Thursday, 16 November 2017

Polluting ourselves to death

A recent report from the World Health Organisation  declared that millions of people in the UK were  inhaling air that is too dangerous to breath.

The study found that 44 out of 51 towns and cities failed its test for fine sooty particles smaller than 2.5 microns across.

The particles, known as PM2.5s, have been linked to causing heart disease and premature death and they should not exceed 10.5 micrograms per cubic metre of air.

Among those places with excessive levels were London registering a level of 15 micrograms. Glasgow and Scunthorpe topped the chart with levels of 16. Birmingham recorded 14 and Manchester 13. Edinburgh and Inversness were among the cleaner places, with levels of 8 and 6 micrograms respectively.

The lack of concern among so many people regarding pollution is amazing. There is now a pollution epidemic, whereby we are effectively poisoning ourselves and our children in order to live environmentally destructive lifestyles
The effects on our health are frightening, with higher levels of asthma in children due to pollution. Children also  fail to develop full lung capacity, which leads to problems in later life, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

It is estimated that pollution causes 40,000 premature deaths in the UK each year, some 9000 in London.

In the Wanstead area, residents around Woodbine Place have complained about the pollution being caused by the buses sitting with their engines running. There have been high levels of pollution recorded around major roads, often near to our schools.

There is a growing awareness of the problem but also confused thinking regarding solutions. People don’t want to breath polluted air yet also don’t want restrictions imposed on their use of cars, planes and other polluting technologies. We really cannot have it both ways. Polluting technologies have to be restricted and in the case of things like the diesel vehicles totally eliminated over time.

The London Mayor Sadiq Khan has shown the way, putting cutting pollution high on his list of priorities. The first measure has seen a toxic charge of £10 imposed in the central London congestion area for polluting vehicles. This mainly relates to petrol and diesel vehicles registered  before 2006. The plan is then to extend the range for the charge out across the majority of London.

It is a start but much more needs to be done.

Other countries have taken much more radical action to cut pollution. In Paris, there are odd-even bans on vehicles, with public transport made free at times of high pollution levels. Car and bicycle sharing schemes are encouraged.

In Copenhagen,  cycles are prioritised over cars, so there are now  more cycles than people. It has been estimated that one mile on a bike benefits society by 27p whilst a mile in a car costs 15p.

In Zurich, the number of parking spaces has been capped, with only a certain number of cars allowed into the city at any one time.

So there are many things that can be done, if the will is there. Central and local  Government actions in terms of regulations will help to cut pollution but people also need to take action individually to live less polluting lives. Drive a little less, use public transport more and reduce those flights. A collective push by everyone can see the scourge of pollution defeated but only if there is a common will to achieve that goal. 

 Former US president John F Kennedy summed up the situation well, when he said: “In the final analysis our most basic common  link is that we inhabit this planet. We breath the same air. We cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”

published in the Universe - 17/11/2017

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

150 years of Building Ilford exhibition

The excellent 150 years of Building Ilford exhibition at the Redbridge museum shows how the town has developed from virtual village status in the mid 19th century.

The pictures and videos take the visitor through different periods, revealing how Ilford developed along a steady line, with sudden upheavals seeing big changes in the basic choreography of the town.

The early 1900s saw the bridge down the hill from the Broadway, over the River Roding flowing on to the Thames further along. Few, today, would realise that Ilford used to be a place where boats docked and unloaded cargo.
Then there was the old clock tower at the top of the hill at the Broadway cross roads.
One scene shows an aerial shot of the high street in 1937, busy with people and early motor cars. A place for the well healed, as well as the workers, keeping things ticking.

The old distinctive Hippodrome building, standing opposite the railway station, was destroyed in the war, eventually be replaced in later years by a series of shops including  C&A in the 1960s.
Noticeable in the depictions from the first half of the 20th century are the trams and tracks running along the high street and other avenues around the centre of town. What a retrograde step it was when all these tramways were torn up by the car dominated culture of the post war world – a sign that not all change is for the better. Maybe, one day the they will return, with tramways once again running from Ilford right into the centre of London.

The 1960s were another time of major recasting of Ilford, with the distinctive brash building of that era coming to dominate the skyline. Big shops like Harrison Gibson stand out.

The next big changes came in the 1980s, with the new bypass around the centre of town, some pedestrianisation. Some old buildings were removed but one positive development saw the building of the central library in 1984. The Exchange also arrived creating a new hub for the town amid that pedestrian precinct.

Now today, the town seems to have entered another period of recasting, with the coming of Crossrail, likely to further change the nature of the town. More housing is coming to the area, with Sainsburys due to redevelop its present site, building hundreds of flats on top of a new supermarket. Other developments are underway or in the pipleine .

The exhibition is fascinating for its depiction of how humankind is constantly changing and shaping the built environment. Sometimes for good, sometimes for ill - with the often subjective judgment residing in the eye of the beholder. The people, though, are but players on the stage, there for a short while, before moving on . The transitory nature of the built and human environment is well illustrated in this excellent exhibition – well worth a visit.
*The 150 years of Building Ilford exhibition runs until June 2018 at the Redbridge Museum, Central Library Ilford    

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

David Moyes has the chance to revive his own and West Ham's fortunes

The owners of West Ham United have finally sacked manager Slaven Bilic, replacing him with David Moyes.

