Friday, 30 January 2015

Banking bailout cost every household in Britain £24k

A sobering statistic from the excellent film "the super rich and us" - that the cost of the banking bailout amounted to £24k for every household in Britain. That is aside of the fact that the poorest in society have effectively - through the austerity measures applied across Europe- been made to pay for this reckless behaviour. Meanwhile, for the bankers it is business (or should that be bonuses) as usual, not so much as a bit of contrition.
Another interesting element of the film was the recognition from some amongst the super rich that this cannot go on - with 85 people having as much wealth as 3,5 billion people on the planet. One billionaire recognised that one day the pitchforks would come out and he was keen not to be hoisted high come that day. The election of Syriza in Greece is a move in the right direction

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Taken at Midnight

This gripping play focuses on the persecution of the family of Hans Litten, who dared in 1931 to prosecute Hitler .

The play, which transferred to the Haymarket from Chichester starts in 1933 on the night of the burning of the Reichstag, when many political prisoners were picked up - among them Litten.

The story though is mainly viewed through the eyes of Litten’s mother, Irmgard, brilliantly played by Penelope Wilton. The different layers of a mother’s suffering are laid bare, as she interfaces with husband, English lord and perhaps most grippingly the SS officer.

The story of what is actually happening to Hans Litten operates as a virtual sub-plot in the background played with some black humour.There is, though, a striking moment, that will resonate, when the trial is recalled, with Litten's accusation against Hitler who he charges with running the murderous SA thugs. 'In your quest for respectability I think we can say you have been talking out of both corners of your mouth. One corner talks to your rich  backers, the other to your street-fighters."
Brilliantly directed by Jonathan Church, this Mark Hayhurst play brings out the brutality and hatred of the Nazis. Hitler’s well known thirst for revenge against anyone who crossed him let alone prosecuted him in court.
Wilton’s virtuoso performance brings out the different layers of suffering of a mother campaigning to win her son’s freedom. She seems to be continually let down by a variety of men from her husband Fritz to the hapless Lord Clifford Allen who comes over from England to plea for her son with Hitler. All to little effect.

Perhaps the most gripping scenes are between Irmgard Litten and SS officer Dr Conrad, brilliantly played by John Light. Dr Conrad is seen for the most part as the calculating Nazi officer playing with his powerless victim but then in a great piece of direction he suddenly appears in civies, buying Irmgard an ice cream and showing a more human side. The brutal side though quickly returns.
One of the potential weaknesses of the play is the resemblance of  the Irmgard Litten character, as played by Wilton, to the other woman she so famously portrays in the ITV serial Downton Abbey, Mrs Crawley. The forthright reflections of Irmgard Litten given in a brusque English accent have more than a passing resemblance to the Crawley character. Wilton’s Irmgard character is, for instance, in marked contrast to say to how husband Fritz is played by Alan Corduner – there is no mistaking him as a German.
The play though offers a different take on the story to that of Hayhurst's  TV offering, The Man Who Crossed Hitler (2011), which also told the story of Hans Litten. There is the focus on the mother and more gallows humour in the stage version, whilst never losing the essential bravery of the whole Litten family in forlornly battling for justice against the Nazis.
* Taken at Midnight is on at the Haymarket, London - runs until 14 March

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Tribunal judge picks up on convictions issue at Charlotte Monro case

The judge presiding at the employment tribunal examining the dismissal of a trade union representative Charlotte Monro questioned why it took Barts NHS trust 80 days to raise the question of undeclared past convictions.

Ms Monro, an occupational therapist and handling co-ordinator at Whipps Cross University Hospital in Leytonstone, was dismissed after she addressed the Waltham Forest scrutiny committee in her capacity as a union rep about concerns over the hospital. The charges related to failing to respect confidentiality (by talking in her union role to staff about proposed changes), failure to disclose convictions and bringing the Trust into disrepute - this last charge being dropped on appeal.

The convictions occurred relating to Ms Monro’s activities around protests in the 1970s in 1975.

Ms Monro had failed to declare the convictions when she first applied and obtained her job at Whipps Cross hospital in 1987. She has since worked as an occupational therapist and moving and handling co-ordinator with exemplary service over the next 26 years.

It was when Ms Monro was asked to complete a CRB check in March 2013 to reveal any convictions that she openly went to her line manager explaining the situation.

She was assured that it was clear she was no risk to patients or public and as the convictions were so long ago it was unlikely to be a problem, but advice would be sought about process. She heard nothing till four months later after she had spoken to the local council scrutiny committee the convictions were added later to accusations relating to her union activities.

