Sunday, 25 May 2014

Ed Miliband is under fire not just from the Tories but his own Blairite enemies within

It has been extraordinary that in a week when Labour won 300 council seats, taking control of a number of councils, that the media have managed to conjure this up into some sort of defeat. The focus has been on another character assassination of Ed Miliband as leader and the ongoing promotion of UKIP as a political force. The attacks on Miliband of the past week or so are a sign of things to come. The media do not like him, yet he represents the only real hope of change from the neo-liberal dogma of the past 30 years. He could do with better PR advisors – they are not helping him at all, playing to his weaknesses in public arenas but all the same the attack on the Labour leader has been ferocious.
The Tory attacks can be expected, what is less acceptable is the assault from within the party itself – the anonymous briefings etc. Many of these attacks come from the Blairite rump of the party which operates a bit like a strange religious sect. Any straying from its own tried and failed form of neo-liberalism has to be derided – better in the view of this group to have the Tories in power than a Labour Party that has moved from the creed of new labourism. What is for sure, any sign of divisions in the party will not play well with a public that is clearly tired of the petty squabbling of the Westminster goldfish bowl.
The next 12 months will certainly be crucial for Labour, representing the last throw at getting power based on a broad church principle. If Labour lose, due in any part to enemies within, the trade unions will rightly refuse to bankroll it any further into the future, The Labour Party has always been a difficult alliance of interests but betrayal now at a time when, whatever media commentators say, there is a very real chance of getting power will not be easily forgiven.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Freelance rip off

A survey of freelance writers has found that 58% earn less than £8,200 a year.
Nearly half were the main breadwinners in their households and 77% said they didn’t earn enough to support themselves. 78% had second jobs
The survey of 1250 writers, who had on average worked for 18 years in the trade, was conducted by Loughborough University on behalf of the Authors Licencing and Collecting Society (ALCS).
Freelancers are clearly being ripped off right left and centre when it comes to copyright.

*Full report  titled  A Free for All can be accessed on

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

1,000 richest have one third of country's wealth?

The news that the 1,000 wealthiest Britons now own £519bn – the equivalent of a third of Britain’s gross domestic product – should set alarm bells ringing. The figures reflect a grotesquely unequal society, which comes into ever clearer focus when it is remembered that one million people go to food banks.

This level of inequality needs urgent attention, given that there is only a limited amount of time that the mass of people are going to continue to tolerate such an unjust situation.

Independent - 20/5/2014

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Lord John Maxton tells how his father's dog was stoned to death after he refused to serve in World War I

Lord John Maxton told how his father John was dismissed as a school teacher and his pet dog was stoned to death by an angry mob, after he refused to serve in the First World War.

Lord Maxton, who later refused to serve himself, when called up for national service in the 1950s was one of the relatives of 65 conscientious objectors remembered at a moving ceremony at the conscientious objectors stone memorial  in Tavistock Square.

Lord Maxton recalled how after the 1945 election his father was cheered as one of the newly returned Labour MPs. “Some of those cheering would be the sons and daughters of those who stoned my father’s dog,” said Lord Maxton, whose uncle James Maxton was another conscientious objector in the First World War.

Some 250 people gathered  to mark the 100th anniversary of the First World War and the vital role played by conscientious objectors .  Each relative of a CO went forward to place a flower on the monument to the sound of Maria Fidelis school choir singing “We shall overcome.”

Mary Dobbing recalled how her grandfather Herbert refused to be conscripted at the age of 23. “He was court marshalled and sent to Durham Prison for 2.5 years, initially in solidarity confinement,” said Ms Dobbing, who has protested for peace in Iraq, Afghanistan and with the Palestinians. “I am convinced face to face friendship is an important force for peace – it is outside the government structures,” said Ms Dobbing.

Christine Schweitzer of War Resisters’ International and a member of the German peace movement, told how militarism was stronger in Germany that Britain, though there was a right to conscientiously object in the First World War. “Today there are still strategic and economic motivations driving war. War is a crime against humanity,” said Ms Schweitzer.

