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

Friday, 22 September 2017

Chigwell sisters play direct role in winning justice for Archbishop Oscar Romero and the people of El Salvador

The 100th anniversary of the birth of Archbishop Oscar Romero will be celebrated across the world this weekend, no more so than at Chigwell Convent in leafy Essex.
The Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, whose base is the Chigwell convent, have strong links with El Salvador and particularly the martyred Archbishop Oscar Romero.

Sisters Anne Griffin spent many years working amongst the poor in El Salvador, carrying on the legacy of Archbishop Romero to be the voice of the voiceless.

The sisters also have a strong link to the ongoing judicial process that will bring justice relating to the murder of Archbishop Romero.

Sister Anne  returned from El Salvador two years ago, after working in the war torn country since 2002. She will return to the country in the next few weeks for one of three visits she makes annually to see the ongoing work.

The sisters run the El Mozote Human Rights Project in the north of the country, which accompanies hundreds of victims in their pursuit of justice. In the capital San Salvador the nuns participate in  health and social projects that help the poor and marginalised.

Sister Anne tells how despite having died in 1980, Archbishop Romero is still ever present in life. “Every single day you hear his voice still, “ said Sister Anne, who told of the huge power of the Archbishop’s radio broadcasts that people tuned into every week across El Salvador.

Sister Anne tells how the people’s hopes were in Archbishop Romero. “That is why his beautification is so important, he speaks for the poor and oppressed,” said Sister Anne.

The murder of the Archbishop is widely known but  there is still an accounting to take place in El Salvador. The war between the US backed government and liberation forces ended in the early 1990s. The peace accords saw a truth commission process set up which unveiled some of the atrocities that had gone on. However, there was also an amnesty law passed, which ensured those giving testimony would never be prosecuted.

Sister Anne was based in the village of El Mozote in the north east of the country, where in 1981 an appalling massacre of 1,000 men, women and children took place.   “It was the biggest massacre in Latin America but because of the amnesty law could not be investigated,” said Sister Anne, who recalled two lawyers coming to her and asking whether she would help identify the victims and bring people together. This was 25 years after the massacre, when the memories were still raw and people did not want to talk about what had happened. “I said I would speak to people. It was a divisive thing, with half on the government side and half with the rebels,” she recalled. “I went from house to house, people were saying it was all lies., eventually people began to talk. We arranged meetings between the victims and the lawyers so that statements could be taken. Young students were helping out.”

The El Mozote Association for the Promotion of Human Rights was formed. It was claimed that the people who had died were caught up in cross fire but this was clearly false. “The men were put in one place, the women in another and the children in the church,” said Sister Anne. “The women the soldiers fancied were taken, raped and tortured, before being shot. Other women were machine gunned.”

The children were killed in the church, then grenades were thrown in the windows to destroy the evidence. However, the grenades brought down the walls, which then covered the bodies, effectively preserving the evidence. “The bodies of 148 children were found, 140 under 12. Most of the children were bayoneted and shot through the head,” said Sister Anne, who recalled the way the investigators built up the evidence, often having to go to church records to try to identify the victims. This all took years but in 2012 the case was brought to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) in Ecuador. 

Sister Anne helped three victim survivors who had witnessed what happened to be party to the proceedings. “One woman said they ran, when the soldiers came. They were away two weeks and when they came back, she said they could only find the skulls of the babies.”

The Chigwell sister recalled the impact of the testimony. “The massacre happened 30 years before, yet they spoke as though it only happened yesterday,” said Sister Anne.

The IACHR ruled in 2012 that the case must be investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice. The ruling meant that the amnesty law had to be repealed, which happened in 2015. As a result the El  Mozote case and others, including that of the murder of Archbishop Romero, are proceeding in El Salvador. “The door was opened to look at war crimes and crimes against humanity , including that of Romero,” said Sister Anne. Now ex-ministers and generals are being brought before the courts, with the hope of some sort of justice for the victims hopefully around the corner.

A number of those who committed the crimes have died over the years, but others remain. El Salvador though remains governed effectively by 14 families, who were directly implicated back at the time of the war but whose younger generation now hold great influence in the country. “There is a lot of corruption in the justice system, with the same families in power today,” said Sister Anne.