Judge Jonathan Ferris picked up on the point that it had taken just five days to present the charges relating to the other accusations against Ms Monro but took 80 days (from March) relating to the convictions question.

Professor Jo Martin, Director of Academic Health Sciences at Barts Health NHS Trust, who chaired Ms Monro’s appeal put the delay down to the Human Resources department at the time.

She went onto to stress the seriousness of the convictions and failure to disclose as reasons for dismissal. Ms Martin denied there was any political element to the dismissal.

The judge probed the lack of guidelines on the part of the Trust, leading to confusion over questions like what was meant by multiple convictions

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Supporters of sacked trade unionist, Charlotte Monro, cram into employment tribunal hearing

More than 50 people staged a demonstration outside the employment tribunal, Anchorage House, in the Docklands to protest in favour of sacked Unison representative Charlotte Monro.
An occupational therapist and moving and handling co-ordinator, Monro was dismissed on October 30 2013, after working at Whipps Cross hospital for the past 26 years.

The dismissal by Barts Health Trust followed an investigation that began after she addressed the local Waltham Forest scrutiny committee in her capacity as a union rep.
A charge that she had brought the Barts Health trust into disrepute was later dropped on appeal but the grounds of breaching confidentiality and non-disclosure of previous convictions were upheld.
Supporters of Monro crammed into the hearing room, causing relocation to a bigger room.
When the hearing began Simon Ashton, director of nursing therapies and governance at Barts Health Trust, was quizzed over the issue of confidentiality.
Monro’s legal team highlighted how an investigation report represented at her disciplinary hearing had been changed.
Ashton said that he could not confirm why it had been changed.
The legal team also claimed that a previous issue that occurred earlier had only been raised after she had spoken out in public to the scrutiny committee.
At the protest, Dr Ron Singer, a retired GP, declared that: “our campaign here is to support Charlotte Monro, who has suffered personal victimisation for trying to support the NHS.”
“Her treatment is symptomatic of the bullying of staff working in the NHS, who are trying to do their best for patients, while government cuts budgets.
“It is not just a fight for Charlotte but for all who work and seek to defend the NHS.”
Bob Archer, secretary of Redbridge Trades Council and president of Redbridge NUT, expressed his concern that anyone who uses their freedom of speech to speak out gets “victimised by a vindicative management.”
Retired nurse Jan Blake cited the Monro case as symptomatic of the bullying culture developing in the NHS over recent years. “At the last board meeting, the Barts Trust admitted a bullying culture in their hospital,” said Blake, who also highlighted the pressure on the Trust of having to serve a PFI debt.
John McLaughlin, branch secretary of Tower Hamlets Unison, said: “This case is important for all trade unionists and those who want to defend the NHS.”
Terry Day, a user of Whipps Cross hospital, described the sacking of Monro as “an outrageous injustice.”
“The Barts Trust decided to get rid of someone who was trying to get proper transparency on the changes being made and the damage that could be done to the service,” said Day.

Monday, 19 January 2015

The bullying culture that the media love to lionise is not something to be admired

Bullying seems to be on the increase in British society today.

Take the BBC’s Question Time, which for some reason gives regular platforms to historian David Starkey. Starkey comes over as the archetypal bully, haranging members of the audience as though all are ignorant, yet he himself displays his own ignorance by not even bothering to get the correct names of fellow members of the Question Time panel. Yet the BBC continue to give the views of Starkey air time – good box office maybe, but what does it say about society.

Then there is the small man with a big chair who forms the central focus of "the Apprentice." The appeal of the Apprentice is to see Lord Alan Sugar often ridiculing hapless competitor in a contest to become his business partner.

The bullying genre ofcourse has become popular with broadcasters, with programmes like X-factor and Strictly Come Danciing based on judges ridiculing hapless contestants. But why should people find this type of intimidatory behaviour entertaining, equally I guess why do some want to put themselves through such an ordeal in the first place?

In the real world, can it really come as a surprise that there are reports of bullying in sectors like the health service. Recent years have seen the tipping of the balance in favour of management. The power inequality that has arisen between management and workers has helped foster the bullying culture.

Progressive employers ofcourse work in partnership with workers, operating policies that provide things like a good work life balance. These companies tend to be the more successful ones, yet this goes unrecognised, particularly in the media world, because bullying makes for good viewing figures.

The rising levels of bullying in the workplace reflect the increasingly jungle like neo-liberal economic system that operates in the UK. It is the survival of the fittest, the biggest bully on the block comes out on top. For some businesses this may work but for the majority it creates a bad environment in which to live and work.

