Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Filler for Red Stockings

  "Looking for the perfect gift for the ideologue in your life? Fed up with counting off how many shopping days there are to Christmas while the Con-Dems slash and burn all that you once held dear?

Convinced that the season of peace and goodwill is a tool to instil false consciousness but at the same have a spot under the tree to fill or you're toast?

Don't worry  Philosophy Football have the solution with the kind of present unlikely to be found in most gift guides. Never mind those trendy 'head gardener' or ' yummy mummy' mugs, this one wears its politics on its sleeve, well bone china actually. For those of us who believe no team can ever be too leftsided.

Monday, November 29, 2010

A 2010 Christmas Carol

In an east London state nursery, staff noticed that a three year old new starter, a little girl, was still wearing nappies.  They were concerned and when the mother came to pick the toddler up, they spoke to the Mum.

Her mother was a single parent who was originally from East Europe.  She explained that the only accommodation she could afford was a small room in a large house full of strangers.  The one toilet in this house had no door on it.  The toddler refused to use this toilet since there was no privacy.  Therefore she still wore nappies.

Extreme poverty and deprivation still occurs in this country.  Not the same scale as in the times of Dickens but still here - and now.  Coalition cuts in building and refurbishing homes, housing benefit, protection against eviction, regulations of HMO's, massive increase in rents and the farming of homeless to the private sector will make things far, far worse.

There was redemption for this family as nursery staff rallied around to rescue Mother and daughter, from the slum and help find them a self contained flat to live.  Well done to them. No Tory "Big Society" saved them but rather experienced and trained public sector professionals - thinking out of the box.

It goes without saying that you could hope against hope that a Christmas spirit would mean that Cameron, Clegg, Shapps and Boris (four guilty men) will change their ways to prevent the "shadows of what may be."

Which always reminds me of the saying "you've got two hopes, Bob Hope and no hope" of this.

Update: Another Christmas Carol

Sunday, November 28, 2010

New Politics. New Ideas.



I've just signed up to "Fresh Ideas".  This is one of the ways that Ed Miliband wants us all to contribute to Labour's policy review. This is a great start. The Centre Left have been losing the Battle of Ideas to the Right. We need rebirth. Bottom up as well as top down.

"Labour’s next chapter will be written by you. The ideas, commitment, and passion of hard working people have always been at the very heart of our movement, and this is a real opportunity for you to get involved and have your say.

Politics has been too removed from people’s lives, and we’re changing this.

Whether you have fresh ideas on driving the NHS forward, bringing new jobs to your local area, or ensuring that every child has the best possible start in life - we want to hear from you.


Now is a time for new politics, and fresh ideas. Sign up to hear more, and to play your part in shaping Labour’s new era".

Hat tip Luke

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Brit Street Protest: School kids protect police van during riots?

This is an amazing photograph on a number of levels.  Taken in the midst of the noisy and self indulgent disorder during the otherwise peaceful Student demonstration on Wednesday against the massive rises in tuition fees

A group of London year 11 High School pupils (bunking off for the demo) put themselves at risk by trying to circle and protect an abandoned Police Van from the "idiots".  I am very proud that they had enough guts to make such a stand but despair that the pointless violence they experienced has now made them reluctant to go on any future protests.

This Government is vulnerable to peaceful targeted protest and demonstrations but not to dipstick hooligans and head bangers (nor those who should know better). 

The vast majority of student protesters that day of course wanted nothing at all to do with the pathetic  middle class poseurs desperately trying to earn their Citizen Smith 4th class Berets. 

Such nonsense will not change policies nor bring down the government.  They just distract from the genuine arguments we can marshall against such policies. The tiny minority of protesters out to deliberately cause trouble in such protests don't realise they are just acting as Daily Mail 5th columnists.

"Ruffled" - Catwalk to High Street in 6 weeks: Who cares about ethics...?

Invitation to a play..."30 November-5 December 2010 - Ruffled, a new play by Ellen Gylen

Etcetera theatre, above the Oxford Arms pub, 265 Camden High Street, London NW1 7BU

War on Want will soon take the stage for a new play that uses both comedy and drama to put fashion ethics on the rack.

Ruffled is the story of Emma who works for Ruf: a fast-paced fashion retailer. Catwalk to high street in six weeks, with an ethical reputation to protect. When the bottom line is threatened, suppliers' credentials go out the window. But who cares when good PR can save them from bad press? 
A War on Want speaker will take part in a Q and A after each show and talk about our Love Fashion Hate Sweatshops campaign.

The
play has been written by and stars Ellen Gylen, with other actors Linda Lowell, Stephanie Cohen, Andrew McHale, Robbie Byrne, Jaz Deol and Elena Popovici. The director is Tim Daish.

Performances will start at 7.30 pm from Tuesday to Saturday, and at 6.30 pm on Sunday.

Tickets, price £12 (£10 concessions), can be reserved on 020 7482 4857 or atwww.ticketweb.co.uk or
www.etceteratheatre.com. Map at http://www.etceteratheatre.com/index.php?id=6

Download the event flyer here".

Hat tip SERTUC.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Nick Clegg: The Porkie King

Note that our Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the Liberal Democratic Party is holding a placard saying "I pledge to vote against any increase in in fees" (for UK Students).

On the way home tonight BBC radio 4 News suggested that there will be a deal for the Lib Dem Government Ministers and MP's to abstain against increases.

When before the election they "pledged" to VOTE against any increase. 

In London we have respected figures who do good works and raise money for local charity and they are called Pearly Kings and Queens.

Surely, if Nick does not vote against any increase in fees or if he abstains, he is in the East End at least, a Dunlop Tyre.  There are some other possible choice words to describe him.

Nuf said?

