Thursday, 16 November 2017

Polluting ourselves to death

A recent report from the World Health Organisation  declared that millions of people in the UK were  inhaling air that is too dangerous to breath.

The study found that 44 out of 51 towns and cities failed its test for fine sooty particles smaller than 2.5 microns across.

The particles, known as PM2.5s, have been linked to causing heart disease and premature death and they should not exceed 10.5 micrograms per cubic metre of air.

Among those places with excessive levels were London registering a level of 15 micrograms. Glasgow and Scunthorpe topped the chart with levels of 16. Birmingham recorded 14 and Manchester 13. Edinburgh and Inversness were among the cleaner places, with levels of 8 and 6 micrograms respectively.

The lack of concern among so many people regarding pollution is amazing. There is now a pollution epidemic, whereby we are effectively poisoning ourselves and our children in order to live environmentally destructive lifestyles
The effects on our health are frightening, with higher levels of asthma in children due to pollution. Children also  fail to develop full lung capacity, which leads to problems in later life, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

It is estimated that pollution causes 40,000 premature deaths in the UK each year, some 9000 in London.

In the Wanstead area, residents around Woodbine Place have complained about the pollution being caused by the buses sitting with their engines running. There have been high levels of pollution recorded around major roads, often near to our schools.

There is a growing awareness of the problem but also confused thinking regarding solutions. People don’t want to breath polluted air yet also don’t want restrictions imposed on their use of cars, planes and other polluting technologies. We really cannot have it both ways. Polluting technologies have to be restricted and in the case of things like the diesel vehicles totally eliminated over time.

The London Mayor Sadiq Khan has shown the way, putting cutting pollution high on his list of priorities. The first measure has seen a toxic charge of £10 imposed in the central London congestion area for polluting vehicles. This mainly relates to petrol and diesel vehicles registered  before 2006. The plan is then to extend the range for the charge out across the majority of London.

It is a start but much more needs to be done.

Other countries have taken much more radical action to cut pollution. In Paris, there are odd-even bans on vehicles, with public transport made free at times of high pollution levels. Car and bicycle sharing schemes are encouraged.

In Copenhagen,  cycles are prioritised over cars, so there are now  more cycles than people. It has been estimated that one mile on a bike benefits society by 27p whilst a mile in a car costs 15p.

In Zurich, the number of parking spaces has been capped, with only a certain number of cars allowed into the city at any one time.

So there are many things that can be done, if the will is there. Central and local  Government actions in terms of regulations will help to cut pollution but people also need to take action individually to live less polluting lives. Drive a little less, use public transport more and reduce those flights. A collective push by everyone can see the scourge of pollution defeated but only if there is a common will to achieve that goal. 

 Former US president John F Kennedy summed up the situation well, when he said: “In the final analysis our most basic common  link is that we inhabit this planet. We breath the same air. We cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”

published in the Universe - 17/11/2017

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

150 years of Building Ilford exhibition

The excellent 150 years of Building Ilford exhibition at the Redbridge museum shows how the town has developed from virtual village status in the mid 19th century.

The pictures and videos take the visitor through different periods, revealing how Ilford developed along a steady line, with sudden upheavals seeing big changes in the basic choreography of the town.

The early 1900s saw the bridge down the hill from the Broadway, over the River Roding flowing on to the Thames further along. Few, today, would realise that Ilford used to be a place where boats docked and unloaded cargo.
Then there was the old clock tower at the top of the hill at the Broadway cross roads.
One scene shows an aerial shot of the high street in 1937, busy with people and early motor cars. A place for the well healed, as well as the workers, keeping things ticking.

The old distinctive Hippodrome building, standing opposite the railway station, was destroyed in the war, eventually be replaced in later years by a series of shops including  C&A in the 1960s.
Noticeable in the depictions from the first half of the 20th century are the trams and tracks running along the high street and other avenues around the centre of town. What a retrograde step it was when all these tramways were torn up by the car dominated culture of the post war world – a sign that not all change is for the better. Maybe, one day the they will return, with tramways once again running from Ilford right into the centre of London.

