Sunday, 9 August 2020

Civil liberties must npot be sacrificed at times of emergency

Every dictator down the ages has offered security in return for people's liberties. These were the words of the former Chief Constable of Devon and Cornwall, John Alderson in an interview I did with him a few years ago. His wise words have come back many times down the years, never more so than in the present pandemic situation. The move of the government to impose a lockdown across the country for three months was unprecedented. The messaging was simple -stay at home and protect the NHS. On the whole people were very compliant, most following the guidance to the letter.Some (or should that be one) in government took a different line but that is for another day. The lockdown began to lift in June as the country gradually returned to something like normality. People were scared by Covid - and rightly so. The constant quoting of the daily death total in the media helped heighten that fear. It made people stay at home. Fear though is a dangerous thing. As former US President Franklin D Roosevelt said: there is nothing to fear but fear itself. The lockdown is a blunt instrument made necessary by the danger that the NHS would be overun. A number of scientists have said that locking down earlier would have saved lives. Also, that the halt on community testing on 12 March limited the ability to deal with the pandemic. Testing and tracing are clearly key to controlling the spread of Covid. What has been strange is the clamour of some, often born out of fear, to restrict people's actions. The call to reimpose lockdown, the call for severe penalties against those getting too close together, making people wear masks wherever they go. The desire to just stop others doing things. These are all severe infringements on individual liberties and need to be carefully weighed in terms of the common good. The clamour often originates from people's own insecurities and anxieties at being locked down for months on end. The government have tried to weigh up these questions, though sometimes appearing to face one way - as with wearing masks - only to then do a u turn on the original decision. What is clear is that the questions of liberties and securities must be weighed at every turn. Measures like lockdowns are only justified in situations like a major health emergency to stop the NHS being overun. They are not justified as a means of keeping public order. When things finally return to sonething like normal, the human rights of all citizens should be fully restored and enhanced, not reduced permanently at the behest of those who see the possibility of using a crisis to justify the sacrifice of rights on rhe altar of security. published - 6/8/2020 - Wanstead & Woodford Guardian

Thursday, 30 July 2020

Lions led by donkeys - what has happened in the eight years since the London Olympics opening ceremony

What a difference eight years makes? That was the thought following a recent visit to the London Stadium to report on the West Ham v Watford football match.
No fans in the ground, an eerie atmosphere, with the players shouts and the journalists commentaries the only things breaking the silence.
What a contrast to the 2012 London Olympics, when the same stadium played host to the opening ceremony. It was one of those strange quirks of fate that a re-run of that ceremony was on the TV, the same night as the football match.
The opening ceremony was a masterpiece from film director Danny Boyle and his team, showing the many different aspects of the UK. There was the history of the industrial revolution, the factory towers reaching up into the night sky, the tribute to the NHS and the Windrush generation.
Then, Prime Minister David Cameron. enjoyed the experience, as did then Mayor of London Boris Johnson.  Who would have thought then that eight years later the man, who dangled precariously from a zip wire, would later become Prime Minister?
Few would have thought that many of the same ministers, who sat in the stadium that night would oversee the disgraceful hostile environment policy directed at the Windrush generation.
London was a multicultural joy for those few weeks of the Olympics. People from across the world came in to watch and compete at the games. No racist divisions, just a celebration of the great sporting event that is the Olympics.
So what else has happened since that time? Well, then Prime Minister Cameron gave out his first referendum to Scotland. Two years later, the Scots narrowly rejected the idea of breaking away from the Union. A year after that, the fateful EU referendum took place, splitting the country in two. The remain side, ineffectively led by Cameron, lost. He resigned, to be replaced by the architect of the hostile environment Theresa May. Three more painful and embarassing years passed, as May repeatedly brought her exit deal to Parliament and saw it rejected.
Finally, the  man from the zip wire became Prime Minister. He illegally prorogued Parliament, before going to the country with his message to get Brexit done. He won an 80 seat majority to carry out that policy. The UK exited the EU on 31 January, staring into the abyss of international isolation.
The Scottish National Party want another referendum, given extra impetus by the fact that Scotland voted to stay in the EU.
Ireland too is edging toward unity, courtesy of Brexit – something that 30 years of conflict failed to achieve.
The Conservative and Unionist Party certainly needs a remake, it has done more to split the Union than any previous party.
Then, along came the Corona virus pandemic. The government was slow to react to the impending crisis. It failed to prepare, getting the required Personal Protection Equipment in place, especially for the NHS and Care workers. It also failed to get the test and trace system up and running in time to get a  grips on where and how the pandemic was developing.
The NHS workers celebrated back in 2012, once again rose heroically to the challenge, many giving their own lives to save others. Care workers similarly rose to the challenge. And many others, from the emergency services to retail staff went above and beyond to keep us all safe. The response of the people to the challenge of the pandemic was indeed another of our finest hours.
Looking back though, it is difficult not to see the last decade as a case of lions led by donkeys – a phrase first adopted in relation to the inept leading officers of the First World War.
The record is damning, those who sat grinning out on that warm July evening of the opening ceremony of the London Olympics have a lot to answer for regarding their stewardship – where there was once harmony, they have sown disunity, discord and division.
Let’s hope that something positive can come out of the tragedy of this pandemic – some responsible leadership that rewards those who have contributed most to the common good. Some leadership that brings unity not division to our land. We certainly all deserve better than the past eight years has produced.
Ps: The return of the fans to that stadium would also be welcome.