Hat tip Socialist Unity

Update: a facebook pal Mr Shoebury reminds me that Clegg and his MP's all actually pledged to abolish fees and linked to this report that at the same time they made the promises they were planning to renege on them.

Netroots UK: Building the Progressive Grassroots On-Line

This is a must (IMO) for anyone who thinks there is a role for progressive online activism.  Saturday 8 January 2011 in Central London. Only a £5!

Check out "A one day event to help network and inspire progressive activists working on the web.

Saturday 8 January – Central London

Netroots UK will bring together hundreds of grassroots activists in central London for a day of workshops, discussions and networking activity.
  • Hear from innovative and effective campaigns in other fields.
  • Make useful contacts with key people and organisations.
  • Get practical training in digital techniques and technologies.
  • Take part in the debate on the future of UK activism.
The day will feature keynote speakers and discussions, as well as many workshops, aimed at all levels of activists. There will be plenty of opportunity for networking outside the organised sessions.
We’ll be helping make better links between campaigners from the worlds of politics, environment, development, civil liberties, unions, community groups and many more.
We’re putting the details of the event together now, and need you to get involved:

Individuals

  • Come to the event. Tickets will be available shortly.
  • Got an idea for a great session? Let us know or volunteer to help run it.

Organisations

  • Sponsor the event. Is there any practical help you can contribute to make it a better day?
  • Publicise the event. Help make sure people from right across the UK, and all strands of progressive activism are aware of it.
  • Share your expertise. Could you organise or contribute to a session or discussion?
Get in touch with Netroots UK here.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Capital Stewardship: UNISON London Pension Network

Next Tuesday lunchtime is the latest UNISON Capital Stewardship: London Pension network meeting. 

This is a meeting for  Greater London UNISON Pension trustees or member nominated representatives on the London Local Government Pension Schemes.

All such trustees and reps welcome!

We meet up 3 or 4 times a year to discuss issues and support each
other on what is often a very demanding, responsible and "head hurting" role.

Our Guest speaker this time will be from Fair Pensions who will be presenting on their new campaign Tackling exploitative Pay and working conditions in the  Supply chain of the UK Largest Companies”.  Which I think will be more than interesting and relevant to trade union pension activists. 

I am just a little bit behind posting on Pension issues.  I have got reports on the latest LAPFF meeting, my last London Borough Tower Hamlets Pension scheme panel (and committee) as well as last week's really excellent annual TUC Pension Trustee event.  I must catch up.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Grieving for a dead partner who never got to meet his son: Want to know about "Burdens"?

Mum of two Laurie Swift 27 lost her partner Alan Winters, crushed to death at work. The 28 year old crane driver was killed just 6 weeks before the birth of his son Alan Jr.   The Tory/Coalition want to slash and burn basic health & safety legislation and essential regulation. For further details check out Hazards

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

FBU rep attacks SWP "Wrecker of the Week" Minitrue

The journal of (un)Democratic Centralism (my latest Wrecker of the Week) has been forced to publish the following attacks by a very angry FBU rep over their coverage of the recent strikes.

The Socialist (minitrue) Worker is accused by this rep as follows "your coverage of the London firefighters’ dispute has  angered FBU activists".... "Your reports of the first strike on 23 October were outlandish"...attacking the FBU General Secretary; "fantasising that you were witnessing the French revolution" ...publishing a video that was "used to discredit the union"...wanting to "Have some people die on bonfire night to ‘prove’ the scabs are rubbish?"..using the media to attack the union and not bothering to contact the union beforehand...and "disparage the democratic structures of the FBU".

Well, this is no great surprise to me. Check out report in Solidarity magazine and even the modern day Socialist Minitrue itself.  Hat-tip Col. Roi.

Something very odd is happening with Socialist Minitrue and their contributors.  Is their parallel universe crashing down upon them under the weight of truth?

Check out this bizarre story here in the West Yorkshire News where the SWP Chair of a Unison branch wrote a "misleading, inaccurate and unhelpful” on Minitrue of a "successful" outcome of a meeting before the branch and the employer had finalised negotiations.  What is going on? Hmmm. 

Hat-tip thingy Tynesider

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Death of Social Housing

It seems that not everyone is as dismayed as I am at today's announcement by Tory Housing Minister, Grant Shapps, that the statutory homeless and vulnerable will be forced into high cost, insecure, unregulated private rental accommodation.

Rachman may be dead but his spirit lives on amongst those minority of criminal landlords who just see the homeless as cash cows to be ruthlessly exploited.

Not only that but we now find that tenants may be evicted from their homes if their incomes rise during their new fixed term tenancies.

So - no more mixed communities then; just ghettos of the disabled, the unemployed and the  poverty stricken.

To complete the misery check out Hammersmith & Fulham Labour Group Leader, Stephen Cowan's report on the future "Housing Benefits Homeless Tsunami?" here

Last month I blogged about the End of Social Housing here following the decision to end capital grants for new build and instead depend on near market rents for funding.

Today though is definitely its death nail. We will have to campaign hard for its rebirth.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

London Labour Party Biennial Conference 2010 (part 2)

Check out my previous post here - I spoke on the main housing debate. As the Unison Branch Secretary of the London Housing Association whose 3500 members are terrified of picking up the pieces resulting from the Coalition cuts.

I referred to Karen Buck MP point about imposition of near market rents. This means the death of social housing. For nearly 100 years governments of all political persuasions have provided subsidy to make homes affordable to the low pay. Now - all new tenancies according to Inside Housing magazine, not the Labour Party, will have to pay £130 per week extra - I repeat £130 per week extra for an average 3 bed property. This is a national average, so this is not a London thing. This affects all new tenancies up and down the Country. This is not social housing anymore. If you are on a low income, unemployed or elderly you cannot afford to live in such homes.

