Wednesday, 11 December 2019

Links of the Duke of Wellington to the East India Company and Wanstead House

There were close links over the years between Wanstead House, the infamous East India Company and the family of the Duke of Wellington.

Wanstead House was built by in 1722 on the proceeds of East India Company (EIA) money.

The house was built by Sir Richard Childs, who inherited his fortune from father Sir Josiah Childs, who had been a governor of the EIA .

The house was eventually inherited by Catherine Tylney-Long at the time (the late 18th century) she was the richest woman in England with an annual income of £80,000.

The tragic story of Catherine saw her turn down the possibility of marrying the future King William IV in favour of William Wellesley Pole – the nephew of the Duke of Wellington.

Catherine made a terrible choice when she married William in 1812. He cheated and abused her, squandered her fortune and finished by selling the house off in bits.

The house was on a level with Blenheim Palace, so had it survived the whole development of this part of London would have been very different. The fascinating story of William and Catherine is told in the excellent Angel and the Cad by Geraldine Roberts.

The activities of  the East India Company have risen to prominence over recent years, with the TV dramatisation, Taboo, starring Tom Hardy (part of which was filmed at St Marys Church) and Beecham House. But now William Dalrymple has produced a brilliant book, the Anarchy, looking at the bloody rise of the East India Company – the first big multinational that became too big to fail.

The EIC started life as a trading company in 1599. The Company struggled to get “a foothold in India and the region.” This though all changed in the mid-18th century, with the EIC effectively transforming from being a trading company to an aggressive military combatant in the region. By 1750, the Company had a 200,000 strong standing army.

Dalrymple nicely summarises the transformation of the EIC over the 35 years to 1798,  “from a trading company to a privately owned imperial power with a standing army and territorial possession far larger than that of its parent country.”

The out of control nature of the Company, which was run by a group of directors from Leadenhall Street in the City of London, was revealed in the 1770s when it hit difficulties. At the time the Company accounted for half of all British trade – it amounted to a channel to transport Indian wealth into the pockets of the English elite.


The joint stock nature of the Company structure meant that many in the elite of society – including a large number of politicians – were heavily invested in the enterprise. So when it hit trouble, the EIC was regarded as too large to fail.


The 1770s crisis also marked the point when Parliament would come to regulate and control more and more of the Companies activities. A major regulatory role was the price exacted for a huge £1.4 million loan extended to the Company by Parliament in 1773.


While operating as what amounted to a corporate mercenary the Company managed to take over running most of India - defeating the previous Mughal Empire rulers, then other pretenders such as the Nawabs, the Marathas and Rohillas.


Key players over the years were Robert Clive, a bold brutal British adventurer, who really established the military vice that was to extend out across India. Then power was consolidated under the likes of governor generals Warren Hastings, Philip Francis, George Cornwallis and latterly the Richard and Arthur Wellesley (the Duke of Wellington).


The Wellesleys finished off the effort of the Company to take over most parts of plunderable India, whilst also moving the enterprise ever more closely under the control of the British State. It took though until 1857 before the Company was effectively no more, with India passing under the total control of the British Empire.


The Wellesleys  also played a key role in bringing to an end the legacy of the EIA in Wanstead, given it was their relation William Wellesley Pole who oversaw the demise of Wanstead House.


The great strength of Anarchy is in revealing the truly brutal and aggressive nature of those pursuing the early stages of creating the rudiments of what was to become the British Empire. Dalrymple does a great service to history with this work that reveals the reality of what really went on, rather than the shiny image often presented in British history books of empire as some sort of civilising force for humanity

Tuesday, 10 December 2019

Manuel Pellegrini left hanging onto his job after another dismal display from West Ham

West Ham 1-3 Arsenal

West Ham manager Manuel Pellegrini must be holding on to his job by a thread after this comprehensive collapse in front of an increasingly exasperated home support at the London Stadium.