General secretary of Pax Christi Pat Gaffney remembered the acts of conscientious objection blazing a path for peace campaigners in the future. “The conscientious objectors needed courage beyond the prison experience. They couldn’t get work afterwards and had to change proffessions – the work of witness went on beyond the war,” said Ms Gaffney, who suggested the challenge facing peace makers today is “what are the issues today that would push us to make such a stand against war and violence.”  

The event was organised by Pax Christi, First World War Peace Forum — a coalition made up of Conscience, Fellowship of Reconciliation, Network for Peace, Peace News, Peace Pledge Union, Quaker Peace and Social Witness, the Right to Refuse to Kill group and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

How First World War conscientious objectors blazed the path of peace

The First World War was a terrible and bloody conflict yet it also in many ways played a huge role in shaping the peace movement of the next 100 years.
It is this legacy that will be marked on 15 May, when the families of 50 of those who made a stand as Conscientious Objectors (CO s) and refused to fight come together to celebrate at the memorial in Tavistock Square, London.
The commemoration event is being organised by the First World War Peace Forum - a coalition made up of Pax Christi, Conscience, Fellowship of Reconciliation, Network for Peace, Peace News, Peace Pledge Union, Quaker Peace and Social Witness, the Right to Refuse to Kill group and the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom
The idea of having a conscientious objection to fighting in the war was an unknown concept prior to the First World War but the Military Service Act passed in 1916 formally established that right ( as  well as bringing in conscription).
Since that time the right to conscientiously object has become  a component part of the anti-war movement. During the First World War there were around 10,000 CO s, this then grew to 66,000 by the time of the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939. The harshness of treatment of those who refused to fight was not as severe by this time also, with prison sentences less prevalent and for shorter periods.
Today, that right first established back in 1916, now has international recognition, with a number of young Israel soldiers being the latest successors to exercise the right not to fight with regards to Palestine.
The impetus to conscientiously object was largely driven by those from different faith communities, with organisations like the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), born out of an ecumenical conference in 1914, looking at ways to prevent the outbreak of war.
The FOR offered practical and emotional support to conscientious objectors throughout the war, growing to a membership of 7,000 by 1917. There was also the Quakers Friends Services Committee. Christians though also played a major role in organisations like the 10,000 strong No conscription fellowship.
Among those gathering on 15 May to commemorate the role of conscientious objectors will be Cathy Attlee and Mary Dobbing.
A member of the FOR, Cathy’s grandfather, Thomas Attlee, went to prison for his beliefs.
Thomas Attlee was the older brother of Clement, who later became Prime minister in the post war Labour government. The two brothers were close, both going to Oxford University, then onto work in the East end of London. Clement and Thomas were very involved in community organisations and the early formation of the Independent Labour Party.
It was at the coming of war, that the two men’s paths diverged, though Clement remained a steadfast support to his brother throughout, despite the differences of opinion on war. “My grandfather trained as an architect and did other works. Clement wanted to fight,” said Cathy Attlee. “My father felt he couldn’t go off to fight. His Christian beliefs would not allow him to fight.  He would not do non-combatant community service.”
Cathy recalled how going before the appeals tribunal, Thomas quoted the bible on the need to go beyond loving thy neighbour to loving thy enemy. “Jesus refused to fight against the Romans, that was not his way,” recalled Cathy.
Thomas served two years in a number of prisons, including Wormwood Scrubs and Wandsworth, from 1917. Thomas wife struggled on during this period, bringing up the family in Devon.
Thomas though did receive the support of friends, family, religious and political groups. He had a steady correspondence throughout with Clement, about socialism, the Labour Party and the merits of fighting or not fighting. “Their mother said she did not know who she was proudest of, ”recalled Cathy.
On release from prison, Thomas was never able to practice as an architect or return to his work in the community in east end . He was isolated to a degree, living in Devon with his family. But he was able to work as an advisor on architecture for the Church of England. He also worked with the Educational Association, helping provide education for the workers. “It was hardest on my grandmother. If the war had not come they would have stayed in the East end. She was involved there, active as a councillor. But she had to drop out of that and life took another turn.”
