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.

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Anti-migrant policy that led to Windrush debacle has been two decades in the making

The recent scandal that saw members of the Windrush generation, who came from the West Indies to serve Britain, only to be in some cases deported after years of working here has rightly caused outrage.

The concern though is that this occurrence is being viewed as an aberration.

This action is not an isolated happening but the result of an anti-migrant policy that has been running for the past couple of decades in the Home Office.

Post the 9/11 attacks in America, the then Labour government reacted with draconian measures, cutting civil liberties and effectively creating a detention without trial system. A number of foreign nationals were incarcerated in the prisons, without due course of law. The cases were dealt with under immigration law overseen by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission.

The House of Lords eventually ruled against detention, thereby leading onto the control order system whereby individuals were restricted as to where and when they could go. This process continued for many years, with those concerned not being made party to what they were actually accused of.

Covering a number of these cases over the years in the media, it became apparent that a whole shadow system of justice was being developed under the aegis of the Home Office. It effectively developed in the shadows, including in its ambit the detention of growing number of refugees for indefinite amounts of time.

The process was the antecedents of the “hostile environment” for migrants that has actually been named and taken on further over the past few years.

The Brexit vote, fuelled as it was by anti-migrant sentiment, spurred the policy on, allowing those in charge to bring it out of the shadow as it were into a more prominent light.

The result has been the grotesque sight of hard working people who came to Britain to contribute to the common good of these islands being subjected to loss of rights, status and return to lands where they have not lived for many years.

It is a low point for the reputation of the UK, something that will take some time to overcome. Things can only be put right with a total sea change in the way migrants are viewed – a bit of tinkering with one policy effecting the Windrush generation is not sufficient. The whole edifice that has created and fed the hostile environment policy needs to be dismantled with a more open, inclusive and welcoming attitude taken to migrants coming here.

Failure to do so will see migrants stopping coming – this is already happening in a number of instances.

Britain relies on migrant labour to keep its public services running. As the population here ages, that labour become ever more vital. Those migrants will not be coming if they are greeted with a hostile environment that treats them as little more than criminals in return for their efforts.

published in the Universe - 4/5/2018

Sunday, 13 May 2018

West Ham finish with a flourish to beat Everton 3-0 but will it be enough to get David Moyes the manager's job?

A surprisingly subdued West Ham manager David Moyes confirmed that this had probably been his team's best performance of the season.
The manager though seemed less than convinced about his own future at the club, whose owners have remained non-committal as to whether the former Everton manager will continue on a permanent basis next season.
Moyes confirmed that he will "meet and talk" with the board. He believes that the team has played well and improved over his time in charge. "You need longer than six months," said Moyes, who conceded this was not always possible in the Premier league today where people wanted instant results. In a possible sign of some disharmony behind the scenes, he confirmed that he wanted to radically change how things are done at the club, conceding "maybe not everybody is comfortable with change."
This game though certainly topped off Moyes CV for the job, with his team full of movement and creative runs.
The combination of Manuel Lanzini and Marko Arnautovic tormented Everton all afternoon, scoring all three goals between them.
The first goal came in the 38th minute when Lanzini, started and finished the move. A pass to Cheikou Kouyate was picked up on return to Lanzini, who placed his shot wide of Everton keeper Jordan Pickford, from the edge of the area.
Arnautovic then received the ball from substitute Edimilson Fernandes, to turn and blast home from outside the area.
West Ham didn't have it all their own way with Adrian producing a string of fine saves to defy the visitors. Everton pulled one back from the always threatening Oumar Niasse, who converted a corner.
Lanzini finished the game off, when he received the ball on the left, turned in to curl the ball in from 25 yards.
West Ham could have had more being denied a penalty when Cenk Tosun handled out a cross from Arnautovic. There was also a very marginal off side decision, which denied Arnautovic a second with a thumping header into the net.
The biggest cheer of the afternoon came for veteran defender James Collins, who came on as an 87th minute substitute. Collins is out of contract in the summer and he and the fans clearly want him to stay.
The owners would do well to note the amount of fan goodwill there is for players like Collins, who give of their all for the team.

*published in Morning Star - 14/6/2018

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Finally, Wanstead turns red

It was a victorious night for Labour last week, securing a clean sweep across Wanstead - taking all five seats. The town has finally turned red.

The new political landscape sees Daniel Morgan Thomas, Jo Blackman and myself (Wanstead Village) joining incumbents Sheila Bain and Paul Merry, who were returned for Wanstead Park.

The bigger picture saw Labour sweeping away the Conservative Party across Redbridge, with former bastions of the party falling under the red wave. By the end of the night Labour had secured 15 gains, bringing its total number of councillors up to 51. Just 12 Conservatives were left standing.