The growing anger of the fans was evidenced by a more than half empty stadium by the final whistle. The boos rang out from those who were left, as they had done earlier when Filipe Anderson, arguably West Ham’s most threatening attacker on the night, was substituted.

Pellegrini felt his team competed well for the first hour but then it all went wrong. “We needed to try to score the second goal,” said Pellegrini, who seems well aware of his team’s inconsistencies. “We need to see more like the performance against Chelsea and for 60 minutes of this game.”

The manager listed a number of weaknesses, such as not concentrating in defence, conceding easy goals and lack of confidence. What a difference a couple of months makes, then West Ham were flying high in the top four of the Premiership.

Since then things have gone from bad to worse. The decision to continue with goalkeeper Roberto for so many games before bringing in the much more able David Martin is looking like a monumental error.

But there are other real problems at West Ham, which were so evident in this performance. Arsenal were very poor for the first hour, continually giving the ball away and failing to mount any serious attack.

West Ham came alive just before half time, Angelo Ogbonna coming through a group of players to head home a Robert Snodgrass cross. There were then efforts from Snodgrass and Declan Rice, which failed to find the net.

Everything, though, changed on the hour, when Arsenal broke down the left. A cross found Gabriel Martinelli who, alone on the edge of the six yard area, slotted home.

Five minutes later the ball was worked across the area, before Nicolas Pepe drove home.

Then Pepe turned provider, sending over a cross that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang finished with ease.

A complete capitulation in less than 10 minutes, having been in almost total charge for the preceding hour.

Acting Arsenal manager Freddie Ljungberg was happy with the win, though not the lethargy shown by his team in the first half.

Ljunberg felt his players felt the pressure that had built up over recent weeks. “In the last 30 minutes the pressure lifted and we played,” said Ljunberg.



Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Loss of a prophetic voice - Michael Brownlee

The power of one – that was the mantra of my friend Michael, who has just died.

Michael was someone who saw early the devastation likely to be caused by climate change. We had numerous conversations, often over a couple of whiskies, about what was likely to happen.
These conversations began in the early part of the noughties. We were both keen to be as self-sufficiency as possible. We talked about getting 20 acres, animals, crop rotations but in the end settled for a more modest vision in Wanstead.

This amounted to growing as much as possible of our own food. Initially, Aileen (Michael’s wife) and myself developed a patch in their garden. Potatoes and tomatoes were among the early crops. Later, Michael, took a more hands on role ( he never did stop those potatoes coming back). I got an allotment in Redbridge Lane West growing veg there and in my garden.
Michael developed his back garden plot, installing several raised beds and a magnificent greenhouse, where he got the seedlings going. He also majored on tomatoes, growing a whole number of different varieties. Michael loved his time in the garden – it was a passion he wished he had discovered earlier in life. He enjoyed clearing the weeds in a methodical way – something I could never understand.

The fruits of the garden labour were used in all sorts of different dishes developed in the Brownlee kitchen. Michael used to make some fantastic soups, which if you were lucky enough to be passing, went down beautifully with a bit of his home made bread.

Beyond growing your own, Michael and Aileen did their best to cut emissions. Photovoltaic and solar panels were put on the roof of their house. Insulation was fitted.

Michael was pretty hardcore in being a witness for action against global warming. He gave up flying and driving.

He had seen the future, if humanity continued down its ruinous track. There was a need for a real retrenchment, a look at how we lived, maybe a step back to look at things, how they used to be – simpler times, when less of the planets resources were being quite as voraciously destroyed.

So Michael and Aileen very much walked the walk as well as talking the talk on how to counter the climate destruction. It was somewhat alarming that what we had seen and predicted all those years ago has over recent years come down the tracks much more rapidly than ever foreseen at that time.

Now, sadly Michael has left us. I’ll miss his wise words as well as those, at times, rancorous debates. He had an immense thirst for knowledge, which he would then pass on to others. He provided ongoing tips about how to live a more sustainable, less destructive life. A relatively recent piece of advice related to not using tea bags because of the plastic contained in them.

