Posts Tagged ‘Covid’

Save the NHS – 3 Feb 2018

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2021


We didn’t have Covid in 2018, but the Tory Government was busy laying the groundwork that would lead to our current 100,000 deaths and counting as a part of their longer term intention to privatise the NHS. It looks likely that the total excess deaths due to the virus will rise to over 200,000 before the outbreak is tamed to a fairly small continuing trickle, mainly then killing those who refuse vaccination.

Tens of thousands marched in support of the NHS through London on 3 February to a rally at Downing St calling on the Government to stop blaming patients, nurses, doctors, immigrants, flu and the elderly for the crisis in the health service and to fund it properly and bring it back into public hands from the waste and demands of private profit.

Despite warnings from many in the health sector of the dangers which would arise from any major pandemic, the government ignored many of the warnings and recommendations of the 2016 Exercise Cygnus, which had simulated a flu pandemic causing as many as 400,000 excess deaths, as well as the experience from other countries around the world in dealing with epidemics.

Over a long period, under Tories and New Labour, the increasing outsourcing of services has damaged the efficiency of the NHS and created dangerously low standards of hygiene, while expensive PFI building contracts have left many hospital trusts with impossible long-term debt repayments. Cutting the number of beds was a way to ease the financial problems, but left hospitals unable to meet the extra demands of normal winters, let along Covid.

Cutting bursaries for nurse training exacerbated the shortage of nursing staff, and over the longer term we have failed to provide training places for sufficient doctors, relying increasingly on those trained abroad, both from the EU and also from countries with greater need of doctors than the UK. And changes to pay and conditions, particularly for junior doctors have led to more UK trained doctors and nurses finding work in other countries.

Back in 2018 I pointed out:

Many in the Conservative Party have financial interests in healthcare companies and their policies are clearly designed to carry out a creeping privatisation of the NHS, setting up various devices including STPs and ACSs (Sustainability and transformation partnerships and accountable care systems) which obligate the tendering of NHS services to private healthcare providers, and large areas of NHS services now provided by companies such as Virgin Healthcare.

Fix the NHS Crisis Now

The march on 3 Feb 2018 began in Gower St, which was packed with people making it hard to walk down as I arrived around an hour before it was due to start. I made my way to the front in time for the start and walked with it for a short way before stopping to photograph marchers as they walked past me on Shaftesbury Avenue. They were still filing past – an estimated 50,000 of them – when I had to rush away to Downing St to photograph the rally there. More were still arriving when I left.

Three years later the need to fix the NHS and to stop the increasing privatisation is even greater. Many of those now in government, including my own MP are advocated moving away from a system free at the point of use to a private insurance-based healthcare system similar to that in the USA – where many now are unable to afford insurance or find that more serious conditions are not covered by it. Were I now living in the USA, it is unlikely that the prescriptions that I now get free for my long-term condition would be covered by insurance and they would be costing me over £1000 per month. Many with Covid would also find they were not covered by insurance and would have no way of covering the huge costs of hospitalisation should there condition become serious. We need to keep our NHS and to stop privatisation – and if necessary increase our tax and national insurance payments to fund it.

More at Fix the NHS Crisis Now


My London Diary : London Photos : Hull : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage : Flickr

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.


Brexit – One Year On

Sunday, January 31st, 2021

Celebrating Brexit in Parliament Square

A year ago there were people celebrating that we were about to leave Europe. Some of them are probably still celebrating now, though we’ve yet to see any of the many advantages that were promised, and have had to come to grips with a few of the downsides.

People had come from across Britain to celebrate

Of course the virus has rather taken our minds off Europe, and while the date of 31st January 2020 had political significance, the transition period and apparently endless bickering over a trade agreement meant that effectively we only left on Christmas Eve – and with an agreement that, thanks to the ridiculous negotiating strategy of our government who seemed to expect that Europe would somehow cave in if we kept shouting at them in English that we would leave without a deal, was considerably less favourable than was on offer earlier in the process.

It’s been a year in which the sheer incompetence and greed of the Conservatives in handling the virus emergency – and in particular the handing out of contracts to their unsuitable and unqualified friends and donors and a dogmatic attitude towards local government and their efforts over previous years to move the NHS towards privatisation has led to many tens of thousands of avoidable deaths. In particular the near-total failure of a national system of tracking and tracing and a poorly implemented phone-based system seemed deliberately designed to increase transmission, perhaps in line with the government’s initial espousal of developing herd based immunity. This would have required a very high percentage of the population to have become infected, and given what was known at the time about the likely death rate, would have resulted in around 400,000 early deaths. Some in government apparently saw that as a bonus, as these would largely have been among the elderly and unproductive, hugely reducing the payments of pensions and other benefits and, post-covid, the costs of what remained of the NHS.