The feeling amongst the candidates in Wanstead was that our message had really resonated with the local people. The prospect of the new swimming pool in Redbridge Lane West, continued efforts to improve the environment by addressing pollution, looking to increase recycling and promote sustainable ways of getting about really seemed to appeal.

It will not be easy an easy four years, with central government continuing to decimate local authority budgets. But everyone on the Labour team is determined that the borough will continue to move forward despite the adverse financial climate.

Personally, it is a great privelige after living in Wanstead all of my life. to now be able to serve local people on the council .I shall do my besst to stand up for people in  this part of Redbridge.

It is certainly a momentous result in what was Winston Churchill’s old constituency – finally the area has turned red.

Together with my fellow councillors Daniel Morgan Thomas, Jo Blackman, Sheila Bain and Paul Merry, we will be doing our best to keep improving Wanstead. 
* published Wanstead & Woodford Guardian - 10/5/2018

Monday, 7 May 2018

Media coverage of local election results shows anti Corbyn obsession has reached fake news proportions

Tired  but elated I returned home from the Redbridge local election count on Friday morning. Wanstead Village had returned three Labour councillors – of which I was one - for the first time. The two incumbent Labour councillors in neighbouring Wanstead Park had also been returned, thereby turning Wanstead, the former constituency of Winston Churchill, red for the first time.

It has been a thrilling night at the Redbridge count, with Labour making 15 gains, reducing the Tories to just 12 members of a 63 strong council – a trouncing indeed.

Imagine then my amazement to return home, turn on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme to hear the night being portrayed as a disaster for Labour. The first voice I heard was disgruntled Labour Mp, Chuka Umunna calling for an NEC inquiry into the disaster that was the local elections.

The media narrative rumbled on in similar vein. Failure to win overall control of the London boroughs of Barnet and Wandsworth was taken as defining the whole Labour campaign.

Headlines on the days that followed the election results, declared that “peak Corbyn” had been passed, going onto predict, it would all be downhill from here.

A front page of the Times carried the negative narrative based in the main on unnamed sources.

The Corbyn naysayers were once again out in force, being given free rein across the airwaves and newspaper columns to attack the Labour leadership.

It took Labour MP and shadow spokesperson on International Development Barry Gardiner to introduce some semblance of reality, pointing out on Peston  that Labour had won 2,350 seats, up 77, the Tories had won 1,332 seats, down 33, the Liberal Democrats won 536 seats, up 75, whilst UKIP held just three seats - down 123 seats.

An objective observer might have thought that Labour gains, a Liberal Democrat revival and the wipe out of UKIP was the story, not a manufactured narrative that it was all a disaster for Corbyn’s Labour – an account no doubt concocted long before a vote was cast.

What is evident from the coverage of Corbyn and Labour is that there is a whole new brand of fake news underway.

The amount of exposure given to Corbyn critics is extraordinary. There are now a group of what could be called anti-Corbyn correspondents, like Dan Hodges, who has virtually cornered the market since his fall from Labour Party eminence. Another is Mathew D’Ancona, who treats Guardian and Evening Standard readers, to regular anti-Corbyn diatribes. And Tony Blair's old spin doctor Alistair Campbell is never slow to stick the knife in.

The assault on Corbyn really is unprecedented. Labour leaders from whatever part of the party always have a hard time from the media but the assault on Corbyn is surreal at times. There have been the accusations that he was a Czech spy, heavy criticism of his grown up stance in calling for evidence of Russian involvement in the Salisbury events and the effort to personalise the anti-semitism accusations on Corbyn, rather than setting in the context of being a party problem.

The media treads a thin line between truth and lies. The mainstream often veer toward the official side of things, siding with the establishment to such a degree in many cases that they become virtual propagandists. Truth telling and holding elected people and institutions to account is often in short supply, though, it is what the public expects from the media.

Too much propaganda leads to discreditation in the long run, which translates in the end to people not buying those news products. It is usually at this point that owners wake up to what is going on. When the bottom line is hit, things have to change.

It seems no coincidence that newspapers and other media sources have plummeted in popularity over recent years, as they have increasingly moved away from the people toward creating the self-serving narratives of a small elite. There is a growing disconnect with more and more people.

The personalised attacks on Corbyn and the Labour leadership need to stop. Politics is about how the country is run, it really is too important to be reduced to the genre of an episode of X-factor. Let’s get rid of the witch hunts, the ludicrous allegations and personal denigration and get back to things that really effect the lives of UK citizen.

