Friday, 15 June 2018

Need to build links with the earth and each other

The Wild Wanstead tree pit planting initiative has really caught fire, with some 40 roads now taking part.
One of the striking things about the initiative is that it brings people out from behind their front doors to participate in the community.
When we first did the planting around Snaresbrook in 2014, it was noticeable how some people thought it was someone coming in from outside to “do” the job for them. In reality, although the council funded the purchase of the seeds, the actual planting was all done on a voluntary basis by local people.
The latest Wild Wanstead effort has further built up those community links. It is important that not only do people reconnect with the nature around them but also those equally organic community links are made with our neighbours.
Street parties are another great way of bringing community alive. In my road, we have had a street party for the past couple of years. The event has been a great success with the street cut off from traffic for the afternoon, allowing people to take charge of the whole street. Children play on the road, parents eat and drink together. There is music, The street party here has really worked, to the extent that it is not long after the event is over in September that people start asking when the next one will be.
It is these type of initiatives we need to build on in Wanstead going forward, reconnecting with people and nature. Break down those barriers real or imagined and reaching out to each other in pursuit of the common good

Thursday, 7 June 2018

Time for Essex County Cricket Club to return to Valentines Park

Essex cricket week in Valentines Park used to be one of the highlights of the summer back in the day.

It was June, the football season had just finished, the sun would be out and Essex cricket week began at Valentines Park.

Teachers and kids would head over to the park in the weekdays, once school had finished, to watch the likes of Graham Gooch, John Lever, Keith Fletcher, Keith Boyce and Ken McEwan thrash the opposition around the field.

On the weekends, we would spend the whole day at the park.

On Saturday there could be a carefully built hundred from Fletcher. But on Sunday, it was the 40 over one-day rush.

One particular Sunday memory was when Sussex were the opponents, with their overseas stars Imran Khan and Garth Le Roux in tandem. The two formed a fearsome bowling partnership but could also bat. I remember well Le Roux and Imran thrashing the ball around as they chased a distant total.

My fondest memories of the Essex Week cricket came in the 1980s and early 1990s, when Essex were becoming a formidable force in all forms of cricket. The team won the county championship no fewer than six times between 1979 and 1992.

Cricket week though disappeared, as the county game took on its four day format. However, Essex continued to visit and entertain.

But by the noughties the popularity of the cricket week seemed to be waning or at least the money coming into the coffers began to fall. So with the costs rising, Essex decided to discontinue Valentines Park cricket in 2002.

Thus, Ilford joined other redundant local arenas, like Leyton, that had previously hosted Essex cricket over the past decades

The counties have tended over the years to reduce their outreach via the likes of festival weeks, confining themselves in most part to the centrally placed county grounds. This however is a rather short sighted policy. Cricket needs to be seen in order that future generations can be attracted to play the game.

It was a fateful decision when the cricket authorities signed their collective soul over to Sky sports thereby removing the game from the tertiary channels where everyone was able to watch – without needing to have special subscriptions etc. the move to Sky was the start of cricket moving to the sporting backwaters.

Cricket needs to reconnect. This means teams getting out of their central bunkers and taking the game to the different corners of the counties. Reconnect with people of all ages, particularly those youngsters who will be the sports life blood of the future. A return to tertiary channels would also be welcome, though maybe less easy to attain.
Let’s hope it happens, Essex cricket is now on the up again, winning the country championship last year – the first time since 1992. How wonderful it would be to see county cricket again in Valentines Park and other local venues in the coming years

Monday, 4 June 2018

Jeremy Thorp trial in the era of Lord Denning's "appalling vista" construct regarding the Birmingham Six conviction

Those shocked at the one sided nature of the judge’s rulings in the Jeremy Thorp trial in 1979, should remember that this was the era when the establishment could do no wrong.
A year after the Thorp judgement (1980) Lord Denning was denying the Birmingham Six’s appeal declaring: “If they won, it would mean that the police were guilty of perjury; that they were guilty of violence and threats; that the confessions were involuntary and improperly admitted in evidence; and that the convictions were erroneous. ... That was such an appalling vista that every sensible person would say, "It cannot be right that these actions should go any further.”

