Archive for the ‘Political Issues’ Category

Refugees Still Welcome

Friday, June 2nd, 2017

The General Election campaign is back in full swing with less than a week to go before the vote. Like many I’ve been a little surprised at how well Jeremy Corbyn has been succeeding in getting his message across, despite a generally hostile press and media, though I’ve not been letting myself carried away.

Most shocking have been some of the statements made by a few hard-core opponents of him in the Labour Party, and even in the unlikely event of Corbyn being able to form a government it wouldn’t be surprising if there were enough defections from the party of candidates who got elected though a successful campaign that he led to immediately bring it down.

It’s been a disappointing to see too some of the compromises that Corbyn has had to make, presenting policies that he doesn’t believe in because they are Labour policies, voted for by conference. Wasting a small fortune on Trident is of course one of them; there must be ways those workers involved could be employed on something that makes sense, and time the unions involved were clamouring for this rather than supporting a white elephant for the sake of members’ jobs.

I’m sure too that Corbyn would like to be far more positive about the benefits of immigration and of welcoming refugees and asylum seekers than he has been in this campaign, and ending their often heartless and sometimes illegal persecution by the Home Office. Opinion polls show that the British population would give their support to a fairer and more welcoming approach, but one that his political opponents would pounce on. Labour have few promises, though they do state they would end the indefinite detention of migrants, but on refugees there is only the vague statement that Britain would take in its ‘fair share’.

Clearly the Conservative government have been against that – as the handful of Syrian refugees allowed in and the failure to live up to the Dubs Amendment over bringing in refugee children have shown.

I wasn’t in Parliament Square for all of the rally, and missed the Lord Dubs who was the only Labour politician to speak, along with Caroline Lucas MP for the Green Party and a Lib Dem campaigner Shas Sheehan. I did see Vanessa Redgrave (who I’d also photographed earlier) and Jeremy Hardy, but there were very few MPs making themselves known.

More  at Refugees Welcome Here

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What Housing Crisis?

Thursday, June 1st, 2017

I was going to write something about the so-called housing crisis in a week or two, when mentioning the appearance at the LSE’s 3-day ‘Resist’ festival of Simon Elmer (above) of Architects for Social Housing (ASH).


Lisa McKenzie who organised ‘Resist’ – one of several reasons for her victimisation by the LSE

On that occasion he gave a passionate and well-argued and evidenced indictment, ‘The Intellectual Bloodstain’ on a report by a group of LSE academics on Kidbrooke Village, a development by Berkeley Homes and Southern Housing, which you can read a little more about at Simon Elmer of ASH indicts LSE. What prompts me to come back to housing earlier is a recent post on the Ash Website, 10 Myths about London’s Housing Crisis.

Housing has of course emerged as an issue, if a relatively minor one, in the election campaign. And what is if not a crisis certainly a disaster is that both main parties have got the issue seriously wrong.

10 Myths…‘ was commissioned by The Guardian, but when they saw it they refused to publish it, one reason why I’m sharing it here. Both Tories and Labour have, possibly for slightly different reasons, delegated their housing policies to the developers and estate agents. The Tories because they and many of their backers are doing very nicely thank you out of the huge boom in property prices, and Labour, or at least New Labour who run many Labour local councils see selling off the council estates – realising their asset values – as a short-term solution to all the squeezes on local authority budgets.


Inhabitants of the Heygate Estate were early victims of Labour-led regeneration

What the Labour left think on the subject is something of a mystery, though possibly if they emerge stronger from the general election they may feel they can speak up for the currently down-trodden and oppressed council tenants rather than stay stum about their problems. But I wouldn’t bank on it even if we do get that unlikely Corbyn victory.

I have some reservations about Elmer’s first point, that rather than a crisis the present housing situation has been “been carefully prepared and legislated for by those who have the most to gain from it.” While he is right to suggest that it is more a scandal than a crisis, it has been one which is only partly down to deliberate plans and has been greatly assisted by unforeseen events.

When New Labour first set out their plans for regeneration they failed to envisage the extremes of inducements that developers would use to bribe councillors and councils, nor the huge gap in bargaining competency between long-practising private sector and naive public servants. Something of course that is also responsible for the huge cash crisis of the NHS – the PFI elephant that seldom seems to merit attention.

