Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Review of Counting Stars by Atiha Sen Gupta - Stratford East

Atiha Sen Gupta’s play Counting Stars takes n oan original setting to address a number of societal issues.

The focus is the work setting and romantic relationship between two migrant lavatory attendants Abiodun  (Lanre Malaolu) and Sophie (Estella Daniels).

Abiodun does not like the job and brings out the elements of exploitation, racism and bullying by his manager. Sophie on the other hand likes the job, with the opportunity it offers to meet different people and further herself. The uniting theme is the burgeoning romance between the two conducted through the toilet wall.

The dialogue is strong, with a good line of humour illuminating an overall narrative about the exploitation of migrant labour.

Again Sen Gupta hits on contemporary issues, focusing on ethnic minority groups who are so often stereotyped or quite simply ignored by the mainstream. She manages to bring a reality to the drama about much of the injustice that is going on, whilst not getting bogged down. The rattling humour helps lighten the atmosphere.

Sen Gupta is cutting out a definite genre for herself with this play (first performed last year) following on State Red (2014) and the debut piece What Fatima Did (2009). She brings a cutting edge to contemporary  issues of social injustice.

It is important though that she retain that strong sense of authenticity that under writes her subjects and does not succumb to the tendency of some working in this field to take the stance of the middle class observer looking inward. Thankfully, there is little sign of this happening thus far, long may it continue.

*Counting Stars is on at Theatre Royal, Stratford East until 17 September  

Friday, 26 August 2016

West Ham United dumped out of Europa League by Astra Giurgiu - same opponents as last year

West Ham 0-1 Astra Giurgiu

West Ham crashed out of the Europa League at the same qualifying stage, against the same opponents, as last year.

Astra Giurgiu manager Marius Sumudica revealed that he has 25 players who receive a combined total of Eur 130,000 per month – less than some West Ham players get in a week. Sumudica admitted it to be “one of the best days of my life.”

West Ham boss Slaven Bilic admitted to being “frustrated” and “more disappointed than angry.”

“I won’t lose faith in the players on the basis of one game,” said Bilic. “The main problem is the players that are missing.

Despite the lack of Dimitri Payet, Aaron Cresswell, Andy Carroll, Manuel Lanzini and ”Andre Ayew, West Ham expected to comfortably come through this tie, having drawn 1-1 in the away leg last week.

The home side began in confident fashion without ever really pressing the Romanian side.

The first real chance came in the 8th minute when Jonathan Calleri, put through for the second game in a row with only the keeper to beat, fluffed his lines and the chance went begging.

A further shot from Pedro Obiang was pushed round the post by keeper Silviu Lung.

The Romanians though stuck to the task, striking just before half time, when makeshift left back Reece Burke was dispossessed on the left, with Filipe Teixeira receiving the ball and striding on to drive the ball under keeper Darren Randolph.

The second half saw West Ham ringing the changes bringing on Enner Valencia and Ashley Fletcher in an attempt to break down the visitors. The impressive Fletcher came close to achieving the feat with efforts from the edge of the penalty and goal areas – the latter chance being saved at point blank range by Lung.

Lung was the hero of the night for Astri Giurgiu, keeping his side in the game with a series of excellent saves  though annoying home fans with his blatant time wasting.

So West Ham bow out of the Europa League once again before the proper competition has even started. The result will make it more difficult to attract top European names to the club, though also stops the distraction of Thursday night games that have proved so costly for a number of English clubs over recent years, with resulting effects on their Premiership form.

What is for sure is that Bilic has a job on his hands to get his West Ham squad firing in the way that they did last season. The new recruits thus far appear a mixed bunch, with those like Fletcher showing promise, whilst the jury is most definitely out on the likes of Gokhan Tore and Jonathan Calleri. But early days.  

Thursday, 25 August 2016

How sad to see the once great bastion of liberty, France, showing such appalling intolerance to Muslim women on the beach

How incredible to see the once tolerant land of France being reduced to a scene where armed  police officers can stand over a Muslim woman insisting she take her clothes off. You could not make it up.

If this ludicrous act of intolerance is in some way intended to deter terrorism – it won’t work. This act shows France effectively giving into the tyranny of the terrorists, reducing the human rights of its citizens at the behest of the perceived threat.

Britain can provide the evidence of what happens when a single religion or nationality is made into a suspect community. The British did it to the Irish during the war in Northern Ireland. A community under attack closes in on itself, providing harbour for those who might move to extreme actions and be radicalised.