Friday, 1 June 2018

How much does social media contribute to creating a fear of crime?

Good morning thanks to everybody for your posts concerning the escalation of crime if any members have a spare half hour to walk around the streets during the day especially after school time keep a look out and report anyone suspicious..” read a post on a community hub in a middle class East London suburb. A suburb, where the threat of crime has been hyped up, largely due to social media, out of all proportion to what is actually happening on the streets.

Levels of crime have certainly grown nationally over recent times, no doubt helped by central government cuts in police budgets. Figures from police forces across England and Wales show crime increasing by 14% in the year to last September. Meanwhile, police numbers have reduced by 22,424 below their peak in 2009, when there were 144,353 officers.

Another contributory element to the growth in crime is no doubt the continuing polarisation between a small group of haves and a burgeoning level of have nots in our society.

However, the question here is how real is the growth in crime and how much is the fear of crime being fanned by social media? One personal experience which got me wondering came after canvassing a local road asking about issues that concerned people. At a few houses - which were party to the facebook hosted community hub - there was real concern about crime. “There has been all sorts around here,” said one householder. A little more questioning brought forth the information that some kids on bikes had vandalised cars a month or so previously. This incident though had been splashed across the community hub, with myriad comments following. There was a lack of any context. Similar views were echoed at other houses in this street, that were also on the hub. However, when I asked about crime in a few houses not connected to the hub, the response was that crime was no worse than before and they hadn’t heard much about it.

So the social media activity was having the effect of whipping people up into a frenzy of fear. This has some alarming effects, leaving some people literally cowering behind the door, wondering when the criminals were coming for them.

The fear of crime, whether real or imagined, in a number of places across the UK and lack of belief in the capacity of the police to deal with it has led to the growth of vigilante style initiatives. Community groups may launch their own patrols. It can only be a matter of time surely before the headline arises “Vigilante group severely injures suspect.”

Crime has always been a popular media issue, the more gory the crime the more popular it is with news desks. Big crime stories have come to dominate press and TV news agendas ever more over recent years, sometimes almost developing into mini-soaps in the nature of the coverage. Terrorism could be classified as a sub-category in the crime genre.

Traditionally, local newspapers have been filled with crime stories. They are easy to do and the police are generally only too willing to get the free publicity to help them in their work. The overall effect has often been to over emphasis the amount of crime in a given area, fostering fear, which in turn may keep people off the streets and make crime more likely.

Social media can ofcourse have positive benefits in combatting crime. People get in touch via such channels. Indeed, arguably growing numbers of individuals are living their lives through social media these days. People can be alerted to crime in the area, making them more vigilant about suspicious behaviour. Useful networks can be created via the likes of street Whats App groups to make it easier for people to let each other know what is going on.

The problem comes, though, in defining where the line is drawn between whipping up hysterical fear and simply providing better information and communication in order that people know what is going on in their communities.

Social media has a positive role in perpetuating the spread of useful information but when it comes to hyping fear and suspicion it just becomes another adjunct of the fake news world.

In terms of greater connectivity social media has a positive role to play in combatting all sorts of anti-social behaviour, including crime. However, social media is also increasingly seeing people isolate themselves off in silos of like minded individuals each feeding into and exasperating each others prejudices and insecurities. Social media can also facilitate the plain and simple perpetration of falsehoods.

The line between fake news and useful community communication is a thin one, made more problematic in the modern world by the use of social media.  The area of crime provides and interesting example of where the border is becoming blurred, however, it is something that needs to be addressed if the world is not to become one of virtual threats coming to govern, dare I say it, our actions in the real world.

*published in the British Journalism Review - Not finally - spreading fear -  June 2018

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Why the Labour Party did so well in Redbridge?

The London borough of Redbridge proved to be an area of huge advance for Labour in the council elections.


The incumbent Labour Council added 15 new seats to bring its total number up to 51. The Tories were reduced to a rump of 12.


The enormity of the achievement is further underlined when placed against the national result which saw Labour take a total of 77 seats, so Redbridge actually secured almost 20% of the gains.


