Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Review of the film "Bobby Sands - 28 days"

The film Bobby Sands – 66 days highlights the pivotal nature of the 1981 hunger strikes in the Republican struggle for independence.
The essential argument presented by Brendan J Byrne in this excellent documentary style film is that the hunger strikes set the path that ultimately led to the Good Friday Agreement and peace.
The structure of the film is to see the whole period through the focus of Bobby Sand’s life and his death after 66 days on hunger strike.
It is a cleverly worked, looking at Sands, just 27 when he died, but already a deep thinker when it came to the nature of the struggle going on in the north of Ireland and beyond. Whilst the Republican prisoners were focusing on other liberation struggles such as Cuba, Vietnam and Russia, Sands was one of those calling for reflection on the Republican tradition, particularly epitomised by Padraig Pearse, James Connolly and the other rebels of 1916.
The idea of the winner of the battle ultimately being the side that could endure more rather than inflict most damage on the other is another concept that came to have influence in the Irish struggle.
The wider aspects of the whole hunger strike episode are told via a timeline counting down by each day of Sands hunger strike. So there are the physical updates as he loses weight and his medical condition worsens.
The narrative is told via a whole succession of talking heads. The range of voices impressive - from Thatcher's biographer Charles Moore and Thatcherite Cabinet minister Norman Tebbit to Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams and Danny Morrison.
The medical expert who explains the deterioration of the body through the hungers strike offers a chilling insight. He tells how the body copes up to the 28 day mark, and then the terrible deterioration takes place. The body starts, in effect, eating itself and shutting down. The eyesight deteriorates and the bodily functions breaking down.
The political context looms large in the discourse. The decision to go on hunger strike, after the failed earlier attempt. Then, how with the election of Sands as a Westminster MP really changed the nature of the whole struggle. For it was that decision which moved the tactics of the Republican movement to that of the gun and ballot box.
Sands has become an iconic figure over the years and this film will help enhance that status even more. The linking of the 1916 rebels to Sands and the other Republicans continuing the struggle in the 1960s, 70s, 80s and 90s is illuminating. One of the most fascinating factors is the strange phenomena of the hunger strike with its unique position in the Republican tradition - bringing together martyrdom and sacrifice with their deep roots in Catholicism and the liberation struggle.
The film leaves the viewer with a feeling of respect for the sacrifice made by the hunger strikers but also of a huge waste of life. The hunger strikes turned out to be a pivotal event in finally ending the war and bringing peace to Ireland. They also represent ofcourse the loss of 10 young lives among the 3000 plus over 40 years.

“I am standing on the threshold of another trembling world. May God have mercy on my soul" - Bobby Sands, 1/3/1981 - the start of the hunger strike

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Response to Brexit shows Capital once again never slow to take advantage of a crisis

Guardian writer Larry Elliott is right when he highlights how the world has not stopped turning since the Brexit vote. However, this has not stopped certain businesses seeking to use the perceived crisis for commercial advantage.
Take the banks, who threaten to leave the country -it's funny because they never do actually leave. Instead, they stay and screw out some more benefits from government, with the tax payer footing the bill.
We have already see the subsidies start to f...low-with cheap money via quantative easing and funding for lending schemes. The banks once again given a free hand to screw savers.
Others also seek to use Brexit for commercial gain, like developers commiitted to projects who then try to cut the affordable housing element because they just can't afford it in the new world.
It 's time to wise up to the way that certain unscrupulous businesses -having helped fuel a belief in the Brexit crisis -are now seeking to profit from the results

Friday, 19 August 2016

End this internal party feuding

The call in the Ilford Recorder’s leader for effective opposition to the government from the Labour Party is long overdue.
The behaviour of the 176 Labour MPs in launching a coup against the leader, virtually as the result of the EU referendum was being announced, was reckless and irresponsible. It has done a huge amount of damage to the Party in sending out the message to the public that they are not fit to govern.

Since then there has been the leadership election, which Jeremy Corbyn looks set to win. However, many of the 176 – including I imagine Wes Streeting and Mike Gapes – have made it clear that they will not accept a second mandate from the membership for Mr Corbyn. This is a very strange take on democracy, namely we will only abide by the result of an election if the outcome is the one that we want – it smacks rather more of the fake exercises engineered by dictators to legitamise their own rule.

If Mr Corbyn wins, there can be little doubt that both Gapes and Streeting should consider their positions. Both have openly called for Corbyn to stand down, with Gapes using the pages of the Recorder to openly praise the Prime Minister whilst describing “another poor display by Jeremy Corbyn.”

