Saturday, 9 December 2017

Chelsea boss Antonio Conte concedes title, as West Ham secure first win under David Moyes

West Ham 1-0 Chelsea

An action packed derby game at the London Stadium ended with new West Ham boss David Moyes securing his first victory, whilst Chelsea manager, Antonio Conte, conceded the Premier League after their fourth defeat in 16 games.

A happy Moyes explained how his side had taken confidence from their spirited perfornance against Manchester City last Sunday, which saw the Hammers lose out narrowly to the league leaders.

“We had a good plan and organisation,“ said Moyes, who once again deployed Marko Arnautovic and Michel Antonio in free running roles up front to stretch the Chelsea rearguard. A similar tactic had been deployed against City.

“We tried to fill the middle of the pitch with power and pace,” said Moyes, who though pleased with the rising energy levels of the players, said that he would like to see Arnautovic and Antonio play 90 minutes, not having to come after after 75 minutes as in this game.

The West Ham manager proved once again that he is not afraid to ring the changes, with Adrian retaining his place at the expense of England’s Joe Hart, after an impressive game against City. Others missing out on the start were the clubs four main strikers Andy Carroll, Andre Ayew, Chicarito and Diafra Sakho, all of whom started on the bench. Sakho did get on for the last 20 minutes.

The home side began as they meant to go on, not allowing Chelsea any space. The approach yielded early dividends, when, in the fifth minute, the impressive Arnautovic exchanged passes with Manuel Lanzini in  the penalty area, before calmly slotting home.

Chelsea then piled on the pressure with Eden Hazard seeing one shot go just wide, while Adrian turned another round the post.

Five minutes into the second half, Arnautovic was sent clear away by Antonio but Thibaut Courtois came out to block the resulting shot.

Fans wondered at this point whether West Ham would live to regret that miss, as Chelsea began to camp in the home team’s half.

The Hammers though held on, with Hazard and Alvaro Morata missing good chances for the visitors.

Moyes was again full of praise for the home fans for the way they got behind the team. “The fans have been fantastic since I came, it’s a great atmosphere,” said Moyes, whose never say die attitude runs throughout his players and staff. On one occasion, as the game reached  a climax, Stuart Pearce got involved, angrily kicking the ball away after a Chelsea player had tried to feign injury. The old West Ham favourite received loud applause as he returned to his seat - urging the crowd on.

Conte declared his desire to stay in the battle for the title but conceded that four losses, with two against sides at the bottom of the table really was not good enough. “You can lose once or twice,” said Conti. “I said it would be very very tough and that is proving true.”

published - "David's West Ham slays Goliath as Conte concedes title," - Morning Star, 11/12/2017 

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Uber have an annus horribilis, as brand takes a bashing

Exploitation of workers, failing to abide by regulations in London, cover up of a major data breach and sexual harassment claims are just some of the features of the past year for beleaguered care hire company Uber

In the UK, the future of the car hire company has come under threat, as TFL refused to renew its license to operate in the capital. Uber were accused of a number of irregularities, including its approach to reporting serious criminal offences, its approach to how medical certificates are obtained and use of blocking software, stopping regulatory authorities getting full access to the app.

The company has begun an appeal in the courts.

Other towns are looking closely at what is happening in London and the operation of the company, with Brighton and Cambridge among those reviewing operations.

The company has also been seeking to defend its position as a main player in the gig economy. This has involved claiming that its drivers are self-employed, so not entitled to things like holidays and sick pay.

A tribunal ruled in favour of two drivers supported by the GMB, who claimed that they were effectively employees of the company. The company appealed the key tribunal ruling on worker’s rights but lost again in November at the high court. It is now looking to take its case Supreme Court.

There was more damaging news from the US, where Uber there have been revelations of a data breach and sexual harassment claims.

Uber admitted that it had failed to disclose a cyber-attack that exposed the data of some 57 million drivers and passengers. The breach affected 2.7 million individuals in the UK. The company then paid the hackers £75,000 not to release the stolen data.

The UK Information Commissioner’s Office said that Uber’s admission over the hack “raises huge concerns around its data protection policies and ethics.”

Also in the US, former Uber engineer, Susan Fowler alleged in a blog that she was sexually harassed at and experienced gender bias during her time at the company. She claimed that one manager propositioned her and asked for sex, but her complaints to HR were dismissed because the manager was a high performer. She said Uber continued to ignore her complaints to HR, and then her manager threatened to fire her for reporting things to HR

The New York Times then published further details of other abuses involving sexual harassment and drug use.

The company hired Eric Holder, former US attorney general, to lead an independent investigation, which saw more revelations and eventually 20 staff were fired.

In June, CEO and company founder Travis Kalanick stood down.

Further problems saw the Google self-driving-car group, now known as Waymo, accuse Uber of using stolen technology to advance its own autonomous-car development. The law suit, filed in the US District Court in San Francisco, claimed that a team of ex-Google engineers stole the company's design for the lidar laser sensor that allows self-driving cars to map the environment around them.