“Romero is an important figure for the whole of El Salvador. He’s become a focus of hope for the poor and marginalised – all those groups who have suffered injustice in any way,” said Sister Anne, who recalled on the day of the beatification, how even the gangs called a truce, so people could walk in peace through the streets of San Salvador. “There were half a million at the service, that’s in a country of 5 million,” said Sister Anne, There are between 12 and 15 murders a day in El Salvador.
When Sister Anne goes back this time, she will be visiting the Sister’s project in San Salvador, run by Sister Daisy. “There is still lots to do. There are special needs in education and little is being done for the elderly,” said Sister Anne. 
Sister Daisy works in a clinic, which treats members of local rival gangs.
So still  much to be done in a country racked with poverty but beginning to get back on its feet.

*published - Universe and Catholic Times 22/9/2017 


Wednesday, 20 September 2017

West Ham win over Bolton continues Slaven Bilic's metamorphosis from zero to hero

West Ham 3-0 Bolton Wanderers

West Ham easily won this third round Carabao Cup tie without ever really getting out of second gear.

A poor Bolton side were quickly behind in the fourth minute as a corner driven in from the right by Marko Arnautovic was met by the head of Angelo Ogbonna coming in at the back post.

The Hammers then dominated proceedings, with Andre Ayew missing two good chances and Arnautovic lazily lobbing over when away on his own.

The second goal did not come until the 30th minute, when Arnautovic got off down the left to square the ball for the incoming Diafra Sacko to place his shot in the right hand corner of the net.

The second half was a poor affair, with the home side failing to force home the advantage with the avalanche of goals that should have resulted. The one bright moment being a sweet 25 yard strike from left back Arthur Masuaku. which swerved into the top right hand corner in injury time.

Hammers manager Slaven Bilic was satisfied with the result, which continues his own rehabilitation from zero to hero – a process that could be complete with a victory over Spurs on Saturday.

The manager noted that this win plus the four points gained in the past two games of the Premier League has seen the club getting “back where we want to be.”

Bilic gave qualified praise to the performance of Arnautovic, whilst insisting he wants to see more.

The manager was far more fulsome in his praise of 18 year old defender Declan Rice who put in an assured performance at centre back. “Declan Rice has everything to be a really really good player. I’m very very pleased with him,” said Bilic, who believes he can make it as a centre back or holding midfield player.

*published in Morning Star - 21/9/2017 - Hammers "back where we want to be"


Thursday, 14 September 2017

Failure to pay is killing journalism

I have been earning a living as a journalist for more than 25 years, working in many areas of media. My experience has spanned national, local trade and religious press. I have also done some broadcast work. There have been some big stories like the foreign company caught illegally selling landmines at a government supported arms fair, the detention of individuals without trial and the living wage. It’s been fun but can it really be considered a living anymore? The answer to that one is a resounding no.

The thought occurred when attending a lecture, given by former BBC chief correspondent Kate Adie at the British Journalism Review awards. Adie made the very valid point that journalism is a skilled job and people need to be paid to do it. “Flapping about on the internet doesn’t put bread on the table. It’s a job a profession, not a hobby,” said Adie, who went onto highlight how journalism had been hollowed out particularly at local level. Courts, councils – none now receive the scrutiny they used to do, when the papers had fully staffed teams of reporters, instead now there are usually just a few  over worked individuals doing everything.

The historic memory that used to be present in local newspaper newsrooms, among those who made a career out of working on one paper, has long since gone. There is a huge and growing democratic deficit caused by this hollowing out of journalism.

No one though can blame young journalists for not hanging around on these outlets. They are badly paid, totally unable to survive unless supported by a well remunerated partner or rich parent. As a result once an individual has the skills they move on, often to PR.

I was struck a few years ago, when doing a story for the NUJ about what was happening at a council press office. When we met to discuss what had been happening, there were familiar faces all around – people who I’d known from the local papers now working in the local authorities press office. They had exchanged insecure poorly paid work as reporters for reasonable pay in a secure work environment at the local authority. This was further evidenced with the arrival of council run papers. Better resourced, they often picked up reporters from the local papers, ofcourse there would be no scrutiny of council activities from such organs.

