Wednesday, 30 June 2010

BP - Licence to Spill


On Monday evening, as celebrations for 20 years of BP 'support' for British Art got underway with a Summer Party at Tate Britain, Liberate Tate disrupted the proceedings inside and out by pouring hundreds of litres of 'oil'(molasses) and scattering thousands of feathers in an 'art performance'. The action follows last month's disruption of Tate Modern's 10th Birthday celebrations, which involved hanging dead fish and birds from dozens of giant black helium balloons.

The Tate Summer Party had been planned to be in the museum gardens and involve speeches from BP executives. However, due to the rumours of disruption, Tate was forced to hold the entire event inside the museum and no speeches were made.

Liberate Tate is a network founded during a workshop in January 2010 on art and activism, commissioned by Tate. When Tate curators tried to censor the workshop from making interventions against Tate sponsors, the incensed participants decided to continue their work together beyond the workshop.

See also this from Harpymarx

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

You Couldn't Make It Up! Yes You Can Actually

I know I shouldn't bother, but he just annoys me. In his latest rant against public sector employees, the Daily Mail's Richard Littledick rattles off a number of apocryphal stories about the excuses made for sickness and absenteeism. There are a few tiny nuggets of truth in his piece - it is undoubtedly true that many local councils and NHS trusts waste staggering amounts on consultants. In Newham, for example, we know from a Freedom of Information request that one Neil Litherland has been paid £1300 a day in consultancy fees since January to act as the Interim Divisional Director of Community Safety. But Littledick just can't help adding a liberal dose of fantasy to his writing and one reason for doubting the accuracy of the vast majority of his latest article is this gem:


A whole range of exciting new non-jobs is still being created. Reader Alex Jackson has drawn my attention to an advert from Newham Council, in East London, for a Community Catalyst Co-ordinator on £28,000 a year. How ever did they manage without one?

As always, Littledick is too lazy to bother to check his facts. If he had, he would have discovered that Newham council manages without a 'Community Catalyst Co-ordinator' because it is nothing to do with advertising the post. Community Catalyst is a project run by an independent charity based in Canning Town called Your Space E16 Counselling Project. It provides the entirely laudable service of low-cost or free counselling to people with emotional, psychological and relationship problems who live in one of the most deprived parts of London. Moreover, the coordinator salary is also part-time - they can only afford to pay someone for just under 19 hours a week. So if this part of Littledick's article is a lie, why should we believe the rest of it?

By the way, if anyone is interested in applying for the job, the closing date is 9th July. You can find more details on the NVSC website.

Monday, 28 June 2010

Forest Gate Residents Demand Answers on Olympic Policing Base

A follow up to the piece I wrote on 14 June about plans by the Metropolitan Police to set up an Olympic operation base on Wanstead Flats.

A public meeting has been called for 14 July, at 6.30pm at Durning Hall Community Centre in Earlham Grove, by residents who object to the plans. The following is from the flyer that is being distributed to homes to Forest Gate:


The Metropolitan police has applied to the City of London Corporation to build a temporary Olympics headquarters on Wanstead Flats. This will remain for three months in 2012 on the west side of Centre Road, in the area currently used by travelling fairs and circuses (for no more than a week at a time).

To make this possible, the police are seeking to amend the Epping Forest Act of 1878, which stipulated that the Corporation "shall at all times keep Epping Forest unenclosed and unbuilt on as an open space for the recreation and enjoyment of the people". The police say they have undertaken an assessment of open land in east London and that Wanstead Flats is the “only viable site” for their Olympic operational base.

But why is it the only viable site?

What is wrong with the Olympic stadium site itself? Setting up a deployment base on Wanstead Flats means the main route for police vehicles to Stratford is via the already congested Woodgrange Road and Forest Lane.

Access to the Flats for local people will inevitably be affected by a sensitive high-security operational centre.

Changing a law protecting Wanstead Flats sets a dangerous precedent, making future building and enclosure much easier. It also treats land that belongs to us as nothing more than ‘empty space’ - which can be easily closed off whenever it is deemed ‘convenient’.

If you live in Forest Gate, please come along on 14 July. Anyone who wants to help deliver leaflets, please contact me at copwatcher [at] gmail dot com and I'll pass your details on, although if you just want a few copies to pass on to friends, they should be available from the Durning Hall Community Centre reception in a few days time.

UPDATE

Download the residents meeting flyer from here [PDF]

Newham's Mayor Given Inflation-Busting Pay Increase

Richard Desmond, the noted pornographer and owner of Express Newspapers, doesn't believe in spending his huge fortune on his paper's terrible websites - he told the Independent in a gushing article only last week that "you cannot give your content away" - so I am indebted to Mike Law for the following from yesterday's Sunday Express:


"The mayor of the deprived Labour council hosting the Olympics is defying Government calls for wage restraint and awarding himself an inflation-busting pay rise.

Sir Robin Wales, the mayor of Newham Council in east London, seized the four per cent rise this month, taking his salary to £81,029 a year. His pay is now 34 per cent more than the £58,500 he received when he was directly elected mayor in 2002.

Sir Robin’s decision to accept the rise came after he ordered cuts of £28million and as his staff face a two-year pay freeze. Awarded a knighthood in 2000 by Tony Blair, the 55 year-old Scot is the most powerful local Labour politician in Britain. He was a warded the pay rise by a vote of councillors, all of whom are Labour.

In return, opponents say, he rewards party colleagues by appointing them to part-time jobs on wages most voters in one of Britain’s poorest boroughs can only dream of. Jobs have been created for more than half of Newham’s 60 Labour councillors, many of whom earn more than £40,000 a year for a few meetings a month.

Sir Robin, who sits on Seb Coe’s Olympic organising committee and will be a prominent figure when the Games open in Stratford in 2012, barred the council’s press officers from answering questions from the Sunday Express about the authority’s costs."

The Great Helmsman's above-inflation pay increase was also reported in the Rotten Boroughs section of Private Eye, which noted: "opposition councillors raised no objection... because there are no opposition councillors". Quite.

The IHRC and The Right to Abortion Information in Pakistan

As I have been arguing with friends over the issue of ex-Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg, it is more important to judge people and organisations over what they actually do than what others say about them - especially when the criticism comes from the pro-war 'Decent' left represented by the likes of Nick Cohen and the Harry's Place blog.

So it is with the Islamic Human Rights Commission. It's to their credit that they have protested against the brutal killing by Egyptian police of Khaled Saeed and have called on the Sudanese government to give four journalists the right to a fair trial "articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights". But IHRC should be roundly condemned for comments made by its chair Massoud Shadjareh that were reported in yesterday's Independent on Sunday.

In Pakistan, an abortion hotline set up by women's groups, to try and save the lives of thousands of women who die every year as a result of estimated 890,00 backstreet abortions, has faced a violent reaction from the country's fundamentalist groups and political parties, who oppose even the provision of accurate family planning information to women.

Shadjareh's reaction to this has not been to offer support for the right to potentially life-saving information but to accuse the organisers of the hotline of actions that are "counterproductive", will "create huge problems"and that are deliberately provocative.