But the remaining nine points are I think straight down the line, and its an article that I commend to you – as well as to all politicians. If you really want to contribute to solving the ‘housing crisis’, you need to understand what it rally is. So should we wake up on June 9th with Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister I rather hope he and his colleagues will have time to read this and take appropriate action. It it’s May again then if you are one of the millions affected  by the ‘housing crisis’ you should read it to find out why you are being shafted.

Simon Elmer of ASH indicts LSE
10 Myths about London’s Housing Crisis

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Vedanta

Friday, April 28th, 2017

Vedanta is “one of the world’s most ancient spiritual philosophies and one of its broadest, based on the Vedas, the sacred scriptures of India” according to the Vedanta Society of Southern California, which also tells me it is “the philosophical foundation of Hinduism” but that it is “universal in its application and is equally relevant to all countries, all cultures, and all religious backgrounds“. Theirs is a rather more understandable description than in the possibly more rigorous Wikipedia page on the subject.

It goes on to state:

Vedanta affirms:

  • The oneness of existence,
  • The divinity of the soul, and
  • The harmony of all religions

and later that “Vedanta asserts that the goal of life is to realize and to manifest our own divinity.”

Vedanta World puts it slightly differently “Vedanta designs the pursuit of happiness through logical and systematic exposition of eternal truths. Founded on no individual, It is a system of knowledge“.

But Vedanta the company is something quite different. It styles itself as follows:

Vedanta Resources, is one of the world’s largest diversified natural resources companies with interests in Zinc, Lead, Silver, Copper, Iron Ore, Aluminium, Power and Oil & Gas. Vedanta Resource’s operation is located in India, Zambia, Namibia, South Africa, Liberia, Ireland and Australia.

Its critics would see it more like;

Vedanta designs the pursuit of material profit through the ruthless and systematic destruction of communities, the exploitation of workers, the corruption of governments, creating high levels of pollution through its mining of natural resources. Founded by Anil Agarwal, it is a system of ruthless exploitation.

For some years the group ‘Foil Vedanta‘ (also on Facebook) has organised protests outside the AGM of this London-based multi-national mining giant, bringing along their own inflatable ‘Vedanta Monster‘, as well as some members buying shares in order to attend the meetings and question the companies activities.

Foil Vedanta have also supported other groups on the ground and under threat from Vedanta, including the Dongria Kondh of India’s Niyamgiri Hills who won a court victory against the company who wanted to destroy their sacred mountain for the aluminium ore it contains. Their research showed the Zambian government how Vedanta was cheating them out of huge amounts of tax in their copper mining there. Campaigning  by them and other organisations has resulted in many  organisations around the world, including the Church of England and the Norwegian Government’s Pension Fund divesting from the company.

The entrance to Ironmonger’s Hall is under the walkways on the Barbican estate and is a slightly restricted space  which does concentrate the protesters but also sometimes makes it a little difficult to work.

Again it was a place where a fairly extreme wide-angle is essential, and the Nikon 16-35mm was very useful, though when the Vedanta Monster came into play I needed the wider view of the 16mm fisheye – though even that’s 147 degree horizontal angle wasn’t always sufficient.


Samarendra Das of Foil Vedanta speaking as shareholders walk past the protesters

As usual I also had a telephoto, the 28-200mm on the D810, working in DX mode – great for framing with the area outside the frame greyed but still visible. The picture above was at 80mm (120 equiv), ISO 800, 1/250s, f/8, with my standard -0.3EV setting. Even on DX setting the camera still produces a 4800×3200 pixel file (15Mp), large enough for almost any use.
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Wood St final

Thursday, April 27th, 2017

We didn’t know it on the day, but this was to be the final protest in aid of the Wood St cleaners, on the 50th day of their strike. Eight days later, shortly before the next protest it was called off as the UVW had arrived at a satisfactory settlement. The strikers had been there on the picket line for 58 days which says a great deal for the determination of the workers – and for the obduracy of the employers.

Strikes are costly for those taking part, who lose their wages, though it helps that there was a great deal of support and contributions from other trade unionists to the strike fund. This strike was particularly expensive for the UVW union, which was almost bankrupted by being saddled with over £10,000 in legal costs after being taken to court by the employers. Fortunately people came to their aid.

Financially strikes don’t always make sense, but generally they are more about issues such as fairness and being treated with respect by management. Often, as in this case it is unfair sackings which precipitate strikes, which are a demonstration of solidarity with fellow workers.