So the show goes on at the London Stadium, only with a new ring master in charge. Moyes though has bridges to build from the start, with fans already gathering petitions protesting against the appointment of the former Sunderland, Real Sociedad, Manchester United and Everton manager. The protesting fans are most concerned about Moyes recent CV that has been something less than impressive. He took Sunderland down last season, failed in Spain and at Manchester United - though in the latter case, he was not given a lot of time or the resources that his successors received to do the job.

At West Ham, if he can start well and get the fans behind him, Moyes maybe able to get back more to the halcyon days of his career at Everton – the fans will certainly be hoping that is the case.

The demise of Bilic has been a sad thing to witness. The former West Ham player came in on a high for the final season at the Boleyn ground. His tenure began well with victories at Arsenal and Liverpool. Dimitri Payet thrilled the fans, with his breath taking skills. The great football continued almost to the end of the season. A better last week could have seen West Ham finish fourth. In the event, they came 7th.

Already though some of the cracks were beginning to appear, with some silly points given away with na├»ve mistakes, particularly in defence. The second season started badly at the club’s new London Stadium home.

Recruitment was bad over the summer, with the players brought in on the whole not being up to the mark. This was emphasised further in the January transfer window when the club paid over the odds for Robert Snodgrass (£10m) from Hull and Jose Fonte (£8m) from Southampton.

It took time to iron out the problems at the new stadium, though this was done in time but whatever anyone says the London Stadium will never be the Boleyn ground. Bilic managed to pull things around on the pitch with the team finishing a credible 11th.

There was though all the time the rumours of boardroom unhappiness with the manager. Other managers were being touted to replace Bilic, who was not offered an extension on his three years contract.

The West Ham high command have a very strange way of working with their managers, which seems to involve a lack of direct contact but communication by social media. Whether intended or not it creates a feeling of undermining all of the time, rather than everyone pulling together against the perceived outside enemy – namely, the other football clubs in the Premier League.

The signings made last summer looked good - Javier Hernandez (£16m), Marko Arnautovic (£24m), Pablo Zabaleta and Joe Hart. However, the new signings have not gelled. Hernandez has been played all over the place, often visibly showing his displeasure with team mates and the management. Arnautovic upset Bilic early on when he was sent off in the Southampton game putting the team in a difficult position. He never really got the manager’s confidence back after that and has been a substitute in recent games. Zabaleta  has probably been the pick of the signings, though even he has given away a number of needless penalties. Hart just looks permanently frustrated at what is going on in front of him. West Ham is certainly not a happy ship.

Moyes will need to sort things out from the start. If he does the players are certainly there to get a top eight finish but there are clearly some dressing room issues that need resolution.

Most will be sad to see Bilic go, he’s an honest man, who never hid when things were going wrong. He has been let down big time by the players. Hopefully, he will go on to better things elsewhere.

The owners of West Ham have given the manager longer than many would in the crazy world of football these days but no doubt saw the need to act as the team seemed to be drifting toward the relegation trap door. The boardroom though need to take a look at itself, cut out the social media activity in favour of the old fashioned idea of direct one to one communication. They also need to put their money where their mouths are. West Ham’s ambitions have always been high but at the moment they maybe getting 57,000 crowds but the net transfer outlay (£20 million in the summer) is more in line with an aspiring Championship side.

Nor are the club bringing through the young players in the way they used to or other clubs like Spurs continue to do today. This is another source of constant irritation for the fans, who want to see local lads playing for the club.

David Moyes has a golden opportunity to revive his own career and reputation. The players also have the chance to make amends for the way they let down Bilic. Some of the players who were in with Bilic will no doubt not be Moyes favourites, whilst  others on the Croatian’s periphery could come into the fold with the new manager. Opportunities abound.
The owners can also see the club move in the right direction if they back their new manager in all ways, including providing the funds he will need in the January transfer window. West Ham are not in the position Sunderland were last year, they are skirting with relegation, a decent run of results would put them in the top 10 of the Premiership. The money is there, so if Moyes doesn’t make it happen at the London Stadium then there has to be doubt whether he can make it anywhere anymore.

published 8/11/2017 Morning Star - "Moyes and West Ham could be the perfect fit"

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Vultures circle around West Ham manager Slaven Bilic after latest Liverpool defeat

West Ham 1-4 Liverpool

West Ham manager Slaven Bilic looked like the next likely victim of the sack a manager merry go round that appears part and parcel of the Premiership scene.

After this defeat it looks odds on that Bilic will become the next Premiership casualty, joining Frank de Boer (Crystal Palace), Craig Shakespeare (Leicester City) and Ronald Koeman (Everton) on the managerial scrap heap.

The beleaguered manager once again accepted responsibility for this latest lack lustre display from his team. “Ofcourse I believe in myself, my work, my staff and my players. I don’t feel a broken man, I feel very strong,” said Bilic, whilst admitting “the situation for West Ham is not good.”

“We are conceding too many goals. We are working hard, it is nothing to do with effort ,” said Bilic. “Are we playing well , no we are not playing well. I am taking responsibility for the situation and face the consequences.”

The sombre mood suggests  swirling discontent in the background at West Ham betrayed by the references in the club programme to last week’s draw at Crystal Palace drawn as though it were a defeat.

In this game, the home side began brightly matching the visitors for effort and invention. As early as the eighth minute striker Andre Ayew got through but saw his effort hit the side netting.

But once again come the 21st minute the concentration of the West Ham players faltered. A West Ham corner was picked up by the excellent Mohamed Salah, who ran three quarters of the length of the pitch, exchanging passes with Sadio Mane before finishing with aplomb past Joe Hart.