Adie’s point about pay hit home particularly with myself, having seen outlets decline over recent years, pay has also reduced.  Recently, an online magazine asked me to write a piece about football – 2,300 words worth. The problem was they could not pay. Would you ask a plummer to come and fix your toilet, adding, I can't pay?
Another even more galling example came recently with the New Internationalist (NI) magazine. I have done a number of pieces for the NI over the years. I support their ethics and political standpoint in most areas; however on paying journalists there is still some way to go.

I have done a number of blogs for NI over recent years; they began offering a token £30 for a 500 word plus piece. Then they could not afford to pay at all – ok times were hard. However, the last piece I did for NI came out just after the magazine had raised £600,000 through crowd funding, giving readers a direct hand in the enterprise. Ethics were talked of a lot then, yet amazingly they still didn’t think to pay the journalist for blogs. Some gap in ethics me thinks.

NI ofcourse are not alone, a number of left wing titles rarely pay for anything. Indeed I think some pride themselves on this practice – somehow failing to understand the exploitative relationship between writer and owner of the means of production.

The internet was heralded as a great opportunity for journalists – more copy would be needed for more outlets. However, it has generally meant more work for journalists but less pay. I always find it incredible how so many publications think online means that the journalist does not have to be paid.

I was staggered a few years ago to do a piece for the Independent about the rail industry – up it went online, ads all around but ofcourse they couldn’t pay – not even a token amount. The internet has in many cases been used as an excuse to pay less and in many cases nothing at all to journalists.

Even in areas where publishers do still pay, a glance at the NUJ ’s rates for the job, reveals many paying the same or less than they did 10 years ago. There are very few that have actually increased rates.

This approach across the industry effectively cuts journalism out for all except those who have financial support outside of the job.

From a personal angle, it has been sad to see the various openings close. However, my own experience has been very much of seeing journalism go from my main job, earning a reasonable living, to as Adie would say, hobby status.

Frankly, there needs to be a long hard look taken at journalism in this country. The failure to pay journalists is killing the industry. It has played a role in leading to the growth of fake news. Everyone thinks they can be a journalist but, as Adie pointed out, journalism is a skilled job, requiring fact checking, objectivity and discipline. It is vital to our democracy, which will be the lesser for those outlets that do not now properly scrutinise politicians and courts at local up to national level. Society will be the loser, as well as many excellent would be and been journalists.

published in the British Journalism Review - September 2017 - "We can't live on air"

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Bilic gets perfect 49th birthday present with three points from Huddersfield clash

West Ham 2-0 Huddersfield Town 

The three points from this game provided a nice present for West Ham manager Slaven Bilic on the occasion of his 49th birthday.
A clearly relieved Bilic praised his players for "giving everything."
"It was not a case of beautiful football and all that. But we were determined to stick to the game plan,"said Bilic, who revealed a key component of that as being to get Michail Antonio and Andy Carroll in behind the visitors rearguard. 
"Lots of things happened around their box in the first half and we kept our concentration to the end."
Less generous observers might have thought former manager Sam Allardyce was back in charge, as the more direct approach was taken, with crosses and long balls being aimed at Carroll.
The home side, though, could not be faulted for effort as they poured forward from the start at times threatening to over run Huddersfield Town.
Yet, despite all the dominance the two sides went in level at half time, the best chance of the half falling to Chicarito, who slammed the ball against the bar from the edge of the six yard area, having connected with a cross from Antonio - who troubled the visitors all night with his pacey runs.
The home side continued in similar vein in the second half, when lady luck intervened. 
It was the 71st minute when a scrappy period of play saw the ball fall to Pedro Obiang, whose shot took a wicked deflection off defender, Zanka, leaving Huddersfield keeper, Jonas Lossal, wrong footed, as the ball looped over his head into the net. 
Five minutes later, an Aaron Cresswell corner fell kindly in tbe area for Andre Ayew, who stabbed the ball home from a couple of yards out.
The visitors tried to rally, forcing Joe Hart to push a shot round the post. Tom Ince also saw his shot come back off the bar but it was all a case of too little, too late.
Huddersfield boss Dave Wagner was disappointed with his side's performance. "Today we learnt our lessons," he said. "I must be honest, we were not good enough with the ball. We were outfought today."

Monday, 11 September 2017

Film maker, socialist, husband, father and friend Stuart Monro has died at the age of 79

A socialist all of his life Stuart fought for social justice across the spectrum from Ireland to Wanstead Park and beyond to Lewisham hospital.