Friday, 24 July 2020

Charity can never replace justice

There has been a tremendous outpouring of generosity over the period of the Covid pandemic.
At the beginning, there were the mutual aid groups set up to help those becalmed at home, unable to obtain things like prescriptions and shopping.
Then there was the tin in a bin initiative to support foodbanks. The amount given over this period has been overwhelming.
There have been charitable acts right across the community.
The homeless have been taken off the streets and put into accomodation.
Moving forward, we must ensure this generoaity of spirit in the community continues to be harnessed for the goodness of all.
However, what must not happen is for charity to replace the basic rights of people to justice.
So in a country of 150 plus billionaires why do a million plus go to foodbanks (and this was before the pandemic)?
Why, when there are thousands of empty houses do people struggle to survive on the street and elsewhere?
Why do levels of child poverty continue to grow in the fifth richest economy in the world?
These are fundamental questions, that reveal a badly run society with skewed values.
Some years ago, David Cameron's Coalition government promoted the idea of a Big Society. Central to the idea seemed to be people volunteering to do work that had previously been done by paid workers. The idea was dressed up as something else, aimed at the common good but in reality it wasn't.
The Big Society sought to use peoples charitable instincts as a vehicle to cut services. The idea of the deserving and undeserving poor began to develop. This can never be allowed to happen because in the end it leads to the workhouse of the nineteenth century.
It is great that people support foodbanks but in such a rich country it is a disgrace that the whole structure is required at all. Better a fully funded welfare state, where people have support as of right, not on the basis of someone elses charitable instinct to give.
So, yes, let's celebrate the incredible acts of generosity but don't let those acts obscure the fact that we live in a grotesquely unequal society, entirely of our own making - and that needs to change in the post pandemic world.

