Tuesday, 23 April 2013

State run East Coast mainline requires least public subsidy, so let's reprivatise it

The state-run East Coast rail service requires less public subsidy than any of the 15 privately run rail franchises in Britain, according to a report from the rail regulator.

The route has been under the control of the Department for Transport since November 2009, being run by Directly Owned Railways, after the transport company National Express pulled out

Directly Owned Railways posted results for the last year showing turnover of £665.8 million, an increase of £20 million, leaving a profit before tax and service payments to the Department for Transport of £195.7 million, an increase of £13 million.


Passenger journeys at East Coast, which runs trains from London to Yorkshire, the North East and Scotland, increased by 2.1%


Customer satisfaction at East Coast rose by 2%, and the latest punctuality figures were its best since records began in 1999
What’s not to like? Well ask our back to the future government which is pushing ahead with putting the East Coast mainline back into private hands by February 2015.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Cull of J&P workers continues despite election of social justice Pope

The news that Leeds Diocese has got rid of its Justice and Peace worker, with Wrexham reviewing the situation came through just as the very social justice orientated Pope Frances was being inaugurated in Rome.

The extinguishing of the J&P position in Leeds confirms a recent trend. Shrewsbury got rid of its worker last year with Salford and Portsmouth terminating the role before that. It’s not all one way traffic though with Nottingham recently appointing a new worker.

There are now 10 workers, mostly part time, in the 22 diocese across England and Wales. So is there a concerted effort to remove J&P from the Church landscape by the death of a thousand financial cuts?

The move seems strangely timed coming just as we see the election of probably the most openly committed social justice Pope for many a decade. Pope Francis hails from Latin America, the home of liberation theologians like Gustavo Guittierez, Jon Sobrino and Helda Camra. He has been famed for his humble style of living, taking the bus and cooking his own food.

Less well recognised in this country is that the justice and peace movement in the UK was a manifestation of the very same source as the liberation theology of Latin America.

In the modern epoch, social justice activists worldwide took their motivation from Vatican II. The justice and peace movement in Britain came to epitomise the call from Pope John XXIII to open the windows of the Church and engage with the world. The J&P movement brought through some of the leading social justice activists of the past 30 years.

Leeds Justice and Peace Commission for instance was the place where former Labour MP John Battle and former CAFOD director Julian Filochowski cut their formative teeth in social justice. Former Progressio executive director Christine Allen was J&P worker in Liverpool. Bruce Kent has always been a close ally of J&P from his days as a priest in Westminster. The list goes on.

In the early days, activists set about creating a network across the country, helped immensely by CAFOD, which funded workers and commissions. Under the guidance of Mr Filochowski this relationship blossomed, with CAFOD in exchange for the funding gaining a ready-made network of activists on the ground to do its work. There was also adult education and formation going on at this time.

Notably, in the light of what has happened recently, diocesan funding was lacking for the work, with bishops happy to sit back and let CAFOD pick up the bills in many cases.

A crucial development in the social justice structure was the creation of the National Justice and Peace Network (NJPN). This became the co-ordinating body for justice and peace work across England and Wales. A co-ordinating and development point for workers and commissions across the diocese.

Part of its mission was running the annual conference. This brought together activists from across the country. It remains one of the biggest gatherings of Church people in the UK, offering a unique networking opportunity for those involved in social justice.

The conference takes a different theme each year. The focus last year was on China, prior to that dignity in the workplace, food security and migration featured.

The conference though has an equally important solidarity role providing an opportunity for everyone gathered together to realise that they are all banging their heads on the same wall – just in different parts of the country.

When NJPN was set up, the conference was just to be part of its work. Unfortunately, over the ensuing years, the conference has come to dominate the NJPN agenda. It is a huge undertaking requiring much effort by a small number of people but should it be the central focus?

There are now quarterly speaking meetings between conferences but there is the lack of any coherent programme linking it all together.

Perhaps after each conference the NJPN ought to set up a standing committee to take the work on that area forward. This would take resources but over a period would lead to a body of knowledge and expertise being created that was not available elsewhere.

Remarkably, the attitude of NJPN to actions like the cutting of J&P workers seems to be to issue regretful statements and carry on. There is never a discussion about what the network is about, how it should respond etc. When was the last time we saw a picket of diocesan offices protesting about the removal of J&P workers?

A major problem with NJPN is that it does politics but is not political. As a result it seems the network is being chipped away at by those in the Church hierarchy who control the purse strings.

Notably, the NJPN application for funding from the Plater College Trust this year was turned down, despite the theme being “leadership for the laity, particularly in the area of social justice and social action, to equip individual Catholics to apply Catholic social teaching and play an active role in the Church’s mission.” The £183,280 was considered better spent elsewhere.
The hierarchy seem to believe that social justice work can be done better, via the likes of Caritas Social Action Network (CSAN). There seems to be no shortage of money to support CSAN, with individual diocese like Westminster and Salford employing their own workers.

The hierarchy no doubt see CSAN as something that can be more easily controlled but they might also believe it does more in a measurable sense regarding social justice work.

Whatever the truth of the matter there is a clear preferential option for CSAN operating among the hierarchy of the Church.

Something though that has been surprising is the rapidity with which justice and peace seems to have been moved into the position of outlaw status. This ofcourse could be the movement’s salvation, as it realises what is happening regarding the institutional church, it may discover a stronger prophetic voice. There may ofcourse also be a sea change emanating from Rome, now that Pope Francis is in charge.

What is for certain is that if NJPN wants to remain as a serious player in the Church structures then it will have to start becoming political pretty quickly, just continuing with this head in the sand attitude as one J&P worker after another falls can only in the long term lead to elimination from the scene.

see also -

18/4/2013 - Guardian diary: jobs gone; more in peril. No sanctuary in the Catholic church

Tablet - Who will speak out for the threatened Justice and Peace movement

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Thatcher funeral says much about delusional British establishment

There was something rather sinister about the prominence of the military at the Thatcher funeral.