The 1960s were another time of major recasting of Ilford, with the distinctive brash building of that era coming to dominate the skyline. Big shops like Harrison Gibson stand out.

The next big changes came in the 1980s, with the new bypass around the centre of town, some pedestrianisation. Some old buildings were removed but one positive development saw the building of the central library in 1984. The Exchange also arrived creating a new hub for the town amid that pedestrian precinct.

Now today, the town seems to have entered another period of recasting, with the coming of Crossrail, likely to further change the nature of the town. More housing is coming to the area, with Sainsburys due to redevelop its present site, building hundreds of flats on top of a new supermarket. Other developments are underway or in the pipleine .

The exhibition is fascinating for its depiction of how humankind is constantly changing and shaping the built environment. Sometimes for good, sometimes for ill - with the often subjective judgment residing in the eye of the beholder. The people, though, are but players on the stage, there for a short while, before moving on . The transitory nature of the built and human environment is well illustrated in this excellent exhibition – well worth a visit.
*The 150 years of Building Ilford exhibition runs until June 2018 at the Redbridge Museum, Central Library Ilford    

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

David Moyes has the chance to revive his own and West Ham's fortunes

The owners of West Ham United have finally sacked manager Slaven Bilic, replacing him with David Moyes.

So the show goes on at the London Stadium, only with a new ring master in charge. Moyes though has bridges to build from the start, with fans already gathering petitions protesting against the appointment of the former Sunderland, Real Sociedad, Manchester United and Everton manager. The protesting fans are most concerned about Moyes recent CV that has been something less than impressive. He took Sunderland down last season, failed in Spain and at Manchester United - though in the latter case, he was not given a lot of time or the resources that his successors received to do the job.

At West Ham, if he can start well and get the fans behind him, Moyes maybe able to get back more to the halcyon days of his career at Everton – the fans will certainly be hoping that is the case.

The demise of Bilic has been a sad thing to witness. The former West Ham player came in on a high for the final season at the Boleyn ground. His tenure began well with victories at Arsenal and Liverpool. Dimitri Payet thrilled the fans, with his breath taking skills. The great football continued almost to the end of the season. A better last week could have seen West Ham finish fourth. In the event, they came 7th.

Already though some of the cracks were beginning to appear, with some silly points given away with na├»ve mistakes, particularly in defence. The second season started badly at the club’s new London Stadium home.

Recruitment was bad over the summer, with the players brought in on the whole not being up to the mark. This was emphasised further in the January transfer window when the club paid over the odds for Robert Snodgrass (£10m) from Hull and Jose Fonte (£8m) from Southampton.

It took time to iron out the problems at the new stadium, though this was done in time but whatever anyone says the London Stadium will never be the Boleyn ground. Bilic managed to pull things around on the pitch with the team finishing a credible 11th.

There was though all the time the rumours of boardroom unhappiness with the manager. Other managers were being touted to replace Bilic, who was not offered an extension on his three years contract.

The West Ham high command have a very strange way of working with their managers, which seems to involve a lack of direct contact but communication by social media. Whether intended or not it creates a feeling of undermining all of the time, rather than everyone pulling together against the perceived outside enemy – namely, the other football clubs in the Premier League.

The signings made last summer looked good - Javier Hernandez (£16m), Marko Arnautovic (£24m), Pablo Zabaleta and Joe Hart. However, the new signings have not gelled. Hernandez has been played all over the place, often visibly showing his displeasure with team mates and the management. Arnautovic upset Bilic early on when he was sent off in the Southampton game putting the team in a difficult position. He never really got the manager’s confidence back after that and has been a substitute in recent games. Zabaleta  has probably been the pick of the signings, though even he has given away a number of needless penalties. Hart just looks permanently frustrated at what is going on in front of him. West Ham is certainly not a happy ship.