The call of give me your liberties and I will provide security has been the cry of dictators down the ages – it would be sad to see the great nation of France succumbing to such a call.. and in the process destroying the very liberties it has fought for so many centuries to preserve.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Review of the film "Bobby Sands - 66 days"

The film Bobby Sands – 66 days highlights the pivotal nature of the 1981 hunger strikes in the Republican struggle for independence.
The essential argument presented by Brendan J Byrne in this excellent documentary style film is that the hunger strikes set the path that ultimately led to the Good Friday Agreement and peace.
The structure of the film is to see the whole period through the focus of Bobby Sand’s life and his death after 66 days on hunger strike.
It is a cleverly worked, looking at Sands, just 27 when he died, but already a deep thinker when it came to the nature of the struggle going on in the north of Ireland and beyond. Whilst the Republican prisoners were focusing on other liberation struggles such as Cuba, Vietnam and Russia, Sands was one of those calling for reflection on the Republican tradition, particularly epitomised by Padraig Pearse, James Connolly and the other rebels of 1916.
The idea of the winner of the battle ultimately being the side that could endure more rather than inflict most damage on the other is another concept that came to have influence in the Irish struggle.
The wider aspects of the whole hunger strike episode are told via a timeline counting down by each day of Sands hunger strike. So there are the physical updates as he loses weight and his medical condition worsens.
The narrative is told via a whole succession of talking heads. The range of voices impressive - from Thatcher's biographer Charles Moore and Thatcherite Cabinet minister Norman Tebbit to Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams and Danny Morrison.
The medical expert who explains the deterioration of the body through the hungers strike offers a chilling insight. He tells how the body copes up to the 28 day mark, and then the terrible deterioration takes place. The body starts, in effect, eating itself and shutting down. The eyesight deteriorates and the bodily functions breaking down.
The political context looms large in the discourse. The decision to go on hunger strike, after the failed earlier attempt. Then, how with the election of Sands as a Westminster MP really changed the nature of the whole struggle. For it was that decision which moved the tactics of the Republican movement to that of the gun and ballot box.
Sands has become an iconic figure over the years and this film will help enhance that status even more. The linking of the 1916 rebels to Sands and the other Republicans continuing the struggle in the 1960s, 70s, 80s and 90s is illuminating. One of the most fascinating factors is the strange phenomena of the hunger strike with its unique position in the Republican tradition - bringing together martyrdom and sacrifice with their deep roots in Catholicism and the liberation struggle.
The film leaves the viewer with a feeling of respect for the sacrifice made by the hunger strikers but also of a huge waste of life. The hunger strikes turned out to be a pivotal event in finally ending the war and bringing peace to Ireland. They also represent ofcourse the loss of 10 young lives among the 3000 plus over 40 years.

“I am standing on the threshold of another trembling world. May God have mercy on my soul" - Bobby Sands, 1/3/1981 - the start of the hunger strike

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Response to Brexit shows Capital once again never slow to take advantage of a crisis

Guardian writer Larry Elliott is right when he highlights how the world has not stopped turning since the Brexit vote. However, this has not stopped certain businesses seeking to use the perceived crisis for commercial advantage.
Take the banks, who threaten to leave the country -it's funny because they never do actually leave. Instead, they stay and screw out some more benefits from government, with the tax payer footing the bill.
We have already see the subsidies start to f...low-with cheap money via quantative easing and funding for lending schemes. The banks once again given a free hand to screw savers.
Others also seek to use Brexit for commercial gain, like developers commiitted to projects who then try to cut the affordable housing element because they just can't afford it in the new world.
It 's time to wise up to the way that certain unscrupulous businesses -having helped fuel a belief in the Brexit crisis -are now seeking to profit from the results

Friday, 19 August 2016

End this internal party feuding

The call in the Ilford Recorder’s leader for effective opposition to the government from the Labour Party is long overdue.
The behaviour of the 176 Labour MPs in launching a coup against the leader, virtually as the result of the EU referendum was being announced, was reckless and irresponsible. It has done a huge amount of damage to the Party in sending out the message to the public that they are not fit to govern.

Since then there has been the leadership election, which Jeremy Corbyn looks set to win. However, many of the 176 – including I imagine Wes Streeting and Mike Gapes – have made it clear that they will not accept a second mandate from the membership for Mr Corbyn. This is a very strange take on democracy, namely we will only abide by the result of an election if the outcome is the one that we want – it smacks rather more of the fake exercises engineered by dictators to legitamise their own rule.

If Mr Corbyn wins, there can be little doubt that both Gapes and Streeting should consider their positions. Both have openly called for Corbyn to stand down, with Gapes using the pages of the Recorder to openly praise the Prime Minister whilst describing “another poor display by Jeremy Corbyn.”