It was a bit uncomfortable seeing the military, church and BBC all coming together to take part in this establishment fa├žade for one of the most divisive Prime Ministers to rule Britain in the past 200 years.

The funeral was another example of just how misguided the British establishment remains as regards the role of Britain in the world, with the imperial overtones of the whole event.

A dose of reality came with the cameo role played by the United States. It was the funeral of this great friend of America, the champion of the special relationship, yet no one from the Obama administration attended, neither did all the ex-presidents invited.

The representation amounted to Dick Cheney and Henry Kissinger. This event told all anyone needs to know about the special relationship, namely that it only exists in the minds of a few Tory politicians who remain in a state of denial about the way the world now works.

The whole Thatcher funeral production has badly backfired on the Tory establishment that was looking to accrue some political cudos born of nostalgia. Instead, the death of Thatcher has merely resurrected the divisions in society caused during her time in power. Cracks no doubt that have been widened as the result of the efforts of her successors Cameron and his dewy eyed Chancellor Osborne.  

Monday, 8 April 2013

Thatcher's legacy was that greed is good and there is no such thing as society

The death of Margaret Thatcher is a time to reflect on all the suffering and premature deaths her policies have caused down the years.
A time to remember how foolhardy Jim Callaghan was in delaying the general election from autumn 1978 to spring 1979. By the time Labour got back into power again in 1997, its leaders had become so engulfed in the Thatcherite creed that they couldn't wait to invite the old haragon round for tea. Labour had become a lighter shade of blue. Not for nothing was it said that Thatcher's greatest creation was New Labour.
Yes Thatcher did change Britain but not for the better. She destroyed communities up and down the land. The early years saw unemployment driven up over three million quite deliberately in order to weaken organised labour in the form of the trade union movement. The other parts of this assault comprised the anti-trade union laws and a hostile right wing media.
Thatcher was also a lucky Premier. Beyond Callaghan's bungling, she could have lost the Falklands War and the miners strike, which would have meant her government becoming a shortlived blip in history.
Instead, the pursuit of policies driven by greed created a political landscape skewed off to the far right. Thatcher's words that there is no such thing as society, merely individuals, said everything anyone needs to know about her legacy.
Unfortunately these policies still live on to the point where the neo-liberal structures first put in place in the 1980s, rewarding the few and not the many have become the norm of the political landscape. The present reluctance of many in the Labour Party to criticise Thatcher prove only how deep the politics of greed have infected the body politic in the UK.

Friday, 5 April 2013

View of man or woman in the street on sentencing are almost entirely irrelevant

Why do journalists run around after notorious court cases, like that of Mick Philpott, asking what people in the street think about the sentence? The individuals have not sat through the days, if not weeks of the trial. They have no idea of the detail, yet feel at liberty to pass down judgement on the sentence. Add in the fact that media outlets only usually report the opening prosecution case and the verdicts of such cases and the level of ignorance becomes even more apparent. The views expressed by the man or woman in the street in these instances are almost entirely irrelevant, having about as much validity as whether they like red or green. When the underlying narrative is that sentences are never long enough and that prison really does work if incarceration is eternal and the whole exercise becomes quite insidious.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Support Labour MP's call for renationalisation of energy

Support Labour MP Kelvin Hopkins Early Day Motion 1160 calling for the renationalisation of energy with the formation of a National Energy Corporation

"That this House believes that Britain's energy industry should be returned to public ownership; considers that the privatised energy companies, now over 50 per cent foreign-owned, have not served the national interest or consumers well, such that the country now faces a potential energy crisis with a looming energy gap; further believes that the major energy companies have exercised a powerful and malign influence over Government energy policy focusing on large-scale energy production and energy sales to maximise profits rather than investment in energy conservation and renewables; notes the high and rising prices of energy, with increasing fuel poverty for millions of consumers; and is convinced that a publicly-owned and publicly accountable national energy corporation incorporating the grid as an integral component would be best placed to plan for and serve Britain's vital long-term energy needs both in national economic and social terms, with cross-subsidies where necessary and appropriate and any financial surpluses returned to the public purse and providing secure and well paid employment for all energy sector workers."


Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Capturing the energy in wave power can provide jobs and security for the UK

Walking along the shoreline in Sussex during the recent rough seas, it was once again difficult to believe that this incredible source of raw energy is not being fully utilised in this country. The incredible power in those waves and the wind should provide all the energy that this small island needs to be self sufficient in ernergy. Yet, renewable energy has been well and truly shunted into the sidings by this backward looking government. It did not even warrant a mention in the recent budget.
The government's approach is wrong on so many levels. There is the huge market developing around the world in green technology. Under the previous Labour government there seemed to be a gradual awakening to the opportunity that this market offered for growth and jobs. George Osborne though preferred instead to look the other way toward gas. This renewable market is a huge missed opportunity for this country.
On another level what of energy security. Successive British governments have had  no problem shovelling billions of pounds into the coffers of the intelligence services to play their counter espionage games against real and perceived enemies but what of energy security? How can it in anyway make sense in this unstable century to be dependent on foreign countries for our energy supply? It amounts to outright negligence to pursue such a path when clearly the resources exist around our own coasts to be self-sufficient in energy and therefore that much more secure.
It is time this government woke up to climate change, both in terms of the threat it poses and the economic opportunities on offer,. If we want growth then why not invest properly in renewables, one move would be to ensure that no new building is constructed that is not carbon neutral with requisite sustainable energy systems fitted. Then ofcourse there are those waves, when will we truly begin to utilise that energy resource?