Archive for the ‘Political Issues’ Category

Keep Corbyn

Wednesday, March 29th, 2017

A grinning Piers Corbyn among thousands who turned up to support his younger brother

I can’t remember when I first photographed Jeremy Corbyn, but it must have been more than 20 years ago, and I’ve listened to him speaking at many events and often exchanged the odd word with him. He has always seemed to me to stand for the ideas and approach that are central to the Labour Party and which clearly differentiate it from the Conservatives, and states his views lucidly without a great deal of histrionics, but not without a certain passion and clearly a man of principle. If I had to pick a single word to represent him, it would be ‘reasonable’.

Like most, I was surprised when his name was put forward as a possible leader of the Labour Party, because he has never played the kind of politics that takes you to the top of political parties. It was perhaps precisely this that got him put forward as a candidate by the left of the party, as someone few MPs would be particularly antagonised by and who they would not feel had any chance of success – and so could be persuaded to back his nomination.

But it was also just this quality that appealed to many grass-roots members and supporters of the party who had become disillusioned with the politicians and who found a decent honourable man who clearly stood for the traditional values of the labour movement something which gave them hope for the future. Many joined the party to support him, though most existing members also backed him and were voting for change.

I’m not a fan of Corbynmania, but he was a man whose time had come, and I think rightly so. Most of the policies that Corbyn supports – for example in his recent ‘10 pledges to rebuild and transform Britain‘ enjoy wide popular support, even among many Conservative voters, but nothing in the press or media coverage reflects this. They seldom actually report on his policies, but spend a great deal of time on irrelevances or even truly ‘fake news’ such as a recent story over his tax returns which was patently untrue from the start, and simply showed the reporters had not bothered to read the document they were criticising. It’s a sign that those who really run the country are very worried that Corbyn could win.

It seemed obvious to me at the time he became leader that the same kind of reasons that led to his popularity also represented the only hope that Labour have of getting re-elected in our next general election – probably in 2020. But also obvious that this will only happen if Labour MPs get in line with the party as a whole and get behind him. Which unfortunately seems unlikely, and many of those MPs who continue to plot against him will lose their seats as a result.

But Labour MPs are not alonge; today with Theresa May delivering her Brexit letter to Europe we have another reminder that shooting ourselves in the foot now appears to be our overwhelming national characteristic.

Back last June I covered two protests by supporters of Corbyn, one rather small and the other rather large when some right-wing Labour MPs attempted a coup against him. At the larger of these events another photographer asked me how many days I thought it would be before Corbyn resigned. I told him he had been reading too many newspapers and there was no chance he would go. And nine months later he is still leader, having won a second decisive contest with over 60% of the vote in September.

Pictures from both events:
Keep Corbyn – No Coup
Thousands rally to Keep Corbyn


Pride 2016

Tuesday, March 28th, 2017

I first photographed Pride back in 1992 and since then I think I’ve been every year except 2005 when I was out of the country, but I was wondering whether I could be bothered in 2016. It really has become so much of a corporate and commercial event that it has lost much of the interest it had for me. This year was the first for many that I didn’t bother to apply for accreditation, which given the large crowds and strict control of the procession and main events by stewards and police makes covering the event rather easier.

I’m not a great believer in accreditation for events. It often seems to be a way of controlling access to a small group of people known to the organisers – often including many who don’t have a press card. But at least accreditation for Pride is straightforward and I’ve never been refused when I have applied, unlike a few other events. But generally I feel a press card should be enough – and even that is usually unnecessary for the kind of events I want to cover and the way I like to cover them.

In the end I decided to go again largely because Movement for Justice had organised a Migrant Rights & Anti-Racist Pride march to join the main Pride event. They gathered on Oxford St, a smallish group including London in Solidarity with Istanbul LGBTI Pride, Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants and others who feel as I do that ‘ the official event has been taken over by corporate sponsors such as Barclays and BAE systems and is a parade rather than a protest, no longer representing its roots.’

And they joined on the main Pride march at the end, where other political groups are generally marginalised. As they moved forwards to join in the march I walked back to the tube and left.

You can see some of my pictures from Pride in 1993-2002 in Ten Years of Pride based on the  work shown as a part of the exhibition Queer is Here at the Museum of London, Feb 2006 and touring.