But the costs were surely higher for the employers, starting with their own legal bill, but more importantly in terms of their reputation and the likely loss of future contracts. Who would want to be associated with a company that led to people protesting outside your offices for 58 days – and during that time delivered an obviously inferior level of service? Rational and well-managed companies seldom suffer from strikes as they realise that their best interests are served by a motivated workforce that is well-managed and given reasonable pay and conditions.

But outsourcing, with contracts being awarded for the short term to the lowest bidder encourage cowboy companies who try to cut costs by overloading the workers, and pay them and the lower levels of management as little as possible. Often when they take over the workforce from a previous contractor they renege on agreements made previously. It’s a recipe for strife and for poor quality performance which I’ve personally seen proved in schools and hospitals.

I don’t know how many pictures I took in all of the protests at Wood St, but it must be several thousand, and the 50 or so I posted on My London Diary for this evening’s protest were probably less than a tenth of those I took on this occasion.

Roughly a quarter of those that made it into My London Diary were taken with the 16mm fisheye, an unusually high percentage for me. It is a lens that comes into its own when working in crowded situations, and the protest outside the back entrance to the CBRE offices involved a large group of people in a very confined space.

But more than any other lens I think it is one that I have to be in a particular state of mind to use – and sometimes it will stay unused in my camera bag for weeks or more. And at times I’ll find myself wondering after covering an event why I didn’t think to use it. It isn’t easy to work with but sometimes it is the only tool for the job.

I do use it with a little reluctance. It adds time to my processing as almost every image made with it needs to be taken into Photoshop so that I can straighten the verticals using the Fisheye-Hemi plugin. As well as taking time, this also uses up a ridiculous amount of hard disk space, as the image needs to be converted into a Tiff file to allow this to happen.

Working with the D750, a typical RAW file is around 22Mb. The Tiff file from this will be around 141Mb giving a total for a single image of 163Mb. I’ll store images on two different hard disks – so that doubles the storage needed to over 320Mb. Add two copies of a full-size high quality jpeg and the full amount is around 350Mb. Even with hard disks now available with 6 or 8Tb of storage these files soon fill them up.

If I work on the D810 with its larger 32Mp files the total gets to over 500Mb per image. I like to do this with landscapes as the camera can provide level indicators in the viewfinder while taking pictures, essential in avoiding converging or diverging verticals in the processed image, but I think these can actually help in pictures of protest such as a couple of those here.

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Stand against racist surge

Wednesday, April 26th, 2017


Antonia Bright and Movement for Justice on the march

After the narrow referendum vote in favour of leaving Europe, the People’s Assembly and Stand Up To Racism organised an emergency demonstration against the xenophobia the ‘NO’ vote appeared to reflect and encourage, and calling for an end to austerity and for the defeat of the Tory government. Thousands marched to support people from abroad who live in this country including refugees and asylum seekers.

It wasn’t a huge protest, organised only shortly before and in a rather busy month when the university term was over and many people were either already away on holiday or getting into holiday mood, but even so the roughly ten thousand who made it dwarfed the rival counter-protest by the EDL. I left the main march to photograph a brief ‘flash-mob’ by cleaners and supporters at the CBRE main London offices close to the march route, and then hurried down to Marble Arch to try an find the EDL.

There were so few it would have been hard to find them without the police escort which was keeping it safe from anti-fascist – and easily outnumbered the EDL marchers, a rather dejected looking group of well under a hundred. There was no sign of them at Marble Arch where they were due to gather, but I saw the police a couple of hundred yards away down Park Lane and hurried after them to find they were leading the EDL a short distance down Park Lane to hold their rally inside Hyde Park.


EDL in Hyde Park

In the park the EDL rejected the pen the police had provided, telling the police they were not animals, and instead held a rally just in front of it, the speakers standing on the barriers and the small crowd surrounded by several ranks of police. My picture above shows of a man who was arguing with the police who were protecting the protest, mainly from the press and was I think complaining about us being allowed to take photographs. A woman walked past on the opposite side to where I was standing and shouted ‘Black Lives Matter’ and was handled roughly by EDL stewards while police turned their backs, but most of the anti-fascists had already left to join the larger march, and after a few minutes when there seemed to be little of interest happening I left too, catching the tube to arrive in Parliament Square for most of the rally.


