Posts Tagged ‘privatisation’

Palestine, Pancakes, Post, Olympics & Zombies 2009

Saturday, February 24th, 2024

Palestine, Pancakes, Post, Olympics & Zombies – Tuesday 24th February 2009 was a long and varied day for me and included some serious issues that are still at the forefront of current news as well as some lighter moments – and I ended the day enjoying a little unusual corporate hospitality with some free drinks for London bloggers.


Al-Haq Sue UK Government – Royal Courts of Justice

Palestine, Pancakes, Post, Olympics & Zombies

First came Palestine, with Palestinian human rights group Al-Haq filing a claim for judicial review before the High Court of England and Wales challenging the government’s failure to fulfil its obligations with respect to Israel’s illegal activities in Palestine.

They were calling on our government – then New Labour under Gordon Brown – to publicly denounce Israel’s actions in Gaza and the continuing construction of the separation wall, to suspend arms related exports and all government, military, financial and ministerial assistance to Israel and to end UK companies exporting arms and military technology.

They also asked them to insist the EU suspends preferential trading with Israel until that country complies with its human rights obligations, and for the government to give the police any evidence of war crimes committed by any Israelis who intend to come to the UK.

Palestine, Pancakes, Post, Olympics & Zombies

Of course the court refused Al-Haq’s case, declining to deal with the UK government’s compliance with its international legal obligations and stating that their claim would risk the UK’s diplomatic “engagement with peace efforts in the Middle East“, something which seemed at the time to be absolutely zero if not negative. They also refused Al-Haq any right to bring the claim because it was not a UK-based organisation and “no one in the United Kingdom has sought judicial review of United Kingdom foreign policy regarding Israel’s actions in Gaza“.

Al-Haq Sue UK Government


Worshipful Company of Poulters Pancake Race – Guildhall Yard

Palestine, Pancakes, Post, Olympics & Zombies

It was Shrove Tuesday and I couldn’t resist the Pancake Race organised by the Worshipful Company of Poulters, and held – with the permission of the Chief Commoner, in the Guildhall Yard.

Palestine, Pancakes, Post, Olympics & Zombies

As I said, “It’s a shame that the Pancake Race is unlikely to feature in the London 2012 Olympics, because it’s perhaps the one sport in which Britain still leads the world, and we seem to have plenty of talent in training.

Poulters Pancake Race


Keep the Post Public – Parliament Square

Postal workers came out from a rally in Methodist Central Hall against government plans to privatise Royal Mail. The government argued they needed to do this to protect pensions and modernise the service.

Postal deliveries had been deliberately made uneconomic by earlier measures which have allowed private companies to cream off the easily delivered profitable parts of the service, while leaving the Royal Mail to continue the expensive universal delivery service – including the delivery of its competitors post at low regulated prices to more difficult destinations.

The government picked up the responsibility for the pensions when the post was privatised and the privatised post office has been allowed to fail on its delivery obligations. We now get deliveries on perhaps 3 or 4 days a week rather than 6, few first class letters arrive on time, and the collection times for most pillar boxes are now much earlier in the day – now 9am rather than 4pm at our local box. While privatisation was supposed to result in more investment it largely seems to have resulted in large dividends and higher pay to managers and the Post Office is in a worse state than ever.

Keep the Post Public


London 2012 Olympic Site – Stratford

I had time for a brief visit to the publicly accessible areas in and around the Olympic site where a great deal of work was now taking place with the main stadium beginning to emerge.

There were some reports at the time that the landmark building Warton House, once owned by the Yardley company with its lavender mosaic on Stratford High Street was to be demolished, but fortunately these turned out to be exaggerated, with only a small part at the rear of the building being lost. But all the buildings on the main part of the site had gone. Some others south of the mainline railway were also being demolished for Crossrail.

Olympic Site Report
London Olympic site pans


March of the Corporate Undead – Oxford St

I made my way back to Oxford Circus for the ‘March of the Corporate Undead’, a Zombie Shopping Spree complete with coffins, a dead ‘banker’, posters, various members of the undead and a rather good band.

Police watched in a suitably deadpan manner (I did see one or two occasionally smile) as the group assembled and applied large amounts of white makeup before making its way along the pavement of Oxford Street, to the astonishment (and often delight) of late shoppers and workers rushing home.

We stopped off at Stratford Place, opposite Bond Street Station to toss some fried bankers brains in the frying pans and then there was a pancake race, holding up a Rolls Royce that was prevented by the police from driving through while we were there.

The parade continued, stopping for a minute or two under the bright lights of Selfridges before continuing to Tyburn, or at least Marble Arch, with more zombies joining all the time.

Hanging the already dead banker seemed a great idea, but getting a rope up over the arch was tricky. Eventually a severed hand gave sufficient weight to enable a rope to be thrown over the ornamental iron-work and the banker was soon hoisted up to dangle over the continuing revels below.

March of the Corporate Undead

This was an anticapitalist event and in particular aimed against bankers and the huge amounts of cash given to them to in the aftermath of the 2007-8 financial crisis which was seen as rewarding the very people who had caused the mess the system was in. The mass of the population was having to suffer cuts in services under a severe austerity programme while bankers were still pigs in clover. The UK has become a very unequal society over the years since 1979 when Thatcher became Prime Minister. The the top 10% got 21% of the UK income, by 2010 it was around 32%.