Mary Dobbing’s grandfather Herbert suffered prison then isolation in the community after the war.
Mary recalled, how when conscription came in Herbert was taken to the Durham Life Infantry barracks and court marshalled. He then served a few months in prison, before being rearrested on release and charged with desertion. This approach to CO s of release and then re-arrest became known as the “cat and mouse process.”
Herbert then spent the next 2.5 years in prison, being held in solitary confinement for some of that time. “He used to stoke in the boiler room and told how the Irish prisoners, who had been brought over from Ireland after the Easter Rising, left out food for him,” said Mary.
Initially, he was denied books, though he later received letters in books brought in by his later to be wife Gwen Cattell, who was a prison visitor.
Herbert had been a teacher at the start of the war, so later when he was allowed to mix with other prisoners he helped teach some to read and write. A Congregationalist in the early days, he became a Quaker after the war.
Driven by his faith and war experiences Herbert devoted the rest of his life to building bridges between peoples with education usually his tool of choice. Between the wars he helped with the internationalist camps in France that brought British and German  children together to share their common humanity.
Then during the Second World War, Herbert helped welcome refugee jewish children to the Quaker school in Yorkshire. Post war, he became a headteacher of a school in Lebanon and devoted much of the rest of his life to educating people regarding the plight of the Palestinian refugees.
The pioneers in the First World War were treated very badly, imprisoned for much of the war and ostracised afterwards.
In one incident in May 1916 about 50 COs being held at Harwich, Seaford and Richmond Castle were sent to France, and threatened with the death penalty.  On the ‘Front Line’ they could be court-martialled and executed for disobeying orders.
They were transported in secret by night to Southampton, but one of them managed to drop a note from the train as they crossed London.  This was picked up and somehow the information reached the No-Conscription Fellowship (and their families) that they were on their way to France.  Once there they remained defiant, despite the intimidation and  brutal treatment - including in some cases field punishment such as being ‘crucified’ for several hours on a wooden frame or barbed wire.  In June 1916 they were court-martialled and sentenced to be shot, though this was immediately commuted to ten years penal servitude.  It meant being sent back to England.
Mary believes that activities like the celebration on 15 May are very important to remind people that there is another side to war. “We shouldn’t glorify war. The stance taken by the CO s was making a statement, about a refusal to fight. If everyone took that stance, war couldn’t happen,” said Mary.”The CO s took a decision, which sowed the seed in all of our consciences.”
Mary shares the pacifist stance of her grandfather, believing that war runs contrary to the teachings of Jesus. “The faith message of Jesus is one of a non-violent way of life. It is about embracing the stranger and difference, resolving conflict by turning the other cheek – war is the opposite to that.”
The CO s were also almost counter cultural with regards to the established churches of the time that were mainly pro-war.  “The European Churches saw their interests in supporting the governments of the day rather than being in line with their faith. It is baffling how some in the Church can be so enthral to the establishment,” said Mary, who also believes it is important for pacifists today not to lose humanity in the way they view soldiers and the military.
Mary and Cathy believe the legacy of the CO s is that it is now much more difficult for governments to contemplate going to war. “It is difficult to imagine conscription again. In order to have a war you need the support of the people,” said Mary, who does though concede that as weaponry has become more sophisticated, with developments like nuclear weapons and drone technology, it is more possible to have a major conflict without involving large numbers of combatants as in the world wars.
Another legacy has been the growth of the anti-war movement. Mary believes the actions of the CO s and the development of that tradition has made more acceptable direct peaceful actions like those undertaken over recent years by the Ploughshares activists, Father Martin Newell, Pat Gaffney and Chris Cole. There is a support for that tradition of conscience and action.
She remembers that post the First World War there was no such tolerance. The individual would find it difficult to find work, with CO s families ostracised in the society for years afterwards.
“I’ll always remember my grandfather and other CO s with pride. Events like the remembrance on 15 May are important because that stand made was the right one and we need to continue to put over the anti-war message,” said Cathy.        
The story of the CO s is certainly an important one in the context of the centenary remembrance events around the First World War, proving that peace in its many different forms can come from war.