So it has truly been an “Annus Horribilis” for the car hire company, with its global reputation in the taters. The new management will certainly have their work cut out, not least the way it treats its workers, if next year doesn’t prove to be worse than this year.  

Published by Unionline

Thursday, 30 November 2017

Wanstead Park needs a cash injection and some tender loving care

The scene in Wanstead Park at this time of year offers a panorama of colours, with the yellows and coppers blending against the greens and reds, amid a constantly changing natural scene.

It is a breath taking experience, for those of us lucky enough to be observing the different seasons of change throughout the year. The park is a real gift to people living in this area – a green lung as it were.

However, it has been alarming over recent years to see a deterioration in the state of the park. The most visible sign of the decline has been the emptying of water from the lakes.

The park has a unique water system, with the five lakes effectively regulating water flows between them.

Well that is how it worked for hundreds of years but recently the system has broken down. I am not sure if there is any flow from Shoulder of Mutton to Heronry. The Heronry lake dried out earlier in the year, it having been supplied over recent years by a nearby pumping system that saw water coming from a bore hole. The pump was broken, so the flow stopped. Thankfully, this has now been fixed, so the Heronry has refilled.

The Perch pond had a pennywort infestation, which the City of London Corporation brought in contractors to treat. Whilst this was happening the water supply from Perch to Ornamental was cut off. The result is that the magnificent Ornamental lake has been drying out for the past couple of years. Thankfully, the flow from Perch to Ornamental has now been restored, with the latter lake slowly refilling.

These sticking plaster solutions though have taken far too long to be enacted. The park was classified as at risk on the English Heritage register back in 2009, on the basis of the faulty waterways. What is required is for the centuries old system of water flows to be fixed, with maybe some extra reserves from bore holes and the Roding brought into the scenario as well.

The work that needs doing is premised on attaining a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Over recent years the City of London Corporation has postponed even applying for this money, having presented it as a panacea for resolution of all the parks problems. Things though do seem to be slowly moving ahead but we need some urgency to resolve the issues of our beautiful park.

The Friends of Wanstead Park have been trying to move things along, their efforts together with Leyton and Wanstead Mp John Cryer saw a Save Wanstead Park summit held recently in Parliament. It was aimed at bringing all the stakeholders in the park together to agree a plan of action to save the park. There seems to have been some positive movement in a number of areas but we wait to see things really begin to transform in the park.

What is for sure is that the custodians of the park, the City of London Corporation could do better. One has only to visit other parks in the area, such as Valentines and Victoria, not to mention the recently opened Walthamstow Wetlands  to see what can be achieved with a bit of money and will power.

Wanstead Park does not need huge change, it is the wilderness nature of the park that makes it so attractive to so many. What it does need is a bit of Tender Loving Care, a recognition of what a wonderful natural resource we have in the park, something that the present generation has a responsibility to preserve to hand onto future generations.

published - Wanstead and Woodford Guardian - 30/11/2017
Ilford Recorder - 7/12/2017

Monday, 27 November 2017

It's the magic of players like Payet, Di Canio and Brooking the fans want to see, not a record of how many miles players have run in a match

Many west ham fans must still have memories of Dimitri Payet and that final season at Upton Park. Much of the football played in that final season was brilliant, in the true spirit of West Ham -and the Frenchman was at the centre of most of it.
The drag backs, step overs and pull downs of the ball. The brilliant free kicks. The sense of anticipation as the ball looped over to Payet, what would he do with it next? It was the sort of exhileration that fans were happy to pay their money to see - the exciting, the unusual.
Payet ofcourse fell from grace and left the club, things have never been the same since.
We now have work rate continually discussed, have the players run far enough, are they fit enough. The result is all that matters, we must "grind out" some results is the regular cry. Avoid the drop, sack the manager. Hang on a minute is this not an entertainments business?
All a far cry from that final Upton Park season. Payet didn't tackle back but nor did Paulo di Canio or Trevor Brooking  in their time. These players were the artists of football, not the journeymen putting in the miles. Players who lifted the game to a new level of entertainment beyond the attritional business of so much we see today. Players that the fans loved to see and be thrilled by week in week out - it's what makes the beautiful game beautiful.

Saturday, 25 November 2017

Fans recreate Upton Park atmosphere, as David Moyes secures first point as West Ham manager

West Ham 1-1 Leicester

New West Ham boss David Moyes likened the atmosphere in the London stadium to that of the old ground at Upton Park as the fans really got behind his beleaguered team.

A chorus of the club's anthem “I’m for ever blowing bubbles” lifted the stadium in the second half, as the fans tried to roar their team to victory.

Moyes had previously called for everyone at the club to unite and get behind the team. On the pitch, the new manager was impressed with the resolution shown by the players but believes there is a long way to go before things really come right for West Ham United.

The manager thought his team unlucky to go behind early on and was pleased they did not then capitulate. “The second half was much more like us. For 10 minutes the crowd were right behind us,” said Moyes.”We got a reaction from the players but we are still going to have to do loads and loads of work.”

“The passing and play should be better. I think the players worked hard tonight and deserved the applause,” said Moyes.

