Tuesday 31 August 2010

Condemnation of Tomlinson Pathologist Further Undermines DPP's Refusal To Prosecute

Today, the General Medical Council unpicked another thread in the state's case for denying justice to Ian Tomlinson's widow and his children.

It comes as no surprise that the GMC has ruled that the pathologist Dr Mohmed 'Freddy' Patel failed to meet professional standards during post-mortem examinations in three cases between 2002 and 2005. I can still remember clearly how devastated my friends Rupert and Sheila Sylvester were back in 1999, when Patel wrongly announced to reporters that their son Roger, who had died in police custody in Tottenham, had been a crack cocaine user. Patel was reprimanded for that instance of professional misconduct too and in 2003, Roger was found to have been killed unlawfully by the police. Still, it wasn't until July last year that Dr Patel was finally suspended from conducting any further post mortem examinations for the Home Office or the police.

Common sense suggests this leaves in tatters the claim by Keir Starmer, the Director of Public Prosecutions, that there was an "irreconcilable conflict" in medical opinion over the death of Ian Tomlinson that prevented a charge of manslaughter. On the one hand, there's the post mortem opinion of Freddy Patel, a discredited pathologist with a string of reprimands and disciplinary verdicts against him, a doctor who has had no formal working arrangement with any UK police force for five years before Ian's death. On the other hand, there's the opinion of Dr Nat Cary, the former Head of of the Department of Forensic Medicine at Guy’s Hospital, a member of the Home Office's own Scientific Standards Committee and the author of more than fifty peer-reviewed published articles, mainly in relation to cardiovascular disease. Medical evidence stands and falls on the reputation of expert witnesses and whilst their testimony should never be relied on as the only evidence, I still can't understand why a jury can't weigh Cary's opinion against the value of Patel's credibility, alongside the video evidence available.

Meanwhile, there's still the question of why the coroner Paul Matthews picked Dr Patel over Dr Cary (who is normally called in for suspicious deaths in London), especially as earlier this month, an investigation by BBC Radio 4's The Report found that Patel had failed to meet the criteria for inclusion on the Home Office's Register of Forensic Pathologists. We also need to know what role the City of London Police had in influencing the coroner's decision - they paid Patel's fee at the same time as they were busy telling the Tomlinson family that here was nothing suspicious about Ian's death. And then we need an explanation why two investigators from the Independent Police Complaints Commission were denied access to the original postmortem by Dr Patel.

The accusation of a cover up is one that should always be made with caution - but in this case, the evidence is becoming alarmingly compelling.

Tomlinson Pathologist Guilty Of Misconduct

From the Press Association. More on this later.

A disciplinary panel has ruled that the pathologist who carried out the first autopsy on Ian Tomlinson who died at last year's G20 protest in central London, acted in a way that amounted to misconduct during two earlier post-mortem examinations and his fitness to practise is impaired.

The panel also ruled that Dr Freddy Patel displayed deficient professional performance in a third post-mortem exam.

The panel had already concluded that Dr Patel was "irresponsible" and failed to meet professional standards during his examinations of the bodies of a five-year-old girl in 2002, a four-week-old baby in 2003 and a woman who died in 2005.

Dr Patel, 63, was said by the panel to have behaved irresponsibly, failed to meet standards expected of a Home Office pathologist and acted in a way liable to bring the profession into disrepute when he changed the woman's cause of death in 2005.

He carried out a post-mortem examination on January 5, and decided she had died due to a blood clot in the coronary arteries.

A month later, following a second post-mortem exam by another pathologist, he prepared an addendum to his report, changing the cause of death to a brain haemorrhage in line with the new findings.

During the ruling panel chairman Richard Davies said Dr Patel's "acts and omissions were very serious" and amounted to misconduct and his failure to note the weights of individual organs examined, recommended in Royal College of Pathologists' guidance, also showed deficient professional performance.

Dr Patel, whose full name is Mohmed Saeed Sulema Patel, has already been suspended from the Home Office register of forensic pathologists amid questions about his post-mortem examination of Mr Tomlinson.

The 47-year-old newspaper seller died during London's G20 riots in April last year after being pushed to the ground by a police officer.

Dr Patel's competency was called into question after two other pathologists agreed that Mr Tomlinson, who was an alcoholic, died as a result of internal bleeding, probably from his diseased liver, after falling on his elbow.

Monday 30 August 2010

Naval Gazing in Greenwich

Down at Greenwich Park with the parents today, visiting the Royal Observatory and the Royal Naval College. A couple of snaps in lieu of proper blogging, which will hopefully return this week. There are more pictures here.

Sunday 29 August 2010

The Rooftop Of The Thames

Well, it's been a typical August Bank Holiday, no? Wind, driving rain, only the occasional break in the cloud... but at least most of the Undergound was running for once. Plans to head over to the annual solidarity cricket match in Victoria Park were abandoned with the unexpected arrival in London of my mum and dad, which was lovely though.

And I was able to tick off another entry on my list of Things That Tourists Do But Londoners Miss™ by going up on the walkway over Tower Bridge. Here's a couple of pictures - there are more here.

Friday 27 August 2010

Who Are The "Principal Environmental Extremists"?

The Scotsman's crime reporter has been regurgitating more police propaganda today about last week's Climate Camp, with a piece that includes the following:

Police chiefs feared that a hardcore group of climate camp activists planned to launch a bid to shut down Edinburgh Airport during the protests.

Officers had gathered intelligence that the ringleaders of protests which previously targeted Heathrow Airport were descending on the Capital.

Intelligence also suggested that the M8 and M9 motorways, Princes Street, and the Tattoo may have come under attack in a effort to cause "maximum economic disruption".

UK police forces have identified around 100 "principal environmental extremists" operating across Britain, and Lothian and Borders Police believe up to 50 were in Edinburgh for last week's protests.

Instead, hundreds of protesters camped outside the Royal Bank of Scotland's global headquarters at Gogarburn, with sporadic attacks on other city bank branches.

Assistant Chief Constable Iain Livingstone today said: "We knew that RBS would be a potential target and the bank has premises across the city.

"But we built up intelligence that suggested Edinburgh Airport, the M8 and M9, the city's banking system, Princes Street and the city centre, and the Tattoo, were major targets".

"We had spoken to RBS and they were happy to allow the camp to go ahead there. It allowed us to contain and control the protest away from where they could have tried to cause maximum disruption.

"The impact if Princes Street had been forced to close during the middle of the Festival would have been great. It was one of a number of genuine targets. Instead, the group was largely confined to an area on the west side of the city."

