Archive for the ‘Political Issues’ Category

Luxury Cars, Cheap Labour

Saturday, March 17th, 2018

I think I last owned a car in 1966 or 1967. It was both my first and last car and frankly something of a liability and it was a relief to get a few quid from the scrapyard when I drove it there. I had a driving licence for the next 48 years and did occasionally hire a car when necessary, though I stopped doing so after a minor accident when I drove off the road into a ploughed field. I wasn’t sure at the time if it had been caused by a mechanical failure or a momentary blackout. A few years later, after being diagnosed as diabetic, the second seemed most likely.

I’ve never been a car person. Except perhaps in my extreme youth where I carried my copy of I-Spy Cars onto our local streets, which were rather disappointingly short of Rolls Royce, Bentley, Ferrari, Maserati et al and rather stronger on Morris, Austin, Vauxhall and Ford, largely early post-war clapped out models. That Ford Popular was popular, as was the Morris Minor. My family never owned a car – my father rode an ancient bicycle and used a hand cart when he needed to shift anything heavy or bulky like building materials or furniture. His father had been killed in a traffic accident a few years before I was born, when his horse-drawn cart was hit by a car unable to stop as he turned right across its path into their entrance across the main road. But by the time I was born they could no longer afford a horse.

All of which has really nothing to do with the United Voices of the World (UVW) trade union protest against Kensington luxury car dealers H R Owen, except to point out that they live in a very different world to mine. A new Lamborghini apparently costs around £160,000 or more, which would take one of the showroom cleaners over 21,000 hours to earn, well over 10 years of full-time work. Small change of course for those with bankers bonuses.

Angelica Valencia and Freddy Lopez keep the Maserati and Ferrari showroom further down the road spotless, for which they are paid £7.50 an hour. It’s a miserly rate, well below the London Living Wage which is calculated as the minimum needed to live on in London – and when this protest took place was £9.75 (in 2018 it went up to £10.20.) The Living Wage is 30% more than employers Templewood (backed up by the luxury car dealers who contract them) pay their cleaners. Things were even worse than that. Not only were they on poverty pay, but they were being required to work longer hours than they were paid to do and Templewood was making unlawful deductions from those minimal wages.

Angelica and Freddy joined the union and asked to be paid a living wage, but the employers response was to suspend the two of them without pay. So the UVW decided to take the employers to the courts and protest outside the showrooms. The protest was supported by other UVW members and friends from other groups, including Class War and the Revolutionary Communist group who have long supported various campaigns to get a living wage for London’s low paid workers. Whether or not you agree with some of their political views, they are prepared to get out and protest effectively on behalf of those treated badly by society.

And this protest helped, though it took another a month or so later to finally get the employers to see how ridiculous they were being, recognise their obligations and reach a satisfactory settlement, which led to a third planned protest being called off.

Of course I was pleased for Angelica and Freddy, but I had rather enjoyed photographing the two protests and was just a little disappointed not to be able to cover a third. But there were plenty of other protests, too many other companies large and small that still pay staff the least they possibly can and treat them badly.

Cleaners at luxury car dealers HR Owen

NHS not Border Police

Friday, March 16th, 2018

Being foreign isn’t a disease or an injury and to those of us brought up under a universal health system like the NHS, free at the point of use, it just seems wrong that doctors and hospitals should have an obligation to check someone’s immigration status when they come needing assistance. Yet since last October, a few weeks after this protest by medical staff and supporters they have been required to do so for anyone seeking non-emergency care will be required to prove they are entitled to free health service under the NHS and will be asked to pay for their treatment up front if they are not.

The change is all part of the government’s intention to ensure a ‘hostile environment‘ for anyone not entitled to be in the country, though it won’t of course affect the rich who pay for their private treatment – and they will in any case be welcomed here if they have sufficient funds to invest in the UK. There does seem to me something truly obscene about a system which welcomes the rich but hounds the poor.

The UK too is a country that believes in free trade and promotes it through various organisations. Again there seems to me a contradiction in promoting the free movement of goods but sets up great hurdles to prevent the free movement of people – except for tourism.

Roughly 10% of registered doctors and 4% of registered nurses in the UK are EU immigrants with slightly large proportions from outside the EU. Many who have migrated to work here are now British citizens, and a fairly large proportion of those born in the UK have parents who were migrants. As a frequent patient of the NHS I’m very aware of how dependent it is on migration to the UK, with so many of the staff I meet being from abroad. It seems rather inappropriate to ask these people effectively to police our borders.