Following the result of the leadership election, the Labour Party has to come together and get behind the leader. Then an effective opposition can at last be mounted. Those who seek to continue internal feuding in the Labour Party may be deselected by their local parties, if not they will undoubtedly be turfed out by the electorate come the next general election. What is for sure is that the present shambles cannot go on.

published Ilford Recorder - 18/8/2016

Monday, 8 August 2016

Secured Energy Bond investors were expecting their £7.5 million investment back at the end of this year - instead they have faced two years of getting the run around from regulators, with little sign so far of getting their money back

Secured Energy Bond investors must be wondering whether there will be any resolution of their problems in time for what was due to be the maturity of the bonds at the end of the year.

Lest we forget, SEB were launched in 2013, paying 6.5% over a three year period. The first three payments were made on the quarters, then the alarm bells began to ring in January 2015, when the company defaulted on the interest payment.

Since then, it has been an uphill struggle, with the investor’s campaign group seeking to get the money back for those who originally invested in good faith.

The £7.5 million pledged by investors was to finance the fitting of solar panels on 22 schools across the country. All would have been fine, had the parent company CBD Energy not siphoned off the funds provided for other purposes in Australia, in total contravention to the stated purpose of the bond.

Ever since SEB was put into administration, investors have been struggling to get justice.

Appointed administrators, Grant Thornton have tracked down six schools that had the panels fitted. They continue with efforts to recover proceeds but it is a slow process.

Meanwhile, investors seem to have been passed around the regulatory framework, from the Financial Conduct Authority to the Financial Ombudsman and back.

A number of MPs have become involved, raising investors concerns with the authorities.

Last autumn, it looked as though the FOS could look favourably on investor’s case against the Independent Portfolio Managers (who approved the financial promotion of the mini-bond and acted as Corporate Director and Security Trustee) but then then the process slowed. 

The appointment of a new FOS adjudicator saw an about turn on the first adjudicator’s decision, declaring that they did not think the FOS could look at the issue. Investors then brought in lawyers to contest the views of the FOS.

Since then there have been delays, with the latest communication from the FOS on 28 July explaining that more time was needed by the appointed ombudsman to consider the situation and determine whether SEB investors are “eligible to complain”. There will be more in September.

So what is going on, when can investors expect to see their money back? At the moment it just seems to be delay after delay – the more cynical might wonder whether the whole run around that investors have been given since the company went into administration last year has not been about exhausting their efforts in the hope that they will just go away.

This is not going to happen. At the end of this year investors should have been receiving their final interest payment and capital back. A number of investors are really struggling, as they put a large amount of their savings into what at the time looked like a bona fide investment. They expected the interest and capital back by the end of 2016.

The way this issue has been dealt with thus far by the regulators is far from satisfactory. They appear to have moved from acknowledging that a wrong has been committed to trying to find a way out of helping in any meaningful way those severely affected by what has happened.

It seems savers are to continue to be punished and made to pay for the fall out of the financial crisis of a decade ago. The SEB case raises important questions. There are likely to be more SEBs in future – in this low interest environment, savers are being pushed toward more risky investments and other mini-bonds continue to be promoted with the same so called “protections” that the SEB mini-bond came with which all seem to have amounted to nothing for investors thus far. The denial of any sort of responsibility from the regulators thus far does not engender much confidence.  

Friday, 5 August 2016

West Ham begin new stadium adventure with emphatic win over NK Domzale

West Ham United opened their new stadium with an emphatic 3-0 win over the Slovenian side NK Domzale.
The home side entered the game in arrears from the away tie last week but quickly got the goal back as Cheikhou Kouyate flicked home in the seventh minute.

The big Senegalese midfielder then added to his tally before half time, side footing in an Andy Carroll head down from a Michail Antonio cross.

West Ham missed a number of chances, prior to new signing Sofiane Feghouli putting the tie beyond doubt when he broke free, having collected an exquisite cross field ball from skipper Mark Noble, to lash home.

Indicative of the flow of traffic was the fact that the visitors did not really test Hammer s keeper Darren Randolph all night.

Hammers manager Slaven Bilic was happy with the result, though determined not to “go over the moon” due to the standard of the opponents.

The manager seemed more concerned about the testing programme of five games that his team now face before the international break at the start of September.

West Ham face another two leg Europa League tie, if they are to make it into the group stages. These games will be sandwiched between three Premiership league games – two of which are away to Chelsea and Manchester City.

