Thursday 23 November 2023
The streets of Redbridge are undergoing a slow but steady transformation, becoming more biodiverse and bastions of sustainable living. The process is slow but change is coming. The impetus is coming from the local communities. So, more and more tree pits are being adopted by residents. Individuals are provided with seeds to develop the pits. We have been doing this for many years in the road where I live. The transformation in the street is amazing to behold in spring and summer. There has also been the positioning of planters around the borough, which again encourages biodiversity. The ones outside the town hall are particularly splendid. Voluntary groups like the Wanstead Community Gardeners and other offshoots have done fantastic work to improve the streets The council has been encouraging different streets to become pollinator pathways. This scheme extends sustainable living, so that residents take over management of much of the biodiversity. So, people in the road agree to deal with the weeds and care for tree pits. It is an important way of cutting back on pesticides. One ambition for Redbridge going forward must be the phasing out of pesticide use. It damages human and plant health. There are also the Growzones, that have been allowed to go wild. The biodiversity coming from these developments has been most encouraging. More are needed borough wide. Tree planting has continued in open spaces, as well as on the streets - this helps remove the carbon dioxide from the environment as well as increasing biodiversity. On the active travel side, the cycle network is growing all of the time. If people feel safe, they will cycle to get around. That safety, includes clean air to breath. So the improvements coming from ULEZ and the expansion of the school streets program improves that air quality. It is excellent in Wanstead that it is now possible to cycle in protected lanes or through Wanstead Park to get from the north to the south of town. There is much still to be done, with expansion of cycle hangars on residential streets a must. More 20 mph areas across the borough are also important, especially for safety. The advance of the electric car is another plus when it comes to expanding sustainable living. There are plans for more charging points to be rolled out across the borough. Better public transport is another must. London is fortunate with the public transport network compared to other parts of the country but availability and affordability can always be improved. So there are a lot of positive things happening, they just need to be speed up. Funding is often key, with environmental issues not being given the priority they should be. Budgetary cuts from central government has not helped - more could happen more quickly if this funding were restored. We are in a climate emergency - it needs to be treated as such and given the priority merited.
Thursday 16 November 2023
There has been a growing mood of censorship across the UK, as the level of dissent amongst the mass of people grows. The Home Secretary recently met with the police, over demonstrations taking place about what is happening in Gaza. She seems to have a limited concept about what free speech is all about, suggesting that carrying the Palestinian flag could be an infringement. This overly robust attitude has become prevalent over recent years, relating to protest. But there has also been the increase in what is known as cancel culture. This too has been evident regarding events in the Middle East, with a talk about a visit to Palestine by National Education Union members due to take place in an East London library cancelled a week before it was due to happen. The organisers found a new site for the talk. One of the most blatant examples of censorship has been the cancelling of the film Oh Jeremy Corbyn: the Big Lie. The film is about the Corbyn years and how he was brought down. There are a series of interviews with key players, narration comes from Alexi Sayle. The film was released earlier in the year in Liverpool but it was later that the cancellations began, the biggest being Glastonbury. Other cancellations have followed, across the country, including Carlisle, North Ayrshire and Walthamstow in London. Complaints often relate to how the film deals with issues of anti semitism in the Labour Party. What the rights or wrongs of the film are is not for discussion here but the act of outright censorship at this time in the 21st century is breathtaking. The lessons really should be learned from Ireland, where such a heavy handed approach during the years of the conflict made the voices of dissent ever louder. Many will remember the Broadcasting Ban brought in by the Thatcher government. This meant Sinn Fein leaders, like Gerry Adams and Martin McGuiness, having