I left to go to a meeting of London bloggers – and enjoy a few free drinks thanks to Bacardi. The blue and green Breezers seem to me just right for zombies, though I’m afraid after tasting one I went for the beer instead. But I think the zombies on Oxford Street were more alive than those in the corporate world.


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Ed Davey Privatises the Royal Mail – 2011

Monday, January 22nd, 2024

Ed Davey Privatises the Royal Mail: 2011 is a year Liberal Leader Ed Davey would like to forget, particularly now that the scandal around the persecution of postmasters wrongly convicted because the Post Office and Fujitsu refused to admit the Horizon software had serious faults, long exposed by Private Eye and Computer Weekly, has now emerged into public view.

Ed Davey Privatises the Royal Mail

In 2011 Lib-Dem MP Edward Davey, MP for Kingston & Surbiton as was heading the Tory/Lib-Dem coalition’s plans to sell off our postal services as Minister for Employment Relations, Consumer and Postal Affairs. Before becoming an MP he had worked as a management consultant in Sweden, Taiwan, Belgium, South Africa and elsewhere, who specialising in postal services.

Ed Davey Privatises the Royal Mail

His then boss, Business Secretary Vince Cable, was the Lib-Dem MP for the neighbouring constituency of Richmond & Twickenham, so the plans to sell off the publicly owned Royal Mail came from Lib-Dems in this small area of West London.

Ed Davey Privatises the Royal Mail

So Kingston was the obvious place for the national ‘Keep the Post Public’ protest on Saturday 22nd January 2011 and over a thousand came from across the nation for a rally and march there.

Ed Davey Privatises the Royal Mail

Kingston-on-Thames was also relevant for the royal connections incorporate in its name. Kingston is a Royal Borough and the town where many of the earliest Kings of England were crowned, and the march passed within a few yards of the Coronation stone in front of Kingston Guildhall before ending by the River Thames.

And although the Queen herself was unable to come and defend her Royal Mail, a fairly convincing royal look-alike came suitably dressed to give a royal address against selling off her Royal Mail.

Also there to speak were a number of trade union leaders including CWU general secretary Billy Hayes, Dave Ward of the CWU Postal department, Jim Kirwan, CWU London regional secretary, Christine Quigley of London Labour Youth and Christine Blower, the NUT General Secretary. Others speaking included the local Labour candidate and a school student who got huge applause for telling the rally how they had organised and occupied their local school against government cuts and fees increases.

Speakers pointed out that privatisation would result in price rises and the abandonment of the universal service which requires the Royal Mail to deliver and collect to all of the 28 million UK addresses six days a week at the same cost. And we have since seen this happen although not officially; we now get deliveries of mail on perhaps four or five days in a typical week and the collections have become far more erratic.

The cost of a First Class Stamp was then 41p. Presumably as a sweetener for buyers of the privatised company there was already to be a 5p rise in a few months time. If prices had risen simply according to the Bank of England’s inflation calculator, the stamp should now cost 58p but the actual cost now is over double that at £1.25 – a huge increase. And although using a First Class stamp was supposed to mean next-day delivery, First Class letters now regularly take 2 or 3 days or more to arrive.

There were fears that the privatisation would have negative effects on Post Offices, which had been separated from the Royal Mail delivery service since the 1969 Post Office Act, but there were still strong business connections. So far this has not led to many post office branch closures, although many branches are now part of larger stores such as W H Smith. It remains to be seen what effect the closure of many of this company’s high street outlets as it moves towards a focus on travel will have.

In 2011 I wrote “An ICM poll in 2009 found that 78% of us believed selling Royal Mail would be a bad deal for the taxpayer and 82% thought prices would go up.” And it’s clear that we were right. I (and the coalition government) also thought that “the Royal Mail represents rich pickings for the rich supporters of the government“. Its operating profits since 2013 have been over £400 million in every year except 2020 and in 2022 were £758 million. We are paying through the nose for a reduced service. That’s privatisation for you.

More about the march and pictures of the speakers and marchers on My London Diary at Keep Royal Mail Public.


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Fuel Poverty, NHS Staffing, Zero Hours – 2013

Sunday, November 26th, 2023

Fuel Poverty, NHS Staffing, Zero Hours – Three protests in London on Tuesday 26th November 2013 about issues that are still very much with us – and which have got worse since ten years ago today.


Justice Not Jumpers at NPower HQ – City

Fuel Poverty, NHS Staffing, Zero Hours

Ten years ago fuel poverty activists were protesting that profiteering by the major energy providers was leading to many people having to chose between eating and keeping warm, causing many unnecessary deaths. They protested to draw attention to the scandal of energy companies making huge profits and avoiding taxes while many died because of their greed.

Fuel Poverty, NHS Staffing, Zero Hours

The protest came on the day that figures were announced for ‘excess winter deaths’, of which at least 30% are due to cold homes. The previous year the figure had been around 24,000 but that announced on the day of the protest came as a shock, having increased by around a third to 31,000.

Fuel Poverty, NHS Staffing, Zero Hours

The protest in London was one of several around the country including at British Gas’s new Oxford HQ, as well as in Lewes and Bristol. NPower had been chosen for the London protest for its poor record of customer complaints and for having made larger price rises in that year than the other Big Six companies – 9.3% electricity and 11.1% gas.