published - Wanstead and Woodford Guardian - 23/7/2020

Wednesday, 22 July 2020

"Wilding" by Isabella Tree

Published by Picador Price £9.99

This fascinating book really opens up huge possibilities for improving biodiversity and countering climate change.
Tree tells how together with husband Charlie Burrell they rewild the Knepp estate in West Sussex.
Prior to 2000, they had traditionally farmed the 3,500 acres of the estate. It wasn't working so they looked for something new. 
The work of Dr Frans Vera with rewilding in the Netherlands drew their attention.
The idea was in a way to turn back time to before humans brought their pesticides and fertilisers to the land. Effectively returning  to before the destruction and poisoning of the world began.
If some of the original breeds of animals were restored and allowed to run wild, other habitats also changed for the better.
So long horned cattle, Tamworth pigs, Dartmoor ponies, red and fallow deer were all introduced.
The effects were dramatic, bringing back purple emperor butterflies, nightingales and turtle doves. The land became resilient. 
Really understanding rewilding probably requires the human being to take a step back from its arrogant dominant role in the world.
The human needs to realise that many creatures live the way they do as an adaption to the behaviour of humans, it was not always so.  If the humans can now let go, then nature can restore.
There are so many interesting parts to this book, such as how the introduction of beavers in some areas of the country has helped counter flooding. Also, how allowing the land to go to wetlands also releases pressure and so flood risk.
An interesting aside is how this is happening in the Netherlands, where the renown canals are full to bursting. Climate change means greater volumes of water are falling on the land. So the Dutch are looking to release pressure by turning areas to wetlands, rather than building dykes.
Another fascinating view concerns how more carbon can be stored in the land.
Tree reveals that there are 1500 billion tonnes of carbon in the form of organic material in world soils. Increasing this by 0.4% a year -through restoring and improving degraded agricultural lands - would halt the rise of CO2 in the atmosphere. 
Tree suggests agricultural land could be taken in and out of rewilding over decades to restore it.
Wilding is a real eye opener as to what could happen with a little imagination - a sort of resetting of the natural paramaters, that wiil then revive and restore the ecological framework around us.

Saturday, 18 July 2020

West Ham Premiership future almost secured with win over Watford

West Ham 3-1 Watford

West Ham United pretty much secured their Premiership future wirh this comprehensive win over relegation rivals Watford.
Manager David Moyes, though, was not counring his chickens, declaring that he would not be changing anything till his team are "mathematically safe."
The former West Ham caretaker manager has certainly transformed this group of players, getting them playing as a tight disciplined unit.
Perhaps the break for the pandemic helped in giving Moyes the time he needed to pull things around.
West Ham began in confident style, with the game just six minutes old when Michail Antonio slotted home, after being put through on the left by Pablo Fornals.
Four minutes later, the industrious Jarrod Bowen drove in a cross from the right, which was converted by Tomas Soucek, rising at the far post to head home. The impressive  Czech's third goal in the past five games.
The demolition looked complete, when 10 minutes before half time, Declan Rice cut in from the left to fire home into the opposite corner from 25 yards.
Rice dashed across with his team mates to embrace Moyes, as the Hammer's victory song, the Beatles twist and shout, rang out for the third time in the fan-less stadium.
Watford's best chance of the half was a header just over  from Craig Dawson in injury time.
The visitors came out though with more purpose in the second half, Troy Deeney getting a goal back with the half just four minutes old.
The big striker converted, as the ball rebounded off rhe post from an Ismaila Sarr effort.
Watford dominated the half but were unable to break down the well organised home rearguard.
The visitors best effort being a prod from Danny Welbeck that went over the bar.
Moyes felt his team "played exceptionally well in the first half and defended well in the second."
The manager paid tribute to Soucek, who he felt has brought "energy and physicality" to the team, since his arrival inJanuary.
Speaking as the manager of a team that has lost from being ahead more than 20 times this season, Moyes declared winning to be something West Ham have to do far more often than in the past."This was our best start and the finishing was conscise," said Moyes, who can now plan for the next season with certainty.

Thursday, 16 July 2020

Great slowdown offers hope for the future in a post pandemic world

The world is slowing down in almost every way, with the exception being climate change, where emissions and temperature are accelerating at a destructive rate.


That is the conclusion of Professor Danny Dorling, who in his latest book Slowdown, claims that everything is doing just that. The world is not catapulting ever more rapidly towards the end but is instead slowing to a new phase of equilibrium.


Dorling looks at a whole variety of areas including the size of debt, fertility rates, population, gross domestic product and the size of cities, all of which are falling.


The focus is on five generational groups which he titles V (1901 to 1928), W (1929 to 1955), X (1956 to 1981), Y (1982 to 2011) and Z (2012 to 2042). There has been vast change across these generations but there will be far less discernible change for those in the latter two groups of Y and Z, than previous generations.


