Archive for the ‘Political Issues’ Category

Around Brexit

Monday, April 3rd, 2017

Understandably the vote – by a considerable but narrow majority – to leave the European Union was dominating our minds and events on the street at the start of last July. I suspect I’ve already made my own views on it pretty clear – it was a shocking gamble by a Tory Prime Minister concerned only with his problems inside the party and not with the interests of the country, and was won by cynical politicians – again mainly Tory – making promises they knew there was no possibility of being achievable.

Although we can’t know what the end result will be, things are not looking good, and seem likely to get worse. While exit from the EU seems inevitable now that the process has started, it also seems inevitable that it will lead to a tremendous disillusion among those who voted for it, as they find it won’t lead to more jobs or fewer immigrants, more money for the NHS or any of the other ‘goodies’ dangled before their eyes in the referendum campaign. Given the incredible levels of mistrust of politicians by ordinary people across the whole political spectrum this can’t be healthy, and seems likely to lead to some kind of populist backlash.

My first assignment (or rather self-assignment) of the month was a rally in Islington against the reported rise in hate crime which followed the referendum result, with people from across the community coming to stand together against hate crime against racial, faith and other minorities. I wasn’t surprised to find among the speakers a local MP, Jeremy Corbyn, not just because it was in his constituency, but because of his anti-racist views he has always expressed.

Corbyn’s rise to become leader of the Labour Party was an expression of the growing disillusion among Labour Party members and supporters against the kind of politics that have dominated the party over the past twenty or more years – and which still runs the party mechanisms, which has led to the continuing conspiracies in the party against him. And what really worries the handful of ultra-wealthy who own our media (and the BBC which is also controlled by our ‘elites’) is that he and those moderate socialists (largely Keynsian rather than Marxist) who back him could well win, though were I a betting man I might consider it wiser to put my money on Farage. And even were Corbyn to win, I think the most likely outcome would be for us to find a little more about where power actually resides under our strange and unwritten constitution.

So I took my pictures of the event and the speakers, wrote my captions, all stressing the issues and filed my pictures. And I actually made a little money from them, but the story wasn’t about race hate, but about the jacket Corbyn was wearing, a ‘designer jacket’. Though I expect the reporters who wrote the story, like me, probably knew or strongly suspected that he been given it or had bought it in a charity shop. And of course when I took the picture I too was wearing a rather similar designer jacket; most clothing these days appears to be labeled in this way.
Love Islington – NO to Hate Crime

From Islington I rushed to Hyde Park Corner, where a March For Europe against Brexit was starting more or less as I arrived.  It was a large march, and it took well over an hour and a half for the fairly tightly-packed crowd to pass me as I walked up and down taking pictures of marchers and their placards before I walked briskly to the Underground for a train to Westminster, where the rally was taking place in Parliament Square.

Numbers are always difficult to estimate, but I think at least 5-600 people were going past me a minute, taking up the whole width of the road, and for over 90 minutes, giving an estimate of over 50,000 on the march.  Given the topicality of the issue and the numbers involved you might have expected some significant coverage in the media, but there was relatively little; it would have got more on the BBC had it been a protest against the government in Spain.

The Rally For Europe against Brexit had almost finished by the time I arrived – even though I’d come by tube, but I did catch a couple of the final speakers, including Bob Geldorf. There was a giant TV screen above the speakers relaying them to the large crowd in the square, many of whom would otherwise not have been able to see, and whoever was putting the image on to it was playing with some effects as Geldorf spoke, which made a more interesting background to my image of him. I found the slight delay – presumably due to the effect processing – between the two images interesting and you can see it in the different positions of his finger in the picture.

His was a speech that the content didn’t greatly detract from my concentration on the image, and I looked for ways to use the reflection  of the crowd in the mirror of his dark glasses – and found it when a suitable background came up on the screen behind.

The following day I was in Westminster again, photographing 16-17 Year olds demand the vote, a protest triggered by the referendum where they had no vote, despite being among those whose future would be most affected by it. Had they been able to vote it might have swung was was a fairly narrow margin (though I think it would have needed some of the other excluded groups too.)  Finally, after covering their rally in Parliament Square – rather smaller than that the day before,  I wandered over to the tribute to murdered Labour MP Jo Cox, the Jo Cox banner of love, to take a few pictures before going elsewhere to cover other protests.

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The Struggle Continues…

Sunday, April 2nd, 2017

It’s hard to cover events that keep on and on and try to produce images that look fresh and different, but sometimes important to do so. The Wood St strike by cleaners in the United Voices of the World was a good example, and at the end of June had reached its 22nd day.

I hadn’t of course been there every day, though the pickets had been, but this was my fourth visit on days when the union had decided to hold a special rally, this marking the fourth week of their strike. While the UVW and other unions have held one or two day strikes, the UVW say this is the first indefinite strike in the City of London, and it looked as if it would continue for some time, with the direct employers Thames Cleaning having taken an extremely hard line, going to court to try stop the strike and getting an injunction covering the union’s actions, the costs of which came close to bankrupting the union, and Thames apparently getting the uncritical backing of the company that runs the offices, CBRE.

