Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Climate emergency declared

Pudding lane until recently was always one of those places that conjured up pleasant images of bread and cakes. It has become famed for housing the bakery that started the Great Fire of London in 1666. Surprising then to find that the origins of the pudding had nothing to do with such pleasant cuisine but instead referred to the containers used to take raw sewage and offal out to the dung boats on the River Thames.

Over many centuries the river was treated as a glorified sewer, causing all sorts of ill health – including regular outbreaks of cholera. Only in1858, following what became known as the Great Stink, when politicians in Parliament got the full odour coming off the river, was the decision taken to act. Engineer Joseph Bazalgette was commissioned to establish a sewer system that took the waste elsewhere and cleansed the river.

This story of the Thames illustrates how human beings can know the damage that is being done by their activities but continue regardless, waiting till things hit epidemic proportions before they act.

The equivalent of the poisoned Thames today is the climate crisis. Human beings know that the lifestyles of today cannot be sustained. Carbon emissions are destroying the planet. Biodiversity is being destroyed at an incredible rate. Pollution kills 9,500 a year in London – 50,000 countrywide each year.

These are things that most of us know but continue on regardless, literally consuming the world’s resources with little regard for our fellow human beings, let alone future generations. The economic model pursued worldwide is predicated on using stuff up and throwing it away.

Now, we have reached the Great Stink/Cholera outbreak level of awareness. People are aware and beginning to act but still too slowly.

The recent report of the International Panel on Climate Change gave 12 years for the world to make sure that global warming does not go above 1.5 degrees. Otherwise catastrophy beckons. To date there has been little real action taken on the ground. Scientists believe we are still headed toward 3 degree plus warming, with current practices.

Voices are beginning to be raised calling for action. The Extinction Rebellion protests have brought home to many people the size of the threat. The warnings of the danger are coming thick and fast, from David Attenborough to the governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney.

Awareness is rising but action is needed. This is a climate emergency. The world has moved past the point where a bit of recycling, less driving and hoping that a scientific quick fix will emerge to solve the problem are enough. There now needs to be fundamental change in the way we all live.

We need to look to reuse and recycle not just throw away. Buy what you need to eat and drink, not three times as much then throw half of it away. Drive and fly less, cycle and walk more. Eat less meat, better still go vegetarian. Cut out plastic.  These are all things we can do as individuals.

Beyond the individual, people need to come together in community to counter the climate threat. In Wanstead, we have introduced the Environmental Charter, seeking to create a cleaner greener environment. So far the community has reacted positively. More and more people are coming out on the litter picks. Schools have come up with all sorts of imaginative ideas, around growing food and cutting their carbon footprints. Business is beginning to understand that its responsibilities to the local community extend beyond the doorway of the buildings they occupy.

Redbridge council is backing the idea as well. There are plans for better cycling and walking facilities around Wanstead. Biodiversity is being extended, with support for the work of the community gardeners and Wild Wanstead. Pollution is being addressed with exclusion zones around schools established. Council leader Jas Athwal also recently announced a car free day in Redbridge.

The council though sees the need to go further, recognising that there is a climate emergency. Wanstead Village councillor Jo Blackman and myself will bring a motion calling for the council to recognise the climate emergency. The motion will call for very real action to be taken to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030 and be carbon free by 2050. The motion will call for a green audit of council services. Commitments to ensure that all future buildings will be zero carbon. On transport there will be an aspiration to embrace the mini-holland culture that gives priority to walking, cycling and use of public transport to get around. Single use plastics will be banned from council premises, with this ethos being promoted on the high streets of Redbridge.

There will also be a commitment to a more proactive attitude to biodiversity, encouraging tree plantings, wild areas, wild flower planting, green walls and roofs and community. gardens

This motion will really put the urgent nature of the need to address the climate emergency on the council agenda. There will then be the challenge to ensure that the commitment is fulfilled in the actions of the council. A job for councillors and officers.

These are all encouraging signs of the urgent nature of the climate crisis being recognised and acted upon in Redbridge. But maybe to finish, it is time to return to the Thames.

The great river may now be clean. The puddings of sewage are no longer taken out and dumped. However, the Thames is also being affected by global warming, as sea levels rise. The Thames Barrier that was opened in 1982 to protect London and control water flow was shut four times in the 1980s, in more recent decades it has closed more than 75 times. Failure to act on climate change will see water levels continue to rise – then the Thames could once again become a real danger to us all.