Stuart used his gift as a film maker to bring the lives of ordinary people to the attention of millions. He travelled far and wide chronicling the struggle of ordinary people against the powerful.


Back in the 1970s, Stuart, together with his wife and partner, Charlotte, took part in the protests for civil rights in Ireland. It was as a result of these activities that both ended up serving prison sentences for their efforts.


Stuart’s gift for telling stories may have had something to do with being the step son of popular children’s TV presenter Johnny Morris. Stuart certainly brought the same infectious enthusiasm to his work.

He studied drama at Bristol University and film at the London School of Film. Stuart was a member of the Institute of Videography, and an occasional judge for the Institute of Amateur Cinematographers. In 2016 a retrospective screening of some of the films he had made since the 1970s was held at Morley College.

A resident of Wanstead for more than 20 years, one of Stuart’s great loves was Wanstead Park. Back in 2005, he was central in bringing together a number of people to form the Wanstead Parklands Community Project (WPCP). The individuals came from a wide range of backgrounds, from historians and former policemen to local activists and left wing journalists.


Stuart hosted the meetings at his house, keeping the band of brothers and sisters together, occasionally oiling the wheels with a swift whisky from the kitchen for wavering participants.


The WPCP successfully launched a bid for Heritage Lottery funding, which enabled the group to produce a number of publications and DVDs about the park. These focused on the history, archaelogy and life of the natural world.


Stuart produced the DVDs which have sold to thousands, and continue to do so, bringing the good news of the park to more and more generations.  

Stuart remained a steadfast supporter of the park to the end, often walking with Charlotte among the centuries old trees and along the picturesque waterways.


In more recent times, Stuart used his film making skills to tell the story of those seeking to protect the NHS. He became part of the campaign to save Lewisham hospital, producing effectively a video diary of the various actions of that successful campaign.


He also played a key role in a campaign closer to home, when Barts Trust sacked Charlotte from her job at Whipps Cross. A two year campaign ensued that eventually saw Charlotte reinstated.


He also helped publicise the plight of a number of men held without trial over recent years.


Stuart was always someone you could rely on to be in your corner and stand up when the going got tough. In my own case, this amounted to protesting on my behalf when I was unceremoniously sacked as a columnist for a national newspaper back in 2004. Stuart wrote to the editor, pointing out the unfairness of the action. A  frosty reply came back. No reinstatement, no cudos but a point well made.


Stuart struggled with heart problems over recent years but kept going, bringing different struggles to public audiences. He was certainly an indomitable spirit, forming a fierce team fighting against injustice alongside Charlotte. Stuart will be missed, a man whose life made a difference to so many over the years. He is survived by Charlotte and daughter Anna.


(15/6/1938 to 7/9/2017)  

*Funeral at 4 pm on Friday 22nd September at the City of London Crematorium, Manor Park    

Saturday, 9 September 2017

All at West Ham need to unite and start pulling in the same direction or relegation beckons

Seven players out, four in, net expenditure £20 million and West Ham United sit bottom of the Premiership.

It has been a roller coaster summer for West Ham fans, who have been left scratching their heads as to what is going on at the club.

Inititally, there seemed to be little movement in the transfer market, beside the signing of veteran Manchester City defender Pablo  Zabaleta on a free transfer.

Then came a burst of activity that saw Marko Arnautovic, Javier Hernandez and Joe Hart (on loan) arrive at the club. Spirits rose. There were concerns about some of those going out of the door, particularly the promising Ashley Fletcher (£6 m to Middlesbrough) .

There was talk for weeks of Willam Carvalho joining from Sporting Lisbon for around £35 m but this never materialised.

So on the face of it West Ham have once again spent little money, failing to strengthen key areas of the team. Strikers were desperately needed. Herandez and Arnautovic look like they could do the job in time. However, what has been desperately needed for a couple of seasons is quality defenders. The team defended badly at times last season and have looked even worse this time around.

The signing of Joe Hart surprised many, a big name but so far, yet  to show he is any better than what the club already had.

Zabaleta looks like his best days are behind him, with the Premiership now a step too far. However, the club seem happy to push ahead with another old defender, rather than give the promising Sam Byram the run in the team that he needs.