Two minutes later, sloppy defending saw a low driven corner bounce off Mark Noble, forcing Hart into a save which rebounded for Joel Matip to drive home.

West Ham got a goal back through Manuel Lanzini but the differential was quickly restored with Alex Oxlade Chamberlain finishing a move that began from the kick off.

The rout was completed by another Sane-Saleh combination, with the latter once again finishing clinically.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp was full of praise for his players, particularly Sane, who had just returned from injury. “It’s been a fantastic week, the boys wanted to fight back after Tottenham (1-4 defeat),” said Klopp.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Left needs to take ownership of the idea of a Universal Basic Income

The Universal Basic Income (UBI) is an idea that has been picking up support over recent years but it is one over which the Left needs to assert ownership.

The UBI is a radical idea that has drawn supporters on the left like John Kenneth Galbraith and Milton Friedman on the right.

The idea appealed on the left on the grounds of redistribution of wealth for the good of all, equality and egalitarianism. The appeal to the right is in cutting the power of the coercive state, reducing welfare and “promoting freedom.”

The driving forces for the idea now come with the increasing levels of automation going on worldwide and the need to find solutions to welfare provision.

The idea resonates with the outlook in the 1970s, when it was predicted that in the future there would be shorter working weeks, more leisure time and earlier retirement ages. These predictions remember existed long before the internet came along.

Then came Margaret Thatcher with the neoliberal model, which promptly saw the opposite occur with longer working weeks, less pay and an ever more distant retirement age.

However, despite the damage caused over the past 30 years by the neoliberal model, the underlying motors of development foreseen in the 1970s have continued to grow.

Ironically, it has been some of the features of neoliberalism that have helped accelerate the demand for the UBI today.

So the neoliberal model has led to a very polarised society with “the 1 per cent” at the top, with fewer and fewer people coming to hold most of the wealth.

The wealthy don’t spend money in the same way that the poor do, they often store it away or place it offshore — so demand in the economy falters.

This problem will be exacerbated in a world where there is a growing population but fewer jobs due to automation.

In the future, many ask where will the money come from to create that demand to keep the wheels of market capitalism turning?

In Britain, the recognition of the crisis in capitalism has seen the tentative efforts to raise the minimum wage to a living level and extend personal tax allowances, taking many people out of tax.

Many questions remain of course. Such as what would be the motivation for people to work if they were receiving UBI?

The level would inevitably be low so many would want to work anyway. On this point there are concerns from unions that UBI could be set too low, thereby cutting welfare, while not providing adequate compensation via payment.

UBI though is gaining support.

The Finnish government is experimenting with the idea, making tax-free monthly payments of £300 to a random sample of 10,000 adults of working age, as part of a two-year experiment. Some 20 municipalities in the Netherlands are conducting similar experiments.

Ironically, it would seem the advance of capitalism in its present form seems likely to make UBI inevitable in the medium to long term. There simply will not be the jobs and subsequently demand for products.

Funding for the UBI is likely in the main to come from general taxation, with the sums no doubt taking some balancing.

However, the idea is an exciting one, brought about in many ways by the ongoing contradictions of the capitalist market system model. It is an idea of which that the left needs to take ownership. In that respect, it has been good to see Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell and several unions, including Unite, giving support to the idea Not all though are convinced with Labour MP Jon Cruddas a vehement critic.

 There is though much to be resolved before a Labour government could adopt such an idea, which is why the debate needs to be taking place now.

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Greenham Common peace campaigner Sarah Hipperson to celebrate 90th birthday

Peace campaigner Sarah Hipperson is set to celebrate her 90th birthday.

A stalwart of the Greenham Common protest against the siting of US nuclear weapons on UK  soil, Sarah has continued her struggle for nuclear disarmament across the world.

Most recently Sarah was part of a group of the women who handed over a Commemorative garden to the struggle against nuclear weapons to the people of Newbury.

Sarah had lived a relatively straightforward life up until the momentous day in 1983 when she decided to go down and join the women’s peace camp in Greenham.


A native of Glasgow, she became a nurse and mid-wife in her late teens, delivering babies in the Govern area. She then decided to emigrate to Canada, where she lived for 16 years, nursing, getting married and having five children. She returned to England in the 1970s, settling in the east London suburb of Wanstead.


Life at this time involved being a member of the local justice and peace group at Our Lady of Lourdes Church, as well as sitting on the bench as a Justice of the Peace.


During the early 1980s Sarah became increasingly frustrated with trying to raise awareness of nuclear weapons in Wanstead.


She showed Helen Caldacott’s film “Critical Mass” about the dangers of nuclear weapons. “There would be a numbing effect but it went no further than that,” said Sarah, who became a member of CND in the 1970s and worked with Catholic Peace Action.


Moving to Greenham Common in 1983, proved a liberating experience. The catalogue of events that followed over the next couple of decades, with a series of peaceful actions, court cases and imprisonments, all formed part of the work.


“The work is to achieve complete nuclear disarmament,” said Sarah. “We have all been involved in the crime that presents itself as nuclear deterrent. The bottom line is that we will use weapons that are 80 per cent more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb, in the case of Trident, as part of the defence policy of this country. As a Christian I have never been able to live with that.”


For Sarah, the whole concept of nuclear weapons runs contrary to the word of God. “Nuclear weapons will finish off the planet through which God’s creation finds a way to live out the life given to it,” she said.
Sarah found Greenham Common a highly spiritual place, where she was able to channel her anger by getting involved.