So who exactly are these 100 or so "principal environmental extremists"? The Scotsman identifies "extremists linked to the Plane Stupid campaign, which saw 1000 eco-warriors bidding to close down Heathrow three years ago". So that's definitely Greenpeace's Joss Garman on the list then.

What this refers to of course is the database held by the shadowy National Extremism Tactical Coordination Unit, which is part of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO). It justifies the holding of information about protesters, including completely lawful ones, because they are potentially "witnesses to acts of criminality or anti-social behaviour" or have "attended several events where violent disorder has occurred". NETCU says that this "helps the police to do their job effectively", because "collecting the right information helps the police to protect democracy and lawful protest". Anton Setchel, ACPO's National Co-ordinator for Domestic Extremism, has gone even further, with this telling comment the Guardian:

"Just because you have no criminal record does not mean that you are not of interest to the police," he said. "Everyone who has got a criminal record did not have one once."

NETCU 's purported definition of 'extremist' is allegedly very specific: it says it means those who "try to mask their activities by associating closely with legitimate campaigners", who use tactics such as "malicious letters and e-mails, blackmail, product contamination, damage to property and occasionally the use of improvised explosive devices" and whose "aim is to create a climate of fear". But the trouble is, most of those who end up on its secret lists are entirely legitimate campaigners who support and even celebrate non-violence. NETCU is just an excuse for widespread surveillance of anyone who participates in protest - on the basis that everyone taking part is, in Assistant Chief Constable Setchell's eyes, potentially guilty until proven otherwise.

The claim that "principal environmental extremists" were descending on Edinburgh looks like another example of the Scotsman repeating whatever they are told by their police minders - about as convincing as the lies circulated by Lothian and Borders Police claiming that "a substance similar to diesel or vegetable oil" had been spilled onto two major roads by climate activists. Could it be that having sufficient numbers to successfully target the Royal Bank of Scotland's headquarters - which has "attracted criticism from some senior politicians for 'failing to clamp down sooner' on the Gogarburn protest after activists sneaked on to grounds" - has strained a few coppers' nerves north of the border?

LAZY FRIDAY - Frienemies

Today's Lazy Friday lunchtime distraction is courtesy of Mark Fiore, with more News-In-A-Nutshell. Love the cartoon depiction of Wikileaks' founder Julian Assange, "some guy with a popular website, a man on the run with a global network of leakism!"

Wednesday 25 August 2010

A Coalition Of Resistance, But What Kind?

In November, the Coalition of Resistance conference in Camden will to bring together activists from around the country to hear speakers from struggles in Europe and from “delegates from the anti-cuts and anti-privatisation groups springing up in this country”. Its ambitious aim is to provide a focus for what will hopefully have become a growing movement against the drastic cuts expected in October’s Spending Review.

The conference was first announced in a statement published in the Guardian in early August and is closely associated with Counterfire, the new political project of John Rees and Lindsay German since their expulsion from the Socialist Workers Party. Other prominent former SWP members, including Alex Snowdon and Chris Nineham (who once ran the SWP’s front organisation 'Globalise Resistance'), are active in organising the event, whilst ULU students union president Clare Solomon, who was also kicked out of the party in late 2009, has been looking after the Coalition of Resistance (CoR) website. Their former comrades in the Right to Work campaign, which the SWP continues to support, seem to have been all but sidelined and do not appear amongst the signatories on the original CoR statement.

The specific criticism of the SWP leadership made by those who quit this year focused on its abandonment of the ‘united front’ strategy, with the “most glaring mistake” being “the SWP’s refusal to engage with others in shaping a broad left response to the recession, clearly the most pressing task facing the left”. CoR is a rejection of that approach and anyone looking at the conference, the people involved, its proposal for the creation of “a national co-ordinating coalition” and even the choice of name can see what model it seeks to replicate – the Stop the War Coalition.

The way the Stop the War Coalition (StWC) has been run, however, has not been without its critics. It managed an impressive level of unity during the approach to the war in Iraq, but has also been accused of presenting itself as the sole voice of the anti-war movement, a claim it had no right to make. Its decisions have often been made with little semblance of democratic consultation and its large and unwieldy executive committee was basically symbolic, which allowed members of the SWP to appear on platforms as spokespersons when they have no links to any of the organisation’s structures. After five years, StWC had became, as I suggested in 2008, a mass movement with few roots, one that reactivated non-existent ‘local groups’ only when there is a demo to promote. Genuinely dynamic local activism was the exception – and it was always in areas where a more pluralist attitude was allowed to flourish.

Obviously there was nothing inevitable about a repeat of these mistakes – but if I you’re now expecting a typically sectarian anarcho rant against the people involved in CoR, then I’m afraid you’re in for a shock.

Instead, I’ve actually been very impressed by the early signs of CoR's inclusiveness and desire to work with others, from quarters where I wouldn’t expect such a refreshing attitude. Whether this is because of the political journey that some ex-SWP activists have been on, perhaps their own disappointment at the arrogance and control-freakery displayed towards building broad alliances, is of course pure speculation. But back in 2003, when an independent anti-war group was set up where I live, the SWP moved swiftly to set up its own ‘official’ alternative. In 2010, when a few of us decided to call a meeting about the impact of cuts in Newham, CoR has been enthusiastic in supporting and publicising it. It may not seem like much, but it strikes me that it’s an indicator of a fundamentally different outlook.

That doesn’t mean there won’t be disagreements ahead. Creating another convenient but ultimately cumbersome national committee that starts trying to direct campaigning activity, rather than supporting it at a grassroots level, is still a real possibility. So too is a reluctance to accept that CoR is one part of a wider ‘movement of movements’ and not the exclusive leader of the opposition to ConDem cuts. We all know, meanwhile, that there’ll be plenty of people at the Camden Centre in November who are past masters at bureaucratic manoeuvring at conferences.

But come October, the country faces massive, ideologically driven cuts and the Tories attempt to engineer the near decimation of public services. If there is a real chance to create an organised, effective opposition that scares the hell out of the government, then all of us are going to have to swallow our cynicism and try and make it work - no matter what has happened in the past.

There is a Coalition of Resistance planning meeting next Thursday, 2 September, at the University of London Union, starting at 6.30pm. More details here.

Tuesday 24 August 2010

Fifteen Albums That Stick With You

My friend and comrade Harpymarx has a knack for spotting Internet memes and this is a particularly fun one - fifteen albums that will always stick with you, one album per band, with no more than fifteen minutes to make the selection.