The bully from Flashman, to his modern day counterparts, is not someone to be admired but someone to be pitied. Bullies are often cowards themselves, lack self confidence and the basic communications skills and empathy to operate in any other way. Given the aforesaid it is all the more concerning that national media seem to think it is a worthy pursuit to lionise bullies – the bully needs to be brought down not put on an ever higher pedestal.

Friday, 9 January 2015

John Battle warns that growth of foodbanks are a sign of return ot workhouse culture

Former Leeds MP and chair of the Leeds Justice and Peace Commission John Battle has claimed that the institutionalisation of foodbanks is another step back toward the poor law and workhouse of the 19th century.

The former MP claimed that the parcelling out of food in the way that is happening in the UK today “marks a move back to the poor law and ends at the workhouse.”
The Church backed Trussell Trust, which runs the foodbank network, has just published figures showing that 913,000 people went to foodbanks in the last 12 months.
Mr Battle warned against the institutionalisation of foodbanks as has happened in Canada over the past 30 years. He warned that in Canada foodbanks have grown, with supermarkets becoming involved. “Foodbanks have become institutionalised as an alternative to the welfare state, “ said Mr Battle, who decried how the supermarkets have become involved using support of foodbanks as a way to do a bit of charitable conscience salving.
Mr Battle declared that the real issue is low pay, with the rich getting richer and the poor poorer. “This cannot be allowed to go on, with the poor effectively being left to pick up the scraps from the rich man’s table,” said Mr Battle who pointed out that the recent Church based ‘Feeding Britain’ report found many of those using foodbanks were on zero hours contracts.
He insisted that the implementation of a living wage and maintaining of the welfare state is the direction in which things should be heading.
Mr Battle will chair a conference in Leeds at the end of February (28/2) titled “Is a Foodbank Justice?”
The Leeds Diocesan Justice and Peace Commission has been compiling data from parishes about who gives to foodbanks, who works and  goes to them. “We have been finding the Catholic Church has stepped into the gap left by the removal of the welfare state,” said Mr Battle, who described going to a foodbank as a demeaning experience for people. “I’ve seen people I know completely humiliated by it. It is like looking at people in a prison camp, completely reduced to nothing,” he said.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Time human beings were put at the centre of the economic equation

The present socio-economic experiment being conducted in the UK has caused high levels of suffering across the mass of the population.

The experiment has consisted of forcing increasing numbers of people into low paid insecure jobs and increasing levels of personal debt.

So there are now 1.4 million people on zero hour contracts, with two in five jobs created over recent years being classified as self-employed.

There are 4.6 million people classified as self-employed, some 15 per cent of the workforce.

Figures published by Parliament show that the average annual income for self- employment is £10,000 for women, lest anyone should think that self- employment equates to a growth of budding entrepreneurs.

Then there has been the growth in part time workers, who now make up 8 million out of the 30 million workforce. They account for half of the jobs created between 2010 and 2012.

At the same time real weekly wages overall have fallen by 8% since 2008, equivalent to a fall in annual earnings of about £2,000 for a typical worker in Britain.

Working poverty has also been on the increase with an increasing amount of benefits going to those in work. Just over half of the 13 million people in poverty - surviving on less than 60% of the national median (middle) income - were from working families,

The result of this socio-economic experiment is that there is less money around to keep the wheels of the economy turning, hence the slowness of the growth rate.

Despite talking about cutting the deficit, the Coalition Government has actually borrowed more in five years than the previous Labour administration did in 13 years. It is not cutting the deficit significantly because the tax take is down, due partly to the growth of low paid insecure work.

The ongoing wage stagnation has driven people increasingly to the money lenders, with a seven year high of £1.25 billion reported in November for borrowing on credit cards loans and overdrafts. People don’t have the money, so they borrow and debt grows.

Another part of the social economic experiment has involved demonising the poor, who rely on benefits, as scroungers and skivers. This media mood music has allowed government to cut away vast swathes of the welfare state support network.

The new charitable answer to poverty is foodbanks.
The Church backed Trussell Trust, which runs the nationwide network of foodbanks, reports 913,000 going to foodbanks over the past year – an increase of 129,000.The Trust point out that there have been 500,000 people coming to foodbanks in the six month period between April and September last year, 38% more than for the comparable period in 2013.

Currently, 45% of food bank referrals are due to benefit delays and changes, including sanctions and 22% of the 500,000 that came cite low income as the main trigger for the crisis

This grotesque situation of low pay, growing indebtedness and a million people going to foodbanks is happening in one of the richest countries in the world.  A country that has seen the number of resident billionaires grow from 53 to 100 billionaires over the past six years. The richest 1,000 people now have £450 billion of the wealth – an increase of £150 billion in the past three years.    