Next was a well deserved Merit award to London Labour and trade union loyalist Maggie Cosin. Who gave a cracking acceptance speech. Many of us well remember meeting Maggie at by-elections across London.

Clive Efford MP led on the Public Services debate. He reminded everyone that it was former West Ham Labour MP, Tony Banks, who first christened Secretary of State, Eric Pickles, as “Mr Spud-u-like”. Unite Regional secretary, Steve Hart, spoke about winning this war requires cold strategic planning. The ConDems lie machine is in overdrive. On the doorstep this has some support. We must address these arguments. Public spending under Labour was lower than under Thatcher. Look over the water to Ireland to see our future under ConDems. There are 4 things we can do - defeat Boris and elect Ken in 2012; Labour councils and Labour MPs work with the labour movement to oppose cuts. Work with Labour Councils not fight them to build a movement of unions and councils. Build the march next year on March 26. Not just the trade unions on this march but the Labour Party as well. Labour and trade unions - our movement, united fighting for London. Together we can win.

Then lunch (in local cafe across road – lovely all day breakfast)

Next was a panel chaired by Linda Perks. Patrick Henegan gave a detailed presentation on “London 2012 Winning across the Capital” (Yes, we can). Tessa Jowell MP spoke about how being a member of the Labour Party use to be about a way of life. Being a Councillor, a trade unionist, educating yourself at the WEA, using the Co-op or even being a member of a brass band. For many in this Coalition the reason why they came into politics is purely to privatise and to reduce the state.

Labour London Mayor Candidate, Ken Livingstone, gave a simply blinding speech. Even those who are fed up with Ken at this moment agreed. He warned about those people who say to him about the London mayoral election in 2012 that “you will walk it”. If we do that we will lose. If Boris wins against me despite this being during the midterm of an unpopular government, it will be all about him to succeed Cameron.  Labour needs a machine to win. The old London Labour machine of Herbert Morrison (grandfather of Peter Mandelson). For 40 years this machine mobilised Politics. We need to build such a machine. Get the politics right and if we build the machine it will deliver and save Britain from Prime Minister, Boris Johnson.

In 1979 he stood as MP for Hamstead. For the previous 3 years they had built a Labour machine there. We lost in 1979 but had built such a strong machine that when the tide changed, Glenda Jackson, got in as MP. The election in 2012 is different. There are Labour voters everywhere. Every single vote counts. In safe labour seats there are labour supporters who think it doesn’t matter if they vote. At the moment Boris is on 44%, me 42% and 14% for other parties. We are fishing in a small pool. The Tories have a big machine. It will be stupid to have all the right polices and not win. Boris has recently scuttled to the left like a crab. In last election he said transport fares are very high in London. He didn’t say “but I will make it higher”

Ken grew up in a London where there was always a local copper around. Putting Police in cars was a disaster. Safer Neighbour Teams (SNT) are the biggest advance in policing. A huge reason why crime has been cut. SNT offer reassurance and safety to the whole community.

Growing up in the 1960s he never met a unemployed person. When he became an MP, people who lost their jobs went onto sickness benefits. They were encouraged to go on the sick even when not sick. If you were not sick, 20 years of watching daytime TV would make you ill. The state subsides bad employers. We need a Living wage not just a minimum wage. If we build 100k new homes per year it would create 750k jobs. Get people into jobs and paying tax - not claiming benefits.

Ken described his first meeting with new Labour Leader, Ed Miliband. He had not felt so comfortable with a Labour Leader since John Smith. Ed is aware of mistakes made in past. When Herbert Morrison won the London County Council Elections for the first time it was to demonstrate what a Labour Council could do. This is what we must do. Then show the rest of country what Labour can do.

Winning the argument” - no one will vote unless we will run the economy better and fairer. Ken has seen economy policy unravel in an election. Current National debt is 1/3 debt that of 1945. Despite this we then went on to enjoy the best quality of life in 1000 years of our history. A Vote for Ken will not save you from the pain. He will do everything to protect Londoners but it also needs a Labour government. There are 800k on London council waiting lists and how many other don’t even bother to register.

London’s biggest international selling point is our tolerance. Unlike France with its ban on scarves and the Swiss ban on minarets. The aftermath of the London bombing showed our tolerance. We can say to countries like Brazil bring your investment and you don’t need to leave your culture behind.

Labour’s greatest times are still to come.

(next was workshops). Picture credit Deirdre Costigan.

Newham salutes its 7 Rifles local heros

Picture of Newham Council Mayor Sir Robin Wales and West Ham MP Lyn Brown at this Civic reception for our local TA Company last month.  From Mayors View - Page 7 of this months thenewhammag

Saturday, November 20, 2010

"If you desire a coloured for your neighbour Vote Labour": Lambeth Tory leaflet 1964

Hat tip to Hayes People History. It is hard to imagine that such leaflets were handed out by a "mainstream" political party to the public within my life time (just).

There was of course even worse literature handed out during the same election in Birmingham 1964. This Tory, Peter Griffiths, won but was later defeated in 1966. However, he later went on to become a MP elsewhere for 20 years!

After he won in 1966 according to Kester Brewin "Griffiths was told to be expect to serve his time in Westminster as a ‘political leper,’ – something that enraged Labour MPs to sign a motion that this was “a cruel and unmerited slight on lepers.”



Friday, November 19, 2010

...the streets, targeted protest and the ballot box

Last week there was UNISON London Regional Committee in Kings Cross. Regional Convenor Gloria Hanson was Chair.

This was the usual business meeting – minutes, recruitment, motions, training, updates, Regional Council, future meetings, reports, (I gave the London finance report) etc.

