Wednesday, 29 June 2016

The truth about Trident: disarming the nuclear arguments by Timmon Milne Wallis

This book from Timmon Milne Wallis provides a comprehensive demolition of the arguments for the UK to continue to hold Trident nuclear weapons

Wallis argues in a methodical style, dismantling the claims of those who favour renewal, whilst providing in a comprehensive case for the UK to give up its nuclear weapons arsenal and set an example to the rest of the world.

Much of the detail provided by Wallis will surprise and alarm many readers. He looks at the limited nature of the Trident system as a weapon of defence, pointing out that it is mainly aimed at Russia. Meanwhile, there are many other more pressing threats to UK security via terrorism, which could include cyber-attacks. There could have been more here from military experts backing up the argument that funds would be better used on other forms of defence.
Wallis also dismantles arguments put forward regarding the possible deterrent value of Trident, mutually assured destruction theories and the jobs value of the technology to the UK economy. On the latter point, he argues that cancellation of Trident would cost around 40,000 jobs - which could be replaced in areas such as combatting climate change.

Two of the most interesting parts of the book focus on the cost of the weapons system and how independent it is from US control. Cost estimations seem to vary between around £11 billion up to £167 billion over the whole 30 year period. The larger numbers come by taking in all of the different aspects of replacing and servicing the systems. Interestingly, Wallis asserts that if the nuclear weapons system was cancelled today it would still cost £40 billion to run down up to 2030. Refreshingly Wallis does not go into the line of rhetoric that equates savings on Trident with the number of hospitals or schools that could be built with the money.

Wallis leaves the reader in no doubt that the Trident system is effectively controlled by the US, whilst being paid for at least in part by the UK taxpayer. “In theory, a British Prime Minister has the final say on whether to fire Trident and where to fire them. In practice, the US owns the missiles and produces many of the warhead components. It controls the software for firing the missiles, targeting them and detonating them. And except in an undefined emergency situation, Trident is assigned to NATO and under the command of a US general,” writes Wallis.

There are some sobering recollections of near misses with nuclear weapons. The chronicling of 14 accidents between 1988 and 2008, involving British nuclear powered submarines. This section is ended, recalling that the “doomsday clock” on the cover of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, indicating how close editors believe the world is to nuclear war. It now stands at three minutes to midnight. The clock has moved forward from five minutes in January 2015. It now stands at the closest point to midnight since 1983.

This book represents a valuable addition to the resources available for those seeking to contribute c to the ongoing debate about whether Britain should retain its Trident nuclear weapons arsenal. Wallis covers many aspects of the debate from the past history of nuclear weapons use through deterrent arguments, just war, cost and war and peace questions. The tone is balanced underlining the dangers but never getting hysterical. A must read for those who want to know more about the nuclear debate in all its many and often horrific aspects.
Published by Luath Press Ltd    Price - £12.99
- reviews published Independent Catholic News - 27/6/2016
Morning Star - 4/7/2016

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Labour coup plotters should put up or shut up..otherwise leave the party

What an extraordinary time for these Labour Mps to be mounting a coup against Corbyn. The stats show that 63% of Labour supporters voted for remain, 64% of SNP voters backed remain, yet no one is asking for Nicola Sturgeon to stand down. The coup Mps have proved themselves to be totally irresponsible with this action. Many of them have been itching to launch a coup ever since Corbyn was elected by an unprecedented 60% of the membership last September. There have been false da...wns like the Syria bombing vote and reshuffle but now they have come out into the open. The timing could not be worse, at a time when the Conservatives are in disarray over the EU referendum vote, with Cameron resigning and the country looking at a probable general election inside the next year. So these Labour MPs think now is the time to grab some blame for the party regarding the EU vote, which make no mistake was all born out of Tory internal party machinations. If the coup plotteers want a change of leadership they should have triggered a leadership ballot. They would ofcourse no doubt lose such a ballot of the membership - possibly by even more than last time. The coup attempt looks set to fail and in that event those involved really must consider their position in the party. We really cannot go on with this group pf people continually seeking to undermine the democratically elected leader.