Her choices are here. After finally making it home after a long, long day, I sat down with a notebook and pen (very old-school) and found it surprisingly easy to choose fifteen albums that each have a personal meaning to me. Explaining why has taken rather longer, but here are my choices, in release-date order:

The Jam - Setting Sons (1979)
I was only just starting secondary school when Setting Sons came out and was therefore a late starter as a fan of the Jam (this was their fourth album). Paul Weller was undoubtedly the coolest musician of the period and the album remains one of my all-time favourites, one I still listen to regularly. Heat Wave (a Martha and the Vandellas cover) is an odd and rather pointless final track though.

Favourite tracks: Eton Rifles, Smithers-Jones

Heaven 17 – Penthouse and Pavement (1981)
This was such an iconic album from my early school years, with the overtly political (We Don't Need This) Fascist Groove Thang an obvious hook for a young lefty (it was banned by Radio 1's resident censor Mike Read). Heaven 17 were also, however, responsible for teenage boys wearing ridiculous little pony-tails and dressing like aspiring yuppies. Remember collar pins with burgundy ties?

Favourite tracks: (We Don't Need This) Fascist Groove Thang, Geisha Boys and Temple Girls, The Height of the Fighting

Special AKA – In The Studio (1984)
This was the third album by the Specials and I can remember exactly where I bought it: in a long-disappeared record shop in Haywards Heath in Sussex, a year after its release. This is the album that includes the decade's finest political anthem, Free Nelson Mandela, a track I particularly enjoyed playing when relatives from South Africa were visiting (along with sticking a massive ANC flag on my bedroom door). Seeing the song performed at the end of an Anti-Apartheid Movement protest in London was fantastic.

Favourite tracks: Free Nelson Mandela, Racist Friend

The Smiths – Meat Is Murder (1985)
Inevitabky, I became a Smiths fan long after the truly dedicated has spent a fortune on gladioli and this album was the soundtrack of my first year at polytechnic, nearly two years after its release. To be fair, this was mainly because I was too skint to buy LPs (What Difference Does It Make? had been a favourite single when it was released in 1984, but that never grew into a fully-blown Morrissey obsession). The politics of Meat is Murder naturally appealed to plenty of other stereotypical vegetarian student left wingers - I was one such archetype - but even so, there's little doubt that How Soon Is Now? is one of the greatest tracks of all time.

Favourite tracks: How Soon Is Now?, What She Said, That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore

The Redskins - Neither Washington Nor Moscow (1986)
The Redskins were the SWP's house band and it was inevitable, in the mid-80s, that it would be popular with anyone on the left. But I remember that everyone had this album (even my less political friends) and it was a staple of all-night teenage house parties of the period. Sampling Tony Cliff was pretty cheesy though and smacked of the kind of leader-worship I've always been suspicious of.

Favourite tracks: Lean On Me, Keep On Keepin' On

The Stone Roses – The Stone Roses (1989)
This was the album of my final year at college and in the condemned student block where I lived, on the Coventry Cross estate in Bromley-by-Bow, it blared out from every flat. A Friday night at the student union wouldn't have been complete without a load of pale white guys flailing around to I Am the Resurrection (this was before Fool's Gold taught everyone that moving their hips when they danced was perfectly acceptable).

Favourite tracks: I Wanna Be Adored, This Is the One, I Am the Resurrection

Oasis – Definitely Maybe (1994)
The first and definitely the best Oasis album, although I know others prefer (What's the Story) Morning Glory?. But Oasis were already well on their way to embracing their Beatles obsession by the release of their second LP, whilst this was the band when they still were at the stage of wanting to play loud, angry guitars and dream of one day becoming famous.

Favourite tracks: Supersonic, Rock 'n' Roll Star, Cigarettes & Alcohol

Nirvana – Unplugged in New York (1994)
I never got Nirvana when they became huge in 1991. A latecomer as ever, I was still caught up in the whole 'Madchester' hype on the release of Nevermind and it was the kind of thing that Johnny Edwards, the students' union president I shared an office with when I was a sabbatical officer, was into (along with the Pixies track Stormy Weather, which was on a permanent loop). But stripped of the noise, the MTV Unplugged session showed that Kurt Cobain was a great songwriter - and finally the penny dropped.

Favourite tracks: About a Girl, Polly, Something in the Way

Portishead – Dummy (1994)
I loved this album when it came out and played it over and over again. It's like the soundtrack to a particularly disturbing late-night European film. The whole 'trip-hop' scene largely passed me by (I am so desperately uncool) but Beth Gibbons' voice on Dummy was something special - and it still is, even despite the potentially career-destroying Mercury Music Prize it won in 1995.

Favourite tracks: Wandering Star, Sour Times, Glory Box

Pulp – Different Class (1995)
In 1995, Jarvis Cocker was a geek hero who could do no wrong. Common People was huge, the band's Glastonbury appearance that year has become the stuff of legend and Different Class was my favourite album, even though I seem to remember that it too won a Mercury Music Prize. There are plenty of great tracks but Bar Italia probably edges it as my favourite - more than once I was one of those who "can't go home and go to bed, because it hasn't worn off yet".

Favourite tracks: Mis-Shapes, Common People, Underwear, Bar Italia

Radiohead – OK Computer (1997)
This is my favourite Radiohead album, almost certainly because it's another that sounds like the score to a science-fiction film and because it stood apart from the rest of the 'Britpop' nonsense at the time. Referencing Chomsky, Douglas Adams and including a track originally written for Baz Luhrmann's brilliant Romeo + Juliet almost certainly helped too.

Favourite tracks: Paranoid Android, Karma Police, No Surprises

Blue Break Beats Volume 4 (1998)
A choice that I doubt anyone else would share, but this album has an particularly personal significance for me, as it was one that we played in my friend Gilly's car every morning on the way to work at INQUEST. It includes tracks that were later sampled by others, including Bob Dorough's original Three Is The Magic Number from 1973 (a song that Gilly and I both knew all the words to after listening to it day after day), which was used many years later by De La Soul. One of the tracks is also an amazing live performance of Woman of the Ghetto by Marlena Shaw. For some reason I played it repeatedly after Gilly died in 2007.

Favourite tracks: Beat Goes On (Buddy Rich), Three Is The Magic Number (Bob Dorough), Woman of the Ghetto (Marlena Shaw)

Leftfield – Rhythm and Stealth (1999)
This album reminds me of a particular period - when many of my close friends were organising Conscious Clubbing events as a way to mix getting blasted and dancing until the morning whilst also raising funds for our favourite causes. I can still vividly remember Phat Planet or Afrika Shox when they were dropped into one of the DJ sets (usually by Gilly again, who had his signature tracks). Still a great album and one I dig out when I need cheering up.