At central defence, the excellent, though injury prone, Winston Reid is surrounded by ageing and inconsistent partners in Jose Fonte, James Collins and Angelo Ogbonna. The clubs promising young centre backs Reece Oxford and Reece Burke have been loaned out, while the other prospect Declan Rice is being played in midfield. Why did the club not go in for the likes of Harry Maguire (who joined Leicester from Hull for £17 m) or Michael Keane (Burnley to Everton)

At the heart of the confusion seems to be a lack of belief in the manager on the part of the clubs owners David Sullivan and David Gold. There seems to be a pattern with managers coming to West Ham that resembles an hour glass. They start popular with the owners because they have decided to employ them. A honeymoon period ensues, which usually ends with the first patch of bad form. Slaven Bilic was fortunate in many ways because his first season, the last at the old Boleyn ground, was so successful that the criticism mill didn’t really get going.

The second season was different. There were problems from the start with the new stadium, complaints from fans, crowd trouble and bad results on the pitch. Things settled down, with the team securing a credible 11th finish in the table.

There were times when the owners and manager did not seem to be seeing eye to eye. Another unhelpful feature of life at West Ham is that when things are not going well, there seems to be a leap to social media and anonymous briefing to put the manager under pressure. The idea that everyone needs to pull together at a difficult time seems to be something of an anathema. It is a strange way to run a football club.

The complaint of fans is that the owners simply have not put the money in that is required for West Ham to succeed in the Premiership. The frustration from the manager’s point of view no doubt is that the owners seem to want a top six Premiership side but are only prepared to provide the sort of funding that an aspiring Championship side would outlay.

It is frankly amazing that last season the club paid £27 million out net on transfers and this year have reduced to £20 million. This is on the back of having pocketed millions for the sale of the old Boleyn ground and crowds of 57,000 last season. Not to mention the huge TV money – West Ham were rarely off the screens last season.

All of that said, things need to be viewed from the owners side. They seem to have a fading belief in the powers of the manager. The team performed beyond itself in the last season at the old ground, however even then the cracks were beginning to appear. A better final couple of weeks could have seen the club in the top four and playing Champions League football last season – inconsistencies, particularly in defence cost the team dear in the final analysis.

Last season was a difficult with the inconsistency which began in Bilic’s first season seem to reappear. A string of bad games would then be followed by a good run. This season has continued in the same way, though no one has been helped by having to play all the games in August away, due to the inordinate amount of time it takes to convert the stadium back after the World Athletics Championship.

Ham have at the London Stadium may not be as good – especially for the fans, as opposed to the owners – than is widely tWhat seems clear is that the deal West Ham have done at the London Stadium may not be as good, as is widely touted.
So the worry going forward for the owners is that the team is not really progressing. Is that why they have not backed the manager in the transfer market? No doubt they are monitoring the situation of Rafa Benitez at Newcastle - the man they wanted ahead of Bilic back in the summer of 2015. Former Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini has also been mentioned.
If the owners, though, don't have faith in the manager then they should have made the change and brought in a new man.What now beckons is months of inconsistent results, accompanied by undermining comments on social media.  The managers chalice will then be passed to someone else, who the club will back with funds in January. However, by that time will it all be too late?
If results don't improve soon, this is going to prove a long hard season at the London Stadium, which could end in relegation. Things need to be sorted out from top to bottom at West Ham United if disaster is to be avoided.
So the worry going forward for the owners is that the team is not really progressing, it remains inconsistent. Is that why they have not back the manager in the transfer market?
*"West Ham are flirting with relegation unless the club can get their act together" - published Morning Star - 9/9/2017
If the owners, though, don’t have faith in the manager then they should have made the change and brought in a new man. What now beckons is months of inconsistent results, undermining tweets and such like on social media. The managers chalice will then be passed to someone else, who the club will back with funds in January. However, by that time will it all be too late?

If results don’t improve this is going to prove a long hard season at the London Stadium, which could – without dramatic improvement – end in relegation. Things need to be sorted out from top to bottom at West Ham United if disaster is to be avoided.

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Reckless behaviour of North Korea makes case for nuclear disarmament

The present antics of North Korea make the strongest possible case for nuclear disarmament - how can weapons of such mass destruction be trusted in the hands of any human being? Add in the number of near msses there have been since these weapons were first developed and the case becomes irrefutable. But it is as if the world has some sort of death wish, going on developing nuclear weapons, putting them in ever more reckless hands, until? Recent events should be enough to ensure a total nuclear disarmament programme.