their words delivered by actors. This did nothing to stop what they said , coming over. Indeed, there was the mystique of the banned message, which often sounded better coming from actors. Then there was the long list of banned films. Ken Loach's Hidden Agenda was often delayed or cancelled, if due for screening at the time of some atrocity. There was no question that people might have been able to tell between fact and fiction. Film producer, Kenneth Griffith's film Hang Out Your Bright Colours about the war of independence was banned in the 1970s. The public finally got a look, a couple of decades later. Another huge act of over reaction. What the deniers of free speech never seem to understand is that banning dissent does not make it go away, rather it just gets displaced elsewhere. The whole conflict in the north of Ireland is a classic example of this. The legitimate protests of the civil rights activists were not addressed but met with a violent response. This in turn bred more violence, which led to decades of conflict. Banning protest and imposing censorship just displaces grievances to other areas of life. It is only when the causes of dissent are addressed that problems can be resolved. The present British government has developed it's so called culture wars, largely as a distraction from the appalling mess it is making of the country. It seems to turn people against each other, creating ever more distraction and division in society. Fear is constantly used to legitimise censorious type actions. Much of the media help in this enterprise by creating false narratives. This then stokes the fire of those who preach fake news. None of this is healthy for a democracy. A functioning democracy is one at ease with itself. Such a democracy will have high tolerance levels, little will be banned, and if it is. a high bar should be set, for such a draconian action. Unfortunately, in Britain today, there is no democracy at ease with itself. Instead, there is an unpopular government elected by a minority of the population, which imposes suffering on many people - at home and abroad. A growing number of people dissent from their mantra, so the response is to shut down the avenues of free expression. It won't work, the truth will out and with it those who seek to deny it.
Wednesday 8 November 2023
The appalling tragedy that is occurring in the Middle East has dominated headlines over past weeks. The horrendous attack on Israeli citizens by Hamas, resulting in the deaths of more than 1400 on 7 October. Many more have been injured and some taken hostage. Now, the death toll is mounting in Gaza, as the Israeli military offensive intensifies. The approach of Israel has echoes of the US response to the attacks of 9/11, which led to wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Neither, ended well The anger on the part of Israel is understandable but it must act, proportionately, within international law. The early rhetoric in this conflict did not seem to distinguish between the actions of Hamas and the Palestinians living on the Gaza strip. The crude categorisation was a bit like making all Irish people responsible for the actions of the IRA during the war in Northern Ireland. History teaches that an all out assault based on vengeance does not in the long term solve anything - in fact it makes things worse. In Ireland, the demands of civil rights protesters in the North were denied, lethal force was deployed and decades of violence followed. Violence begets violence. Order and the rule of law get subsumed in conflict. Innocent lives are lost. It is important in such situations that the voices of reason and restraint are heard and listened to. Internationally, there have been worrying precedents set regarding the breaking of international law, over recent years. The Americans going into Iraq in 2003, without a supporting UN resolution. Most recently, Russia's illegal assault on Ukraine. The move to violent reprisal seems much quicker these days - international law being too easily set aside. The lack of calls for restraint result in a narrative of inevitable conflict. The previous experiences of such an approach really should counsel caution. Violence is proven to beget violence, whether it be in Afghanistan, Iraq, Ukraine or Northern Ireland. The violent actions of western powers in the Middle East 20 years ago, led to the emergence of Isis and all that followed. What is needed now is to hear and act upon the counsel of those urging peace - like the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby and Catholic Cardinal Vincent Nichols.. The hostilities need to end now. Maybe, then the Middle East can be pulled back from the brink of escalating conflict. Then, genuine negotiation can eventually lead to a peaceful settlement for all who live in those lands.