Fuel Poverty, NHS Staffing, Zero Hours

The companies defend the price rises, spreading the lie that ‘green taxes’ were to blame, though these are a relatively minor factor in costs. The real problem is that privatisation means that large amounts are taken from our bills to pay to shareholders on top of the increasing costs of dirty fossil fuels.

NPower takes 5p in every pound we pay as profit and welcomes increasing costs as this adds to their profits which rose by over a third to £413 million in the previous winter when its price hikes pushed an estimate 300,000 more people into fuel poverty. Despite its huge profits the company had managed to avoid paying any corporation tax for the past three years.

Protesters met at Bank for a funeral procession around the City streets to the NPower offices in Throgmorton St with a coffin being carried by pallbears with masks including those of Prime Minister David Cameron and Chancellor George Osborn and wearing jumpers with the logos of the major energy companies.

At the NPower offices they lowered the coffin in front of the row of police protecting the building and a rally took place on the street. One of the first speakers was Andy Greene of Disabled People Against Cuts, who spoke of the effects the energy price rises were having, causing great hardship to many disabled people. Testimonies were then read from many individuals how they had to choose between heating and eating; many were already cold and dreading the coming winter.

More pictures at Justice Not Jumpers at NPower HQ.


4:1 legal minimum NHS staffing – Dept of Health, Whitehall

Nurses began the 4:1 campaign to draw attention to the crisis of staffing in the NHS where there were then over 20,000 nursing vacancies and to the Department of Health’s decision to downgrade 100 A&E departments, effectively closing them. They called for a mandatory staffing level of one nurse for every 4 patients in the NHS.

The campaign stated “The public have had enough of overworked staff, unprecedented avoidable death rates and negative press about the NHS. The public and nurses alike know the value of the NHS, and want to see it perform to its best, providing the dignified care patients deserve.

They were joined in the protest outside the Ministry of Health, then in Richmond House in Whitehall, by other groups concerned about the future of the NHS, including those pointing out the threat to the NHS of the EU-US Trade Treaty, which would open up the whole of the NHS to privatisation.

They were joined by campaigners against the planned closure of many A&E units across the country and by those fighting to save hospitals including at Lewisham and King George V in Redbridge, as well as those with more general concerns about the future of the NHS.

4:1 legal minimum NHS staffing


Cultural Workers against Zero Hours – Millennium Bridge

PCS members from national cultural institutions in London staged a protest at Tate Modern and on the Millennium Bridge against zero hour contracts which gave them no guaranteed weekly hours or income, while stopping them taking on other work.

The number of workers on zero hours contracts more than doubled from around 250,000 in 2012 to around 600,000 in 2013, and since then has continued to increase to around 1.18 million in 2023, over 3% of the total workforce. Although legal in the UK, zero hours contracts are inherently unfair on workers and an exploitation of labour. Labour had pledged to outlaw them, but if they get into government with Starmer as leader we are unlikely to get fairer labour laws.

Employers use zero-hour contracts to cut wages, avoid holiday pay, pensions, and ensure the maximum flexibility and profit for themselves. Many on zero hours contracts in 2013 were also prevented from taking on other part-time work, as they were often obliged to be available for work at the whim of the employer.

The law was changed in 2015 to make contracts which stopped workers from having other part-time jobs. But although in theory workers are not obliged to accept any work offered, in practice should they refuse hours offered for any reason they know that they will be treated less favourably by the employer in the future, often severely discriminated against.

Zero hours contracts were initially designed for use in very limited and specific circumstances where there use might be justified but are now a widespread form of exploitation. The PCS (and other trade unions) “believe that guaranteed hours, a living wage, holiday and sick pay, respect for employment rights, and dignity and respect at work should be fundamental entitlements for all workers.”

Cultural Workers against Zero Hours


End Killing In Palestine & Doctors Protest – 2015

Tuesday, October 17th, 2023

End killing in Palestine & Doctors Protest: Eight years aso on Saturday 17th October 2015 protesters came to the street close to the Israeli Embassy to call for peace in Palestine and an end to Israeli repression. Later I photographed Junior Doctors protesting against changes to their contracts being imposed by the government.


End the killing in Palestine – Israeli Embassy

End killing in Palestine & Doctors Protest

A large crowd were squashed into a protest pen set up by police on the far side of High Street Kensington opposite the private road where Israel has its embassy. Many had Palestinian flags and wore the Palestinian keffiyeh headscarf, and they included many Palestinians.

End killing in Palestine & Doctors Protest

There had been a number of events over the previous month, in particular over what appeared to be a change to the de facto arrangements since 1967 for access by Palestinians to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and an apparent end to the ban on Jewish religious ceremonies there, as well as growing frustration over the continuing suppression of human rights and the failure of any peace talks.

End Killing In Palestine & Doctors Protest - 2015

Tension was increased by a number of uncoordinated stabbings in what has been called the ‘Jerusalem intifada’, carried out by lone Palestinians against Israeli police, military personnel and civilians. This unrest lasted well into 2016.

End Killing In Palestine & Doctors Protest - 2015

In response Israeli forces killed over 200 Palestinians, many of whom were allegedly carrying out attacks on Israelis. But human rights organisations and Palestinian leaders say that many of these were unlawful ‘extrajudicial’ killings, with some of these being killed posing no threat.