Monday, 12 May 2014

What next for Sam Allardyce and West Ham United?

There has been growing speculation over recent weeks concerning the future of West Ham manager Sam Allardyce.

The fans have never really warmed to the former Bolton manager, who most definitely does not play “the West Ham way.”

Indeed, many will have been struck this season by the irony of a situation that has seen the most basic limited style of football on display at Upton Park for many a year, whilst the club take every opportunity to plug legacy with images of legends like Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Trevor Brooking.

Allardyce’s footballing style has no doubt annoyed many West Ham fans. It is limited to say the least, hoisting the ball forward as quickly as possible from front to back, either by working it down the wings  or simply hoofing it from the back.

The target is front man Andy Carroll, who has scored two goals this season. What has become ever clearer is there does not seem to be a plan B. This limitation was cruelly exposed when Carroll was sidelined until January. But even since his return more and more clubs have realised that if they mark Carroll out of the game, they have a great chance of beating West Ham.

One of Allardyce’s biggest errors was his failure to provide adequate cover for Carroll. Last summer, he laid off the other big striker Carlton Cole, relying instead on £4million signing Modiba Maiga.

This did not work, resulting in Allardyce’s tactical switch to playing with no strikers. This seemed initially to work, with an excellent victory over Spurs in October.

At the time, the club came to increasingly rely on young midfielder Ravel Morrison, who made an explosive impact on the Premier league scoring some great goals as a result of his mazy runs.

However, Morrison fell out with Allardyce and was sent out on loan to QPR in January, for whom he has since scored a series of spectacular goals.

It was the award of goal of the season to Morrison at the club’s annual awards dinner a couple of weeks ago that seemed to help build the no confidence in Sam Allardyce movement. At the same dinner, co-owner David Sullivan apologised to the fans for the season.

Sullivan is reported to be the individual most dissatisfied with Allardyce among West Ham’s high command. The other co-owner David Gold and chief executive Karen Brady remain loyal to Allardyce.

Sullivan is said to be unhappy at Allardyce’s transfer signings. And he does have a point, Allardyce’s big money signings Matt Jarvis (£10m), Carroll (£15m) and Downing (£6m) have hardly been raving successes. On the other hand the manager has done some good business, bringing in inspirational skipper Kevin Nolan, workhorse Mohammed Diame and keeper Adrian.

Allardyce himself is probably pretty exasperated at the situation. The club finished in mid-table and got to the semi-final of the League Cup  - what’s the problem?

However, the going was always going to get tough for Allardyce when results did not run for him. The Hammers fans don’t like the style of play. The chant, we’re West Ham and we play on the ground has never seemed far away from the lips of many fans.

Many also wonder what has been going on with Morrison. Following a brilliant start, he seemed to fade. The mazy runs died as he picked up the ball but instead of setting off on a run, he turned left or right to pass the ball to someone else to hump the ball forward for the big man. It was as if he had been told not to make the runs anymore.

What is for sure is that something is afoot at Upton Park. The rumours about Gus Poyet, Michael Laudrup, Malchy Mackay and Claudio Ranieri coming to replace Allardyce did not come from nowhere. Many will remember this level of briefing going on before Allardyce’s predecessor Avram Grant  got the chop.

Maybe Sullivan has had enough and he just does not see Allardyce as the man to take West Ham into the Olympic stadium – the team is certainly way short of what will be needed for that stage.

My own bet is that Allardyce will survive but that he is now living on borrowed time. The first bad run next season will see the opposition quickly revive and then the board may act. On the other hand Allardyce himself may just walk away wondering what you have to do to keep the Eastenders happy.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

100 billionaires in a country where 1 million go to foodbanks?

Why is the news that there are now 100 billionaires living in Britain - who have massively increased their wealth over the past four years - regarded as a cause for celebration? A moment for reflection yes on just exactly what these individuals contribute to the common good of society.
They no doubt use the resources - often human, provided courtesy of tax payer - yet pay little relative tax themselves.
Some 71 are located in London no doubt contributing to the overheating housing market.
The growth in billionaires in a country where over one million people are going to food banks should be a cause for reflection as to just how unequal and unfair our society has become - hardly a cause for celebration.