The Patients Not Passports – No Borders in the NHS! protest was a slightly complicated one to photograph, as it had three separate blocs with different starting points, so I had to chose one of them. I met with the Migrants Welcome bloc, partly because I thought it might be more interesting and I knew some of those who would be there, and so was unable to photograph either the Maternity Care bloc or the Sisters bloc (I think Sisters as in Sisters Uncut rather than in the nursing sense) until the three groups came together in an undisclosed location.

Looking at where the three blocs were starting it was relatively straightforward to guess that our common destination might well be somewhere in the area of St Thomas’ Hospital, and we met with them just on the other side of the road, then walking into the garden area above the hospital car park for the joint rally. There were just one or two security staff who attempted to stop the protesters, but clearly stood no chance of doing so; either the hospital authorities (and police) had failed to notice the very public advertisements on social media for the protest or had decided only to offer a very token resistance. I suspect the latter as they will have appreciated the mood of their staff.

The protesters had decided that a very large banner would make a great photo opportunity to get press coverage, but unfortunately it was almost impossible to get the kind of result they had in mind – and at that point there were a number of security officers anxious to prevent us taking it. But the giant ‘Migrants Welcome Here‘ banner is really a difficult format to handle, being over ten times as long as it is high. I did manage to make a usable image, though the banner rather hides the rally behind it, and was rather pleased to catch a pigeon at almost exactly the right place before I was chased off the grass I needed to be on to take it with the 18-35 mm at its widest.

I had one other problem. Apparently there were some people on the protest who because of immigration issues requested that they were not photographed, and some wore small symbols to identify them. It isn’t practicable or even a sensible approach, and there is a very simple alternative if such people wish to take part in public protests (as they have every right to.) Which is to wear a mask or face-paint as a disguise. Police may sometimes ask protesters to remove masks, though not usually if they are clearly decorative, but photographers certainly won’t.

Apparently one such person appeared as a bystander in a couple of my pictures that are on the web site. I don’t know if he was wearing the ‘no photography’ symbol but from where I took the picture there was nothing to indicate he didn’t want to be photographed. It just isn’t possible for photographers to keep track of everyone taking part in a protest in this way.

By the time I had been told of the problem, one of those images had already been distributed around the world and it was too late to take any effective action. Other photographers who were at the event, including some from the major agencies, will also have taken pictures with him in the frame, and their pictures too will have gone out uncensored. But on my web site I have altered his image into a rather blurred generic figure. Like most journalists and photographers I’m opposed to such censorship, but this was a request from a friend and the presence of that person was not important to the picture. I felt unhappy to do so, but angry that I had been put into a position where it was necessary.

No NHS immigration checks


Senate House In House

Thursday, March 15th, 2018

When security officers at London University were taken off the university payroll and instead employed by independent companies who tendered for a contract to provide their services to the university they were made a number of promises, none of which have been kept. One was that the pay differential between them and other workers would be maintained.  The workers and their union, the IWGB Independent Workers union say that since 2011 these differentials have been considerably eroded.

Although there is some theoretical protection when workers are transferred from one employer to another – the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations, usually called TUPE, in practice these are often ineffectual and tougher laws and an easier process of enforcement is desperately needed.

Out-sourcing of services is a cost-cutting measure, but costs are only cut by reducing the overall benefits the workers receive and by increasing their workload. And worse, since out-sourcing usually brings in new layers of management and in profits being taken for the company contracted and its shareholders, this too has to be paid for by the workers.

Out-sourced workers get bullied, often by managers who, to cut costs, are also not particularly well paid and often lack the proper training, qualifications and skills needed to be good managers. Usually too there is skimping on equipment and materials, often endangering the health and safety of the employees.

Workers employed at the University of London, both those in the separate universities such as SOAS and Birkbeck and those in the central administration at Senate House have been involved in a long campaign to be taken back ‘in -house’ as University employees, and also for comparable employment conditions – pensions, holiday entitlement and sick pay – with those of similar directly employed staff.

They also want proper contracts, as many are now either on zero hours contracts or on similar arrangements which guarantee only a small number of annual hours, equivalent to around six or seven hours a week.