Many of those who spoke at the protest – and many are listed and shown on My London Diary – complained about the one-sided coverage of the events in the UK media, particularly the BBC, saying that while the killing of Israelis makes the BBC news headlines, the deaths of Palestinians at the hand of Israeli security forces, illegal settlers and other Jewish extremists is seldom mentioned, although some BBC correspondents make a point of doing so despite the corporate pressure to downplay them.

More at End the killing in Palestine.


Junior Doctors protest to save the NHS – Waterloo Place & Whitehall

Junior Doctors and their supporters including many consultants and other medical staff gathered for a rally in Waterloo Place before marching down Whitehall to a rally in Parliament Square.

They were protesting against new contracts which Health Minister Jeremy Hunt was imposing on them. These will mean more working unsocial hours at standard rates and remove the safeguards that prevent hospitals from more serious overwork. They also penalised those who volunteer for charities, have families or carry out research.

Many doctors see the new contracts as a part of the increasing attempts to privatise the NHS for the profits of private medical firms, which many Tory MPs have interests in. Overwhelmingly doctors who work in the NHS want to see it kept as a service dedicated to the public good rather than working for private profit.

Hunt says the changes are essential to make the NHS a 24 hour 7 day service, but it is already that, and there were many placards naming doctors who would have come to the protest but could not do so as they were at work.

Some of the placards against NHS privatisation for the march were designed by Street graffiti artist Stik who is standing under two of them in this picture. The marchers crowded into Parliament Square but there was not enough room for them all at the rally.

More at Junior Doctors protest to save the NHS


Global Frackdown TTIP & Kobane

Wednesday, October 11th, 2023

Global Frackdown TTIP & Kobane: On Saturday October 11th 2014 I photographed a protest against HSBC supporting fracking in the UK, against the secret TTIP US/EU trade deal and finally a rally in support of the Kurdish fight against ISIS in Kobane and against Turkish support for the ISIS militants.


Global Frackdown at HSBC

Global Frackdown TTIP & Kobane

As a part of a ‘Global Frackdown’ by communities around the world against this environmentally destructive industry which leaves a legacy of water contamination, air pollution and health problems, activists took a mock ‘fracking rig’ to two branches of HSBC in central London. UK anti-fracking campaigners were joined by some from Algeria and Romania.

Global Frackdown TTIP & Kobane

The HSBC bank provides banking services for Cuadrilla the oil and gas exploration and production company developing fracking in the UK and also funds fracking around the world. In Algeria, they are helping to bring this water intensive process to the Sahara and in the US, they underwrite the BG Group responsible for fracking in large parts of the country.

Global Frackdown TTIP & Kobane

As well as the particular problems caused by fracking produces a dirty fossil fuel whose use deepens the climate crisis. But it was largely the earthquakes caused by Cuadrilla’s exploratory drilling that led to a moratorium on it in 2019 in England & Wales. The ban was briefly lifted by Liz Truss in her short but disastrous time as prime minister, but reinstated by Rishi Sunak.

Global Frackdown TTIP & Kobane

I met with the campaigners in Golden Square in Soho, where they were being closely watched and probably outnumbered by obviously nervous police who tried with no success to find out what they planned to do. After a while a group dressed in orange ‘Frack Off London’ hi-viz suits picked up some long black poles they had brought with them and marched towards Regent Street, with others carrying a banner and joining the procession.

They marched along Regent Street forming a quite impressive small crowd and stepped to erect the poles into their mock fracking rig in front of the HSBC branch, where they held a rally. Supporting the protest were Climate Revolution and Romanian anti-fracking activists who had brought their own drilling rig for some street theatre.

After some speeches the campaigners set off marching again, down Regent Street and past Piccadilly Circus on their way to the Strand branch of HSBC where they erected their rig again.

Here there were more speeches and some from the Romanian group put on a short piece of street theatre, fortunately in English, involving a greedy banker, corrupt politicians and people protesting.

The the protest marched off and down Whitehall to Parliament Square for a final short rally and some photographs.

More at Global Frackdown at HSBC.


No TTIP Rally & Banner Drop – Westminster

Protesters against the TTIP, a EU-US Trade Deal being negotiated at highly secretive talks would let corporations sue governments, lock in privatisation of our schools and NHS, undermine protection for privacy, workers and the environment and allow fracking and other harmful activities.

Although the talks were secret, some details had emerged and they were extremely worrying. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership would get the EU to remove the barriers which stopped US agricultural products produced under less hygienic conditions with lower animal welfare standards such as chlorine-washed chickens and beef pumped with high levels of growth hormones as well as GM crops being imported.

EU governments which took actions on environmental grounds could find themselves in industrial kangaroo courts which could impose huge fines if their laws caused US and other companies to lose potential profits from exporting their polluting goods.

The protesters had brought with them a very long two part banner reading ‘HANDS OFF DEMOCRACY’ which was really too long for Parliament Square – and certainly too long for most photographers. A third part of it read ‘#no TTIP’, and I could only just fit thatin as well using a fisheye lens.

After the rally in the square, the protesters marched on to Westminster Bridge and carried out a ‘Banner Drop’ holding all three parts of the message. I’d run down the busy embankment to where it was possible to get a decent picture of the whole thing, but just as I began taking pictures it was moved, probably at the phoned request of the rather lazier official photographer for the group who was much closer to the bridge. And shortly after I’d started taking pictures at the second position it was on the move again.