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Statues from Charlottesville to Westminster often represent a violent and racist political terrain

The recent violent events at Charlottesville,Virginia have ignited a worldwide debate about the role of statues in marking a nation’s history.

The violence at Charlottesville erupted, due to a mob of white supremacists and Nazis coming together to as they saw it to defend a statue of Confederate General Robert E Lee.

The statue was being taken down by the Virginia authorities due to its seeming to provide a remembrance to slavery in America.

There have been moves to remove such statues across America, since the shootings at a church in Charleston in 2015, when nine people were killed by white supremacist Dylann Roof.
Roof confessed to committing the killings in the hope of igniting a race war. He was found guilty or murder earlier this year, being sentenced to life imprisonment without parole.

At Charlottesville, those supporting the removal of the statue came out to oppose the white supremacists. There were violent clashes, culminating in the death of anti-racist protester Heather Heyer. James Alex Fields Jr has been charged with second degree murder.

President Donald Trump then fanned the flames of racism by failing to condemn the white supremacists. He chose instead to blame all sides. Universal condemnation followed, resulting in the President issuing another statement condemning the white supremacists more directly, only for him to go back to the original statement a few days later.

The situation of racial divide across America has become thus inflamed, not least by the actions of the President.

The President did though make a further point suggesting that if the issue were slavery then statues to the likes of past presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson could also come down, as they were slave owners. Others have suggested statues of President Harry Truman could come down, given his role in giving  the order to drop the nuclear bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima.
The valid point being made is that statues are not simply silent apolitical symbols of the past but marks of a highly politicised landscape – evidence of a form of organised remembering and forgetting of past figures and events.  

Few outside of America will have been aware of the way in which the erection of these statues reflect racial division across the land.

In my ignorance, I had thought the statues had been standing since the 19th century days of the civil war. However, it turns out they are all far more recent manifestations of malice, being erected in the early years of the 20th century, at the time of Jim Crow’s racist segregation laws, and during the civil rights protests of the 1950s and 60s. So there is a direct link between a racist agenda and the statues.

Given the nature of the Trump presidency and the constituency he has come to represent, maybe it should come as no surprise that the present violence should erupt during his presidency.

Events in America though have ignited debates elsewhere about the role of statues in marking history.

In this country, for many decades, the squares and roads around Parliament have been adorned by generals and others viewed as establishment heroes of the empire years. It always struck me as strange to see the likes of General Douglas Haig astride his horse, Clive of India and others dotted around the place.

The pre-eminence of these characters could be said to reflect the identity crisis at the heart of British society. A country that still believes itself to be a world power, hangs on feverishly to its own nuclear weapons of mass destruction in the belief that it in some way reflects greatness. A country, with one foot defiantly stuck in the past.

More recently, things have changed, with statues of the likes of Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela joining assorted British Prime Ministers in Parliament Square. In 2005, a monument was erected, near the Cenotaph, to the women of  World War II.

So there is change afoot. However, overall, the breadth of statues – especially in the capital – do tend to still reflect the interests of the British establishment and a version of history that it wants to promote.

The lack of Labour and especially trade union leaders with any mark of remembrance is remarkable. This contrast was brought home most adroitly recently, with the controversy over the grave of the Sarah Chapman, a champion of the Matchwomen’s strike of 1888. Chapman’s paupers grave had been discovered, forgotten in an east London graveyard.    

Instead of celebrating the life of Chapman as a great trade union leader, with a statue in Westminster, the remembrance is a paupers grave. What is more the area is to be flattened or “mounded over” to quote the official phrase in order that building can take place.

A campaign has been established to save the grave.

What this all goes to prove is that the erection of statues is an overt political act that says much about the country concerned. The eruption of violence and controversy around the Confederacy statues in the US is a reflection of the racial divisions that grow ever deeper in America today. In Britain, whilst there maybe a growing diversity of those we choose to erect statues to remember, at the centres of power the figures that remain are predominantly those that mark an imperial past, rather than the exploits of working people and those who represent them. Given recent developments, hopefully things might soon change.    