More text and pictures:
Pride London 2016
Migrant Rights & Anti-Racist Pride

Brexit shock

Monday, March 27th, 2017

The Brexit vote came as a shock to most of us, not least to David Cameron who had planned the whole referendum as a way of keeping his even more right wing chums in Parliament quiet, certainly the biggest political mistake so far of this century. Though it was one which his colleague who succeeded him seems determined to worsen by refusing to make the kind of compromises over our divorce from Europe that might have made the split bearable.

The referendum result, although it confounded the media and the opinion pollsters, didn’t come as a huge surprise to those of us who had been following the campaign, and in particular the way it had been reported in the media, and in particular the BBC. While we had seen for years a hate campaign against Europe and migrants in the whole of the popular press, it was rather a shock to us that the BBC made such a determined effort to promote Nigel Farage and his delusional opinions (along with his mates from the Conservative Party) in the run up to the vote.

There were of course some at the BBC who tried to present the facts rather than the UKIP spin, but they seemed to have little effect on the news coverage, which gloried in reporting the ridiculous lies of the Leave campaign as if they made any sense, while failing to report at all much of the more sensible aspects of what was overall a rather lacklustre Remain campaign.

One contribution to this BBC failure was of course their continuing campaign to belittle Jeremy Corbyn, whose many appearances around the country arguing Labour’s nuanced campaign to remain in the EU hardly got a mention. But as on some other issues, BBC ideas about ‘balance’ also prevented a truly unbiased coverage – as when they give equal prominence to the views of those few climate sceptics as to the huge majority of scientific evidence for the man-made contribution to climate change.

So while the fairly narrow vote to leave the EU came as a shock, it was hardly a surprise, and its consequences almost certainly disastrous. That such a small majority should lead to such a momentous decision still seems an unbelievable idiocy on Cameron’s part to many of us. It should have been made clear when the vote was set up that a simple small majority would not be binding on the government.

Defend All Migrants was a reaction to this shock, and it was one that brought home to me the reality of ‘Fake News’, seeing an ultra-right US ‘news’ site operating at first hand. Their team at the protest had clearly not come along to report on the event, but to try and provoke a reaction by the way they behaved and the questions they asked.

While it might have been more sensible for the protesters to have ignored them it was actually inevitable that they would provoke some reaction – which was why they had come there. And as usual when trouble-makers try to protest and stir up the situation, eventually the police strongly advised them to leave. I’m not sure if they actually escorted them out of the park, but I’m fairly sure they would have done if they didn’t go without an escort.

Behaviour like this by people who pose as journalists but are really political activists threatens all of us who work as journalists. I was disturbed that some colleagues took the side of these fake reporters whose activities are a real threat to the freedom of the press. Those of us who were there as genuine journalists faced no problems in reporting this event, but when people come along posing as journalists and acting provocatively it makes our job more difficult.

The rally proceeded and it was good to hear speakers from a wide range of organisations, all speaking up to defend migrants at a time when many were coming under attack after the vote to leave the EU – which had been widely seen as a way of cutting down migration to the UK. It isn’t likely to have a great effect on levels of migration, as we will still need people to come here to staff our hospitals, to work in old peoples homes, on our building sites, as agricultural workers etc – to do all the jobs that there are not enough people here qualified or willing to do.

And we will still have refugees seeking asylum, particularly while this country and companies based here encourage, fund and take part in perpetuating war and famine in countries around the world.

After the rally, many of those present took part in a march, which was to go to News International, home of The Sun and The Times, both of which have spread lies and scapegoated immigrants. As I wrote in a caption, ‘Murdoch hates Europe because unlike UK governments they don’t do what he tells them.’

Although it’s destination was clear, the route the marchers took certainly wasn’t, and those leading it turned down a side street on seeing more police ahead, and then got rather lost. There was much looking at maps on phones by those at the front and I began to wonder if they would ever find their way or keep wandering through the back streets of the city for ever.

I knew exactly where I was and decided I had walked far enough and was beginning to get hungry. When the march turned to the north, walking in exactly the opposite direction to its destination I decided I’d had enough and caught a bus for the station and my train home.

Defend All Migrants


Cleaners deserve a living wage

Thursday, March 16th, 2017

I rather like the effect of the diverging verticals in this image, though its something I try to use sparingly. But it seems in this image to lead the eye down to the subject in the centre of this ultra-wide image, Cleaners from the United Voices of the World union protesting for a living wage and for fairness in the way they are treated by their managers on the 10th day of their strike.