Favourite tracks: Phat Planet, Afrika Shox, Swords

DJ Marky – The Brazilian Job (2001)
Drum and Bass crept up on me slowly but I never could get into the harder, darker tracks. However, when the Movement album The Brazilian Job came out, I discovered something that I could listen to at home, not just dance to in a club. Brazilian drum and bass is music for the summer months and for partying on the beach, essentially - and LK would be on my list for Desert Island Discs.

Favourite tracks: Só Tinha Que Ser Com Voce, LK (Carolina Carol Bela), Sambassim

The Streets – A Grand Don't Come For Free (2004)
Mike Skinner's first album as The Streets was my first British garage purchase and is great, but A Grand Don't Come for Free is just brilliant - eleven tracks that sound even better if played from beginning to end. As friends know well, I love this album so much that Blinded by the Lights has been the ringtone on my mobile for six years now. Nothing Skinner has done since has been as good.

Favourite tracks: Blinded by the Lights, Fit But You Know It, Empty Cans

The Return of the Iranian Solidarity Cricket Match

This Sunday sees the return of the annual solidarity cricket match between Hands Off the People of Iran and the Labour Representation Committee in aid of the charity Workers Fund Iran, which is dedicated to raising much-needed funds for the struggles of Iranian workers. Last year's contest, won by HOPI, raised £1500 and this year they are hoping to raise close to two grand.

This year, the match has moved from Walthamstow to Victoria Park in Bethnal Green and starts at noon on Pitch 2, in the north east of the park. You can get to it from the Queens Gate on Victoria Park Road, just up from the Britannia pub. Look out for the banners or find more detailed directions here.

Anyone who is interested in playing can get in contact with Ben at HOPI at ben@hopoi.info or on 07792 282 830. Sadly, the nasty shoulder injury I received after getting hit by a car in March continues to affect my graceful bowling action (!), but I'll be taking photos again this year (see last year's pictures here).

For more information see the Cricket for Iranian Workers website.

Monday 23 August 2010

Justice for Sean Rigg - Two Years On

A video from Saturday's anniversary protest at Brixton police station in memory of Sean Rigg, which was followed by a public meeting ably chaired by my friend Cilius. More photos at Harpymarx's blog

Sunday 22 August 2010

White Lines On Wanstead Flats

On Saturday, a series of freshly painted white lines, some of which seem to delineate large oblong shapes, appeared on the grass on Wanstead Flats on the exact spot where the Metropolitan police plan to site its Olympics operational centre.

Now it's important not to jump to conclusions, but it does rather look like the Met are carrying out preliminary survey work in preparation for submitting its planning proposals - before their 'consultation' is even close to finishing on 25 September.

If there is a more innocent explanation, perhaps someone could enlighten me. But if the police really are rushing ahead, why go through the pretence that local people's opinion actually matters?

Thanks to Dave of the East End Howler for the photos


There IS an entirely innocent explanation - the Showmen's Guild is marking out the pitches for the forthcoming Wanstead Flats Fair. I've never seen this before, so thanks to Paul Thomson (the Superintendent of Epping Forest, no less) for e-mailing to provide some reassurance.

Saturday 21 August 2010

Volunteering - So What Do You Do, Mr Maude?

The Conservative Party's "Big Society" plans have made much of the importance of voluntary action: they are encouraging civil servants to volunteer and before the general election, on 31 March, Cameron announced that his ambition was for "every adult to be a member of an active neighbourhood group".

So when Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude, who has responsibility for the 'Big Society' programme, was put on the spot with a simple question from Radio 4's Eddie Mair - "what volunteering do you do?" - you'd have expected that he might have an answer. But apparently not. Here's his stumbling reply:


Friday 20 August 2010

LAZY FRIDAY - Diana Conspiracy Explained

Today's Friday lunchtime distraction comes courtesy of David Mitchell and Robert Webb, who explain how Princess Diana's assassination was really planned.

This clip was broadcast on Tuesday and the rest of the programme is available on BBC iPlayer until 24 August.

Thursday 19 August 2010

Clyde-Built: Jimmy Reid 1932 – 2010

From today's funeral in Glasgow of trade unionist Jimmy Reid, who died on 10 August. Reid’s famous speech on becoming rector of Glasgow University, in which he told students to reject individualism, greed and the "rat race", was printed in full by the New York Times - a pdf version is available in booklet form, entitled Alienation [4.9 Mb].

Wednesday 18 August 2010

Public Meeting - The Impact Of Cuts In Newham

Having argued recently for a bottom up, grassroots approach to fighting the government’s cuts programme, I guess it is now time to start thinking about putting these ideas into action locally.

Having spoken to a few friends, we have decided to call an open meeting one week before the government announces its cuts plan with the publication of the Spending Review in October. The meeting will take place at 6.30pm on Wednesday 13 October at Durning Hall Community Centre in Forest Gate. We aim to begin the discussion by asking a simple question:

What impact will massive cuts make on the lives of people in Newham?

We know what impact the recession has had on the 1000 richest multimillionaires in Britain – their wealth has increased by nearly a third, up £77.265 billion in the last year according to the latest Sunday Times Rich List. The size of the planned public sector cuts is a fraction of these new acquired riches.

However, we also know that the Conservative-Liberal Democrat government has absolutely no intention of making the richest 10% of the population contribute fairly to the gradual reduction of our national debt - which even now is still proportionately lower than the US, Canada, Japan, Italy, France and even Germany.

Instead, we face huge, immediate and unnecessary cuts in public spending and either the reduction or closure of services in some of the most economically deprived areas of the country, including boroughs like Newham.

But what will these cuts actually mean in practice? What impact will local people suffer when cuts hit services for children and young people, or for people needing advice? What are the implications for those who are in substandard housing, suffering domestic violence or who are dependent upon social care? What are the consequences for council and NHS staff, many of whom are also local residents?

Highlighting the impact of cuts on local people and understanding how they affect everyone is the first step towards acting to oppose them – together. So come along on 13 October and join the debate.

If you would like to speak at the meeting about the impact cuts will make on your work or the services you use, please Kevin Blowe on 020 8536 3825 or Sarah Ruiz on 020 8519 9500

Download a copy of the flyer [PDF] for the meeting here

Tuesday 17 August 2010

How Many Times Must ACPO Issue Guidance On The Lawful Treatment Of Photographers?

Andy Trotter must be feeling like a supply teacher struggling to make himself heard. Having risen to become the British Transport Police’s Chief Constable and the lead for the Association of Chief Police Officer’s media advisory group, he probably expects that by now, his instructions might occasionally be listened to.

