to his funeral should instead consider donating to the memorial fund that his family has set up for the causes that were so close to Gilly’s heart.

Cheques should be made to ‘The Gilly Mundy Memorial Fund’ and can be sent to the family via NMP at The Harold Road Centre, 170 Harold Rd, Upton Park, London E13 0SE.

A memorial blog has been set up at

Sunday 11 February 2007

Oscar Mistakes

As this year's Oscars approach, everyone seems certain that Dame Helen Mirren's performance in 'The Queen' is a surefire bet for Best Picture, but the Academy has a long track record (in my view) of picking the wrong film. For starters, the best films of 2006 - Pan's Labyrinth and United 93 - aren't even nominated this year.

So here is a rundown of previous fifty years of winners and the films that should have won:

2006 - Crash - should have been A History of Violence (not even nominated)
2005 - Million Dollar Bay - should have been Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (not even nominated)
2004 - Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
2003 - Chicago - should have been The Pianist
2002 - A Beautiful Mind - should have been Memento (not even nominated)
2001 - Gladiator - should have been Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
2000 - American Beauty
1999 - Shakespeare in Love - should have been Saving Private Ryan
1998 - Titanic - should have been LA Confidential
1997 - The English Patient - should have been Fargo
1996 - Braveheart - should have been The Usual Suspects
1995 - Forest Gump - should have been The Shawshank Redemption
1994 - Schindler's List
1993 - Unforgiven
1992 - Silence of the Lambs - should have been JFK
1991 - Dances with Wolves - should have been Goodfellas
1990 - Driving Miss Daisy - should have been Field of Dreams
1989 - Rain Man - should have been A Fish Called Wanda
1988 - The Last Emperor - should have been Full Metal Jacket (not even nominated)
1987 - Platoon
1986 - Out of Africa - should have been Ran (not even nominated)
1985 - Amadeus - should have been The Killing Fields
1984 - Terms of Endearment - should have been The Right Stuff
1983 - Gandhi
1982 - Chariots of Fire - should have been Raiders of the Lost Ark
1981 - Ordinary People - should have been Raging Bull
1980 - Kramer Vs Kramer - should have been Apocalypse Now
1979 - The Deer Hunter
1978 - Annie Hall - should have been Star Wars
1977 - Rocky - should have been Taxi Driver
1976 - One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest - should have been Dog Day Afternoon
1975 - The Godfather Part 2
1974 - The Sting - should have been The Exorcist
1973 - The Godfather
1972 - French Connection
1971 - Patton - should have been MASH
1970 - Midnight Cowboy - should have been Easy Rider (not even nominated)
1969 - Oliver! - should have been A Lion in Winter
1968 - In the Heat of the Night - should have been Bonnie and Clyde
1967 - A Man for All Seasons
1966 - Sound of Music - should have been Doctor Zhivago
1965 - My Fair Lady - should have been Dr Strangelove
1964 - Tom Jones - should have been How the West Was Won
1963 - Lawrence of Arabia
1962 - West Side Story - should have been The Hustler
1961 - The Apartment - should have been Elmer Gantry
1960 - Ben Hur - should have been Anatomy of a Murder
1959 - Gigi - should have been The Defiant Ones
1958 - Bridge Over the River Kwai - should have been 12 Angry Men
1957 - Around the World in 80 Days - should have been The King and I
1956 - Marty - should have been Bad Day at Black Rock (not even nominated)

Post 9/11 Blues

This is great...

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