Archive for the ‘Political Issues’ Category

Broadwater Farm

Thursday, February 8th, 2018

One common question about London on the web site Quora, largely frequented by citizens of the USA, concerns the safety of London streets, particularly after comments by people on right-wing American media about ‘no-go’ areas in London. According to some of them (and doubtless their President) there are large areas of London where it is unsafe to walk, parts which the police fear to go, areas that are under Sharia law.


Broadwater Farm seen from the large park to its north

It is of course total nonsense. London remains one of the safest cities in the world. There is not a single ‘no-go’ area in the whole of the city.  Sharia law hardly exists and is simply used to resolve some disputes between Muslims who opt to use it, mostly over marital issues – and similar tribunals exist in the Jewish community and possibly some others.


The River Moselle runs through the park and under the estate

Not that London is crime-free. Gigantic frauds and illegal money laundering are common in the City of London, probably the world centre for both, as well as being a base for some of the least principled companies that despoil resources around the world. And we do have pick-pockets, muggings and handbag thieves who operate in even some of the most popular areas, and tourists are often rather careless and may carry large amounts of cash as well as expensive cameras, phones, i-pads etc. Cycle rickshaws are a total rip-off, as are some other tourist attractions including sleazy clubs and bars. And if you are a teenage gang member you stand quite a chance of getting stabbed.


Because of the danger of flooding from the Moselle, the ground level is car parking

And we have had occasional riots, mostly provoked by police behaviour.  Broadwater Farm in Tottenham was a modern estate built in the late 60s, with blocks connected by walkways above ground level. Shops and other facilities for the roughly 4,000 inhabitants were also at ‘deck level’.  But it soon became apparent that these decks had many isolated areas and there were many minor crimes. The buildings also deteriorated rapidly, partly due to poor construction and a lack of proper maintenance by the local council, and many of the original tenants quickly moved out, with the council replacing them with people with various social and mental health problems, and it rapidly became a ‘sink estate.’


You can still see the remaining walkways, though many parts were demolished

Police adopted a robust ‘saturation’ approach to policing, with frequent stop and searches particularly for the young Black residents on the estate. And in 1985, after arresting a young man for driving with a false tax disk four officers visited his mother’s home on Broadwater Farm for a search – during which his mother, Cynthia Jarrett, died. Her daughter said at the inquest that she died after a police officer pushed her and she fell. News of her killing spread through the area; there were protests outside the local police station the following day when very unusually a gun was used with two officers and three journalists being wounded. Later in the day a police van going in to Broadwater Farm was attacked; police reinforcements went in, residents set up barricades and a shop was set on fire. Firefighters who arrived were attacked and more police came in, but left due to overwhelming opposition. Two officers became separated from the rest and were attacked; one was killed and the other seriously injured. But as the rioters realised a man had been killed the riot came to an end.


All the blocks were named after wartime airfields – this is Marston

Police investigating the murder picked on three men, who were convicted of the murder but the conviction was quashed a few years later when scientific evidence showed that the police had fabricated the three men’s statements. One, Winston Silcott, had been convicted for another murder where he had been attacked by his victim in what seemed to be a clear case of self-defence – and where  police had withheld evidence which would have proved this.  He was out on remand  before the trial when the Broadwater Farm killing occured, and it seems clear that this other case was the reason police picked on him and framed him.

The riot changed things for Broadwater Farm, bringing in a  £33 million regeneration programme which dealt with many community issues and demolished the decks which had caused many problems. By 2005 Broadwater Farm had become a popular estate with a long waiting list, and one of the lowest crime rates of any urban area in the world, with the police actually disbanding its unit there as there was nothing for it to do.

Despite this, the old prejudices linger on, and if you ask Londoners who don’t live in the area if there are any no-go areas, this is probably one of the more likely estates they will mention. And it has come back into the news again, in part because of another killing – the shooting of Mark Duggan who grew up there by police in  August 2011 elsewhere in Tottenham that led, after police failed to respond to local questioning, to the 2011 riots, and more recently because of the London Borough of Haringey’s controversial proposals, The HDV (Haringey Development Vehicle)  which would handed it and other council estates to private developer Lendlease for demolition and replacement by high-price private  housing.