There was also an important debate on the trade union response to the Coalition Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR). Regional Secretary, Linda Perks, gave a fact filled presentation on the horrors facing London, what has been done so far to oppose and some ideas for the future.

What followed was actually a wide ranging, at times robust but largely constructive debate about how to respond - without any of the normal overt sectarian bitterness and rancour that usually mark these meetings.

The first response was that the violence at last week’s Students demo by a tiny number of protesters “was really great” and “inspiring” – in fact “the answer is on the streets”. Not in official TUC rally’s in Congress House or lobbying. We must bring down this government by mass protests and marches. Remember how the poll tax riot brought down Thatcher. However, we do want to build alliances and work with Councillors and the Labour Party.

My contribution is that we must recognise that we lost the general election. Despite the hypocrisy of the Lib Dems over tuition fees etc - they did promise “Savage Cuts”. The Tories are just being Tories. My view is that the Coalition is vulnerable and by appealing to one nation Tories and non-orange book Liberals, we may be able to inflict defeats and even bring it down by democratic means before 2015.


But the other view on this is that the Lib Dems know they will be massacred if there is an early election and there is nothing they can do but support the Coalition and hope things do eventually get better.

Meanwhile we have got to build and defend the union. It will be a long fight. To survive we must concentrate on increasing membership, our number of stewards and by being organised. Any action must be targeted and achievable. The horror that we now face reminds me of the old saying that the worse day in any Labour Government is far, far better than the best day in any Tory government. We must work together to resist the Coalition, to try and defeat them but our priority must be to return a Labour Government as soon as possible.

NHS nurse, Labour link activist and London SGE Health member, Mike Davey, gave I thought, the most personal and thoughtful response. He felt listening to some of the “Left” speakers that they must live in a parallel world to the rest of us. In the 1980s he went marching and protesting nearly every weekend and that he is convinced that all that noise and activity never even brought about the end of the Tory government by one day nor did it ever save one job. We are weaker now than even then. To him, all this talk of “bringing down the government via the streets” is just plain hot air.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

One Society Many Cultures

This is a widely supported event well worth attending I think.

Saturday 11 December 2010. 10am-5.30pm.
Mary Ward House, 5/7 Tavistock Place, London WC1H 9SN

- Celebrate diversity

- Challenging racism and Islamophobia

Check out website here

(even the Daily Torygraph chief Political Commentator is speaking)

Hat-tip SERTUC

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Lord Tredegar Pub: ITV filming "Injustice"

This is a bit late and off message but while scurrying from Mile End Station to Roman Road a couple of weeks ago I came across this  filming at the Lord Tredegar Pub in Bow. 

The film series by ITV is called "Injustice".

I use to work around the corner from this pub (Malmesbury Estate Office) and although it has been many, many years since I have been to the pub, I would not disagree with the following positive reviews here and here.

Auto-enrolled into funding the Tories?

There is a welcome "revolution" in pensions about to hit Britain pretty soon.  In 2012 there will be at long last be a national trust based low cost pension scheme aimed at low to moderate earners and their employers (NEST). 

This is a massive advance that could eventually even help eliminate pensioner poverty in this country. 

But there could be a problem.  Trust will be a huge issue to ensure that this scheme is a success.    NEST is currently advertising for fund managers to bid to run these funds.

Now, there is a certain major international fund manager called Fidelity who may be considering whether or not to tender for one of NEST's funds.

Not that you would evcr know from their literature but Fidelity is also one of the biggest financial supporters of the Conservative Party.  Check out here, here and here. They have poured hundreds of thousands of pounds into the Tories in recent years (£495k in 2004-2008).  This is money made from small savers and pension policy holders who would not a clue that the profits from managing their money were being used to fund the Tories.

If Fidelity was chosen as a NEST fund manager then we could find that workers are being auto enrolled by law into paying policy fees to a company that has been a major paymaster of the Conservative Party. 

This is plain wrong.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

London Labour Party Biennial Conference 2010 (Morning speeches)

On Saturday at the Old Town Hall in Stratford there was the 2010 London Labour Party Biennial conference. 

This is now the 2nd London Biennial conference that I have posted upon. Check out 2008 here. I was again a member of the UNISON affiliate trade union delegation.  However, before the meeting I was helping out with the distribution of flyer's to all delegates about the impending launch of a London Branch of the Labour Housing Group (which was sponsored by UNISON Labour Link).

Usual health warning on the accuracy of my hurried notes. London Labour Party Regional Director Ken Clark opened the conference.  The first speaker was the the borough host, Newham Mayor, Sir Robin Wales, who happily reminded all delegates to sniff and enjoy the "Tory free" air in Newham.  Even better, in next door Barking and Dagenham, they enjoy the air being totally fascist free after the May elections! (loud applause).

Robin points out the sheer inequity and political gerrymandering of the "cuts" which has meant Newham will suffer £71 in cuts while Coalition run Richmond upon Thames, will only suffer £5 million.

Next was GLA Labour Assembly and London Pary leader, Len Duvall. I'll concentrate on the interesting bits of his speech (to me).  He condemned the Henz 57 model of community and personality politics.  Where elections are decided not on the basis of transparent London issues but on what is happening elsewhere.  The London Labour Party does want to have local parties (Tower Hamlets) in special measures, its not that we don't like someone or their politics but we are genuinely worried about what would happen.

Len spoke about the importance of London Labour Councils, not being too managerial and technical.  We need to be political and show there is a difference between us and them.  Between Labour and Brian Coleman.  We are different.  We want to genuinely negotiate and consult meaningfully.  If we look at terms and conditions of staff we need to think very carefully and make sure that everyone knows there is a difference.