More pictures at:
#NoTTIP – Hands off our democracy
#NoTTIP – Banner Drop


Support the Defenders of Kobane – Parliament Square

In Parliament Square I also photographed a rally with thousands, mainly of Kurdish or Turkish origin who had stopped for a rally on a march around London supporting the Kurdish fight against ISIS in Kobane, calling for support for the Kurdish fighters and condemning Turkish support for ISIS.

Kobane is a city in Syria and was surrounded by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants in September 2014, forcing most of its inhabitants to flee to Turkey. Bloody battles by Kurdish forces with some help from US air strikes recaptured the city and the surrounding area, and they quickly drove back a later attack by ISIL in June 2015.

Kobane was at the time part of the de facto autonomous region of Syria, Rojava, a remarkable Kurdish democracy with a constitution giving equality to men, women and all ethnic and religious groups. But in October 2019 the city was threatened by an invasion by Turkey and accepted the entry of the Syrian government forces and Russian Military Police into the city, although it still then apparently remained under the de facto control of Rojava.

Turkey has supported the Islamic state militants, hoping that they will defeat the Kurds, many of whom live in Turkey and have been struggling for many years for greater autonomy. Turkey have provided routes for smuggling oil to provide finance for ISIS, and have for some years been fighting with Islamic militants against Kurdish forces in Syria.

Many speakers at the rally in Parliament Square called for the lifting by the UK of the ban on the PKK, the Kurdish Workers Party, whose leader Abdullah Öcalan has been held in jail in Turkey since 1999. In recent years Öcalan has been attempting to negotiate a peaceful end to the conflict, declaring a ceasefire at the Kurdish New Year in March 2013. There were many speakers from the mainstream UK community, including a number of trade unionists, London Green MEP Jean Lambert, and human rights lawyer Margaret Owen.

As the protesters marched away from Parliament Square there was a confrontation with police after they had tried to search some of the protesters and make an arrest. There was a lot of pushing and shoving and the marchers who had already left the square sat down on the street in Whitehall. They were still sitting there half an hour later, with negotiations between the police and protesters apparently continuing. Later one of the three men arrested was released and the protest came to and end.

Support the Defenders of Kobane


Epping Forest Centenary Walk

Thursday, August 31st, 2023

Epping Forest Centenary Walk 2009: London is in some ways a ‘green city’ with over 3,000 parks of varying sizes within the boroughs which make up Greater London. These range from pocket handkerchief areas to large commons and royal parks such as the roughly 2500 acre Richmond Park.

Epping Forest Centenary Walk
Wanstead Flats

London Mayor Sadiq Khan supported London being designated as the world’s first National Park City in 2019 and announced plans to increase the amount of ‘green space’ to 50%. This isn’t a huge target as according to the capital’s environmental records centreRoughly 47% of Greater London is ‘green’; 33% of London is natural habitats within open space according to surveyed habitat information and an additional 14% is estimated to be vegetated private, domestic garden land.”

Epping Forest Centenary Walk
One of the Montague Road Estate flats had misssiles on its roof for the Olympics

In order of size, starting with the largest they categorise this as Other Urban Fringe, Parks And Gardens, Natural And Semi-natural Urban Greenspace, Green Corridors, Outdoor Sports Facilities, Unknown and amenities with other minor contributions. Some 22% is classified as Green Belt which gives some quite strong protection against development, though my borough is currently proposing to build on a little of it.

Epping Forest Centenary Walk
The walk goes on a bridge across the North Circular Road

The protection of green spaces in and around London has a long history, back to the Norman conquest when kings set up royal hunting grounds convenient to their palaces in Westminster and further afield. These were called forests, though most were mainly open land rather than full of trees; the name was a legal term meaning only the king had the right to hunt deer in them. One of the larger areas, established by Henry II in the 12th century was Epping Forest, part of an even larger Forest of Essex.

Epping Forest Centenary Walk
Memorial to a famous evanglalist Gypsy Rodney Smith born in a bender here

Enclosures began to threaten the future of the forest at the start of the 19th century when around a third of the remaining forest was allowed to be privatised for building development and farming by the lords of various manors in the forest. By 1870 around two thirds of the forest had been enclosed.

Warren Pond

By this time many people had become worried about the loss of the commons, particular after neighbouring Hainault Forest had been sold off by the Crown, the trees removed and the area turned into poor agricultural land. More and more people were coming out from London during their free times to enjoy the green spaces in the outskirts and preservation societies were set up.

Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge

The City of London became involved after it bought land at Manor Park for the City of London Cemetery. Traditonally the city had organised Easter Monday stag hunts in the forest, but they now became commoners with the right to graze animals, and began legal actions agaimst lords of the manor who had enclosed forest land. Eventually Acts of Parliament allowed them to purchase the forest manors and an court in 1874 ruled that all enclosures made since 1851 were illegal.

Under the Epping Forest Act 1878 the forest ceased to be a royal forest and became managed by the City – as it still is. The Crown lost its right to venison and commoners lost some of their rights too, but the City Conservators were obliged to “at all times keep Epping Forest unenclosed and unbuilt on as an open space for the recreation and enjoyment of the people.”