Last week, Police Review reported that Bob Satchwell, director of the Society of Editors, had requested a meeting to discuss the ill-treatment of photographers by the police, after an incident involving Hackney Gazette journalist Carmen Valino. On 31 July, Ms Valino was forced to hand over her camera to police after photographing a crime scene from behind a police cordon and had images she had taken deleted. A couple of weeks earlier, the same thing had happened to Paul King, a freelancer who was taking pictures of a crash in Wokingham in Berkshire.

Today we discovered that the outcome of this meeting was a promise by Andy Trotter to re-issue guidance to police officers about dealing with the media.

The guidelines themselves, adopted in April 2007, are perfectly clear: they say that “members of the public and the media do not need a permit to film or photograph in public places and police have no power to stop them filming or photographing incidents or police personnel.” A 'clarification' by Andy Trotter, issued in December 2009, also said that “there is no provision in law for the confiscation of equipment or the destruction of images, either digital or on film”, whilst "it is not an offence for a member of the public or journalist to take photographs of a public building and use of cameras by the public does not ordinarily permit use of stop and search powers".

However, within days of this 'clarification', armed police in the City of London stopped and detaining an architectural photographer and in February this year, an amateur photographer was stopped three times in Accrington under anti-terrorism powers. So too was a member of the public in Oxfordshire who photographed police while buying fish and chips.

In June the illegal detention of photographer Jules Mattson in Romford prompted the Met Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson to tell the Metropolitan Police Authority that “very precise guidelines to officers” had been provided and that his force “keep re-issuing those instructions” – but still he could not guarantee that all officers would interpret the law correctly.

How many times must instructions to protect both professional and amateur photographers be repeatedly issued before they actually start to make any difference? What impact can we expect from Andy Trotter’s latest promise today? Looking at the way that officers on the beat have wilfully ignored him in the past, it hardly looks promising. But perhaps if officers like those in Romford were given something more than ‘words of advice’, things might change. For as the police media guidelines spell out plainly, there are "no powers" and “no provision in law” for what happened to Jules Mattson, Carmen Valino and Paul King. The conduct they experienced was unlawful. So why weren’t those responsible properly disciplined, or better still, charged with criminal offences?

Until senior officers are prepared to back up their pledges with drastic sanctions against officers at street-level who break the law, then chief officers like Andy Trotter will continue to feel as though no-one is listening to them - and that includes photographers, who will still suspect that police promises aren’t worth the paper they are printed on.

Monday 16 August 2010

Queens Market - Newham Council Shuts Down Community Radio Broadcast

More heavyhandedness from Newham council down at Queens Market in Upton Park. I've just heard that halfway through a 90-minute show yesterday morning on a local community radio station, Voice of Africa Radio (VOAR), the outside-broadcast of a live interview with campaigners from Friends of Queens Market was suddenly stopped by the council's security.

As VOAR's team was reluctantly packing away its equipment and a crowd gathered in support, the police arrived and threatened arrests - allegedly after unnamed Newham councillors had called them to report an unlawful radio broadcast. However, Voice of Africa Radio has an FM community licence from the Radio Authority and is the only legal African radio station in the UK. Its team say it was even denied the right to broadcast on private premises - in Dee's Saloon at the front of Queens Market - with the owner's permission.

Voice of Africa Radio had invited Newham councillors to take part in the discussion but none had responded. It alleges that instead, the council arranged for the market manager to come in specially on his day off to shut down the broadcast. It has announced its intention to return to Queens Market on Sunday 28 August.

Wanstead Flats - A Message For Recent Police Visitors To This Blog

This evening, a small group from the Save Wanstead Flats campaign attended the meeting arranged by a PR company for the Met police and the City Corporation to sell their plans for the Flats - and after listening politely to the police presentation and delivering invitations to a proper consultation event in October, they promptly left.

Having attended myself, albeit briefly, I was fascinated to now hear that some fairly senior police officers concerned with Olympic security have been occasionally checking this blog for the latest on the campaign against their plans for Wanstead Flats. So welcome - and let me give you some feedback about tonight. I've been doing this stuff for years, so you never know, it may be helpful.

To begin with, the initial sales pitch for the select few who you invited didn't really add that much to what we already know - most of it is already on the website you have set up to market the proposal for a police 'briefing and mustering centre' on the Flats in 2012. You really needed to come prepared with rather more than a PowerPoint presentation and the hope that everyone would be impressed by it, especially with an issue as controversial as this. You certainly needed to be ready to answer some fairly searching questions.

The impression given at the start, however, that there were many areas you couldn't respond to, but that you would listen and take people's concerns back, fell rather flat for two reasons. Firstly, when it became clear that most of the people attending this evening were opposed to your plans, the hasty suggestion that tonight's gathering was actually separate from the consultation itself, and merely intended to gather people's views to influence it, was terribly unconvincing - after all, the deadline you have chosen for 'consultation' is 26 September, less than six weeks away. Either tonight was part of the consultation, as the invite claimed, or it wasn't. Secondly, this looked far too much like orchestrated stage management that had gone horribly wrong, precisely because you had tried to hand pick who would allowed to provide an opinion - only 'one or two representatives' of organisations were invited, not the wider public.

As for the PowerPoint slides and the questions they raised that you could answer, the claim that you have searched exhaustively for different sites was treated with suspicion because we know there are other possibilities - the charity I work for, for example, has a large brownfield site in East Ham but has never been approached. Worse was the argument that other suitable venues had been bagged already by others for Olympic activities - alongside an insistence that nothing was more important than Olympic security. That simply didn't add up.

Overall, even Newham council's Adults, Culture and Community department could have come across better than this - and believe me, that really is saying something! Perhaps things improved a little after I left, I can't be sure. But luckily, you have been gifted an opportunity to redeem yourselves and to make sure a far larger number of local people can have their say.

Tonight, both the Met police and the City of London Corporation were hand-delivered an invitation to an open public meeting organised by residents themselves. You'll obviously need to extend the insufficiently inclusive deadline for your consultation, as the proposed date for this public meeting is 6 October at 7pm ar Durning Hall Community Centre in Forest Gate, but its only an extra week. We hope you will be able to attend, as the meeting will go ahead without you if you can't and that really, really wouldn't look good.

And by then, you need to make sure you are fully briefed. We expect a couple of hundred people in attendance, many of whom are very knowledgeable about the Flats, its history and its current use, the traffic conditions around it and the legal implications of your proposals (the Save Wanstead Flats campaign has been offered support from some excellent planning lawyers too).

All this may seem like far harder work than the tick-box exercise you might have been hoping for, but then real consultation usually is. And real consultation never starts with an assumption that proposals have already been set in stone.