After early signs of promise, West Ham fell behind in the eighth minute as Jamie Vardy got away down the left to cross for Marc Albrighton to turn home.

There was much effort from both sides in this game, without a lot of end product. The next best chance fell to Vardy in the 42nd minute as he turned onto his right just pulling the shot wide of Joe Hart and the far post.

Three minutes later, West Ham were level, as Cheikhou Kouyate saw his header from  an Manuel Lanzini’s corner deflected into the net.

The home side pressed hard in the second half, looking unlucky not to get a penalty in the 77th minute, when Andre Ayew went down under challenge from Harry Maguire.

The final effort came in injury time, with an Ayew overhead kick going just over.

- published - morning star - 26/11/2017

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Catholic Associaton for Racial Justice loses agency status at the Bishops Conference

The Bishops Conference of England and Wales (BCEW) has confirmed that the Catholic Association for Racial Justice has been stripped of its (will no longer be an) status as a Church agency.

Founded in 1984, CARJ became an agency of the BCEW in 2002. A bishop always sat as president on the board of CARJ, with Migration Bishop Pat Lynch being the last such individual to occupy that role.

The organisation has been largely funded by the proceeds of a collections taken up on the national Racial Justice Sunday (second Sunday of September) each year. The collection began in 1995 and has been taken up every year since.

A statement from the BCEW confirmed that “CARJ is no longer an agency of the Bishops Conference.”

On the subject of Racial Justice Sunday, the BCEW confirmed that Racial Justice Sunday will continue, with a voluntary collection. “As agreed with the board (of CARJ), next year CARJ will receive some of the money from this collection,”said the BCEW spokesperson.

The BCEW were non-committal as to whether the removal of CARJ from agency status amounted to a downgrading of racial justice as a priority, suggesting instead that the focus had shifted to the area of human trafficking.

"The bishops' contemporary racial justice work focuses on migrants, refugees and asylum seekers as well as those who are victims of human trafficking. Recently this has been expedited through the office of migration policy, diocesan initiatives to support refugees and the Santa Marta Group on human trafficking,” said the BCEW. "Supporting and integrating migrants, refugees, asylum seekers and victims of human trafficking is an integral part of the Church's witness in England and Wales. It is the importance of this witness that has led to the bishops focussing this work within the Bishops' Conference.”

Others though are concerned that the downgrade of CARJ does indicate that racial justice per se is being relegated in the Church lexicon. “Hate crime, racism against Muslims and on grounds of Jewish ethnicity, not to mention against other ethnic communities at the heart of our religious community are right now on the rise,” said Francis Davis, Professor of Social Justice at St Marys University, Twickenham. “If the bishops timing is not to be misread as a lack of care we need to know what plans they have to convincingly address these issues as core business.”

At the recent CARJ AGM, a motion was passed stating: “Regretfully, we accept that Bishops’ decision that CARJ will no longer be an Agency of the Bishops’ Conference. However, we commit ourselves to engage with diocesan bishops and to develop a positive partnership for the future.”

Yogi Sutton, chair of CARJ, said:”We in CARJ accept that the Bishops Conference wish to give priority to the issue of ‘migrants, refugees and trafficking.  

“CARJ has a wider mission which involves us working with a variety of partners (religious and secular) and supporting a variety of vulnerable groups.  The recent Race Disparities Audit has confirmed the complex and diverse network of inequalities that currently exist in UK society and the need for those working for racial justice to address this complexity .

“We believe that the Bishops’ more focussed mission and CARJ’s broader mission require a degree of independence.  However, both are important, and the two are complementary and should be mutually supportive.  We hope in the future to work alongside the Bishops Conference in a mutually supportive, complementary and independent partnership.”

CARJ works in dioceses and parishes to support people from diverse backgrounds. CARJ aims to empower black and minority ethnic Catholics to give them an effective voice in the Church and in the wider society.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Polluting ourselves to death

A recent report from the World Health Organisation  declared that millions of people in the UK were  inhaling air that is too dangerous to breath.

The study found that 44 out of 51 towns and cities failed its test for fine sooty particles smaller than 2.5 microns across.

The particles, known as PM2.5s, have been linked to causing heart disease and premature death and they should not exceed 10.5 micrograms per cubic metre of air.

Among those places with excessive levels were London registering a level of 15 micrograms. Glasgow and Scunthorpe topped the chart with levels of 16. Birmingham recorded 14 and Manchester 13. Edinburgh and Inversness were among the cleaner places, with levels of 8 and 6 micrograms respectively.

The lack of concern among so many people regarding pollution is amazing. There is now a pollution epidemic, whereby we are effectively poisoning ourselves and our children in order to live environmentally destructive lifestyles
The effects on our health are frightening, with higher levels of asthma in children due to pollution. Children also  fail to develop full lung capacity, which leads to problems in later life, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

It is estimated that pollution causes 40,000 premature deaths in the UK each year, some 9000 in London.

In the Wanstead area, residents around Woodbine Place have complained about the pollution being caused by the buses sitting with their engines running. There have been high levels of pollution recorded around major roads, often near to our schools.