After protesting outside Stewart House, the protesters moved on to Senate House, where they were barred from entering by other security guards employed by the same company as many of the protesting security officers. There was perhaps a little element of a game about it.

The protest then moved on and walked into the foyer of nearby Birkbeck College which had not been expecting trouble, walking past the one security office on duty there who argued with them but was in no position to stop them. They left after around ten minutes of noisy protest and returned for a final rally outside Stewart House.

There was a car parked rather in the way of where the rally was taking place, and I saw the possibility of using a reflection in its roof in a picture after the IWGB banner had been placed behind.   It would have been easy to set one up, but that would have been unethical – I’m there to record events not to direct them – though many photographers would do so without a second thought.  But for me it was a matter of waiting and hoping that someone would step into just the right place and then rushing to take the picture. Fortunately they did.

End outsourcing at London University

A Year of the Ritzy strike

Saturday, March 10th, 2018

I’d rushed from the march to Finsbury Park to join the Ritzy strikers in Brixton, who were celebrating a year of striking for a living wage, though their campaign had began several years earlier, and I first photographed them outside the cinema in 2014.

Outside the Brixton Ritzy in July 2014

As I commented back then, “The Ritzy is the busiest and most successful art-house cinema in the the UK and can afford to treat its workers decently, but perhaps fear it will set a precedent for other workers in the Cineworld empire“. It is a large and highly profitable business, with a net income in 2016 of £82.0 million, but according to The Guardian (quoted by Wikipedia) 80% of its 4,300 staff are on zero hour contracts.

These workers are the victims not just of a greedy anti-union management who could easily afford employ their workers on proper contracts and to pay them a living wage, but of our anti-union governments, which have legislated to reduce the power of the unions and largely failed to make the laws we have about trade union rights enforceable and have not dealt with the zero hours loophole in contract law. And although we do have employment tribunals, too many employers still get away with the victimisation of workers for their trade union activities.

The strikers are members of BECTU, the leading union for the media and entertainment industries, which became a sector of Prospect at the start of 2017. It isn’t a union that has a reputation for militancy, and seems a little embarrassed by the activities of the Picturehouse workers and some of the groups that have supported them, including grass roots trade unions such as the United Voices of the World and the IWGB who were both at the Brixton rally and march.

I’d arrived as Poets on the Picket Line were performing, always interesting to listen too, but perhaps rather difficult to make particularly interesting still images. I took a few pictures while wondering if I knew how to use the video features of my cameras. I have made videos (and even in the long distant past ‘worked’ as an unpaid cameraman on a film, as well as making video recordings and real-time video editing on a campus TV network) but gave all that up after I stopped being a student and took up still photography.

I was told there would be a big surprise coming, and it arrived in the form of the newly acquired ‘Precarious Workers Mobile’ bright yellow Reliant Robin. There were also a number of speeches from supporters to photograph as well as a presentation to mark the anniversary, including some from the UVW involved in a dispute with the London Ferrari dealers.

I’d taken quite a few pictures and succumbed to the wiles of a few friends who were going to a nearby pub, where I had an enjoyable pint of a locally brewed beer (it’s become impossible to keep up with the number of breweries in London – in 2010 there were only 14, but the latest figure is 74) before saying goodbye and leaving. My timing was immaculate, and as I reached the steps into Brixton Underground I heard the noise of a protest in the distance and rushed to the junction with Atlantic Rd to see the Ritzy strikers and supporters coming along the road led by the Precarious Worker’s Robin, and photographed them as they made their way back to the Ritzy along the Brixton Rd, before returning to the station to make my way home.
One year of Ritzy strike

Haringey march against HDV

Wednesday, March 7th, 2018

People from Haringey, including many who would lose there homes under the council’s plans for a £2 billion give-away of estates for private development, which might include some affordable housing, were joined by housing campaigners from across London for a march against the plans, the so-called Haringey Developmnet Vehicle, or HDV.

It now seems hopeful that with a change in Labour party housing policies and the likely results of this May’s council elections the plan will be stopped, though officers and councillors who perhaps stand to benefit from it appear still to be attempting to push it through. Their argument that the private development would somehow be good for the people of the area has been thoroughly discredited, and the tightening of some of the loopholes that the developer would certainly have intended to exploit announced this week by the government might also give Lendlease some second thoughts about the desirability of the project.