The transformation seen in Redbridge over recent years can be measured by the almost total turn round in Labour’s fortunes over the past decades, whereby it has literally reversed roles with the Tories going from 51 seats in 1982 to 12 today, with Labour now holding the 51.


So why did Labour do so well in Redbridge? The council has done a good job over the preceding four years, balancing the budget, whilst absorbing more than 44% of cuts in budget from central government.


Not only has the council managed to retain most services unmolested but it has also set forth with a vision for a better future. New leisure centres and swimming pools have been built.


The borough is smack in the middle of the new Crossrail developments, with Ilford a major hub on that route. So the area is rising in demand, with house price rises reflecting that popularity.

House prices in Redbridge have risen at more than double the rate of any other London borough (8.9%).

At the same time there is real poverty in the borough that the council has also tried to address.

All of that said the results were remarkable. As one of the newly elected councillors for the ward of Wanstead Village, I can attest at first hand as to the positive response received to Labour’s message.

Testimony to the conservatism of Wanstead is that it used to be Winston Churchill’s old constituency. Now, it has five Labour ward councillors in addition to being represented in Parliament by Labour MP for Leyton and Wanstead John Cryer. The red tide has really swept across the area.

There were other wins for Labour in areas where they were not expected to get anything. South Woodford and Churchfields for example, are deep in Iain Duncan Smith territory.

Labour took seats right across the borough.

Another contributory factor was no doubt a very poor and demoralised Tory Party. The Tory leader Paul Canal resigned after the carnage of election night, where he himself only just held onto his seat.

The Labour effort on the ground played a huge part in defeating the Tories. There was central control and co-ordination, yet room for innovation in the wards.

In Wanstead Village, we campaigned for six months, with canvass teams of in excess of ten going out increasingly over that period. There was some positive campaigns in the local media, such as one to restore the W12 bus service – its regularity had been cut by TFL.

The Tories were generally trying to play catch up, taking too long to come on board with the bus campaign and opposing popular proposals such as the new pool for Wanstead. They also failed to get the boots on the ground when it came to canvassing.

The negative national media coverage did not seem to make that much impact. Memorably, I remember one conversation with a former Tory voter, who initially was coming over because of the swimming pool. But when canvassed nearer the election itself, he said the media coverage was so blatantly anti-Corbyn that he could not vote anything but Labour.

The anti-semitism furore probably had some impact. In Wanstead Village, there were certainly a number of Jewish voters, who would not give us the time of day.

Labour in Redbridge is typical of the party in London generally. It is a broad church, with representatives from left to right of the party. Whatever underlying differences there maybe, all were put aside for the election, as the party united behind its local programme for change.

The past record of governing, together with a changing demographic in favour of Labour, both contributed to success. The Labour result in Redbridge was typical of the party’s showing in London, where the Tories divisive often racist policies found little support.

The results hopefully point the way forward to the day when Labour will win the next general election.

* Published in Briefing

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

The most dysfunctional club in the Premiership needs to change if Manuel Pellegrini is to succeed at West Ham

Manuel Pellegrini is the latest man to be take on the managerial hot seat at West Ham United.

The former Manchester City manager certainly has a top pedigree, having managed other major European clubs like Real Madrid and Malaga. One thing for sure is that he won’t have come across anything quite like the set up at West Ham.

Pellegrini will take over a squad of players that have under-performed all season - just escaping the drop to the Championship. He will expect big money to bolster what he has, a question that he surely will have thrashed out with the club’s owners David Sullivan and David Gold, before taking on the position.

It is widely believed among the West Ham fans that the failure to invest on the playing side has contributed hugely to the under-performance of the team in the Premiership for the past two seasons. When incomings are balanced against outgoings, West Ham have spent virtually nothing for a couple of seasons.

The players they signed last summer proved to be a mixed bag. Top scorer Marko Arnautovic proved an excellent signing, once David Moyes took over as manager. The Scotsman really got the best of out Arnautovic, who did not perform under previous manager Slaven Bilic.

Former Manchester City, defender Pablo Zabaleta was another success. Signed on a free transfer from City, he was one of the clubs most consistent performers – he is though the wrong side of 30.