Over the years, Sarah was repeatedly arrested for peaceful direct actions, like blocking vehicles at Greenham Common and cutting fences. She served 22 sentences, the longest being 28 days in Holloway for criminal damage. “I never paid a fine,” said Sarah proudly.


Appearing in court gave the opportunity to openly question the legality of nuclear weapons. There have been successes, such as when the Law Lords declared that the bye-laws that the Ministry Defence had been using to remove women from Greenham Common were invalid. “We had every right to be there, the military had no right to be on the common,” said Sarah. The women also saw the fence around the common declared illegal.


When the missiles were removed from Greenham Common in the early 1990s, Sarah continued her protest against Trident. This involved actions at nearby Aldermaston. 


In a world that seems to get more violent with each passing decade, the struggle for peace goes on. Sarah Hipperson and the women of Greenham played their part in moving that struggle a little further forward.

Sarah will celebrate her 90th birthday at a party with family and friends in Wanstead.

*published Universe - 3/11/2017 Also Ilford Recorder and Wanstead & Woodford Guardian - 2/11/2017

Saturday, 21 October 2017

Brighton pick up three points at the London Stadium as West Ham outfought and outthought

West Ham 0-3 Brighton and Hove Albion
Brighton and Hove Albion's first visit to the London stadium saw them out think and out fight their hosts.
West Ham huffed and puffed for 90 minutes but failed to force a serious save out of Brighton stopper Mathew Ryan.
West Ham manager Slaven Bilic admitted as much, when he conceded his side "dominated, without creating many chances."
It was a worrying result for the West Ham manager, who arguably put out his strongest team, with players returning from injuries. There seemed,though, to be a lack of tactical nous, with Brighton pressing the West Ham rearguard, which looked even more ponderous than usual. At the other end, no one seemed to work out Andy Carroll wasn't on the pitch, as a succession of high balls were hit over for the diminutive Chicarito, then Andre Ayew, to battle forlornly against the big Brighton defenders.
Bilic admitted there had been "a lot of high balls in and it would have been an ideal game for Andy (Carroll)."
The visitors took the led in the ninth minute, after West Ham midfielder Pedro Obiang gave away a needless free kick 25 yards out. Pascal Gross clipped the resulting free kick into the area, where a virtually unchallenged Glenn Murray headed home.
The home side then dominated, with some nice possession, without any end product. Ryan was called on once to collect an Obiang shot into his midriff.
Then on the stroke of half time Jose Izquierdo got away down the left, cut inside, before striking a curling shot that Joe Hart could only palm into the net.
West Ham began the second half with some industry but the game was effectively ended as a contest when Pablo Zabaleta hauled down Murray, who then converted the resulting penalty. 
The third goal was the queue for the home fans to stream for the exits, whilst the delirious  Seagulls fans sung their hearts out.
Brighton manager, Chris Hughton, thought this game was possibly their best 90 minutes of the season.
He agreed the two first half goals lifted confidence, forcing West Ham to open up a bit in the second half.

*published Morning Star - 21/10/2017

Friday, 13 October 2017

Try a little kindness

The image of a man who had been badly beaten up appeared recently on Facebook. The man had suffered an horrific attack near to where he lived. One minute walking down the street, the next battered by a group of thugs.

It will take some time for him to recover. He now drinks through a straw.  The attack was horrendous but the reactions on social media were also alarming.
Revenge was the order of the day, string them up, beat them up – all sorts. It got me thinking what does this do for the victim of this terrible crime.  Individuals working out their own sense of frustration, in some sort of perverse solidarity with the violence suffered by the victim. A sense of helplessness but also an out  pouring of more hate and anger into an already poisonous situation.
As an individual who suffered an attack, nothing like as severe, some years ago, I would question how much such utterances of revenge help anyone – certainly not the victim. A little more sympathy about the mental and physical scars, from my own perspective the former were far more difficult to deal with in the long term than the latter, would help.
The revenge sentiments also feed into the mentality that once someone is caught, convicted and incarcerated, they are out of sight and out of mind. No longer a problem, that is until they come out of prison, likely to cause more damage.
This case was but one example. Whenever something horrendous happens, it is on social media and revenge is the most common sentiment expressed. Social media seems to be a forum where people feel totally uninhibited to share exactly what they think without what shall we say thinking.
The effect of all this hate circulating is having a damaging effect on our society. There seems to be a vengeance theme invading many elements of life, the need to punish at all costs.
On TV, we increasingly see programmes about benefits cheats or whoever being hunted down for their misdemeanours. There seem to be a disproportionate number of TV personalities, often masquerading as journalists, who really just seem to be frustrated cops. They want to hunt down bad guys and bring them to justice.
The violence theme is rammed home in the world of drama as well. The soaps are the scene of some truly bizarre and violent scenes. Recent examples include in Coronation Street, an individual called Pat, keeping another prisoner in a cellar for months, whilst he continues life as normal elsewhere. Then in Eastenders, the character Max emerging from prison to seemingly reek revenge on the whole community.
On the international stage, the President of the United States trades violent rhetoric with the leader of North Korea. The subject of the insults is usually violence, the ability of one or the other to wipe out a country and all the millions of people who live there.
Surely the time has come for a more kind and peaceful world. A society not premised on violence or the threat of violence – a less hate fuelled world.
We could look to a world where the many daily kind acts are recognised and publicised. The recognition of goodwill and kindness that resides in most people. The realisation that walking down the street, not everyone represents a threat. Maybe we just need to put a bit of love out there or in the words of a song from the late Glenn Campbell “try a little kindness to overlook the blindness of narrow minded people on the narrow minded street.”