There is a growing awareness of the problem but also confused thinking regarding solutions. People don’t want to breath polluted air yet also don’t want restrictions imposed on their use of cars, planes and other polluting technologies. We really cannot have it both ways. Polluting technologies have to be restricted and in the case of things like the diesel vehicles totally eliminated over time.

The London Mayor Sadiq Khan has shown the way, putting cutting pollution high on his list of priorities. The first measure has seen a toxic charge of £10 imposed in the central London congestion area for polluting vehicles. This mainly relates to petrol and diesel vehicles registered  before 2006. The plan is then to extend the range for the charge out across the majority of London.

It is a start but much more needs to be done.

Other countries have taken much more radical action to cut pollution. In Paris, there are odd-even bans on vehicles, with public transport made free at times of high pollution levels. Car and bicycle sharing schemes are encouraged.

In Copenhagen,  cycles are prioritised over cars, so there are now  more cycles than people. It has been estimated that one mile on a bike benefits society by 27p whilst a mile in a car costs 15p.

In Zurich, the number of parking spaces has been capped, with only a certain number of cars allowed into the city at any one time.

So there are many things that can be done, if the will is there. Central and local  Government actions in terms of regulations will help to cut pollution but people also need to take action individually to live less polluting lives. Drive a little less, use public transport more and reduce those flights. A collective push by everyone can see the scourge of pollution defeated but only if there is a common will to achieve that goal. 

 Former US president John F Kennedy summed up the situation well, when he said: “In the final analysis our most basic common  link is that we inhabit this planet. We breath the same air. We cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”

published in the Universe - 17/11/2017

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

150 years of Building Ilford exhibition

The excellent 150 years of Building Ilford exhibition at the Redbridge museum shows how the town has developed from virtual village status in the mid 19th century.

The pictures and videos take the visitor through different periods, revealing how Ilford developed along a steady line, with sudden upheavals seeing big changes in the basic choreography of the town.

The early 1900s saw the bridge down the hill from the Broadway, over the River Roding flowing on to the Thames further along. Few, today, would realise that Ilford used to be a place where boats docked and unloaded cargo.
Then there was the old clock tower at the top of the hill at the Broadway cross roads.
One scene shows an aerial shot of the high street in 1937, busy with people and early motor cars. A place for the well healed, as well as the workers, keeping things ticking.

The old distinctive Hippodrome building, standing opposite the railway station, was destroyed in the war, eventually be replaced in later years by a series of shops including  C&A in the 1960s.
Noticeable in the depictions from the first half of the 20th century are the trams and tracks running along the high street and other avenues around the centre of town. What a retrograde step it was when all these tramways were torn up by the car dominated culture of the post war world – a sign that not all change is for the better. Maybe, one day the they will return, with tramways once again running from Ilford right into the centre of London.

The 1960s were another time of major recasting of Ilford, with the distinctive brash building of that era coming to dominate the skyline. Big shops like Harrison Gibson stand out.

The next big changes came in the 1980s, with the new bypass around the centre of town, some pedestrianisation. Some old buildings were removed but one positive development saw the building of the central library in 1984. The Exchange also arrived creating a new hub for the town amid that pedestrian precinct.

Now today, the town seems to have entered another period of recasting, with the coming of Crossrail, likely to further change the nature of the town. More housing is coming to the area, with Sainsburys due to redevelop its present site, building hundreds of flats on top of a new supermarket. Other developments are underway or in the pipleine .

The exhibition is fascinating for its depiction of how humankind is constantly changing and shaping the built environment. Sometimes for good, sometimes for ill - with the often subjective judgment residing in the eye of the beholder. The people, though, are but players on the stage, there for a short while, before moving on . The transitory nature of the built and human environment is well illustrated in this excellent exhibition – well worth a visit.
*The 150 years of Building Ilford exhibition runs until June 2018 at the Redbridge Museum, Central Library Ilford    

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

David Moyes has the chance to revive his own and West Ham's fortunes

The owners of West Ham United have finally sacked manager Slaven Bilic, replacing him with David Moyes.

So the show goes on at the London Stadium, only with a new ring master in charge. Moyes though has bridges to build from the start, with fans already gathering petitions protesting against the appointment of the former Sunderland, Real Sociedad, Manchester United and Everton manager. The protesting fans are most concerned about Moyes recent CV that has been something less than impressive. He took Sunderland down last season, failed in Spain and at Manchester United - though in the latter case, he was not given a lot of time or the resources that his successors received to do the job.

At West Ham, if he can start well and get the fans behind him, Moyes maybe able to get back more to the halcyon days of his career at Everton – the fans will certainly be hoping that is the case.

The demise of Bilic has been a sad thing to witness. The former West Ham player came in on a high for the final season at the Boleyn ground. His tenure began well with victories at Arsenal and Liverpool. Dimitri Payet thrilled the fans, with his breath taking skills. The great football continued almost to the end of the season. A better last week could have seen West Ham finish fourth. In the event, they came 7th.