On the minus side, Joe Hart cost the side valuable points, notably in the run in games against Stoke and Burnley. He was on a high wage and really did not work out.

Mexican Javier Hernandez was wasted. He scored eight goals, which was still a good return, given the limited opportunities provided. It maybe one of Pellegrini’s first tasks to try to persuade Hernandez to stay at the club.

Pellegrini has some good, if seemingly injury prone players, available to him. The emerging Declan Rice and Arthur Masuaka in defence, veterans Winston Reid and Angelo Ogbonna, captain Mark Noble and Manuel Lanzini.

Moyes also found new ways to use defender Aaron Creswell, playing him as part of a central defensive three, as well as turning him into a free kick specialist. The returning Michel Antonio would also give the new manager some much needed pace and power.

On the minus side, surely it is time to call time on the highly paid and injury prone Andy Carroll?

Pellegrini though needs to recruit some quality right across the team. At the back, midfield and in attack, new players are needed.

The fans are not happy with the board, as was most notably shown at the time of the very public protests during the Burnley home game in March. They blame the owners for failing to invest and many are unhappy about ever leaving the Boleyn ground.

The owners have much to do to try to right the situation. At the moment they preside over a club that gets bigger home gates that Spurs and Chelsea, yet regularly flirts with relegation. On the pitch the club has been going backwards since it left the Boleyn two years ago.

It looks to the fans like the owners are just using the club as a cash cow, taking out profits without investing in players. The owners don’t help the situation with their strange PR operations. The social media activity and newspapers columns have caused all sorts of problems both on and off the pitch.

The owners say they have listened to the fans, taken what they have said on board and things will change. But the fans have heard this so many times before. The manner in which outgoing manager David Moyes was treated, suggests little has been learned.

It is as if this listening rhetoric is deployed at time of crisis. However, as soon as the storm is perceived to have past, its same as usual.

The board at West Ham certainly need to step right back from the playing side if Pellgrini is to succeed. Whether they will remains to be seen. It is thought Moyes wanted to take much greater control of how the club operated but this did not appeal. His reference in his final press conference to change and the opposition of some to it does not bode well.

Moyes did a good job for the club, steadying things and securing \Premiership safety. He also transformed Arnautovic, brought on Masuaku and developed players like Cresswell and Rice. Indeed, he did more in six months to bring through young players than has been seen at the club for a decade.

On the debit side, he failed to utilise Hernandez and saw the team beaten by four too many times.

So Manuel Pellegirini has quite a job on if he is to succeed at West Ham. He will have to win the fans over, as well as manage the machinations of the owners. He is certainly a manager with a good pedigree but will that be enough to succeed at what has been described as one of the most dysfunctional clubs in the Premiership?


Monday, 21 May 2018

Corn snake is but the latest exotic species to call Wanstead home

The sighting of a corn snake in Wanstead Park came as a surprise.
An exotic looking orange snake that looked like it belonged in much warmer climes. Indeed, it was a surprise to learn that there had been others sightings in the locality over recent years. 
One observer recalled how her daughter had a corn snake, that had to be kept warm at all times. Maybe, the Wanstead Park corn snakes are hardier souls.
They should certainly be welcome in the area, living as they do off rats and mice
The corn snake though is but the latest foreign species to settle around here.
The parakeets are now a common sight around Wanstead Park and local gardens. Some escaped from private collections years ago but they have now become commonplace. 
A walk around the Ornamental lake in the park, particularly on a sunny day, will often yield the sight of the terrapins resting on logs.
The mink has become an unwelcome visitor, since their release from captivity a few years ago. I saw three mink a few years ago on the paths by the Ornamental lake. 
Mink have been trapped but some are still around. There are hopes to attract otters to the Roding, which should see the disappearance of mink. The otter is about twice the size of a mink and they don't get on.
There have also been the American crayfish in the area in past years - another invasive species. 
But then going back, so many species have migrated to this land -rabbits came with the Romans, then later there was the grey squirrel and a variety of deer. 
But then animals are no different from humans, we all migrated in at some point, some are just more recent arrivals than others.

published - Wanstead & Woodford Guardian - 24/5/2018