It was a rather long march and went slowly, starting by Tottenham Town Hall and walking a slightly long way round to Finsbury Park. I found it a little tiring, carrying a fairly heavy camera bag and of course adding to the length by walking up and down to take pictures rather than simply going straight along the road. Often I was walking backwards, which is also more tiring, though at least I managed not to walk into street furniture or trip down kerbs.

I’d intended to go the whole distance to Finsbury Park, where there was supposed to be another rally, but in the end had to give up a little before the end as I had run out of time. There had been a rather longer rally before the march moved off than expected and it had started late, and I was due at another protest.

I almost got to Finsbury Park, and abandoned the slow march at Manor House, when we had already passed at least a couple of places that I’d photographed in my work on Finsbury Park in 2002, taken with the Hassleblad X-Pan, mainly using the 30mm lens. Another picture taken just a few yards off the road to the left was the winning image in a competition about the area, though I think others that I took are more representative of the area.

Haringey against council housing sell-off


Trafalgar Square Road Block

Tuesday, March 6th, 2018

I have to say that I thought taking on Trafalgar Square for a protest by Stop Killing Londoners was perhaps over-ambitious. But the operation had been carefully planned and there was a rather larger group gathering when I arrived at the meeting point for the protesters. It had been a dull day and was raining a little, and half an hour before ‘sunset’ and I was getting just a little fed-up waiting for anything to happen as the the light was beginning to fade.

The organiser also had a very clear idea about the photograph they wanted to get, and as often it didn’t sound too good to me. Their banner in an traffic-free Trafalgar Square with Nelson on his column might sound a good idea, but that column is 52 metres tall, and even their large banner would seem pretty insignificant if I moved back far enough to include him where they were planning to stand.

I’d set both cameras to ISO 2,500 by the time the groups began to move into place to stop traffic on all the roads feeding onto the roundabout at the south end of the square around the Charles II statue – St Martin’s Place, The Strand, Northumberland Ave, Whitehall, The Mall and Cockspur St.

I wanted to photograph all the groups blocking the road – I think there must have been six of them – but only managed five despite running around dementedly during the short period the roads were blocked for, as well as taking as best I could the banner in front of Nelson. I settled in the end for including the two lions at the base, but cutting out all of the column above its bas-reliefs. Of course I wasn’t the only photographer present, and getting a clear view without people in the way took some patience, difficult as the whole total block was only for around 5 minutes.

The group then moved into the centre of Trafalgar Square, pleased with its success, and after another five minutes moved together to block St Martin’s Place, this time accompanied by music and dancing, until after almost ten minutes the police, who had stood back and watched during the earlier protest, made a more determined attempt and persuaded them to finish and they moved off without much argument. This part of the square is very much shaded by trees, and the light was pretty low. Because of this and the movement, most of the pictures I took were at higher ISOs and for some I also added some flash, taking care not to completely overpower the ambient lighting.

As with their previous road blocks, this was intended to gain publicity for the almost 10,000 premature deaths and many more people suffering from the excessive air pollution in London, mainly caused by traffic. But although it got some publicity, neither the Mayor of London or Transport for London, although aware of the problem and making some minor improvements, have taken the kind of drastic action that this serious problem requires, and Stop Killing London are keeping up their campaign.

Trafalgar Square blocked over pollution


My London Diary Feb 2018

Sunday, March 4th, 2018

A little snow in Staines

It has been relatively easy to finish my ‘My London Diary’ entries for last month – and I finally did so around 11pm on March 2nd. It was helped by having almost a week off after a minor dental operation, as well as some reduced activity because of the cold weather and snow, both as I was reluctant to go out and as a number of events I would otherwise have photographed were called off.  We didn’t have a great deal of snow where I live, but of course I did take a few pictures of it, though I’ve no great interest in weather images.