Relaxing in the sun before the rally in Parliament Square

I caught the tube to catch up with the main march and photograph the rally in Parliament Square, where the atmosphere was very different, with people relaxing in the sun. The event seemed very much a pro-Jeremy Corbyn event, with posters, banners and hats supporting him.


Zita Holbourne of BARAC and PCS holds her drawing ‘We Stand with Jeremy Corbyn because he stands with us’

The event came at the end of a week in which both Angela Eagle and Owen Smith had announced they would challenge Corbyn for the Labour leadership (though Eagle withdrew a few days afterwards) but there was no doubt who those at this even supported – and so to did over 60% of those who were allowed to vote when the election took place.

The challengers only hope had been that Corbyn would not be allowed to take part, and 4 days before the march the NEC had decided they had to follow the very clear rules that the incumbent leader would be on the ballot without needing to gain the nominations of MPs and MEPs required to challenge him. Even the NEC’s desperate attempt to ban some 130,000 recently joined members (against party rules, but an appeal court ruled they could change the rules) seemed unlikely to affect the result.

Another member of the press as we were standing together photographing the speakers asked me how long I thought Corbyn could hang on. “Until 2020” was my reply, “and longer if he wins the election“. Now the election is coming rather earlier than expected, and his future will depend on the vote. Perhaps he will be Prime Minister until 2022, but if Labour fail disastrously he may be forced out earlier and the party could be faced with crisis; it’s hard to see how it can continue with MPs and a party apparatus that is so out of line with the views of the vast majority of its members.

End Austerity, No to Racism, Tories Out!
Peoples Assembly/Stand Up to Racism rally
EDL march and rally

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Police Station Occupied

Friday, April 14th, 2017

Sometimes I look at the pictures long after an event and realise with a start that I forgot or failed to see what would have been an obvious picture, and in this case, when Focus E15 briefly occupied a police station, it was a good, clear image using the sign above the door which read ‘POLICE’. It is visible in a number of pictures, but clearly I hadn’t managed to take one that really made good use of it.

Of course it may not have been that I hadn’t wanted to or even tried. Sometimes I can see possibilities, but they don’t happen spontaneously – and it goes completely against my principles to set things up. Looking through the 45 or so images on-line in Focus E15 Occupy Police Station it seemed fairly clear that I was aware of the sign and I wondered why I hadn’t managed to make better use of it.

So I went back to my backup of the day’s work on my NAS, a Drobo 5N that sits to my right, and went through the pictures for the day – around 330 of them. So many have that sign in them that it was clear I was trying hard to include it, but didn’t manage to do so well enough to for  those pictures to make the web page. People just didn’t stand and set up things in the right place. Perhaps the best attempt was the image above, though it might be better had I taken it in portrait format – like this:

but I can see why I chose not to use this, as it definitely isn’t a flattering angle for Jasmin Stone. And while I don’t set out to flatter I try to present people well.

I can also see other images in the set that are on-line that I’ve framed to get that word in, notably where a police officer comes to talk with the protesters:

but at the critical moment, where the expression on the officer’s face and those of the protesters are at their most interesting, one of the protesters waves a Focus E15 flag in front of that word.  I can almost feel myself shouting ‘CUT!’ and saying ‘OK, lets run that scene again, and this time can we keep the effing flag to the left of the doorway’, but this isn’t a film set, and I’m not a director.

It is there in my favourite frame from the set, but rather in the background, but I’m fairly sure that would be why I was standing where I was to photograph Jasmin speaking. It was slightly tricky to take pictures, as it was a busy road and the pavement isn’t particularly wide, and there was a steady stream of people walking past as the annual Newham show was taking place in the park down the road.

Of course this wasn’t the only thing to photograph. This was the pavement outside and the occupation was taking place up above, not quite inside the building, but on the balconies.  Here’s just one picture of that, with one of the ‘occupiers’ holding up a ‘selfie stick’ which E15 produced so that people could pose with Robin Wales, the feudal Labour Mayor of Newham who features in their posters as ‘Robin the Poor’ and who had to apologise for his arrogant and rude behaviour to Focus E15 at a previous ‘Mayor’s Newham Show’ – not a previous Mayor’s show, but a previous show – the Labour Party machine in Newham, essentially a one-party state – runs the voting to ensure that no-one but Robin from the party can stand as mayor.