More pictures at Broadwater Farm Estate

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Another Stop Killing Londoners

Thursday, February 1st, 2018

Rising Up’s Stop Killing Londoners group (SKL) continued its series of protests against the dangerous level of air pollution in London by a couple of brief road-blocks on one of inner London’s busiest roads the Marylebone Rd, beginning with one at the Baker St junction as many workers were making their way into the station on a Friday evening.

SKL protests are designed to get as much publicity as possible while causing only minimal inconvenience to the public – who like them are at great risk of lung conditions and early deaths because of excessive pollution levels in London air, especially around busy roads such as this. Those taking part include people who had campaigned for years to try and get some action over air pollution, but with very little effect, and they feel that protests such as this will embarrass London’s mayor into taking action – both through coverage in press, radio and TV and in particular if they get arrested and taken to court.

Actions were timed for the early evening partly because there is more traffic on the roads at the rush hour, but also for the very practical reason that most of those taking part are at work during the day time. Later SKL also organised a number of early morning protests before going to work, and I was unable to cover these because of the problems of getting up and travelling in to London in the early morning.

The kind of short hold-ups that SKL protests involve are not unusual on London streets. Any minor accident will cause longer stoppages and road works or building work often lead to much longer queues.  Both through posters and over the PA system they try to let motorists know that they will not be held up for more than a few minutes, but despite this a few drivers get very irate. One on this occasion even tried to use his white van to push the protesters out of the way, and when it became clear this was not going to work threw water from a bottle over them  – and over me as I took his picture.

I usually try not to involve bystanders in my pictures and to concentrate on those taking part in the protest, but once this guy had tried to drive through the protesters (and me) I decided he was fair game. I rather liked the image with reflections through the van window, though perhaps it is too fussy and too arty for editorial use. It did take a lot of work in Lightroom to bring out the different areas of the picture and even out the lighting, and some have thought this was a multiple exposure. It is a single exposure with my camera close to the van window, using the view inside the cab, the reflection in the window and the view through the cab and the front and opposite side window.

As often when unexpected things happen I was a little caught out when he started throwing water at the protesters, with a shutter speed that was more suited to the relatively static protest than action, and quite a few pictures were rather too blurred. And it isn’t easy to keep your camera steady when things start to get thrown at you.  So I only got the picture of him point the bottle at me and instinctively ducked out of the way.

Stop Killing Londoners road block
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Rashan Charles

Tuesday, January 30th, 2018


Rashan Charles’ father (left) stands beside Edson da Costa’s father as he speaks

Like many I watched in horror as a video on social media showed a young black man being held down on the floor of a shop in Dalston by a police officer, with help from another man not wearing uniform (though some reports said he was also a police officer but others describe him as a ‘member of the public’.) According to the police, Rashan Charles became “ill” and was taken to hospital where he died shortly after, though others say he died on that shop floor.


Dianne Abbott MP

There will be an inquest later this year which will perhaps clarify some of the details, though the two men responsible for his death have already been granted anonymity (though I think their names are known to many.) The Independent Police Complaints Commission advised the Met to suspend the officer involved but they refused. The IPPC (now the Independent Office for Police Conduct – IOPC but otherwise much the same) sent a file to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) for the police officer to be charged with common assault, but they decided that “the evidential test for a prosecution for common assault is not met. We will therefore not be taking any further action regarding this offence.” Presumably they haven’t seen the video.


Tottenham anti-racist campaigner Stafford Scott speaks for the Charles family

Rashan Charles’ great-uncle Rod Charles, a retired police sergeant with 30 years service with the force and former representative of the Police Federation, has commented that the the force used appears to contravene the official police guidance and described it as “unreasonable, disproportionate, unnecessary and excessive” and that the police failure to explain the purpose for the arrest also appears to be in contravention of the law.

Rashan Charles was one of three young black men who died at the hands of police in the past few weeks, the others being Edson da Costa, who died after arrest in East Ham and Darren Cumberbatch, who died earlier this month after arrest in Nuneaton. People held up pictures of all three men at the protest.