Surely, it must be time to call a halt to this socio-economic experiment and put the welfare of the human person back at the centre of the equation

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Will the bubbles continue to blow at West Ham

 The Christmas/New Year period saw a few ripples appearing on the surface of what has become a tranquil scene at West Ham United over the past 12 months.

The club certainly seems to have come a long way, taking 56 points over the past year. A  period let’s not forget that began this time last year with the club staring relegation in the face.

Manager Sam Allardyce was under pressure, from fans and media alike. The pressure reached a high point in January when the team were thrashed 6-0 at Upton Park by a rampant Manchester City in the semi-final of the League Cup. This followed a 5-0 reversal in the FA Cup third round at Championship side Nottingham Forest, when Allardyce had put out a virtual reserve team for the game.

Things turned in February with the club securing four wins on the trot and pulling clear of the relegation zone. Results though continued to fluctuate right to the end of the season.

Fans were calling for the manager’s head and it seemed that there were those in the boardroom who didn’t disagree. Allardyce was told to change his footballing style and play more the West Ham way – code for less direct aerial bombardment.

There was a period of a couple of weeks in the summer, where it seemed Allardyce’s fate was in the balance, as the board failed to give him the vote of confidence needed. Cynics suggested West Ham were scouring around for who else was available. In the end though, the manager remained. It should be noted that his biggest backer was Chief Executive Karren Brady, who has since been totally vindicated in her judgement.

Since that time, the currency of the manager has been in the ascent. The club made some outstanding signings in the summer, bringing in Diafra Sakho, Enner Valencia, Cheikou Kouyate, Aaron Cresswell, Diego Poyet and Mauro Zarate. Carl Jenkinson, Morgan Amalfitiano and perhaps most crucially Alex Song came in on loans for the season.

The season began with Andy Carroll on the sidelines, so Sakho and Valencia formed a new more mobile pacey attack. The team played a different style of football, less aerial bombardment, more short passing and through balls for the two front men. Stewart Downing was given a free role at the head of a triangle formation anchored by Song. The goals came, with Sakho going on a seven goal scoring run. Valencia announced his arrival with a stunning 25 yarder at Hull.

The full backs were also a revelation, breaking down the wings at every opportunity, providing quality crosses. The results came, West Ham attaining top four status, which they held onto up to Christmas. Carroll returned, seemingly also fitting into the new way of doing things.

All good so far, happy Hammers fans everywhere. The Christmas period though has provided something of a blip, causing a few of the critics to starting asking questions again.

The period began well with a 2-0 win over Leicester, though the writing did seem on the wall. West Ham took their chances well but the away team could have come away with some of the spoils given better finishing. Notably, home keeper Adrian was the man of the match with three great saves.
Next up Chelsea. For some unbeknown reason, Allardyce decided to rotate selection, leaving Song and Sakho on the sideline until the second half. This handed the initiative to Chelsea who took control of the game. A 2-0 reversal, the predictable result.
Then came Arsenal, an excellent game where West Ham should have gained at least point from rather than the 2-1 reversal. Finally, a disappointing 1-1 draw at home to West Bromwich Albion.

In the background, there were some rumblings with a rather public fall out between Zarate and the manager. The Argentinian player, who scored twice and showed some excellent promise during the limited appearances he was allowed, was sent out on loan to QPR.

He was clearly disillusioned, rather stupidly suggesting that Allardyce was not picking him because it was co-owner David Sullivan who signed him. This brought the response from the manager that he was not good enough.

The spat, whilst on the face of it the outburst of a disappointed player, did also remind fans that below the surface there are some tensions.

The question of style could also resurface, with a recent analysis on Match of the Day revealing that there was not a notable drop in the number of long balls being pumped in by West Ham this season. A key difference though seems to be the role of Carroll in the this context. West Ham do play a more direct game when the former Liverpool forward is playing, compared to when the Valencia/Sakho partnership is in operation. Allardyce has asserted that the different strikers offer more options – a correct analysis but one likely to cut little ice if results start to turn.

Allardyce is riding high at the moment but must be well aware that he needs to be winning virtually all the time to keep some people happy at the club.

So entering the New Year, things are looking good for the Hammers but there may well still be some choppy waters ahead before the end of the sea*son – with expectations so heightened by the excellent form up to Christmas – Allardyce is now likely to be judged against the ever higher standards his team have been achieving.

* "A mid-season look at Big Sam's West Ham" - Morning Star - 3/1/2015