Michael also debated on social media with those who often opposed any idea of living more sustainably. At times it was frustrating but no doubt he helped change a few minds.
He will be much missed by all those who knew and loved him. He had wise words, passion and genuine kindness for all around him – a real eco-warrior, who it has been a pleasure to call a friend over many years.

RIP Michael

Sunday, 1 December 2019

Ken Loach's film Sorry we missed you demonstrates the insecurity of the gig economy but the fightback is underway

The release of Ken Loach’s film “Sorry we missed you” has stirred quite a debate on the nature of employment in the 21st century.

It focuses on the gig economy, viewed from the experience of one family. The insecurity of zero hours contracts, endless hours of work, pressures on family life and finally everyone being pushed to breaking point.

In classic Loach style, it reveals a whole variety of social problems through a narrative centred on the life of one working family.

What the film helps to reveal is how the terrain of work has changed over the years. Long gone are the jobs for life. People on secure contracts, guaranteed pay, holidays, sick pay and pensions – the secure base that enabled people to live their lives with less worries and stress.

Over recent decades, there has been the arrival of short term insecure contracts. No security, with pay levels so low that people have to do more than one job just to survive.

This low pay economy has been underwritten by things like the tax credit system, which enables employers to pay low rates, knowing the state will make up the difference with benefits.

The gig economy is essentially about shifting all the responsibilities of the employer onto the employee. So delivery drivers, care workers, security guards and a myriad of other professions are all viewed  as being "self-employed."

They are usually working for the one employer but that employer off-loads all those other previously accepted areas of responsibility.

The damage that the casualisation of work does to families was evident a few years ago when the living wage campaign was launched. It came about originally via a community organising group called London Citizens (which later became Citizens UK).

Its members were drawn from faith and community organisations in London. The members were asked what problems caused the most difficulties in their lives. The feedback was the low paid work that was forcing people to do two or three jobs just to try to keep their families afloat. This was having terrible effects on individual and family lives.

The campaign sought to get a decent living wage. Big banks like HSBC and Barclays were approached. The organisation managed to bring together people from all levels of society. On one occasion, I  remember sitting in a church hall in the east end of London with a variety of community representatives together with the chairman of HSBC and the Catholic Bishop of Brentwood. There were other more disruptive actions, such as banking all the copper coin from Church collections at a bank branch in Oxford Street.

The Mayor of London at the time, Ken Livingstone, was also approached. He responded favourably, engaging with the idea and setting up a living wage unit at City hall. The living wage rate was then set yearly for those employed by GLA staff and importantly for companies providing services. When Boris Johnson became Mayor he continued to raise the living wage level. Successive mayors have proved real champions for the idea.

The living wage campaign proved to be a great success. The concept has now been accepted nationally by all parties and is actively promoted. It has done much to improve the living conditions of many in society. So a real success story and sign of what can be done, when the will is there. There is though still much to do.

Zero hour contracts have been criticised by the trade unions, the TUC and many others. They play a role in destroying security for working people. There is no certainty in a zero hours contract. There can be a long day of back to back jobs or an empty day. The worker is totally at the whim of the employer.

Zero hour contracts give the employer huge power. I remember talking to care assistants, who came to support my mother in her last years. All were on zero hours contracts. When I mentioned joining a union or protesting about some injustice, they would say that the hours would be cut or dismissal follow.
Many of the injustices of such insecure contracts have been exposed over recent years. There has been progress, such as the living wage campaign but the gig economy as a whole has continued to grow. What this demonstrates is a real tipping of the scales away from workers toward the employer. The unions have done great work in seeking to rebalance things, often through the courts. But there is still a long way to go before that security is put back into working people’s lives

Tuesday, 26 November 2019

Latest carbon rise figures prove politicians only adding to hot air on climate change, rather than addressing root causes