The preservation of Epping Forest was the first major victory in Europe for the modern environmental movement. Four years later it was endorsed by Queen Victoria, who although it was no longer royal but in the hands of the City of London, nevertheless stated “It gives me the greatest satisfaction to dedicate this beautiful forest to the use and enjoyment of my people for all time“.

On the 100th anniversary of the Epping Forest Act in 1978, the Friends of Epping Forest began a annual series of anniversary walks from along a route they established from Manor Park Station to Epping. The Friends were originally formed to oppose the routing of London’s orbital M25 through the Forest, leading to it being put in a tunnel. But they have been less successful in opposing some other breaches of the 1878 Act, and in 1989-94 a large section of the south of the forest was lost to build the M11 link road, and during the London 2012 Olympics a temporary police station was allowed to be built on Wanstead Flats.

Epping Station at the end of our walk

I walked the Epping Forest Centenary Walk with some of my family and a friend on Bank Holiday Monday 31 August 2009, and you can download a leaflet including a map (though I’d advise also having the OS Explorer 174) of what has now been renamed the Epping Forest Big Walk. According to this it is 14.1 miles (22.7km) but we managed to walk rather further, possibly partly because we got a little lost at times. Of course you can do the walk in stages rather than all on the same day. If you want to walk with others you can join the free Big Walk this year on Sunday 17th September 2023 to be led by experienced guides!


NHS Birthday Celebrations

Wednesday, July 5th, 2023

NHS Birthday Celebrations: Today the National Health Service marks its 75th Anniversary, founded thanks to the efforts of the Labour Party and in particular Aneurin Bevan, following on from the 1942 report by Liberal economist William Beveridge which had proposed wide-reaching social reforms to tackle the “five giants” of “Want… Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness” (Idleness meaning of course unemployment.) The pictures in this post come from the 65th anniversary ten years ago today, Friday 5th July 2013.

Beveridge was opposed to means-tested benefits which he stated were unfair on the poor, and although the wartime coalition government set up committees to look at how his reforms could be put into practice they were from the onset opposed by many Conservatives and some on the Labour right.

NHS Birthday Celebrations

But Labour stood in the 1945 elections promising to put the proposals into effect, and after their victory passed the National Insurance Act 1946, the National Assistance Act 1948, and the National Health Service Act 1946 and other Acts to do so, founding the UK’s modern welfare state.

NHS Birthday Celebrations

Bevan was the wizard who integrated the multifarious per-existing medical services into the single functioning state body of the National Health Service, though he had to make many compromises to do so, working against considerable opposition both political from the Tories and from the medical bodies which were dominated by old men, many with fixed ideas.

NHS Birthday Celebrations

The 75 years since then have seen many changes in the NHS, not all for the good, with both Conservative and Labour governments determined both to penny-pinch and bring in private enterprise to profit in various ways from our health service. The last 13 years have been particularly tough for the NHS, with disastrous reforms brought in and cuts which have made it impossible for NHS workers to provide the services and care they desperately want to do.

NHS Birthday Celebrations

Covid of course didn’t help – and the failure to provide proper protective equipment, with too many contracts going to cronies who didn’t deliver – and fraudsters – was a real disaster, killing far too many health and other key workers. Despite a magnificent effort by health workers too many died, and the only reward for the huge efforts made by the NHS was claps.

Currently we have a government which refuses to talk sensibly with workers across the health centre, instead simply saying that the below inflation rises it is offering – essentially wage cuts – are fair. It obviously hopes that by provoking strikes and getting its friends in our billionaire owned right-wing press to condemn the strikers for the cancellations, increase in waiting lists and possible deaths it will get the public on its side against the NHS.

Instead we need policies which will engage with the problems the NHS faces after years of underfunding, overwork and shortages. The recently announced workforce plan at least is a plan to do something, though it seems unlikely to prove workable. The shortage of doctors, nurses and other medical staff has been clear almost since the start of the NHS, and certainly critical for many years.

We need to both increase the number of training places and tackle some of the other causes. Private hospitals rely on publicly funded doctors and nurses – and should at least have to pay the training costs for those they employ – although personally I’d prefer to see them being brought into public ownership. As well as poaching staff they also cherry-pick offering care for simpler cases but largely passing back more critical care to the NHS.

There needs to be an end to the expensive and somewhat unreliable use of agency staff, at least by the NHS setting up its own temporary staffing organisation and also by ending payments for work at above normal rates. The NHS also needs to become a much friendlier employer in terms of flexibility of shifts etc.

And of course we need to remove the caps on training for doctors, nurses and other staff, and to provide proper bursaries to cover both fees and maintenance for these vital workers. The proposed ‘apprenticeship’ scheme for doctors seems unworkable as such, but all medical course are already in some part apprenticeships, including some on the job training. Finding the additional mentors needed for more work-based schemes seems an example of cloud-cuckoo land thinking, and the setting up of a two-class system of doctors seems highly undesirable.

Importantly too we need to drastically reduce the bureaucratic workload of all doctors and health staff at all levels. Theoretically the increased use of IT could play a role in this – although the NHS has been disastrously shafted by its IT providers in the past, promising much but delivering mainly greater complexity. So far bringing in IT has increased the amount and time spent in form-filling at the expense of treating patients, partly because the various levels of administration up to the government has seized the opportunity for the greater demands it makes possible.