Following the result of the leadership election, the Labour Party has to come together and get behind the leader. Then an effective opposition can at last be mounted. Those who seek to continue internal feuding in the Labour Party may be deselected by their local parties, if not they will undoubtedly be turfed out by the electorate come the next general election. What is for sure is that the present shambles cannot go on.

published Ilford Recorder - 18/8/2016

Monday, 8 August 2016

Secured Energy Bond investors were expecting their £7.5 million investment back at the end of this year - instead they have faced two years of getting the run around from regulators, with little sign so far of getting their money back

Secured Energy Bond investors must be wondering whether there will be any resolution of their problems in time for what was due to be the maturity of the bonds at the end of the year.

Lest we forget, SEB were launched in 2013, paying 6.5% over a three year period. The first three payments were made on the quarters, then the alarm bells began to ring in January 2015, when the company defaulted on the interest payment.

Since then, it has been an uphill struggle, with the investor’s campaign group seeking to get the money back for those who originally invested in good faith.

The £7.5 million pledged by investors was to finance the fitting of solar panels on 22 schools across the country. All would have been fine, had the parent company CBD Energy not siphoned off the funds provided for other purposes in Australia, in total contravention to the stated purpose of the bond.

Ever since SEB was put into administration, investors have been struggling to get justice.

Appointed administrators, Grant Thornton have tracked down six schools that had the panels fitted. They continue with efforts to recover proceeds but it is a slow process.

Meanwhile, investors seem to have been passed around the regulatory framework, from the Financial Conduct Authority to the Financial Ombudsman and back.

A number of MPs have become involved, raising investors concerns with the authorities.

Last autumn, it looked as though the FOS could look favourably on investor’s case against the Independent Portfolio Managers (who approved the financial promotion of the mini-bond and acted as Corporate Director and Security Trustee) but then then the process slowed. 

The appointment of a new FOS adjudicator saw an about turn on the first adjudicator’s decision, declaring that they did not think the FOS could look at the issue. Investors then brought in lawyers to contest the views of the FOS.

Since then there have been delays, with the latest communication from the FOS on 28 July explaining that more time was needed by the appointed ombudsman to consider the situation and determine whether SEB investors are “eligible to complain”. There will be more in September.

So what is going on, when can investors expect to see their money back? At the moment it just seems to be delay after delay – the more cynical might wonder whether the whole run around that investors have been given since the company went into administration last year has not been about exhausting their efforts in the hope that they will just go away.

This is not going to happen. At the end of this year investors should have been receiving their final interest payment and capital back. A number of investors are really struggling, as they put a large amount of their savings into what at the time looked like a bona fide investment. They expected the interest and capital back by the end of 2016.

The way this issue has been dealt with thus far by the regulators is far from satisfactory. They appear to have moved from acknowledging that a wrong has been committed to trying to find a way out of helping in any meaningful way those severely affected by what has happened.

It seems savers are to continue to be punished and made to pay for the fall out of the financial crisis of a decade ago. The SEB case raises important questions. There are likely to be more SEBs in future – in this low interest environment, savers are being pushed toward more risky investments and other mini-bonds continue to be promoted with the same so called “protections” that the SEB mini-bond came with which all seem to have amounted to nothing for investors thus far. The denial of any sort of responsibility from the regulators thus far does not engender much confidence.  

Friday, 5 August 2016

West Ham begin new stadium adventure with emphatic win over NK Domzale

West Ham United opened their new stadium with an emphatic 3-0 win over the Slovenian side NK Domzale.
The home side entered the game in arrears from the away tie last week but quickly got the goal back as Cheikhou Kouyate flicked home in the seventh minute.

The big Senegalese midfielder then added to his tally before half time, side footing in an Andy Carroll head down from a Michail Antonio cross.

West Ham missed a number of chances, prior to new signing Sofiane Feghouli putting the tie beyond doubt when he broke free, having collected an exquisite cross field ball from skipper Mark Noble, to lash home.

Indicative of the flow of traffic was the fact that the visitors did not really test Hammer s keeper Darren Randolph all night.

Hammers manager Slaven Bilic was happy with the result, though determined not to “go over the moon” due to the standard of the opponents.

The manager seemed more concerned about the testing programme of five games that his team now face before the international break at the start of September.

West Ham face another two leg Europa League tie, if they are to make it into the group stages. These games will be sandwiched between three Premiership league games – two of which are away to Chelsea and Manchester City.

“We have five games before the international break, this squad is not enough for five games,” said Bilic, who indicated the club will be looking to get at least two more players in, maybe more.