More figures, this time from the World Meteorological Organisation, indicating that the concentration of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases continues to spiral upward.
What is it going to take to wake people up to this growing environmental catastrophe?
Human beings have the capacity to learn, reason and act accordingly, so why are we failing to do so?
Groups like Extinction Rebellion have raised the environment up the agenda but the politicians continue to not act. There is much hot air spouted but the actions on the ground simply do not match the rhetoric.
There has been a failure of political leadership. The American president is a climate change denier, while in this country, the government seeks to just export our emissions elsewhere.
There needs to be urgent action taken. The Labour Party's green deal offers the type of bold approach needed. Other parties have some similar ideas.
The ongoing collective heads in the sand approach to this crisis will in the end see a violent reaction from nature - something that will strike uniformly across the world hitting rich and poor alike. It really would be better to take radical action now in order to avoid what is becoming, with each passing day, an inevitable humanitarian crisis.

Saturday, 23 November 2019

Jose Mourinho savours victory over dismal West Ham on his return to the London Stadium

West Ham 2-3 Tottenham Hotspur

Jose Mourinho made a triumphant return to football management, watching his Spurs side comprehensively defeat a struggling West Ham outfit.

The ‘special one’ was clearly glad to be back, recalling going to football games during the last 11 months, he has been out of the game, wondering “what am I doing here.”

“I am now back in my natural habitat,” said a beaming Mourinho, who felt his team were “brilliant” for the first hour.

Mourinho was also glad to see Deli Ali back to something like his best. “it was like the old Deli Ali of a couple of years ago. He did exactly what I wanted him to do offensively and defensively,” said Mourinho.

Ali had a hand in making the first two Spurs goals. He played Heung Min Son in down the left, with the striker then cutting in and firing his shot across the hapless Roberto.

Then an exquisite back heel from down the line from Ali sent Son away. His cross was met by the incoming Lucas Moura, who drove the ball home.

West Ham were playing like a team devoid of all confidence, continually needlessly giving the ball away, thereby increasing the pressure on themselves.

The home team’s fortunes improved in the second half, with the introduction of Michail Antonio, whose searing pace caused Spurs some problems.

The half, though, was only a few minutes old, when Serge Aurier crossed from deep on the right for Harry Kane to get in front of the defender and head home.

West Ham only really seemed to wake up in the final 20 minutes. Antonio was rewarded for his hard work, when the ball fell to him in the penalty area. A quick faint, wrong footed the defender, allowing Antonio to drive home.

West Ham scored another goal in the 89th minute when Declan Rice knocked the ball home from an Angelo Ogbonna header. But the goal though was ruled out for offside, following a VAR re-examination.

The second West Ham goal did arrive in the sixth minute of injury time, when Ogbonna drove home a Robert Snodgrass corner.

Wes Ham Manager Manuel Pellegrini admitted his team are struggling but did not seem unduly fazed by the recent bad run of results. “When you don’t have the result you want, you must trust more than ever. Our players never gave up, they continued to fight until the last minute. The moment we have the first winning result the pressure will be gone,” said Pellegrini.

The West Ham manager must though be beginning to feel the pressure himself, especially with Mauricio Pochettino now looking for a new club.

Thursday, 21 November 2019

Jeremy Corbyn was the only adult in the room in the first leader's TV debate

The first leader's debate was a great success for the Labour Party. Jeremy Corbyn came over as the adult in the room, Boris Johnson the petulant schoolboy, constantly interrupting and not doing as teacher told him.

There was also the notable disrespect that most male politicians seem to have for women. It is noticeable how whenever a male politician is in dialogue with a woman, he always seeks to talk over them. Again, full marks to Mr Corbyn, who did not undertake this practice but accorded host Julie Etchingham the respect she merited.

What was also notable in the debate itself was that the Conservatives are a one trick pony –  Brexit.

If that is all they have to talk about, then they are in trouble – pandering to leave in a general election campaign – something the Conservative government has fundamentally failed to deliver in three years does not seem a very clever strategy.

The factcheck debacle simply adds to the sense of desperation that seems to have gripped Tory HQ.
published in Independent - 20/11/2019