“We have five games before the international break, this squad is not enough for five games,” said Bilic, who indicated the club will be looking to get at least two more players in, maybe more.

On the up side more games, means more players getting a game, so they will be happier, said the manager, who confirmed that though the club want to go far in the Europa League, the Premier League always takes priority.  

The star of the show on the evening though was the stadium, which the fans seem to take to like the proverbial duck to water. Many arriving early packed the bars in nearby Westfield, providing choruses  of “I’m forever blowing bubbles” for bemused onlookers. Further renditions of the song rang around the vast new stadium, as the 53,914 fans made their presence felt with regular further chants such as of “if you love West Ham stand up” – bringing waves of fans to their feet.  

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Challenge for Stratford, four years after the London Olympics is to become truly interactive communal centre, not just an atomised moonscape

Standing in the centre of the concourse on the way the Olympic stadium is a good place to view the developing site that is Stratford city.

Four years on from the Olympic games there is much talk of legacy but what seems to have developed is a sky line of ultra-modern buildings - many of them towering onto the east London skyline, giving another worldly look and feel.

To be fair there has always been a strong element of other worldliness about the Stratford development, ever since its inception back in 2007 when London won the Olympic  bid.

Old Stratford centred around the shopping mall with its market running through the centre, the adjacent cinema and Theatre Royal – once home to Joan Littlewood, with that groundbreaking theatre workshop of the 1960s and 70s.

Then came the Olympics, which also brought the Westfield Shopping centre, on the other side to old Stratford but dumped down like an alien being on the east London landscape. Then gradually the constituent parts of the Olympic dream began to arrive. The stadium, which now becomes the home of West Ham United. The aquatic centre, which does a brisk trade providing swimming facilities to east London.

The old Olympic village has been converted into housing, with much more developing round about. The election of Labour mayor Sadiq Khan has forced developers to look to bring in more affordable housing – with his stipulation about developments having a 50% affordable housing constituent.

The way, in which the designers of the park landscaped the area using the waterways and flora and fauna, give the area a great natural feel – an offset to the moonscape stretching off into the distance.

So there is much to be admired about the Olympic site, it is an exciting vital place to be. It remains a functional living centre of community, not a moribund monument to a few weeks of sport in 2012.

The development of this site though says much about modern life - atomised and separate. Many people working in the area are on low wages, struggling to get by. Many working in the area will never be able to afford the prices of most of the property round about. Aliens in the city where they work.

The mayor’s affordable housing pledge is a good start toward a more integrated housing environment but there needs to be more. A proper living wage paid to everyone working in the area would further help iron out the inequalities of wealth.

Developments that encourage interconnections between the people living and working in the area. It is no good building what is virtually a new city if the overriding feeling is of passing through, whether that be in a living or working context.

Old Stratford had deep roots reaching back through the centuries – those antecedents were well illustrated in Danny Boyle’s excellent opening ceremony for the games four years ago. Many of those old roots still remain but there is also a need for the new developments to put down these roots. Those roots should spring from a cohesive close knit community, where people talk to each other and don’t just gaze into mobile phones, lap tops and other online applications.

The real challenge for Stratford moving forward is to create a living city in every aspect of that word. A just and equitable place that brings some of the designs and devices of the modern world but marries them to those deep roots going back. What it must come to reflect is true inter-activity and cohesiveness at every level of the community – not simply a moonscape occupied by atomised beings.

* "Will Olympic developers respect area's roots" - published Morning Star - 9/8/2016 

Imaginative housing plan but utilisation of open space for community use needs to be a priority

Redbridge Council do seem to have come up with an imaginative plan to meet the rising housing demand in the borough.
The projections suggest there will be another 60,000 people living in Redbridge come 2030.

The plan focuses most of the development on Ilford (6,000 units) and around the cross rail corridor (4,700). The plan, in the main, avoids building in the green areas around the borough.

There has been concerns expressed over the proposed building on the Oakfields playing fields site. The concreting over of such areas must ofcourse be regretted and avoided where possible.

However, the Oakfields example does open up the question of how land is best utilised in the borough. I think of the area alongside the River Roding, where as part of the cycle path development new allotments are due to be created near the old sports ground. But on the other side of the cycle track what is going on with the old sports ground itself – not a lot it would seem. The site is deserted, the goalposts remain in the ground as the surrounding grasslands grow ever higher. Surely this is a site that could be better utilised for the common good. It could be brought back into public use as playing fields or if that demand does not exist maybe turned into allotments. It is vital that we use our green spaces wherever they are for the good of all.

- published Ilford Recorder - 4/8/2016