As a documentary photographer and a journalist I hold dearly to the principles of recording events accurately; our work has to retain its integrity to be of any worth. That does sometimes require keeping a certain distance, needing to be careful not to interfere in the events I’m photographing. But although that means I won’t hold the banner or blow the horn, it doesn’t mean that I don’t have a point of view, and any set of photographs is to a certain degree subjective.

I wouldn’t be here photographing this protest if I didn’t think that all workers have a right to proper treatment and a living wage, and that it was important. Our major media outlets don’t think strikes and protests like this are news and are unlikely to publish my pictures, but I disagree.

It is a dispute that involves issues which are vital about how we live together, issues of fairness and equality, and ones that are brought sharply into focus here, at the centre of one of the world’s great financial centres, the City of London, by the naked greed of some of the wealthiest people and companies in the world.

And the response of the employers to the cleaners claims for a decent wage and proper treatment? To take them to court and try and get an injunction against them striking, probably spending as much or more on that as it would have cost to come to a sensible settlement.

The court made things worse, although turning down the injunction against striking, by imposing conditions on picketing (a practice already well covered by law) but also by imposing legal costs on the cleaners’ union which were actually greater than the total assets of the union, a grass roots organisation totally funded by the subscriptions its low paid members.  It was a striking demonstration of how our legal system, despite its ideals, is a system for the rich and institutionally biased against the poor.

At the end of the protest outside the offices at 100 Wood St (at a distance carefully measured to meet the terms of the injunction) the cleaners and supporters marched off to protest outside the office of the building management company CBRE, the largest commercial real estate company in the world, who manage the building for the richest man in Europe, Amancio Ortega (and the companies whose offices it houses include Schroders and J P Morgan) though the dirty work of managing the cleaners badly and paying them poorly is outsourced to a small cleaning company.

It got rather crowded around the entrances to the CBRE offices, which is where the full-frame 16mm fisheye came in useful (corrected as usual with Fisheye-Hemi.) When I’m using it for landscape or architecture I usually take great care to keep the lens upright, where I work with it using the built in markers of the D810, when small triangles at centre right and centre bottom of the frame show you have the camera straight and level, but there isn’t the time or need to be so precise when photographing protests, and the D700 used for these pictures lacks this feature.

UVW Wood St Strike Day 10


Ripper Facade

Tuesday, March 14th, 2017

Class War, London Fourth Wave Feminists and many more including local residents and Tower Hamlets council were all appalled when the shop that had been given planning permission to open as a museum celebrating the women of London (and for which a number of people had given services without charge in aid of a good cause) turned instead to be a tacky tourist attraction romanticizing London’s most celebrated killer of women, Montague Druitt, whose body was fished out of the Thames on December 31, 1888, better known as ‘Jack the Ripper’.

Since there could be no trial, although police at the time were apparently convinced enough to abandon their inquiries, an industry has grown up around various theories as to the murderer’s true identity with almost every prominent Victorian male being put under the spotlight.

One American crime novelist who believes artist Walter Sickert was the man responsible even went to the extremes of spending £2 million buying 32 of his paintings – and attracted the opprobrium of the art world by destroying one of them – in her unsuccessful efforts to find any evidence that would impress even the most gullible juror. But efforts such as hers have certainly stoked interest in the case.

The man hoping to make money out of the prurient interest in this series of horrific crimes against innocent women by promoting speculation as a tourist attraction is Mark Palmer-Edgecumbe, and although he has been present during some previous protests, this time he only appeared on the mask worn by one of the women, leaving two female staff to run the shop.

Rip Down the Ripper Facade! came after Tower Hamlets Council refused planning permission for its facade and shutter, and since it was still unchanged, Class War’s fearless Womens Death Brigade came along with the tools to take it down – or at least an inflatable hammer.  Their other armaments were stickers, which were soon liberally covering the windows.

The feminists came armed with posters and wearing cat masks, and some hooded characters in black arrive with a smoking red flare, which rather got in the eyes of police and this photographer.

I like to work as close as possible to those I’m photographing, usually working around the wider end of a 16-35mm zoom.  But when smoke fills the air, it also obstructs the light as well as your lungs, and you really need to move back.

The worst damage that the facade actually suffered at this protest was when an egg or two was thrown at its sign – and again I got just a little splattered as it splashed off.  Mostly the protest remained good natured, though with a lot of noisy theatre.  Stickers generally peel off without damage, and egg can be washed off.