But it is this argument that disgusted me the most - he is quoted as saying attempts to set up the hotline are "part of the colonial idea that the West's way is the best, and that is not the case."

Since when did providing information become 'colonial'? In fact, when did human rights no longer become universal in the eyes of the the Islamic Human Rights Commission? IHRC is happy to quote from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in other situations but Shadjareh seems to believe that Article 19, the right to "seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless frontiers", should not apply to Muslim women in Pakistan on the basis of their gender and religion.

Before now, the IHRC has asked whether the concept of a Muslim human rights activist will ever be fully acceptable in Western society. I think in some quarters it already has, despite the doctrinaire attitude of some in the human rights field and their allies in the Islamist-obsessed 'left'. It's just that Massoud Shadjareh and the IHRC set an incredibly poor standard for others to follow and emulate.

Rather than simply raging against Shadjareh's crassness and double standards, a practical idea would be to contact IHRC and - politely - call on them to withdraw comments made by their chair, whilst also clarifying their position on Article 19 rights to receive and impart information and ideas. IHRC can be contacted at info@ihrc.org and their postal address is: Islamic Human Rights Commission, PO Box 598, Wembley HA9 7XH.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Photographer Illegally Detained By Police In Romford


This is a recording made and images taken by photographer Jules Mattsson, who was illegally detained by police in Romford yesterday after taking an image of a cadet unit who were preparing to take part in a Armed Forces Day parade through the town - in front of thousands of people with cameras.

Mattson was first told that it was a criminal offence to photograph a child, then to photograph the military and eventually the usual nonsense that photographing the police is illegal. Finally, police claimed he presented a threat under anti-terrorism laws. "I was frog marched with my arm painfully twisted, away from the public eye and any witnesses and pushed down a set of stairs", he says. He had to attend hospital and the police now face a formal complaint and the threat of legal action.

So much for guidance to officers, on allowing photographers to do their jobs without harassment, filtering through to the police on the streets.

UPDATE: 28 June

Jules is adding further updates on his blog here.

The story has now hit the national press - see the Independent, "Officers claim they don't need law to stop photographer taking pictures"

The Metropolitan police has issued a statement to the British Journal of Photography - a spokeswoman said:

"It is clearly not the intention of the MPS to prevent people from taking photographs, although, as the public would expect, officers will remain vigilant, particularly in crowded public places. Any allegations or complaints about police treatment of photographers are taken very seriously by the MPS."

She adds: "Anyone who is unhappy with the actions of individual police officers can make a formal complaint, which will be thoroughly investigated. Although at this time we have not received a complaint about this incident and no allegations of crime have been made, we will investigate the circumstances. Our officers do receive guidance around the issue of photography through briefings and internal communications and we continue to drive this work forward.

UPDATE: 29 June

The story is also in The Register and on Boing Boing.

Even serving coppers seem unimpressed. And it seems that Roger Evans, the Conservative member for Havering & Redbridge on the London Assembly, had no problems taking pictures of the same parade.

Germany v England - You Decide

Who wins? The Germans or Billy Bragg's English? You decide. Incidently, I think we know what Bragg will be watching this afternoon down at the Glastonbury festival and it's more likely to be that other contest between two allegedly rival nations than Norah Jones on the Pyramid stage. Billy's website even sells a World Cup t-shirt for fashionably left-wing England fans.

Anyway, as the Russians didn't qualify this year and the French have departed early, here's the two drawn today from the Internationale sweepstake - hat-tip to Liam for finding the German team. My guess is that it will go to penalities.

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Make 26 June 'Bring The Troops Home Day'

Today is Armed Forces Day and in Cardiff, as well as in army towns around the country, the PR exercise devised by Labour to boost support for unpopular UK military operations overseas returns for another year.

The war that even Prime Minister David Cameron is beginning is realise is unwinnable, but is still prepared to spend £4bn every year on dragging out until 2015 whilst millions of people face savage cuts, is of course Afghanistan. According to the Armed Forces Day website, "we are operating there successfully, with lots of other countries, to provide a more stable and secure Afghanistan to help ensure a safer Britain and world". Who really believes this is true? Not the head of the UN monitoring mission on the Taliban, who says the British army is making security worse and there's no hope of an Afghan army being trained to take its place.

The UN also says that military operations are increasingly dangerous for soldiers as well as Afghan civilians. If those attending today's Armed Forces Day events are really concerned about the 'showing their support' for British troops, perhaps they should be asking why British soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan at almost four times the rate of their US counterparts, and double that which is officially classified as "major combat".

This miserable war clearly isn't operating successfully and isn't bringing stability or security, It isn't making Britain any safer and it is likely to end in humiliation and negotiations with the Taliban anyway. Sacrificing hundreds more lives and even more injured and maimed may delay the inevitable but it achieves nothing more.

There are millions of people in Britain who would want to spare more military families that misery and suffering and that's why it really is about time we started marking 26 June as 'Bring The Troops Home' Day, rather than the shameless public-relations exercise arranged for today.

Friday, 25 June 2010

LAZY FRIDAY - The Curfew

It's Lazy Friday once again, but for a chance, today's lunchtime distraction is chilling rather than funny.

It's an 'info-film' for The Curfew, a new adventure webgame that explores issues about surveillance and authoritarianism in a Britain where, in the near future, the law-and-order 'Shepherd Party' has taken over the country and imposed a national night-time curfew. It's out at the end of July.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Tory Home Secretary Fails Latest Civil Liberties Test

What is it with the Com Dem government and its love of setting up reviews? Today, Home Secretary Theresa May announced another one, this time on the detention of terror suspects for up to 28 days before they are charged. In spite of all the civil liberties rhetoric that the Conservatives embraced before the election, she also extended the current provisions for another six months. Britain therefore continues to have the longest period of detention without charge of any western democracy.

But there is no need for a review, because there is little evidence to justify extended pre-charge detention. As figures released by the Home Office in May showed, there were 1,471 people arrested for terrorism between 11 September 2001 and 31 March 2009, but only six were held for the maximum 28 days. Around half were detained for less than one day and two-thirds for under two days. Most of those arrested were later been released without charge. Not a single person has been held for more than 14 days without charge since Labour dropped plans to raise the maximum to 42 days in October 2008.

May's statement today claims that the extension is necessary to "support the police and other agencies in their work to keep us safe from terrorism", because "the nature of modern international terrorism means that police investigations can be longer and more complex than they have been in the past". This is exactly what New Labour ministers used to spout when they were in office but, as the figures show, prolonged detention resulting from the supposed complexity of police investigations is extremely rare. It was nonsense before and it's still nonsense when it comes from the mouth of a Tory.

So why hang onto draconian provisions that both the Conservatives and Lib Dems criticised when they were in opposition? Could it be that the Tory backbenchers are rather less enthusiastic about civil liberties than Cameron and his new Lib Dem friends?

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Camaraderie Continues As England Delay The Inevitable

So England have scraped through to the last 16 of the World Cup and it's a measure of their indifferent performance so far that a decidedly average match (better than some of the ground-out goalless draws I've seen so far, but still uninspiring) is likely to be hailed as a triumph by the press. James Corden's unbelievably shite post-match programme on ITV will be even worse than it usually is.