* published Evening Standard - 28/6/2016

Friday, 24 June 2016

Need for intergenerational solidarity post Brexit vote not the creation of more division amid a blame culture

The comments, post referendum vote, blaiming older people for the leave vote at the cost of the young really does not contribute anything beyond creating further division in a society already incredibly divided after this process. The media generally is obsessed with fermenting intergenerational conflict blaming the old for young people's problems.

The reality is that there are poor people across all the classes, both young and old. Reducing things to the young don't have it be...cause the old do is simplistic and obscures the main issue which is that it is the 1% having the mass of the wealth to the exclusion of the 99%. There are young and old in both groups.

The austerity measures pursued by this goveernment have hit the 99% particularly hard to the benefit of the 1% - this is what fueled disillusion and the leave vote - the fact this got lost in translation in a debate about immigration is one of the great unfortunates of this process.

What is needed now is to unite in solidarity across classes and generations, not build ever more division. A more equal distribution of wealth between all will bring a better happier society.

published - morning star

Friday, 17 June 2016

The creation of a society that looks out with a spirit of generosity toward others of all races and creeds would provide fine testimony to the life of Jo Cox

The death of Jo Cox is a terrible tragedy, someone who got elected for the right reasons to help make the world a better place. She was not alone in that ambition amongst MPs. It has been one of the more nauseating elements of the last 24 hours to hear so many media outlets - that have spent the last few years encouraging an atmosphere of contempt for MPs - shedding crocodile tears over this tragedy.
Jo supported the Syrian refugees, was a positive voice on migration (a rarity indeed) and backed remain in Europe. She was about an open diverse society, the exact opposite of those who feed on the insecurity of many and the encouragement of a distrust of the other.  The best epitaph to Jo Cox would be to continue to promote that vision of an open diverse society, whilst facing down those who seek to divide us against each other.

* published Guardian, Independent & I - 18/6/2016
Evening Standard - 20/6/2016

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Tribute to Theresa Helm - a valiant fighter for justice and peace

The news of the death of Theresa Helm will have saddened the many people who have known her over the years.

I have known Theresa for almost 20 years, though saw less of her in recent times. She was part of a group of people who came together and energised the mission of justice and peace in the Brentwood diocese and nationally during the 1990s and noughties.

Theresa was active in her justice and peace group in Hornchurch parish, together with Fran Marshall. Both then became more involved when they helped launch the justice and peace centre at Chigwell.

Fran left Chigwell but Theresa continued the valuable work there keeping the flame of justice and peace burning, long after others in the Brentwood diocese had packed up.

The Chigwell J&P centre became a hub of justice and peace work, hosting workshops and study days on issues like international debt, trade and aid, food security, globalisation, migration, child soldiers and human trafficking. The Chigwell sisters also supported the work of the National Justice and Peace Network.

Theresa was a keen advocate of training and formation of people. Much of the work at Chigwell has focused on formation over the years. Sadly, the need for formation of Catholics in the faith has never received the recognition it deserves. Theresa did her best but it was always an uphill struggle.

I remember doing a feature on the work of the centre for the Universe newspaper, focusing on Theresa and Fran. Being centred in Chigwell, the parallels were drawn with Birds of a Feather – it was never clear who mirrored which character, though we never had a Dorian.

Theresa worked closely for many years with then chair of the Brentwood J&P commission Kathy Piper, who died in 2013.

I also knew Theresa and her partner of many years Alex socially. They took me to the Gay Hussar restaurant in Soho for the first time. Alex being of Hungarian descent, seemed keen that night to try every drink in the place. A night never to be forgotten.

We also used to go to Lee Hurst’s comedy club at Bethnal Green, seeing the different comedians along with several drinks and a kebab later on.

Another occasion was a few years ago when I met up with Theresa and Alex at the British Beer festival at Olympia. I got in with my press pass, receiving a free drink to boot. It took much effort on my part to explain that if I’d had to pay it would have affected my objectivity as a journalist.

Theresa and Alex though were keen beer festival attenders. They were staying in a hotel that time for the whole four days of the event. They visited other festivals around the country, including Whitstable.    
Theresa battled and overcame against cancer but last year the disease returned. Sadly Theresa has left us now. The world will be a lesser place for her loss, always up for a laugh but also a serious person whose abilities and intellectual integrity did not get the proper recognition they deserved.  RIP Theresa.