Tuesday, 18 June 2019

Jim Naughtie reveals in response to Corbyn question why he and other mainstream journalists don't get it


James Naughtie has revealed just why he and fellow establishment journalists just don’t get the changing political landscape.

Delivering the annual British Journalism Review lecture, the former BBC Radio Four Today programme presenter outlined how things had changed with the coming of Trump, Brexit and Corbyn’s Labour Party.

Naughtie put himself and the media on the side of the mass of people, who need to have their voices heard, standing up to government.

However, he revealed himself in responding to a question about the European elections, declaring it would help if we had a leader of the opposition. He then went on to attack Jeremy Corbyn for not having undertaken a full interview on Today for two years.

There was further criticism of the Labour Party for adopting the attritional attitude that the mainstream media are all against them.

The reality is that the mainstream media has together with many other institutions in the UK been found wanting, as far as the mass of people are concerned. All journalists should be seeking to tell truth to power. The aim being to have transparency and accountability in the democratic system.

However, the reality is that many journalists, often restrained by owners, singularly fail to perform this role.

Many, especially in the mainstream, are virtual PRs for the powerful and what they seek to do.

This has helped lead to much of the media simply not being trusted anymore (and that includes the Today programme) - making it so easy for the likes of Trump to make his ludicrous fake news claims.

The demonization of Corbyn is further evidence of the failure of so many in the mainstream media to catch up. The litany of ridiculous accusations levied at the man. The heralding of an incoming Labour government as Marxist amounts to scare tactics that many of the disempowered public don’t believe.

The popular manifesto put forward at the last general election would not be out of place in many left of centre European countries – it was certainly nothing like as radical, left wing or Marxist as previous offerings from Labour Parties of the 1960s and 70s.

No, if mainstream journalism wants to get back credibility with the mass of the population, it really does need to start doing the job. The present ongoing process of self-denial can lead only to the extinction queue.

Thursday, 13 June 2019

Redbridge Council’s Local Implementation Plan offers an opportunity to make the borough a cleaner, greener and safer place to live

Walking down the quiet streets of Waltham Forest (WF) on a summer evening is a pleasant experience. People are out enjoying life, strolling in the sun, some visiting pubs or restaurants.

This idyllic setting was what greeted a group of us on a recent Redbridge Cycling Campaign organised guided tour of the mini-holland scheme now operating in the borough.

The scheme, seeks to prioritise walking, cycling and public transport over cars, lorries and other vehicles. The project returns the streets to the people, with community gardens abounding.
 
The transformation is certainly something to behold, with the changes breathing new life into previously concreted, polluting streets. The gains are already coming through in terms of improvements in health – physical and mental. There are the commercial gains as well, with new and varied businesses coming into what are now thriving areas.

Perhaps one of the most important things in making this all happen is community spirit. 
The sight of neat gardens across the borough, with signs saying this or that community is taking care of the flowers was evidence of real community engagement.
 
Redbridge Council has now come up with a new plan, whose philosophy takes much from the mini-holland culture. The Local Implementation Plan (LIP) seeks to put the London Mayor’s transport strategy into action. The overall aim is to get 80% of travel to be undertaken by foot, cycle or public transport by 2041.

The LIP is being rolled out neighbourhood by neighbourhood. The guiding principles are cutting speeds, by introducing 20 mph zones, bringing in one-way streets and narrowing junctions. Rat running is to be addressed by using traffic calming measures, deploying planters to close cut throughs and introducing some one way streets.

Cycling and walking will be encouraged.
There will be more parking permit schemes introduced plus school streets.

There will also be a big increase in the installation of electric charging points to encourage electric vehicles.

These are the broad principles but it will be for residents to shape what exactly they want via the upcoming consultation process.

In Wanstead, it is intended to roll out some of the ideas next year.

It is this type of imaginative thinking that offers a real way forward. There are parts of our borough that really do look like lifeless concrete jungles – whether that be shopping centres or streets where the majority of front gardens have been paved over. Other parts of the borough are already applying a more holistic approach – the Wanstead Environmental Charter is one example.