On the up side more games, means more players getting a game, so they will be happier, said the manager, who confirmed that though the club want to go far in the Europa League, the Premier League always takes priority.  

The star of the show on the evening though was the stadium, which the fans seem to take to like the proverbial duck to water. Many arriving early packed the bars in nearby Westfield, providing choruses  of “I’m forever blowing bubbles” for bemused onlookers. Further renditions of the song rang around the vast new stadium, as the 53,914 fans made their presence felt with regular further chants such as of “if you love West Ham stand up” – bringing waves of fans to their feet.  

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Challenge for Stratford, four years after the London Olympics is to become truly interactive communal centre, not just an atomised moonscape

Standing in the centre of the concourse on the way the Olympic stadium is a good place to view the developing site that is Stratford city.

Four years on from the Olympic games there is much talk of legacy but what seems to have developed is a sky line of ultra-modern buildings - many of them towering onto the east London skyline, giving another worldly look and feel.

To be fair there has always been a strong element of other worldliness about the Stratford development, ever since its inception back in 2007 when London won the Olympic  bid.

Old Stratford centred around the shopping mall with its market running through the centre, the adjacent cinema and Theatre Royal – once home to Joan Littlewood, with that groundbreaking theatre workshop of the 1960s and 70s.

Then came the Olympics, which also brought the Westfield Shopping centre, on the other side to old Stratford but dumped down like an alien being on the east London landscape. Then gradually the constituent parts of the Olympic dream began to arrive. The stadium, which now becomes the home of West Ham United. The aquatic centre, which does a brisk trade providing swimming facilities to east London.

The old Olympic village has been converted into housing, with much more developing round about. The election of Labour mayor Sadiq Khan has forced developers to look to bring in more affordable housing – with his stipulation about developments having a 50% affordable housing constituent.

The way, in which the designers of the park landscaped the area using the waterways and flora and fauna, give the area a great natural feel – an offset to the moonscape stretching off into the distance.

So there is much to be admired about the Olympic site, it is an exciting vital place to be. It remains a functional living centre of community, not a moribund monument to a few weeks of sport in 2012.

The development of this site though says much about modern life - atomised and separate. Many people working in the area are on low wages, struggling to get by. Many working in the area will never be able to afford the prices of most of the property round about. Aliens in the city where they work.

The mayor’s affordable housing pledge is a good start toward a more integrated housing environment but there needs to be more. A proper living wage paid to everyone working in the area would further help iron out the inequalities of wealth.

Developments that encourage interconnections between the people living and working in the area. It is no good building what is virtually a new city if the overriding feeling is of passing through, whether that be in a living or working context.

Old Stratford had deep roots reaching back through the centuries – those antecedents were well illustrated in Danny Boyle’s excellent opening ceremony for the games four years ago. Many of those old roots still remain but there is also a need for the new developments to put down these roots. Those roots should spring from a cohesive close knit community, where people talk to each other and don’t just gaze into mobile phones, lap tops and other online applications.

The real challenge for Stratford moving forward is to create a living city in every aspect of that word. A just and equitable place that brings some of the designs and devices of the modern world but marries them to those deep roots going back. What it must come to reflect is true inter-activity and cohesiveness at every level of the community – not simply a moonscape occupied by atomised beings.

* "Will Olympic developers respect area's roots" - published Morning Star - 9/8/2016 

Imaginative housing plan but utilisation of open space for community use needs to be a priority

Redbridge Council do seem to have come up with an imaginative plan to meet the rising housing demand in the borough.
The projections suggest there will be another 60,000 people living in Redbridge come 2030.

The plan focuses most of the development on Ilford (6,000 units) and around the cross rail corridor (4,700). The plan, in the main, avoids building in the green areas around the borough.

There has been concerns expressed over the proposed building on the Oakfields playing fields site. The concreting over of such areas must ofcourse be regretted and avoided where possible.

However, the Oakfields example does open up the question of how land is best utilised in the borough. I think of the area alongside the River Roding, where as part of the cycle path development new allotments are due to be created near the old sports ground. But on the other side of the cycle track what is going on with the old sports ground itself – not a lot it would seem. The site is deserted, the goalposts remain in the ground as the surrounding grasslands grow ever higher. Surely this is a site that could be better utilised for the common good. It could be brought back into public use as playing fields or if that demand does not exist maybe turned into allotments. It is vital that we use our green spaces wherever they are for the good of all.

- published Ilford Recorder - 4/8/2016 

Monday, 1 August 2016

Jeremy Corbyn's tenure as party leader marks the turning back of the neo-liberal tide that has been coming in for 40 years

The political agenda has been drifting steadily rightward for the best part of the last 40 years, ever since Margaret Thatcher came to power championing the neo-liberal creed.