*Published in the Universe - 13/10/2017


Thursday, 5 October 2017

James Graham's Labour of Love romps through 27 years of history with hilarity and insight

This latest play from political playwright of the moment James Graham plots the career of Labour MP David Lyons, played by Martin Freeman.

The play focuses around the history of the Labour party since 1990, when the Lyons character was first elected. He comes in accompanied by corporate lawyer wife Elizabeth (Rachael Stirling).

The whole play is set in the Nottingham constituency office of the Mp, opening as he is about to lose the previously safe seat, in the June election.  
A ruminating Lyons, pictures himself becoming the Michael Portillo or Ed Balls of the election night, declaring that he’d better polish up his passa doble.
Lyons is a Blairite, whilst his agent/constituency manager Jean Whittaker (Tamsin Greig) is old labour. Typical of the discourse is a scene involving Lyons, Whittaker and political wannabe Margot Midler. Lyons declares himself a social democrat, Whittaker a democratic socialist, with a reference to the SNP. This draws the comment from Midler that she would like to be a National Socialist.

The personal and political relationship between Lyons and Whittaker ebbs and flows throughout the play, representing in a way the constant tension between old and new labour. The need to win versus the need to be true to socialistic principles is a constant tension.

Lyons defeat in the last election marks the end of new Labour and the beginning of the Corbyn ascendancy. This though is only nodded at in terms of the Lyons character conceding that the future is Whittaker. Had Corbyn lost the election badly I would wager the conclusion of the play may have been a little different.

This is a most enjoyable play, brilliantly acted by Freeman and Greig. However, it is probably overlong at three hours and maybe plays too much for laughs.

The use of a screen behind the stage to provide a commentary of the  political events over the years  is a good way to bring a background context to the narrative.

The play could have been more satirically cutting, maybe a more serious piece, less of a sitcom in style. A bit of the political gravitas contained in Steve Water's play Limehouse may have made for a more satisfying outcome.

That said, Labour of Love offers an entertaining romp through Labour’s recent history, highlighting party difficulties through the lens of one constituency office. Another excellent offering from Graham who is becoming the political dramatist of the decade.

*Runs at the Noel Coward theatre until 2 December

*published in Morning Star - 17/10/2017 - "No love lost in this old v new labour slug fest"

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Sad passing of Rodney Bickerstaffe, a man who always had a ready quip, no more so than when he confirmed that Thatcher and Blair were right about his being a bastard

A sad day that sees the passing of former Unisons and NUPE general secretary Rodney Bickerstaffe at the age of 72, A great trade union leader, who led NUPE through the dire years of Thatcherism, he later became President of the National Pensioners Convention, taking over from Jack Jones.
I met Rodney at Bruce Kent's 85th birthday party a few years ago. We spent practically the whole afternoon talking about the Labour Party, trade unions, journalism and Catholics.
Then a couple of years ago Rodney came down to speak at Labour Party fundraiser at the Star of India for Leyton and Wanstead MP John Cryer.
It was then that he confirmed that the assertions of Thatcher and later Tony Blair that he was a bastard were actually factually correct, with the conceiving process having taken part in the local hospital, Whipps Cross, back in 1945- see full story below. It was a great night with Rodney on sparkling form. A great man, who will be much missed. RIP

Friday, 10 April 2015

Rodney Bickerstaffe confirms "bastard" jibe was correct

Former Unison general secretary Rodney Bickerstaff was out on the stump, speaking at an east London fundraiser for Leyton and Wanstead Labour Mp John Cryer. Among the gems revealed was that Rodney had been conceived (not born) at the local Whipps Cross hospital back in 1945. Things though have gone downhill since then for Whipps, which was recently placed under special measures, following a Care Quality Commission report, highlighting bullying of staff. Clearly, there was a more relaxed attitude to matters of life and death back in 1945. Then dwelling on his birthright Rodney confirmed that both Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair had been right in their definition of him as being a bastard.

* see Independent - 10/4/2015

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Harry Kane lauded as "one of the best strikers in the world" as Spurs take all three points at the London Stadium

West Ham 2-3 Tottenham Hotspur

Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino heaped praise on two goal striker Harry Kane, declaring him to be “one of the best strikers in the world.”

“I find it hard to find the words to describe him. I am in love,  like the fans are in love, like his team mates are in love,” said Pochettino. “ He is so humble, He keeps all the values that managers like me appreciate a lot.”

Even West Ham manager Slaven Bilic briefly joined the Kane love in, admitting that his three centre backs Jose Fonte, Angelo Ogbonna and Winston Reid “had really good games and still Kane got two goals. That’s how good he is.”

The West Ham manager though was disappointed at the result. Up until Spurs scored in the 34th minute, he felt his team “took a lot of balls from them” and “had good situations.”

Then after the first goal West Ham lost shape. Bilic praised the fighting spirit of his team, suggesting if they had a bit more time then they might have turned the result totally around.

West Ham did well in the early exchanges with Marko Arnautovic proving a thorn in Tottenham defence, almost getting through at one point, only to be thwarted by a last ditch tackle from Serge Aurier.

It was Kane though who broke the deadlock after half an hour, heading home a cross from Deli Ali after Christian Eriksen had set him free down the right.