EU Supergirl’ Madeleina Kay – Forever Europe

But back on 31st January a year ago, Covid was not much on our minds (I began to get warnings I should isolate though contacts with those scientists advising the authorities a couple of weeks later – and it took another month after that for the government to react.) But Europe very much was, and as well as those celebrating there were others mourning our loss and celebrating “the 47 years we were in the EU and all we contributed and the positive influence it has on our country.”

A man shouts insults

The deliberately met several hours before the pro-Brexit celebrations were due to start avoid any clashes as they marched from Downing St to the offices of the European Commission in Smith Square, but despite this triumphant extreme-right Brexiteers came to Downing St to shout insults, calling the EU supporters traitors and telling them they were not British, bad losers and more. After police had managed to separate the more aggressive of them moving them to the centre of Whitehall they then attempted to burn an EU flag. The flag refused to burn, though it melted a little in the parts that were heated and the flames came almost entirely from an aerosol spray and some paper fliers.

Marchers celebrate our 47 years as part of Europe

The march went ahead, with just a few jeers as it passed through Parliament Square. At Europe House the European Commission staff came out to welcome them and were given flowers and there was a short speech expressing thanks for what the EU has done for our country and hoping that one day we will rejoin Europe.

European Commission staff meet the march outside Europe House

I went home then not wanting to join in the celebrations that were shortly to take place in Parliament Square. As I wrote at the time:

I’d had enough of Brexit. We will have to live with its consequences for some years and I’m not looking forward to it. Times are likely to be tough for the poor, the disabled, the sick and for workers generally,
including most of those who voted for it and were celebrating in Parliament Square. The wealthy will of course gain – not least by avoiding the clamp down on tax evasion which the EU is now beginning.

My London Diary, Jan 31 2020

À bientôt EU, see you soon
Extremist Brexiteers Behaving Badly
Brexiteers celebrate leaving the EU


My London Diary : London Photos : Hull : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage : Flickr

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.


Outsourcing and Covid

Monday, January 25th, 2021

One of the reasons why the UK has suffered so badly from the corona virus has been outsourcing. Not of course the major reason, which has been government incompetence and failure to take effective action, always a case of too little too late. A year after the outbreak began it is only now considering the kind of travel restrictions that would have saved many thousands of lives (and which even one government minister has said she was arguing in favour of at the start.) Three weeks before we had the first lock-down I was getting urgent messages from relatives who were in touch with the medical advice that was going to the government that, because of my age and diabetes, I should isolate myself.

And of course there has been the failure to work properly with existing public bodies, instead preferring to give huge payments to cronies to set up an ineffectual systems for testing and tracing, to source inadequate PPE and take large consultancy fees to no particular purpose, wasting billions.

Government has deliberately promoted policies which have increased the spreading of the virus, failing to stop much unnecessary work or ensure that proper protective measures are enforced and giving offers to people to go out for meals largely in indoor settings where the spread of infection was almost inevitable. Although they now deny it, their polices were based on ideas of herd immunity, where infection gives a large proportion of the population some immunity and stops the virus spreading; for this to work, perhaps 80% of us would need to have had it, and a quick back of envelope calculation showed that would mean perhaps 400,000 deaths – and I would have been rather too likely to be one of them. It’s a figure we may still reach, though 200,000 seems more likely now – and we are over half way there.

A couple of days ago on the Today programme on Radio 4 I heard Maria, a cleaner from the IWGB being interviewed. She contracted the virus, probably while travelling to work on crowded public transport, and tested positive. Before the test she had been ill at work and had asked her employer if she could go home, but had been told she had to stay. After the positive result, she had to continue to go to work, as the sick pay she would have received was simply not enough to live on.

Maria is probably one of those IWGB members in the pictures I took on 25 Jan 2018, and the other pictures I’ve taken at IWGB protests against outsourcing. Outsourced workers are employed not by the company at their work place – on this occasion the University of London – but by a company that is given a contract for the services they provide. Contracts are usually awarded to the lowest bidder, and outsourcing companies cut their costs by paying low wages, giving only the statutory minimum in conditions – including sick pay, holidays, pensions etc – and often bullying the workers, demanding impossible workloads and failing to provide proper safety equipment – so that they can gain contracts and also make a profit for the company owners.

Usually too both the contractors and the workplace management refuse (often illegally) to recognise the trade unions to which the outsourced workers belong – such as the IWGB, and refuse to discuss any of the workplace issues with them. Often union members are disciplined and sacked for their union activities.