The protest outside Stoke Newington Police Station was organised by Stand Up To Racism, and I was disappointed that no-one from the Movement for Justice who had come in support was allowed to speak, though you can see their large posters in some of my pictures. Also missing was a speaker from the United Families and Friends Campaign (UFFC) which has led the fight for the families or those killed by police and in prisons etc over the last 20 years or so. It seemed a shame that the event represented a sectarian approach rather than uniting the different groups concerned and active in the area. It’s an approach that has also weakened the campaign to get justice for Grenfell Tower.

More at Justice for Rashan Charles.

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Right to Turn Up and Go

Saturday, January 27th, 2018

Back in the 1990s it took direct action by disabled people  – DAN or the Direct Action Network for disabled people to get the 1995 legislation that made it illegal to discriminate on the grounds of disability in the workplace, along with some consumer protection. But realising the difficulty of provision in some areas it allowed for a timetable of up to 25 years over which barriers were to be gradually removed in areas such as transport.

Although there have been some improvements, an enormous amount remains to be done before the intentions of that act and the dreams of those who protested with DAN can be realised. In London, for example, although all buses and taxis are wheelchair accessible, only around half Overground stations and a quarter of Underground stations currently are.

On National Rail, help for disabled passengers is notionally available for any journey, although to work the system requires advance booking, often needing 24 hours notice. And while railway workers generally do their best to help disabled travellers who turn up without arranging their transport – like non-disabled passengers can – there are many stations without staff to assist.

Disabled passengers often need some help from the guard on the train and are particularly worried about plans for one-person operation being pursued by some rail companies and backed by the government. Even where they are able to board or alight from a train without help they may be much slower than the average passenger, and at much greater risk of being trapped by the closure of automatic doors.

Guards on the train are a valuable safety measure for all passengers, and something I’ve been grateful for on various occasions. One was when my train was derailed, and although there were no injuries there was a certain amount of panic, and the guard calmed people, kept us informed and assisted in our de-training and transfer to another train, but the others have involved drunk or otherwise obstreperous passengers.

Buses can manage with just a driver, though I sometimes miss the conductor – and suspect that there would be fewer problems with buggy users refusing to vacate disabled spaces when required. Back in the old days, conductors ensured that all buggies were folded and kept an eye on them and other luggage in the luggage space.

But what works with a smallish vehicle like even a double-decker bus seems entirely inappropriate for the 8, 10 0r 12 car trains which are now common on many routes on Southern and other railways serving London. And surely any vehicle which seats perhaps more than a hundred people will provide sufficient fare income to make paying for a second member of staff of little consequence.

Like DAN, DPAC are a direct action network, protecting the rights of disabled people and still fighting for them to be properly provided. Most of their actions have been directed against the government and the benefit cuts it has introduced which have resulted in great hardship and far too many deaths among disabled people, with policies either deliberately intended to kill or displaying a woeful ignorance of or indifference to their likely effects. This action too was against the government, and in particular the Department of Transport, which has been shown to be pressuring Southern Rail to continue the dispute with the RMT.

Someone only came out from the Dept of Transport to take the petition after the protesters had waited for a very long time and were threatening to keep the entrance blocked until it was taken; it seemed fairly clear that the department were hoping the protesters would go away if they kept them waiting long enough.  They should have learnt by now that DPAC are made of sterner stuff, though I might have left them to it as I had a train to catch.

As the joint protest with the RMT and others ended, DPAC ended their protest in what is now their traditional way, with a road block outside the ministry. After a few minutes police managed to persuade them to move so they only blocked the road in one direction, and the road block was only short.

The DPAC action was one in a whole week of protests to coincide with the London World Para Athletics Championships which DPAC say the government uses to try to show it is highly supportive of the disabled while actually they are highly discriminatory against all those who are not high-performing para-athletes. DPAC are certainly high-performing protesters.

More at DPAC/RMT ‘Right to Ride’ protest.

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Barts – NHS vs Serco (and PFI)

Monday, January 22nd, 2018

The rally and march from the Royal London Hospital to Mile End Hospital has a new relevance with the recent collapse of Carillion, which has brought new attention to the problems of PFI and of out-sourcing of facilities that are at the root of the problems at Barts Health Trust. One of the speakers at the rally – seen on the march in the picture above – was Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, whose criticisms of both of these problems have received considerable airing in the last few days, though of course he has been making them for a very long time.