Already though some of the cracks were beginning to appear, with some silly points given away with na├»ve mistakes, particularly in defence. The second season started badly at the club’s new London Stadium home.

Recruitment was bad over the summer, with the players brought in on the whole not being up to the mark. This was emphasised further in the January transfer window when the club paid over the odds for Robert Snodgrass (£10m) from Hull and Jose Fonte (£8m) from Southampton.

It took time to iron out the problems at the new stadium, though this was done in time but whatever anyone says the London Stadium will never be the Boleyn ground. Bilic managed to pull things around on the pitch with the team finishing a credible 11th.

There was though all the time the rumours of boardroom unhappiness with the manager. Other managers were being touted to replace Bilic, who was not offered an extension on his three years contract.

The West Ham high command have a very strange way of working with their managers, which seems to involve a lack of direct contact but communication by social media. Whether intended or not it creates a feeling of undermining all of the time, rather than everyone pulling together against the perceived outside enemy – namely, the other football clubs in the Premier League.

The signings made last summer looked good - Javier Hernandez (£16m), Marko Arnautovic (£24m), Pablo Zabaleta and Joe Hart. However, the new signings have not gelled. Hernandez has been played all over the place, often visibly showing his displeasure with team mates and the management. Arnautovic upset Bilic early on when he was sent off in the Southampton game putting the team in a difficult position. He never really got the manager’s confidence back after that and has been a substitute in recent games. Zabaleta  has probably been the pick of the signings, though even he has given away a number of needless penalties. Hart just looks permanently frustrated at what is going on in front of him. West Ham is certainly not a happy ship.

Moyes will need to sort things out from the start. If he does the players are certainly there to get a top eight finish but there are clearly some dressing room issues that need resolution.

Most will be sad to see Bilic go, he’s an honest man, who never hid when things were going wrong. He has been let down big time by the players. Hopefully, he will go on to better things elsewhere.

The owners of West Ham have given the manager longer than many would in the crazy world of football these days but no doubt saw the need to act as the team seemed to be drifting toward the relegation trap door. The boardroom though need to take a look at itself, cut out the social media activity in favour of the old fashioned idea of direct one to one communication. They also need to put their money where their mouths are. West Ham’s ambitions have always been high but at the moment they maybe getting 57,000 crowds but the net transfer outlay (£20 million in the summer) is more in line with an aspiring Championship side.

Nor are the club bringing through the young players in the way they used to or other clubs like Spurs continue to do today. This is another source of constant irritation for the fans, who want to see local lads playing for the club.

David Moyes has a golden opportunity to revive his own career and reputation. The players also have the chance to make amends for the way they let down Bilic. Some of the players who were in with Bilic will no doubt not be Moyes favourites, whilst  others on the Croatian’s periphery could come into the fold with the new manager. Opportunities abound.
The owners can also see the club move in the right direction if they back their new manager in all ways, including providing the funds he will need in the January transfer window. West Ham are not in the position Sunderland were last year, they are skirting with relegation, a decent run of results would put them in the top 10 of the Premiership. The money is there, so if Moyes doesn’t make it happen at the London Stadium then there has to be doubt whether he can make it anywhere anymore.

published 8/11/2017 Morning Star - "Moyes and West Ham could be the perfect fit"

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Vultures circle around West Ham manager Slaven Bilic after latest Liverpool defeat

West Ham 1-4 Liverpool

West Ham manager Slaven Bilic looked like the next likely victim of the sack a manager merry go round that appears part and parcel of the Premiership scene.

After this defeat it looks odds on that Bilic will become the next Premiership casualty, joining Frank de Boer (Crystal Palace), Craig Shakespeare (Leicester City) and Ronald Koeman (Everton) on the managerial scrap heap.

The beleaguered manager once again accepted responsibility for this latest lack lustre display from his team. “Ofcourse I believe in myself, my work, my staff and my players. I don’t feel a broken man, I feel very strong,” said Bilic, whilst admitting “the situation for West Ham is not good.”

“We are conceding too many goals. We are working hard, it is nothing to do with effort ,” said Bilic. “Are we playing well , no we are not playing well. I am taking responsibility for the situation and face the consequences.”

The sombre mood suggests  swirling discontent in the background at West Ham betrayed by the references in the club programme to last week’s draw at Crystal Palace drawn as though it were a defeat.

In this game, the home side began brightly matching the visitors for effort and invention. As early as the eighth minute striker Andre Ayew got through but saw his effort hit the side netting.

But once again come the 21st minute the concentration of the West Ham players faltered. A West Ham corner was picked up by the excellent Mohamed Salah, who ran three quarters of the length of the pitch, exchanging passes with Sadio Mane before finishing with aplomb past Joe Hart.

Two minutes later, sloppy defending saw a low driven corner bounce off Mark Noble, forcing Hart into a save which rebounded for Joel Matip to drive home.

West Ham got a goal back through Manuel Lanzini but the differential was quickly restored with Alex Oxlade Chamberlain finishing a move that began from the kick off.