Finally, never forget that Boris is an "anti-politician" who can make people laugh.  But the Tories fear Ken.  Because they know that Ken at his best is so superb.

Next was Barking MP Margaret Hodge.  Not only were the BNP in Barking and Dagenham "smashed" in May but their local defeat has contributed to their national destruction. Since May their BNP group leader has emigrated to Australia; BNP Assembly member Richard Barnsbrook has been expelled from their Party; their national leader Nick Griffin has agreed to resign and the BNP is also facing bankruptcy (shame). But we cannot take things for granted - such as the growth of the EDL. 

In London in May we won control of 10 new councils and 200 new Labour councillors. But this was still the 2nd worse defeat nationally in our history.  The Coalition policies are based on ideology not deficit. They are doing this because they believe in a small state, and "private good; public bad". This is worse than Shirley Porter in Westminster who only affected 1000 residents.  This policy will try and create middle class ghettos cleaned of anyone working class.

Remember always that Boris is at heart an enthusiastic right wing slasher.

Karen Bucks MP was warmly welcomed not least when she announced that dispute Tory predictions she was still the Labour MP for Westminster North!  Karen asked whether London stopped the Tories getting an overall majority? What will happen to waiting lists when the budget for new build is slashed by 50%?  Housing benefit may be a issue that makes ears bleed but even Boris is aware that if the housing benefits cuts go ahead then 20,000 children could lose their homes.

Finally, Labour should accept that they did not built enough houses while in power but instead did spend billions on much needed refurbishment and decent homes. However, we should agree that we did not spend enough time and money on new building new homes.

Note the recent comments by Tories that they only lost Westminister and Hammersmith seats to Labour because there are "too many poor people" living in these boroughs.

(I'll hopefully post on rest of conference later UPDATE: here)

Monday, November 15, 2010

"activists who are elected not just to enact revolution but to also support those in need"

Former London UNISON Branch Secretary Nick Venedi (left) makes a valuable contribution on his blog here to an age old dichotomy about trade unions.  Which is - are unions all about providing top class services and representation to its members or is it just a platform for self serving toy town "wannabe" revolutionaries?

Nick bemoans a branch that now apparently takes weeks to answer members who try to call or contact it.

He makes the point that "I think we must offer or at least commit ourselves to some standards of 'excellence' members deserve better attention from the activists who are elected not just to enact revolution but to also support those in need".

Name names Nick, name names!

I shall look forward (as always) to Nick's appearance at the next London UNISON regional Committee meeting.

UK Premiere of Pins and Needles

I must admit that I was previously unaware that a trade union had ever produced a Broadway smash hit!

"The smash hit Broadway musical PINS and NEEDLES is making its UK premiere at the Cock Tavern Theatre.

The longest running musical until Oklahoma and the only smash hit produced by a trade union, PINS and NEEDLES will be running from 16th November - 11th December 2010".

Hat-tip SERTUC.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

West Ham Church of All Saints Remembrance Sunday Service

This morning I attended the Remembrance Service in the 12th Century Church of All Saints in my ward, West Ham.

The Deputy Lieutenant of Newham, Colonel Mike Dudding, our Mayor Sir Robin Wales and West Ham MP Lyn Brown was present.  As well as veterans, parishioners, residents, 7 Rifles Territorial Army, Sea Cadets, Army Cadets, Councillors and Senior Council officers.

The Church is over a 1,000 years old and is the one of the oldest (or arguably the oldest) building in Newham and lies in in the heart of West Ham Ward.  It is extremely impressive and I would encourage everyone to visit it.  

The service was taken by the vicar, The Revd Stennett Kirby.  He made a particular point of arguing that since in the Christian, Jewish and Muslim tradition, widows and orphans should be honoured, so therefore the spouses and children of servicemen and women who have been killed in recent Wars should not suffer from the Cuts that the Coalition government is proposing  (No comment but check out this BBC link here).

Even though I am a lifelong atheist, as usual, I found the service and the ceremony profoundly moving. 

After the last post and the two minutes silence, Mr Alf Gittings, a member of the Royal Navel Association read out

" They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
  Age shall not weary them, nor the years contemn.
  At the going down of the sun and in the morning
  We will remember them".


To which we all replied "We will remember them"

I did wonder during the service whether Beckton gas worker, Will Thorne, the founder of the GMB trade union and former West Ham Councillor, Mayor and MP, had ever attended a similar service in this very same Church?  I assume he did. During the First World War he had joined the West Ham Volunteer Force with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. His eldest son also joined the army and was killed in action at Ypres in 1917.

There were at least three other remembrance events in Newham today.  Check out my previous post about the 2007 West Ham All Saints service here and Thursday's East Ham Cenotaph ceremony here.

When the law really is an Ass

Michael Harris at Left Foot Forward is spot on here with his analysis about the recent twittergate debacles. Paul Chambers and Tory Cllr Gareth Compton are stupid, arrogant and thoughtless - but not criminals.

"Even free speech fundamentalists agree with US Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes’s point that free speech would not protect an idiot who shouted fire in a crowded theatre and caused a panic. Though as one of the most ardent free speech campaigners alive today, Aryeh Neier, points out in Index on Censorship magazine (“Radio Redux”):
“… the stress on circumstances is crucial. If the theatre were empty at the time, there would be no panic and, therefore, in Holmes’s judgement, no basis for punishing the false shout of fire.”
English law now seems to suggest that merely to shout fire is enough to initiate a prosecution – which is utterly chilling for free expression".