Thursday 2 November 2023
The recent Wanstead Beer Festival proved to be a great community event. People coming in from far and wide, as soon as the doors opened at 1 on Saturday. Tickets sold out days before the event, leaving some people disappointed. Hopefully next year, we'll get a few more people in the door. The weather smiled on the day, allowing drinkers to spill out from the main building into the Christchurch gardens. There was a good choice of drinks for all. The variety of casks varied from Pride of Prague (for West Ham supporters),that sold out quickly, to Billericay Dickie. A nice pale ale, Sussex Hoppy, from Listers brewery was a favourite. Local brewers did us proud, with three beers from the East London Brewery and some popular varieties from Beerblefish, Redemption, Pretty Decent and Neckstamper. Brentwood Brewery were superb, providing beers and doing the set up. Not to forget those brewers from further afield, such as Mighty Oak (Malden), providing the popular Captain Bob and Gorgeous George beers and Harvey's Best Bitter (Lewes). The ciders were also popular, especially Farmer Jim's, Rhubarb Bob. Staff and volunteers put in a huge effort to create such a special day. A number commented on the friendly atmosphere. The organising team got great support from Christchurch. Local business sponsors also played a major role in making the event possible. So, thanks to all. The success of the not-for-profit event, saw more than £3000 raised for good causes. The two nominated charities Tin in a Bin and the Wanstead Charity will soon receive their cheques. There certainly seems to be a good appetite for a beer festival in Wanstead. This event came together quickly, due to a lot of work from a few people. Hopefully it can now go on to become a regular local feature of the calendar, alongside the Wanstead Festival and Fringe So big thanks to everyone who came along and the team of volunteers who made it all possible. Onto the next one - see you next year. Cheers.
Monday 30 October 2023
The appalling tragedy that is occurring in the Middle East has dominated headlines over past weeks. The horrendous attack on Israeli citizens by Hamas, resulting in the deaths of more than 1400. Many more have been injured and some taken hostage. Now, the death toll is mounting in Gaza, as the Israeli military offensive intensifies. The Israeli government has mobilised it's army, calling up reservists in readiness for a mass military action against Gaza. Palestinians have been told to leave likely conflict zones. The approach of Israel has echoes of the US response to the attacks of 9/11, which led to wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The anger and desire for revenge on the part of Israel is understandable but it must act, proportionately, within international law. The early rhetoric in this conflict did not seem to distinguish between the actions of Hamas and the Palestinians living on the Gaza strip. The crude categorisation was a bit like making all Irish people responsible for the actions of the IRA during the war. History teaches that an all out assault based on vengeance does not in the long term solve anything - in fact it makes things worse. In Ireland, the demands of civil rights protesters in the North were denied, lethal force was deployed and decades of violence followed. Violence begets violence. Order and the rule of law get subsumed in conflict. Innocent lives are lost. It is important in such situations that the voices of reason and restraint are heard and listened to. Internationally, there have been worrying precedents set regarding the breaking of international law, over recent years. The Americans going into Iraq in 2003, without a supporting UN resolution. Most recently, Russia's illegal assault on Ukraine. The move to violent reprisal seems much quicker these days - international law being too easily set aside. Going back to the days of the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, when the world was brought to the brink of nuclear war, it is interesting to read counts of the whole process. The ongoing analysis and weighing up of options, the measured and statesmanlike approach of President Kennedy. Also, a wise decision to relegate the opinions of the military, who it seems always want outright war. Why do we hear so many soldiers giving their opinions on the Middle East situation in the mass media? Also, the crucial brokering role of the UN. In the end, nuclear Armageddon was avoided over Cuba because of effective diplomacy, cool heads, international pressure and a wise president. Unfortunately, there are no President Kennedys around today. Nor is the UN the force it was for peace. Today, too many world leaders rush to take sides, setting a background context that justifies and legitimates revenge based actions. The lack of calls for restraint result in a narrative of inevitable conflict. Rather than opprobrium being directed towards those who may kill in vengeance there is an urge to act, ever more violently. The previous experiences of such an approach really should counsel caution. Violence is proven to beget violence, whether it be in Afghanistan, Iraq, Ukraine or the north of Ireland. The violent actions of western powers in the Middle East 20 years ago led to the emergence of Isis and all that followed. What is needed now are cool heads counselling caution. The voices of peace, not the militarists preaching war, need to be heard. International leaders need to lead, not join in a one sided dash toward oblivion What is needed now is more jaw jaw, not war war. Maybe then the Middle East can be pulled back from the brink of escalating conflict. Then, genuine negotiation can eventually lead to a peaceful settlement for all who live in those lands. Published - Irish Post - 28/10/2023