The rout was completed by another Sane-Saleh combination, with the latter once again finishing clinically.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp was full of praise for his players, particularly Sane, who had just returned from injury. “It’s been a fantastic week, the boys wanted to fight back after Tottenham (1-4 defeat),” said Klopp.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Left needs to take ownership of the idea of a Universal Basic Income

The Universal Basic Income (UBI) is an idea that has been picking up support over recent years but it is one over which the Left needs to assert ownership.

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 on 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 neoliberal model, which promptly saw the opposite occur 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 neoliberal model, the underlying motors of development foreseen in the 1970s have continued to grow.

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

So the neoliberal model has led to a very polarised society with “the 1 per cent” at the top, 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 exacerbated in a world where there is a growing population but fewer jobs due to automation.

In the future, many ask where will the money come from to create that demand to keep the wheels of market capitalism turning?

In Britain, the recognition of the crisis in capitalism has seen the tentative efforts to raise the minimum wage to a living level and extend personal tax allowances, taking many people out of tax.

Many questions remain of course. Such as what would be the motivation for people to work if they were receiving UBI?

The level would inevitably be 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, while not providing adequate compensation via payment.

UBI though is gaining support.

The Finnish 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.

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. It is an idea of which that the left needs to take ownership. In that respect, it has been good to see Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell and several unions, including Unite, giving support to the idea Not all though are convinced with Labour MP Jon Cruddas a vehement critic.

 There is though much to be resolved before a Labour government could adopt such an idea, which is why the debate needs to be taking place now.

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Greenham Common peace campaigner Sarah Hipperson to celebrate 90th birthday

Peace campaigner Sarah Hipperson is set to celebrate her 90th birthday.

A stalwart of the Greenham Common protest against the siting of US nuclear weapons on UK  soil, Sarah has continued her struggle for nuclear disarmament across the world.

Most recently Sarah was part of a group of the women who handed over a Commemorative garden to the struggle against nuclear weapons to the people of Newbury.

Sarah had lived a relatively straightforward life up until the momentous day in 1983 when she decided to go down and join the women’s peace camp in Greenham.


A native of Glasgow, she became a nurse and mid-wife in her late teens, delivering babies in the Govern area. She then decided to emigrate to Canada, where she lived for 16 years, nursing, getting married and having five children. She returned to England in the 1970s, settling in the east London suburb of Wanstead.


Life at this time involved being a member of the local justice and peace group at Our Lady of Lourdes Church, as well as sitting on the bench as a Justice of the Peace.


During the early 1980s Sarah became increasingly frustrated with trying to raise awareness of nuclear weapons in Wanstead.


She showed Helen Caldacott’s film “Critical Mass” about the dangers of nuclear weapons. “There would be a numbing effect but it went no further than that,” said Sarah, who became a member of CND in the 1970s and worked with Catholic Peace Action.


Moving to Greenham Common in 1983, proved a liberating experience. The catalogue of events that followed over the next couple of decades, with a series of peaceful actions, court cases and imprisonments, all formed part of the work.


“The work is to achieve complete nuclear disarmament,” said Sarah. “We have all been involved in the crime that presents itself as nuclear deterrent. The bottom line is that we will use weapons that are 80 per cent more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb, in the case of Trident, as part of the defence policy of this country. As a Christian I have never been able to live with that.”


For Sarah, the whole concept of nuclear weapons runs contrary to the word of God. “Nuclear weapons will finish off the planet through which God’s creation finds a way to live out the life given to it,” she said.
Sarah found Greenham Common a highly spiritual place, where she was able to channel her anger by getting involved.


Over the years, Sarah was repeatedly arrested for peaceful direct actions, like blocking vehicles at Greenham Common and cutting fences. She served 22 sentences, the longest being 28 days in Holloway for criminal damage. “I never paid a fine,” said Sarah proudly.


Appearing in court gave the opportunity to openly question the legality of nuclear weapons. There have been successes, such as when the Law Lords declared that the bye-laws that the Ministry Defence had been using to remove women from Greenham Common were invalid. “We had every right to be there, the military had no right to be on the common,” said Sarah. The women also saw the fence around the common declared illegal.


When the missiles were removed from Greenham Common in the early 1990s, Sarah continued her protest against Trident. This involved actions at nearby Aldermaston. 


In a world that seems to get more violent with each passing decade, the struggle for peace goes on. Sarah Hipperson and the women of Greenham played their part in moving that struggle a little further forward.

Sarah will celebrate her 90th birthday at a party with family and friends in Wanstead.