Had Maria been one of the cleaners at the various places where the IWGB have been able by organising protests like this and forcing the management to talk with them and to get the workers directly employed she would have got the kind of conditions that other workers at these places take for granted. She would have been able to call in to work when she knew she was ill and have time off, and would have been able to self-isolate after her positive corona test, as she would have been able to rely on proper sick pay.

Outsourcing and other poisonous working arrangements, particularly zero hours contracts, have been a major factor in directly spreading the infection, and are a part of the reason for its increased prevalence among our black and ethnic minority communities. Low pay too has an indirect effect, leading to more crowded housing conditions. Many low paid jobs too are ones that involve considerable contact with others, and often involve travel in crowded public transport to workplaces.

The first protest on that Thursday evening in January was calling for the University of London to directly employ the cleaners, receptionists, security officers, porters and post room staff that work in the premises that are part of the central administration, including offices and halls of residence, and took place outside the University’s Senate House. Earlier protests have persuaded the University to consider direct employment for some of these workers, but the IWGB call for all of them to be brought in-house as soon as possible. Students and some teaching staff from various colleges came to support the protest.

At the end of this protest a double-decker bus hired by the union arrived to take those present to a ‘secret location’ for a further protest and I was invited to go with them. It dropped us off around the corner from the Royal College of Music, and the protesters ran into the building. A new contractor had taken over the RCM cleaning contract and decided to halve the hours worked by cleaners and change shift times. Most of the cleaners have to work on several jobs like this to make ends meet and so were unable to change to the new hours and had been threatened with dismissal. The RCM and the contractor had refused to discuss the changes with the IWGB who had launched a collective grievance; the cleaners have balloted for strike action and the union is also considering a legal challenge under law governing the transfer of undertakings.

It was a short and very noisy protest inside the foyer, and the protesters who had been very careful to avoid any damage left when the police arrived after 12 minutes and continued their protest outside.

More at:
Cleaners rush into Royal College of Music
End Outsourcing at University of London


My London Diary : London Photos : Hull : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage : Flickr

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.


Inauguration Day

Wednesday, January 20th, 2021

Trafalgar Square, 20/1/2017

Four years ago, on 20 Jan 2017, London was protesting against another inauguration, that of Donald Trump. Commenting on those protesting outside the US Embassy – still then in Grosvenor Square I wrote:

All were appalled at the thought of a president who is a climate change denier, has a long history of racist and Islamophobic outbursts, has boasted of sexually assaulting women and has downplayed the severity of sexual violence.

Crowds protest Trump’s Inauguration

The four years that followed have confirmed most of our worst fears and in some ways gone further than we imagined, for example with disastrous polices in the Middle East and in particular over Israel and Palestine.

There will not be significant protests in London today, and even if police were not enforcing Covid restrictions particularly rigorously against protests I don’t think there would have been. We may not have any particularly high hopes for Biden and Harris, but at least they are almost certain to be better than Trump.

At least the US seems certain to re-engage with climate change – although probably still intent on keeping the US as the world’s largest polluter and allowing US companies to plunder the world for resources. And though it’s good to have a slightly saner finger close to that nuclear button it seems unlikely that the US will stop supporting corrupt fiefdoms in the Middle East and elsewhere and desist from supporting coups against popular governments that attempt to regain control over their own resources in South America and elsewhere.

Though I do hope for some positive surprises in the first hundred days, and there have certainly been rumours of some. Perhaps we will see the cancellation of some of the more environmentally damaging projects given the go-ahead by Trump. Almost certainly there will be fewer racist rants and tweets and there could even be some real progress on civil rights.

But while we may have some hopes for the United States of America, the future for our United Kingdom remains depressing. Suffering under the burden of Brexit and Covid, with a government that continually proves itself both corrupt and inept and an opposition which is ineffectual and sycophantic – and currently outclassed, outgunned and outplayed by a young footballer.

And that ‘United’ is less and less than ever appropriate; Brexit divided the country, and most of us now realise it was a terrible mistake – even increasingly more of the 34% who voted for it. It has created a border between the mainland and Northern Ireland and exacerbated the gap between England and Scotland. Even Wales seems more distant, though it has protected our relationships with those tax havens that make us possibly the most corrupt country in the world.

There is one small glimmer of hope, apart from the vaccinations that may just eventually allow us to gain some accommodation if not exactly control over Covid. Last Sunday saw the inauguration of the Project for Peace and Justice, founded by Jeremy Corbyn, an international campaign which describes itself as “a hub for discussion and action, building solidarity and hope for a more decent world.”

F**k Trump
Crowds protest Trump’s Inauguration


My London Diary : London Photos : Hull : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage : Flickr

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.