Four minutes later the same combination saw Eriksen’s flick release Ali whose low shot was blocked by Joe Hart, with Kane on hand to ram the lose ball into an empty net.

After the break, Eriksen scored from the edge of the area, shortly after Kane’s shot had rebounded off the post.

The home side though fought back with Jose Font nodding a corner onto Chicarito, who headed home.

Aurier was then sent off for a second bookable offence, having hauled down Andy Carroll.  Reduced to 10 men Spurs were then forced to hang on, with Hugo Lloris saving at point blank range from Chicarito.

The game reached boiling point in the 86th minute when substitute Arthur Masuaku’s excellent cross from the left was headed in by an onrushing Cheikhou Kouyate. But it turned out to be too little too late.

*"Kane able to be "one of the world's best strikers" - Morning Star - 25/9/2017

Friday, 22 September 2017

Chigwell sisters play direct role in winning justice for Archbishop Oscar Romero and the people of El Salvador

The 100th anniversary of the birth of Archbishop Oscar Romero will be celebrated across the world this weekend, no more so than at Chigwell Convent in leafy Essex.
The Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, whose base is the Chigwell convent, have strong links with El Salvador and particularly the martyred Archbishop Oscar Romero.

Sisters Anne Griffin spent many years working amongst the poor in El Salvador, carrying on the legacy of Archbishop Romero to be the voice of the voiceless.

The sisters also have a strong link to the ongoing judicial process that will bring justice relating to the murder of Archbishop Romero.

Sister Anne  returned from El Salvador two years ago, after working in the war torn country since 2002. She will return to the country in the next few weeks for one of three visits she makes annually to see the ongoing work.

The sisters run the El Mozote Human Rights Project in the north of the country, which accompanies hundreds of victims in their pursuit of justice. In the capital San Salvador the nuns participate in  health and social projects that help the poor and marginalised.

Sister Anne tells how despite having died in 1980, Archbishop Romero is still ever present in life. “Every single day you hear his voice still, “ said Sister Anne, who told of the huge power of the Archbishop’s radio broadcasts that people tuned into every week across El Salvador.

Sister Anne tells how the people’s hopes were in Archbishop Romero. “That is why his beautification is so important, he speaks for the poor and oppressed,” said Sister Anne.

The murder of the Archbishop is widely known but  there is still an accounting to take place in El Salvador. The war between the US backed government and liberation forces ended in the early 1990s. The peace accords saw a truth commission process set up which unveiled some of the atrocities that had gone on. However, there was also an amnesty law passed, which ensured those giving testimony would never be prosecuted.

Sister Anne was based in the village of El Mozote in the north east of the country, where in 1981 an appalling massacre of 1,000 men, women and children took place.   “It was the biggest massacre in Latin America but because of the amnesty law could not be investigated,” said Sister Anne, who recalled two lawyers coming to her and asking whether she would help identify the victims and bring people together. This was 25 years after the massacre, when the memories were still raw and people did not want to talk about what had happened. “I said I would speak to people. It was a divisive thing, with half on the government side and half with the rebels,” she recalled. “I went from house to house, people were saying it was all lies., eventually people began to talk. We arranged meetings between the victims and the lawyers so that statements could be taken. Young students were helping out.”

The El Mozote Association for the Promotion of Human Rights was formed. It was claimed that the people who had died were caught up in cross fire but this was clearly false. “The men were put in one place, the women in another and the children in the church,” said Sister Anne. “The women the soldiers fancied were taken, raped and tortured, before being shot. Other women were machine gunned.”

The children were killed in the church, then grenades were thrown in the windows to destroy the evidence. However, the grenades brought down the walls, which then covered the bodies, effectively preserving the evidence. “The bodies of 148 children were found, 140 under 12. Most of the children were bayoneted and shot through the head,” said Sister Anne, who recalled the way the investigators built up the evidence, often having to go to church records to try to identify the victims. This all took years but in 2012 the case was brought to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) in Ecuador. 

Sister Anne helped three victim survivors who had witnessed what happened to be party to the proceedings. “One woman said they ran, when the soldiers came. They were away two weeks and when they came back, she said they could only find the skulls of the babies.”

The Chigwell sister recalled the impact of the testimony. “The massacre happened 30 years before, yet they spoke as though it only happened yesterday,” said Sister Anne.

The IACHR ruled in 2012 that the case must be investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice. The ruling meant that the amnesty law had to be repealed, which happened in 2015. As a result the El  Mozote case and others, including that of the murder of Archbishop Romero, are proceeding in El Salvador. “The door was opened to look at war crimes and crimes against humanity , including that of Romero,” said Sister Anne. Now ex-ministers and generals are being brought before the courts, with the hope of some sort of justice for the victims hopefully around the corner.

A number of those who committed the crimes have died over the years, but others remain. El Salvador though remains governed effectively by 14 families, who were directly implicated back at the time of the war but whose younger generation now hold great influence in the country. “There is a lot of corruption in the justice system, with the same families in power today,” said Sister Anne.

“Romero is an important figure for the whole of El Salvador. He’s become a focus of hope for the poor and marginalised – all those groups who have suffered injustice in any way,” said Sister Anne, who recalled on the day of the beatification, how even the gangs called a truce, so people could walk in peace through the streets of San Salvador. “There were half a million at the service, that’s in a country of 5 million,” said Sister Anne, There are between 12 and 15 murders a day in El Salvador.
When Sister Anne goes back this time, she will be visiting the Sister’s project in San Salvador, run by Sister Daisy. “There is still lots to do. There are special needs in education and little is being done for the elderly,” said Sister Anne. 
Sister Daisy works in a clinic, which treats members of local rival gangs.
So still  much to be done in a country racked with poverty but beginning to get back on its feet.

