Thursday 30 September 2010

A ¾ Year Review Of 2010

It's now nine months into the year and I thought I'd share some details about you - the readership of this blog. In the first three quarters of 2010, there have been 38,052 unique visitors here, with 4,595 returning more than once (see above).

This does seem to back up the point I suggested in July, that most randomly drop by "for the same reasons that I read the sites listed in the 'Blogs of Note' column on the right of this page - because they are occasionally curious about an individual post". That turned out to be particularly true of one angry rant about the sainted Stephen Fry that was surprisingly popular. The smaller number of regulars, meanwhile, would seem to be either friends and comrades, those interested in discussions about policing in Britain or people who enjoy speculating about events in the borough of Newham (the most popular search query was "Wanstead Flats").

Blogging was a little slow at the start of the year and wasn't helped by the fact that throughout March, I was recovering from a very nasty traffic accident and had more important things on my mind. It picked up again with the mid-year decision of the CPS to do nothing for the family of Ian Tomlinson. But whatever the reason for visiting, thanks to everyone who has given feedback, although that often seems to happen over a coffee or a beer. Do feel free to comment on-line too.

Wednesday 29 September 2010

Wanstead Flats - Cardboard Copper Stands Ready To Serve

One week from today, residents from Newham, Waltham Forest and Redbridge will gather at Durning Hall Community Centre for a public question-and-answer session with representatives of the City of London Corporation and the Metropolitan Police, discussing plans for a proposed Olympic operations base on Wanstead Flats in 2012.

I know that the Corporation's extremely charming Director of Open Spaces Sue Ireland will be coming with Paul Thomson, the Superintendent of Epping Forest, to speak from the platform. We are very grateful to them both. I also know, after talking to them this evening, that a group of 9-13 year-old young people from Newham Woodcraft Folk will be settling into the front row and plan to ask some questions. I know too that Michael Gavan, the former Newham Unison chair, has graciously agreed to keep order.

But as yet, I have no idea whether the police are coming. They have indicated that they plan to, but who their spokesperson will be on the day remains a mystery. Perhaps I'll find out more when the steering group of the Save Wanstead Flats campaign meets tomorrow evening to finalise arrangements for next Wednesday.

However, it would such a shame to leave an empty chair at the top table if the police fail to show. So, just in case, I've clubbed together with some friends to order a cardboard cut-out policeman (above right). He's reportedly six feet and one inch tall, obviously not that good at answering questions and at thirty quid, rather on the expensive side (you can purchase one yourself here). But, provided he arrives on time, I'd of course be very happy to make Cardboard Copper available to the campaign if needed.

Let's hope that won't be necessary. There are still far too many unanswered questions that only the police can answer and clearly, consultation with local people is far too important to be left to a stiff, inanimate object.

Residents Public Meeting

7pm at Durning Hall Community Centre
Earlham Grove
London E7 9AB

You can download a flyer for meeting here.

Ed Miliband's 'Anti-War' Credentials - Where's The Evidence?

Much has been made of new Labour leader Ed Miliband's conference speech over the last 24 hours, especially the passage in which he said that Tony Blair had been wrong to take Britain into war in Iraq because it "was not a last resort, because we did not build sufficient alliances and because we undermined the United Nations". That's his position now, but is it a late conversion, an expedient response to the deep hostility to the war amongst Party members, or has he always been 'anti-war'?

The evidence is pretty thin. When millions of us were marching on that amazing day in February 2003, Millband had not yet entered parliament - he was in Cambridge, Massachusetts, five months into a year-long unpaid sabbatical as Visiting Professor of Government at Harvard. There is no record of speeches or articles from the period expressing any doubts about the Iraq invasion. The only 'proof' of the future Labour leader's views come from the New Statesman's Mehdi Hasan, who in his enthusiasm for Ed Miliband's candidacy falls back in the kind of unsubstantiated hearsay from "a well-connected Labour source" that a respected journalist would normally scorn.

But Miliband's record since becoming an MP in 2005 give some indication of whether, in the name of party loyalty, he would have voted with the former Cabinet members who sat stonily though his conference address yesterday. He voted strongly against attempts to investigate the intelligence failures and handling of the war and against a 2007 motion in support of the principle that parliamentary approval should be required before the future deployment of British troops. As an apparent opponent of the Iraq war, it's far from convincing, is it?

So - does anyone have any evidence that Mister Ed's new-found critique of the Iraq invasion is anything more than tactical?

Tuesday 28 September 2010

Campaign Against Discrimination Of Disabled Newham Council Worker

Yesterday morning, I bumped into Newham union activist Elane Heffernan at the Royal London Hospital - by chance, we were both there to see the same orthopaedic surgeon. Elane told me a little about the appalling way that Newham council and NHS Newham has treated her since a workplace accident in 2006, which has led to the need for disability adaptations to continue her work for the Migrant Advice & Advocacy Service.

These adaptations are hardly substantial - they include voice-activated computer software and a telephone headset to be able to work comfortably. However, the council has been extremely unwilling to implement them and instead has isolated Elane from her work colleague in another building where she has had to help patients by working from a coffee table - which is causing more and more pain and stress.

It is quite clear from what Elane told me that instead of fulfilling its positive and proactive duty, under the Disability Discrimination Act and the Equalities Act that comes into force on Friday, to take steps to remove, reduce or prevent the obstacles a disabled worker faces, Newham council and NHS Newham are looking for any way they can to pay her off and drive her out. The reason? Because she is an active trade unionist (and a member of the SWP).

This is not only discrimination and harassment of a disabled employee and an attack on a union activist. It's wilfully unlawful. Elane wants to continue supporting patients from migrant backgrounds and doesn't want to be forced out, no matter the payout her employer cynically offers instead of fulfilling its legal responsibilities. Not for the first time, I'm relieved that I don't work for Newham council - the way they have responded to the considerable physical difficulties and discomfort that Elane has faced for four years is in marked contrast to the support I've had so far from my own (charity) employer. It's also another example of many where the council tries to spend its way out of a problem (with our money) rather than act responsibly.

There is a campaign to support Elane and a petition available from Pressure is important - so please collect signatures from your workplace and contacts.

Monday 27 September 2010

Paul Mason at the London Anarchist Bookfair

Will Cameron’s cuts lead to working class defeat or to a new anti capitalist movement?

at the London Anarchist Bookfair
Queen Mary, University of London
Mile End Road, London, E1 4NS.

Saturday 23rd October 2010

Debate with BBC journalist Paul Mason, Hillel Ticktin (Critique) and a speaker from Endnotes.