* Wanstead and Woodford Guardian - 15/5/2014
Morning Star - 13/5/2014

Friday, 9 May 2014

Migration Bishop Patrick Lynch calls for legalisation of undocumented migrant children

Southwark auxiliary and Migration Bishop Patrick Lynch has called on the government to address the issue of thousands of undocumented migrant children living in the UK. Celebrating the annual migrant mass at Westminster Cathedral, Bishop Lynch called on the government to look at giving undocumented migrant children a legal documented status. “Many of these children are born in this country and have lived here most of their lives,” said Bishop Lynch. “They are caught up in the conflicting agendas of children’s rights and efforts to implement immigration controls.” The bishop stressed the importance of integration, claiming that we cannot criticise immigration within the EU and yet be happy to benefit from the work of migrant workers. “It is important to create a society fully integrated, socially and economically,” said Bishop Lynch, who called for the Church in England and Wales to speak up for the most vulnerable migrant groups. Bishop Lynch credited the government, and Home Secretary Theresa May in particular, for its efforts in bringing the Anti-human slavery bill onto the statute book. The legislation provides safeguards for the victims of trafficking and help for those providing support. Bishop Lynch paid tribute to “the tremendous contribution that migrants have made to society and the Church.” The bishop cited the contributions made to the NHS and care sectors in particular as “invaluable.” Business secretary Vince Cable became the first Cabinet members to attend the mass in his official government capacity. There was though a notable lack of Westminster politicians otherwise. “It was a beautiful service. I wanted to come and show solidarity with the migrant community of London,” said Cable, who has on occasion been out of step with the government’s hardline immigration policies. “As Bishop Lynch said migrants make an important economic, spiritual and social contribution to our country,” said Cable who pointed out that his late wife was a Goan and a Catholic.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Appalling conditions of care workers contributes to poor care

There has been much concern expressed about the standard of care being provided to people at home but little seems to have been said about the appalling employment conditions that many care workers are forced to endure. Low pay, often below the minimum wage, and zero hour contracts are commonplace, no doubt having a knock on effect regarding the standard of care being delivered.

Mary Smith is a care worker in Reading. “I am on a zero hour contract, which means I can be sitting around for three or four days or even a week, waiting for work. There is no payment for travel. I’m often irate by the time I arrive at the call,” said Mary. If you query payment, then you may not get work for a couple of weeks. It is not possible to draw benefits, so if you are the only breadwinner then you could be left without food for the rest of the week.”

The employers it seems hold all the cards. “You never know how much work there is going to be. It is impossible to plan life, if you turn down work then you can get cut off the following week. A lot of people I know are trying to get out if the care sector. The people who really suffer are the members of the public receiving the care.”

Many of the problems in the care sector emanate from the use of zero hour contracts, which puts the employee at a distinct disadvantage. They have to effectively be on call all the time but as the example of Mary demonstrates this can mean back to back calls or long periods when there is nothing to do.

This power to allocate work can also be misused, so a worker who complains or maybe tries to bring in a trade union can be discriminated against by not being given work.

The workers are also only paid for the time they are effectively on the job.

Melanie, who worked for a care company in Oxfordshire, recalled getting just £1 for a visit, she did, that lasted 13 minutes. “Some companies break down what you get per visit. In the company I worked for, one person got 79p for a visit,” said Melanie, who has now moved onto a company that pay a set salary for the week.

The poor treatment of the care workforce does result in many cases in the clients not receiving as exemplary a service as might otherwise be the case. Melanie tells of the effects of being tired and exhausted as a result of rushing from call to call. “There is often no time to talk to the person. Once you’ve done the food, administered the different drugs etc., there is no time to talk, yet sometimes the carer is the only person that that person will see in the whole day,” said Melanie.

The non-payment of the care workers for travel time is a contentious issue, as it means many are not being paid even the minimum wage.