Even though I'm a neutral, I made time today to watch the game with work colleagues and I still find it hard to understand the vitriol expressed by some on the left against supporting England, whether it's an ill-judged rant or dubious Marxist analysis against football in general, complete with a typically authoritarian assertion that "nobody serious about political change can shirk the fact that the game has to be abolished".

Football may well, as Terry Eagleton claims, have replaced religion as a new 'opium of the people', at least in more secular societies, but we live in a world where the vast majority crave the ‘spiritual aroma’ that only sport, and football in particular on a global level, can begin to provide. Anyone who loves the game will understand that it does, albeit briefly, often seem like "the heart of a heartless world and the soul of soulless conditions". So yes, modern football has undoubtedly been shaped and distorted by capitalism, but it's hard to think of anything in society that hasn't. But puritanically lecturing people that they are wrong about their illusions, as Eagleton does, isn't going to help change the world and creating conditions where illusions are no longer necessary doesn't happen without convincing alternatives - which Marxists like Eagleton have repeatedly failed to offer.

Gary Younge is, I think, right to acknowledge how much football has changed over the last thirty years and I can completely understand why most of my Asian friends have no trouble reconciling support for India or Pakistan cricket teams with cheering on England in South Africa. I'm not convinced by arguments that say this reflects a need to prove an affiliation with 'Englishness', which is still probably the most difficult cultural identity anywhere in the world to accurately define with any level of agreement. But even I can see that supporting England is undoubtedly about camaraderie and a sense of togetherness, as even the most jaundiced observer must have noticed over the last couple of weeks if they don't inhabit the world of either the media or academia.

Moreover, supporting England definitely seems like an entirely familiar, everyday expression of collective solidarity in the face of adversity, not least because most supporters know perfectly well that the England team - this one as much as others before it - are middle rank at best and extremely unlikely to win the World Cup.

Based on the three games of the first round, it is only a matter of time before the England team are on their way home. At that point, my guess is that much of the the camaraderie will remain, the period of mourning will be brief and we will see far less of a drop in interest in the remainder of the tournament than there has perhaps been in previous years. That's undoubtedly what a more globalised world has helped create. At that point, I'm looking forward to welcoming a new and much larger group of neutrals to the debate on the best team playing in South Africa.

And if possible, I hope that Argentina meet Brazil in the final. That would be a great reminder of how football can occasionally represent heart and soul in the midst of a heartless and soulless world.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

A Trail of Tears for Afghanistan

A path from resistance from London to Colchester in support of Joe Glenton
25 June – 1 July 2010

Indymedia | Facebook

SATURDAY 26 JUNE: ARMED FORCES DAY
Meet 10.30am, Ministry of Defence, for a day of counter-recruitment activity and informing soldiers of their legal right to object to war.

SATURDAY 26 JUNE: DISSENT, RESISTANCE AND THE MILITARY
How should the peace movement engage with ordinary soldiers? Discussion with Mike Marqusee, Gwyn Gwyntopher (At Ease), and ex-soldier Ben Griffin. 6-8pm, Housmans Bookshop, N1.

SUNDAY 27 JUNE: UNARMED FORCES DAY
Meet 10.30am, Ministry of Defence, for the start of five-day walk to the military prison in Colchester where soldier Joe Glenton is in prison for refusing to fight in Afghanistan.

SUNDAY 27 JUNE, WANSTEAD
Public Meeting, 7.30pm, Wanstead Friends Meeting House, Bush Road, Wanstead, E11 3AU
Excerpts from the films Rethinking Afghanistan and This is Where we Take Our Stand plus peace activist Maya Evans, talking about her High Court challenge to British complicity in torture in Afghanistan

More information at unarmedforcesday.wordpress.com

Never Mind VAT - We Have No Control Over Economic Decisions

Budget days feel like election days - the names of the politicians and media commentators may be different from year to year, but they feel like events that most of us have little control over.

So it's undoubtedly true that in 2009 the Tories denied planning to increase VAT but have now reneged on that promise, whilst the Lib Dems were warning of a VAT 'bombshell' during the election and are now supporting George Osbourne's drastic plans. Frankly, however, none of this comes as much of a surprise, especially coming from a Tory-led government.

Today's reaction to the ConDem's first budget by the Westminster bubble-heads is long on speculation about whether VAT increases were avoidable or not, but something is still missing - any acknowledgement that at May's election, all the mainstream parties backed a neo-liberal consensus demanding tax rises, welfare cuts and severe reductions in spending. In March, the former Chancellor Alistair Darling admitted that if Labour had been re-elected, public spending cuts would have been tougher than anything imposed by Margaret Thatcher. Even promises to spread the pain over a longer period than the Tories was based on what were almost certainly over-optimistic forecasts about the future strength of the economy. Make no mistake - whoever had won in May, we would be facing a public sector pay freeze and an attack on benefits, no matter how much Labour supporters may try and pretend otherwise.

What also unites the Westminster parties is a desire for renewed economic growth without challenging the power of the City or the speculative casino economics of the financial markets. This means the circumstances that fuelled the disastrous banking crisis can very easily return, but no matter - better to focus on the impact of a Budget on individuals' pockets, as we always do, than on the undemocratic nature of economic power on us collectively as citizens. And let's not even start on the devastating consequences of unrestrained growth on our climate and the planet's finite resources.

Reading the unimaginative commentary on today's Budget, the near collapse of the global banking system in 2008 already seems like a long time ago - and whilst opposition in principle to attacks on workers' wages is important, we seem no closer to articulating a clear alternative to the consensus that says we must continue to subsidise the recklessness of the rich and powerful.

Budget days feel like every day - the names of the politicians and media commentators may be different from year to year, but most of us are no nearer to real control over our own lives.

What Has The Public Sector Ever Done For Us?

Demonstration this evening from 4.30pm to 6.30pm at Parliament Square:

Cut the war, not schools and hospitals
Scrap Trident, not public services

Called by Stop the War Coalition and Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. More here

Monday, 21 June 2010

Bert & Ernie Ante Up


Love this... Kidnap that fool!

RMT Leans On TUC For Coordinated Action Against Cuts

From the RMT website today:


Transport Union leader Bob Crow today issued a call for an emergency meeting of the Trade Union Congress to be convened as "soon as is practically possible" to map out a co-ordinated campaign of industrial and political action to fightback against plans to attack jobs, pay and pensions that will be unveiled in the emergency budget on Tuesday.

RMT has also reacted angrily to reports that David Cameron will be invited to address the TUC in September with Bob Crow warning that his union "will lead a walk out of delegates that would leave the Prime Minister with an empty hall to talk to. "

Bob Crow, RMT General Secretary, said today:

"This weekend David Cameron has launched a full-frontal assault on the trade union movement on a scale which is unprecedented since Margaret Thatcher's Government set out to smash the National Union of Mineworkers.