The British state has now decided on an all out attack on the living standards of the entire working class – employed and unemployed, young and old, consumers and service users. The last time a UK Government attacked everyone simultaneously was the Poll Tax which provoked widespread opposition and Thatcher’s downfall. What is it about the present economic crisis that has again persuaded the government to risk such an all out assault? Can they success or will they provoke a new anti capitalist movement?

In the Skeel Lecture Room

Sunday 26 September 2010

Protesting Against The Tory Conference

The must-have item of sartorial elegance for anyone protesting at the Conservative Party Conference, which starts a week today in Birmingham. T-shirts bearing the logo above are available from the West Midlands IWW.

There is allegedly a black bloc - more accurately, the CPC Convergence Direct Action Bloc - that is planning to target conference fringe events on Sunday, although many are inside the 'secure zone'. It's of interest that the several organised by various pro-aviation groups are outside the zone, as is one hosted by perpetual rent-a-quote providers the TaxPayers’ Alliance.

It remains unclear, however, whether the SWP's 'Right To Work' campaign still plans actions near the conference centre after its march was banned by the police in early September.

Saturday 25 September 2010

Kentish Skulls And Bones

I'm down in Kent for the weekend and this morning was at St Leonard's in Hythe, which is unusual for an English church because it has an ossuary (a a bone store, above) lined with 2000 skulls and 8000 thigh bones dating from the medieval period. My Mum and Dad have seen an ossuary before in Évora in Portugal, but I never knew such a macabre display existed in Britain.

This came at the start of a long day, which included lunch in Dungeness, a chance to enjoy its bleak landscape from the top of the Old Lighthouse and see Derek Jarman's cottage (below). Heading back to London tomorrow - more photos on Flickr.

This is a somewhat different view of the Dungeness B nuclear power station, through the green lens of the Old Lighthouse:

Friday 24 September 2010

LAZY FRIDAY - I Was Beckham's Grandad

Today's Friday lunchtime distraction was sent to me by Rob Konway earlier in the week and outlines his claim that Peter the Painter, the mythical anarchist leader of the famous Siege of Sidney Street of January 1911, was also the grandfather of well-known corporate shill David 'Golden Balls' Beckham. Frankly, the evidence is compelling...

Thursday 23 September 2010

Crunch Moment Coming Monday

Next Monday morning, I'm back at the Royal London Hospital for more tests and final confirmation whether I'll need a third operation on the serious shoulder injury I received in March. I've been really stressing about this all week and so this afternoon, I'm heading out of London for a weekend in Kent with Mum and Dad, to the stretch of shingle coastline on the edge of Romney Marsh between Hythe and Dungeness.

According to the BBC, the weather is supposed to be bright with sunshine and scattered showers (good for photography), but "feeling cool with a chilly north east breeze" (so I'm breaking out the fishtail parka). Amongst other things, I intend to drop by Prospect Cottage (above), once owned by the film director Derek Jarman, and come home on the 68-mile high speed rail link from Ashford, straight into Stratford International. The journey apparently takes only 30 minutes.

Let's hope all this activity takes my mind off the prospect of further surgery.

Wednesday 22 September 2010

Winter's Bone

It has been a long time - a couple of months at least - since there's been a must-see film in cinemas. Scott Pilgrim v The World was a disappointment, but at last the movie drought is over with the release of this film, which opened last Friday:

Tuesday 21 September 2010

Short Film From Wanstead Flats Mass Community Picnic

A crew from independent film makers Spectacle joined local residents at the Mass Community Picnic on Wanstead Flats and have made a brilliant short 'teaser' film of the interviews they gathered on the day. Spectacle has been documenting the effects of the London Olympics on east London since before the bid was successful - links to their Olympics project can be found here.


Many thanks to Stuart Monro of the Wanstead Parklands Community Project for dropping off a DVD of his longer (19m 15s) film about the picnic. It sets the recent resistance to treating Wanstead Flats as the plaything of the powerful into its proper historical context and fortunately, it is also available online:

Because We're Worth It - The Top Coppers' Rich List

Last night's BBC Panorama programme will no doubt have had the Tory press salivating today, with its report conducted with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism showing that 38,000 senior public sector employees earn above £100,000 a year.

It won't matter that two thirds of local government workers earn less than £21,000-a-year and are facing a three-year pay freeze - it will be another excuse for lambasting public sector excess in advance of drastic cuts.

Nevertheless, the fact that the introduction of private sector values into the public sector under Labour has meant the pay of the top 5% of these earners has risen by 51% in the past 10 years is still shocking. The pay freeze has only made the gap between those at the top and those at the bottom even worse.

It turns out that the Chief Executive of Newham council is no longer the highest paid local government officer - that 'honour' now goes to Gerald Jones in Wandsworth, who is paid a staggering annual salary of £299,925. But who are the top earners in the police? Based on Freedom of Information requests, at number one is Sir Paul Stephenson, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service, who is paid £280,489. He is followed by his deputy Tim Godwin, who takes home £246,969 - six Met employees make it into the top ten. The other high earners are listed below. In total, 196 police officers across the UK earn more than £100,000. The figures are on the BBC website.

Sir Paul Stephenson Commissioner, Metropolitan Police Service

Tim Godwin Deputy Commissioner, Metropolitan Police Service

Sir Norman Bettison Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Constabulary

John Yates Assistant Commissioner, Metropolitan Police Service

Sean Price Chief Constable of Cleveland Police

Chris Allison Assistant Commissioner Metropolitan Police Service

Mike Craik Chief Constable of Northumbria Police

Sir Hugh Orde Chief Constable of the Police Service of N. Ireland

Rose Fitzpatrick Deputy Assistant Commissioner, Metropolitan Police Service

Ailsa Beaton Director of Information, Metropolitan Police Service

Monday 20 September 2010

Some Idle Speculation On Budget Cuts And Policing Public Order

This article was written some months ago and now appears in issue 10 of The Mule, a quarterly newspaper that is distributed free around Greater Manchester. Since I wrote this piece, we have heard the police themselves claiming that budget cuts will lead to "disaffection, social and industrial tensions".

Police cornered by budget cuts means bad news for activists

The cutting of police funds and numbers is likely to make them target activists more surgically warns Kevin Blowe.

Before the war on public services really begins with the coalition government’s spending review in October, we can only guess at the extent of what is coming. It’s an uneasy feeling for everyone, this time including areas of government spending that have traditionally been protected, notably Britain’s 43 police forces. In June, the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) lead on finance, North Yorkshire Chief Constable Graham Maxwell, told Police Review, “I have been in policing for 27 years and each time someone says ‘budgets are tough, budgets are going to be harder’, that meant that we did not get a large increase. It did not mean they took money away from us. This is what it means this time”.