The sector is well known for its notoriously bad employment practices. In a study covering the past two years HM Revenue and Customs reported £340,000 owed due to underpayment to 2,400 care workers. There was £110,000 in penalties imposed for breaking the law.

HMRC found that the main reasons offered by care sector employers for not paying the minimum wage included: making illegal deductions such as uniform costs; not paying for time spent training or travelling between care jobs; charges for living accommodation; incorrect hourly pay rates; and incorrect use of apprentice rates.

A study by Kings College London’s social care workforce research unit estimated that there were between 150,000 and 220,000 care workers being paid below the minimum wage.

What is more, with the growing pressure on local authorities to cut back they have been reducing what they are prepared to pay the care companies. The low pay commission found this pressure resulted in companies taking it out on the workers.

United Kingdom Homecare Association, which represents private firms, estimates that a homecare company needs to be paid a minimum of £14.95 an hour by a council to comply with wage law and meet all costs of training. It said that one in five councils were now paying £11 or less, the lowest being £8.98 an hour.

The association said that nine out of 10 councils had cut fees paid to its members in the past year, meaning firms "face a constant struggle to comply with minimum wage law. The alternative will be for them to cease trading with councils, or go out of business."

There does though seem to be a growing awareness of the poor conditions being offered to workers in the industry and the subsequent effect this can have on standards of care.

Care minister Norman Lamb accepted that "there are still too many examples of employers paying people less than the minimum wage by not taking account of travel time", which is "intolerable".

Both community organisers Citizens UK and the trade union Unison have been campaigning for the living wage (£8.80 in London and £7.65 an hour outside) to be paid to care workers.

Unison has asked all councils in the country to sign up to its Ethical Care Charter.  The charter commits councils to buying home care only from providers who give workers enough time, training and a living wage, so they can provide better quality care for the service users who rely on it.

"Poor pay and conditions, including zero hour contracts and non-payment for travel time and training, mean that many care workers are unable to provide the level of care that they would like to give,” said Dave Prentis, the general secretary of Unison."It is essential that home care workers receive decent working conditions, including secure employment and a living wage, which makes it possible for them to stay in the job and focus on giving the best possible care."

Among those picking up the challenge are Islington and Brent councils in London which now only offer contracts to companies paying care workers the London living wage.

Citizens UK has initiated the I care about care campaign, which seeks to get employers signing up to a compact which comprises a commitment to pay the living wage, payment for travel time, accredited training for carers and a minimum of 30 minutes per call. “The campaign is to ensure that the carers are as cared about as the cared for. Care is presently the Cinderella of the welfare state and our members are determined to challenge this,” said Neil Jameson, executive director of Citizens UK. “This is not just about pay but also about the time we spend with each other and respect for the profession.”

So although the working conditions in the care sector remain parlace, there are signs of improvement with some genuinely good employers out there. What does seem certain is that better care provision is only likely to come about if the care workers receive decent pay and terms of employment.

* Morning Star - 16/5/2014
Tablet - 3/5/2014 

Friday, 2 May 2014

Tories morphing into UKIP

The Conservative Party seem so concerned about UKIP that they are gradually morphing into them. So the Conservatives increasingly it seems want to get out of Europe and now they are going to ban wind turbines on land. But fracking it seems is fine, with trespass laws to be relaxed to allow companies to explore on other people's land.
So in the brave new Conservative world, Britain will be a small isolated country in northern Europe with even less influence than it has now. We will though be free to burn more fossil fuels and choke our collective selves to death on pollution.
The population will continue to age but we will not be able to afford the services, such as health and social care, to look after them because the Conservatives will have stopped the vital flow of young migrant labour into the country. This will also decimate the prosperous higher education sector.
The Conservatives used to be a serious party, Margaret Thatcher was one of the first mainstream politicians to see the importance of the green agenda - what a sad rump they have left today - drawn ever further rightward, their only ambition being the pursuit of power for powers sake.

-  8/5/2014 Wanstead and Woodford Guardian
1/5/2014 - Ilford Recorder