So please reply positively to the address on the letter (Save Wanstead Flats, c/o Community Involvement Unit, Durning Hall Community Centre, Earlham Grove, London E7 9AB). We look forward to seeing both the police and the Corporation on 6 October.

Sunday 15 August 2010

Climate Camp - Polis Prepare For "Sheer Badness"

The Scotsman yesterday reprinted the briefing it had received from the Lothian and Borders police about next weekend's Climate Camp action in Edinburgh.

Now campers have a track record of being decidedly fluffy, the protest is aimed squarely at the Royal Bank of Scotland and its worldwide financing of fossil fuel companies and Camp for Climate Action has already hinted that its main target is the RBS global headquarters in Gogarburn, some 7 miles away from the centre of Edinburgh. However, the paper reported warnings in "security bulletins issued by police to hundreds of businesses" about something truly awful - the refusal of protesters to discuss their plans in advance. I was particularly amused by this comment from business spokes-idiot Graham Birse of the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce:

"People are clearly entitled to their views and are entitled to protest peacefully, but if people are coming here to cause trouble out of sheer badness they should be dealt with appropriately."

Lets hope wild claims about 'sheer badness' don't encourage the kilt-makers emporium to board up its windows because of its proximity to the RBS branch in Princes Street - American tourists can't get enough of your over-priced tartan and would be sorely disappointed.

We've been down this route so many times before. Senior police officers and their 'contingency planning' boosts exaggerated stories about potential disorder, business interests elevate any short-term inconvenience in their ability to make money into dire warnings about forces of revolution at the gates of the city and the press print bullshit because they need a story. Once protest begins, the police have wound themselves up to expect violence - and then act disproportionately. So lets hope too that they keep their batons sheathed this time - and end up as flummoxed as they were in Blackheath.

I have a number of friends in Edinburgh and had hoped to combine seeing them with taking part in this year's Climate Camp. But I can't make it - the injuries I received earlier this year because a short-sighted petrolhead crashed into my bike are taking much longer to heal than I hoped. Several comrades are going though and I look forward to passing on their latest news next weekend.

UPDATE - Mon 16 August

The Camp for Climate Action has understandably responded by accusing the police of "sensationalism"

The Evolution Of Chomsky's Anarchism

Noam Chomsky discusses the evolution of his anarchism, what a society of workers' councils might look like, the road to a stateless society, and whether anarchists should oppose the welfare state.

Hat-tip: David Wearing of the New Left Project

Saturday 14 August 2010

Adrian Swain Vindicated As Tower Hamlets Forced To Apologise

Some great news about an old friend, Adrain Swain. Adrian was sacked from St Paul's Way Community School in Bow in 2008 for refusing to accept a ban on teachers wearing trainers, which had been imposed by the school’s then head, Lorraine Page, without consultation with staff unions.

It was entirely coincidental, naturally, that Adrian also happened to be the very highly respected, left-wing NUT representative at the school, who had consistently fought to defend his colleagues and had opposed the imposition of a dress code!

But yesterday, the East London Advertiser reported the following:

Tower Hamlets council apologises to sacked teacher

THE East End teacher sacked for wearing trainers has been told by education chiefs he should not have been punished and has received an apology from Tower Hamlets council.

Adrian Swain was dismissed from St Paul's Way Community School in Bow in December 2008 for failing to adhere to the school's new dress code.

But the General Teaching Council for England (GTC) said he had "no case to answer" and that punishing him was not in the public interest.

He has also received an apology from Tower Hamlets council after bosses reported him to the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA), which usually assesses teachers who are at risk of causing harm to children.

Mr Swain told the Advertiser: "I had no idea that the case was going to be referred to the ISA. I feel vindicated. What I did was not unprofessional and what I was wearing was not inappropriate and managers were unreasonable to insist so.

"I am convinced I was targeted because I was a union representative and they had a plan to turn the trust into a school and knew the union would have fought it."

Mr Swain who worked as a Maths and deaf-support teacher as well as a PE teacher claimed at the time he had worn trainers and tracksuit throughout his 17-year career.

But the council has always insisted that he was fired for "continually failing to comply with a reasonable management instruction" and reported him to the ISA five months after he left the school.

In a letter from Town Hall bosses, Adrian has since been told his referral was not a "malicious or vindictive act".

The letter said: "I do apologise for any inconvenience that this may have caused you ... but want to assure you that this referral was made in good faith.

The claim that Adrian had not been reported to the Independent Safeguarding Authority for "malicious or vindictive" reasons is, of course, utter bullshit - it was a deliberate attempt to hound him out of the teaching profession by smearing him as a potential 'risk to children'.

Now that the council has been forced to apologise, I hope Adrian screws the bastards for compensation and demands his job back - and that those unprincipled 'comrades' in the East London Teachers Association who failed to fully back him now have the decency to apologise too.

Friday 13 August 2010

LAZY FRIDAY - Newport State Of Mind

Today's Friday lunchtime distraction comes courtesy of Goldie Lookin Chain, who are from Newport and they tell it like it is. You knows it. Rhys and his mate Jon recorded it on Eggsy's camera phone, apparently...

Hat-tip: Tom Fowler

Thursday 12 August 2010

Wanstead Flats - Police Launch Media Offensive

In what seems like a direct response to the public meeting organised by Forest Gate residents in opposition to the proposed Olympics policing operational centre on Wanstead Flats (see here for previous posts), it appears that the Met Police, the Metropolitan Police Authority and the City of London Corporation have been forced to start undertaking some actual 'community engagement'.

A letter dated 6 August (although not actually posted until Monday this week) was sent to a number of local groups, including the Friends of Wanstead Park and the Save Wanstead Flats campaign. It explains that a firm of consultants called London Communications have been taken on to arrange meetings with the police and the Corporation and a company called Wagstaff Design has set up a swish new website (live from yesterday) to sell the case for using Wanstead Flats during 2012. This sudden media offensive rather puts the 180 quid raised at the local campaign's public meeting on 14 July to shame.

More alarmingly, the three public bodies have said that 'consultation' on their plans for the Flats will end on 26 September, with comments considered by Redbridge council later in the year. The first meeting arranged by London Communications doesn't take place until next Monday, 16 August, before four dates for a public exhibition planned to be held in Wanstead and Leytonstone (but not, I notice, Forest Gate).

Let's be clear - a six week consultation, half of which takes place during the peak holiday season, is not a proper consultation, it's a tick-box exercise.