*published Universe - 3/11/2017 Also Ilford Recorder and Wanstead & Woodford Guardian - 2/11/2017

Saturday, 21 October 2017

Brighton pick up three points at the London Stadium as West Ham outfought and outthought

West Ham 0-3 Brighton and Hove Albion
Brighton and Hove Albion's first visit to the London stadium saw them out think and out fight their hosts.
West Ham huffed and puffed for 90 minutes but failed to force a serious save out of Brighton stopper Mathew Ryan.
West Ham manager Slaven Bilic admitted as much, when he conceded his side "dominated, without creating many chances."
It was a worrying result for the West Ham manager, who arguably put out his strongest team, with players returning from injuries. There seemed,though, to be a lack of tactical nous, with Brighton pressing the West Ham rearguard, which looked even more ponderous than usual. At the other end, no one seemed to work out Andy Carroll wasn't on the pitch, as a succession of high balls were hit over for the diminutive Chicarito, then Andre Ayew, to battle forlornly against the big Brighton defenders.
Bilic admitted there had been "a lot of high balls in and it would have been an ideal game for Andy (Carroll)."
The visitors took the led in the ninth minute, after West Ham midfielder Pedro Obiang gave away a needless free kick 25 yards out. Pascal Gross clipped the resulting free kick into the area, where a virtually unchallenged Glenn Murray headed home.
The home side then dominated, with some nice possession, without any end product. Ryan was called on once to collect an Obiang shot into his midriff.
Then on the stroke of half time Jose Izquierdo got away down the left, cut inside, before striking a curling shot that Joe Hart could only palm into the net.
West Ham began the second half with some industry but the game was effectively ended as a contest when Pablo Zabaleta hauled down Murray, who then converted the resulting penalty. 
The third goal was the queue for the home fans to stream for the exits, whilst the delirious  Seagulls fans sung their hearts out.
Brighton manager, Chris Hughton, thought this game was possibly their best 90 minutes of the season.
He agreed the two first half goals lifted confidence, forcing West Ham to open up a bit in the second half.

*published Morning Star - 21/10/2017

Friday, 13 October 2017

Try a little kindness

The image of a man who had been badly beaten up appeared recently on Facebook. The man had suffered an horrific attack near to where he lived. One minute walking down the street, the next battered by a group of thugs.

It will take some time for him to recover. He now drinks through a straw.  The attack was horrendous but the reactions on social media were also alarming.
Revenge was the order of the day, string them up, beat them up – all sorts. It got me thinking what does this do for the victim of this terrible crime.  Individuals working out their own sense of frustration, in some sort of perverse solidarity with the violence suffered by the victim. A sense of helplessness but also an out  pouring of more hate and anger into an already poisonous situation.
As an individual who suffered an attack, nothing like as severe, some years ago, I would question how much such utterances of revenge help anyone – certainly not the victim. A little more sympathy about the mental and physical scars, from my own perspective the former were far more difficult to deal with in the long term than the latter, would help.
The revenge sentiments also feed into the mentality that once someone is caught, convicted and incarcerated, they are out of sight and out of mind. No longer a problem, that is until they come out of prison, likely to cause more damage.
This case was but one example. Whenever something horrendous happens, it is on social media and revenge is the most common sentiment expressed. Social media seems to be a forum where people feel totally uninhibited to share exactly what they think without what shall we say thinking.
The effect of all this hate circulating is having a damaging effect on our society. There seems to be a vengeance theme invading many elements of life, the need to punish at all costs.
On TV, we increasingly see programmes about benefits cheats or whoever being hunted down for their misdemeanours. There seem to be a disproportionate number of TV personalities, often masquerading as journalists, who really just seem to be frustrated cops. They want to hunt down bad guys and bring them to justice.
The violence theme is rammed home in the world of drama as well. The soaps are the scene of some truly bizarre and violent scenes. Recent examples include in Coronation Street, an individual called Pat, keeping another prisoner in a cellar for months, whilst he continues life as normal elsewhere. Then in Eastenders, the character Max emerging from prison to seemingly reek revenge on the whole community.
On the international stage, the President of the United States trades violent rhetoric with the leader of North Korea. The subject of the insults is usually violence, the ability of one or the other to wipe out a country and all the millions of people who live there.
Surely the time has come for a more kind and peaceful world. A society not premised on violence or the threat of violence – a less hate fuelled world.
We could look to a world where the many daily kind acts are recognised and publicised. The recognition of goodwill and kindness that resides in most people. The realisation that walking down the street, not everyone represents a threat. Maybe we just need to put a bit of love out there or in the words of a song from the late Glenn Campbell “try a little kindness to overlook the blindness of narrow minded people on the narrow minded street.”

*Published in the Universe - 13/10/2017


Thursday, 5 October 2017

James Graham's Labour of Love romps through 27 years of history with hilarity and insight

This latest play from political playwright of the moment James Graham plots the career of Labour MP David Lyons, played by Martin Freeman.

The play focuses around the history of the Labour party since 1990, when the Lyons character was first elected. He comes in accompanied by corporate lawyer wife Elizabeth (Rachael Stirling).

The whole play is set in the Nottingham constituency office of the Mp, opening as he is about to lose the previously safe seat, in the June election.  
A ruminating Lyons, pictures himself becoming the Michael Portillo or Ed Balls of the election night, declaring that he’d better polish up his passa doble.
Lyons is a Blairite, whilst his agent/constituency manager Jean Whittaker (Tamsin Greig) is old labour. Typical of the discourse is a scene involving Lyons, Whittaker and political wannabe Margot Midler. Lyons declares himself a social democrat, Whittaker a democratic socialist, with a reference to the SNP. This draws the comment from Midler that she would like to be a National Socialist.