Key though to success is community involvement. The mini-holland approach has only worked in WF and other boroughs where it has been introduced, when the community has bought in and participated in the process. It has to be the community totally involved in bringing about change, not something being done from outside. The results when the principles contained in the LIP are properly enacted will be dramatic and for the good of all.  

Wednesday, 12 June 2019

Hardcore investigative journalism seems to have been replaced by history mystery when it comes to miscarriages of justice


How would the Birmingham Six or Guildford Four get on these days, with the vista of miscarriages of justice having virtually disappeared from our TV screens.

Maybe they would have had to wait a hundred years or so in order that their cases could be examined by “experts” of some future generation, looking back with the benefit of hindsight and new investigative techniques.

The thought occurred recently when watching Jack the ripper -the case reopened, presented by Silent Witness actress Emilia Fox. A real case of fact meeting fiction as it were, with a team of police and lawyers looking at the case 130 years plus after it occurred. An entertaining bit of television but the thought occurred, who cares, what is the point?

The Jack the Ripper programme did not stand alone. The series Murder, mystery and my family looks back at historic cases, using modern forensic techniques. Lawyers play a part then the case goes to a crown court judge for adjudication. Again, entertaining but what about the programmes about the innocent people amongst the record 82,000 prison population?

Miscarriages of justice were a more popular media genre back in the 1980s and 90s. The whole idea of innocent people being convicted was largely unheard of until the four individuals wrongly convicted of the Guildford pub bombings in 1974 (Guildford Four) were released in 1989. Their success came about largely due to a combination of a tenacious legal team, an effective campaign and some excellent investigative journalism both in print and on broadcast media.

Two years after the Guildford Four were released came the Birmingham Six (the six men wrongly convicted in 1974 of the Birmingham pub bombings), who had the same combination but maybe even more of a contribution from the media. The excellent work of Chris Mullin, investigating the case and ITV World in Action’s Who Bombed Birmingham to name but two.

This time saw the BBC commission the Rough Justice series, which devoted some serious investigative resources to examine cases. Between 1982 and 2007, Rough Justice helped get 18 victims of wrongful convictions released. Channel 4’s Trial and Error ran for five years from 1992, helping get 15 wrongful convictions overturned.

Media commentator Roy Greenslade recalled Rough Justice being dropped for budgetary reasons. “Given its success rate, that was a cowardly decision by our public service broadcaster when carrying out, well, a public service.

 

“I agree that investigative work is costly. It's a lengthy process and labour intensive. Sorting our inevitable legal problems is also a drain on resources. But I have always wondered, without any proof, whether the BBC faced other pressures,” said Greenslade, who believes the demise of Trial and Error was for similar cost reasons, claiming that “broadcasters have fled from confrontation with the justice system in the UK.”

The establishment of the Criminal Cases Review Commission in 1997, largely came out of the miscarriages of justice. It was no doubt seen as the answer from the government of the days view. It would seem broadcasters took a similar line.

 

Peter Hill, the founder and producer of Rough Justice credits the lack of money and the arrival of the CCRC as contributing to the demise of miscarriage of justice programs. The latter, he said, meant that miscarriage of justice cases were seen as “being dealt with.”

He also believes there was “no money from the TV stations because of government influence and the lack of investigative experience in journalists.”

Some 1500 prisoners apply to the CCRC to have their cases looked into each year. There were 19 cases referred back in 2018 to the Court of Appeal by the CCRC – 12 the previous year. Of 658 cases referred by the CCRC over its 22 year history 437 have been allowed, 198 dismissed.

But there still remain a lot of innocent people in the prison system. A prisoner with a good lawyer, media exposure and a support campaign must have a better chance of achieving justice by the CCRC route as much as any other. And what of the fascination with old cases, where all involved have long since departed this world?

Entertaining television but not investigative journalism, which is required. Greenslade makes the point forcefully about the need for proper investigative journalism to look into real live contemporary cases.  “There isn’t a better justification for investigative and campaigning journalism than freeing someone wrongly convicted of a crime,” said Greenslade.