Despite that, two people were arrested and charged with criminal damage, though I have no idea what this damage was. The charges against one of them have been dropped, but the second prosecution is continuing.  The ‘museum’ appealed the planning decision – and lost. They are to be allowed to keep a small hanging sign, but have already had to take down the illegal signage and have until 31 May to remove the unauthorised shop front and roller shutter.

Rip Down the Ripper Facade!


Homes for Londoners

Sunday, March 12th, 2017

One of the duties in my teaching past, when I was a group tutor for 16-18 year olds was careers advice. Of course there were special careers advisers, but I would have to discuss careers with my students and get them to take a computer careers questionnaire before there careers interview. And so I several times took those same multiple choice quizzes myself, and the career recommendation that came out on top for me was always ‘architect’ though photographer generally came out after that. I don’t think ‘teacher’, which is what at the time I was, ever made the top five.

But when I was 17, careers advice was non-existent, at least at the grammar I attended, and the idea of being an architect was a non-starter in any case for those of us from penniless backgrounds. So I went off – thanks to government maintenance grants – to university to study chemistry (it could have been physics or maths, the other subjects that seemed acceptable at that boy’s school.)

As a student, particularly as postgraduate student (more grants) I became heavily involved in the campaigning over the large-scale redevelopment of areas close to the university and where I was living, and when I did finally learn enough about photography and start earning enough to take more than the annual holiday film, housing remained an issue in some ways behind much of my work – notably my first major project which ended up as the 1983 show ‘Still Occupied – A View of Hull‘ and now appearing day by day on the web.

Housing in London was the subject of contention at several events I photographed in the middle of last June. The first Advance to Mayfair, was outside the London Real Estate Forum taking place in Berkeley Square.  I wrote quite extensively about it on My London Diary, so won’t repeat myself here.

Two days later I was back in Mayfair, with housing protesters outside the Municipal Journal Awards for Local Authorities, which were honoring some of those London councils, Southwark and Newham,  who have been at the forefront of London’s shameful housing scandals over the past few years – and continuing. That we were in Mayfair, London’s wealthiest area, again says much about the priorities behind redevelopment, more about enriching the wealthy than housing the poor.

Two days later again, the Axe the Housing Act March gathered on the edge of Mayfair to march to Parliament against an act that even enrages those same Labour councils for its full-frontal attack on social housing. Friction was bound to make itself known between them and the housing activists on the march and it did.

Later that day I went to cover the UCL Rent Strike Victory, an event which had been planned to further press the student’s demands as an Open Day Manifestation but the Complaints Panel decided that the residents of Campbell House West would be compensated in full for the final term last year – up to £1,368 per student.  The students were instead celebrating their victory (although the rent strike has started again more recently as rents are still too high for students.) I left too soon, as they decided to go on a victory march which gave other photographs some rather dramatic pictures as they celebrated with coloured flares.

But I was by then on my way to Crystal Palace in South London and the Central Hill Open Gardens Estates. Central Hill estate is at the southern edge of Lambeth – cross the main road and you are in the London Borough of Croydon. It’s a fairly spectacular development designed by Rosemary Stjernstedt working under Lambeth Council’s director of architecture, Ted Hollamby and built between 1966 and 1974 and described by the Twentieth Century Society as “one of London’s most exceptional and progressive post-war housing estates” – they were dismayed when their application for its listing was turned down by Historic England last year.  You can see my photographs of the estate earlier in the year at Central Hill Estate which give a good impression of the architecture and its general condition.

Local residents were surprised (and some enraged) to find that one of those attending the open day was local Labour MP for Dulwich and West Norwood Helen Hayes who had backed the decision by Lambeth Labour councillors to demolish the estate. When Simon Elmer of Architects for Social Housing (ASH) confronted her about this she was unwilling or unable to answer his questions about this and stormed out, after making an emotional statement about the recent killing of Labour MP Jo Cox, a tactic which disgusted many of those listening.

ASH were showing alternative plans for a proper regeneration of the site at the open day, which have been dismissed without any real consideration by Lambeth, retaining the existing properties but increasing the site density by sensitive infill of some of the spaces. It would achieve the same housing results but at significantly lower cost and without displacement (and shamefully poor compensation) of existing tenants and leaseholders – but would not give the same profit to developers. The refusal to consider such schemes is a clear indication of the priorities of private profit which are driving schemes such as this by councils like Lambeth and neighbouring Southwark and their consultants including estate agents Savills.