The personal and political relationship between Lyons and Whittaker ebbs and flows throughout the play, representing in a way the constant tension between old and new labour. The need to win versus the need to be true to socialistic principles is a constant tension.

Lyons defeat in the last election marks the end of new Labour and the beginning of the Corbyn ascendancy. This though is only nodded at in terms of the Lyons character conceding that the future is Whittaker. Had Corbyn lost the election badly I would wager the conclusion of the play may have been a little different.

This is a most enjoyable play, brilliantly acted by Freeman and Greig. However, it is probably overlong at three hours and maybe plays too much for laughs.

The use of a screen behind the stage to provide a commentary of the  political events over the years  is a good way to bring a background context to the narrative.

The play could have been more satirically cutting, maybe a more serious piece, less of a sitcom in style. A bit of the political gravitas contained in Steve Water's play Limehouse may have made for a more satisfying outcome.

That said, Labour of Love offers an entertaining romp through Labour’s recent history, highlighting party difficulties through the lens of one constituency office. Another excellent offering from Graham who is becoming the political dramatist of the decade.

*Runs at the Noel Coward theatre until 2 December

*published in Morning Star - 17/10/2017 - "No love lost in this old v new labour slug fest"

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Sad passing of Rodney Bickerstaffe, a man who always had a ready quip, no more so than when he confirmed that Thatcher and Blair were right about his being a bastard

A sad day that sees the passing of former Unisons and NUPE general secretary Rodney Bickerstaffe at the age of 72, A great trade union leader, who led NUPE through the dire years of Thatcherism, he later became President of the National Pensioners Convention, taking over from Jack Jones.
I met Rodney at Bruce Kent's 85th birthday party a few years ago. We spent practically the whole afternoon talking about the Labour Party, trade unions, journalism and Catholics.
Then a couple of years ago Rodney came down to speak at Labour Party fundraiser at the Star of India for Leyton and Wanstead MP John Cryer.
It was then that he confirmed that the assertions of Thatcher and later Tony Blair that he was a bastard were actually factually correct, with the conceiving process having taken part in the local hospital, Whipps Cross, back in 1945- see full story below. It was a great night with Rodney on sparkling form. A great man, who will be much missed. RIP

Friday, 10 April 2015

Rodney Bickerstaffe confirms "bastard" jibe was correct

Former Unison general secretary Rodney Bickerstaff was out on the stump, speaking at an east London fundraiser for Leyton and Wanstead Labour Mp John Cryer. Among the gems revealed was that Rodney had been conceived (not born) at the local Whipps Cross hospital back in 1945. Things though have gone downhill since then for Whipps, which was recently placed under special measures, following a Care Quality Commission report, highlighting bullying of staff. Clearly, there was a more relaxed attitude to matters of life and death back in 1945. Then dwelling on his birthright Rodney confirmed that both Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair had been right in their definition of him as being a bastard.

* see Independent - 10/4/2015

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Harry Kane lauded as "one of the best strikers in the world" as Spurs take all three points at the London Stadium

West Ham 2-3 Tottenham Hotspur

Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino heaped praise on two goal striker Harry Kane, declaring him to be “one of the best strikers in the world.”

“I find it hard to find the words to describe him. I am in love,  like the fans are in love, like his team mates are in love,” said Pochettino. “ He is so humble, He keeps all the values that managers like me appreciate a lot.”

Even West Ham manager Slaven Bilic briefly joined the Kane love in, admitting that his three centre backs Jose Fonte, Angelo Ogbonna and Winston Reid “had really good games and still Kane got two goals. That’s how good he is.”

The West Ham manager though was disappointed at the result. Up until Spurs scored in the 34th minute, he felt his team “took a lot of balls from them” and “had good situations.”

Then after the first goal West Ham lost shape. Bilic praised the fighting spirit of his team, suggesting if they had a bit more time then they might have turned the result totally around.

West Ham did well in the early exchanges with Marko Arnautovic proving a thorn in Tottenham defence, almost getting through at one point, only to be thwarted by a last ditch tackle from Serge Aurier.

It was Kane though who broke the deadlock after half an hour, heading home a cross from Deli Ali after Christian Eriksen had set him free down the right.

Four minutes later the same combination saw Eriksen’s flick release Ali whose low shot was blocked by Joe Hart, with Kane on hand to ram the lose ball into an empty net.

After the break, Eriksen scored from the edge of the area, shortly after Kane’s shot had rebounded off the post.

The home side though fought back with Jose Font nodding a corner onto Chicarito, who headed home.

Aurier was then sent off for a second bookable offence, having hauled down Andy Carroll.  Reduced to 10 men Spurs were then forced to hang on, with Hugo Lloris saving at point blank range from Chicarito.

The game reached boiling point in the 86th minute when substitute Arthur Masuaku’s excellent cross from the left was headed in by an onrushing Cheikhou Kouyate. But it turned out to be too little too late.

*"Kane able to be "one of the world's best strikers" - Morning Star - 25/9/2017