The Save Wanstead Flats campaign is insisting that representatives of the police and the Corporation attend a public meeting arranged by local people themselves and on their own terms - in later September or early October, so there is sufficient time to make sure local communities around the Flats have been informed.

Consultation isn't something you do to people, it's something that means working with local people to understand their concerns. It's time the police, their supposed 'watchdog' the Metropolitan Police Authority and the Corporation started to understand this.

Wednesday 11 August 2010

Gareth Peirce & Moazzam Begg - Dispatches From The Dark Side

At the start of the year, former Guantánamo Bay detainee Moazaam Begg and the organisation he founded, Cageprisoners, came under a sustained attack within the press from those who described Begg as only a 'so-called' victim of the War on Terror and someone who was "committed to systematic discrimination" - although nothing but smears and innuendo were ever offered to back up these claims.

I'm therefore delighted that Newham Monitoring Project (NMP) has a opportunity to show a little solidarity with Moazaam, by inviting him to discuss British collusion in torture and rendition with another ally, the brilliant human rights lawyer Gareth Peirce. On 12 November, Newham Bookshop and NMP are hosting an event at Stratford Circus to publicise Gareth' s new book, Dispatches From the Dark Side: On Torture and the Death of Justice.

In a series of devastating essays, Gareth argues that, just as pressure from the US anti-war movement has forced the release of (albeit carefully-selected) evidence in the United States concerning the widespread use of torture, the time has come for the British government to be held accountable for its own activities. Exploring a number of cases, including those of Guantánamo detainees Shafiq Rasul and Binyam Mohamed, she argues they provide evidence of a deeply entrenched culture of impunity toward the new suspect community in the UK - British Muslim nationals and residents.

The book shows how the New Labour government colluded in a whole range of extrajudicial activities – rendition, internment without trial, torture – and has gone to extraordinary lengths to conceal its actions: its devices for maintaining secrecy are probably more deep-rooted than those of any other comparable democracy. Gareth argues that if the British government continues along this path, it will destroy much of the moral and legal fabric it claims to be protecting.

Gareth Peirce and Moazzam Begg:
Dispatches From the Dark Side

Friday 12 November

7 pm at Stratford Circus, Theatre Square, Stratford E15 1BX | Map
Tickets are £6 from Stratford Circus - telephone 0844 357 2625
or visit www.stratford-circus.co.uk

Dispatches from the Dark Side is out in hardback this month and published by Verso

ACPO Anti-Terror Radio Ad Banned

"The man at the end of the street doesn't talk to his neighbours much, because he likes to keep himself to himself. He pays with cash because he doesn't have a bank card, and he keeps his curtains closed because his house is on a bus route. This may mean nothing, but together it could all add up to you having suspicions. We all have a role to play in combating terrorism. If you see anything suspicious, call the confidential, Anti-Terrorist Hotline on 0800 789 321. If you suspect it, report it".

This was the message from the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) broadcast as a radio advert on Talk Sport - and now it has been banned by the Advertising Standards Authority, who concluded that:

"... the ad could also describe the behaviour of a number of law-abiding people within a community and we considered that some listeners, who might identify with the behaviours referred to in the ad, could find the implication that their behaviour was suspicious, offensive. We also considered that some listeners might be offended by the suggestion that they report members of their community for acting in the way described. We therefore concluded that the ad could cause serious offence."

The Metropolitan Police, responding on ACPO's behalf, said the behaviours described in the advert "were based on trends identified by police", but quite obviously they are also the behaviours of a whole number of other people - students and several unemployed mates of mine, for example.

Of course they would only really need to worry if they looked "a bit Muslim" but this is excatly the type of message that explains why Muslim communities are so auspicious of the police - making real religiously motivated killers even harder to catch. Insubstantial information from dubious sources is also what gets citizens placed on secret databases without their knowledge and it's what led to one of neighbours getting shot by the police in Forest Gate in June 2006.

There seems to be something of a trend for the state encouraging curtain-twitchers since the start of the week. Yesterday it was reporting benefits fraud and plans to involve credit agencies in what one Telegraph headline writer compared to as the creation of a privatised 'British Stasi'. Whatever happened to the new dawn of civil liberties promised by the ConDem government?

Tuesday 10 August 2010

Climate Camp - Hinting At Action To Come

Climate Camp give all kinds of hints about possible sites inside "78 acres of parkland" in the Edinburgh area that would seem ideal for a protest camp later this month...

Monday 9 August 2010

Wanstead Flats - A Visit From Newham's Enforcers

This morning I had a visit at work from two members of Newham's Enforcement Team, who according to the borough's website "carry out the Council's civil and criminal work to tackle all forms of anti-social behaviour, including Prosecutions and Crime matters".

I can't say that in their council insignia shirts, they looked much like Clint Eastwood in the film where Dirty Harry takes on revolutionary militants, but they wanted information: the names of people who had been putting up flyers for the Save Wanstead Flats campaign's Mass Community Picnic on Sunday 5 September.

I was, of course, unable to help them. The flyer has gone out to hundreds of people in Forest Gate, Wanstead and Leyton and the only reason they came to Durning Hall Community Centre is that we have offered the Save Wanstead Flats campaign to use us as a contact address.

But I have to say this: it's the first time I've ever met a council Enforcement Officer. Ever. As I pointed out in a long rant in September 2009 about the ineffectiveness of responses to anti-social behaviour, I've tried to get the council to take an interest in problems in the street where I live and it seems more concerned with "tackling easy targets like illegal street traders, rather than complicated issues like recurring problems affecting local residents".

You can now add to that the publicity for community events where local people come together to protest against decisions that have an impact on their lives - and to meet their neighbours, often for the first time.

The flyer for the Mass Community Picnic can be downloaded from here. A petition is also now available to download. Sticking them up on lamp posts or trees is discouraged, apparently illegal and likely to get you into all sorts of trouble if you are caught - and has nothing to do with Durning Hall, you get me?

Resisting Cameron's Big Lie

The New Left Project is running a series of essays on fighting back against government cuts, which started on Tuesday with The Axeman's Jazz, a extended discussion written by Richard Seymour, who edits the Lenin's Tomb blog and is a member of the Socialist Workers' Party. Seymour will eventually be given the chance to reply to other contributors and I have been asked to participate, largely because of a short article I contributed to NLP back in May.