I’ve written a longer than usual article about the afternoon and Focus E15’s campaign at  Focus E15 Occupy Police Station where you can view my selection of pictures from the afternoon.
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Black Lives Matter

Thursday, April 13th, 2017

Sir Henry Tate, looking down on a part of the crowd in Windrush Square, Brixton was a sugar manufacturer who made a fortune out of refining and selling cane sugar here in the UK. Although his business had no connection with the slave trade, which had ended in the British colonies around 1840, a few years after the 1833 Slavery Abolition Act and Tate only began in the sugar business in 1859, his was clearly a colonial business, making its profits from the sugar grown by freed slaves and their descendants in the colonies, notably Barbados.

Tate was a great philanthropist, giving generously to colleges and hospitals and endowing south London with four free libraries, at Streatham, Balham, South Lambeth, and Brixton and treated his own employees well, building a dance hall and bar for them opposite the Silvertown factory. And of course in 1897 he gave his art collection to the nation, paying most of the cost for a gallery to house on Millbank – which has officially borne his name since 1932.

Although the sugar he made the profits on came from workers in the Empire, I’m not aware that any of Tate’s philanthropy extended to them, but he did provide the library outside which the protest I was photographing took place, and the gardens, now known as Windrush Square in which we were standing were given to the public by Tate’s wife after his death, in keeping with his wishes.

Many of those who came from the Caribbean to Britain in the post-war period, starting with those on board the Empire Windrush in 1948, found work in and around Brixton after the first arrivals were housed temporarily in the no longer needed deep shelter on Clapham Common. And for some, that Tate Library was their university and the gardens outside a popular meeting place. It was renamed Windrush Square as a part of the 50th anniversary of the arrival of the ship, but a few years later was the subject of a savage makeover by Lambeth Council (whose offices are opposite) designed largely with the objective of making it an unpleasant and windswept place to discourage any gatherings there.

Despite this it remains a centre for the community, and several hundred gathered there for a rally and march in Memory of Alton Sterling, shot several times at close range while held on the ground by two white police in Baton Rouge, and Philando Castile, killed by a Mexican-American police officer in St Paul, Minnesota, two of the latest black victims of police violence, and to show solidarity with those murdered by police brutality, both in the US and here in the UK.

Police, here and in the USA, don’t just kill black people, but the victims of police killings are certainly disproportionately black, and Brixton has history of such events, including the deaths of Ricky Bishop, Sean Rigg and Olaseni Lewis. The situation is clearly even worse in the USA than here largely because all police carry guns, but at the annual commemoration of the lives of those killed in custody in London a list of several thousand who have died in suspicious circumstances is carried at the front of the procession down Whitehall.

One poster in particular – I think from a US source – had a message worth quoting in full:

“Yes, ALL Lives Matter. But we’re focused on the Black Ones right now OK? – Because it is very apparent that our judicial system doesn’t know that. Plus if you can see why we’re exclaiming #BLACKLIVESMATTER you are part of the problem.”

Speaker after speaker, all I think black, though there were a significant number of white supporters in the crowd – mainly at the back, wanted to have their say, and the rally went on much longer than had been planned.  So long that I was unable to stay for the march, which later I was told went to Brixton Police Station, where several young black men have died over the years in suspicious circumstances, blocking the road and bringing traffic on the busy road through Brixton to a stop for several hours.


Brixton stands with Black victims
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More Brexit

Wednesday, April 12th, 2017

It remains difficult to see anything positive coming out of our vote to leave Europe, and it seems to have brought out a number of the worst sides of parts of the British public, with an increase in racist attacks and bullying. Another Europe is Possible hosted a rally opposite Downing St against this climate of fear and hatred after the Brexit vote, calling for an end to scapegoating of migrants and Islamophobia.

Its long seemed irrational to me to allow the free movement of capital but to restrict the movement of people; if the market is a good enough mechanism for one it should be for all, though perhaps we might be better with a certain amount of planning and intervention in both. But certainly we don’t need the kind of draconian measures that the UK currently takes against migrants in general and refugees and asylum seekers in particular. The contribution that migration has made both economically, in maintaining essential services and in broadening our culture during my lifetime has been enormous and a genuinely free press would welcome and praise it – and politicians would then not be able to stir up the kind or racist and xenophobic responses that were behind many of the votes to leave Europe.

I arrived as Anna from Movement for Justice was speaking about the terrible injustice and maltreatment of asylum seekers in our detention prisons such as Yarls Wood, and photographed her framed by MfJ posters; a still image doesn’t tell us what anyone was saying, but the posters make MfJ’s arguments clear.