Friday 27 October 2023
Journalist, Ian Dunt, offers a withering analysis of the dysfunctional British political system. "One of the core features of the British system, at every level, is that no one knows what they're talking about," says Dunt."And if by accident someone who does know what they're talking about finds themselves in a senior position they're quickly moved on." In his book, How Westminster works...and why it doesn't, Dunt chronicles the problems, from a selection system for MPs that ensures many inappropriate people end up in Parliament to the country being run out of a 17th century terraced house (10 Downing Street). Ministers and civil servants are all moved rapidly on before they have a chance to get to grips with their portfolios This results in crazy ideas being implemented, which by the time the true impact is realised the minister has long since moved on. Dunt illustrates the point, using the example of Chris Grayling's career as Justice minister, privatising ( destroying) the probation system. The House of Commons has been effectively gutted as a place where government business is scrutinised.The brutal whips system ensures for the most part MPs don't step out of line. Most are lobby fodder, with little capacity for independent thought - this ofcourse also goes back to selection process. The select committees in the House of Commons and the House of Lords are the only bodies exercising a proper scrutiny function on government business. Some, will have been lucky enough to attend the session with Ian Dunt during the Wanstead Fringe. He enlarged on the themes in the book, including highlighting how things could change. He suggests a public primaries system for MP selection and the introduction of PR. The Prime Ministerial function needs to move from the terraced house to a more appropriate premises. Scrutiny powers need strengthening, with greater specialism amongst MPs and civil servants. His ideas are a start. There certainly needs to be fundamental change. It was striking attending the Fringe session and reading the book how many of the issues highlighted resonate at local government level. Too much of what goes on at all levels is about marginalising people with important skills, reducing important functions to political posturing, rather than playing effective roles in governance. Reform is desperately needed at all levels to revive our fading democracy. More people genuinely representing communities across the land need to be persuaded to come forward. Then, once elected, supported and encouraged to take an active part in governance. It will take a huge effort to effect such change but things cannot continue in the present regressive state for much longer.
Monday 23 October 2023
The implementation of 20 mph speed limits across these islands appears to be gathering pace. Ireland has become the latest to move to restrict speed, following a rise in deaths on the roads. Wales recently brought in such a limit across the country. In England, as with many things car related, the approach has been slow and piecemeal. Many different areas have brought in 20mph limits. This limit is becoming the norm in London, with Transport For London seeking to persuade many of the boroughs to comply. More of Redbridge is coming under 20 mph restrictions, with expansion ongoing. Pedestrianisation of areas, as has happened in neighbouring areas like Walthamstow, would be a welcome next step. How about some of Wanstead High Street? There has been opposition from some in the motor lobby to 20 mph restrictions. In Wales, there have been claims of economic loss - how that works is a mystery. The oppositional stance adopted by many in the media to such developments is a wonder to behold. So out come the routine lazy vox pop interviews flashed up on the screen, with Joe Blogs saying he's going to lose thousands because he can't drive fast anymore. Similar vox pop interviews have been used regarding the Ultra Low Emissions Zone in London. Maybe, some of these claims need checking out. In Britain, it has become impossible to have a rational conversation about the car. There are a vociferous group of drivers, who see any restriction, as some sort of infringement of their human rights. Never mind those being mown down by reckless drivers or the poisoning the air breathed by children, causing them to get asthma. The London Mayor has a target of 80% of journeys being by foot, cycle or public transport by 2041. In order to achieve such a goal, ways of getting about have to radically change. Moving forward the car driver has to be prepared to give a little. Reduce speed, stop polluting and recognise the right of others to safely use the road space. The measures taken in Ireland, Wales, Scotland and parts of England to make the roads safer for all should be applauded and supported- they are to the benefit of everyone. They are also the future.