"It could not be clearer that the ConDem administration are setting out to drive down pay, working conditions and pensions. When someone's winding up to give you a kicking you have a clear choice - you can either take them on right from the off or you can roll over and hope that they go away. RMT is calling on the trade union movement to start the fight back right here, right now before Cameron and Clegg have had a chance to pull their boots on.

"This is not the time for talking, it's the time for action. We need an emergency meeting of the Trade Union Congress to co-ordinate the political and industrial action that we will need to take to take as a united movement to drive back the ConDem attack on our members."

The repulsive idea that David Cameron might be allowed anywhere near this year's TUC Congress in Manchester came up at the end of last week but seems to have been largely ignored by the corporate media. The Agence France-Presse report quotes a press officer, but there is nothing on the TUC's website.

It all starts to look like an attempt by TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber to head off demands from two directions - the latest class war rhetoric from the CBI, who want even more draconian anti-strike laws, and a growing number of unions seeking active resistance to the ConDem government. I know the TUC has spent years cosying up to ministers but if Barber thinks this will work with an instinctive Thatcherite like Cameron, when it barely achieved measurable results with Labour in power, he is even bigger a fool that I thought.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Today's Leamington Peace Festival



Friday, 18 June 2010

LAZY FRIDAY - The Big Red

Today's hilarious Lazy Friday distraction goes to prove that the oil industry doesn't make advertisements like it used to. But it has clearly never stopped hustlin'...

Remember the Dover 58


A decade has passed since the horrifying discovery of the bodies of 58 Chinese immigrants trapped inside a sealed lorry container in Dover.

To mark the tenth anniversary, I've reproduced this article on the Dimsum website by Jack Tan, from July 2001.

Immigration On The Back Of A Lorry

In the 1920s a young Chinese woman got ready to perform the Tea Ceremony, the last and most important stage in the marriage ritual. She did not know her husband-to-be but she counted herself lucky to have found a family willing to accept her and was content to be a good wife to him. But as soon as the Tea Ceremony ended, he left immediately on a long trip overseas. She wept and waited for his return. After a year without word from him, and obviously being unable to produce a son without him, her standing in the family was in jeopardy. There was no choice for her but to go in search of her lost husband. She boarded a ship bound for Singapore and left her home province of Fujian for good. She was my mother's mother.

Fortunately for her in those days, there were no immigration restrictions in the British Empire. There was no question of her needing to go to criminal gangs like the Snakeheads to arrange transport. She merely sold what jewellery she had and bought her passage on a trade ship. After a long, uncomfortable and maybe even unhygienic journey she arrived at least safely in the British colony of Singapore as one of the ship's passengers, as a human being. Eight decades on, on 19 June 2000, 54 of her fellow Fujian Chinese arrived in England on the back of a lorry, sealed in like cargo, dead.

The finger of blame has been pointed at many parties: the shipping company, European customs, the Fujian authorities, the Snakeheads, and of course the British government for not ensuring stricter controls. But I put the blame squarely on the shoulders of English xenophobia.

Since the beginning of the twentieth century, in response to popular racism, there have been higher and stronger legal walls built around Britain to keep foreigners out. The effect of these laws has been to keep non-white Commonwealth citizens out, while ensuring that white Commonwealth citizens were freely allowed to immigrate into Britain. In fact, today, the laws are so tough that it seems unless you are fleeing genocide you would be classed as an illegal (economic) immigrant.

Restrictions have made it much harder for people to come to Britain, and for some reason we feel a safety and satisfaction in that. However strict controls do nothing to reduce the desperate need for people to emigrate, and where there is a real need, legislating against it does nothing but to drive people to find illegal ways of meeting that need.

But what is the answer? Reduce immigration controls? Surely if we were to ease restrictions Britain would be flooded with foreigners, so the xenophobic argument goes. But is this true? Would people flood into the UK if there were lighter restrictions?

The truth is that people do not willingly leave their home country unless they have to. If we think that people leave their families, friends and life they are used to in order to come to Britain where they cannot speak the language, find difficulty acclimatising, and are treated with hostility, then we think too much of ourselves and of Britain. People do not uproot themselves and emigrate unless the situation at home is so desperate that they have to leave.

As it is, EU citizens have the right to settle in the UK, but there is no flood of Europeans in our towns and villages. Last year, citizens of British territories in the Caribbean were given full settlement rights as British citizens. But as a Cayman Island journalist said "Nobody's going to up and move to the UK." (The Guardian, 1999). If controls were eased, immigration might increase initially but there would be no flood. What there would be is the prevention of awful tragedies like the one on 19 June in Dover.

For my grandmother, she did not have to escape Fujian in a goods container. But so great was her need to leave that she would have if there was no other way. Fortunately for me and my family, there was no need.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

London City Airport Expansion Faces Judicial Review

Source: Flickr
In late May and early June, activists from the Plane Stupid campaign were busy planting 'Newham Council - For Sale' signs around the borough, in continuing protests against last year's decision by the council to green light the expansion of London City Airport from 91,000 to 120,000 flights a year.

This week, the Newham Recorder has briefly reported that a judicial review of the council's decision is due to take place at the Royal Court of Justice in November, with a decision by January 2011. Local group Fight the Flights, which has raised the funds for the legal challenge, accuses the council of failing to consider changing government policy on climate change or to consult both neighbouring boroughs and residents on the possible impact of increased aircraft movements. Councils in Havering, Redbridge, Waltham Forest, Tower Hamlets, Bexley and Barking & Dagenham are supporting a High Court challenge.

The legal action makes a mockery of London Mayor Boris Johnson's recently announced Green Enterprise District in east London and his pledge to make London a "global leader in the low carbon economy". Low carbon? How can having an rapidly expanding airport literally next door to the proposed Siemens Pavilion, "a permanent showcase for sustainable technologies" at the heart of the district, represent a commitment to carbon reduction - and how will the 100,000 visitors the pavilion is expected to receive every year or the school groups dropping in on educational trips be able to hear a damn thing above the roar of jet engines?

A Quick Guide To Israeli English

Hat-tip: Hey Monkey Riot at Last Hours - click on image to enlarge.

Latest Pictures From The Gilly Mundy Memorial Community School

These pictures were taken in March during a trip to Haryana in northern India, by trustees of the Buwan Kothi International Trust. They show the project that I am most proud of - the school that my friends and I have raised money to build in memory of my mate Gilly who died in 2007. In three years we have fundraised close to £145,000n


Yesterday, I had the really enjoyable task of arranging to transfer £40,000 from the UK to the charity in India running the Gilly Mundy Memorial Community School. Next year, after 12 months abstaining from long-haul flights, I may even get to see the school in person for the first time.

It's just a shame that, because of the injuries I received in March, I won't be able to take part in this year's fundraising cycle ride in 25 July. But if anyone reading this is in the Leamington Spa / Warwick area, you can sign up to take part here.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

REVIEW: American - The Bill Hicks Story

I was amazed when the friend who came with me last night to see the documentary American: The Bill Hicks Story told me he had never heard of Bill Hicks. How could that even be remotely possible? Hicks is a legend, is routinely placed near the top of any list of greatest ever stand-up comics and was also far more popular in the UK than in the US. That is certainly how it seemed in the early 1990s when I was a student and Hicks was playing to 2000 capacity crowds at the Dominion in Tottenham Court Road, crashing around inside the American psyche with a chainsaw and a bag of mushrooms. Furthermore, his reputation has only grown over the years that followed his early death from pancreatic cancer, aged just 32 and at the peak of his career.