Of course we can’t ignore the Brexit vote, close though it was, but it is still worth fighting for the kind of Brexit it is going to be, keeping up the pressure on Theresa May (and her possible successors) not to throw out the baby with the bathwater as they currently seem determined to do.

Another of the speakers as Syrian activist Muzna Al-Naib, urging the UK to take action over the atrocities of the Assad regime and to offer real support to the Syrian people and to offer refuge to more than the small handful of Syrian refugees that have already managed to come to the UK –  largely despite the efforts of our government.  Her’s was a message that called for love and for unity of peoples and again a banner on the barrier she was speaking behind seemed appropriate.

The Europe, Free Movement and Migrants protest ended with many of those present leaving to go to the Green Park Brexit Picnic,  and while many marched there, I took the tube. The picnic had been advertised as an opportunity for people to come together and debate the future under Brexit, though the great majority of those attending were obviously still feeling upset and cheated over the result of the vote obtained by an essentially dishonest campaign.

Those at the picnic were splitting up in to small groups to debate various aspects of the future as I arrived , some very small like that above, which seemed to me to be seceding into a small island of Europe in the sea of grass, and others considerably larger, circles with perhaps 20 or 30 or 40 people, and they were getting down to some sensible, organised and at times fairly heated discussions.

One group stood out, Brexit supporters who had come to counter the protest with their own ‘picnic for democracy’ organised by Spiked magazine calling for ‘Article 50’ to be invoked ‘NOW!’ They stood out in several ways, not least the number of empty cans and wine bottles and it was clearly in that respect a rather better party than the rest. I started to photograph them and got sworn at and threatened by one or two people who recognised me from right-wing protests I had photographed, but then they found a new outlet for aggression as the march from Downing St arrived with posters against Brexit and were joined by people wearing t-shirts with the message ‘Spread Love Not Fear’ and calling for ‘Hugs for Immigrants’ rather than hate.

There was some angry name-calling and posturing, but people from both groups came across and tried to calm things down, and stopped what had seemed an inevitable fight from developing.  The shouting had attracted the TV crews covering the event, and there was then a little largely good-natured jostling to get greater coverage from the cameras.

Having taken my pictures, I moved a few yards away and sat down to eat my own rather late sandwich lunch, after which as things seemed to have calmed down I decided to leave to cover another event.

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Garden Bridge & Progress

Tuesday, April 11th, 2017

Unless you are a Labour Party member, you probably haven’t heard of Progress. It describes itself as an independent organisation of Labour party members which “aims to promote a radical and progressive politics”. It’s essentially a ‘New Labour‘ pressure group within the party, though it has tried to hide its Blairite identity in recent years by calling itself ‘Labour’s new mainstream‘, something which fools few.


A protester holds up a list of Council Estates that Labour councils are socially cleansing

Though its right-wing views are at odds with the huge majority of the party membership, thanks to considerable funding largely by Lord Sainsbury, and some deft political maneuvering – its supporters are largely careerist politicians – it exercises considerable control over the party machinery, which has so far enabled it to resist efforts to get it proscribed, despite clearly being a party within the party, and it has managed to get many of its members selected as Parliamentary candidates, often to the considerable rage of local party members. So far unsuccessful in its attempts to get rid of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour Leader we are likely to see yet more dirty tricks by Progress MPs and at every party conference.


A woman comes out to shout at protesters and lie to them they are disrupting a youth health meeting

Most London Labour councils are dominated by members or supporters of Progress, and are pursuing policies which in areas such as housing which are completely at odds with the traditional values of the party, working with developers to sell of public assets and drive the less well off out of London.


The Revolutionary Communist Group say ‘Housing is a right – Not a privilege’

Though their may be few brown envelopes changing hands, many Labour (or Progress) councilors are ending up with lucrative jobs, getting trips abroad and lavish lunches and dinners for playing their part in the evicting of social housing tenants, the demolition of their estates and their rebuilding as expensive flats, many simply to be sold as investment opportunities for wealthy foreign investors. Some get sold ‘off plan’ before they are built, being sold again before completion, and then perhaps again a few years later, but often never having been lived in – or perhaps visited a week or two a year for a trip to London.

In one not atypical example, 1700 social housing units were replaced by only 70 in the redevelopment, the former tenants and leaseholders being dispersed onto the fringes of London or further afield, many home owners getting only a fraction of the true market value of their properties, and tenants being forced into private renting with little security of tenure and much higher (and rising) rents.