That a government led by the Conservatives, consistently self-styled as the party of law and order, plans to drastically reduce numbers of police officers underscores their scorched-earth approach to public debt. As Chief Constables negotiate with ministers over the next three months, both face a number of dilemmas highlighting the uncertainty also existing within government circles.

Firstly, neither the government nor the police really know how the public will react to massive cuts. Although the prospect of Greek-style organised resistance seems remote, no matter how much the left may wish it were otherwise, it is difficult to predict how extensive crime and public disorder will be. Even if public opposition follows its usual path of noisy but generally peaceful protest, containment will still require large numbers of police. If opposition is diffused around the country – likely as local councils lead the implementation of cuts – numbers needed for public order duties may be larger still. Factoring in increasing racist backlash against migrants, illustrated by the English Defence League, and parallel counter-demonstrations, recently impoverished state bodies are likely to face an enormous increase in street protest.

Additionally, in its review of the April 2009 anti-G20 protests in London, the Independent Police Complaints Commission recommended that public order police must have a minimum eight-hour break between shifts, to avoid any suggestion that ‘exhaustion’ explains increasingly aggressive confrontations with protesters. The organisation representing the ranks, the Police Federation, replied that this means deploying more officers to fill the gaps. Considering the uncertain fate of the UK’s 16,000 Community Support Officers, whose ring-fenced funding is set to end under the new government, the question arises: where will the extra officers come from?

In fact, it is likely that cheaper alternatives will be grasped at. Cheaper options include targeting potential “troublemakers” even more than at present; restricting the movement of activists travelling to demonstrations and using powers infamously employed against striking miners in the 1980s, banning some public protests altogether.

Who might be targeted? We know that ACPO has a previously secret database of ‘domestic extremists’ (a term with no basis in law) that currently holds the names of 1,471 people. Already, campaigners with no criminal record or history of violence are included in it. Collecting information while planning police responses to protests is inexpensive, resulting in more and more people being added to the database. This approach would lead to more ‘forward intelligence team’ (FIT) officers photographing protesters; more dawn raids against ‘extremist elements’ and greater readiness to use powers preventing people from covering their faces. Ironically, because it is cheaper to centralise this collection of data, a government that so often stressed the importance of ‘localism’ in opposition may end up nationalising intelligence gathering.

A final feasible new measure is armament, especially considering the host of severe public order challenges happening soon, besides any protests. In two years time, London is likely to resemble an armed camp as the capital hosts the biggest security headache on the planet, the Olympic Games. There is also the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014 any number of state visits and summit meetings that Cameron decides to host. We’ve grown accustomed to seeing police with automatic rifles at airports and, despite polling evidence of public disquiet on the issue, it does not seem too far-fetched that a regional force will become the first fully armed in Britain during day to day policing.

Sunday 19 September 2010

Lib Dems Nervous About Public Sector Resistance To Cuts

It's a measure of how rattled the Lib Dems are about the prospect of resistance to the government's planned austerity programme that Danny Alexander, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, had this to say today in a speech to the party's conference in Liverpool:

And I would like to say one thing to nurses, teachers, police officers, civil servants. Thank you. Your ideas, your effort, your commitment are essential to helping people get the best from the services you provide. The next few years will be tough, very tough for some. But I also believe that the changes we make - empowering you, trusting you, listening to you will make the public services a more rewarding place to work.

I know there are a minority in the trade unions who will deliberately misrepresent what this government stands for because they are spoiling for a fight. Please don't allow their political motivations to push you into doing the wrong thing for the country.

We do not want to take you on. We want to take you with us.

I've been around long enough to know that a politician who uses that dreadful word "empowering" and pledges to "listen" - to those who manage to survive the government's plans to decimate public services, presumably - is lying through his teeth. But Alexander's union-bashing includes a recognition within government circles that millions of union members with little to lose have the collective capacity to stop the government from making ideologically driven cuts. This is obviously the reason why one of the Coalition's favourite think-tanks, the Policy Exchange, has suddenly raised the idea of further restrictions on workplace rights and the breaking up of large trade unions.

The ConDem government clearly isn't that worried about Labour, whose leadership candidates show little interest in supporting an anti-cuts movement. But they are nervous about what ordinary nurses, teachers and other public sector workers decide to do to defend themselves, which as we await with trepidation the October Spending Review is actually rather heartening. The government thinks it can be stopped - now we need to start believing it ourselves.

Saturday 18 September 2010

'Lib Dems Never Left-Wing' Shocker!

An interesting piece in the Independent today (words I seldom utter any more) with the paper's political editor Andrew Grice drawing the following admission from Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg:

"There were some people, particularly around the height of the Iraq war, who gave up on the Labour Party and turned to the Liberal Democrats as a sort of left-wing conscience of the Labour Party."

"I totally understand that some of these people are not happy with what the Lib Dems are doing in coalition with the Conservatives. The Lib Dems never were and aren't a receptacle for left-wing dissatisfaction with the Labour Party. There is no future for that; there never was."

Got that? There was never any prospect that the Lib Dems would provide a political home for disaffected left-wingers who couldn't bring themselves to vote Labour. So who were the gullible people who failed to see this and rashly endorsed the party? Clegg means Guardian leader writers, their colleagues at the Observer, their competitors at the Independent, the likes of Sunny Hundal who edits the popular Liberal Conspiracy website and the muppets who cheered themselves hoarse for the Lib Dem leader as though he was a conquering hero, in the misguided belief that he planned to help 'Take Back Parliament'.

Others were far too savvy to be so easily fooled and knew what the consequences would be, even though the prospect of voting Labour instead was unedifying at best and impossible for many. But the reason it was possible to pull the wool over some people's eyes is a simple one: promises of electoral reform, a favourite fixation of middle-class, Westminster-obsessed 'progressives', blinded them to the realities of the Lib Dems' broader, yellow-Tory politics and the 'nasty shock' they had planned for us.

Those who voted Lib Dem now know they made a terrible mistake, which they can make up for by throwing themselves into opposing the government's cuts programme. Hell, we all make mistakes at some point in our lives. But I reckon that in future, they should consider more carefully whether a 'fairer' way to choose between candidates where no real choice exists is really more important than, I don't know, the uncertainty and fear now facing working-class public sector workers. It's only a shame, as I discovered today, that Clegg's government has rejected a call to include 'None of the Above' on ballot forms. At least I would have a choice worth dragging myself to the polling booths for.

Friday 17 September 2010

LAZY FRIDAY - Mugabe Chicken Jibe

Today's Friday lunchtime distraction comes courtesy of the South African band Freshlyground, who wrote and performed this year's World Cup anthem Waka Waka and who have now been banned from playing in Zimbabwe.