Later, after her supporters had left, the more pleasant atmosphere of the afternoon – despite the treat hanging over the estate – returned, and I was sorry when I had to leave, though not before watching and photographing a Marxist puppet show by Andrew Cooper and comrades from the Revolutionary Communist Group lampooning the Lambeth councillors and Councillor Matthew Bennett, Cabinet Member for Housing in particular for their cooperation with estate agents Savills and developers over the planned development of the estate, a prime opportunity for private profit in South London with its extensive view over the city and good transport links.

Advance to Mayfair
Municipal Journal Awards
Axe the Housing Act March
UCL Rent Strike Victory
Central Hill Open Gardens Estates


More Road Deaths

Friday, March 3rd, 2017

We moved from being a horse-drawn economy to one dependent on motorised vehicles in a relatively short time, and it was a change that took place without a great deal of thinking about road safety. One of my grandfathers, whose main business had been building horse-drawn vehicles, died in the 1930s after his horse-drawn trap turned into the driveway of his house in front of an oncoming car, whose driver had seen him but said at the inquest he was unable to stop in time to prevent the collision. The pace of life had speeded up considerably but brakes and perceptions had not kept pace.

Almost 30 years later, as a sixth-former, I went on a visit to the Road Research Laboratory, established around the time of my grandfather’s death, then still at Harmondsworth (and later, as a teacher I went with students to Crowthorne.) There I saw a great deal of research taking place about improving junctions for cars and about the safety of drivers in collisions, but little or nothing about the safety of pedestrians. And I don’t think cyclists were ever even mentioned, except on the later occasion when they wanted them to all wear cycle helmets – doubtless a cheaper if not too effective prescription rather than making roads safer.

It’s a bias that still operates widely, particularly in some local authorities, but also in the calculations of cost-benefit of various transport schemes. Or rather road schemes, as planners seldom seem to think of walking or cycling as means of transport or of them having any financial value. There are a few signs of change – and even back in the 1930s we got cycle paths alongside some of the new dual carriageways, though most of these have become unusable for cyclists because of lack of maintenance and widespread use as parking areas.

More recently we’ve seen more cycle paths and shared paths between cyclists and pedestrians, though many of these are half-hearted and essentially unusable for anyone for whom a bicycle is a means of transport, riddled with ‘give way’ signs and injunctions to dismount and sometimes ending abruptly with no place to go. In part it has been poor implementation, but it has also been due to guidance (doubtless from the now privatised Transport Research Laboratory that still saw cyclists as second (or third) class road users.

It’s a perception still held by many motorists – like the driver, who aggrieved I had beaten him to a mini-roundabout by a yard or two, kept beeping his horn as he drove behind me for the next hundred yards or so as I rode a safe distance beside a row of parked cars, or others who have swerved past me shouting ‘Get off the road!’ often rather less politely. And by government transport minister Chris Grayling who recently knocked a cyclist off his bike by careless opening of a car door, and argued that cyclists didn’t count as road users. It’s an opinion that should have resulted in his resignation.

But some things are changing a little in London, with a few advances even under Boris as Mayor, with the introduction of a few ‘cycle superhighways‘ and some other local schemes. There has been a huge increase in cycling in London, particularly since the introduction of Ken Livingstone’s cycle-hire scheme (Ken’s Cycles doesn’t have the alliterative attraction of Boris Bikes.)

Cyclists and pedestrians are still getting killed on London’s roads, largely by drivers who fail to see them, either because of poor vehicle design or failure to make proper observations when turning left over them. The London Traffic Deaths Vigil took place a month after London got a new mayor, and it was a month in which 3 cyclists and 8 on foot were killed by drivers on the streets of London. The aim was to persuade Sadiq Khan to take the problem seriously and take the urgent action needed to protect people on London’s streets. Unfortunately there seems to be little sign he is so far doing so.

These deaths are not accidents. As I write in My London Diary:

It’s wrong to think of these deaths as accidents; they happen because road users make mistakes, often made harder to avoid because of poor vehicle or road design. Many of them result from a lack of proper facilities for pedestrians and cyclists in a road system which prioritises getting motorised vehicles from A to B as fast as possible rather than safety. Some are caused by the failure of police to enforce road traffic law – for example on advanced stop lines at traffic lights. 