Dorling defines the present system as transitional mode, rather than a state of being with no end.


The one exception to the slowdown rule is climate, which saw the level of CO2 put into the atmosphere rise from 4.8 billion metric tonne in 1950 to 9.64 metric tonnes a year in 1960. Between 1942 and 1960, some 123 billion metric tonnes of CO2 were put into the atmosphere, the equivalent of what had been produced in the preceding 2.5 centuries.


Interestingly, Dorling also bursts the bubble of those who claim that population growth is fuelling climate change. He highlights how between 1920 and 1940 pollution rose most in the countries, where the population increased the least. The link between population and emissions comes down to unequal societies, where the demands of a few rich people - and the resulting technology - wreaks  the most climatic havoc on the planet.


Other climate related areas on the increase include the destruction of biodiversity and plane flights. Flights going from fewer than 1 billion in 1971, through 2 billion in 1989 to 4 billion per year in 2017.


The book was ofcourse written pre-Corona pandemic. The pandemic has brought a slowdown way beyond anything Dorling foresaw.


Among the positive elements has been the big reduction in carbon emissions, with flights virtually grounded.


The Slowdown analysis offers useful background for countries coming out of pandemic. Though tragic in so many ways, the pandemic does offer a chance to restart the system in a better way. Things like the reduction in carbon emissions need to be retained moving forward, The new normal must be a low carbon sustainable way of life.


Dorling found that many of the improvements in the world are coming about due to a greater equality and the growing power and influence of women across the spectrum, particularly with progressive female political leaders.


This point has been reinforced in the pandemic, with the countries doing best being those led by progressive women leaders like New Zealand’s Jacinta Ardern and Germany’s Angela Merkell.

So there is all to play for coming out of the pandemic – the chance to create a better, safer, more equal sustainable world.

*Slowdown by Professor Danny Dorling is published by Yale University Press

Wednesday, 8 July 2020

Stop creating a litter epidemic

There has been much concern expressed about the deluge of litter that seems to have erupted over recent months.
On our recent Wanstead Village litter pick, there was a lot around to gather, including disgarded plastic masks and gloves.
The thought did occur, whatever happened to the efforts to cut plastic waste, the whole idea seems to have gone out of the window with the Covid pandemic. 
The land and sea continue to fill with plastic waste, as the activities of humankind gradually choke the planet.
Human beings seem to have a complete disregard for the planet and each other, when it comes to waste.
Cycling along the canal recently between Hackney and Three Mills, there was litter piled on the tow path and thrown into the water.
Who do people think should pick up their rubbish, when they just cast it aside?
Much of the present surfeit of litter is no doubt due to the way life patterns changed during lockdown. Many more people are going to parks. Pubs, restaurants and shops have been shut - all of these enterprises have processes for disposing of rubbish. Their absence has no doubt resulted in a displacement of rubbish disposal.
The re-opening of these businesses should see some normality restored.
This though does not take away from the central question as to why human beings are such wasteful, destructive creatures. Why is there so much food waste? Can people not buy what they are going to eat?
The rubbish creation and recycling debate continues but the real challenge is to not create the waste in the first place. Recycling is important but it is only part of the solution, the real answer is to stop creating waste. 
The pandemic period has seen other forms of recycling of goods between neighbours via various social networks. This re-use of items  is another positive move toward more sustainable living.
At another level, the amount of materials piling up in skips, as people tear houses inside out is another cause to question. Recycling and re-use of much of the stuff dumped into skips would also be welcome.
As said before, the pandemic has created a space for reflection on how we live our lives. How we are going to live life moving forward.
The community spirit released during this period has been a wonder to behold. Neighbours really looking out for neighbours, the mutual aid networks and fantastic donations to foodbanks.
Now is the time to plug into this well of goodwill, thinking of each other and the environment in a more holistic way.
The new way has to include a greater respect for our living environment, which means creating less waste, using less plastic and generally treading more lightly on the earth.

* the next Wanstead Village litter pick takes place at 10am on sat 18 july - starting from Woodbine Place (by the buses). All are welcome