The picketing and rallies present an embarrassment to CBRE, but also, along with the lack of proper cleaning (though doubtless Thames were trying their best to keep things going though their managers and non-striking cleaners) were building up pressure on CBRE from the people who work in the offices and the well-known companies they worked for. Just because these city workers are themselves very well paid doesn’t mean they don’t have sympathy for those who are badly paid – and who they know they rely on to keep their workplace pleasant, and many had taken the leaflets from the strikers and some expressed their support.

Publication of articles and pictures about the strike – even on the web and in the alternative press, but particularly when the story gets picked up my newspapers and TV stations disturb these powerful companies – and they put pressure on those they pay for office space who in turn dictate to the actual employers. CBRE are paying Thames and can and will in the end tell them to pipe down and come to an agreement with the UVW that will eventually end the strike – as they did around a month later. One new aspect which might have helped the strike get more publicity was the threat by on of the sacked workers to go on hunger strike.

While I try hard to ensure my coverage of the events keeps to the facts, the very fact that I and other journalists are there and covering them is important in uncovering injustice, to me one of the vital roles of a free press. Its news that should be published, even if most of the media ignores it most of the time, often in favour of trivia. And the presence of the media does sometimes appear to improve the behaviour of both security staff and police.

There is no doubt that low pay and the increasing inequality of our society is an important topic, and it is actions like this that help put it on the national agenda – so much so that even a Conservative government recently felt it had to introduce a “Living Wage”, even though this was largely an evasion, well below an actual Living Wage, particularly in London. The figures for the living wage are readily available, published annually, but ignored by then Chancellor George Osborne.

UVW Wood St Strike continues
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London Mix

Saturday, April 1st, 2017

Some days there are just too many things happening in London. Well all days there are, but I mean too many things that I have access to and am trying to photograph, and June 28th last year was one of them. And in the early evening there were three protests occurring simultaneously in the same area of Trafalgar Square and to make things worse it was raining steadily and fairly intensively.

Rain isn’t necessarily a bad thing for photographers, and umbrellas can offer some visual interest – I once published an article ‘The umbrella in photography’ looking at examples by a number of photographers including Kertesz, though I have to admit I’ve probably seen more than enough pictures made through rain-drenched windows to last several lifetimes.

But umbrellas in crowds are something of a problem. Unless you have an assistant holding a large one over your head, they become pretty impossible to use when using a camera. If you are alone in plenty of space and there is little wind it can be manageable to hold one tucked under your left arm and held up by your wrist as you hold a camera to your eye, but this becomes untenable in crowds, as you get buffeted by other brollies and yours will uncontrollably poke other people in their eyes.

Working without one, you get wet. Wetter than just the rain would make you, as those other umbrellas around direct the rain they protect the holders from onto you, and unless you are wearing a hood, unerringly down the back of your neck, making you sodden from inside your clothing. In winter I wear a good waterproof jacket with an integral hood, but even an expensive ‘breathable’ coat becomes unbearably hot in summer.

Cameras too suffer from water. Even those that are ‘weather-sealed’ will slowly drown, but lenses generally go first. You can keep wiping the front surface with a chamois or microfibre cloth (and I often walk around holding one in front of the lens), but you do have to remove it to make the exposure. Zoom lenses which alter their length pump moisture into their interior as you alter the zoom, and even those that only move internal elements had something of the same tendency. Something that seldom gets a mention in the manuals is that lens hoods, at least with telephoto lenses, are at their most useful in keeping the rain off.

I do have a kind of plastic raincoat for my camera, but its a real pain to use, and though it diverts the rain (except from the front lens surface) it doesn’t stop the moisture. Usually I put one camera away in my bag to keep dry, and keep the other under my jacket as much as possible – though that does mean leaving my jacket rather open so the rain (and those brolly drips) can enter too.

And when the lens clouds over due to condensation on its inner elements, I take the other camera out of the bag and work with that. Until it goes too. Usually I’ve at least one more dry lens in the bag to change to, though that may mean I end up taking far more pictures than I really should on the 16mm fisheye.

When all my cameras, lenses and clothes are sodden, its time to give up and go home. Though at such times I always remember what my father used to tell us kids when we complained about getting wet, ‘You’ve got a waterproof skin’.

You can read what the protests were about and see more pictures on ‘My London Diary’:

Act Up for Love
London Still Stays

The third protest was a group of four women protesting over the agreement between the South Korean and Japanese government over ‘comfort women’, the Koreans used as sex slaves by Japanese soldiers in the second Worlad War – and I only used the one picture above.

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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

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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
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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

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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

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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!

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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

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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
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