*Funeral will take place at 1.15 on Tuesday 21st June 2016 at Chigwell Convent Chapel  

- published Independent Catholic News - 20th June 2016/ Universe - 26/6/2016

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Polly Toynbee right about Brexit supporters unleashing furies they can't control

Polly Toynbee is absolutely right in her Guardian article (Brexit supporters have unleashed furies they can't control, 14/6) to highlight how any rational debate on Europe is being lost amid a cacophony of nonsense about immigration. It is not insignificant that the owners of the newspapers who have done most to sell their products on the back of anti-migrant coverage over recent years are almost uniformally in favour of leaving Europe.
Polly is also right to point to a further lurch to the right following brexit. Indeed, on the subject of migration, the chances are that in the short term at least numbers will actually increase. The work will still be there, so those good old Tories like Boris and Gove, won't have a problem seeing European migrants replaced by migrants from elsewhere. Then what will happen to the returning Brits (2 million plus) who presently live and work in EU countries?
Migration will only reduce when the economy begins to falter. Then the migrants will disappear as quickly as they came. This doesn't ofcourse fit with the Brexit backing parts of the media fiction that migrants only come for benefits but it is the hard cold economic reality.
Migrants are not the problem and certainly no reason to leave the EU. Most of the hardships that the migrants are being scapegoated for are caused by the austerity measures being imposed by the present government. That is where the focus should be not on those who come here seeking only to contribute, earn a living and pay their taxes.

*published Guardian - 15/6/2016

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Wanstead High School student Leanne Mohamad's contribution in Speak Out challenge marks significant defence of free speech

The story of what happened to Leanne Mohamad, following her excellent speech at Jack Petchey’s Speak Out challenge event, exposes the real nature of free speech in this country.

The reality seems to be that everyone is free to speak just so long as it is not about anything that matters. The comments from some to the effect that she should have been advised to choose another subject etc underline the point.

I have seen this very authentic speech that is eloquent, articulate and speaks from the heart. Leanne draws on her own background, including the death of a relative. The treatment she received online and elsewhere has been a disgrace. The support for her both locally and nationwide since the incident has been gratifying and in the true spirit of free speech.

As a former pupil of Wanstead High, it was a pleasure to see someone giving such a powerful passionate speech about one of the great injustices in the world today. The shame was that the competition organisers did not see fit to advance the speaker onto the next stage of the contest. This though does not change the fact that Leanne Mohamad’s steadfast stands marks an important victory for free speech in an increasingly anodyne world.

* published Ilford Recorder/Wanstead & Woodford Guardian - 9/6/2016

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Goodbye to Haynes Baptiste - a friend and true fighter for racial justice over 50 years

Haynes Sylvester Baptiste was laid to rest today at St Gregory’s Catholic Church in Earlsfield, south London.

Haynes, 83, has been a fighter for racial justice in this country for the best part of the 50 odd years in which he has resided here since migrating from Dominica in 1956 as part of the Windrush generation.

He lived through the years of the no blacks, no irish, and no dogs notices being routinely put up in bed sit windows. Haynes experienced this ferocious racism at first hand.

He also fought against racism in the Catholic Church being a founder member of the Catholic Association for Racial Justice in the early 1980s and later serving as chair and vice chair. He helped lead the efforts of CARJ to break the mould of white domination of the hierarchy in an increasingly diverse Church. It was a hard battle that remains long from won.  

One of Haynes longstanding desires was to see a black bishop, reflecting the multicultural nature of the Church in the UK. Sadly, to his dying day that aim has not been achieved. It was also to the chagrin of the Bishops Conference of England and Wales that no bishop could find time in their busy diaries to attend the passing of such an important figure in the fight for racial justice. Frankly, a disgrace.  

Born in Dominica in 1932, Haynes progressed becoming a teacher on the island. He was moved around in that role, prior to deciding to come to England. Once here, Haynes did a variety of jobs, working on the trains as a fireman and in a mental hospital. He then worked for the Post Office and then British Telecom. A strong trade unionist and Labour Party member Haynes was always on the side of the workers.

When BT was privatised he left to work with the Methodist Church on racism awareness workshops.

In 1967, he married Juanita Murdock at Holy Trinity Church in Brook Green. Two years later the couple moved to Earlsfield, where they have attended St Gregory’s ever since. They have four children and seven grandchildren. Haynes was also a keen musician and cricketer.