 London Traffic Deaths Vigil

Cleaners protest

Wednesday, March 1st, 2017

It was I think simply a coincidence that in the first few days of June I covered four protests by cleaners.  Cleaners are low paid all through the year, and the struggles by their unions to get a living wage – specifically the London Living Wage, which reflects the higher living costs in the capital – continues throughout the year.

In the City itself, where some of the wealthiest companies in the world have their offices, many begrudge paying the people who clean their offices enough to live on –  and cleaners often have to work up to 60 hours a week at several jobs to get by.  Often they have to get up to go to work in the middle of the night, perhaps at 2.30 or 3am, to travel long journeys to work by the infrequent buses which run at these early hours.

Of course these businesses don’t want to be seen paying employees poverty pay or denying them the kind of decent pensions, sick pay and holidays that most of us expect from employers – so they attempt to save their reputations by getting other companies to actually employ them. Out sourcing their dirty work.

But the cleaners and their unions refuse to accept this abnegation of responsibility. They make it clear to companies such as Capita Property & Infrastructure Ltd (previously Capita Symonds) that they cannot ignore the responsibility they have towards the people who keep their offices clean by getting Mitie to actual employ them. And they do so by going to the offices and showing them up in public with noisy protests. It ain’t just money. Cleaning companies cut costs by paying workers badly and they cut cost by paying the people who manage the workers poorly too – and appear to encourage the poor staff they get through low wages to treat the workers badly. Most seem to have a culture of bullying and of failing to properly care for the health and safety of their employees.

At Capita, the workers also allege racism, with African workers having been singled out for redundancies and cuts in hours, and other trade unionists including RMT Regional President Glenroy Watson and NSSN Chair Rob Williams  came to speak in support of their union, the CAIWU, while others sent messages of support.

Capita Cleaners strike against racism

The cleaners returned the following week to continue the protests, and I was there I think for the third time to photograph them.

Capita Racism Protests Continue

At SOAS, one of London’s best known universities with an outstanding reputation around the world, cleaners have been campaigning for ten years and with some success. They get paid a living wage, but are still campaigning, supported by students and staff. They demand to be taken in-house, to be employed and managed by SOAS rather than by cleaning contractors, who change every time the SOAS contract comes up for renewal.

SOAS came close to agreement earlier in the year, and appear to have agreed in principle, but still awarded the contract to yet another cleaning contracotr, though saying they will in time bring the cleaners in-house. But the cleaners don’t wnat future promises, they want action now.

10 Years of Cleaners’ Struggle at SOAS 100

As well as marking 10 years of struggle by the cleaners, the day was also a day of celebrations by the university, with SOAS celebrating its centenary. As a part of this they were to bury a time capsule in a hole dug for the occasion, to be dug up again in another hundred years.

I should really have hung around to watch the ceremony, as one of the things that time capsule was to contain was one of my photographs, of an earlier protest here, with a text by Ed Emery, the fiddle player in my picture.

A couple of days later I was back in the City for another protest involving cleaners, this time by the UVW union. The offices at 100 Wood St are managed by CBRE and mainly let to Schroders and J P Morgan,  but the cleaners are employed by contractor Thames Cleaning and Support Services Limited.  Rather than negotiate with the union, Thames went to the HIgh Court to try and get an injunction to try and stop them striking over poverty wages and unfair sackings. They didn’t succeed in stopping the strike, but the court did impose strict conditions on picketing and protests by the cleaners – and they were charged costs which, at around £11,000, were far more than the union could afford.

Fortunately many who were disgusted at the action by Thames and the court’s decision came to their aid with donations, and the strike went ahead. But the injuction meant that any protest had to be at least 10 metres away from the doorway.

In the picture Class War are measuring out that 10m with a length of yellow hazard tape, while a pedestrians walk under it along the pavement.

The strike is said to be the first such strike in the City of London, and continued for the rest of the month, with one of the strikers vowing to go on hunger strike. It was a long battle, but after 58 days a successful agreement was reached and the action stopped.

UVW Cleaners on Strike in City


NHS Bursaries

Monday, February 27th, 2017

The NHS is above all a service about people – nurses, doctors and other health workers, and of course patients, all coming together and working for the common good, for the health of the nation and the people of the nation. Providing a comprehensive service that  meets the needs of everyone, free at the point of delivery and based on clinical need not the ability to pay.  It never quite managed to meet those ideals on which it was based, in part due to the intransigence of the dental profession, and was eroded slightly over the years by the introduction of prescription charges,  but for those who work in it, and for all of us who use it as patients, these remain its guiding principles.