I was born before the NHS and looking at it in recent years I’ve sometimes wondered if my own death will be due to its stuttering demise. I hope not. But the NHS is certainly not safe in the hands of the Tories, and little that we have so far seen about Labour’s plans give me confidence it will be safe in theirs.

The two events I photographed on the NHS’s 65th Birthday were all concerned with its problems and doubts about its future, The GMB trade union came to Parliament with 3 vintage ambulances saying the NHS Is At Risk, campaigners at Lewisham Hospital celebrated hoping and fighting to keep their busy, successful and much needed hospital open and stop it being sacrificed to meet the disastrous PFI debts of a neighbouring hospital. I’d taken my bike to ride to Lewisham, and made a leisurely ride through Deptford on my way back to Westminster.

At the Ministry of Health, then still on Whitehall, Dr Clive Peedell was about to begin his 65 mile ultra-marathon run to David Cameron’s Witney constituency where he was to ceremonially bury the NHS coffin and launch the National Health Action Party plan by doctors and health professionals to revive the NHS. Their 10-point plan included “policies to restore the duty of the Secretary of State to provide comprehensive NHS care, and return the NHS as the preferred provider of services.”

More about the events on the 65th Birthday of the NHS – from which all the pictures in the post come – are on My London Diary.


NHS – Free, For All, Forever?

Friday, June 30th, 2023

NHS – Free, For All, Forever?. Five years ago on Saturday 30th June thousands marched through London to celebrate 70 years of the National Health Service, which began on 5th July 1948. In a few days we will celebrate the 75 anniversary. The pictures here are from that march.

NHS - Free, For All, Forever?

A few days ago the Kings Fund published their report comparing the NHS to health care systems of other countries. It made depressing reading, but its findings were already well-known – and the result of government policies over the years.

NHS - Free, For All, Forever?

Conservatives were opposed to the setting up of the NHS and voted against it on numerous occasions when Aneurin Bevan was campaigning for its setting up and taking the bill through parliament. Bevan established the three basic ideas, that it should benefit everyone, that healthcare would be free and that care would be provided on the basis of need rather than ability to pay.

NHS - Free, For All, Forever?

Many doctors and dentists were opposed to the new system, which they saw as a threat to their lucrative private practices and this led to a number of compromises which have had serious consequences over the years.

NHS - Free, For All, Forever?

Dentistry has never really been made properly a part of our health care system and now large areas of the country have few if any dentists who will take on NHS patients. Private medicine has continued and grown parasitically on the NHS – who train those working in it, while it now gets paid by the NHS to provide many of the simpler aspects of treatment while leaving the heavy lifting to our public service.

Both Conservative and Labour governments since its formation have made changes which have diluted Bevan’s principles. Contracting out of various services began under the Tories, sometimes resulting in disastrous lowering of standards. Proper cleaning services etc are essential in hospitals.

New Labour brought in Private Finance Initiative projects (they borrowed the idea from the Tories) which have led to huge ongoing debts for some NHS trusts – and closures of some vitally needed hospital departments to meet these.

Since the Coalition and then the Tories came back into power there has been a huge increase in the creeping privatisation of the NHS, with Andrew Lansley’s 2012 Health and Social Care Act forcing the NHS into a market-based model based on competitive tendering, which even his successor as Health Minister, Jeremy Hunt has described parts of as ‘frankly, completely ridiculous’. So much so that even the Tories have no had to row back a little.

The King’s Fund report makes clear that “The UK has below-average health spending per person compared to peer countries” and it “lags behind other countries in its capital investment, and has substantially fewer key physical resources than many of its peers, including CT and MRI scanners and hospital beds.”

Successive governments have prevented the training in the UK from expanding the numbers of university places for medical training, and a few years ago the Tories removed the bursaries available for nurses. Since the start of the NHS this had been a failure, and as the report states there are now “strikingly low levels of key clinical staff, including doctors and nurses” and the NHS is “heavily reliant on foreign-trained staff.” Only in recent days have we seen an effort by government to put forward plans to address the issue – and almost certainly one that is inadequate.

There is also the question of pay, brought to the fore in recent months by strikes by nurses and doctors. The government’s response has mainly been to refuse to enter into meaningful talks and mutter about the impossible demands being made.

Of course nobody expects junior doctors to get a 35% rise, but all that it would take to resolve the dispute is a much lower figure, combined with a commitment to make a small above inflation increase in a number of following years to reduce the gap that has opened up.

You can read more about the march and rally and some of the issues in my post on My London Diary from June 2018, which also includes some information about the interests or many MPs and peers in private healthcare and connections to those wanting to see the NHS abolished. It may be ‘OUR NHS’ but many of those who have power to determine its future want it to belong to them.

And of course, many more pictures at NHS at 70 – Free, for all, forever.


Shaker, Uganda, Legal Aid & Gay Marriage

Sunday, June 4th, 2023

Shaker, Uganda, Legal Aid & Gay Marriage: Tuesday 4th June 2013 saw quite a mixture of protests around Westminster with a regular daily protest during the Parliamentary session calling for the return of Shake Aamer and in solidarity with Guantanamo hunger strikers, a protest at the Home Office against the deportation of gay asylum seekers to Uganda, at the Ministry of Justice against privatisation of legal aid and protesters for and against outside the House of Lords were debating the gay marriage bill.