The first response to Richard Seymour's essay came from Sunny Hundall of the website Liberal Conspiracy who, as a centre left Lib-Dem voter turned Labour supporter, essentially argues for an anti-cuts version of Tony Blair's infamous Big Tent - one that seems to share the same desire to sideline trade unions and the working class in order to placate the fickle sympathies of the corporate media. It is not a view shared in the contribution from Tom Denning of The Commune, who is deeply sceptical about a 'united front' with Labour MPs anywhere near its forefront. Denning argues instead for as movement built from below and focused on action through local anti-cuts committees. Meanwhile Andrew Fisher of the LRC makes the case that within any broad-based anti-cuts movement, it is vital that the left argues for "a socialist solution that transcends capitalism, rather than humanises it or regulates it, that seeks to defeat the Con-Dem coalition not do a deal with it". These are both arguments I broadly agree with.

My own thoughts appear today - the series will continue with others including Derek Wall from the Green Party.

Resisting Cameron's Big Lie

Had he lived long enough to witness it, I’m sure neo-liberalism’s godfather Milton Friedman would have been proud of Cameron and Clegg’s coalition government, which, along with its rightwing media allies, has proven that in order to sell a lie, you just need to make it big enough and repeat it often enough.

It seems remarkable that only two years have passed since the public raged against the profligacy of the bankers and struggled to comprehend the staggering sums of money so hastily handed over to bail out the banks’ recklessness and greed. Back then, with the part-nationalisation of well-known high street banking names and the demands for a crackdown on the lawlessness of the Square Mile, it seemed almost possible to believe that neo-liberalism’s most precious tenets – its opposition to government intervention, its insistence on the virtue of deregulation and the dynamism of the private sector – could never recover credibility. But now look where we are: on the verge of the most ferocious programme of public sector cuts in living memory, cuts blamed almost entirely on the previous government’s ‘wasteful’ intervention and interference, a programme that threatens to transform and reengineer our society whilst we are still reeling from the shock.

In his article, The Axeman’s Jazz, Richard Seymour has set out at length – at some considerable length – many fundamental truths about the mess we are in. I can’t fault his analysis that a combination of stimulus spending, rising unemployment in a shrinking private sector hit hard by the recession and huge subsidies to the financial sector are the real reasons for the rise in levels of public debt, rather than allegedly extravagant government indulgences to the public sector and its employees. I agree, too, that pretending otherwise is a fairy story driven far more by ideology than by evidence.

Richard is also correct in assessing the difficulties that Labour faces. Having itself become a party that embraced free market liberalism, attacks on public sector workers and on welfare recipients, complete with a commitment at May’s election for its own massive cuts programme, the party does indeed now find that it has “few resources with which to criticise the Con-Lib cuts project” – a problem that will persist no matter who wins its protracted leadership battle.

Where Richard’s article is less convincing, however, is in its advice about how the coalition’s Big Lie can best be resisted.

Continues here

Sunday 8 August 2010

The Non-Existent Witch Hunt Of Caroline Lucas

Having reviewed her terrible book, I wouldn't normally go out of my way to read anything else from Tamsin Omond. For those who have never heard of her, she is the shameless self-publicist who notoriously posed for a Vogue photo-shoot outside the Bank of England in the midst of the G20 protests in 2009 and who created her own political party to stand in this year's general election - spending £51.44 for each of the 123 votes she received.

But when the left-wing Green Party deputy leadership candidate Derek Wall, who do I admire and whose blog I do read regularly, tweeted favourably about an article penned by the budding eco-celebrity, it had to be worth a look. After all, Wall has been far ruder about Omond in the past than I ever have.

Ms Omond has sprung to the defence of the Green Party's only MP and its leader, Caroline Lucas, who recently signed an Early Day Motion initiated by the Tory David Tredinnick in support of continued NHS funding for homoeopathic remedies. Responding to some mild criticism of this decision in left-Green circles (see here, here and here), all of which have also been generous in praising Lucas for her work as an MP in the short time since the general election, Omond doesn't try to argue with the concerns raised and admits there probably isn't a suitable comeback to them. Instead she suggests that anything other than slavish agreement with Lucas is providing succour to the enemy:

We saw in our latest election what happens when the Left splits the Left. A centre-right party co-opted our language, won our support and has now destroyed on of the Left’s many parties. If Lucas’s friends harry her for the times she does not impress them nor represent them, then she has no need for enemies.

Omond goes on to say her piece is not "a demand that she be beyond criticism" (although it clearly is) but rather "a request that we control our harping voice, especially when our voices are the only ones raised in outrage". Harping? How can the airing of disagreement about policy on prioritising scarce NHS resources, in a civilised way and with the evident intention of making the Greens more appealing to those who care about science, ever be characterised as something so negative?

Now I accept that Ms Omond is hardly regarded widely as a shrewd political tactician. There is also something rather amusing about an activist who in May stood against both the Green Party and an anti-war MP in Hampstead & Kilburn now giving advice to anyone about splitting the left. But for both reasons, I'm surprised that Derek Wall has chosen to praise Omond's contribution on what he calls the "homeopathy/Caroline Lucas witch hunt". Leaving aside both the issue of whether homoeopathy is pseudo-science (it is) or whether it was wise for Lucas to sign an EDM supporting it (it wasn't), the only reason to describe mild disappointment as a 'witch hunt' - and to quote from someone with a record of poor decision-making in order to do so - is to favour the closing down of debate in the dubious name of unity.

Nobody is perfect and to pretend otherwise is ridiculous. Caroline Lucas does carry a greater burden of expectation than others and I was one of those who tweeted my disappointment about her support for homoeopathy precisely because she is one of the few elected representative who is so genuinely impressive and so often right on so many issues.

Politicians have a greater access to power, including the power to be heard, than the rest of us. They therefore have to expect their actions to be scrutinised, by friends as much as enemies. I have expressed my frustration with the Green Party's Metropolitan Police Authority member Jenny Jones on policing issues but would still praise her to anyone who will listen for her support of the campaign to defend Queens Market in Upton Park. Would that constitute friendship when it suits and 'harping' when it doesn't? Does this blog post, critical as it is of a comrade on the left, constitute 'harping' too? I think the writer on the Bright Green blog who says that "one of the things that puts off non-Green voters is seeing the Party as full of woolly thinking" is right - but to melodramatically portray any gentle criticism of woolly thinking as a "crucifixion" (Omond) or a "witch hunt" (Wall) isn't likely to change many non-Green voters' minds, including my own.

As the Green Party grows and gains more councillors and MPs, it has to be prepared to be judged by what they say and do, not by whether they are lovely people or not. That applies to Lucas as much as anyone. It would be a shame if, having finally secured an excellent Member of Parliament and taken on some of the formal trappings of the mainstream political parties, like a leader and a smarter approach to communications, it also embraces the more tribal politics of Westminster and starts demanding absolute loyalty to its leadership - or seeing 'witch hunts' where there are none.

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