*published - Universe and Catholic Times 22/9/2017 


Wednesday, 20 September 2017

West Ham win over Bolton continues Slaven Bilic's metamorphosis from zero to hero

West Ham 3-0 Bolton Wanderers

West Ham easily won this third round Carabao Cup tie without ever really getting out of second gear.

A poor Bolton side were quickly behind in the fourth minute as a corner driven in from the right by Marko Arnautovic was met by the head of Angelo Ogbonna coming in at the back post.

The Hammers then dominated proceedings, with Andre Ayew missing two good chances and Arnautovic lazily lobbing over when away on his own.

The second goal did not come until the 30th minute, when Arnautovic got off down the left to square the ball for the incoming Diafra Sacko to place his shot in the right hand corner of the net.

The second half was a poor affair, with the home side failing to force home the advantage with the avalanche of goals that should have resulted. The one bright moment being a sweet 25 yard strike from left back Arthur Masuaku. which swerved into the top right hand corner in injury time.

Hammers manager Slaven Bilic was satisfied with the result, which continues his own rehabilitation from zero to hero – a process that could be complete with a victory over Spurs on Saturday.

The manager noted that this win plus the four points gained in the past two games of the Premier League has seen the club getting “back where we want to be.”

Bilic gave qualified praise to the performance of Arnautovic, whilst insisting he wants to see more.

The manager was far more fulsome in his praise of 18 year old defender Declan Rice who put in an assured performance at centre back. “Declan Rice has everything to be a really really good player. I’m very very pleased with him,” said Bilic, who believes he can make it as a centre back or holding midfield player.

*published in Morning Star - 21/9/2017 - Hammers "back where we want to be"


Thursday, 14 September 2017

Failure to pay is killing journalism

I have been earning a living as a journalist for more than 25 years, working in many areas of media. My experience has spanned national, local trade and religious press. I have also done some broadcast work. There have been some big stories like the foreign company caught illegally selling landmines at a government supported arms fair, the detention of individuals without trial and the living wage. It’s been fun but can it really be considered a living anymore? The answer to that one is a resounding no.

The thought occurred when attending a lecture, given by former BBC chief correspondent Kate Adie at the British Journalism Review awards. Adie made the very valid point that journalism is a skilled job and people need to be paid to do it. “Flapping about on the internet doesn’t put bread on the table. It’s a job a profession, not a hobby,” said Adie, who went onto highlight how journalism had been hollowed out particularly at local level. Courts, councils – none now receive the scrutiny they used to do, when the papers had fully staffed teams of reporters, instead now there are usually just a few  over worked individuals doing everything.

The historic memory that used to be present in local newspaper newsrooms, among those who made a career out of working on one paper, has long since gone. There is a huge and growing democratic deficit caused by this hollowing out of journalism.

No one though can blame young journalists for not hanging around on these outlets. They are badly paid, totally unable to survive unless supported by a well remunerated partner or rich parent. As a result once an individual has the skills they move on, often to PR.

I was struck a few years ago, when doing a story for the NUJ about what was happening at a council press office. When we met to discuss what had been happening, there were familiar faces all around – people who I’d known from the local papers now working in the local authorities press office. They had exchanged insecure poorly paid work as reporters for reasonable pay in a secure work environment at the local authority. This was further evidenced with the arrival of council run papers. Better resourced, they often picked up reporters from the local papers, ofcourse there would be no scrutiny of council activities from such organs.

Adie’s point about pay hit home particularly with myself, having seen outlets decline over recent years, pay has also reduced.  Recently, an online magazine asked me to write a piece about football – 2,300 words worth. The problem was they could not pay. Would you ask a plummer to come and fix your toilet, adding, I can't pay?
Another even more galling example came recently with the New Internationalist (NI) magazine. I have done a number of pieces for the NI over the years. I support their ethics and political standpoint in most areas; however on paying journalists there is still some way to go.

I have done a number of blogs for NI over recent years; they began offering a token £30 for a 500 word plus piece. Then they could not afford to pay at all – ok times were hard. However, the last piece I did for NI came out just after the magazine had raised £600,000 through crowd funding, giving readers a direct hand in the enterprise. Ethics were talked of a lot then, yet amazingly they still didn’t think to pay the journalist for blogs. Some gap in ethics me thinks.

NI ofcourse are not alone, a number of left wing titles rarely pay for anything. Indeed I think some pride themselves on this practice – somehow failing to understand the exploitative relationship between writer and owner of the means of production.

The internet was heralded as a great opportunity for journalists – more copy would be needed for more outlets. However, it has generally meant more work for journalists but less pay. I always find it incredible how so many publications think online means that the journalist does not have to be paid.

I was staggered a few years ago to do a piece for the Independent about the rail industry – up it went online, ads all around but ofcourse they couldn’t pay – not even a token amount. The internet has in many cases been used as an excuse to pay less and in many cases nothing at all to journalists.

Even in areas where publishers do still pay, a glance at the NUJ ’s rates for the job, reveals many paying the same or less than they did 10 years ago. There are very few that have actually increased rates.

This approach across the industry effectively cuts journalism out for all except those who have financial support outside of the job.