During that time there have been a succession of governments both Labour and Conservative, which have continued the rightward movement of that agenda.

The Labour governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown did give social justice more of a priority, bringing in measures like the minimum wage and trade union organising legislation but these were only really token bits falling from the neo-liberal table rather than the fundamental programme of change needed.

Indeed, the most radical moves from those Labour governments came following the 2008 crash, when the wheels fell off the neo-liberal bandwagon, resulting in measures like taking several of the banks into public ownership. However, rather than look to change the neo-liberal system entirely, governments worldwide simply sort to put the wheels back on – making those who had nothing to do with causing the crash pay the price via austerity measures aimed at destroying public services.

The bankers who caused the crisis were never seriously effected as they continued with business as usual, operating in a largely insulated bubble of immunity.

The corporations saw the opportunity to make profit out of the crisis. Not only did they manage to nationalise the losses caused, whilst privatising the profits but they also saw the possibility to widen their remit into other areas in the public sector that had previously been sealed off.

So as Polly Jones, head of campaigns and policy at Global Justice Now, recently highlighted the corporations argued that in order to get the growth needed to boost the world economy, they should be allowed into previously restricted areas.

This has seen trade agreements being negotiated that allow private companies virtually limitless power to intervene in the public square. The most recent form of this has been the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which is being pushed through at the moment. If made law it would enable companies to sue governments if anything they did infringed the corporations ability to make profit.

In a case being taken under a similar type of agreement that is already in force, a private company has taken the Egyptian government to court for its action in raising the level of the minimum wage. The company claims this has restricted its profits.

There have been concerns voiced here about what would happen to the NHS were TTIPS to come into force.

Fortunately, there has been growing international opposition to the implementation of TTIPs in its most parasitic form. The Corbyn led Labour Party recently announced that it would veto TTIPs as it stands. Previously, Labour had been supportive of TTIPS.

The government are broadly supportive of TTIPS, enshrining as it does private sector involvement in the public sector.

The new Labour Party stance on TTIPS is just one example of the party taking a radically different line to the government. The party under Corbyn’s leadership have started mapping out a whole raft of policies across government that when enacted will mark the beginning of the turning of the neo-liberal tide that has been coming in for the past 40 years.

It would not be over exaggerating to say the election of Corbyn as leader marked the moment when the Labour movement really began pushing the other way for the reversal of much of the damage that has been done by neo-liberalism over recent times.

What Labour under Corbyn has begun here has found resonance in other countries, such as with Podemos in Spain and Bernie Sanders campaign in the US.

There is though still much to do. Policy positions have not advanced very far in the UK, in no small part, due to the ongoing efforts of a number of Labour MPs to undermine Corbyn ever since he became leader. Many of these individuals seem totally wedded to the neo-liberal dogma that has seen so much of the wealth accrue to a very small number of people. Meanwhile, the mass of people have continued to struggle along on stagnating incomes, whilst public services have been stripped away in the name of austerity.

The time for change is now at hand. Tony Benn said that there was a major shift in the political configuration every 40 years, pointing to the Attlee government of 1945 and the reforming Liberal government of four decades earlier.  It is a sobering thought that the policies on offer across the mainstream parties today are all well to the right of those operated by the Wilson government’s of the 1960s and 70s. This fact underlines just how far to the right the whole agenda has moved over the past 40 years.

Corbyn marks the start of the fightback. His opponents in the PLP seem in the main to favour the continuation of the neo-liberal project, happy to post up the odd crumb of gain from the rich man’s table. What is needed is fundamental change across the board to bring policies that serve the many not the few. If Labour MPs were  prepared to honour the democratic mandate that put them into Parliament in the first place and support the leader in his efforts to roll back the neo-liberal agenda, then the electorate would surely respond come the next election.

Brexit was a cry of anguish from the mass of people against the neo-liberal agenda that has brought the unacceptable situation whereby more than 100 billionaires live comfortably , while a million plus people go to food banks. The Brexit vote was directed at those elites which continue to plunder the wealth created by the mass of people.  It is high time that the politicians across the spectrum began to listen to what the people are saying - which is enough.

The defeat of Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party would put out one of the very few lights in the present neo-liberal darkness. Corbyn has begun the process that could lead to the rolling back of the present unjust manner of conducting the economic and political system. Re-electing him as leader provides a mandate for the continuation of this process, which will lead to a more socially just and safer society for all.

*published Morning Star - 15/7/2016