The BBC doesn’t accept that it no longer produces programmes that examine potential miscarriages of justice. “Recent documentaries which examined the evidence around murder convictions include "Conviction: Murder at the Station" and "Conviction: Murder in Suburbia", the BBC Three series "Unsolved: The Man with no Alibi" and "The Chillenden Murders" on BBC Two,” said a BBC spokesperson. “We are also following the Sally Challen case for a documentary, while BBC News and Current Affairs continues to look at miscarriages of justice and wider issues surrounding the justice system across its output, including a recent 'Panorama'  which examined whether the Criminal Cases Review Commission is fit for purpose.”

What is for sure is that there remain many innocent prisoners incarcerated in the prison system. Surely, it would be better for all concerned if they were freed, and very much part of the public service remit if the likes of the BBC to play a role in that process of liberation. More so for sure than devoting so much resource into historically interesting but largely irrelevant questions such as who was Jack the Ripper? 

published in British Journalism Review - June 2019

Thursday, 6 June 2019

Only a Jeremy Corbyn led Labour Government can address the growing gap between rich and poor in Britain

Britain is one of the most unequal countries in the world.. and it’s getting worse.

Five years ago, the 1,000 wealthiest Britons owned £519 billion – the equivalent of a third of Britain’s gross domestic product.

Fast forward to today, which sees the Sunday Times rich list reporting that there are 151 billionaires in the UK owning £525 billion of wealth – up 9.2% on the previous year. This compares to 104 billionaires with £301 billion of combined wealth in 2014. At the same time more than 1.8 million people went to food banks in the past year.

Britain also makes headlines in Europe for the unequal way in which the wealth is distributed, with the five poorest regions in Northern Europe to be found here. However, inner London registers as the richest area in Northern  Europe.

Incidentally, the five poorest regions West Wales and the Valleys, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, Lincolnshire, South Yorkshire and Tees Valley and Durham all voted overwhelmingly for Brexit, with Lincolnshire having the highest proportion of Leave voters in the country.

The two sides of the Brexit argument would ofcourse disagree over these stats, with Leavers obviously blaming the EU for the grotesque inequalities, while Remainers would say that it is not the EU causing the inequality and that making the country poorer overall will hit the poorest hardest.

That's as maybe, the fact of the matter is that the Britain is a model of grotesque inequality. The referendum vote was but the most obvious sign of discontent at this situation. It was a call for a change in direction and for government to start addressing inequality.

The austerity policies of first the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition government, then since 2015, the Tories on their own, have helped increase inequality to these obscene levels. However, the gap between have and have nots has been growing with the implementation of neo-liberal economic policies dating back to the late 1970s.

The Labour governments from 1997 to 2010 did some disguised redistribution of wealth from rich to poor but nothing like enough to start bridging the gap. Poverty levels continued to grow.

There has been some recognition from all sides that this situation cannot continue. The sight of millions going to foodbanks, the growing number of homeless on the streets and children living in poverty concerns everyone.

There should though also be concern in the board rooms of business, where many of the superrich dwell. The popular anger will be directed there first.
But there are other elements of self interest impacting on this group. So, if more and more wealth is flowing to a small number of individuals, who lock it away or shift it offshore, then the wheels of the economy are not being greased. Put simply, people need to be earning and spending wealth for the economy to keep operating.

These developments have been recognised by the right of the political spectrum, with the Conservative government becoming a late convert to the idea of a living wage and the shifting of tax bands to put more money in people’s pockets.

Universal Basic Income is another idea that can be seen in this vein – a way to get more money into the economy.

What is required though is a truly radical Labour Government that will bring in policies devised to shift this inequality. The rich need to be taxed – including particularly those minimal tax paying corporations. There needs to be a reduction in the working week to four days, as well as possible the introduction of Universal Basic Income. Retirement ages should be lowered and the state pension increased. Anti-union laws must be repealed, with a real push for greater unionisation across the economy.

There also needs to be a mass environmentally sustainable council house building program to counter homelessness

Maternity and paternity provision needs to be improved and the successful Sure start scheme of the previous Labour government reintroduced and built upon.
The alternative is to carry on until there is a mass uprising against ongoing polarisation between rich and poor.

This could well provide further fuel to the likes of Nigel Farage and his far right associates, as they scapegoat the likes of migrants in order to seize power.

Inequality is certainly not going to be addressed by the likes of Farage and the increasingly Faragist Conservative Party.

A radical Jeremy Corbyn led Labour government can lead the way toward closing the inequality gap, making this country a better, happier place to live.