From a personal angle, it has been sad to see the various openings close. However, my own experience has been very much of seeing journalism go from my main job, earning a reasonable living, to as Adie would say, hobby status.

Frankly, there needs to be a long hard look taken at journalism in this country. The failure to pay journalists is killing the industry. It has played a role in leading to the growth of fake news. Everyone thinks they can be a journalist but, as Adie pointed out, journalism is a skilled job, requiring fact checking, objectivity and discipline. It is vital to our democracy, which will be the lesser for those outlets that do not now properly scrutinise politicians and courts at local up to national level. Society will be the loser, as well as many excellent would be and been journalists.

published in the British Journalism Review - September 2017 - "We can't live on air"

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Bilic gets perfect 49th birthday present with three points from Huddersfield clash

West Ham 2-0 Huddersfield Town 

The three points from this game provided a nice present for West Ham manager Slaven Bilic on the occasion of his 49th birthday.
A clearly relieved Bilic praised his players for "giving everything."
"It was not a case of beautiful football and all that. But we were determined to stick to the game plan,"said Bilic, who revealed a key component of that as being to get Michail Antonio and Andy Carroll in behind the visitors rearguard. 
"Lots of things happened around their box in the first half and we kept our concentration to the end."
Less generous observers might have thought former manager Sam Allardyce was back in charge, as the more direct approach was taken, with crosses and long balls being aimed at Carroll.
The home side, though, could not be faulted for effort as they poured forward from the start at times threatening to over run Huddersfield Town.
Yet, despite all the dominance the two sides went in level at half time, the best chance of the half falling to Chicarito, who slammed the ball against the bar from the edge of the six yard area, having connected with a cross from Antonio - who troubled the visitors all night with his pacey runs.
The home side continued in similar vein in the second half, when lady luck intervened. 
It was the 71st minute when a scrappy period of play saw the ball fall to Pedro Obiang, whose shot took a wicked deflection off defender, Zanka, leaving Huddersfield keeper, Jonas Lossal, wrong footed, as the ball looped over his head into the net. 
Five minutes later, an Aaron Cresswell corner fell kindly in tbe area for Andre Ayew, who stabbed the ball home from a couple of yards out.
The visitors tried to rally, forcing Joe Hart to push a shot round the post. Tom Ince also saw his shot come back off the bar but it was all a case of too little, too late.
Huddersfield boss Dave Wagner was disappointed with his side's performance. "Today we learnt our lessons," he said. "I must be honest, we were not good enough with the ball. We were outfought today."

Monday, 11 September 2017

Film maker, socialist, husband, father and friend Stuart Monro has died at the age of 79

A socialist all of his life Stuart fought for social justice across the spectrum from Ireland to Wanstead Park and beyond to Lewisham hospital.


Stuart used his gift as a film maker to bring the lives of ordinary people to the attention of millions. He travelled far and wide chronicling the struggle of ordinary people against the powerful.


Back in the 1970s, Stuart, together with his wife and partner, Charlotte, took part in the protests for civil rights in Ireland. It was as a result of these activities that both ended up serving prison sentences for their efforts.


Stuart’s gift for telling stories may have had something to do with being the step son of popular children’s TV presenter Johnny Morris. Stuart certainly brought the same infectious enthusiasm to his work.

He studied drama at Bristol University and film at the London School of Film. Stuart was a member of the Institute of Videography, and an occasional judge for the Institute of Amateur Cinematographers. In 2016 a retrospective screening of some of the films he had made since the 1970s was held at Morley College.

A resident of Wanstead for more than 20 years, one of Stuart’s great loves was Wanstead Park. Back in 2005, he was central in bringing together a number of people to form the Wanstead Parklands Community Project (WPCP). The individuals came from a wide range of backgrounds, from historians and former policemen to local activists and left wing journalists.


Stuart hosted the meetings at his house, keeping the band of brothers and sisters together, occasionally oiling the wheels with a swift whisky from the kitchen for wavering participants.


The WPCP successfully launched a bid for Heritage Lottery funding, which enabled the group to produce a number of publications and DVDs about the park. These focused on the history, archaelogy and life of the natural world.


Stuart produced the DVDs which have sold to thousands, and continue to do so, bringing the good news of the park to more and more generations.  

Stuart remained a steadfast supporter of the park to the end, often walking with Charlotte among the centuries old trees and along the picturesque waterways.


In more recent times, Stuart used his film making skills to tell the story of those seeking to protect the NHS. He became part of the campaign to save Lewisham hospital, producing effectively a video diary of the various actions of that successful campaign.


He also played a key role in a campaign closer to home, when Barts Trust sacked Charlotte from her job at Whipps Cross. A two year campaign ensued that eventually saw Charlotte reinstated.


He also helped publicise the plight of a number of men held without trial over recent years.


Stuart was always someone you could rely on to be in your corner and stand up when the going got tough. In my own case, this amounted to protesting on my behalf when I was unceremoniously sacked as a columnist for a national newspaper back in 2004. Stuart wrote to the editor, pointing out the unfairness of the action. A  frosty reply came back. No reinstatement, no cudos but a point well made.


Stuart struggled with heart problems over recent years but kept going, bringing different struggles to public audiences. He was certainly an indomitable spirit, forming a fierce team fighting against injustice alongside Charlotte. Stuart will be missed, a man whose life made a difference to so many over the years. He is survived by Charlotte and daughter Anna.


(15/6/1938 to 7/9/2017)  

*Funeral at 4 pm on Friday 22nd September at the City of London Crematorium, Manor Park