The dispute was between the cleaners and porters of Barts Trust who are members of the Unite Union and had been on strike for five days, demanding an increase of 30p per hour in line with inflation and cost of living increases . The strikers voted 99% in favour of strike action, their militancy because of the actions of Serco, whose first action when they took over the contract was an attempt to take away their paid tea breaks.

Serco were forced to back down over that by concerted action, but the cleaners still accuse Serco of increasing stress and workload with a climate of bullying, intimidation and fear and a failure to set up procedures for reporting problems with facilities. And they say that Serco have acted illegally during the strike by  bringing in agency workers with inadequate training to replace them, resulting in insanitary conditions in the hospital.

I took a number of pictures of Unite’s Gail Cartmel at the event but particularly like this one of her speaking, which shows something of her dynamism. It also includes in the frame some key elements – the Unite flag (and flags are always problematic for photographers, seldom behaving as we want them at the right time so they can be read), the inbuilt caption ‘The Royal London’, and both some of the hospital’s Victorian building at right, as well as at top centre the new PFI-built hospital which has crippled the Bart’s Trust with a huge debt –  £2.4m per week in interest payments – under a disastrous New Labour deal.

It was hard to chose just one of the pictures of the strikers to put in here, and I chose this  particular image partly because it seemed to show something of their determination, but also for the poster which explains what the image and the dispute is about, “30p an Hour – Because They’re Worth It”, and the crowd of placards behind.

And although this dispute involved one of our big unions, some of the most vocal support at the rally and on the march came from other cleaners, particularly in the United Voices of the World. Victor Ramirez, a cleaner from the UVW spoke at the rally and was among the leaders of the march, with his spirited contributions in Spanish being translated by Claudia from the UVW behind him in this picture – and marching behind John McDonnell in the top image.

Barts NHS Cleaners march against Serco

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Reclaimed Pride

Thursday, January 18th, 2018

It was back in 1993 that I first photographed Pride – or as it used to be called then, Gay Pride, and I returned to photograph it every year for quite a while – and you can see some of the pictures in ‘Ten Years of Pride‘, the second show of some of that work at the Museum of London.  My going there in 1993 was a part of a general growing awareness that gay rights was not just an issue for the gay community, but an important aspect of human rights.

Over those ten years there was a very clear change in the nature of Pride. What had been a protest clearly of great moment to many of those taking part – and for quite a few it was their first public ‘coming out’ – gradually became more and more corporate, at first mainly a reflection of the growing pink economy and later of the importance of the pink pound in the wider economy. In recent years it has become a huge sponsored parade, dominated by major companies, with large contingents from the armed forces, police and other public services, with just a few groups keeping up the tradition of protest tagged on to the end.

I’d continued to cover it most years, missing out only when I wasn’t in London, and it had become one of the few events for which I’d applied every year for accreditation, as it had become highly organised and this had become necessary.  But I was finding it less and less interesting, and in 2017 had decided not to bother with the actual parade, thinking that perhaps I would just photograph on the streets of Soho where things are more spontaneous and interesting.

In the end it didn’t turn out like that, and I started on Oxford St where the previous year I had photographed the Migrant Rights & Anti-Racist Pride organised by Movement for Justice for those who wanted to show their opposition to the corporate nature of Pride, with sponsors such as Barclays and BAE systems. In 2016 they marched to Oxford Circus and then joined the back of the official parade with other protest groups.

But for 2017 the organisers had decided on tight security, insisting that no groups who hadn’t signed up and got the official armbands would be allowed to join the parade. But it isn’t easy to stop several hundred determined protesters and the police had the sense not to try as they spilled onto the route at Oxford Circus in front of the official head of the parade.  Police tried to get the parade stewards to allow the protesters past but they refused, and for a while there was a stalemate, with the parade route blocked.

Eventually the main parade was held up and the Migrant Rights & Anti-Racist Pride went along the official route past cheering crowds leading the whole event – though the mainstream media colluded with the organisers to pretend they didn’t exist in their coverage.