Apparently ridiculing President Robert Mugabe is illegal in Zimbabwe and that includes depicting the old election fraudster as a chicken in the video for their song Chicken To Change:

Hat-tip: Boing Boing

Enough About The Papal Visit Already!

I not exactly sure why - perhaps because I have a subscription to the New Humanist magazine and donated to the Atheist Bus Campaign - but I seem to have received a fair number of messages urging me to attend tomorrow's Protest the Pope protest, organised by the National Secular Society (NSS).

The trouble is, though, I just don't care about the Pope's visit. Try as I might, I just can't muster up the indignation shown by the nation's 'prominent' atheists.

The arguments against the papal visit have ranged from dissecting the peculiar nature of the Vatican state to to Pope Benedict's views on women' ordinations, gay rights and contraception. One of the main objections appears to be that whilst the Pope is perfectly entitled to visit Britain, it shouldn't be an official 'state visit' funded partly by taxpayer, even though the Pope is the head of a state (a strange one admittedly, but no less so than Monaco and Liechtenstein). At least objections on the grounds of cost have some merit - the Catholic Church is extremely wealthy and at a time when the government is planning to slash public spending, £12 million does sound like excess.

Campaigners against the papal visit have been at pains to stress that their objections are to this Pope in particular, not against Catholics in general. However, that's far from convincing. It's not as though the last Pontiff was any less willing to condemn the use of condoms, demands for gay rights or the equal participation of women in its rituals, nor is it a startlingly new revelation that the Catholic Church's clerical hierarchy is deeply conservative. Pope Benedict was, after all, once Cardinal Ratzinger, an ordained priest for nearly 60 years and Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith since 1981. He didn't suddenly appear from nowhere and he certainly wasn't alone in covering up the sexual abuse of minors by priests. Most other senior Curia officials bear just as much responsibility and Catholicism's culpability is an institutional one, not the Pope's alone.

Nor are deeply conservative moral strictures, backed by the threat of damnation, unique to one branch of Christianity - the same is also true of most of the world's major religions. Complaining, meanwhile, that the Holy See is not a proper state but a compromise agreed with Mussolini and Italian fascism may be factually accurate, but British arguments about constitutionality are rather undermined by the fact that our own head of state owes her position to nothing more than accident of birth and the political intrigues of her privileged ancestors. Most states have questionable legitimacy - and some of us believe this is the case of all states.

I may not personally share a belief in the existence of a divine imaginary friend but I can understand why, in a world where the vast majority face misery and exploitation because power is concentrated in the hands of the few, that 1.1 billion Catholics (and 1.5 billion Muslims and 900 million Hindus, for that matter), seek some meagre comfort in fairy stories. Amongst them are millions of good people who also struggle daily for fundamental rights, for greater equality and for radical change, who are horrified by the abuse of children and who often rebel against attempts to impose rigid controls over their lives. Atheism isn't a political belief, it's a lack of belief, and frankly there is more that believers and non-believers agree upon than our disagreement over the non-existence of an after-life.

I haven't seem much understanding, however, for the Protest the Pope campaigners. Instead, their anti-clericalism in advance of the Pope's arrival has more often shared a similar attitude to Peter Tatchell's fellow Euston Manifesto friends at Harry's Place when it comes to Muslims - berating for failures to condemn the actions of a few with sufficient vigour that then drifts into the territory of outright bigotry (in this case, Free Presbyterian style bigotry with comments about "a fifth column of Catholics whose primary, indeed seemingly only, loyalty is to their Church").

It just doesn't seem as though there's a clear political objective to the protests - and anyway, the victory of multicultural secularism and rejection of our 'Christian foundations', which obviously worries a powerful body like the Catholic Church enough to call Britain"a third-world country", has come about in spite of, rather than because of, the muscular 'New Atheists' and organisations like the National Secular Society.

So I think I'll pass on tomorrow's protest. A plague on both their houses, as far as I'm concerned.

Thursday 16 September 2010

Home Office Announces Consultation On Wanstead Flats Police Plan

A couple of hours ago, the Home Office announced the start of a twelve week period of consultation on proposals to amend the Epping Forest Act 1878 to allow the police to put an Olympics briefing centre on Wanstead Flats for 120 days during 2012. The consultation ends on 9 December.

The Security and Counter-Terrorism Minister Baroness Neville-Jones is quoted as saying:

"London 2012 poses a unique policing challenge and this temporary amendment will help to deliver a safe and secure Olympic and Paralympic Games as well as safeguarding the long term needs of the local people in the Wanstead Flats area".

Thanks undoubtedly to the resistance by local residents to the plans, the Home Office press release is at great pains to emphasise that the proposed amendment will be time limited. However, whilst Neville-Jones also says that "there is no intention to make this permanent, it is important that this well loved space is preserved for future use,” this doesn't address the question of the dangerous precedent that the proposals will set.

The consultation is a precursor to the presentation to Parliament of a Legislative Reform Order (LRO), but when the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act was introduced in 2006, the government promised that LROs would not be used to deliver highly controversial proposals (see this PDF guidance for officials from the Department of Business, Innovation & Skills).

The consultation includes the following documents:

Proposed temporary amendment to the Epping forest Act 1878 [PDF file - 352Kb]

Ecological constraints plan (figure 1) [PDF file - 1Mb]

Phase 1 habitat plan (figure 2) [PDF file - 803Kb]

Phase 1 habitat report [PDF file - 239Kb]

Responses need to be sent back to the Home Office by THURSDAY 9 DECEMBER to:

Home Office
Wanstead Flats Consultation
Olympic and Paralympic Security Directorate
17th Floor
1 Churchill Place,
London E14 5HB


Wednesday 15 September 2010

Strange Days Indeed

It has been a very long and decidedly strange day. I've been busy preparing for a training session I'm delivering tomorrow for community groups on how to raise funds without applying to trusts and foundations and kept coming back again and again to own my experiences with a charity that has raised over £140,000, helped build a primary school in Haryana in northern India and never once filled out a grant application form.

The charity is the Buwan Kothi International Trust (BKIT) and the result of all its hard work is the Gilly Mundy Memorial Community School, which is named after my great friend, former INQUEST colleague and Newham Monitoring Project comrade who died on St Patrick's Day 2007. Gilly was only 36 and today has been weird because it would have been his fortieth birthday.