My old slides

Sunday, May 17th, 2020

I took my first colour pictures years before I was a photographer. I’d long had an interest in photography, assiduously reading Amateur Photographer from cover to cover in the local library each week and around the age of 13 had saved pennies from my very limited pocket money each week, finally managing to buy a Halina 35x, which looked like a real camera. But it was around 4 years later that I could afford to buy my first film and send it away for processing, an Ilford black and white film which was returned with 36 postcard-size deckle-edge lustre prints, mainly of ancient oak trees in Richmond Park, though one of my father in our back garden in tie and cardigan uneasily holding a garden fork still adorns an oval hole in one of those family composites put together by my wife on our landing.

But the second film I took, I think the following year, was Agfa colour transparency. Most or all of it was taken of a girlfriend, an aspiring model, sitting in a blossom covered peach tree (grown from a stone) again in our back garden. I’m not sure if any have survived and the romance certainly didn’t, perhaps largely because as a penniless student I didn’t have a sports car and couldn’t take her to clubs, restaurants and pubs like the older men she met.

For the next few years I was a film a year man, a roll of colour transparencies taken on holidays and outings. I did take a couple of rolls of black and white when still a penniless student, but my photography was rather more curtailed when I dropped the camera in the lake at Versailles on my first overseas holiday, a week in a student hostel on the outskirts of Paris with my future wife. Fished out after some minutes underwater it never worked reliably again, the leaf shutter closing when it felt like it rather than following the set speed.

Around five years later I could afford to replace it with a cheap Russian SLR, and by then I’d also taken a short darkroom course and was living in a flat where I could set up a temporary darkroom in the kitchen to develop film and make black and white prints and my photography really began. But I continued to take the occasional colour slide film, mainly still for holidays. And by the time I really began photography seriously I was usually carrying two camera bodies, one with black and white and the second colour film.

Until 1985, all of that colour film was transparency film, partly because at that time most publications would only accept slides, and I aspired to have my pictures published event if they seldom where. Most of it, largely on cost grounds, was in those early years taken on film which used the E3 process, and it hasn’t aged well. E4 which replaced it towards the end of the ’70s has done better and what little Kodachrome I took (it was more expensive) best of all. Of course my slides have been stored in far from ideal conditions at home which will have accelerated their ageing.

Thanks to the Covid lockdown, I have managed to complete the scanning of all those slides which I can find which seem worth scanning. A few in the past were scanned on a proper film scanner at around 20 minutes per image; a few years ago I found I could get acceptable results from my Epson 750PRO flatbed (though only by not using its automatic location which crops unacceptably) but have now found a bellows and macro-lens much faster and better. Retouching to remove spots and mould can still be time-consuming, and I’ll only do this when I need to use the images. I’ve found little if any gain in cleaning the slides other than with an air blower – and using cleaning fluids and cloths seems to make those in card mounts even dirtier.

At the end of last month I wrote a little about a cycle ride up the Loire valley with some pictures on Kodachrome from 1975. The pictures in this post are from Paris in 1973 and have survived better than most I took in the early years. You can see them larger by right-clicking and choosing to open them in a new tab.


My London Diary : London Photos : Hull : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage : Flickr

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.


Super supermarket pictures

Saturday, May 16th, 2020

Photographer Dougie Wallace who I’ve mentioned here before for work including his pictures of shoppers outside Harrods has a fine portfolio on LensCulture, Adapting to Covid-19 in London’s Supermarkets.

Rather more sympathetic to his subjects than in some of his work, Wallace’s pictures show a remarkable degree of intimacy to the shoppers and supermarket workers he photographs. It’s hard to believe that some were not taken at rather less than the regulation 2m Covid separation.

In the text he is recorded talking about some of the problems in making pictures under lockdown, and as still “struggling with the professional hazard of holding a camera close to the face while trying not to touch one’s face and remembering to regularly sanitize hands and equipment to protect against the invisible enemy.”

It is remarkable work made under challenging conditions. Wallace worked with the small, fast and light Olympus EM1 Mark 3, a Micro Four Thirds camera. I’ve not used this latest top of the range model, but very much liked the similar mid-range Olympus OMD M5 MkII which cost me less than a quarter of the price. Olympus back in film days were always the nicest cameras to use – I still have two OM4 bodies – and that superior user experience is still there in their digital models.

There are very few occasions when one really needs the larger sensor of a full-frame camera – perhaps copying negatives and slides. Working in very low light too; though wide aperture lenses and image stabilisation go some way to bridge the gap, they don’t help when you need depth of field and are photographing moving subjects.


My London Diary : London Photos : Hull : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage : Flickr