There was another hold up at the end of the parade, where some of those who had been on the march from ‘No Pride in War’ decided to lie down and block Whitehall. Pride stewards held up the front of the main parade at Trafalgar Square and tried to clear the road without success, but after a few more minutes the police decided to take action, threatening those still blocking the road with arrest. They decided they had made their point very effectively and got up.

I decided too that I had my story for Pride and it was rather more interesting than most years, and decided it was time to go home. The crowds in Soho would have to wait for another year.

Anti-Racist & Migrant Rights reclaim Pride

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Facebook

Wednesday, January 17th, 2018

I often feel like mounting a one-person protest outside Facebook, which so often seems to be misbehaving in some way or other. It messes up my posts and hides the posts of many of my friends from me, so often I only find out about things too late. Of course it isn’t all Facebook’s fault, and I’d like to see a complete ban on all the automated software that people use to post to Facebook that clutters it up with so much rubbish. Perhaps one of those checks to show your were not a robot on every post would be annoying, but it would make Facebook much more useful for users, if not for marketing.


Men from company that employs the cleaners at Facebook watches me as I photograph them watching the protest

But my frustrations with Facebook are nothing compared to those suffered by some who work in their offices, though the cleaners are not actually employed by Facebook; as I point out on My London Diary:

There are two redundant levels of management at these offices; rather than employing cleaners directly, Facebook uses the property management company JLL who in turn use Peartree cleaning services to employ the cleaners; money which should go to the workers goes to these unnecessary levels of management and profit.

People often talk about the greater efficiency of outsourcing, but it is a myth. It isn’t greater efficiency but a lowering of standards, almost always of the actual services delivered but invariably of the conditions of employment of the people who actually do the work.  Companies that claim to be ethical employees with good conditions of service – pensions, sick pay, holidays etc – seem happy to give contracts to companies that employ for people who work for them, providing services at their workplaces which have minimal concern for their employees and provide only the basic minimum possible under our laws, often combined with poor management practices – bullying, discrimination etc – and a failure to properly engage with trade unions, often attempting to prevent union organisation by victimisation.

Both the Grenfell disaster and the failure of Carillion have exposed some of the problems caused by the contracting out of services – with level after level taking their unfair share and problems in communication. If Facebook employed their cleaners they would know what was happening, would ensure fair processes and conditions and not be able to say it was none of their business, denying responsibility for people who keep their business working.

The protest was organised by the Cleaners and Allied Independent Workers Union (CAIWU) who say managers on site are guilty of racism, bullying and nepotism and who are also demanding to be paid the London Living Wage. At the end of the protest CAIWU organiser Alberto Durango talked briefly with Peartree’s commercial director Stuart Conroy who had been in a group watching the protest and there seemed to be some hope that a dialogue might emerge.

The protest took place in one of London’s now many privately owned public spaces, and I was pleased that the security there actually intervened when a couple of people tried to interfere with the protest.

The CAIWU had agreed with them that the protest would be a short one so as not to interfere greatly with a community event that was taking place. Photographers I know have been stopped when taking photographs in this area, but I and others covering the protest were not approached – nor have I been at other protests in this area.

Cleaners protest at Facebook HQ

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Stop Killing Londoners

Tuesday, January 16th, 2018

Air pollution in London is a serious problem, with official figures pointing to nearly 10,000 premature deaths each year in Greater London as a result of it, as well as a great deal of suffering from various respiratory illnesses, with many lives made miserable. But although there has been an increasing realisation that something needs to be done about it – though our former mayor Boris liked to laugh it off – there seems to be little action.

The major source of harmful pollutants is road traffic. Recently the finger has been pointed at diesels, with their manufacturers having been found in various ways to have engineered test procedures that gave artificially low figures for the harm they were causing – including one manufacturer even installing software to fool the test. Many older diesel vehicles – cars, taxis, buses, lorries – are highly polluting and need to be phased out as rapidly as possible. People now agree on this, but not on how it should be done.