My own fortieth in 2008 was such a blast that I can well imagine the party we would have had to celebrate - the big fella really loved a party. So it's been rather a sad day, although the business of thinking about what I'm going to say tomorrow has been a reminder that even tragedy can help create something incredibly special - here's more on what Gilly's friends and family have managed to achieve:

Police Leader Demands Special Protection To Impose Public Order

There have been some interesting and, in my view, ill-informed responses to comments by Derek Barnett, the president of the Police Superintendents' Association, who has warned that "in an environment of cuts across the wider public sector, we face a period where disaffection, social and industrial tensions may well rise" and that widespread disorder is "inevitable".

On sections of the left, Barnett's conference speech has been described as "a noteworthy intervention" or alternately as "a realistic intervention" into the debate on public spending cuts. The Morning Star has gone as far as suggesting that the trade union movement owes him "a strange debt of gratitude". At the other end of the political spectrum, the right-wing Daily Telegraph's Scottish editor Alan Cochrane has distraughtly accused Barnett of displaying "little difference between his tactics and those of Bob Crow, the militant rail union leader."

Cochrane is quite wrong, of course, to compare the Police Superintendents' Association to a trade union. Like the Police Federation representing the lower ranks, its history is intertwined with the passing of the Police Act of 1919, which barred police from striking, from belonging to a trade union or from affiliating with any trade union confederation. This statute was created following industrial action by police officers in 1918 and 1919 and out of government fears of the alternatives. Britain's police associations are instead semi-statutory bodies, creations of the state and completely incapable of militancy.

But those suggesting that Barnett has anything useful to say about cuts are also missing the point. He is not an ally of those opposing the government's planned austerity programme. Far from condemning cuts in public services, the police superintendents' leader is simply demanding that the police are excluded from them so they have sufficient numbers to impose order and defend the interests of the state if and when this becomes necessary.

By rattling off, in his speech to the Police Superintendents' Association's conference in Cheshire, a list of professions who will not be called upon "to restore order on our streets", Barnett is restating the separate and distinct status of police officers from other workers. By raising the spectre of the Peterloo massacre in Manchester in 1819 amongst a list of reasons why police officers "must be sufficiently resilient", Barnett is not threatening the government - he's threatening the rest of us with a reminder of the police's unique powers to lawfully exercise force against other citizens.

Paul Sagar, who blogs at Bad Conscience, has asked whether Barnett is an idiot or a thug. To my mind, you can't rise to the level of a chief superintendent in the Cheshire constabulary by being a complete idiot - but you certainly don't reach such a senior position without knowing how to confidently wield a baton when called upon to do so.

Tuesday 14 September 2010

Fantastic News From Newham Monitoring Project

This year is the thirtieth anniversary of Newham Monitoring Project (NMP), the grassroots organisation that supports east London communities who have suffered discrimination, racism and police misconduct. I have been actively involved in NMP for nearly 20 of those 30 years and since Newham council cut its funding in 1997 (because the Project refused to compromise on its independence - a story I look forward to writing one day), the group has experienced the familiar struggle to survive that has unfortunately forced many other organisations to close.

NMP's resilience has been down to the efforts of its activists, supporters and workers and at last, there is some fantastic news: it has secured funding from the Big Lottery for the next four years. This is the statement it put out today:

We are delighted to announce that Newham Monitoring Project has successfully secured a grant from the Big Lottery Fund which will cover our core services (casework, emergency service & community outreach work) for the next 4 years - until October 2014.

This is a terrific achievement in the current financial and political climate and recognition of the hard work and commitment put into the Project by our large collective of supporters. We would like to thank you for your continued support and dedication to NMP, which has both enabled us to secure new funding and remain a strong, independent and vocal organisation serving the local community.

This year is NMP's 30th anniversary and we are proud that, with your help, we continue to help hundreds of individuals and families experiencing racism, discrimination and unfair treatment to access justice, as well as providing training and information on rights to groups across east London.

Many congratulations to NMP - not only is its success richly deserved, but it is also a victory for anti-racist campaigners and people everywhere who argue for greater police accountability.

Monday 13 September 2010

Who's Afraid Of Brendan Barber?

I'm guessing Cameron and the Bullingdon boys will have viewed with some scepticism Brendan Barber's speech at TUC Congress today that pledged that "where members, faced with attacks on jobs, pay or pensions take a democratic decision for industrial action, they will have the support of unions and the TUC stands ready to co-ordinate that."

Barber is, after all, the archetypal trade union bureaucrat who has worked as an official since leaving university and has been at the TUC for 35 years. The motion at today's session of the TUC Congress, calling for its general council to "support and co-ordinate campaigning and joint union industrial action, nationally and locally, in opposition to attacks on jobs, pensions, pay or public services" is undoubtedly impressive, but something about that promise to 'coordinate' triggered a distant memory.

Back in 2007, the Congress passed a similar motion for "co-ordinated industrial action" against the then Labour government over a below-inflation pay settlement for public sector workers. Brendan Barber pledged that TUC would, according to a BBC report I found, "bring unions together and co-ordinate action, including industrial action" and warned of the "heavy price" the government would pay if it failed to change its mind.

And then nothing happened.

I'm a TGWU member and Barber's speech looks very much like what we know as the 'Bill Morris Two Step' - sounding radical but ultimately managing to do as little as possible that is actually radical. Barber's comments in the Independent today, in which he said he looked "back to the poll-tax campaign for inspiration" appear like a classic example of nimble political footwork.

But it's worth remembering too that there's a reason why serial compromisers like Barber are now starting to promise to take action against the ConDem cuts. The trade union movement is still one of the great democratic institutions this country has and union leaders are being pushed by the groundswell of anger and alarm from below. One of the big differences from the past, however, is that most union members do not feel any particular loyalty to the leadership within the TUC general council - if anything, combative general secretaries like Mark Serwotka and Bob Crow are the only ones likely to be have great respect from the membership of their particular unions.

So who's afraid of Brendan Barber? Maybe not the government, but they should definitely be afraid of ordinary trade unionists. The prospect that scorched-earth policies towards public services triggers a wave of industrial anger is real and Cameron and Clegg may find the likes of Barber reluctantly dragged along by union members, not leading from the front. Unlike under a Labour administration, they'll find it impossible to call on Barber to make sure that nothing happens.

Nevertheless, whoever emerges as Labour's new leader could, of course, still save their skins through an attack of timidity. That's why we need to organise the resistance to government cuts ourselves - and steadfastly refuse to allow Labour and pliable union bureaucrats to take it over and neuter it.

Sunday 12 September 2010

Condemning US Anti-Muslim Racism Is Not 'Anti-Americanism'

Writing yesterday in the Telegraph, the columnist Janet Daley flung a familiar accusation against the 'British liberal establishment': that of anti-Americanism.