Feb 2018

Solidarity with Yarl's Wood hunger strikers

Solidarity with Yarl’s Wood hunger strikers
HE & FE rally for pensions and jobs
HE and FE march for pensions and jobs
London Snow
A little snow in Staines

Class War's Lambeth Walk
Class War’s Lambeth Walk for housing
More London

15th Reclaim Love Valentine Party
15th Reclaim Love Valentine Party
Against US war plans for Ukraine
‘Stay Put’ monthly Sewol silent protest
Protect Venezuelan democracy
Bolivians protest against President Morales

Lambeth Council opens fake Carnegie library
Lambeth Council opens fake Carnegie library
Grenfell Remembered – 8 Months On
Russia Stop the Killing, Leave Syria

Ladbroke Grove Pret-a-Manger land theft
Ladbroke Grove Pret-a-Manger land theft
Class War protest at Shard
Class War victory against Qatari Royals
Plasticus the Whale at Parliament
Sling the Mesh say campaigners
Fair Votes Hunger Strike for Democracy

Save Brixton Arches
Save Brixton Arches: 3rd Anniversary Action
Fix the NHS Crisis Now
TINAG Living Archive & Sylvia McAdam

London Images

Human Rights – UK and Eritrea

Friday, March 2nd, 2018

In 2001, Eritrean dictator Isayas Afewerk closed down the free press and imprisoned leading opposition politicians and journalists. Since then ten leading journalists have been kept in isolation without charge, without trial and without contact with the outside world. Nobody knows their whereabouts and only four are now thought to be still alive.

The journalists were represented at the protest by a row of ten chairs opposite the Eritrean embassy in north London. Most were empty, with four people sitting with black gags holding up the names of those thought still be living, while to the side there were speakers and others holding posters about the disappeared journalists and politicians. The protest was organised by One Day Seyoum, a human rights movement working for the release of journalist Seyoum Tsehaye, one of the four thought still alive.

Lonely Planet‘s web site describes Eritrea thus:

“Historically intriguing, culturally compelling and scenically inspiring, Eritrea is one of the most secretive countries in Africa. For those with a hankering for off-the-beaten-track places, it offers challenges and excitement alike, with a unique blend of natural and cultural highlights.”

although the page does have a warning across the top about the Foreign office advice to UK citizens which should probably put anyone off visiting there, and certainly against going outside the capital, Asmara, which is apparently a fascinating place. The UK offers no consular services  elsewhere as it takes diplomats a week to get a permit required to travel outside, and tourists are subject to some pretty draconian restrictions.

A better description of the country comes from Human Rights Watch:

“Despite occasional vague promises of improvement, Eritrea’s respect for human rights obligations remains abysmal. In 2016, a United Nations Commission of Inquiry established by the Human Rights Council found the government’s “totalitarian practices” and disrespect for the rule of law manifested “wholesale disregard for the liberty” of its citizens. Thousands of Eritreans flee the country monthly to avoid “national service,” conscription that lasts indefinitely. Eritreans are subject to arbitrary arrest and harsh treatment in detention. Eritrea has had no national elections, no legislature, no independent media, and no independent nongovernmental organizations since 2001. Religious freedom remains severely curtailed.”

From Islington a couple of buses took me to the Home Office, where SOAS Detainee Support had called an emergency demonstration after another death in an immigration detention centre. The death of a Chinese man in Dungavel immigration detention centre followed the death earlier this month of a Polish man who took his own life in Harmondsworth (now called Heathrow Immigration Removal Centre) after the Home Office refused to release him despite the courts having granted him bail.

There are now too many cases since 2010 in which the government refuses to accept the decisions of the courts, often taking them through needless appeals and failing to take appropriate action even when they finally lose. I don’t think this has ever happened before and shows the current government’s contempt for the law and human rights. Parliament  this week voted against including the European Charter of Fundamental Rights in UK law after Brexit.

People are sent to immigration detention centres without any trial, and are held for indefinite lengths of time, which can be for extended periods – Mabel Gawanas was sent to Yarl’s Wood on May 12th 2014 and only released on bail on May 10th 2017, a few days short of 3 years later. Conditions in a Yarls Wood led to it being described as a ‘place of national concern’ by HM Inspectorate of Prisons in 2015, though perhaps national shame would be a more accurate term.

Green Party co-leader Jonathan Bartley was among the speakers at the protest, called at short notice after the news of the death broke.

Free forgotten jailed Eritrean Journalists
No More Deaths in immigration detention

A Day in London

Thursday, March 1st, 2018

September 16th was certainly a busy day in London, but then most are. I could have stood all day in queues waiting to visit some of the more interesting of the city’s buildings, as it was Open House Weekend, a two day event when many buildings open their doors to the public. It’s a great idea which came from Europe, beginning in France in 1983 and starting in London in 1992, and over the years I’ve visited quite a few places either generally closed to the public or which normally charge an entrance fee.