In 2013, Haynes was awarded the Papal honour of the membership of the Knights of St Gregory for his work across society.

Haynes funeral was a testimony to the life of the man. It brought together family, parish, members of the Catholic Association for Racial Justice and people from far and wide involved in his life. There was much love and warmth displayed on the day.

I will always remember Haynes breaking into a smile whenever we met, usually opening with the words: “who have you been upsetting this week?” There would then be chat about the Church, Labour Party and the trade unions. I'll miss him.

A solid family and community man, Haynes Sylvester Baptiste has made a huge contribution throughout the whole of his life. There was laughter and tears today to celebrate a man who gave so much for a better tomorrow. Let’s hope others will be now prepared to pick up the torch of racial justice carried so long and honourably by Haynes.  

* published Independent Catholic News - 8/6/2016

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Universal Basic Income is a much more exciting idea to have a referendum about - ask the Swiss?

The EU referendum continues to dominate the media here but in Switzerland some would argue a much more interesting vote is taking place on Sunday when the people decide whether the country will adopt a Universal Basic Income (UBI).

If citizens vote for the UBI in the referendum it would see an unconditional basic income of £20,000 a year given to every citizen, regardless of work or wealth.

The UBI is a radical idea that has drawn supporters on the left like John Kenneth Galbraith and Milton Friedman on the right. The idea appealed to the left on the grounds of redistribution of wealth for the good of all, equality and egalitarianism. The appeal to the right is in cutting the power of the coercive state, reducing welfare and promoting freedom.

The driving forces for the idea now come with the increasing levels of automation going on worldwide and the need to find solutions to welfare provision.

The idea resonates with the outlook in the 1970s, when it was predicted that in the future there would be shorter working weeks, more leisure time and earlier retirement ages. These predictions remember existed long before the internet came along.

Then came Margaret Thatcher with the neo-liberal model, which promptly saw the opposite indices come into play with longer working weeks, less pay and an ever more distant retirement age.

However, despite the damage caused over the past 30 years by the neo-liberal model the underlying motors of development foreseen in the 1970s have continued to grow.

Ironically, it has been some of the features of neo-liberalism that have helped accelerate the demand for the UBI today.

So the neo-liberal model has led to the 1% very polarised society, with fewer and fewer people coming to hold most of the wealth. The wealthy don’t spend money in the same way that the poor do, they often store it away or place it offshore - so demand in the economy falters. This problem will be exacerpated in a world where there is a growing population but fewer jobs due to automation. In the future, many ask where will the money generate from to create that demand to keep the wheels of market capitalism turning?

In the UK, the problem has been recognised by Chancellor George Osborne with his tentative efforts to raise the minimum wage to a living level and extend personal tax allowances – taking many people out of tax.

The appeal of UBI for the right is also in cutting welfare. The allocation of a UBI would cut the need for much welfare, as well as improving the lives of many people.

Many questions remain ofcourse, such as what would be the motivation for people to work if they were receiving UBI. The level ofcourse is low so many would want to work anyway. On this point there are concerns from unions that UBI could be set too low, thereby cutting welfare, whilst not providing adequate compensation via payment. (This is also a concern that has surfaced over the living wage.)

UBI though is gaining support. The Finish government is experimenting with the idea, making tax free monthly payments of £300 to a random sample of 10,000 adults of working age, as part of a two year experiment. Some 20 municipalities in the Netherlands are conducting similar experiments.

 Ironically, it would seem the advance of capitalism in its present form seems likely to make UBI inevitable in the medium to long term. There simply will not be the jobs and subsequently demand for products.

The dilemma can be easily viewed at supermarket checkouts, which increasingly push customers toward the automated systems. This will save on labour but in the end where will that former labour find the money to buy products sold by the supermarket?

Funding for the UBI is likely in the main to come from general taxation, with the sums no doubt taking some balancing. However, the idea is an exciting one, brought about in many ways by the ongoing contradictions of the capitalist market system model. Indications are that the Swiss will reject the idea on Sunday but this referendum seems only the latest stage in the advance of an idea which if handled properly by the left could lead to a huge emancipation of society in terms of personal freedom and living life generally.

*published Morning Star - 4/6/2016/ New Internationalist - 7/6/2016