Commenting on the Qu'ran-burning stunt planned by the previously obscure Pastor Terry Jones, Daley argues that the actions of "one publicity-crazed loony" has been used as an excuse "for casting America as a cartoon country whose heartland is dominated by bigoted know-nothings" and suggests that "the failure to make any serious attempt to understand the United States and its political culture is now more than smug, stupid and cynical (although it is certainly all those things)". She goes on:

The perverse ignorance which allows the British liberal establishment to caricature America’s obsessive concern with its constitutional integrity as simply a front for bigotry (note the BBC’s derisive treatment of the Tea Party movement) is beyond silly: it now presents a real threat to the common cause which the nations of the Enlightenment must make if they are to see their way through the present danger.

Apparently this "dominant anti-American mythology" is the result of all the optimists heading for America and all the pessimists staying in Europe, a debating point that surely carries a far greater claim to being 'beyond silly'.

There's always something strange about right-wingers, usually so ready to lambast victimhood as a hiding place for whingers and malcontents demanding special treatment, who nevertheless claim that the most powerful nation on the planet is itself a 'victim' - in this case of bigotry and ignorance. The problem with Daley's argument, of course, is that hostility to Islam and contempt for Muslims is not the preserve of "one publicity-crazed loony" and not even necessarily of the American right. Daley clearly hasn't read the extraordinary piece written by Martin Peretz of the New Republic magazine, a mainstay of America's centre-left liberal establishment.

In a vile attack, Peretz, who is the magazine's editor-in-chief and a supporter of the Democrats, claimed victimhood for the majority of his fellow (non-Muslim) citizens by insisting that "Americans are so fearful of being accused of bias" that they are too terrified to demonstrate against "Muslim or Arab interests or their commitments to foreign governments and, more likely, to foreign insurgencies and, yes, quite alien philosophies." Praising the racist anti-Islam parties of Europe, he says:

This is certainly not the situation in Britain and France, Germany and Denmark, Holland and Spain where a demo against the Arabs or the Pakis or the Algerians or the Moroccans or the Turks and Muslims more generally is a regular feature of the political landscape and where parties win parliamentary seats precisely because they campaign with Islamists and Islam as the targets.

I have no idea whether using the word 'Paki' has the same jarring cultural connotation in the United States as it does here, but the disgraceful racist tone is still clearly evident. Peretz continues with another, very familiar argument about Muslim hypocrisy, one commonplace amongst the 'Decent' left in Britain:

Why do not Muslims raise their voices against these at once planned and random killings all over the Islamic world? This world went into hysteria some months ago when the Mossad took out the Hamas head of its own Murder Inc.

But, frankly, Muslim life is cheap, most notably to Muslims. And among those Muslims led by the Imam Rauf there is hardly one who has raised a fuss about the routine and random bloodshed that defines their brotherhood. So, yes, I wonder whether I need honor these people and pretend that they are worthy of the privileges of the First Amendment which I have in my gut the sense that they will abuse.

Yes, you read that correctly: the 'liberal' New Republic's editor is arguing that seven million Muslim-Americans are unworthy of protection from infringements on freedom of religion, speech and assembly, or the right to lobby for redress or over grievances, because they apparently can't be trusted. Imagine the uproar if the same had been said about African-Americans or Jewish-Americans. How, one wonders, can such arguments in a mainstream political journal be reconciled with Janet Daley's assertion that "reverence for and constant appeals to the Constitution are not an excuse for prejudice, but the precise opposite"?

America risks slipping into a dark period, one that it has experienced before against Jews and Japanese-Americans, when racism against a tiny minority of its citizens (Muslims make up just 1% of the population) becomes increasingly acceptable. Saying so is most certainly not some form of European anti-Americanism. That doesn't mean Europeans shouldn't show some humility and self-awareness about their own shortcomings, for the same attitudes are gaining popularity across Europe - I have serious doubts whether the still enouraging Pew Forum figures showing 62% of Americans favouring the right of Muslims to build places of worship in local communities would be matched by public opinion in the UK.

But the United States is still the world's principal military superpower with an assertive insistence on its global entitlement and privilege. There's no point pretending that US right-wingers, busy defending back home the entitlement and privilege of white, conservative, middle-class America by encouraging people to believe their President is a secret Muslim (nearly one-in-five Americans now believe this) are not having a negative impact - even on liberal 'opponents' like Peretz.

And precisely because they provide powerful ammunition to Muslim religious fundamentalists worldwide, they need to be vigirously condemned by the left, whatever the likes of Daley might say. Not just the antics of Pastor Terry Jones, but all anti-Muslim racism.

Saturday 11 September 2010

Violent London

Newham Bookshop presents Clive Bloom, Emeritus Professor of English and American Studies at Middlesex University, discussing his book:

Violent London
2000 Years of Riots, Rebels and Revolts

Thursday 7 October

7.30 pm | Bishopsgate Institute
230 Bishopsgate, London EC2 | Map

Violent London is the alternative political history of the capital, one that explores the underground world of radicals and subversives from Wat Tyler to the Anti-Globalisation Movement, via the Gordon Riots, the Cato Street Conspirators, the Suffragettes, Moselyites and the IRA. Covering nearly 2000 years of political protest, it is a story of political activism expressed in street fighting and slum warfare, in assassination and bombing, peopled by a fascinating array of demagogues and democrats, lunatics and libertarians, bigots and social revolutionaries.

Tickets £6, concessions £4, from Bishopsgate Institute: telephone 020 7392 9220

Friday 10 September 2010

Update - Man Who Died At Forest Gate Police Station Named

An update from the Independent Police Complaints Commission:

The man who was found collapsed in police custody on Thursday 2 September 2010 has been named as Valdas Jasiunas.

Mr Jasiunas, aged 36 and of no fixed abode, was originally from Lithuania. He was arrested for begging at 12.50pm on Wednesday 1 September 2010 and taken to Forest Gate Police Station. He was found collapsed in his cell at approximately 8am the next morning and taken to Newham General Hospital. He was pronounced dead at approximately 8.15pm.

The case was referred to the IPCC and an independent investigation is underway.

A post mortem examination has taken place, but was inconclusive and therefore further tests have been commissioned.

An inquest is due to be opened and adjourned at Walthamstow Coroner’s Court in due course.


I guess some of you have guessed that I really like Mark Fiore's work and today's Friday lunchtime distraction is another fine example. It's a reworking of the Ten Commandments according to right-wing media pundit and Tea Party spokesloon Glenn Beck - the man who had a dream, one that included stealing the clothes of Martin Luther King.