*Statues say so much about us -published Universe - 8/9/2017
*What's in a public sculpture - published Morning Star - 24/8/2017


Friday, 18 August 2017

Take action at Wanstead Park

The ongoing decline of water levels in the Ornamental lake in Wanstead Park continues. Growing numbers of people are wondering when the City of London Corporation (CLC) will address this issue seriously?

The regular excuse is lack of funding. The CLC continually tell us they have no money, though it was recently proven that there was an underspend last year on Epping Forest.

We have also been told by Superintendent Paul Thomson that research has shown the footfall for Wanstead Park and the Flats is heavier than previously thought. The actual footfall entitles the area to one third of the £5m budget for Epping Forest - at present nothing like this figure is forthcoming.

The CLC keep dangling out the prospect of a Heritage Lottery bid that will be used to deal with the problems of the park. Trouble is this nirvanna is regularly moved further down the road. Most recently, the excuse was that there could be pending flood defence work required in the park by the Environment Agency.
Maybe we are waiting for Tesco to pay out again, as they did for the new seating in front of kiosk?

This continuous process of inertia, which sees problems like the lack of water in the Ornamental lake not dealt with, cannot go on.  It is time for the CLC to take some positive action to resolve the outstanding issues

-published - Wanstead and Woodford Recorder/Ilford Recorder .-17/8/2017
Wanstead and Woodford Guardian - 17/8/2017

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Speed reading review for Tablet ..Utopia for realists and how we can get there, Dismembered:how the attack on the state harms and Confessions of a recovering environmentalist

Utopia for realists..and how we can get there (Bloomsbury, £16.99) lays out an optimistic  blueprint of a world, where there is a universal basic income, 15 hour week and open borders. Rutger Bergman calls for a massive redistribution of wealth, making for a more equal and just society. He  suggests that people are basically decent, not always trying to rip off the system. Bergman also questions some of the accepted dogma of our times, such as the adherence to GDP as a measure of well-being. The overall message though is one of hope in change.    

Whilst Bergman looks to how life might be, Polly Toynbee and David Walker’s Dismembered (Faber, £9.99) warns of what could be lost, if government continues to hack away at the state. The writers expose the lunacy of a growing population, requiring ever more from services, like the NHS, education and care services, whilst government continues to cut resources.

Statistics abound, as to how education, care, prisons, the police and the health service have all been dismembered. However, there are also positive stories such as Thurrock Council where services have improved, after being taken back in house. The authors call for greater articulation of the positive contribution that the public sector makes to the common good.

The least optimistic of these titles is Paul Kingsnorth’s Confessions of a recovering environmentalist (Faber, £14.99). Kingsnorth plots his path, via a number of published essays, from eco-idealist to a man disillusioned with much of the environmental movement. He criticises the reductionist approach that has seen the sole focus being climate change and the need to cut carbon emissions. Meanwhile, things like the mass extinction of many species tend to get ignored.
Kingsnorth himself has responded by moving his family to Ireland where they pursue a more self-sufficient life on a small holding. Questions over the nature of progress and the damage done by the domineering relationship that humanity has developed toward the natural world provide much food for thought.

published in the Tablet - 12/8/2017

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

A life long fighter for social justice - Kevin McNamara, MP

Former Labour MP for Hull Central, Kevin McNamara, has sadly passed away at the age of 82.
In his earlier life, Kevin studied for a law degree at the University of Hull, prior to going on to teach history at St Mary’s grammar school in Hull. He met his wife Nora, whilst studying law, marrying in 1960.

Following his school years, he did two years (1964 to 1966) as a law lecturer at Hull College.

Kevin unsuccessfully contested the Bridlington constituency in 1964, prior to winning Hull North in 1966. He then served as an MP until his retirement in 2005.

The Hull MP served as shadow Northern Ireland minister between 1987 and 1994 under Neil Kinnock. Then, Tony Blair replaced him with Mo Mowlem, when he became leader.

Kevin was a stalwart supporter of the civil rights movement in Northern Ireland, doing all he could to advance that agenda in Westminster and beyond. Widely touted as a republican in the British media, Kevin strongly believed that had successive British governments taken a different approach to Northern Ireland from 1969, seeking to accommodate the demands of the civil rights protesters, then the war, that brought the physical force tradition of the republican movement to the fore - under the guise of the IRA - could have been avoided.