Such hard cases make for bad legal outcomes.  The UK Justice system is in danger of making itself a laughing stock over this issue.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

BBC Question Time: Behind the scenes

Picture is of me making a point on Thursday’s edition of “Question Time” about the media not being interested in reporting peaceful protests and demonstrations only “punch-ups”.  The actual panel was Theresa May MP, Home Secretary; Caroline Flint MP, Labour; Sherard Cowper-Coles - formerly Foreign Secretary's Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan; Clive James, Broadcaster and Journalist; Douglas Murray, Author and Commentator (& right wing nutjob)
I had registered on the BBC website a week or so ago.  Then on Thursday morning I got an email from the BBC to see if I was available to attend as a member of the audience that same evening.  I rang the contact and after a few questions she agreed to send me an e-ticket. Normally people get more notice so I assume that some had dropped out at the last moment.
The venue was the Library of Queen Mary University in Tower Hamlets, East London (a short walk from work).  We had to report to a university cafe bar with our invite and photo ID.  Security was pretty tight (I had a small UNISON flag “confiscated” for the duration).  We were given cards to write our questions – 30 words maximum but better if only 20 or less.  Most had also been given an opportunity to submit one question already by email.  I was told it had to be about a "live" or “current” story to stand any chance.  Mine were “Why have London inner city Councils such as Tower Hamlets being cut by £75 million while leafy Richmond by only £5 million? (I think you can guess the answer) and “since there are 4.5 million people are on Council housing waiting lists where are all the private tenants who face eviction due to benefit cuts going to live?  With hindsight they were a bit “last week”. 
Everyone was very friendly, quite chatty and a little excited.  David Dimbleby came in and gave us a charming and relaxed briefing.  It turned out only one person present had ever been on the show before.  We were then trooped into the studio which had been set up in the historic Library.  Firstly, there was a rehearsal.  Members of the audience were invited to sit on the panel and we had a mock debate and questions. This was to check camera angles and microphones.  I was one of those picked and sat in “Clive James” chair  and I had great fun nominating Nick Clegg to the person I would most theoretically like to see have a custard pie thrown in his face.  For his breath taking hypocrisy over student tuition fees.  We also had a short “knockabout” about causes and solutions for child obesity.  Afterwards the “panel” went back to our seats. 
I wasn’t picked to ask a question (those who were did ask snappy and short questions on very contemporary issues). However there was a (inevitable) question on the previous day’s massive march in London by students protesting against cuts and the rise in tuition fees.  A tiny number of demonstrators had done their best to wreck the demo by cowardly attacking the Conservative Party HQ. 
The response from the panel was largely sympathetic to the main student march and dismissive of the morons outside 30 Milbank. 
I put my hand up and David pointed at me (they said beforehand that you would know if he had picked you by his stare – and it was very true) and I brought up the role of the media and that they fail to report on peaceful protests and rallies unless there is a punch-up.  David argued back that yesterday’s violence was not a “trivial” matter since a Police officer could have been killed by a fire extinguisher that was thrown from the roof that day (which we have all seen on video). 
I responded by saying that I wasn’t trivialising the issue but pointing out that if the media fail to report anything about  peaceful protests but publishes 7 or 8 pages on such “punch-ups” then the ”idiots” will just be encouraged to be violent on future protests.  Which got a little bit of a clap.
You can see the whole programme for the next 12 months (lucky you) by clicking on IPlayer here.  My only contribution was about 8.30 minutes in.
I did try to make other points but I wasn’t picked.  I was even trying to volunteer to administrative “water boarding” to Neo-con panellist, Douglas Murray, (purely voluntary of course) in order to try and help him realise whether this disgusting and barbaric practice was torture or not. 
The “hour” passed really quickly and I did enjoy the debates that followed. Once it finished we all clapped in appreciation then filed out (and I retrieved my UNISON flag) and went home I think rather "happy" and "content". 
I would totally recommend that anyone who has any interest in politics should apply to be a member of the Question Time audience.  It was a really good night out.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Save London's Housing!

Nationally, we are facing an unprecedented housing disaster thanks to this Government.  Ordinary Londoner's will suffer the most.

The Labour Housing Group is a national affiliated organisation within the Labour Party "dedicated to developing and promoting effective housing policy".

In London and elsewhere we need to campaign against Boris and his ConDems unnecessary, nasty and sheer vindictive policies designed to cleanse middle class Britain of anyone who is on a low income, unemployed or otherwise vulnerable.

Tomorrow is the Biannual London Labour Party Conference and we will be handing out this leaflet (double click to bring up details) about forming a London Branch of the Labour Housing Group.

LHG members Karen Buck MP and Nicky Gavron AM are driving this initiative with the support of the LHG Executive (see the AGM).  We hope to launch the branch at the House of Commons in January.  There will be a planning meeting beforehand.

If you are interested in taking part in a fightback against the Comdems flagship policies and winning the battle of housing ideas please email Nicky to join our mailing.

You can download a membership form for the LHG and find out more details here

Thursday, November 11, 2010

92nd Anniversary of the Armistice: Central Park Cenotaph

This morning I attended a very moving Armistice service at the Central Park Cenotaph in East Ham. 

What I thought was really special was the involvement of local schools in marking the occasion.  The Newham Catholic Deanary Schools had done themselves proud with a marvellous turnout of young people.

This was of course a Royal British Legion event led by a Priest.  The Mayor, Sir Robin Wales, gave welcoming and closing comments.  However, the ceremony itself was largely carried by our next generations who gave solemn but beautiful readings and who walked respectfully to the Cenotaph and laid down wreaths, then stepped backwards, stopped, and bowed towards it.  Some of the younger ones didn't quite get all of the sequences 100% right but the seriousness they all took the occasion was inspiring. 

Afterwards a member of the British Legion gave a talk to the children about the first world war, about why Poppies are used to remember and stories about some of the people whose names are recorded on the Cenotaph.  (Picture right - double click to bring up details)

Refreshments were later served at Newham Town Hall which also had a special history exhibition. 