Thursday 9 September 2010

Accused Of Flyposting By Redbridge Council

In March 2003, the then Home Secretary David Blunkett published a White Paper, Respect and Responsibility [PDF], in which he warned of the "anti-social behaviour of a few [that] damages the lives of many" and "blights people’s lives, destroys families and ruins communities". His message was a stark one: "we will work," he said "alongside those who are not prepared to tolerate people harassing and intimidating their neighbours or mistreating our public spaces".

The result was the Antisocial Behaviour Act 2003, which addresses a variety of issues like crack houses, throwing fireworks, the introduction of dispersal zones and action against abusive behaviour likely to cause harassment or distress. It also introduced, under section 43, penalty notices for graffiti and fly-posting.

Today, I discovered that I have been issued with three of these Section 43 fixed penalty notices for allegedly fly posting leaflets about the Save Wanstead Flats campaign. These 'offences' took place last Friday, at 12.25pm, 1.22pm and 1.24pm respectively, and involved the attachment of leaflets to, erm, trees in Wanstead. Each offence carries an £80 fine.

Subsection 3 of the particular part of the 2003 Act that Redbridge council has used to issue the notices is very specific: it says

"an authorised officer may not give a notice to a person under subsection (1) in relation to the display of an advertisement unless he has reason to believe that that person personally [my emphasis] affixed or placed the advertisement to, against or upon the land or object on which the advertisement is or was displayed."

So why have I been targeted? I was in my office in Forest Gate at the times concerned and I have ample proof of this - and I'm also disabled because of the traffic accident I wrote about again yesterday, which would currently make it impossible for me to fly-post anywhere, never mind a a mile away.

The reality is that Redbridge 's Street Enforcement Team obviously have no evidence I have personally affixed a leaflet to anything. They simply wanted someone to target. Because my employer has agreed to allow the Save Wanstead Flats campaign to use Durning Hall community centre as a contact address and because I have commented publicly on the campaign to prevent the police from using the Flats as its Olympic base, they chose me. The fact that the campaign has no leaders and is organised collectively by a steering group of local residents - and that any one of hundreds of people could have stuck a leaflet onto a tree - clearly never entered their jobs-worthy heads.

Frankly this is not only a abuse of legislation designed to prevent anti-social behaviour (although that's a matter of debate in itself). It is also, in my view, a deliberate attempt to make sure that, in the name of supposedly stopping the mistreatment of our public spaces, those who take part in a popular local campaign are criminalised for activities beyond their control. No wonder there's often a reluctance for people to come forward on local issues.

I have the option to appeal, apparently, but I have no intention of doing so: I'll see you in court. I'm actually rather curious to see what bullshit 'evidence' the council has against me. However, in the interests of fairness and because it will cost Redbridge council taxpayers a small fortune when they lose, I'd invite the council's Street Enforcement Team to consider avoiding the embarrassment of a magistrates court hearing by writing to formally withdraw the notices.

Otherwise, you'll be hearing from my (exceptionally tough and experienced) civil liberties lawyers.

Wednesday 8 September 2010

In Praise Of Solidarity

So I've noticed that whilst this is supposed to be both a 'personal and political blog', there's been rather more of the latter for a while now. It's therefore time for a little leisurely personal contemplation and a chance to say thanks to a number of friends.

Yesterday, a sizeable number of Londoners were busy arguing that, in the words of a pompous Evening Standard editorial, tube workers should willingly abandon to their plight the 5% of their colleagues facing job losses because "a re-organisation is inevitable, especially in these cash-strapped times" (see some of the comments in yesterday's posting for more in the same vein). Times are hard, so the advice is: screw everyone else and look out for yourselves. The candidates on Sky's Labour leadership debate on Sunday may have vied with each other to lay claim to the word 'socialist' but one of its most basic tenets - the concept of solidarity - currently seems in short supply at a point when huge cuts threaten to further loosen the ties that bind people to one another.

The importance of mutual aid and comradeship is something I've touched upon before and also came to mind yesterday for entirely different and personal reasons. Regular readers of this blog will know that on 2 March, I was in a traumatic accident that involved a head-on collision between my bicycle and a car in Whitechapel after a Climate Camp meeting. For six months I've been in considerable and almost constant pain - which would have been impossible to bear without the support of my family, friends and even people I don't really know that well. The nature of that support has never, as far as I can tell, been just a question of simple altruism, but more an inability to passively stand by and do nothing when small acts of friendship and generosity can make such a big difference. Friends have given up their time and spent their money automatically, not out of any sense of self-interest but out of something more like solidarity. Having never really relied on anyone before now, it has all been rather humbling.

The list seems endless. When I came out of hospital, people brought round enough food to fill my freezer (including a neighbour I hardly know). When I've needed to go back for tests and further surgery, friends have arranged transport or taken time off work to come with me. When I've been unable to go out, there have been supportive phone calls and e-mails and twice in six months, when I've struggled with simple domestic tasks at home, one of the centre cleaners at work has taken my keys and insisted on hoovering and dusting my flat. When I bemoaned the time it will take to start cycling again and how much I missed the exhilarating buzz of riding for miles, a rather fancy exercise bike appeared one evening on my doorstep (apparently so many are bought but never used that they can be picked up cheaply!) And on Sunday at the Wanstead Flats community picnic, I mentioned in passing that lugging a rucksack to work every day was exhausting with a serious shoulder injury - and yesterday, a black bin liner turned up at the community centre reception where I work. Inside was a backpack with wheels on it. I have to admit that I was choked by the kindness of this sudden and unexpected gesture.

Every one of these efforts involved somebody taking the time to go out of their way to act, with nothing in return but my thanks. I know I'm lucky to have incredibly cool friends, but the basic motivation is the same as the one that drives London Underground workers to choose give up a day's pay for the sake of a tiny percentage of their colleagues and then face abuse for doing so. It's what the Puerto Rican feminist writer Aurora Levins Morales called the "the inability to tolerate the affront to our own integrity" that comes from sitting by and doing nothing. That, at its heart, is what solidarity is all about.

So seriously, thank you, everyone. Hopefully you'll all recognise the acts of solidarity that I've described and have made such an enormous impact and if I haven't said it loudly enough to friends and comrades already, well l am saying so again now.

And don't worry, normal service will resume tomorrow (or even later today, depending on what comes up) with the usual politically opinionated commentary. I just had to get this down in writing.

Tuesday 7 September 2010

Angry Rant - God I Hate Stephen Fry

There's Lee Hunt, a a Tube train driver who was on his break at Edgeware Road station on 7 July 2005 when the bomb attacks struck the London Underground. He crawled under the bombed train to help an injured man.