Admittedly, I'm a long-time fan and having recently re-read Cynthia True's biography American Scream, much of the story of Hicks' early life and career was familiar. British film-makers Matt Harlock and Paul Thomas are clearly fans too, but they do not shy away from the picture of Hicks as a comic who became an angry, bitter alcoholic and who only found his true voice when he finally kicked the booze. But what makes this film really stand apart is the revolutionary animation technique Harlock and Thomas employ, using photographs provided by Hicks' friends and family. It took a while to get used to, but alongside the candid contributions and some very shaky VHS stage recordings, it brought the story to life in a way that most documentaries, dependent on a series of talking heads, have often been unable to do.

What this excellent film also managed to convey was Hicks' energy, both on-stage, in his relentless touring and in the desire to convey his message as he realised that death was drawing nearer. It was a one that had become an increasingly political rebuke to America, over the storming by the FBI of the Branch Davidian cult's Waco complex in 1993 and particularly the first Gulf war. And a decade after Hicks' death, when we had another Bush in the White House and more US troops back in Iraq, much of his material was as fresh as ever. Here he is in full effect, on stage in London:

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

The Saville Inquiry - What Happens Now?

It's the product of 12 years of hearings and deliberation and for £572 plus delivery, you can now purchase all ten volumes of the Saville Inquiry, although its available for free online.

It has taken a long time for the British state to finally admit what has been common knowledge for some time - that soldiers from the Parachute Regiment killed 13 completely innocent civilians in Derry on Sunday 30 January 1972. It has been a lifetime for the families of those who died to finally have the distressing stigma of the Widgery Inquiry verdict, which whitewashed the British Army's conduct on Bloody Sunday, finally removed.

I have no idea what happens now. Watching Cameron's apology today, I was immediately reminded of another apology in 1999, by the then Home Secretary Jack Straw to Doreen and Neville Lawrence, which was an electrifying moment for all of us who had been actively involved in the Stephen Lawrence Family Campaign during the public inquiry hearings in south London. But the same question was on our minds as Straw addressed a packed House of Commons. What happens now? After so much energy spent simply trying to ensure that the state finally admitted that it had failed and then repeatedly lied about its failure, there was a moment of deflation, a realisation that the struggle for justice was still far from over.

In January 2008, I wrote about the way that public inquiries can shed light on the truth but they provide a very brief window of opportunity for change, before the issue under investigation slips from the public consciousness. In the case of the Lawrence Inquiry, that window has now closed. I suspect what the present government wants more than anything is for the Saville Inquiry to be buried as quickly as possible, written off as a "disaster in terms of time and expense" to quote Justice Secretary Ken Clarke.

The Tory blogger Iain Dale sums up what I expect is the establishment view when he says he hopes "the families of the thirteen who were killed will be satisfied with a verdict by the Saville Inquiry of unlawful killing" and that "republican politicians in Northern Ireland will see the sense of leaving it at that". But that can't be enough. The early 1970s might seem like ancient history to some (I was not yet four years old in January 1972) but the events of Bloody Sunday involved the execution of British citizens, albeit reluctant ones, by the state. And as Bernadette Devlin-McAliskey rightly points out:


Had Bloody Sunday been no more than a violent and disgraceful overreaction or unlawful behaviour on the part of a few "squaddies" or overzealous commanders, it would not have required the British government and its military to create the complicated labyrinth of lies and deceit which has taken hundreds of testimonies, thousands of pages, millions of pounds and 38 years to unravel.

Moreover, today's inquiry report effectively accuses representatives of the British state of what in international law amounts to a war crime. Setting that aside is on an entirely different level to the "sacrifice made for peace" that enabled IRA members and Loyalist paramilitaries to leave prison under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

Bernadette Devlin-McAliskey is dismissive of the Saville Inquiry and suggests Bloody Sunday should be taken to the International Criminal Court in the Hague, but I'm not convinced this is any more likely to secure justice, which may now be impossible. What might make a lasting different, in the brief window of opportunity that exists, is an unequivocal demand that the violent suppression of legitimate protest, whether by the army or the police, is an anathema to any democracy that reserves the right to lecture other nations about human rights. I therefore see no reason why individual soldiers and their commanders should avoid prosecution if the evidence exists to bring them to trial. The best way to remind the wielders of state power through the use of force that they cannot act with impunity is to properly hold them to account.

The same applies just as much to those responsible for the death of Ian Tomlinson at last year's G20 protest. It applies to all those responsible for the hundreds who have died in police custody over the years. Taking the lives of innocent citizens is not ancient history. And we really are no nearer to preventing it from happening again.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Israel Deploys Tactical Irish Nobel Laureate

It has to be deliberate! The Freedom Flotilla had the north of Ireland Nobel peace laureate Mairead Corrigan-Maguire, so Israel has struck back with the the north of Ireland Nobel peace laureate David Trimble.

Trimble will act as an 'observer' to Israel's internal investigation into the assault on the flotilla and the deaths of nine people at the hands of Israeli commandos.

The BBC 's Ireland correspondent Mark Simpson says, with no apparent irony, "I suppose there will be some people, given unionists' historical link or reputation as friends of Israel, who will say that he isn't totally neutral". I supposed some people might, perhaps because Trimble is a supporter of Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI) and in 2007, when launching a CFI report called "Misunderstanding Ulster," he claimed that majority in Israel wanted "accommodation," whereas Hamas wanted "victories".

Accommodation? Really? As in more land for building 'extra accommodation' for Israeli settlers?

Or perhaps Trimble's participation on 31 May in the founding in Paris of the international “Friends of Israel Initiative”- the very day that Israel attacked the flotilla heading for Gaza - might have raised more than a few eyebrows. This meeting was addressed by Dore Gold, former Israeli ambassador to the UN and ex-advisor to Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as John Bolton, Bush’s UN henchman and staunch opponent of the International Criminal Court.

Trimble is joined in observing this farce by the Canadian Brigadier-General Ken Watkin, who in November refused to answer questions from a parliamentary committee of inquiry into rendition and torture of prisoners in Afghanistan. No wonder the Netanyahu government picked them both.

Latest on Plans for Olympic Policing Base on Wanstead Flats

A quick update on plans by the Metropolitan Police to build an Olympic policing base at Wanstead Flats, on land held in trust for the people of London.

What we now know is that a "Muster, Briefing and Deployment Centre" will be in place for three months on the west side of Centre Road on the Flats, in the area used by travelling fairs and circuses for no more than two weeks at a time.

Paul Thomson, Superintendent of Epping Forest, has written the following to a local resident:


In the absence of a suitable site close to the Olympics, the Metropolitan Police need to operate a Muster, Briefing and Deployment Centre (MBDC) to support policing and security in the Olympic Zone for 90 days during the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The MBDC will be one of three centres supporting the Olympic, Central and River security zones during the Games. Each site would consist of a series of temporary buildings, fencing and parking for Police vehicles and will feed, brief and debrief the Police Officers providing security for the Olympics.