In the early years you just turned up and queues were generally non-existent or short, but the event has grown tremendously in popularity, and advance booking is needed for many of the more interesting sites and there are very long queues for some of the others, sometimes taking several hours. So I’ve largely stopped bothering.

I’ve never had a great interest in photographing interiors, and of course although this is an opportunity to take photographs (hard to stop anyway now that almost everyone has a camera on the phone in their pockets), permission to take photographs gives you no right to make any commercial use of them, though generally it would not be a problem to put them on non-commercial blogs such as this which generate no income (*though I’m always pleased to accept donations!)

I hadn’t intended to visit the Banqueting House on Whitehall, but was walking past it and noticed it was open and there was no queue. So when I found the protest I had come to photograph opposite Downing St was not there. I turned around and came back.

It’s a fine building, Palladio via Inigo Jones, built in 1619-22, the earliest neo-classical building in England. It provided a useful ascent to the scaffold for the only English monarch to get the end he deserved, the son of the man who commanded it to be built. King Charles I stepped out of a side window to be beheaded outside it in 1649.  The interior is almost entirely a single large room, used for grand official events over the years, and would be rather plain except for its ceiling.  Charles obviously thought so, and commissioned Peter Paul Rubens to paint it.  Rubens did it in pieces in his Antwerp studio and they were shipped to London and installed. It is a very high ceiling, and to save visitors getting a crick in the neck there a several large mirror-topped cabinets in the room where you can look down and see up.

Alternatively there are cushions so you can lie on your back and contemplate it at your leisure, but I was rather afraid I might not be able to get up from these. I’m not a particular fan of Rubens, but the ceiling is certainly impressive.

The building I had been intending to visit was the Old Waiting Room at platform level at Peckham Rye Station, reached by the impressive stairs in the picture, though my interest was perhaps more in the exhibition of local photographs that was taking place there. As someone who photographed Peckham in the 1980s and have seen the changes since I was interested to see more earlier pictures of the place. The show also included some more recent pictures, though I found these a little disappointing. There was another show of recent local pictures on a wall a little way down Rye Lane that was rather more lively that I also wanted to see, as well as going to Copeland Park, where other Peckham festival events were taking place, but I was too early for there to be much of interest happening.

Back in the centre of London at Trafalgar Square I took a few pictures of the monthly protest about the Sewol ferry disaster. It was the 41st such event calling on the South Korean government to conduct a thorough inquiry into the disaster, recover all missing victims, punish those responsible and enact special anti-disaster regulations.

A few yards away, the 8 march women’s organisation (Iran-Afghanistan)  were starting their protest on the  29th anniversary of the massacre of political prisoners in Iraq in which over 30,000 political prisoners, mostly members of the main opposition People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran(PMOI/MEK) were executed.

Repression of course continues in Iran, led by a fundamentalist Islamic regime, and there were around 500 executions in 2017 and many trade unionists and human rights activists are imprisoned, with torture being used on a large scale to extract confessions which are used if they are brought to trial. Various religious groups are also subject to particular persecution, as too are the Ahwazi Arabs whose land in the Khuzestan Province in southern Iran is rich in natural resouces, and where Iran has long pursued a process of ‘Persianisation’, beginning with the rise of the Pahlavi regime in the 1920s attempting to eliminate the Ahwazi language and culture and take over the region.

A short walk away opposite Downing St, a Malaysia Day protest was taking place by Sabahans and Sarawkians. They say Malaysia Day is a ‘Black Day for Sabah and Sarawak‘ and they call for a restoration of human rights and the repeal of the Sedition Act and and freedom for Sarawak and Sabah, the main areas of what Malaysia calls  East Malaysia.

These two former British colonies on Borneo became part of the new Federation of Malaysia in 1963 with considerable autonomy, but this was greatly reduced ten years later.  They argue that they entered the federation with equal status to Malaya but are now treated as simply constituent states on the same level as the states of Malaya, and there is a strong nationalist movement for secession.

Finally I had been watching out for the annual Lord Carson Memorial Parade by lodges of the Orange Order including the various lodges dedicated to the Apprentice Boys of Derry and others remembering the Ulster regiments that fought on the Somme.  I knew where they were meeting, but had decided not to go there as on some previous occasions I have been threatened when photographing their parades (though I don’t know why they should resent my reports, and others taking part have congratulated me), so was waiting for them on Whitehall, where I knew they would be coming to lay wreaths.