Where I found out that the reason why there is a small post war housing development across the road from my home is that the German Bombers flattened that area with incendiary bombs on 16 September 1940. 

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

March in March: Not before

I was copied into an email by mistake and was somewhat concerned to find that one of my union’s NEC members, was so keen to support a motion calling for a "National Demo" against the cuts before Xmas, that he advised another branch secretary to basically make something up to try and get it qualify as an emergency motion and therefore get round the democratically agreed deadlines.

The TUC is planning what they hope will be a successful and massive demo in London against the cuts on March 26 2011. Now, it there is an entirely legitimate view in the Labour Movement that we are being too cautious and there should be a national demo before March. I respect this view from some because it is genuinely felt and there is no ulterior motives. Unlike some.

The real alternative view (as explained in detail here) is that we must ensure that the March in March is an outstanding success and everything should be done to build for this. We cannot afford for it to be badly supported or a flop. We must aim for millions to attend. This is going to take time, energy and money. What we cannot do is to allow anything to interfere in building this demo nor can we afford to be diverted by attempts to bounce the unions in trying to organise two demos simply for the sake of demos.

Some folk believe that such demos are the means will that enable their little groupings to leave the lost deposit brigades in the next General Elections. However, for the rest of us on planet earth, a poorly supported “National Demo” in December would fatally undermine March 26th. We already have a job of work to do with our own existing members about why these cuts are wrong and not necessary.

What we should all be doing now is building the union, building the membership, building the steward network, building the links within the wider Labour movement and preparing for the long fight ahead. The aim must be to defeat this coalitions by democratic not “despicable” means and bring about an alternative (Labour) government as soon as is possible.

I think that if there had been a really genuine and widespread call for such a demo next month then you would have thought that someone would have genuinely thought it was important enough to have actually written a motion and got their branch or service group to agree to it without resorting to sly secretive daftness which discredits their national office. IMO.

(Picture is of the oldest trade union banner in existence - the 1821 Tinplaters workers in the Peoples Museum Manchester - could we get a copy made to lead the March in March?)

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Tory Toad Plans to Slash & Burn London Fire Brigade.

It is now clear that the Fire Brigade Union fear that that the proposed changes to their terms and conditions by Tory London Fire authority Chair, Brian Coleman, was actually all about reducing the number of fire engines and firefighters - was pretty accurate.

Let us check out Tory blogger Iain Dale here 1 November 2010 where he said "the FBU have used it to put about scare stories about future reductions in night cover or a possible reduction in fire appliances. Coleman has said publicly on several occasions he will guarantee that neither of those will happen. But the union pretends not to hear".

Now check out the notorious toad of London City Hall late amendment to the London Fire budget here that

"officers [should] explore, as part of the budget process, and report back to the Committee... on whether the Brigade needs all 27 of the fire appliances removed from stations during the current industrial action to be returned or whether there is an over-supply of appliances".

This would result in 500 Job losses and a 16% reduction in the number of fire engines. Now it could be Coleman is just being his usual petty minded and vindictive self or the FBU fears were legitimate from get go. You can guess my view.

Et tu, Red Tel? (in joke).  Hat tip thingy Col. Roi.

Monday, November 08, 2010

London Councils Summit: The Evil One is amongst us

The Right Honourable Eric Pickles MP, Secretary for State for Communities and Local Government (left - aka "the evil one") was the keynote speaker at the Summit.  He promised no jokes about bonfire night, about blowing up Parliament or about a Bonfire of Quango’s.  
Being Eric, he happily attacked the Chair Jules Pipe's previous remarks as “Booker Prize” fiction and claimed that the local government settlement had not yet been decided.  He did not recognise the figures about the cuts mentioned by Jules.  He had a dig at Jules and Hackney Council over a supposed expenditure of £38m on temporary staff which resulted in a contractor making £6.5m in profit. 
He promised it will be tough.  But Councils will have powers, influences, choices and more freedom than they have had in decades (probably 25 years).  Even if the coffers were overflowing, we would still pass power down to local councils and communities.  It was Big Government and Big spending that got us into this mess.  If you want local services - don’t control on high.  Give councils control of purse wings, stop tying them up in red tape and let them get on with it.  It's about power and influence as well as raw figures.  We’ve had 3 decades of central control and look where it got us?  Give it a try.  Look at Camden and Islington sharing CEO.  Hammersmith, Westminster and Kensington, demonstrate the future of public services.  All of us should rise to the challenge, innovate and give residents better deals.  The Shackles are removed.  We could save £60 million if all London Local Government Pension Schemes were merged. 
There is a load of rubbish about mergers and super councils.  No one is saying this. Local identity is paramount.  Residents should not notice a difference except better services.  Localism is the only show in town.  Being a prisoner for decades - now is your time to bask in the sun.  Quakers.  Orwellian double speak councils suffocated by government.  We want to let you get on with it.  You don’t want me darkening your doorstep.  It will be the voters.  Instead of saying to me “What should I do Secretary of State?” Do it yourself.
Be genuinely open and transparent. If you are confident you have done no wrong, then there is no reason not to be.  15 councils have put all their spending on line?  Why don’t the others? There is a new balance of power.  Based on fairness (laughter from audience) - is it fair that people on £40k per year get Child benefits? is it fair people in your ward can only live there because they are on benefits?  Time to live in the real world (some clapping but some booing).  I know this for a fact - but had Labour won they would have done the same thing as us (more heckling).  Housing Benefit up £5 billion” this is unfair and unaffordable.  The disgraceful talk about “social cleansing” (I helpfully mentioned "Kosovo") The myths and hysteria - not facts.  
London is a great capital.  London once again is at forefront of local governance and innovation in this country.