Over the past year, the Police have undertaken a widespread assessment of open land in East London that might support a MBDC for the Olympic Security Zone. Wanstead Flats emerged as the only viable site for the Olympic Zone operation.

The Police have therefore sought permission from the Conservators of Epping Forest to utilise the Centre Road Events Area on Wanstead Flats for 90 days during 2012. The MBDC would operate on a small area of the Flats accounting for some 2% of the site's total area. The MBDC 'footprint' will only be a little larger than that of the current circus and fairground site. The selection of the events area will prevent any disruption to wildlife breeding areas and Sports Events staged on Wanstead Flats.

The Epping Forest and Commons Committee has agreed to support the Metropolitan Police's request in principle, provided that:
  • a suitable legislative mechanism could be secured;
  • the site is fully restored after use;
  • the proposal was put before a widespread public consultation process.
The necessary Planning Permission required from the London Borough of Redbridge also requires a public consultation process. The initial pre-planning consultation process should commence later this summer.

The key responsibility of the Epping Forest and Commons Committee, as stewards of Wanstead Flats, is to uphold the long-term duties and interests of London's largest open space. Like all of us, the Committee also wants to see a safe, secure and successful Olympics for London, and indeed the UK. While the request from the Police is not directly related to the Act's public access and enjoyment obligation, this once-in-a-lifetime event, unforeseen by the original Act, and the subsequent request from the "Country" to lend assistance, both need to be properly considered.

I believe that the public consultation will demonstrate that there is a way forward that will allow the Police to be based at Wanstead Flats, creating minimal disturbance to residents and wildlife, whilst retaining the Forest's legal guarantees, together with the opportunity to secure long term benefits for the immediate area. Such a proposal seems worthy of full consultation with the community.

The Conservators of Epping Forest face a difficult challenge in balancing the role of protecting the Forest with a wider national interest. I am confident that the Conservators are seeking a solution that would be in the best interests of both the local and national community.

Stratford's Fake Titanium Trees

Let’s face it: the centre of Stratford is far from glamorous. It’s a concrete island, marooned by the A11, with a shopping centre that looks terrible, dominates the few buildings with any character (like Stratford Theatre and the Church of St John the Evangelist) and is about to become redundant with the completion of the new, massive Westfield development next to the Olympic site.

In an effort to essentially hide this from the thousands of visitors arriving in 2012, Mayor Sir Robin Wakes approved a bizarre plan back in February – the £3 million, 450m-long Shoal sculpture, which involves a “grove” of 180 polished titanium tree canopies, each 16m high, whose “leaves” are designed to sway gently in the breeze. This is part of £40 million of public money to spruce up Stratford and includes plans to clad the shopping mall with titanium tiles.

Unfortunately for Sir Robin, the council’s own design review panel have been far from enthusiastic, questioning the proposal’s value for money, whether “such a dramatic perimeter screen would encourage people to enter the mall” and whether it would “get to look tired in a few years’ time”. However, what Sir Robin wants, he tends to get. My guess is that concerns now raised by English Heritage, which has added its opposition to the proposals because of the impact on the grade II listed St John’s Church, will be completely ignored.

I suspect that most people would prefer real trees to fake titanium ones and real jobs rather than quirky architectural projects adding clutter to Stratford and very likely to be expensive to maintain. Fundamentally, the Shoal sculpture is little more than Olympic window-dressing, because it fails to address Stratford’s bigger problem, which is its lack of carefully designed streets that reflect in any way what remains of the area’s history.

My favoured option? Demolish the shopping mall, which is about to become eclipsed by the Westfield development anyway. Set aside more green space on the ‘A11 island’ and create new open-air pedestrian streets that include an outdoor market. It’ll never happen, of course, because everything is geared up to events in 2012. But at the very least, if you’re going to spend £40 million, asking people what they’d like would seem like an important first step.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

BP Spills Coffee

Why I Love The World Cup

Ah yes, the World Cup. It's impossible to avoid - and it seems to have drawn out the worst in some people.

Writing about her reasons for hating the World Cup, Laurie Penny in the New Statesman has written perhaps the worst comment piece I have seen so far on the contest in South Africa. Even she is obviously aware of the derision that her article would likely elicit: she attempts to pre-empt it by calling herself a "humourless, paranoid, liberal, feminist pansy" before diving like the Italian centre-forward of stereotypical legend into an attack on the way football excludes women, is dominated by marketing and, in England at least, is only inches away from the off-side trap of association with racism.

Laurie Penny is usually an interesting writer, but the problem with her piece is not the writer's humourlessness, much of which could be just as easily directed at any communal activity that isn't concerned with the fascinating subject of working out who the next Labour Party leader might be. Let's face it, the Glastonbury Festival is a distraction from the budget deficit too, is it not? No, it's the shaky arguments she presents. Frankly, there is so much that is wrong with her piece, so much that demonstrates the rule that you should never write about a subject you know absolutely nothing about, that it bears comparison with the stunning ignorance of today's hilarious New York Post front page (above).

I haven't the time to fisk the entire article, as I'm writing this while watching the Germany v Australia game, but lets briefly address a couple of issues. Penny says:


"Football is no longer the people's sport. Just look at the brutal contempt that the police reserve for fans, or count the number of working-class Britons who can afford to attend home matches, much less the festivities in South Africa".

The idea that football has abandoned completely its working class roots and surrendered to what Roy Keane famously called "the prawn sandwich brigade" has at least a grain of truth, but only if you believe that the Premier League is the only football that matters (as a non-fan like Penny might, for instance). But there are 72 professional football clubs in the Football League and not that many middle-class liberals who fashionably turn out every week to support the likes of Doncaster Rovers or Hartlepool United.

That's even more true when it comes to the tens of thousands of fans, predominantly working class, who support teams in the Conference National and amateur leagues, teams like Barrow or Mansfield Town, which takes the kind of commitment that few middle-class, fairweather fans could ever muster. Fair enough, there may have been a few prawn sandwiches for a match between AFC Wimbledon (who I support) and Crawley Town (my brother's team), but the genuine Dons are also far from being "wealthy misogynist jocks tossing a ball around" (that should be kicking, surely) - the club is run as an Industrial and Provident Society, exactly the kind of mutual ownership that any lefty should applaud.

As for the policing of football diminishing it as a working-class game, it is precisely because football fans aren't seen by the police as the kind of people who might pop up at Henley or Glyndebourne that they are treated so badly on occasion. It doesn't matter that the vast majority of fans have no intention of causing public disorder - the state's fear of the working-class crowd means that football fans are stereotyped just as automatically as Penny's "boozy, borderline misogynist" slur chooses to paint them.

When it comes to shamefully downgrading women's football, look at the figures: according to the FA, 260,000 women and 1.1 million girls play some form of football in England, there are over 16,000 women who have successfully attained FA coaching qualifications and 1,300 women referees. How many other weekly collective activities can say the same? Once again, the idea that women's involvement in football is nothing more than the demeaning role of the WAGs shows another fundamental ignorance about the sport. Moreover, like the men's Football League and the Conference, women's football is played not for the huge financial rewards but for something more important - just a real passion of the game.