Moyes will need to sort things out from the start. If he does the players are certainly there to get a top eight finish but there are clearly some dressing room issues that need resolution.

Most will be sad to see Bilic go, he’s an honest man, who never hid when things were going wrong. He has been let down big time by the players. Hopefully, he will go on to better things elsewhere.

The owners of West Ham have given the manager longer than many would in the crazy world of football these days but no doubt saw the need to act as the team seemed to be drifting toward the relegation trap door. The boardroom though need to take a look at itself, cut out the social media activity in favour of the old fashioned idea of direct one to one communication. They also need to put their money where their mouths are. West Ham’s ambitions have always been high but at the moment they maybe getting 57,000 crowds but the net transfer outlay (£20 million in the summer) is more in line with an aspiring Championship side.

Nor are the club bringing through the young players in the way they used to or other clubs like Spurs continue to do today. This is another source of constant irritation for the fans, who want to see local lads playing for the club.

David Moyes has a golden opportunity to revive his own career and reputation. The players also have the chance to make amends for the way they let down Bilic. Some of the players who were in with Bilic will no doubt not be Moyes favourites, whilst  others on the Croatian’s periphery could come into the fold with the new manager. Opportunities abound.
The owners can also see the club move in the right direction if they back their new manager in all ways, including providing the funds he will need in the January transfer window. West Ham are not in the position Sunderland were last year, they are skirting with relegation, a decent run of results would put them in the top 10 of the Premiership. The money is there, so if Moyes doesn’t make it happen at the London Stadium then there has to be doubt whether he can make it anywhere anymore.

published 8/11/2017 Morning Star - "Moyes and West Ham could be the perfect fit"

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Vultures circle around West Ham manager Slaven Bilic after latest Liverpool defeat

West Ham 1-4 Liverpool

West Ham manager Slaven Bilic looked like the next likely victim of the sack a manager merry go round that appears part and parcel of the Premiership scene.

After this defeat it looks odds on that Bilic will become the next Premiership casualty, joining Frank de Boer (Crystal Palace), Craig Shakespeare (Leicester City) and Ronald Koeman (Everton) on the managerial scrap heap.

The beleaguered manager once again accepted responsibility for this latest lack lustre display from his team. “Ofcourse I believe in myself, my work, my staff and my players. I don’t feel a broken man, I feel very strong,” said Bilic, whilst admitting “the situation for West Ham is not good.”

“We are conceding too many goals. We are working hard, it is nothing to do with effort ,” said Bilic. “Are we playing well , no we are not playing well. I am taking responsibility for the situation and face the consequences.”

The sombre mood suggests  swirling discontent in the background at West Ham betrayed by the references in the club programme to last week’s draw at Crystal Palace drawn as though it were a defeat.

In this game, the home side began brightly matching the visitors for effort and invention. As early as the eighth minute striker Andre Ayew got through but saw his effort hit the side netting.

But once again come the 21st minute the concentration of the West Ham players faltered. A West Ham corner was picked up by the excellent Mohamed Salah, who ran three quarters of the length of the pitch, exchanging passes with Sadio Mane before finishing with aplomb past Joe Hart.

Two minutes later, sloppy defending saw a low driven corner bounce off Mark Noble, forcing Hart into a save which rebounded for Joel Matip to drive home.

West Ham got a goal back through Manuel Lanzini but the differential was quickly restored with Alex Oxlade Chamberlain finishing a move that began from the kick off.

The rout was completed by another Sane-Saleh combination, with the latter once again finishing clinically.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp was full of praise for his players, particularly Sane, who had just returned from injury. “It’s been a fantastic week, the boys wanted to fight back after Tottenham (1-4 defeat),” said Klopp.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Left needs to take ownership of the idea of a Universal Basic Income

The Universal Basic Income (UBI) is an idea that has been picking up support over recent years but it is one over which the Left needs to assert ownership.