*Published in Morning Star - 7/5/2018 - The media treads a thin line between truth and lies

Friday, 4 May 2018

Onward, after epic election result in Wanstead Village

What a great win for the Labour team in Wanstead Village. The campaign began back in October when, Jo Blackman, Daniel Morgan-Thomas and myself, were selected as Labour Party candidates for the newly formed ward of Wanstead Village.

Over the months the campaign has really taken off, with people coming in from across the borough and beyond to help out. Canvass sessions increased, as did the numbers coming out to walk those streets.

There was some good media coverage around our efforts to get the W12 bus restored to three times an hour. We were also supportive of the speed limit 20s Plenty campaign and other initiatives.

Election day arrived, with people coming in from across the country. The boys from Thanet, Keith, Barry and Martin came for the day. Jo’s friends and family pitched in to help out. TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes came over to help.

Our comrades from Wanstead Park supported our efforts, as they have throughout the six month campaign. Some were disappointed not to see Dave from Chelmsford, who has been such a valiant supporter of our cause, regularly turning up to canvass on weekends over the months. Dave no doubt was lending his great services elsewhere on the day. His contribution will not be forgotten. Our "legend" Lois Molloy was also unable to be with us on the day due to work commitments...but she's still up there at the front when it comes to those canvass miles.

Our stalwart branch members battled to run campaign centres and get canvassers out on those streets. Many doors were knocked, with a good reception in most cases.

Then to the count at Redbridge Sports Centre in Fairlop. A long and glorious night for Labour ensued, that saw 15 gains with the party now holding 51 of the 63 seats on the council.  The Tories are down to 12.

Things looked tight on the Wanstead Village result with the Tories piling up the votes alongside Labour. There was some concern in our ranks that the Greens had once again delivered for the Tories by taking from our vote but in the end it proved not to be the case. We came through victorious. It was also great to see Sheila Bain and Paul Merry retain their seats in Wanstead Park, thereby ensuring that red spread right across our area.

So now we have the next four years to contribute to making Wanstead and indeed Redbridge a greener and better place to live. Onward.

Result - Wanstead Village

Jo Blackman - 2009

Paul Donovan - 1935

Daniel Morgan Thomas - 1764

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

On the campaign trail

Standing as a Labour candidate in the local council elections has been an enlightening experience.

There has been the regular knocking on doors, canvassing people’s opinions. The reception varies from those that shut the door in your face to others who ask you in for a chat and a cup of tea.

There are many problems, like the couple stuck on the top floor of a block of flats, one with cancer the other blood clots. They want to move to a ground floor flat, where getting up and down is less difficult.

The question of anti-semitism in the Labour Party has made life difficult with a number of Jewish voters, who now close the doors.

Whilst anti-semitism is no doubt a problem in the Labour Party, it is curious how the issue just surfaced a month before local elections, with the party being predicted to do well. The attacks on the leader before over ludicrous allegations of being  a Czech spy and  then for his wholly sensible approach toward Russia and events in Salisbury.all came in the run up to these elections – coincidental or what?

It is one of the challenges of the doorstep to try to bring the conversation round to policy and away from the personality focus of the media. When it comes to election time, some seem to switch to X-factor mode, with the focus on personality. Then, things like homeless on the streets, a million plus going to foodbanks and a crumbling NHS somehow get lost. We need to get the voter thinking about those issues.

At local election time the challenge is to bring the voter to the level of the local.This particularly includes the massive cuts made in local authority budgets, which in Redbridge - where I am standing - amount to 44% over the past few years.

Budgets have been slashed, yet some people expect the same level of services without paying more for them. The local Conservatives have the audacity to start petitions calling for the reinstatement of services cut due to the actions of their government in making the original funding restrictions.

It is all something to be countered on the doorstep and in the local media. The support of fellow party members is another impressive thing. The Labour Party is really a volunteer army. People come and give their time freely to help get members elected. They knock on doors, deliver leaflets, attend fundraisers and donate generously.

Until you really take part on a day to day basis it is difficult to appreciate just how much ordinary people give to get Labour candidates elected. The contrast with the Tories is stark, backed by big business, they are never short of funds, so do not have the same volunteer ethos. It is a real David versus Goliath battle and thankfully David often comes out on top.

At the moment things are looking good for Labour in the local elections. There have been distractions but the Tories have their own little local difficulties, not least the Windrush crisis. So whilst they have no doubt profited from some discord in Labour ranks, the old nasty party has once again reappeared baring its teeth for all to see.

So its on to the finish line on Thursday. Things are looking good for the three Labour candidates in Wanstead Village, Jo Blackman, Daniel Morgan-Thomas and myself, but never count your chickens as they say. On Friday we will all know, till then its back to knocking those doors and delivering leaflets.

* published in the Morning Star - 2/5/2018 - "On the campaign trail"