 

Wednesday, 29 May 2019

Combatting crime


There has been much concern over recent months about crime.

It is unsettling for the community, especially the victims. As the victim of a mugging some years ago, I can recall the physical and particularly the mental scars it left. A feeling of not being safe, seeing everyone as a threat.

Where things have changed over recent years is with the growth of social media. This has positives and negatives when it comes to crime. Things like street Whats App and Facebook groups help keep people informed. They know to keep their eyes open for suspicious behaviour etc. There can also be a collective feeling of not being alone.

The negative side of social media is to overhype crime, creating a state of hysteria that fosters fear . There seems to be this compulsion with social media that everyone has to say something. Maybe it is an outlet for some people to just let it all out but in the case of crime that is not always helpful as it helps create a false impression of the real situation on the streets. This can frighten people, who then may not come out.

Some of these problems became apparent at a recent ward panel meeting with the police, where it emerged that a crime that had been described in detail on social media, had not been reported. This caused much frustration to the police, who cannot act unless crime is reported to them. In a wider context the failure to report crime suggests the crime is just not there, so police resources will shift elsewhere.

At times, it can seem on social media that Wanstead is some sort of crime centre. A look at the most recent crime statistics suggests this is not true, with crime at a lower level here than in most other parts of the borough. For example, there were 90 thefts in Wanstead Park and Wanstead Village Wards (45 in each) for the three month period to 12 May 2019. This compares to 288 in Clementswood in Ilford.

Crime is a problem but much can be done to combat it in our community. Take preventative measures to secure possessions. If you do become the victim of a crime, then report it to the police.

 We all need to look out for each other also whether that be via information on social media or just being more vigilant when out and about.

The council has brought more CCTV cameras to the area, which has helped combat crime. Redbridge enforcement teams are also active.

There is also the Streetwatch scheme which is operating in some parts of Redbridge, where groups of vetted and trained residents patrol different areas.  This is an option for Wanstead, if people want it and are prepared to come forward and take part.

There are things beyond our control, such as the failure by the government to fully fund the police service. It is becoming more and more apparent across the land that this lack of investment is putting citizens at risk. The government needs to reverse this foolhardy policy.

The situation is not ideal but crime is always going to be with us. What is important though is that we all act to make crime as difficult as possible for the perpetrators to commit. Preventative measures are important, as is reporting crime, for those who become the unfortunate victims. But what is equally important is that we all look out for each other – that means in the physical (real) world as well as online.     

Thursday, 23 May 2019

Combatting loneliness

Loneliness is a growing occurance in an ever more atomised world.
More people are living alone, increasingly existing in isolated furrows.
The subject of loneliness came up recently in relation to a new project being launch. There was an instant leap amongst the audience to link loneliness with being old. 
Yes, no doubt loneliness does hit older people, who may get cut off from community due to physical or familial situations. 
It is a sobering thought, getting older, as increasing numbers that we have known die off.
But lyoneliness is certainly not restricted to the elderly - all ages can get cut off.
What of the young people, who feel alone with nowhere to turn - under exam or caring pressures?
Loneliness is something that probably hits everyone at some point in their lives. A family might break up amid acrimonious circumstances. Unemployment can take away work-based companionship. Then there is the increasingly atomised forms of computer based work. The traditional workplace with the travel to and from as well as associated social interaction is becoming less prevalent.
The social media world can disguise loneliness.Quite often people post comments that make you think, haven't you got someone to discuss that with. Why put it out there for all to see?
Loneliness is not simply about an absence of people. Individuals can feel lonely in the largest of family settings, alienated and unheard. There is loneliness in marriage.
And being alone is not loneliness. Many like being alone, others crave more time on their own Loneliness is when the individual does not like being alone and feels isolated and cut off.
This can lead onto mental health issues. A growing phenonema in our society.
Thankfully, loneliness is beginning to be recognised and addressed. There are groups being established to help out. Places where people can go. But everyone can do a bit by just being a little more sensitive to others.
Be prepared to give that time to listen. Don't dismiss people easily and move on. Don't judge others.
If we all make an effort and reach out to our neighbours in the community, then things like loneliness will be less prevalent.
Yes, we need schemes to address loneliness but all can do a bit to be more friendly to those we meet on a daily basis.

Published - 23/5/2019 - Wanstead & Woodford Guardian