Bring Shaker Aamer Home Vigil – Parliament Square

Shaker, Uganda, Legal Aid & Gay Marriage

Protesters were keeping up their daily vigil opposite the Houses of Parliament to remind MPs that British resident Shaker Aamer was still held in Guantanamo despite being cleared twice for release. They called on the UK government to urge President Obama to release him and close down the illegal prison camp.

The Guantanamo hunger strike was now putting the lives of the hunger strikers in danger, with over 40 of more than a hundred taking part now being forcibly fed, including ‘prisoner 239’, Shaker Aamer from Battersea.

Shaker, Uganda, Legal Aid & Gay Marriage

Although today the daily protest was small it drew attention to itself with large bright orange banners and those taking part all in black hoods and orange jumpsuits, and one wearing ‘chains’ around hands and feet.

Bring Shaker Aamer Home Vigil


Stop Deporting Lesbians to Uganda – Home Office, Marsham St

Shaker, Uganda, Legal Aid & Gay Marriage

A few days ago on 30th May 2023, Uganda’s President Museveni signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act which is said to be among the harshest anti-LGBTQ laws in the world. It imposes the death penalty for some so-called aggravated cases and largely repeats a similar 2014 law which was declared unconstitutional by Uganda’s constitutional court.

Uganda was a British protectorate from 1894 to 1962 and inherited anti-gay laws from colonial penal code, which have been widened since independence. Wikipedia puts it clearly “Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons in Uganda face severe legal challenges, active discrimination, state persecution and stigmatisation not experienced by non-LGBT residents.” It goes on to state “Violent and brutal attacks against LGBT people are common, often performed by state officials.

Despite the dangers the Home Office was continuing to deport gay people who had fled Uganda because of the danger and often violence they had suffered because of their sexuality back to where they faced persecution and probably death.

Shaker, Uganda, Legal Aid & Gay Marriage

The protest came after lesbian Jackie Nanyonjo died following injuries inflicted on her during her forced deportation by thugs contracted to the UKBA in March, and a day before flights were due to return ‘Linda N’ on Qatar Airways and ‘Josephine’ by Royal Air Maroc.


Linda N, a known lesbian activist and member of the Movement for Justice was dealt with under a ‘fast track’ procedure designed to prevent proper consideration of cases, and despite a great deal of evidence was told she had not done enough to prove that she was gay. Josephine, a woman aged 62 with family in the UK, came here for sanctuary after refusing to carry out female genital mutilation (FGM). If returned she will be subjected to punishment beatings for her refusal and possibly killed.

The protesters called for an end to racist immigration policies and the release of these women and others held in Yarls Wood and an end to deportations still taking place to Uganda and other unsafe countries including Afghanistan.

Stop Deporting Lesbians to Uganda


Save Legal Aid & British Justice – Ministry of Justice, Petty France

Around a thousand people including many lawyers and other campaigners for justice blocked the road in front of the Ministry of Justice for a lengthy rally against proposed changes to the legal aid system which would mean that instead of people being defended by lawyers with the relevant expertise they would be assigned to the company who had made the cheapest bid. Large companies with little legal connection including Eddie Stobart and Tesco were expected to bid for the work, putting the many small specialist law firms which currently exist out of business.

As speakers pointed out these changes threaten the very heart of our legal system, severely reducing the chances of those who are not rich to get justice.

The changes were being proposed without proper consultation and regulations to bring them were tocome into effect within 3 months, without any pilot scheme, without an debate in the Houses of Parliament and with no proper examination of the evidence.

Among the speakers were several QCs, including Dinah Rose, Geoffrey Robertson and Michael Fordham, representatives of human rights organisations and charities, MPs David Lammy, Jeremy Corbyn, shadow justice minister Andy Slaughter and Bianca Jagger.

Many more pictures including those of most of the speakers at Save Legal Aid & British Justice.


For and against Gay Marriage – Old Palace Yard

Two groups of protesters were in Old Palace Yard. Stonewall had come with posters, t-shirts and vuvuzelas along with other LGBT protesters including Peter Tatchell and there were others including one in drag waving a rainbow flag.

A short distance to the side were a similar sized group organised by Christian Concern, an evangelical organisation who prayed and sang, murdering ‘Amazing Grace’ several times while I was there. At there centre were a black couple dressed as a bride and groom standing on a base resembling a wedding cake.

As well as these two groups which carefully avoided any direct conflict – one woman from ‘Christian Concern’ who came and began to tell the LGBT protesters that she was praying for them was quickly dragged away by one of their organisers – there were also a number of religious extremists also wandering around the area and protesting much of the day, some holding up large print posters of Bible texts, others standing still and preaching – though as I pointed out there there seemed to be nobody listening to their amplified sermonising.

I think the real debate is not about marriage but about having an established church which has made marriage both a civil and a religious contract. The law should clearly separate the two and religious bodies can now outside the established church do so should they chose. Some Christians would have no problems with having religious ceremonies for gay marriages, but others would not be forced to do so.

My elder son and his bride had two ceremonies some weeks apart, one a religious one with an Imam officiating and the other, some weeks later, with an official registrar present. Marriage law is essentially about the civil contract and I can see no reason against this applying to any couple whatever their genders – nor did the House of Lords.

More pictures at For and against Gay Marriage.