Campaigners wait for the start of the protest which had a ‘disco’ theme

Mayor Sadiq Khan has made statements and begun to make plans, but little so far has been done that has any impact on pollution levels, and Londoners continue to die early, though at least things now appear to be moving, if only slowly. But there is no sign of any of the kinds of radical policies that have tackled similar problems in cities in other countries over many years.

As someone who works regularly on the streets of London, its a problem I’ve very aware of, and one which is often only too visible when distant views are often shrouded in haze and you can see a cloud of pollution in the sky, and when my eyes begin to sting. Where I live, 20 miles to the west the air is hardly pure – with the M25, M3 and M4 as well as Heathrow we have plenty of local polluters – but the air is often palpably cleaner when I get off the train to walk home. And I do get more than my share of persistent chest and throat infections which I’m sure healthier air would see off.


Protesters sitting on the road were behind the banner

‘Stop Killing Londoners’ isn’t the first group to protest about these problems, and in particular a longer runing campaign with a similar name, Stop Killing Cyclists has raised the issues in their protests around the capital both at their vigils following the killing of cyclists on the roads and in more general protests over the several years they have been active. And as well as protesting, Stop Killing Cyclists and its members have put in a lot of work with other groups and councils- including with the Mayor and London Assembly – to get some action. As might be expected, these are issues that the Green Party and its councillors have been working ontoo.


and rather easier to photograph when they stood up

But Stop Killing Londoners feel the situation is so critical that more needs to be done, and believe that a series of direct actions which will confront the authorities is the way to raise public awareness and to push the authorities into action. The protest on July 5th was the first in a series of peaceful direct actions London-wide aimed at getting everyone to know about it and to act together to get effective action to cut air pollution in the capital. They keep their actions brief so as to avoid serious disruption to people on the roads but are confrontational – and some at least are prepared to use their arrests as a way to challenge complacency. However on this occasion, although a few drivers got a little angry, the police only arrived after the event had finished and the protesters were walking away for a picnic in Regent’s Park to discuss what they had done and plan further protests.


A driver argues angrily with the protesters

Photographically there were a few challenges. There was only one large banner and that only had its message ‘Stop Killing Londoners – Cut Air Pollution’ on one side, and it was a little difficult to convey what the protest was about in some pictures. And while five or ten minutes may seem a long time to a driver in a hurry to get somewhere, it seems very short to a photographer trying to think about what they are doing and how best to show it. There were opportunities I missed by the pressure of the rush, when I really needed to keep rather calmer and think more.

I’d had little idea what the protest would be like when I was asked if I would photograph it, and afterwards I was left wondering how the campaign would develop – and whether it would have the desired result.  On it’s own I think not, but perhaps it will add a little urgency to the efforts of others who want action, including those in Transport for London and the Mayor.

Stop Killing Londoners Road Block

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Siege of Haringey

Friday, January 12th, 2018

Housing has been an issue very high on my agenda for some time, though I’m fortunate enough to own my own house, I can still remember the days when things were different, and the sometimes frantic search for somewhere to live when I was a student. I spent my first year in a hall of residence, but then moved out into flatland along with two of my former schoolfellows. The first place we found was just one very large room on the first floor of a Victorian house that had been marginally converted, and we spent a term there. I think I was the lucky one who got the single bed while the two others shared a double.

The place had a large open staircase up its three storeys and we were sometimes disturbed by noisy footsteps going up and down it and pretty well all hours of the night. We soon found out that the fairly demurely dressed young woman in another room on our floor made her living from the many men who paid her relatively short visits from early evening to late at night, and that the older and brassier woman from the ground floor who came every Friday to collect the rent shared a similar occupation. And there were a few rather embarassing moments when I was the only flat-dweller in when she came to collect and seemed to want rather more.

We began to look for better accommodation, searching through the Manchester Evening News and phoning any likely looking adverts or rushing to them where there was no phone number. We found a very nice place in a quiet part of North Manchester, just what we wanted and a reasonable rent, but having shown us around the woman asked said to us “But you’re not Jewish are you – I’ll have to ask my husband” and promised to let us know. We weren’t Jewish and we never heard. Finally we did find another flat, rather more poky, on the first floor of a house on the edge of Moss Side, and spent the next two terms there before hearing of a rather better place some third years were leaving from in Dickenson Road which we snapped up. Unlike the earlier two this was a real student flat, with a landlady living on the ground floor who always had students (though I hope most were quieter than us) and was often pleased to make us tea and tell us some often fascinating stories about her youth when she had been a secretary to Lloyd George. I only wish I had written them down.