Progress supports these policies, though hiding its intentions behind higher sounding ideals, the actual policies are all about realising asset values. But look at what has happened, for example to the Heygate Estate at the Elephant, what is happening to the Aylesbury Estate to the south, what Lambeth plan for Central Hill and at other estates around London and the pattern is clear.


Jasmin Stone of Focus E15 talks with a man attending the meeting

Local councils are having a tough time of it with central government cuts, and are looking at estates like these as a way to solve financial problems rather than with any real concern about the people who currently live on them, or the many thousands on their housing waiting lists.

Their feeling about these people is summed up by one Labour Mayor who told protesters ‘If you can’t afford to live in London you can’t live in London‘ and at market rents relatively few can afford it. We need council housing and other social housing in London at prices that ordinary workers, including those on minimum wage, can afford. And one of the jobs of London’s local councils is to ensure it is provided in London, not indulge in social cleansing.


Local residents say Lambeth Council Leader Liz Peck disrespects the views of Lambeth residents

As well as housing protesters, the Momentum conference was also picket by local campaigners against one of London’s craziest plans, the Garden Bridge, a bridge neither necessary nor useful and a huge private project that would require considerable public investment for little public good. Recently there has been a damning report by Dame Margaret Hodge on the financial aspects of the plan, identifying a huge gap in funding which should be its death knell. But the protesters were more concerned that Lambeth Council were backing the scheme, and giving money towards it despite the opposition of Lambeth residents.

Housing Protest at ‘Progress’ conference
Garden Bridge ‘Progress’ protest

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Whatever happened to Chilcot?

Sunday, April 9th, 2017

When things go badly wrong in the UK, we get a public inquiry. Usually these are simply ways to shunt the problem into the long grass. Inquests into suspicious deaths are often used in the same way – sometimes taking many years to get to a decision, by which time it is often too late to take any sensible action.

These inquires are often scrupulously conducted and provide a great deal of highly lucrative employment for solicitors, barristers and the whole legal system. Chilcot too 7 years to tell us what we already knew – that Tony Blair had deliberately mislead both Parliament and the nation.

But if your crime is large enough, you can get away with it, at least most of the time. The bankers emerged largely unscathed after their dubious actions cost many billions and are now richer than ever, and Tony Blair has kept out of jail despite his crimes having emerged.

The top picture, with Blair holding up bloodstained hands in front of a ‘Stop the War ‘ banner is perhaps too obvious, and the image immediately above this, with the bloodstained hand of President Bush handing over bundles of Tenners is rather on the crude side – and needs explanation in a caption as to whose hands these are.

I rather prefer the third Blair image here, which shows him below the posters with the simple text ‘Bliar’ and its bloody bullet holes.

Wikipedia summarises the Chilcot report as saying:

Saddam Hussein did not pose an urgent threat to British interests, that intelligence regarding weapons of mass destruction was presented with unwarranted certainty, that peaceful alternatives to war had not been exhausted, that the United Kingdom and United States had undermined the authority of the United Nations Security Council, that the process of identifying the legal basis was “far from satisfactory”, and that a war in 2003 was unnecessary.

But more interesting still for me are the pictures of protesters – the man shouting at the left of this image, and, at the opposite side a guy in a rather improbable shirt holding the clear message ‘Impeach Bliar’.  Of course it hasn’t happened and is extremely unlikely for political reasons, despite the fact – as the poster held by one of the Global Women’s Strike protesters points out, 2 million Iraqis died as a result of his and Bush’s actions.

I like too the dynamism of the woman in black headscarf and top holding up the Iraqi flag as she shouts out  “Blair lied , Millions Died”.

You can see more of my pictures from the protest at Blair lied, Millions Died – Chilcot.

Inquiries such as this do sometimes come up with the more or less the right result, but if so, always too little and too late. No action has been taken as a result of Chilcot, which considerably pulled its punches in the way it dealt with many of the issues.

The British public, and Labour voters in particular, had already made up their mind about Blair. We knew he had lied and led the country to take part in a war that was a mistake for our country and a disaster for Iraq. It was a failure that played an important part in Labour’s failure to win the 2010 and still the 2015 elections, and one that only a complete break by the party as a whole from his ‘New Labour’ project can overcome in the foreseeable future.

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