There's John Boyle, another Tube driver, who was on his way to work that day when one of the bombs went off on the Circle Line train. He helped passengers along the track to safety. There's David Boyce, a station supervisor at Russell Square, who ran into the smoke-filled tunnel after the Piccadilly Line bombing and spent five hours helping passengers. There's Peter Sanders, a station manager at King's Cross , who helped rescue injured people in the Piccadilly Line tunnel and escorted passengers from the front carriage, through the train and along the track to safety.

These are just the kind of people described, in a 2006 parody of the Jam's 'Going Underground' that's doing the rounds again on Twitter today, as "greedy bastards [that] want extra pay for sitting on their arse all day even though they earn 30K" and having a job that "could be done by a four year old". 'National treasure' and renowned user of public transport Stephen Fry, who if he isn't being chauffeured around by the BBC is driving his personalised black cab so he can illegally use bus lanes and avoid the congestion charge, has shared it with his 1.7 million followers and described the video as making him "very very happy". What a complete shit.

I can only assume that the millionaire Fry and others like him will also be 'very, very happy' when 800 Tube staff lose their jobs - because causing the inconvenience of not being able to pop into town for a drink with friends is clearly akin to a human rights abuse. If only those '
greedy bastards' had a couple of Twinings ads and a voiceover for Direct Line Insurance to fall back on, right Stephen? Here's more from Bob Crow, interviewed by Geoff Martin in a dodgy hat:

I really need to do something about the insomnia - it's doing nothing for my usually high tolerance of idiots...

Monday 6 September 2010

The Homeless Of Star Park Are Not Garbage

According to Newham council’s current Homelessness Strategy1, people sleeping on the streets is not an issue locally – in March 2008, using the previous government’s preferred methodology, there was just one rough sleeper in the borough.

Many living and working in Newham might prefer to believe the evidence of their own eyes. But for arguments sake, let’s assume this statistic is true. Now try imagining the feeling of being so desperate and impoverished that you were forced to sleep outdoors, with none of the security of a home, little prospect of finding work and facing the ever present threat of becoming a victim of crime. You’d hope a borough that, unlike places such as Westminster or Camden, has few rough sleepers would be keen to help.

Down in Canning Town, between Star Lane and Avondale Road, is Star Park and in one corner is a derelict building site. There you’ll find far more than one rough sleeper – living in shipping containers. Many are from Eastern Europe and came to this country to undertake low paid or seasonal labour dominated by private employment agencies and casual working. They have been hit particularly hard by the downturn in the economy, are unable to claim benefits, were burdened by the much-criticised Home Office Workers Registration Scheme and statistically are more likely to have suffered poor treatment in the private housing sector. Another word for this experience is exploitation. In August, the Guardian reported warnings by the charity Thames Reach that some migrants from Eastern Europe had become so destitute that they are “eating rats and drinking lethal cocktails of alcoholic handwash”.

But Newham council’s response to the plight of the exploited in the corner of Star Park has so far involved neither sympathy nor help. Instead, a council spokesman told the BBC last Thursday that the people living rough on the derelict site "had no right to be there" and that the council, in cooperation the police and immigration services, is "doing everything in its power to remove them".

Now for once, this is not just another opportunity to slam the Labour administration in Newham. I’m sure that, if asked, every Labour councillor in the borough would say that they got into politics to help those who are the most vulnerable. I’m sure that most have no idea of the plight of fellow human beings forced to living in shipping containers in Canning Town.

And I’m sure that all would argue that people in such desperate circumstances need help, rather than being swept away like garbage. I’m not wrong, am I?

1Newham Homlessness Strategy 2008-2013, page 4 [PDF]

Sunday 5 September 2010

Coffee, Thursday Morning Anyone?

The Great Helmsman's website is promoting "a date with the Mayor Sir Robin Wales and your local councillors" with a free coffee morning to "give you an opportunity to meet him and your local councillors in a relaxed atmosphere to discuss any concerns or questions you may have over a cup of tea or coffee".

A great opportunity to raise the proposed Olympics operational centre on Wanstead Flats and whether Forest Gate councillors are prepared to support the concerns of local residents. After all, they have been pretty quiet so far. So who is free on Thursday morning?

Mayor’s coffee morning with Forest Gate Councillors
Thursday 9 September
The Gate
4-20 Woodgrange Road E7

Hat-tip: Martin Warne

Big Turnout For Wanstead Flats Community Protest Picnic

The weather for today's Mass Community Picnic, organised by the Save Wanstead Flats campaign, was predicted to be fine and sunny. But as I walked up Woodgrange Road towards the Flats at lunchtime, the sky was leaden and I could feel the occasional spot of rain. There was no way of knowing how any people - if any - would show up to what had been billed as an opportunity for local people, concerned about plans for a police operational base on Wanstead Flats, to meet neighbours from around the area who share their concerns about defending common land that belongs to all of us.

At 12.30pm there were about ten of us, but I need not have worried. Small groups of people soon appeared from every direction, bringing their blankets and food, whilst at around 1.30pm, a large group of cyclists from Forest Gate showed up in procession. There was a good turnout too from the local churches and a number of the schools and a good mix of residents from Forest Gate, Leyton and Wanstead. The children's banner-making area, organised by a friend from Godwin Road, came up with some funny and brilliant placard designs.

I heard some rather wild speculation about the overall numbers, but a rough headcount at about 2.15pm suggested 350 picnickers, which is fantastic achievement for what was fairly autumnal afternoon.

Paul Thomson, the Superintendent of Epping Forest (right), was also there and to give him all due credit, he stayed to debate with local people despite a pressing engagement in Chingford for the Epping Forest Festival. I'm pretty sure he felt he had little choice at times though. One of my friends said the impromptu public meeting that had surrounded him was like a 'gherao', an Indian protest tactic from West Bengal that involves surrounding a politician or employer and refusing to let them leave until their demands are met or their questions answered! However, Paul also kindly confirmed that the City of London Corporation will definitely provide representatives for the residents' public meeting organised for Wednesday 6th October, which hopefully will convince the Metropolitan police to stop beating around the bush and promise to turn up too.

The main problem the campaign steering group has now is an unusual but very welcome one: will Durning Hall Community Centre's main hall, with a capacity of 300, actually be big enough to accommodate everyone who has said they want to attend? Everyone I spoke to today is coming and it is a real indicator of the strength of local feeling about these controversial proposals - and an indication that so far, the assurances given by the Corporation and the Met police have failed to satisfy many. October's public meeting does, however, provide both with a chance to talk directly to a large number of people - and I'm sure that Paul Thomson at least has a much clearer idea of the questions that local people want more detailed answers to.

You can download a flyer for the residents' public meeting on Wednesday 6th October at Durning Hall Community Centre from here. My photos on Flickr are here.

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