The following year, after 6 months as an industrial chemist, I returned to Manchester and was again looking for accommodation, this time on my own. The first room I found, in an Irish house in Fallowfield looked OK, but after my first night I found I was covered in red bumps where the bed bugs had found warm flesh. I bought some powder that was supposed to kill them, but I think it just made them more vigourous and multiply. I gave my notice and moved out at the end of the week to a Polish house in Rusholme that served for the rest of the year until I could get a place in university accommodation. The Poles were friendly at it turned out fine, though the glass of Polish spirit I was handed every Friday night when I went to pay the rent was near lethal.

My first two years of married life were spent on the top floor of a terraced house off Platt Lane. The rent was reasonable, but the gas and electricity meters swallowed coins at a huge rate, with great profit to our landlord. Draughty sash windows made it a truly chilly place and we plugged the gaps with plastic bags and bought a paraffin heater, the damp from which brought the wallpaper falling off the walls. And first thing when we moved in was to get rid of the several inches of congealed fat on the bottom of the cooker. But it served us well for the next two years and I was sorry to move away, especially as the next flat we found, in Leicester, was rather worse. It was there I had to break the ice to wash, and began to grow a beard because it was too cold to shave.

But from there I went to work in a New Town, with a two-bed flat from the housing corporation at a social rent and a really decent sized living room and the luxury of built in heating. But we wanted to move nearer to London and industrial action including strikes by teachers led to the 1974 Houghton report and a considerable rise in teachers’ pay; together with a promotion to Head of Department it meant there was a short window when I could afford to buy a house, and we took the opportunity and have lived in it since. Other colleagues who made similar purchases at that time have moved and ‘traded up’ and now have properties worth several times as much, but we like it here, so why move?

In many ways we would have preferred to live in social housing. Its a system that works and can provide quality housing at much lower cost than the private sector. But government after government of both parties have found ways to take money out of the system. The Tories are keen to destroy it and to make profits for private enterprise, and much of Labour is the same, though with a greater delusion that somehow this is in the public interest, holding to this even as they trouser the proceeds.

The Haringey Development Vehicle, or HDV, looks at those large, well planned council estates, with large amounts of green space between the buildings (which still achieved high densities) and sees it just as acreage, ripe for development with large numbers of high market price units with the odd sop of unaffordable “affordable” housing. It’s perhaps unfortunate that there are some people currently living there, homes and communities, but CPOs, minimal compensation and vague promises that will never be kept will soon deal with that. And £2 billion of public property is gifted to the developers who will doubtless find various ways to reward those benefactors generous with what they do not own.

It should be criminal, but we don’t generally have laws against the kind of crimes that make the rich wealthier, which is after all how those who make the laws – and particularly the monarchy and aristocracy – got where they are.

You can read about what happened when the march reached the council offices, and you can see it in the pictures. Technically there were a few problems as the light was getting a little low, and there was a lot of crowding and movement. It was hard to get to the right place, and hard to keep the camera still while taking pictures. Once again it was a situation where the 16mm fisheye proved its worth. I had been taking pictures of people behind the barriers in front of the council offices at ISO 800 when the rush to the doors began, and had to climb over a railing to get rapidly near the doors rather than take a longer route around. Around the entrance was a dense, surging crowd, in the middle of which I needed to increase the ISO and make some lens changes.

I began photographing with the 18-35mm on the D750, changing the ISO to 3200, then decided I needed a wider view and put the 16mm fisheye onto the D810. It also has the advantage at f2.8 of being a faster lens. Unfortunately it was only after taking a few images, some of them rather blurred, that I realised I had left the ISO at 800, and needed to increase it. I soon spotted another mistake too; I’d been using the D810 with my 28-200 telephoto in DX mode (makeing it a 42-300 equivalent) and had left it in DX mode rather than switch to FX. When things really happen suddenly like this it is hard to get everything right.