There are, of course, many important concerns that need raising about the World Cup in South Africa, not least the ruinous expense and the way that thousands living in informal townships have been treated. Penny hasn't touched on any of these. And as for the welter of England flags, perhaps I'm lucky - living in one of the most ethnically diverse areas in the country, I can choose to support Cameroon against Holland or this week, the Ivory Coast against Portugal, surrounded by football-mad Africans.

That's really why I love the World Cup. It's not because of England, whose fortunes I could care less about. It's because of the tournament's ability to make the rest of the world, represented so comprehensively in London, start to talk to each other.

And even if the conversation is about the impact of Michael Essien's knee injury on the fortunes of the Black Stars, it's still got to be more interesting than discussing the relative merits of Labour's Monobland brothers.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Did Newham Council Censor Embarrassing Play?

Thanks to Mike Law for the fascinating story on his blog yesterday, concerning an apparent attempt by Newham council to censor one of the winners of last year's 'Spread the Word' play competition. Mike writes:


Last year Newham council funded a writing competition, prizes were awarded for various categories such as plays. One of the three prize winners in the playwriting category was Clive Power with his play, 'Hollow the Leader'.

The play is about the shady leadership of an unnamed east London Council, the plot includes dubious decisions and back-stabbing careerism by elected members, most notably the leadership, along with poor performance by the council. Mmnnnn…

The prizes were awarded last Autumn at a ceremony in Stratford Library, presented by the borough's writer-in-residence (who, for unknown reasons, abruptly departed soon after and the position has been left vacant). The winning playwrights were contacted to say that Newham wanted to fund a performance of their plays, at Stratford Circus, in February this year. The authors agreed.

However, a council insider informs me that, a week or two later, Clive Power received a call from the competition organisers to say that the performances had been cancelled - and the caller told him that this was because Newham council was saying that his play was libellous! Scandalous!

I’ve been told Clive threatened all sorts, including taking up the matter with the Arts Council and talking to the media about this issue. It seems that he pointed out that the claim of libel was utterly spurious, claiming that it was, in fact, just a crude attempt at censorship by Newham. As if the Council would…

The play itself is back on, at Stratford Circus on 19 June, but it seems that an agreement between Newham council and Spread the Word, the Lambeth-based agency it commissioned in 2008 to run literature events, means there has been no publicity from either. Even Stratford Circus makes no mention of the play on its website.

Sadly I'll be out of London next weekend, but tickets for 'Hollow the Leader' and the two other competition-winning plays are free and available on the day. For more information, see here.

Fleet Street Feebly Waves Flag For BP (British Patriotism)


It's seems that BP really is too important to the British economy to fail, as I suggested last Wednesday - David Cameron has a phone call today with President Barack Obama and is expected to raise concerns about American condemnation of the company.

Meanwhile Boris Johnson, has accused the US of indulging in "anti-British rhetoric", whilst (lord help us) Piers Morgan has apparently said that Obama seems to be on "an absolute witch hunt" against BP's CEO Tony Hayward. As you can see from the front-pages above, the right-wing press joined in yesterday with its favoured brand of nationalist rhetoric. And never let it be said that at least one national newspaper journalist would miss out on using this evening's clash in South Africa between England and the USA as a convenient metaphor. Congratulations to the Independent for rising to the challenge.

The problem for Fleet Street's finest is that the Americans are right to criticise BP. As the excellent coverage in Mother Jones magazine over in the States has demonstrated, BP has received $93 million for its clean-up operation from the federal government but in spite of upbeat messages last month that it has "turned a corner", the area affected by the oil spill has continued to grow. Coordination of workers and equipment has often been disorganised, oil spill workers have not always been paid and there are only 60 cleaning up around the 1700 acres of Elmer's Island Wildlife Refuge in Louisiana, where BP's response to media scrutiny has been to gag those working for it and exclude journalists. Meanwhile, every positive prediction made by Hayward about the company's ability to cap the underwater well have proven false, as have its initial estimates that the leak is the equivalent of just over 5,000 barrels per day.

Then there is the evidence of how unprepared BP was for a disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Its Regional Oil Spill Response Plan, written in 2009, is riddled with inaccuracies and according to the environmental group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, "contains no information about how to cope with a deep water blowout".

For the sections of the press that are energetically defending a great British company (now only 40% UK-owned) from the restless colonials, the environmental consequences of BP's actions before and since the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig are bad, certainly, but not as bad as the impact on BP's share price and on British pension funds. I know we have come to expect a staggering lack of proportion from our newspapers, but this really is off the scale.

It is undoubtedly the case that the cosy relationship between the US government and the oil companies, especially during the Bush-Cheney years, has contributed directly to the disaster. Obama has done little to curb the power of Big Oil and planned to extend drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

But perhaps we should be grateful to the press and to idiots like the Mayor of London. The more righteous patriotic indignation is spouted in Britain, the greater the likely that the American public will grow even angrier about the power of the oil companies - and not just those whose loved-ones died on the Deepwater Horizon or whose livelihoods have been destroyed by BP's incompetence, misinformation and lack of preparation.

Friday, 11 June 2010

Hackney Calls For Alliance To Defend Public Services

Opposing the Con-Dems' cuts programme by bringing together unions and community groups is an excellent idea. Any chance of something along these lines in Newham? I don't hold out much hope when the secretary of the local Trade Union Council is congratulating the Great Helmsman on his re-election. This is from Hackney Trade Union Council:


While the first £6 billion of 'taster cuts' which was announced on May 24 will be painful, a much worse prospect is promised from the emergency '50 days [after the election] budget', on June 22.

Whether the cuts are needed or right is highly debatable but they are coming, unless we stop them, and they will affect us all, dramatically. And we, as trade unionists want to be prepared for this massive attack on our public services and to help fight and to beat it.

Hackney Trades Council is calling for an alliance to save our services

Hackney Trade Union Council is calling a meeting for the week after the 50 day budget, for all those involved in the public sector, both as workers and as users, While HTUC job is primarily to work with Hackney trade unions, HTUC sees the community as a key area of support for union struggles. So while we need all those involved with organising as trade unionists in the public sector, we also want all those involved with the 'user' side of services, those fighting for those services, to attend.

We need union reps from all unions in the public sector to get involved including Unison branches across the borough, the NUT, GMB, the RCN, the RMT, UCU, Unite and the CWU.

We also need those who represent services such as Friends of Hackney Nurseries, the Hackney Unemployed Workers Group, parents from the school PTAs, tenants from tenants' associations, patient groups, Keep Our NHS Public and many others. As well as the vast array of community groups, like DayMer and Gik Der that represent people in Hackney who will be directly affected by these cuts.

Come to the meeting on Wednesday June 30

We urge all, trade unionists and service users reps to attend this meeting, which will be held from 7pm till 9pm on Wednesday 30 June at The Trinity Centre, Beechwood Road London E8 3DY. The meeting is intended to create an alliance of all of us who work in and use the public services in Hackney to unite us to oppose and stop this planned onslaught.