There was more “knock about” politics in the Q&A with Eric playing the biggest and baddest Tory Tyke ever and Jules trying to keep order and remain polite and reasonable.  Eric claimed that for 80% of private sector housing benefit claimants the total change will be less than £10 per week so people should “grow up” about this.  There was lots of clapping and heckling which seemed to upset the "Sir Bufton Tufton" Tory Councillors present. 
Since Eric justified the reason why new “public housing” rents will be 80% of market rents by claiming that Housing associations had asked the Tories to do this - I asked a question to Eric about last weeks Inside Housing magazine which predicted that the rent of such new Council and Housing association housing would increase by an average of £130 per week (I repeat a £130 per week) for an average 3 bed property.  But alas he ignored the question. 

UPDATE: Check out another Labour view of Eric's performance.
UPDATE: a good summary by LGC journo Allister Hayman

London Councils Summit: Setting the Agenda – Chair’s Intro and "City" View

On Saturday I went to a “Summit” organised by London Councils in Westminster.  The Chair of London Councils, Hackney Executive Mayor, Jules Pipe (picture) gave an introductory speech to the 200 odd (some very) Councillors from all over London.  Jules' job as Chair is pretty difficult.  On the one hand he is obviously a Labour Party Politician (and is only Chair since the Labour Party controls a majority of Councils in London) but he must also appear to be above politics as Chair.  A difficult balancing act.
He recognised that not everything will be sweetness and light over “money”.  Especially £1.6 billion in cuts.  His message to the Guest Speaker, the Secretary of State, RH Eric Pickles (aka “the evil one”) was that London is a net contributor to rest of the economy.   There should be further consideration of the level of front loading.  Better over 4 years as previously announced.  London is different to the rest of the country due to the cost of housing which is disproportionately high in London.  People will have to move if cuts take place.  Receiving authorities will have problems.  Councillors are not technocrats sent to simply deliver cuts by backroom deals.  People voted for Councillors to act as advocates.  We may fall out but we want  a vigorous debate by the 3 political parties about London’s future.  One side stresses “localism” - the other side the cuts that they think will be devastating to London.  The forum for debate is politics. 
Stuart Fraser, the influential Chair of Policy and Resources Committee, City of London spoke next. 
He thought that there had been changes in politics.  “Localism” and “Big Society”?  How will this come about? Is it about scrutiny, facilitation or funding?  What will be happening to the business rate?  Will control return to Councils?  The City of London business rate funding is 18%.  If they were to get all the money back then they really could line the streets with Gold.  £50 per resident - but he is not holding his breath.  The problem is simple - Money. Other parts of the UK economy are more dependent on public services than London.  We have had good infrastructure settlements.  We need to fight our corner very hard.  London is resilient.  Problem of patchwork London.  Communities that experience severe deprivation alongside others which are quite wealthy.  London is the home of innovation in our country.  Must be positive and move ahead.  London UK economy is worth £20 billion.  The private sector is not just financials.  All industry need good facilities.   He has worked in the city for 45 years and on Council for 20 years.  Newly elected Cllrs may be thinking by now with all these meetings and committees “what have I let myself into”.  What this is - is that you are there to serve a fantastic city. (more posts on rest of day next)

20th Anniversary of National Ambulance Strike

This year is the 20th Anniversary of the National Ambulance Strike.  UNISON Health NEC member Eric Roberts (and current branch secretary of the London Ambulance Service) remembers the strike and the aftermath in "Ambulance Today". 

Overall, thanks in part to this dispute and hard work by UNISON over the years the Ambulance Service is now much improved and a far better employer to work for.

See PDF page 28 here.  Eric is the one speaking.  (Nowadays he does not need a hat to keep his hair dry:)

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution and Birthday of Leon Trotsky

I thought I would mark the occasion of the Storming of the Winter Place and the birth of Trotsky by posting this magnificent painting Bolshevik (1920), by Boris Kustodiev.

This day is also somewhat improbably the birthday of someone else.

It is a lovely, sunny autumnal day and since there are no barricades about I am now off for a run (jog) around Wanstead Flats and Wanstead Park.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

London Labour Party Dinner 2010

On Thursday evening I went with UNISON colleagues to the London Labour Party fund raising dinner.  It was packed with people.  The guest speaker was David Miliband MP who gave a simply superb speech.  He was as usual very articulate and thoughtful but he was also I thought far more passionate and expressive than I had ever seen him before.  He gave in fact a tour de force. Even people who don't agree with him politically thought it was excellent and inspiring.
He told a great self deprecating story about being in a husting in Norwich and waving what he thought was his Labour Party membership card at the audience while reading out our aims and values.  Only to realise what he was actually waving was his Premier Inn hotel card. 

Another great story was that he had been approached to speak at this meeting 3 or 4 months ago while he was still of course campaigning to be leader.  After being invited by the London region organiser his office queried whether the invite was only in the event of him being elected Party leader or not? Which he took when he found out as meaning even his own office had its doubts about whether or not he would win!
Without any apparent bitterness or rancour he again and again stressed the importance of helping to get Ed elected as the next Prime Minister.  Only 4 out of the previous 19 Labour Leaders had actually been elected as Prime Minister.  He even swore a little (well, he used the word “bloody”) when describing this ‘orrible coalition government. 
David argued that the much better than average results during the election in London was the base for the renewal of the Party nationally.  Which obviously went down pretty well with the audience.
London Labour Chair and GLA Group leader Len Duvall was the compere and Stephen Pound MP (of course) took charge of the inevitable Labour Party raffle and auction. It was a good night.
(picture above of the London UNISON Labour Link crew)