But for our current government, the NHS is viewed largely as a bottomless pit into which taxes are poured and as an opportunity for them and their friends and donors to make money from, with the aspects that are more easily converted to profit being hived off to be run by private companies. Still at the moment free to patients at the point of use, but that could well change, and pulling money out of the system and making it more expensive to run what remains in public hands.

For nearly all of those who go into any aspect of the medical profession it is more than a job, truly a vocation. Many jobs involve unsocial hours, excessive workloads and considerable stress. They don’t do it for the money – and almost all could earn more in various overseas countries. They do it because they care for people and want to help them.

The NHS bursaries are vital for many who want to train to be nurses and allied professions, and in particular make it possible for many more mature entrants to enter training. The government’s decision to get rid of them and replace them by loans appears driven by a kind of mad logic that it will enable them to get more people to take up nursing training because it will cos the government less to provide it, while ignoring the fact that it is only these bursaries that enable many to take the courses. The cutting of bursaries will transfer training costs from the NHS to students, resulting in an increase of around 70% for them.

It’s also deeply unfair, as nurses in training are a vital part of the NHS workforce, providing nursing care while learning on the job, working long hours in the wards. They work for those bursaries, and the long hours they need to work preclude them taking on the part-time jobs most other students need to supplement their loans.

I’ve chosen pictures here to show some of the people campaigning for NHS bursaries, not on their own behalf, as the changes will only affect new students, but because they realise how important these bursaries are for future students and the future of the NHS. Of course I took other photographs, including those of the celebrities and others who spoke at the rally and more general pictures of the protest. We have now seen that the axing of the bursaries has, as expected cut down the numbers applying for courses, down by 23% this year, at a time when the need for nurses is desperate and growing with ouver 24,000 vacancies – and when Brexit threatens to cut the supply of nursing staff from the EU.

Rally against axing NHS student bursaries
March to save NHS student bursaries


Heathrow at 70

Friday, February 24th, 2017

It often isn’t easy to photograph some of the ideas that people have – and this occasion was one, with the Harmondsworth village green planted with over 750 small black airplanes and people holding 70 heart-shaped balloons with the message ‘No 3rd Runway’. There aren’t quite that many balloons in the picture, partly because a few had escaped into the sky, but also because quite a few of the protesters were standing behind me or to one side, some taking pictures themselves and others feeling shy. And a few people (and balloons) had escaped into the Five Bells behind me, where there were a number of balloons on the rafters.

But the real problem was one of scale – which is of course the main problem with Heathrow too. It started as a relatively small (and allegedly military) airport, though the military aspect was always a deception by the aviation lobby to enable a civil airport to be built here – which would probably never have got off the ground otherwise. By the 1980s it was clear that it should be replaced, but the government of the day chickened out – and so we never got the airport London needed, but had to suffer a huge and unsuitably placed expansion at Heathrow, with terminal 4 (promised as the last expansion the airport would ever ask for) and terminal 5 (ditto.)

As a local resident, I celebrated when plans for a ‘third runway’ (Heathrow began with six, but larger, heavier and noisier planes have made all but two unusable) were dropped, with a firm promise from then PM David Cameron and his party that this expansion would not take place, but the aviation lobby would not take his ‘No’ as an answer.

But there were other opportunities for pictures: Armelle Thomas, a Harmondsworth resident holding a photograph and the medals of her late husband Tommy who had flown as a rear gunner in Lysanders and later worked at Heathrow for BEA had brought the piece of the cake from last year’s protests which she had tried to present to Heathrow bosses but they had refused to see her;

John Stewart holding a giant cheque for ZERO pounds – the amount Heathrow want to pay towards the huge infrastructure costs that will be needed if the third runway ever goes ahead – and will be borne completely by the taxpayer;

several campaigners with boxes of empty promises – made by Heathrow over the years;

and what is still the only attempt at a practical solution to the huge problems of noise and pollution the extra traffic – in the air and on the ground – the extra runway would produce, the Heathrow Adobe Hat, complete with portable air purifier in a environmentally bio-diverse suitcase.

Apologies for all the typos that are in the captions to the photographs of the event at No 3rd Runway Heathrow 70th Birthday, which I will try and find time later to correct.