Things calmed down a little and I suddenly saw that some of the protesters were heading for the back of the building and rushed to follow them. Soon I was standing against a huge glass window there feeling it flex around half an inch or more as the protesters attacked it, and at first I stood back a few inches to avoid the movement shaking my camera before deciding there was a good chance it would shatter and I wasn’t in a good place. I rapidly moved back a couple of meters, just as the police rushed in from the front of the building and formed a line across the front to stop protesters trying to break it down. I did feel a little relieved.

Those inside the council offices were still looking very worried, but the police stood their ground but sensibly didn’t try to take much action as they were greatly outnumbered, and the situation slowly settled down, with a rally with speeches taking place on the steps at the front of the building. Inside the council meeting continued, though they would have been very aware of the strength of feeling being demonstrated outside. Not all of the councillors had managed to get into the meeting, and there were a few protesters inside who were unable to leave, but it seemed clear that there would be little else for me to photograph and I left for home.

Council meetings now are largely a matter of rubber-stamping the decisions already taken by a very small group of cabinet members, with little real attempt at discussion, and I’m told that this was the case, with the plans passing through to the next stage. There will of course be further protests, as well as attempts to challenge the decision in the courts, and it seems likely that a number of councillors backing the HDV will lose their seats in the May elections, though this may be too late to stop the plans.

Haringey Residents protest housing sell-off

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Theresa May Must Go!

Thursday, January 11th, 2018

There were I think over 20,000 people on the march organised by the People’s Assembly Against Austerity from the BBC to Parliament Square calling for Theresa May and the Conservatives to go, and I photographed quite a few of them.


Theresa May at Downing St

Taking part were people from a wide range of groups and causes, all affected by the cuts under the Tories and wanting change to policies that put the interests of ordinary people, particularly those in greatest need, ahead of those of the already rich who include many Tory MPs and the relatively small group of people who donate to Tory Party funds. Tory Party membership has declined dramatically and is now thought to be around 70,000, roughly a tenth of Labour membership, and smaller than that of the Lib-Dems and SNP.


Theresa May in Parliament Square

With so many to choose to photograph I doubt if anyone’s pictures can be truly representative, but I tried hard to show the wide range of causes as well ad photographing the people and posters and banners that seem most interesting.

One of the trade union banners that attracted me was a new one for Hull City Unison Branch, which includes Amy Johnson in ‘Jason’ towing a banner with the emblems of the 3 unions that formed UNISON, the Humber Bridge and Spurn Lighthouse and a lifebelt, the Spanish Republican flag and two of the eight from Hull who went to fight with the International Brigade, dockers leader Walter Greendale, Hull’s Rugby League legend Clive O’Sullivan, Mary Murdock, Hull suffragette and the first woman doctor in the UK, Tony Benn, a member of Hulls LGBT community, Headscarf Revolutionary ‘Big Lil’ Bilocca who forced legislation to improve safety on trawlers and Hull’s iconic ‘Dead Bod’.

Of course like most photographers I was drawn to the various smoke flares set off by some of the marchers, which always add a little drama. And despite their aversion to ‘A to B’ marches, Class War were on this one, though they disappeared briefly before the end.

I was sorry to miss them when they returned to Parliament Square to confront Jeremy Corbyn over the terrible Labour housing policies of most Labour councils, with almost 200 council estates on the list for demolition and replacement by high cost housing, in what is a far greater threat to social housing than the Blitz, forcing those on low pay out of much of London in a huge programme of social cleansing. Of course it is a program driven by Corbyn’s enemies on the right of the party and there may be some changes in Labour policies in boroughs as Corbyn supporters – many of whom were on the march and chanting that drearily sycophantic ‘Oh Jeremy Corbyn’ flex their muscles and become local councillors.

Its an issue which Class War and their friends in ASH (Architects for SOcial Housing) have done more than any other group to put on the agenda, and they have been at the forefront in other housing issues, for example with the lengthy campaign against ‘Poor Doors’ – separate doors for social tenants and the wealthy living in the same block which I recorded in a magazine, still available from Blurb, or direct from me to UK addresses for £7.50 including postage.

Tories Out March

 

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