Hopefully you will come with the full and agreed support of your branch committee or community or campaign group and with a commitment that your and your group will play a full and active role in supporting this new initiative. If you or a colleague cannot attend this meeting please send apologies and messages of support and ask your branch committee or group to support this alliance in the future. And if you can and cannot come, start talking to and convincing your colleagues, committee and friends that we need to fight this attack and that we can beat it and we can save and better the services we all need.

Together we can stop the cuts. Together we can make a better Hackney.

Secretary: Jane Holgate,
Hackney Trades Union Council,
PO Box 44656, London N16 5YX

Politicians - Different Country, Same Lack Of Democracy

Think of New Zealand/Aotearoa and what images come to mind? More than 24 hours flight-time from Heathrow, imported lamb, the All-Blacks, Māori culture, its splendid status as a nuclear-free zone, the excellent Whale Rider, the stunning backdrop to Lord of the Rings? Perhaps.

Probably not, though, politicians caught up in an expenses scandal involving the misuse of taxpayer's money on , amongst other things, the purchase of luxuries, alcohol and in one instance pay-to-view porn films - we thought we'd cornered the market in that one here in Britain. But, as the Press Association reports:


Former New Zealand government ministers used their official credit cards to buy pornographic movies, Bollinger Champagne, flowers, and even an airline ticket, official records have shown.

The first public viewing of more than 7,000 pages of credit card expenses booked by former Labour government ministers between 2003 and 2008 revealed hundreds of purchases outside the rules.Former Labour housing minister Shane Jones admitted using his ministerial credit card to pay for "adult movies," blaming it on being red-blooded.

You may be thinking: why on earth would a kiwi government minister risk paying for porn on an official credit card (actually, you may be thinking, with the internet awash with pornographic images, why pay for it at all?) The reason's the same in Zealand/Aotearoa as it was for our own MPs' expenses scandal - politicians never expected to be called to account for their actions.

For all the claims that elected representatives in capitalist democracies are in touch with their constituents, the reality is that election tends to bring greater isolation from the lives of ordinary people. The assumption that politics is best left to the professionals means that, whilst the rest of us know exactly what would happen if we abuse the office petty cash, the process of becoming a politician makes MPs believe, with a few honourable exceptions, that they exist above the rules that are imposed on the rest of us.

If our elected parliamentarians were really representative, there would be no question that up to 725,000 public sector workers would risk losing their jobs in order cover the cost of the bank bailout of more than £130 billion - whilst bankers received bonuses estimated at £6 billion in 2009, up from £4 billion the previous year. But the problem with our democracy is that it isn't particularly democratic - there are virtually no working class MPs, a third of them are privately educated and so it's hardly surprising that real power therefore remains in the hands of the tiny minority that make up their class.

No amount of tinkering with the electoral system will change this - whilst bullshit arguments like this one that " the public expects [cuts] and most people will be OK with it" simply make me despair about how far the centre of politics has shifted to the right.

UPDATE

Yesterday, the Robin Hood Tax campaigners highlighted a report by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), which explores the possibilities of taxing the financial sector. The report concludes that taxing the banks and a crackdown on tax avoidance is a fairer way to balance the UK budget than regressive measures that hit the public hardest.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

John McDonnell To Introduce Trade Union Freedom Bill

From John McDonnell MP

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

One Door Closes, Another One Opens - John McDonnell tops the poll in the Private Members' Bill Ballot

John McDonnell MP has been drawn first in the Private Members' Bill Ballot today and has opted for bill to tackle abuse of trade union ballots by employers.

John McDonnell said:


"It's a funny old world, as one door closes another one opens. Coming top in this poll will enable me to tackle an abuse of the current employment laws by employers that I have tried to reform for the last 4 years. "

"As we have seen in the current BA Cabin Crew dispute and many other recent disputes, employers have been able to exploit a loophole in the existing law by using minor technical errors in a trade union ballot for industrial action to frustrate the democratic decisions of trade unionists who wish to take action. This resort to the courts by some ruthless employers is bringing current employment law into disrepute and undermining industrial relations in this country. The courts are being dragged into disputes and used as weapons in the hands of bullying employers. Even where there have been overwhelming majorities in ballots in favour of strike action, minor technicalities which would have no material effect on the outcome of the ballot, are being exploited to negate the democratic decision of the trade unionists involved. This cannot be right and in the interests of good industrial relations needs to be addressed."

Note to Editors

Over the past four years John has made several attempts to tackle this issue by introducing amendments to the then Government's employment legislation and promoting in Parliament the TUC backed Trade Union Freedom Bill.

Thousands Unlawfully Stopped and Searched Without Authorisation

In another victory for submitting Freedom of Information Act requests, it has been revealed today that thousands of people have been unlawfully stopped and searched under section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000.

This is the police power used in the the arrest of a press photographer covering climate change activists at London City Airport and the stop and search of a BBC photographer at St Pauls Cathedral. In 2008 it was used against a a 15-year-old schoolboy in south London who was taking photographs of Wimbledon railway station for his school geography project. Last year, the Tory MP for Croydon, Andrew Pelling, was stopped under section 44 after photographing a "long-neglected bicycle and pedestrian route" that had been of concern to his constituents. In January, European Court of Human Rights ruled that the London-wide blanket use of section 44 was unlawful.

This morning, police minister Nick Herbert finally acknowledged what most of us already know - that section 44 is routinely abused. An investigation by the Home Office has revealed that 14 forces had unlawfully used their anti-terrorism stop & search powers in forty different operations, by failing to obtain authorisation from a Home Office minister within the statutory 48-hour deadline.

However, as The Register rightly points out, Herbert's statement relates only to the continued, secretive use of ministerially approved stop and search sweeps, which are only one of many objections to the use of section 44. It "doesn't appear to cover coppers' alleged tendency to cite the Act to stop photographers, er, photographing".

In January the Tories promised to curb the indiscriminate use of anti-terrorism stop & search powers. Today, ITV's Crime Correspondent Keir Simmons claims the Home Secretary, Theresa May, is "spitting blood" over the misuse of section 44. So now is her opportunity to honour her party's promise.

LATER - 5.30pm

The extent of Ms May's ire becomes clear - she is so angry, she's actually writing
for those 'leftists' over at the Guardian:


I have ordered the Home Office to conduct an urgent review of the systems currently in place. I am also writing to all police forces, requesting that they take whatever steps necessary to ensure that their own systems are robust. And we will go further: this government will put an end, once and for all, to Labour's abuse of our liberties...

So I would like to reaffirm what we set out in the coalition agreement – a robust review of counter-terrorism legislation, with the use of stop and search powers being just one part of this. Right now, we are considering the precise timing and scope of this important review, and I intend to provide details shortly.

Sounds good, no? But as Conor Geart pointed out in early May, "the Conservatives have a long record of deploying state power to crush dissent to which their attacks on the poor and on organised labour have invariably given rise". Understandably, I think we'll wait and see whether things have really changed.

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

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