He supported peace throughout his life in Ireland and beyond. Despite losing the shadow portfolio on Northern Ireland, he remained a key operator in the background, helping Mowlem and Blair bring about the Good Friday Agreement.

A keen student of all things Irish, Kevin took a particular interest in the McBride principles, for which he attained a Phd from the University of Liverpool in 2007.

His commitment to Ireland, though, did not stop him championing the cause of the families of soldiers killed at Deepcut and other British army barracks in the noughties.

The breadth of Kevin’s interests were nicely demonstrated at a Christmas celebration of the Agreed Ireland Forum (another group of which he was an integral part), which included leading members of Sinn Fein, the Labour Party and the parents of those bereaved as a result of their children dying in barracks serving in the British army.

Kevin’s commitment to the social justice teachings of the Catholic Church were a guiding principle throughout his life. He was a keen supporter of international development and the first chair of the All Party Parliamentary  Friends of Cafod group.

In the latter part of his Parliamentary career, Kevin championed the cause of gypsies and travellers, pushing for local councils to be forced to make provision for the travelling community. He was chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Gypsies, Roma and Travellers.

One of his last public pronouncements came in the run up to the 2005 general election, when in response to then Tory leader Michael Howard’s targeting of the travelling community, he described the leader of the opposition’s comments as having “a whiff of the gas chamber” about them.   

He was awarded a  Knighthood of the Pontifical Order of St Gregory the Great by the Catholic Church.

My own personal recollection of Kevin was from his retirement do in 2005, when after a formal celebration in the Commons, a few of us went round the corner to his favourite Chinese restaurant - all you could eat for a fiver or some such figure. A warm celebration ensued well into the night.

Kevin was on holiday in Spain, when taken ill. He was quickly diagnosed with inoperable pancreatic cancer, being transferred back to England. He died among family and friends at home in Formby, Liverpool.

He is survived by his widow Nora, three sons and a daughter.

(5.9.1934 to 6.8.2017)

published - 12/8/2017 -

8/8/2017 - obit - 8/8/2017

Monday, 7 August 2017

Story of the rise of the Sun newspaper...then came phone hacking, post truth etc

Review of play Ink by James Graham

The play, Ink, by James Graham offers a fascinating insight into the demise of the Daily Mirror and the rise of the Sun newspaper.

Owned by IPC, which also owned the Mirror and other titles, the Sun had made unspectacular progress since its launch in 1964. However, in 1969, Rupert Murdoch decided to buy the title. It was his entry point into the British newspaper market.

The play focuses on what happens, as Murdoch appoints former Mirror man Larry Lamb as editor. An anything goes approach to news, which effectively had a dumbing down effect on the whole newspaper industry ensued.

The Mirror, under its legendary editor Hugh Cudlipp, was viewed as the ideal of what a tabloid newspaper should be, standing up for the mass of people against injustice, yet also witty entertaining and informative. Cudlipp’s Mirror caught the spirit of Britain in the post war years.

Ink is an entertaining play with dark humour, illuminated by some excellent performances, especially from Bertie Carvel as Rupert Murdoch and Richard Coyle as Larry Lamb.

The play reminded me of John Pilger’s documentary Breaking the Mirror the Murdoch Effect (1998). I was fortunate enough to work on that program, which told the story of the Mirror and the damaging arrival of the Sun on the scene. Pilger’s programme was uncannily accurate in providing a critique of the Sun.

The ensuing years have seen the phone hacking scandal and other instances of journalism being drawn into the gutter. This form of journalism has in many ways led to the post truth world and fake news.

For a brief period in the early noughties under the editorship of Piers Morgan, the Mirror did try to return to its basic principals. Pilger, Foot and others came back, the readership responded positively but sadly the owners were not prepared to give the experiment time and normal service – as it had then become – was soon resumed.

The halcyon days of the Mirror when it boasted the likes of Pilger, Paul Foot and Keith Waterhouse  seem long since past. The present day incarnation of the Mirror does a reasonable job in keeping the red flag flying in a largely blue market but it is a pale shade of what went before.

Certainly today, we could do with a decent newspaper with the values of the old Mirror, prepared to stand up for working people against injustice. Such a publication would nowdays no doubt have online as well as a print presence but it would surely succeed if tried.

*Ink finished its run at the Almeida theatre on Saturday, it transfers to the Duke of York’s theatre on 9 September, running until 6 January