I’m not a supporter of the Orange Order, but I’ve always tried to report objectively on their activities in London. In my reports I have sometimes given some information about the past which they perhaps find uncomfortable – as for instance on this occasion where I state that Lord Carson, one of the founders of a unionist militia that became the Ulster Volunteer Force,  later warned Unionists not to alienate Catholics in the north of Ireland – which parades such as this through some Catholic areas clearly do – though in London they are considerably less controversial.

Open House – Banqueting House
Open House & more – Peckham
41st monthly Sewol ‘Stay Put!’ vigil
Overthrow the Islamic Regime of Iran
Black Day for Sabah & Sarawak
Lord Carson Memorial Parade


Brixton air pollution protest

Tuesday, February 27th, 2018

I took the bus from Clapham Junction to Brixton on my way to photograph a protest by Stop Killing Londoners against the terrible levels of air pollution in London. And it pulled up in a queue of traffic leading up to the traffic lights by the Northcote pub. The lights changed and we moved forward a few yards. Then back to red. Eventually the lights changed again, but we hardly moved. On the next green we moved forward a little, but I think it was the fourth green light before we finally reached the junction and our 37 bus took the left turn towards Clapham.

I don’t know what held us up, but it isn’t unusual to have a fairly long wait here, as I’ve found on many occasions on this route which I’ve been riding occasionally for over 40 years. Clapham High Street, where the bus waits to make a right turn can also cause similar hold-ups. And though the exhaust fumes from cars and buses are generally invisible, they are still lethal, part of the toxic air pollution that leads to almost ten thousand premature deaths in our city every year, as well as a great deal of suffering by the many more people suffering from lung diseases.

Back when I was young, air pollution in the city was rather more visible, and made its presence felt and seen at certain periods of the year as ‘pea-soupers’, dense and acrid fogs, which hung around for days and sent many to hospitals and their deaths. Thanks to the Clean Air Acts which banned the burning of coal, we no longer get this, but today’s pollution is more insidious, and keeps at high levels throughout the year peaking dangerously at times.

In 2017, Brixton Road in the centre of Brixton reached the annual limit for the year allowed under EU Regulation only five days after the start of the year, and over the whole year the street was the second most polluted in the capital (narrowly beaten by Putney High St.) So it was an appropriate location for a protest by ‘Stop Killing Londoners’, (SKL), a group that is trying to force London’s Mayor to take urgent action to cut air pollution.

Sadiq Khan has expressed concern about pollution, and there are some cautious half-measures being put into effect, but not the kind of drastic action that is needed to really tackle the problem. SKL believe that by mounting high-profile protests, and if necessary getting arrested for doing so, they will force the the Mayor, TfL and the government to act more decisively.

The action at Brixton was the first in South London, and the first that a number present had taken part in, and the protesters included several young mothers with children, who suffer disproportionately from air pollution. They went onto the pedestrian crossing outside Brixton Underground Station with their banner and blocked the south-bound carriageway for around 5-10 minutes, little if at all longer than my hold-up in Battersea on the way to the protest.

Despite telling the drivers what they were doing and why, and assuring them that they would not be held up for long, there were a few motorists who became rather angry. Few if any took the advice to cut their engines while waiting to reduce the pollution. There were others, including some pedestrians and cyclists who congratulated them too. After the short road block they went back onto the pavement and let the traffic clear.

Police then appeared and came to talk with them, but after a short conversation when the protesters assured them they were only going to make another short protest before leaving they walked away and watched from a distance. As promised there was a second short protest and then the campaigners dispersed, and I caught my bus back to Clapham Junction, this time without delays.

There is simply too much traffic in London, and though it is not the only cause of air pollution it is the major one. More drastic action is clearly needed. There does need to be a much greater push to provide safe cycle routes, to get people out of cars and onto cycles, and for many it is the dangers of cycling on roads with busy traffic that stops them getting on their bikes. We also need improvements in public transport, and lower costs, particularly for rail services, which are so much more expensive in London than in most other cities. Increasing the area covered by the congestion charge would help a little, though would penalise those on lower incomes. Other cities have banned private cars with odd or even registration numbers on alternate days, and even banned all private cars from large areas. Central London has too many taxis, private hire vehicles and tourist buses, and there are more places where service buses could be given priority or allowed to take short cuts.

Air Pollution protest blocks Brixton