The UBI is a radical idea that has drawn supporters on the left like John Kenneth Galbraith and Milton Friedman on the right.

The idea appealed on the left on the grounds of redistribution of wealth for the good of all, equality and egalitarianism. The appeal to the right is in cutting the power of the coercive state, reducing welfare and “promoting freedom.”

The driving forces for the idea now come with the increasing levels of automation going on worldwide and the need to find solutions to welfare provision.

The idea resonates with the outlook in the 1970s, when it was predicted that in the future there would be shorter working weeks, more leisure time and earlier retirement ages. These predictions remember existed long before the internet came along.

Then came Margaret Thatcher with the neoliberal model, which promptly saw the opposite occur with longer working weeks, less pay and an ever more distant retirement age.

However, despite the damage caused over the past 30 years by the neoliberal model, the underlying motors of development foreseen in the 1970s have continued to grow.

Ironically, it has been some of the features of neoliberalism that have helped accelerate the demand for the UBI today.

So the neoliberal model has led to a very polarised society with “the 1 per cent” at the top, with fewer and fewer people coming to hold most of the wealth.

The wealthy don’t spend money in the same way that the poor do, they often store it away or place it offshore — so demand in the economy falters.

This problem will be exacerbated in a world where there is a growing population but fewer jobs due to automation.

In the future, many ask where will the money come from to create that demand to keep the wheels of market capitalism turning?

In Britain, the recognition of the crisis in capitalism has seen the tentative efforts to raise the minimum wage to a living level and extend personal tax allowances, taking many people out of tax.

Many questions remain of course. Such as what would be the motivation for people to work if they were receiving UBI?

The level would inevitably be low so many would want to work anyway. On this point there are concerns from unions that UBI could be set too low, thereby cutting welfare, while not providing adequate compensation via payment.

UBI though is gaining support.

The Finnish government is experimenting with the idea, making tax-free monthly payments of £300 to a random sample of 10,000 adults of working age, as part of a two-year experiment. Some 20 municipalities in the Netherlands are conducting similar experiments.

Ironically, it would seem the advance of capitalism in its present form seems likely to make UBI inevitable in the medium to long term. There simply will not be the jobs and subsequently demand for products.

Funding for the UBI is likely in the main to come from general taxation, with the sums no doubt taking some balancing.

However, the idea is an exciting one, brought about in many ways by the ongoing contradictions of the capitalist market system model. It is an idea of which that the left needs to take ownership. In that respect, it has been good to see Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell and several unions, including Unite, giving support to the idea Not all though are convinced with Labour MP Jon Cruddas a vehement critic.

 There is though much to be resolved before a Labour government could adopt such an idea, which is why the debate needs to be taking place now.

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Greenham Common peace campaigner Sarah Hipperson to celebrate 90th birthday

Peace campaigner Sarah Hipperson is set to celebrate her 90th birthday.

A stalwart of the Greenham Common protest against the siting of US nuclear weapons on UK  soil, Sarah has continued her struggle for nuclear disarmament across the world.

Most recently Sarah was part of a group of the women who handed over a Commemorative garden to the struggle against nuclear weapons to the people of Newbury.

Sarah had lived a relatively straightforward life up until the momentous day in 1983 when she decided to go down and join the women’s peace camp in Greenham.


A native of Glasgow, she became a nurse and mid-wife in her late teens, delivering babies in the Govern area. She then decided to emigrate to Canada, where she lived for 16 years, nursing, getting married and having five children. She returned to England in the 1970s, settling in the east London suburb of Wanstead.


Life at this time involved being a member of the local justice and peace group at Our Lady of Lourdes Church, as well as sitting on the bench as a Justice of the Peace.


During the early 1980s Sarah became increasingly frustrated with trying to raise awareness of nuclear weapons in Wanstead.


She showed Helen Caldacott’s film “Critical Mass” about the dangers of nuclear weapons. “There would be a numbing effect but it went no further than that,” said Sarah, who became a member of CND in the 1970s and worked with Catholic Peace Action.


Moving to Greenham Common in 1983, proved a liberating experience. The catalogue of events that followed over the next couple of decades, with a series of peaceful actions, court cases and imprisonments, all formed part of the work.


“The work is to achieve complete nuclear disarmament,” said Sarah. “We have all been involved in the crime that presents itself as nuclear deterrent. The bottom line is that we will use weapons that are 80 per cent more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb, in the case of Trident, as part of the defence policy of this country. As a Christian I have never been able to live with that.”


For Sarah, the whole concept of nuclear weapons runs contrary to the word of God. “Nuclear weapons will finish off the planet through which God’s creation finds a way to live out the life given to it,” she said.
Sarah found Greenham Common a highly spiritual place, where she was able to channel her anger by getting involved.


Over the years, Sarah was repeatedly arrested for peaceful direct actions, like blocking vehicles at Greenham Common and cutting fences. She served 22 sentences, the longest being 28 days in Holloway for criminal damage. “I never paid a fine,” said Sarah proudly.


Appearing in court gave the opportunity to openly question the legality of nuclear weapons. There have been successes, such as when the Law Lords declared that the bye-laws that the Ministry Defence had been using to remove women from Greenham Common were invalid. “We had every right to be there, the military had no right to be on the common,” said Sarah. The women also saw the fence around the common declared illegal.


When the missiles were removed from Greenham Common in the early 1990s, Sarah continued her protest against Trident. This involved actions at nearby Aldermaston. 


In a world that seems to get more violent with each passing decade, the struggle for peace goes on. Sarah Hipperson and the women of Greenham played their part in moving that struggle a little further forward.

Sarah will celebrate her 90th birthday at a party with family and friends in Wanstead.

*published Universe - 3/11/2017 Also Ilford Recorder and Wanstead & Woodford Guardian - 2/11/2017

Saturday, 21 October 2017

Brighton pick up three points at the London Stadium as West Ham outfought and outthought

West Ham 0-3 Brighton and Hove Albion
Brighton and Hove Albion's first visit to the London stadium saw them out think and out fight their hosts.
West Ham huffed and puffed for 90 minutes but failed to force a serious save out of Brighton stopper Mathew Ryan.
West Ham manager Slaven Bilic admitted as much, when he conceded his side "dominated, without creating many chances."
It was a worrying result for the West Ham manager, who arguably put out his strongest team, with players returning from injuries. There seemed,though, to be a lack of tactical nous, with Brighton pressing the West Ham rearguard, which looked even more ponderous than usual. At the other end, no one seemed to work out Andy Carroll wasn't on the pitch, as a succession of high balls were hit over for the diminutive Chicarito, then Andre Ayew, to battle forlornly against the big Brighton defenders.
Bilic admitted there had been "a lot of high balls in and it would have been an ideal game for Andy (Carroll)."
The visitors took the led in the ninth minute, after West Ham midfielder Pedro Obiang gave away a needless free kick 25 yards out. Pascal Gross clipped the resulting free kick into the area, where a virtually unchallenged Glenn Murray headed home.
The home side then dominated, with some nice possession, without any end product. Ryan was called on once to collect an Obiang shot into his midriff.
Then on the stroke of half time Jose Izquierdo got away down the left, cut inside, before striking a curling shot that Joe Hart could only palm into the net.
West Ham began the second half with some industry but the game was effectively ended as a contest when Pablo Zabaleta hauled down Murray, who then converted the resulting penalty. 
The third goal was the queue for the home fans to stream for the exits, whilst the delirious  Seagulls fans sung their hearts out.
Brighton manager, Chris Hughton, thought this game was possibly their best 90 minutes of the season.
He agreed the two first half goals lifted confidence, forcing West Ham to open up a bit in the second half.

*published Morning Star - 21/10/2017